Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 5, 2012

Does Obama’s FEMA Deserve Applause?

As I wrote earlier today, there is little doubt that part of the reason why President Obama got a bounce of some sort from Hurricane Sandy is the perception that his administration did a much better job dealing with the emergency than President Bush did during Hurricane Katrina. This was largely the result of a complacent media that was content to portray the president as the hero of the occasion after his fly through New Jersey and the seal of approval he got from Governor Chris Christie. But Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, someone who knows a thing or two about what happens in a crisis, isn’t buying it.

Giuliani is frustrated not so much by the political spin of this story as by the spectacle of the citizens of his beloved New York City being left in need while the rest of the country “moves on” from the hurricane. As far as Giuliani is concerned, the actions of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) don’t deserve the laurels they have received from the media and for which the president is given credit. As Politico reports:

“The response since the time the president got all this praise and credit and press ops has been abysmal,” Giuliani said on Fox News Channel’s “America’s Newsroom.” “FEMA is as much a failure now as at the time of Katrina.”

Giuliani, a 2008 presidential candidate, said that he did not “understand” why New York was facing water, generators and gas shortages.

“It’s quite obvious they didn’t pre-plan for water, they didn’t pre-plan for the generators, they didn’t pre-plan for the gasoline,” he said.

He bashed Obama for losing “focus” on the subject.

“The president getting all this credit so early, maybe the first day or two he was paying attention, but the minute he got his credit, the minute he got his pat on his back, we had the same situation as we had in Benghazi,” Giuliani said. “He loses focus. He goes back to being campaigner-in-chief rather than commander-in-chief.”

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As I wrote earlier today, there is little doubt that part of the reason why President Obama got a bounce of some sort from Hurricane Sandy is the perception that his administration did a much better job dealing with the emergency than President Bush did during Hurricane Katrina. This was largely the result of a complacent media that was content to portray the president as the hero of the occasion after his fly through New Jersey and the seal of approval he got from Governor Chris Christie. But Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, someone who knows a thing or two about what happens in a crisis, isn’t buying it.

Giuliani is frustrated not so much by the political spin of this story as by the spectacle of the citizens of his beloved New York City being left in need while the rest of the country “moves on” from the hurricane. As far as Giuliani is concerned, the actions of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) don’t deserve the laurels they have received from the media and for which the president is given credit. As Politico reports:

“The response since the time the president got all this praise and credit and press ops has been abysmal,” Giuliani said on Fox News Channel’s “America’s Newsroom.” “FEMA is as much a failure now as at the time of Katrina.”

Giuliani, a 2008 presidential candidate, said that he did not “understand” why New York was facing water, generators and gas shortages.

“It’s quite obvious they didn’t pre-plan for water, they didn’t pre-plan for the generators, they didn’t pre-plan for the gasoline,” he said.

He bashed Obama for losing “focus” on the subject.

“The president getting all this credit so early, maybe the first day or two he was paying attention, but the minute he got his credit, the minute he got his pat on his back, we had the same situation as we had in Benghazi,” Giuliani said. “He loses focus. He goes back to being campaigner-in-chief rather than commander-in-chief.”

The push back against the narrative of Obama’s brilliant emergency response may be coming too late to alter the public’s view of events. But if it is coming late it is because, unlike the Democrats in 2005 during Katrina, Republicans have been reluctant to inject politics into a natural disaster. But if the plight of the people of New Orleans was all the fault of George W. Bush — even though most of the problems there were more the result of the complete collapse of state and local authority and the abandonment of their posts by first responders, then it is not inappropriate to ask why Obama gets a pass as residents of New York and New Jersey cope with a crisis that is far from under control.

No president deserves to be blamed for bad weather. But the ability of Obama to avoid responsibility for what remains a terrible mess can be directly attributed to his cheerleaders in the news media.

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Tracking Polls Say Election No Sure Thing

To listen to the Obama campaign and many liberal pundits the last few days, the presidential election is a foregone conclusion and the president is a sure bet to be re-elected. But even though there’s no question the Democrats gained ground over the last week, the latest national tracking polls tell a different story. The president is ahead in none of the four most recent national tracking polls. Mitt Romney has a slender one-percentage point lead in both the Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls taken over the last few days, while he is tied with the president in the CNN/Opinion Research and the Monmouth/SurveyUSA/Braun poll. Taken together, and even if one is inclined to believe one more than another, the quartet of surveys illustrates that the race remains very close with either candidate in position to win.

The polls, which continue to show Romney leading among independents by a large margin, also demonstrate that the key to victory tomorrow will be turnout. Romney continues to do better among likely voters than among all those registered, something that will require Democrats to get all of their supporters out to vote. But if Republican enthusiasm continues to run high, it will be difficult for Democrats to replicate the 2008 electorate, in which they had a huge partisan identification advantage. These national numbers may not translate into an edge for Romney in individual battleground states like Ohio. That means we are looking at a possible replay of 2000, when the winner of the popular vote did not win the Electoral College. Yet Romney’s camp has to believe that if they wind up with more votes overall, that is bound to translate into some upsets in swing states where most of the generally less scientific statewide polls continue to show Obama leading. That may not be how things play out, but these national numbers have to sow some doubts in the minds of Democratic strategists who know the odds of the loser of the popular vote getting 270 electoral votes is still a long shot.

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To listen to the Obama campaign and many liberal pundits the last few days, the presidential election is a foregone conclusion and the president is a sure bet to be re-elected. But even though there’s no question the Democrats gained ground over the last week, the latest national tracking polls tell a different story. The president is ahead in none of the four most recent national tracking polls. Mitt Romney has a slender one-percentage point lead in both the Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls taken over the last few days, while he is tied with the president in the CNN/Opinion Research and the Monmouth/SurveyUSA/Braun poll. Taken together, and even if one is inclined to believe one more than another, the quartet of surveys illustrates that the race remains very close with either candidate in position to win.

The polls, which continue to show Romney leading among independents by a large margin, also demonstrate that the key to victory tomorrow will be turnout. Romney continues to do better among likely voters than among all those registered, something that will require Democrats to get all of their supporters out to vote. But if Republican enthusiasm continues to run high, it will be difficult for Democrats to replicate the 2008 electorate, in which they had a huge partisan identification advantage. These national numbers may not translate into an edge for Romney in individual battleground states like Ohio. That means we are looking at a possible replay of 2000, when the winner of the popular vote did not win the Electoral College. Yet Romney’s camp has to believe that if they wind up with more votes overall, that is bound to translate into some upsets in swing states where most of the generally less scientific statewide polls continue to show Obama leading. That may not be how things play out, but these national numbers have to sow some doubts in the minds of Democratic strategists who know the odds of the loser of the popular vote getting 270 electoral votes is still a long shot.

Nevertheless, a popular vote victory is no consolation prize in a presidential election. The only thing that counts is getting to 270 and if, despite a virtual tie in the national totals, Obama manages to hold onto leads in Ohio and the other swing states, these numbers won’t matter much. Even more important, if Obama can manage to win Virginia — a state where the majority of polls still give him an advantage, it won’t matter much how Romney does in the northern battlegrounds.

Throughout the last few weeks, conservatives have disputed the validity of polls that were based on samples that showed far more Democrats voting this year than Republicans, as was the case in 2008. But that argument is about to be resolved. If our expectations–that the 2012 electorate is going to be nothing like the hope and change wave that swept Barack Obama into the White House–turn out to be based on a false assumption, then most of the pollsters who produced these surveys can take a bow. If not, this may be as close to a rerun of the 1948 “Dewey Defeats Truman” embarrassment for pollsters as any of us have lived to see.

These final numbers make clear that after months of campaigning, and probably more than a billion dollars spent by both sides in the contest, neither candidate has any kind of real edge in the national vote. Last week, New York Times blogger Nate Silver believed President Obama had the equivalent of a three-point lead in a football game with three minutes to play. But it’s hard to avoid the feeling that we’re heading into the final moments of this presidential contest with the score probably tied. What we don’t know is which team has the ball and how close they are to the other team’s goal line. We’ll find out tomorrow night.

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CBS Sat on Key Obama Benghazi Quote

Remember this clip from President Obama’s “60 Minutes” interview on September 12, where Obama seems to agree the Benghazi attack was more than just a spontaneous demonstration? CBS released it on October 19, and has used it to support the president’s claim that he called the attack “terrorism” from day one. 

But, as Bret Baier reports, that wasn’t the whole interview. CBS has just released new footage of Obama declining to call the attack terrorism when pressed, saying it’s “it’s too early to tell”:

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Remember this clip from President Obama’s “60 Minutes” interview on September 12, where Obama seems to agree the Benghazi attack was more than just a spontaneous demonstration? CBS released it on October 19, and has used it to support the president’s claim that he called the attack “terrorism” from day one. 

But, as Bret Baier reports, that wasn’t the whole interview. CBS has just released new footage of Obama declining to call the attack terrorism when pressed, saying it’s “it’s too early to tell”:

KROFT: Mr. President, this morning you went out of your way to avoid the use of the word terrorism in connection with the Libya Attack, do you believe that this was a terrorism attack?

OBAMA: Well it’s too early to tell exactly how this came about, what group was involved, but obviously it was an attack on Americans. And we are going to be working with the Libyan government to make sure that we bring these folks to justice, one way or the other.  

Read Baier’s full analysis above, which gets into why this is so critical for the Benghazi timeline. In short, it’s a clear refutation of Candy Crowley, the White House, Obama’s comments during the debate, and the whole hopelessly spin-able “but he said it in the Rose Garden speech!” media. This interview was conducted immediately after Obama’s Rose Garden address. If the president had actually intended to call Benghazi a terrorist attack in the speech, he should have corrected Kroft when Kroft said “This morning you went out of your way to avoid the use of the word terrorism in connection with the Libya Attack.”

But he didn’t. In fact, when asked straight-up if he believed the attack was terrorism, Obama pointedly declined to use the t-word, saying “it’s too early to tell exactly how this came about, what group was involved, but obviously it was an attack on Americans.” He also called the attackers “folks,” which isn’t typically how you refer to terrorists. 

Obama’s “acts of terror” comments in the Rose Garden were exactly what they sounded like — weasel-words designed to give the White House cover on whatever narrative it chose to put out. He couldn’t answer Kroft’s question unequivocally, because at that point the White House was trying to avoid calling it a terrorist attack.

Why did CBS wait until two days before the election to release this? Why didn’t they release it immediately after the debate, since it contradicted a major point of contention? So far, no word from the network other than this non-response response (via Politico): “We’re proud of our Benghazi coverage, which from Libya to Washington has been the most comprehensive original reporting of any network.”

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Polls Show Scott Brown Popular, but Vulnerable on Election’s Eve

Elizabeth Warren’s Senate campaign against Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts has sought from the beginning to nationalize the race. Brown is popular and a local Bay Stater with blue-collar roots, and Warren is a tenured law professor from out of state. But she is also a Democrat, in a state full of them. So she has tried to make the race almost solely about control of the U.S. Senate, and has gained some momentum making Brown a stand-in for the national Republican Party.

One sign that this tactic was successful is that on the eve of the election, both the Massachusetts campaigns sound almost exactly like their national counterparts. Brown, like Mitt Romney, is touting his bipartisanship and willingness to bring the two parties together to break the “gridlock” in Washington and get the economy moving again. Warren, on the other hand, is appealing to her party’s base, going almost exclusively negative, and doing the impressive juggling act of trying to advocate for women while also wrapping herself in the legacy of Ted Kennedy–an ironic combination to say the least. Another sign the messaging is working is that the candidates’ supporters are making the same arguments:

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Elizabeth Warren’s Senate campaign against Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts has sought from the beginning to nationalize the race. Brown is popular and a local Bay Stater with blue-collar roots, and Warren is a tenured law professor from out of state. But she is also a Democrat, in a state full of them. So she has tried to make the race almost solely about control of the U.S. Senate, and has gained some momentum making Brown a stand-in for the national Republican Party.

One sign that this tactic was successful is that on the eve of the election, both the Massachusetts campaigns sound almost exactly like their national counterparts. Brown, like Mitt Romney, is touting his bipartisanship and willingness to bring the two parties together to break the “gridlock” in Washington and get the economy moving again. Warren, on the other hand, is appealing to her party’s base, going almost exclusively negative, and doing the impressive juggling act of trying to advocate for women while also wrapping herself in the legacy of Ted Kennedy–an ironic combination to say the least. Another sign the messaging is working is that the candidates’ supporters are making the same arguments:

“Women are equal to men and we ought to get paid the same,” Warren said to a cheering crowd.

Like Democrats across the country, Warren has hammered the GOP, saying the party is waging a war on women, and has used Brown’s votes on several issues affecting women, including equal pay, to try and tie him to his Republican colleagues.

It’s a message that resonated with people in the gym in Lowell, including Laura McLaughlin.

“Why I’m here?” McLaughlin said. “Because I’m a woman. Let me tell you: I am 75 years old, I worked from age 20 to 65. When I was 63, we got equal pay in a community college. [It] took that long to get equal pay.”

And here’s a typical Brown supporter from the same story:

As Brown headed back for his bus, people crowded around him as if they did not want him to leave. Among them was Patrick Manning, who brought his two young daughters in his Ford F-150 pickup truck. Manning, an Army veteran, works for the Department of Public Works in Norwood.

“Scott is a … he is bipartisan. He can work between the two aisles, and when you have so much division up on Capitol Hill and they’re not working together, and Scott’s one of the people that will go in there and he can listen to both sides and do what’s right for both sides and make the best choices for the American people, not what’s right for the party,” he said.

Manning sees the race as much more partisan than Brown’s race against Martha Coakley two years ago.

“Because I believe Elizabeth Warren is much more partisan,” Manning said.

As the Boston Globe reports, the two latest polls of the race are split: one shows a one-point Brown lead, the other a four-point Warren lead. But the Globe also notes that Obama is favored over Romney 57 percent to 37 percent in the state. Warren’s strategy to change the subject every time her name comes up (or Brown’s, for that matter, since he has a solid approval rating) is a strange way to win a mandate to represent your state. But if Warren is as unpopular as she seems to think she is, she may be right that this is her best bet.

Brown, on the other hand, is in normally safe waters for an incumbent: job approval nearing 60 percent one day before an election. But the disappearance of Blue Dog and pro-life Democrats has shown a Democratic Party trending to its extremes and away from the center. In that environment, Massachusetts Democrats may prefer the liberal candidate to the competent, popular one, especially in the polarized atmosphere of a presidential Election Day.

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Polls: Ohio Still a Tossup

Rasmussen’s latest (and last) finds Romney and Obama tied in Ohio: 

The pivotal presidential state of Ohio remains all tied up on the eve of Election Day.

The final Election 2012 Rasmussen Reports survey of Likely Ohio Voters shows Mitt Romney and President Obama each earning 49% support. One percent (1%) favors some other candidate in the race, and another one percent (1%) is undecided. …

The race in Ohio was tied late last week after Romney posted a slight 50% to 48% advantage a few days earlier. The candidates have been within two percentage points of one another or less in every survey in Ohio since May.

Forty percent (40%) of likely voters in the Buckeye State have already voted. Obama leads 60% to 37% among these voters.

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Rasmussen’s latest (and last) finds Romney and Obama tied in Ohio: 

The pivotal presidential state of Ohio remains all tied up on the eve of Election Day.

The final Election 2012 Rasmussen Reports survey of Likely Ohio Voters shows Mitt Romney and President Obama each earning 49% support. One percent (1%) favors some other candidate in the race, and another one percent (1%) is undecided. …

The race in Ohio was tied late last week after Romney posted a slight 50% to 48% advantage a few days earlier. The candidates have been within two percentage points of one another or less in every survey in Ohio since May.

Forty percent (40%) of likely voters in the Buckeye State have already voted. Obama leads 60% to 37% among these voters.

Today’s University of Cincinnati poll also found a statistical tie, with Obama up by one. Previously, Rasmussen showed Romney with a slight lead in Ohio. All of the other polls have found a tie or a slight edge for Obama — and several in the last week have found Obama at or above the 50-percent line. Party ID breakdowns that favor Obama could be skewing the polls, but we won’t know precisely to what extent until after the election. 

If Michael Barone is right, the polling is wildly off-base and Romney is heading for a landslide:

Also, both national and target state polls show that independents, voters who don’t identify themselves as Democrats or Republicans, break for Romney.

That might not matter if Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 39 to 32 percent, as they did in the 2008 exit poll. But just about every indicator suggests that Republicans are more enthusiastic about voting — and about their candidate — than they were in 2008, and Democrats are less so.

That’s been apparent in early or absentee voting, in which Democrats trail their 2008 numbers in target states Virginia, Ohio, Iowa and Nevada. …

Bottom line: Romney 315, Obama 223. That sounds high for Romney. But he could drop Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and still win the election. Fundamentals.

On the other hand, if Phil Klein is right, Obama will prevail in all the states where he has a slight edge in the polls, and beat Romney by a hair:

I believe the arguments about polls understating Romney’s position have some merit, but only up to a point. I also believe that by and large, despite some high profile errors, polling is generally accurate when results from multiple pollsters overwhelmingly point in one direction. So, I’ve decided to split the difference in my prediction. That is, I’ve given Romney the states that are essentially tied, in which he’s led in at least some recent polls. But in states where Romney has trailed in nearly all polls, and in some cases by a comfortable margin, I’m giving them to Obama. My thinking is that even if Romney over-performs the polls somewhat, he still is unlikely to over-perform by a wide enough margin to win these states.

Applying this philosophy, I give Romney Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and Colorado. But I assume that Obama takes Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio. …

Add it all up and the final tally is Obama 277, Romney 261.

Klein has a safer bet, but Barone’s argument is persuasive. They both show how difficult it is to come up with an analysis when we know the polls have some flaws, but don’t yet know to what extent.

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Jarrett’s Secret Iran Talks Raise Questions About Obama’s Intentions

During the presidential debate on foreign policy, President Obama denied that his administration was preparing to conduct secret talks with Iran after the presidential election, as a New York Times story alleged. But according to a report published today in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot and on its English-language website Ynet.com, such talks are not only planned but have been going on for months and are being led by presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett. This raises questions not only about whether the president will stand by his pledge in the debate that any deal with Iran must require them to give up their “nuclear program,” but also whether she is negotiating a compromise along the lines sought by the Europeans in the P5+1 talks. In that compromise, Tehran would be allowed considerable leeway in terms of its nuclear future. It also places in context the administration’s absolute refusal to agree to “red lines,” in response to Israel’s request that the U.S. promise diplomacy would not be allowed to drag on until it would be too late to take action to forestall Iran’s nuclear goal.

That secret talks are going on with Iran is, in itself, hardly surprising since Tehran has been holding off-and-on talks with the West about the nuclear issue for years. But Jarrett’s involvement signals the importance the issue has for Obama because of her standing as a senior advisor and her close personal connection with the Obama family. But by putting someone with no background on security issues in charge of this track, Obama may be signaling that the president’s goal here is not an Iranian surrender of nuclear capability, but rather a political compromise that may not eliminate the threat of an Islamist bomb sometime down the road.

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During the presidential debate on foreign policy, President Obama denied that his administration was preparing to conduct secret talks with Iran after the presidential election, as a New York Times story alleged. But according to a report published today in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot and on its English-language website Ynet.com, such talks are not only planned but have been going on for months and are being led by presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett. This raises questions not only about whether the president will stand by his pledge in the debate that any deal with Iran must require them to give up their “nuclear program,” but also whether she is negotiating a compromise along the lines sought by the Europeans in the P5+1 talks. In that compromise, Tehran would be allowed considerable leeway in terms of its nuclear future. It also places in context the administration’s absolute refusal to agree to “red lines,” in response to Israel’s request that the U.S. promise diplomacy would not be allowed to drag on until it would be too late to take action to forestall Iran’s nuclear goal.

That secret talks are going on with Iran is, in itself, hardly surprising since Tehran has been holding off-and-on talks with the West about the nuclear issue for years. But Jarrett’s involvement signals the importance the issue has for Obama because of her standing as a senior advisor and her close personal connection with the Obama family. But by putting someone with no background on security issues in charge of this track, Obama may be signaling that the president’s goal here is not an Iranian surrender of nuclear capability, but rather a political compromise that may not eliminate the threat of an Islamist bomb sometime down the road.

Jarrett was born in Shiraz, Iran (her father ran a hospital there) but left when she was 5, though she is said to have spoken Persian as a child. But that’s the extent of her expertise on the country. Her main qualification is that she is a close confidante of both the president and his wife. She is also widely given credit for helping to jump-start the president’s career by introducing him into the corrupt world of Chicago politics, where she was a significant player. That gives her credibility with the Iranians since she has a direct line to the White House. But if a re-elected Obama is rightly suspected of wanting to show more “flexibility” with America’s foes, then the Jarrett caper seems to be evidence that he is more interested in making this sore issue go away rather than pushing Iran hard to give up the possibility of attaining a weapon.

Though Jarrett and Obama may think their Chicago background makes them tough, the Iranians have made fools of every Western negotiator they’ve dealt with in the past decade, because of their tenacity and willingness to use the charade of talks as a way to run out the clock while their scientists get closer to achieving the country’s nuclear ambition. While the sanctions that the administration reluctantly put in place against Iran have caused the country economic pain, the American conviction that this gives them leverage over the ayatollahs may be mistaken. So long as the Iranian regime believes they can outlast and out-talk the West on this issue, it’s doubtful they can be compelled to sign a deal that would eliminate the nuclear threat–or to observe it even if they did.

While the president has been talking tough about Iran during the election year, it remains to be seen how tough his envoy has been with the Iranians in their secret talks. If Ms. Jarrett emerges with a deal sometime after the election, the suspicion is that her goal is more to get the president off the hook for his promises than to actually stop the Iranians.

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Blue Lit, Red Lit

Amazon’s “Election Heat Map” has Governor Romney ahead of President Obama by 59 percent to 41 percent based on purchases of “red” books versus “blue” books. Pretty much without exception, the books on both lists are topical and perishable, if they do not yet belong in the trash (soon, though). Killing Lincoln, a popular retelling of the events surrounding Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 by the TV news personality Bill O’Reilly, is the bestselling “red” title. (The Day Lincoln Was Shot, by an earlier journalistic hack, must be out of print.) Winner-Take-All Politics, a 350-page pile of muckraking on the “growing inequality of incomes,” is the top “blue” title.

Since the divide between blue liberals and red conservatives is as much cultural as political, this self-sorting into blue and red bestseller lists makes some sense. Anyone who reads very much contemporary literature, though, knows that any such self-division is impossible: there are not enough “red” books for a short reading list. Anything by Charles McCarry, of course, especially Shelley’s Heart. The historical novelist Thomas Mallon, who has written historical reconstructions of Watergate and the McCarthy era. Philip Roth’s American Pastoral with its vituperation toward “the American berserk.” (As if to compensate for the acclaim he received from conservatives, Roth went public a few years later with his Bush-bashing.) [Update: Guido Brunetti nominates Mark Helprin on the basis of Refiner’s Fire, and Josiah Neeley reminds me that I should have mentioned Tom Wolfe. The latter is an especially stupid omission given that I will be reviewing Back to Blood, one of the best novels of 2012 and perhaps Wolfe’s best to date, in December’s COMMENTARY.] If you go back a couple of generations, you can expand the red list to include Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (a novel that is not often recognized as a masterpiece of anti-Communist literature), Nabokov, Eudora Welty. But even with a few big names on the right side, the left has all the trend-lines and momentum. In the last few weeks, I’ve had to avoid Facebook, because I haven’t wanted their relentless politicking for Obama to lower my opinion of some contemporary novelists. If any contemporary writer has come out for Romney, I’ve missed it.

Whether the deep blue tinge of contemporary literature is the unanticipated consequence of a historical event (the leftist domination of humanities faculties in the universities), or whether writers are blue for the same reason English professors are blue (their self-regard depends upon it), is an open question. ’Twas not always so, however. Once upon a time literature was as likely to be red as blue:

    Blue Literature

  • Plato, Republic
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses
  • Machiavelli, The Prince
  • Dante, Divine Comedy
  • Spenser, The Faerie Queene
  • Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel
  • Defoe, Moll Flanders
  • Johnson, Rasselas
  • Voltaire, Candide
  • Blake, Songs of Innocence
  • Brontë, Wuthering Heights
  • Flaubert, Madame Bovary
  • Thackeray, Vanity Fair
  • Dickens, Great Expectations
  • Eliot, Middlemarch
  • Whitman, Leaves of Grass
  • Hardy, Jude the Obscure
  • Wells, The Time Machine
  • Proust, In Search of Lost Time
  • Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
  • Woolf, Mrs Dalloway
  • Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
    Red Literature

  • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
  • Virgil, Aeneid
  • Augustine, Confessions
  • Chaucer, Canterbury Tales
  • More, Utopia
  • Montaigne, Essays
  • Milton, Paradise Lost
  • Fielding, Tom Jones
  • Swift, Gulliver’s Travels
  • Austen, Emma
  • Brontë, Jane Eyre
  • Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
  • Melville, Moby-Dick
  • Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
  • Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
  • Twain, Huckleberry Finn
  • James, The Portrait of a Lady
  • Conrad, Nostromo
  • Kafka, The Trial
  • Joyce, Ulysses
  • Cather, My Ántonia
  • Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!

Blue literature is a literature of ideals with a strong nose for justice, a healthy suspicion of inherited position or class, and a fundamentally “Whiggish” confidence in human advancement. The themes of red literature are limitation, decline, responsibility, a distaste for monomania (or any kind of mania, for that matter), a commitment to institutions, and a strong feeling for place and the past. The party lines aren’t particularly neat and tidy, however, because all literature is liberal in the classic sense — literature is the affirmation of human freedom and the dignity of the individual. And perhaps the division shows little more than that “blue” and “red” are a matter of temperament and disposition more than anything else. The skeptics are found on the right; the forward-looking personalities on the left. Oh, and religious types become increasingly red as the present heaves near.

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Update, II: The choice above that has caused the most consternation is Huckleberry Finn in the red list. It’s true that Mark Twain went over to the blue side, at least in his extraliterary opinions, later in life. Here is a pretty good article that sorts through the biographical evidence. Huckleberry Finn, though — classified on the basis of its content, not its author — is unambiguously a red-state book. It is a sustained attack on politically correct thinking. Huck knows what the right thing is. The right thing is to turn Jim over to his “rightful owner.” When he finds that he is unable to do so, despite a conscience that will give him no rest, Huck feels guilty. “I knowed very well I had done wrong,” he says, “and I see it warn’t no use for me to try to learn to do right; a body that don’t get started right when he’s little, ain’t got no show. . . .” But then he stops and thinks. Suppose he had “done right and give Jim up.” Would he feel any better?

No, says I, I’d feel bad — I’d feel just the same way I do now. Well, then, says I, what’s the use of learning to do right, when it’s troublesome to do right and ain’t no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same? I was stuck. I couldn’t answer that. So I reckoned I wouldn’t bother no more about it, but after this always do whichever come handiest at the time.

There is another way of putting Huck’s moral decision: he decides to act on behalf of whoever is closest to hand, the person he is nearest to. He stands by Jim because closeness trumps correctness (and because he promised to). This is the ethic of loyalty, the spirit that holds together friendships and families and the other kinds of voluntary association that red-staters like to call “mediating institutions,” a bulwark of freedom. This preference for the informality of attachment over the formality of virtue runs throughout the novel. The villains are those who defend abstract principle or public morality — the Grangerfords, Colonel Sherburn, even Tom Sawyer — and the hero is a black slave who, out of personal loyalty, stays with the boy who has been shot in an adventurous and entirely gratuitous escape, never a “better nuss or faithfuller, and yet he was resking his freedom to do it.”

Amazon’s “Election Heat Map” has Governor Romney ahead of President Obama by 59 percent to 41 percent based on purchases of “red” books versus “blue” books. Pretty much without exception, the books on both lists are topical and perishable, if they do not yet belong in the trash (soon, though). Killing Lincoln, a popular retelling of the events surrounding Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 by the TV news personality Bill O’Reilly, is the bestselling “red” title. (The Day Lincoln Was Shot, by an earlier journalistic hack, must be out of print.) Winner-Take-All Politics, a 350-page pile of muckraking on the “growing inequality of incomes,” is the top “blue” title.

Since the divide between blue liberals and red conservatives is as much cultural as political, this self-sorting into blue and red bestseller lists makes some sense. Anyone who reads very much contemporary literature, though, knows that any such self-division is impossible: there are not enough “red” books for a short reading list. Anything by Charles McCarry, of course, especially Shelley’s Heart. The historical novelist Thomas Mallon, who has written historical reconstructions of Watergate and the McCarthy era. Philip Roth’s American Pastoral with its vituperation toward “the American berserk.” (As if to compensate for the acclaim he received from conservatives, Roth went public a few years later with his Bush-bashing.) [Update: Guido Brunetti nominates Mark Helprin on the basis of Refiner’s Fire, and Josiah Neeley reminds me that I should have mentioned Tom Wolfe. The latter is an especially stupid omission given that I will be reviewing Back to Blood, one of the best novels of 2012 and perhaps Wolfe’s best to date, in December’s COMMENTARY.] If you go back a couple of generations, you can expand the red list to include Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (a novel that is not often recognized as a masterpiece of anti-Communist literature), Nabokov, Eudora Welty. But even with a few big names on the right side, the left has all the trend-lines and momentum. In the last few weeks, I’ve had to avoid Facebook, because I haven’t wanted their relentless politicking for Obama to lower my opinion of some contemporary novelists. If any contemporary writer has come out for Romney, I’ve missed it.

Whether the deep blue tinge of contemporary literature is the unanticipated consequence of a historical event (the leftist domination of humanities faculties in the universities), or whether writers are blue for the same reason English professors are blue (their self-regard depends upon it), is an open question. ’Twas not always so, however. Once upon a time literature was as likely to be red as blue:

    Blue Literature

  • Plato, Republic
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses
  • Machiavelli, The Prince
  • Dante, Divine Comedy
  • Spenser, The Faerie Queene
  • Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel
  • Defoe, Moll Flanders
  • Johnson, Rasselas
  • Voltaire, Candide
  • Blake, Songs of Innocence
  • Brontë, Wuthering Heights
  • Flaubert, Madame Bovary
  • Thackeray, Vanity Fair
  • Dickens, Great Expectations
  • Eliot, Middlemarch
  • Whitman, Leaves of Grass
  • Hardy, Jude the Obscure
  • Wells, The Time Machine
  • Proust, In Search of Lost Time
  • Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
  • Woolf, Mrs Dalloway
  • Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
    Red Literature

  • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
  • Virgil, Aeneid
  • Augustine, Confessions
  • Chaucer, Canterbury Tales
  • More, Utopia
  • Montaigne, Essays
  • Milton, Paradise Lost
  • Fielding, Tom Jones
  • Swift, Gulliver’s Travels
  • Austen, Emma
  • Brontë, Jane Eyre
  • Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
  • Melville, Moby-Dick
  • Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
  • Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
  • Twain, Huckleberry Finn
  • James, The Portrait of a Lady
  • Conrad, Nostromo
  • Kafka, The Trial
  • Joyce, Ulysses
  • Cather, My Ántonia
  • Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!

Blue literature is a literature of ideals with a strong nose for justice, a healthy suspicion of inherited position or class, and a fundamentally “Whiggish” confidence in human advancement. The themes of red literature are limitation, decline, responsibility, a distaste for monomania (or any kind of mania, for that matter), a commitment to institutions, and a strong feeling for place and the past. The party lines aren’t particularly neat and tidy, however, because all literature is liberal in the classic sense — literature is the affirmation of human freedom and the dignity of the individual. And perhaps the division shows little more than that “blue” and “red” are a matter of temperament and disposition more than anything else. The skeptics are found on the right; the forward-looking personalities on the left. Oh, and religious types become increasingly red as the present heaves near.

____________________

Update, II: The choice above that has caused the most consternation is Huckleberry Finn in the red list. It’s true that Mark Twain went over to the blue side, at least in his extraliterary opinions, later in life. Here is a pretty good article that sorts through the biographical evidence. Huckleberry Finn, though — classified on the basis of its content, not its author — is unambiguously a red-state book. It is a sustained attack on politically correct thinking. Huck knows what the right thing is. The right thing is to turn Jim over to his “rightful owner.” When he finds that he is unable to do so, despite a conscience that will give him no rest, Huck feels guilty. “I knowed very well I had done wrong,” he says, “and I see it warn’t no use for me to try to learn to do right; a body that don’t get started right when he’s little, ain’t got no show. . . .” But then he stops and thinks. Suppose he had “done right and give Jim up.” Would he feel any better?

No, says I, I’d feel bad — I’d feel just the same way I do now. Well, then, says I, what’s the use of learning to do right, when it’s troublesome to do right and ain’t no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same? I was stuck. I couldn’t answer that. So I reckoned I wouldn’t bother no more about it, but after this always do whichever come handiest at the time.

There is another way of putting Huck’s moral decision: he decides to act on behalf of whoever is closest to hand, the person he is nearest to. He stands by Jim because closeness trumps correctness (and because he promised to). This is the ethic of loyalty, the spirit that holds together friendships and families and the other kinds of voluntary association that red-staters like to call “mediating institutions,” a bulwark of freedom. This preference for the informality of attachment over the formality of virtue runs throughout the novel. The villains are those who defend abstract principle or public morality — the Grangerfords, Colonel Sherburn, even Tom Sawyer — and the hero is a black slave who, out of personal loyalty, stays with the boy who has been shot in an adventurous and entirely gratuitous escape, never a “better nuss or faithfuller, and yet he was resking his freedom to do it.”

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Is Paul Ryan the Leader of the Conservative Movement?

When the Republican Party took back control of the House in 1994, a confluence of events combined to make it even more of a watershed moment than it would otherwise have been. The fact that the GOP had been out of power in Congress for four decades gave it an “underdog” storyline. Newt Gingrich, who led the “revolution,” was combustible and charismatic and understood better than most politicians of his time–especially his fellow Republicans–how to garner attention and win a news cycle. And CNN’s breakthrough coverage of the first Gulf War a few years earlier created a new cable TV news landscape perfectly set up to cover the Gingrich-Clinton drama as it unfolded.

The Republican takeover that year had lasting effects, not least because of the fact that Republicans suddenly kept winning, even as they became more politically conservative and developed a party agenda that was more than just standing athwart the Democrats’ plans yelling “Stop.” That post-1994 new normal held steady until the first Obama term and this election season, combined with the new prominence of social media and grassroots conservative fundraising prowess, created another such political tectonic shift: the rise of the fiscal conservative reformers. And there is perhaps no more recognizable leader of this conservative core than vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

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When the Republican Party took back control of the House in 1994, a confluence of events combined to make it even more of a watershed moment than it would otherwise have been. The fact that the GOP had been out of power in Congress for four decades gave it an “underdog” storyline. Newt Gingrich, who led the “revolution,” was combustible and charismatic and understood better than most politicians of his time–especially his fellow Republicans–how to garner attention and win a news cycle. And CNN’s breakthrough coverage of the first Gulf War a few years earlier created a new cable TV news landscape perfectly set up to cover the Gingrich-Clinton drama as it unfolded.

The Republican takeover that year had lasting effects, not least because of the fact that Republicans suddenly kept winning, even as they became more politically conservative and developed a party agenda that was more than just standing athwart the Democrats’ plans yelling “Stop.” That post-1994 new normal held steady until the first Obama term and this election season, combined with the new prominence of social media and grassroots conservative fundraising prowess, created another such political tectonic shift: the rise of the fiscal conservative reformers. And there is perhaps no more recognizable leader of this conservative core than vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

As much influence as the Tea Party-affiliated members of Congress have been able to exert over the legislative affairs of the country, the Republican Party is still clearly at a crossroads. Mitt Romney’s nomination was the result of many factors, but it was not because he leads a movement within the party. No strand of the conservative movement, therefore, was elevated above the others by Romney’s successful bid for the GOP presidential nomination. That is one reason there was so much interest, especially on the right, in Romney’s choice of vice presidential nominee.

What would a President Romney’s agenda look like? Many suggested that question would be answered as much by his running mate as anything else. But above all, Romney had the ability to elevate a conservative (or moderate Republican) and that person’s followers within the party. There were plenty of strong choices for the veep position because there are so many talented rising stars in the party: Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Susana Martinez, Kelly Ayotte, and others. But the one that stood out the most to Romney was also the one with arguably the broadest coalition within the party and among the conservative movement: Paul Ryan.

When considering potential presidential nominees for 2016 if Obama wins reelection, we can probably take Jim DeMint’s name off the list, as he is unlikely to run. Jeb Bush is a wild card: many will say he missed his window, or that he won’t run against Rubio, but he would also attract immediate support from across the party spectrum. It makes sense for Rand Paul to run, I suppose, if only to build his base and his following the way his father did. But I doubt he’d be much of a threat to the others. Jindal is immensely qualified, but it’s unclear if he can thrive on the national stage.

Ideologically, however, both Ryan and Rubio are in good standing with each of the party’s wings. On budgetary issues, most of the young conservatives are on the same page. But judging from the response to the various speeches at the Republican National Convention, the party remains closer on foreign policy to both John McCain’s hawkishness and Condoleezza Rice’s muscular realism than to Rand Paul’s retrenchment. (I don’t think the term “isolationist” is accurate, especially since isolationism used to mean opposition to free trade.) And on social issues, the party remains strongly pro-life.

Would that last one exclude Christie? He is pro-life, but not especially fond of legislating his preferences on social issues. There is probably one more category of conservative worth mentioning: the intellectual wing of the movement. This wing is often more moderate, and therefore at odds with the grassroots base, but still has a high degree of influence within the party and may be best positioned to advance ideas, if not candidacies.

Many of the rising stars in the party would attract their support, and that certainly includes Paul Ryan. And now there is one more advantage for Ryan: even if Romney loses, Ryan will be the lone member of this presidential ticket still vying for prominence within the Republican Party. It does not quite make him a standard bearer, but I think it’s close enough. He has been touring the country making the case for conservatism, and he would garner support from each faction of the movement. So would others, surely. But Ryan may wake up on Wednesday the vice president-elect of the United States, and that means something.

If Romney wins tomorrow, Ryan is undoubtedly first in line, at least for the time being, to inherit the party. But even if he loses tomorrow he is poised to make that claim anyway. That means the conservative grassroots would be elevated to prominence right along with him, solidifying this tectonic shift.

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Florida’s Early Voting Meltdown

Usually Florida political parties wait until after elections to file lawsuits. This year, they’re getting an early start, reports the New York Times:

The lawsuit was filed after a stream of complaints from voters who sometimes waited nearly seven hours to vote or who did not vote at all because they could not wait for so long to do so.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, local election supervisors in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties, where lines sometimes snaked out the door and around buildings, said they would allow voters to request and cast absentee ballots on Sunday. Voters in three other Florida counties will also be able to pick up and drop off absentee ballots. State election law permits election offices to receive absentee ballots through Tuesday as long as they are cast in person.

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Usually Florida political parties wait until after elections to file lawsuits. This year, they’re getting an early start, reports the New York Times:

The lawsuit was filed after a stream of complaints from voters who sometimes waited nearly seven hours to vote or who did not vote at all because they could not wait for so long to do so.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, local election supervisors in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties, where lines sometimes snaked out the door and around buildings, said they would allow voters to request and cast absentee ballots on Sunday. Voters in three other Florida counties will also be able to pick up and drop off absentee ballots. State election law permits election offices to receive absentee ballots through Tuesday as long as they are cast in person.

Early lawsuits in Florida could be a preemptive strike from Democrats in case they decide to contest Florida after the election. In 2008, 54 percent of the Florida electorate voted early, according to the Early Voting Center, a much larger percentage than other states expected to be decided by a close margin, like Ohio.

On the other hand, Florida’s early voting really does seem like a complete and utter disaster:

Chaos ensued at Miami-Dade Elections headquarters Sunday when officials closed the doors early on nearly 200 people who had been promised an extra four-hour period to vote — then reopened an hour later with more staff.

“Let us vote! Let us vote!” chanted those who refused to leave the line when doors first closed. College student Blake Yagman told The Huffington Post he was next to vote when officials decided they couldn’t serve those who showed up.

“I was there for about three and a half hours,” said Yagman, who added that because he is severely hypoglycemic he spent several hours throwing up after standing in the sun for so long. He said he had already tried to vote three times earlier this week, at two different Miami locations.

“Each of the lines was about four to five hours,” he told HuffPost. “It took my mom eight and a half hours to vote at Aventura.”

This is where the enthusiasm gap could make a significant difference. Obama had a 9-point lead over John McCain in Florida early voting in 2008. But that was when Democratic enthusiasm was outpacing Republican enthusiasm. The tables are turned this year, and it’s hard to imagine someone standing in line for eight and a half hours to vote early for a candidate they’re not really that crazy about.

Then again, it’s hard to imagine someone waiting in line for eight and a half hours to vote early for any candidate. At some point between 30 and 45 minutes, isn’t the entire convenience benefit of early voting is nullified? Florida rarely ceases to surprise me, but you would think the state would have a handle on these things after 2000.

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How Would Conservatives React to a Romney Loss?

At the Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky wonders what the conservative reaction would be like if Mitt Romney loses tomorrow:

What’s the state of mind this weekend of the conservative outrage machine? With regard to liberals, I think it’s fair to say as of Saturday that most of us (excepting your allowed-for percentage of nervous nellies) expect Barack Obama to win. If he somehow doesn’t, we’ll be surprised and deeply depressed. But provided the outcome doesn’t involve some kind of Florida-style shenanigans, in a couple days’ time, we’ll come to terms with it. 

Meanwhile–conservatives? I think that they are certain that Mitt Romney will win and that all information to the contrary is a pack of lies; that they will be completely shocked and outraged if he doesn’t; that, if he loses, it will be the inevitable product of foul play; and that therefore they’ll immediately start scouring the landscape looking for parties to blame and will keep themselves in a state suspended agitation for…days, weeks, four years, forever. Which wouldn’t matter to the rest of us but for the fact that they’ll continue to have the power to screw up the country.

I somehow doubt that the left or Tomasky would accept Obama’s loss as graciously as he likes to imagine. (This is the same person who once described Romney as a “spineless, disingenuous, supercilious, race-mongering pyromaniac who is very poorly intentioned indeed, and woe to us if this man sets foot in the White House as anything but a tourist.”) And as usual, Tomasky is completely off-base when it comes to conservatives. 

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At the Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky wonders what the conservative reaction would be like if Mitt Romney loses tomorrow:

What’s the state of mind this weekend of the conservative outrage machine? With regard to liberals, I think it’s fair to say as of Saturday that most of us (excepting your allowed-for percentage of nervous nellies) expect Barack Obama to win. If he somehow doesn’t, we’ll be surprised and deeply depressed. But provided the outcome doesn’t involve some kind of Florida-style shenanigans, in a couple days’ time, we’ll come to terms with it. 

Meanwhile–conservatives? I think that they are certain that Mitt Romney will win and that all information to the contrary is a pack of lies; that they will be completely shocked and outraged if he doesn’t; that, if he loses, it will be the inevitable product of foul play; and that therefore they’ll immediately start scouring the landscape looking for parties to blame and will keep themselves in a state suspended agitation for…days, weeks, four years, forever. Which wouldn’t matter to the rest of us but for the fact that they’ll continue to have the power to screw up the country.

I somehow doubt that the left or Tomasky would accept Obama’s loss as graciously as he likes to imagine. (This is the same person who once described Romney as a “spineless, disingenuous, supercilious, race-mongering pyromaniac who is very poorly intentioned indeed, and woe to us if this man sets foot in the White House as anything but a tourist.”) And as usual, Tomasky is completely off-base when it comes to conservatives. 

How would the right actually react to a Romney loss? Of course they would be depressed. There would probably be a bit of finger-pointing and infighting. There would be a grieving period, as conservatives came to terms with the fact that Obamacare wouldn’t be going away anytime soon.

But a victory for Obama would hardly be a mandate for his progressive agenda. He’d have eked it out by running the most expensive smear campaign against a political opponent in history. Much of his second term would be spent dealing with disasters exacerbated by his first term: high unemployment, economic stagnation, skyrocketing debt, the Islamist hijacking of the Arab Spring, Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons, the proliferation of al-Qaeda affiliates, the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

And while conservatives would rightly be depressed and concerned for the country’s future, they would pick themselves up and refocus. Unless Republicans win the Senate, most of the work for the next two years would have to be done through the House. Congress would continue to investigate Benghazi. Republicans would fight against sequestration military cuts and tax hikes — though that could also lead to an intra-party blowout between the hawkish Buck McKeon camp and the anti-tax absolutist Eric Cantor camp. 

On Iran, conservatives would do what they could to expand and strengthen sanctions through the House and Senate, and increase public pressure for a military response if sanctions fail. The next crucial battle would be for the Senate in 2014, when Democrats would be defending up to 20 seats — 12 of which are in swing states or Republican states.

Mainly, conservatives would focus on making sure Obama does as little damage as possible for the next four years, while keeping their eyes on 2016, when Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, or Chris Christie would be able to make a real run. 

And if Obama loses, has to pack up the White House, and Democrats fall from power? I’ll look forward to Tomasky’s column brushing off the loss good-naturedly and crediting Romney for a fair race.

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Turkey Puts Israel on Trial

For anyone who, despite the last decade of Turkish foreign policy, believes that the Turkish government is more interested in peace than in inciting hatred toward Israel, Turkey’s decision to host a puppet trial of Israeli leaders should put such notions to a rest. From Hürriyet:

The Mavi Marmara trial, known as the largest international trial thanks to citizens from 37 countries participating, will begin tomorrow in Istanbul’s Çağlayan court [Istanbul’s Seventh High Criminal Court]. Prosecutors are demanding life sentences for Israel’s former Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, former Naval Forces Commander Eliezer Alfred Marom, former Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlinir (sic) and former Air Forces Intelligence head Brig. Gen. Avishai Levi, Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH) Board member Gülden Sönmez said.

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For anyone who, despite the last decade of Turkish foreign policy, believes that the Turkish government is more interested in peace than in inciting hatred toward Israel, Turkey’s decision to host a puppet trial of Israeli leaders should put such notions to a rest. From Hürriyet:

The Mavi Marmara trial, known as the largest international trial thanks to citizens from 37 countries participating, will begin tomorrow in Istanbul’s Çağlayan court [Istanbul’s Seventh High Criminal Court]. Prosecutors are demanding life sentences for Israel’s former Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, former Naval Forces Commander Eliezer Alfred Marom, former Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlinir (sic) and former Air Forces Intelligence head Brig. Gen. Avishai Levi, Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH) Board member Gülden Sönmez said.

Never mind that the United Nations investigated the incident and largely exculpated Israel. And never mind that the IHH channels money to al-Qaeda. The trial is important, however, because it demonstrates once again how Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan views the judiciary less as a means for independent justice and more as a mechanism for political show trials. It also shows how misguided those in Israel or America have been who believe that apologizing to ideologues like Erdoğan can ever ameliorate conflict.

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Will Non-Violence Change Turkey’s Kurdish Struggle?

Turkey is going through a crisis, not only political in nature but moral as well. Once on a trajectory toward democracy, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s consolidation of control over the last decade has reversed what gains Turks had already made in terms of press freedom and separation of power. Erdoğan has become Turkey’s Vladimir Putin.

Even as Erdoğan has rolled back Turks’ freedoms, Kurds have become more assertive. While Erdoğan condemns the Kurdistan Workers Party (better known by its Kurdish acronym, the PKK) as a terrorist group, the group does not meet the terrorist criteria based on Erdoğan’s own embrace of Hamas. Certainly, some PKK off-shoots still conduct terrorism, but the PKK itself is more an insurgency. It fights the Turkish army, not civilians, and increasingly holds and controls territory.

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Turkey is going through a crisis, not only political in nature but moral as well. Once on a trajectory toward democracy, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s consolidation of control over the last decade has reversed what gains Turks had already made in terms of press freedom and separation of power. Erdoğan has become Turkey’s Vladimir Putin.

Even as Erdoğan has rolled back Turks’ freedoms, Kurds have become more assertive. While Erdoğan condemns the Kurdistan Workers Party (better known by its Kurdish acronym, the PKK) as a terrorist group, the group does not meet the terrorist criteria based on Erdoğan’s own embrace of Hamas. Certainly, some PKK off-shoots still conduct terrorism, but the PKK itself is more an insurgency. It fights the Turkish army, not civilians, and increasingly holds and controls territory.

Without doubt, the PKK remains more popular than the Turkish government in Diyarbakir, much of southeastern Turkey, and among the Kurdish population in Istanbul, Izmir, and Ankara. While the PKK’s past terrorism was a mistake—and delegitimized the group in the West and convinced not only the United States but also the European Union to designate it—the Kurds’ shift to non-violent political protest is both welcome and effective.

A massive hunger strike among Kurdish prisoners in more than 60 Turkish prisons is now at day 54. Even the Turkish press acknowledges the pressure the Kurdish prisoners have exerted on the Erdoğan regime. The Turkish government has banned public rallies in Diyarbakir and other cities in sympathy with the hunger strikers. While Erdoğan has dismissed the starving prisoners “as just a show,” the deaths that will likely occur in the next few weeks will undermine the legitimacy of Erdoğan’s strategy. The growing unrest and discord should also raise questions about the wisdom of choosing Turkey as the host of the Summer Olympics.

As for the United States, regardless of the election outcome, it may be time to re-evaluate why the United States categorizes the PKK as a terrorist group rather than an insurgency. Perhaps the United States will choose to maintain its terror designation but, if this is the case, it should explain why. Regardless, the Kurdish hunger strike and the Kurds’ recent turn toward non-violent resistance should lead Washington to reconsider its policy and outreach to Turkey’s Kurds.

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The Self-Refuting Arguments for Cutting Defense

Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post is one of the best defense correspondents out there, but he goes off the deep end in this article, claiming that there is a truth that no politician, general, or think tanker dare utter–that “measured by most relevant statistics, the United States — and the world — have never been safer.” He explains: “Global terrorism has barely touched most Americans in the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, with 238 U.S. citizens killed in terrorist attacks, mostly in war zones, according to the National Counterterrorism Center’s annual reports. By comparison, the Consumer Product Safety Commission found that 293 Americans were crushed during the same stretch by falling furniture or televisions.” Therefore, he more or less suggests, there is no reason to spend as much as we do on defense. “The candidates’ rhetoric, however, suggests that the globe is ablaze.”

Jaffe’s first claim is actually self-refuting–the notion that no one dare talk about how safe we are. He quotes academics and think tankers who do just that. In fact, the argument that the terrorist threat is overblown is a regular trope of political scientist John Mueller (see, for instance, this 2006 Foreign Affairs article). The fact that such arguments have won little traction in the political process–even relatively dovish Democrats think we should be spending a lot of money on homeland defense–is a sign not of the overwhelming lobbying power of defense contractors or hawkish think tankers or other actors, but rather of the fundamental unreality behind these arguments.

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Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post is one of the best defense correspondents out there, but he goes off the deep end in this article, claiming that there is a truth that no politician, general, or think tanker dare utter–that “measured by most relevant statistics, the United States — and the world — have never been safer.” He explains: “Global terrorism has barely touched most Americans in the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, with 238 U.S. citizens killed in terrorist attacks, mostly in war zones, according to the National Counterterrorism Center’s annual reports. By comparison, the Consumer Product Safety Commission found that 293 Americans were crushed during the same stretch by falling furniture or televisions.” Therefore, he more or less suggests, there is no reason to spend as much as we do on defense. “The candidates’ rhetoric, however, suggests that the globe is ablaze.”

Jaffe’s first claim is actually self-refuting–the notion that no one dare talk about how safe we are. He quotes academics and think tankers who do just that. In fact, the argument that the terrorist threat is overblown is a regular trope of political scientist John Mueller (see, for instance, this 2006 Foreign Affairs article). The fact that such arguments have won little traction in the political process–even relatively dovish Democrats think we should be spending a lot of money on homeland defense–is a sign not of the overwhelming lobbying power of defense contractors or hawkish think tankers or other actors, but rather of the fundamental unreality behind these arguments.

In the first place, the claim that only 238 U.S. citizens have been killed in terrorist attacks in the last decade is ludicrous. That may be true if counting only civilians. But what about the 6,632 (and counting) service personnel killed in Afghanistan and Iraq? I suppose you could argue they were the victims of guerrillas rather than terrorists, but the distinction is pretty artificial. You could further argue that their deaths somehow don’t count, because they were serving abroad in a war zone. But that ignores the fact that our intervention in Afghanistan was a direct response to an act of terrorism on American soil. (The intervention in Iraq, I would argue, was an indirect response to the same attack.)

The notion that is somehow going away also doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny, coming as it does at a time when 35,000 (and counting) people have been killed in Syria’s civil war alone. It’s true, as Steven Pinker and others argue, that wars are considerably less common and deadly today than they once were, but that is due in part to the fact that the U.S. and our allies have spent so much to keep the peace in Europe and East Asia over the past half-century and more. If we let our guard down, we can pay a heavy price–as we did on 9/11. Remember that there were plenty of voices before 9/11 claiming that the terrorist threat was overblown; they were wrong then and they are wrong now. Numerous dangers lurk out there–from Chinese, Russian and Iranian cyberattacks to the Iranian nuclear program to the rise of Chinese naval power and the spreading tentacles of al-Qaeda’s organization throughout the Middle East.

That is why we need to keep spending as much as we do on defense–it is a relatively cheap insurance policy against various threats known and unknown. It’s not as if defense spending is crippling our economy–as Aaron O’Connell notes in the New York Times today, we spend less than 5 percent of GDP on defense compared to 14 percent in 1953.

A final point. The argument that we can simply slash defense because so few people are getting killed, especially by terrorists, is particularly odd, because many of those who make this case are no doubt sympathetic to the argument that we should be undertaking costly efforts to stop global warming even though there are no verifiable deaths due to this phenomenon. (Michael Bloomberg’s fanciful claim that superstorm Sandy was a result of global warming does not qualify as proof, needless to say.) We are being asked to spend large amounts of money to head off climate dangers that may or may not materialize in a few decades. The danger of terrorism–especially nuclear terrorism–is considerably more pressing and deserves a more serious response. Which is something that political leaders on both sides of the aisle seem to get.

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GOP Should Blame the Media, Not Sandy

A week ago, as Hurricane Sandy headed up the East Coast, Mitt Romney looked to be consolidating his recent gains in the polls. A week later, with many still suffering from the impact of the storm, Romney’s momentum has ebbed and Democratic optimism is off the charts. Assuming that the Democrats are right and Romney loses, was this all the fault of the storm in which President Obama got to play commander-in-chief and take the credit for what has been depicted in the press as an effective federal response to the crisis?

The answer here is: not really. The storm didn’t hurt the president and certainly didn’t help Romney, as it took the focus off politics for a crucial few days (much as the hurricane that threatened parts of the country during the Republican National Convention at the end of August undermined the GOP’s hopes for pulling off a successful infomercial). But the reason it played so well for the president is directly related to the inherent advantages that have always made Romney’s effort an uphill climb: incumbency and a mainstream media in the tank for Obama and determined to portray him as successful even when the facts don’t justify the cheerleading. Though many conservatives have spent this year assuming the president was toast, this latest setback for Republicans is yet another reminder of how out of touch they were with political reality. The election is by no means the foregone conclusion that many liberals are claiming this morning; unless the Democrat turnout matches that of 2008, the pollsters and pundits predicting an Obama victory will look very foolish on Wednesday morning. But the impact of the hurricane on the race demonstrates that beating Obama required a little luck as well as a good candidate and a competent campaign.

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A week ago, as Hurricane Sandy headed up the East Coast, Mitt Romney looked to be consolidating his recent gains in the polls. A week later, with many still suffering from the impact of the storm, Romney’s momentum has ebbed and Democratic optimism is off the charts. Assuming that the Democrats are right and Romney loses, was this all the fault of the storm in which President Obama got to play commander-in-chief and take the credit for what has been depicted in the press as an effective federal response to the crisis?

The answer here is: not really. The storm didn’t hurt the president and certainly didn’t help Romney, as it took the focus off politics for a crucial few days (much as the hurricane that threatened parts of the country during the Republican National Convention at the end of August undermined the GOP’s hopes for pulling off a successful infomercial). But the reason it played so well for the president is directly related to the inherent advantages that have always made Romney’s effort an uphill climb: incumbency and a mainstream media in the tank for Obama and determined to portray him as successful even when the facts don’t justify the cheerleading. Though many conservatives have spent this year assuming the president was toast, this latest setback for Republicans is yet another reminder of how out of touch they were with political reality. The election is by no means the foregone conclusion that many liberals are claiming this morning; unless the Democrat turnout matches that of 2008, the pollsters and pundits predicting an Obama victory will look very foolish on Wednesday morning. But the impact of the hurricane on the race demonstrates that beating Obama required a little luck as well as a good candidate and a competent campaign.

Sandy’s impact was more than just a diversion from political business as usual. It was a chance for many in the mainstream media to trot out comparisons between the federal response to Sandy to that of the Bush administration to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. While there’s no question that the government was better prepared and was able to do what it could more quickly this time, the assumption that Bush deserved to be blamed for what happened in New Orleans while Obama deserves credit for the situation in New Jersey and New York is a partisan distortion. The bulk of the problems in New Orleans were the result of the abject failure of state and city first responders and officials. Yet the pictures of the devastation and the sufferers are still linked to the general perception of Bush’s incompetence. By contrast, the narrative in which Obama got to be the hero of Sandy doesn’t seem to be affected by the fact that many Americans are still without power or shelter a week after the storm.

Of course, blaming Obama for what’s happening in New Jersey and New York wouldn’t be any more fair than blaming Bush for the collapse of the levees in New Orleans or the fact that most of the police and firemen in that city fled rather than doing their duty. There are some things that really are beyond the scope of any president to control, and the weather is one of them. That’s true even for a president who promised that he could turn back the oceans, as Obama famously did when he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. But anyone who thinks the liberal media wouldn’t be blaming a GOP president for the plight of Sandy’s victims doesn’t understand much about American politics.

The point here is not just that the media gave Obama a boost last week, but to highlight the fact that throughout this campaign that is what they have done at virtually every point. Just as most of the mainstream media failed to follow up on the scandalous failure that led to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, and then turned a blind eye to the administration’s politically motivated deceptions about it, there was never much chance that they wouldn’t use Sandy to help Obama.

Beating Obama has always meant overcoming the handicap of media bias as well as the inclination of many Americans not to unseat the first African-American president. If Romney falls short tomorrow, it will not be just the fault of a hurricane, but will also be due to the lack of a level playing field for the candidates on virtually any issue.

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Could Gay Marriage Amendment Tip Minnesota to Romney?

That was George Will’s prediction on ABC’s “This Week” yesterday (h/t Jeff Poor): 

The anti-gay marriage amendment will bring religious voters out to the polls, but will it be enough of a margin to swing the vote for Romney? A couple of recent polls, including PPP’s yesterday, found that more voters oppose the anti-gay marriage amendment than support it. But if that’s the case on election day, it will be unprecedented — gay marriage has lost in all 32 states where it’s been up for a vote. If that changes in Minnesota tomorrow, it could mark the beginning of a political shift. 

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That was George Will’s prediction on ABC’s “This Week” yesterday (h/t Jeff Poor): 

The anti-gay marriage amendment will bring religious voters out to the polls, but will it be enough of a margin to swing the vote for Romney? A couple of recent polls, including PPP’s yesterday, found that more voters oppose the anti-gay marriage amendment than support it. But if that’s the case on election day, it will be unprecedented — gay marriage has lost in all 32 states where it’s been up for a vote. If that changes in Minnesota tomorrow, it could mark the beginning of a political shift. 

Beyond that, the polls are all over the place for Romney in Minnesota. Saturday’s poll by the conservative American Future Fund found the race a dead-heat. But yesterday’s PPP poll found Obama up by eight points, and today’s Survey USA found him leading by double-digits. So if Romney does win Minnesota, it would be a major upset, and not just because it would be the first time in nine presidential elections that the state went for a Republican.

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Give the Cynicism A Rest

So, exactly what should Chris Christie have said and done when the president of the United States came to New Jersey to see the devastation after Sandy?

Given Obama a Rabin-to-Arafat style, I’m-forced-to-shake-your-hand-but-I’m-going-to-go-soak-mine-in-Clorox-afterwards greeting?

Said, “Thanks for dropping by, Barry. But I’m a Romney guy, and I can’t support your tax-and-spend domestic policy or your lily-livered foreign policy, so don’t let the door hit you on the way out”?

Oh, come on.

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So, exactly what should Chris Christie have said and done when the president of the United States came to New Jersey to see the devastation after Sandy?

Given Obama a Rabin-to-Arafat style, I’m-forced-to-shake-your-hand-but-I’m-going-to-go-soak-mine-in-Clorox-afterwards greeting?

Said, “Thanks for dropping by, Barry. But I’m a Romney guy, and I can’t support your tax-and-spend domestic policy or your lily-livered foreign policy, so don’t let the door hit you on the way out”?

Oh, come on.

The man is the governor of New Jersey. New Jerseyans are dead, or homeless, or without power, or without gas, or without food, or without water — or all of the above. There’s bacteria-laden sludge in the streets. The lovely towns of the Jersey Shore have been decimated.

What’s more, he’s actually from New Jersey, and he actually lives in New Jersey. So maybe he cares just a little about his home and its people — not just as voters, but as neighbors, family, friends and colleagues.

How about this? New Jersey and its citizens are suffering — and are going to go on suffering for a long time to come. It’s Christie’s job to do whatever it takes — including being gracious to Barack Obama — to help his state. And he did it. 

Can we please give the cynicism a rest for just a minute?

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