Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 6, 2012

State Department Doesn’t Care About a Stinkin’ Voice Vote

At Thursday’s State Department press conference — the day after President Obama directed the Democratic Party to re-instate in its platform the words “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel” — a reporter asked acting deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell which city the U.S. recognizes as the capital of Israel. Mr. Ventrell responded as follows:

Well, as you know, longstanding Administration policy, both in this Administration and in previous administrations across both parties, is that the status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. So that’s longstanding Administration policy and continues to be so.

That response produced several more tries by reporters (“I mean, no city is recognized as a capital by the U.S. Government?” “That means Jerusalem is not a part of Israel?” “Are there any other countries in the world where the U.S. doesn’t know what the capital is or won’t say what the capital of a country is?”) — each of which produced the same non-response from Ventrell. Another reporter tried a fifth time, and this time the colloquy was more pointed:

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At Thursday’s State Department press conference — the day after President Obama directed the Democratic Party to re-instate in its platform the words “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel” — a reporter asked acting deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell which city the U.S. recognizes as the capital of Israel. Mr. Ventrell responded as follows:

Well, as you know, longstanding Administration policy, both in this Administration and in previous administrations across both parties, is that the status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. So that’s longstanding Administration policy and continues to be so.

That response produced several more tries by reporters (“I mean, no city is recognized as a capital by the U.S. Government?” “That means Jerusalem is not a part of Israel?” “Are there any other countries in the world where the U.S. doesn’t know what the capital is or won’t say what the capital of a country is?”) — each of which produced the same non-response from Ventrell. Another reporter tried a fifth time, and this time the colloquy was more pointed:

QUESTION: What does the U.S. think the capital of Israel is? What do you –

MR. VENTRELL: As I’ve just said, we believe that the status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status –

QUESTION: I’m not asking you that question. I’m asking you what you think the capital is.

MR. VENTRELL: And my response is that Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status negotiations.

QUESTION: She didn’t ask about Jerusalem, though.

MR. VENTRELL: Look, this is something we’ve been through at this podium. Toria has been through it before. We’ve repeated it many times. You know that the position is. It hasn’t changed for decades.

QUESTION: Wait, I know that. And I don’t want to play the verbal game, I’m just very curious if you actually have a position about a capital of that country. And if you don’t, if – I just would like to hear you say you don’t.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, right now, Nicole –

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. VENTRELL: — the situation is that we have an Embassy in Tel Aviv that represents our interests with the Government of Israel but that the issue of Jerusalem is one that has to be resolved between the two parties. That’s all I can say on this. [Emphasis added].

As the above exchange demonstrates, President Obama’s statement that “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel” was meant only for purposes of his platform and not for purposes of his policy. It has no more meaning for him in 2012 than it did in 2008, when he delivered the line to an AIPAC conference, complete with his trademark “Let me be clear” preface — and then proceeded to disregard it as soon as he left the building.

If President Obama ever holds another formal press conference, perhaps a reporter will ask how he was able to get the line into the platform but cannot get the State Department (or his own press secretary) to endorse even the first part of the sentence.

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Obama’s Recycled Promises

Excerpts of President Obama’s acceptance speech and the bullet points are flying around the Internet. According to Politico, he’s going to be promising the following:

* Create one million new manufacturing jobs by the end of 2016 and double exports by the end of 2014.

* Cut net oil imports in half by 2020 and support 600,000 natural gas jobs by the end of the decade.

* Cut the growth of college tuition in half over the next 10 years; recruit 100,000 math and science teachers over the next 10 years and train 2 million workers for real jobs at community colleges.

* Invest in the economy with the money we’re no longer spending on war.

* Reduce the deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next decade.

But if a lot of this sounds familiar, it should: he gave some of the same promises in his first acceptance speech in front of those faux Greek columns at Invesco Field in 2008.

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Excerpts of President Obama’s acceptance speech and the bullet points are flying around the Internet. According to Politico, he’s going to be promising the following:

* Create one million new manufacturing jobs by the end of 2016 and double exports by the end of 2014.

* Cut net oil imports in half by 2020 and support 600,000 natural gas jobs by the end of the decade.

* Cut the growth of college tuition in half over the next 10 years; recruit 100,000 math and science teachers over the next 10 years and train 2 million workers for real jobs at community colleges.

* Invest in the economy with the money we’re no longer spending on war.

* Reduce the deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next decade.

But if a lot of this sounds familiar, it should: he gave some of the same promises in his first acceptance speech in front of those faux Greek columns at Invesco Field in 2008.

In 2008 he also talked about jobs, but he now presides over an economy where unemployment is higher than when he took the oath of office.

In 2008, he said, “In 10 years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.” But in the past four years not only has he failed to make progress toward that goal, he has retarded that effort by bowing to environmental extremists by stopping the building of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada.

On education, in 2008 he made a similar promise. He said, “I’ll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries, and give them more support.”

In 2008, he did not promise a peace dividend but did complain about Iraq’s surplus and implied that the money being spent abroad should be used at home. But bragging about cutting our defense to the bone will leave us even less prepared than we were the last time the country was caught sleeping after thinking it no longer needed to worry about security.

In 2008, he spoke of going through the budget to save money and now he promises to cut it, but he’s recycling promises made throughout his presidency. And this pledge is also accompanied by the same inability to say where he will get the money other than gimmicks.

President Obama is entitled to repeat these vague promises, but after four years it’s clear his idea of moving “forward” is pretty much a faint echo of the same stuff he ran on in 2008. It falls far short of the “hope and change” messianism that first propelled him into office but perhaps he’s decided that rather than to try and fail to recapture that moment, he’s better off playing it safe with recycled campaign fodder.

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Will Israel Attack? It’s Up to Obama

Speculation about whether Israel will decide to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities continues to build, but the latest report out of Jerusalem confirms that the answer to the question is still to be found in Washington. The Times of Israel reports that Israel’s Channel 10 has quoted sources close to Prime Minister Netanyahu that claim the chances of a strike on Iran are declining. What’s more, they say that if President Obama gives Netanyahu assurances that the United States has firm “red lines” that will trigger action against Iran, there will be no need for Israel to act on its own.

The two men are scheduled to meet later this month on September 27 while Netanyahu is in New York to address the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. But the question hanging over this meeting is whether the White House will interpret Netanyahu’s attitude as an opportunity to call his bluff or a challenge that requires the president to start taking the issue seriously.

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Speculation about whether Israel will decide to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities continues to build, but the latest report out of Jerusalem confirms that the answer to the question is still to be found in Washington. The Times of Israel reports that Israel’s Channel 10 has quoted sources close to Prime Minister Netanyahu that claim the chances of a strike on Iran are declining. What’s more, they say that if President Obama gives Netanyahu assurances that the United States has firm “red lines” that will trigger action against Iran, there will be no need for Israel to act on its own.

The two men are scheduled to meet later this month on September 27 while Netanyahu is in New York to address the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. But the question hanging over this meeting is whether the White House will interpret Netanyahu’s attitude as an opportunity to call his bluff or a challenge that requires the president to start taking the issue seriously.

What the Israelis want is clear enough. They need the United States to stop acting as if they can kick the can down the road indefinitely on this issue. The administration line that a policy of diplomacy and sanctions needs more time to work has no credibility. Iran has already made it clear for years that they have no intention of backing away from their nuclear goal. The sanctions that were belatedly adopted by President Obama are just as unlikely to bring Tehran to its knees even if they were rigidly enforced rather than being routinely flouted.

The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency is eroding any lingering doubts about Iran’s intentions or the progress it has made toward realizing its dangerous ambition. But with the number of centrifuges being doubled and now stored in a possibly invulnerable underground facility, the Israelis are rightly worried that time is running out fast before it will be too late to stop Iran.

Unfortunately, the administration has spent most of this year worrying more about Israel acting on its own than about the fact that the Iranian peril may no longer be manageable. But the Israeli preference has always been to act in concert with the United States. The problem is their lack of trust in Obama. They know he has been dragged reluctantly toward confrontation with Iran every step of the way and rightly worry that he will refuse to act if he is re-elected.

Should Obama give a concrete, public promise that action will be taken, Israel’s concerns will be answered and the U.S.-Israel argument will be put to rest. However, if the president interprets this report as Netanyahu weakening his stand and fails to deliver the assurances that are needed, he will squander a chance to end this argument.

As his intervention in the Democrats’ platform fiasco showed, the president is aware that he has a problem with pro-Israel voters. But what is needed now from him is not the traditional boilerplate political rhetoric he has used in the past but a genuine vow to avert a danger to American security as well as an existential threat to Israel.

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Will Obama Play Politics With Sequester Report Deadline?

The White House is required to release a report this week detailing how the sequestration cuts to defense actually will be executed. The outline — which will help shape 2013 budget and employment decisions for the Pentagon and defense industry — was initially supposed to be released today, according to multiple reports and the Bipartisan Policy Center. Of course, that would almost certainly have conflicted with Obama’s attempts to play up his national security record at the convention — so it’s no surprise it’s nowhere to be found on the OMB website this afternoon.

“On and off the Hill, many suspect the Obama Administration will quietly drop the sequestration transparency report on Friday in close-of-business ‘data dump’ with little fanfare, perhaps sending the report only to House and Senate leadership,” said Robert Zarate, policy director at the Foreign Policy Initiative. “But once the report gets to the Hill, you can expect lawmakers on both sides of the sequestration debate to start aggressively posturing and messaging.”

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The White House is required to release a report this week detailing how the sequestration cuts to defense actually will be executed. The outline — which will help shape 2013 budget and employment decisions for the Pentagon and defense industry — was initially supposed to be released today, according to multiple reports and the Bipartisan Policy Center. Of course, that would almost certainly have conflicted with Obama’s attempts to play up his national security record at the convention — so it’s no surprise it’s nowhere to be found on the OMB website this afternoon.

“On and off the Hill, many suspect the Obama Administration will quietly drop the sequestration transparency report on Friday in close-of-business ‘data dump’ with little fanfare, perhaps sending the report only to House and Senate leadership,” said Robert Zarate, policy director at the Foreign Policy Initiative. “But once the report gets to the Hill, you can expect lawmakers on both sides of the sequestration debate to start aggressively posturing and messaging.”

According to House Speaker John Boehner’s office, the absolute deadline for the report is tomorrow, but there’s a chance Obama may delay it further.

“Tomorrow (September 7) is the deadline, which has us wondering…will President Obama comply with the Sequestration Transparency Act he signed into law?” asked Don Seymour, digital communications director for Boehner, in an email blast. “The administration has repeatedly ignored requests from Congress for ‘sequester’ information, even as top officials admit the defense cuts the White House demanded – in an effort to ensure the president wouldn’t face another debt limit vote before the election – would jeopardize our national security.”

Meanwhile, DoD Buzz reports that the administration could actually end up dragging its feet for a couple of weeks:

The White House Office of Management and Budget is scheduled to release a detailed report specifying how sequestration cuts will affect the Pentagon after President Obama ordered the report in August. Capitol Hill sources expect to see the report in the next couple weeks.

Although Kendall tried to simplify the complexity of the cuts with simple arithmetic, the defense industry is eager to see what the OMB report will contain. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has told Congress the military has done minimal planning because of the simplicity of the across the board cut.

The impact of the cuts should be clearer once the report comes out, assuming the Office of Management and Budget provides sufficient detail. President Obama may not want this to drop the week of his convention, but the targeted industries and the general public deserve to see the specifics by the required deadline.

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The Obama Communication Myth

Democrats are awaiting President Obama’s acceptance speech at their National Convention tonight with a bit less excitement than the breathless anticipation that many of them had for former President Clinton’s oration. But the expectations for the event, albeit lacking the drama of an outdoor stadium setting and with fireworks or balloons waiting to fall upon the happy candidate at its conclusion, are still considerable. Though few doubt Obama will give a good speech, his supporters still seem to feel that he must wow the audience in Charlotte and at home watching on television. Part of this sense of urgency is driven by their belief that the only real failure of his administration has been an inability to communicate with voters.

That has been coming through loud and clear this week in Charlotte as Democrats keep telling Americans that they are better off than they were four years ago. With straight faces they say his policies have all worked, that the economy has been healed by his wisdom and that all we need to do is give Barack Obama another four years and America’s future is assured. The only thing they don’t seem to understand is why the majority of Americans consistently say they disapprove of the president’s job performance and think the country is heading in the wrong direction. They tend to put that down to the wicked plots of Republicans as well as what they see as an inexplicable reluctance on the part of the president to adequately explain himself or to respond to attacks. That is a conviction fostered by the president himself as well as by pundits like the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, who gave Obama an “F” for communication in a report card otherwise strewn with A’s and B’s. But this mythical communications gap tells us more about the disconnect between liberals and the voters than it does about Obama’s failings.

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Democrats are awaiting President Obama’s acceptance speech at their National Convention tonight with a bit less excitement than the breathless anticipation that many of them had for former President Clinton’s oration. But the expectations for the event, albeit lacking the drama of an outdoor stadium setting and with fireworks or balloons waiting to fall upon the happy candidate at its conclusion, are still considerable. Though few doubt Obama will give a good speech, his supporters still seem to feel that he must wow the audience in Charlotte and at home watching on television. Part of this sense of urgency is driven by their belief that the only real failure of his administration has been an inability to communicate with voters.

That has been coming through loud and clear this week in Charlotte as Democrats keep telling Americans that they are better off than they were four years ago. With straight faces they say his policies have all worked, that the economy has been healed by his wisdom and that all we need to do is give Barack Obama another four years and America’s future is assured. The only thing they don’t seem to understand is why the majority of Americans consistently say they disapprove of the president’s job performance and think the country is heading in the wrong direction. They tend to put that down to the wicked plots of Republicans as well as what they see as an inexplicable reluctance on the part of the president to adequately explain himself or to respond to attacks. That is a conviction fostered by the president himself as well as by pundits like the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, who gave Obama an “F” for communication in a report card otherwise strewn with A’s and B’s. But this mythical communications gap tells us more about the disconnect between liberals and the voters than it does about Obama’s failings.

While this administration has produced very little in the way of results in terms of fixing the economy, it has never been short of words. Throughout his first two years in office, when he had the luxury of controlling both houses of Congress, Obama made it clear to Republicans that “elections had consequences” and that he wouldn’t compromise on his plans. He got his trillion-dollar stimulus boondoggle and then the following year his health care plan over the objections of many in his party who feared the country couldn’t afford it and didn’t want it. As a result of this, the Democrats lost Congress and he has spent the last two years asking the Republicans to adhere to an idea of compromise in which they must abandon their principles to accommodate his views.

Liberals also labor under a victim mentality in which they believe Obama and the Democrats have failed to respond to dastardly Republican attacks. But as Politico notes today, there is no question that the Obama campaign has run rings around the GOP in terms of launching vicious personal attacks on Mitt Romney and his party.

Somehow it has never occurred to liberals that public discontent is produced by their disagreement with their policies rather than their lack of success in explaining them. Like the proverbial “ugly American” abroad, they seem to think that if they only speak loudly and slowly enough, their words will be understood and their demands granted. That’s why Democrats swooned over Bill Clinton’s speech last night and expect to do the same when Obama claims his nomination today.

Even if the president knocks it out of the park tonight in the manner of a Clinton, that won’t solve his problem. The only thing that will do that is an improvement in the economy. Americans have had four years of Obama’s rhetoric. More words from him, no matter how eloquent or lauded by the press, will not solve his problems.

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Obama’s Worst National Security Surrogate

To preview his speech at tonight’s final day of the Democratic National Convention, John Kerry has published a column in Foreign Policy defending the Obama administration’s record on foreign affairs. If, like most Americans, you view Kerry as a sad but somewhat amusing footnote in American presidential election history, then you will be glad to know he hasn’t changed. If, however, you are concerned by the possibility that in a second Obama administration Kerry’s ideas could be taken seriously, then you will be alarmed to know he hasn’t changed. Either way, he’s the same old John Kerry:

I grew up in a Senate and foreign-policy world where we treated as gospel the notion that — as Sen. Arthur Vandenberg famously said — “politics stops at the water’s edge.” How is it, then, not inconsistent that here on the pages of Foreign Policy, I’m offering a few thoughts now on a “Democratic foreign policy”? Very simply, because today, it is the Democratic Party that almost all alone occupies that once bipartisan space in national security policy, and it is the Democratic Party that today offers the clear-eyed vision of how to best honor our ideas in the world, while the Republican Party, too often in the grips of hard-edged ideology and a determination above all else to defeat President Barack Obama, is almost unrecognizable from its previous incarnation.

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To preview his speech at tonight’s final day of the Democratic National Convention, John Kerry has published a column in Foreign Policy defending the Obama administration’s record on foreign affairs. If, like most Americans, you view Kerry as a sad but somewhat amusing footnote in American presidential election history, then you will be glad to know he hasn’t changed. If, however, you are concerned by the possibility that in a second Obama administration Kerry’s ideas could be taken seriously, then you will be alarmed to know he hasn’t changed. Either way, he’s the same old John Kerry:

I grew up in a Senate and foreign-policy world where we treated as gospel the notion that — as Sen. Arthur Vandenberg famously said — “politics stops at the water’s edge.” How is it, then, not inconsistent that here on the pages of Foreign Policy, I’m offering a few thoughts now on a “Democratic foreign policy”? Very simply, because today, it is the Democratic Party that almost all alone occupies that once bipartisan space in national security policy, and it is the Democratic Party that today offers the clear-eyed vision of how to best honor our ideas in the world, while the Republican Party, too often in the grips of hard-edged ideology and a determination above all else to defeat President Barack Obama, is almost unrecognizable from its previous incarnation.

So politics does indeed stop at the water’s edge—if John Kerry approves of your politics. If Kerry disagrees with you, all bets are off. So what type of policy might Kerry agree with Republicans on? Well, there was a big issue, as Max mentioned earlier, on which there was a bipartisan consensus and of which Kerry was a principle advocate: the Iraq war. Have the Republicans abandoned Kerry on Iraq? Nope—he’s abandoned them. Here’s Kerry:

This was a war of ideology, even hubris. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no immediate need to invade, particularly when the real concern was with bin Laden and al Qaeda.

Whose ideology? Whose hubris? There was a time Kerry was beating the drums of war in Iraq so loudly it seemed as though he would invade all by himself if America chose not to. Kerry also laments that in Afghanistan, “our efforts were languishing due to lack of attention,” so he is working hard to re-elect the president who resolved to give it less attention so no one would notice when he eventually gave it no attention at all.

Later on in the column, Kerry engages with the question of how much credit Obama should get for ordering the assassination of Osama bin Laden, which is a rookie-level unforced error and a tremendous disservice to the president, who certainly doesn’t want his campaign surrogates entertaining the debate or signaling that perhaps he doesn’t deserve the credit after all. (There is virtually no chance the electorate would discount Obama’s role in the operation, and Kerry shouldn’t even suggest otherwise, lest he inspire voters to wonder whether they should reconsider their initial–and almost certainly positive–reaction.)

Elsewhere, Kerry commends the reporting of David Sanger, a ham-fisted reminder to readers that the Obama White House has been involved in selectively leaking sensitive American military and intelligence information to a newspaper that prioritizes the election of Democratic presidents over national security concerns.

In other words, from top to bottom, Kerry’s column is a self-contradictory mess of bungled bragging and churlish rambling. Like I said, it’s the same old John Kerry—but it remains a mystery as to why the Obama campaign would put its national security reputation in his hands.

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There’s an Elitist Under My Bed

The productive brawl over “blistering” criticism continues to produce. Yesterday William Giraldi defended his original review of two books by the Lafayette College creative writing professor Alix Ohlin, and earlier today Ron Hogan cracked Giraldi in the jaw for everything he said. Both combatants mention me in passing, but I’ve already had my say. I’m on Giraldi’s side, and in the minority.

One of Hogan’s accusations against Giraldi, though, rankles because it is a cliché and an error: “William Giraldi is an elitist.” A self-owning elitist too (whatever that means). Writing as if in correspondence with a young critic, Giraldi had observed: “You’ll be dealing with people for whom thinking is not a particularly strong skill set — they feel very much, they react very well, but they don’t have much talent for thought.” By people, here, Giraldi is referring specifically to writers, especially contemporary writers trained in creative writing workshops, where — despite the original intentions of creative writing’s founders — criticism never ventures, for fear of being assaulted. There’s nothing particularly shocking in what Giraldi says. It is a variation on T. S. Eliot’s famous remark about Henry James: “He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it.” Except that most of the writers who tumble out of the creative writing workshops do not have especially fine minds.

But here is how Hogan responds:

Let’s look at this from another angle: I’m the guy who flat out says being a book critic is nothing special, and one of the key things I meant by that is that you don’t get to position yourself above other people just because you found somebody to subsidize you while you sit around and read books. You want to go back to this MFA bullshit and how not everyone who writes a book is a special snowflake? Fine: You’re not a special snowflake, either. Yes, it’s very nice that you’ve made the decision to have fun reading books, and to share what you’ve gotten out of that with the rest of us. But it doesn’t necessarily make you better than anybody else, and if you’re just going to cop an attitude about what a perceptive reader you are, and how fancy your book learning is — well, you’re not really here to tell us about books, you’re here to tell us about you. And did I mention that you’re not a particularly special snowflake?

Position yourself above other people, it doesn’t necessarily make you better than anybody else, cop an attitude about what a perceptive reader you are: this is what Hogan means by calling Giraldi an elitist. The very act of criticism, on this view, is a declaration of superiority. Criticism could not possibly be a disinterested stream of ideas directed over an object worth considering; it is positioned and copped; it is a power play.

Color me nauseated. “Elitist” is one of those slurs, like reductionist and extremist, that always applies to the other guy, never to oneself.

And the irony is that Ron Hogan is just as much an elitist as William Giraldi. When I said as much this morning on Twitter, all hell broke loose. But it is the simple truth: anyone who lives by books and ideas is an elitist by definition, engaging in an elite activity (treating books seriously) on behalf of an elite (those who treat books seriously). The dictionary-bound will object that I am not using the word correctly: an elitist, they pipe, is someone who advocates domination by an elite. Thus the word belongs to the jargon of the left, which likes to see itself as for “the little feller” while its opponents and antagonists are “out of touch.” This is beginning to sound familiar.

The word élite entered into English from the French, where it originally meant “selection, choice.” In medieval Latin, where the French found the word, electa denoted “choice.” Literature, as I have said again and again, just is a choice: either the word refers to everything that has ever been written, in which case it is unmanageable, or it refers to a selection of some kind. Criticism is the activity of choosing the best for recommendation and reading. Yes, it is the positioning of some books above others. And it depends upon perceptive reading, whether the critic cops to the attitude or not.

That’s pretty much what Hogan does in Beatrice, his own book blog. He singles out books for attention and praise. You will search his blog in vain for any word of bestselling novelists (the populists of the literary world) like Stephen King, James Patterson, Stephanie Meyer, E. L. James, or even Stieg Larsson. Hogan’s very choice of what to write about is elitist — first because it is a choice, second because it is the choice of a select few, a better sort.

Something like this, by the way, was Jane Austen’s opinion of the man or woman who reads seriously. In Persuasion, Captain Wentworth is upset when he learns that Louisa Musgrove, whom everyone thought he was courting, had become engaged to Captain Benwick. Anne Elliot wants to know why he is upset (she hopes it is not because Louisa has been taken). Wentworth explains:

I regard Louisa Musgrove as a very amiable, sweet-tempered girl, and not deficient in understanding, but Benwick is something more. He is a clever man, a reading man. . . . [ch 20]

A “reading man” is “something more” than a person who is “amiable” and “not deficient in understanding.” Hogan describes his critical credo as this: Have fun reading books. But his criticism is not merely amiable; it is something more.

We are all of us — all of us who take books seriously — elitists. The elitist under our bed, who haunts our political nightmares, is us.

The productive brawl over “blistering” criticism continues to produce. Yesterday William Giraldi defended his original review of two books by the Lafayette College creative writing professor Alix Ohlin, and earlier today Ron Hogan cracked Giraldi in the jaw for everything he said. Both combatants mention me in passing, but I’ve already had my say. I’m on Giraldi’s side, and in the minority.

One of Hogan’s accusations against Giraldi, though, rankles because it is a cliché and an error: “William Giraldi is an elitist.” A self-owning elitist too (whatever that means). Writing as if in correspondence with a young critic, Giraldi had observed: “You’ll be dealing with people for whom thinking is not a particularly strong skill set — they feel very much, they react very well, but they don’t have much talent for thought.” By people, here, Giraldi is referring specifically to writers, especially contemporary writers trained in creative writing workshops, where — despite the original intentions of creative writing’s founders — criticism never ventures, for fear of being assaulted. There’s nothing particularly shocking in what Giraldi says. It is a variation on T. S. Eliot’s famous remark about Henry James: “He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it.” Except that most of the writers who tumble out of the creative writing workshops do not have especially fine minds.

But here is how Hogan responds:

Let’s look at this from another angle: I’m the guy who flat out says being a book critic is nothing special, and one of the key things I meant by that is that you don’t get to position yourself above other people just because you found somebody to subsidize you while you sit around and read books. You want to go back to this MFA bullshit and how not everyone who writes a book is a special snowflake? Fine: You’re not a special snowflake, either. Yes, it’s very nice that you’ve made the decision to have fun reading books, and to share what you’ve gotten out of that with the rest of us. But it doesn’t necessarily make you better than anybody else, and if you’re just going to cop an attitude about what a perceptive reader you are, and how fancy your book learning is — well, you’re not really here to tell us about books, you’re here to tell us about you. And did I mention that you’re not a particularly special snowflake?

Position yourself above other people, it doesn’t necessarily make you better than anybody else, cop an attitude about what a perceptive reader you are: this is what Hogan means by calling Giraldi an elitist. The very act of criticism, on this view, is a declaration of superiority. Criticism could not possibly be a disinterested stream of ideas directed over an object worth considering; it is positioned and copped; it is a power play.

Color me nauseated. “Elitist” is one of those slurs, like reductionist and extremist, that always applies to the other guy, never to oneself.

And the irony is that Ron Hogan is just as much an elitist as William Giraldi. When I said as much this morning on Twitter, all hell broke loose. But it is the simple truth: anyone who lives by books and ideas is an elitist by definition, engaging in an elite activity (treating books seriously) on behalf of an elite (those who treat books seriously). The dictionary-bound will object that I am not using the word correctly: an elitist, they pipe, is someone who advocates domination by an elite. Thus the word belongs to the jargon of the left, which likes to see itself as for “the little feller” while its opponents and antagonists are “out of touch.” This is beginning to sound familiar.

The word élite entered into English from the French, where it originally meant “selection, choice.” In medieval Latin, where the French found the word, electa denoted “choice.” Literature, as I have said again and again, just is a choice: either the word refers to everything that has ever been written, in which case it is unmanageable, or it refers to a selection of some kind. Criticism is the activity of choosing the best for recommendation and reading. Yes, it is the positioning of some books above others. And it depends upon perceptive reading, whether the critic cops to the attitude or not.

That’s pretty much what Hogan does in Beatrice, his own book blog. He singles out books for attention and praise. You will search his blog in vain for any word of bestselling novelists (the populists of the literary world) like Stephen King, James Patterson, Stephanie Meyer, E. L. James, or even Stieg Larsson. Hogan’s very choice of what to write about is elitist — first because it is a choice, second because it is the choice of a select few, a better sort.

Something like this, by the way, was Jane Austen’s opinion of the man or woman who reads seriously. In Persuasion, Captain Wentworth is upset when he learns that Louisa Musgrove, whom everyone thought he was courting, had become engaged to Captain Benwick. Anne Elliot wants to know why he is upset (she hopes it is not because Louisa has been taken). Wentworth explains:

I regard Louisa Musgrove as a very amiable, sweet-tempered girl, and not deficient in understanding, but Benwick is something more. He is a clever man, a reading man. . . . [ch 20]

A “reading man” is “something more” than a person who is “amiable” and “not deficient in understanding.” Hogan describes his critical credo as this: Have fun reading books. But his criticism is not merely amiable; it is something more.

We are all of us — all of us who take books seriously — elitists. The elitist under our bed, who haunts our political nightmares, is us.

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Obama’s Abandonment of Iraq

Today is the day when Democrats are touting at their convention all of President Obama’s foreign policy achievements. Iraq will be mentioned frequently but only in the context of “ending the war.” Of the endgame in Iraq, little will be said—and for good reason: By not achieving an accord to keep U.S. troops in Iraq past 2011 (for want of will on his own part, I would argue), President Obama has effectively abandoned this country where the U.S.—with the support of Obama’s own secretary of state and convention speaker John Kerry, among other Democratic heavyweights—made such a heavy commitment over the course of the past decade.

In The Daily Beast, Eli Lake speaks with one of those we left behind —Sheikh Ahamd Abu Risha, brother of the slain sheikh who started the Anbar Awakening that turned Sunnis against Al Qaeda and helped the U.S. to avert a looming defeat. Four years ago candidate Obama visited Iraq and told Abu Risha and other tribal leaders that the U.S. would never leave them in the lurch. Lake writes:

“President Obama said he would not forget all the sacrifices that were made,” he said. “Now we look back at that meeting and we think it was political propaganda. What he said, we don’t see it happening”….

He said U.S. military leaders assured him he would receive regular visits from senior figures and diplomats to discuss the relationship that began in Anbar back in 2006 and 2007. “There is no contact right now,” he said. “They don’t visit at all. Ever since the United States withdrew, we haven’t gotten anyone to visit.”

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Today is the day when Democrats are touting at their convention all of President Obama’s foreign policy achievements. Iraq will be mentioned frequently but only in the context of “ending the war.” Of the endgame in Iraq, little will be said—and for good reason: By not achieving an accord to keep U.S. troops in Iraq past 2011 (for want of will on his own part, I would argue), President Obama has effectively abandoned this country where the U.S.—with the support of Obama’s own secretary of state and convention speaker John Kerry, among other Democratic heavyweights—made such a heavy commitment over the course of the past decade.

In The Daily Beast, Eli Lake speaks with one of those we left behind —Sheikh Ahamd Abu Risha, brother of the slain sheikh who started the Anbar Awakening that turned Sunnis against Al Qaeda and helped the U.S. to avert a looming defeat. Four years ago candidate Obama visited Iraq and told Abu Risha and other tribal leaders that the U.S. would never leave them in the lurch. Lake writes:

“President Obama said he would not forget all the sacrifices that were made,” he said. “Now we look back at that meeting and we think it was political propaganda. What he said, we don’t see it happening”….

He said U.S. military leaders assured him he would receive regular visits from senior figures and diplomats to discuss the relationship that began in Anbar back in 2006 and 2007. “There is no contact right now,” he said. “They don’t visit at all. Ever since the United States withdrew, we haven’t gotten anyone to visit.”

Why the lack of contact? Lake quotes Jim Jeffrey, the last US ambassador in Baghdad (a position currently unfilled), as follows:

Jeffrey, who left his post as ambassador at the end of May, said the meetings have not yet happened because without the U.S. military in Iraq it’s difficult for U.S. officials to travel to Anbar. “We have every intention of maintaining contact with the awakening and other people,” Jeffrey said. “We had several meetings after the military completed its withdrawal with tribal sheikhs from the greater Baghdad area, but it’s been hard to get people out to Anbar because of the security situation.”

No surprise, that lack of contact and travel; it was precisely what numerous observers, including me, expected would happen when U.S. troops would pull out. But State Department and administration spokesmen spent years assuring anyone who would listen that even with the troops gone, a mega-embassy relying on some 15,000 contractors could continue to carry on vital missions. Now the falsity of those claims has been starkly revealed: U.S. diplomats, devoid of military support for transportation, find it hard to get out of their own embassy in the old Green Zone, thus leaving the old Awakening leaders to find for themselves even as Prime Minister Maliki’s increasingly sectarian security forces increasingly persecute high-profile Sunnis including Vice President Tariq al Hashemi.

Having pulled our troops out, Obama has taken American influence out of Iraq too, giving the Iranians and their proxies a free hand. Thus, despite U.S. protests, the Maliki government is apparently allowing Iranian aircraft to overfly its air space to provide aid to the murderous Assad regime in Syria. The U.S. pullout has had other parlous consequences including allowing Al Qaeda in Iraq, once on the verge of annihilation, to stage a resurgence and to carry out fresh waves of bombings this year.

Iraq is not a geopolitical disaster, at least not yet; it is managing to muddle through in many years and even to increase oil production. But it is hard to avoid a sinking feeling that the Awakening leaders and our other allies in Iraq will not fare well in the years ahead in a country that is turning increasingly authoritarian under a hard-line Shiite leader. They have been abandoned just like the Hungarians, South Vietnamese, and other friends of America over the years. That is a part of the president’s record you won’t hear about at the convention.

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Shifting Blame for the Israel Debacle

Via the Washington Examiner, Obama advisor David Axelrod appeared on CBS today and blamed “others” for removing pro-Israel language from the Democratic platform while Obama was distracted with other obligations:

David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett played cleanup this morning on the Democratic platform mess, blaming ‘others’ for allowing ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘God’ to drop out of the platform language.

“Honestly Charlie, he was counting on others, he had some other duties and responsibilities so when he learned that it had been taken out of the platform, he had it put back in,” Axelrod said, explaining that the President learned about the missing language yesterday.

Who are the “others” Axelrod is referring to? We actually don’t have to wonder, since it’s listed on the DNC website.

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Via the Washington Examiner, Obama advisor David Axelrod appeared on CBS today and blamed “others” for removing pro-Israel language from the Democratic platform while Obama was distracted with other obligations:

David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett played cleanup this morning on the Democratic platform mess, blaming ‘others’ for allowing ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘God’ to drop out of the platform language.

“Honestly Charlie, he was counting on others, he had some other duties and responsibilities so when he learned that it had been taken out of the platform, he had it put back in,” Axelrod said, explaining that the President learned about the missing language yesterday.

Who are the “others” Axelrod is referring to? We actually don’t have to wonder, since it’s listed on the DNC website.

The platform drafting committee was organized jointly by the Obama campaign and the DNC, and included the following members:

The Platform Drafting Committee will be chaired by former Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio. Named to serve as members on the committee are former U.S. Representative Tony Coelho, Tino Cuellar, U.S. Representative Barney Frank, Donna Harris-Aikens, Colin Kahl, Nancy Keenan, Heather Kendall Miller, Thea Lee, U.S. Representative Barbara Lee, Susan Ness, Mayor Michael Nutter, Carlos Odio, former U.S. Representative Robert Wexler and Christen Young. Serving as ex-officio members are Governor Deval Patrick, DNC Secretary Alice Germond, and Tom Wheeler.

Not only was this group responsible for drafting the initial platform, but also all publicly proposed changes to the original draft had to be approved by a majority of the board members. If Axelrod wants us to believe Obama and/or his staff didn’t see the platform until yesterday (which is absurd), his only option is to shift the blame to the DNC.

Which raises additional problems for the Democrats. Remember, the DNC attacked the Romney campaign for segments of the GOP platform that Romney has publicly disagreed with. According to Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, “he had an opportunity during the drafting of that platform language to make sure that his own view, if that really is his view, is in that party’s platform language.”

“There is no way that a presidential candidate, a party’s nominee, can separate themselves from that party’s platform,” she told Anderson Cooper in August.

It’s difficult to see how DWS could stand by that comment at this point.

The fiasco has had an unintended benefit for the Romney campaign, beyond just highlighting Obama’s poor record on Israel and distracting from the convention. It’s also destroyed the biggest link Democrats had between Romney and “extremist” positions on abortion. Democrats had planned to contrast Romney and Obama on women’s issues, and they were going to do that (in part) by continuing to link Romney to segments of his party’s platform that he doesn’t support. After elevating the importance of the RNC platform, Democrats really have no excuse for dropping the ball on their own.

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On the Warpath Against Warren

In a Democratic Convention that featured a seemingly endless stream of speakers throwing red meat to the liberal base of the party in attendance at Charlotte, no one tilted farther to the left than Elizabeth Warren. The Harvard Law professor and Democratic Senate candidate was greeted enthusiastically by the delegates, who ate up her rant about the system being rigged against working people. However, as many have already pointed out, her speech seemed slightly out of place at a gathering in support of the party in power, rather than the opposition. Her hostility to the business world was also exactly what the Charlotte Democrats wanted to hear but the party’s corporate sponsors and major donors also could not have enjoyed it.

However, we should assume that Democratic donors are used to being abused by their party’s professional rabble-rousers and take the spectacle of a Harvard elitist masquerading as one of the hoi polloi with the bucket of salt that perhaps we should all employ when listening to Warren. Nevertheless, there was one group at the Democratic Convention that was not very happy with Professor Warren: Native Americans who still think she is a big phony for her bogus claim of Cherokee ancestry. As the New York Times reports today, Warren was the subject of some scathing comments by Native American delegates.

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In a Democratic Convention that featured a seemingly endless stream of speakers throwing red meat to the liberal base of the party in attendance at Charlotte, no one tilted farther to the left than Elizabeth Warren. The Harvard Law professor and Democratic Senate candidate was greeted enthusiastically by the delegates, who ate up her rant about the system being rigged against working people. However, as many have already pointed out, her speech seemed slightly out of place at a gathering in support of the party in power, rather than the opposition. Her hostility to the business world was also exactly what the Charlotte Democrats wanted to hear but the party’s corporate sponsors and major donors also could not have enjoyed it.

However, we should assume that Democratic donors are used to being abused by their party’s professional rabble-rousers and take the spectacle of a Harvard elitist masquerading as one of the hoi polloi with the bucket of salt that perhaps we should all employ when listening to Warren. Nevertheless, there was one group at the Democratic Convention that was not very happy with Professor Warren: Native Americans who still think she is a big phony for her bogus claim of Cherokee ancestry. As the New York Times reports today, Warren was the subject of some scathing comments by Native American delegates.

Karen Geronimo, the wife of the great-grandson of the Apache chief of the same name, said, “Someone needs to make her take a DNA test.” Echoing many of Warren’s critics, her husband said Warren only claimed Indian ancestry in order to “further her career.”

Jim LaPoint, a Sioux who is the great-grandnephew of Crazy Horse, suggested that Warren should be asked if she could speak her native language.

A member of the Nebraska delegation who is a member of the Winnebago tribe expressed similar cynicism about Warren’s claims and complained the candidate had no history of actually doing anything to help real Native Americans.

Warren blew off questions from the Times about the subject, but appears to be still clueless about why the story still has legs. The problem with Warren is not that her left-wing ideological approach is too liberal for Massachusetts. It’s that people sense she is a fake while her opponent, Senator Scott Brown, is authentic. It’s hard enough for a Harvard professor to pretend to be a member of the working class. For Warran to get caught posing as a Native American is still too juicy a story for even the liberal Times to pass up.

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Pakistani Taliban Threaten Nuke Facility

There is nothing the Pakistani government would like more than a precipitous American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) will jump at the chance to fill the vacuum, much as Iran’s Qods Force and associated militias moved to fill the space in Iraq left by the departing U.S. presence.

Pakistani leaders will never stop supporting the Taliban. After the 1971 secession of Bangladesh, the ISI concluded that radical interpretations of Islam were all that could hold the relatively artificial nation of Pakistan together. The rise of ethnic identity (well, at least among the non-Punjabis) risked creating fissures which could tear the country apart. Perhaps today their paranoia does not match with the reality, but old habits die hard.

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There is nothing the Pakistani government would like more than a precipitous American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) will jump at the chance to fill the vacuum, much as Iran’s Qods Force and associated militias moved to fill the space in Iraq left by the departing U.S. presence.

Pakistani leaders will never stop supporting the Taliban. After the 1971 secession of Bangladesh, the ISI concluded that radical interpretations of Islam were all that could hold the relatively artificial nation of Pakistan together. The rise of ethnic identity (well, at least among the non-Punjabis) risked creating fissures which could tear the country apart. Perhaps today their paranoia does not match with the reality, but old habits die hard.

After the Pakistani government signed a deal with the Pakistani Taliban to allow the Taliban to administer Islamic law in certain tribal districts, Taliban presence in the neighboring Swat district nearly doubled. The Pakistani Army responded when a Taliban column marched on Buner, just 60 miles from Islamabad but, just as they sheltered Usama Bin Laden, the ISI continues to treat the Pakistani Taliban with kid gloves.

The situation is becoming more dangerous. According to the Pakistani press, the Pakistani Taliban are increasingly threatening Pakistan’s nuclear sites. According to Pakistan’s Express Tribune:

LAHORE. It could be the first-ever security threat to a nuclear facility in Pakistan, and the Army and security forces are taking no risks. Following ‘serious’ security threats from the homegrown Taliban, the Army and Punjab police have deployed heavy forces at one of Pakistan’s largest nuclear facilities in Dera Ghazi Khan (DG Khan), credible sources told The Express Tribune. Besides the deployment inside and around the nuclear installation, three divisions in South Punjab have also been asked to launch a crackdown against banned outfits, sources added. “DG Khan houses one of the largest nuclear facilities in the country, and has faced the first-ever serious security threat from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP),” said a high ranking military officer currently serving at the installation.

The U.S. election may revolve on the economy, but sometimes problems ignored metastasize. An emboldened Pakistan will be detrimental to U.S. interests. Abandoning the fight against Islamist radicalism is not an option, nor is allowing state failure in Pakistan. President Obama and Governor Romney may not want to talk Pakistan, but Pakistan might easily provide the crisis which will define Obama’s next term or the next presidency. It would be good to hear a real debate on how to address and, if possible, head off grave and growing threats to Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure.

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Dems Respect Voting Rights? Not Yesterday

Yesterday, as Alana reported, a voice vote over an amendment to change the Democratic platform went horribly awry. Apparently at the behest of the president, language to add the word God as well as calling the city of Jerusalem the capital of Israel was reinserted into the Democratic platform. Despite it being present in 2008, the language was removed from the platform that was written (and uncontroversially passed) by the Democratic delegates present in Charlotte this year. After Republicans made the issue a story only a week after Democrats hammered Republicans about parts of their platform, the president decided to intervene.

As you can see from the video that Alana posted from BuzzFeed, the voice vote was so unclear that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had to ask for three different votes. Before announcing his interpretation of the “yeas” and “nays” an unidentified woman approached him and audibly told him “Let them do what they’re gonna do.” From the video each vote sounds at best 50/50, with the nays sounding louder as the votes go on. National Review’s Jonah Goldberg was on the scene and reported his (and his liberal reporter-seat mate’s) interpretation of the vote:

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Yesterday, as Alana reported, a voice vote over an amendment to change the Democratic platform went horribly awry. Apparently at the behest of the president, language to add the word God as well as calling the city of Jerusalem the capital of Israel was reinserted into the Democratic platform. Despite it being present in 2008, the language was removed from the platform that was written (and uncontroversially passed) by the Democratic delegates present in Charlotte this year. After Republicans made the issue a story only a week after Democrats hammered Republicans about parts of their platform, the president decided to intervene.

As you can see from the video that Alana posted from BuzzFeed, the voice vote was so unclear that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had to ask for three different votes. Before announcing his interpretation of the “yeas” and “nays” an unidentified woman approached him and audibly told him “Let them do what they’re gonna do.” From the video each vote sounds at best 50/50, with the nays sounding louder as the votes go on. National Review’s Jonah Goldberg was on the scene and reported his (and his liberal reporter-seat mate’s) interpretation of the vote:

The first time he couldn’t tell if he got it. The second time the no votes clearly had it. The third time: the nos won again. I’m sitting in the upper decks by the Fox cameras, so I’m in a very good place to hear without being misled by proximity to one faction or another. It was obvious that the nos had it. Still, I suppose it’s possible the ayes were in a bare majority. But there’s simply no way they had a two-thirds majority. I was sitting with a decidedly non-conservative journalist and he was even more sure than me that the no voters won. Villaraigosa simply opted to declare the amendment adopted. Boos rang out.

Only a few hours after the Democratic party clearly and publicly ignored their own delegate’s votes on the amendment, Cristina Saralegui, a Latina media personality, took the stage to deliver her remarks to the same crowd of delegates. She remarked, “So I’m asking toda mi gente—all of my people—to join me. Many of us come from countries where votes aren’t counted properly or are not counted at all. Here, we Latinos have a powerful voice, but only if we use it.” The irony that only hours earlier a Latino official ignored the votes of his fellow Democrats was lost on Saralegui.

Later, former President Bill Clinton took the stage. He also took aim at what he viewed as Republicans’ disrespect for voter’s rights: “If you want every American to vote and you think its wrong to change voting procedures just to reduce the turnout of younger, poorer, minority and disabled voters, you should support Barack Obama.” It appears that Clinton was taking issue with voter ID laws like the one that recently passed in Pennsylvania. Clinton stood on stage, hours after his party ignored the rights of members of his own party to vote on their platform and lectured Republicans on their attempts to ensure that eligible citizens receive one vote, and that vote be counted properly. If that’s not the definition of chutzpah, I don’t know what is.

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Fact Checkers Not Swooning Over Clinton

Former President Bill Clinton showed us last night that he is still a master of the art of political rhetoric. Democrats loved his convention speech on behalf of President Obama and so did most of the media which had begun swooning over his magic touch hours before he even began talking. The genius of Clinton’s political style is that, unlike most of the Democrats on the Charlotte podium this week, he understands that there is more to political oratory than merely bludgeoning your opponents and damning them as women-hating plutocrats. Thus, Clinton not only sought to charm the audience with his aging but still potent down-home routine, he was also seeking to disarm listeners by throwing out some lines designed to make us think his goal is fairness. That led to perhaps the most awkward moment of the evening when he actually briefly praised President George W. Bush, leaving his partisan audience momentarily stunned.

But what the Democrats and the media really liked was Clinton’s lengthy refutation of Republican arguments as he spouted figures and claimed he was merely doing “arithmetic” in pointing out the GOP’s flaws. Clinton produced the laughs and the scorn he was trying for, earning applause in the arena and in the glowing notices that followed. But the notion that he demolished Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan has more to do with a willingness on the part of his listeners to buy whatever he’s selling than logic. As the Washington Post Fact Checker and the American Enterprise Institute’s James Pethokoukis report this morning, there were a number of points on which there is a wide gap between what Clinton said and the truth.

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Former President Bill Clinton showed us last night that he is still a master of the art of political rhetoric. Democrats loved his convention speech on behalf of President Obama and so did most of the media which had begun swooning over his magic touch hours before he even began talking. The genius of Clinton’s political style is that, unlike most of the Democrats on the Charlotte podium this week, he understands that there is more to political oratory than merely bludgeoning your opponents and damning them as women-hating plutocrats. Thus, Clinton not only sought to charm the audience with his aging but still potent down-home routine, he was also seeking to disarm listeners by throwing out some lines designed to make us think his goal is fairness. That led to perhaps the most awkward moment of the evening when he actually briefly praised President George W. Bush, leaving his partisan audience momentarily stunned.

But what the Democrats and the media really liked was Clinton’s lengthy refutation of Republican arguments as he spouted figures and claimed he was merely doing “arithmetic” in pointing out the GOP’s flaws. Clinton produced the laughs and the scorn he was trying for, earning applause in the arena and in the glowing notices that followed. But the notion that he demolished Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan has more to do with a willingness on the part of his listeners to buy whatever he’s selling than logic. As the Washington Post Fact Checker and the American Enterprise Institute’s James Pethokoukis report this morning, there were a number of points on which there is a wide gap between what Clinton said and the truth.

As Pethokoukis points out, the catchiest statistic of Clinton’s 50-minute talkathon was his attempt to highlight a “jobs score” between Republican and Democratic administrations in which the GOP finds itself at the short end of a 42-24 million-job deficit. But the problem here is that some of the Democrats had conservative fiscal policies and some of the Republicans tilted left. Thus, John Kennedy’s tax cut for everyone, including the wealthy, produced a jobs gain while George H.W. Bush’s tax increase produced the recession that helped elect Clinton. The Nixon and Ford administrations were big spenders and taxers and, ironically, produced fewer new jobs than Clinton who cut taxes, reformed welfare and shrank government.

The real jobs score is that conservative economic policies created 40 million jobs while liberals, including Barack Obama created only 26 million.

The Post’s Fact Checker column also took Clinton to task for deceiving his audience by claiming President Obama’s proposed budget reduced the deficit by $4 trillion, something it says “is simply not accurate.” The number is compiled by the usual Washington budget gimmickry counting savings that aren’t really budget cuts. As the Post says, “it’s fake money being used to pay for real spending projects.”

The paper also chided Clinton for his description of the president’s bogus jobs plan that was to be paid for with “imaginary money.”

This sums it up:

Get the picture? Clinton praises Obama both for his sound budget math and for his jobs plan, even though the money to fund the budget and the jobs plan is used twice. That certainly doesn’t pass the Arkansas 2+2=4 test.

Clinton also strained credulity when he claimed that ObamaCare is already reducing the cost of health care before it has even been implemented. But as the Post says, any reductions have been due to the lousy economy over which Obama has presided. The former president also distorted the numbers of those newly insured under the law who will get private coverage as opposed to Medicaid.

And though the Fact Checker chooses not to analyze his comments about welfare reform, the column also alluded to Clinton’s claims saying “there may be less to this than meets the eye.”

But don’t expect most of the media to pick up on these glaring mistakes or to label them as “lies” the way they followed Democratic talking points after Paul Ryan’s speech last week. The true magic of Bill Clinton is not his ability to persuade wavering centrists to back Obama. Few votes were changed by his speech. The magic lies in Clinton’s ability to say anything and by dint of his seductive charms get most of the media and his party loyalists to treat it as the truth even if it isn’t.

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The Changing Story of the DNC Platform

Even the DNC can’t keep its story straight on why it initially omitted language affirming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital from its 2012 platform, and then hastily shoved it back in over the objections of delegates.

On Tuesday, CNN’s Dana Bash said the DNC told her it was “simply following what the Obama administration’s policy is, and the White House said several months ago that the status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in the final status negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

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Even the DNC can’t keep its story straight on why it initially omitted language affirming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital from its 2012 platform, and then hastily shoved it back in over the objections of delegates.

On Tuesday, CNN’s Dana Bash said the DNC told her it was “simply following what the Obama administration’s policy is, and the White House said several months ago that the status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in the final status negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

But this morning on CNN, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz contradicted that initial statement, claiming the removal of the pro-Israel language was a “technical omission” that wasn’t discussed before the convention.

“Essentially, with Jerusalem, it was a technical omission and nothing more than that,” Wasserman Schultz said Thursday on CNN. “There was never any discussion or debate commentary over adding or subtracting it.”

Why didn’t the DNC just say it was a technical error in the first place, instead of calling it a reflection of Obama’s policies? If that wasn’t confusing enough, Politico reports that President Obama saw the Israel plank before the convention, but didn’t press for changes until after Republicans seized on the issue:

Two platform planks sparked division at the Democratic National Convention here Wednesday.

Things got so bad that President Barack Obama was forced to personally intervene, ordering language mentioning God and naming Jerusalem as the rightful capital of Israel be added.

Obama had seen the language prior to the convention, a campaign source said, but did not seek to change it until after Republicans jumped on the omissions of God and Jerusalem late Wednesday. And even then, it had to be forced through a convention hall full of delegates who nearly shouted down the change.

And yet Wasserman Schultz went on Starting Point this morning and claimed Obama was completely unaware of the omission before the convention, and “when he realized there was this omission said, this platform should reflect my personal view” on “an important issue like Jerusalem.” David Frum immediately skewered this argument:

So we’re supposed to believe Obama feels so passionately about Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and yet, 1.) The only time he’s ever mentioned it was in a 2008 campaign speech to AIPAC, which he immediately walked back, 2.) His White House not only scrubbed its own website of any reference that Jerusalem is in Israel, it also scrubbed the Bush administration’s references to it, 3.) While Obama administration officials have refused to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital when pressed by reporters, none of them have ever mentioned the president’s supposedly strong personal view.

Beyond that, we’re also supposed to believe that neither Obama nor his staff — who would presumably be aware of a position the president is allegedly so passionate about — ever saw the DNC platform before it was released. Do they really think the public is that clueless?

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The Democrats and Israel: What Now?

When you hear a Democratic Party official accuse Republicans of using Israel as a political football, you know one thing for sure: someone in the Democratic Party did or said something patently offensive toward Israel and is being called on it. The accusation that someone on the right is politicizing Israel is an indication that Democrats believe whatever just happened could cost them among Jewish voters—a constituency they take for granted.

So what does it mean when multiple party officials, liberal pundits, and even television “reporters” start making that accusation all at once? Panic. That’s what set in last night after the Democratic Party’s convention delegates angrily voted down adding pro-Israel language back into the party’s platform yesterday—though the language was added anyway over their objections—after party officials were left trying to explain why they and President Obama wanted such language deleted in the first place. Politico notes that Obama approved the deletion, though there wasn’t much doubt of that, and then adds this delightful anecdote:

The division over Israel also flies in the face of a prediction Obama strategist David Axelrod made days earlier on “Fox News Sunday,” when he crowed that Obama’s convention would be free of the sideshows that plagued the Republican National Convention last week in Tampa.

“We don’t have the problems that the other party has,” Axelrod said then. “We’re not divided. We don’t have to worry about, you know, what people are saying on the side or about their affection for the president or — we don’t have those problems.”

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When you hear a Democratic Party official accuse Republicans of using Israel as a political football, you know one thing for sure: someone in the Democratic Party did or said something patently offensive toward Israel and is being called on it. The accusation that someone on the right is politicizing Israel is an indication that Democrats believe whatever just happened could cost them among Jewish voters—a constituency they take for granted.

So what does it mean when multiple party officials, liberal pundits, and even television “reporters” start making that accusation all at once? Panic. That’s what set in last night after the Democratic Party’s convention delegates angrily voted down adding pro-Israel language back into the party’s platform yesterday—though the language was added anyway over their objections—after party officials were left trying to explain why they and President Obama wanted such language deleted in the first place. Politico notes that Obama approved the deletion, though there wasn’t much doubt of that, and then adds this delightful anecdote:

The division over Israel also flies in the face of a prediction Obama strategist David Axelrod made days earlier on “Fox News Sunday,” when he crowed that Obama’s convention would be free of the sideshows that plagued the Republican National Convention last week in Tampa.

“We don’t have the problems that the other party has,” Axelrod said then. “We’re not divided. We don’t have to worry about, you know, what people are saying on the side or about their affection for the president or — we don’t have those problems.”

In fact, not only is the Democratic Party divided on Israel, but as Ari Fleischer pointed out on CNN right after the debacle, the Democrats are practically split down the middle on this. He cited a Gallup poll from earlier this year showing that only 53 percent of Democrats—versus 78 percent of Republicans—side with Israel in the Middle East conflict.

Which leads to a larger point about the issue and the reason the Democrats went into damage control last night: the Democratic Party’s base is pulling it away from Israel. It’s disturbing that only half of Democrats sympathize with Israel, but as yesterday’s events showed, among the base sympathy for Israel is not nearly that high.

As Abe wrote last night, yesterday’s disastrous convention session and the fact that Obama will take criticism from all sides on this issue are the price the Democrats are paying for a party divided. But the uproar among Democrats was over adding the pro-Israel language; omitting the language inspired no such soul searching. It is becoming easier in the Democratic Party to ignore Israel than to pronounce support for the Jewish state.

Axelrod was wrong that the party has no divisions. But the question now is: For how much longer will Axelrod be wrong? That 53 percent constitutes a tenuous grasp on a majority. Democratic Party officials can pretend they have no “Israel problem” all they want, and they may soon get their wish. The original version of the 2012 Democratic Party platform was uncontroversial among party faithful. Republicans did the Democrats a favor by stating the obvious, since it gives the Democrats a chance to try to convince their base of the merits of supporting Israel and try to turn the tide. But that there is a tide to turn is undeniable.

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Are Sanctions Killing Iran’s Sick?

On Tuesday, The Washington Post published an article headlined, “In Iran, Sanctions Take Toll on the Sick.” The headline and the story trumpet the human suffering U.S. banking sanctions have reportedly visited upon the Iranian people. Correspondent Najmeh Bozorgmehr, reporting from Tehran, interviews the parents of a boy with hemophilia who had to travel 400 miles to Tehran in order to find the drugs necessary for his treatment. Ahmad Ghavidel, the head of Iran’s Hemophilia Society said, “This is a blatant hostage-taking of the most vulnerable people by countries which claim they care about human rights. Even a few days of delay can have serious consequences like hemorrhage and disability.” Bozorgmehr also talked to the heads of the Tehran Province Thalassemia Association and an adviser to the Iran Charity Association to Support Kidney Patients.

The story would be tragic if sanctions really were to blame. In 1999, when I was studying in Tehran, I met a couple from the southwestern province of Khuzistan who were in the city because they could not access the facilities or medicine necessary to treat their cancer-stricken daughter in their home province. Such stories were common. Corruption and the regime’s perverse priorities took their toll on Iranian health. Not surprisingly, those with chronic and rare conditions suffered most. If the same problems afflicted Iranian society years before U.S. banking sanctions as after U.S. banking sanctions, then it stands to reason that sanctions are not to blame. Perhaps, rather, the regime is. If those who are most opposed to sanctions truly cared about Iranians living in Iran, they would be as active if not more in seeking an end to what truly has been and become an odious regime, not through foreign force but rather by encouraging aid to independent labor unions and civil society organizations seeking to restore the legacy of Iran’s brief period of constitutional and parliamentary democracy.

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On Tuesday, The Washington Post published an article headlined, “In Iran, Sanctions Take Toll on the Sick.” The headline and the story trumpet the human suffering U.S. banking sanctions have reportedly visited upon the Iranian people. Correspondent Najmeh Bozorgmehr, reporting from Tehran, interviews the parents of a boy with hemophilia who had to travel 400 miles to Tehran in order to find the drugs necessary for his treatment. Ahmad Ghavidel, the head of Iran’s Hemophilia Society said, “This is a blatant hostage-taking of the most vulnerable people by countries which claim they care about human rights. Even a few days of delay can have serious consequences like hemorrhage and disability.” Bozorgmehr also talked to the heads of the Tehran Province Thalassemia Association and an adviser to the Iran Charity Association to Support Kidney Patients.

The story would be tragic if sanctions really were to blame. In 1999, when I was studying in Tehran, I met a couple from the southwestern province of Khuzistan who were in the city because they could not access the facilities or medicine necessary to treat their cancer-stricken daughter in their home province. Such stories were common. Corruption and the regime’s perverse priorities took their toll on Iranian health. Not surprisingly, those with chronic and rare conditions suffered most. If the same problems afflicted Iranian society years before U.S. banking sanctions as after U.S. banking sanctions, then it stands to reason that sanctions are not to blame. Perhaps, rather, the regime is. If those who are most opposed to sanctions truly cared about Iranians living in Iran, they would be as active if not more in seeking an end to what truly has been and become an odious regime, not through foreign force but rather by encouraging aid to independent labor unions and civil society organizations seeking to restore the legacy of Iran’s brief period of constitutional and parliamentary democracy.

The episode, of course, recalls accusations of mass deaths resulting from international sanctions on Iraq. Iranian officials are savvy, and they know how to craft effective propaganda. In Iraq, for example, Western journalists bought hook, line, and sinker the idea that sanctions had killed 500,000 children. Of course, after Saddam’s fall, it became clear that while sanctions were devastating economically, the tales of hundreds of thousands of child deaths were simply untrue. They originated within the corridors of Saddam’s Ministry of Health. Western officials and the United Nations, unable to conduct their own medical surveys in Iraq, simply took Saddam’s statisticians’ word for it. It reflects poorly on The Washington Post that its reporters have yet to learn the lessons of the past, let alone ask basic questions about whether the problems they describe predate the cause to which their Iranian interlocutors are willing to ascribe them.

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DWS Refuses to Apologize for Israel Flap

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is apparently unrepentant, after falsely accusing a Washington Examiner reporter of misquoting her in a story that put her at odds with the Israeli ambassador. The Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo confronted the beleaguered DNC chair at the Democratic convention last night:

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.) told the Washington Free Beacon Wednesday evening that she will not be apologizing to Washington Examiner reporter Philip Klein after she falsely accused him of “deliberately misquoting” her.

“No, I definitely will not” offer Klein an apology, Wasserman Schultz said with a slight laugh as she was exiting an event meant to honor Center For American Progress founder John Podesta.

Asked if she had a message for Klein, Wasserman Schultz bristled.

“I don’t,” she said.

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Debbie Wasserman Schultz is apparently unrepentant, after falsely accusing a Washington Examiner reporter of misquoting her in a story that put her at odds with the Israeli ambassador. The Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo confronted the beleaguered DNC chair at the Democratic convention last night:

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.) told the Washington Free Beacon Wednesday evening that she will not be apologizing to Washington Examiner reporter Philip Klein after she falsely accused him of “deliberately misquoting” her.

“No, I definitely will not” offer Klein an apology, Wasserman Schultz said with a slight laugh as she was exiting an event meant to honor Center For American Progress founder John Podesta.

Asked if she had a message for Klein, Wasserman Schultz bristled.

“I don’t,” she said.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren has publicly denied that he made the anti-GOP comment, as Wasserman Schultz claimed; and an audio recording of the Florida congresswoman’s remarks confirmed that Klein did not misquote her. She’s been caught dead to rights on this, so her refusal to apologize is all the more remarkable. It makes you wonder whether DWS would actually issue an apology for lying under any circumstances.

Klein certainly isn’t under any illusions: “If I could hold my breath long enough to wait for a Debbie Wasserman Schultz apology then I’d probably try to enter myself in the Guinness Book of World Records,” he told Kredo.

Meanwhile, DWS has reportedly been skipping out on news interviews — hardly a surprise, considering all the disasters that have plagued the DNC this week. As for her possible options after her first term as party chairwoman runs out, Politico takes a look and finds they’re few and far between.

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A Wedge Issue Obama Created Himself

We now know that recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a wedge issue — within the Democratic Party itself. After three voice votes yesterday in which the “no” votes equalled or exceeded the “yes” votes, the chairman ruled that the proposal had received the necessary two-thirds vote. But it obviously hadn’t, and the division within the Democratic Party is now obvious as well.

The Democrats did not even try to restore the prior platform positions regarding Israel as the strongest U.S. ally in the Middle East, opposition to the Palestinian goal of destroying the Jewish state with a “right of return,” or isolation of Hamas. If you can’t even win a vote on Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, you don’t dare vote on the other wedge issues within the party.

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We now know that recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a wedge issue — within the Democratic Party itself. After three voice votes yesterday in which the “no” votes equalled or exceeded the “yes” votes, the chairman ruled that the proposal had received the necessary two-thirds vote. But it obviously hadn’t, and the division within the Democratic Party is now obvious as well.

The Democrats did not even try to restore the prior platform positions regarding Israel as the strongest U.S. ally in the Middle East, opposition to the Palestinian goal of destroying the Jewish state with a “right of return,” or isolation of Hamas. If you can’t even win a vote on Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, you don’t dare vote on the other wedge issues within the party.

Initially approving a platform that omitted the prior provisions, and then demonstrating in the process of restoring one of them that the omissions were not inadvertent, is the culmination of a longer process: (1) administration spokespersons who repeatedly refused to identify the capital of Israel; (2) a formal warning to the Supreme Court against even symbolically recognizing Jerusalem as being in Israel on the passports of Americans born there; (c) doctoring pictures on the White House website regarding Vice President Biden’s 2010 visit to “Jerusalem, Israel” (and similar references in State Department documents); and (4) failing to visit Jerusalem despite requests by liberal Israeli columnists, every Jewish Democrat in Congress, friendly rabbis, and the Israeli prime minister.

Back in 2008, Barack Obama had four different positions on Jerusalem, disingenuously denying the changes as he made them. Ironically, yesterday he found it necessary to intervene to restore a portion of the 2008 platform that had been omitted this year because of a process he had initiated himself.

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Did Bill Clinton Save Obama?

The anticipation for Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was so great that it’s not clear what he could have done to exceed those high expectations. His 50-minute oration was classic Clinton, cajoling, seducing, lecturing and attacking. The Democrats in the hall loved every second of it even if television networks and many of their viewers may have switched off long before he finally concluded. Nor is there any doubt most of the media will also applaud it. But those who somehow expected Clinton to magically rescue Barack Obama’s re-election campaign with this one speech may ultimately be disappointed.

What Clinton did do was deliver a full-throated defense of President Obama’s failures and an equally strong dissection of his Republican opponents even if his detailed takedowns of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan may not survive fair fact checking. Though much of what he said was more spin than reality as well as being a laundry list of liberal talking points, these were effective arguments. But what he did not and perhaps could not do was make a case for what a second Obama administration would do. Nor, despite his attempt to use the example of his own success in turning around an economy to show that Obama might do the same, did he bridge the gap between his own move to the center and his successor’s consistent lurch to the left. More than that, it’s not clear that Clinton’s looking into the camera and telling us he believed in what he said with “all his heart” will have the least effect on the electorate.

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The anticipation for Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was so great that it’s not clear what he could have done to exceed those high expectations. His 50-minute oration was classic Clinton, cajoling, seducing, lecturing and attacking. The Democrats in the hall loved every second of it even if television networks and many of their viewers may have switched off long before he finally concluded. Nor is there any doubt most of the media will also applaud it. But those who somehow expected Clinton to magically rescue Barack Obama’s re-election campaign with this one speech may ultimately be disappointed.

What Clinton did do was deliver a full-throated defense of President Obama’s failures and an equally strong dissection of his Republican opponents even if his detailed takedowns of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan may not survive fair fact checking. Though much of what he said was more spin than reality as well as being a laundry list of liberal talking points, these were effective arguments. But what he did not and perhaps could not do was make a case for what a second Obama administration would do. Nor, despite his attempt to use the example of his own success in turning around an economy to show that Obama might do the same, did he bridge the gap between his own move to the center and his successor’s consistent lurch to the left. More than that, it’s not clear that Clinton’s looking into the camera and telling us he believed in what he said with “all his heart” will have the least effect on the electorate.

The best that Clinton could do was to tell us that Obama deserved that “incomplete” the president said he deserved as his grade on the economy. To justify this judgment, the former president went on long wonkish digressions in his trademark style. That satisfied Clinton’s desire to lecture the country in his usual self-indulgent manner. But it fell short of the soaring rhetoric that could truly rally the country behind Obama.

Clinton’s longwinded endorsement of the president may help Obama keep Democrats in the fold. That is not unimportant. Democrats love Clinton and would, probably have sat through even another 50 minutes of his speechifying and perhaps even would prefer to give him a third term rather than a second for the incumbent. And that’s the rub with having to employ the 42nd president on behalf of the 44th.

For all of the raves Clinton will get from liberals who enjoyed the shots he took at Romney and Ryan, very little of this will attach itself to Obama. Though the speech had its powerful moments, we never stopped thinking about Clinton’s ego and his desire to hog the podium even while the president stood waiting, no doubt impatiently, for him to finally wind it up. Though this was probably a better argument that Obama could make for himself, it is a stretch to believe people will believe the president deserves a pass for his struggles just because Clinton says he deserved one.

Clinton’s detailed explanations also don’t recapture Obama’s 2008 “hope and change” messianism that he desperately needs to offset his shaky record. The night was a triumph for Clinton but Obama is still left locked in a tight, difficult race hoping desperately to be rescued by good economic news in the next several weeks. That, and not any speech by Clinton, is the only magic elixir that can re-elect him.

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