Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 29, 2012

Ryan’s Star Turn Shows GOP Ready to Rumble on Medicare

When Mitt Romney chose Rep. Paul Ryan to be his running mate Democrats rejoiced. They were sure that the elevation of the author of the Republican Congress budget plan that called for reform of entitlements like Medicare guaranteed the president’s re-election. They had already been planning to run hard against the Ryan budget no matter who was on the GOP ticket. But having Ryan as their piñata seemed like a dream come true.

But tonight at the Republican National Convention, as Ryan got his prime time spot accepting his nomination, the rest of the country began to understand why conservatives have been so devoted to him. Ryan’s speech was not merely well executed but an example of how he earned his reputation as the intellectual leader of his party. Even more important, he showed that he and the man at the top of the ticket plan to run on the reformist ideas that Democrats think work to their advantage. Far from shying away from the Obama campaign’s Mediscare tactics, they are ready to rumble on a platform aimed at saving entitlements against the status quo policies of the administration.

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When Mitt Romney chose Rep. Paul Ryan to be his running mate Democrats rejoiced. They were sure that the elevation of the author of the Republican Congress budget plan that called for reform of entitlements like Medicare guaranteed the president’s re-election. They had already been planning to run hard against the Ryan budget no matter who was on the GOP ticket. But having Ryan as their piñata seemed like a dream come true.

But tonight at the Republican National Convention, as Ryan got his prime time spot accepting his nomination, the rest of the country began to understand why conservatives have been so devoted to him. Ryan’s speech was not merely well executed but an example of how he earned his reputation as the intellectual leader of his party. Even more important, he showed that he and the man at the top of the ticket plan to run on the reformist ideas that Democrats think work to their advantage. Far from shying away from the Obama campaign’s Mediscare tactics, they are ready to rumble on a platform aimed at saving entitlements against the status quo policies of the administration.

Ryan came across as he always has in his Congressional campaigns: as a likeable man who was capable of bold attacks as well as smart ideas. The Democrats may think they can demonize the congressman but anyone who saw this speech knows that is highly unlikely. Far from being the guy who pushes granny off the cliff in the Democrats’ attack ads, Ryan was appealing–not scary or extremist, as liberals allege. But even worse for the Democrats is Ryan’s ability to turn the tables on the president. Rather than playing defense on Medicare, the GOP veep candidate made it clear that the Republican approach will be to brand ObamaCare as the greatest threat to that program. Liberals may argue that the raid on Medicare to fund the health plan is not an issue, but given the unpopularity of the measure, this is a talking point that Republicans will drive home to their advantage this fall. Instead of weak point, Ryan’s reform ideas may turn out to be the GOP’s best selling point.

Coming as it did after Condoleezza Rice’s brilliant and inspiring address to the convention as well as another strong speech by New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, there might have been some fear that Ryan couldn’t pull off a triumph this evening. But he did just that, mixing humor and sharp attacks on the president with touching evocations of the American dream. Ryan isn’t just a rising GOP star, this evening he showed that he is a major asset to Mitt Romney’s hopes of being elected president.

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More Evidence Christie Made the Right Move Last Night

Tonight, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, one of the most intelligent men in politics, gave a pretty straightforward version of the speech Chris Christie’s critics complained he had not delivered last night—full of head-on assaults on Barack Obama, praise for Romney, drawing sharp contrasts, throwing out applause lines, lots of red meat. And here’s the thing—it didn’t really work. True, Portman is not half the speaker Christie is, and doesn’t have Christie’s outsized personality. But the problem with the speech was its conception. There’s something discomfiting about the direct attack that involves beating up on someone who isn’t there to defend himself or to be defended. It doesn’t convince you unless you’re already convinced. Certainly, preaching to the choir is part of what a convention should do to fire up the delegates and workers. But Christie was delivering a nationally televised address watched by 25 million people, and for them, you have to do something else. You make your own case and you criticize the opposing view, but you have to do so in a manner that does not seem unfair, unjust, or cheap—otherwise you will lose that part of your audience you can convince. Christie focused his speech on the future, not the past. I think the Portman misfire shows that Christie did the right thing politically.

Tonight, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, one of the most intelligent men in politics, gave a pretty straightforward version of the speech Chris Christie’s critics complained he had not delivered last night—full of head-on assaults on Barack Obama, praise for Romney, drawing sharp contrasts, throwing out applause lines, lots of red meat. And here’s the thing—it didn’t really work. True, Portman is not half the speaker Christie is, and doesn’t have Christie’s outsized personality. But the problem with the speech was its conception. There’s something discomfiting about the direct attack that involves beating up on someone who isn’t there to defend himself or to be defended. It doesn’t convince you unless you’re already convinced. Certainly, preaching to the choir is part of what a convention should do to fire up the delegates and workers. But Christie was delivering a nationally televised address watched by 25 million people, and for them, you have to do something else. You make your own case and you criticize the opposing view, but you have to do so in a manner that does not seem unfair, unjust, or cheap—otherwise you will lose that part of your audience you can convince. Christie focused his speech on the future, not the past. I think the Portman misfire shows that Christie did the right thing politically.

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Short Shrift for Foreign Policy

What’s been missing from the Republican National Convention? On Tuesday, nine hours worth of speechifying brought hardly a mention of the primary responsibility of any president: foreign policy. That was corrected on Wednesday night with a brief bout of isolationist sentiment from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul who gave a skim milk version of his father Ron’s extremist philosophy. That was quickly followed by an address by 2008 GOP nominee John McCain who gave an impassioned defense of the importance of American leadership in the world. That McCain spoke for the overwhelming majority of Republicans was not in doubt but other than a brief film after that which highlighted Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel (which had to drive the Israel-hating Paulbots present crazy), that was it for foreign policy. The next speakers returned to familiar themes bashing ObamaCare and we heard no more about defense spending or the president’s abandonment of America’s freedom agenda and our allies. No doubt, Condoleezza Rice will say more about it later but the low priority accorded the topic is not in question.

There’s no doubt that fiscal issues will decide the 2012 election. Given the dismal state of the economy that’s understandable. But no matter what they say before they are elected, all presidents soon learn that their ability to deal with domestic issues largely depends on their ability to manage Congress. Foreign policy is the president’s prime responsibility. And despite the claims of some of his apologists, it is a topic on which the incumbent has done very poorly. Other than killing Osama bin Laden, President Obama has presided over a record of failure abroad in which he has alienated our allies like Israel and unsuccessful sought to appease foes like Russia and Iran.

The Republicans may be just following the polls in ignoring foreign policy, but the nation will be ill served by a campaign where this crucial category is pushed to the margins.

What’s been missing from the Republican National Convention? On Tuesday, nine hours worth of speechifying brought hardly a mention of the primary responsibility of any president: foreign policy. That was corrected on Wednesday night with a brief bout of isolationist sentiment from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul who gave a skim milk version of his father Ron’s extremist philosophy. That was quickly followed by an address by 2008 GOP nominee John McCain who gave an impassioned defense of the importance of American leadership in the world. That McCain spoke for the overwhelming majority of Republicans was not in doubt but other than a brief film after that which highlighted Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel (which had to drive the Israel-hating Paulbots present crazy), that was it for foreign policy. The next speakers returned to familiar themes bashing ObamaCare and we heard no more about defense spending or the president’s abandonment of America’s freedom agenda and our allies. No doubt, Condoleezza Rice will say more about it later but the low priority accorded the topic is not in question.

There’s no doubt that fiscal issues will decide the 2012 election. Given the dismal state of the economy that’s understandable. But no matter what they say before they are elected, all presidents soon learn that their ability to deal with domestic issues largely depends on their ability to manage Congress. Foreign policy is the president’s prime responsibility. And despite the claims of some of his apologists, it is a topic on which the incumbent has done very poorly. Other than killing Osama bin Laden, President Obama has presided over a record of failure abroad in which he has alienated our allies like Israel and unsuccessful sought to appease foes like Russia and Iran.

The Republicans may be just following the polls in ignoring foreign policy, but the nation will be ill served by a campaign where this crucial category is pushed to the margins.

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Rand Paul Is a Star

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, one of the Republican surprises in the wave election of 2010, made his national debut just now at the Republican convention with what can only be described as a humdinger. He simply began his speech in the middle. “When I heard about the Supreme Court’s decision upholding Obamacare,” he started, “I thought, ‘But it’s unconstitutional.'” He went on to connect his view with the views of the Federalists about limited government, connected them cleverly to the convention’s “you didn’t build that” theme, and offered a brilliantly succinct explanation of the problem with centralized populist attacks on business: “When you seek to punish Mr. Exxon Mobil, you punish the secretary who owns Exxon Mobil stock.”

Having established his bona fides as a mainstream Republican, he then dipped into his father Ron Paul’s kit bag—calling for defense cuts and offering a libertarian attack on homeland security. These were done with an artful lightness of touch his father has never displayed. “You, the individual, are the engine of America’s greatness,” he concluded.

An undeniable triumph.

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, one of the Republican surprises in the wave election of 2010, made his national debut just now at the Republican convention with what can only be described as a humdinger. He simply began his speech in the middle. “When I heard about the Supreme Court’s decision upholding Obamacare,” he started, “I thought, ‘But it’s unconstitutional.'” He went on to connect his view with the views of the Federalists about limited government, connected them cleverly to the convention’s “you didn’t build that” theme, and offered a brilliantly succinct explanation of the problem with centralized populist attacks on business: “When you seek to punish Mr. Exxon Mobil, you punish the secretary who owns Exxon Mobil stock.”

Having established his bona fides as a mainstream Republican, he then dipped into his father Ron Paul’s kit bag—calling for defense cuts and offering a libertarian attack on homeland security. These were done with an artful lightness of touch his father has never displayed. “You, the individual, are the engine of America’s greatness,” he concluded.

An undeniable triumph.

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Convention Isn’t All About the Nominee

I don’t know if Chris Christie has read the critiques of his keynote speech last night, but it doesn’t matter much now–especially since the criticism was mostly nonsense. But it’s exceedingly important that Paul Ryan–the star of tonight’s show–does not read the reaction to Christie’s speech. There were two major complaints about Christie’s speech–which, by the way, as Politico notes, was approved by the Romney camp with no complaints. The first is that Christie spoke too much about himself, and the second is that he didn’t speak enough about Mitt Romney.

Goodness gracious. The reason Christie spoke so much about his own experience in New Jersey is because that experience has shaped the entire justification for, and communications strategy of, the Romney-Ryan campaign. They have decided to run as reformers who speak hard truths and treat voters as adults. And most significantly, with Romney’s selection of Ryan, they have decided that political “third rails” can be touched, and perhaps even stomped on a bit. They have chosen, in other words, to follow Christie’s lead.

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I don’t know if Chris Christie has read the critiques of his keynote speech last night, but it doesn’t matter much now–especially since the criticism was mostly nonsense. But it’s exceedingly important that Paul Ryan–the star of tonight’s show–does not read the reaction to Christie’s speech. There were two major complaints about Christie’s speech–which, by the way, as Politico notes, was approved by the Romney camp with no complaints. The first is that Christie spoke too much about himself, and the second is that he didn’t speak enough about Mitt Romney.

Goodness gracious. The reason Christie spoke so much about his own experience in New Jersey is because that experience has shaped the entire justification for, and communications strategy of, the Romney-Ryan campaign. They have decided to run as reformers who speak hard truths and treat voters as adults. And most significantly, with Romney’s selection of Ryan, they have decided that political “third rails” can be touched, and perhaps even stomped on a bit. They have chosen, in other words, to follow Christie’s lead.

Therefore, it is much more important for the Romney-Ryan ticket—especially Ryan—to learn from Christie how to communicate that strategy to the public in order to win support for what are thought to be unpopular, or at least very risky, ideas. Since Ryan represents more of this political risk than Romney, it’s even more important for Ryan not necessarily to mimic Christie—Ryan has to speak in his own voice, of course—but to learn how to change minds on these issues, and to hear what works and what doesn’t. What nobody needs is a convention that turns into a worshipful cult of personality. The Democrats’ 2008 coronation need not be reproduced, now or ever.

The Republican Party should not aspire to be a one-man army, and it needs to remind voters that its adherents can govern. The Republican Party, given the earmark-a-palooza and other unsavory elements of its congressional majority in the early years of this young century, is attempting to rehabilitate its reputation by projecting competence and showing itself to consist of a broad array of diverse problem solvers. Every speaker at the convention–and check the schedule, there are a great many–mentions Romney. It is only at certain times appropriate to speak at length about him. As the Politico story notes, Christie understood that:

Christie addressed this choice Wednesday at breakfast for New Hampshire and Pennsylvania delegates. With Ann Romney speaking first, Christie said in comments quoted on the BuzzFeed website, “it freed me up — remember, she was supposed to be going Monday night and because of the hurricane, it was canceled — so instead both of us were on the same night.”

“It actually freed me up to put the choice into more general terms. It allowed me to be able to let Ann Romney talk about Mitt Romney the person.”

If Ryan’s speech shies away from the issues Republicans claim are sending this country fast off a cliff in favor of platitudinous praise of the party’s nominee, it will be a monumental waste of everyone’s time, and undercut the entire rationale for Ryan’s selection as vice presidential nominee. Additionally, Ryan will be introducing himself to a certain degree tonight, or at least continuing his introduction. Let Christie be Christie, and Ryan be Ryan.

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Obama Fails to Define Ryan Before Speech

The left can’t seem to figure out whether it wants to call Paul Ryan a “radical” or a “coward,”; an Ayn Rand disciple or a religious fanatic. So it’s not a surprise that the Obama campaign’s attempts to define Ryan haven’t stuck. The Fix flags a WaPo-Pew Research poll that found Americans have a hard time finding negative things to say about him:

A new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll asked Americans to say what one word comes to mind when they think about the GOP vice presidential nominee. And people have a hard time finding negative things to say about him.

None of the top nine words people use to describe Ryan are are negative, and six of the nine are positive (“intelligent,” “good,” “energetic,” “honest,” etc.).

Not until you get to the 10th- and 11th-most-cited words do Democrats’ attempts to define Ryan begin to register. That’s the point at which people start describing Ryan as an “idiot” and “extremist.”

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The left can’t seem to figure out whether it wants to call Paul Ryan a “radical” or a “coward,”; an Ayn Rand disciple or a religious fanatic. So it’s not a surprise that the Obama campaign’s attempts to define Ryan haven’t stuck. The Fix flags a WaPo-Pew Research poll that found Americans have a hard time finding negative things to say about him:

A new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll asked Americans to say what one word comes to mind when they think about the GOP vice presidential nominee. And people have a hard time finding negative things to say about him.

None of the top nine words people use to describe Ryan are are negative, and six of the nine are positive (“intelligent,” “good,” “energetic,” “honest,” etc.).

Not until you get to the 10th- and 11th-most-cited words do Democrats’ attempts to define Ryan begin to register. That’s the point at which people start describing Ryan as an “idiot” and “extremist.”

What does this mean? The Fix’s Aaron Blake explains:

More than anything, though, it shows that Democratic attacks have yet to really sink in. Respondents actually offered nearly as many negative words as positive words, but the negative reviews are far more diffuse. Most negative words were only mentioned a handful of times, with little consensus on what’s bad about Ryan.

If Democrats’ efforts to label Ryan as an extremist who wants to end Medicare were really catching on, we would be seeing “extreme” and “Medicare” up higher. (In fact, “Medicare” wasn’t even mentioned.)

The Obama campaign’s attempts to define Paul Ryan before the convention have been a failure. When Ryan takes the stage at the convention tonight to officially introduce himself to the country, he’ll likely to be speaking to people who already have a generally positive or neutral view of him. That doesn’t mean Democratic attacks on Ryan over the next few months won’t shift public opinion, but it does mean the Obama campaign frittered away the critical pre-convention window of time.

Democrats have had difficulty defining Ryan negatively because he doesn’t fit easily into the cookie-cutter media narratives about Republicans. He’s too smart to be painted as a dumb cowboy, too genial to be pinned as an angry social con, and too poor to be branded as an out-of-touch rich guy. In a different election, Ryan might have been accused of being a cutout for the neocons, but that would threaten Obama’s (ludicrous) efforts to portray himself as a pro-Israel national security hawk this time around.

Clearly running out of ideas, the Obama campaign’s latest attack on Ryan is that he’s “old-fashioned.” Alas, the youthful and athletic Ryan defies that depiction as well.

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Ban Didn’t Redeem Himself in Tehran

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has rightly been subjected to some tough criticism for going to Tehran this week to attend the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement. Much like the meeting of the 120-member nation group itself, Ban’s presence in Iran shows how ineffective American efforts to isolate the Islamist regime have been. His presence there is an implicit stamp of approval for Tehran’s defiance of efforts to halt their drive for nuclear weapons as well as for the recent spate of anti-Semitic statements made by Iran’s leaders. But Ban’s defenders have claimed he would make up for it by making strong statements in Iran.

Ban has apparently made good on that promise by using a meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stop making offensive and inflammatory comments about Israel being eliminated. He also used a separate meeting with Ayatollah Ali Khaminei to tell him that Iran needs to take “concrete steps” to prove to the world that its nuclear program is not a threat to world peace. Those are good statements, but the idea that this redeems Ban’s decision to travel to the rogue regime is dead wrong. The Iranians have already been told these things numerous times by people more important than Ban. With the clock ticking down to the day when the ayatollahs can announce they have a nuclear weapon, the Iranians need to understand that they will be subjected to complete isolation if they don’t reverse course. More scolding won’t do the trick.

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United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has rightly been subjected to some tough criticism for going to Tehran this week to attend the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement. Much like the meeting of the 120-member nation group itself, Ban’s presence in Iran shows how ineffective American efforts to isolate the Islamist regime have been. His presence there is an implicit stamp of approval for Tehran’s defiance of efforts to halt their drive for nuclear weapons as well as for the recent spate of anti-Semitic statements made by Iran’s leaders. But Ban’s defenders have claimed he would make up for it by making strong statements in Iran.

Ban has apparently made good on that promise by using a meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stop making offensive and inflammatory comments about Israel being eliminated. He also used a separate meeting with Ayatollah Ali Khaminei to tell him that Iran needs to take “concrete steps” to prove to the world that its nuclear program is not a threat to world peace. Those are good statements, but the idea that this redeems Ban’s decision to travel to the rogue regime is dead wrong. The Iranians have already been told these things numerous times by people more important than Ban. With the clock ticking down to the day when the ayatollahs can announce they have a nuclear weapon, the Iranians need to understand that they will be subjected to complete isolation if they don’t reverse course. More scolding won’t do the trick.

When compared to the feckless behavior of the members of the Non-Aligned Movement such as Egypt, whose new President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood also journeyed to Tehran, Ban’s behavior looks good. Those other countries were happy to accept the hospitality of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and to say nothing about their vicious anti-Semitism and threats to wipe out a fellow member state of the United Nations, let alone condemn Iran’s nuclear program. That this conclave would occur at a time when Iran is actively supplying its ally Syrian dictator Bashar Assad with weapons to kill his own people is equally outrageous. Ban at least put himself on record as opposing these things.

But the Iranians were happy to accept Ban’s remonstrations in exchange for being able to play host to the NAM as well as the head of the UN. Just by being there, Ban made it clear that the West’s sanctions were not a serious impediment to normal intercourse between Iran and the rest of the world. At this point, it matters less what people say to the Iranians than what they do with them. Going to Tehran was a gift that exposed the unimportance of the international coalition that Secretary of State Clinton has bragged about organizing. Ban’s statements, however praiseworthy, don’t change the fact that this has been a very good week for the Iranian regime and a bad one for those who still insist against all the evidence that diplomacy and sanctions are enough to stop them.

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Another German Rabbi Charged in Bris Ban

I’ve gotten some feedback from readers who don’t agree with my posts that look to anti-Semitism as supplying much of the motivation for the drive to ban circumcision in Germany. They claim I’m exaggerating the Jewish angle and ignoring other reasons–such as German hostility to Muslims and foreigners in general, as well as the belief by some that it harms children. I’m prepared to acknowledge that those may have a hand in driving this story, but the developments since a judge in Cologne first issued the ruling rendering circumcision illegal in the country tend to undermine other narratives.

Today we learned that criminal charges have now filed against a second rabbi for performing circumcisions. This also comes hours after a brutal beating of a skullcap-wearing Jew on the streets of Berlin in front of his six-year-old daughter by an assailant who first demanded to know if he was Jewish. It’s time for those seeking to assert that what the U.S. State Department has called a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” in Europe hasn’t touched Germany to acknowledge that there is a serious problem. And it is getting worse.

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I’ve gotten some feedback from readers who don’t agree with my posts that look to anti-Semitism as supplying much of the motivation for the drive to ban circumcision in Germany. They claim I’m exaggerating the Jewish angle and ignoring other reasons–such as German hostility to Muslims and foreigners in general, as well as the belief by some that it harms children. I’m prepared to acknowledge that those may have a hand in driving this story, but the developments since a judge in Cologne first issued the ruling rendering circumcision illegal in the country tend to undermine other narratives.

Today we learned that criminal charges have now filed against a second rabbi for performing circumcisions. This also comes hours after a brutal beating of a skullcap-wearing Jew on the streets of Berlin in front of his six-year-old daughter by an assailant who first demanded to know if he was Jewish. It’s time for those seeking to assert that what the U.S. State Department has called a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” in Europe hasn’t touched Germany to acknowledge that there is a serious problem. And it is getting worse.

Rabbi Yishak Ehrenberg is the second German Jewish clergyman to be noticed by officials that he is under investigation for violating the ban on circumcision. This apparently happened after Ehrenberg took part in a television debate on the issue at which he vowed that the Jewish community would continue to perform the ritual of brit milah that is at the heart of Jewish identity.

The Times of Israel supplied the following quote from Ehrenberg’s appearance:

“I don’t even want to go into this discussion,” Ehrenberg said after a proponent of a ban said that the act was tantamount to causing the child bodily injury without his or her consent. “We’re talking about religion,” said Ehrenberg. “This ruling will kill Judaism in Germany.”

The rabbi is correct about that. Though German Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken a strong stand against the ruling and vowed that her parliamentary majority will pass a law legalizing it this fall, it’s not clear that what will be passed will actually grant immunity to traditional Jewish practice.

More to the point, the assumption that most Germans would ignore the Cologne ruling until the federal government dealt with the issue was incorrect. There is an obvious willingness by Germans to enforce the ban and punish those dedicated to ensuring that Jewish life in the country is able to continue.

That this effort would spill over into street violence against Jews was entirely predictable. The Cologne decision was a signal to anti-Semites that the generations-old taboo against anti-Jewish behavior had been lifted in mainstream German society.

Though there may be other factors behind the original campaign against circumcision, it’s now clear what is at stake here. It is now up to Merkel and her government to act expeditiously to quash any prosecutions of Jews and to pass a law that will put this nightmare to rest. The alternative is to see the country that spawned the Nazis and the Holocaust revisit a tragic and criminal past by threatening the religious freedom of Jews.

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Ex-U.S. Diplomat Meets Iran’s Leader

Jeffrey Feltman did a stellar job as U.S. ambassador to Lebanon from 2004 to 2008. While many career ambassadors embrace moral neutrality against the backdrop of political crisis, Feltman stepped up to the plate during the Cedar Revolution and helped give the Lebanese a real shot at affirming their freedom and independence from Syrian domination. Alas, the March 14 movement was hopelessly divided and ineffective. After Feltman left, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice blessed the Doha Agreement which enabled Hezbollah to reassert its control, and effectively end the Cedar Revolution.

President Obama’s election was a mixed blessing for Feltman. On one hand, he received a nice promotion and became the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs but, on the other hand, Obama used him as his point man for his silly and misguided strategy to flip Syria and normalize ties with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad who both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton considered a reformer.

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Jeffrey Feltman did a stellar job as U.S. ambassador to Lebanon from 2004 to 2008. While many career ambassadors embrace moral neutrality against the backdrop of political crisis, Feltman stepped up to the plate during the Cedar Revolution and helped give the Lebanese a real shot at affirming their freedom and independence from Syrian domination. Alas, the March 14 movement was hopelessly divided and ineffective. After Feltman left, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice blessed the Doha Agreement which enabled Hezbollah to reassert its control, and effectively end the Cedar Revolution.

President Obama’s election was a mixed blessing for Feltman. On one hand, he received a nice promotion and became the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs but, on the other hand, Obama used him as his point man for his silly and misguided strategy to flip Syria and normalize ties with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad who both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton considered a reformer.

Earlier this summer, Feltman had enough. He resigned from the State Department and immediately began to work for the United Nations, as that body’s under-secretary-general and head of its Department of Political Affairs. Alas, any hope that the good Feltman would rub off effectively on the United Nations appears to have been dashed. As my colleague Ahmad Majidyar pointed out, Iran’s Fars News Agency has just published a photo of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Feltman meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khameini. Feltman looks distinctly uncomfortable and, indeed, he should squirm. He is being used as a showpiece in Iranian propaganda, as he and his misguided boss supplicate themselves to a man who openly calls for genocide.

Decisions matter, not only when in the State Department, but also when retired from it. Feltman’s predecessor as Assistant Secretary of State David Welch used his connections to solicit business for Bechtel in Libya, but actually worked to advise Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi on how to maintain power. If these are the best and the brightest at the State Department’s Near East bureau, let’s hope that a Romney administration would take a long hard look at how the career foreign service is staffed and trained, and why it is that so many representing the United States appear to have lost their grounding.

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Romney’s Sister: He Would Never Ban Abortion

Mitt Romney’s sister, Jane Romney, probably didn’t do him any favors with values voters with her comments on abortion today. But give her credit for being one of the few campaign surrogates to speak about this issue honestly.

Republican leadership and the Romney campaign know a Romney administration isn’t going to be able to outlaw abortion even if it wanted to. But instead of just saying it outright, they usually just hem and haw around the issue (h/t Politico):

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Mitt Romney’s sister, Jane Romney, probably didn’t do him any favors with values voters with her comments on abortion today. But give her credit for being one of the few campaign surrogates to speak about this issue honestly.

Republican leadership and the Romney campaign know a Romney administration isn’t going to be able to outlaw abortion even if it wanted to. But instead of just saying it outright, they usually just hem and haw around the issue (h/t Politico):

Mitt Romney’s eldest sister, who has backed prominent Democrats for office and is Tampa showing support for her brother, had some reassuring words Wednesday for women concerned about the Republican Party’s hard line on abortion.

“He’s not going to be touching any of that,” she said. “It’s not his focus.”

Democratic warnings that abortion rights are under threat are an ungrounded fear tactic, Jane Romney said. “That’s what women are afraid of, but that’s conjured,” she said. “Personally, I don’t think abortion should be used as a football in the political arena.” …

A ban on abortion is “never going to happen” under a Romney administration, Jane Romney said. “Women would take to the streets. Women fought for our choice, we’re not going to go back.”

Republicans and Democrats are both equally to blame when it comes to misleading their bases on this issue. The Democrats pretend that a Romney victory would mean the end of legal abortion in America, and Republican leaders pretends that this notion isn’t completely insane. If a Bush-Cheney administration (and Republican-majority congress/conservative-majority Supreme Court) didn’t ban abortion, what are the chances a Romney-Ryan administration would?

Jane Romney is right, it’s not going to happen.

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Think Khomeini When Brotherhood Talks

Almost a decade ago, former Iranian literature professor Jalal Matini penned a piece in the U.S.-based, Persian language journal Iranshenasi, entitled, “The Most Truthful Individual in Recent History.” It was a study of Ayatollah Khomeini’s statements prior to seizing power, and his actions afterwards.

Shortly after, Iranian.com, an online Iranian-interest website, translated key portions of the article, only a few examples of which I reproduce here:

Almost a decade ago, former Iranian literature professor Jalal Matini penned a piece in the U.S.-based, Persian language journal Iranshenasi, entitled, “The Most Truthful Individual in Recent History.” It was a study of Ayatollah Khomeini’s statements prior to seizing power, and his actions afterwards.

Shortly after, Iranian.com, an online Iranian-interest website, translated key portions of the article, only a few examples of which I reproduce here:

  • “Personal desire, age, and my health do not allow me to personally have a role in running the country after the fall of the current system.” — Interview with the Associated Press, Paris, November 7, 1978
  • “I have repeatedly said that neither my desire nor my age nor my position allows me to govern.” — Interview with the United Press, Paris, November 8, 1978
  • “I don’t want to have the power or the government in my hand; I am not interested in personal power.” — Interview with The Guardian newspaper, Paris, November 16, 1978
  • “I don’t want to be the leader of the Islamic Republic; I don’t want to have the government or the power in my hands. I only guide the people in selecting the system.” — Interview with an Austrian TV reporter, Paris, November 16, 1978
  • “The foundation of our Islamic government is based on freedom of dialogue and will fight against any kind of censorship.” — Interview with Reuters news agency, Paris, October 26, 1978
  • “In the Islamic Republic the rights of the religious minorities are respectfully regarded.” Interview with an Austrian TV reporter, Paris, November 6, 1978

After the Revolution, Khomeini took quite a different tone:

  • “Don’t listen to those who speak of democracy. They all are against Islam. They want to take the nation away from its mission. We will break all the poison pens of those who speak of nationalism, democracy, and such things.” — In a meeting with Iranian students and educators, Qom, March 13, 1979
  • “We have to warn these intellectuals that if they don’t stop their meddling, they will be crushed. We have treated you gently so that maybe you would stop your evilness, and if you don’t stop, we will have the last word. These American sympathizers and others must know that in just a few hours we can throw them in the trashcan of annihilation any day that we wish to do so.” — In a talk to the Iranian people, August 8, 1979
  • “Those who are trying to bring corruption and destruction to our country in the name of democracy will be oppressed. They are worse than Bani-Ghorizeh Jews, and they must be hanged. We will oppress them by God’s order and God’s call to prayer.” — In a talk at the Fayzieah School, Qom, August 30, 1979

As the Obama administration has considered its position toward the Muslim Brotherhood, it has accepted the advice of academics and advisers who have suggested that the Brotherhood has reformed and evolved. Brotherhood interlocutors in Tahrir Square assured American diplomats, scholars, and journalists that they had indeed moderated. Yet, once the Muslim Brotherhood consolidated power, they began systematically to backpedal on previous promises: First the Brotherhood ran candidates in more than half Egypt’s districts, then they fielded a candidate for president.

As Mohamed Morsi purges opposition and frees himself from established checks-and-balances, it appears more promises will fall by the wayside. Alas, as Matini has shown, we have seen this playbook before.

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Rand Paul Praises Ron’s “Blowback” Theory

Sen. Rand Paul often shies away from deep foreign policy discussions. It’s a smart move, since his father’s toxic positions stunted his own rise in the GOP. But in an interview with Politico, Rand praised the elder Paul’s radical speech on Sunday, which promoted the “blowback” theory, blasted “neocons,” and suggested that the U.S. invited the 9/11 attacks:

The younger Paul shares his father’s foreign policy broadly, and he praised him especially Sunday for talking about the convent “blowback” – the concept that U.S. meddling overseas can lead to terrorist attacks.

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Sen. Rand Paul often shies away from deep foreign policy discussions. It’s a smart move, since his father’s toxic positions stunted his own rise in the GOP. But in an interview with Politico, Rand praised the elder Paul’s radical speech on Sunday, which promoted the “blowback” theory, blasted “neocons,” and suggested that the U.S. invited the 9/11 attacks:

The younger Paul shares his father’s foreign policy broadly, and he praised him especially Sunday for talking about the convent “blowback” – the concept that U.S. meddling overseas can lead to terrorist attacks.

“Had he not talked about blowback I don’t know anyone ever would have,” he said. The younger Paul boasted in the interview that he received standing ovations from the packed crowd, some of whom were chanting “Paul 2016.”

Rand’s cautiousness when it comes to discussing his foreign policy positions has helped his political ascent, but nobody should doubt that he shares many of his father’s views. His praise of Ron Paul’s “blowback” comments above is enough to raise alarms with Republicans.

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Palestinians Face Own Diplomatic Tsunami

It seems like it’s been more than just 12 months since the pro-Israel community was in uproar about an imminent “diplomatic tsunami” that we were told would swamp the Jewish state. The “tsunami” was the Palestinian Authority’s plan to get the United Nations to grant it independence without first having to make peace with Israel. The assumption among foreign policy “realists” and the Jewish left was that the Palestinians would carry the international community with them and force Israel’s government to make even more concessions to avoid total isolation. But the “tsunami” that Ehud Barak feared never came to pass. If anything, what followed that fall was a diplomatic disaster for the Palestinians that illustrated that they were the ones who were isolated.

Though the PA vowed last year they would be back at the UN for another round of this fight, yesterday they signaled they would not bother. Though PA leader Mahmoud Abbas will address the UN again in September and mention the issue, the Palestinians won’t try to get it passed in either the Security Council or even the General Assembly, where everyone assumes they have an automatic majority. This concession shows just how thoroughly Israel’s supposedly incompetent government defeated them in 2011. But it may also signify a belief on their part that they would do better to keep quiet until President Obama is safely re-elected rather than cause trouble that would only worsen their situation during the fall campaign.

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It seems like it’s been more than just 12 months since the pro-Israel community was in uproar about an imminent “diplomatic tsunami” that we were told would swamp the Jewish state. The “tsunami” was the Palestinian Authority’s plan to get the United Nations to grant it independence without first having to make peace with Israel. The assumption among foreign policy “realists” and the Jewish left was that the Palestinians would carry the international community with them and force Israel’s government to make even more concessions to avoid total isolation. But the “tsunami” that Ehud Barak feared never came to pass. If anything, what followed that fall was a diplomatic disaster for the Palestinians that illustrated that they were the ones who were isolated.

Though the PA vowed last year they would be back at the UN for another round of this fight, yesterday they signaled they would not bother. Though PA leader Mahmoud Abbas will address the UN again in September and mention the issue, the Palestinians won’t try to get it passed in either the Security Council or even the General Assembly, where everyone assumes they have an automatic majority. This concession shows just how thoroughly Israel’s supposedly incompetent government defeated them in 2011. But it may also signify a belief on their part that they would do better to keep quiet until President Obama is safely re-elected rather than cause trouble that would only worsen their situation during the fall campaign.

The “tsunami” failed not just because President Obama kept his word about threatening to veto a Palestinian attempt to get the Security Council to give them full member status. The U.S. wound up not even having to exercise that veto because the Palestinians couldn’t even get other, erstwhile sympathetic nations, to vote for them. Even the automatic Palestinian majority in the General Assembly was wary of wasting time and effort on this lost cause. The world knew the PA was a corrupt and bankrupt organization incapable of exercising sovereignty even if it was handed to them on a silver platter. For all of the anti-Zionist propaganda that is routinely aired at the UN, most member states, even those most hostile to Israel, understand that the Palestinians are only interested in perpetuating the conflict, not genuinely seeking a two state solution. Nor were they interested in picking a fight with the U.S. Congress, which was sure to vote to cut off funds to the world body if the Palestinians got their way.

It should also be noted that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is generally regarded in the United States as a bull in a china shop, actually maneuvered quite adeptly in the diplomatic battles that preceded the fizzling out of the “tsunami.” Countries that might have been expected to back the Palestinians flipped and Lieberman deserves some of the credit for this, along with the Americans.

Abbas knows that a repeat of the exercise this year would bring a similar result, hence their quiet waving of the white flag. But the Palestinians are still holding onto the hope that a re-elected Barack Obama will give them an advantage and the abandonment of the UN gambit is also a sign that they are not eager to do anything that might hinder his chances at the polls. If there is to be any trouble from them, it will almost certainly come after November when they may think the president’s attitude toward their requests will be more flexible than it was during his election year Jewish charm offensive.

Israelis are similarly uncertain about the consequences of Obama’s re-election, as they fear a second term will embolden him to return to efforts to force them to make concessions in a quixotic attempt to revive the peace process. But the problem for the Palestinians is that even a president as sympathetic to their cause as Obama isn’t likely to stick his neck out for them in the absence of a firm determination on their part to actually negotiate with Israel and to accept a reasonable peace offer. Even a re-elected Obama, who would also be tangling with Israel over the Iranian nuclear threat, may understand that hammering the Jewish state is a futile endeavor as long as the Palestinians are unwilling to make peace. The real diplomatic tsunami is the tide of indifference that Palestinian rejectionism has bred even among those most likely to back their cause.

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Most Extreme Platform Ever?

The New York Times decided to recycle its recent editorial about the unprecedented rightward lurch of the GOP platform into a news article today. Insisting that the conservative movement was far more moderate in its 1980 GOP platform, the article bemoans the Party’s alleged “sharp turn to the right”:

One party platform stated that Hispanics and others should not “be barred from education or employment opportunities because English is not their first language.” It highlighted the need for “dependable and affordable” mass transit in cities, noting, “Mass transportation offers the prospect for significant energy conservation.” And it prefaced its plank on abortion by saying that “We recognize differing views on this question among Americans in general — and in our own party.”

The other party platform said, “we support English as the nation’s official language.” It chided the Democratic administration for “replacing civil engineering with social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit.” And its abortion plank recognized no dissent, taking the position that “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.”

These two paragraphs alone are so misleading it’s hard to believe they were published in the news section. Let’s go through it point by point, with copies of the GOP’s 1980 platform and the GOP’s 2012 platform for comparison.

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The New York Times decided to recycle its recent editorial about the unprecedented rightward lurch of the GOP platform into a news article today. Insisting that the conservative movement was far more moderate in its 1980 GOP platform, the article bemoans the Party’s alleged “sharp turn to the right”:

One party platform stated that Hispanics and others should not “be barred from education or employment opportunities because English is not their first language.” It highlighted the need for “dependable and affordable” mass transit in cities, noting, “Mass transportation offers the prospect for significant energy conservation.” And it prefaced its plank on abortion by saying that “We recognize differing views on this question among Americans in general — and in our own party.”

The other party platform said, “we support English as the nation’s official language.” It chided the Democratic administration for “replacing civil engineering with social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit.” And its abortion plank recognized no dissent, taking the position that “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.”

These two paragraphs alone are so misleading it’s hard to believe they were published in the news section. Let’s go through it point by point, with copies of the GOP’s 1980 platform and the GOP’s 2012 platform for comparison.

Claim #1: The 2012 platform is intolerant of immigrants:

One party platform [1980] stated that Hispanics and others should not “be barred from education or employment opportunities because English is not their first language.” … The other party platform [2012] said that “we support English as the nation’s official language.”

But at no point in the 2012 platform does it say, or imply, that those who did not learn English as their first language should be barred from education or employment opportunities. It’s full of praise for the “patriotism” of immigrants, declaring that the U.S. should “embrace the newcomers legally among us, assist their journey to full citizenship, and help their communities avoid isolation from the mainstream of society.”

“To that end, while we encourage the retention and transmission of heritage tongues, we support English as the nation’s official language, a unifying force essential for the educational and economic advancement of—not only immigrant communities—but also our nation as a whole,” it continues.

The 1980s platform also emphasizes the importance of English-language programs for non-English speaking immigrants, proposing that “there should be local educational programs which enable those who grew up learning another language such as Spanish to become proficient in English while also maintaining their own language and cultural heritage.”

In other words, both platforms say pretty much the same things, but the cherry-picking from the Times distorts that message.

Claim #2: The 2012 platform opposes mass transit in cities: 

[The 1980 platform] highlighted the need for “dependable and affordable” mass transit in cities, noting that “mass transportation offers the prospect for significant energy conservation.” … [The 2012 platform] chided the Democratic administration for “replacing civil engineering with social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit.”

The 1980 platform did support mass transit in cities, but noted that the “first line of responsibility must lie with the local governments” — a line the Times notably didn’t include.

The 2012 platform also supports mass transit — “America’s infrastructure networks are critical for economic growth, international competitiveness, and national security. Infrastructure programs have traditionally been non-partisan; everyone recognized that we all need clean water and safe roads, rail, bridges, ports, and airports,” it says.

The problem the GOP cited, again, was that the states should be taking a more active role. The 2012 platform states that “a renewed federal-State partnership and new public-private partnerships are urgently needed to maintain and modernize our country’s travel lifelines to facilitate economic growth and job creation.”

Once again, the contrast between the two platforms in the Times article doesn’t hold up in context.

Claim #3: The 2012 platform is far more extreme on abortion issues:

[The 1980 platform] prefaced its plank on abortion by saying that “we recognize differing views on this question among Americans in general — and in our own party.” … [The 2012 platform’s] abortion plank recognized no dissent, taking the position that “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.”

The Times is right that the 2012 platform “recognized no dissent” on the issue of abortion. But it implies that the position in the platform, that — “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life” — wasn’t shared in the 1980 platform.

In fact, it was: “While we recognize differing views on this question among Americans in general—and in our own Party—we affirm our support of a constitutional amendment to restore protection of the right to life for unborn children,” states the 1980 plank on abortion. “We also support the Congressional efforts to restrict the use of taxpayers’ dollars for abortion.”

While the 1980 platform may have been different from the 2012 platform in tone and detail, that may have had more to do with the format of platforms at the time, which has evolved since. Over the years, the GOP platform has been quite consistent on the issues, particularly abortion. Obviously there will be minor differences from year to year, but there’s little evidence for the notion that the Republican platform has lurched far to the right over the last 32 years. The only way to argue otherwise is to cherry-pick quotes and ignore context, as the Times did in its article.

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Case for Regime Change in Iran Still Strong

A few years ago in Commentary, I argued the case for regime change in Iran. In the current issue of National Review, I reiterate the argument. Even military action—the last resort to deny Tehran a nuclear capability—would only delay the program. Unless policymakers on either side of the aisle come up with a strategy to take advantage of that delay, military strikes would only kick the can down the road. Certainly, Washington’s strategy should not be to bomb Iran every two or three years.

It’s time policymakers have a serious discussion about regime change. After all, the problem with the Islamic Republic is not simply its potential nuclear arsenal, but rather the ideology of the regime that would wield those weapons.

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A few years ago in Commentary, I argued the case for regime change in Iran. In the current issue of National Review, I reiterate the argument. Even military action—the last resort to deny Tehran a nuclear capability—would only delay the program. Unless policymakers on either side of the aisle come up with a strategy to take advantage of that delay, military strikes would only kick the can down the road. Certainly, Washington’s strategy should not be to bomb Iran every two or three years.

It’s time policymakers have a serious discussion about regime change. After all, the problem with the Islamic Republic is not simply its potential nuclear arsenal, but rather the ideology of the regime that would wield those weapons.

Many of the histories of Iran now used in universities and Middle East studies programs were penned, in their original editions, during or immediately after the revolution. Scholars like Nikki Keddie and Ervand Abrahamian wrote their narratives to depict the Islamic Revolution as the natural outgrowth of Iranian political evolution. Nothing could be further from the truth: The Islamic Republic is an anomaly, not the natural state of affairs. The regime has long since lost legitimacy among its people, who may not be revolutionary, but also do not believe that reform can any longer repair the system.

Some scholars argue that regime change is a pipe dream. Then again, some scholars suggested that the Soviet Union would be a permanent entity and planned accordingly. In hindsight, however, those who sought to avert Soviet collapse were short-sighted. Regime change in North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela would likewise be in the interests of the United States, so why not Iran?

While there isn’t any support for Iraq-style regime change in Washington–nor would such a strategy ever be wise with regard to Iran–there are any number of strategies which the United States might pursue to encourage regime collapse in Iran: Support for independent trade unions; policies to encourage factionalism within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; better use of Voice of America-Persian and Radio Farda, some of whose correspondents are unabashed in their sympathy toward the Islamic Republic; empowering Iranians to bypass firewalls and increase the cost to the regime of establishing them; sanctions targeting any member of the security services or regime; and democracy promotion.

Both Democrats and Republicans have given Iranian leaders more than three decades to come in from the cold, but rather than reform, the regime has only retrenched and become far more dangerous. It’s time to give up on dialogue with the regime, concentrate on direct diplomacy with the Iranian people, and support efforts to encourage them to stand up for their own rights and freedom. It’s time the State Department and White House recognize that there is nothing in statecraft to suggest that the perseverance or protection of ideological and rogue regimes is an American interest, and that not all regimes are worth treating with respect.

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Obama and the Lessons of John Lindsay

Since we’re now in the portion of the presidential election campaign in which the parties hold their respective national nominating conventions, the urge to find historical comparisons to analyze the candidates will be even stronger than usual. But there is one comparison when contemplating President Obama’s re-election agenda that seems apt, but goes unmentioned: John Lindsay.

Lindsay, like Obama, was young, charismatic and telegenic when he ran for mayor of New York City in the mid-1960s. Like Obama, Lindsay ran as a moderate (he was actually a liberal Republican, but eventually switched parties to run for president as a Democrat), and like Obama Lindsay ran a campaign of hope and optimism at a time of dreary pessimism. But Lindsay also put in place some of the worst public policy New York saw in the 20th century, and the assumptions and outlook that led him to that legislation mirror those of the current occupant of the White House. If Barack Obama wins re-election, he will take office forty years after Lindsay left his, and the latter’s administration offers us a good case study of the weaknesses of Obama’s political instincts.

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Since we’re now in the portion of the presidential election campaign in which the parties hold their respective national nominating conventions, the urge to find historical comparisons to analyze the candidates will be even stronger than usual. But there is one comparison when contemplating President Obama’s re-election agenda that seems apt, but goes unmentioned: John Lindsay.

Lindsay, like Obama, was young, charismatic and telegenic when he ran for mayor of New York City in the mid-1960s. Like Obama, Lindsay ran as a moderate (he was actually a liberal Republican, but eventually switched parties to run for president as a Democrat), and like Obama Lindsay ran a campaign of hope and optimism at a time of dreary pessimism. But Lindsay also put in place some of the worst public policy New York saw in the 20th century, and the assumptions and outlook that led him to that legislation mirror those of the current occupant of the White House. If Barack Obama wins re-election, he will take office forty years after Lindsay left his, and the latter’s administration offers us a good case study of the weaknesses of Obama’s political instincts.

A great guide through the problems of the Lindsay years is Greg David’s new book on the economics of postwar New York: Modern New York: The Life and Economics of a City. David was editor of Crain’s New York Business for two decades, and the book’s chapters are essential snapshots of each mayoral administration during those years. David’s chapter on Lindsay is particularly relevant.

As David notes, to Lindsay, “Business’s primary role was to provide the revenue for city government to right social imbalances.” So tax hikes were an important first step for Lindsay, and he agreed with the New York Times, which defended the tax plan: “in an assumption fraught with consequences,” David writes, “the Times said that the city’s businesses and residents could afford to pay more.”

Lindsay sold his pro-government tax plan by claiming that the money was for hospitals, schools, fire departments, and so on. But Lindsay used the money in large part to balloon the public payroll and city budget. The hiring spree seemed like a way to offer city residents more job security than in the private sector (and to keep unemployment numbers down, even if artificially) until, thanks in part to Lindsay’s own policies, it became clear the city couldn’t afford those jobs. But no matter: Lindsay and his allies argued that government made it possible for the city’s businesses to succeed, and it was time they gave back (sound familiar?).

The new tax structure brought the results with which we are by now quite familiar: “Within a few years, the business tax became a crushing burden on the manufacturing sector it was supposed to save,” David writes. Indeed, the business income tax (instituted to replace a gross receipts tax), according the Budget Bureau, cost businesses almost 45,000 jobs in its first five years. In its sixth year, the rate was raised again, costing close to 10,000 additional jobs.

All the while, Lindsay thought he was doing just fine, in part because flight from the city kept unemployment lower than it would have been had New Yorkers stayed put (much like Obama’s unemployment numbers benefit from those who drop out of the work force). The country was experiencing a recession, and Lindsay simply blamed the recession he didn’t cause, not his policies (sound familiar?). Yet by 1971 the country’s recession had begun to give way to a national recovery–a recovery that, thanks to Lindsay’s anti-business policies, eluded New York City. “He had exacerbated the worst recession in the city’s history, assured the rise of an enormous public sector through his income tax, and established a system of rent regulation that would pit New Yorkers against each other,” writes David.

The failed rent regulation policies were a perfect example of the folly of government price controls. Residents of wealthy neighborhoods whose rent control was grandfathered in paid meager prices for buildings that were getting increasingly expensive to maintain, leaving the landlords without the money to do so and the city without as much as $500 million in lost property taxes.

It’s a familiar story: the government puts in place policies that drive up prices. Consumers complain, and so the government enacts price controls intended to curb the problem, but ends up aggravating it by distorting the market and forcing producers to make up the lost revenue elsewhere. Have the technocrats learned this lesson? Hardly. The Obama administration enacted its health care reform bill that would cause premiums to rise. Once they figured this out and consumers howled, the Obama administration began making plans to add–you guessed it–price controls into the mix. As it happens, Obamacare is already designed to increase price controls.

Lindsay actually won re-election, but he was forced to base a good part of his campaign on his own likeability and the lackluster charisma of his opponent (again, sound familiar?). That was all fine for Lindsay, but not for the city he served. His second term saw job losses mount—factory job losses tripled what they were in Lindsay’s first term.

The good news is that with more effective governing in subsequent administrations, the city eventually recovered from John Lindsay. It turns out that personal charisma and lofty rhetoric are no match for competent economic management.

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The Left’s Race Dog Whistles

Some Republicans may be shocked and confused that Democrats are seizing on any mention of welfare or immigration or any other legitimate political issue that can be described as racism. They shouldn’t be. Democrats have been howling about “coded language” and “dog whistles” all year, as well as making race-based complaints about voter ID laws. But lately they have become less subtle as Vice President Joe Biden’s threat that Republicans want to “put y’all back in chains” to a mostly black audience indicated. The hysteria on the left on this point has become particularly intense this week, as the Republican National Convention has served as a convenient target for commentators like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews who have become nearly unhinged trying to prove that Republicans are appealing to racism.

But if anyone is determined to keep race on the minds of Americans it is the Democrats. The obsessive search for hidden racism in Republican rhetoric isn’t merely because, as Mickey Kaus noted today on his blog, they “simply have race on the brain.” It’s because waving the bloody shirt of the fight against segregation is their only way of recapturing the magic of 2008, in which Americans took pride in voting for Barack Obama because doing so was a way to take part in a historic achievement. After four years of presidential futility, it’s not possible to make voters buy into another round of “hope and change.” But it is still possible to make independents and wavering Democrats think voting Republican will undo the progress that Obama’s election signaled.

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Some Republicans may be shocked and confused that Democrats are seizing on any mention of welfare or immigration or any other legitimate political issue that can be described as racism. They shouldn’t be. Democrats have been howling about “coded language” and “dog whistles” all year, as well as making race-based complaints about voter ID laws. But lately they have become less subtle as Vice President Joe Biden’s threat that Republicans want to “put y’all back in chains” to a mostly black audience indicated. The hysteria on the left on this point has become particularly intense this week, as the Republican National Convention has served as a convenient target for commentators like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews who have become nearly unhinged trying to prove that Republicans are appealing to racism.

But if anyone is determined to keep race on the minds of Americans it is the Democrats. The obsessive search for hidden racism in Republican rhetoric isn’t merely because, as Mickey Kaus noted today on his blog, they “simply have race on the brain.” It’s because waving the bloody shirt of the fight against segregation is their only way of recapturing the magic of 2008, in which Americans took pride in voting for Barack Obama because doing so was a way to take part in a historic achievement. After four years of presidential futility, it’s not possible to make voters buy into another round of “hope and change.” But it is still possible to make independents and wavering Democrats think voting Republican will undo the progress that Obama’s election signaled.

The welfare argument is particularly disingenuous, but it is being treated as a license to engage in the most vicious rhetoric imaginable against the GOP. Hence, Matthews’s television tirades and, to seize upon just one of many possible examples, Joan Walsh’s accusation today at Salon that Rick Santorum engaged in “race baiting,” “lying” and “creepiness” during his convention speech because of his mentioning of the welfare issue and the president’s decision to stop the enforcement of some immigration laws.

But the liberal claim, repeated as gospel not only on the opinion pages of the mainstream media but on their news pages as well, is that Republicans are lying about Obama’s changes in the Welfare Reform Act. They insist that he changed nothing and that the GOP charges that he gutted welfare-to-work regulations are fabrications. But the truth, as Kaus noted, is much closer to the Republican narrative than that of the Democrats. It’s true that, as they have repeated endlessly on MSNBC, all Obama did was to give states flexibility in enforcing the law. But taking away such flexibility was the whole point of the movement to reform welfare that culminated in the passage of the act that was signed by Bill Clinton. Obama’s changes will allow states to eliminate work requirements. That’s a fair point and has nothing to do with racism.

But to treat any mention of welfare as a code word for black is a sign of the liberals’ plantation mentality, not that of conservatives. The assumption that welfare equals black is not only factually incorrect — more whites receive such assistance than blacks — it is an insult.

That fits in with the Democrats’ efforts to treat voter ID laws aimed at combating fraud as the next generation of “Jim Crow,” since they assume that minorities are not as capable as whites of obtaining the photo ID that is needed for virtually every other transaction required by society.

Far from the Republicans wanting to talk about race, it is only in the interest of the Democrats to reopen these old wounds. That’s also why the left is going all out to discredit any black person who dares to oppose Obama. Hence the deluge of abuse being showered today on Utah Republican Mia B. Love as well as Democrat turncoat Artur Davis, both of whom wowed the nation with their convention addresses last night.

No American racist was likely to vote for Obama in November with or without a helpful reminder from either party that he was African-American. But plenty of moderates otherwise inclined to support Romney may be scared away from the Republicans by false charges that the GOP is appealing to race. The only dog whistles today being sounded are all from the left, as Democrats desperately attempt to convince Americans that it is still their duty to vote again for Obama.

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Even Hamas has More Moral Sense than the UN Secretary-General

If I were UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, or any of the 120 countries that sent delegates to the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Iran this week, I’d be more than a little embarrassed to discover that Hamas, a terrorist organization that thinks nothing of slaughtering innocent men, women and children in buses, restaurants and hotels, actually has a more developed sense of morality than I do.

While Hamas was invited to attend the NAM summit by Iran, it ultimately declined. This decision followed a public threat by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that if Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh went, he would stay home. But senior Hamas officials say the desire to prevent an open rift with Abbas was only a secondary consideration. Their number-one reason for staying home was that they didn’t want to be seen as supporting Iran at a time when Iran is openly supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s slaughter of his own people by supplying him with arms and even troops.

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If I were UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, or any of the 120 countries that sent delegates to the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Iran this week, I’d be more than a little embarrassed to discover that Hamas, a terrorist organization that thinks nothing of slaughtering innocent men, women and children in buses, restaurants and hotels, actually has a more developed sense of morality than I do.

While Hamas was invited to attend the NAM summit by Iran, it ultimately declined. This decision followed a public threat by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that if Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh went, he would stay home. But senior Hamas officials say the desire to prevent an open rift with Abbas was only a secondary consideration. Their number-one reason for staying home was that they didn’t want to be seen as supporting Iran at a time when Iran is openly supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s slaughter of his own people by supplying him with arms and even troops.

Clearly, no such qualms troubled Ban or any of the other high-profile delegates, most of whom are very senior officials of their own countries. By attending the summit, they sent the clearest possible message: Assad is free to continue slaughtering his people (the death toll has already topped 19,000, with no end in sight). And Iran is free to continue helping him do so without suffering any consequences whatsoever: It will still be treated as an honored and valued member of the international community.

So now we know that even Hamas has a red line: Murdering 19,000 fellow Sunni Muslims is beyond the pale. But for Ban and the other 120 delegates, there are no red lines: Mass murder is fine and dandy.

Actually, this shouldn’t come as a surprise; both the UN and the Non-Aligned Movement have shown many times before that they have no moral red lines. But here’s what is surprising: that so many Western countries–including all of Europe and, under Barack Obama, the U.S. as well–nevertheless continue to treat the UN as a source of moral authority, without whose imprimatur no international action is justified.

After all, these are countries that do think murdering 19,000 of your own citizens is beyond the pale. So why do they accord moral authority to the UN when both its secretary-general and its automatic voting majority (NAM comprises a majority of UN members, and frequently votes as a bloc) have shown so blatantly that they don’t?

If you outsource moral authority to a tarnished agency, you can’t help being tarnished yourself. And that’s precisely where the West stands today: Having declared that no action on Syria is possible without UN approval, it is now viewed by many Syrians as no less indifferent to their plight than the UN itself.

But if even Hamas can renounce its former paymaster in Tehran on moral grounds, is it really too much to ask that the West muster the courage to do the same to the UN?

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Paralympics Demonstrate Israel’s Priorities

It’s no secret that Israel isn’t an Olympics power: It came away from the London Games without a single medal, and since its inception, it has won only one gold and seven medals overall (making it one of very few countries with more Nobel Prizes than Olympics medals). What is less well known is that Israel does much better in the Paralympics, which begin today: There, it has won more than 300 medals overall, 113 of them gold.

First and foremost, of course, that’s a testament to Israel’s cutting-edge medical care, developed in response to the grim necessity of having to treat far too many victims of war and terror. But it’s also a testament to Israel’s priorities: Whereas athletes competing in the regular Olympics often struggle financially, since state funding for most forms of sport is minimal, Paralympics athletes benefit from a network of state-supported rehabilitation centers where sports is part of the program for those who want it. It’s not that Israel wouldn’t love having more Olympics medals; the country went wild when Gal Fridman won his gold in 2004. It’s just that caring for its wounded veterans and victims of terror takes precedence–as it should.

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It’s no secret that Israel isn’t an Olympics power: It came away from the London Games without a single medal, and since its inception, it has won only one gold and seven medals overall (making it one of very few countries with more Nobel Prizes than Olympics medals). What is less well known is that Israel does much better in the Paralympics, which begin today: There, it has won more than 300 medals overall, 113 of them gold.

First and foremost, of course, that’s a testament to Israel’s cutting-edge medical care, developed in response to the grim necessity of having to treat far too many victims of war and terror. But it’s also a testament to Israel’s priorities: Whereas athletes competing in the regular Olympics often struggle financially, since state funding for most forms of sport is minimal, Paralympics athletes benefit from a network of state-supported rehabilitation centers where sports is part of the program for those who want it. It’s not that Israel wouldn’t love having more Olympics medals; the country went wild when Gal Fridman won his gold in 2004. It’s just that caring for its wounded veterans and victims of terror takes precedence–as it should.

Nor is it Israelis alone who benefit from the country’s medical expertise. Israel has a variety of programs that offer medical help to people worldwide–not only its well-known emergency medical missions to disaster areas, but also ongoing programs like Save a Child’s Heart, which provides heart surgery to children from throughout the developing world year-round, as well as training for medical personnel from these countries. Israeli cardiologists donate their time for this purpose, and an Israeli hospital donates the space; fundraising covers other expenses, like plane tickets for patients from Africa.

For the knee-jerk anti-Israel types, of course, Israel can do no right. Regrettably, that even includes some of the people Israel helps: When Haaretz tried to interview Palestinian doctors who had been trained by Save a Child’s Heart earlier this month, for instance, every one of them refused to talk, fearing the wrath of enforcers of the Palestinian Authority’s anti-normalization campaign.

But anyone who takes the trouble to look knows the truth. As one Palestinian from Gaza whose daughter was treated by SACH told Haaretz:

“At the checkpoint I met many people from Gaza who come to Israel for medical treatment, here and at other hospitals. I am not the only one who came here. It is obvious that people come to Israel for medical treatment, regardless of the political conflict.”

And that’s a badge of honor shinier than any Olympic gold medal.

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Why Afghan History Matters

As a historian, I am trained to predict the past, and I usually get that right about half the time. One thing, though, that years of reading and travel have engrained in me is the importance of narrative. Every country and culture has its narratives, and these seldom translate well. When I lecture to deploying troops on Afghan history, I often give the example of U.S. election season: Talking heads or anchors on MSNBC might compare President Obama to Abraham Lincoln. Most everyone watching would know immediately that both Obama and Lincoln leaped from Illinois relatively rapidly into the White House.

Someone whose flight is delayed at the airport and watching CNN might hear comparisons between Obama and John F. Kennedy. Whether a critic or a supporter of Obama, it is easy to draw comparisons both to the presidents’ relative youth and to their rhetorical gift. However, commentators on Fox News might compare Obama to Herbert Hoover, an analogy, fair or not, that raises the specter of economic depression. The point for American servicemen is not whether they are fans of Obama or not; neither their job nor mine when I teach is to preach policy. Rather, it is that Lincoln, Kennedy, and Hoover will mean absolutely nothing to the Afghans. Local history matters.

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As a historian, I am trained to predict the past, and I usually get that right about half the time. One thing, though, that years of reading and travel have engrained in me is the importance of narrative. Every country and culture has its narratives, and these seldom translate well. When I lecture to deploying troops on Afghan history, I often give the example of U.S. election season: Talking heads or anchors on MSNBC might compare President Obama to Abraham Lincoln. Most everyone watching would know immediately that both Obama and Lincoln leaped from Illinois relatively rapidly into the White House.

Someone whose flight is delayed at the airport and watching CNN might hear comparisons between Obama and John F. Kennedy. Whether a critic or a supporter of Obama, it is easy to draw comparisons both to the presidents’ relative youth and to their rhetorical gift. However, commentators on Fox News might compare Obama to Herbert Hoover, an analogy, fair or not, that raises the specter of economic depression. The point for American servicemen is not whether they are fans of Obama or not; neither their job nor mine when I teach is to preach policy. Rather, it is that Lincoln, Kennedy, and Hoover will mean absolutely nothing to the Afghans. Local history matters.

How frustrating it is, then, to see NATO and U.S. forces fall so in love with American and European narratives that they never consider just how the Afghans interpret them. When the British began negotiating with the Taliban (several years before the Americans got on board), British officials cited their talks with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to justify outreach to the Taliban. The problem was that few Afghans knew about the IRA and fewer cared. Mullah Omar, however, used the British outreach to make an analogy any Afghan would understand: That of the First Anglo-Afghan War.

In December 1841, General William George Keith Elphinstone negotiated with insurgents and struck a deal: The British would leave Kabul for Jalalabad, and in exchange the insurgents would recognize Shah Shuja, a British ally, on the throne. Of the 16,000 British men, women, and children who left Kabul, only one made it to Jalalabad (two, for the Flashman fans out there). It was Britain’s worst military defeat in their history and would remain so until they lost Singapore in 1942. He described himself as Dost Mohammad, the Afghan nationalist king who took the throne upon the British defeat. That would make Hamid Karzai out to be Shah Shuja. All Afghans understood Omar to suggest that the British were again on their way to a historic defeat.

The Americans are just as guilty. The American military hierarchy in Afghanistan justifies their support of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) in the supposed success of the Sahwa Councils in Iraq. Those Sunni groups defected to help push back al-Qaeda inroads during the surge. Afghans know little about the surge in Iraq, and care less. When they see the American military supporting the ALP in Afghanistan, they draw parallels to the Soviet pre-withdrawal strategy of forming local militias. Rather than signaling a commitment to defeat insurgency, then, the American strategy is convincing Afghans about America’s looming defeat. Seldom has American ego-centrism been so self-defeating.

Afghans have never lost a war; they just defect to the winning side. Until Americans convince Afghans that momentum is on the side of the United States and not on the side of the Taliban, then there can be no outcome that will not be severely detrimental to U.S. interests. Alas, until American officials look through the Afghan lens, rather than convince themselves that their own spin matters, we will not win the battle of perception.

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