Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 30, 2012

The Man the Republicans Nominated

We’ve heard a lot of political rhetoric this week from the Republican National Convention. Most of it centered on President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” quote and other GOP talking points. Paul Ryan showed his party was ready to rumble with the Democrats in defense of a stand in favor of entitlement reform. But tonight for the first time this week and perhaps even this year, we’re hearing about who this man the Republicans nominated really is.

This evening, we heard from those who worked with and were helped by Romney during his years as a Mormon pastor. The Oparowski family spoke of how Romney befriended their 14-year-old son who was dying from Leukemia. It was a sad touching story and the reaction from the audience showed there didn’t appear to be a dry eye in the house except perhaps in the MSNBC booth. After that we heard from a woman with a similar story of Romney’s goodness. His assistant pastor told of how Romney didn’t so much preach as lead by example. His theology was service to others. No matter what your faith is or even if you don’t believe in religion, there is no escaping the fact that this is a righteous and very good man.

A major aspect of the way we judge presidential candidates is by their character. Disagree with his policies if you like, but there’s no doubt that this is a man of sterling character whose personal virtues are beyond question. Given the vicious attacks launched against Romney’s character by the Obama campaign, these are stories that need to be told and retold by Republicans.

We’ve heard a lot of political rhetoric this week from the Republican National Convention. Most of it centered on President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” quote and other GOP talking points. Paul Ryan showed his party was ready to rumble with the Democrats in defense of a stand in favor of entitlement reform. But tonight for the first time this week and perhaps even this year, we’re hearing about who this man the Republicans nominated really is.

This evening, we heard from those who worked with and were helped by Romney during his years as a Mormon pastor. The Oparowski family spoke of how Romney befriended their 14-year-old son who was dying from Leukemia. It was a sad touching story and the reaction from the audience showed there didn’t appear to be a dry eye in the house except perhaps in the MSNBC booth. After that we heard from a woman with a similar story of Romney’s goodness. His assistant pastor told of how Romney didn’t so much preach as lead by example. His theology was service to others. No matter what your faith is or even if you don’t believe in religion, there is no escaping the fact that this is a righteous and very good man.

A major aspect of the way we judge presidential candidates is by their character. Disagree with his policies if you like, but there’s no doubt that this is a man of sterling character whose personal virtues are beyond question. Given the vicious attacks launched against Romney’s character by the Obama campaign, these are stories that need to be told and retold by Republicans.

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The George W. Bush Alibi Doesn’t Cut It

The 43rd president is the man who didn’t come to dinner at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Other than a brief video tribute of President George W. Bush with his father President George H.W. Bush, the immediate past Republican president has been conspicuous not only by his absence from the convention but by the way he is never mentioned. There are good reasons for this. When Bush 43 left office he was deeply unpopular due to the Iraq war and the legacy of Hurricane Katrina. Tea partiers and conservatives also rightly deprecate his profligate spending.

But for all of his faults, George W. Bush doesn’t deserve the egregious abuse to which he has been subjected. And his brother Jeb went off script tonight at the convention to speak bluntly about the way his brother has been treated not only by the public but also by his successor. In paying tribute to his family Bush said, “I love my brother. He is a man of integrity, courage and honor and during incredibly challenging times, he kept us safe.” Then he spoke directly to the president and said, “Mr. President it is time to stop blaming your predecessor for your failed economic policies. You were dealt a tough hand but your policies have not worked.”

He’s right and though George W. Bush is the last person on earth that most Republicans want to talk about this week or during the campaign this fall, they should be taking direct aim at the idea that he can serve as an all-purpose alibi for every failure of the current administration. It’s been almost four years since Barack Obama was sworn into office and he still refuses to take responsibility for the state of the country. The weakness and cowardice of this stand is appalling. Jeb Bush was right to call him out on this. So should the rest of an ungrateful party that doesn’t appear to remember the job W did on 9/11 and its aftermath.

The 43rd president is the man who didn’t come to dinner at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Other than a brief video tribute of President George W. Bush with his father President George H.W. Bush, the immediate past Republican president has been conspicuous not only by his absence from the convention but by the way he is never mentioned. There are good reasons for this. When Bush 43 left office he was deeply unpopular due to the Iraq war and the legacy of Hurricane Katrina. Tea partiers and conservatives also rightly deprecate his profligate spending.

But for all of his faults, George W. Bush doesn’t deserve the egregious abuse to which he has been subjected. And his brother Jeb went off script tonight at the convention to speak bluntly about the way his brother has been treated not only by the public but also by his successor. In paying tribute to his family Bush said, “I love my brother. He is a man of integrity, courage and honor and during incredibly challenging times, he kept us safe.” Then he spoke directly to the president and said, “Mr. President it is time to stop blaming your predecessor for your failed economic policies. You were dealt a tough hand but your policies have not worked.”

He’s right and though George W. Bush is the last person on earth that most Republicans want to talk about this week or during the campaign this fall, they should be taking direct aim at the idea that he can serve as an all-purpose alibi for every failure of the current administration. It’s been almost four years since Barack Obama was sworn into office and he still refuses to take responsibility for the state of the country. The weakness and cowardice of this stand is appalling. Jeb Bush was right to call him out on this. So should the rest of an ungrateful party that doesn’t appear to remember the job W did on 9/11 and its aftermath.

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Romney Campaign Plays Up Bain Record

Mitt Romney continued his Bain Capital defense blitz today, unveiling a website and video campaign touting his record at the firm. The name of his new website, SterlingBusinessCareer.com, alludes to Bill Clinton’s praise of Romney a few months back. The videos feature former Bain employees extolling Romney’s work at the helm of the company:

Despite Obama’s barrage of attacks on Romney’s Bain record, it’s not clear whether the attacks have stuck. The Obama campaign has hammered almost every conceivable anti-Bain angle, going so far as to suggest Romney committed a felony on the company’s SEC filings. What else do they have to say on the topic? They’re running out of stories.

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Mitt Romney continued his Bain Capital defense blitz today, unveiling a website and video campaign touting his record at the firm. The name of his new website, SterlingBusinessCareer.com, alludes to Bill Clinton’s praise of Romney a few months back. The videos feature former Bain employees extolling Romney’s work at the helm of the company:

Despite Obama’s barrage of attacks on Romney’s Bain record, it’s not clear whether the attacks have stuck. The Obama campaign has hammered almost every conceivable anti-Bain angle, going so far as to suggest Romney committed a felony on the company’s SEC filings. What else do they have to say on the topic? They’re running out of stories.

In contrast, there are plenty of Bain successes the Romney campaign can highlight. As his website notes, 80 percent of the companies in the firm’s portfolio have increased revenues since its founding. The media focus on the relatively few companies that filed for bankruptcy — 5 percent, according to the Romney campaign — has given a distorted view of Bain. And much of the information on his website and in the videos will probably be new, even to Romney supporters.

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If States Were Treated Like Corporations

Standard and Poor’s has downgraded Illinois’s credit rating, from A+ to A, with a negative outlook. It sited the accumulated $44 billion in budget deficits over the last five years as one reason. Illinois has a balanced budget requirement in its constitution, so how did it run five years worth of unbalanced budgets? Easy, it cooked the books because, unlike corporations, it doesn’t have to conform to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles or have its books certified by an independent authority.

Even worth is its $83 billion in unfunded liabilities in its pensions funds. The Illinois Legislature met in special session this summer to deal with the problem. It adjourned after doing exactly nothing. Again, the rules that apply to private-sector pension funds don’t apply to government ones. So they can play all sorts of games that allow them to make big promises and then not have to pay for them, at least in the short term. The estimable Walter Russell Meade explains the unholy alliance between public-service unions, governments, and Wall Street hedge funds.

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Standard and Poor’s has downgraded Illinois’s credit rating, from A+ to A, with a negative outlook. It sited the accumulated $44 billion in budget deficits over the last five years as one reason. Illinois has a balanced budget requirement in its constitution, so how did it run five years worth of unbalanced budgets? Easy, it cooked the books because, unlike corporations, it doesn’t have to conform to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles or have its books certified by an independent authority.

Even worth is its $83 billion in unfunded liabilities in its pensions funds. The Illinois Legislature met in special session this summer to deal with the problem. It adjourned after doing exactly nothing. Again, the rules that apply to private-sector pension funds don’t apply to government ones. So they can play all sorts of games that allow them to make big promises and then not have to pay for them, at least in the short term. The estimable Walter Russell Meade explains the unholy alliance between public-service unions, governments, and Wall Street hedge funds.

One wonders why corporations are held to a greater degree of scrutiny and more rigorous rules than are states like Illinois. After all, is there a corporation in the country (or even the world) that has seen two of its last thee CEO’s go to jail (and four of its last nine)? That’s the record for Illinois governors.

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Banks Make a Joke Out of Iran Sanctions

Those wondering about Iran’s ability to confidently defy the sanctions that the Obama administration has belatedly imposed on the rogue regime have previously pointed to the lax enforcement of the regulations. The Treasury Department has granted over 10,000 exemptions to companies desirous of avoiding the sanctions. The U.S. has also given Iran’s largest oil customers a pass on having to give up purchasing Tehran’s supplies. But it turns out that even those sanctions that are enforced aren’t working and this time the fault can’t be pinned on President Obama’s lack of will.

The New York Times reports that federal prosecutors say Chinese banks and other international institutions have been playing the role of middleman in a con game allowing Iranian banks and corporations to conduct business in the West that ought to be curtailed by the law. Through their U.S. branches, the Chinese institutions have reportedly funneled billions of dollars to Iran’s coffers. When added to the president’s timorous diplomacy, this fraud helps explain why the Iranians are going full speed ahead with the nuclear program with few worries about the sanctions that Secretary of State Clinton claimed would be so tough it would bring them to their knees.

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Those wondering about Iran’s ability to confidently defy the sanctions that the Obama administration has belatedly imposed on the rogue regime have previously pointed to the lax enforcement of the regulations. The Treasury Department has granted over 10,000 exemptions to companies desirous of avoiding the sanctions. The U.S. has also given Iran’s largest oil customers a pass on having to give up purchasing Tehran’s supplies. But it turns out that even those sanctions that are enforced aren’t working and this time the fault can’t be pinned on President Obama’s lack of will.

The New York Times reports that federal prosecutors say Chinese banks and other international institutions have been playing the role of middleman in a con game allowing Iranian banks and corporations to conduct business in the West that ought to be curtailed by the law. Through their U.S. branches, the Chinese institutions have reportedly funneled billions of dollars to Iran’s coffers. When added to the president’s timorous diplomacy, this fraud helps explain why the Iranians are going full speed ahead with the nuclear program with few worries about the sanctions that Secretary of State Clinton claimed would be so tough it would bring them to their knees.

The Times named two London-based banks with extensive Asian operations, HSBC and Standard Chartered, as being under investigation for complicity in helping Iran evade sanctions. But the ability of Western law enforcement agencies to stop Chinese shenanigans may be limited. It may be that as banks come under scrutiny, the Justice Department will gain cooperation and stop more such schemes. But the impression given by the Times piece is that of an unending game of “Whack a Mole” in which one Iranian scam can pop up as quickly as another is put out of business.

While the Justice Department is to be commended for pursuing these banks and hopefully seeing that they are severely punished, the case also illustrates the futility of a U.S. Iran policy that is based on the hope that diplomacy and sanctions will stop Tehran. And as long as billions are flowing into Iran’s treasury, there is no chance that economic measures will suffice to halt their nuclear ambitions.

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Texas Voter ID Case Determined by Past, Not Present Discrimination

The Obama administration won a victory today in their campaign to strike down voter ID laws. Only days after the United States District Court for the District of Columbia invalidated Texas’s new congressional and legislative districts, the same court struck down the state’s voter ID law. The court accepted the Justice Department’s arguments that the bill placed an undue burden on poor and minority voters. Texas has said it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and its attorney general says he can prevail there because the court has previously ruled that voter ID laws are constitutional. State courts have upheld a voter ID law in Pennsylvania but Texas’ problem is that because of its past history of racial discrimination, it must get federal approval for anything relating to voting rights. But those looking for the Supremes to reinforce their previous decision on voter ID may be disappointed. The issue at stake in the Texas case will be the constitutionality of the federal Voting Rights Act that gives Washington the power to oversee the state’s laws rather than voter ID itself.

In states not affected by the Voting Rights Act, courts can weigh efforts to prevent fraud on their own merits. The overwhelming majority of Americans back voter ID laws because they are inherently reasonable. If you need a picture ID to board an airplane, an Amtrak train, conduct even the most simple transaction with the government or a bank as well as buy a beer, most people rightly think that you should have to do as much to vote. Given that, contrary to fallacious Democratic talking points, voter fraud has always been a concern in American politics; the courts have upheld such laws as both prudent and obviously constitutional.

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The Obama administration won a victory today in their campaign to strike down voter ID laws. Only days after the United States District Court for the District of Columbia invalidated Texas’s new congressional and legislative districts, the same court struck down the state’s voter ID law. The court accepted the Justice Department’s arguments that the bill placed an undue burden on poor and minority voters. Texas has said it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and its attorney general says he can prevail there because the court has previously ruled that voter ID laws are constitutional. State courts have upheld a voter ID law in Pennsylvania but Texas’ problem is that because of its past history of racial discrimination, it must get federal approval for anything relating to voting rights. But those looking for the Supremes to reinforce their previous decision on voter ID may be disappointed. The issue at stake in the Texas case will be the constitutionality of the federal Voting Rights Act that gives Washington the power to oversee the state’s laws rather than voter ID itself.

In states not affected by the Voting Rights Act, courts can weigh efforts to prevent fraud on their own merits. The overwhelming majority of Americans back voter ID laws because they are inherently reasonable. If you need a picture ID to board an airplane, an Amtrak train, conduct even the most simple transaction with the government or a bank as well as buy a beer, most people rightly think that you should have to do as much to vote. Given that, contrary to fallacious Democratic talking points, voter fraud has always been a concern in American politics; the courts have upheld such laws as both prudent and obviously constitutional.

But under the Voting Rights Act, anything that even inadvertently affects minority voters, even if the purpose is constitutional and the impact incidental can be construed as a violation of the law. Thus, attorneys for Texas were given the impossible task of being forced to defend their state against a hypothetical assertion that could not be definitively disproved. Only a Supreme Court decision striking down the entire Voting Rights Act can prevent the Obama administration from stopping voter ID in Texas.

Proponents of voter ID can rightly assert that any comparison such as that made by Attorney General Holder that these bills are “Jim Crow laws” is an outrageous distortion of the truth. Minority voters are just as capable of getting themselves a free state ID card, as are whites. Anyone capable of registering to vote can do so. Unless opponents of these laws are prepared to argue that officials have no right to ask a prospective voter to prove his identity or even his citizenship, the charge of discrimination doesn’t hold water.

But the bottom line in the Texas case is that since it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will strike down the entire Voting Rights Act, the administration will be able to stop voter ID in the Lone Star State. Though Holder claimed the state was discriminating against minorities the case was determined by past injustices, not proof of present day bias. A true test of the constitutionality of such laws will have to wait for other challenges to make their way to the high court.

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Turkey’s Love-Hate Affair with Syria

When it comes to any resolution to the Syrian problem, Turkey is at the center of it. After all, Syria’s largest land border is with Turkey. Most Syrian refugees are fleeing north or west into Turkey, and there can be no safe-haven unless, as in 1991 with Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey plays host to the forces that would protect it.

At the same time, Bashar al-Assad is in many ways a monster of Turkey’s creation. Sedat Ergin is Turkey’s foremost journalist, editor, and columnist. He is neither polemical nor easily cowed. Amidst Prime Minister Erdoğan’s war on the press (and anyone else who might criticize him), Ergin has remained un-intimidated, even as Erdoğan has maneuvered to muzzle him.

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When it comes to any resolution to the Syrian problem, Turkey is at the center of it. After all, Syria’s largest land border is with Turkey. Most Syrian refugees are fleeing north or west into Turkey, and there can be no safe-haven unless, as in 1991 with Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey plays host to the forces that would protect it.

At the same time, Bashar al-Assad is in many ways a monster of Turkey’s creation. Sedat Ergin is Turkey’s foremost journalist, editor, and columnist. He is neither polemical nor easily cowed. Amidst Prime Minister Erdoğan’s war on the press (and anyone else who might criticize him), Ergin has remained un-intimidated, even as Erdoğan has maneuvered to muzzle him.

His column today is a must-read to understand not only the evolution of Turkey’s policy toward Syria, but also to understand how Erdoğan’s turn on Assad is based more on Erdoğan’s impetuous personality and less on principle.

Let’s go to the very beginning. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, much before the Arab Spring was seen on the horizon, had headed for very close and intimate cooperation with the Bashar al-Assad administration in Syria. This policy had reached, in the year 2009, such an advanced level that joint Cabinet meetings were held between the two countries and mutual visa restrictions were lifted. Also, the affectionate relations between the Erdoğan and al-Assad families somewhat warmed up the climate between the two countries. Interestingly, during this period, the AK Party government immediately opposed the United States’ efforts to put the brakes on its cooperation with the al-Assad regime – on the grounds that it supported terror.

More broadly, the lesson of Erdoğan’s Syria policy (and his Libya policy before that) should remind us how unwise it is to embrace dictatorships or to believe that words alone will convince them to reform.

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Mitt Romney’s Moment

Since the real drama of the political nominating conventions—the actual nominations—no longer applies, the pressure is on the big names, especially the headliners, to deliver a rousing speech. The press corps still have stories to file from the conventions, and “Republicans nominate Mitt Romney for president” just isn’t going to cut it—we all knew that going in. So the speeches themselves—words, not action—become the moments to analyze.

The expectations only build as the nights wear on–as Chris Christie found out when he delivered a solid speech but had to follow Ann Romney’s blockbuster. Last night, it seemed for a while that Paul Ryan would not have too high a bar to clear–until Condoleezza Rice brought the house down. But Ryan rose to the occasion nonetheless. Tonight, it’s Mitt Romney’s turn, and he will be swinging for the fences. The Washington Post reports that Romney is taking the task as seriously as expected:

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Since the real drama of the political nominating conventions—the actual nominations—no longer applies, the pressure is on the big names, especially the headliners, to deliver a rousing speech. The press corps still have stories to file from the conventions, and “Republicans nominate Mitt Romney for president” just isn’t going to cut it—we all knew that going in. So the speeches themselves—words, not action—become the moments to analyze.

The expectations only build as the nights wear on–as Chris Christie found out when he delivered a solid speech but had to follow Ann Romney’s blockbuster. Last night, it seemed for a while that Paul Ryan would not have too high a bar to clear–until Condoleezza Rice brought the house down. But Ryan rose to the occasion nonetheless. Tonight, it’s Mitt Romney’s turn, and he will be swinging for the fences. The Washington Post reports that Romney is taking the task as seriously as expected:

So it is that as Romney prepared to deliver the most important speech of his political career Thursday night at the Republican National Convention, he spent months reading past nominating and inaugural speeches (including President Obama’s) and biographies. By the middle of last week, as the guts of the speech were coming together, he asserted, in a conversation with an associate, “I still have to write it.” On Friday, Romney told talk radio host Hugh Hewitt, “Mine is still a work in progress, kind of early stage.”

Over the weekend, Romney took two days off the campaign trail to finish his drafts and rehearse with teleprompters at his New Hampshire getaway home. When reporters asked him after one rehearsal for a sneak peak of his speech, Romney previewed just five words: “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.” He was laughing, but advisers said the rest was in fact still subject to change.

On Wednesday, advisers were chiming in on this line or that line. One of them said that Romney will keep tinkering until just before he steps onto the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired convention stage shortly after 10 p.m. Thursday – because, well, “he just likes to tinker.”

Yet Romney’s speech tonight, more perhaps than is usual for such addresses, is a genuinely fascinating moment in American politics. Romney’s journey from governor of Massachusetts to presidential contender to presidential nominee was a rollercoaster. If you want to understand just how differently Romney was perceived by the Republican electorate in 2008, watch his (energetic, but substandard) convention address from four years ago. He gets a full minute standing ovation from the crowd before he utters a word.

And as I have written before, watching Romney’s address to CPAC in 2008 is like stepping into an alternate universe. He is the free market hero they’ve been waiting for who, to their vivid disappointment, could not wrest the nomination from the campaign-finance regulator McCain. Yet after Obamacare passed, the original suspicion with which the conservative movement viewed Romney for his previous stance on abortion returned, ironically at the moment the country seemed desperate for an economic guru.

But Romney kept a cool head throughout, and earned the nomination—he outraised, outdebated, and finally outran his rivals. Romney has always struggled when he has tried to be what he thought the conservative movement wanted him to be, rather than trying to show the party’s base they should want him as-is. For good or ill, those days are behind him now. Tonight he’ll deliver a speech he’s thought about for at least five years, despite being written off and counted out numerous times throughout. For a man of uncommon equanimity, and in the era of scripted and predictable conventions, that’s high drama.

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Romney’s Faith is an Asset, Not a Problem

Heading into this year’s Republican primaries, it was an open question as to whether Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith would be a hindrance to his presidential hopes, as it may have been four years earlier. Evangelical resistance to voting for a Mormon was exploited by Mike Huckabee in 2008. Last October, when a pastor affiliated with Texas Governor Rick Perry spoke up about Mormons being part of a cult and said it was acceptable for voters to reject a candidate because of his faith, it was reasonable to wonder whether religious prejudice might play a role in this election too. But this time the attacks on Mormonism didn’t work and tonight Romney will be in the spotlight as he accepts his party’s nomination.

Just how much Romney will talk about his faith in the speech is a subject for speculation. But rather than shy away from it, tonight’s convention program will talk about the subject openly. Given that faith has always been central to him, that’s appropriate. But it’s also good politics. Though Democrats have at times spoken as if they could profit from a campaign aimed at portraying Romney as “weird” — coded language that could only be a reference to the uber-conventional Republican’s faith — the more the public understands about the candidate’s religiosity, charitable giving and belief in helping others, it can only help him.

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Heading into this year’s Republican primaries, it was an open question as to whether Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith would be a hindrance to his presidential hopes, as it may have been four years earlier. Evangelical resistance to voting for a Mormon was exploited by Mike Huckabee in 2008. Last October, when a pastor affiliated with Texas Governor Rick Perry spoke up about Mormons being part of a cult and said it was acceptable for voters to reject a candidate because of his faith, it was reasonable to wonder whether religious prejudice might play a role in this election too. But this time the attacks on Mormonism didn’t work and tonight Romney will be in the spotlight as he accepts his party’s nomination.

Just how much Romney will talk about his faith in the speech is a subject for speculation. But rather than shy away from it, tonight’s convention program will talk about the subject openly. Given that faith has always been central to him, that’s appropriate. But it’s also good politics. Though Democrats have at times spoken as if they could profit from a campaign aimed at portraying Romney as “weird” — coded language that could only be a reference to the uber-conventional Republican’s faith — the more the public understands about the candidate’s religiosity, charitable giving and belief in helping others, it can only help him.

Too many political pundits make the mistake of forgetting how religious Americans are as a people. It’s true that there are fewer Mormons than Jews in this country, but most voters have a deep respect for faith. That’s a lesson Democrats should have learned in 2000 when Joe Lieberman’s observance of Judaism proved to be an asset in terms of building respect for both him and Al Gore’s ticket.

Talking about Romney’s faith is important because it illustrates that the Obama campaign’s caricature of him as a heartless plutocrat bears little resemblance to the person running for president. As much as Ann Romney’s impressive speech about her husband helped fill in some of the blanks in his profile for most viewers, they also need to hear more about the way religion shaped the choices he made and the way he has always conducted himself.

Democratic opposition researchers wasted a lot of time this year trying to dig up non-existent dirt about Romney. The best they could do was a half-baked story about a high school prank. The connection between Romney’s dedication to his faith and the lack of success that such fishing expeditions experienced is obvious.

It is true that bias against Mormons is still a potent factor in American life and may exceed even anti-Semitism in terms of its influence. Though the bias that created pogroms in the early years of the faith and even a shooting war between Mormons and the United States in the 1950s is not a subject most voters know about, the image of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a cult is far from dead.

Nevertheless, Democrats ought not to be happy about more discussion of Romney’s faith. The more Republicans talk about it, the better their chances of convincing the public that he is the sort of person who can be trusted with the nation’s affairs and, of ultimately prevailing in the election, will be.

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Will Congress Take Military into the 1970s?

Sequestration—the $500 billion automatic budget cuts to Defense, which will be triggered if Congress cannot reduce the budget by $1.2 trillion as per the Budget Control Act of 2011—is a looming disaster. The sequestration cuts would be in addition to already scheduled budget cutbacks.

Owen Graham, a brilliant young scholar at the Heritage Foundation, has penned an important article in the Charlotte Observer outlining just what is at stake:

According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, sequestration would also eliminate a leg of the nuclear Triad, deliver a heavy blow to U.S. missile defenses, and eliminate next-generation fighter and bomber programs. The findings of the House Armed Services Committee were just as bleak: the smallest Air Force in its history; the smallest Navy since before World War I; and the smallest ground force since before World War II…

The reality is it is far from balanced. Military is less than one-fifth of the federal budget and absorbs fully 50 percent of the sequester. Meanwhile, 70 percent of entitlement spending, the key driver of the debt crisis, is exempt from the impact of the cuts.

Sequestration—the $500 billion automatic budget cuts to Defense, which will be triggered if Congress cannot reduce the budget by $1.2 trillion as per the Budget Control Act of 2011—is a looming disaster. The sequestration cuts would be in addition to already scheduled budget cutbacks.

Owen Graham, a brilliant young scholar at the Heritage Foundation, has penned an important article in the Charlotte Observer outlining just what is at stake:

According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, sequestration would also eliminate a leg of the nuclear Triad, deliver a heavy blow to U.S. missile defenses, and eliminate next-generation fighter and bomber programs. The findings of the House Armed Services Committee were just as bleak: the smallest Air Force in its history; the smallest Navy since before World War I; and the smallest ground force since before World War II…

The reality is it is far from balanced. Military is less than one-fifth of the federal budget and absorbs fully 50 percent of the sequester. Meanwhile, 70 percent of entitlement spending, the key driver of the debt crisis, is exempt from the impact of the cuts.

Admiral James “Ace” Lyons observed wryly at a roundtable a few weeks ago that already the U.S. Navy has fewer ships under his command than he had at his disposal when he was in charge of the Pacific Command under Jimmy Carter. Obama’s talk of a pivot toward Asia is just empty talk; his priorities suggest a willingness to cede Asia.

If entitlements are cutback, we know what will happen: the economy will expand and charities and faith communities will pick up the slack; the government will still care for the most needy. If the U.S. ability to project its power is reduced to beneath even Carter administration standards, then the world in which we function will be far different. This may be the Obama administration’s goal. After all, as the Foundation for Defense of Democracy’s Cliff May notes, the scariest statement to which the mainstream media has given short shift was his promise to then-Russian President Medvedev to pursue even more devastating cutbacks once he no longer has to stand for election.

There will be no savings: When enemies perceive the United States as weak, they act. And—be they Russia, North Korea, China, or Iran—the United States has no shortage of adversaries.

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Iran’s Prominent Visitors Go Off Script

It’s always nice to see a totalitarian propaganda show disappoint its sponsors. Thus it’s hard to avoid chortling at the embarrassment suffered by Iranian leaders today when the much-heralded meeting of the Nonaligned Movement in Tehran went off in an unscripted direction.

The ayatollahs had made much of the attendance of President Mohammad Morsi of Egypt–the largest Arab state–and of Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon of the United Nations. But they could not have liked what they heard from the two prominent visitors. Morsi openly came out in support of the revolt being waged by the Syrian people against Bashar Assad–Iran’s closest ally in the regime. “The Syrian people are fighting with courage, looking for freedom and human dignity,” he said prompting the Syrian ambassador to walk out.

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It’s always nice to see a totalitarian propaganda show disappoint its sponsors. Thus it’s hard to avoid chortling at the embarrassment suffered by Iranian leaders today when the much-heralded meeting of the Nonaligned Movement in Tehran went off in an unscripted direction.

The ayatollahs had made much of the attendance of President Mohammad Morsi of Egypt–the largest Arab state–and of Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon of the United Nations. But they could not have liked what they heard from the two prominent visitors. Morsi openly came out in support of the revolt being waged by the Syrian people against Bashar Assad–Iran’s closest ally in the regime. “The Syrian people are fighting with courage, looking for freedom and human dignity,” he said prompting the Syrian ambassador to walk out.

Ban also denounced the repression carried out by the Syrian government with Iranian help. Then, even better, he upbraided the Iranian leadership for threatening to annihilate Israel and for denying the Holocaust. “I strongly reject threats by any member state to destroy another or outrageous attempts to deny historical facts, such as the Holocaust,” he said.

The Iranian news media apparently did not report Morsi’s or Ban’s remarks but it seems certain that they will be become widely known within Iran, thus presenting a strong counterpoint to the propaganda line of the regime.

That said, we should not get carried away–ruthless dictatorships like the one that rules Iran can suffer a lot of embarrassment with impunity. And however discredited the regime becomes, it still yields considerable power both within Iran and outside of it–and that power will only grow unless something more is done to stop its nuclear weapons program, which has not been slowed in the slightest by the latest diplomatic efforts emanating from Washington nor even, so far, by a new round of sanctions. The Wall Street Journal reports, for example, that Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear weapons scientist, is back at work.

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After RNC Triumph, Whither Condi Rice?

Count me among the many who were wowed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s brilliant speech at the Republican National Convention last night. She didn’t just add a note of foreign policy gravitas to a convention that served up a seemingly endless roster of mid-level GOP figures riffing on President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” gaffe. Rice’s address was as much about belief in the idea of America as it was about contemporary political disputes. She left the podium not only having won the hearts of the audience with her recollection of her own rise from a childhood in the segregated south to the heights of power but left a lot of her listeners wondering whether she was interested in a future run at the presidency and making comparisons to other great convention speeches in the past that were stepping-stones to the White House.

However, those so intoxicated by her rhetorical achievement that they are now pondering Rice’s future need to take a deep breath. It was a great speech and Rice has shown she can be a formidable surrogate for Mitt Romney or anyone else she chooses to support. But Rice is never going to be a viable presidential candidate. Nor is she likely to assume any post in a Romney administration. I can’t answer the question on so many tongues this morning about what it is that Condi Rice wants. Only she can do that. But a logical analysis of her prospects requires us to accept that whatever it is she aspires to, high political office isn’t likely to be in her future.

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Count me among the many who were wowed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s brilliant speech at the Republican National Convention last night. She didn’t just add a note of foreign policy gravitas to a convention that served up a seemingly endless roster of mid-level GOP figures riffing on President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” gaffe. Rice’s address was as much about belief in the idea of America as it was about contemporary political disputes. She left the podium not only having won the hearts of the audience with her recollection of her own rise from a childhood in the segregated south to the heights of power but left a lot of her listeners wondering whether she was interested in a future run at the presidency and making comparisons to other great convention speeches in the past that were stepping-stones to the White House.

However, those so intoxicated by her rhetorical achievement that they are now pondering Rice’s future need to take a deep breath. It was a great speech and Rice has shown she can be a formidable surrogate for Mitt Romney or anyone else she chooses to support. But Rice is never going to be a viable presidential candidate. Nor is she likely to assume any post in a Romney administration. I can’t answer the question on so many tongues this morning about what it is that Condi Rice wants. Only she can do that. But a logical analysis of her prospects requires us to accept that whatever it is she aspires to, high political office isn’t likely to be in her future.

Rice is an exceptional human being and when stacked up against the vast majority of politicians, she looks like she belongs in a higher league than the one in which garden variety governors, senators and members of Congress play. But she has never run for political office and those who believe she could parachute into a tough GOP presidential nomination fight are underestimating the difficulty of such a feat. She could certainly raise the money for such a race but it is difficult to imagine her spending 2015 (assuming Romney doesn’t win this fall) beating the bushes at Iowa county fairs three summers from now.

But even if she was willing to give up her comfortable life at Stanford University and other celebrity perks, like her new membership at the Augusta National Golf Club, as long as Rice is pro-choice on abortion, she has no chance of winning a Republican presidential nomination. This is something that was pointed out last month during the brief unrealistic boomlet seeking to promote her as a possible vice presidential nominee. Rice isn’t the only prominent Republican who supports abortion but the vast majority of those who vote in primaries are very much on the other side. It’s a handicap that would make a presidential quest on her part a pipe dream, especially when a 2016 race would probably include pro-life GOP stars like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie.

That’s a fact that Mitt Romney understood when he started on his seven-year-old quest for the presidency and one that others who fell by the wayside, like Rudolph Giuliani, would have to learn the hard way. Rice is too smart not to know this, so I can’t imagine her even trying.

As for lesser posts, it’s equally hard to see where she would fit in a future Romney administration. Having been secretary of state, it’s impossible to imagine she would take a lower level cabinet post or foreign policy job. Unless she wants another shot at running the State Department, which seems unlikely to me, she’s overqualified for any other position.

Nor do I find the speculation about her running for office in California very convincing. Having seen impressive Republican women like Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman fall short in that deep blue state, it’s hard to see why Rice would do any better.

The Republican Convention has served up an impressive slate of women speakers. New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, who had the difficult task of following Rice, was one. But though she may not have been as dazzling as Rice, she has a brighter political future simply because she fits into the mainstream of her party on abortion and other social issues.

Hard as it is for some pundits to admit, a good speech is sometimes just a stepping-stone to nothing other than opportunities to give other good speeches. While I was no fan of many of her policies at the State Department, Rice is a star and the Republicans are lucky to have her on their side. But it’s difficult to see any realistic scenario in which she can be said to have a political future.

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Fact-Checkers Wrong on Ryan GM Claim

The Associated Press and other fact-checkers are insisting that the line about the Janesville GM factory in Paul Ryan’s speech last night was inaccurate — and once again, the fact-checkers are wrong. Here’s the AP’s allegation against Ryan:

RYAN: Said Obama misled people in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wis., by making them think a General Motors plant there threatened with closure could be saved. “A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: ‘I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year.”

THE FACTS: The plant halted production in December 2008, weeks before Obama took office and well before he enacted a more robust auto industry bailout that rescued GM and Chrysler and allowed the majority of their plants — though not the Janesville facility — to stay in operation. Ryan himself voted for an auto bailout under President George W. Bush that was designed to help GM, but he was a vocal critic of the one pushed through by Obama that has been widely credited with revitalizing both GM and Chrysler.

The AP might want to check back on its own reporting on the plant closure, starting with this article from April 19, 2009, headlined “GM plant in Janesville to close for good this week”:

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The Associated Press and other fact-checkers are insisting that the line about the Janesville GM factory in Paul Ryan’s speech last night was inaccurate — and once again, the fact-checkers are wrong. Here’s the AP’s allegation against Ryan:

RYAN: Said Obama misled people in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wis., by making them think a General Motors plant there threatened with closure could be saved. “A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: ‘I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year.”

THE FACTS: The plant halted production in December 2008, weeks before Obama took office and well before he enacted a more robust auto industry bailout that rescued GM and Chrysler and allowed the majority of their plants — though not the Janesville facility — to stay in operation. Ryan himself voted for an auto bailout under President George W. Bush that was designed to help GM, but he was a vocal critic of the one pushed through by Obama that has been widely credited with revitalizing both GM and Chrysler.

The AP might want to check back on its own reporting on the plant closure, starting with this article from April 19, 2009, headlined “GM plant in Janesville to close for good this week”:

Production at the General Motors plant in Janesville is scheduled to end for good this week.

GM spokesman Christopher Lee says operations at the southern Wisconsin plant will cease Thursday.

About 1,200 employees were let go just before Christmas when GM ended SUV production at the plant.

Some 100 workers were retained to finish an order of small- to medium-duty trucks for Isuzu Motors Ltd.

Lee says most of those workers will be laid off Thursday. He says others will be kept on to help guide the plant’s shutdown.

The Janesville plant ended its SUV production line and laid off over 1,000 workers in December 2008, but the plant didn’t officially close. It continued to churn out an order of Isuzu trucks until April 2009, while the local union lobbied GM for a lifeline. In May, GM put the plant onto standby, meaning that it wasn’t completely shutting the door on it. There was some hope the plant would be able to resume production — and Wisconsin’s bipartisan congressional delegation, including Paul Ryan, scrambled to find a way to keep it alive — but it never happened.

To simply say that the plant “halted production” in December 2008, like AP does, is both inaccurate and misleading. It was more complicated than that. If the media wants to criticize Ryan for not being “nuanced” enough and failing to praise Obama for brilliantly saving GM, that’s fine. But Ryan’s comments weren’t inaccurate.

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Romney’s Convention Bounce

Some good news for the Romney campaign this morning. Mitt Romney hasn’t even made his convention speech yet, and he’s already seeing a small bump in the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll:

Republican Mitt Romney pulled even with President Barack Obama in a Reuters/Ipsos poll on Wednesday, getting a boost from his party’s nominating convention in Tampa this week.

In a four-day rolling poll, Romney and Obama were deadlocked among likely voters at 43 percent each. That was an improvement for Romney from Obama’s two-point lead on Tuesday and four-point lead on Monday.

“There is movement toward Romney, which is traditional for a convention,” Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said. “It’s small and the change is incremental, but it’s been moving the last couple of days.”

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Some good news for the Romney campaign this morning. Mitt Romney hasn’t even made his convention speech yet, and he’s already seeing a small bump in the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll:

Republican Mitt Romney pulled even with President Barack Obama in a Reuters/Ipsos poll on Wednesday, getting a boost from his party’s nominating convention in Tampa this week.

In a four-day rolling poll, Romney and Obama were deadlocked among likely voters at 43 percent each. That was an improvement for Romney from Obama’s two-point lead on Tuesday and four-point lead on Monday.

“There is movement toward Romney, which is traditional for a convention,” Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said. “It’s small and the change is incremental, but it’s been moving the last couple of days.”

There was concern that Hurricane Isaac and the Todd Akin incident would overshadow the convention, but we haven’t seen that happen. While Romney isn’t expected to get a major bounce from this week, he already appears to be on par with candidates from previous years. Nate Silver writes that the benchmark for a convention bounce is around 4 points, and Romney is already there (at least in the Reuters poll), with one big day left to go.

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The Most Important Part of Ryan’s Speech

Day two of the Republican convention showed no sign of letting up on its “you didn’t build that” theme, though the formal premise of the night was a slight adjustment to it: the phrase “we can change it.” But in a somewhat surprising moment, Paul Ryan seemed to accept the Obama administration’s complaint that the quote was taken out of context. Ryan offered an alternative riff on the phrase, implicitly explaining to the president why the context doesn’t exonerate him.

The president and his allies say that in context, it’s clear the president meant that government deserves some, but not all, the credit for these businesses for maintaining American infrastructure. But the full context, as I have written before, doesn’t help the president much because of the way he seemed to be mocking those who were successful. In a derisive tone, Obama said: “I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.” So last night, Ryan said this:

Behind every small business, there’s a story worth knowing.  All the corner shops in our towns and cities, the restaurants, cleaners, gyms, hair salons, hardware stores – these didn’t come out of nowhere.  A lot of heart goes into each one.  And if small businesspeople say they made it on their own, all they are saying is that nobody else worked seven days a week in their place.  Nobody showed up in their place to open the door at five in the morning.  Nobody did their thinking, and worrying, and sweating for them.  After all that work, and in a bad economy, it sure doesn’t help to hear from their president that government gets the credit.  What they deserve to hear is the truth: Yes, you did build that.

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Day two of the Republican convention showed no sign of letting up on its “you didn’t build that” theme, though the formal premise of the night was a slight adjustment to it: the phrase “we can change it.” But in a somewhat surprising moment, Paul Ryan seemed to accept the Obama administration’s complaint that the quote was taken out of context. Ryan offered an alternative riff on the phrase, implicitly explaining to the president why the context doesn’t exonerate him.

The president and his allies say that in context, it’s clear the president meant that government deserves some, but not all, the credit for these businesses for maintaining American infrastructure. But the full context, as I have written before, doesn’t help the president much because of the way he seemed to be mocking those who were successful. In a derisive tone, Obama said: “I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.” So last night, Ryan said this:

Behind every small business, there’s a story worth knowing.  All the corner shops in our towns and cities, the restaurants, cleaners, gyms, hair salons, hardware stores – these didn’t come out of nowhere.  A lot of heart goes into each one.  And if small businesspeople say they made it on their own, all they are saying is that nobody else worked seven days a week in their place.  Nobody showed up in their place to open the door at five in the morning.  Nobody did their thinking, and worrying, and sweating for them.  After all that work, and in a bad economy, it sure doesn’t help to hear from their president that government gets the credit.  What they deserve to hear is the truth: Yes, you did build that.

In other words: yes, Mr. President, sometimes people worked harder than their competitors, worked their fingers to the bone, so to speak, and realized their dream. They are not, Ryan said, trying to take full credit for it, but they were the ones who took the risk, went to sleep every night hoping to provide for their family in the morning, got up when it was still dark and went to sleep when it was dark again, to make it happen. They didn’t win the lottery, and they didn’t succeed because of handouts. They understand they got help along the way, but that help doesn’t diminish their effort and doesn’t deserve dismissive sneering from their president.

It was a much more mature and empathetic handling of the “you didn’t build that” line than any other mention of it thus far at the convention—and it’s been mentioned quite a lot. Projecting that maturity was certainly one of the goals for Ryan’s big introduction to the country. And demonstrating empathy was just as important, since the president and the media constantly seek to portray conservatives as heartless capitalists. But who understands the struggling business owner better, Obama or Ryan? Judging by their respective speeches, it’s Ryan by a mile.

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