Some thoughts on the Republicans pulling their Plan B tax bill from the House floor last night:
1. Speaker Boehner was embarrassed and is badly weakened. He may not be deposed since Majority Leader Eric Cantor and other key Republicans were by his side during negotiations, and they supported Plan B. Mr. Boehner is also generally well liked within his caucus. There’s no obvious person who could challenge him and win. And everyone knows the speaker was forced to play a bad hand. Still, this was a humiliation for Mr. Boehner. He may not recover from this vote of no confidence from his own members.
2. It’s possible that a new deal emerges – but it would probably have to come from the Senate. And even if Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell were to find common ground – which is far from certain – a new plan would also need to pass in the House. And as last night showed, that simply may not happen.
3. House Republicans have now managed to put themselves into a situation in which if we do go over the “fiscal cliff,” early next year President Obama will propose tax cuts for somewhere around 98 percent of the American people. If House Republicans go along with Obama, then it may dawn on them that Plan B was a significantly better deal from their perspective, since it limited tax increases to those making a million dollars or more rather than whatever lower figure Obama will propose.
Many of those coming out in favor of Chuck Hagel’s presumptive nomination to be Secretary of Defense appear motivated less by love for Hagel and more by dislike for his opponents. The trend follows a common one in Washington. During the Cold War, there were anti-Communists and anti-anti-Communists. In the aftermath of 9/11, there were anti-terrorists and anti-anti-terrorists. The drawback in Washington is that the policy debate is often driven less by principle than by standing in opposition to perceived opponents. Nothing shows this more than the ad hoc coalition rally around Chuck Hagel who see nothing wrong with a man whose interpretation of honest policy disagreement is to question the loyalty of those who have the temerity to disagree with him.
It is likewise ironic to see progressives so obsessed with “neocons” (though most of those they label as such are not neoconservative) that they, in effect, form a coalition that makes a mockery of their own philosophical positions. I believe in a colorblind society in which jobs are based on qualifications rather than superficiality. The quotas often put forward by those on the left sound often sound like reincarnations of the infamous James Watt quote. Still, many progressives do believe in quotas and diversity of skin and sex rather than diversity of opinion. Therefore, it is ironic to see the pro-Hagel coalition in effect becoming the lobby for old, white, multimillionaires.
Although opposition to the possible nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense has formed along a diverse group of issues, the left has chosen to focus on pro-Israel groups. Hagel opposes all serious efforts to stop Iran. He prefers engagement with terrorist groups. And he believes members of Congress cower in fear of an all-powerful “Jewish lobby.” It is this last part that Hagel’s defenders have focused on, in large part because many of them also believe in an all-powerful “Jewish lobby” that controls the public discourse on Israel by setting and enforcing ground rules.
That such paranoid ignorance prevails in leftist media should not surprise. Yet it is often the case that those who accuse the right of obsession with Israel are projecting; as Pejman Yousefzadeh noted recently, “Israeli Lobby” conspiracy theorist Stephen Walt suggested that sticking it to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s supporters in the U.S. would be reason enough to nominate Hagel. Yet the attempts to silence pro-Israel opposition to Hagel by portraying it as disloyal and immoral aren’t working, in large part because concerned citizens petitioning the government is a basic part of American democracy. And that democratic inclination is now being practiced by gay rights groups who are criticizing Hagel as well. Will the leftist conspiracy theorists accuse gay rights advocates of the same nefarious subversion of democracy and treason with which they label pro-Israel groups? One surely hopes not.
The UN General Assembly, as Elliott Abrams noted yesterday, just passed nine resolutions in a single day condemning Israel, mainly for its treatment of the Palestinians, while completely ignoring the real disaster that befell the Palestinians this week: the Assad regime’s bombing of the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, which reportedly killed dozens of Palestinians and caused about 100,000 to flee. But the situation becomes even more surreal when one examines the actual content of the resolutions–because it turns out that while the UN is voting to condemn Israel, its alleged victims are voting the opposite with their feet.
One resolution, for instance, slams Israel’s 1981 annexation of the “occupied Syrian Golan” and demands that Israel “rescind forthwith its decision.” Given what’s happening across the border in Syria, where the ongoing civil war has killed over 44,000 people and created over 500,000 refugees, I suspect most of the 20,000 Syrian Druze on the Golan are thanking their lucky stars to be living safely under Israel’s “occupation.” But you needn’t take my word for it: According to the Hebrew daily Maariv, whose report was subsequently picked up the Winnipeg Jewish Review, Israeli government statistics show that the number of Golan Druze applying for Israeli citizenship (for which the annexation made them eligible) has risen by hundreds of percent since the Syrian civil war erupted, after 30 years in which very few did so.