Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 1, 2012

Bloomberg Endorsement All About Mike

What to make of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to wait until there were five days left before the election before endorsing President Obama’s re-election? The ostensible motivation for the move, announced in an op-ed published today in Bloomberg’s own news website, is the mayor’s reaction to Hurricane Sandy, which he says he believes was the result of climate change. Since Obama buys into the same global warming agenda, which calls for major government interventions into the economy in order to stave off the perceived danger, Bloomberg says that is enough to convince him to back the president even though he disdains his economic agenda and thinks him a weak leader.

Fair enough. If Bloomberg really believes his climate agenda is the No. 1 issue facing the country, rather than the economy or even foreign policy, that is his choice. But it’s hard to see how Bloomberg’s decision will do the president much good. Had the billionaire mayor/mogul backed the president earlier in the process, his financial help via the super PAC he created might have done the president some real good. But even in an age when celebrity/political endorsements are seen as inconsequential, Bloomberg’s will carry even less weight than most. The unpopular mayor won’t impact the outcome in deep blue New York or anywhere else. Nor is it likely that independents who are flocking to Romney because of Obama’s economic failures will change their minds because the former Democrat/Republican wrote an equivocal endorsement on the website named after him. The move is strictly about Bloomberg’s desire for attention.

Read More

What to make of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to wait until there were five days left before the election before endorsing President Obama’s re-election? The ostensible motivation for the move, announced in an op-ed published today in Bloomberg’s own news website, is the mayor’s reaction to Hurricane Sandy, which he says he believes was the result of climate change. Since Obama buys into the same global warming agenda, which calls for major government interventions into the economy in order to stave off the perceived danger, Bloomberg says that is enough to convince him to back the president even though he disdains his economic agenda and thinks him a weak leader.

Fair enough. If Bloomberg really believes his climate agenda is the No. 1 issue facing the country, rather than the economy or even foreign policy, that is his choice. But it’s hard to see how Bloomberg’s decision will do the president much good. Had the billionaire mayor/mogul backed the president earlier in the process, his financial help via the super PAC he created might have done the president some real good. But even in an age when celebrity/political endorsements are seen as inconsequential, Bloomberg’s will carry even less weight than most. The unpopular mayor won’t impact the outcome in deep blue New York or anywhere else. Nor is it likely that independents who are flocking to Romney because of Obama’s economic failures will change their minds because the former Democrat/Republican wrote an equivocal endorsement on the website named after him. The move is strictly about Bloomberg’s desire for attention.

Whether Bloomberg’s views on climate change are correct is a debate for another day. But the notion that President Obama’s “leadership” on the issue has been a major factor in his administration, or that it will accomplish much to further the “green” agenda in the next four years if he should be re-elected, doesn’t hold water. Obama’s ideas about green energy amount to feckless kowtowing to the green lobby on necessary economic projects like the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada and funneling billions to Democratic fundraisers to support boondoggles like Solyndra. None of that will do much to affect the climate one way or the other. Moreover, Bloomberg knows very well that Congress won’t support cap and trade in the foreseeable future. If he really wanted to do something to protect New York from future disasters like Sandy, he might call for the construction of a sea barrier that could, at least in theory, shield the harbor from flooding, as this NPR report details.

Bloomberg also mentions issues like gay marriage and abortion, on which he sides with Obama. But, again, it’s not as if he pulls much weight with voters who prioritize those issues who were, no doubt, already on the president’s side.

The whole point of such a last-minute message for Obama is to maximize the publicity attached to it during a week in which political news rivets the country. Though many around the nation may not be aware of it, Bloomberg’s third mayoral term has been widely seen as a disaster, as this COMMENTARY article by Fred Siegel makes clear. Bloomberg’s tactics of buying off his critics with mammoth charitable donations has worn thin over the years, and all that’s left is a plutocrat/media mogul mayor attempting to impose his idea of a nanny state on the city with soda bans and impractical traffic plans for midtown Manhattan. In that sense, President Obama is the perfect candidate for Bloomberg, as he exemplifies the same big government vision in which individual rights and the market are pushed aside for the sake of elitist rule. Bloomberg is looking for another perch from which he can push ordinary Americans around after he leaves the mayor’s office, and kissing up to Obama and garnering attention for his pet causes is just the way to maximize his hopes of being something more than the name of a cable business network and various publications.

There’s one more point to be made about Bloomberg’s endorsement. The mayor was not the least bit shy about using the hurricane as the justification for his decision. But even if you buy into the unproven theories in which any kind of weather — hot or cold, windy or calm, wet or dry — can be seen as proof of global warming caused by humanity, is there any doubt that what he did was a blatant effort to politicize a tragedy that ought to be above politics? But, as with so much else, when you’re a liberal billionaire posing as an independent, you can ignore the same rules that would sink another mortal.

Read Less

Chuck Hagel Looking for a Cabinet Appointment?

Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel backed Joe Sestak in 2010, and co-chairs President Obama’s intelligence advisory board, so it’s no surprise that he came out and endorsed Democrat Bob Kerrey’s losing campaign today. But according to Senator Mike Johanns, a friend of Hagel’s, the endorsement is part of an effort to position himself for a cabinet position in a second Obama term: 

Democrat Bob Kerrey is receiving an endorsement from former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel on Thursday, a potential boost in his effort to pull ahead in Nebraska’s tight race for an open Senate seat. Republicans supporting GOP hopeful Deb Fischer scoffed and suggested Hagel was sniffing around for a cabinet seat in the Obama administration.

“His interest was more at the international level than it was Nebraska,” said Republican Sen. Mike Johanns, a personal friend of Hagel’s who pointed out that the former senator angered the GOP with criticism of former President George W. Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq.

“I think at the end of the day, people are going to look at this endorsement and see it for what it is,” Johanns added. I think it’s a step in his path to try to build those bone fides that he is truly an Obama person and deserves a place in his cabinet.”

Read More

Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel backed Joe Sestak in 2010, and co-chairs President Obama’s intelligence advisory board, so it’s no surprise that he came out and endorsed Democrat Bob Kerrey’s losing campaign today. But according to Senator Mike Johanns, a friend of Hagel’s, the endorsement is part of an effort to position himself for a cabinet position in a second Obama term: 

Democrat Bob Kerrey is receiving an endorsement from former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel on Thursday, a potential boost in his effort to pull ahead in Nebraska’s tight race for an open Senate seat. Republicans supporting GOP hopeful Deb Fischer scoffed and suggested Hagel was sniffing around for a cabinet seat in the Obama administration.

“His interest was more at the international level than it was Nebraska,” said Republican Sen. Mike Johanns, a personal friend of Hagel’s who pointed out that the former senator angered the GOP with criticism of former President George W. Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq.

“I think at the end of the day, people are going to look at this endorsement and see it for what it is,” Johanns added. I think it’s a step in his path to try to build those bone fides that he is truly an Obama person and deserves a place in his cabinet.”

National Journal recently named Hagel as a possible defense secretary replacement down the road. Back when Dennis Blair stepped down, Hagel was also floated as a possible candidate for director of national intelligence, but there probably won’t be an opening there anytime soon. Hagel was a strong opponent of the war in Iraq, and he’s no friend of Israel (which the National Jewish Democratic Committee pointed out back before he became an advisor to President Obama).

During a second term Obama would obviously have much more flexibility to make controversial appointments like Hagel, particularly if Democrats keep the Senate.

Read Less

Win or Lose, Obama Sure Is Lost

Alana asks a very good question: Is an election on big ideas even possible when Barack Obama is one of the candidates? Another way of asking this would be: What would Barack Obama’s mandate be if he wins? It’s not an easy question to answer. He can certainly argue that, while he’s not proposing any serious plans or policies, he would at least protect the public from Mitt Romney, who would strive to outlaw whatever it is they like. But, like his accusation that Romney would ban abortion, the claims are made up out of whole cloth, and therefore easily debunked.

And that explains why the president looks so lost. I am not among those who think Obama’s visit to the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy elevated him much above his challenger, in part because it’s been so long since he acted presidential that he just looks so out of place everywhere people are trying to do serious work. This is not to take any credit away from him for the federal services provided to victims of the storm, but his press conference and appearances with Chris Christie did not seem to be much to his benefit. Christie was lively, authoritative, empathetic, and always prepared with important information. Obama read names of mayors off a paper in front of him, expressionless and monotone, as if he were standing not in front of a disaster area but a green screen. Michael Bloomberg correctly asked the president to please stay away from New York City, where he would only be a burden, due especially to the traffic congestion caused by road closures, mass transit suspensions, and the malfunctioning crane at 57th Street.

Read More

Alana asks a very good question: Is an election on big ideas even possible when Barack Obama is one of the candidates? Another way of asking this would be: What would Barack Obama’s mandate be if he wins? It’s not an easy question to answer. He can certainly argue that, while he’s not proposing any serious plans or policies, he would at least protect the public from Mitt Romney, who would strive to outlaw whatever it is they like. But, like his accusation that Romney would ban abortion, the claims are made up out of whole cloth, and therefore easily debunked.

And that explains why the president looks so lost. I am not among those who think Obama’s visit to the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy elevated him much above his challenger, in part because it’s been so long since he acted presidential that he just looks so out of place everywhere people are trying to do serious work. This is not to take any credit away from him for the federal services provided to victims of the storm, but his press conference and appearances with Chris Christie did not seem to be much to his benefit. Christie was lively, authoritative, empathetic, and always prepared with important information. Obama read names of mayors off a paper in front of him, expressionless and monotone, as if he were standing not in front of a disaster area but a green screen. Michael Bloomberg correctly asked the president to please stay away from New York City, where he would only be a burden, due especially to the traffic congestion caused by road closures, mass transit suspensions, and the malfunctioning crane at 57th Street.

Obama has built his firewall around Ohio this election, which is why someone more popular than the president—Bill Clinton—is currently there on his behalf. Where do you campaign if you have nothing to say? How do you draw a large crowd without large ideas?

This gets to another problem with the election. If Obama wins, it might very well be because Romney ran out of time to catch him, for the polling trends are much kinder to the challenger than the incumbent. Which means that his so-called “kill Romney” strategy, in which the president’s campaign sought to bury Romney early on with the politics of personal destruction that even included whipping up attacks on Romney’s religion, will be credited with making the difference.

It’s possible, also, that the campaign will pat itself on the back for its Big Bird, binders, and birth control attacks. Which brings me back to Alana’s post and her discussion of the Lena Dunham ad. Dunham’s sharp HBO show, which deserves the praise it has received, has been lauded by social conservatives as well as liberal Millennials tired of entrusting their pop culture depictions to those outside their own generation.

Whether you think the show is intended to be literal or just sly social commentary, the characters are aimless. Which is why it’s so appropriate to see Dunham cut an ad for the aimless president she supports. But Obama isn’t a Millennial having too much fun in Brooklyn to settle down. He’s the president of the United States and he’s asking for a second term. Even if he’s not quite sure why.

Read Less

Is a ‘Big Picture’ Election Impossible?

At the Washington Times, Emily Esfahani Smith weighs in on Lena Dunham’s Obama ad, and what it says about her show Girls:

The show’s message that casual sex leads to the objectification of women stood in direct contrast to the standard pop culture trope — found in shows like “Sex and the City,” magazines like Cosmopolitan, and movies like “No Strings Attached” — that sex with no strings attached empowers girls. 

“I felt like I was cruelly duped by much of the television I saw,” Miss Dunham told the New York Times last spring on the eve of the debut of “Girls.” …

That was Miss Dunham 1.0.

To Miss Dunham 2.0, women really are just sexual objects, after all. They make important decisions, like voting for president, by consulting what goes on between their legs rather than by what goes on between their ears. As she advises in the ad, “You want to do it with a guy who cares whether you get health insurance and specifically whether you get birth control.”

Dunham isn’t the only person supporting Obama (in part) because of his birth control provisions. But it probably has less to do with them supporting the “objectification of women,” and more to do with wanting something for “free” that they otherwise would have paid for.

Read More

At the Washington Times, Emily Esfahani Smith weighs in on Lena Dunham’s Obama ad, and what it says about her show Girls:

The show’s message that casual sex leads to the objectification of women stood in direct contrast to the standard pop culture trope — found in shows like “Sex and the City,” magazines like Cosmopolitan, and movies like “No Strings Attached” — that sex with no strings attached empowers girls. 

“I felt like I was cruelly duped by much of the television I saw,” Miss Dunham told the New York Times last spring on the eve of the debut of “Girls.” …

That was Miss Dunham 1.0.

To Miss Dunham 2.0, women really are just sexual objects, after all. They make important decisions, like voting for president, by consulting what goes on between their legs rather than by what goes on between their ears. As she advises in the ad, “You want to do it with a guy who cares whether you get health insurance and specifically whether you get birth control.”

Dunham isn’t the only person supporting Obama (in part) because of his birth control provisions. But it probably has less to do with them supporting the “objectification of women,” and more to do with wanting something for “free” that they otherwise would have paid for.

It’s one thing to think the birth control mandate is a good idea. But is it really a reasonable issue to pin your vote on? Should it be a serious factor for deciding the direction of the country?

Democrats seem to hope so. Birth control is the first issue Dunham cites in the ad, probably because it’s the one aspect of Obamacare that resonates the most with the people who watch her show Girls. Obamacare will actually be impacted by this election, unlike the other issues Dunham mentioned (Iraq withdrawal — already done, and actually an agreement set under Bush; supporting gay marriage — Obama says the choice is up to the states, not the federal government; and Lilly Ledbetter, which was signed three years ago and has had no change whatsoever in the supposed gender wage gap).

Dunham’s show has been praised by conservatives, in part, because it puts a mirror up to a generation that’s stuck in an extended adolescence. She plays a smart recent college graduate who still has no idea how to interact with adults or take care of herself. But the show can either be viewed as an indictment of Millennials, or it can be viewed in earnest. You could easily picture the characters voting for “free birth control,” with no real thought for larger issues, and there are plenty of people out there who probably think exactly the same way.

That’s what Obama has relied on this election — various little promises to various little slices of the electorate. It’s what’s made it so difficult for Republicans to run the “big picture” election they had hoped for. But has a big picture election become impossible? We may find out Nov. 6.

Read Less

About That Imaginary Bibi-Bam Debate

Glenn Kessler, who writes the Washington Post’s Fact Checker column, is sometimes quite candid about political prevarication and sometimes he pretty much punts on issues. But today he can barely contain his wrath. The subject of his Four Pinocchio grade (which he says would be higher except for the fact that four is the maximum he can gives) was the Emergency Committee for Israel’s faux “debate” between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama.

The imaginary debate between the two men was part of a robo-call ad intended to take the president’s pro-Israel bona fides down a peg, and it cuts and splices actual quotes from the pair about subjects that were not contemporaneously expressed or even necessarily on exactly the same point. So Kessler’s contempt for the ad’s “accuracy” is in a sense justified. But ECI head — and occasional COMMENTARY contributor — Noah Pollack responded to Kessler’s inquiry with what the Post writer reports was a tongue-in-cheek answer, to the effect that he was attempting to track down more “secret” recordings of an imaginary event. That should have made it clear that the ad was, while not satire, clearly not intended to be interpreted as an actual face-to-face event. Though the quotes were taken out of context, it is fair to say that Kessler’s attempt to put them back into context is as misleading as ECI’s juxtapositions.

While the ad is egregious in the liberties it takes, the point it is attempting to illustrate about the contention between the two over the past four years is actually true. The stark disagreements between Obama and Netanyahu on Iran are not inventions of ECI.

Read More

Glenn Kessler, who writes the Washington Post’s Fact Checker column, is sometimes quite candid about political prevarication and sometimes he pretty much punts on issues. But today he can barely contain his wrath. The subject of his Four Pinocchio grade (which he says would be higher except for the fact that four is the maximum he can gives) was the Emergency Committee for Israel’s faux “debate” between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama.

The imaginary debate between the two men was part of a robo-call ad intended to take the president’s pro-Israel bona fides down a peg, and it cuts and splices actual quotes from the pair about subjects that were not contemporaneously expressed or even necessarily on exactly the same point. So Kessler’s contempt for the ad’s “accuracy” is in a sense justified. But ECI head — and occasional COMMENTARY contributor — Noah Pollack responded to Kessler’s inquiry with what the Post writer reports was a tongue-in-cheek answer, to the effect that he was attempting to track down more “secret” recordings of an imaginary event. That should have made it clear that the ad was, while not satire, clearly not intended to be interpreted as an actual face-to-face event. Though the quotes were taken out of context, it is fair to say that Kessler’s attempt to put them back into context is as misleading as ECI’s juxtapositions.

While the ad is egregious in the liberties it takes, the point it is attempting to illustrate about the contention between the two over the past four years is actually true. The stark disagreements between Obama and Netanyahu on Iran are not inventions of ECI.

Kessler publishes the full text of Obama’s June 23, 2009 statement in which he finally said something about Iran’s violent suppression of dissent after weeks of ominous silence. The complete text does include some language expressing mild outrage about the Islamist regime’s atrocities, but the one line ECI published about “respecting the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran” and promising not to interfere is actually a better summation of Obama’s policy that the weasel words about how sad it was that they were doing beastly things. The president spent his first year in office futilely attempt to “engage” with Iran’s ayatollahs, and that is the reason the administration failed to speak out against the regime’s murder of dissidents on the streets of Tehran until it was over.

The second Obama quote in the call is one in which Obama acknowledges the differences between Israel and the United States. He was not, as Kessler rightly pointed out, referring at that time to Iran but to the many other issues on which Obama has picked fights with Israel’s government, such as settlements, borders and especially Jerusalem. Using that quote was not, strictly speaking, accurate. But it was also true.

This does open the sponsors of the call to the accusation of the old Dan Rather “fake but accurate” label, which is pretty much the opposite of a badge of honor. Lifting quotes out of context is unconscionable in journalism and hardly fair play even in political advertisements. But to say, as Kessler does, that ECI “twisted the meaning of Obama and Netanyahu’s words” is a point on which the group can easily defend itself. Obama and Netanyahu have clashed on Iran repeatedly — with the latest instance creating more than a few headlines in September — as they have on other issues.

Alas, 30- or 60-second political ads can never be the equal of COMMENTARY essays that require thousands of words. Even if you think ECI should not have been this cavalier with its quote selections, or if you don’t like the concept of an depicting a “debate” even if it was obviously fake, to assert that the substance of the call was a lie is absurd.

In another instance, one suspects that Kessler might have given the ad a lesser number of Pinocchios since the argument the out-of-context quotes were illustrating is a matter of record. We can only surmise that since, as the Post writer tells us, he was subjected to this robo-call in his own home, he allowed his temper to get the best of him.

Read Less

The Courage of Ronnie Fraser

I first met Ronnie Fraser, an unassuming lecturer in mathematics at one of London’s further education colleges, in 2002. Sitting at a table in a small central London cafe, Ronnie barely sipped the cappuccino in front of him as he laid out for me, in urgent tones, the growing support among British academics for a boycott of their Israeli colleagues, along with the vicious strain of anti-Semitism underlying their campaign.

I can admit, now, that a large part of me wanted to believe that Ronnie was exaggerating. The boycott was certainly wrong and definitely misguided, but could one really argue that British academics, six decades after the Holocaust, were trafficking in the kinds of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that would not have been out of place in the pages of Der Sturmer?

Read More

I first met Ronnie Fraser, an unassuming lecturer in mathematics at one of London’s further education colleges, in 2002. Sitting at a table in a small central London cafe, Ronnie barely sipped the cappuccino in front of him as he laid out for me, in urgent tones, the growing support among British academics for a boycott of their Israeli colleagues, along with the vicious strain of anti-Semitism underlying their campaign.

I can admit, now, that a large part of me wanted to believe that Ronnie was exaggerating. The boycott was certainly wrong and definitely misguided, but could one really argue that British academics, six decades after the Holocaust, were trafficking in the kinds of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that would not have been out of place in the pages of Der Sturmer?

The answer, in short, was yes. As it turned out, Ronnie’s prognosis was entirely correct; not only did the academic boycott of Israelis become the most pressing concern inside the leftist-dominated University and College Union (UCU), it did so in ways that led many of its Jewish members to conclude that they themselves were its principal target. And so, from 2005 onwards, a motion to implement, extend and refine a boycott of Israel’s academic sector became a fixture at the annual conferences of the UCU, which were transformed into festivals of anti-Semitic bombast. To give one example, as pro-Israel academics mused over the prospect of a legal challenge to the boycott, one boycott advocate, a faculty member at London University’s prestigious University College, declared that any legal action would be financed by those with “bank balances from Lehman Brothers that can’t be tracked down.” A neo-Nazi couldn’t have put it more venomously.

Nonetheless, Ronnie Fraser never shied away from confronting this toxicity head-on. This week, he brought his case to an employment tribunal, charging that the boycott amounted to a breach of Britain’s anti-discrimination legislation. The Jewish Chronicle today reports:

A Jewish academic repeatedly broke down in tears as he told an employment tribunal that he had suffered a decade of harassment while opposing a boycott of Israel.

Maths lecturer Ronnie Fraser, whose parents escaped Nazi Germany, said he felt a special responsibility to challenge the University and College Union after it rejected a widely-accepted definition of antisemitism.

The grandfather-of-nine wept as he took the oath at London’s Central Employment Tribunal on Wednesday. He said he had felt threatened by the union’s anti-Israel policies and a catalogue of events that had left him “hurt, upset and insulted”.

“This case is not about Israel-Palestine. It’s not about me. It’s about fellow Jews. We have been forced out. We have been humiliated. It has been horrendous and relentless against us,” he said.

Later the tribunal was briefly halted when Mr Fraser again wept while explaining how he believed his grandparents had been killed at Auschwitz.

“They died as a result of antisemitism and this is my way of saying ‘never again’. I don’t want my four children and grandchildren having to suffer what they did,” he said.

The significance of Ronnie Fraser’s action is simply explained. For more than a decade, anti-Semitic hate speech has cowered behind the imperative, as boycott advocates would have it, of engaging in “solidarity” with the Palestinians. By raising his complaint within a legal forum, Ronnie’s aim is to expose the true nature of this sordid rhetoric.

Win or lose, Ronnie Fraser is truly deserving of the designation of a hero. With little more than a modest lecturer’s salary to support him, he has flung himself into the frontline battle against anti-Semitism, thereby achieving more than all the established Jewish communal organizations, particularly here in America, combined. As “Engage,” another brave organization fighting the boycott, noted in its report of Ronnie’s remarkable speech to the UCU last year, his remarks to an audience filled with boycott advocates were met with “stony silence.” If any notion of justice still prevails in the United Kingdom, the employment tribunal cannot afford to react similarly.

Read Less

A Vote For Obama Isn’t a Vote for Gay Rights

As we know by now, five days before the election, President Obama is unable to run on his record, and has chosen not to run on a plan for the next four years. The president has instead been dependent on scare tactics–probably because he himself is quite scared. With the polling numbers coming out of swing states that were once reliably blue, like Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Michigan, he should be nervous about his looming possible unemployment. 

Only six months after Obama’s “evolution” (read: flip-flop) on gay marriage, he’s now basing a large portion of his campaign messaging on the subject. Hollywood elites have finally come in line with giving him some endorsements and have thrown fundraisers for the president, albeit not nearly as enthusiastically as they did four years ago. In the swing state of Wisconsin, a 20-something friend told me that for every ten ads she hears on her Pandora radio station, eight have been purchased by Obama’s reelection campaign. Many of these ads, she’s told me, implore her to vote for the president lest they find themselves unable to look their gay friends in the eye after election day. How could they vote against their friends’ own civil rights and liberties? Today on the Huffington Post a similar message appears,

Read More

As we know by now, five days before the election, President Obama is unable to run on his record, and has chosen not to run on a plan for the next four years. The president has instead been dependent on scare tactics–probably because he himself is quite scared. With the polling numbers coming out of swing states that were once reliably blue, like Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Michigan, he should be nervous about his looming possible unemployment. 

Only six months after Obama’s “evolution” (read: flip-flop) on gay marriage, he’s now basing a large portion of his campaign messaging on the subject. Hollywood elites have finally come in line with giving him some endorsements and have thrown fundraisers for the president, albeit not nearly as enthusiastically as they did four years ago. In the swing state of Wisconsin, a 20-something friend told me that for every ten ads she hears on her Pandora radio station, eight have been purchased by Obama’s reelection campaign. Many of these ads, she’s told me, implore her to vote for the president lest they find themselves unable to look their gay friends in the eye after election day. How could they vote against their friends’ own civil rights and liberties? Today on the Huffington Post a similar message appears,

If I hear one more person explain how, even though they believe in gay rights, they’re voting for Romney, I’m going to lose my mind. We need to find ways to reach these people who say they love us and call us friends.

That’s a pretty heavy gauntlet. The bottom line for that writer is that a vote for Romney is a vote against your gay friends and family. But is it?

Unlike Obama, Romney has barely uttered a word about social issues, steering clear of gay marriage and abortion and instead focusing on encouraging voters to consider his economic and foreign policy plans. A vote for Romney, for many, isn’t a vote against gays, but instead a vote for providing for their families and keeping their country safe from the very serious risks posed by countries like Iran, China, and yes, even Russia. 

Like he has been for the last four years on many other issues, President Obama is a lot of talk and very little action on gay rights, aside from reversing the draconian Bush-era policy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell… Wait. Oh, that was written and enacted by the Clinton White House? Well, it’s a good thing Obama has repudiated that bigoted former president. Except that he hasn’t, and Clinton has instead been one of Obama’s most effective surrogates, both at the DNC and on the stump. The only change in the last four years that Obama has attempted, let alone executed, for gay rights is to reverse a policy enacted by his Democratic predecessor. Back in April, before his gay marriage flip-flop, President Obama had the ability to enact an executive order to protect gay and lesbian government contractors from workplace discrimination. Instead, in the Washington Posts words, “he punted.”

And what about the next four years? What strides will Obama make for gay rights? Released just last week, the President’s plan “Forward” contains zero promises or pledges to the gay community. Despite relying heavily on gay and lesbian couples for fundraising efforts, it appears they should expect nothing in return. 

As Obama’s actions both before and after his gay marriage flip-flop have shown, his commitment to gay rights appears to be merely one of convenience. Four years ago, it was politically expedient to be against gay marriage, thus President Obama made statements to that effect. In May, after Vice President Biden blurted out his previously unmentioned support of gay marriage, President Obama found it politically necessary to either repudiate his own vice president or change his stance, and chose to do the latter. He was rewarded with a flood of donations and a boost with youth voters who were unenthusiastic about going to the polls for a president who accomplished very little of what he promised four years ago. We now know what Obama believes, but we’re again left wondering, what is he going to do about it? If the last four years and his own reelection campaign promises are any indication, very little. 

Read Less

Afghans Don’t Want Taliban Rule

 The joy with which residents of Kabul have greeted a championship boxing match in their city–won by Hamid Rahimi, a German of Afghan extraction–is further evidence that there is little desire in Afghanistan for a return to Taliban rule. The Taliban, after all, were the crackpots who banned boxing, music, kite flying, and other forms of entertainment. They did allow soccer matches, but would come out at halftime to execute or amputate their victims–a poor alternative to marching bands and cheerleaders.

Amid all of Afghanistan’s problems, its people are embracing professional soccer, boxing, and other amusements that would be unthinkable under Taliban control. Admittedly, Kabul is hardly representative of the entire country–it has always been the most Westernized of Afghan cities. But cities like Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif and Jalalabad and even Kandahar are no more friendly to the resumption of Taliban control. The Taliban do have some support in the Pashtun countryside, but even there the Taliban’s draconian edicts–such as forbidding schooling for girls–go too far even for most conservative farmers.

Read More

 The joy with which residents of Kabul have greeted a championship boxing match in their city–won by Hamid Rahimi, a German of Afghan extraction–is further evidence that there is little desire in Afghanistan for a return to Taliban rule. The Taliban, after all, were the crackpots who banned boxing, music, kite flying, and other forms of entertainment. They did allow soccer matches, but would come out at halftime to execute or amputate their victims–a poor alternative to marching bands and cheerleaders.

Amid all of Afghanistan’s problems, its people are embracing professional soccer, boxing, and other amusements that would be unthinkable under Taliban control. Admittedly, Kabul is hardly representative of the entire country–it has always been the most Westernized of Afghan cities. But cities like Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif and Jalalabad and even Kandahar are no more friendly to the resumption of Taliban control. The Taliban do have some support in the Pashtun countryside, but even there the Taliban’s draconian edicts–such as forbidding schooling for girls–go too far even for most conservative farmers.

The Taliban have no chance of winning a popular election. They can only shoot their way into power–and only if the West abandons the government of Afghanistan and its security forces after 2014.

A new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan makes clear that the Afghan forces still have considerable deficiencies in logistics and other areas. Those gaps are currently being filled by the U.S. and its allies–and they will need to continue filling them after 2014, or else the barbarous Taliban will return to power, and they will not only terrorize the people of Afghanistan, they will make Afghanistan once again a haven for their pals in al-Qaeda and other transnational terrorist groups.

Read Less

Respecting Israel’s Democratic Process

If the world could vote in the 2012 American presidential election, according to a new poll of respondents in 32 countries, it would cast its electoral votes for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney. But according to the polls in Israel, the Jewish state would dissent, preferring Romney. Considering Obama’s treatment of Israel during his first term, this isn’t surprising. But Reuters today published an “analysis” insisting that those Israelis have nothing to worry about: there’s really no difference between the candidates.

The article notes that there is much continuity in American foreign policy, even when the White House changes parties. This is true. The article also notes that Obama has aligned his rhetoric on Israel with Romney’s, and that Romney has aligned his rhetoric on Iran with Obama’s. That is also true. So are Israelis just being silly, or is Reuters missing something? It is, of course, the latter. Reuters writes:

Read More

If the world could vote in the 2012 American presidential election, according to a new poll of respondents in 32 countries, it would cast its electoral votes for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney. But according to the polls in Israel, the Jewish state would dissent, preferring Romney. Considering Obama’s treatment of Israel during his first term, this isn’t surprising. But Reuters today published an “analysis” insisting that those Israelis have nothing to worry about: there’s really no difference between the candidates.

The article notes that there is much continuity in American foreign policy, even when the White House changes parties. This is true. The article also notes that Obama has aligned his rhetoric on Israel with Romney’s, and that Romney has aligned his rhetoric on Iran with Obama’s. That is also true. So are Israelis just being silly, or is Reuters missing something? It is, of course, the latter. Reuters writes:

Most Israelis would be reassured if Mitt Romney won next week’s U.S. presidential election, feeling they had an unquestioning friend rather than a dispassionate critic in the White House.

But any change would probably be a question of style over substance, analysts say, with a Republican administration expected to follow the path already laid out by President Barack Obama when it comes to Iran and the Palestinians.

That’s the crux of the article, which obviously leaves out some points that are important to Israelis but not to Western media. There certainly has been a degree of policy continuity between Republican and Democratic administrations in recent memory. But there is one point on which there is a marked difference, and it is relevant now because Israelis are also heading into an election. And if past is prologue, that election will mean much to Israelis but not necessarily to the American president.

Of the last three presidents, two were Democrats and one a Republican. And far from respecting Israel’s electoral integrity, the two Democrats—Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—spent an offensive amount of time and effort trying to either bring down or change Israel’s elected governments. Clinton did so publicly and without shame, when Benjamin Netanyahu defeated Clinton’s preferred candidate, Shimon Peres, in the first election after Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. Clinton interfered to get Peres elected, failed, and then spent the next few years sending his team to Israel to run Netanyahu out of office and replace him with Ehud Barak.

Obama was certainly less obsessed with running Netanyahu out of office, but as even Obama’s defenders on the left, like Jeffrey Goldberg, noticed, he was committed to the prospect of shaking up Israel’s Knesset to bring Kadima back to power.

George W. Bush, however, worked with three Israeli parties—Labor, Likud, and Kadima—that spanned the political spectrum. He felt no desire to challenge Israel’s voting public, and respected and worked with their choices. So it’s understandable that with their own election looming, Israelis are wary of an American president who may want them to have to vote again and again until, in his mind, they get it right. Israelis imagine that Romney, like Bush, will simply respect Israel’s democratic process.

On the Palestinian issue, Reuters may be correct that there wouldn’t be much of a change, but that is because Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority refuse to even consider resuming negotiations, so there could be no progress on that front anyway.

And on Iran, Reuters is right that Romney and Obama speak the same language. But Reuters seems to forget one possibility: that Israelis believe Romney, but don’t trust Obama. They may or may not be right to do so, but there’s no question that trust is a problem between the Obama administration and the Israeli government, as even Reuters acknowledges. It’s worth considering that the “daylight” Obama wanted to put between the two governments cost him the benefit of the doubt among many Israelis.

Read Less

Review: You Say You Want a Revolution

Michael Gorra, Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece (New York: Liveright, 2012). 385 pages.

When I was a junior in high school, my English teacher ruined my life. All I wanted was to be a novelist, but Mr. O’Connell didn’t think I had much feel for literature. So he sent me home one day with two books of criticism. I even remember what they were — Lionel Trilling’s The Liberal Imagination and R. P. Blackmur’s Form and Value in Modern Poetry, both of them in those distinctive Anchor editions that were the same size as cheap paperbacks but looked really serious. In those days, I was a dutiful student. I read the two books, and I was hooked. Like on drugs, I mean. Never again could I read a novel without scouring the criticism on it. I’d even prepare myself for a novel by reading the criticism on it first. When Mr. O’Connell asked for contributions to the school literary magazine at the end of the year, I turned over a review of Portnoy’s Complaint.

Michael Gorra has had an equally shameful codependency with criticism, I suspect. A Smith College professor whose literary scholarship has been on post-World War II and postcolonial British novelists, Gorra is better known as one of the most uncompromising and enjoyable reviewers now working. He won the National Book Critics Circle’s Nona Balakian award in 2001. (He is also a celebrated travel writer.) Gorra’s fourth book might have been called Experiment in Narrative Criticism. An attempt to loop together biography and criticism, Portrait of a Novel tells the story of Henry James’s first great novel, perhaps his greatest — the story of how James came to write The Portrait of a Lady, and also the story James wrote.

The story is a good one, and Gorra tells it deftly. But the motive behind his book, the reason it is about the making of a masterpiece and not its interpretation, is even more important. Portrait of a Novel is an opening shot in a revolution, an intrepid attack on the ceremonies of academic criticism. Gorra is not the first to call for a revolution; Mark Bauerlein has assailed academic criticism’s “diminishing returns,” and Mark Edmundson has called for an “end to readings,” the only kind of criticism that English professors seem capable of. The microscopic focus of academic interpretation, the stretching of its subject to excessive lengths, its fervid humorlessness, its exclusive concern with a literary text’s inner tensions to the utter neglect of literature’s extensions — the references and even the applications to a world outside the text — have narrowed the appeal of literary criticism and quite naturally cost it readers. Portrait of a Novel is not only a gift to non-specialist readers, who have been starved of literary discussion. It is also a troop movement in a campaign to wrest authority over criticism from the academic interpreters.

Hence Gorra’s resort to narrative, the preferred genre even of non-fiction right now. Gorra sets out a double narrative: he traces the development of James’s novel, beginning his own book with James’s opening scene and ending with James’s (revised) ending, but he counterpoints this retelling with a biographical survey of James’s life. Because the summary of The Portrait of a Lady supplies the order of events, Gorra is able to dispense with strict chronology whenever biographical details are most needed.

He introduces James’s cousin Minny Temple, for example, in introducing James’s heroine Isabel Archer. Minny’s “frank, playful independence,” he says, “provided an inspiration” for Isabel’s. Although Minny died eleven years before James wrote the novel, and though James came to love her even earlier, Gorra includes his own beautiful portait of Minny out of chronological order, where it helps to make sense of the novel and not the life. This becomes his habit. He brings forward the poet and critic John Addington Symonds, whom James met once in 1876, in order to discuss Symonds’s Inquiry into the Phenomenon of Sexual Inversion, published privately fifteen years later, in connection with hypotheses about James’s sexual orientation.

There are two versions of The Portrait of the Lady — the original version, serialized in Macmillan’s magazine and the Atlantic Monthly and then published in book form in the last week of October 1881, and the revised version published in 1908 as two volumes in the famous New York Edition of James’s fiction. James revised the novel, Gorra says, to “make its opening chapters fit the book that it had by its last chapters become.” Gorra prefers the revised ending, in which an “older” James has both the language and the “emotional experience” the “younger James” lacked — the language and emotion to compose the “most frankly sexual moment in all of James’s fiction.” He is referring to the moment when Caspar Goodwood kisses Isabel Archer, igniting a “flash that spread, and spread again, and stayed,” before she breaks out of his grasp and returns to the monster who is her husband.

Gorra does not explain how he knows this is the “most frankly sexual moment in all of James’s fiction.” The only other times in the novel James uses the noun flash are to suggest that Isabel’s confidence in her own moral sense was an “aid to detecting an occasional flash of cruelty,” and that after marriage to the cruel dilettante Gilbert Osmond, she lived “in a world illumined by lurid flashes.” The sexual claim serves to confirm Gorra’s earlier surmises about “the shape of [James’s] erotic longings.” James was a homosexual, you see; “nobody today doubts” it; James was a homosexual, even if he considered Oscar Wilde an “unclean beast” and even if he was a stranger, as Gorra acknowledges, to “our contemporary understanding of homosexuality as an identity, something as central to one’s sense of self as one’s ethnic inheritance or biological sex” — even if he was not subject to the moral fashions of our own day, that is.

And here is where the limitations of Gorra’s method crop up most annoyingly. Narrative absolves him of the need to argue for his conclusions. The special ingenuity of his double-narrative mode, in which text and life are arranged in parallels, gives the appearance of proving a case even where no case is made. The thing about parallels is that they never meet.

Gorra chooses The Portrait of a Lady for his subject, because it is “the link between George Eliot and Virginia Woolf, the bridge across which Victorian fiction stepped into modernism.” Like nearly every other controversial contention in the book, this remark is more suggestive than clarifying. Although James’s debt to Eliot is discussed in passing, the only relevant mention of Woolf is when Gorra offers that “what James does in this chapter [ch 42, in which Isabel comes to grips with the truth about her marriage to Osmond] is much closer to Woolf’s own achievement in To the Lighthouse than it is to Eliot’s Middlemarch.” Gorra then adds that, in his exploration of Isabel Archer’s mind, James “goes so much farther than his predecessors that it amounts to a difference in kind.” Nothing more is said of the difference, perhaps because Gorra expects his readers to assume nobody today doubts what he is saying.

Gorra himself has few predecessors. In 1934 the English painter Frank Budgen wrote a biographical account of Ulysses, which Joyce himself described as “original” in its “method of approach.” Budgen’s title (James Joyce and the Making of “Ulysses”) recalls Gorra’s subtitle. If they did not invent the genre, James H. Sledd and Gwin J. Kolb gave it its name — The Biography of a Book — when they appended that phrase to their history of Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary, published on its bicentennial in 1955. Walter Blair’s Mark Twain and Huck Finn (1960) is probably the first biography of an American masterpiece, unless it were Charles Olson’s quirky Call Me Ishmael (1947).

But an instructive contrast to Gorra’s book is Paul Gutjahr’s biography of The Book of Mormon, which was published by Princeton in August of this year. An English professor at Indiana University, Gutjahr narrates the career of Joseph Smith’s “Gold Bible”; he doesn’t merely shuffle its contents and draw parallels to the life of Mormonism’s founder. Gutjahr is interested in the book as more than just a text; he shows how the Book of Mormon has animated a community of faith and its detractors, how it has shaped thinking and influenced American culture.

Gorra glances at the contemporary reception of The Portrait of a Lady, but he is entirely unconcerned with the novel’s later career. When James dies and the novel ends — in that order, in his telling — his narrative job is finished. Michael Gorra writes in an accessible and jargon-averse style, but his Portrait of a Novel is little more than an occasion for a renewal of interest in Henry James’s great novel, which in itself is a welcome development but hardly enough to spark a revolution in criticism.

Michael Gorra, Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece (New York: Liveright, 2012). 385 pages.

When I was a junior in high school, my English teacher ruined my life. All I wanted was to be a novelist, but Mr. O’Connell didn’t think I had much feel for literature. So he sent me home one day with two books of criticism. I even remember what they were — Lionel Trilling’s The Liberal Imagination and R. P. Blackmur’s Form and Value in Modern Poetry, both of them in those distinctive Anchor editions that were the same size as cheap paperbacks but looked really serious. In those days, I was a dutiful student. I read the two books, and I was hooked. Like on drugs, I mean. Never again could I read a novel without scouring the criticism on it. I’d even prepare myself for a novel by reading the criticism on it first. When Mr. O’Connell asked for contributions to the school literary magazine at the end of the year, I turned over a review of Portnoy’s Complaint.

Michael Gorra has had an equally shameful codependency with criticism, I suspect. A Smith College professor whose literary scholarship has been on post-World War II and postcolonial British novelists, Gorra is better known as one of the most uncompromising and enjoyable reviewers now working. He won the National Book Critics Circle’s Nona Balakian award in 2001. (He is also a celebrated travel writer.) Gorra’s fourth book might have been called Experiment in Narrative Criticism. An attempt to loop together biography and criticism, Portrait of a Novel tells the story of Henry James’s first great novel, perhaps his greatest — the story of how James came to write The Portrait of a Lady, and also the story James wrote.

The story is a good one, and Gorra tells it deftly. But the motive behind his book, the reason it is about the making of a masterpiece and not its interpretation, is even more important. Portrait of a Novel is an opening shot in a revolution, an intrepid attack on the ceremonies of academic criticism. Gorra is not the first to call for a revolution; Mark Bauerlein has assailed academic criticism’s “diminishing returns,” and Mark Edmundson has called for an “end to readings,” the only kind of criticism that English professors seem capable of. The microscopic focus of academic interpretation, the stretching of its subject to excessive lengths, its fervid humorlessness, its exclusive concern with a literary text’s inner tensions to the utter neglect of literature’s extensions — the references and even the applications to a world outside the text — have narrowed the appeal of literary criticism and quite naturally cost it readers. Portrait of a Novel is not only a gift to non-specialist readers, who have been starved of literary discussion. It is also a troop movement in a campaign to wrest authority over criticism from the academic interpreters.

Hence Gorra’s resort to narrative, the preferred genre even of non-fiction right now. Gorra sets out a double narrative: he traces the development of James’s novel, beginning his own book with James’s opening scene and ending with James’s (revised) ending, but he counterpoints this retelling with a biographical survey of James’s life. Because the summary of The Portrait of a Lady supplies the order of events, Gorra is able to dispense with strict chronology whenever biographical details are most needed.

He introduces James’s cousin Minny Temple, for example, in introducing James’s heroine Isabel Archer. Minny’s “frank, playful independence,” he says, “provided an inspiration” for Isabel’s. Although Minny died eleven years before James wrote the novel, and though James came to love her even earlier, Gorra includes his own beautiful portait of Minny out of chronological order, where it helps to make sense of the novel and not the life. This becomes his habit. He brings forward the poet and critic John Addington Symonds, whom James met once in 1876, in order to discuss Symonds’s Inquiry into the Phenomenon of Sexual Inversion, published privately fifteen years later, in connection with hypotheses about James’s sexual orientation.

There are two versions of The Portrait of the Lady — the original version, serialized in Macmillan’s magazine and the Atlantic Monthly and then published in book form in the last week of October 1881, and the revised version published in 1908 as two volumes in the famous New York Edition of James’s fiction. James revised the novel, Gorra says, to “make its opening chapters fit the book that it had by its last chapters become.” Gorra prefers the revised ending, in which an “older” James has both the language and the “emotional experience” the “younger James” lacked — the language and emotion to compose the “most frankly sexual moment in all of James’s fiction.” He is referring to the moment when Caspar Goodwood kisses Isabel Archer, igniting a “flash that spread, and spread again, and stayed,” before she breaks out of his grasp and returns to the monster who is her husband.

Gorra does not explain how he knows this is the “most frankly sexual moment in all of James’s fiction.” The only other times in the novel James uses the noun flash are to suggest that Isabel’s confidence in her own moral sense was an “aid to detecting an occasional flash of cruelty,” and that after marriage to the cruel dilettante Gilbert Osmond, she lived “in a world illumined by lurid flashes.” The sexual claim serves to confirm Gorra’s earlier surmises about “the shape of [James’s] erotic longings.” James was a homosexual, you see; “nobody today doubts” it; James was a homosexual, even if he considered Oscar Wilde an “unclean beast” and even if he was a stranger, as Gorra acknowledges, to “our contemporary understanding of homosexuality as an identity, something as central to one’s sense of self as one’s ethnic inheritance or biological sex” — even if he was not subject to the moral fashions of our own day, that is.

And here is where the limitations of Gorra’s method crop up most annoyingly. Narrative absolves him of the need to argue for his conclusions. The special ingenuity of his double-narrative mode, in which text and life are arranged in parallels, gives the appearance of proving a case even where no case is made. The thing about parallels is that they never meet.

Gorra chooses The Portrait of a Lady for his subject, because it is “the link between George Eliot and Virginia Woolf, the bridge across which Victorian fiction stepped into modernism.” Like nearly every other controversial contention in the book, this remark is more suggestive than clarifying. Although James’s debt to Eliot is discussed in passing, the only relevant mention of Woolf is when Gorra offers that “what James does in this chapter [ch 42, in which Isabel comes to grips with the truth about her marriage to Osmond] is much closer to Woolf’s own achievement in To the Lighthouse than it is to Eliot’s Middlemarch.” Gorra then adds that, in his exploration of Isabel Archer’s mind, James “goes so much farther than his predecessors that it amounts to a difference in kind.” Nothing more is said of the difference, perhaps because Gorra expects his readers to assume nobody today doubts what he is saying.

Gorra himself has few predecessors. In 1934 the English painter Frank Budgen wrote a biographical account of Ulysses, which Joyce himself described as “original” in its “method of approach.” Budgen’s title (James Joyce and the Making of “Ulysses”) recalls Gorra’s subtitle. If they did not invent the genre, James H. Sledd and Gwin J. Kolb gave it its name — The Biography of a Book — when they appended that phrase to their history of Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary, published on its bicentennial in 1955. Walter Blair’s Mark Twain and Huck Finn (1960) is probably the first biography of an American masterpiece, unless it were Charles Olson’s quirky Call Me Ishmael (1947).

But an instructive contrast to Gorra’s book is Paul Gutjahr’s biography of The Book of Mormon, which was published by Princeton in August of this year. An English professor at Indiana University, Gutjahr narrates the career of Joseph Smith’s “Gold Bible”; he doesn’t merely shuffle its contents and draw parallels to the life of Mormonism’s founder. Gutjahr is interested in the book as more than just a text; he shows how the Book of Mormon has animated a community of faith and its detractors, how it has shaped thinking and influenced American culture.

Gorra glances at the contemporary reception of The Portrait of a Lady, but he is entirely unconcerned with the novel’s later career. When James dies and the novel ends — in that order, in his telling — his narrative job is finished. Michael Gorra writes in an accessible and jargon-averse style, but his Portrait of a Novel is little more than an occasion for a renewal of interest in Henry James’s great novel, which in itself is a welcome development but hardly enough to spark a revolution in criticism.

Read Less

Obama Leads in Iowa, Race Close in NH, WI

Today’s WSJ/NBC/Marist poll shows President Obama with a six-point lead in Iowa, but Mitt Romney within striking distance in New Hampshire and Wisconsin:

In Iowa, Obama is ahead by six points among likely voters, 50 percent to 44 percent, which is down from his eight-point lead earlier this month. 

In Wisconsin, the president edges Romney by three points, 49 percent to 46 percent, which is within the survey’s margin of error. That’s also down from Obama’s six-point lead earlier this month.

And in New Hampshire, Obama gets support from 49 percent of likely voters, while Romney gets 47 percent. In September, before the debates began, Obama held a seven-point advantage in the state, 51 percent to 44 percent.

Read More

Today’s WSJ/NBC/Marist poll shows President Obama with a six-point lead in Iowa, but Mitt Romney within striking distance in New Hampshire and Wisconsin:

In Iowa, Obama is ahead by six points among likely voters, 50 percent to 44 percent, which is down from his eight-point lead earlier this month. 

In Wisconsin, the president edges Romney by three points, 49 percent to 46 percent, which is within the survey’s margin of error. That’s also down from Obama’s six-point lead earlier this month.

And in New Hampshire, Obama gets support from 49 percent of likely voters, while Romney gets 47 percent. In September, before the debates began, Obama held a seven-point advantage in the state, 51 percent to 44 percent.

Ed Morrissey looks at how the the party identification breakdown in this poll compares to 2008 and 2010, and writes that they’re probably a little overly-favorable for Obama, but not too atrocious: 

Overall, I’d say that while the toplines look decent for Obama and the samples look arguably solid, those numbers for independents should be a big, big worry.  Obama has lost most of his double-digit edges among indies in all three states, and is in a virtual tie in Wisconsin and New Hampshire with Romney in those demos. With Republican enthusiasm waxing and Democratic enthusiasm waning, these second-tier swing states could break Obama’s hopes of winning a second term.

The bottom line is that the polls are still close, and the race will come down to whether Obama’s turnout operation is as effective as we’re told it will be on election day. If the party identification breakdown is similar to the WSJ/NBC/Marist poll, then Obama will be in a good position, as you can see from the above numbers. As long as Romney wins Ohio, he doesn’t necessarily need Wisconsin, Iowa or New Hampshire to win (assuming he takes all the swing states where he has a slight lead). But Obama is still ahead in the Ohio polls, and if that’s the case Romney will need either those smaller states, or a surprise victory in Pennsylvania — which is getting closer, but still leaning blue at this point.

Read Less

Which Team Has a Field Goal Lead?

There’s been probably too much attention paid to New York Times blogger Nate Silver over the last few weeks. Some of the criticism he has received (including some from this page differing with his conclusions if not necessarily always with his methodology) has been justified. But in fairness to Silver, he appears to be sticking to his guns about the accuracy of his forecast that continues to show President Obama as a heavy favorite to win re-election. While not intending to belabor the issue of his accuracy more than necessary, I think it’s worth returning to the subject one more time both in order to clarify my differences with his approach.

Silver explained his forecast again this morning as he surveyed the latest round of polls on the presidential race:

Mr. Obama is not a sure thing, by any means. It is a close race. His chances of holding onto his Electoral College lead and converting it into another term are equivalent to the chances of an N.F.L. team winning when it leads by a field goal with three minutes left to play in the fourth quarter. There are plenty of things that could go wrong, and sometimes they will.

But it turns out that an N.F.L. team that leads by a field goal with three minutes left to go winds up winning the game 79 percent of the time. Those were Mr. Obama’s chances in the FiveThirtyEight forecast as of Wednesday: 79 percent.

Not coincidentally, these are also about Mr. Obama’s chances of winning Ohio, according to the forecast.

That is a reasonable sounding point of view, especially when it is coupled with Silver’s disclaimers about the possibility that his forecast could be wrong and noting that a lot of tossup states that he believes Obama will win are still closely contested. But the problem here is that despite Silver’s confidence that what we are looking at is a three-point lead for the president, it may be nothing of the kind, either in Ohio or in the country as a whole. The probabilities he alludes to in sports–such as those that can give us precise statistical odds about what happens when an NFL team has a field goal lead with three minutes to play or a Major League baseball team has a two-run lead in the ninth inning–are entirely accurate and reliable because there’s no doubt in a game as to what the score is. In politics there is no such certainty, rendering Silver’s rational Sabrmetric approach to political polling mere guesswork.

Read More

There’s been probably too much attention paid to New York Times blogger Nate Silver over the last few weeks. Some of the criticism he has received (including some from this page differing with his conclusions if not necessarily always with his methodology) has been justified. But in fairness to Silver, he appears to be sticking to his guns about the accuracy of his forecast that continues to show President Obama as a heavy favorite to win re-election. While not intending to belabor the issue of his accuracy more than necessary, I think it’s worth returning to the subject one more time both in order to clarify my differences with his approach.

Silver explained his forecast again this morning as he surveyed the latest round of polls on the presidential race:

Mr. Obama is not a sure thing, by any means. It is a close race. His chances of holding onto his Electoral College lead and converting it into another term are equivalent to the chances of an N.F.L. team winning when it leads by a field goal with three minutes left to play in the fourth quarter. There are plenty of things that could go wrong, and sometimes they will.

But it turns out that an N.F.L. team that leads by a field goal with three minutes left to go winds up winning the game 79 percent of the time. Those were Mr. Obama’s chances in the FiveThirtyEight forecast as of Wednesday: 79 percent.

Not coincidentally, these are also about Mr. Obama’s chances of winning Ohio, according to the forecast.

That is a reasonable sounding point of view, especially when it is coupled with Silver’s disclaimers about the possibility that his forecast could be wrong and noting that a lot of tossup states that he believes Obama will win are still closely contested. But the problem here is that despite Silver’s confidence that what we are looking at is a three-point lead for the president, it may be nothing of the kind, either in Ohio or in the country as a whole. The probabilities he alludes to in sports–such as those that can give us precise statistical odds about what happens when an NFL team has a field goal lead with three minutes to play or a Major League baseball team has a two-run lead in the ninth inning–are entirely accurate and reliable because there’s no doubt in a game as to what the score is. In politics there is no such certainty, rendering Silver’s rational Sabrmetric approach to political polling mere guesswork.

In five days, we’ll know who was right and who was wrong about all of this, and it’s entirely possible that we’ll look back and think that Silver’s field goal analogy was spot on. But since, as we’ve pointed out time and again, almost all of the polls that show the president leading are based on expectations of a Democratic turnout that will match or exceed the impressive levels he achieved in 2008 rather than a more even partisan divide (as seems more likely), it’s difficult to accept Silver’s certainty about the reliability of those surveys. That means it’s just as likely the score is currently tied or that Romney could be up by a field goal right now.

As I wrote yesterday, two competing polls in Virginia gave us two different results. Quinnipiac showed Obama ahead based on a sample of eight percent more Democrats voting than Republicans, a turnout similar to the electorate of 2008. Roanoke College’s poll had a sample that was only four percent more Democratic and that yielded a result that showed Romney ahead. Yet Silver gives Obama a 60 percent chance of winning the state.

Unlike the analysis of sports and poker — two fields in which Silver is an acknowledged master — political polling is still more of an art than a science. Until the unlikely, if not impossible, day when we can know with certainty what the voters are thinking as easily as we can read the scoreboard at a football game, his forecast will remain more conjecture than anything else.

Read Less

The Resilient City-Dwellers of New York

I would like to expand on the point that John Steele Gordon, my fellow resident of Westchester County, made in this post about the toughness of New Yorkers. It is a point I could not agree with more–and it is demonstrated not only by the response to superstorm Sandy but, even more magnificently, by the response to 9/11 which was far more devastating in terms of lives lost. Yet New Yorkers did not panic, at least not for long, and they did not flee the city in droves, as some had predicted would happen after the worst attack ever on American soil. Instead, more than a decade after 9/11 the city is more vibrant than ever–and there is no doubt that we will come back, and come back quickly, from the damage caused by this week’s storm.

All of this is, on some level, to state the obvious. But it actually runs counter to a long and important strain of American thought. From Thomas Jefferson in the eighteenth century to country and Western musicians in the present day, there has been a long line of people extolling the virtues of rural life and damning big cities, especially big Northeastern cities, as the cesspool of humanity. Many conservatives, especially in the South, Midwest, and mountain West, are especially prone to adopt the argument that small towns are the repositories of American strength, virtue, and piety while cities are dens of quasi-communism, free love, drugs, atheism, and everything else that’s wrong with humanity.

Read More

I would like to expand on the point that John Steele Gordon, my fellow resident of Westchester County, made in this post about the toughness of New Yorkers. It is a point I could not agree with more–and it is demonstrated not only by the response to superstorm Sandy but, even more magnificently, by the response to 9/11 which was far more devastating in terms of lives lost. Yet New Yorkers did not panic, at least not for long, and they did not flee the city in droves, as some had predicted would happen after the worst attack ever on American soil. Instead, more than a decade after 9/11 the city is more vibrant than ever–and there is no doubt that we will come back, and come back quickly, from the damage caused by this week’s storm.

All of this is, on some level, to state the obvious. But it actually runs counter to a long and important strain of American thought. From Thomas Jefferson in the eighteenth century to country and Western musicians in the present day, there has been a long line of people extolling the virtues of rural life and damning big cities, especially big Northeastern cities, as the cesspool of humanity. Many conservatives, especially in the South, Midwest, and mountain West, are especially prone to adopt the argument that small towns are the repositories of American strength, virtue, and piety while cities are dens of quasi-communism, free love, drugs, atheism, and everything else that’s wrong with humanity.

This argument has a shred of truth to it, because there is no doubt that cities have generally been more tolerant of a variety of what would today be called alternative lifestyles, facilitating not only great artistic development but also brothels, drug dens, saloons, and other not-so-virtuous establishments. Those exist in small towns, too, but not in such great abundance. There is no doubt that there is a lot more sinning, if I may use that anachronistic term, in cities–but then there is a lot more of everything else too, including working out in gyms and working long hours in offices. 

Yet there is no evidence–at least none that I have found–that big city dwellers are any less virtuous on the whole, less patriotic, or less resilient than those who live on farms or in smaller communities. Indeed, just to get through their day, residents of New York have to weather all sorts of annoyances that would be unthinkable to those who live in rural areas–from having to shlep groceries home by cart or taxi to having to deal with aggressive panhandlers in the subways to having to deal with vast throngs on Fifth Avenue. Admittedly in the case of New York all those annoyances have decreased over the years, ever since Rudolph Giuliani sent crime plummeting to historic lows, and now new services like Freshdirect (for groceries) and Seamless (for restaurant delivery) have made apartment living exceedingly convenient.

Nevertheless, every day tourists are overwhelmed by the sheer scale of New York, by the number of people moving in all directions, by the endless day-and-night buzz of activity–and though most of them no doubt enjoy their New York vacations, many are also happy to go back to the less hectic pace of their lives elsewhere. There’s nothing wrong with preferring to liver in a smaller community–but let’s banish the mistaken idea that those who reside in a mega-city like New York are wimps or degenerates. The kind of toughness that New Yorkers need simply to get through daily life comes shining through in a crisis, whether 9/11 or Sandy.

Read Less

We Need Choices, Not Faux Bipartisanship

In the last few days, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie became every Democrat’s favorite Republican. Christie praised President Obama’s help for the Garden State during the hurricane and then rightly expressed disinterest in whether Mitt Romney would helicopter in for an unnecessary photo op. The photo of the president and the governor shaking hands has become the new symbol of bipartisanship as the two worked together to support the rescue and recovery operations. But anyone who thinks this is a model to heal the deep divide between liberals and conservatives on many basic issues is dead wrong.

Politicians should work together when it comes to dealing with natural disasters. After all, there is no — or at least shouldn’t be — a Democrat or Republican approach to helping those rendered homeless or to ensuring public safety in an emergency. Were they to fail to do so under these circumstances, it would be cause for severe criticism. In this case, both Obama and Christie were merely doing their duty, not performing some amazing or unprecedented task.

Read More

In the last few days, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie became every Democrat’s favorite Republican. Christie praised President Obama’s help for the Garden State during the hurricane and then rightly expressed disinterest in whether Mitt Romney would helicopter in for an unnecessary photo op. The photo of the president and the governor shaking hands has become the new symbol of bipartisanship as the two worked together to support the rescue and recovery operations. But anyone who thinks this is a model to heal the deep divide between liberals and conservatives on many basic issues is dead wrong.

Politicians should work together when it comes to dealing with natural disasters. After all, there is no — or at least shouldn’t be — a Democrat or Republican approach to helping those rendered homeless or to ensuring public safety in an emergency. Were they to fail to do so under these circumstances, it would be cause for severe criticism. In this case, both Obama and Christie were merely doing their duty, not performing some amazing or unprecedented task.

But this much-welcomed new era of good feelings has nothing to do with the real issues that cause gridlock in Washington. On issues like ObamaCare, spending, taxes and the debt the differences between the parties are not a function of oversized political egos or clashing personalities but of basic principles. What those who urge bipartisanship often really want is for one side to abandon their principles and to adopt those of their opponents. That was the defining characteristic of “moderate Republicans” for much of the second half of the 20th century as they acquiesced to much of the liberal project and did nothing to reform it. While it is understandable that liberals would miss this thankfully almost extinct breed of bipartisans, their nostalgia has nothing to do with good government and everything to do with their desire to go back to winning arguments against opponents who wouldn’t stand up to them.

For too much of our political history, bipartisanship was just a nice way of saying that a significant portion of one of our two major parties agreed with their opponents on some of the big issues facing the republic. Prior to the Civil War, there was a lot of bipartisanship as Southern Whigs agreed with both Northern and Southern Democrats that slavery should not be disturbed. It was those annoying Northern Whigs who morphed into the nascent Republican Party that upset that consensus and were blamed for starting all the commotion that led to war. A similar kind of bipartisanship preserved the Jim Crow south in the following century. Though one shouldn’t compare slavery to modern liberalism, what those moderate Republicans often did was to offer no alternative to the left, a state of affairs that suited Democrats just fine.

If many in today’s contemporary Republican Party are not willing to do the “go along to get along” routine in the Capitol it is not because they are any more obnoxious than the Democrats. It is because they see the country heading over a fiscal cliff of spending and taxing that is sinking our economy now and crippling our future.

Some of these conservatives have sometimes overplayed their hand, as they did in 2011 during the debt-ceiling crisis. But they were far from alone in making mistakes during that summer, as President Obama was as guilty of avoiding reasonable compromises. Indeed, while the Tea Partiers were sometimes stuck in an ideological corner into which they had painted themselves, the president’s purpose seemed to be to goad them into open conflict so as to enhance his own political prospects.

The current House Republican majority was elected in 2010 to oppose the agenda of the Democrats who controlled the White House and both Houses of Congress for the previous two years, not to play along with it. While Bill Clinton listened to the people and sought to compromise with the GOP Congress that was elected in 1994, Obama dug in his heels and asked for another stimulus boondoggle and refused to alter ObamaCare. Thus we were left with a standoff that could only be resolved by another election.

On Tuesday, the people will decide whether they want more government or less, Democrats or Republicans. Bipartisanship on issues where there is no real disagreement needs no encouragement. But what we need is a resolution of those issues where we do disagree via the democratic process. If the voters can’t fully make up their minds and give us another round of divided government, those in charge will, out of necessity, have to deal with each other. But that is the fallback position, not the ideal. What we need is not a muddled and unprincipled political class dealing with each other but advocates of differing policies standing up and offering the voters clear choices. This is exactly the philosophy that the tough-talking Christie has advocated the GOP to adopt. For that we need elections, not hurricanes.

Read Less

Cable Shows Officials Were Warned Before Benghazi Attack

We already knew about the cable Ambassador Chris Stevens sent out on September 11, describing the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi. Today FNC’s Catherine Herridge reports on a different, classified cable sent from the Benghazi consulate on August 15, warning that al-Qaeda training camps were proliferating in the area and the consulate could not withstand a coordinated attack:

Summarizing an Aug. 15 emergency meeting convened by the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, the Aug. 16 cable marked “SECRET” said that the State Department’s senior security officer, also known as the RSO, did not believe the consulate could be protected. 

“RSO (Regional Security Officer) expressed concerns with the ability to defend Post in the event of a coordinated attack due to limited manpower, security measures, weapons capabilities, host nation support, and the overall size of the compound,” the cable said.

According to a review of the cable addressed to the Office of the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Emergency Action Committee was also briefed “on the location of approximately ten Islamist militias and AQ training camps within Benghazi … these groups ran the spectrum from Islamist militias, such as the QRF Brigade and Ansar al-Sharia, to ‘Takfirist thugs.’” Each U.S. mission has a so-called Emergency Action Committee that is responsible for security measures and emergency planning. …

While the administration’s public statements have suggested that the attack came without warning, the Aug. 16 cable seems to undercut those claims. It was a direct warning to the State Department that the Benghazi consulate was vulnerable to attack, that it could not be defended and that the presence of anti-U.S. militias and Al Qaeda was well-known to the U.S. intelligence community. 

Read More

We already knew about the cable Ambassador Chris Stevens sent out on September 11, describing the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi. Today FNC’s Catherine Herridge reports on a different, classified cable sent from the Benghazi consulate on August 15, warning that al-Qaeda training camps were proliferating in the area and the consulate could not withstand a coordinated attack:

Summarizing an Aug. 15 emergency meeting convened by the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, the Aug. 16 cable marked “SECRET” said that the State Department’s senior security officer, also known as the RSO, did not believe the consulate could be protected. 

“RSO (Regional Security Officer) expressed concerns with the ability to defend Post in the event of a coordinated attack due to limited manpower, security measures, weapons capabilities, host nation support, and the overall size of the compound,” the cable said.

According to a review of the cable addressed to the Office of the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Emergency Action Committee was also briefed “on the location of approximately ten Islamist militias and AQ training camps within Benghazi … these groups ran the spectrum from Islamist militias, such as the QRF Brigade and Ansar al-Sharia, to ‘Takfirist thugs.’” Each U.S. mission has a so-called Emergency Action Committee that is responsible for security measures and emergency planning. …

While the administration’s public statements have suggested that the attack came without warning, the Aug. 16 cable seems to undercut those claims. It was a direct warning to the State Department that the Benghazi consulate was vulnerable to attack, that it could not be defended and that the presence of anti-U.S. militias and Al Qaeda was well-known to the U.S. intelligence community. 

Well, that seems to directly contradict the New York Times report from Monday, “No Specific Warnings in Benghazi Attack”:

Interviews with American officials and an examination of State Department documents do not reveal the kind of smoking gun Republicans have suggested would emerge in the attack’s aftermath such as a warning that the diplomatic compound would be targeted and that was overlooked by administration officials. …

Defending their preparations, State Department officials have asserted that there was no specific intelligence that warned of a large-scale attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, which they asserted was unprecedented. The department said it was careful to weigh security with diplomats’ need to meet with Libyan officials and citizens.

What could the consulate have said, outside of predicting a specific date for the attack, that would have been taken as a “direct warning” by the State Department? The cable reportedly noted that al-Qaeda training camps were in the area and warned that there wasn’t enough security to protect the consulate — which had already been attacked multiple times at that point — against a “coordinated attack.” So what genius at the State Department thought it would be fine to have Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi without additional security on the anniversary of September 11?

The State Department isn’t answering, according to Fox News:

The State Department press office declined to answer specific questions, citing the classified nature of the cable. 

“An independent board is conducting a thorough review of the assault on our post in Benghazi,” Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said in written statement. “Once we have the board’s comprehensive account of what happened, findings and recommendations, we can fully address these matters.”

So we’ll get a response after the independent review board releases a comprehensive account…well after the election is over and Hillary Clinton’s term is up.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.