Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 19, 2012

Left-Wing Catholics Find Common Ground With Right-Wingers: Hatred of Israel

One of the most encouraging developments in Jewish life over the course of the last century is the way the Catholic Church has evolved from a position of open hostility toward Jews to one that repudiated anti-Semitism and recognized the legitimacy of Zionism and the state of Israel. The work of the Second Vatican Council and popes such as John XXIII and John Paul II have largely erased a lamentable legacy of hate and replaced it with one that is based on mutual respect. But as is the case with the secular left, some precincts of the Catholic left remain infected with the virus of anti-Zionism.

A prime example of this sort of thinking is found at Commonweal, a liberal Catholic publication where Margaret O’Brien Steinfels blogs. Steinfels has been waging a steady campaign against Israel at the dotCommonweal blog whose central theme as been to oppose pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program as well as support for the efforts of rabid anti-Zionist extremists like Mondoweiss editor Phillip Weiss and turncoat Israel critic M.J. Rosenberg. While Stenfels mocks those who consider Weiss’ absurd rants as well as her own jibes to be anti-Semitic, any time spent perusing her posts makes it clear that despite Commonweal’s supposed liberalism, what is produced on their blog sounds a lot more like the work of a latter day Father Charles Coughlin than any of the recent popes.

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One of the most encouraging developments in Jewish life over the course of the last century is the way the Catholic Church has evolved from a position of open hostility toward Jews to one that repudiated anti-Semitism and recognized the legitimacy of Zionism and the state of Israel. The work of the Second Vatican Council and popes such as John XXIII and John Paul II have largely erased a lamentable legacy of hate and replaced it with one that is based on mutual respect. But as is the case with the secular left, some precincts of the Catholic left remain infected with the virus of anti-Zionism.

A prime example of this sort of thinking is found at Commonweal, a liberal Catholic publication where Margaret O’Brien Steinfels blogs. Steinfels has been waging a steady campaign against Israel at the dotCommonweal blog whose central theme as been to oppose pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program as well as support for the efforts of rabid anti-Zionist extremists like Mondoweiss editor Phillip Weiss and turncoat Israel critic M.J. Rosenberg. While Stenfels mocks those who consider Weiss’ absurd rants as well as her own jibes to be anti-Semitic, any time spent perusing her posts makes it clear that despite Commonweal’s supposed liberalism, what is produced on their blog sounds a lot more like the work of a latter day Father Charles Coughlin than any of the recent popes.

While Steinfels is a knee-jerk Israel-hater (her idea of a joke is to suggest that Republicans move the capital of the United States to Jerusalem), her main interest these days is similar to other foes of Israel: stopping Israel or, more to the point, pro-Israel Americans from taking action to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. She even wrote with approval of the statement of support for Iran nukes of the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement that held its recent meeting in Tehran. She also wrote with sympathy about Iran’s historical grievances against the United States and the deaths of Iranian scientists who are working on creating a bomb that could make good on the regime’s threats to wipe Israel off the map.

Some of Steinfels’ recent work is merely all-purpose Israel bashing such as a post highlighting the 1982 Sabra and Shatilla massacre of Palestinians. The massacre was a failure on Israel’s part, but nowhere in her piece titled “Our Closest Ally,” does she mention that the militiamen who killed the Palestinians were actually Catholics. Her mention of it in this matter brings to mind the belief on the part of many Israelis at the time that this lamentable episode from the Lebanese Civil War (which was, alas, a case of the Catholics revenging themselves on the Palestinians for past massacres) was a blood libel against Jews. Indeed, what motive other than delegitimizing Jewish contemporary self-defense could there be in resurrecting an incident from a war that was prompted by Lebanon allowing terrorists to use its southern region to be a base for attacks on Israelis?

Commonweal’s liberal agenda on domestic issues is well known. So is its edgy attitude toward the Vatican. One isn’t surprised to find anyone on the left lacking enthusiasm or even sympathy for Israel’s struggle for survival. But I find the willingness of this prominent liberal Catholic publication to get into bed with apologists for the Iranian regime and rabid anti-Zionists is, to say the least, curious. Yet when left-wing Catholics become indistinguishable from right-wing Catholics like Pat Buchanan, you know there is only one explanation: Jew-hatred has a way of bringing all sorts of nasty people together.

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Report Cites F&F Failures, Clears Holder

A lengthy report released by the Department of Justice inspector general’s office this afternoon cites serious failures in management related to the Fast and Furious scandal, singling out 14 employees for sanction review but ultimately finding that Attorney General Eric Holder had no knowledge of the operation prior to early 2011. The Wall Street Journal reports:

A Justice Department watchdog recommended that 14 employees be reviewed for possible sanctions in light of a “pattern of serious failures” at the department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in overseeing the botched Fast and Furious operation against gun traffickers.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released the more than 400-page report Wednesday, the most extensive review of the actions by federal officials in Arizona and Washington that led to the scandal.

Among his findings, he said that Attorney General Eric Holder wasn’t aware of the tactics being used in the operation until early 2011, an issue that has become a point of contention with Republican lawmakers who have accused Mr. Holder of authorizing the flawed probe.

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A lengthy report released by the Department of Justice inspector general’s office this afternoon cites serious failures in management related to the Fast and Furious scandal, singling out 14 employees for sanction review but ultimately finding that Attorney General Eric Holder had no knowledge of the operation prior to early 2011. The Wall Street Journal reports:

A Justice Department watchdog recommended that 14 employees be reviewed for possible sanctions in light of a “pattern of serious failures” at the department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in overseeing the botched Fast and Furious operation against gun traffickers.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released the more than 400-page report Wednesday, the most extensive review of the actions by federal officials in Arizona and Washington that led to the scandal.

Among his findings, he said that Attorney General Eric Holder wasn’t aware of the tactics being used in the operation until early 2011, an issue that has become a point of contention with Republican lawmakers who have accused Mr. Holder of authorizing the flawed probe.

The Daily Caller’s Matt Boyle reports that former ATF head Kenneth Melson and Jason Weinstein, a deputy assistant attorney general, have already stepped down as a result of the report.

Holder also came out swinging against Republican critics this afternoon, claiming the report “debunks” allegations made against him by members of the House GOP, particularly the charge that he knew about the operation earlier than he acknowledged. But this is far from a victory for him. The fact that the report found “a pattern of serious failures” and singled out 14 of his employees for penalties — including the two top-level officials who already resigned — is a pretty clear repudiation of Holder’s leadership.

If this report had come out six months ago, House Republicans might have been able to get their scalp. But the election is a month and a half away. Even if Obama is reelected, I can’t imagine Holder would stick around for a second term. This report slapped some wrists and held the DOJ accountable for some “serious failures,” while giving Holder enough cover to hold onto his job for the time being — which is probably enough to get him through to the end of his term.

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Pew: Jews Identifying Less With Democrats

There’s been a lot of debate about just how much Jewish support Barack Obama is going to lose this year. But other than some truth-challenged blind partisans like Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, few have challenged the assertion that the president is likely to get fewer Jewish votes in November than he did in 2008. The only question his how much of a drop off can we expect?

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life gave us another clue today when it released a graphic showing a marked decline in Jews identifying as Democrats over the past four years. In 2008, 72 percent of Jews identified themselves as Democrats or as leaning toward the party while only 20 percent were linked to the GOP. In 2012, those numbers have gone to 66 percent for the Democrats and 28 percent for the Republicans. If the presidential vote reflected party affiliation, that would mean the president is certain to lose significant ground from 2008, when his share of the Jewish group has been estimated to be from 74-78 percent (Democrats claimed 78 percent four years ago but now say the number was smaller)–though not as big a drop as some surveys have seemed to indicate. Nevertheless, this is important since it is likely that many voters, especially Jews who have historic ties to the party, might be willing to vote against President Obama while still calling themselves Democrats. But no matter how you slice it, this seems to set Democrats up for their worst showing among Jews since 1988.

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There’s been a lot of debate about just how much Jewish support Barack Obama is going to lose this year. But other than some truth-challenged blind partisans like Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, few have challenged the assertion that the president is likely to get fewer Jewish votes in November than he did in 2008. The only question his how much of a drop off can we expect?

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life gave us another clue today when it released a graphic showing a marked decline in Jews identifying as Democrats over the past four years. In 2008, 72 percent of Jews identified themselves as Democrats or as leaning toward the party while only 20 percent were linked to the GOP. In 2012, those numbers have gone to 66 percent for the Democrats and 28 percent for the Republicans. If the presidential vote reflected party affiliation, that would mean the president is certain to lose significant ground from 2008, when his share of the Jewish group has been estimated to be from 74-78 percent (Democrats claimed 78 percent four years ago but now say the number was smaller)–though not as big a drop as some surveys have seemed to indicate. Nevertheless, this is important since it is likely that many voters, especially Jews who have historic ties to the party, might be willing to vote against President Obama while still calling themselves Democrats. But no matter how you slice it, this seems to set Democrats up for their worst showing among Jews since 1988.

There are a couple of interesting points to be gleaned from the Pew survey.

The first is something that has been noted about other polls that break down the potential presidential vote by ethnicity and religion. Though the president seems likely to lose ground from the better than 53 percent of the total vote he received in 2008, his losses among Jews are greater than those in any other group. Given that it is impossible to argue that Jews are more likely to dislike his economic policies or his health care bill more than any other religious or ethnic groups, the only possible explanation for this decline is his policy toward Israel. Dissatisfaction with the president’s problematic relationship with Israel — highlighted again last week as he snubbed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and refused to set red lines about Iran’s nuclear program — is the most likely explanation for an otherwise puzzlingly high rate of disaffection on the part of Jewish Democrats.

The other is that the current numbers actually show a slight improvement for the president since 2010 when the margin between the two parties was actually smaller, with a 63-31 percent gap between Democrats and the GOP. Clearly, Democrats have gained ground all across the board since their midterm debacle. The boost for the Democrats could also reflect some minimal success for the administration’s Jewish charm offensive that seemed to have affected their Middle East policies until the latest dustup between Obama and Netanyahu.

These numbers are by no means conclusive, and there’s no telling whether the president might continue to gain ground among wavering Democrats and independents in the coming weeks. But these results also show that it is entirely possible that the president’s share of the Jewish vote may turn out to be on the low end of the range of possible outcomes rather than, as Democrats have argued, on the high side.

Indeed, since there is still a stigma in some Jewish quarters about openly expressing support for conservatism or the Republican Party, it may be that the Jewish vote for Obama may turn out to be much lower than the figure for affiliation. If so, that will be a signal victory for the GOP and help change the outcome of the election in closely fought states like Florida or Ohio.

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Obama’s First Amendment Double Standard

At the White House press briefing today, Jay Carney took a break from condemning the anti-Islam video that sparked protests this week in order to criticize a French magazine for publishing a cartoon mocking Islam:

“We are aware that a French magazine published cartoons featuring a figure resembling the Prophet Muhammad. Obviously we have questions about the judgment of publishing something like this. We know that these images will be deeply offensive to many and have the potential to be inflammatory. But we’ve spoken repeatedly about the importance of upholding the freedom of expression that is enshrined in our Constitution. In other words, we don’t question the right of something like this to be published. We just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it.

Nothing Carney said is wrong; the cartoon was offensive and publishing it was poor judgment. But notice his tone. The last time the White House weighed in on a major First Amendment controversy, it was freedom of religion during the Ground Zero mosque debate. At the time, Obama struck a very different note:

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At the White House press briefing today, Jay Carney took a break from condemning the anti-Islam video that sparked protests this week in order to criticize a French magazine for publishing a cartoon mocking Islam:

“We are aware that a French magazine published cartoons featuring a figure resembling the Prophet Muhammad. Obviously we have questions about the judgment of publishing something like this. We know that these images will be deeply offensive to many and have the potential to be inflammatory. But we’ve spoken repeatedly about the importance of upholding the freedom of expression that is enshrined in our Constitution. In other words, we don’t question the right of something like this to be published. We just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it.

Nothing Carney said is wrong; the cartoon was offensive and publishing it was poor judgment. But notice his tone. The last time the White House weighed in on a major First Amendment controversy, it was freedom of religion during the Ground Zero mosque debate. At the time, Obama struck a very different note:

Let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure.

Even the strongest critics of the Ground Zero mosque agreed that the imam had the right to build it; the point was that the majority of Americans considered it highly offensive. And yet Obama would only discuss the legal issue, declining to weigh in on the sensitivities.

“I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there,” Obama said at the time. “I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about. And I think it’s very important as difficult as some of these issues are that we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about.”

The left praised Obama’s supposedly brave defense of the First Amendment. Well, it’s easy to be brave when you’re lecturing Americans about the importance of religious tolerance at the site of a mass-murder carried out by religious fundamentalists. As for whether the mosque-builders should have been tolerant of the feelings of the 9/11 families — the “wisdom” of their plan apparently wasn’t for Obama to comment on. The former Constitutional law professor was simply defending the First Amendment.

What happened to Obama’s constitutional devotion since then? In the face of the recent protests, the White House isn’t defending the First Amendment right now so much as apologizing for it.

“As I said yesterday, it can be difficult to see in some countries why the U.S. can’t simply eliminate this expression,” Jay Carney said ruefully last week. “But as you know…it’s one of our fundamental principles.”

Instead of enlightening us about the importance of our founding rights and values, the White House scrambled to ask YouTube to remove the offensive video last week. And the Obama administration has been more than willing to weigh in on the poor “judgment” behind the anti-Islam film and cartoons. It’s not so much what the White House is saying that’s noteworthy, it’s the dramatic shift in tone.

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Budget Deal Would Still Cut Defense

It is already too late to reverse sequestration—the devastating hit of more than $500 billion in cuts that could afflict the Defense Department starting in January—before it has some impact on budgeting decisions being made by the government and its contractors. But it is not too late to engineer a deal that can stop the worst before it hits.

Accordingly, senators have been talking about what kind of deal they could come up with. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Politico: “I predict there will not be a sequester. One way or the other, since 90 percent of us don’t want it, it won’t happen. And my hope is that it won’t happen early enough to avoid any instability. What I am confident in is that it’s not going to happen because nobody around here wants it to happen except for some tea party folks.”

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It is already too late to reverse sequestration—the devastating hit of more than $500 billion in cuts that could afflict the Defense Department starting in January—before it has some impact on budgeting decisions being made by the government and its contractors. But it is not too late to engineer a deal that can stop the worst before it hits.

Accordingly, senators have been talking about what kind of deal they could come up with. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Politico: “I predict there will not be a sequester. One way or the other, since 90 percent of us don’t want it, it won’t happen. And my hope is that it won’t happen early enough to avoid any instability. What I am confident in is that it’s not going to happen because nobody around here wants it to happen except for some tea party folks.”

But the price of stopping sequestration could be substantial. Levin, for one, is demanding an extra $100 billion in defense cuts. That’s certainly better than the $500 billion hit that defense could take if sequestration occurs, but remember: Defense already suffered $486 billion in cuts last summer. The Air Force and Navy are already at their lowest levels, in terms of number of ships and number of aircraft, in many decades. The army and Marine Corps are already in the process of cutting 100,000 positions for soldiers and marines. All this is going on while the Middle East appears to be on the verge of exploding and while China is testing worrisome new weapons systems, such as yet another stealth-fighter prototype.

We need to be building up our defense—not debating how much more to cut. Yet the likelihood is that Congress will inflict yet more painful cuts on our military as the price of avoiding even more excruciating cuts. Only in Washington is this heralded as wisdom.

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Is Warren’s Class Warfare Working?

The disconnect between the polls that show Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in a dead heat and the media conventional wisdom desperately pronouncing Obama the easy victor is being turned on its head in the Massachusetts Senate race. There, it is Republican Scott Brown that seems to be running the better campaign, yet the polls are starting to show a consistent lead by his challenger, Elizabeth Warren.

Though Brown’s approval rating is no longer the stratospheric 73 percent it was only last year according to a Democratic committee poll, he is still above water at 55 percent among registered voters and 57 percent among likely voters. A new poll shows Massachusetts voters think Brown is running the more positive campaign, 35 percent to 21 for Warren. And Brown’s strong ties to the state are not lost on voters, nor is Warren’s lack of same; only 13 percent of voters think she has a strong connection to the state. Brown’s approval rating among independents is 67 percent and 30 percent among Democrats. So what’s causing Brown’s poll slide?

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The disconnect between the polls that show Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in a dead heat and the media conventional wisdom desperately pronouncing Obama the easy victor is being turned on its head in the Massachusetts Senate race. There, it is Republican Scott Brown that seems to be running the better campaign, yet the polls are starting to show a consistent lead by his challenger, Elizabeth Warren.

Though Brown’s approval rating is no longer the stratospheric 73 percent it was only last year according to a Democratic committee poll, he is still above water at 55 percent among registered voters and 57 percent among likely voters. A new poll shows Massachusetts voters think Brown is running the more positive campaign, 35 percent to 21 for Warren. And Brown’s strong ties to the state are not lost on voters, nor is Warren’s lack of same; only 13 percent of voters think she has a strong connection to the state. Brown’s approval rating among independents is 67 percent and 30 percent among Democrats. So what’s causing Brown’s poll slide?

Alex Burns thinks it’s the natural outgrowth of running as a Republican in a deep blue state: “It’s a state so strongly Democratic that the 2010 GOP wave had little impact there, and where Brown’s 14-point lead among independents in the WBUR still leaves him trailing by 5 points overall,” he writes. That’s true: the MassLive.com report on Brown’s approval notes that he gets 92 percent support from his own party, but that only represents about one in every ten Massachusetts voters.

There’s another possibility, however, and it’s one that should concern the Brown campaign. Warren is this campaign season’s original class warrior. It was her pro-government rant that laid the ground work for Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech, and she is only running for the Senate because the GOP blocked Democrats’ original plan for her: as the head of a new consumer watchdog bureaucracy. And true to form, her current advertising campaign attacks Brown for sticking up for private industry and business owners while Brown ties Warren to Occupy Wall Street.

But that may play right into Warren’s hands. The Boston Globe reports that Warren’s populism may be working:

In the survey, 39 percent of likely voters believed Warren “will stand up for regular people when in the Senate,” an improvement from 30 percent from a poll in February.

On the same question, Brown’s support dropped to 29 percent from 33 percent.

In what the station described as a sign that Warren’s campaign themes seem to be resonating with voters, the poll found that 35 percent of voters view Warren as the candidate who best “understands the needs of middle-class families.” Only 27 percent said that phrase described Brown.

That “regular people” question showed a 13-point swing. The fallout from Romney’s fundraiser remarks may be overstated by the media, but if the GOP gets successfully tagged as the party for the rich, Brown will be put in the uncomfortable position of having to either distance himself from his party’s presidential ticket or struggle to fight Warren’s class warfare. Brown probably never expected to be in this situation; he’s the pickup-driving local guy and Warren is the tenured Harvard professor from out of state. In almost every way, Brown is running the superior campaign. But if Warren has the right message, that might be all the overwhelmingly liberal electorate there is looking for.

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The State of the Race

A flurry of surveys with wildly contradictory results at the national and state levels has caused the New York Times‘s polling guru, Nate Silver, to throw up his hands. This afternoon, he tweeted: “The. Polls. Have. Stopped. Making. Any. Sense.” This may understate the case. For ten years now, pollsters have acknowledged their jobs are becoming more and more difficult, what with the multiplicity of phones people use, the time they spend on the Internet, and the fact that more and more people screen their calls. The poll madness today suggests that the difficulty may be blossoming into a full-bore crisis—even as the media hang on every number because we need something, anything, that seems like an empirical data point to evaluate the state of the race.

So trying to figure out where the presidential race might be at present is total guesswork, based on data that don’t correlate and are being gathered according to suspect means. So here’s mine: Obama is ahead and Romney is behind. But not by much, and within the margin of error.

Given the steadiness in the findings of the two daily tracking polls, Gallup and Rasmussen, both of which essentially echo each other with a 47-46 result over the past several days, their agreement would seem to be closer to the truth than longer-term polls showing a far wider margin in Obama’s favor. But the existence of those polls, and the lack of existence of a single poll showing a wider margin for Romney, is suggestive of something.

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A flurry of surveys with wildly contradictory results at the national and state levels has caused the New York Times‘s polling guru, Nate Silver, to throw up his hands. This afternoon, he tweeted: “The. Polls. Have. Stopped. Making. Any. Sense.” This may understate the case. For ten years now, pollsters have acknowledged their jobs are becoming more and more difficult, what with the multiplicity of phones people use, the time they spend on the Internet, and the fact that more and more people screen their calls. The poll madness today suggests that the difficulty may be blossoming into a full-bore crisis—even as the media hang on every number because we need something, anything, that seems like an empirical data point to evaluate the state of the race.

So trying to figure out where the presidential race might be at present is total guesswork, based on data that don’t correlate and are being gathered according to suspect means. So here’s mine: Obama is ahead and Romney is behind. But not by much, and within the margin of error.

Given the steadiness in the findings of the two daily tracking polls, Gallup and Rasmussen, both of which essentially echo each other with a 47-46 result over the past several days, their agreement would seem to be closer to the truth than longer-term polls showing a far wider margin in Obama’s favor. But the existence of those polls, and the lack of existence of a single poll showing a wider margin for Romney, is suggestive of something.

Without a change in the race’s trajectory, there’s little reason to think there will be any change in the dynamic. In other words, Obama would win. By a little, not a lot. And there is no margin of error on election day (unless the chads fail to fall).

Which means Romney needs to act to change the trajectory. One sign of what that might mean comes from the first major poll on foreign policy taken after last week’s horrific events in Cairo and Libya. You’ll recall Romney blasted the administration for a statement out of Cairo that, he said, expressed sympathy for the rioters. This was viewed as a great evil by a great many people, and criticized by people on Romney’s own side as well. Romney’s team appeared battered and bruised by the attacks. And yet in the NBC News poll released yesterday, the president saw a significant drop of 5 percentage points on a question about his handling of foreign policy. This is not to say Romney caused Obama’s drop, but it might mean he was closer to the national wavelength than the incestuous Washington-NY media thought.

Obviously the question over the next few days is whether Romney will suffer from the “47 percent” remarks on the hidden videotape. I explain here why I think what Romney said was wrong and wrong-headed. That kind of trajectory change would, obviously, make Romney’s challenge more significant.

The strange thing about the Romney camp is that, with the exception of that statement, it appears to have no sense of urgency about its condition. Romney, it’s said, never gets mad, and has never had a fight with his wife. That’s wonderful for him, but one virtue of getting angry and heated and squabbly and in a fight is that it will at least register a pulse. You can’t win a race if you don’t get your heart rate up.

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Iran Talks Give Hint of Obama Betrayal

Give the Islamist regime in Iran some credit. They can read between the lines as easily as anyone in Washington. Having seen the spectacle of the Obama administration’s refusal to set red lines about Iran’s nuclear program despite impassioned pleas from Israel to do so, the ayatollahs understand they have been sent a signal that the president is open to another round of hopeless negotiations over the issue. That’s the upshot of the informal meetings taking place in Istanbul between the Iranians and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Ashton headed up the West’s delegations in the P5+1 talks held earlier this year but, like President Obama, appears to have learned nothing from the experience. As Laura Rozen reports in The Back Channel blog, the Iranians may have again convinced the West that they should give the talks yet another try. According to Rozen, “The path going forward is ‘open,’ one western diplomat said.”

That’s excellent news for the Iranians, who may now be able to look forward to more negotiating sessions with the Western consortium at which they can drag out the process even further without giving an inch. But it’s bad news for anyone who wants to actually stop the Iranians from achieving their nuclear ambition.

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Give the Islamist regime in Iran some credit. They can read between the lines as easily as anyone in Washington. Having seen the spectacle of the Obama administration’s refusal to set red lines about Iran’s nuclear program despite impassioned pleas from Israel to do so, the ayatollahs understand they have been sent a signal that the president is open to another round of hopeless negotiations over the issue. That’s the upshot of the informal meetings taking place in Istanbul between the Iranians and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Ashton headed up the West’s delegations in the P5+1 talks held earlier this year but, like President Obama, appears to have learned nothing from the experience. As Laura Rozen reports in The Back Channel blog, the Iranians may have again convinced the West that they should give the talks yet another try. According to Rozen, “The path going forward is ‘open,’ one western diplomat said.”

That’s excellent news for the Iranians, who may now be able to look forward to more negotiating sessions with the Western consortium at which they can drag out the process even further without giving an inch. But it’s bad news for anyone who wants to actually stop the Iranians from achieving their nuclear ambition.

The P5+1 talks earned the Iranians several months more during which their centrifuges could keep spinning and turning out more enriched uranium for their weapons project. This illustrates why the Israelis are so intent on red lines.

This year’s diplomatic minuet over the Iranian nuclear program wasn’t the first time Tehran played the West for suckers.

The Bush administration vetoed any Israeli attack on Iran and outsourced diplomacy on the question to the Europeans. But despite the warm relations that France and Germany supposedly had with their Iranian business partners and their offer of a deal that would have allowed Tehran to have a nuclear program, no deal was ever struck.

President Obama came into office acting as if the Bush attempt at diplomacy never happened and wasted a year on a foolish attempt at “engagement” with Iran and two more on assembling a weak international coalition in favor of loosely enforced sanctions on Tehran. Talks were held and deals even struck, but the Iranians always reneged on any deal. The president’s fourth year in office was marked by more sanctions that had no effect on Iran and the P5+1 talks that merely bought Iran’s scientists more time.

The Israelis and other savvy observers understand that Iran’s goal in the talks is not even a favorable agreement that would enable them to finesse their way to a bomb the way the North Koreans did. Rather, their intention is to stall until their stockpile of nuclear material is large enough and stored in invulnerable underground bunkers that would render any attack pointless.

That’s why what is needed now is a presidential statement about red lines rather than another P5+1 fool’s errand. Anything other than a warning that force will be used if Iran doesn’t halt its enrichment program is a sign not so much of patience but that the president will go back on his pledge not to “contain” a nuclear Iran.

No one who is not an Iran apologist can possibly argue — at least not with a straight face — that more talks with Iran under these circumstances will serve anyone’s interests but that of the Islamist regime. Those who have argued that the administration should be trusted to stop Iran must speak out urgently about what another round of P5+1 talks will mean: more months for Iran to get closer to a bomb and a bridge to a second term reversal of policy on the issue by President Obama.

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West Should Not Apologize for Cartoons

The response to the publication of some anti-Muslim cartoons in a French magazine has been swift. The West has quickly condemned the drawings while Muslims are making more threats. France has closed its embassies in 22 countries and the world is bracing for another round of violence in which the hurt feelings of offended followers of Islam will prevail over the right of free speech. But the only proper response to this latest entry in the unending cycle of apologies and atrocities is to say: enough. It is time for the West to stop treating Muslim complaints about their sensibilities as if these were serious arguments. They are not. As even the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman wrote this morning, Arabs and Muslims who are whining about not getting any respect should look in the mirror.

Let’s agree that gratuitous insults directed at any faith are inappropriate at best. At worst, they serve to help stir up hatred against targeted faiths and peoples. But the point of the cartoons published this week in Charlie Hedbo is pretty much the same as the satiric graphics that ran in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005: to skewer the self-censorship of the West in talking about an Islamist world that responds to any criticism with deadly force. That is a very different cup of tea than the vile garbage that emanates from official broadcast media and newspapers in the Arab and Muslim world about Christianity but most especially Judaism, Jews and Israel. It’s time for some Western leaders, especially those whose governments have been bending over backwards to speak of their concern for Muslim sensibilities, to make it clear that they are no longer interested in playing this game.

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The response to the publication of some anti-Muslim cartoons in a French magazine has been swift. The West has quickly condemned the drawings while Muslims are making more threats. France has closed its embassies in 22 countries and the world is bracing for another round of violence in which the hurt feelings of offended followers of Islam will prevail over the right of free speech. But the only proper response to this latest entry in the unending cycle of apologies and atrocities is to say: enough. It is time for the West to stop treating Muslim complaints about their sensibilities as if these were serious arguments. They are not. As even the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman wrote this morning, Arabs and Muslims who are whining about not getting any respect should look in the mirror.

Let’s agree that gratuitous insults directed at any faith are inappropriate at best. At worst, they serve to help stir up hatred against targeted faiths and peoples. But the point of the cartoons published this week in Charlie Hedbo is pretty much the same as the satiric graphics that ran in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005: to skewer the self-censorship of the West in talking about an Islamist world that responds to any criticism with deadly force. That is a very different cup of tea than the vile garbage that emanates from official broadcast media and newspapers in the Arab and Muslim world about Christianity but most especially Judaism, Jews and Israel. It’s time for some Western leaders, especially those whose governments have been bending over backwards to speak of their concern for Muslim sensibilities, to make it clear that they are no longer interested in playing this game.

We don’t agree with tasteless insults aimed at Islam. But the Muslim mobs and those that rationalize their actions as a reasonable response to Western imperialism and Third World powerlessness have no standing to gripe about anybody else’s behavior and must be bluntly told as much. The problem is not just Islamic intolerance that treats their feelings as somehow taking precedence over the rights of others to free expression. It is that pusillanimous reactions to Muslim violence have served to encourage and enable repetitions of this same tired story.

It is understood that perhaps the man in the Arab street who riots when he hears or reads rumors about an insult to Islam being made somewhere doesn’t understand the Western concept of freedom of speech. But the problem with the constant demands for Western apologies and prosecutions of critics of Islam is that the stream of regrets is strictly one way. As we have noted numerous times here at Contentions — and as Friedman writes today — anyone who visits the Memri.org website can see that insulting Judaism and Christianity in the Arab world is part of these countries’ mainstream discourse and not the work of isolated extremists or satirists as is the case in the West. In particular, anti-Semitism is so deeply ingrained in the Muslim media that it is merely a matter of routine more than anything else.

That’s why Western governments should resist the apology game this time.

The Muslim world must understand that it cannot impose its skewed values on the rest of the world. And the way to start that process is for Western leaders to send them a harsh message warning Arab and Muslim governments that we are aware that they don’t have clean hands on this issue. It should be made plain that monitoring Western speech about Islam is not their concern. And it should also be made perfectly clear that violence against Western targets will be punished severely.

We don’t doubt that some on the left will say that a harsh Western answer to Muslim violence will only inflame Muslim feelings. But such arguments miss the fact that terrorists merely use these controversies as a pretext. At some point the cycle has to end. The French cartoons should be the moment when this process must begin.

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Gaps in the Romney Video

When Mother Jones released the video clips of Mitt Romney speaking at a private fundraiser yesterday, it reported that this was the “complete” audio and video of his comments. But now it turns out there was actually a chunk of the speech missing. Legal Insurrection’s William Jacobson first noticed the gap in the video last night:

David Corn of Mother Jones released the “complete” audio and video of the secretly recorded Mitt Romney speech at a private fundraiser.

Yet the complete audio and video is not complete.  There is a gap in the recording immediately after Romney’s now famous discussion of the 47% of voters who don’t pay taxes.  The cut in the audio and video comes while Romney is in mid-sentence, so we actually do not have the full audio of what Romney said on the subject.

Something is missing.  Romney’s 47% answer was cut off before completed, and is not picked up on the Part 2 audio video.

Jacobson contacted Mother Jones reporter David Corn, who acknowledged that a one-to-two minute part of the speech was missing from the initial recording, apparently due to technical issues:

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When Mother Jones released the video clips of Mitt Romney speaking at a private fundraiser yesterday, it reported that this was the “complete” audio and video of his comments. But now it turns out there was actually a chunk of the speech missing. Legal Insurrection’s William Jacobson first noticed the gap in the video last night:

David Corn of Mother Jones released the “complete” audio and video of the secretly recorded Mitt Romney speech at a private fundraiser.

Yet the complete audio and video is not complete.  There is a gap in the recording immediately after Romney’s now famous discussion of the 47% of voters who don’t pay taxes.  The cut in the audio and video comes while Romney is in mid-sentence, so we actually do not have the full audio of what Romney said on the subject.

Something is missing.  Romney’s 47% answer was cut off before completed, and is not picked up on the Part 2 audio video.

Jacobson contacted Mother Jones reporter David Corn, who acknowledged that a one-to-two minute part of the speech was missing from the initial recording, apparently due to technical issues:

According to the source, the recording device inadvertently turned off. The source noticed this quickly and turned it back one. The source estimates that one to two minutes, maybe less, of recording was missed.

At the very least, this seems to bolster the Romney campaign’s pushback against the video. Romney initially criticized it as just a “snippet” of his comments, and called for the release of the full tape. According to Corn, that’s not possible since his source was only able to capture a partial recording.

Was there anything in the unrecorded speech that would have vindicated Romney? It’s possible. But it’s hard to imagine what could change the meaning of the comments leading up to the gap in the video, particularly Romney’s psychoanalysis of the 47 percent “victims” and his seemingly-cavalier statement that he’ll “never convince them that they should take responsibility and care for their own lives.” Unless one of the omitted sentences was “Just kidding about everything I said earlier, guys,” how would it negate his previous remarks?

Lesson for campaigns: Record your own events. If there actually was more context to what Romney was saying, his campaign could have cleared that up immediately if it had a tape of its own.

If the mainstream media was fair, it would dismiss the Romney video as meaningless without the missing context — something it would surely have done if damaging but incomplete footage of an Obama fundraiser was leaked to Breitbart. Of course, the mainstream media isn’t fair, which is why the Romney tape is hotter news than the terrorist attack in Benghazi last week.

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Is the Libya Debacle Already Forgotten?

Such is the nature of the 24/7 news cycle that you might think last week’s attack on the U.S. embassies in Libya, Egypt and Yemen had occurred sometime during the Eisenhower administration. The overwhelming attention devoted to Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” video story in the mainstream media has seemed to relegate the impact of the unraveling of American foreign policy in the Middle East to sidebar status. The disproportionate attention the liberal media has given Romney’s video may damage his campaign, but let’s not be deceived into thinking that this week’s story trumps last week’s or at least consigns it to be merely dropped down the memory hole.

The widespread attacks on American outposts in the region are a sign of what had already been obvious to serious observers: President Obama’s four-year effort to ingratiate the Arab and Muslim world has been a dismal failure. It’s not just that the president’s hubristic belief that his personal iconic status could change views about the United States have proven to be so much more self-delusion. It’s also that the White House’s unwillingness to accept that al-Qaeda is alive and well and planning terror attacks on vital U.S. targets — warnings about which have been ignored — in countries like Libya illustrates that the “Bin Laden is dead” mantra asserting the triumph of Obama’s foreign and defense policies is largely fiction. Last week’s attacks were emblematic of a catastrophic chapter in the history of American foreign policy. By comparison, Romney’s gaffe is a mere footnote to the story of this year’s presidential campaign.

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Such is the nature of the 24/7 news cycle that you might think last week’s attack on the U.S. embassies in Libya, Egypt and Yemen had occurred sometime during the Eisenhower administration. The overwhelming attention devoted to Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” video story in the mainstream media has seemed to relegate the impact of the unraveling of American foreign policy in the Middle East to sidebar status. The disproportionate attention the liberal media has given Romney’s video may damage his campaign, but let’s not be deceived into thinking that this week’s story trumps last week’s or at least consigns it to be merely dropped down the memory hole.

The widespread attacks on American outposts in the region are a sign of what had already been obvious to serious observers: President Obama’s four-year effort to ingratiate the Arab and Muslim world has been a dismal failure. It’s not just that the president’s hubristic belief that his personal iconic status could change views about the United States have proven to be so much more self-delusion. It’s also that the White House’s unwillingness to accept that al-Qaeda is alive and well and planning terror attacks on vital U.S. targets — warnings about which have been ignored — in countries like Libya illustrates that the “Bin Laden is dead” mantra asserting the triumph of Obama’s foreign and defense policies is largely fiction. Last week’s attacks were emblematic of a catastrophic chapter in the history of American foreign policy. By comparison, Romney’s gaffe is a mere footnote to the story of this year’s presidential campaign.

But the media’s appetite for digesting this tragedy seems to have been limited. Indeed, were it not for their desire to slap down Romney’s attack on the initial apology for an anti-Muslim film that was issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, many of the chattering classes would have had no interest in talking about it at all.

While serious questions remain unanswered about the sequence of events in Libya that led to the murder of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, the story was pretty much dropped once the Romney video was released. That the White House continued to promote the myth that the attack was not a planned terrorist attack, but only a result of the protests about the film, is more of a scandal than anything Romney said. But they got away with it and only slightly changed their tune once the nation’s attention was diverted by the Romney video.

The repudiation by the Arab street of Obama’s policies is nearly complete. He had hoped to win their hearts and minds by distancing the U.S. from Israel and by outreach that was epitomized by the president’s June 2009 Cairo speech in which he paid obeisance to Muslim sensitivities. But his exercise in false moral equivalence has only bred contempt for U.S. power and damaged U.S. interests. His ambiguous response to the Arab Spring managed to gain the worst of both worlds for his country as friendly regimes fell and were replaced by dangerous Islamists without the U.S. gaining credit for sandbagging former allies.

Just as bad is the fact that these attacks have shown that the administration’s boasts about the killing of Osama bin Laden is a thin cover for a counter-terror strategy that has seen al-Qaeda gain strength on the president’s watch. That an article on this crucial issue only merited placement on page 13 of today’s New York Times rather than the front page treatment that is still being given to the Romney video three days after that story broke tells you all you need to know about the skewed priorities of that newspaper and other liberal outlets.

But in this case, the common sense of the American people may be prevailing over the herd instinct of the chattering classes. Much of the journalistic world spent last week promoting the assumption that Romney’s sharp response to the apology would sink him. But, as liberal Times blogger and political analyst Nate Silver admitted today:

Mr. Romney’s comments about Libya last week, for instance, were supposed to be very damaging to him, but if anything the numbers have moved toward him since then.

It could be that the voters understand that rather than being a negative for Romney, recent events have shown the bankruptcy of Obama’s policies. Though it is arguable whether the Republican can overcome the handicap that a hostile media has placed on his already challenged campaign, the polls may reveal that the American people believe that the president’s policy failures are of greater moment than Romney’s loose talk.

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Romney Reserved but Rational on Mideast

As Jonathan notes, the media will be working overtime to milk Mitt Romney’s comments at a private fundraiser as much as possible, but they are unlikely to get much traction with Romney’s remarks on the Middle East. The New York Times’s David Sanger does his level best today, even throwing in a reaction quote from Hamas for posterity (spoiler: Hamas thinks Romney is controlled by Zionists). But Sanger, in the end, comes away with nothing much because on this issue, Romney appears to have a thoughtful and realistic, if gloomy, opinion.

When asked at this fundraiser about “the Palestinian problem,” Romney responded by pointing out that even beyond the notorious sticking points in the peace process, there are other issues—Would the Palestinian state be demilitarized? Would it have sole, or shared, control of its airspace?—that suggest the conflict is much more complex than most politicians are ready to admit. And Romney did conclude by saying he hoped something would change the calculus and bring about a breakthrough in the peace process. Sanger’s use of Hamas was ostensibly to demonstrate that the Palestinians “had a different view.” That may be, but Hamas is as opposed to the peace process as anyone, and Sanger seems unaware of the irony in having a Hamasnik criticize someone else’s pessimism on the peace process.

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As Jonathan notes, the media will be working overtime to milk Mitt Romney’s comments at a private fundraiser as much as possible, but they are unlikely to get much traction with Romney’s remarks on the Middle East. The New York Times’s David Sanger does his level best today, even throwing in a reaction quote from Hamas for posterity (spoiler: Hamas thinks Romney is controlled by Zionists). But Sanger, in the end, comes away with nothing much because on this issue, Romney appears to have a thoughtful and realistic, if gloomy, opinion.

When asked at this fundraiser about “the Palestinian problem,” Romney responded by pointing out that even beyond the notorious sticking points in the peace process, there are other issues—Would the Palestinian state be demilitarized? Would it have sole, or shared, control of its airspace?—that suggest the conflict is much more complex than most politicians are ready to admit. And Romney did conclude by saying he hoped something would change the calculus and bring about a breakthrough in the peace process. Sanger’s use of Hamas was ostensibly to demonstrate that the Palestinians “had a different view.” That may be, but Hamas is as opposed to the peace process as anyone, and Sanger seems unaware of the irony in having a Hamasnik criticize someone else’s pessimism on the peace process.

The part of Romney’s comments getting the most attention seem to be his suggestion that the Palestinians, led by Mahmoud Abbas, are in no mood to make a deal:

And I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, “There’s just no way.” And so what you do is you say, “You move things along the best way you can.” You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem.

Since Abbas refuses to even negotiate with Israel and has not tempered the anti-Semitism and incitement to violence in Palestinian Authority media, Romney’s comments were accurate. And as I wrote last month, all sides are working toward a “degree of stability” in lieu of negotiations, with Israel even asking the International Monetary Fund to approve another handsome loan to the PA. The Saudis, meanwhile, have begun flooding Gaza with cash.

So on the whole, Romney’s vision for the conflict in the near term may not be particularly sunny, but it also may be far less reckless than the alternative at the moment. Sanger also writes about Romney’s opinion of the aspiring genocidal mullahs in Iran: they’re irrational and dangerous. Sanger suggests this would make trouble for a Romney administration, but never explains how—because it wouldn’t. In fact, Sanger doesn’t actually explain anything in the piece, he just refers to the reader’s assumed understanding of Romney’s opinions.

For example, he opens his article by insisting Romney’s comments offer absolutely nothing new. “No one has ever had any illusions about where Mitt Romney stands” on the Palestinians and Iran, he writes. But he doesn’t say where, exactly, Romney stands on those issues. Then he gives readers a clue: “In both cases, he has taken positions very close to those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, his friend from their days together as young consultants here in Boston.”

The weirdly out of place and suggestive conflation of Romney and Netanyahu is also only a hint: Sanger doesn’t explain where Netanyahu stands on these issues either, so the name-dropping provides no information.

So why is Sanger’s article all winks and nods? Because Romney’s position on the Arab-Israeli conflict boils down to this: until the Palestinians choose to participate in the peace process, the goal must be stability in an otherwise volatile region. And his position on Iran is that he doesn’t consider the mullahs to be rational actors who could be contained safely if they possess nuclear weapons. If the Times thinks those positions are beyond the pale simply because Netanyahu also happens to hold them, they are grossly misreading the mood of the American public.

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Poll Roundup: Presidential Race Tightens

It’s the strangest thing. The media already declared this week that Mitt Romney lost the election, but the polls still seem to show the race tightening. First, from today’s USA Today/Gallup poll, which has Romney trailing Obama by two points in the swing states:

Registered voters in key 2012 election swing states remain closely divided in their presidential vote preferences, with 48% supporting President Barack Obama and 46% Mitt Romney. Other than a nine-point lead for Obama in March, the two candidates have been essentially tied in the swing states throughout the campaign.

Gallup’s daily tracking poll also finds Obama leading Romney by one point nationwide. Note that both of these polls were conducted among registered, not likely voters, which means they are more likely to favor Obama:

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It’s the strangest thing. The media already declared this week that Mitt Romney lost the election, but the polls still seem to show the race tightening. First, from today’s USA Today/Gallup poll, which has Romney trailing Obama by two points in the swing states:

Registered voters in key 2012 election swing states remain closely divided in their presidential vote preferences, with 48% supporting President Barack Obama and 46% Mitt Romney. Other than a nine-point lead for Obama in March, the two candidates have been essentially tied in the swing states throughout the campaign.

Gallup’s daily tracking poll also finds Obama leading Romney by one point nationwide. Note that both of these polls were conducted among registered, not likely voters, which means they are more likely to favor Obama:

Gallup Daily tracking of registered voters nationwide now finds Obama at 47% and Romney at 46%, suggesting a fading of Obama’s post-convention bounce. At this point, it is too early to tell what impact a newly released video of Romney’s unflattering characterization of Obama supporters from an early 2012 fundraising speech might have on the race.

Today’s AP/GfK poll of likely voters has a similar finding. Obama leads Romney by a single point:

Obama is supported by 47 percent of likely voters and Romney by 46 percent, promising an all-out fight to the finish by the two campaigns to gin up enthusiasm among core supporters and dominate get-out-the-vote operations. That’s an area where Obama claimed a strong advantage in 2008 and Republicans reigned four years earlier.

That’s not to say there aren’t signs of trouble for Romney. We still don’t know how the potentially-damaging “47 percent” video will impact the numbers above. He’s down by five points in the NBC/WSJ poll of likely voters, which came out last night but was conducted before the video dropped. He also appears to be losing ground on economic issues, at least according to the AP/GfK poll.

But as the media has been saying for the past couple of months, there aren’t many undecided voters out there to win. The race will largely come down to turnout, and while Romney’s “47 percent” remarks could potentially depress some of his support, the narrative that he’s losing by a landslide (when polls show he’s not) isn’t helpful for Obama either. Much of Obama’s get-out-the-vote efforts rely on frightening his base about the prospect of a Romney presidency. If they falsely believe that Obama has the race locked up, there’s also less incentive to turn out at the polls.

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White House: Maybe Embassy Attack Was Planned After All

After insisting last week that the U.S. embassy attack in Benghazi was prompted entirely by an anti-Islam video, the White House is now scrambling to walk back that position, which looks more absurd by the day (h/t Allahpundit):

Press secretary Jay Carney suggested the assault could have been the work of an armed group looking to “take advantage” of demonstrations he blamed on an anti-Islam video available online.

Carney repeatedly described that footage as the “precipitating” cause of the protests and the violence targeting American diplomatic posts in Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Tunisia and elsewhere.

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After insisting last week that the U.S. embassy attack in Benghazi was prompted entirely by an anti-Islam video, the White House is now scrambling to walk back that position, which looks more absurd by the day (h/t Allahpundit):

Press secretary Jay Carney suggested the assault could have been the work of an armed group looking to “take advantage” of demonstrations he blamed on an anti-Islam video available online.

Carney repeatedly described that footage as the “precipitating” cause of the protests and the violence targeting American diplomatic posts in Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Tunisia and elsewhere.

Libya is “still a very volatile place [where] there are vast numbers of weapons, and certainly a number of violent groups in the country,” he told reporters at his daily briefing.

“There is an abundance of weapons, including heavy weapons, and there are certainly groups that carry those weapons and look to take advantage of those circumstances—as there are around the region and the world,” Carney said. He did not say whether such groups might be linked to international extremist networks like al-Qaida.

You didn’t have to be briefed by Leon Panetta last week to see that Benghazi carried hallmarks of a planned attack. And while the video may have been used as a distraction, it stretches credulity to think it was a coincidence that the assault took place on the anniversary of September 11.

As more information comes out about the attack, the Obama administration will be put in an increasingly uncomfortable position. For one, it will have to explain the lack of security at the U.S. embassy, and around the ambassador. Second, it will have to explain why it spent days playing into the hands of terrorists by repeatedly condemning the video and trying to get it pulled from YouTube. Third, it will have to explain why it mistook an apparent terrorist attack for a spontaneous protest.

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The Novelists’ Acknowledgments

Joyce ended Ulysses with a flourish:

Trieste-Zurich-Paris, 1914–1921

And for a good long while, the appended dateline became a fashion in the English-language novel. It may have served Joyce’s thematic purposes, as Edmund Wilson claimed, but for most of Joyce’s imitators, it was little more than a way to fuss over their book, unwilling to let it go without a seal or private notation of some kind.

Today the fashion is for Acknowledgments. Although historical novelists like James Michener and Leon Uris included Acknowledgments to admit to their sources (and to thank the staffs of research facilities, where necessary), the current fashion is for something different. The long and winding Acknowledgments, which express gratitude for financial support before thudding softly into a long list of friends who deserve to see their names in print for one reason or another, seem to date from the late Eighties. The earliest example I’ve been able to find — I hope other readers can find earlier examples — is in Richard Russo’s 1988 novel The Risk Pool:

The author gratefully acknowledges support from Southern Connecticut State University and Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, while he was working on this book. Special thanks also, for faith and assistance, to Nat Sobel, David Rosenthal, Gary Fisketjon, Greg Gottung, Jean Findlay and, always, my wife Barbara.

Although Russo does not designate the means of support he received from the two universities (besides salary, I mean), his first line is revealing. When an academic scholar receives a grant or paid leave of absence, he is required by the terms of his acceptance to acknowledge the source of his assistance. The current fashion for Acknowledgments, in other words, is a painful side effect of the university writers workshops, which provide a livelihood for most “literary” novelists now working.

In the New Yorker last month, Sam Sacks derided the current fashion. An earlier generation would never have consented to including such a thing:

Writers who saw themselves as magi, practitioners of a mysterious art, would never have dreamed of breaking the spell they’d cast by guilelessly stepping out of character to thank their house pets. . . . But there can be little mystique in a craft that is now taught in classrooms in every polytechnic university in the country. Novelists seem largely to have accepted the financially useful frame of mind that their books are products foremost, shaped by many hands and market-tested by many professionals.

Indeed, the fashion belongs to the boomer generation, the first literary generation to be wholly supported by academic appointments. But there is an important difference between Acknowledgments in a scholarly monograph and the self-congratulatory foofaraw of the novelists’ Acknowledgments. I speak from experience. Although I did not separate them into a separate section with its own special name, I performed the ritual of thanks and appreciation at the end of the Preface to my book The Elephants Teach. After noting where portions of the book had previously been published, I included the names of 22 friends “who improved me by their attention and criticism.” Each of them, however, had contributed something specific to the book: they had read the manuscript (in whole or part), suffered while I tried out my argument on them, pointed me in a productive direction. Even so, the roll call reads to me now like a self-indulgence.

And yet there is a difference. And the difference is not merely, as Sacks says, that earlier novelists “saw themselves as magi,” while scholars have never done so. The difference is this.

At one time a novel was a deception. It pretended to be anything besides a novel. The intention was not to trick the reader into believing the novel was a real document from another time and place, although some readers have been tricked (George MacDonald Fraser’s first Flashman novel convinced some reviewers that it was a genuine literary find, an unpublished 19th-century manuscript newly discovered and offered to 20th-century readers). The purpose was to divide the world of the novel, the fictional world, from the world in which the novel was merely a novel — the real world, where the events of the novel never happened. Lolita does not know itself as a novel but as a prison memoir, “The Confession of a White Widowed Male.” Alexander Portnoy does not think he is writing a novel: his Complaint is a monologue on a psychoanalyst’s couch.

Even the “Notice” warning against “attempting to find a motive in this narrative” (PER G. G., CHIEF OF ORDNANCE) and the “Explanatory” note that Mark Twain squeezes between the title page and the first sentence of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn serve the purpose of the fictional illusion rather than trying to dispel it:

     In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the ordinary “Pike-County” dialect; and four modified variations of this last. The shadings have not been done in a hap-hazard fashion, or by guess-work; but pains-takingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.
    I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.
                                                                                                                   THE AUTHOR.

The world of Huckleberry Finn is its own world, with motives different from ours, although its speech is just as precise as ours. For a long time after the convention of the intrusive puppet-master novelist was thrown off, the question of a fictional narrative’s provenance, where the story came from, how a narrator came to tell it, was dramatized. It too belonged to the world of the novel. Perhaps the most common device was the frame story. Many novelists, though, disguised their novels to look like another kind of document altogether. Here’s the title page, for example, of perhaps the best baseball novel ever written:

THE SOUTHPAW
By HENRY W. WIGGEN
Punctuation freely inserted and
spelling greatly improved

By MARK HARRIS

Where the novel is a false document, any Acknowledgments (if they are made) would also be falsified — the fiction would remain intact from top to bottom. The copious Acknowledgments of recent novels, though, belong to a different and less inviting world, where financial support must be secured and logs must be rolled. What seems largely to have disappeared from contemporary fiction is not the novelists’ self-understanding of themselves as magi, but the need to pretend that a novel is anything other than a novel — anything other than the discharge of an academic professional’s academic duty, that is.

Joyce ended Ulysses with a flourish:

Trieste-Zurich-Paris, 1914–1921

And for a good long while, the appended dateline became a fashion in the English-language novel. It may have served Joyce’s thematic purposes, as Edmund Wilson claimed, but for most of Joyce’s imitators, it was little more than a way to fuss over their book, unwilling to let it go without a seal or private notation of some kind.

Today the fashion is for Acknowledgments. Although historical novelists like James Michener and Leon Uris included Acknowledgments to admit to their sources (and to thank the staffs of research facilities, where necessary), the current fashion is for something different. The long and winding Acknowledgments, which express gratitude for financial support before thudding softly into a long list of friends who deserve to see their names in print for one reason or another, seem to date from the late Eighties. The earliest example I’ve been able to find — I hope other readers can find earlier examples — is in Richard Russo’s 1988 novel The Risk Pool:

The author gratefully acknowledges support from Southern Connecticut State University and Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, while he was working on this book. Special thanks also, for faith and assistance, to Nat Sobel, David Rosenthal, Gary Fisketjon, Greg Gottung, Jean Findlay and, always, my wife Barbara.

Although Russo does not designate the means of support he received from the two universities (besides salary, I mean), his first line is revealing. When an academic scholar receives a grant or paid leave of absence, he is required by the terms of his acceptance to acknowledge the source of his assistance. The current fashion for Acknowledgments, in other words, is a painful side effect of the university writers workshops, which provide a livelihood for most “literary” novelists now working.

In the New Yorker last month, Sam Sacks derided the current fashion. An earlier generation would never have consented to including such a thing:

Writers who saw themselves as magi, practitioners of a mysterious art, would never have dreamed of breaking the spell they’d cast by guilelessly stepping out of character to thank their house pets. . . . But there can be little mystique in a craft that is now taught in classrooms in every polytechnic university in the country. Novelists seem largely to have accepted the financially useful frame of mind that their books are products foremost, shaped by many hands and market-tested by many professionals.

Indeed, the fashion belongs to the boomer generation, the first literary generation to be wholly supported by academic appointments. But there is an important difference between Acknowledgments in a scholarly monograph and the self-congratulatory foofaraw of the novelists’ Acknowledgments. I speak from experience. Although I did not separate them into a separate section with its own special name, I performed the ritual of thanks and appreciation at the end of the Preface to my book The Elephants Teach. After noting where portions of the book had previously been published, I included the names of 22 friends “who improved me by their attention and criticism.” Each of them, however, had contributed something specific to the book: they had read the manuscript (in whole or part), suffered while I tried out my argument on them, pointed me in a productive direction. Even so, the roll call reads to me now like a self-indulgence.

And yet there is a difference. And the difference is not merely, as Sacks says, that earlier novelists “saw themselves as magi,” while scholars have never done so. The difference is this.

At one time a novel was a deception. It pretended to be anything besides a novel. The intention was not to trick the reader into believing the novel was a real document from another time and place, although some readers have been tricked (George MacDonald Fraser’s first Flashman novel convinced some reviewers that it was a genuine literary find, an unpublished 19th-century manuscript newly discovered and offered to 20th-century readers). The purpose was to divide the world of the novel, the fictional world, from the world in which the novel was merely a novel — the real world, where the events of the novel never happened. Lolita does not know itself as a novel but as a prison memoir, “The Confession of a White Widowed Male.” Alexander Portnoy does not think he is writing a novel: his Complaint is a monologue on a psychoanalyst’s couch.

Even the “Notice” warning against “attempting to find a motive in this narrative” (PER G. G., CHIEF OF ORDNANCE) and the “Explanatory” note that Mark Twain squeezes between the title page and the first sentence of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn serve the purpose of the fictional illusion rather than trying to dispel it:

     In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the ordinary “Pike-County” dialect; and four modified variations of this last. The shadings have not been done in a hap-hazard fashion, or by guess-work; but pains-takingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.
    I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.
                                                                                                                   THE AUTHOR.

The world of Huckleberry Finn is its own world, with motives different from ours, although its speech is just as precise as ours. For a long time after the convention of the intrusive puppet-master novelist was thrown off, the question of a fictional narrative’s provenance, where the story came from, how a narrator came to tell it, was dramatized. It too belonged to the world of the novel. Perhaps the most common device was the frame story. Many novelists, though, disguised their novels to look like another kind of document altogether. Here’s the title page, for example, of perhaps the best baseball novel ever written:

THE SOUTHPAW
By HENRY W. WIGGEN
Punctuation freely inserted and
spelling greatly improved

By MARK HARRIS

Where the novel is a false document, any Acknowledgments (if they are made) would also be falsified — the fiction would remain intact from top to bottom. The copious Acknowledgments of recent novels, though, belong to a different and less inviting world, where financial support must be secured and logs must be rolled. What seems largely to have disappeared from contemporary fiction is not the novelists’ self-understanding of themselves as magi, but the need to pretend that a novel is anything other than a novel — anything other than the discharge of an academic professional’s academic duty, that is.

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Putin Demands End of USAID in Russia

President Obama, upon taking office, promised “A New Beginning” for U.S. relations in the Middle East. We know how that’s working out. Yet another pillar of his foreign policy is faring no better–the “reset” with Russia. Vladimir Putin has kicked metaphorical sand in Uncle Sam’s face by demanding that the U.S. government end all assistance for civil-society organizations in Russia, which totals some $50 million a year.

This is more bad news for Russia’s future. As Yelena Panfilova, head of the Moscow branch of Transparency International, told the New York Times: “What is the list of other countries that have expelled U.S.A.I.D.? It’s not about money — we can cope somehow — the problem is about this whole feeling that we have been brought together with Venezuela, Somalia and Belarus.”

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President Obama, upon taking office, promised “A New Beginning” for U.S. relations in the Middle East. We know how that’s working out. Yet another pillar of his foreign policy is faring no better–the “reset” with Russia. Vladimir Putin has kicked metaphorical sand in Uncle Sam’s face by demanding that the U.S. government end all assistance for civil-society organizations in Russia, which totals some $50 million a year.

This is more bad news for Russia’s future. As Yelena Panfilova, head of the Moscow branch of Transparency International, told the New York Times: “What is the list of other countries that have expelled U.S.A.I.D.? It’s not about money — we can cope somehow — the problem is about this whole feeling that we have been brought together with Venezuela, Somalia and Belarus.”

But this is also bad news for Obama’s policy. As John McCain noted in a statement: “The Russian government’s decision to end all U.S.A.I.D. activities in the country is an insult to the United States and a finger in the eye of the Obama administration, which has consistently trumpeted the alleged success of its so-called reset policy toward Moscow.”

One struggles now to recall the heady days of the 2008 campaign when Obama was promising to sit down with every dictator under the sun on the apparent assumption that exposure to his awesome powers of persuasiveness would repair years, even decades, of friction with the United States and other democracies. Obama has indeed had sit-downs with some dictators, though thankfully not all (no Obama-Ayatollah summit!) but the results of his parlays have been, in a word, meager.

In the case of Russia, Obama was actually caught reassuring Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s sock-puppet, that he would have “more flexibility” to deal on missile defense after the election–and Putin in turn has praised him as a “very honest man.” But, lo and behold, that hasn’t produced a turnaround in U.S.-Russia elections. If, indeed, there is any sign of a revolution wrought by Obama in foreign policy, we are still waiting to see it.

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Re: WH Asks YouTube to Pull Anti-Islam Video

Alana’s right that the White House’s effort to encourage YouTube to take the video down is a “dangerous precedent.”  It’s also Sisyphean. YouTube is just the best known video hosting site: if they take the video down, it will show up elsewhere. Or for a nominal fee, its creators — or anyone else — could serve it from their own website. The whole approach is not only dangerous; it’s ridiculous. As the U.S. movie and music industries have found out, it’s impossible to win a war against the Internet if your only weapon is take-down notices.

The White House’s effort to play on YouTube’s terms of service could only have arisen in the context of an Administration that desperately wanted the video to go away, but recognized that mounting a legal challenge to it was a public opinion loser. I’d love to have been in the room when some bright young staffer said, “We can’t tell them to take it down.  We can’t even ask.  But what if we ask if it violates their terms of service?” I wonder if anyone in Silicon Valley is rethinking their support for Obama 2012 now.

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Alana’s right that the White House’s effort to encourage YouTube to take the video down is a “dangerous precedent.”  It’s also Sisyphean. YouTube is just the best known video hosting site: if they take the video down, it will show up elsewhere. Or for a nominal fee, its creators — or anyone else — could serve it from their own website. The whole approach is not only dangerous; it’s ridiculous. As the U.S. movie and music industries have found out, it’s impossible to win a war against the Internet if your only weapon is take-down notices.

The White House’s effort to play on YouTube’s terms of service could only have arisen in the context of an Administration that desperately wanted the video to go away, but recognized that mounting a legal challenge to it was a public opinion loser. I’d love to have been in the room when some bright young staffer said, “We can’t tell them to take it down.  We can’t even ask.  But what if we ask if it violates their terms of service?” I wonder if anyone in Silicon Valley is rethinking their support for Obama 2012 now.

But the White House’s effort to persuade YouTube to censor itself has a larger significance. Prof. Anthea Butler’s “Sam Bacile deserves arrest” op-ed in USA Today last week is already notorious. (From the balanced world of academia, where tenure is a license to pontificate and deadlines are overrated, I look forward to the publication of Prof. Butler’s The Gospel According to Sarah: How Sarah Palin and the Tea Party are Galvanizing the Religious Right, forthcoming — according to UPenn — from The New Press in Spring 2012.) But over on the Volokh Conspiracy, Eugene Volokh points out that it’s not just professors of religious studies who are eager to start arresting people and banning speech.

On Opinio Juris, Prof. Peter Spiro of Temple, a leading scholar of international law, is making the argument that we need to get with the program and recognize that Europe is right: hate speech can and should be banned. True, in the U.S., that tiresome First Amendment would seem to prevent this, but Prof. Spiro, like Harold Koh, now the legal adviser to the State Department, has an answer: treaties — and, more broadly, recognition of an “international consensus” — will (and should) be used to create “an international norm against hate speech [that would] supply a basis for prohibiting it, the First Amendment notwithstanding. . .  Deploying international law as an interpretive tool reflects a defensive strategy, . . . [that] may mask what is, in fact, a partial displacement of constitutional hegemony.”

The problem with the White House’s efforts is not just that they are wrong in principle and feeble in practice. It’s not just that it has handed all the agenda-defining power to Islamist radicals, and refused to recognize that the video is an act of political judo against the U.S., and a pretext for violence, not its cause, in the Middle East. It’s not even just that it plays into the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s seemingly lost campaign for U.N. action against the “defamation of religion,” which the Obama administration rightly opposed.

The problem is that Prof. Spiro has generously spelled out the progressive game plan: use the international consensus, and the occasional foreign outrage, against the U.S.’s exceptional tradition of free speech (and other forms of U.S. exceptionalism, such as Second Amendment rights) to persuade U.S. authorities to define and use legal means to restrict those rights. And that is exactly what the White House is trying to do.

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Despite Media Pile-On, Romney Isn’t Toast

So while some of us were celebrating the Jewish New Year and taking the last couple of days off from politics, it appears a video has more or less decided the election. That’s the assumption of much of the mainstream media about the impact of the release of the video of Mitt Romney speaking back in May at a private fundraiser about the 47 percent of the country that doesn’t pay taxes. They think this means it’s time to put a fork in the Republican candidate. They believe the pile-on from both the Democrats and their media allies will be enough to effectively push Romney far enough behind the president that he will never be able to make it up in the weeks remaining to him. This is, to understate matters, something of a self-fulfilling prophecy since the reason the video is considered to be such a big deal is because it has been covered as an earth-shaking gaffe that ought to spike Romney’s hopes of ever winning the presidency.

As much as I’ve taken a dim view of some of the pie-eyed optimism on the right that wrongly discounted Barack Obama’s advantages, the assumption that Romney has been fatally damaged is incorrect. The initial reaction to the video clips will probably damage Romney, but it will not affect the bulk of his support in a race that is still close. But it also offers him an opportunity, not so much as Rush Limbaugh said today to open up a dialogue about entitlements and taxes — though that would be welcome — as it does for him to take on the media that is pronouncing him dead. The reason the video hurts is that it played into Obama’s greatest advantage: a pliant media that is quick to dismiss his blunders but can be counted on to make a meal out of any of Romney’s gaffes. But it is time for the Romney campaign to understand they must exploit the fact that half the country believes the liberal media is out to get him. Romney must tell the country that it must not let the chattering classes decide the election before they’ve had a chance to vote.

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So while some of us were celebrating the Jewish New Year and taking the last couple of days off from politics, it appears a video has more or less decided the election. That’s the assumption of much of the mainstream media about the impact of the release of the video of Mitt Romney speaking back in May at a private fundraiser about the 47 percent of the country that doesn’t pay taxes. They think this means it’s time to put a fork in the Republican candidate. They believe the pile-on from both the Democrats and their media allies will be enough to effectively push Romney far enough behind the president that he will never be able to make it up in the weeks remaining to him. This is, to understate matters, something of a self-fulfilling prophecy since the reason the video is considered to be such a big deal is because it has been covered as an earth-shaking gaffe that ought to spike Romney’s hopes of ever winning the presidency.

As much as I’ve taken a dim view of some of the pie-eyed optimism on the right that wrongly discounted Barack Obama’s advantages, the assumption that Romney has been fatally damaged is incorrect. The initial reaction to the video clips will probably damage Romney, but it will not affect the bulk of his support in a race that is still close. But it also offers him an opportunity, not so much as Rush Limbaugh said today to open up a dialogue about entitlements and taxes — though that would be welcome — as it does for him to take on the media that is pronouncing him dead. The reason the video hurts is that it played into Obama’s greatest advantage: a pliant media that is quick to dismiss his blunders but can be counted on to make a meal out of any of Romney’s gaffes. But it is time for the Romney campaign to understand they must exploit the fact that half the country believes the liberal media is out to get him. Romney must tell the country that it must not let the chattering classes decide the election before they’ve had a chance to vote.

Let’s specify that Romney’s statement was dumb. No presidential candidate should ever make such a sweeping generalization. Romney has a habit of making gaffes and this was yet another example of one of his weak points as a leader. Yet for all of the fact that he painted those who don’t pay income taxes with a broad and inaccurate brush, his comment was still based in a correct interpretation of the philosophical divide between the approaches of the two parties to the entitlement welfare state that has played such a destructive role in American society.

But as much as some of the carping about the Romney campaign from Republicans has been justified, let’s understand that the reason why this video is being seen as the turning point in the election is that a liberal media that is determined to re-elect the president says so.

This is the same media after all that was faced with a similar gaffe four years ago when Barack Obama was caught on tape at one of his private fundraisers making similarly stupid comments dismissing much of America as “clinging to guns and religion” because of their fears and small-minded natures. While that video did not go unreported at the time, the reaction from much of the press was indifference. Right-wing bloggers and columnists screamed about it but it was not treated as front-page news in mainstream newspapers. The explanation for that is not exactly a mystery. If most reporters and their editors didn’t play it that big it was because most of them shared Obama’s contempt for religion and guns and those that cling to them.

Let’s also remember that the president’s “you didn’t build that” gaffe has been endlessly defended and rationalized by the media instead of being covered as an open and shut case of his being out of touch with much of the country’s beliefs. The president’s “open mic” moment earlier in the year, in which he promised Russia’s president that he could be more “flexible” in accommodating Moscow after his re-election, was also underplayed.

Any Republican who runs for president and is surprised to find that the deck is stacked against him in the media doesn’t deserve the office. But that doesn’t mean Romney should take this double standard lying down. Rather than play defense on this issue, the Romney campaign must make it clear they intend to treat this story as being more about media bias than about the candidate’s stupidity. If played right, that could not only jazz up a GOP base that despises the media, but put the Republican’s tormenters on the defensive.

There is still plenty of time before November for an aggressive Romney push against the media’s double standards to undermine their narrative about him being finished. It’s a stance that can also help Romney win the debates. Not taking any guff and refusing to accept the premises of liberals posing as objective moderators could do even more for Romney that it did for Newt Gingrich during the GOP debates.

Trailing with less than seven weeks to go is not the position that Romney wanted to be in. President Obama was already the clear favorite, but if this becomes the moment when Romney finds his voice and hits his stride by speaking out on both his economic philosophy and against the media, it is not too late for him to turn this thing around.

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