Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 17, 2012

Sanctions Not Halting Iran Nuke Progress

The latest round of European Union sanctions on Iran were welcomed by both Israel and the United States as helping to continue Tehran’s isolation. The restrictions on Iranian banks, trade and gas exports will increase the pain being felt by ordinary Iranians and worsen the government’s fiscal difficulties. But the latest intelligence about the nuclear program that has generated this dispute is hardly encouraging for those who believe sanctions and diplomacy will avert the danger of an Iranian nuke. Reuters reports that diplomats familiar with the latest reports coming from the International Atomic Energy Agency show that despite the toll sanctions have taken on its economy, the ayatollahs are doubling down on their nuclear gambit.

According to the diplomats, Iran has continued installing new centrifuges at the underground site at Fordow near the holy Shiite Muslim city of Qom in what has become a rapid buildup of its capacity to enrich the uranium needed to produce a bomb. The next IAEA report to be published in November will reveal that the expansion of the enrichment subterranean facility is near completion. As Reuters writes:

It also takes Iran a significant technical step closer to the 90 percent concentration needed for bombs, explaining the West’s growing concern about the Islamic state’s stockpile of the material.

A U.S.-based think-tank, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), this month said Iran would currently need at least two to four months to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear bomb, and additional time to make the device itself.

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The latest round of European Union sanctions on Iran were welcomed by both Israel and the United States as helping to continue Tehran’s isolation. The restrictions on Iranian banks, trade and gas exports will increase the pain being felt by ordinary Iranians and worsen the government’s fiscal difficulties. But the latest intelligence about the nuclear program that has generated this dispute is hardly encouraging for those who believe sanctions and diplomacy will avert the danger of an Iranian nuke. Reuters reports that diplomats familiar with the latest reports coming from the International Atomic Energy Agency show that despite the toll sanctions have taken on its economy, the ayatollahs are doubling down on their nuclear gambit.

According to the diplomats, Iran has continued installing new centrifuges at the underground site at Fordow near the holy Shiite Muslim city of Qom in what has become a rapid buildup of its capacity to enrich the uranium needed to produce a bomb. The next IAEA report to be published in November will reveal that the expansion of the enrichment subterranean facility is near completion. As Reuters writes:

It also takes Iran a significant technical step closer to the 90 percent concentration needed for bombs, explaining the West’s growing concern about the Islamic state’s stockpile of the material.

A U.S.-based think-tank, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), this month said Iran would currently need at least two to four months to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear bomb, and additional time to make the device itself.

Most of the international community heaved a sigh of relief this past month, as it appeared that Israel had backed away from its threat to unilaterally attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. The hope is that now that Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that there are several months left for diplomacy and sanctions to work, the world can safely ignore the problem for a while and hope the Israelis can be forced to give up their agitation about Iran next year. But the latest reports from the IAEA underline Netanyahu’s concerns.

In August, the UN agency noted that Iran had doubled the number of centrifuges at Fordow to 2,140, though Vice President Biden incorrectly stated at his debate last week with Rep. Paul Ryan that Iran wasn’t enriching uranium, the process by which they are rapidly approaching the point where they will have enough material to produce a weapon.

Too many Westerners have been deceived by the economic distress being felt by Iran into thinking the Islamist regime is anywhere close to giving up its nuclear ambition. If the purpose of the sanctions is to actually stop the Iranians rather than to shut up the Israelis, the latest news about IAEA research shows they are failing badly.

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Romney Campaign Presses Obama on Benghazi

While the Obama campaign spent the day giggling over “binders full of women,” Paul Ryan made the rounds on the news networks, questioning the White House’s handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi last month:

“It was a passing comment about acts of terror in general, it was not a claim that this was a result of a terrorist attack,” Ryan said on ABC’s “Good Morning America. “Nobody believed at that Rose Garden speech that the president was suggesting that particular attack was an act of terror.” …

Ryan doubled down in three separate appearances on broadcast morning shows, saying, “What’s troubling about this Benghazi attack is that it took two weeks for the administration to get their story straight.”

Ryan went over the timeline distributed by the Romney campaign that documents statements by the White House and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for two weeks following the incident, where it was called spontaneous and the violence was blamed on an anti-Islam YouTube video.

The administration has since acknowledged it was a terrorist attack.

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While the Obama campaign spent the day giggling over “binders full of women,” Paul Ryan made the rounds on the news networks, questioning the White House’s handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi last month:

“It was a passing comment about acts of terror in general, it was not a claim that this was a result of a terrorist attack,” Ryan said on ABC’s “Good Morning America. “Nobody believed at that Rose Garden speech that the president was suggesting that particular attack was an act of terror.” …

Ryan doubled down in three separate appearances on broadcast morning shows, saying, “What’s troubling about this Benghazi attack is that it took two weeks for the administration to get their story straight.”

Ryan went over the timeline distributed by the Romney campaign that documents statements by the White House and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for two weeks following the incident, where it was called spontaneous and the violence was blamed on an anti-Islam YouTube video.

The administration has since acknowledged it was a terrorist attack.

While Obama insisted last night that he called Benghazi an “act of terror” in his Rose Garden speech on Sept. 12 — a claim that isn’t clear from the speech transcript — he reportedly acknowledged later that he avoided specifically calling it a terrorist attack for two weeks because of concerns over intelligence. Kerry Ladka, the audience member who asked Obama the question about Benghazi security, told WaPo’s Erik Wemple that the president spoke with him more candidly about the post-attack narrative after the debate:

President Obama, though, wasn’t done with Kerry Ladka. “After the debate, the president came over to me and spent about two minutes with me privately,” says the 61-year-old Ladka, who works at Global Telecom Supply in Mineola, N.Y. According to Ladka, Obama gave him ”more information about why he delayed calling the attack a terorist attack.” For background, Obama did apparently lump Benghazi into a reference to “acts of terror” in a Sept. 12 Rose Garden address. However, he spent about two weeks holding off on using the full “terrorist” designation. The rationale for the delay, Obama explained to Ladka, was to make sure that the “intelligence he was acting on was real intelligence and not disinformation,” recalls Ladka.

As to Ladka’s question about who turned down the Benghazi security requests and why, Obama reportedly told him that “releasing the individual names of anyone in the State Department would really put them at risk,” Ladka says.

So, Obama had enough evidence to call it an “act of terror” within 24 hours, but not enough evidence to call it a “terrorist attack” for two weeks? Serious question here — does the Obama administration consider a “terrorist attack” and an “act of terror” the same thing? Given the president’s weirdness on this issue — how he dodged any direct questions about whether it was a terrorist attack for weeks — maybe he doesn’t. Or maybe the White House is playing a game of semantics to buy itself cover on both sides. Either way, the president has a lot more to answer to.

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Hollande’s No Homework Pledge No Joke

My 11-year-old daughter has finally found a politician in which she can fully believe. His name isn’t Obama, Biden, Romney or Ryan. It’s Francois Hollande, president of the Republic of France. Why the affection for Hollande? This allegiance doesn’t stem from support for Hollande’s Socialist Party, as America has no greater supporter of the free enterprise system and the market economy than her. Nor is it based on this junior fashionista’s soft spot for anyone who calls Paris home. It is because he alone of all world leaders has embraced the cause that is nearest and dearest to her heart: a movement to ban homework. Last week, Hollande formally proposed that homework should be illegal. My daughter’s been telling me that every day when she gets home from school for years.

Of course, Hollande’s rationale is not the same as hers. He doesn’t care that homework eats into the time she could devote to recreational pursuits or plays havoc with her schedule on days when she has extracurricular activities or religious studies. He thinks having students doing extra work at home promotes inequality since not all kids have the same resources to aid their efforts. Instead, he wishes to have them spend more time in class where theoretically the playing field is equal. While he may claim that the intention is to help more children, this wacky proposal demonstrates everything that is wrong about the socialist mentality. Rather than seeking to further encourage individual initiative and a sense of responsibility, Hollande wants to give the government more control over education. Taking the terrible Hillary Clinton line about “it takes a village to educate a child” too much to heart, the French president wants to remove parents and caretakers from the equation and extend the state-run system’s hold on every aspect of student life. The impact of this idea, if it were adopted, would be a disaster for a French education system that ranks below most European countries as well as the United States in achievement scores.

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My 11-year-old daughter has finally found a politician in which she can fully believe. His name isn’t Obama, Biden, Romney or Ryan. It’s Francois Hollande, president of the Republic of France. Why the affection for Hollande? This allegiance doesn’t stem from support for Hollande’s Socialist Party, as America has no greater supporter of the free enterprise system and the market economy than her. Nor is it based on this junior fashionista’s soft spot for anyone who calls Paris home. It is because he alone of all world leaders has embraced the cause that is nearest and dearest to her heart: a movement to ban homework. Last week, Hollande formally proposed that homework should be illegal. My daughter’s been telling me that every day when she gets home from school for years.

Of course, Hollande’s rationale is not the same as hers. He doesn’t care that homework eats into the time she could devote to recreational pursuits or plays havoc with her schedule on days when she has extracurricular activities or religious studies. He thinks having students doing extra work at home promotes inequality since not all kids have the same resources to aid their efforts. Instead, he wishes to have them spend more time in class where theoretically the playing field is equal. While he may claim that the intention is to help more children, this wacky proposal demonstrates everything that is wrong about the socialist mentality. Rather than seeking to further encourage individual initiative and a sense of responsibility, Hollande wants to give the government more control over education. Taking the terrible Hillary Clinton line about “it takes a village to educate a child” too much to heart, the French president wants to remove parents and caretakers from the equation and extend the state-run system’s hold on every aspect of student life. The impact of this idea, if it were adopted, would be a disaster for a French education system that ranks below most European countries as well as the United States in achievement scores.

Hollande wants to expand the school week in France from four to four and a half days in order to make the idea work. That will win him no friends even with those children that despise homework.

Most kids and their parents — who are invariably drafted to help them with it — do think of homework as a burden. Some schools may overdo the load of homework but it is a vital method for reinforcing what is learned in the classroom. It also teaches students to work on their own rather than only in groups while under the thumb of their teachers.

It is true that this puts kids without parents or a proper learning environment at home at a disadvantage. But the answer to this problem is not to create a false equality by trying to dumb down students who can manage to complete their homework but by measures intended to aid those who can’t.

As the Wall Street Journal noted in an incisive editorial on the subject, Hollande’s ideas about schools molding the “citizens of the future,” tells us a lot about what kind of citizens he wants France to have.

Fortunately, most French educators and parents are opposed to this scheme, as they understand not only the benefits of homework but also the dangers of relying too heavily on state institutions to monopolize the lives of the young. While many fashions that start in Paris find their way to our shores, this is one that should be nipped in the bud in France.

Though Hollande’s proposal has set off a wave of jokes about him gaining support among those too young to vote, like my daughter, his agenda is a dangerous one. Modern social democratic parties such as his may have, at least for the moment, stepped back from an agenda of toppling capitalism but the anti-individualism aspect of his plan needs to be seen as a peril not only to education but to freedom.

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Were Those Questioners Really Undecided?

Fox News analyst Brit Hume spoke for many Americans last night when he predicted that the Hofstra University smackdown between President Obama and Mitt Romney would be the last presidential debate to use the town hall format. Let’s hope he’s right. Though some observers, like George Will, thought it was the best debate ever because it was a “good fight” that elicited a lot of discussion of the issues, the spectacle of the two candidates circling each other like a pair of animals in a fighting pit did little to enhance either’s credibility. It also led to a series of nasty and often confusing exchanges that didn’t do much for either man’s image or shed much light on the issues.

The format, which is an attempt to inject the voices of ordinary voters into the process, was, as it always is, something of a fake. Most of the supposedly undecided voters rounded up by the Gallup organization didn’t sound all that undecided. Even worse, the town hall format gives even more power to the moderator to not only choose the questions but to intervene in a contest that is, by its nature, more likely to veer out of control than a normal podium debate. That’s exactly what happened, as CNN’s Candy Crowley tilted the playing field in the president’s direction not only by backing up Obama on the Libya incident, as Alana noted earlier, but also by choosing more questions that were geared to favor the Democrat. If that doesn’t motivate Republican debate negotiators in 2016 to refuse to go along with another one of these circuses, then they won’t be doing their jobs.

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Fox News analyst Brit Hume spoke for many Americans last night when he predicted that the Hofstra University smackdown between President Obama and Mitt Romney would be the last presidential debate to use the town hall format. Let’s hope he’s right. Though some observers, like George Will, thought it was the best debate ever because it was a “good fight” that elicited a lot of discussion of the issues, the spectacle of the two candidates circling each other like a pair of animals in a fighting pit did little to enhance either’s credibility. It also led to a series of nasty and often confusing exchanges that didn’t do much for either man’s image or shed much light on the issues.

The format, which is an attempt to inject the voices of ordinary voters into the process, was, as it always is, something of a fake. Most of the supposedly undecided voters rounded up by the Gallup organization didn’t sound all that undecided. Even worse, the town hall format gives even more power to the moderator to not only choose the questions but to intervene in a contest that is, by its nature, more likely to veer out of control than a normal podium debate. That’s exactly what happened, as CNN’s Candy Crowley tilted the playing field in the president’s direction not only by backing up Obama on the Libya incident, as Alana noted earlier, but also by choosing more questions that were geared to favor the Democrat. If that doesn’t motivate Republican debate negotiators in 2016 to refuse to go along with another one of these circuses, then they won’t be doing their jobs.

We are told that Gallup assembled the audience of undecided New York voters, but the ones chosen to ask a question by Ms. Crowley didn’t appear to be all that undecided. The eleven questions she picked touched a variety of issues, but in terms of the subjects as well as the way they were posed, the choices gave an advantage to the president. Of the eleven, six were relative layups for Obama or based on Democratic Party talking points: comparing Romney to George W. Bush, outsourcing jobs abroad, calls for more gun control, protecting illegal immigrants, tax deductions for the middle class, and equality for women in the workplace. One was neutral: misperceptions about the candidates; and four might be said to have favored Romney: unemployment, the need for lower energy prices; how the next four years will be different, and Libya.

While not totally one-sided, that still skewed the debate a bit toward Obama. While each candidate had opportunities to make their points or to put their opponent on the defensive (opportunities that were often blown by Romney), the bias was accentuated by Crowley’s determination to play a role in the debate. It was not just her decision to weigh in on Libya to Obama’s advantage (Obama: “Can you say that a little louder, Candy?”) but also to interrupt or to silence Romney. Crowley interrupted Romney 23 times but only did it to Obama 8 times. Her defenders will say she was doing that in defense of the rules, but Crowley’s interest in them was highly selective. The rules stated that the questions would come only from the audience, not the moderator. But Crowley ignored that rule and interjected herself into the proceedings whenever the spirit moved her. A desire for fairness would have meant letting the candidates speak but Crowley preferred instead to shut Romney up when he wished to answer an inaccurate or unfair comment from Obama.

Moreover, as much as the previous debates between these two men and the vice presidential candidates threatened to get out of hand at times, Crowley completely went to sleep at times as the two mixed it up without restraint. They talked over each other and prowled around the stage menacingly, adding not only to the rancor but also to an impression of a lack of respect. There was little civility on display and the setting accentuated that failing.

But as bad as all that was, there was little sense that this unrepresentative group of questioners (four appeared to be Jewish or had Jewish sounding-names) were speaking for most Americans or that there was any sense of give and take between the candidates and the voters. The involvement of the public in such a format is more of a sham than anything else. While some viewers may have enjoyed the sight of two would-be commanders-in-chief brawling in public, the unedifying spectacle did little to raise the tone of the political culture. If that was the last town hall presidential debate, it’s a format that won’t be missed.

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Does the Press Have Better Intel than the White House?

Among the many dismaying aspects of the Benghazi attacks which left our ambassador and three other American dead, there is this point which I have not yet heard publicly debated: that readers of the New York Times and Washington Post probably had a better idea of what happened than readers of the President’s Daily Brief and other highly classified intelligence products.

The office of the director of national intelligence offered the following in a statement issued September 28: “In the immediate aftermath, there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo. We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available.”

Yet those who read about the attack in “open source,” unclassified publications had reason to reach a very different conclusion. On September 13, just two days after the attack, the New York Times published an article, datelined Benghazi, by Suliman Ali Zway and Rick Gladstone, which began by quoting a Libyan security official, Wanis el-Sharif, who claimed that there had been two attacks–the first a spontaneous demonstration, the second a planned terrorist attack. But then the intrepid reporters noted:

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Among the many dismaying aspects of the Benghazi attacks which left our ambassador and three other American dead, there is this point which I have not yet heard publicly debated: that readers of the New York Times and Washington Post probably had a better idea of what happened than readers of the President’s Daily Brief and other highly classified intelligence products.

The office of the director of national intelligence offered the following in a statement issued September 28: “In the immediate aftermath, there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo. We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available.”

Yet those who read about the attack in “open source,” unclassified publications had reason to reach a very different conclusion. On September 13, just two days after the attack, the New York Times published an article, datelined Benghazi, by Suliman Ali Zway and Rick Gladstone, which began by quoting a Libyan security official, Wanis el-Sharif, who claimed that there had been two attacks–the first a spontaneous demonstration, the second a planned terrorist attack. But then the intrepid reporters noted:

Two Libyans who were wounded while guarding the consulate said that, contrary to Mr. Sharif’s account, there was no indication within the consulate grounds that a mass protest, including members of armed groups, had been brewing outside. The guards spoke on condition of anonymity for their personal safety, and one of them said he realized the dangers only about 9:30 p.m., when protesters crashed through the gate and “started shooting and throwing grenades.” The other guard said that he had been drinking coffee inside the compound just before the attack, and that it was so quiet “there was not even a single ant.”

So those who read this New York Times account would have been at least alerted to the possibility that there had been no demonstration at all–and if they had placed their faith in the testimony of eyewitnesses, not in what a faraway Libyan government official said, they would have been inclined to accept it as a certainty.

Why wasn’t that same conclusion reached by the intelligence community? Why was it not until a month later that the State Department finally admitted that there had been no demonstration?

It’s impossible for an outsider to know for sure, but I can speculate. And my speculation is this: the New York Times, and other major media organs, often have better-on-the-ground reporting from hot spots like Benghazi than does the intelligence community. In this case intelligence gathering would have been severely disrupted by the attack on the U.S. consulate, which caused the evacuation of all U.S. government employees from Benghazi. Those evacuated included not only diplomats but also, undoubtedly, intelligence officers who usually operate out of U.S. installations under diplomatic cover. The situation was judged so unsafe that even an armed FBI team was not allowed into Benghazi for three weeks and then very briefly. But journalists, operating without the “force protection” requirements that often bedevil U.S. government employees, were able to reach the consulate right away.

There is something slightly pathetic about the fact that all of the tens of billions of dollars spent by the U.S. on intelligence gathering too often leave policymakers either blind or sometimes, as with Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction, deluded. This is not the forum in which to spell out how the intelligence community should be reformed, but clearly there is an urgent need for reform to cut overhead and improve analysis and human collection. Not the kind of faux reform that occurred after 9/11, adding an extra layer of bureaucracy to the process, but real reform that would cut back bureaucracy and set loose the many talented individuals, both analysts and case officers, who too often struggle unsuccessfully to break out of the shackles of red tape.

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Romney Leads by Six in Gallup Tracking

Today’s Gallup seven-day tracking poll shows Mitt Romney with a solid lead against President Obama among likely voters. At NRO, Charles C.W. Cooke reports on why this poll is historically meaningful:

Mitt Romney is up six points on Gallup’s seven-day likely-voter tracker, 51–45. Romney is also winning the seven-day registered-voters poll, 48–46.  These statistics are there to be broken, but it is worth pointing out for the record that, in the history of Gallup, no presidential candidate has ever been over 50 percent in mid-October and gone on to lose.

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Today’s Gallup seven-day tracking poll shows Mitt Romney with a solid lead against President Obama among likely voters. At NRO, Charles C.W. Cooke reports on why this poll is historically meaningful:

Mitt Romney is up six points on Gallup’s seven-day likely-voter tracker, 51–45. Romney is also winning the seven-day registered-voters poll, 48–46.  These statistics are there to be broken, but it is worth pointing out for the record that, in the history of Gallup, no presidential candidate has ever been over 50 percent in mid-October and gone on to lose.

Going into the 2008 election, Obama had a 7-point lead on Sen. McCain, 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent in the same Gallup tracking poll. This is almost a complete inversion of that. We’re less than three weeks away from the election, but there’s still time for Obama to halt Romney’s momentum. The president scored a narrow victory in last night’s debate, but it’s not clear whether it was enough to make a difference in the race. The CNN snap poll found most debate-watchers said it didn’t influence their vote, and the ones who said it did were split evenly between the two camps:

The president’s edge on the question of who won the debate appears to be the result of his much better than expected performance and his advantage on likeability. But the poll also indicates that debate watchers said Romney would do a better job on economic issues. And the two candidates were tied on an important measure – whether the showdown would affect how the debate watchers will vote. Nearly half said the debate did not make them more likely to vote for either candidate, with the other half evenly divided between both men.

That doesn’t mean Obama won’t get any boost from last night, but the benefit for Romney was apparent almost immediately after the first debate.

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Protect Free Speech on Campus–For Jewish Students Too

Back in 2010, pro-Palestinian groups at the University of California-Berkeley staged a protest of Israel during which they set up checkpoints around certain parts of campus asking people if they were Jewish before deciding to let them through, and then watched as Jessica Felber, a Jewish pro-Israel student, was allegedly assaulted trying to participate in a counter-protest. To many, the incident typified an uncomfortable reality about pro-Israel students on campuses around the country, though it has been particularly hostile at UC schools.

The harassment—which, as in Felber’s case, can sometimes turn violent—has been all-too-common at universities, even (sometimes especially) at schools with a vibrant Jewish community. Anti-Israel activity doesn’t always take the form of physical intimidation; as Brooke Goldstein and Gabriel Latner revealed in COMMENTARY last year, it can take the form of university-funded events that raise money for groups that aid terrorists. But though the latter example presents a clear solution—don’t enable such fundraising—the question of what to do about harassment, especially nonviolent harassment, has been more difficult for universities, which often try to err on the side of free speech, to answer.

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Back in 2010, pro-Palestinian groups at the University of California-Berkeley staged a protest of Israel during which they set up checkpoints around certain parts of campus asking people if they were Jewish before deciding to let them through, and then watched as Jessica Felber, a Jewish pro-Israel student, was allegedly assaulted trying to participate in a counter-protest. To many, the incident typified an uncomfortable reality about pro-Israel students on campuses around the country, though it has been particularly hostile at UC schools.

The harassment—which, as in Felber’s case, can sometimes turn violent—has been all-too-common at universities, even (sometimes especially) at schools with a vibrant Jewish community. Anti-Israel activity doesn’t always take the form of physical intimidation; as Brooke Goldstein and Gabriel Latner revealed in COMMENTARY last year, it can take the form of university-funded events that raise money for groups that aid terrorists. But though the latter example presents a clear solution—don’t enable such fundraising—the question of what to do about harassment, especially nonviolent harassment, has been more difficult for universities, which often try to err on the side of free speech, to answer.

So the University of California school system dispatched a task force to its campuses to interview students and try to get a sense of how bad things truly are for Jewish students. They found that things were just fine for liberal Jewish students who openly criticized Israel, but far less comfortable for Jewish students who supported Israel openly and even for those who refused to join in the routine condemnation of Israel found around campus and in classrooms. (More on this task force in a moment.)

But the issue is now somewhat out of the university’s hands, as the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office announced this month that it has opened an investigation into whether the school is fostering a hostile atmosphere for Jewish students by permitting anti-Semitism to thrive on campus. This has led to some well-founded concerns about whether free speech is in jeopardy at institutions of higher learning. Wendy Kaminer offers a welcome defense of free speech and incivility, but completely misrepresents the students’ complaints to the task force and displays her own snide hostility to the Jewish groups bringing the complaint. Kaminer writes:

But combine popular support for restricting hate speech with ardent Zionism, and you have a recipe for categorically equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and restricting anti-Zionist protests in order to protect Jewish students from “harassment” and “intimidation.”

But the story isn’t about “ardent” Zionists on the march. The issue is about Jewish students who are the targets of repeated displays of anti-Semitism. That may be protected speech, but to paint the young Jews here as the true threat turns the case upside-down. And since violence was deployed against a Jewish counter-protester, isn’t Kaminer at all concerned that the Jewish groups’ free speech rights are at risk? Also, Kaminer never explains why “ardent” Zionism is a potent ingredient in the threat to free speech. And what makes Zionism “ardent”–bringing a law suit after being physically assaulted for being Jewish? Kaminer continues:

Still the U.C. fact finders’ recommendations are worth noting: They recommend vigorous regulations of political speech, partly to deter “bigoted harassment,” yet their fact finding mission apparently uncovered no instances of serious harassment or intimidation: “No students indicated feeling physically unsafe on U.C. campuses,” they report. I guess they didn’t interview the students whose complaint sparked the current Department of Education investigation, for whom vitriolic anti-Zionist protests were the equivalent of Nazi propaganda, threatening incitement of violence against Jews, if not another Holocaust.

Put aside the absurdity of regarding Jews in post 9/11 America, who’ve been embraced by right wing Christian Zionists, as more at risk than Muslims.

First of all, Kaminer must be kidding about the supposed invulnerability of Jews compared to Muslims. As the FBI has made clear, Jews are far more often the targets of hate crimes than Muslims are. That doesn’t mean Muslims aren’t also at risk, but they are, statistically, at far less risk than Jews.

More importantly, Kaminer is misleading her audience about that fact-finding task force and the complaints of the students. UC’s Jewish students claim a double standard: they believe that free speech rights have been granted to only some groups, or some criticisms. The students also said that the university has been less than accommodating when it comes to the religious needs and observance of its Orthodox students. Thus, there is an issue of religious freedom here as well.

Additionally, the Jewish students raised an objection to what they see as a consistent use of university resources and university-sponsored offices or activities that promote bigotry against Jews. That’s not about nasty students, but an institutional bias against Jews. And finally, Jewish UC students feel they’ve been excluded from working for campus groups specifically because of their views on Israel or religious affiliation.

Kaminer is right to defend free speech, but she should do so without distorting the facts of the case and railing against “ardent” Zionists and “right wing” Christians.

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OWS: The Vagrants that Stole Halloween

To those outside of Lower Manhattan, it appears Occupy Wall Street has faded into obscurity. Unfortunately for some residents of New York City, the movement is still maintaining a presence on public property. After finally being ejected from Zuccotti Park after months of vandalism, violence and disruption, OWS hobos — I mean protesters — have taken up residence on the sidewalks outside Trinity Church, a parish church of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. The Episcopalians, not exactly known for being Christianity’s stalwarts of conservatism, aren’t happy about it.

This week Trinity Church announced that it would be canceling its annual Halloween celebration because the encampment makes the area around the church increasingly unsafe. In a statement issued on Sunday, Trinity’s Rev. James Cooper stated “Last year, more than 1,200 people took part. However, we are deeply concerned about the escalating illegal and abusive activity the camp presents.” Fox News went on to report,

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To those outside of Lower Manhattan, it appears Occupy Wall Street has faded into obscurity. Unfortunately for some residents of New York City, the movement is still maintaining a presence on public property. After finally being ejected from Zuccotti Park after months of vandalism, violence and disruption, OWS hobos — I mean protesters — have taken up residence on the sidewalks outside Trinity Church, a parish church of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. The Episcopalians, not exactly known for being Christianity’s stalwarts of conservatism, aren’t happy about it.

This week Trinity Church announced that it would be canceling its annual Halloween celebration because the encampment makes the area around the church increasingly unsafe. In a statement issued on Sunday, Trinity’s Rev. James Cooper stated “Last year, more than 1,200 people took part. However, we are deeply concerned about the escalating illegal and abusive activity the camp presents.” Fox News went on to report,

Linda Hanick, a spokeswoman for Trinity Church, said nine people have been arrested in connection to the encampment in the past two weeks, including a man who was arrested after he put an air horn to the ear of a longtime maintenance superintendent at the church on Oct. 11. The maintenance worker was “traumatized” by the incident, she said.

“The sidewalk is owned by the city, so we don’t have the legal power to remove people from the sidewalk, but it’s our responsibility to clean it,” she said. “We hose down the sidewalk and throw away the trash.”

Those cleanings, which occur twice daily at 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., typically lead to a “tense situation,” Hanick said.

This isn’t Occupy’s first run-in with Trinity, either. After their eviction from Zuccotti Park, Occupiers stormed a vacant lot owned by Trinity, breaking their locks in order to gain access to the property. The liberal church, surprisingly, decided to press charges against the demonstrators for criminal trespassing, setting the stage for the hostile tone many Occupiers are now exhibiting toward the church, its congregants and its staff.

Where are Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly? It took the mayor over three months to order Kelly to clear Zuccotti of the protestors that led to a booming crime rate and a permeating aroma of urine and body odor. For local residents and businesses Occupy was, in every sense, a public safety risk that deserved forcible removal the day after tents were erected on public soil. Now, there is an escalating situation at Trinity that has impaired their ability to serve the local community. Occupy is in no sense a political movement on the sidewalk outside of Trinity, they are a hostile group of homeless squatters with a few incoherent politically-inspired cardboard signs. If the city decided that Occupy was dangerous enough to warrant removal from Zuccotti, they should (quickly) come to the same conclusion about Trinity.

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Candy Crowley’s Journalistic Reputation is Debate’s Biggest Loser

CNN’s Candy Crowley has always seemed like a tough, sharp and relatively fair reporter. So when she said earlier this week she was going to take an active moderator role in last night’s debate, that didn’t immediately seem like a bad thing. There’s no problem with an impartial moderator keeping the candidates on topic and pressing them with follow-ups.

But by the end of the night, it was clear Crowley had done damage to her own reputation of objectivity. It wasn’t just because of the Benghazi question, either. Matt Latimer lays out the instances of bias at the Daily Beast:

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CNN’s Candy Crowley has always seemed like a tough, sharp and relatively fair reporter. So when she said earlier this week she was going to take an active moderator role in last night’s debate, that didn’t immediately seem like a bad thing. There’s no problem with an impartial moderator keeping the candidates on topic and pressing them with follow-ups.

But by the end of the night, it was clear Crowley had done damage to her own reputation of objectivity. It wasn’t just because of the Benghazi question, either. Matt Latimer lays out the instances of bias at the Daily Beast:

By far the biggest loser of the debate (after my former boss, George W., that is) was Candy Crowley. She is one of the most seasoned political reporters in Washington, but she came very close to becoming a participant in the debate. At some points she almost lost control, then seemed to interrupt Romney more often than Obama. The president also was given more time to speak overall. Ms. Crowley’s decision to buttress Obama’s declaration that Romney was being dishonest on Libya, however, will go into the Republican Party’s media-bias file for decades to come. Enjoy that moment—you’ll be seeing it again and again for years.

As Jim Lindgren noted, Obama was also given the last word on nearly two-thirds of the questions — and not for Romney’s lack of trying.

That’s not to say Romney would have done any better (or Obama any worse) if Crowley hadn’t played an active role in the debate. Both candidates came off fine, with Democrats calling the game for Obama, and Republicans calling it for Romney. In the end, it was a small win for Obama. That was Romney’s fault for being unprepared to discuss Benghazi, and Crowley is in no way responsible.

But Crowley hurt herself by jumping to Obama’s defense on an arguable point. When Obama followed up with “Say that again, Candy” and the audience of “undecided voters” cheered, the image was a moderator and the president ganging up on the Republican candidate. What’s more, the moderator didn’t even have her facts right. As WaPo fact-checker Glenn Kessler explains why the issue is not as cut-and-dried as Crowley claimed:

What did Obama say in the Rose Garden a day after the attack in Libya? “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this nation,”  he said.

But he did not say “terrorism”—and it took the administration days to concede that that it an “act of terrorism” that appears unrelated to initial reports of anger at a video that defamed the prophet Muhammad.

Whether it was due to personal bias or incomplete information, Crowley was wrong. She had no business intervening on an ambiguous point, and as a long-time journalist, she should have been more careful.

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Boo Hoo Hoo, Sniff Sniff Sniff

Apologies, O Ladies of the Internet.

Mitt Romney mentioned “binders full of women” in describing his (extremely successful) efforts to hire women for top-level jobs when he was governor of Massachusetts.   We all knew exactly what he meant, but really; boo hoo hoo, sniff sniff sniff — the phraseology!

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Apologies, O Ladies of the Internet.

Mitt Romney mentioned “binders full of women” in describing his (extremely successful) efforts to hire women for top-level jobs when he was governor of Massachusetts.   We all knew exactly what he meant, but really; boo hoo hoo, sniff sniff sniff — the phraseology!

So shocking that Mr. Romney seems to have forgotten about your too, too delicate sensibilities.

In my day, people with too much time on their hands and an axe to grind filled up their empty hours writing (by hand) lengthy and dense letters about their obscure obsessions to newspaper and magazine editors.  Now, it seems, they fill up their empty seconds tweeting, memeing and tumblring.

Asinine as it all is, at least the kerfuffle has provided us with this priceless gem.

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On Economic Issues, Romney Wins Big

The post-debate polls taken last night seemed to more or less line up with the conventional wisdom forming on social media: President Obama won a narrow victory over Mitt Romney, helped late by escaping the Libya question—thought to be his Achilles’ heel—when Romney dropped the ball.

But that Libya exchange—in which moderator Candy Crowley intervened on Obama’s behalf and only afterwards seemed to realize that she had been wrong on the facts—also revealed the flip side of Romney’s lack of focus on Benghazi: his fluency and preparation for questions on the economy, and Romney’s continuing bet that the economy will overshadow the other issues in voters’ minds. Polls back this up, and the post-debate polls seemed to as well. While both the CNN and CBS polls gave Obama a hard-fought win on points, respondents to both polls gave Romney the win on the economy by wide margins. CBS reports:

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The post-debate polls taken last night seemed to more or less line up with the conventional wisdom forming on social media: President Obama won a narrow victory over Mitt Romney, helped late by escaping the Libya question—thought to be his Achilles’ heel—when Romney dropped the ball.

But that Libya exchange—in which moderator Candy Crowley intervened on Obama’s behalf and only afterwards seemed to realize that she had been wrong on the facts—also revealed the flip side of Romney’s lack of focus on Benghazi: his fluency and preparation for questions on the economy, and Romney’s continuing bet that the economy will overshadow the other issues in voters’ minds. Polls back this up, and the post-debate polls seemed to as well. While both the CNN and CBS polls gave Obama a hard-fought win on points, respondents to both polls gave Romney the win on the economy by wide margins. CBS reports:

Moments following the debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., 37 percent of voters polled said the president won, 30 percent awarded the victory to Romney, and 33 percent called it a tie. After some particularly animated exchanges between the two candidates, 55 percent of voters said Mr. Obama gave direct answers, but 49 percent also said that about Romney.

As for who would do a better job of handling the economy, the president made some headway on closing that gap. Before the debate, 71 percent said they believed Romney would, while only 27 percent said they thought Obama would; after the debate, 34 percent said the president would better handle the economy, with 65 percent saying Romney would.

And here’s CNN’s write-up of its in-house poll:

According to the survey, Obama had a 47%-41% edge on which candidate was more likeable. But on some key issues, Romney came out on top, including an 18-point lead on the economy.

“Mitt Romney was seen as better able to handle the economy, taxes, and the budget deficit among the debate audience, but it seems that issues were trumped, or at least blunted, by intangibles, including the expectations game,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

Obama’s victory on the “intangibles,” such as expectations and demeanor, should not be dismissed. Those are often what people remember most about debates. Additionally, a major goal for Obama was to fire up the base. They were despondent after the first presidential debate because of the old adage about parties: when the host no longer appears to be having fun, it’s time to go. But if Obama was able to inject some enthusiasm into his party faithful last night, he’ll take it.

Yet it must be acknowledged that in the voting booth, it’s probably a safer bet that intangibles won’t drown out issues. Romney has raised his favorability ratings and made himself seem judicious and presidential, so voters will probably consider this election as one between two plausible presidents. In such a case, it really does come down to issues.

Should Obama be concerned that he got flattened on the economy even in a debate in which he eked out a narrow victory? If the electorate thinks Obama is marginally more likable than Romney, but wildly inferior to Romney on the issue that determines most presidential elections and is expected to determine this one as well, how would such voters cast their ballots?

Additionally, the CNN pollster says Obama won last night in part by beating expectations. That amounts to: The president wasn’t nearly as terrible as he has been or as awful as voters expected him to be. That’s not a ringing vote of confidence; it’s a condescending pat on the shoulder.

CNN’s pollster also says Romney was better on taxes—there goes one of the pillars of Obama’s yearlong attack on Romney. Obama ran on cutting the deficit—he called George W. Bush “unpatriotic” for running up deficits that Obama is only rapidly adding to—and voters give Romney the edge there too. Obama hopes to gain some momentum after last night, but a campaign betting on a minor lead on “intangibles” suggests a campaign still spinning its wheels.

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Obama and the “T” Word

When did President Obama refer to the Benghazi attack as an “act of terror”? According to Candy Crowley and White House spin artists, it was in his Rose Garden speech on September 12. But as I wrote last month, the reference was ambiguous at best. It was never clear whether Obama was referring to the Benghazi attack, the 9/11 attacks, the unrest across the Muslim world, or just terrorism in general.

However, at Foreign Policy, Josh Rogin dug up a transcript of Obama referring to the Benghazi attack more directly as an “act of terror” on Sept. 13 — at a campaign event in Colorado:

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When did President Obama refer to the Benghazi attack as an “act of terror”? According to Candy Crowley and White House spin artists, it was in his Rose Garden speech on September 12. But as I wrote last month, the reference was ambiguous at best. It was never clear whether Obama was referring to the Benghazi attack, the 9/11 attacks, the unrest across the Muslim world, or just terrorism in general.

However, at Foreign Policy, Josh Rogin dug up a transcript of Obama referring to the Benghazi attack more directly as an “act of terror” on Sept. 13 — at a campaign event in Colorado:

President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney sparred over whether Obama called the Sept. 11 murder of four Americans in Benghazi a “terrorist” attack. In fact, Obama did refer to the attack as “an act of terror,” but he did not do so directly in the Rose Garden the next day.

Romney said during Tuesday night’s debate that it took 14 days for Obama to acknowledge that the attack was a terrorist attack, while Obama and CNN’s Candy Crowley agreed that Obama said so Sept. 12 in remarks in the Rose Garden. In those remarks, journalists noticed, he did not explicitly refer to the Benghazi attack as an “act of terror,” though he did use those words. …

But on Sept. 13, at a campaign event in Colorado, Obama again used the phrase “act of terror” and this time tied it directly to the Benghazi attack.

“So what I want all of you to know is that we are going to bring those who killed our fellow Americans to justice. I want people around the world to hear me: To all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished.

The bottom line? CNN’s Candy Crowley seriously erred in “correcting” Romney on that point, since Obama’s comment in the Rose Garden speech was debatable from the context. However, if the president now wants to clarify that he was referring to the Benghazi attack as an “act of terror” on September 12, let’s take him at his word.

Of course, clearing that up raises more questions than answers.

For one, why, if the president immediately knew Benghazi was a terrorist attack, did he fly to Las Vegas for a fundraiser the very next day? Why didn’t he inform UN Ambassador Susan Rice before she went on the Sunday shows and blamed the attack on the anti-Islam film? Why didn’t he tell his own spokesperson, who insisted days later that “We have no information to suggest that it was a preplanned attack…And while the violence is reprehensible and unjustified, it is not a reaction to the 9/11 anniversary that we know of, or to U.S. policy”? Why did the president himself go on “The View” nearly two weeks later, and — when asked point-blank whether Benghazi was a terrorist attack — say that “well, we’re still doing an investigation” and “it wasn’t just a mob action”?

More importantly, if President Obama believed it was a terrorist attack from Day One, why didn’t he share this with the American public? Why would he make a vague one-line reference to it in a single campaign stump speech in Ohio, but not give a full address to the American people, outlining what he knew?

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Yes, They Played Politics on Libya

President Obama went ballistic during the presidential debate at Hofstra University when Mitt Romney questioned the conduct of the administration in its reaction to the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya:

And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president. That’s not what I do as commander in chief.

It was potentially a strong moment for the president as he was able, at least for the moment, to deflect concern about the administration’s failure in Libya and turn into a question of whether Romney overstepped the mark in his criticism. But a dispassionate look at the question on which the president made his grandstand play shows that his administration stands guilty of doing exactly what he denied.

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President Obama went ballistic during the presidential debate at Hofstra University when Mitt Romney questioned the conduct of the administration in its reaction to the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya:

And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president. That’s not what I do as commander in chief.

It was potentially a strong moment for the president as he was able, at least for the moment, to deflect concern about the administration’s failure in Libya and turn into a question of whether Romney overstepped the mark in his criticism. But a dispassionate look at the question on which the president made his grandstand play shows that his administration stands guilty of doing exactly what he denied.

The whole point about the administration spending more than two weeks trying to claim that the assassination of the U.S. ambassador to Libya was merely the result of an overheated reaction to an offensive film is that it dovetails with the political needs of the Obama re-election campaign.

We have yet to discover exactly what President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice knew about Libya and when they knew it as well as why the consulate’s requests for security were denied and who made that decision. The president was asked a direct question about that at Hofstra and chose not to answer it.

Though this issue was diverted into one largely about whether the president called the incident a terror attack the next day, what is being ignored is the fact that even though Obama uttered the word “terror” the following day, his administration spent the following days and weeks shouting down those who spoke of it as terrorism.

Their motivation wasn’t just the product of confusion about the available intelligence. It was the product of a desire to silence any speculation about the revival of al-Qaeda affiliates in Libya.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 anniversary, U.S. diplomatic facilities were attacked throughout the Middle East with American flags being torn down and replaced by al-Qaeda banners. Throughout the region, Islamist terrorism continues to fester and even gain strength in certain countries.

That’s a grim fact that not only needs to be acknowledged but understood as a major cause of the Libya disaster. But it is not something that the administration is comfortable saying because the keynote to the president’s foreign policy and security re-election platform is the notion that al-Qaeda is as dead as Osama bin Laden.

Having staked so much on the “bin Laden is dead” theme, the administration dragged its feet when it came to telling the truth about Islamist terrorism in Libya. They repeatedly claimed that the ambassador died as the result of film criticism run amuck. While they claim this was the result of faulty intelligence, there’s no mystery about why they embraced this false narrative so enthusiastically. Talking about an offensive anti-Muslim video (albeit one that virtually no one has actually seen) allowed the president’s foreign policy team to avoid saying the words “terror” and “al-Qaeda.” Instead, they talked about a movie for which they endlessly apologized. The president’s faux outrage notwithstanding, if that isn’t playing politics with security issues and misleading the American public, I don’t know what is.

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Nasty Smackdown Won’t Alter Race

President Obama didn’t repeat his mistakes in the first presidential debate in Denver two weeks ago. He looked interested in the proceedings on Long Island and responded strongly to attacks and got in plenty of stingers as well as making some clever tactical strokes at Romney’s expense. Romney had his moments, especially when speaking about the president’s economic failures. The Republican also missed some wide-open opportunities to nail the president on issues like the Libya terrorist attack. But that won’t necessarily translate into a complete reversal of the losses Obama experienced after their previous encounter. The question that pollsters will be wondering most about won’t be which of the two candidates scored the most points but whether the bruising and nasty tone of the confrontation turned off more voters than it engaged.

The president’s palpable anger at Romney was barely contained. He fulfilled the Democratic base’s desire to bash the GOP candidate relentlessly but he did so at times by taking the cheapest of shots such as a hypocritical swipe about Romney’s investments and by filibustering and taking up more than three minutes more of airtime than his opponent. Though he stopped short of repeating Vice President Biden’s bullying act last week, it’s far from clear that the most of the public — especially undecided voters — will regard the evening as anything but a muddled slugfest.

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President Obama didn’t repeat his mistakes in the first presidential debate in Denver two weeks ago. He looked interested in the proceedings on Long Island and responded strongly to attacks and got in plenty of stingers as well as making some clever tactical strokes at Romney’s expense. Romney had his moments, especially when speaking about the president’s economic failures. The Republican also missed some wide-open opportunities to nail the president on issues like the Libya terrorist attack. But that won’t necessarily translate into a complete reversal of the losses Obama experienced after their previous encounter. The question that pollsters will be wondering most about won’t be which of the two candidates scored the most points but whether the bruising and nasty tone of the confrontation turned off more voters than it engaged.

The president’s palpable anger at Romney was barely contained. He fulfilled the Democratic base’s desire to bash the GOP candidate relentlessly but he did so at times by taking the cheapest of shots such as a hypocritical swipe about Romney’s investments and by filibustering and taking up more than three minutes more of airtime than his opponent. Though he stopped short of repeating Vice President Biden’s bullying act last week, it’s far from clear that the most of the public — especially undecided voters — will regard the evening as anything but a muddled slugfest.

Whenever he spoke about the economy and jobs, Romney did well. He did much worse when forced to respond to questions like the one about equal pay for women when he responded with a lengthy off-the-point reminiscence about hiring staff in which he got “binders full of women.” He also made some mistakes in terms of debating strategy by asking the president questions and then letting him out talk him.

Most memorable was his meandering response to President Obama’s non-response to a very clear question about whether he knew the Libya incident was a terrorist attack. Instead of hammering Obama with all the times he talked about the video, he harped on the one moment when something the president said could have been interpreted as a saying it was a terrorist attack when his comments were actually, as Commentary pointed out at the time, was a general comment rather than a reference to Benghazi. That allowed moderator Candy Crowley to chide Romney with an instant less than accurate fact check that helped Obama wiggle out of the trap.

Romney also failed to adequately answer Obama’s claim that he opposed contraception coverage when his disagreement is about the ObamaCare mandate that would compel religious institutions and believers to violate their faith and beliefs.

Though he closed with a moving testimony to this faith and his record of caring about and helping people, he also set up Obama to finally mention his “47 percent” gaffe in his concluding statement when the Republican had not opportunity to respond.

Nevertheless, on the key issues of the economy, taxes, fuel prices and health care, Romney clearly bested the president who once again failed to explain his record or to say what he would do in the future. His energy and focus remained very much at the same level as the first debate meaning the inroads he made with a public that has begun to understand the Democrats’ mischaracterization of him was false. For all of the punches landed by Obama, as many Americans are turned off by the nastiness displayed at Hofstra than enjoyed or admired it.

The president’s base will be energized by the fact that he scored more points in this encounter than Romney. But whatever advantage he may gained they won’t bring the race back to where it was before Denver. That’s better than another loss for Obama but not enough to really alter the current direction of the election.

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