Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 2012

Benghazi and Obama’s Unfinished Business

As Max wrote on Friday, the explanations for the Pentagon to act in time to save the Americans trapped in the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on 9/11/12 are unraveling the more we learn about what happened and the real-time information that was available to decision makers. But though the facts about the incident continue to dribble out, the response from most of the mainstream media to this scandal remains one of indifference. Indeed, to listen to many liberal pundits, once President Obama put the issue to sleep in the second presidential debate with a significant assist from CNN’s Candy Crowley, the only people who continue to think about the issue are right-wing nutcases. That the president responded by “taking offense” to a question on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” about the information he and other senior officials might have known about the situation shows he thinks he can get away with the same sort of grandstanding he exhibited at that debate.

If the president’s campaign was counting on their cheerleaders in the mainstream media having their back on Libya, they were right. The latest developments in the story have gotten little or no play in major newspapers or networks other than Fox. Though foreign policy was never going to be a decisive factor in the presidential election, the relative silence about Benghazi has ensured that although the president says he “takes responsibility” for what happened, there is little chance he will be held accountable in any meaningful way about it before the presidential election. But like some other scandals that have been percolating below the radar, this is one more that will hang over the administration in the months and years to come. The best that can be said for the president is that if he wins next week, Benghazi will be added to the list that already contains items like the cyber-war security leaks and the “Fast and Furious” scandal that will haunt his second term. If he loses, it ensures the GOP will be able to continue to haul administration figures over the coals over these failures with impunity.

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As Max wrote on Friday, the explanations for the Pentagon to act in time to save the Americans trapped in the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on 9/11/12 are unraveling the more we learn about what happened and the real-time information that was available to decision makers. But though the facts about the incident continue to dribble out, the response from most of the mainstream media to this scandal remains one of indifference. Indeed, to listen to many liberal pundits, once President Obama put the issue to sleep in the second presidential debate with a significant assist from CNN’s Candy Crowley, the only people who continue to think about the issue are right-wing nutcases. That the president responded by “taking offense” to a question on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” about the information he and other senior officials might have known about the situation shows he thinks he can get away with the same sort of grandstanding he exhibited at that debate.

If the president’s campaign was counting on their cheerleaders in the mainstream media having their back on Libya, they were right. The latest developments in the story have gotten little or no play in major newspapers or networks other than Fox. Though foreign policy was never going to be a decisive factor in the presidential election, the relative silence about Benghazi has ensured that although the president says he “takes responsibility” for what happened, there is little chance he will be held accountable in any meaningful way about it before the presidential election. But like some other scandals that have been percolating below the radar, this is one more that will hang over the administration in the months and years to come. The best that can be said for the president is that if he wins next week, Benghazi will be added to the list that already contains items like the cyber-war security leaks and the “Fast and Furious” scandal that will haunt his second term. If he loses, it ensures the GOP will be able to continue to haul administration figures over the coals over these failures with impunity.

As a political strategy, the president’s continuing outrage about questions about Libya has been successful. But it is one with a limited shelf life. Once the election is over, the stalling tactics won’t work. Sooner or later, answers must be forthcoming. If there is to be a scapegoat for the apparent decision to have U.S. forces “stand down” rather than rescue Ambassador Stevens and the other besieged Americans, you can bet it won’t be the man who says he “takes responsibility” for what happened.

It is possible a Romney administration will decide to pass on further investigations of Obama’s scandals in order to avoid being accused of petty partisanship or pointless recriminations. But if Obama wins but is still, as is likely, is faced with at least one branch of Congress in the hands of the Republicans, the accounting for Libya will become a major problem for the president. At that point, fake anger won’t be enough to derail serious investigations that could prove both embarrassing and damaging. Senator John McCain’s pointed comments about Libya yesterday on CBS constitute not so much a partisan talking point as a harbinger of what the president and his team will face in the future as Congress digs into the issue.

Presidents ardently desire second terms, but most find that the scandals, failures and fatigue that inevitably crop up turn those four years into a nightmare. President Obama may have dodged the bullet on Libya prior to the election, but if he wins, Benghazi will be one more bit of unfinished business that will come back to bite him.

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Independents Shift to Romney

Today’s Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Romney leading Obama by one-point with just one week to go. Notice that WaPo can barely bring itself to say Romney has a lead (however slight) in its write-up:

For the third consecutive day of the Washington Post-ABC News national tracking poll, a single — statistically insignificant — percentage point separates the two presidential contenders: 49 percent of likely voters back Republican Mitt Romney, and 48 percent support President Obama.

The parity in the contest shows up elsewhere as well: the two candidates are just two points apart when it comes to dealing with taxes, and they are three points apart on health care policy. The poll’s margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the sample of 1,278 likely voters.

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Today’s Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Romney leading Obama by one-point with just one week to go. Notice that WaPo can barely bring itself to say Romney has a lead (however slight) in its write-up:

For the third consecutive day of the Washington Post-ABC News national tracking poll, a single — statistically insignificant — percentage point separates the two presidential contenders: 49 percent of likely voters back Republican Mitt Romney, and 48 percent support President Obama.

The parity in the contest shows up elsewhere as well: the two candidates are just two points apart when it comes to dealing with taxes, and they are three points apart on health care policy. The poll’s margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the sample of 1,278 likely voters.

WaPo’s tracking poll also shows Romney maintaining a double-digit lead with independents. Chris Cillizza writes that this is a serious problem for Obama, but may not be definitive:

First, while the election is national in scope, it will be decided in a handful of swing states, including Virginia, where Post polling released Sunday showed Obama with a four-point edge.

Second, enthusiasm among independents can be a fleeting thing — as shown by the movement in the numbers among GOP-leaning independents over the past few weeks.

Third, even Republicans acknowledge that Obama’s turnout operation is the best that has ever been built, meaning (a) the incumbent’s campaign will find every Democratic partisan there is in a swing state and (b) it will work hard to contact and energize those Democratic-leaning independents in the final eight days of the campaign.

True, but whatever happened over the last few weeks that suddenly made independent voters across the country shift toward Romney is having an impact in the swing states as well. There’s been a disconnect between national and state polls, but there are signs the latter are catching up. Enthusiasm can always change, but with just a week to go Romney has a strong lead in that area. If Romney maintains his advantage with independents on election day, Obama would need to get his base to turn out in the same numbers as in 2008. No matter how great his turnout operation, he’s still working with a far less enthusiastic pool than he was last time around.

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All Four Major Iowa Papers Endorse Romney

If Mitt Romney doesn’t win Ohio, then his path to the White House rests on a handful of other states, including Iowa. He got a boost there this weekend after winning the endorsements of all four major newspapers: 

As far as newspaper endorsements are concerned, Mitt Romney made a clean sweep in Iowa: all four major newspapers, including the state’s largest paper, The Des Moines Register, backed Mitt Romney. …

The Cedar Rapids Gazette’s editorial board said President Obama “made his mark during his historic first term” with passage of the health care law, reforms to the financial sector and investments in green energy, but they say the president has “come up short” on the economy and debt.

Simply put, the Quad City Times’ editorial board wrote, “We invested heavily in hope back in 2008. Our 2012 endorsement of Mitt Romney comes with an imperative for change.” The Sioux City Journal editorial board offered a similar assessment: “We are neither satisfied nor confident. In our view, change is needed.”

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If Mitt Romney doesn’t win Ohio, then his path to the White House rests on a handful of other states, including Iowa. He got a boost there this weekend after winning the endorsements of all four major newspapers: 

As far as newspaper endorsements are concerned, Mitt Romney made a clean sweep in Iowa: all four major newspapers, including the state’s largest paper, The Des Moines Register, backed Mitt Romney. …

The Cedar Rapids Gazette’s editorial board said President Obama “made his mark during his historic first term” with passage of the health care law, reforms to the financial sector and investments in green energy, but they say the president has “come up short” on the economy and debt.

Simply put, the Quad City Times’ editorial board wrote, “We invested heavily in hope back in 2008. Our 2012 endorsement of Mitt Romney comes with an imperative for change.” The Sioux City Journal editorial board offered a similar assessment: “We are neither satisfied nor confident. In our view, change is needed.”

The Des Moines Register’s endorsement wasn’t a total surprise, since the paper had taken a transparent swipe at Obama on its front page last week. But it’s still out of character for the Register, which hasn’t endorsed a Republican for president since Richard Nixon in 1972.

Newspaper endorsements obviously don’t have as much influence as they once did, but these do indicate openness to supporting Romney, even among typically liberal-leaning editorial pages. At the Washington Examiner, Michael Barone writes:

But occasionally there comes an editorial page stance that matters. The Des Moines Register has endorsed Mitt Romney. The Register is not quite the statewide paper that it once was, but it is still clearly the most prominent paper in a state that is closely divided and has 6 critical electoral votes. The endorsement editorial is very much worth reading, because it tends to appeal to the high-minded affluent voters that can be found in large numbers on the west side of Des Moines and in its west side suburbs in Polk County and fast-growing Dallas County to the west. …

The Real Clear Politics average of recent polls shows Iowa as 49%-47% Obama, and this endorsement could make a significant difference in this closely divided state. If we assume that Mitt Romney is leading Barack Obama in the following Obama 2008 states, as he is in RCP polling averages—Indiana, the Nebraska 2nd congressional district, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia and Colorado, Romney can win the presidency without Ohio if he wins Iowa and Wisconsin. The Register endorsement could go some ways to making the difference.

I’m not sure this will change many votes, and there aren’t many undecideds left to influence. But if it’s a reflection of the general sentiment among unaffiliated and Democratic-leaning independent voters in the state, it’s promising for Romney.

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The Rationale for the Racism Canard

Last week, John Sununu lost his perch as one of the Mitt Romney campaign’s leading cable news talking head surrogates when he surmised that the reason former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed President Obama again this year is because both men are African-American. While, as I wrote, there were other, perhaps more compelling reasons for Powell to back the president, liberals seized on Sununu’s statement as evidence of Republican racism. The race theme resurfaced again yesterday when liberal blogger Andrew Sullivan said on ABC’s “This Week” that the potential return of Virginia and Florida to the Republican column this year (along with likely GOP pickup North Carolina that he failed to mention) would mean the revival of “the Confederacy.”

Sullivan’s rather simplistic thesis was quickly shot down by George Will who pointed out that it was more likely that the whites who voted for Obama in 2008 but who won’t this year are judging the president on his performance in office rather than having become racist in the last four years. That’s obvious, but the willingness to jump on Sununu and to start talking about the Confederacy is no accident. In an election in which the president seems to be losing independents, Democrats desperately need voters to think more about Barack Obama’s historic status as the first African-American president and less about the record that he can’t run on. The president’s difficult electoral predicament is not a function of prejudice but the fact that more Americans are looking beyond race rather than obsessing about it.

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Last week, John Sununu lost his perch as one of the Mitt Romney campaign’s leading cable news talking head surrogates when he surmised that the reason former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed President Obama again this year is because both men are African-American. While, as I wrote, there were other, perhaps more compelling reasons for Powell to back the president, liberals seized on Sununu’s statement as evidence of Republican racism. The race theme resurfaced again yesterday when liberal blogger Andrew Sullivan said on ABC’s “This Week” that the potential return of Virginia and Florida to the Republican column this year (along with likely GOP pickup North Carolina that he failed to mention) would mean the revival of “the Confederacy.”

Sullivan’s rather simplistic thesis was quickly shot down by George Will who pointed out that it was more likely that the whites who voted for Obama in 2008 but who won’t this year are judging the president on his performance in office rather than having become racist in the last four years. That’s obvious, but the willingness to jump on Sununu and to start talking about the Confederacy is no accident. In an election in which the president seems to be losing independents, Democrats desperately need voters to think more about Barack Obama’s historic status as the first African-American president and less about the record that he can’t run on. The president’s difficult electoral predicament is not a function of prejudice but the fact that more Americans are looking beyond race rather than obsessing about it.

Race is the original sin of American history, and anyone who attempted to argue that it no longer plays a role in our society is being disingenuous. But while the 2008 election did not mean it disappeared, it did remove it as an explanation for the voting behavior of the majority of Americans. While it is possible that some people will not vote for the president because of prejudice against his race, it is hardly a sign of bias to notice that there are many Americans — both white and black — who believe the symbolism of his ascendancy to the presidency is an act of historic justice that is an argument in itself for voting for Obama. Indeed, the president has very little to recommend his re-election other than party loyalty on the part of Democrats and lingering good feelings about what happened in 2008.

By contrast, Sununu is not a particularly sympathetic figure, and there are those of us who still bitterly recall that when he was the governor of New Hampshire he was the only U.S. governor who refused to repudiate the United Nations’ infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution. But rehashing his past, including the ethical problems that led the first President Bush to fire him from his post as White House chief of staff, as the New York Times’ Charles Blow did this past weekend during the course of a column that attempted to first brand Sununu a racist and then to smear Romney as one by association, tells us more about the Obama campaign than it does about the GOP. That canard is a disreputable political tactic and nothing more.

The remarkable thing about both the 2008 and the 2012 elections is how unremarkable we have come to see the idea of an African-American running for and then serving as president. The decline in the president’s fortune has nothing to do with the revival of prejudice but is, instead, a result of the sober judgment of a significant portion of white Americans that the man they voted for in 2008 has not merited re-election. Republicans are asking the American people to assess the president on his record, not his race. It is, unfortunately, the Democrats who are the ones who are attempting inject race into the campaign.

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Why Does the State Department Help Autocrats Silence Journalists?

Over Sunday brunch, an opposition Russian journalist mentioned a State Department policy that symbolizes everything that is wrong with the American approach toward autocratic regimes: In order for foreign journalists to get State Department credentials, the journalists must not only have a letter in hand from the organization for which they work, but they also need a cover letter from the press attaché from their country’s embassy in Washington.

Opposition Russian journalists must therefore get a letter testifying to their journalist credentials from the Russian government or the Russian embassy in Washington; Opposition Venezuelan journalists must get credentials from the Venezuelan embassy; and opposition Turkish journalists must get certified by the Turkish embassy. Needless to say, these countries grant credentials only to those journalists who at worst sing the praises of Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and at best self-censor.

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Over Sunday brunch, an opposition Russian journalist mentioned a State Department policy that symbolizes everything that is wrong with the American approach toward autocratic regimes: In order for foreign journalists to get State Department credentials, the journalists must not only have a letter in hand from the organization for which they work, but they also need a cover letter from the press attaché from their country’s embassy in Washington.

Opposition Russian journalists must therefore get a letter testifying to their journalist credentials from the Russian government or the Russian embassy in Washington; Opposition Venezuelan journalists must get credentials from the Venezuelan embassy; and opposition Turkish journalists must get certified by the Turkish embassy. Needless to say, these countries grant credentials only to those journalists who at worst sing the praises of Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and at best self-censor.

There is no waiver for journalists from such countries who would use their residence in the United States to report critically about their home countries. President Obama may on occasion talk about democracy and freedom but, in effect, the State Department’s policy carries water for the world’s worst dictators and uses a pointless bureaucratic impediment to help them silence the very people whom the United States should be doing the most to support. Perhaps it’s time to reset the bureaucratic mindset in Washington, and help Russian journalists while we are at it.

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Is Sandy This Year’s October Surprise?

It is a standby of political journalism every four years to ponder what event will qualify as the “October surprise” of the election cycle. The assumption is that the incumbent administration will attempt to manipulate some incident in order to either discredit the opposition or to flaunt their leadership skills. Despite the fact that most presidential elections come and go without anything like that happening, it isn’t just paranoids who wait and watch for something that will change the fate of the candidates. So far in 2012 the only unexpected event that has occurred in October was the first presidential debate that showcased Mitt Romney’s strengths and Barack Obama’s weaknesses. But this week something may happen that could potentially play the role of the last-minute game changer: Hurricane Sandy.

With the East Coast battening down the hatches for a potential disaster, politics is the furthest thing from the minds of those in the storm’s path. But you can bet that both campaigns are pondering more than just changing their schedules to stay out of those areas affected by the hurricane. While the odds of this turning into the kind of political disaster for the president that Hurricane Katrina became for President Bush are fairly slim, some paranoid Republicans may worry that if President Obama is seen as doing an effective job leading rescue or recovery effort in the next week, it could give him a jolt of momentum that could make the difference in a close race. That is possible, but I think the idea that a natural disaster is going to impact the views of a critical mass of voters in such a way as to influence them to support Obama is pretty far-fetched. Though it is to be hoped that federal agencies acquit themselves admirably in the coming days and that no discredit is brought down upon the government or the White House, there is a reason why such events are called disasters. If history teaches us anything, storms provide politicians with more chances to screw up than to look good.

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It is a standby of political journalism every four years to ponder what event will qualify as the “October surprise” of the election cycle. The assumption is that the incumbent administration will attempt to manipulate some incident in order to either discredit the opposition or to flaunt their leadership skills. Despite the fact that most presidential elections come and go without anything like that happening, it isn’t just paranoids who wait and watch for something that will change the fate of the candidates. So far in 2012 the only unexpected event that has occurred in October was the first presidential debate that showcased Mitt Romney’s strengths and Barack Obama’s weaknesses. But this week something may happen that could potentially play the role of the last-minute game changer: Hurricane Sandy.

With the East Coast battening down the hatches for a potential disaster, politics is the furthest thing from the minds of those in the storm’s path. But you can bet that both campaigns are pondering more than just changing their schedules to stay out of those areas affected by the hurricane. While the odds of this turning into the kind of political disaster for the president that Hurricane Katrina became for President Bush are fairly slim, some paranoid Republicans may worry that if President Obama is seen as doing an effective job leading rescue or recovery effort in the next week, it could give him a jolt of momentum that could make the difference in a close race. That is possible, but I think the idea that a natural disaster is going to impact the views of a critical mass of voters in such a way as to influence them to support Obama is pretty far-fetched. Though it is to be hoped that federal agencies acquit themselves admirably in the coming days and that no discredit is brought down upon the government or the White House, there is a reason why such events are called disasters. If history teaches us anything, storms provide politicians with more chances to screw up than to look good.

The circumstances that turned bad weather into the turning point for George W. Bush’s presidency were unique and probably can’t be replicated. Even if poor black coastal communities were to suffer disproportionately this week, no one will say it is the result of President Obama’s racism or blame him for the failures of local and state authorities. But when faced with distress of the kind that we are told to expect, it takes more than a sympathetic look from a president who helicopters in to look at the damage to convince people that things are okay. The potential for some failure or screw-up to make the government look bad is far greater than any opportunity for Obama to play the hero.

It should be admitted that it might be better for the president for him to spend a couple of days acting like a president rather than to be chasing around swing states engaging in name-calling against his foe or using expletives to describe him. But a mere photo op or the awarding of disaster aid to a region or city won’t win many hearts or minds in an election in which there are few truly undecided voters. The only political impact of the storm will probably be in how it influences turnout in coastal states, especially Virginia. But that’s unlikely to hurt one party more than the other.

The fact is the obsession with October surprises is based on the fallacy that the electorate is more fickle than it actually is. In a year when the economy is the main issue, a potentially damning incident like the fiasco in Libya last month has had little impact on the Obama-Romney race. Whatever they may think of what happened, Democrats are not likely to abandon their leader because of it since they prioritize domestic issues. Republicans who are outraged about the administration’s dishonesty and who rightly demand answers about what happened would not have supported Obama even if this had never happened.

If Sandy is this year’s October surprise, that’s just another way of saying that there isn’t one.

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The Obama Ground Game Myth

In the last week, there have been two consistent themes being sounded by the Democrats. One is the assertion that Mitt Romney’s momentum has been halted and even reversed. The other is that their ground game is so good that the president is bound to win the election no matter what the polls say. These two talking points are closely related, since the polls that liberal analysts cite in order to assert that the president is edging back into the lead are based on assumptions about the composition of the electorate that are only possible if the Democrats match or even exceed the massive turnout they achieved in 2008.

Why pollsters would assume that a correct sample for the 2012 election would mirror the 2008 results when Obama rode a wave of disgust for the Bush administration and belief in his promise of hope and change is a mystery that demands an explanation that has yet to be forthcoming. Yet Democrats say the question is irrelevant since their ability to generate turnout is so expert and so superior to that of the Republicans they believe there is little doubt that once again the number of their voters will outnumber those of the GOP. To that end, journalists have been citing the fact that there are far more Obama campaign offices in states like Ohio than those working for Romney. But that is an argument that even some on the left understand is largely meaningless. Not only may the ground game advantage be a myth, the changes in partisan affiliation in the last four years render the optimistic poll numbers that are encouraging Democrats in the past week a self-deception that could lead to bitter disappointment on election day.

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In the last week, there have been two consistent themes being sounded by the Democrats. One is the assertion that Mitt Romney’s momentum has been halted and even reversed. The other is that their ground game is so good that the president is bound to win the election no matter what the polls say. These two talking points are closely related, since the polls that liberal analysts cite in order to assert that the president is edging back into the lead are based on assumptions about the composition of the electorate that are only possible if the Democrats match or even exceed the massive turnout they achieved in 2008.

Why pollsters would assume that a correct sample for the 2012 election would mirror the 2008 results when Obama rode a wave of disgust for the Bush administration and belief in his promise of hope and change is a mystery that demands an explanation that has yet to be forthcoming. Yet Democrats say the question is irrelevant since their ability to generate turnout is so expert and so superior to that of the Republicans they believe there is little doubt that once again the number of their voters will outnumber those of the GOP. To that end, journalists have been citing the fact that there are far more Obama campaign offices in states like Ohio than those working for Romney. But that is an argument that even some on the left understand is largely meaningless. Not only may the ground game advantage be a myth, the changes in partisan affiliation in the last four years render the optimistic poll numbers that are encouraging Democrats in the past week a self-deception that could lead to bitter disappointment on election day.

The field office gap has become as popular a talking point in recent days as the gender gap. Earlier in the week the Atlantic’s Molly Ball reported that not only are the Democrats’ offices more numerous, but that the GOP outlets are either sleepier or lack interest in Romney’s fate as opposed to those of local Republican candidates. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough was so impressed by this argument that he wrote in Politico that it showed that Romney was depending on emotion and intangibles while the Democrats were relying on practical organizational skills.

The problem with this simplistic argument is easily illustrated. There are far fewer GOP field offices, but that’s because as even Kevin Drum, a writer for the left-wing Mother Jones, wrote on Friday, Republicans are operating on a different paradigm:

There’s been a disconnect in the ground games of the major parties for some time. Democrats tend to rely on paid, professional operations, while Republicans rely more on volunteer efforts, largely from evangelical churches. This is something that actually works in the Republicans’ favor, since volunteer efforts from friends and neighbors tend to be more effective at switching votes than professional phone banks. (Also cheaper.)

The other reason why Republicans are not as obsessed with turnout is that their base tends to be more highly motivated and, as a rule, are already registered rather than having to be schlepped out to the polls with great difficulty. They are instead working on convincing independents to give Romney a second look, an effort that has borne fruits as polls show their candidate gaining ground among centrists.

That’s something that gets us to the heart of this conundrum about turnout. As Josh Jordan explains in National Review, both Gallup and Rasmussen agree that the partisan split between Republicans and Democrats has changed markedly since 2008. Whereas four years ago the Democrats had a seven-point advantage, this fall that has become a 1 or 2 point Republican edge.

Under those circumstances, it’s difficult to take seriously those polls like the Investors Business Daily/TIPP tracking poll that shows Obama up by one point, since its sample has seven percent more Democrats than Republicans. But even there, there is little to encourage the president’s supporters since his numbers have been declining in that poll over the past week. You have to believe along with Obama staffer Jim Messina that their ground game that will produce an electorate that is disproportionately Democratic with more minority and young voters than even in 2008 to think such a result is even possible.

This makes the operative question this week not so much whether which polls are accurate as it is how even with a field office advantage can the Democrats possibly manufacture the sort of partisan turnout advantage that could re-elect Obama? In a year when independents are flocking to Romney, there simply may not be enough Democrats, youth or minority voters to offset the fact the GOP base will turn out in numbers that will far eclipse their totals in 2008. Discussion about a ground game may be simply an attempt to distract us from the fact that the president’s campaign is betting everything on an organizational plan that can’t overcome the way the electorate has changed over the course of the Obama presidency.

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Romney’s Speech Theme Sounds Familiar

It already looks like the media spin on Romney’s economic speech is going to be “he didn’t give any specifics!” No surprise — this was billed as a closing argument, and that’s what he gave. It was a general summary of what he’s been saying on the trail for the past few months, his five-point plan, and his critique of Obama’s policies. The full transcript is here.

But the really interesting part was how brazenly Romney seized the “change” theme from Obama. He used the word “change” or some variation of it 17 times in the speech. And he really started hammering the message toward the end:

What this requires is change, change from the course of the last four years. It requires that we put aside the small and the petty, and demand the scale of change we deserve: we need real change, big change.

Our campaign is about that kind of change–confronting the problems that politicians have avoided for over a decade, revitalizing our competitive economy, modernizing our education, restoring our founding principles.

This is the kind of change that promises a better future, one shaped by men and women pursuing their dreams in their own unique ways.

This election is a choice between the status quo — going forward with the same policies of the last four years — or instead, choosing real change, change that offers promise, promise that the future will be better than the past.

If you are ready for that kind of change, if you want this to be a turning point in America’s course, join Paul Ryan and me, get your family and friends to join us, and vote now for the kind of leadership that these times demand.

This is a smart move by Romney. Obama’s 2008 branding was so effective that you can barely listen to the word “change” in a political speech without thinking back to it. Romney’s reminding voters of Obama’s failed promises without explicitly attacking him.

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It already looks like the media spin on Romney’s economic speech is going to be “he didn’t give any specifics!” No surprise — this was billed as a closing argument, and that’s what he gave. It was a general summary of what he’s been saying on the trail for the past few months, his five-point plan, and his critique of Obama’s policies. The full transcript is here.

But the really interesting part was how brazenly Romney seized the “change” theme from Obama. He used the word “change” or some variation of it 17 times in the speech. And he really started hammering the message toward the end:

What this requires is change, change from the course of the last four years. It requires that we put aside the small and the petty, and demand the scale of change we deserve: we need real change, big change.

Our campaign is about that kind of change–confronting the problems that politicians have avoided for over a decade, revitalizing our competitive economy, modernizing our education, restoring our founding principles.

This is the kind of change that promises a better future, one shaped by men and women pursuing their dreams in their own unique ways.

This election is a choice between the status quo — going forward with the same policies of the last four years — or instead, choosing real change, change that offers promise, promise that the future will be better than the past.

If you are ready for that kind of change, if you want this to be a turning point in America’s course, join Paul Ryan and me, get your family and friends to join us, and vote now for the kind of leadership that these times demand.

This is a smart move by Romney. Obama’s 2008 branding was so effective that you can barely listen to the word “change” in a political speech without thinking back to it. Romney’s reminding voters of Obama’s failed promises without explicitly attacking him.

It also puts Obama in an awkward position. If he criticizes Romney for stealing the “change” theme, he risks calling more attention to his stark deviation from the 2008 campaign. If he ignores it, then it will look like he ceded the mantle to Romney.

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Why the GOP Doesn’t Trust Philly Dems

One of the sidebars to the story about the passage of the voter ID law in Pennsylvania was the fact that most of the state’s Republicans think Democrats, particularly those in Philadelphia, cheat with impunity. Democrats claim this is all nonsense, but those who know the city’s political history understand that this is one place where machine politics is not something confined to the history books. That law won’t be enforced this year as a result of a court ruling that more time is needed to prepare voters. However, suspicion that Democrats are up to no good lingers and a partisan email blast from the city official who supervises elections isn’t helping matters.

Stephanie Singer is the chairman of the City Commission, the body that supervises, among other things, Philadelphia’s Board of Elections. In a normal city where such an office is a non-partisan or civil service post, it would be inconceivable that the person who is in charge of ensuring a fair vote would be involved in partisan politics, but when it comes to civics or ethics, Philadelphia remains mired in the bad old days of machine politics. Therefore, when the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Singer sent out an email blast urging citizens to vote to re-elect Barack Obama, the city of Brotherly Love merely shrugged. That Singer also went on in the email to claim that Judaism demands its adherents vote for the Democrats illustrates the way Jewish liberals have attempted to politicize their faith. But the willingness of the city to accept a situation where the elections commissioner is a rabid partisan tells us a lot about why there is so much distrust in Pennsylvania about the honesty of the elections system in the state’s largest city.

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One of the sidebars to the story about the passage of the voter ID law in Pennsylvania was the fact that most of the state’s Republicans think Democrats, particularly those in Philadelphia, cheat with impunity. Democrats claim this is all nonsense, but those who know the city’s political history understand that this is one place where machine politics is not something confined to the history books. That law won’t be enforced this year as a result of a court ruling that more time is needed to prepare voters. However, suspicion that Democrats are up to no good lingers and a partisan email blast from the city official who supervises elections isn’t helping matters.

Stephanie Singer is the chairman of the City Commission, the body that supervises, among other things, Philadelphia’s Board of Elections. In a normal city where such an office is a non-partisan or civil service post, it would be inconceivable that the person who is in charge of ensuring a fair vote would be involved in partisan politics, but when it comes to civics or ethics, Philadelphia remains mired in the bad old days of machine politics. Therefore, when the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Singer sent out an email blast urging citizens to vote to re-elect Barack Obama, the city of Brotherly Love merely shrugged. That Singer also went on in the email to claim that Judaism demands its adherents vote for the Democrats illustrates the way Jewish liberals have attempted to politicize their faith. But the willingness of the city to accept a situation where the elections commissioner is a rabid partisan tells us a lot about why there is so much distrust in Pennsylvania about the honesty of the elections system in the state’s largest city.

It should be stipulated that what Singer did is not illegal according to city law. She is herself a former Democratic ward leader who was elected to the post she now holds by defeating another longtime member of the party machine. As the Inquirer explains, her partisanship is not supposed to influence matters because in addition to the chair, the City Commission has both a Republican and a Democratic member. But such a scheme could only breed confidence in the system if a non-partisan chair supervised the two partisans. But since the system allows the majority party to be able to control the leadership of the commission, the result is 2-1 Democrat hegemony. It is hardly surprising that Republicans don’t feel the system guarantees fairness.

Singer has posed as a good-government type but even Zach Stolberg, a liberal and the former editor of the Philadelphia Daily News who heads the city’s election watchdog group, the Committee of Seventy, was dismayed by her action. Stolberg told the Inquirer, “It seems inappropriate for the person who runs elections in Philadelphia to have such a partisan message so close to the election.” That is the understatement of the year.

According to Singer’s email, the top issue facing the country is free birth control:

As a woman, and as a Jew, I am horrified at the prospect of Republican control of government. If you are glad to see me doing the work I am doing, please consider this: it would have been much harder to dedicate myself to work through my entire adult life to date if I had to either prepare for the prospect of unplanned motherhood or forego that natural, healthy source of joy and comfort, sex. Republican policies would keep women down by denying them affordable, safe birth control. This is bad for America.

While I’m sure everyone is very happy to know that Singer has not been deprived of the joy and comfort she sought, the issue she references has nothing to do with access to contraception. Rather it is the ObamaCare mandate that requires religious institutions and believers to pay for practices that their faith proscribes. The question there is not birth control, which may be obtained at any doctor’s office or drug store, but protecting the religious freedom of many Americans who have different views about sex than Ms. Singer.

As the Inquirer notes, she went on with more generalized arguments about the election and the two parties saying,

Her Jewish faith emphasized the “obligation to repair the world around us.” In contrast, she said, “Republicans deny responsibility — they like to use the phrase ‘personal responsibility,’ which means, ‘if a person fails it is that person’s fault.’ Republicans excuse themselves from the adverse effects of their policies on individuals.”

The mind boggles at such simple-minded theology and political theory but suffice to say that while Jews can be liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans, if Judaism is anything, it is a faith that promotes personal responsibility. One can just as easily argue that the welfare state liberals constructed has done as much if not more harm to individuals, and that Democrats like Singer excuse themselves from the adverse effects of their policies on those who have become dependent on the system they created and the devastation it has wrought, especially in a city like Philadelphia where poverty remains endemic. The difference between the parties is not whether they want to help people, but how best to do so. On that, reasonable persons may differ, but the infusion of bowdlerized religion into the equation does nothing to promote understanding of the issues let alone civility.

It is bad enough for a garden-variety politician to indulge in this sort of low political discourse and partisan invective. But it is nothing short of a scandal for the person entrusted with the responsibility to ensure honest elections in the city to do so.

Throughout the past year, liberals have expressed incredulity at the Pennsylvania Republican Party’s charges that Philadelphia’s elections are crooked. Stephanie Singer has just given the lie to their claims of innocence.

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Report: Help in Benghazi was Available, Waved Off

Earlier today I wrote about the baffling failure to call in the U.S. military to rescue our diplomats besieged in Benghazi. That failure becomes even more puzzling if this Fox News article is right. Reporter Jennifer Griffin writes that former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were working as CIA security personnel at a CIA annex not far from the consulate, and they not only saw the entire attack unfold, but communicated what they saw to Washington in real time.

They wanted to aid the diplomats at the consulate but were told to “stand down”; they ignored those orders and made their way to the consulate and brought back the remaining diplomats, minus the ambassador, who was already dead. Then they took more fire at the CIA annex–this was where Woods and Doherty were killed by a mortar shell at 4 a.m., nearly seven hours after the initial assault began. But their urgent cries for help were not answered. Griffin writes:

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Earlier today I wrote about the baffling failure to call in the U.S. military to rescue our diplomats besieged in Benghazi. That failure becomes even more puzzling if this Fox News article is right. Reporter Jennifer Griffin writes that former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were working as CIA security personnel at a CIA annex not far from the consulate, and they not only saw the entire attack unfold, but communicated what they saw to Washington in real time.

They wanted to aid the diplomats at the consulate but were told to “stand down”; they ignored those orders and made their way to the consulate and brought back the remaining diplomats, minus the ambassador, who was already dead. Then they took more fire at the CIA annex–this was where Woods and Doherty were killed by a mortar shell at 4 a.m., nearly seven hours after the initial assault began. But their urgent cries for help were not answered. Griffin writes:

In fact, at least one member of the team was on the roof of the annex manning a heavy machine gun when mortars were fired at the CIA compound. The security officer had a laser on the target that was firing and repeatedly requested back-up support from a Specter gunship, which is commonly used by U.S. Special Operations forces to provide support to Special Operations teams on the ground involved in intense firefights. The fighting at the CIA annex went on for more than four hours — enough time for any planes based in Sigonella Air base, just 480 miles away, to arrive. Fox News has also learned that two separate Tier One Special operations forces were told to wait, among them Delta Force operators.

This would seem to directly contradict Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s contention that the Pentagon knew too little about what was going on to scramble military forces. As does this tidbit from Griffin’s article: “Fox News has learned that there were two military surveillance drones redirected to Benghazi shortly after the attack on the Consulate began. They were already in the vicinity. The second surveillance craft was sent to relieve the first drone, perhaps due to fuel issues. Both were capable of sending real time visuals back to U.S. officials in Washington, D.C.”

Assuming this account is accurate, it is downright mystifying–and alarming–that in spite of real-time knowledge about the assault as it was happening, and the presence only a short flight time away of considerable military resources, someone in the government (one wonders who?) decided to limit the response to sending 22 lightly armed personnel from Tripoli. Someone at a senior level needs to be held to account for this failure.

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What’s Going on in Pennsylvania?

The latest poll in the Pennsylvania Senate race is the sort of result that makes political observers sit up and take notice. The Rasmussen poll of likely voters shows incumbent Senator Bob Casey, Jr. leading Republican challenger Tom Smith by just one percentage point. The 46-45 percent margin is shocking because this is a race that virtually no one in either party thought would be competitive, let alone be in doubt this late in the campaign. However, it also shows that Democratic confidence about Pennsylvania being a reliably blue state may have been overstated all along.

The smart money is still on Casey to pull out a win, as well as on President Obama to take Pennsylvania without that much trouble. But both Casey and Obama have seen their leads shrink dramatically in the Keystone State in the last month. Though no Republican has carried Pennsylvania in a presidential election since 1988, it should be remembered that the GOP won both the governorship and a Senate seat (Pat Toomey) in 2010. Yet while Obama has maintained a consistent, albeit decreasing lead, in Pennsylvania, Casey may actually be in more trouble than his backers are willing to admit. His problems are due in part to growing Republican enthusiasm as Mitt Romney gained momentum this month. But Casey’s own shortcomings as a candidate are the major reason he finds Smith snapping at heels. If he can’t right himself, there is a chance the GOP will make up for unexpected losses elsewhere and steal a seemingly safe blue Senate seat.

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The latest poll in the Pennsylvania Senate race is the sort of result that makes political observers sit up and take notice. The Rasmussen poll of likely voters shows incumbent Senator Bob Casey, Jr. leading Republican challenger Tom Smith by just one percentage point. The 46-45 percent margin is shocking because this is a race that virtually no one in either party thought would be competitive, let alone be in doubt this late in the campaign. However, it also shows that Democratic confidence about Pennsylvania being a reliably blue state may have been overstated all along.

The smart money is still on Casey to pull out a win, as well as on President Obama to take Pennsylvania without that much trouble. But both Casey and Obama have seen their leads shrink dramatically in the Keystone State in the last month. Though no Republican has carried Pennsylvania in a presidential election since 1988, it should be remembered that the GOP won both the governorship and a Senate seat (Pat Toomey) in 2010. Yet while Obama has maintained a consistent, albeit decreasing lead, in Pennsylvania, Casey may actually be in more trouble than his backers are willing to admit. His problems are due in part to growing Republican enthusiasm as Mitt Romney gained momentum this month. But Casey’s own shortcomings as a candidate are the major reason he finds Smith snapping at heels. If he can’t right himself, there is a chance the GOP will make up for unexpected losses elsewhere and steal a seemingly safe blue Senate seat.

To listen to most Democrats, the explanation for what’s happened in the Senate race is readily apparent: a low-key candidate running a lackluster campaign against a millionaire willing to spend money freely. They’re not far wrong about this. Casey is well known to be a nice guy in a business filled with not-so-nice people, but he has the charisma of a plate of soggy, mashed potatoes. A non-controversial mien was the right formula six years ago when Democrats nominated Casey to knock off the controversial and widely disliked Senator Rick Santorum. But to the dismay of many Democrats, the stealth candidate of 2006 became the stealth senator. Though he can still trade on his identity as the son of a popular namesake two-term governor, Casey is a virtual nonentity in the state despite being the incumbent. Smith, a former Democrat who owned coal mines, is a political novice who won his nomination in a Tea Party insurgency. But he has avoided gaffes and spent freely. After a couple of months of the airwaves in major markets being deluged with ads denouncing Casey as “Senator Zero,” Smith has gone from a double digit deficit to being virtually tied.

The idea of Smith actually beating Casey is still scoffed at by most savvy observers. But Casey’s characteristic low-key strategy has played right into Smith’s hands, as he has dominated the political stage in the state. Even worse by granting Smith only one debate (which will be taped today and then aired on Sunday) Casey has set himself up for some real problems if the Republican is seen as holding his own or even besting the incumbent.

If the Democratic machine is able to generate — by hook or by crook — a big turnout in Philadelphia, Casey may be saved. But the era in which anyone named Bob Casey can simple put his name on the ballot in Pennsylvania and expect to cruise to victory is probably over. In a year in which Republican enthusiasm is rising in the way it did in 2010, Smith must now be said to have at least a fighting chance. So must Romney, though he may have a higher hill to climb in the state. While it might be foolish for Republicans to divert scarce resources from other battleground states to contest Pennsylvania, there’s little doubt it will not be the Democratic cakewalk that most people thought it would be only a couple of months ago.

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Romney Hits His Stride as a Campaigner

It is a commonplace that Mitt Romney is a much improved candidate since he began his quest for the presidency back in 2007. He did much better in the debates against fellow Republicans earlier this year and did very well indeed against President Obama this fall. (To be sure, as both Jennifer Rubin and Peggy Noonan have pointed out, Obama’s essential arrogance, humorlessness, and disdain for those who disagree with him shone through in the debates when he had to be without prepared text and teleprompter).

Romney has also greatly improved as a campaigner. He is no FDR, with that magical rapport with the American people that was so remarkable for a Hudson River aristocrat. Nor is he a Bill Clinton, a born glad-hander who just loves—and draws energy from—a crowd. But Romney is now much more comfortable in front of an audience than he used to be and even seems to be enjoying it, which certainly didn’t use to be the case.

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It is a commonplace that Mitt Romney is a much improved candidate since he began his quest for the presidency back in 2007. He did much better in the debates against fellow Republicans earlier this year and did very well indeed against President Obama this fall. (To be sure, as both Jennifer Rubin and Peggy Noonan have pointed out, Obama’s essential arrogance, humorlessness, and disdain for those who disagree with him shone through in the debates when he had to be without prepared text and teleprompter).

Romney has also greatly improved as a campaigner. He is no FDR, with that magical rapport with the American people that was so remarkable for a Hudson River aristocrat. Nor is he a Bill Clinton, a born glad-hander who just loves—and draws energy from—a crowd. But Romney is now much more comfortable in front of an audience than he used to be and even seems to be enjoying it, which certainly didn’t use to be the case.

He spoke in Ohio yesterday in front of a big crowd that was enthusiastic to say the least. Power Line has the whole speech and I would recommend listening to it. Poll numbers and punditry are all very well and good, but the rapport between the candidate and his audience, the vibes that you can feel, tells you a lot too about how a campaign is going. And Romney’s campaign is obviously going very well indeed. It bears no resemblance to the dispirited McCain campaign of four years ago.

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At UN Human Rights Council, Will U.S. Go Down with the Ship?

One of the reasons the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement has had trouble gaining adherents is that everyone knew the movement would never just target Jews. It would begin with Israel, but surely expand to anyone deemed insufficiently hostile to Israeli companies.

And soon enough it did so, targeting American companies such as Caterpillar, which makes the type of tractor that hit Rachel Corrie, a pro-Palestinian activist attempting to shield terrorists’ weapons smuggling tunnels from the Israeli military. Since Corrie was attempting to aid those who wanted to kill Israeli civilians, you would think a “social justice” movement would spare Caterpillar its ire. But that’s not how BDS works. And so it is not surprising that such a movement has found a stalwart ally in the United Nations, an organization dedicated to protecting the world’s worst human rights violators while relentlessly targeting the Jewish state.

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One of the reasons the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement has had trouble gaining adherents is that everyone knew the movement would never just target Jews. It would begin with Israel, but surely expand to anyone deemed insufficiently hostile to Israeli companies.

And soon enough it did so, targeting American companies such as Caterpillar, which makes the type of tractor that hit Rachel Corrie, a pro-Palestinian activist attempting to shield terrorists’ weapons smuggling tunnels from the Israeli military. Since Corrie was attempting to aid those who wanted to kill Israeli civilians, you would think a “social justice” movement would spare Caterpillar its ire. But that’s not how BDS works. And so it is not surprising that such a movement has found a stalwart ally in the United Nations, an organization dedicated to protecting the world’s worst human rights violators while relentlessly targeting the Jewish state.

When the UN went looking for a special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories who embodied the world agency’s values, they settled on Richard Falk, a 9/11 truther who compared Israel to Nazi Germany. Falk hasn’t disappointed, and his latest stunt was to expand his brand of economic warfare against the Jewish state to America. Yesterday, the Washington Free Beacon reported on Falk’s belligerent threats against American companies:

“The costs to companies and businesses of failing to respect international humanitarian law are considerable,” the report warns, “including damage to a company’s public image, impact on shareholder decisions and share price and could result in employees being criminally responsible for rights abuses.”

The report warns American employees of targeted companies that they face legal risks.

“Employees of companies can face investigation and prosecution for human rights violations committed irrespective of where the violation was committed.”

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, got it only half right in her response:

“Throughout his tenure as Special Rapporteur, Mr. Falk has been highly biased and made offensive statements, including outrageous comments on the 9/11 attacks,” Rice said. “Mr. Falk’s recommendations do nothing to further a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and indeed poison the environment for peace. His continued service in the role of a UN Special Rapporteur is deeply regrettable and only damages the credibility of the UN.”

But credibility is not what the dictators’ playground is looking for. (Falk does hold an emeritus professorship at Princeton, so perhaps the prestigious university’s credibility is done continued harm by its association with Falk.) But Rice gets it wrong with respect to the UN. Falk’s report is for the UN’s Human Rights Council, a historically and notoriously anti-Israel committee. The administration of George W. Bush made the decision to withdraw from the council when it was clear it could not and would not be reformed. But President Obama rejoined the council in an attempt to round out his administration’s new focus on doing the opposite of whatever George Bush did.

Falk doesn’t harm the UN’s credibility. Just the opposite. The UNHRC eats away at America’s credibility by our continued participation in an explicitly anti-Israel “human rights” group that can put America’s name on its hateful work. John Bolton put it best when he said the Obama administration’s decision to join the council when it did was “like getting on board the Titanic after it’s hit the iceberg.” And now Rice is scolding the iceberg when she should be heading for a lifeboat.

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Should Your First Time Be With Obama?

If you watch the show “Girls,” you know writer Lena Dunham is an expert at creating painfully awkward but still compelling scenes. This ad she cut for the Obama campaign is along those lines:

After watching the ad, Foreign Policy wonders whether the concept was borrowed from a similar commercial run by Vladimir Putin’s presidential campaign 

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If you watch the show “Girls,” you know writer Lena Dunham is an expert at creating painfully awkward but still compelling scenes. This ad she cut for the Obama campaign is along those lines:

After watching the ad, Foreign Policy wonders whether the concept was borrowed from a similar commercial run by Vladimir Putin’s presidential campaign 

Is Obama’s ad a reflection of his own Putin-like personality cult? It’s hard to imagine any other candidate, Republican or Democrat, cutting a video like this. Not just because it’s risque, but because it could easily be seen as sexist, patronizing, and offensive.

Of course, Putin’s ad wasn’t designed to win an election (he has much more reliable ways of doing that), but to build his legend as a hyper-masculine patriarch. Obama’s ad is the reverse. It’s aimed at getting young people to vote, not to make people think young women like Dunham have romantic feelings about him.

But was the chance of this video going viral and convincing a few Millenials to vote really worth the risk of being mocked for copying a sleazy Russian autocrat? On Twitter, Phil Klein wondered whether there was a secondary motivation:

@melissatweets so far, it’s mocking. But all they need is one statement that goes to far, and they’ll run with it, and media will follow

— Philip Klein (@philipaklein) October 26, 2012

Who knows? The Obama campaign could benefit from a big, fake media controversy to reenergize its “war on women” theme, especially since the Mourdock scandal appears to be winding down.

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The GDP Report

The Commerce Department this morning gave a reading on the third-quarter 2012 Gross Domestic Product—the sum of goods and services produced in the United States. GDP climbed 2 percent (on an annualized basis) in July, August, and September, slightly above the predictions of economists. This was an improvement on the dismal 1.3 percent growth the economy saw in the second quarter, but still a long way from the sort of robust recovery that is needed to significantly bring down the unemployment rate and restore a sense of prosperity to the country.

Much of the growth was in consumer spending, especially for durable goods (such as automobiles, refrigerators, etc.), which saw growth at 8.5 percent. But business investment remained weak, with fixed investments (buildings and equipment, for instance) actually declining 1.3 percent after climbing 3.6 percent in the second quarter.  This might reflect caution ahead of the election and fear that the “fiscal cliff” of tax hikes and government spending cuts due January 1 might actually come to pass. Most economists think that that would send the economy right back into full-blown recession.

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The Commerce Department this morning gave a reading on the third-quarter 2012 Gross Domestic Product—the sum of goods and services produced in the United States. GDP climbed 2 percent (on an annualized basis) in July, August, and September, slightly above the predictions of economists. This was an improvement on the dismal 1.3 percent growth the economy saw in the second quarter, but still a long way from the sort of robust recovery that is needed to significantly bring down the unemployment rate and restore a sense of prosperity to the country.

Much of the growth was in consumer spending, especially for durable goods (such as automobiles, refrigerators, etc.), which saw growth at 8.5 percent. But business investment remained weak, with fixed investments (buildings and equipment, for instance) actually declining 1.3 percent after climbing 3.6 percent in the second quarter.  This might reflect caution ahead of the election and fear that the “fiscal cliff” of tax hikes and government spending cuts due January 1 might actually come to pass. Most economists think that that would send the economy right back into full-blown recession.

Exports shrank, reflecting the deepening economic problems in Europe. Imports also fell, but at a lower rate. Federal government spending also accelerated in the quarter.

This isn’t a game-changer in the election by any manner of means. Everyone knows the economic recovery, which began in June 2009, four months into Obama’s term, has been anemic at best, so this report is just a continuation of the status quo. The jobs report due out next Friday might be more significant as it could show a rise in unemployment, correcting the anomalous October jobs report that showed an unexpected .3 percent drop in unemployment. If unemployment were to rise above 8 percent again, just four days before the election, that would be very bad news for President Obama.

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U.S.-Iran Talks Pose a Dilemma for Israel

The New York Times has been enjoying the confusion it sowed in Washington, Jerusalem and Tehran when it published a story last weekend about an agreement between the United States and Iran to have bilateral nuclear talks after the presidential election. The White House and the Iranians denied it while the Israelis didn’t seem sure what to believe. But whatever the truth of the account, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is trying hard to avoid sending mixed signals about the possibility of a new round of Iran talks. In a story published in today’s Times, the paper’s Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren reports the Israeli government sent out an email on Monday to every one of the country’s embassies and consulates saying that they had no knowledge of the proposed talks and admonishing their diplomats to keep their mouths shut about the issue.

As Rudoren pointed out in her piece, despite the White House denials, the president contradicted himself in the foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney on Monday night since he said at one point that the Times story was “not true” and then said his policy was to encourage “bilateral discussions with the Iranians.” That seemed to signal that the Times was operating with correct information. That poses a dilemma for Israel. Netanyahu knows that it makes no sense for him to have yet another public brawl with President Obama on the eve of his re-election fight. Yet he also understands the danger of the U.S. being drawn into yet another pointless round of talks that will only serve to buy the Iranians more time to achieve their nuclear ambition. Thus, while there’s no doubt that Israel has good reason to be concerned about whether more U.S. diplomacy will let Iran off the hook, Netanyahu has decided to play this hand very close to his chest.

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The New York Times has been enjoying the confusion it sowed in Washington, Jerusalem and Tehran when it published a story last weekend about an agreement between the United States and Iran to have bilateral nuclear talks after the presidential election. The White House and the Iranians denied it while the Israelis didn’t seem sure what to believe. But whatever the truth of the account, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is trying hard to avoid sending mixed signals about the possibility of a new round of Iran talks. In a story published in today’s Times, the paper’s Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren reports the Israeli government sent out an email on Monday to every one of the country’s embassies and consulates saying that they had no knowledge of the proposed talks and admonishing their diplomats to keep their mouths shut about the issue.

As Rudoren pointed out in her piece, despite the White House denials, the president contradicted himself in the foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney on Monday night since he said at one point that the Times story was “not true” and then said his policy was to encourage “bilateral discussions with the Iranians.” That seemed to signal that the Times was operating with correct information. That poses a dilemma for Israel. Netanyahu knows that it makes no sense for him to have yet another public brawl with President Obama on the eve of his re-election fight. Yet he also understands the danger of the U.S. being drawn into yet another pointless round of talks that will only serve to buy the Iranians more time to achieve their nuclear ambition. Thus, while there’s no doubt that Israel has good reason to be concerned about whether more U.S. diplomacy will let Iran off the hook, Netanyahu has decided to play this hand very close to his chest.

Rudoren’s piece is, in part, a portrayal of the difficulty that any Israeli government has in speaking with one voice even on the most crucial national security issues. Members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet, as is the case with any Israeli coalition, are inclined to shoot their mouths off about any issue even if they know nothing about it. Israel’s foreign service officers are also often blabbermouths and have been known to undermine the prime minister if they disagree with his politics, as many do with Netanyahu.

But the problem here is not so much the fractious nature of Israel’s political class as it is one of the government trying to navigate between the imperative of upholding the country’s interests on Iran and the necessity of trying to keep as little daylight as possible between the Jewish state and the Americans.

Netanyahu was widely lambasted last month for having the temerity to ask for a meeting with President Obama at which he could make his case for setting down “red lines” about the Iranian nuclear threat. Obama turned down both the “red lines” and the meeting, but rather than the president taking heat for his position, it was Netanyahu who was attacked for making the disagreement public. That was interpreted as a crude attempt to intervene in the U.S. election on behalf of Romney. But the truth is that throughout the last four years, Netanyahu has tried hard to avoid public disputes with the president. Though he has a well-earned reputation as a prickly customer, a fair reading of the situation shows that each dispute between the two nations has been the result of the president picking the fight rather than the prime minister. Whether the issue was settlements, borders or the status of Jerusalem, President Obama has staked out positions and rebuked the Israelis whenever he got the chance, though often it has been Netanyahu’s ripostes than drew the attention of the press.

Israel’s official position is that any talks must be predicated on ending the nuclear threat rather than merely extracting promises from Iran that can easily be broken. But Netanyahu has to know that a second Obama term is likely to begin with yet another attempt at outreach to Iran that doesn’t bode well for Israel’s hopes of tightening the pressure on the Islamist regime. Though the president seemed to alter his stand on the issue during the last debate to one that would demand an end to Iran’s nuclear program rather than merely stop its enrichment of uranium to weapons-grade level, the Israelis are rightly suspicious that a more lenient stance is likely to come out of any discussion with the Iranians. Yet Netanyahu understands that having already stuck his head out on the “red lines” issue, he’s in no position to take the bait and involve himself in another losing fight with Obama.

The president is sticking to his denials about post-election Iran talks in order to enhance his chances of holding onto wavering Jewish voters in swing states. But Netanyahu probably isn’t under any illusions about what will follow if the president wins. And no one else should be either.

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More Evidence of the Administration’s Failure in Benghazi

As Jonathan wrote earlier, Charles Woods, father of the former SEAL Tyrone Woods, is questioning why the Obama administration did not respond with military force to rescue the Americans trapped in Benghazi on September 11. If action had been taken promptly, Ty Woods and the others might have survived.

He’s not the only one raising good questions about the lack of a response. Bing West, a distinguished combat correspondent and former assistant secretary of defense, has produced a timeline of the Benghazi attacks, which went on for most of the night, suggesting there was plenty of time for substantial U.S. forces to scramble from the U.S. base at Sigonella, Sicily, located almost exactly as far away from Benghazi as the Libyan capital of Tripoli, from whence a small, ill-armed quick-reaction force of 22 men was finally sent. “Stationed at Sigonella,” he notes, “were Special Operations Forces, transport aircraft, and attack aircraft — a much more formidable force than 22 men from the embassy.”

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As Jonathan wrote earlier, Charles Woods, father of the former SEAL Tyrone Woods, is questioning why the Obama administration did not respond with military force to rescue the Americans trapped in Benghazi on September 11. If action had been taken promptly, Ty Woods and the others might have survived.

He’s not the only one raising good questions about the lack of a response. Bing West, a distinguished combat correspondent and former assistant secretary of defense, has produced a timeline of the Benghazi attacks, which went on for most of the night, suggesting there was plenty of time for substantial U.S. forces to scramble from the U.S. base at Sigonella, Sicily, located almost exactly as far away from Benghazi as the Libyan capital of Tripoli, from whence a small, ill-armed quick-reaction force of 22 men was finally sent. “Stationed at Sigonella,” he notes, “were Special Operations Forces, transport aircraft, and attack aircraft — a much more formidable force than 22 men from the embassy.”

He continues: “Fighter jets could have been at Benghazi in an hour; the commandos inside three hours…. If even one F18 had been on station, it would have detected the location of hostiles firing at night and deterred and attacked the mortar sites.”

West concludes: “For our top leadership, with all the technological and military tools at their disposal, to have done nothing for seven hours was a joint civilian and military failure of initiative and nerve.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta now explains the decision not to act militarily by saying that he and top military commanders “felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation” because they didn’t have enough “real-time information about what’s taking place.” But of course more real-time information could have been obtained by sending aircraft to overfly Benghazi.

In any case, Special Operations Forces and other military forces are used to acting on incomplete information, especially in a situation where Americans are under fire and in danger of being overrun. At that point, caution is normally thrown to the wind, and Quick Reaction Forces are launched. It is indeed puzzling that there was apparently no standing plan to send a Quick Reaction Force to Benghazi (or other areas in North Africa where U.S. outposts are located) or, if such a plan existed, the decision was made not to activate it.

There is no doubt that there was a serious failure at all levels of the U.S. government before, during, and after the Benghazi attack. This is simply more evidence of the screw-ups that occurred and the need to have better procedures in place the next time an incident like this occurs.

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Ex-SEAL’s Father: Hillary Blamed the Movie

The father of Tyrone Woods, the ex-Navy SEAL who died while trying to defend Ambassador Chris Stevens in the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, made the rounds of some radio shows yesterday, and the tale he told of his meetings with top administration officials doesn’t put any of them in a flattering light. Speaking to radio talkers Glenn Beck and Lars Larson, Charles Woods expressed his belief that, given the revelations about real-time intelligence about the attack being funneled to Washington, it’s clear that someone gave an order not to save those trapped in the consulate by the terrorists.

But as upset as he is about the failure of the administration to come clean about what happened, his account of his personal contacts with them is just as bad. He described President Obama’s condolences as insincere, said Vice President Joe Biden made a wildly inappropriate remark about his son and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised that, “we’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did the video.”

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The father of Tyrone Woods, the ex-Navy SEAL who died while trying to defend Ambassador Chris Stevens in the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, made the rounds of some radio shows yesterday, and the tale he told of his meetings with top administration officials doesn’t put any of them in a flattering light. Speaking to radio talkers Glenn Beck and Lars Larson, Charles Woods expressed his belief that, given the revelations about real-time intelligence about the attack being funneled to Washington, it’s clear that someone gave an order not to save those trapped in the consulate by the terrorists.

But as upset as he is about the failure of the administration to come clean about what happened, his account of his personal contacts with them is just as bad. He described President Obama’s condolences as insincere, said Vice President Joe Biden made a wildly inappropriate remark about his son and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised that, “we’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did the video.”

Woods’ account of the president’s attempt to condole him may be put down as the angry reflections of a grieving father, but it does dovetail with much of what we know about the president’s personality.

On Beck’s show, Woods described the encounter in this manner:

“When he finally came over to where we were, I could tell that he was rather conflicted, a person who was not at peace with himself,” Woods said. “Shaking hands with him, quite frankly, was like shaking hands with a dead fish. His face was pointed towards me but he would not look me in the eye, his eyes were over my shoulder.”

“I could tell that he was not sorry,” he added. “He had no remorse.”

As for Biden, the blundering veep’s attempt to praise the slain ex-SEAL did not go over very well:

Woods said Biden came over to his family and asked in a “loud and boisterous” voice, “Did your son always have balls the size of cue balls?”

“Are these the words of someone who is sorry?” said Woods.

But perhaps most damning of all were the words of Clinton, who not only attempted to promote the story of the video being the cause of the attack, but went so far as to promise to have the man who produced it jailed. While the White House has been furiously trying to persuade the country that it always knew that what happened was a terrorist attack, Clinton’s comments are another reminder of the administration’s effort to falsely blame it all on the video. That Clinton would go so far as to push for the man’s arrest for exercising his free speech rights is chilling, especially given the State Department’s prior and subsequent efforts to appease radical Islamists.

Woods’s complaint is especially heart-rending because he knows that his son was not at the consulate at the time of the attack, but rather a mile away in a safe house, yet responded to calls for help. As Alana reported yesterday, the latest revelations about real-time information coming in about the attack makes the failure to respond adequately even more puzzling. Woods is demanding answers that have not been forthcoming:

I want to honor my son, Ty Woods, who responded to the cries for help and voluntarily sacrificed his life to protect the lives of other Americans. In the last few days it has become public knowledge that within minutes of the first bullet being fired the White House knew these heroes would be slaughtered if immediate air support was denied. Apparently, C-130s were ready to respond immediately. In less than an hour, the perimeters could have been secured and American lives could have been saved. After seven hours fighting numerically superior forces, my son’s life was sacrificed because of the White House’s decision. This has nothing to do with politics, this has to do with integrity and honor. My son was a true American hero. We need more heroes today. My son showed moral courage. This is an opportunity for the person or persons who made the decision to sacrifice my son’s life to stand up.

The administration’s apologists have told us that it is too soon for us to expect answers about a complicated matter. It is true that the fog of war made it difficult for the president and his team to respond effectively. But we also know that they seized upon a lie about the video and promoted it relentlessly for as long as they could get away with it. They were determined to do anything to suppress the facts about the revival of al-Qaeda-related groups in Libya. Rather than Woods or Republican critics speaking out of turn, it was an administration that was campaigning on the idea that the death of Osama bin Laden ended the war on terror that was playing politics. Charles Woods’ testimony only adds to the justified anger that many Americans feel about the president’s handling of the tragedy in Benghazi.

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Jacques Barzun Dies at 104

Jacques Barzun, the great cultural historian whose writing career spanned more than six decades, has died in San Antonio at the age of 104. A gifted scholar with a clear bracing style that appealed to ordinary educated readers, Barzun published formative books in an astonishingly wide variety of fields, including the humbug of race (Race: A Study in Modern Superstition, 1937), intellectual history (Darwin, Marx, Wagner, 1941), classical music (Berlioz and the Romantic Century, 1950), practical rhetoric (Simple and Direct, 1975), and cultural criticism or what he bemoaned as the “conversion of culture into industry” (The Culture We Deserve, 1989).

Perhaps Barzun’s most famous and influential book was one of his earliest — Teacher in America, published when he was not yet forty. (Here is the Preface to a 1983 reprint of the book.) At the outset, Barzun announces that he will not be holding forth on the grand subject of education (“brooding and wrangling about education is bad”), but will be talking simply and directly about a homelier subject — teaching, the face-to-face transaction between a man or woman of learning and his or her students. (And Barzun believed that teaching was a transaction, not a relationship. He was suspicious of teachers who became overfamiliar with their students.)

Addressed to young teachers just starting out, Teacher in America expressed skepticism toward methods (especially those of progressive education), multiple-choice tests, Great Books, vocationalism. I first read the book when I headed off to graduate school, and it has remained with me ever since. I can hear Barzun’s voice when I speak to my students, especially when I abandon my lecture notes and chase their need to understand down strange and overgrown paths. University men and women who want to extinguish the bonfire of the humanities could do worse than adopt Teacher in America as their guide. A book that deserves to be called a classic if any book does, it is still in print from Liberty Fund.

Most of what Barzun wrote was merely the extension of his teaching to the printed page. And all of it avoided theory and took a straightforward practical approach, which was only to be expected from someone who admired William James. (His Stroll with William James is the best introduction to James’s thought and character.) In addition to his famous “writing manual” Simple and Direct, Barzun also wrote (with Henry F. Graff) The Modern Researcher, first published in 1957 and now in its sixth edition. It is the single best how-to book on scholarly inquiry. (I speak from personal experience, since I could never have written my PhD dissertation without its help.)

Although he did not encourage disciples, Barzun was beloved by an astonishing number who remained his students for life, even if they had never sat in his classroom. I was one of them. After receiving a beautiful note of appreciation from him for an essay I had written on the controversy over Carol Iannone’s appointment to the National Endowment for the Humanities, I asked whether he might contribute a preface to my book The Elephants Teach. Cheeky of me, I suppose — but my history of creative writing was consciously written in l’esprit de Barzun. “We have here,” he wrote of my book, “a panorama — a pageant, rather — of the American will-to-art.” Barzun recognized his spirit, inhabiting a house of intellect constructed from his own patterns, but was too modest to say so outright.

Born in 1907 in a Parisian suburb, Barzun came to America for good at 13 and graduated from Columbia University seven years later. He stayed on in New York until he was 89, when he transplanted himself to the Republic of Texas. Although he is being described in the obituaries as a “public intellectual,” he was not that. In a word, he was a humanist — a historian, a teacher, a man of culture, a university man (who was saddened to see the loss of the university as a seat of learning), and an American envoy of the once-proud tradition of “French clarity.” There will never be anyone like him again.

____________________

Update: Some of Barzun’s spiciest remarks on intellect and the intellectual life are collected here. For those who have never read Barzun, they give a sample of his style, which should leave you wanting more.

Jacques Barzun, the great cultural historian whose writing career spanned more than six decades, has died in San Antonio at the age of 104. A gifted scholar with a clear bracing style that appealed to ordinary educated readers, Barzun published formative books in an astonishingly wide variety of fields, including the humbug of race (Race: A Study in Modern Superstition, 1937), intellectual history (Darwin, Marx, Wagner, 1941), classical music (Berlioz and the Romantic Century, 1950), practical rhetoric (Simple and Direct, 1975), and cultural criticism or what he bemoaned as the “conversion of culture into industry” (The Culture We Deserve, 1989).

Perhaps Barzun’s most famous and influential book was one of his earliest — Teacher in America, published when he was not yet forty. (Here is the Preface to a 1983 reprint of the book.) At the outset, Barzun announces that he will not be holding forth on the grand subject of education (“brooding and wrangling about education is bad”), but will be talking simply and directly about a homelier subject — teaching, the face-to-face transaction between a man or woman of learning and his or her students. (And Barzun believed that teaching was a transaction, not a relationship. He was suspicious of teachers who became overfamiliar with their students.)

Addressed to young teachers just starting out, Teacher in America expressed skepticism toward methods (especially those of progressive education), multiple-choice tests, Great Books, vocationalism. I first read the book when I headed off to graduate school, and it has remained with me ever since. I can hear Barzun’s voice when I speak to my students, especially when I abandon my lecture notes and chase their need to understand down strange and overgrown paths. University men and women who want to extinguish the bonfire of the humanities could do worse than adopt Teacher in America as their guide. A book that deserves to be called a classic if any book does, it is still in print from Liberty Fund.

Most of what Barzun wrote was merely the extension of his teaching to the printed page. And all of it avoided theory and took a straightforward practical approach, which was only to be expected from someone who admired William James. (His Stroll with William James is the best introduction to James’s thought and character.) In addition to his famous “writing manual” Simple and Direct, Barzun also wrote (with Henry F. Graff) The Modern Researcher, first published in 1957 and now in its sixth edition. It is the single best how-to book on scholarly inquiry. (I speak from personal experience, since I could never have written my PhD dissertation without its help.)

Although he did not encourage disciples, Barzun was beloved by an astonishing number who remained his students for life, even if they had never sat in his classroom. I was one of them. After receiving a beautiful note of appreciation from him for an essay I had written on the controversy over Carol Iannone’s appointment to the National Endowment for the Humanities, I asked whether he might contribute a preface to my book The Elephants Teach. Cheeky of me, I suppose — but my history of creative writing was consciously written in l’esprit de Barzun. “We have here,” he wrote of my book, “a panorama — a pageant, rather — of the American will-to-art.” Barzun recognized his spirit, inhabiting a house of intellect constructed from his own patterns, but was too modest to say so outright.

Born in 1907 in a Parisian suburb, Barzun came to America for good at 13 and graduated from Columbia University seven years later. He stayed on in New York until he was 89, when he transplanted himself to the Republic of Texas. Although he is being described in the obituaries as a “public intellectual,” he was not that. In a word, he was a humanist — a historian, a teacher, a man of culture, a university man (who was saddened to see the loss of the university as a seat of learning), and an American envoy of the once-proud tradition of “French clarity.” There will never be anyone like him again.

____________________

Update: Some of Barzun’s spiciest remarks on intellect and the intellectual life are collected here. For those who have never read Barzun, they give a sample of his style, which should leave you wanting more.

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Obamnesia, Israel, and Trust

In the Wall Street Journal, Kimberly Strassel lists numerous instances of Obamnesia – reversals by the candidate currently running for re-election on grounds of trust. She did not include any reversals relating to Israel, perhaps because they are legendary by now.

In 2008, Obama made his “let me be clear” commitment to an undivided Jerusalem – and then walked away from it. These days he won’t even identify Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He committed himself to “defensible borders” for Israel; but once in office, one of his many attempted humiliations of Israel’s prime minister was to endorse the Palestinian position on borders – the day before the prime minister arrived to meet with him. Last month, he declined to find time in his schedule to meet with the prime minister on his trip to the United States. And by the way, other countries noticed that.

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In the Wall Street Journal, Kimberly Strassel lists numerous instances of Obamnesia – reversals by the candidate currently running for re-election on grounds of trust. She did not include any reversals relating to Israel, perhaps because they are legendary by now.

In 2008, Obama made his “let me be clear” commitment to an undivided Jerusalem – and then walked away from it. These days he won’t even identify Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He committed himself to “defensible borders” for Israel; but once in office, one of his many attempted humiliations of Israel’s prime minister was to endorse the Palestinian position on borders – the day before the prime minister arrived to meet with him. Last month, he declined to find time in his schedule to meet with the prime minister on his trip to the United States. And by the way, other countries noticed that.

Near the top of any list of memorable moments of Obamnesia is this 2010 exchange with the prime minister, after the president had omitted Israel from the itineraries of his multiple trips to the region:

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: … I want to thank you, too, for the great hospitality you and the First Lady have shown Sara and me and our entire delegation.  And I think we have to redress the balance — you know, I’ve been coming here a lot.  It’s about time –

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I’m ready.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  — you and the First Lady came to Israel, sir.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  We look forward to it.  Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Any time.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you very much.  Thank you.

The trip has yet to occur. It is not even in the glossy second-term agenda just issued by the president. Perhaps we should describe the “I’m ready” commitment – made more than two years ago – as a case of instantaneous Obamnesia; it was clear even at the time that he was not going to be visiting Israel. He rejected pleas to visit made by liberal Israeli commentators, by every Jewish Democrat in the House of Representatives, and by a group of friendly rabbis.

Having rejected so many suggestions that he visit; having disregarded so many opportunities to do so; and having ignored even a personal invitation from the head of state, it is obvious that this instance of Obamnesia is at a very late stage.

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