Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 25, 2012

Romney Hits 50% in WaPo/ABC Poll

Today’s WaPo/ABC national tracking poll shows Mitt Romney leading President Obama, 50 percent to 47 percent (a “statistically insignificant” margin as WaPo makes sure to note at the top of its story). Still, it’s the first time Romney hit the 50-percent mark in this poll, and a sign Romney’s momentum isn’t fading:

As Romney hits 50, the president stands at 47 percent, his lowest tally in Post-ABC polling since before the national party conventions. A three-point edge gives Romney his first apparent advantage in the national popular vote, but it is not one that is statistically significant with a conventional level of 95 percent confidence. 

However, Romney does now boast a statistically — and substantively — important lead on the economy, which has long been the central issue of the race. When it comes to handling the nation’s struggling economy, 52 percent of likely voters say they trust Romney more, while 43 percent say they have more faith in the president. 

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Today’s WaPo/ABC national tracking poll shows Mitt Romney leading President Obama, 50 percent to 47 percent (a “statistically insignificant” margin as WaPo makes sure to note at the top of its story). Still, it’s the first time Romney hit the 50-percent mark in this poll, and a sign Romney’s momentum isn’t fading:

As Romney hits 50, the president stands at 47 percent, his lowest tally in Post-ABC polling since before the national party conventions. A three-point edge gives Romney his first apparent advantage in the national popular vote, but it is not one that is statistically significant with a conventional level of 95 percent confidence. 

However, Romney does now boast a statistically — and substantively — important lead on the economy, which has long been the central issue of the race. When it comes to handling the nation’s struggling economy, 52 percent of likely voters say they trust Romney more, while 43 percent say they have more faith in the president. 

More remarkable than Romney’s advantage on economy is his advantage with independents. It’s not even close:

These advantages with independents undergird a sizable, 19 percentage-point Romney lead over Obama on the horse race. Should that advantage stick, it would be the sharpest tilt among independents in a  presidential election since Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide win. (Reagan won independent and other unaffiliated voters 63 to 36 percent, according to the exit poll). Obama won them by eight in 2008.

The poll’s party ID breakdown isn’t terrible: D/R/I is 34/30/32. In 2008, the numbers were 40/33/28. Considering the enthusiasm shift since then, you’d expect Republicans and Democrats to be more evenly split this time around, but plus-4 for Dems isn’t nearly as bad as some of the previous WaPo/ABC polls have been.

The pro-Romney tilt among independents explains the Obama campaign’s recent focus on motivating the base with “zingers” instead of pivoting to the center. A 19-point deficit with independents sounds insurmountable, but the overall race is still within the margin of error. Obama will need massive turnout from his base if that’s the case. As the Post reports, that would be the highest advantage since Ronald Reagan won independents by 27 points in his 49-state reelection sweep.

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Liberal Denial Will Only Get Worse

For those following the polls, the evidence of the last few weeks has been pretty obvious. Following the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney began to eat into the lead that President Obama had amassed. In the last week, he has caught and passed the president in most national polls, especially those without samples that are not overestimating the number of Democrats who will turn out to vote. The race remains very close, and the president is still ahead or tied in a number of the important swing states. Evidence that the Obama campaign thinks it is trailing is everywhere, as the president swings away at his rival as if he were the challenger not the incumbent. Even more telling is, as I wrote yesterday, the first evidence that some influential people within the president’s re-election team are starting to plant stories in the media alleging that an impending defeat isn’t their fault.

And yet despite all these signs of trouble for the president, the most popular story line for liberal pundits and analysts today seems to be an attempt to deny that Romney has momentum or to brand it a media creation. That was the conceit of a much talked about piece in the New Republic by Alec MacGillis. His thesis is that the media — including publications and broadcast outlets that tend to favor the Democrats — are trying to foist a misleading story line about Romney moving ahead in order to make the election a better story. Even most liberals aren’t buying that idea but other voices, including polling analysts like the New York Times Nate Silver and Mark Blumenthal at the Huffington Post, are on slightly firmer ground when they claim that their reading of the polls tells them that Romney’s momentum is over. In a race this close, one has to admit the possibility that they might turn out to be right. But these frantic denials of a Romney surge not only contradict the clear trend of the polls. They smack of the sort of desperation that is often in evidence as candidates who were once thought in a commanding position start slipping. After months of liberals telling themselves that Romney was a fake or a fraud that no one could possibly take seriously, they are having a hard time coming to grips with the possibility that he might be elected president in 10 days. If denial is the first of five stages of grief, liberal mourning about the possible end of the Obama presidency can be said to have begun.

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For those following the polls, the evidence of the last few weeks has been pretty obvious. Following the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney began to eat into the lead that President Obama had amassed. In the last week, he has caught and passed the president in most national polls, especially those without samples that are not overestimating the number of Democrats who will turn out to vote. The race remains very close, and the president is still ahead or tied in a number of the important swing states. Evidence that the Obama campaign thinks it is trailing is everywhere, as the president swings away at his rival as if he were the challenger not the incumbent. Even more telling is, as I wrote yesterday, the first evidence that some influential people within the president’s re-election team are starting to plant stories in the media alleging that an impending defeat isn’t their fault.

And yet despite all these signs of trouble for the president, the most popular story line for liberal pundits and analysts today seems to be an attempt to deny that Romney has momentum or to brand it a media creation. That was the conceit of a much talked about piece in the New Republic by Alec MacGillis. His thesis is that the media — including publications and broadcast outlets that tend to favor the Democrats — are trying to foist a misleading story line about Romney moving ahead in order to make the election a better story. Even most liberals aren’t buying that idea but other voices, including polling analysts like the New York Times Nate Silver and Mark Blumenthal at the Huffington Post, are on slightly firmer ground when they claim that their reading of the polls tells them that Romney’s momentum is over. In a race this close, one has to admit the possibility that they might turn out to be right. But these frantic denials of a Romney surge not only contradict the clear trend of the polls. They smack of the sort of desperation that is often in evidence as candidates who were once thought in a commanding position start slipping. After months of liberals telling themselves that Romney was a fake or a fraud that no one could possibly take seriously, they are having a hard time coming to grips with the possibility that he might be elected president in 10 days. If denial is the first of five stages of grief, liberal mourning about the possible end of the Obama presidency can be said to have begun.

Feeding this denial is the widespread oversampling of Democrats in polls that still show the president leading the race. The assumption that the turnout of the president’s supporters will match or exceed those that lifted him to a historic victory in 2008 seems to be based more on a leap of liberal faith than evidence, but it is statistical tricks like that that are keeping Obama’s head above water in the polls. Partisans always tend to believe polls that tell them what they want to hear, but systems that weigh polls in an arbitrary manner such as Silver’s forecast seem to be similarly positioned to keep Obama ahead for as long as possible.

Just as misleading is the fact that the heavy turnout in early voting states, like Ohio, of Obama’s supporters may be skewing likely voter formulas in the president’s favor. As Josh Jordan writes in National Review today, given the emphasis the Democrats have placed on getting their base out to vote early while Republicans count on theirs to turn out on Election Day, the president’s ability to stay ahead or tied in Ohio polls may be a statistical anomaly that won’t be corrected until the ballots are counted.

But even looking beyond the biased analyses being published by liberal sources, the refusal of many Democrats to accept the reality of the Romney surge may be rooted in something more emotional than just skewed poll numbers. Many if not most liberals share the attitude of contempt for the Republicans that were so easily discerned in the attitudes of both President Obama and Vice President Biden during the debates. Though most Americans have rejected the attempt by the president’s campaign to define Romney as a heartless plutocrat or a monster, liberals bought it hook, line and sinker. The idea that such a person could have caught and passed Obama in the space of a few short weeks seems impossible to them not so much because they think the numbers don’t support this thesis but because they just don’t want it to be so.

Rather than debunking Romney’s wave, liberal analysts who seek to deny it are merely confirming their inability to look dispassionately at what has occurred. Democrats living in liberal echo chambers need a reality check.

There will be no landslide in the presidential race this year, or even a decisive victory like the one Obama scored in 2008. It’s possible that the president can rebound in the last days of the campaign and that Romney could falter. But barring some late October surprise that would help the president (as opposed to one, like last month’s Libya fiasco, which hurt him), it’s hard to see momentum shifting back in his favor. If it doesn’t, expect liberal denial about Romney’s strength to deepen.

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No October Surprise this Year?

A Massachusetts judge agreed to unseal Mitt Romney’s testimony in his friend Tom Stemberg’s 1991 divorce hearing today. But the judge rejected Gloria Allred’s request to lift a gag order against her client, Stemberg’s ex-wife:

Things didn’t fare so well for Gloria Allred — her request to ungag her client was shut down by the hot judge … because Gloria never submitted an official motion to the court. 

Gloria was grasping at straws in a last ditch effort to get the judge to cut her a break — but she was shot down, hard. …

8:20 AM PT  — During a news conference, Gloria accused the Boston Globe of pulling a “double-cross” because she says the paper abandoned its motion to have the gag order against Maureen Sullivan Stemberg lifted.

Allred and others have been hinting at bombshell revelations in Romney’s testimony, but I doubt it. The testimony was unsealed earlier today, and the only details out so far are these nothingburgers written up by Buzzfeed. Romney was apparently sought as an expert witness, and his testimony seems to consist of dry answers about the state of the venture capital industry 20-something years ago. Plus, his campaign already said it had no problem with the testimony going public.

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A Massachusetts judge agreed to unseal Mitt Romney’s testimony in his friend Tom Stemberg’s 1991 divorce hearing today. But the judge rejected Gloria Allred’s request to lift a gag order against her client, Stemberg’s ex-wife:

Things didn’t fare so well for Gloria Allred — her request to ungag her client was shut down by the hot judge … because Gloria never submitted an official motion to the court. 

Gloria was grasping at straws in a last ditch effort to get the judge to cut her a break — but she was shot down, hard. …

8:20 AM PT  — During a news conference, Gloria accused the Boston Globe of pulling a “double-cross” because she says the paper abandoned its motion to have the gag order against Maureen Sullivan Stemberg lifted.

Allred and others have been hinting at bombshell revelations in Romney’s testimony, but I doubt it. The testimony was unsealed earlier today, and the only details out so far are these nothingburgers written up by Buzzfeed. Romney was apparently sought as an expert witness, and his testimony seems to consist of dry answers about the state of the venture capital industry 20-something years ago. Plus, his campaign already said it had no problem with the testimony going public.

Another sign there probably isn’t anything interesting there: Allred said the testimony is meaningless unless her client is allowed to speak publicly and “put it in context”: 

Allred argued vigorously for Sullivan Stemberg’s right to address Romney’s testimony publicly, saying Sullivan Stemberg was being denied her First Amendment Right.

“Out of context, [the testimony] has no meaning for the public,” Allred said. “She can put it in context.”

The court ruled that because the Globe was no longer petitioning to modify the confidentiality order, and was satisfied by the release of Romney’s testimony, that Sullivan Stemberg would have to bring a separate motion to amend the order.

Allred indicated that she would do so and after the hearing accused the Globe of a “double cross” because the paper stopped its push to amend the confidentiality order.

If there’s anything that can possibly hurt Romney in there, Allred can rest assured the media will find it. And what “context” could her client possibly provide, other than the same kind of emotional bullying we heard in Obama’s Bain ads? Allred’s client has been a tabloid fixture in Massachusetts for years, and it she’s spoken plenty of times about her divorce and personal vendetta against Romney. Obviously she has a horse in this race.

Not sure if the Obama campaign had any involvement in this, but Allred is an Obama donor. White House advisor David Plouffe said yesterday that Romney “owns everything [Donald Trump] says,” since Trump is a campaign contributor. By that logic, wouldn’t Obama also own everything Allred says?

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The Natan Book Award

The Natan Fund is a Jewish philanthropy that has as its mission the creation of new entrepreneurial and innovative projects intended to shape the future. To that end, it has set out to help nurture the creation of something that goes to the heart of the Jewish experience — books. The Natan Book Award will seek to support and help promote a book on Jewish themes that is intended for mainstream audiences.

The idea is to take an English-language book on a Jewish theme that is already under contract to a publisher but not yet in print, and to help it via grants to the author and customized support for the marketing and publicity. Each recipient of the award will get a maximum of $50,000. Natan will work with experts in the literary, publishing, and publicity worlds to customize a digital and in-person marketing and publicity strategy, and will actively connect the author and the book with the multiple, nontraditional Jewish and philanthropic networks of which Natan is a part. The goal will be to both expand the audience for such books and to create a lively discourse on Jewish ideas.

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The Natan Fund is a Jewish philanthropy that has as its mission the creation of new entrepreneurial and innovative projects intended to shape the future. To that end, it has set out to help nurture the creation of something that goes to the heart of the Jewish experience — books. The Natan Book Award will seek to support and help promote a book on Jewish themes that is intended for mainstream audiences.

The idea is to take an English-language book on a Jewish theme that is already under contract to a publisher but not yet in print, and to help it via grants to the author and customized support for the marketing and publicity. Each recipient of the award will get a maximum of $50,000. Natan will work with experts in the literary, publishing, and publicity worlds to customize a digital and in-person marketing and publicity strategy, and will actively connect the author and the book with the multiple, nontraditional Jewish and philanthropic networks of which Natan is a part. The goal will be to both expand the audience for such books and to create a lively discourse on Jewish ideas.

Those wishing to learn more about the Natan Book Award and the Natan Fund should go to their website.

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Why Likud Wants to Absorb Israel Beiteinu

The Times of Israel is reporting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party will merge with Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu party in advance of the January Knesset elections. There are four reasons for this.

First, as I wrote recently, in the 2009 elections Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party won the election by a single seat, but was unable to form a governing coalition, thereby enabling Netanyahu’s Likud, the runner-up, to form the current coalition. Polls have shown that such an outcome could repeat itself in January. However, if the Labor party continues its revival in the polls, it’s possible there would be enough seats to Likud’s left for Kadima to put together a governing coalition, especially if Aryeh Deri’s return to the Orthodox Shas party enables it to drain some votes from Likud, as polls have suggested it might.

Netanyahu wants to avoid any chance of this outcome, and the only way to do that is to win the election outright. Likud and Israel Beiteinu currently have 42 Knesset seats between them.

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The Times of Israel is reporting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party will merge with Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu party in advance of the January Knesset elections. There are four reasons for this.

First, as I wrote recently, in the 2009 elections Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party won the election by a single seat, but was unable to form a governing coalition, thereby enabling Netanyahu’s Likud, the runner-up, to form the current coalition. Polls have shown that such an outcome could repeat itself in January. However, if the Labor party continues its revival in the polls, it’s possible there would be enough seats to Likud’s left for Kadima to put together a governing coalition, especially if Aryeh Deri’s return to the Orthodox Shas party enables it to drain some votes from Likud, as polls have suggested it might.

Netanyahu wants to avoid any chance of this outcome, and the only way to do that is to win the election outright. Likud and Israel Beiteinu currently have 42 Knesset seats between them.

Second, the looming threat of a dominant Likud victory may ward off an attempted return by Ehud Olmert. Third, Yair Lapid’s new party, Yesh Atid, has finally made clear that it is a rightist party much in the mold of Israel Beiteinu—pro-two state solution but protective of major settlement blocs and a unified Jerusalem, with a secular political outlook. That revelation enables Netanyahu to absorb Israel Beiteinu and replace it with a nearly identical party, thus preserving the structure of the current governing coalition without making any major ideological changes or having to accommodate extraneous parties.

And fourth, demographics. Part of Likud’s success over the years was due to the fact that Mizrahi Jews–Jews from Arab lands, primarily, and their descendants–found a home in Likud. Labor tried clumsily to win them over about five years ago, but failed. Netanyahu is now hoping to secure the loyalty and partisan affiliation of Israel’s Russian immigrant community, which is over 1 million strong and represented by Lieberman and Israel Beiteinu.

Assuming the merger comes through and then the marriage withstands the test of time (and raucous, factional Israeli politics), what would Lieberman get out of this? When I profiled Lieberman and his impact on the Israeli political scene for COMMENTARY in the summer of 2011, I wrote the following:

There is one way in which Lieberman’s political career represents a new paradigm in Israeli politics: he is a heterodox political figure for the 21st century in Israel, a secular nationalist immigrant. His base is within the enormous Russian community, but, unlike previous ethnic politicians, he has interests and goals far more ambitious than bringing home the kosher bacon to his constituents through the use of government largesse. And unlike his predecessors in the ethnic political game, like the Moroccan populist David Levy or the religious Sephardi leader Aryeh Deri, he is playing on a far larger field.

Lieberman wants to be prime minister someday. And he happens to be almost a full decade younger than Netanyahu (Lieberman is only 54). It’s possible Lieberman–whose political instincts have always been vastly underestimated—sees the possibility of inheriting what would be the political party with the largest Knesset vote share since Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor party in 1992, if its electoral success continues at this rate.

But that is looking a bit far into the future. The truth is, such mergers are almost always unstable, and Lieberman has split from Likud before. But the Israeli left will take some encouragement from this if they believe they have spooked Netanyahu into thinking he could lose the January elections after all.

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At CNN, Misogyny Reported on With “Scientific” Spin

According to a new poll conducted the AP, Romney has closed the gender gap, with Obama’s wide 16-point margin almost erased. We’ll have to see, though, how the menstrual cycles of America’s women line up on November 6 to know for certain how they’ll be voting. Wait, what? Yesterday CNN reported on the results of a new “study” done at the University of Texas, San Antonio that concluded that women’s voting patterns are determined by, you guessed it, their hormones. Not surprisingly, the post was taken down after CNN determined that “some elements of the story did not meet the editorial standards of CNN.” That’s quite the understatement.

The Daily Kos has the full piece available on their website, but the gist is this: Women’s preferences for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are governed by their ovulation cycles. The author of the piece for CNN took to Twitter in self-defense after the piece was pulled and more or less said, “But… but… it’s SCIENCE!” The study, conducted over the internet with less than 300 participants, draws some pretty outrageous conclusions given the study’s size and methodology. They conclude:

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According to a new poll conducted the AP, Romney has closed the gender gap, with Obama’s wide 16-point margin almost erased. We’ll have to see, though, how the menstrual cycles of America’s women line up on November 6 to know for certain how they’ll be voting. Wait, what? Yesterday CNN reported on the results of a new “study” done at the University of Texas, San Antonio that concluded that women’s voting patterns are determined by, you guessed it, their hormones. Not surprisingly, the post was taken down after CNN determined that “some elements of the story did not meet the editorial standards of CNN.” That’s quite the understatement.

The Daily Kos has the full piece available on their website, but the gist is this: Women’s preferences for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are governed by their ovulation cycles. The author of the piece for CNN took to Twitter in self-defense after the piece was pulled and more or less said, “But… but… it’s SCIENCE!” The study, conducted over the internet with less than 300 participants, draws some pretty outrageous conclusions given the study’s size and methodology. They conclude:

When women are ovulating, they “feel sexier,” and therefore lean more toward liberal attitudes on abortion and marriage equality. Married women have the same hormones firing, but tend to take the opposite viewpoint on these issues, she [the study's author] says.

“I think they’re overcompensating for the increase of the hormones motivating them to have sex with other men,” she said. It’s a way of convincing themselves that they’re not the type to give in to such sexual urges, she said.

That study was funded by a public university and accomplished something incredible: Readers, regardless of their political leanings, were offended and confused about how such a study with such poorly argued findings could possibly end up on the CNN homepage, regardless of how many caveats the author may have included. The liberal feminist reaction to the story has been particularly amusing. Jezebel’s headline proclaimed: “CNN Thinks Crazy Ladies Can’t Help Voting With Their Vaginas Instead of Their Brains.” The irony of this headline given their coverage of women voters dressed as vaginas at the latest GOP convention is, I’m sure, lost on those who on one hand demand that women vote with their female reproductive organs and on the other are offended at the insinuation that they already do. 

This was a yet another reminder of just how low journalistic standards have sunk at CNN (and in general). This is an important lesson to keep in mind, especially while reading the Middle East headlines on CNN’s home page today. While there, it’s easy for one to discover that four have been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza, however the communities in Israel bordering Gaza currently under heavy rocket fire have yet to deserve a mention. 

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Romney Closes Gender Gap

Remember that Obama campaign memo a few weeks back that insisted the president was having no problems with women voters? About that:

Less than two weeks out from Election Day, Republican Mitt Romney has erased President Barack Obama’s 16-point advantage among women, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows. And the president, in turn, has largely eliminated Romney’s edge among men.

Those churning gender dynamics leave the presidential race still a virtual dead heat, with Romney favored by 47 percent of likely voters and Obama by 45 percent, a result within the poll’s margin of sampling error, the survey shows.

Fortunately for Democrats, Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s controversial comments about abortion gave Obama an opportunity to rehash his favorite “war on women” arguments on Jay Leno last night:

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Remember that Obama campaign memo a few weeks back that insisted the president was having no problems with women voters? About that:

Less than two weeks out from Election Day, Republican Mitt Romney has erased President Barack Obama’s 16-point advantage among women, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows. And the president, in turn, has largely eliminated Romney’s edge among men.

Those churning gender dynamics leave the presidential race still a virtual dead heat, with Romney favored by 47 percent of likely voters and Obama by 45 percent, a result within the poll’s margin of sampling error, the survey shows.

Fortunately for Democrats, Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s controversial comments about abortion gave Obama an opportunity to rehash his favorite “war on women” arguments on Jay Leno last night:

“I don’t know how these guys come up with these ideas,” Obama said in an appearance on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” Wednesday. “Let me make a very simple proposition, rape is rape. It is a crime. And so these various distinctions about rape don’t make too much sense to me, don’t make any sense to me.” … 

“This is exactly why you don’t want a bunch of politicians, mostly male, making decisions about women’s health care decisions,” he told Leno, without mentioning Romney by name. “Women are capable of making these decisions in consultation with their partners, with their doctors, and for politicians to want to intrude in this stuff often times without any information is a huge problem. And this is obviously a part of what’s at stake in this election.”

There’s no defense for Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s comment (“even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen”), which was at best poorly-phrased and at worst stunningly insensitive. Whatever his stance on abortion or religious views, a potential senator should know better than to publicly muse that rape is just part of God’s plan.

That said, Obama’s characterization of the comment is unfair and misleading. Mourdock never suggested that rape wasn’t rape, or that it wasn’t a crime. To say Mourdock came to his position on abortion because he doesn’t believe “women are capable of making these decisions” is another straw man. Like most pro-lifers, his views are based on religious and moral convictions, not misogyny.

Will Obama’s “war on women” revival move the dial? Maybe, but Molly Ball’s report seems to indicate undecided women voters see these transparent political tactics for what they are. If a full year of this rhetoric hasn’t turned women against Romney, it’s hard to imagine Obama’s last-minute push will make a difference.

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Paul Ryan, Robert Nisbet, and the Fight to Save Civil Society

Yesterday in Cleveland, Paul Ryan gave easily one of the most important and substantive speeches of this entire election cycle. The fact that it was substantive alone draws a contrast with President Obama’s reelection focus on Big Bird and binders. But it also outlined with frankness and sophistication the distinction between the worldviews of the two tickets.

Ryan spoke about poverty and education, individualism and dependency. But he also focused on the enduring necessity of civil society and the role that local communities play in the typical American life. Though Ryan credited his mentor Jack Kemp, the true unnamed force behind his speech was the late Robert Nisbet. Here is what Ryan said yesterday:

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Yesterday in Cleveland, Paul Ryan gave easily one of the most important and substantive speeches of this entire election cycle. The fact that it was substantive alone draws a contrast with President Obama’s reelection focus on Big Bird and binders. But it also outlined with frankness and sophistication the distinction between the worldviews of the two tickets.

Ryan spoke about poverty and education, individualism and dependency. But he also focused on the enduring necessity of civil society and the role that local communities play in the typical American life. Though Ryan credited his mentor Jack Kemp, the true unnamed force behind his speech was the late Robert Nisbet. Here is what Ryan said yesterday:

[Romney is] the type we’ve all run into in our own communities – here in Cleveland, too, and all around America. Americans are a compassionate people, and there’s a consensus in this country about our fundamental obligations to society’s most vulnerable. Those obligations are not what we’re debating in politics. Most times, the real debate is about whether they are best met by private groups, or by the government; by voluntary action, or by more taxes and coercive mandates from Washington.

The short of it is that there has to be a balance – allowing government to act for the common good, while leaving private groups free to do the work that only they can do.  There’s a vast middle ground between the government and the individual.  Our families and our neighborhoods, the groups we join and our places of worship – this is where we live our lives.  They shape our character, give our lives direction, and help make us a self-governing people.

Nisbet wrote about this in his most celebrated work, The Quest for Community. (And for a great explanation of why that work is relevant to this election, see Ross Douthat’s highly worthwhile introduction to the updated edition of the book.) But possibly more relevant to Ryan’s speech was Nisbet’s underrated book, Twilight of Authority.

“In most ages of history some one institution–kinship, religion, economy, state–is ascendant in human loyalties,” Nisbet wrote in Twilight of Authority. “Other institutions, without being necessarily obliterated, retreat to the background in terms of function and authority.”

History shows that the usual cycle of predominant authority goes something like: kinship, state, religion, and then state again, he writes. “When major institutions die or become weak, it is ultimately by virtue of their loss of power to command respect and allegiance. That loss of power is manifest today in the state.”

Nisbet was writing in the age of Watergate and Vietnam, but the electorate’s near-immediate rejection of Jimmy Carter and consistent concern over taxes and deficits since then would suggest the country never took a holiday from the mistrust of government of Nisbet’s time. According to Nisbet, interest and participation in the government wanes considerably during such a time because the public sees it as corrupt and corrupting.

I would suggest, however, that Nisbet’s characterization has met a rather unique circumstance in the U.S. Nisbet points out that such institutional change is usually brought about by revolution, but that obviously isn’t going to happen here (nor should it). Instead, what we’re experiencing now is a split: conservatives have ditched government as the trusted institution, but liberals have only strengthened their faith in the government, especially the presidency. What Nisbet called the “forms of belief which find in the political state or any other external structure of social order the possibility of redemption or salvation” were on full display by Barack Obama himself, when he finally knocked Hillary Clinton out of the race for the Democratic nomination:

“I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

That’s also why Ryan brought up the Obama administration’s birth control mandate in that same speech: it’s the perfect example of left’s perception that the government works in competition, not concert, with faith groups; that true benevolence is enabled first by government coercion; and that, as the theme of Obama’s nomination convention had it, “government is the only thing that we all belong to.”

This is one reason for the degree of political polarization in America today. The emergence of a true small-government core identity on the right and the end of the pro-life left and Blue Dog Democrats is also the end of Nisbet’s cycle of affiliation and institutional trust. The populace doesn’t throw its weight behind its political leaders in unison, then its religious leaders in unison. Instead, the right has embraced faith groups and other local institutions as integral to the survival of the community, while the left has outsourced its charitable instincts to a strong central government as a lone, cold–and increasingly failed–authority.

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Des Moines Register: A Study in Contrast

Via Ed Morrissey: The Obama campaign couldn’t be happy to wake up to this front page of the Des Moines Register today:

Des Moines Register, October 25

I wrote yesterday about the Obama campaign’s tussle with the DMR over an editorial board interview the president initially demanded be off the record. After the Register’s editor blogged about the unusual stipulation, the campaign relented and released the transcript of the interview without comment or explanation. I’m not sure that has anything to do with today’s front page, but it can’t be a good idea to ding the Iowa media days before election day in a highly competitive state.

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Via Ed Morrissey: The Obama campaign couldn’t be happy to wake up to this front page of the Des Moines Register today:

Des Moines Register, October 25

I wrote yesterday about the Obama campaign’s tussle with the DMR over an editorial board interview the president initially demanded be off the record. After the Register’s editor blogged about the unusual stipulation, the campaign relented and released the transcript of the interview without comment or explanation. I’m not sure that has anything to do with today’s front page, but it can’t be a good idea to ding the Iowa media days before election day in a highly competitive state.

Here’s the Register’s lede on Romney, who apparently received an enthusiastic greeting at Eastern Iowa Airport yesterday:

This must be what momentum looks like.

It was a dramatic entrance into Iowa for Mitt Romney on Wednesday: As stirring music played, his campaign airplane, with his motto “Believe in America” visible along the fuselage, touched down at the Eastern Iowa Airport, taxied toward a hangar and parked just 50 feet behind the stage.

Romney stepped down the jetway to meet a cheering crowd of more than 3,000 and deliver a high-energy speech that was by turns sharply critical of incumbent President Barack Obama and confidently optimistic about the nation’s future under new leadership.

And here’s the lede on the paper’s Obama story:

Fighting a tense re-election battle, President Barack Obama let loose a blistering attack on GOP opponent Mitt Romney during a campaign rally here Wednesday, the first leg in what he called “a 48-hour, fly-around marathon campaign extravaganza.”

Obama was more forceful than usual on the stump, using a booming voice to tear into Romney as an untrustworthy double-talker and then, in more measured tones, to concede he hasn’t achieved all the goals he spelled out in Iowa four years ago.

That’s an accurate description of the dueling campaigns. As we’ve recently been noting at Contentions, the Obama campaign has been acting as if it thinks it’s losing, even if the polls haven’t reflected that. The president’s stump speeches have taken on a notably negative and sarcastic tone. Not that Romney is running a totally positive campaign, but recently he’s focused more on his vision for the presidency on the trail.

Obama still has a two-point lead in Iowa’s RCP polling average, but two of the latest surveys show there could be some movement in Romney’s direction. Romney is up one point in PPP, a bump from last month when he trailed Obama by seven points. They’re are also tied in the Rasmussen poll, after Obama led by two points last week. Romney is making his “closing argument” — a speech on the economy — in Ames on Friday.

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CNN: Al-Qaeda in Iraq May Be Linked to Benghazi

Officials have already speculated that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was involved in the Benghazi attack, but CNN reports al-Qaeda in Iraq may be linked as well. AQI has been regaining strength since U.S. troops withdrew last year:

U.S. intelligence believes that assailants connected to al Qaeda in Iraq were among the core group that attacked the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, a U.S. government official told CNN. 

That would represent the second al Qaeda affiliate associated with the deadly September 11 attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. …

The latest intelligence suggests the core group of suspects from the first wave of the attack on the Benghazi mission numbered between 35 to 40. Around a dozen of the attackers are believed to be connected to either al Qaeda in Iraq or al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the government official said.

The attack had two waves: The first targeted the main compound where Stevens and another diplomatic official were believed killed. A second stage a few hours later involved an annex building approximately a mile away. 

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Officials have already speculated that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was involved in the Benghazi attack, but CNN reports al-Qaeda in Iraq may be linked as well. AQI has been regaining strength since U.S. troops withdrew last year:

U.S. intelligence believes that assailants connected to al Qaeda in Iraq were among the core group that attacked the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, a U.S. government official told CNN. 

That would represent the second al Qaeda affiliate associated with the deadly September 11 attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. …

The latest intelligence suggests the core group of suspects from the first wave of the attack on the Benghazi mission numbered between 35 to 40. Around a dozen of the attackers are believed to be connected to either al Qaeda in Iraq or al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the government official said.

The attack had two waves: The first targeted the main compound where Stevens and another diplomatic official were believed killed. A second stage a few hours later involved an annex building approximately a mile away. 

The Obama administration is still trying to slowly back away from its “spontaneous reaction” line, pivoting to the claim it was an “opportunistic attack” that didn’t require a lot of pre-planning. Whether it was “opportunistic” or not doesn’t really matter, but it’s a way for the administration to cling to a small shred of credibility after initially telling the public it wasn’t premeditated or preplanned. Either way, if there were a dozen attackers directly linked to two different al-Qaeda affiliates, as CNN reports, that’s still an al-Qaeda attack, no matter how “opportunistic” or “spontaneous” the administration wants to argue it was.

Good thing President Obama’s foreign policy has “devastated” al-Qaeda, right John Kerry?

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Fragile Gains in Forgotten Afghan Corners

Why do reporters bother to write formal news stories? The best, most illuminating accounts I read are those in which the reporter dispenses with the conventions of “objective” journalism and writes in the first person, telling readers what he or she saw. Exhibit A is this blog post by New York Times Kabul bureau chief Alyssa Rubin. Rubin had earlier published a news story attempting to get to the bottom of what happened recently when American and Afghan soldiers exchanged fire with one another, killing six men. She could not figure out the real story–were the Americans simply jumpy or were the Afghans actually trying to kill them?–and so the story was inherently unsatisfying. But her blog post on how she reported the story is the best single snapshot I have seen of real security conditions in Kabul and its environs.

She begins by noting that living in Kabul, as she does, can give a misleading impression because, “despite the blast walls and checkpoints and rubble, there’s still some normalcy there,” with “restaurants that cater to us [Westerners], clothing shops, grocers — even a couple of neighborhoods where you might run into each other on the street.” But if you drive just 35 miles out of the capital into Wardak Province, an area that has never been truly pacified, the scene changes alarmingly: “The road empties out, and the few trucks and minibuses bounce over the scars of I.E.D. blasts every mile or two. ” Further, she writes:

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Why do reporters bother to write formal news stories? The best, most illuminating accounts I read are those in which the reporter dispenses with the conventions of “objective” journalism and writes in the first person, telling readers what he or she saw. Exhibit A is this blog post by New York Times Kabul bureau chief Alyssa Rubin. Rubin had earlier published a news story attempting to get to the bottom of what happened recently when American and Afghan soldiers exchanged fire with one another, killing six men. She could not figure out the real story–were the Americans simply jumpy or were the Afghans actually trying to kill them?–and so the story was inherently unsatisfying. But her blog post on how she reported the story is the best single snapshot I have seen of real security conditions in Kabul and its environs.

She begins by noting that living in Kabul, as she does, can give a misleading impression because, “despite the blast walls and checkpoints and rubble, there’s still some normalcy there,” with “restaurants that cater to us [Westerners], clothing shops, grocers — even a couple of neighborhoods where you might run into each other on the street.” But if you drive just 35 miles out of the capital into Wardak Province, an area that has never been truly pacified, the scene changes alarmingly: “The road empties out, and the few trucks and minibuses bounce over the scars of I.E.D. blasts every mile or two. ” Further, she writes:

There were Taliban watchers everywhere, of course: little boys, old men, they squatted by the roadside just looking into each car. I was wearing local clothes, but began to fear that they could see through it and tell I was American, and then we would all be at risk. A couple of times we passed small groups of men with Kalashnikov rifles, lounging by the side of the road. Some wore traditional clothing, others the khaki uniforms of private security firms, and there was no clear hint of their intent or loyalty.

When she finally reaches her destination, a small base occupied by the battalion involved in the “green on blue” incident, she must conduct her interviews not far from a burning fuel tanker–set on fire by the Taliban just as she arrived with an Afghan colleague. She finds an Afghan battalion commander who is trying to cope with the deep resentment felt by his men at the petty slights they have suffered at the hands of oblivious American troops yet fearful of what will happen if those Americans leave. “It will be more difficult in the future when you leave us alone,” he told her. “We don’t have heavy weapons, we don’t have heavy artillery, we don’t have enough ammunition. We don’t have night vision, we don’t have an air force. This post doesn’t even have electricity — we use oil lamps at night.”

Like most great reporting, this dispatch is subject to multiple interpretations. To me, it shows the problems inherent in the chosen American strategy of drawing down our combat forces and mentoring the Afghans–there are undoubtedly deep cultural divisions between Americans and Afghans that are hard to pierce, especially in the current atmosphere of distrust because of the green on blue shootings. But it also shows the necessity of continuing to support the Afghan security forces, for without our support areas like Wardak Province, located just a few miles outside of Kabul, will fall quickly into Taliban hands. U.S. commanders had hoped to pacify this area after the completion of operations in southern Afghanistan, but President Obama’s overly hasty withdrawal of surge troops makes that impossible, leaving Afghan forces in a precarious position as we continue our drawdown. If we continue to withdraw too quickly, Kabul itself, which is relatively peaceful at the moment, will be endangered by the Taliban.

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Colin Powell, Obama and Pressuring Israel

Yesterday, I explained at length why Efraim Halevy’s oddly partisan op-ed in the New York Times alleging that only Republicans have strong-armed Israel was as absurd as it was irrelevant to the question of whether President Obama should be re-elected. Nevertheless, some liberals have continued to circulate Halevy’s piece as if it was conclusive proof that Democrats are always good and Republicans are bad. As I pointed out, presidents from both parties have been pressuring the Jewish state since it was born. Even if we were to accept the former Mossad chief’s lame attempt to summarize the history of U.S.-Israel relations so as to focus only on episodes of tension when the GOP had the White House, it does nothing to answer the justified criticisms of President Obama’s undeniable record of pressure.

But there is one aspect of Halevy’s piece that is relevant this morning: his discussion of the way the George W. Bush administration hammered Israel into accepting the “road map” for Middle East peace in 2003 prior to the Iraq War. The prime mover behind that policy went unnamed in Halevy’s piece, but he is very much in the news today: former Secretary of State Colin Powell. To no one’s surprise, Powell endorsed President Obama for re-election. The former general had a number of reasons for backing the president, but by all accounts the most important one was distrust of the “neoconservatives” who advise Mitt Romney on foreign policy. Those who think criticism of the Bush administration’s attitude to Israel should inform the 2012 election need to understand that Powell — the most prominent critic of Israel on Bush’s team — is weighing in on the election largely because he doesn’t like the pro-Israel tone of the Romney campaign and endorses Obama’s policy of pressure. That puts Halevy’s “bad Republican” argument in a perspective that renders it useless to those supporting the president’s re-election.

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Yesterday, I explained at length why Efraim Halevy’s oddly partisan op-ed in the New York Times alleging that only Republicans have strong-armed Israel was as absurd as it was irrelevant to the question of whether President Obama should be re-elected. Nevertheless, some liberals have continued to circulate Halevy’s piece as if it was conclusive proof that Democrats are always good and Republicans are bad. As I pointed out, presidents from both parties have been pressuring the Jewish state since it was born. Even if we were to accept the former Mossad chief’s lame attempt to summarize the history of U.S.-Israel relations so as to focus only on episodes of tension when the GOP had the White House, it does nothing to answer the justified criticisms of President Obama’s undeniable record of pressure.

But there is one aspect of Halevy’s piece that is relevant this morning: his discussion of the way the George W. Bush administration hammered Israel into accepting the “road map” for Middle East peace in 2003 prior to the Iraq War. The prime mover behind that policy went unnamed in Halevy’s piece, but he is very much in the news today: former Secretary of State Colin Powell. To no one’s surprise, Powell endorsed President Obama for re-election. The former general had a number of reasons for backing the president, but by all accounts the most important one was distrust of the “neoconservatives” who advise Mitt Romney on foreign policy. Those who think criticism of the Bush administration’s attitude to Israel should inform the 2012 election need to understand that Powell — the most prominent critic of Israel on Bush’s team — is weighing in on the election largely because he doesn’t like the pro-Israel tone of the Romney campaign and endorses Obama’s policy of pressure. That puts Halevy’s “bad Republican” argument in a perspective that renders it useless to those supporting the president’s re-election.

In an administration where friendship for Israel and sympathy for its security concerns was the norm, Powell was a prominent skeptic about the Jewish state’s point of view about self-defense and the peace process. He was not happy about President Bush’s decision to give Israel a “green light” to take out Palestinian terror bases during the second intifada, and was a key player in the episode Halevy highlighted about the “road map.”

Powell’s antagonism for the neocons in the Bush administration is well known and is not limited to their disagreements about how the U.S. should treat Israel. But the point here is that Powell’s sympathy for Obama’s foreign policy stems in no small measure from their similar views about the Middle East. If the conceit of Halevy’s piece is that a vote for Mitt Romney is a vote for a repeat of the worst aspects of George W. Bush’s attitude toward Israel (as opposed to what every objective observer concedes was its overall stance of unflinching support), then Colin Powell’s endorsement demolishes it.

President Obama came into office determined to create some distance between the U.S. and Israel because he and his advisors thought the two countries had become too close under Bush. In doing so, he seemed to champion the stance that Powell, who was the loser in most Bush administration arguments about policy, had wished to pursue.

President Obama’s record deserves to be judged on its own merits, a point that Halevy ignored in his op-ed. But anyone who thinks concern about a return of Bush-era pressure on Israel is relevant to their decision in this election ought to take Powell’s views into consideration and understand that what he likes about Obama’s policies is precisely what supporters of Israel fear.

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Mullah Omar’s Triumphalism

On Wednesday, Mullah Omar, the elusive leader of the Taliban, released a message for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which this year falls on October 26. Omar’s message is well worth reading, especially against the backdrop of Obama administration efforts to negotiate with the Taliban.

As Ahmad Majidyar—probably the most astute Afghanistan analyst in the United States—points out, Mullah Omar used his address to redouble his commitment to a complete military victory. “We will continue to wage Jihad against the invaders who have invaded our country until the occupation ends completely,” he declared. Obama and Governor Romney might both have reaffirmed the 2014 pullout date during their most recent debate, but let us hope that they did so fully cognizant that no amount of spin will convince Afghans and Afghanistan’s neighbors that the withdrawal is anything but a Taliban victory.

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On Wednesday, Mullah Omar, the elusive leader of the Taliban, released a message for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which this year falls on October 26. Omar’s message is well worth reading, especially against the backdrop of Obama administration efforts to negotiate with the Taliban.

As Ahmad Majidyar—probably the most astute Afghanistan analyst in the United States—points out, Mullah Omar used his address to redouble his commitment to a complete military victory. “We will continue to wage Jihad against the invaders who have invaded our country until the occupation ends completely,” he declared. Obama and Governor Romney might both have reaffirmed the 2014 pullout date during their most recent debate, but let us hope that they did so fully cognizant that no amount of spin will convince Afghans and Afghanistan’s neighbors that the withdrawal is anything but a Taliban victory.

Mullah Omar celebrates the “Green on Blue” attacks which have brought the Taliban to the verge of victory. I’ve addressed the ideological motivation behind the “Green on Blue” attacks, here. The Pentagon continues to hamper itself by rooting insider attacks more in grievance than in jihadist ideology. Hopefully, Mullah Omar’s message will put a rest to that silly notion:

We call on the Afghans who still stand with the stooge regime to turn to full-fledged cooperation with their Mujahid people like courageous persons in order to protect national interests and to complete independence of the country. Jihadic activities inside the circle of the State militias are the most effective stratagem. Its dimension will see further expansion, organization and efficiency if God willing. I urge every brave Afghan in the ranks of the foreign forces and their Afghan hirelings who may find an opportunity to utilize this opportunity effectively and quash the enemies of Islam and country in their centers and use all possible means, opportunities and tactics to strike them. This is because Jihad is an obligation enjoined on every one. It is the duty of every individual of the nation from religious perspective and on the basis of his conscious to strive for the liberation and independence of his country.

Likewise, it is essential the Obama administration and the State Department pay attention to what Mullah Omar says of negotiations and diplomacy, especially as that has become the central pillar of the Obama administration’s exit strategy. Omar makes no secret that his goal in talks is the release of prisoners—not peace with the Afghan government. He assures Afghans that the Taliban is “neither thinking of monopolizing power nor [do we] intend to spark off domestic war,” but any Afghan knows to take such assurances at his peril. After all, Mullah Omar made the same assurances upon taking Kandahar in 1994 and again in 1996, right before the Taliban seized Kabul and purged all opposition.

Afghans have never lost a war; they just defect to the winning side. At a dinner party a month ago, a CIA operative who recently returned from Afghanistan said she thought that soft-partition was going to be the best possible outcome. Partition—soft or hard—will be impossible in Afghanistan, however, because it ignores the importance of momentum. Mullah Omar appreciates what the CIA doesn’t. “Our Jihadic momentum has reached a phase that enjoys comprehensive global Islamic support.”

Jihadists issue declarations all the time. They are not without meaning. Some are defensive, and others are fantastical. Mullah Omar’s tone and statements, however, are illustrative of his goals and strategy. Let us hope that a desire to withdraw “on schedule” will not affirm Mullah Omar’s triumphalism.

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