Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 21, 2012

America Edges Ever Closer to the Fiscal Cliff

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. 

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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. 

If House Republicans don’t go along with Obama, then they will vote to prevent tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people simply because tax cuts weren’t also given to the top income earners. I understand that Republicans will have supported tax cuts for 100 percent of the public rather than 98 percent. Still, the political effect of all this may well be that Barack Obama will have created a situation in which he’s viewed as the champion of tax cuts for the vast majority of Americans. That would be a stunning achievement by Obama and House Republicans, who could hardly have done more damage to themselves if they tried.

4. The results of this week – and especially if we go over the fiscal cliff – will be that the Republican Party will look increasingly extreme and adamantine. Even if you believe that characterization is completely or largely untrue and unfair, it exists, and conservatism has to take into account the world as it is.

Edmund Burke, in defining statesmanship, wrote, “We compensate, we reconcile, we balance. We are able to unite into one consistent whole the various anomalies and contending principles that are found in the minds and affairs of men.” That sensibility has been missing among some House Republicans, I think – many of whom seem to have convinced themselves that they made a stand on principle that will redound to their credit. They may be right, but count me skeptical. House conservatives got what they wanted, which is no deal and (perhaps) a trip over the fiscal cliff with their flag flying. If that happens, I suspect the GOP, conservatism, and the tax cutting cause will all suffer. Which may eventually underscore for them why prudence is such an important political virtue.

5. President Obama is far from blameless in all this. He never gave John Boehner enough in exchange for Boehner’s willingness to break with a decades-long GOP commitment not to raise tax rates. If Obama wanted to avoid going over the fiscal cliff, he once again showed that he is a fairly inept negotiator. If he does want to go over the fiscal cliff, he may become quite familiar with the axiom, “Be careful what you wish for.” Because as Bob Woodward put it, “This is the Obama era, it is [the president’s] economy. Speaker Boehner’s an important player and this is significant, but it is Obama’s job to lead and define — so if there re negative consequences here, particularly in the economy, it is going to be, ‘In the Obama era, things didn’t get fixed.’”

6. Quite apart from who deserves the most blame for where we are, there is something slightly depressing in terms of the failure to govern in a responsible and reasonable way. Our political system right now is not only unable to rise to the moment and confront the challenges we face; it seems to be badly broken and staggeringly incompetent. The lack of trust in, and growing cynicism toward, our governing institutions will only increase. And that is not a good thing for a self-governing republic.

In a terrific essay on the late, great James Q. Wilson, his former student John DiIulio, Jr. wrote, “During his last decade, Wilson worried more than he had previously about what, in the closing paragraph of his textbook [on American government], he described as ‘a decline in public confidence in those who manage…government. We expect more and more from government,’ [Wilson] observed, ‘but are less and less certain that we will get it, or get it in a form and at a cost that we find acceptable.’”

If Professor Wilson was alive today, I imagine his concerns would be even greater about the country he loved so much and so well. So should ours.

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Palestinians Burning Their Bridges

The Palestinians and their leadership have spent the last 20 years converting a strong Israeli majority in favor of the peace process into one that regards the whole concept as a dangerous fantasy. Twenty years ago the Israeli left romped in an election that relegated the Likud to minority status. In next month’s Knesset elections, not even the Labor party will spend time advocating for more concessions to the Palestinians in exchange for the hope of peace. Terrorism, the second intifada, the rise of Hamas and the conversion of Gaza into a terror state have effectively destroyed the Israeli left. But rather than react to this somber shift in the mood of their neighbors with an attempt to restart peace talks or to convince them that their goal is to end the conflict rather than to merely continue it on more advantageous terms, the Palestinians are planning on doubling down on their negative image.

As the Associated Press reports, the Palestinian Authority is planning on responding to the expected re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a wide range of activities designed to deepen rather than to ameliorate the antagonism and the cynicism with which the majority of Israelis view them. The PA plans to use its enhanced status at the UN to pursue specious charges of war crimes against Israelis in the International Criminal Court and advocating for sanctions and boycotts against the Jewish state. Worse than that, they are threatening not just to organize mass protests and confrontations with Israelis in the West Bank but to end all security cooperation between their armed forces and those of Israel, a measure that has helped keep relative peace in the region. While PA leader Mahmoud Abbas thinks this is a clever tactic designed to force President Obama to pressure Israel into giving in to more of his demands, the result will be nothing less than a third intifada that may help further isolate Israel but which will devastate the Palestinian economy and effectively end all hope for Israeli support for a two-state solution.

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The Palestinians and their leadership have spent the last 20 years converting a strong Israeli majority in favor of the peace process into one that regards the whole concept as a dangerous fantasy. Twenty years ago the Israeli left romped in an election that relegated the Likud to minority status. In next month’s Knesset elections, not even the Labor party will spend time advocating for more concessions to the Palestinians in exchange for the hope of peace. Terrorism, the second intifada, the rise of Hamas and the conversion of Gaza into a terror state have effectively destroyed the Israeli left. But rather than react to this somber shift in the mood of their neighbors with an attempt to restart peace talks or to convince them that their goal is to end the conflict rather than to merely continue it on more advantageous terms, the Palestinians are planning on doubling down on their negative image.

As the Associated Press reports, the Palestinian Authority is planning on responding to the expected re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a wide range of activities designed to deepen rather than to ameliorate the antagonism and the cynicism with which the majority of Israelis view them. The PA plans to use its enhanced status at the UN to pursue specious charges of war crimes against Israelis in the International Criminal Court and advocating for sanctions and boycotts against the Jewish state. Worse than that, they are threatening not just to organize mass protests and confrontations with Israelis in the West Bank but to end all security cooperation between their armed forces and those of Israel, a measure that has helped keep relative peace in the region. While PA leader Mahmoud Abbas thinks this is a clever tactic designed to force President Obama to pressure Israel into giving in to more of his demands, the result will be nothing less than a third intifada that may help further isolate Israel but which will devastate the Palestinian economy and effectively end all hope for Israeli support for a two-state solution.

The Palestinians claim they have no choice but to resort to this strategy because the Israelis and even many of their foreign friends such as President Obama are ignoring them. But the reason why someone as sympathetic to the Palestinians and hostile to Israel’s government as Obama may have given up on the peace process is that four years of attempts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction was never enough to convince the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Palestinian harassment of Israelis at the UN and in international forums will be annoying but won’t change a thing. But their decision to go back to intifada tactics is a guarantee of bloodshed. They may claim their protests will be peaceful, but rock throwing inevitably escalates to more violent tactics. It is also a given that Hamas and terrorist elements of Abbas’s Fatah that are tasked with competing with the Islamists in that category will be using the protests as cover for attacks. If the PA ends security cooperation, it will end the same way the second intifada did with PA “police” joining the terrorists in shooting at Israelis.

This will kill what little support remains inside Israel for compromise with the PA. But Abbas is not wrong to believe that it will make the Palestinians more rather than less popular in Europe, where any form of Israeli self-defense will be depicted as immoral no matter what the circumstances might be. A rising tide of anti-Semitism on the continent has made Israel particularly unpopular there. But while heightening Israel’s isolation may seem like a smart thing to do in Ramallah, it won’t do a thing to give the Palestinians a better life or to get them closer to peace or independence.

The only thing that will do that is for Abbas to do the one thing he has refused to do since he fled the talks with Netanyahu’s predecessor when he was offered a state. The best alternative to the status quo isn’t an intifada that will send the conflict into another death spiral of violence and futility. It is negotiations for a two-state solution that no Israeli government could spurn. By choosing to avoid that obvious path to peace, the Palestinians are burning their last bridges to the Israeli people. They shouldn’t expect the United States, even during a second Obama administration to dig them out of the hole they are placing themselves in.

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The NRA Should Have Stayed Silent

The last week must have been excruciating for the National Rifle Association and its leaders. They wisely decided to stay silent in the days after the Newtown massacre even though that meant ceding the national stage to its opponents, who subjected the group to withering and often unfair criticism as well as shamelessly exploiting the tragedy in order to resurrect gun control proposals that drew little or no interest during the election. But one week of silence wasn’t enough.

The speech delivered today by Wayne LaPierre, the group’s executive vice president, was a memorable disaster and likely to do far more damage to its reputation than much of the sniping aimed at the NRA in the previous days. The problem was not so much substance as its tone, as the group’s leader delivered a hectoring lecture to the nation that managed to make a good idea—more security at schools—sound nutty. In the course of his rant, he also managed to make it sound as if the only way to defend the Second Amendment is to throw the First under the bus as he sought to blame the entertainment industry for gun violence. The group that generally opposes registration of firearms also called for a national registry of the mentally ill. Though LaPierre was right to predict the liberal news media would depict his statements as extreme, the group did itself no favor by jumping back into the debate so soon with a presentation that was bereft of any sense that the ground had shifted during their hiatus out of the public eye. What was needed most from the NRA was a reasonable tone, not attempts to provide different scapegoats for the public’s anger over Newtown such as the gun-free school zones or video games. Another week or even a month of radio silence from the NRA would have been better for its cause than this.

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The last week must have been excruciating for the National Rifle Association and its leaders. They wisely decided to stay silent in the days after the Newtown massacre even though that meant ceding the national stage to its opponents, who subjected the group to withering and often unfair criticism as well as shamelessly exploiting the tragedy in order to resurrect gun control proposals that drew little or no interest during the election. But one week of silence wasn’t enough.

The speech delivered today by Wayne LaPierre, the group’s executive vice president, was a memorable disaster and likely to do far more damage to its reputation than much of the sniping aimed at the NRA in the previous days. The problem was not so much substance as its tone, as the group’s leader delivered a hectoring lecture to the nation that managed to make a good idea—more security at schools—sound nutty. In the course of his rant, he also managed to make it sound as if the only way to defend the Second Amendment is to throw the First under the bus as he sought to blame the entertainment industry for gun violence. The group that generally opposes registration of firearms also called for a national registry of the mentally ill. Though LaPierre was right to predict the liberal news media would depict his statements as extreme, the group did itself no favor by jumping back into the debate so soon with a presentation that was bereft of any sense that the ground had shifted during their hiatus out of the public eye. What was needed most from the NRA was a reasonable tone, not attempts to provide different scapegoats for the public’s anger over Newtown such as the gun-free school zones or video games. Another week or even a month of radio silence from the NRA would have been better for its cause than this.

The substance as well as the tone of his remarks appalled many reporters and media figures, who started sniping at LaPierre on Twitter. But there was nothing wrong with advocating for more armed security guards at schools. He happened to be right when he said the only thing that can stop a “bad guy” with a gun was a good guy with one. But his trenchant observation that gun-free school zones are open invitations to armed lunatics came out as sounding as if those who proposed such areas had the blood of the children of Newtown on their hands. That seemed of a piece with the smears shouted by Code Pink members who attempted to disrupt the presser by shouting that the NRA was guilty of killing children. Doing so distracted attention from what could be a reasonable proposal.

LaPierre’s attempt to pivot the discussion away from guns to video games was equally disingenuous. The prevalence of violence in our popular culture is a real problem, but it ill behooves a group founded on a belief that the Second Amendment must be preserved at all costs to take stands that sounded as if it was willing to hypocritically sacrifice the First with its protection of free speech.

The same applies to their talk about a national registry of mentally ill persons. Incidents like Newtown are more the product of mental illness than inadequate gun legislation, but the NRA seemed to be advocating exactly the sort of Big Brother government measure that it would fight to do the death where it to be applied to weapons.

What was needed from the NRA was a signal that it was prepared to react to the outrage about Newtown with reasoned suggestions about keeping any guns out of the hands of people like Adam Lanza. Instead, it sallied forth with its usual arguments about why any form of gun control or legislation, no matter how reasonable, must be rejected out of hand. That may have been what many of its 4 million members wanted but it was not the thing to say only 90 minutes after a national minute of silence exactly one week after Newtown. That the presser ended with the group’s president calling for a national conversation but then adding that they would take no questions was just the icing on the cake of a public relations disaster.

As difficult as LaPierre’s task may have been, he failed to advance his group’s cause. It was too soon after Newtown for the NRA to resume its usual rhetoric, even if many of its arguments are sound. He did that cause far more harm by speaking than if he had chosen to stay silent.

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Will Kerry-Hagel Prevent War?

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.

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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.

Perhaps the most misguided argument for a John Kerry-Chuck Hagel duo at the State and Defense Department is the idea that they are best suited to prevent war. This not only shows that many progressives have repeated conspiracies about their opponents’ lust for war for so long that they actually believe their own mantras, but also believe that appeasement—or generous “incentive packages”—for those who want to keep to diplomatic speak—rather than credible defense ameliorates conflict. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security advisor, appears to make this argument. While Peter Beinart may like to label Hagel a new Eisenhower, a better parallel might be Dean Acheson, President Truman’s secretary of state.

On January 12, 1950, Acheson gave a speech in which outlined U.S. interests in Asia:

In the first place, the defeat and the disarmament of Japan has placed upon the United States the necessity of assuming the military defense of Japan so long as that is required, both in the interest of our security and in the interests of the security of the entire Pacific area… The defensive perimeter runs along the Aleutians to Japan and then goes to the Ryukyus. We hold important defense positions in the Ryukyu Islands, and those we will continue to hold… The defensive perimeter runs from the Ryukyus to the Philippine Islands. Our relations, our defensive relations with the Philippines are contained in agreements between us. Those agreements are being loyally carried out and will be loyally carried out… So far as the military security of other areas in the Pacific is concerned, it must be clear that no person can guarantee these areas against military attack. But it must also be clear that such a guarantee is hardly sensible or necessary within the realm of practical relationship.

Acheson continued to advise those states not covered by the defensive perimeter to resist on their own or rely on the United Nations. “It is a mistake, I think, in considering Pacific and Far Eastern problems to become obsessed with military considerations,” he explained.

The Brzezinski’s and Hagel’s of that day applauded, but there was a very different reaction in Pyongyang. Kim Il-Sung heard Acheson’s speech and determined that the United States would no long stand in the way of his ambitions. It was soon after that he launched the invasion of South Korea, a conflict which would take a half million lives.

Hagel’s neo-isolationism—or non-interventionalism, if some analysts prefer—may sound good in some quarters, but if the desire is to keep the United States out of war—a truly noble endeavor—then the best way to do so would be to place someone at the helm of the Pentagon who would counsel standing America’s ground rather than turning inward.

It’s time to drop the fiction that this choice is about war or peace. The debate is rather over the best way to maintain peace: through strength or through conciliation. The simple fact is this: Kerry at State coupled with Hagel at the Pentagon will make conflict more likely.

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Gay Rights Groups Complicate Left’s Narrative of Hagel As Victim

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.

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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 New York Times reports on the latest Hagel controversy:

The new round of criticism is focused on comments Mr. Hagel made in an interview about James C. Hormel, a San Francisco philanthropist nominated by President Bill Clinton to be ambassador to Luxembourg in 1997.

Mr. Hagel, a Republican and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was approached by his fellow Nebraskan in the Senate, Bob Kerrey, on behalf of Mr. Hormel, whose nomination was being held up by conservative Republicans.

Mr. Hagel did not oppose the nomination when Mr. Hormel came before the panel. But he later spoke out against it, saying that an “openly, aggressively gay” man should not represent the United States.

“They are representing America,” Mr. Hagel said in an interview with The Omaha World-Herald. “They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly, aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.”

You can understand why gay rights groups aren’t happy about this quote and are cooling on Hagel. First of all, his comments are flatly insulting and tinged with a bigoted view of gay Americans. Hagel apparently believes, in his own words, that “it is an inhibiting factor to be gay” for someone who wants to represent American values and standards. His modification, that Hormel was “aggressively gay,” suggests he thinks gay men and women should somehow be less so in the company of others, lest they reveal what Hagel clearly believes to be a personal defect.

Additionally, if Hagel is nominated and confirmed to run the Pentagon, he’ll have to oversee the implementation of the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which barred gay soldiers from serving openly in the military. Hagel has been on record in the past opposing the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And gay rights advocates consider this a crucial moment for gay integration in the military, when they will be allowed to serve openly, and are concerned about the bigotry that might be expressed toward such soldiers–bigotry Hagel has publicly espoused.

Will the left now complain about some “gay lobby” silencing the administration and directing policy from the shadows? Probably not. Additionally, there’s another wrinkle for those who pretend to be concerned about corrupting influences on the president: members of the gay community were major contributors to and fundraisers for the Obama campaign. As the Washington Post reports, the Obama White House feels the need to mollify Hagel’s gay critics:

The rising concerns bubbled to the surface even after phone calls to gay rights activists in recent days from senior White House aides, including top Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. The aides told the activists that any Pentagon nominee would “live up to the principles” on gay rights established by Obama, according to several people familiar with the conversations.

Gay people proved to be among Obama’s most generous campaign donors and enthusiastic backers in this year’s reelection campaign, particularly after he decided to express his support for same-sex marriage.

Is this democracy in action or kowtowing to powerful puppet masters? Walt and the others in his camp seem to think it’s the latter. But they’re wrong. This is democracy in action, and it’s the vehicle through which the American people, in greater numbers by the day, are telling the president that it’s Hagel and his poisonous views that shouldn’t be “representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards” at home and abroad.

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UN: Return Golan Residents to Syrian Slaughterhouse “Forthwith”

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.

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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.

“More and more people comprehend that this [Israel] is a well-managed country and it’s possible to live and raise children here,” one Druze who acquired Israeli citizenship explained. “In Syria there is mass murder, and if [the Druze are] under Syrian control they would likely be turned into the victims of these atrocities. People see murdered children and refugees fleeing to Jordan and Turkey, lacking everything, and ask themselves: Where do I want to raise my children. The answer is clear–in Israel and not Syria.”

But what the Golan’s own residents want, of course, is of no interest to the UN: It would rather Israel return the area, and its Druze, to the Syrian hellhole “forthwith.”

Then there was the resolution condemning Israel for violating “the human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.” But in East Jerusalem, too, the number of Palestinians requesting Israeli citizenship has risen sharply in recent years (West Bank and Gazan Palestinians aren’t eligible for citizenship, since Israel hasn’t annexed those areas). And while the number of Palestinians actually receiving citizenship remains small, Haaretz reports, “everyone involved agrees” it would be higher if Israel’s notoriously slow Interior Ministry would just process the applications faster.

The number of East Jerusalem Palestinians registering for the Israeli matriculation exam rather than the Palestinian one has also recently risen by dozens of percent, meaning these young Palestinians aspire to study at an Israeli university and work in Israel rather than studying and working in the Arab world. This, too, is a sea change: For years, Palestinians refused to allow their children to study the Israeli curriculum; now, private preparatory schools are springing up to enable these children to pass the Israeli exams.

Moreover, repeated polls have shown that if Jerusalem were redivided, many Palestinians–at least a sizable minority, and possibly a majority–would want to remain in Israel. But again, what East Jerusalem residents want is of no interest to the UN.

All of which just goes to show, if anyone had any doubts, that the UN and its member states have no interest whatsoever in the actual wellbeing of those under Israeli “occupation.” All they’re interested in is bashing Israel.

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The GOP Really Hits Bottom

Those Republicans who thought their party hit bottom on Election Day were wrong. Mitt Romney’s defeat was a blow, but the pitiful collapse of House Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B legislation on the budget showed that heading into his second term, President Obama’s opposition is so divided as to be rendered useless.

The importance of Boehner’s failure to keep his caucus relatively united, so as to strengthen his hand in negotiations to avoid having the nation go over the fiscal cliff, is not a minor story or one that will be soon forgotten in the 24/7 news cycle world. It is a signal to the Democrats that though they do not control the lower house of Congress—a not inconsiderable obstacle to President Obama’s hopes of implementing the liberal wish list of programs and legislation in his second term—neither do Boehner and the GOP leadership. That will not just make it easier for Obama to face down the Republicans in any confrontation. It leaves the Republicans prey to an ongoing dispiriting civil war between establishment types and Tea Partiers that will enhance the chances that the president will get more of what he wants in the next two years.

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Those Republicans who thought their party hit bottom on Election Day were wrong. Mitt Romney’s defeat was a blow, but the pitiful collapse of House Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B legislation on the budget showed that heading into his second term, President Obama’s opposition is so divided as to be rendered useless.

The importance of Boehner’s failure to keep his caucus relatively united, so as to strengthen his hand in negotiations to avoid having the nation go over the fiscal cliff, is not a minor story or one that will be soon forgotten in the 24/7 news cycle world. It is a signal to the Democrats that though they do not control the lower house of Congress—a not inconsiderable obstacle to President Obama’s hopes of implementing the liberal wish list of programs and legislation in his second term—neither do Boehner and the GOP leadership. That will not just make it easier for Obama to face down the Republicans in any confrontation. It leaves the Republicans prey to an ongoing dispiriting civil war between establishment types and Tea Partiers that will enhance the chances that the president will get more of what he wants in the next two years.

To state this fact is not to deliver a judgment that the objections to Plan B were either unprincipled or unsound economics. Boehner’s GOP critics are right when they continue to argue that Washington has a problem with spending, not taxes. Raising anyone’s taxes, even the millionaires that Boehner’s proposal targeted, won’t cure the deficit. Nor are they wrong to worry that the White House intends to renege on any promises to carry out the entitlement reform that is necessary to dealing with the problem at the heart of the country’s fiscal illness.

But in refusing even to give their leader their votes on behalf of what was nothing more than a negotiating ploy, they have created a situation where they have no effective leadership. Boehner must now crawl back to the negotiating table with Obama and accept an even less palatable compromise that will not have the support of most Republicans, or actually let the deadline expire. The latter would mean allowing taxes to rise on everyone in the country as well as the implementation of the sequestration process that will mean ruinous cuts in defense.

All this means that the Republicans will be heading into the New Year in an even weaker condition than they looked to be after losing the presidency, the Senate and having their House majority trimmed on Election Day. This sets them up for a lousy 2013 in which the president will have the whip hand over them throughout the coming months as he seeks to pass the next round of liberal legislation.

But as bad as this moment is for conservatives, it should be remembered that nothing in politics, even stinging election defeats and humiliating legislative debacles like the one they experienced last night, lasts forever. It is no accident that those Republicans expected to vie for the 2016 presidential nomination have been relatively quiet during the last weeks. Though Mitt Romney and now John Boehner have failed, there will be plenty of opportunities for people like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and others to shine during the next two years. There will also be many opportunities for the president to demonstrate the same poor judgment on both domestic and foreign issues that made his first term a lackluster affair. The GOP may have just hit bottom, but that also 

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