Barack Obama ushered in America’s first large-scale experiment in personality-cult politics. The experiment continues apace. Obama got reelected because he enjoys a degree of personal popularity disconnected from his record. No modern president has ever been returned to office with employment figures and right-track-wrong-track numbers as poor as those Obama has achieved.
Obama couldn’t run on his record, which proved to be no problem—Americans didn’t vote on his record. According to exit polls, 77 percent of voters said the economy is bad and only 25 percent said they’re better off than they were four years ago. But since six in ten voters claimed the economy as their number one issue, it’s clear this election wasn’t about issues at all.
A report published today in Britain’s Sunday Times says that the ability of Iran to move much of its nuclear program into hardened mountainside bunkers has already rendered it invulnerable to conventional air attack. This account relies on western intelligence and defense sources that may be intent on deterring an Israeli attempt to forestall Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But given the obvious difficulties involved in any such attack, especially with the more slender military resources available to Israel than the United States, it could be correct. According to the story, that leaves Israel with only two options: use its own nukes to destroy the site or deploy ground troops to Iran. Needless to say, neither is a realistic option for Israel.
While skepticism about any such story is in order, it does raise a couple of important questions. One is whether the reason for these Western intelligence leaks is behind an effort not so much to stop an Israeli strike as to prevent action by the West should President Obama need to use force to make good on his promise not to allow an Iranian nuke on his watch. It also places speculation about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s alleged order in 2010 to raise its alert level in preparation for a possible attack on Iran is a slightly different context. While that action has been depicted as reckless by some and even interpreted as a cynical attempt to provoke an Iranian attack on Israel or the West, if it is now too late to stop Iran perhaps Netanyahu’s concern was well placed. Just as important, it could be that the complacence exhibited by those in the security establishment in Israel that opposed any thought of action was far from wise. The same could be said about the conviction that still prevails in Washington that takes it as a given that there is still plenty of time to wait until decisions have to be made about the threat.
Since the landmark Citizens United decision issued by the Supreme Court in 2010, liberals have been claiming that the ruling would more or less end democracy as we know it. Their fear-mongering on the issue was based on the assumption that freeing up the ability of individuals, groups and businesses to fund political speech would guarantee that money would decide all future elections. That conclusion was patent nonsense. Neither political party has an inherent advantage in raising money, since both have large affluent bases from which to draw funds. But even more important is the fact that while money is essential to giving a candidate a chance, it is by no means a decisive factor in determining the outcome.
These two facts were proved true again this past Tuesday. It is true that Mitt Romney’s defeat was a blow to the big Republican donors who contributed vast sums to help his cause. But as much as the New York Times was able to crow in an editorial published yesterday that the outcome was “A Landslide Loss for Big Money” by which they meant big Republican money, it can just as easily be represented as a win for the big liberal money raised by the Democrats. While the cacophony of competing claims made possible by the approximately $1 billion spent by both parties wasn’t the most edifying spectacle, it did give each ample opportunity to make their cases to the voters. There is nothing corrupt about the free flow of political speech, even in an election as nasty as the one that has just concluded. All that Citizens United did was to make it possible for the competitors’ voices to be heard. That is the essence of democracy and why calls for more efforts to restrict free speech via new, and undoubtedly unconstitutional, campaign finance laws (such as those advocated by the Times) should be ignored.