Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 23, 2012

Obama Rabbis Must Disavow Anti-Zionist(s)

Earlier today, I wrote about the budding controversy over the inclusion of a leader of an anti-Zionist group on the list of the “Rabbis for Obama” created by the president’s re-election campaign. But in doing so I apparently gave Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb of the so-called Jewish Voices for Peace too much honor. She is not the only member of what the Anti-Defamation League called one the top 10 anti-Israel groups in the country. She is, in fact, only one of eight members of JVP’s rabbinic council to appear on the list of Rabbis for Obama.

Some readers have reacted by saying that it is not fair to ask the Democratic group to repudiate anti-Zionists on their list. The only thing membership in the Rabbis for Obama connotes, they say, is support for the president. They point out that if they all had to vouch for each other, the whole thing would collapse, since Orthodox rabbis would not be able to affiliate with the non-Orthodox and other denominational squabbles would render any list bringing Jewish clergy together behind any cause impossible. That’s an interesting argument, but it misses the point about Rabbis for Obama and the way it is being used in the campaign.

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Earlier today, I wrote about the budding controversy over the inclusion of a leader of an anti-Zionist group on the list of the “Rabbis for Obama” created by the president’s re-election campaign. But in doing so I apparently gave Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb of the so-called Jewish Voices for Peace too much honor. She is not the only member of what the Anti-Defamation League called one the top 10 anti-Israel groups in the country. She is, in fact, only one of eight members of JVP’s rabbinic council to appear on the list of Rabbis for Obama.

Some readers have reacted by saying that it is not fair to ask the Democratic group to repudiate anti-Zionists on their list. The only thing membership in the Rabbis for Obama connotes, they say, is support for the president. They point out that if they all had to vouch for each other, the whole thing would collapse, since Orthodox rabbis would not be able to affiliate with the non-Orthodox and other denominational squabbles would render any list bringing Jewish clergy together behind any cause impossible. That’s an interesting argument, but it misses the point about Rabbis for Obama and the way it is being used in the campaign.

The significance of Rabbis for Obama is not the fact that you can gather signatures from a few hundred Jewish clergy members on behalf of a Democratic candidate for president. As I noted earlier, given that most Jews are devout liberals, it’s hardly surprising–or even noteworthy–that so many rabbis could be counted on to back the Democratic ticket. But the reason the Democrats have promoted the group so ardently is because of President Obama’s weakness on Israel. Rabbis for Obama has one purpose, and that is to provide a rabbinical hechsher for the president’s Middle East policies. The hope is that it will help wavering voters forget the first three years of his administration, when he was constantly picking fights with Israel, and remember only his election year Jewish charm offensive. Rabbis for Obama exists in 2012 for the same reason a group with the same name was created in 2007: to vouch for the president’s bona fides on Israel.

The group can be as inclusive as it likes. If the rabbis involved want to treat as merely a list of those who support the Democrats, so be it. But if the Rabbis for Obama are neutral about associating with anti-Zionists who support the boycott of Israel (all of Israel and not just the West Bank settlements) and the Palestinian “right of return” while opposing the Jewish state’s right of self-defense, then the group doesn’t have the standing to give the president a kosher stamp of approval for his Israel policies. So long as Gottlieb and her anti-Zionist colleagues are in the group, the press, along with groups like the Emergency Committee for Israel and the Republican Jewish Coalition, is entitled to call the Democrats out on this issue whenever anyone with the “Rabbis for Obama” label is trotted out for that purpose.

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Is Social Issue Strategy Helping Dems?

The Washington Examiner reports that Democrats are going to try to keep the Todd Akin controversy alive through their convention. At Powerline, John Hinderaker argues that this is the worst possible move for the Obama campaign:

We can only pray that this report is true, and that the Democrats devote all three days in Charlotte to discussions of abortion rights, rape and contraception. If there is one thing we can say with certainty this year, it is that the overwhelming majority of voters don’t want to hear about the social issues. They want to know how we are going to climb out of the four-year economic funk that has been the Obama administration. If undecided viewers tune into the Democratic convention and hear all about abortion, and tune into the Republican convention and hear all about the economy, Romney will win in a landslide.

The thing is, if Democrats talk about the economy, they also lose. They’ve been running a very targeted campaign since the beginning, reaching out to key groups on issues that are unrelated to the economy. Their main targets are Hispanic voters, women and senior citizens — they’ve already locked up the first group, and apparently they think this will help them with the second.

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The Washington Examiner reports that Democrats are going to try to keep the Todd Akin controversy alive through their convention. At Powerline, John Hinderaker argues that this is the worst possible move for the Obama campaign:

We can only pray that this report is true, and that the Democrats devote all three days in Charlotte to discussions of abortion rights, rape and contraception. If there is one thing we can say with certainty this year, it is that the overwhelming majority of voters don’t want to hear about the social issues. They want to know how we are going to climb out of the four-year economic funk that has been the Obama administration. If undecided viewers tune into the Democratic convention and hear all about abortion, and tune into the Republican convention and hear all about the economy, Romney will win in a landslide.

The thing is, if Democrats talk about the economy, they also lose. They’ve been running a very targeted campaign since the beginning, reaching out to key groups on issues that are unrelated to the economy. Their main targets are Hispanic voters, women and senior citizens — they’ve already locked up the first group, and apparently they think this will help them with the second.

One Republican strategist told the New York Times today that the latest social issues strategy will end up costing Democrats the opportunity to define Paul Ryan before the GOP convention. Maybe — but why does that matter? The Obama campaign had more than enough time to successfully define Sarah Palin post-convention in 2008. And if the last few months are any prediction, Obama’s Mediscare campaign against Ryan in the fall will probably make the Priorities USA steelworker ad look tame.

The point of the Democrats’ “war on women” clamor isn’t to make a case for reelection. It’s to knock Romney and Ryan off-message, and divert attention away from their economic prescriptions at the most critical moment for Republicans. The clock is ticking for Ryan to define himself before the end of the GOP convention, when the Medicare attacks will start up full-force.

Thanks to the Akin debacle, the press is on a hair-trigger right now over any stories that involve abortion or social issues. All it will take is one poorly-phrased remark from a random Republican delegate (or, in a pinch, one explosive comment from Joe Biden in Tampa), and the entire Republican convention will be knocked off-message. Democrats are trying to make sure the GOP convention is about anything other than the economy, and as long as the media remains as cooperative as it has been, there’s a chance it could actually work.

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The Jim Crow Lie Debunked Again

Last week, liberals were dealt a cruel blow when a Pennsylvania court refused to grant an injunction prohibiting the Keystone State from implementing its voter ID law in November. The opponents of the legislation, who alleged that hundreds of thousands of citizens would be prohibited from voting, failed to show why a clearly constitutional measure aimed at preserving the integrity of the process should be thrown out, sending the state election machinery into chaos. However, the opponents of voter ID did gain some sympathy with both the judge and the public by highlighting the plight of the lead plaintiff in the suit, 93-year-old Viviette Applewhite. Ms. Applewhite, who once marched with Martin Luther King Jr., didn’t have a valid photo ID or for some reason, a Social Security card, and the name on her birth certificate didn’t match the one on other documents so in theory she lacked the proof needed to get the free photo ID the state is offering to non-drivers who want to vote. Ms. Applewhite’s predicament seem to bolster the argument that voter ID was a new version of segregationist “Jim Crow” laws. That was enough to get her picture on the front page of the New York Times last week in an article intended to bolster voter ID opponents case.

But it turns out the state machinery for helping such exceptional cases is not, as Democrats claimed, devoted to suppressing the vote. Last week, Ms. Applewhite, accompanied by a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer showed up at Department of Motor Vehicles office in the city and asked for a photo ID. She got one with no fuss and without any evidence that the clerks there had any idea who she was (perhaps civil service employees are too busy there to read the Times or other newspapers). Ms. Applewhite was delighted and said it showed that all you need to succeed is “to just keep trying.” She’s right but her erstwhile sponsors were not so pleased as community activists challenging the law reacted with cynicism and disappointment to learn that their claim that the law was intended to arbitrarily prevent honest citizens from voting was effectively debunked. But that hasn’t stopped Democrats from continuing to cast aspersions on the law as racist and to pretend that there is no such thing as voter fraud, even in Philadelphia.

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Last week, liberals were dealt a cruel blow when a Pennsylvania court refused to grant an injunction prohibiting the Keystone State from implementing its voter ID law in November. The opponents of the legislation, who alleged that hundreds of thousands of citizens would be prohibited from voting, failed to show why a clearly constitutional measure aimed at preserving the integrity of the process should be thrown out, sending the state election machinery into chaos. However, the opponents of voter ID did gain some sympathy with both the judge and the public by highlighting the plight of the lead plaintiff in the suit, 93-year-old Viviette Applewhite. Ms. Applewhite, who once marched with Martin Luther King Jr., didn’t have a valid photo ID or for some reason, a Social Security card, and the name on her birth certificate didn’t match the one on other documents so in theory she lacked the proof needed to get the free photo ID the state is offering to non-drivers who want to vote. Ms. Applewhite’s predicament seem to bolster the argument that voter ID was a new version of segregationist “Jim Crow” laws. That was enough to get her picture on the front page of the New York Times last week in an article intended to bolster voter ID opponents case.

But it turns out the state machinery for helping such exceptional cases is not, as Democrats claimed, devoted to suppressing the vote. Last week, Ms. Applewhite, accompanied by a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer showed up at Department of Motor Vehicles office in the city and asked for a photo ID. She got one with no fuss and without any evidence that the clerks there had any idea who she was (perhaps civil service employees are too busy there to read the Times or other newspapers). Ms. Applewhite was delighted and said it showed that all you need to succeed is “to just keep trying.” She’s right but her erstwhile sponsors were not so pleased as community activists challenging the law reacted with cynicism and disappointment to learn that their claim that the law was intended to arbitrarily prevent honest citizens from voting was effectively debunked. But that hasn’t stopped Democrats from continuing to cast aspersions on the law as racist and to pretend that there is no such thing as voter fraud, even in Philadelphia.

On that latter point, I have pointed out in past posts that one of the primary motivations for the passage of the law in the Pennsylvania legislature last year was the fact that it is common knowledge that voter fraud in Philadelphia isn’t so much endemic as it is institutionalized. Several precincts in the city where turnout is normally light have reported vote totals that exceed the number of registered voters, a feat that is impossible to explain without bringing up the term fraud. It’s true that these events haven’t been investigated or prosecuted by local authorities, a point that is presented by voter ID opponents as proof that such activities are the invention of Republicans. But the explanation for the failure of the district attorneys in question to pursue the matter isn’t complicated: they are dependent on the same Democratic machine responsible for the shady vote totals to get elected to their own office.

Over at National Review, John Fund has gone deeper into the subject and the result is a comprehensive portrait of the recent record of voter fraud in the city and state. It’s a must read.

Americans support voter ID laws because they understand that they are inherently reasonable. You need a photo ID to travel, buy a beer or conduct the simplest of transactions with a bank or the government. Indeed, rather than the onus being on voter ID proponents, opponents of the law have yet to say why they think it’s okay for someone to be able to show up and vote without proof of their identity or even citizenship.

In the no-holds barred atmosphere of a presidential election, partisans are liable to say anything about their foes so perhaps we shouldn’t be shocked at the willingness of Democrats to engage in racial incitement on this issue. But most Americans aren’t buying it. As for Viviette Applewhite, she’s free to vote for whomever she wants this November. Anyone else, be they black or white, who is willing to make a minimal effort, will be able to say the same.

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What Bill Clinton Won’t Say

The most interesting part of the Obama campaign TV ad consisting solely of Bill Clinton speaking to the camera is what Clinton didn’t say. In the thirty-second spot, Clinton makes three comments: one about the Republican plan, one about Obama’s plan, and a third about his own administration. Taking the success of his own years in office as a given, Clinton then appears to offer co-ownership of his successful policies to Obama–at least that’s the intent of the ad.

First, what Clinton says about the Republicans:

This is a clear choice. The Republican plan is to cut more taxes on upper income people and go back to deregulation. That’s what got us in trouble in the first place.

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The most interesting part of the Obama campaign TV ad consisting solely of Bill Clinton speaking to the camera is what Clinton didn’t say. In the thirty-second spot, Clinton makes three comments: one about the Republican plan, one about Obama’s plan, and a third about his own administration. Taking the success of his own years in office as a given, Clinton then appears to offer co-ownership of his successful policies to Obama–at least that’s the intent of the ad.

First, what Clinton says about the Republicans:

This is a clear choice. The Republican plan is to cut more taxes on upper income people and go back to deregulation. That’s what got us in trouble in the first place.

Leave aside for now the fact that it most certainly was not what “got us in trouble in the first place.” Clinton tells us the wrong way of doing things: slashing taxes on business owners and cutting red tape. Next, what Obama offers us instead, according to Clinton:

President Obama has a plan to rebuild America from the ground up, investing in innovation, education, and job training. It only works if there is a strong middle class.

Here is the first omission. Clinton tells us the GOP’s plan, and then tells us that the Obama administration has a plan, though he seems unable to say what it is besides government spending. So which one gets the Clinton seal of approval? Obama’s:

That’s what happened when I was President. We need to keep going with his plan.

That’s a bit passive: “that’s what happened” versus “that’s what I did.” Why wouldn’t Clinton want, once and for all, to claim Obama’s plan is exactly what he did? Because it’s not, and because Clinton has always reveled in his reputation as a centrist, Third Way Democrat who signed welfare reform and–guess what?–cut taxes. As Jim Pethokoukis noted earlier this month, the really strong economic growth during Clinton’s administration took place during his second term, and coincided with:

– a big tax cut, lowering the top capital gains tax rate to 20% from 28%;

– a big surge in private investment, particularly in the software and business equipment category which contributed a full point to GDP during those years. Did the Clinton tax hikes cause that or was it a combo of the Internet Bubble, Year 2000 preparations, the cap gains cut, and the beginning of a computer networking and communications revolution?

As Pethokoukis admits, we cannot definitively credit the tax cuts with all the economic growth. But the mere fact that the growth was driven by massive private sector investment at the same time as Clinton cut taxes on investment tells us that Obama’s plan is manifestly not Clinton’s plan for economic growth.

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Obama Rabbis Must Disavow Anti-Zionist

Given that the majority of American Jews are loyal Democrats, it is neither surprising nor unusual that the Obama campaign would be able to assemble a large list of rabbis who endorsed the president’s re-election. But the Obama campaign, which has been falling over itself in the last several months to try and prove the dubious assertion that the incumbent is Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House, now finds itself in an embarrassing position as it turns out that a prominent member of the “Rabbis for Obama” who are being heralded by Democrats as truly representing Jewish opinion is an advocate for a well-known anti-Israel group.

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is a member of the advisory board and rabbinical council of Jewish Voices for Peace, a nice-sounding title for a far-left radical group that opposes Israeli self-defense, supports the boycott of Israel (and by this, they mean all of Israel, not just the settlements) and promotes an idea of peace in which Arab refugees may swamp Israel consistent with its indifference to the survival of it as a Jewish state. Obama’s partisan opponents at the Republican Jewish Coalition are making a meal of Gottlieb’s inclusion in the Obama list. But that leaves the rest of the rabbis for Obama with a tough question. Do they really want to include among their number someone who is opposed to Zionism and outside even the parameters of what the left-wing lobby J Street would consider “pro-Israel?”

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Given that the majority of American Jews are loyal Democrats, it is neither surprising nor unusual that the Obama campaign would be able to assemble a large list of rabbis who endorsed the president’s re-election. But the Obama campaign, which has been falling over itself in the last several months to try and prove the dubious assertion that the incumbent is Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House, now finds itself in an embarrassing position as it turns out that a prominent member of the “Rabbis for Obama” who are being heralded by Democrats as truly representing Jewish opinion is an advocate for a well-known anti-Israel group.

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is a member of the advisory board and rabbinical council of Jewish Voices for Peace, a nice-sounding title for a far-left radical group that opposes Israeli self-defense, supports the boycott of Israel (and by this, they mean all of Israel, not just the settlements) and promotes an idea of peace in which Arab refugees may swamp Israel consistent with its indifference to the survival of it as a Jewish state. Obama’s partisan opponents at the Republican Jewish Coalition are making a meal of Gottlieb’s inclusion in the Obama list. But that leaves the rest of the rabbis for Obama with a tough question. Do they really want to include among their number someone who is opposed to Zionism and outside even the parameters of what the left-wing lobby J Street would consider “pro-Israel?”

Gottlieb, who can be viewed endorsing the boycott of Israel here, previously earned the opprobrium of the Jewish community by speaking at a 2007 dinner in New York for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Anti-Defamation League lists Jewish Voices for Peace as one of the “top ten anti-Israel groups” in the nation.

Of course, Rabbis for Obama is free to offer membership to anyone it wants. But if it is going to be used by the president and his party as a prop in their effort to persuade wavering Jewish voters that they can rely on Obama to stick by Israel, then its roster ought to consist of rabbis who actually do support the Jewish state. If a notorious anti-Zionist like Gottlieb is a member in good standing of Rabbis for Obama, it raises the question of what exactly the group stands for? How can it put itself forward as proof of the American Jewish community’s trust in President Obama as a faithful friend of the Jewish state when it is willing to embrace a leader of the movement to vilify Israel?

The point here is that even those who call for inclusion of left-wing groups that often protest Israeli policies like J Street in community councils, understand that Jewish Voices for Peace is beyond the pale. Any group that includes it or its leaders can’t be considered pro-Israel. Is that the message Democrats want to be putting out about its rabbinical front group?

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Tapper: Why is WH Ignoring the Economy?

ABC’s Jake Tapper has been trying his best to get the White House to comment on the issues the public cares about — namely, the economy — but it’s been an uphill battle so far. At the WH press briefing today, Tapper pressed Jay Carney on why Obama hasn’t mentioned yesterday’s troubling CBO report:

ABC’s Jake Tapper: “The Congressional Budget Office report is a pretty dire warning about what this nation faces, yet I didn’t hear the president mention it yesterday, is there a reason why?”

White House Spokesman Jay Carney: “Well I think I put out a statement which is the White House’s view and the president’s view. The president talks every day that he’s out there, as he was yesterday, about what we need to do to help build our economy, help it to continue to grow, help it to continue to create jobs and yesterday, and the day before, he was focusing on the need to continue investments in education because he firmly believes that education is a matter of our economy, it’s an economic issue.”

Tapper: That’s not what the Congressional Budget Office was addressing, they were talking about … The president talked about education, he talked about Todd Akin, he talked about Michael Jordan, he talked about a lot of—

Carney dodged it, responding with a few boilerplate sentences on Obama’s “balanced approach” to the “fiscal challenges.” But it’s a question that should be put to the White House over and over again. Why won’t the Obama campaign talk about the economy? More importantly, why does the White House press corps — Tapper and some others excluded — allow Obama to get away with it?

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ABC’s Jake Tapper has been trying his best to get the White House to comment on the issues the public cares about — namely, the economy — but it’s been an uphill battle so far. At the WH press briefing today, Tapper pressed Jay Carney on why Obama hasn’t mentioned yesterday’s troubling CBO report:

ABC’s Jake Tapper: “The Congressional Budget Office report is a pretty dire warning about what this nation faces, yet I didn’t hear the president mention it yesterday, is there a reason why?”

White House Spokesman Jay Carney: “Well I think I put out a statement which is the White House’s view and the president’s view. The president talks every day that he’s out there, as he was yesterday, about what we need to do to help build our economy, help it to continue to grow, help it to continue to create jobs and yesterday, and the day before, he was focusing on the need to continue investments in education because he firmly believes that education is a matter of our economy, it’s an economic issue.”

Tapper: That’s not what the Congressional Budget Office was addressing, they were talking about … The president talked about education, he talked about Todd Akin, he talked about Michael Jordan, he talked about a lot of—

Carney dodged it, responding with a few boilerplate sentences on Obama’s “balanced approach” to the “fiscal challenges.” But it’s a question that should be put to the White House over and over again. Why won’t the Obama campaign talk about the economy? More importantly, why does the White House press corps — Tapper and some others excluded — allow Obama to get away with it?

The advent of online media was supposed to increase competition and improve reporting. Instead, some reporters seem so hooked on getting their six or seven scoops a day from their campaign sources that they end up acting as stenographers for newsmakers instead of challenging them. Maybe it’s because journalists are time-crunched, or maybe it’s because they don’t want their access to dry up, or maybe it’s because economic stories don’t bring in the web hits. But the speed at which the media jumps from distraction to distraction is disappointing.

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Video Answers Why Some Succumb to Hate

The Jewish world is still coping with the aftermath of Monday’s violence in Jerusalem. Today Reuven Rivlin, the Speaker of Israel’s Knesset visited a 17-year-old Arab in the hospital where he was still recovering from injuries inflicted by a gang of Jewish teenagers who assaulted him and two others in the capital’s Zion Square. Rivlin condemned the attack and said Israel must increase his efforts to combat hate via education. Rivlin’s sentiments were entirely correct and echoed those of every other leading Israeli political figure. But that hasn’t stopped many observers from highlighting this crime and other incidents as proof that Israel is beset with hate. But as much as Jews are beating their breasts wondering why Jewish kids would behave in this manner, a partial answer was readily available. As the Arab media monitoring group MEMRI reported, the broadcast of hate directed at Jews via official Palestinian media is making it difficult for some Israelis, especially those who have grown up in the shadow of the suicide bombings of the second intifada to accept the idea that they shouldn’t respond in kind.

A good example of the depth of this hatred is exhibited in this segment broadcast by Aqsa TV, the official television of the Hamas government of Gaza. In it, Ahlam Tamimi, who in 2001 took part in the bombing of the Sbarro pizza restaurant in Jerusalem happily boasted of her role in the murder of 15 people, including seven children as her interviewer smiled along as she recounted her joy at taking part in such an atrocity. But what is so chilling about this video — which is provided by the invaluable Arab media monitor group MEMRI — is not just her perverse pride in the crime but that she is sure that the Palestinian people not only approve of her conduct but also agree that she should be considered a heroine rather than a sociopath. Given the way she is treated in this interview, it’s hard to argue with her opinion on that score. As I first wrote yesterday, since Israelis are well aware of this disturbing reality, how can we then be surprised when a small minority of Jews react to this situation with anger and violence?

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The Jewish world is still coping with the aftermath of Monday’s violence in Jerusalem. Today Reuven Rivlin, the Speaker of Israel’s Knesset visited a 17-year-old Arab in the hospital where he was still recovering from injuries inflicted by a gang of Jewish teenagers who assaulted him and two others in the capital’s Zion Square. Rivlin condemned the attack and said Israel must increase his efforts to combat hate via education. Rivlin’s sentiments were entirely correct and echoed those of every other leading Israeli political figure. But that hasn’t stopped many observers from highlighting this crime and other incidents as proof that Israel is beset with hate. But as much as Jews are beating their breasts wondering why Jewish kids would behave in this manner, a partial answer was readily available. As the Arab media monitoring group MEMRI reported, the broadcast of hate directed at Jews via official Palestinian media is making it difficult for some Israelis, especially those who have grown up in the shadow of the suicide bombings of the second intifada to accept the idea that they shouldn’t respond in kind.

A good example of the depth of this hatred is exhibited in this segment broadcast by Aqsa TV, the official television of the Hamas government of Gaza. In it, Ahlam Tamimi, who in 2001 took part in the bombing of the Sbarro pizza restaurant in Jerusalem happily boasted of her role in the murder of 15 people, including seven children as her interviewer smiled along as she recounted her joy at taking part in such an atrocity. But what is so chilling about this video — which is provided by the invaluable Arab media monitor group MEMRI — is not just her perverse pride in the crime but that she is sure that the Palestinian people not only approve of her conduct but also agree that she should be considered a heroine rather than a sociopath. Given the way she is treated in this interview, it’s hard to argue with her opinion on that score. As I first wrote yesterday, since Israelis are well aware of this disturbing reality, how can we then be surprised when a small minority of Jews react to this situation with anger and violence?

Tamimi, a college student and part-time journalist, was sentenced to 16 terms of life in prison for helping to lead the suicide bomber to the Sbarro outlet. The crime, which was perpetrated on a Friday, caught many young mothers and their children in the place where they had stopped for lunch during pre-Sabbath shopping.  Ten years later she was released from prison as part of the deal with Hamas to gain the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit after which Tamimi returned in triumph to Gaza where she continues to receive the acclaim of Palestinians.

Watching this video is a chilling experience for anyone who remembers the shocking pictures of the aftermath of the crime as bloody body parts and dismembered bodies of women and children littered the street in front of the restaurant. Here’s what Tamimi says about her escape from the crime scene:

Afterwards, when I took the bus, the Palestinians around Damascus Gate [in Jerusalem] were all smiling. You could sense that everybody was happy. When I got on the bus, nobody knew that it was me who had led [the suicide bomber to the target] … I was feeling quite strange, because I had left [the bomber] ‘Izz Al-Din behind, but inside the bus, they were all congratulating one another. They didn’t even know one another, yet they were exchanging greetings…While I was sitting on the bus, the driver turned on the radio. But first, let me tell you about the gradual rise in the number of casualties. While I was on the bus and everybody was congratulating one another.

After hearing an initial report that only “three people were killed” in the bombing, Tamimi said this:

I admit that I was a bit disappointed, because I had hoped for a larger toll. Yet when they said “three dead,” I said: ‘Allah be praised’… Two minutes later, they said on the radio that the number had increased to five. I wanted to hide my smile, but I just couldn’t. Allah be praised, it was great. As the number of dead kept increasing, the passengers were applauding.

She later states in the video that the applause continued in Ramallah where her bus took her and that Palestinian policemen there “congratulated” all on the bus for the news about the death of the Jewish men, women and children even though they had no idea she was one of those who had accomplished this feat.

Were Tamimi and those who applauded her action a tiny minority of Palestinian society or merely members of an extremist faction with no support it might be possible to dismiss her as an aberration. But she is not an outlier. Tamimi is right that the vast majority of Palestinians supported her crime and still consider her praiseworthy. Those who cannot understand the lack of support among the Palestinians for a peace deal that would give them a state including parts of Jerusalem need to realize that the hate that is routinely broadcast on the stations controlled by both Hamas and Fatah merely reflects popular sentiment. For them, the Jews killed at Sbarro’s were merely, as she put it, “Zionists” who deserve to die.

Arab hatred does not justify Jewish misbehavior. But those lamenting a disturbing trend among Jews to mirror the hatred of the Palestinians need to look at the environment in which Jews are living and ponder how it is that so few Israelis have succumbed to the virus of hate.

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Poll: McCaskill Leads Akin by 10 Points

Well, these numbers from Rasmussen pretty much kill any hope that Republicans will win a Senate majority. At least it’s not like they needed it for anything important, right? Here’s the pollster’s analysis:

What a difference one TV interview can make. Embattled Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill has now jumped to a 10-point lead over her Republican challenger, Congressman Todd Akin, in Missouri’s U.S. Senate race. Most Missouri Republicans want Akin to quit the race while most Missouri Democrats want him to stay.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in the Show Me State finds McCaskill earning 48% support to Akin’s 38%. Nine percent (9%) like some other candidate in the race, and five percent (5%) are undecided.

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Well, these numbers from Rasmussen pretty much kill any hope that Republicans will win a Senate majority. At least it’s not like they needed it for anything important, right? Here’s the pollster’s analysis:

What a difference one TV interview can make. Embattled Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill has now jumped to a 10-point lead over her Republican challenger, Congressman Todd Akin, in Missouri’s U.S. Senate race. Most Missouri Republicans want Akin to quit the race while most Missouri Democrats want him to stay.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in the Show Me State finds McCaskill earning 48% support to Akin’s 38%. Nine percent (9%) like some other candidate in the race, and five percent (5%) are undecided.

A Survey USA poll in mid-August showed Akin with an 11-point lead on McCaskill. That’s a 21-point drop in a matter of days. What happens once Missouri Democrats start really slamming Akin with negative ads? This could be a landslide.

Ed Morrissey reports that Akin’s supporters seem to be primarily on the Democratic side at this point. Fifty-three percent of Republicans say Akin should withdraw, while 56 percent of Democrats want him to stick around (presumably to watch him get crushed by McCaskill):

However, let’s not be too rash.  A number of Missouri voters want Akin to stay in the race.  Hey, they’re mostly Democrats, but at this point, Akin can’t afford to be choosy:

Forty-one percent (41%) say Akin should withdraw from the campaign and have Republicans select another candidate to run against McCaskill. But just as many (42%) disagree and say Akin should not quit the race. The partisan divide reveals voter understanding of the underlying dynamics. Most Republicans (53%) think he should quit; most Democrats (56%) do not, and unaffiliated voters are evenly divided.

Will these numbers finally convince Akin to step aside? Or is he that determined to single-handedly destroy the GOP’s chances of repealing Obamacare, give the Democrats a distraction issue to talk about for the next two months, and humiliate himself in a landslide primary loss?

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Romney Gets Bounce in FL, WI

Mitt Romney is closing the gap in Florida and Wisconsin, according to today’s Quinnipiac/CBS/NYT poll. According to Quinnipiac, this seems to be a mini-bump from the Paul Ryan pick:

Matching Obama against Romney among likely voters in each of these key states shows:

  • Florida: Obama at 49 percent to Romney’s 46 percent, compared to Obama’s 51 – 45 percent lead August 1;
  • Ohio: Obama edges Romney 50 – 44 percent, unchanged from August 1;
  • Wisconsin: Obama at 49 percent to Romney’s 47 percent, compared to Obama’s 51 – 45 percent lead August 8.

Ohio is the one state polled where Romney’s numbers have remained flat. The poll was also taken between August 15 and August 21, so it may not reflect any negative impact from the wall-to-wall Todd Akin coverage (though abortion issues don’t rank anywhere near a top concern with swing-state voters, according to the poll).

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Mitt Romney is closing the gap in Florida and Wisconsin, according to today’s Quinnipiac/CBS/NYT poll. According to Quinnipiac, this seems to be a mini-bump from the Paul Ryan pick:

Matching Obama against Romney among likely voters in each of these key states shows:

  • Florida: Obama at 49 percent to Romney’s 46 percent, compared to Obama’s 51 – 45 percent lead August 1;
  • Ohio: Obama edges Romney 50 – 44 percent, unchanged from August 1;
  • Wisconsin: Obama at 49 percent to Romney’s 47 percent, compared to Obama’s 51 – 45 percent lead August 8.

Ohio is the one state polled where Romney’s numbers have remained flat. The poll was also taken between August 15 and August 21, so it may not reflect any negative impact from the wall-to-wall Todd Akin coverage (though abortion issues don’t rank anywhere near a top concern with swing-state voters, according to the poll).

While senior citizens seem to view Ryan positively, one potential obstacle for Republicans is the general opposition to a “voucher-type” Medicare system in all three swing states:

Voters in each state say Obama would do a better job on Medicare and reject by wide margins a voucher-type Medicare system: 62 – 28 percent in Florida, 64 – 27 percent in Ohio and 59 – 32 percent in Wisconsin, the survey by Quinnipiac/CBS/The Times finds.

Obviously a big part of the Obama campaign’s Mediscare strategy will involve hammering in the idea that Romney and Ryan want to “voucherize” Medicare.

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Giraldi, Ohlin, and the Controversy over “Mean” Reviews

Last Sunday in the New York Times Book Review, the novelist William Giraldi tore into two new books of fiction by Alix Ohlin, a creative writing professor at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. Giraldi was disgusted with Ohlin’s prose, which “limps onto the page proudly indifferent to pitch or vigor.” He gives plenty of examples. One character is described as “brilliantly smart” (“imagine for a second the special brand of languor required to connect those two terms,” he remarks). Wisdom rises to the level of “Nice guys finish last.” Ohlin has a special weakness for language that she finds close at hand: “a fresh start,” “a dive bar,” “the tip of the iceberg,” and “the whole nine yards.” This is the kind of writing that results “when you need to fill a page but have nothing important to say,” Giraldi says.

The problem is not simply a lazy conception of prose. At bottom is a failure of vision. “When self-pity colludes with self-loathing and solipsism backfires into idealism,” Giraldi says, “the only outcome is insufferable schmaltz.” His conclusion is worth quoting at length. Much of the argument over fiction recently has been waged over women writers, who are obliged to struggle against the critical patriarchy for voice and recognition. An admirer of Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant, Giraldi is having none of it:

The more genuine argument to be had concerns the writer’s “moral obligation to be intelligent” — in John Erskine’s immortal coinage — and, by extension, the moral obligation to write well, to choose self-assertion over mere self-expression, to raise words above the enervated ruck and make the world anew. Every mind lives or dies by its ideas; every book lives or dies by its language.

Implicit in these words is not merely an understanding of fiction that Giraldi himself puts on stunning display in his first novel Busy Monsters (which I reviewed here and went on to praise here). What is even more scathing, Giraldi indicts a literary culture in which mere publication — the two published books required for a creative writing professor to earn academic tenure — has quashed any sense of responsibility toward the reading public, the principles of fiction, the high calling of art.

Full disclosure: Giraldi and I are friends, although he and I have never met. We became friends after I reviewed his novel, traded salutations by email, and then began scuffling good-naturedly over writing and writers. We discovered a remarkable similarity of thinking about many literary questions. His phrase the moral obligation to write well, for example, is one that I have also used (first here and then here), although it seems to have originated with Professor Jack L. Sammons of the Mercer University School of Law. If I remain loyal to Giraldi in what follows — that’s what friends do — the overriding reason is that he and I are share a loyalty to the institution of literature. That’s the basis of our friendship.

Giraldi’s review was greeted by a chorus of outrage. It was “mean-spirited,” “vicious and self-regarding,” a “jealous tantrum,” and most outrageous of all, a “particularly insufferable chunk of Strontium 90.” The novelist J. Robert Lennon rushed to Salon.com to say that he “felt terrible for Ohlin.” Johannes Lichtman dismissed the review as a “failure in four parts,” although he acknowledged that Giraldi was on to something nevertheless: “Ohlin is not a prose stylist — nor, in these two books at least, does she aspire to be.” (She is a “good storyteller,” Lichtman quickly added, trying to salvage a shiny trinket from the wreckage.)

Ohlin herself put on a brave public face. “All people in creative fields know there are risks involved in putting their work out into the world,” she tweeted sagaciously, going on to add: “If the occasional negative review is the price for this lucky writer’s life, then I will happily pay it.” Oh, the pluck! The poise! The good sense! All that happiness and prime can happy call!

Her reaction suggests that Ohlin agrees there was something personal in Giraldi’s attack, and it is her person, not her books (or, more to the point, her literary practice and habits of mind), which requires defense. At least she advanced no defense of her writing, falling back instead on sunny chatter about her literary career. But Giraldi was not attacking a person. He was attacking a style, a work-shy and negligent writing practice that does not take seriously the writer’s self-elected obligation to write as well as she possibly can. As he explained afterwards to the Boston Globe, his review was an “attack on laziness, on the ubiquity of indolence that is currently polluting our literary culture.”

The only critic who grasped what was at stake in the whole controversy was Ron Hogan, who challenged Giraldi on his own ground, attacking Giraldi’s own prose (“ ‘Emotional verity’? ‘Coruscated import’? ‘The lassitude of at-hand language’? Somebody’s clearly getting a lot out of his word-a-day calendars!”). In other words, Hogan answered the baroque style’s attack upon the plain style with an attack upon the baroque style. And like Giraldi too, Hogan managed the astonishing feat — astonishing only because so few in the Republic of Letters are able to reproduce it — of avoiding the ad hominem and sticking entirely to the question of literary principle.

I think that Hogan is wrong about Giraldi’s style (and that Giraldi is right about Ohlin’s), but this is a fight worth engaging in. It is, in fact, the full and final defense of “mean” reviews. Critics have a duty to review books harshly, I wrote nearly a year ago: “The circulation of ideas begins with books, and bad books circulate bad ideas. . . . When critics fail to bulldoze such nonsense under, it spreads like knotweed, choking American thought.”

American fiction is in decline, because so much of it is “literary fiction,” written not to defend a style — not to declare This and only this is how fiction should be done! — but to have a career, usually in a college or university somewhere, about which a creative writing professor can feel lucky. The indolence of Alix Ohlin’s prose represents a betrayal of the literary vocation, and William Giraldi attacked it in the name of defending the value and dignity of good writing. Those who would sneer at him for being “mean” prefer the convention of social pleasantness, a heartfelt relativism which holds that every judgment is a personal preference anyway.

Literature needs fewer nice people and more loyalists.

Last Sunday in the New York Times Book Review, the novelist William Giraldi tore into two new books of fiction by Alix Ohlin, a creative writing professor at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. Giraldi was disgusted with Ohlin’s prose, which “limps onto the page proudly indifferent to pitch or vigor.” He gives plenty of examples. One character is described as “brilliantly smart” (“imagine for a second the special brand of languor required to connect those two terms,” he remarks). Wisdom rises to the level of “Nice guys finish last.” Ohlin has a special weakness for language that she finds close at hand: “a fresh start,” “a dive bar,” “the tip of the iceberg,” and “the whole nine yards.” This is the kind of writing that results “when you need to fill a page but have nothing important to say,” Giraldi says.

The problem is not simply a lazy conception of prose. At bottom is a failure of vision. “When self-pity colludes with self-loathing and solipsism backfires into idealism,” Giraldi says, “the only outcome is insufferable schmaltz.” His conclusion is worth quoting at length. Much of the argument over fiction recently has been waged over women writers, who are obliged to struggle against the critical patriarchy for voice and recognition. An admirer of Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant, Giraldi is having none of it:

The more genuine argument to be had concerns the writer’s “moral obligation to be intelligent” — in John Erskine’s immortal coinage — and, by extension, the moral obligation to write well, to choose self-assertion over mere self-expression, to raise words above the enervated ruck and make the world anew. Every mind lives or dies by its ideas; every book lives or dies by its language.

Implicit in these words is not merely an understanding of fiction that Giraldi himself puts on stunning display in his first novel Busy Monsters (which I reviewed here and went on to praise here). What is even more scathing, Giraldi indicts a literary culture in which mere publication — the two published books required for a creative writing professor to earn academic tenure — has quashed any sense of responsibility toward the reading public, the principles of fiction, the high calling of art.

Full disclosure: Giraldi and I are friends, although he and I have never met. We became friends after I reviewed his novel, traded salutations by email, and then began scuffling good-naturedly over writing and writers. We discovered a remarkable similarity of thinking about many literary questions. His phrase the moral obligation to write well, for example, is one that I have also used (first here and then here), although it seems to have originated with Professor Jack L. Sammons of the Mercer University School of Law. If I remain loyal to Giraldi in what follows — that’s what friends do — the overriding reason is that he and I are share a loyalty to the institution of literature. That’s the basis of our friendship.

Giraldi’s review was greeted by a chorus of outrage. It was “mean-spirited,” “vicious and self-regarding,” a “jealous tantrum,” and most outrageous of all, a “particularly insufferable chunk of Strontium 90.” The novelist J. Robert Lennon rushed to Salon.com to say that he “felt terrible for Ohlin.” Johannes Lichtman dismissed the review as a “failure in four parts,” although he acknowledged that Giraldi was on to something nevertheless: “Ohlin is not a prose stylist — nor, in these two books at least, does she aspire to be.” (She is a “good storyteller,” Lichtman quickly added, trying to salvage a shiny trinket from the wreckage.)

Ohlin herself put on a brave public face. “All people in creative fields know there are risks involved in putting their work out into the world,” she tweeted sagaciously, going on to add: “If the occasional negative review is the price for this lucky writer’s life, then I will happily pay it.” Oh, the pluck! The poise! The good sense! All that happiness and prime can happy call!

Her reaction suggests that Ohlin agrees there was something personal in Giraldi’s attack, and it is her person, not her books (or, more to the point, her literary practice and habits of mind), which requires defense. At least she advanced no defense of her writing, falling back instead on sunny chatter about her literary career. But Giraldi was not attacking a person. He was attacking a style, a work-shy and negligent writing practice that does not take seriously the writer’s self-elected obligation to write as well as she possibly can. As he explained afterwards to the Boston Globe, his review was an “attack on laziness, on the ubiquity of indolence that is currently polluting our literary culture.”

The only critic who grasped what was at stake in the whole controversy was Ron Hogan, who challenged Giraldi on his own ground, attacking Giraldi’s own prose (“ ‘Emotional verity’? ‘Coruscated import’? ‘The lassitude of at-hand language’? Somebody’s clearly getting a lot out of his word-a-day calendars!”). In other words, Hogan answered the baroque style’s attack upon the plain style with an attack upon the baroque style. And like Giraldi too, Hogan managed the astonishing feat — astonishing only because so few in the Republic of Letters are able to reproduce it — of avoiding the ad hominem and sticking entirely to the question of literary principle.

I think that Hogan is wrong about Giraldi’s style (and that Giraldi is right about Ohlin’s), but this is a fight worth engaging in. It is, in fact, the full and final defense of “mean” reviews. Critics have a duty to review books harshly, I wrote nearly a year ago: “The circulation of ideas begins with books, and bad books circulate bad ideas. . . . When critics fail to bulldoze such nonsense under, it spreads like knotweed, choking American thought.”

American fiction is in decline, because so much of it is “literary fiction,” written not to defend a style — not to declare This and only this is how fiction should be done! — but to have a career, usually in a college or university somewhere, about which a creative writing professor can feel lucky. The indolence of Alix Ohlin’s prose represents a betrayal of the literary vocation, and William Giraldi attacked it in the name of defending the value and dignity of good writing. Those who would sneer at him for being “mean” prefer the convention of social pleasantness, a heartfelt relativism which holds that every judgment is a personal preference anyway.

Literature needs fewer nice people and more loyalists.

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Obama Campaign Stunt “Breaks Precedent”

The Wall Street Journal has a long story today examining the extent of President Obama’s failure with regard to his stated goal of reducing the partisan rancor in Washington. The Journal notes that while Obama promised to “heal the divides,” and other vapid covers for the president’s own extreme partisanship, he has only built a more divided political atmosphere:

Almost four years later, few think those rifts have been healed. One of the central tenets of the 2008 Obama campaign was a promise to usher in an almost post-partisan era in Washington, but by most measures the capital’s divisive tone has grown worse. The rancor has bled into the campaign, which has been marked by unusually negative rhetoric from both sides.

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The Wall Street Journal has a long story today examining the extent of President Obama’s failure with regard to his stated goal of reducing the partisan rancor in Washington. The Journal notes that while Obama promised to “heal the divides,” and other vapid covers for the president’s own extreme partisanship, he has only built a more divided political atmosphere:

Almost four years later, few think those rifts have been healed. One of the central tenets of the 2008 Obama campaign was a promise to usher in an almost post-partisan era in Washington, but by most measures the capital’s divisive tone has grown worse. The rancor has bled into the campaign, which has been marked by unusually negative rhetoric from both sides.

The Journal is quick to dispel the notion that the GOP has been more united in opposition to the Democrats than the president’s party has been against the Republicans: “Last year, House Republicans voted with their leadership 91% of the time on average, tying a record for party-line voting, while Senate Democrats set a record with 92% party unity, according to data compiled by Congressional Quarterly.”

The article offers many reasons for the increased polarization, relying heavily on criticism from the president’s allies and fellow Democrats that paint Obama as dismissive of building relationships with his opposition, preferring to ignore or freeze out those who disagree with him on Capitol Hill, unlike his Democratic and Republican predecessors who were able to pursue their agenda while reaching across the isle and show a willingness to engage with the other side.

But the president’s contribution to the increased polarization seems to be more than just his personal coldness toward those with different ideas. As a piece in the Hill today makes clear, Obama has found ways to escalate the petty verbal skirmishing he claimed to detest:

Bucking protocol, President Obama and the Democrats are planning a full-scale assault on Republicans next week during their convention.

Presidential candidates have traditionally kept a low profile during their opponent’s nominating celebration, but Democrats are throwing those rules out the window in an attempt to spoil Mitt Romney’s coronation as the GOP nominee.

President Obama, Vice President Biden and leading congressional Democrats have all scheduled high-profile events next week to counter-program the Republican gathering in Tampa….

“Traditionally, there was a kind of courtesy extended to the party having the convention — the [other] party would basically stay out of the public eye,” said Ross Baker, political scientist at Rutgers University.

In fairness to Obama, he did promise to change business as usual in Washington, and erasing any semblance of inter-party graciousness certainly qualifies. Now, I don’t think the parties necessarily have to hold their fire just because campaigns have done so in the past. It’s just worth pointing out that Obama isn’t the victim of a status quo—he has made a choice and is pursuing it.

Of course, anyone who is familiar with coverage of the president knows what’s coming next: the explanation for why it can’t possibly be Obama’s fault:

Political historians say the high stakes of this year’s elections — combined with the rise of today’s 24/7 media culture — has forced leaders on both sides of the aisle to get more aggressive.

It’s really a shame that the president was “forced” into breaking precedent and running a nastier campaign than he promised. And of course there’s the unavoidable “both sides” bit even though the article’s point is that the president is doing something no one else has done. I suppose this is what the president was talking about when he complained about “false balance” in the press.

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Predicting the Outcome

Predicting the outcome of elections is big business. In the early days it was left to political professionals who would rely on their gut instincts to “feel” how  the campaign was developing. This is not dissimilar to Wall Streeters who can “read the tape” to sense which way particular stocks will move. In the mid-20th century scientific polling developed, but with occasional spectacular failures. The Literary Digest poll in 1936 predicted an Alf Landon victory over FDR. Landon carried only Maine and Vermont. Everybody was wrong about the outcome of the 1948 election, epitomized by the picture of a triumphant Harry Truman holding up a copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune with its premature headline DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.

In recent years, Intrade has allowed people to bet real money on the outcomes of elections, in effect measuring the gut instincts of the many. It currently has Obama’s chances at 57.3 percent and Mitt Romney at 42.3 percent.

And, of course, political science professors try as well to read the tea leaves. Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia is probably seen more often on television than other professor. He currently has the race at 237 electoral votes safe, likely, or leaning to Obama, 206 to Romney, with 95 in the tossup category.

Two professors at the University of Colorado, Kenneth Bickers and Michael Berry, have developed a prediction model based not on polling or gut instincts, but on economic factors in each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia:

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Predicting the outcome of elections is big business. In the early days it was left to political professionals who would rely on their gut instincts to “feel” how  the campaign was developing. This is not dissimilar to Wall Streeters who can “read the tape” to sense which way particular stocks will move. In the mid-20th century scientific polling developed, but with occasional spectacular failures. The Literary Digest poll in 1936 predicted an Alf Landon victory over FDR. Landon carried only Maine and Vermont. Everybody was wrong about the outcome of the 1948 election, epitomized by the picture of a triumphant Harry Truman holding up a copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune with its premature headline DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.

In recent years, Intrade has allowed people to bet real money on the outcomes of elections, in effect measuring the gut instincts of the many. It currently has Obama’s chances at 57.3 percent and Mitt Romney at 42.3 percent.

And, of course, political science professors try as well to read the tea leaves. Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia is probably seen more often on television than other professor. He currently has the race at 237 electoral votes safe, likely, or leaning to Obama, 206 to Romney, with 95 in the tossup category.

Two professors at the University of Colorado, Kenneth Bickers and Michael Berry, have developed a prediction model based not on polling or gut instincts, but on economic factors in each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia:

According to their analysis, President Barack Obama will win 218 votes in the Electoral College, short of the 270 he needs. And though they chiefly focus on the Electoral College, the political scientists predict Romney will win 52.9 percent of the popular vote to Obama’s 47.1 percent, when considering only the two major political parties. . . .

“What is striking about our state-level economic indicator forecast is the expectation that Obama will lose almost all of the states currently considered as swing states, including North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida,” Bickers said.

You can take this for what it’s worth, but I will point out that this model has correctly predicted the outcome for every presidential election beginning in 1980.

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Don’t Blame the Networks

Republicans are crying foul because ABC, CBS and NBC won’t be carrying a minute of coverage of the first night of their convention next week. That’s a blow to the GOP since it means one of their best speakers and appealing personalities — Ann Romney — will have a smaller audience watching on television than she might have gotten to kick off the Tampa event. Democrats have their own beef as it’s been announced that the following week when their own gathering convenes in Charlotte, NBC will skip the Wednesday night session in order to avoid any interruptions of the National Football League’s opening game between the Giants and the Cowboys. That means a smaller audience for former President Bill Clinton as he makes the nominating speech for President Obama.

This is seen by some as a cynical move by the networks who are accused of placing money making above their civic duty. A disgruntled Romney advisor told the New York Times, “I don’t think it’s the decision that Bill Paley would have made” — a reference to the head of CBS during its so-called “golden age” of network news with Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Maybe Paley would have run coverage of Ann Romney’s convention speech instead of a rerun of “Hawaii Five-O” — the show that will be aired on CBS while the candidate’s wife talks. NBC and ABC are also running crime show reruns during this slot. But don’t blame the networks for choosing sleuths over the candidate’s spouse. If they are treating the two national party jamborees very differently from the way Paley and his colleagues did in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, it is because the conventions are different.

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Republicans are crying foul because ABC, CBS and NBC won’t be carrying a minute of coverage of the first night of their convention next week. That’s a blow to the GOP since it means one of their best speakers and appealing personalities — Ann Romney — will have a smaller audience watching on television than she might have gotten to kick off the Tampa event. Democrats have their own beef as it’s been announced that the following week when their own gathering convenes in Charlotte, NBC will skip the Wednesday night session in order to avoid any interruptions of the National Football League’s opening game between the Giants and the Cowboys. That means a smaller audience for former President Bill Clinton as he makes the nominating speech for President Obama.

This is seen by some as a cynical move by the networks who are accused of placing money making above their civic duty. A disgruntled Romney advisor told the New York Times, “I don’t think it’s the decision that Bill Paley would have made” — a reference to the head of CBS during its so-called “golden age” of network news with Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Maybe Paley would have run coverage of Ann Romney’s convention speech instead of a rerun of “Hawaii Five-O” — the show that will be aired on CBS while the candidate’s wife talks. NBC and ABC are also running crime show reruns during this slot. But don’t blame the networks for choosing sleuths over the candidate’s spouse. If they are treating the two national party jamborees very differently from the way Paley and his colleagues did in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, it is because the conventions are different.

Back then, they were deliberative political bodies where real issues were debated and voted upon while other, often even more important decisions, were decided in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms off the convention floor. The broadcasts of the conventions weren’t a civics lesson so much as they were a highly dramatic and colorful display of the political system at work. Though some parts could be excruciating, they were often dramatic. And like the NFL contest that many Americans will sensibly prefer to Bill Clinton next month, the outcome won’t have already been decided before the game begins.

The last national convention whose outcome was in doubt prior to its opening was in 1976 when incumbent President Gerald Ford narrowly fended off a challenge from Ronald Reagan and his resurgent conservative movement. Through some speculated about the possibility of a brokered Republican convention this year, that mouth-watering possibility for political junkies was no more likely to happen this year than it has any other presidential year for the last generation. The parties have created a nomination process that makes such an outcome unlikely if not impossible. Neither Republicans nor Democrats will ever have any interest in producing a good spectacle that will mean their side will be unable to prepare for the general election until September. Nor do they relish the political bloodletting and internecine warfare that a deliberative convention would bring.

So they give us what makes sense for them: a highly scripted television show in which the candidate picks all the speakers and dictates the contents of their speeches. Each convention is no more than a lengthy infomercial. Their only resemblance to the past when the nation would sit by their radios or televisions listening with bated breath as the roll call of states voting is the setting in an arena.

Under these circumstances, the parties are lucky that the broadcast networks still give them three free hours of coverage for each convention. Those addicted to politics can watch the cable news networks or C-Span.

It’s true that there was something to be said for the past when anyone with a television set was forced to watch gavel-to-gavel convention coverage. But most Americans now have hundreds of channels to choose from and are no longer dependent on three middle-aged liberal white guys to tell them what the news was at 6:30 each evening.

If the parties want more coverage of their conventions, they should give us something more interesting to watch. Since that is antithetical to their political fortunes, they should pipe down and get the staged charades over with as we head to the fall campaign. And anyone who wants to watch an interesting political convention can rent “The Best Man.”

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