Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 4, 2012

Don’t Be Misled By Iran-Hamas Split

For most of the last decade, Iran treated Hamas as its Palestinian auxiliary force. Iran helped fund the group, and once it seized power in Gaza in a violent coup, it established a steady flow of arms into the enclave to challenge Israel in conjunction with its other Syrian and Lebanese allies. But the Iranians’ decision to pull out all the stops to save another ally, Bashar Assad’s Syrian regime, has helped break up their romance with the Palestinian terror group. Tension between Iran and Hamas has escalated in recent months after the latter’s international leader, Khaled Meshaal, shifted his headquarters from Damascus to Qatar. Faced with the choice between its old funder in Tehran and the whims of its Egyptian and Turkish allies, Hamas seems to have definitively chosen the embrace of the latter. The loss of Hamas is a blow to Iran’s hopes to become the dominant force in the region, and they are not taking it lying down. As the Times of Israel reports, an Iranian government newspaper this week threw the ultimate insult at Meshaal by calling him, wait for it, “a Zionist agent.”

While the spat between two groups of violent Islamist extremists can be viewed with schadenfreude, if not amusement, the West should not be fooled by this development into buying into some incorrect assumptions about Iran, Hamas or the situation in Syria. We should not be deceived into viewing Hamas’s decision as a harbinger of moderate behavior by the terrorist group. Nor should we be gulled into thinking Hamas’s defection from the Iranian fold will materially damage Iran’s hopes to keep Assad in power or lessen the need for a greater Western effort to end his reign of terror in Damascus.

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For most of the last decade, Iran treated Hamas as its Palestinian auxiliary force. Iran helped fund the group, and once it seized power in Gaza in a violent coup, it established a steady flow of arms into the enclave to challenge Israel in conjunction with its other Syrian and Lebanese allies. But the Iranians’ decision to pull out all the stops to save another ally, Bashar Assad’s Syrian regime, has helped break up their romance with the Palestinian terror group. Tension between Iran and Hamas has escalated in recent months after the latter’s international leader, Khaled Meshaal, shifted his headquarters from Damascus to Qatar. Faced with the choice between its old funder in Tehran and the whims of its Egyptian and Turkish allies, Hamas seems to have definitively chosen the embrace of the latter. The loss of Hamas is a blow to Iran’s hopes to become the dominant force in the region, and they are not taking it lying down. As the Times of Israel reports, an Iranian government newspaper this week threw the ultimate insult at Meshaal by calling him, wait for it, “a Zionist agent.”

While the spat between two groups of violent Islamist extremists can be viewed with schadenfreude, if not amusement, the West should not be fooled by this development into buying into some incorrect assumptions about Iran, Hamas or the situation in Syria. We should not be deceived into viewing Hamas’s decision as a harbinger of moderate behavior by the terrorist group. Nor should we be gulled into thinking Hamas’s defection from the Iranian fold will materially damage Iran’s hopes to keep Assad in power or lessen the need for a greater Western effort to end his reign of terror in Damascus.

First, Hamas has not changed its spots, just its donors. The alliance between radical Shiites in Iran and the radical Sunnis of Hamas was always one of convenience rather than conviction. They are much happier aligning themselves with Arabs than with the Persian power that is viewed with distrust by most of the region. More important, closer ties with the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist party in Turkey allows them to pose as a mainstream Arab government in waiting rather than the terrorist group that they really are. Though advocates of dropping the Western isolation of Hamas will argue their abandonment of Iran should be rewarded, it makes the group more, not less, dangerous. Rather than assuming that Hamas is joining the good guys, their ties with Turkey and Egypt should make Americans think twice about the Obama administration’s desperate interest in portraying both governments as moderate.

As for events on the ground in Syria, the Hamas departure from Damascus has had zero influence on rebel efforts to unseat Assad. Whatever minimal assistance Hamas might have given Assad is more than offset by the willingness of the Iranians and Hezbollah to intervene in the fighting on the side of the dictator.

Iran’s influence in the region is waning, and that is a good thing. But unless the United States and the rest of the West steps up its minimal involvement in the struggle, they will have no say in the outcome. Despite the optimism about Assad’s certain fall heard from both the administration and much of the press, his regime remains in place because he has not lost control of the armed forces. The threats of Turkey and the hostility of Egypt and Hamas will not conquer Damascus. But if Assad does fall and the West has played no real role in the outcome, the result will be the creation of a government that will be just as dangerous as the current one and provide the “Zionists” of Hamas with a new ally who could make the situation in the region even more perilous. Either way, President Obama’s “lead from behind” style is a formula for disaster that will not be saved by this minor setback for the Iranians.

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The Death of the Poor Salesman Myth

Earlier, I wondered whether Democrats would fall into a trap of their own making by goading President Obama into engaging in personal attacks on Mitt Romney in the next presidential debate. But it appears that some on the left prefer to return to one of their old standbys to explain the president’s flop in the debate: he’s a bad salesman for brilliant policies. That’s the tack taken by New York Times editorialist David Firestone today in a piece in which he argues that the president’s inability to defend his record on the stage in Denver is no different from what the writer considers the failures of Democrats to speak up for ObamaCare, the stimulus and even the sequester of funds that will results in huge defense cuts.

Firestone is right about one thing. The president does consider the act of explaining liberal projects to the public tiresome and somehow “beneath him.” But the Times writer fails to observe that liberals have actually been defending these ideas for all four years of the Obama administration. Their failure to gain support for them from the public isn’t the fault of Obama’s poor salesmanship, but due to the fact that most Americans, including those who distrust the Republicans, are wary of a huge expansion of government power, unchecked federal spending and gutting national defense. That is why the only successes Democrats have had in putting across their ideas hasn’t stemmed from championing these unpopular policies but from sliming their opponents. When they abandon such tactics, as Obama did last night, they are left with very little that the voters find compelling.

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Earlier, I wondered whether Democrats would fall into a trap of their own making by goading President Obama into engaging in personal attacks on Mitt Romney in the next presidential debate. But it appears that some on the left prefer to return to one of their old standbys to explain the president’s flop in the debate: he’s a bad salesman for brilliant policies. That’s the tack taken by New York Times editorialist David Firestone today in a piece in which he argues that the president’s inability to defend his record on the stage in Denver is no different from what the writer considers the failures of Democrats to speak up for ObamaCare, the stimulus and even the sequester of funds that will results in huge defense cuts.

Firestone is right about one thing. The president does consider the act of explaining liberal projects to the public tiresome and somehow “beneath him.” But the Times writer fails to observe that liberals have actually been defending these ideas for all four years of the Obama administration. Their failure to gain support for them from the public isn’t the fault of Obama’s poor salesmanship, but due to the fact that most Americans, including those who distrust the Republicans, are wary of a huge expansion of government power, unchecked federal spending and gutting national defense. That is why the only successes Democrats have had in putting across their ideas hasn’t stemmed from championing these unpopular policies but from sliming their opponents. When they abandon such tactics, as Obama did last night, they are left with very little that the voters find compelling.

Firestone also disputes the idea that the debate was substantive since personal attacks were left out in favor of detailed discussions about taxes, budgets and health care. Taking up the Democrat talking point of the day, he claims Romney lied and that Obama should have “ridiculed him with facts.” But Romney wasn’t lying. Disagreeing with liberal ideology isn’t a lie; it’s a disagreement, a concept that liberal ideologues seem to have trouble grasping. If, as Firestone says, “uninformed viewers” [were left] with the impression that Mr. Romney was crisper and had more “facts” at his fingertips,” it was because that was the case. Mr. Obama was a poor salesman for himself and his ideas last night. But his problem is that his ideas are no more attractive than the irritated and arrogant air that the president exhibited during the debate.

How long will it take the left in this country to understand that merely asserting that they are right and that Republicans are fools and knaves is not an argument? Perhaps never. At least conservatives should hope so, because if Obama listens to the advice of people like Firestone, he’s setting himself up for another beating at the next debate.

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Mitt Romney Won’t Kill Big Bird

It’s the line from the election that liberals are clinging to–it’s the only one they can. Romney will kill Big Bird and destroy public television, robbing our children of the joy of Sesame Street. The world will become a sad, dejected place without Big Bird and his posse if Mitt Romney is elected president of the United States. Who could possibly want that? Obama is already hitting the stump with this message, and liberals have picked up the fight for Big Bird.

The actual Romney quote from the debate reads as follows:

I’m sorry, Jim, I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too. But I’m not going to — I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for. That’s number one.

Does this mean Mitt Romney wants to kill Big Bird? Will Big Bird and his friends disappear off the airwaves? No, on both counts.

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It’s the line from the election that liberals are clinging to–it’s the only one they can. Romney will kill Big Bird and destroy public television, robbing our children of the joy of Sesame Street. The world will become a sad, dejected place without Big Bird and his posse if Mitt Romney is elected president of the United States. Who could possibly want that? Obama is already hitting the stump with this message, and liberals have picked up the fight for Big Bird.

The actual Romney quote from the debate reads as follows:

I’m sorry, Jim, I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too. But I’m not going to — I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for. That’s number one.

Does this mean Mitt Romney wants to kill Big Bird? Will Big Bird and his friends disappear off the airwaves? No, on both counts.

What many in liberal circles may be calling a gaffe today is a widely and long-held objective in conservative circles: the desire to defund public television and push its privatization. Sesame Street is incredibly well-known to anyone that has had children or who has been a child themselves in the last forty years, i.e., most Americans. The popularity of the merchandise and video/DVD sales have made the franchise familiar and incredibly profitable for PBS, which receives 15 percent of its funding from taxpayers. While many liberals are quick to point out that the budget for PBS is infinitesimal in comparison to the rest of the national budget, it seems these same liberals are unaccustomed to austerity measures of any kind, whether they be governmental, personal or in a business.

If a family of four has $500,000 of credit card debt and only an income of $30,000 per year, opting not to get a soup or salad appetizer with dinner at Applebees one night won’t dig them out of their debt. However, these decisions, small and seemingly meaningless on their face, add up with every dinner, with every spending decision until, eventually, the debt doesn’t seem quite so terrifying. Romney’s desire to eliminate spending on public television is just a soup appetizer at Applebees; there would be much more austerity needed to come to overcome our $16 trillion national debt.

In the case of PBS and NPR, the decision isn’t one between haves and have-nots. We can, in this instance, have our cake and eat it too. The beloved programming that exists on PBS, like Sesame Street, would not cease airing. Popular shows have a way of staying on air, just as popular food products have a way of staying on store shelves and popular movies have a way of staying in theaters. The free market determines the viability of shows like Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer. Both have stayed on air because they are beloved, educational shows for children and young adults, and many parents have also admitted to me how much they enjoy the shows themselves. Dora has survived without my tax dollars, and Big Bird would too. The success of Sesame Street has kept PBS viable for decades, keeping stations afloat while politically liberal shows have become a burden on stations.

Liberals aren’t worried about Sesame Street going off the air, they’re worried about liberal roundtables and documentaries feeling the wrath of the free market. This fight for public television isn’t about Big Bird, it’s about Bill Moyers.

Eventually, our children will be paying for the time they’ve spent watching Sesame Street, whether it be in time wasted watching commercials or in debt to China to pay Sesame Street’s producer’s salaries. Given that choice, how could we possibly chose to make our children beholden to Chinese lenders just to avoid a few diaper and sugary cereal commercials?

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Moderate Dems Keep Quietly Disappearing

When outgoing GOP Senator Richard Lugar lost his primary election to Richard Mourdock earlier this year, there was an unusual amount of disingenuous garment rending over the supposed death of bipartisanship due to the increasingly conservative nature of the Republican Party.

Yet there will be no sad songs for outgoing Democratic Congressman Heath Shuler. While the media was focused on the dwindling of moderate Republicans, they missed the fact that pro-life Democrats and moderate Democrats virtually disappeared completely. Yet Shuler’s retirement from Congress is notable in that he was the last remaining Democrat willing to challenge Nancy Pelosi. And his defeat at the hands of my-way-or-the-highway liberalism should have been a far bigger story—if the media’s concerns were at all honest—than the defeat of an eighty-year-old officeholder.

Politico reports that on his way out the door, Shuler shows actual concern for bipartisanship:

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When outgoing GOP Senator Richard Lugar lost his primary election to Richard Mourdock earlier this year, there was an unusual amount of disingenuous garment rending over the supposed death of bipartisanship due to the increasingly conservative nature of the Republican Party.

Yet there will be no sad songs for outgoing Democratic Congressman Heath Shuler. While the media was focused on the dwindling of moderate Republicans, they missed the fact that pro-life Democrats and moderate Democrats virtually disappeared completely. Yet Shuler’s retirement from Congress is notable in that he was the last remaining Democrat willing to challenge Nancy Pelosi. And his defeat at the hands of my-way-or-the-highway liberalism should have been a far bigger story—if the media’s concerns were at all honest—than the defeat of an eighty-year-old officeholder.

Politico reports that on his way out the door, Shuler shows actual concern for bipartisanship:

“I was hoping I’d see more of the ‘We are America’ team. What I’ve seen instead is divisiveness. It’s an us vs. them mentality, Democrat vs. Republican, liberals vs. conservatives. And I would really have liked to [have] seen more of an ‘about America’ mind-set,’” he said. “So often up here, I feel like a kindergarten teacher separating two children from fighting over crayons. It’s because the maturity level is on that level sometimes.”

Shuler’s remedy to get over the bickering: Make members live in Washington, eat dinner together and spend more time getting to know one another.

Since Pelosi and President Obama famously dislike even talking to Republicans, and since Harry Reid has chosen to bring Senate business to a halt rather than let Republicans take part in the democratic process, that’s probably not going to happen. Nor is it likely that the media will mourn a dissenting Democratic voice, which they generally view as a nuisance.

But Shuler’s quiet retirement is a good opportunity for conservatives to realize that if they thought the Pelosi-Reid Democrats were hostile to working with them when Shuler and Joe Lieberman were still in office, they’ve probably only witnessed the beginning of the Democrats’ relentless partisanship.

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Romney’s Deft Shift to the Center

Among the alibis being promoted by Democrats in the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s triumph in last night’s debate is that President Obama was unprepared for the Republican’s shift to the center. The president’s campaign rests on class warfare tactics in which Romney is portrayed not only as a heartless plutocrat but also as seeking to loot the middle class in order to give gifts to his fellow millionaires via tax cuts. Therefore, when Romney asserted in the debate that he had no plans to cut taxes on the rich or enact tax cuts that would increase the deficit, Democrats argue that the former law professor who now presides over the country was so flummoxed by the deception that he could offer no response.

It isn’t likely that many people, even those most devoted to Obama’s cause, will buy that excuse. A better explanation might be that once he decided to eschew the personal attacks on Romney that have been the hallmark of his campaign, the president was left with nothing to fall back on, since he is either uninterested in defending his record in office, or unable to do so. However, this line of inquiry does raise the question of how far to the center did Romney really shift in the debate? The answer is quite a bit, but no one should expect a Republican base that long distrusted Romney to abandon him. A year ago, when Romney was competing for the hearts and minds of the conservative base, his sidestep away from across-the-board tax cuts might have been fatal. But on the night when he reminded the right that he is the only person who can help them defeat Obama, it isn’t likely many are going to question his judgment.

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Among the alibis being promoted by Democrats in the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s triumph in last night’s debate is that President Obama was unprepared for the Republican’s shift to the center. The president’s campaign rests on class warfare tactics in which Romney is portrayed not only as a heartless plutocrat but also as seeking to loot the middle class in order to give gifts to his fellow millionaires via tax cuts. Therefore, when Romney asserted in the debate that he had no plans to cut taxes on the rich or enact tax cuts that would increase the deficit, Democrats argue that the former law professor who now presides over the country was so flummoxed by the deception that he could offer no response.

It isn’t likely that many people, even those most devoted to Obama’s cause, will buy that excuse. A better explanation might be that once he decided to eschew the personal attacks on Romney that have been the hallmark of his campaign, the president was left with nothing to fall back on, since he is either uninterested in defending his record in office, or unable to do so. However, this line of inquiry does raise the question of how far to the center did Romney really shift in the debate? The answer is quite a bit, but no one should expect a Republican base that long distrusted Romney to abandon him. A year ago, when Romney was competing for the hearts and minds of the conservative base, his sidestep away from across-the-board tax cuts might have been fatal. But on the night when he reminded the right that he is the only person who can help them defeat Obama, it isn’t likely many are going to question his judgment.

As the New York Times editorial page griped this morning (in a piece that stubbornly refused to admit that Romney had won the debate), Republicans are in favor of retaining all the Bush-era tax cuts, as well as ending levies like the estate and gift taxes. Romney also believes in changing the system to one that would result in across-the-board reductions in taxes. The Times is so stuck in its liberal ideological mindset that, like the president, it sees any increase in the amount of money that the state does not confiscate from taxpayers as a gift from the government. It also refuses to understand what Romney clearly gets: that raising taxes — especially in hard economic times — doesn’t always lead to increased revenue.

However, it is fair to say that Romney’s pledges last night raise the very real possibility that once in the White House he may not be following a Tea Party line on taxes. Romney is, as most Republicans already knew, no ideologue. He may speak the language of conservatives when it comes to basic principles of small government and individual rights, but he is also a pragmatist who would sacrifice a hard line on the issues in order to solve a problem like the deficit. That’s why many extreme conservatives and libertarians predicted he would be part of the federal deficit problem rather than the solution.

Such moderation would not have helped him win the Republican nomination, but it is probably very useful as he seeks to win the political center in the remaining weeks before the election. Call it “etch-a-sketch” or smart politics, but the not-so-subtle pivot to the center has left liberals impotently gnashing their teeth.

Obama’s insistence that Romney’s plan is a $5 trillion tax break for the rich has been exposed as fiction by fact checkers. Romney can also argue that his preferred version of tax reform would eliminate deductions that will, in effect, raise taxes on many of the rich because it would create a fairer system.

If conservatives connect the dots between his Denver pledges, some might be inclined to cry foul over having been gulled into nominating a man who will not adopt an absolutist stand on taxes. But don’t expect many on the right to complain about this today. Romney’s debate victory gives his party’s base a reason to hope that Obama can be defeated and set the stage for the repeal of ObamaCare. Nothing he says now is likely to make them do anything that might increase the president’s chances of re-election. That means an unprepared and arrogant Obama had better get used to the idea that Romney is playing to win.

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Democrats May Draw Wrong Lessons From Denver Debate Debacle

Shell-shocked Democrats are still trying to figure out what happened to President Obama last night as he got his clock cleaned by Mitt Romney. Most of the post-mortems seemed to center on his lack of aggressiveness on stage and his failure to raise the sort of personal attacks on Romney that have largely characterized the Democratic campaign. The expectation now is that the next time Obama and Romney face off, the president will be more engaged and perhaps ready to attack the challenger in a way that will please his followers. But the question Democrats should be asking themselves today is not just what was wrong with Obama that caused him to be so lackluster, but whether an attempt to savage Romney in person will be such a smart idea.

While the president did mention some of his familiar class warfare themes, pundits were almost unanimous in expressing their surprise that the phrase “47 percent” never passed through the president’s lips. Liberals were also appalled by his omission of any mention of Romney’s Bain Capital experience or tax returns. But if the only lesson the president learns from his defeat in Denver is that he must double down on personal attacks on his opponent, he may be setting himself up for another drubbing on October 16.

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Shell-shocked Democrats are still trying to figure out what happened to President Obama last night as he got his clock cleaned by Mitt Romney. Most of the post-mortems seemed to center on his lack of aggressiveness on stage and his failure to raise the sort of personal attacks on Romney that have largely characterized the Democratic campaign. The expectation now is that the next time Obama and Romney face off, the president will be more engaged and perhaps ready to attack the challenger in a way that will please his followers. But the question Democrats should be asking themselves today is not just what was wrong with Obama that caused him to be so lackluster, but whether an attempt to savage Romney in person will be such a smart idea.

While the president did mention some of his familiar class warfare themes, pundits were almost unanimous in expressing their surprise that the phrase “47 percent” never passed through the president’s lips. Liberals were also appalled by his omission of any mention of Romney’s Bain Capital experience or tax returns. But if the only lesson the president learns from his defeat in Denver is that he must double down on personal attacks on his opponent, he may be setting himself up for another drubbing on October 16.

Democrats know that personal attacks on Romney have taken a huge toll on the Republican in recent months. They have had some success depicting him as a heartless plutocrat who cares nothing about ordinary people and who stashes money abroad while not paying taxes at home. Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe hurt him in large measure because it fit right into the portrait Democrats have been painting of him. But the assumption that the president would have done better had he echoed these nasty and quite personal barbs is faulty. Presidents are supposed to be presidential while leaving the business of carving up their opponents to lesser beings like vice presidents. If Obama’s cheering section in the media thinks getting down into the gutter on stage during a presidential debate is what Obama needs to do, they may soon be proved wrong.

The problem with the president last night wasn’t that he wasn’t nasty enough but the arrogance with which he seemed to regard the proceedings. His body language and long-winded lectures betrayed not just a man who didn’t adequately prepare for the format, but also a man who has no respect for his opponent or the ideas he put forward.

Yet the ultimate problem for the president is not so much what he did or didn’t say; it’s that he gave us a glimpse of the man that Republicans have always claimed him to be: the arrogant liberal poseur who looks down his nose at the rest of us. More than all the videos in which Obama uses racial incitement or talks down individual initiative, the real danger is that on the big stage of the first debate, he came across as less likeable. The stuffy, long-winded bore we saw in Denver is not the historic figure that inspired millions with his messianic promises of hope and change.

The shock isn’t so much that Obama lost this first debate but that he did so in a manner that leaves him open to the sort of second-guessing that often leads to different mistakes. Obama looked tired (perhaps Al Gore’s theory about him suffering from the altitude in Denver was correct) and disengaged. That is something he can fix in subsequent debates. He can also listen to advice about looking his opponent in the eye rather than constantly looking down and smirking. But there is a difference between being more focused and aggressive and resorting to personal slurs. If Obama takes the pleas for more savagery too much to heart he will wind up looking nasty and only make Romney look good by comparison.

More to the point, those dissecting Obama’s performance are also ignoring the fact that the president’s bigger problem is that his challenger has turned out to be more formidable than even many Republicans thought him to be. So long as Romney was viewed as merely a gaffe-prone tackling dummy, Obama could get away with not running on his record. But faced with a smart, confident opponent who is prepared to harp on his failings, it was the messiah of 2008 who looked like the empty suit.

The conundrum for Democrats is that the president has very little to say for himself or his record. Shorn of the demonization of the GOP, Obama is left with nothing. While such attacks work well on the campaign trail and in television ads, they are not likely to help in a face-to-face debate. Looking ahead to the next encounter, it won’t be hard for the president to better his Denver performance, but what last night might have exposed is not so much fatigue or overconfidence as it is the emptiness at the core of his re-election campaign.

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UK Press Commission to Media: Stop Lying About Israel’s Capital

Israel won a rare media victory this week when the UK’s nongovernmental press regulator ruled that the Guardian was wrong to call Tel Aviv Israel’s capital. The ruling by the UK Press Complaints Commission, according to Honest Reporting (which filed the PCC complaint), “set a precedent on British coverage of Israel, effectively barring all British publications from referring to Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital.”

The commission also did the Guardian, and the British press in general, a favor. Since Jerusalem is, in point of fact, Israel’s capital, and since a large part of Jerusalem is uncontested, the refusal to put embassies there or to refer to Jerusalem as the capital has always been an assault not only on the Jewish state’s sovereignty but also on basic logic. However, calling Tel Aviv the capital is inexplicable. Whatever Israel’s opponents think of Jerusalem, how could anyone possibly justify inventing a new capital for the Jewish state? No newspaper that refers to Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital could possibly retain any credibility. The Times of Israel reports:

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Israel won a rare media victory this week when the UK’s nongovernmental press regulator ruled that the Guardian was wrong to call Tel Aviv Israel’s capital. The ruling by the UK Press Complaints Commission, according to Honest Reporting (which filed the PCC complaint), “set a precedent on British coverage of Israel, effectively barring all British publications from referring to Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital.”

The commission also did the Guardian, and the British press in general, a favor. Since Jerusalem is, in point of fact, Israel’s capital, and since a large part of Jerusalem is uncontested, the refusal to put embassies there or to refer to Jerusalem as the capital has always been an assault not only on the Jewish state’s sovereignty but also on basic logic. However, calling Tel Aviv the capital is inexplicable. Whatever Israel’s opponents think of Jerusalem, how could anyone possibly justify inventing a new capital for the Jewish state? No newspaper that refers to Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital could possibly retain any credibility. The Times of Israel reports:

In Monday’s decision, the PCC concluded that “the unequivocal statement that Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel had the potential to mislead readers and raised a breach of… the Editors’ Code of Practice.”

The editor’s code states that the press “must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information.”

The PCC initially ruled in the Guardian’s favor, and Honest Reporting took steps toward filing for judicial review, leading the PCC to reverse course. The same article also pointed out the effect that making up the news can have on reporting in general: it can encourage other newspapers to make things up out of whole cloth as well. The paper notes a truly sad correction issued by the Daily Mail:

A Comment article on 23 August mistakenly suggested that Israel’s government was in Tel Aviv when it is, of course, in Jerusalem.

Of course. But you can almost begin to understand how such a mistake happens. If newspapers like the Guardian are unchallenged in their assertion that Israel’s capital is Tel Aviv, it would follow that they had done so because the buildings housing Israel’s government are in Tel Aviv. But they are not; they are in Jerusalem. Swindled by the Guardian, the Daily Mail invented government-related accommodations that didn’t exist, as if reporting on Israel is basically just playing a game of Sim City.

The Jewish people’s physical and spiritual connection to Jerusalem is such that it animates an overwhelming amount of Jewish ritual, from prayer to weddings to holiday traditions. As such, it’s easy to understand why Israel’s antagonists focus on the city. The denial of Jewish rights in Jerusalem takes many forms, including the Guardian’s shameful behavior.

After driving through the serene woodlands of Canada, Winston Churchill once turned to his son and said: “Fancy cutting down those beautiful trees we saw this afternoon to make pulp for those bloody newspapers, and calling it civilization.” Hard to argue with the sentiment while reading papers like the Guardian.

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Debate Gives Romney Likability Boost

Mitt Romney accomplished in one night of debate what the marquee names of the Republican Party couldn’t accomplish in three nights of the convention: he boosted his likability rating. A CBS News poll found that the percentage of undecided voters who say they feel Romney cares about their needs spiked by 33 percent after last night’s performance:

By a 2 to 1 margin, uncommitted voters crowned Mitt Romney the winner over President Obama in the first presidential debate in Debate, Colo., on Wednesday night, according to a 500-person instant poll taken by CBS News.

Perhaps most promising for Romney, whose upper-class income has helped stifle his ability to relate to the “average American,” the percentage of those polled who said they felt the former Massachusetts governor cares about their needs and problems spiked from 30 percent pre-debate to 63 percent post-debate. President Obama also enjoyed a bump in that category, with 53 percent of voters saying they believed he cares about their issues before the debate, moving to 69 percent after the debate. …

Uncommitted debate watchers saw Mitt Romney as the winner on handling the economy (60 to 39 percent) and the deficit (68 to 31 percent), just as they did before the debate. These voters also think Romney will do a better job on taxes (52 to 47 percent), a reversal from before the debate, when uncommitted voters gave the president a 52 to 40 percent advantage on that. The president still leads on Medicare, 53 to 45 percent.

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Mitt Romney accomplished in one night of debate what the marquee names of the Republican Party couldn’t accomplish in three nights of the convention: he boosted his likability rating. A CBS News poll found that the percentage of undecided voters who say they feel Romney cares about their needs spiked by 33 percent after last night’s performance:

By a 2 to 1 margin, uncommitted voters crowned Mitt Romney the winner over President Obama in the first presidential debate in Debate, Colo., on Wednesday night, according to a 500-person instant poll taken by CBS News.

Perhaps most promising for Romney, whose upper-class income has helped stifle his ability to relate to the “average American,” the percentage of those polled who said they felt the former Massachusetts governor cares about their needs and problems spiked from 30 percent pre-debate to 63 percent post-debate. President Obama also enjoyed a bump in that category, with 53 percent of voters saying they believed he cares about their issues before the debate, moving to 69 percent after the debate. …

Uncommitted debate watchers saw Mitt Romney as the winner on handling the economy (60 to 39 percent) and the deficit (68 to 31 percent), just as they did before the debate. These voters also think Romney will do a better job on taxes (52 to 47 percent), a reversal from before the debate, when uncommitted voters gave the president a 52 to 40 percent advantage on that. The president still leads on Medicare, 53 to 45 percent.

CNN, which surveyed registered voters for its snap poll, found that Romney actually led Obama on the likability question after the debate:

Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed said Romney fared better, compared with 25 percent for Obama, according to results aired on CNN after the match concluded. Forty-six percent said they found Romney more likeable, compared with 45 percent for Obama, CNN reported.

It’s still early, and we won’t get a clear idea of how much impact Romney’s win will have on the race until at least the next couple of days. But these numbers are definitely an encouraging early indication for the Romney campaign.

If you want to get an idea of how individual undecided voters responded to last night’s debate, check out the video of Frank Luntz’s focus group on Sean Hannity’s show last night. Key quote from Luntz: “We’ve done these now for Fox News back in 2008, I’ve done these for other networks in the past, I will tell you I have not had a group that has swung this much…This is overwhelming for Mitt Romney. This is a big deal.”

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In Defense of Jim Lehrer

Jim Lehrer for moderator-in-chief!

Did someone slip me a psychedelic mickey last night as I watched the debate? Because I have to say I was shocked to wake up this morning to find people on the right and the left agreeing that Jim Lehrer laid an egg, whereas I found it to be one of the best, most interesting, least infuriating debates in a long time. In fact, at several points, I found myself wishing out loud that all the debates could be moderated by Mr. Lehrer.

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Jim Lehrer for moderator-in-chief!

Did someone slip me a psychedelic mickey last night as I watched the debate? Because I have to say I was shocked to wake up this morning to find people on the right and the left agreeing that Jim Lehrer laid an egg, whereas I found it to be one of the best, most interesting, least infuriating debates in a long time. In fact, at several points, I found myself wishing out loud that all the debates could be moderated by Mr. Lehrer.

So, what exactly was Mr. Lehrer’s grievous sin? HE LET THE DEBATERS DEBATE!!!!! He gave them a few subjects, asked a couple of specific questions, and let Messrs. Obama and Romney go at it. Sure, he didn’t follow the rules you may be familiar with from your high school debate team. But then, neither does the format we have come to expect from our political debates, and which most commentators seem to have longed for last night:

“Each candidate will have 1 minute to sum up decades of thinking on a complex issue, and to squeeze in as many confusing facts and figures as possible; his opponent will then have 30 seconds to deliver a considered response (ditto on the facts and figures); to which the first candidate will only be able to respond if the moderator decides to be generous, or if he can manage to steal some time from his prescribed 1-minute response to the next question.”

Mr. Lehrer didn’t “control the give-and-take and keep candidates to time” [FOX]. He failed to “corral the candidates” [HuffPost]. Exactly. What we ended up with was an actual, real discussion, rather than a cringe-inducing, gaffe-producing sound-bite battle. You can understand why the Obama cheerleading team is fuming, since their candidate clearly didn’t have enough command of anything to hold his own in that kind of discussion. But for the rest of us who care about ideas and enjoy a good, serious argument, what could be better? And what could be a better way for voters to actually get a real sense of who the candidates are?

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Syria Conflict Can’t Be Wished Away

Foreign policy wasn’t on the debate agenda last night, but Mitt Romney did say, “What’s happening in the Middle East? There are developments around the world that are of real concern.” Indeed. The latest being that for a second day in a row Turkey has shelled Syria in retaliation for Syrian mortar shells landing in Turkey and killing several people. This is only the latest sign of how the Syrian conflict continues to rage and to spill over Syria’s artificial borders. Yet President Obama seems to be acting as if he could wish the conflict away, presumably because to do anything would be to interfere with his campaign narrative that the “tide of war is receding.”

Though it hardly needs to be said, what is happening in Syria is not only a human-rights disaster but also a very dangerous situation from the standpoint of America’s interests and of America’s allies in the region. It is high time the U.S. and its allies acted more decisively. Yet even as the parliament in Ankara passes a resolution authorizing further military action inside Syria, it is clear that Turkey will not institute a no-fly zone or take other vital steps without American leadership. The region continues to look to Washington for action and instead is met with a “Do Not Disturb” sign. That is pretty disturbing.

Foreign policy wasn’t on the debate agenda last night, but Mitt Romney did say, “What’s happening in the Middle East? There are developments around the world that are of real concern.” Indeed. The latest being that for a second day in a row Turkey has shelled Syria in retaliation for Syrian mortar shells landing in Turkey and killing several people. This is only the latest sign of how the Syrian conflict continues to rage and to spill over Syria’s artificial borders. Yet President Obama seems to be acting as if he could wish the conflict away, presumably because to do anything would be to interfere with his campaign narrative that the “tide of war is receding.”

Though it hardly needs to be said, what is happening in Syria is not only a human-rights disaster but also a very dangerous situation from the standpoint of America’s interests and of America’s allies in the region. It is high time the U.S. and its allies acted more decisively. Yet even as the parliament in Ankara passes a resolution authorizing further military action inside Syria, it is clear that Turkey will not institute a no-fly zone or take other vital steps without American leadership. The region continues to look to Washington for action and instead is met with a “Do Not Disturb” sign. That is pretty disturbing.

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Blame Media for Stunning Romney Victory

There’s one thing almost everybody can agree on: last night’s debate was a bloodbath, with Obama on the losing end of it. But re-watching some of the clips this morning, it’s hard to put a finger on exactly what was so unusually great about Romney’s performance and what was so unusually awful about Obama’s.

The successes and failures are more easily spotted in the contrasts. Romney was more engaged, more enthusiastic, more lucid, more relaxed, and more cheerful than Obama. He looked like he actually enjoyed being there. Obama, in comparison, came off as more detached, rustier on the facts, and slower on his feet.

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There’s one thing almost everybody can agree on: last night’s debate was a bloodbath, with Obama on the losing end of it. But re-watching some of the clips this morning, it’s hard to put a finger on exactly what was so unusually great about Romney’s performance and what was so unusually awful about Obama’s.

The successes and failures are more easily spotted in the contrasts. Romney was more engaged, more enthusiastic, more lucid, more relaxed, and more cheerful than Obama. He looked like he actually enjoyed being there. Obama, in comparison, came off as more detached, rustier on the facts, and slower on his feet.

But what about when you isolate their performances? Was there really a major difference between their individual debates and how they’ve acted on the campaign trail, during press events, and during interviews for the last several months?

For the most part, I’d say there wasn’t. Sure, Obama’s less articulate when he’s off his teleprompter, but it’s not as if we haven’t seen him speaking off-the-cuff before at press conferences and interviews. And Romney definitely seemed to have some extra fire in him last night, but nothing that would have garnered much notice had he been stumping on the campaign trail instead.

The biggest difference was that we were seeing both of them in the same place, discussing the same issues, with no media meddling or filtration (save for the timid interruptions of a very outgunned Jim Lehrer). We were not seeing 30-second soundbites hand-picked for us by Obama’s journalism cheering squad, or teleprompter-assisted speeches, or dueling press conferences where Romney is grilled but Obama is treated with kid gloves. Up until now, the mainstream press has allowed this president to sit in a bubble, largely unchallenged. Their narrative is that he’s likable, he’s smooth, he’s amazingly cerebral. As for Romney, he’s been branded as stilted, out-of-touch, and phony. Amazing how that conventional wisdom collapses when you peel away the selective lenses and the outside chatter, leaving two men alone on a stage, armed with just their own words.

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