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Posts For: November 11, 2012

Democrats Better Start Soul Searching

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.  

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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.  

The president’s reelection is not evidence of a new liberal America, but rather of the illogical and confused experience that is infatuation. For multiple reasons, Americans continue to have a crush on Barack Obama even after his universally panned first term. No longer quite head over heels, they’re at the “I know he’s no good for me, but I can change him” phase. Whatever this means, it surely doesn’t suggest conservatives would be wise to move closer to policies that aren’t even popular among Obama supporters.

Why isn’t soul searching underway on the left? When the personality at the center of the cult leaves the stage in four years, Democrats will own his results without the benefit of his appeal. We can’t know quite what a second Obama term will bring, but if his first term is an indication, there’s little reason to expect his party will be crowing. The fiscal cliff is here but a whole landscape of steep drops comes next: the economic cliff (over which lies a possible double-dip recession), the Obamacare cliff (over which lies an unprecedented bureaucratic behemoth), the Iran cliff (over which lies a nuclear bomb), and so on. A precipice in every direction and a president who’s given us no reason to presume he can steer clear. Have Democrats stopped to wonder what initiatives they’ll have to defend when the dust settles in 2016?

Already Obama has signaled he’s continuing policies that don’t meet the moment. There’s the assurance of more taxes, of course. But that’s not all. On Friday, citing ecological concerns, the administration closed off 1.6 million acres of federal land in western states from planned oil shale extraction. An American energy boom lies in wait underground and Obama is determined to keep it there. Abroad, the groundwork is being laid to offer Iran a fanciful “grand bargain” in an effort to halt its work on a nuclear weapon.  Think “Russian reset” with fanatical theocrats.

 Perhaps Democrats are confident purely because of their stance on social issues. But as a tactical matter (principle and ideology are a different question), is doesn’t make sense for Republicans to fret over the culture and identity wars that have transfixed the left. Gay marriage as a presidential issue is off the table. The November election showed the future of that question lives at the state level, which is both a popular and conservative approach. Obama himself has said he’ll do nothing about it nationally. Multiple polls taken this year show opposition to abortion is at least as high as it’s been in 15 years. By 2016, the new class war will surely have wound down after Americans see that making the “rich pay their fare share” didn’t solve everyone else’s problems and in fact created new ones.

On immigration reform, of course conservatives should act. That was true before Obama’s reelection; it’s now inevitable. In the next four years, serious Republicans will offer policies aiming to give foreign workers a path to citizenship. Leaders like Marco Rubio have already gotten a brilliant head start.

It is in the nature of personality cults to fail at most things beyond generating and disseminating propaganda. This inability is the result of two things. First, the personality’s popularity is not results-driven. Since adoration hasn’t been earned by achievement but by the advent of charisma, why kill yourself trying to get results. Second, few people are willing to candidly critique the personality at the center of the cult, so there is little chance of course correction. None of this bodes well for Barack Obama. And for the country’s sake, let’s hope it’s wrong.

To effect a revolution in American politics, you have to set parameters that successors will be compelled to heed. FDR implemented programs that at least produced identifiable results before revealing their unsustainable flaws. Bill Clinton had no problem declaring the age of big government over because Ronald Reagan had ushered in a prosperous era in which this was so. What part of the Obama agenda will resonate when isolated from the Obama phenomenon? It’s too soon to say, but not too soon wonder.

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Is it Already Too Late to Stop Iran?

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.

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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.

The American defense establishment has been eager to spread the idea that a strike on Iran is a bad idea because it would only delay rather than completely end the Iranian nuclear program. That is a foolish argument, since even a few years’ delay could buy Israel and the West the time it needs to pursue other options. It also fails to take into account the fact that an Iran that is devastated by effective economic sanctions that amount to a complete embargo (as opposed to the loosely enforced sanctions that are currently failing to persuade Tehran that it is in its interests to give up its nuclear ambitions) would probably not be able to afford to reconstruct its nuclear facilities.

Yet if it is now too late for Israel to stop Iran from the air, it is also entirely possible that the same will eventually be true for the United States, which is no more willing to launch a ground operation in Iran than is Israel (the nuclear option mentioned by the Sunday Times is one that neither country could choose so it is not even worth discussing). That means even in the unlikely event that the Obama administration or its European partners were ever to declare that diplomacy with Iran had definitively failed, there may be no path available to make good on President Obama’s promise to stop Iran from going nuclear on his watch.

Even if it really is too late for Israel to strike, given the strength of American air and naval aviation resources available to use against Iran in the region that may not be true of a U.S.-led effort. But the troubling aspect of these leaks is the impression it gives of a Western military and security establishment that is determined at all costs to influence its own political leadership to back away from confrontation with Iran.

President Obama has specifically and repeatedly disavowed any intention of being willing to “contain” a nuclear Iran. He also pledged in the last of the presidential debates that any possible compromise with Tehran must involve that country giving up its “nuclear program” and not just agreeing to a compromise about the storage of enriched uranium that might enable them to evade the restrictions and, like North Korea, obtain a weapon. But unless he sets some red lines about diplomacy, there is no chance to convince the Iranians that he is serious or that there will be any consequences for them in continuing to prevaricate with the West.

Many in Washington and the capitals of Europe seem to agree with French President Hollande, who is reported to have described Netanyahu as “obsessed with Iran.” That’s an odd way to describe the leader of a country whose existence is threatened by the possibility of an Islamist dictatorship getting the ability to make good on their threats. But given the Iranian success in making fools of Western diplomats and the eagerness with which the Western defense establishment seeks to downplay the chances of doing something about the problem, it’s hard to blame Netanyahu for being obsessed.

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2012 Debunked Campaign Finance Fallacies

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.

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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.

Liberals intent on demonizing conservative donors seem to forget that the president was able to raise hundreds of millions from their own cadre of rich backers. The Democrats raised money from Hollywood or those who seek to enrich themselves via “green” alternative energy companies, just as others did for Romney. Yet there is nothing wrong with these liberals or their labor union allies using the vast sums at their disposal to promote their ideas and favorite candidates any more than when conservatives do the same things.

Rather than draw the only logical conclusion from Obama’s win and to pipe down about the evils of money in politics, the ideologues at the Times are undeterred. Laws such as the disastrous McCain-Feingold legislation that was largely overturned by Citizens United, or any of its equally unsuccessful predecessors, only serve to strengthen the position of incumbents and to reassert the power of mainstream media outlets like the Times, whose right to political speech is protected by the First Amendment.

What all this money bought may not be pretty or even decorous but it is not corrupt. Nor should the government seek to restrain it in the hope of elevating our political life.

As the Times rightly asserted, a deluge of expensive campaign ads on television didn’t affect the race as much as effective get-out-the-vote efforts by Democrats. That was a point reinforced by the disastrously inefficient, yet no less expensive scheme of the Republicans to do the same thing. Perhaps in the future both sides ought to ponder whether television ads that enrich broadcast outlets and the political consultants who urge candidates to buy them, but sometimes provide little political payoff, are worth it. But to say that is not agree that they ought to be restricted or banned. This year proved what virtually every other election has always shown those who were willing to look honestly at the question. Though money is needed to create a viable campaign, it can’t buy the presidency.

What we had in 2012 was a bellyful of democracy. Some of us may not like what it bought us, but schemes to limit political speech won’t make the system any more fair or honest.

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The Palestinian State’s Rocket Offensive

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas said today he wasn’t backing down from his plan to try and get the United Nations to recognize an independent state without it first having to make peace with Israel. Abbas believes that if the UN General Assembly votes in the coming months to recognize the PA as a nonmember observer state — an upgrade from its current status — it will give him more leverage with the United States as well as make it easier for the Palestinians to harass the Jewish state in forums like the International Criminal Court. But the leaders of the real independent Palestinian state aren’t interested in helping Abbas get a make believe one.

More than 80 rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel over the weekend as Hamas unleashed a barrage that wounded several Israelis and damaged buildings in Sderot and the Sha’ar Hanegev area. The motive for the escalation from the normal volume of fire over the border (more than 600 missiles have been fired at Israel from Gaza in 2012 up until Saturday) from the Hamas-run enclave is a matter of speculation. But the most logical explanation is a desire on the part of the terrorist group that exercises sovereignty in Gaza to remind the world that it is they, and not Abbas and his Fatah, that are in control of events. This latest surge in terror from the place that is an independent Palestinian state in all but name also is a heads-up to even those inclined to be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause of the nature of that state and what would happen if they had the same freedom of action in the West Bank alongside Israel’s main population centers.

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Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas said today he wasn’t backing down from his plan to try and get the United Nations to recognize an independent state without it first having to make peace with Israel. Abbas believes that if the UN General Assembly votes in the coming months to recognize the PA as a nonmember observer state — an upgrade from its current status — it will give him more leverage with the United States as well as make it easier for the Palestinians to harass the Jewish state in forums like the International Criminal Court. But the leaders of the real independent Palestinian state aren’t interested in helping Abbas get a make believe one.

More than 80 rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel over the weekend as Hamas unleashed a barrage that wounded several Israelis and damaged buildings in Sderot and the Sha’ar Hanegev area. The motive for the escalation from the normal volume of fire over the border (more than 600 missiles have been fired at Israel from Gaza in 2012 up until Saturday) from the Hamas-run enclave is a matter of speculation. But the most logical explanation is a desire on the part of the terrorist group that exercises sovereignty in Gaza to remind the world that it is they, and not Abbas and his Fatah, that are in control of events. This latest surge in terror from the place that is an independent Palestinian state in all but name also is a heads-up to even those inclined to be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause of the nature of that state and what would happen if they had the same freedom of action in the West Bank alongside Israel’s main population centers.

One of the main reasons the PA’s first attempt to get UN recognition failed last year — why the so-called “diplomatic tsunami” never materialized — was the understanding even on the part of Israel’s critics that such a move was rendered impossible by the fragmented nature of Palestinian politics. Abbas not only doesn’t control Gaza, the government there is, for all intents and purposes, the sovereign over the area. Even if Israel withdrew tomorrow from the West Bank, it would mean the corrupt and incompetent Fatah ran part of a state of “Palestine” while Hamas ruled another with an iron fist. That is a formula for chaos and more violence, not independence.

Despite off-and-on negotiations for a unity government, Hamas is carefully biding its time as it plots an eventual West Bank takeover. It certainly has no interest in seeing Abbas, who is currently serving the eighth year of a four-year presidential term, win a victory at the UN. The recent surge in terror attacks on Israeli targets serves to bolster Hamas’s popularity since in the upside-down world of Palestinian politics, parties gain ground by violence against Israel and the Jews rather than doing something for their own people. But it also helps to undercut Abbas’s pretensions to leadership over a unified people seeking redress at the UN.

Some may wonder whether Hamas terrorism, like the recent kind words directed at former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert by Abbas, are intended to influence the January elections in the Jewish state. That’s doubtful, but even if true it is a futile gesture. The vast majority of Israelis long ago gave up on the Palestinians. They understand that a sea change will have to take place in their political culture before a leader or a party willing to actually end the conflict with Israel can be produced. That’s why the notion that Olmert or anyone else could put together a coalition to defeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by running on a platform seeking to revive the peace process is about as likely as Fatah and Hamas competing peacefully in a democratic election and then working together to ease the plight of their people.

The reality of life in southern Israel is brutal and will, no doubt, create more pressure on Netanyahu to eventually act decisively to clip the wings of the growing military threat in Gaza. The Iron Dome anti-missile system has had some limited successes, such as the interception this weekend of rockets heading for the cities of Beersheba and Ashkelon. But the towns along the border like Sderot are still getting pasted. Above all, the near-daily assault from Gaza brings home to Israelis the real meaning of Palestinian independence.

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