Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 2012

Stigmatizing Gun Owners Makes Civil Debate Impossible

The decision of a newspaper in New York’s Westchester County to publish an interactive map that allowed readers to discover the names and addresses of owners of legal guns is generally being debated as one about whether the Gannett-owned Journal News showed good judgment. It didn’t, but the problem goes a lot deeper than whether or not a newspaper ought to publicize information that is legally available to the public in this manner. The controversy goes to the heart of the entire discussion about guns in this country.

No matter what those behind this stunt say, this wasn’t about the safety of the community or the right of the public to information. Rather, this was about the desire on the part of some in the liberal mainstream media to stigmatize legal gun ownership and to whip up sentiment for not just tighter controls but an eventual ban. This makes it easier to understand why the National Rifle Association fiercely resists even the most reasonable gun control measures. If even those who have jumped through the not inconsiderable hoops erected by the authorities to gain a legal gun permit in New York are now to be treated as if they were the moral equivalent of sex offenders, it’s clear the goal of the anti-gun media is not just to focus discussion on assault weapons and large ammunition clips but to ban individual gun ownership altogether.

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The decision of a newspaper in New York’s Westchester County to publish an interactive map that allowed readers to discover the names and addresses of owners of legal guns is generally being debated as one about whether the Gannett-owned Journal News showed good judgment. It didn’t, but the problem goes a lot deeper than whether or not a newspaper ought to publicize information that is legally available to the public in this manner. The controversy goes to the heart of the entire discussion about guns in this country.

No matter what those behind this stunt say, this wasn’t about the safety of the community or the right of the public to information. Rather, this was about the desire on the part of some in the liberal mainstream media to stigmatize legal gun ownership and to whip up sentiment for not just tighter controls but an eventual ban. This makes it easier to understand why the National Rifle Association fiercely resists even the most reasonable gun control measures. If even those who have jumped through the not inconsiderable hoops erected by the authorities to gain a legal gun permit in New York are now to be treated as if they were the moral equivalent of sex offenders, it’s clear the goal of the anti-gun media is not just to focus discussion on assault weapons and large ammunition clips but to ban individual gun ownership altogether.

The article accompanying the interactive map about “the gun owner next door” made it clear the boogeyman to those who wish to push more gun control legislation isn’t just an NRA leadership that is tone deaf to the country’s mood. It is the ordinary American exercising his right to possess a legal firearm while observing all the legal niceties. That’s made clear by a piece that begins by discussing a violent crime committed by a person with two unregistered guns but then quickly shifts to the discussion of who owns legal and registered guns. The conceit of the article is to heighten suspicion of all gun owners and to render them pariahs. That effect is not softened by the fact that the author notes that he has a legally registered pistol.

For all of the incessant calls for civil debate from the liberal media, this is exactly the sort of thing that makes such a discussion impossible. Advocates of gun control in Congress claim that talk of banning all guns is crazy, but stunts like this demonstrate that such foolish ideas are bubbling very close to the surface in the liberal media. Broad support for some changes in existing gun laws probably exists right now in the wake of the Newtown massacre. But the chances for putting reasonable limits on military-style weapons or ammunition clips will be sunk if the anti-gun zealots in the media continue to show their real agenda is creating an atmosphere in which all firearms will be banned.

Legal gun owners don’t deserve to have their privacy invaded or to be made the targets of criminals who will use the information published by the newspaper as a database to aid their efforts to steal weapons from their owners. Nor do they deserve to be hounded and abused in this manner. More to the point, this is exactly what should be avoided if the country is to have a discussion about guns that doesn’t boil down to a shouting match between those who want guns banned and those who want no restrictions or accountability.

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Piers Morgan, Progressive Hypocrite

If you want to watch a fantastic two minutes that embody the progressive mindset, you might consider watching (courtesy of Mediaite.com) this clip from CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight.”

In an interview with Pastor Rick Warren, Morgan said this: “There is still an element of the Bible that is flawed.” Mr. Morgan went on to say, “Both the Bible and the Constitution were well intentioned, but they are basically, inherently flawed. Hence, the need to amend it. My point to you about gay rights, for example, it’s time for an amendment to the Bible.” When Warren replied, “No,” Morgan continued: “You should compile a new Bible.”

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If you want to watch a fantastic two minutes that embody the progressive mindset, you might consider watching (courtesy of Mediaite.com) this clip from CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight.”

In an interview with Pastor Rick Warren, Morgan said this: “There is still an element of the Bible that is flawed.” Mr. Morgan went on to say, “Both the Bible and the Constitution were well intentioned, but they are basically, inherently flawed. Hence, the need to amend it. My point to you about gay rights, for example, it’s time for an amendment to the Bible.” When Warren replied, “No,” Morgan continued: “You should compile a new Bible.”

Of course. It turns out the Bible is a “living book” in the same way the Constitution is a “living document.” And since someone has to amend both the Bible and the Constitution, perhaps we can enlist the enlightened Piers Morgan to do the job. I can hardly wait to read the finished products. They will be fashionable, post-modern, and undoubtedly an improvement over what Solomon, King David, Jesus, and James Madison came up with.

And if that wasn’t enough, Morgan, rather than Warren, decided to take on the role of preacher. “The debate should always be respectful,” according to Morgan. “By the way,” he added, “it applies to politics, too. The moment it becomes disrespectful and discourteous and then rude and then poisonous, you never achieve anything.”

By the way, this civility sermon comes a week after Morgan interviewed Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America, and called Pratt “an unbelievably stupid man” and “dangerous.” Then, in order to underscore the importance of respect and courteousness in public discourse, Morgan accused his guest of being a liar. Morgan added, “You shame your country.” And then Piers told Pratt, “You don’t give a damn, do you, about the gun murder rate in America.”

All of which got me to thinking. If Morgan does amend the Bible, he might want to begin with a verse in the book of Matthew, where Jesus repeatedly upbraids the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. That way Morgan could inject poison into our political discourse one week and preach against it the next, and feel perfectly wonderful about himself.

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How to Rein in Bahrain?

In this New York Times op-ed, Bahraini human-rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja makes a powerful case that the US cannot simply overlook the repression taking place in this small Gulf state with which we are closely allied.  She has personal credibility because of what she and her family have been through. She writes:

My father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, was beaten unconscious in my apartment in front of my family, as a report last year by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry documented. He was then taken away with my husband and brother-in-law; they were all tortured.

My husband was released in January, and my brother-in-law was released after a six-month sentence in late 2011; my father was sentenced to life in prison. He staged four hunger strikes; the longest lasted 110 days and almost cost him his life. (He was force-fed at a military hospital.)

She herself was arrested and jailed earlier this month, charged with the “crime” of inciting hatred against the government.

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In this New York Times op-ed, Bahraini human-rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja makes a powerful case that the US cannot simply overlook the repression taking place in this small Gulf state with which we are closely allied.  She has personal credibility because of what she and her family have been through. She writes:

My father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, was beaten unconscious in my apartment in front of my family, as a report last year by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry documented. He was then taken away with my husband and brother-in-law; they were all tortured.

My husband was released in January, and my brother-in-law was released after a six-month sentence in late 2011; my father was sentenced to life in prison. He staged four hunger strikes; the longest lasted 110 days and almost cost him his life. (He was force-fed at a military hospital.)

She herself was arrested and jailed earlier this month, charged with the “crime” of inciting hatred against the government.

Yet, as she notes, U.S. protests over such clear violations of human rights have been negligible. This is understandable, because Bahrain is the home of the Fifth Fleet and a close military ally. There are also fears that the Bahraini opposition, mainly Shiite in a country ruled by a Sunni royal family, is a stalking horse for Iranian influence. That, at any rate, is what the Bahrain government would like us to believe; but from everything I saw during a brief visit to Bahrain earlier this year, most of the opposition, while undeniably Shiite, is fairly moderate and not interested in creating an Iranian-style theocracy. Ironically what is most likely to drive them into Iran’s arms is if the Bahrain government continues its policy of repression in cooperation with the Saudis.

It is hard for the U.S. to apply pressure to Bahrain by cutting off arms sales (as Zainab Al-Khawaja suggests) or at least making them conditional on human-rights improvements. But it is also a step we need to seriously consider, lest we repeat the mistake we made with Egypt where we gave unconditional backing to another pro-American dictator, acting under the illusion that he could stave off the people’s demands indefinitely. He couldn’t, and, because we didn’t press Mubarak for reform, instead we got a revolution.

That would be the worst possible outcome in Bahrain. Instead, we need to push for the royal family to turn their country into a constitutional monarchy, reserving some power over the armed forces while ceding most authority to the people’s elected representatives. That is the only long-term formula for stability in Bahrain and indeed throughout the Gulf.

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The Left’s Epistemological Closure

The Washington Examiner‘s Byron York has a fine piece on how journalists, including news anchors like CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and Don Lemon, have become fierce advocates for gun control.

In his column Mr. York quotes Frank Sesno, a former CNN reporter and Washington bureau chief who is now director of George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, who said there should be a “media agenda” on guns to push the issue until government action becomes a reality. “The media themselves have a huge opportunity and power and responsibility to channel this,” Sesno told CNN’s Howard Kurtz. And the Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg–an NRA critic who wrote an intelligent article on the case for more guns and more gun control–pointed out, ”Reporters on my Twitter feed seem to hate the NRA more than anything else, ever.”

A few thoughts on all this:

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The Washington Examiner‘s Byron York has a fine piece on how journalists, including news anchors like CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and Don Lemon, have become fierce advocates for gun control.

In his column Mr. York quotes Frank Sesno, a former CNN reporter and Washington bureau chief who is now director of George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, who said there should be a “media agenda” on guns to push the issue until government action becomes a reality. “The media themselves have a huge opportunity and power and responsibility to channel this,” Sesno told CNN’s Howard Kurtz. And the Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg–an NRA critic who wrote an intelligent article on the case for more guns and more gun control–pointed out, ”Reporters on my Twitter feed seem to hate the NRA more than anything else, ever.”

A few thoughts on all this:

1. The elite media are more open in their advocacy than at any time I can recall. There are probably multiple reasons why, including the fact that Fox News has been so successful in breaking the previous liberal monopoly that existed in journalism. When there was no real counter-weight to ABC, NBC, CBS, NPR, PBS, the Washington Post, the New York Timeset cetera, journalists were content to advance their worldview in more subtle ways–for example, through their story selection rather than out-and-out hortatory. But the “New Media,” which has injected new voices and different points of view into the public debate, seems to have convinced many journalists that something more is necessary. And so increasingly we see supposedly dispassionate anchors on supposedly neutral networks like CNN toss aside any pretense of objectivity. They are as political and dogmatic in their advocacy as the NRA is in its advocacy. It’s just the NRA has been more honest about its goals than progressive journalists.

2. What seems to be the animating passion of gun control advocates isn’t a solution to violence and mass killings; it’s moral posturing. They want to take advantage of massacres like the one we saw in Newtown to push an agenda that makes them feel morally superior. They want to act for the sake of acting. It doesn’t really matter to them which laws are most (and least) effective. They have decided that more gun control laws are needed and the NRA is malevolent, and they are determined not to allow any contrary evidence or thoughts to upset their settled ways. 

An liberal academic sent me a note in response to a piece I wrote last week. Here is some of what he said:

you can cite all the studies you want until the cows come home, allowing people to have semi-automatic and automatic weapons is insane. What are you arguing for?? Even Joe Machin (sic) has suggested that we should hear from all sides on this and everything should be on the table. My God, those are our kids, your kids, my kids destroyed… slaughtered, wow, if we don’t count feelings on this it seem (sic) just plain strange. So, for now, no more of your rants on this… okay… right now, it feels offensive.

Set aside the obvious ignorance that characterizes this note (we don’t allow people to use automatic weapons, and from what I can tell my interlocutor doesn’t know what semi-automatic weapons are and do). Notice how this person dismisses out of hand serious studies by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Journal of Preventive Medicine which find that the evidence is insufficient to determine whether firearms laws are effective. My academic acquaintance is being overwhelmed by his emotions, including a deep hatred for the NRA and fury toward those who hold views different than his own. And anything that challenges his outlook “feels offensive.”

This outlook seems more and more pervasive among many journalists these days. Their “media agenda,” as Mr. Sesno says, is to “channel” the gun debate in a way that confirms their pre-existing biases. If they have to be anti-empirical in order to advance their cause, so be it. 

This attitude–moral posturing, the demonization of political opponents, the epistemological closure–is certainly not exclusive to the left. But it is increasingly characteristic of it. And it makes a serious and informed discussion of the issues all that much harder to have. Which is perhaps what their true intent is. Many modern-day liberals may feel that a reasonable, calm, fact-based conversation is the greatest threat to their agenda. Which is why they so often generate more heat than light.

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Why Israel-Bashers Love Hagel

With President Obama still letting Chuck Hagel’s putative nomination as secretary of defense hang in the wind, it’s not clear whether the former Nebraska senator’s stock is up or down. But so long as he remains in the running, critics of Israel are going to keep doing everything they can to keep his name in play. Today’s column on Hagel by the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman cuts to the heart of their motivation.

As far as Friedman is concerned, Hagel has two qualifications for high office: his distaste for Israel and a willingness to make nice with Iran and Hamas. That makes sense to those who share his distaste for the bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel alliance that prevents the Obama administration (egged on by kibitzers like Friedman) from pressuring the Jewish state to make pointless concessions that undermine its security. It also fits in with the desire of those who want a nuclear Iran to be contained or accommodated rather than forestalled, and for the U.S. to embrace Hamas the way it has the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. But these are good reasons why Hagel’s views—which Friedman rightly characterizes as out of the mainstream—ought to disqualify him from leading the Pentagon.

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With President Obama still letting Chuck Hagel’s putative nomination as secretary of defense hang in the wind, it’s not clear whether the former Nebraska senator’s stock is up or down. But so long as he remains in the running, critics of Israel are going to keep doing everything they can to keep his name in play. Today’s column on Hagel by the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman cuts to the heart of their motivation.

As far as Friedman is concerned, Hagel has two qualifications for high office: his distaste for Israel and a willingness to make nice with Iran and Hamas. That makes sense to those who share his distaste for the bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel alliance that prevents the Obama administration (egged on by kibitzers like Friedman) from pressuring the Jewish state to make pointless concessions that undermine its security. It also fits in with the desire of those who want a nuclear Iran to be contained or accommodated rather than forestalled, and for the U.S. to embrace Hamas the way it has the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. But these are good reasons why Hagel’s views—which Friedman rightly characterizes as out of the mainstream—ought to disqualify him from leading the Pentagon.

Friedman thinks it’s “disgusting” that many friends of Israel hold it against Hagel that he attacked what he called the “Jewish lobby” in language that resonated with specious charges of dual loyalty that rightly bring to mind anti-Semitism. It’s hardly surprising that Friedman would think calling Hagel to account for this is a “smear” since he has been guilty of the same tactic in his quest to delegitimize those Americans who oppose his stands on Israel.

Just a little more than a year ago, Friedman disgraced himself in a column where he used the same meme made popular by Israel Lobby authors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer when he said the only reason that Congress cheered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defiance of President Obama was because they were “bought and paid for by the Israel Lobby.” As I wrote at the time:

The notion that the only reason politicians support Israel is because of Jewish money is a central myth of a new form of anti-Semitism which masquerades as a defense of American foreign policy against the depredations of a venal Israel lobby. This canard not only feeds off of the traditional themes of Jew-hatred, it also requires Friedman to ignore the deep roots of American backing for Zionism in our history and culture.

Though Friedman tried to backtrack a bit from this scandalous canard, his explicit support for Hagel’s use of the same charge shows that he is an unrepentant supporter of the pernicious Walt-Mearsheimer thesis.

But there is more to Friedman’s support of Hagel than his desire to see a secretary of defense with an attitude about Israel and its backers. He is also hopeful that Hagel will act as a brake on any U.S. effort to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons and that he will persuade the president to recognize the legitimacy of the Hamas regime in Gaza.

Friedman makes the false argument that the U.S. needs Iran’s good will to achieve its foreign policy objectives in the Middle East. But he fails to understand that stopping the Islamist regime in Iran is the prerequisite for stability in the region.

President Obama pledged in both 2008 and 2012 that he would never allow Iran to go nuclear, but there has never been much secret about his desire to avoid a confrontation over the issue. He wasted most of his first term on a feckless effort to engage Tehran and was slow to adopt serious sanctions. Another round of dead-end diplomacy that only gives the Iranians more time to achieve their nuclear ambition won’t solve the problem. The appointment of Hagel would be a signal to both Iran and the world that the president wasn’t going to go to the mat on the issue.

That is a dangerous development that could only make Iran more intransigent and set the stage for violent upheaval in the region that will damage American interests. Such non-mainstream views about Iran and Hamas are exactly why Hagel ought not to be nominated. Friedman’s open advocacy for appeasement as well as his rationalization for the dual loyalty slur should make it even more obvious than before how disastrous this appointment would be.

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Obama’s Gesture Just for Show

The spin coming out of the White House is that President Obama cut short his annual Hawaii vacation to head back to Washington to help nudge Congress towards a deal that would prevent the nation from heading over the fiscal cliff. If so, this act of sacrifice will allow the president to show his leadership skills and craft a compromise tax and spending bill that will pass both houses of Congress. But with only a few days left before a massive across-the-board tax increase is imposed on the American people while devastating cuts in defense are put into effect, it’s much more likely that the president’s gesture is just for show.

If the president really wanted to avoid the fiscal cliff, he might have spent the weeks before his family headed to Oahu for Christmas making a good faith effort to make a deal with Congressional Republicans rather than digging in his heels on his own plan to raise taxes while refusing to substantially address the real issue at the heart of the fiscal crisis: entitlement spending. Most Republicans rightly suspect that he’s quite content to see the deadline expire. So why come home?

The answer is simple. The optics of more days of presidential golf while the country heads closer to an economic disaster would damage Obama’s image and make it clear that he views the impact of the fiscal cliff as being more to his liking than a reasonable compromise.

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The spin coming out of the White House is that President Obama cut short his annual Hawaii vacation to head back to Washington to help nudge Congress towards a deal that would prevent the nation from heading over the fiscal cliff. If so, this act of sacrifice will allow the president to show his leadership skills and craft a compromise tax and spending bill that will pass both houses of Congress. But with only a few days left before a massive across-the-board tax increase is imposed on the American people while devastating cuts in defense are put into effect, it’s much more likely that the president’s gesture is just for show.

If the president really wanted to avoid the fiscal cliff, he might have spent the weeks before his family headed to Oahu for Christmas making a good faith effort to make a deal with Congressional Republicans rather than digging in his heels on his own plan to raise taxes while refusing to substantially address the real issue at the heart of the fiscal crisis: entitlement spending. Most Republicans rightly suspect that he’s quite content to see the deadline expire. So why come home?

The answer is simple. The optics of more days of presidential golf while the country heads closer to an economic disaster would damage Obama’s image and make it clear that he views the impact of the fiscal cliff as being more to his liking than a reasonable compromise.

Throughout the negotiations over the budget, the president has always acted as if a continuation of the standoff served his interests. After all, if the deadline does expire without a deal he’ll get a good deal of what he’s wanted all along: big tax increases to give the government more money to spend and large cuts in defense spending without forcing the government to think seriously about how to reform entitlements. And if the polls are right, the Republicans will be blamed for the whole mess.

Last week’s debacle for House Speaker John Boehner in which a substantial number of House Republicans refused to back his Plan B compromise bill which would have only raised taxes on millionaires reinforced the president’s confidence that he can only win by prolonging the impasse. And by showing up in DC this week he can preserve the pretense that he wants a solution even while continuing to do nothing to advance one.

But these careful calculations may not turn out to be as well considered as the president thinks.

If the Democrat-controlled Senate fails to pass a budget proposal this week — something it has failed to do for the last three years — then it will be as much their fault as the House Republicans that a deal wasn’t made before we all go over the fiscal cliff. That means it is up to the leader of their party to ensure that some kind of bill that can pass both houses of Congress gets to his desk in the next few days.  Should, as seems increasingly likely, that not happen, the consequences would be incalculable for Obama, his party and the Congress.

The assumption that only Republicans will bear the burden of why there was no deal only holds true if the president and the Democrats send a bill to the House of Representatives before next week’s deadline. Any bill that stops the tax increases and sequestration cuts is likely to get some Republican votes even if it is a short-term solution on the president’s terms. If that doesn’t happen, the economic downturn that will likely follow is going to hurt Obama far more than a Republican party that is already out of power. If so, the president may have reason to regret that his curtailed vacation wasn’t more a matter of a real effort to avoid the cliff than playacting for the media.

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Armenian Group “Troubled” by Hagel’s Genocide Stance

One of the country’s most prominent Armenian-American lobbying groups said today that it is “troubled” by potential defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel’s position on the Armenian genocide. 

“We remain troubled by former Senator Hagel’s acceptance of Ankara’s gag-rule on American honesty about the Armenian Genocide – the still unpunished crime against a Christian nation that continues to define Turkey’s present-day policies toward Armenia and much of the region,” ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian said in an emailed statement.

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One of the country’s most prominent Armenian-American lobbying groups said today that it is “troubled” by potential defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel’s position on the Armenian genocide. 

“We remain troubled by former Senator Hagel’s acceptance of Ankara’s gag-rule on American honesty about the Armenian Genocide – the still unpunished crime against a Christian nation that continues to define Turkey’s present-day policies toward Armenia and much of the region,” ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian said in an emailed statement.

Hagel has opposed official U.S. government recognition of the genocide, and has declined to say whether he believes the massacre of more than 1 million Armenians beginning in 1915 was in fact a genocide. 

“What happened in 1915 happened in 1915. As one United States Senator, I think the better way to deal with this is to leave it open to historians and others to decide what happened and why,” then-Senator Hagel told a group of Armenian reporters during a trip to the country in 2005.

“The fact is that this region needs to move forward,” Hagel added. “We need to find a lasting, just peace between Turkey and Armenia and the other nations of this region. I am not sure that by going back and dealing with that in some way that causes one side or the other to be put in difficult spot, helps move the peace process forward.” 

ANCA objected to the argument that official U.S. recognition of the genocide would hinder peace between Turkey and Armenia.

“As much as Erdogan and his allies might like, the ‘lasting, just peace between Turkey and Armenia’ that Chuck Hagel seeks cannot be built on Genocide denial. The U.S. and the international community must set an example by condemning the Armenian Genocide — and speaking out against all genocides, wherever and whenever they occur,” said Hamparian. 

Hagel’s record has already come under fire from the pro-Israel community, gay rights groups and Cuban Americans. The latest criticism from the Armenian-American community, which has many allies and supporters in Washington, could raise more concerns in the Senate over Hagel’s potential defense secretary nomination.

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Hagel Sits on Board of Oil Company Accused of Human Rights Violations

Much of the criticism of Chuck Hagel has focused on his positions on Iran and Israel, and his offensive comments about a gay ambassador. But he also has a troubling record on environmental and human rights issues–and not just based on his votes in the Senate. After leaving elected office in 2009, he joined the board of the Chevron Corporation, an oil company that has been criticized for outreach to Iran’s oil sector and other authoritarian regimes, and its involvement in environmental catastrophes like the recent Campos Basin spill.

Hagel joined the board in the spring of 2010, when Chevron was reportedly in negotiations with the repressive government in Turkmenistan. Shortly after, Hagel was confronted about this at a shareholder meeting by an environmentalist group called Crude Accountability. 

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Much of the criticism of Chuck Hagel has focused on his positions on Iran and Israel, and his offensive comments about a gay ambassador. But he also has a troubling record on environmental and human rights issues–and not just based on his votes in the Senate. After leaving elected office in 2009, he joined the board of the Chevron Corporation, an oil company that has been criticized for outreach to Iran’s oil sector and other authoritarian regimes, and its involvement in environmental catastrophes like the recent Campos Basin spill.

Hagel joined the board in the spring of 2010, when Chevron was reportedly in negotiations with the repressive government in Turkmenistan. Shortly after, Hagel was confronted about this at a shareholder meeting by an environmentalist group called Crude Accountability. 

“Senator Hagel, as a new board member, you have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to raise the bar for corporate responsibility in the Caspian to a level that is in accordance with the Chevron Way, for starters, but more importantly, in accordance with international law and practice,” said Crude Accountability’s Michelle Kinman, according to a statement posted on the group’s website. “Senator Hagel, are you prepared to insist that your company take a principled stance in favor of human rights in Turkmenistan today?”

According to Crude Accountability, Hagel did not respond to the question:

Senator Hagel was not given the opportunity to respond to this question.  Instead, Chevron CEO John Watson encouraged Crude Accountability to write to Senator Hagel at a later time.  In his response, Mr. Watson confirmed that Chevron is in negotiations with Turkmenistan, adding that “I think we can do some good in Turkmenistan” even though “we may not meet your standards”. 

No word yet on whether Crude Accountability followed up with a letter, or whether Hagel wrote back. I contacted the organization and will post when I get a reply. But according to Reuters, Chevron was still pursuing a deal to develop Turkmenistan’s natural gas reserves as recently as last month.

This isn’t the first time the company has been criticized for its involvement with repressive regimes. A 2010 report by the NGO EarthRights International accused Chevron of being complicit in human rights violations in Burma, including the death of workers on its natural-gas pipeline. Other NGOs have also cited the company for involvement in human rights abuses in Ecuador.

Yet Hagel continued to sit on the company’s board. When you couple this with his opposition to Iran sanctions, a pattern emerges. Throughout his career, Hagel has shown a disturbing indifference to authoritarian regimes and human rights violators, and there’s no reason to think he’d change if he’s nominated for defense secretary.

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The Palestinians’ Christmas Lies

Christmas in Bethlehem and video of the annual parade in the Palestinian city south of Jerusalem is standard holiday fare on television news. Since the days of Yasir Arafat the Palestinian Authority has made a big deal out of the Christmas celebration, and the media’s need for footage suitable for a day on which little news is made has always been a bonanza for Fatah. The result is that along with quaint pictures of Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity Western viewers are given the impression that Christianity is both protected and cherished by the PA. PA leaders also use the occasion to try and make the argument that the Palestinians, rather than the Israelis, are the true descendants of the Jewish nation that produced Jesus of Nazareth two thousand years ago.

Both assertions are equally false. Modern day Christians face harassment and exclusion throughout a region where the Arab Spring has brought Islamists to power, and nowhere is that more true than in the West Bank and Gaza. Moreover, the assertion that Jesus was a Palestinian, first aired by Arafat and often repeated by his successor Mahmoud Abbas as well as moderate Salam Fayyad, is nothing less than an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish people and to steal its history. Western news organizations should know better than to fall prey to these propaganda points.

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Christmas in Bethlehem and video of the annual parade in the Palestinian city south of Jerusalem is standard holiday fare on television news. Since the days of Yasir Arafat the Palestinian Authority has made a big deal out of the Christmas celebration, and the media’s need for footage suitable for a day on which little news is made has always been a bonanza for Fatah. The result is that along with quaint pictures of Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity Western viewers are given the impression that Christianity is both protected and cherished by the PA. PA leaders also use the occasion to try and make the argument that the Palestinians, rather than the Israelis, are the true descendants of the Jewish nation that produced Jesus of Nazareth two thousand years ago.

Both assertions are equally false. Modern day Christians face harassment and exclusion throughout a region where the Arab Spring has brought Islamists to power, and nowhere is that more true than in the West Bank and Gaza. Moreover, the assertion that Jesus was a Palestinian, first aired by Arafat and often repeated by his successor Mahmoud Abbas as well as moderate Salam Fayyad, is nothing less than an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish people and to steal its history. Western news organizations should know better than to fall prey to these propaganda points.

As Britain’s Telegraph reports in a timely feature, Christianity is “close to extinction” in the Middle East. While the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt who face the prospect of life under the Muslim Brotherhood has garnered some attention in the past few months, Palestinian Christians have already been subjected to this sort of situation under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas and the result is the decimation of their community.

Bethlehem is a case study, since the once predominantly Christian town has become a Muslim stronghold ever since Israel ceded control of the area to the PA under the Oslo Accords. Christian villages in the area like Beit Jala also have suffered since the PA let terrorists use it as a launching point for shooting attacks on the adjacent Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem during the second intifada. Should the PA launch a third such offensive against Israel this year, you can bet that Palestinian Christians, who have fled their old homes in large numbers in the last 20 years, will pay a disproportionate price.

Of course, it should be admitted that Palestinian Christians are often the most virulent critics of Israel, since they have seen secular nationalism to be a way of fitting into an Arab world where Muslim faith is the principle source of identity. Jerusalem’s Latin Patriarch demonstrated that factor again this year when he told the world that this Christmas would be a celebration of “the birth of Palestine” as well as of that of the Christian savior. But no one should be fooled into thinking Christians are equal partners with the Muslim majority that treats them as nothing more than dhimmi–a protected but unequal minority. For all of the tension between Jews and Arabs, it is only in democratic Israel that Christians have complete religious freedom in the region.

As for the “Jesus is a Palestinian” meme, it is a risible misuse of history that few people take seriously, but it ought not to be ignored. Denying the historical ties between the Jewish people and the land of Israel has always been integral to anti-Zionist propaganda. The point is to depict Israelis as foreign thieves who have stolen Palestinian land rather than as Jews who have returned to their ancestral homeland. The use of this lie is a reminder that the ultimate goal of Palestinian moderates as well as the Islamists of Hamas (who have made the lives of Christians in Gaza untenable–a warning to the Coptics who will have to live under the thumb of their Muslim Brotherhood allies) is to destroy Israel, not to live in peace alongside it.

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Those Courageous Liberals

The question at the heart of the Chuck Hagel controversy was always whether President Obama actually wanted Hagel as his secretary of defense, or whether it was all a gimmick to trick the press into further proclaiming the absurd-beyond-belief characterization of Obama’s cabinet as a “team of rivals.” You would think it would raise some eyebrows that this supposed ream of rivals all agree with each other. But Obama figured the press could be fooled again by appointing a registered Republican to run the Pentagon.

A gimmick, however, is generally not worth fighting for. But to understand why Obama thought the press could be fooled so easily into this nonsense, take a look at yesterday’s National Journal article, which broke the news that the White House is considering dropping Hagel. It’s a well-reported piece that got a scoop where everyone else merely had inklings. But notice the way this straight news story characterizes Hagel’s stand on the Iraq War:

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The question at the heart of the Chuck Hagel controversy was always whether President Obama actually wanted Hagel as his secretary of defense, or whether it was all a gimmick to trick the press into further proclaiming the absurd-beyond-belief characterization of Obama’s cabinet as a “team of rivals.” You would think it would raise some eyebrows that this supposed ream of rivals all agree with each other. But Obama figured the press could be fooled again by appointing a registered Republican to run the Pentagon.

A gimmick, however, is generally not worth fighting for. But to understand why Obama thought the press could be fooled so easily into this nonsense, take a look at yesterday’s National Journal article, which broke the news that the White House is considering dropping Hagel. It’s a well-reported piece that got a scoop where everyone else merely had inklings. But notice the way this straight news story characterizes Hagel’s stand on the Iraq War:

While much of the criticism centers on questions of whether Hagel has been a strong enough supporter of Israel and tough enough on Iran–as well as past comments he made about gay people–he is also paying, in part, for his bluntness and bravery in advocating unpopular positions during his 12 years in the Senate. Hagel’s gutsy and prescient stand against his own party and President George W. Bush in the run-up to the Iraq invasion—and his criticism of the war’s management afterwards—all but cost him his political career, turning him from a possible GOP presidential contender into a pariah within his party.

As John Tabin noted last night, something is missing from the description of Hagel’s “prescient” stand against the Iraq War. And that something would be Hagel’s vote in favor of the Iraq War. What’s more, turning on the war effort when trouble hit was far from constituting “bravery,” as National Journal would have it. It was the popular thing to do.

Beyond the fact that reporters should not be bestowing medals upon politicians in straight news articles such as this, and in addition to the need to actually get the history and the facts right, there is the pattern of the press deciding that whenever a politician takes a stand on an issue that they agree with, it’s brave and courageous.

Hagel didn’t vote against the Iraq War, so his bravery consists of badmouthing Republicans and conservatives. In our current media climate, that is possibly among the least-brave acts one can take. But yesterday’s news also centered on the ongoing controversy over gun control in the wake of the Newtown tragedy–and it followed the same pattern and took the same tone it has since the fatal shooting took place. In a column about gun control, the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof had earlier asked: “Do We Have the Courage to Stop This?” What kind of courage, specifically, do we need? Kristof answers: “the gumption to stand up to National Rifle Association extremists.”

Of course. Just as in the case of Hagel’s nomination, we hear of powerful lobbies controlling members of Congress. But is it really courageous to attack the NRA? Bashing the NRA has been a daily ritual since the tragedy in Newtown, and both Republican lawmakers and Democratic legislators have said they’re open to adjusting their positions on gun control in favor of stricter rules and in defiance of the NRA.

But of course to the left, listening to interest groups can also be courageous and wise—it just depends on the interest groups. California Governor Jerry Brown is presiding over a fiscal basket case well on its way to becoming a failed state. But the L.A. Times, in discussing how to grade Brown’s year, can’t decide “whether to give him a B-plus, an A-minus or a full A.” What did Brown do to earn such accolades? He raised taxes on the state’s high earners. Specifically, “He merged his tax proposal with a more liberal version sponsored by the California Federation of Teachers.”

So allowing public sector union leaders to write legislation aimed at protecting their benefits by getting to choose who pays for them gets Brown on the dean’s list. It doesn’t seem to matter that the tax increase is already seen as a laughable bit of delusional public policy and that the state’s finances keep getting worse even as Brown and the unions celebrate their victory. When the tax initiative seemed headed for defeat, its supporters in the business community stepped forward to rally support. In another supposed straight news article, the San Francisco Chronicle called supporters of the tax hike “The few and the brave.” In case you didn’t get the point, one of the major liberal groups supporting the measure calls itself the Courage Campaign. After the tax passed, Brown praised the state’s “courageous decision.”

The liberal press knows bravery when it sees it. It’s just a coincidence that by their own criteria, America’s newspaper reporters join the Hagels and Browns up on that pedestal.

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NRA’s Schools Idea Not Crazy, Just Liberal

National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre doubled down on his defiant stance in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre yesterday by defending his proposal for a federal program to put armed guards at schools around the nation on the Sunday talk shows. On “Meet the Press,” he said, “If it’s crazy to call for armed officers in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy.” He’s right to the extent that there is nothing foolish about a discussion about strengthening security in schools. But NRA members who have lashed out at anyone who had the temerity to criticize LaPierre for his tone deaf response to Newtown after a week of silence, as I did both here at Contentions and in the New York Post, should realize something else. LaPierre’s idea may not be crazy, but it also isn’t conservative.

If there is anything at the heart of the modern conservative moment it’s the impulse to push back at the liberal drive to increase the power and the reach of the federal government at the expense of the states and local communities. Nothing is a greater threat to our individual liberty than giving federal bureaucrats the ability to impose their fiats on the nation through unfunded mandates and regulations. Yet that is exactly what LaPierre’s hare-brained scheme to make school security a federal program would do. After decades of furiously and rightly resisting attempts by liberals to bypass local resistance to gun control laws via federal legislation, the NRA is now playing the same card. If the group wants to know why most congressional Republicans have given the idea a chilly reception, it’s not only due to the public relations disaster that resulted from the group’s Friday presser; it’s because nationalizing school security is a liberal concept, not a conservative one.

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National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre doubled down on his defiant stance in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre yesterday by defending his proposal for a federal program to put armed guards at schools around the nation on the Sunday talk shows. On “Meet the Press,” he said, “If it’s crazy to call for armed officers in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy.” He’s right to the extent that there is nothing foolish about a discussion about strengthening security in schools. But NRA members who have lashed out at anyone who had the temerity to criticize LaPierre for his tone deaf response to Newtown after a week of silence, as I did both here at Contentions and in the New York Post, should realize something else. LaPierre’s idea may not be crazy, but it also isn’t conservative.

If there is anything at the heart of the modern conservative moment it’s the impulse to push back at the liberal drive to increase the power and the reach of the federal government at the expense of the states and local communities. Nothing is a greater threat to our individual liberty than giving federal bureaucrats the ability to impose their fiats on the nation through unfunded mandates and regulations. Yet that is exactly what LaPierre’s hare-brained scheme to make school security a federal program would do. After decades of furiously and rightly resisting attempts by liberals to bypass local resistance to gun control laws via federal legislation, the NRA is now playing the same card. If the group wants to know why most congressional Republicans have given the idea a chilly reception, it’s not only due to the public relations disaster that resulted from the group’s Friday presser; it’s because nationalizing school security is a liberal concept, not a conservative one.

As the New York Times reported, approximately one-third of all schools in the nation already have armed personnel on campus. Though most of these have been in urban areas where gangs and crime are at the root of the concern, others are starting to talk about increasing security, including having guards with firearms. But these decisions are the result of choices being made by local officials and communities, not a dictat issued from Washington. If federal programs such as “No Child Left Behind” have proved to be mistakes because they don’t give school districts the flexibility to make their own judgments, how much more misguided is the NRA’s attempt to make guns in schools a matter of federal purview.

It’s not exactly a secret that LaPierre’s presentation about school security was an attempt to divert the country’s attention from its grief about Newtown and the debate about a renewed push for gun control. Most Americans still support gun rights, if not in the absolutist fashion that the NRA feels is essential to fend off any sort of restrictions that could be an opening for those who wish to make gun possession illegal. But it’s not fooling anyone with its National Model School Shield Program. It’s something that will give Washington the ability to interfere in yet another sphere of our lives and it hasn’t a chance of mustering the support it needs from either liberal Democrats that despise the NRA or conservatives who understand that is not what the country needs.

The notion that a good guy packing heat needs to be there to stop bad guys with guns is sensible. But if LaPierre really believes that Americans wish to cede control of their schools to the federal government, he really is crazy.

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Have Patience with the Arab Spring

Watching political developments unfold in the Middle East—from Libya’s post-Qaddafi chaos to the growing authoritarianism of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and of Nouri al-Maliki in post-Saddam Hussein, and now the violent dissolution of post-Bashar Assad Syria—it is easy to despair of the possibility of real democracy taking root in the region or to pine for the days of the strongmen. Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Columbia University, offers a must-read counterpoint in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. She reminds us that the process of democratic development was not very smooth in Western Europe either—that in fact it took decades, even centuries.

She offers the examples of France, Italy, and Germany: all now well-established liberal democracies but at one point they were anything but.

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Watching political developments unfold in the Middle East—from Libya’s post-Qaddafi chaos to the growing authoritarianism of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and of Nouri al-Maliki in post-Saddam Hussein, and now the violent dissolution of post-Bashar Assad Syria—it is easy to despair of the possibility of real democracy taking root in the region or to pine for the days of the strongmen. Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Columbia University, offers a must-read counterpoint in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. She reminds us that the process of democratic development was not very smooth in Western Europe either—that in fact it took decades, even centuries.

She offers the examples of France, Italy, and Germany: all now well-established liberal democracies but at one point they were anything but.

France, after all, transitioned from absolute monarchy by way of the French Revolution and its Reign of Terror. This was followed by numerous further upheavals that Berman does not mention, including the Bourbon restoration from 1815 to 1830, the July Revolution of 1830, the Revolution of 1848, the proclamation of the Second Empire in 1851, the creation of the Third Republic in 1870, the Vichy regime from 1940 to 1944, and, finally, in 1958 the overthrow of the Fourth Republic and the birth of the Fifth Republic which has lasted to this day.

Germany, for its part, was forcibly created by Bismarck out of numerous smaller states in the decades leading up to 1871 and democracy did not emerge until after World War I—only to be snuffed out starting in 1933 by Adolf Hitler. Out of the post-war rubble emerged a West Germany that was democratic and an East Germany that was not. A unified, democratic Germany was not created until 1990.

As for Italy, it, too, did not emerge as a unified state until relatively late (1870). And it, too, saw its nascent democracy usurped by a fascist (Benito Mussolini), and it did not become a true liberal democracy until after World War II.

Nor was the process of democratization painless in the United States: It took two outright wars (the War of Independence and the Civil War) to establish self-government and another period of violent upheaval (the Civil Rights era of the 1950s-60s) to realize the potential of the Constitution.

Considering the tribulations suffered by the U.S. and Europe on the road to democracy, it is hardly surprising that the process of political reform is proving painful in the Middle East. As Berman reminds us: “Stable liberal democracy requires more than just a shift in political forms; it also involves eliminating the antidemocratic social, cultural, and economic legacies of the old regime. Such a process takes lots of time and effort, over multiple tries.”

She is right. Anyone who reads her article, “The Promise of the Arab Spring,” should gain a measure of patience and understanding for what it is currently happening in the Middle East. We cannot expect overnight miracles, but that does not mean that it is possible to cling to the rule of discredited strongmen—any more than Europe today could possibly return to the rule of absolute monarchs.

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It’s the Dual Loyalty, Stupid

Many of Chuck Hagel’s defenders are rallying around the fiction his opponents impugn him as an anti-Semite because he does not agree that a strong partnership with Israel is in U.S. interests. The most recent example is this piece from the New Yorker. The straw man defense does not work because it avoids the key issue: Chuck Hagel (or Chas Freeman, or Richard Nixon, or Pat Buchanan, or Charles Lindbergh, or Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, or Juan Cole, or W. Pat Lang) engages in the conceit that anyone who disagrees with him must have dual loyalties and therefore not be “real Americans.”

To question a Jewish American’s loyalty rather than debate the issues with him is not borderline anti-Semitic; it is anti-Semitic. The same holds true for the anti-Catholic bigotry that once surrounded John F. Kennedy’s campaign, the anti-Muslim bigotry that many moderate Muslims face, and the anti-Mormon bigotry in which many engaged during Mitt Romney’s campaign.

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Many of Chuck Hagel’s defenders are rallying around the fiction his opponents impugn him as an anti-Semite because he does not agree that a strong partnership with Israel is in U.S. interests. The most recent example is this piece from the New Yorker. The straw man defense does not work because it avoids the key issue: Chuck Hagel (or Chas Freeman, or Richard Nixon, or Pat Buchanan, or Charles Lindbergh, or Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, or Juan Cole, or W. Pat Lang) engages in the conceit that anyone who disagrees with him must have dual loyalties and therefore not be “real Americans.”

To question a Jewish American’s loyalty rather than debate the issues with him is not borderline anti-Semitic; it is anti-Semitic. The same holds true for the anti-Catholic bigotry that once surrounded John F. Kennedy’s campaign, the anti-Muslim bigotry that many moderate Muslims face, and the anti-Mormon bigotry in which many engaged during Mitt Romney’s campaign.

What is truly disappointing is how far from progressive many progressives have become. They will accuse others of McCarthyism for the temerity to disagree with them and will then respond with the truly McCarthyite canard that their opponent is anti-American and holds loyalty to a foreign power.

Hagel has apologized for his bigotry toward gays. Will he apologize for questioning whether his political opponents hold dual loyalties?

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Democrats Can’t Avoid Fiscal Cliff Blame

For the past few days, the focus of coverage of the budget negotiations has been on the House Republicans who torpedoed Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B proposal. The hardliners determined to fight any tax increases, including those on millionaires, have helped create a situation where the deadline may well expire before Congress and the president can agree on a deal that will avoid an across-the-board tax increase as well as devastating spending cuts. Though their argument that the country’s problem is about spending, not taxes, is right, allowing the country to go over the fiscal cliff is irresponsible and will cost the GOP dearly in terms of public support. But now that the House has failed to advance Boehner’s compromise measure, it is up to the Senate to act and that means the media needs to turn its attention from the intransigence of a minority of House Republicans to the equally unproductive behavior of the majority of Democrats in the upper house.

For all of the country’s justified concern about the inability of the Republicans to make a deal, the fact remains that the Democratic-controlled Senate is even more of an obstacle to an accord. For Majority Leader Harry Reid and his party to act to avoid the fiscal cliff, he will have to do something that he has failed to do in the last three years: pass a budget plan of any kind. The Democrats have sat back and enjoyed the brickbats thrown at the GOP for their dysfunctional behavior, but have done nothing themselves to make a deal other than to play the role of cheerleaders for the White House’s class warfare rhetoric. With only days left for action to avoid the automatic enactment of measures that could potentially devastate an already weak economy, it’s time to for Reid and his caucus to put forward a bill that could actually pass. If not, their reliance on public opinion only blaming Republicans for the impending debacle may ultimately wind up a colossal misjudgment.

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For the past few days, the focus of coverage of the budget negotiations has been on the House Republicans who torpedoed Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B proposal. The hardliners determined to fight any tax increases, including those on millionaires, have helped create a situation where the deadline may well expire before Congress and the president can agree on a deal that will avoid an across-the-board tax increase as well as devastating spending cuts. Though their argument that the country’s problem is about spending, not taxes, is right, allowing the country to go over the fiscal cliff is irresponsible and will cost the GOP dearly in terms of public support. But now that the House has failed to advance Boehner’s compromise measure, it is up to the Senate to act and that means the media needs to turn its attention from the intransigence of a minority of House Republicans to the equally unproductive behavior of the majority of Democrats in the upper house.

For all of the country’s justified concern about the inability of the Republicans to make a deal, the fact remains that the Democratic-controlled Senate is even more of an obstacle to an accord. For Majority Leader Harry Reid and his party to act to avoid the fiscal cliff, he will have to do something that he has failed to do in the last three years: pass a budget plan of any kind. The Democrats have sat back and enjoyed the brickbats thrown at the GOP for their dysfunctional behavior, but have done nothing themselves to make a deal other than to play the role of cheerleaders for the White House’s class warfare rhetoric. With only days left for action to avoid the automatic enactment of measures that could potentially devastate an already weak economy, it’s time to for Reid and his caucus to put forward a bill that could actually pass. If not, their reliance on public opinion only blaming Republicans for the impending debacle may ultimately wind up a colossal misjudgment.

Wyoming Senator John Barrasso isn’t the only Republican who thinks that the Democrats, and in particular President Obama, are quite eager for the nation to go over the fiscal cliff. As he said yesterday on Fox News Sunday, doing so would accomplish two things that Democrats have longed to do: create a massive tax increase and cut defense, all the while letting Republicans take the blame. That was the president’s strategy last year during the debt ceiling negotiations during which he hoped to duplicate President Clinton’s success in shifting the culpability for the 1995 government shutdown to Newt Gingrich and his House majority. But the collapse of Boehner’s stratagem actually puts the onus on the Senate and the Democrats in a way it has not been throughout this crisis.

With no one paying much attention to the family squabble among House Republicans, the time has finally arrived when the Senate and its Democratic leaders are bound to start getting more coverage. If Reid does not pass something this week and pass on to the House a bill that will at least give the nation a short respite from the consequences of the fiscal cliff, then it will be impossible for anyone to pretend that what will follow is only a GOP problem. If so, then perhaps we are arriving at the moment when the assumptions about the budget standoff could turn out to be unfounded.

Their grandstanding about taxing rich people has allowed Democrats to avoid any real discussion about reform of the entitlements that are sinking the country. Neither the White House nor the Senate has put forward a coherent plan or a proposal worth voting on that addresses this issue, without which any talk of a long-term solution to the problem is impossible.

Republicans may have hit bottom last week when they sandbagged Boehner and effectively undermined any chance that he could force a more favorable compromise out of Obama. But Democrats are foolish to believe that no blame will ever attach to them just because the GOP has failed. Public cynicism about Congress and the political system is, at its heart, a bipartisan consensus about the governing class, not just anger about Tea Party intransigence. Unless Reid and the Senate Democrats do something this week to put the ball back into the House’s court, they, too, will shoulder plenty of the responsibility for what follows.

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The Times Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Map

On December 7, the New York Times website ran a “correction” to Jodi Rudoren’s article on the E1 area between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim (a community of about 40,000 Jews living less than two miles east of the capital). The Times acknowledged that, contrary to the article, the E1 plans “would not divide the West Bank in two” and “would not technically make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible” (emphasis added). As Israeli ambassador Michael Oren noted, one would know this if one were to “just look at a map.”

Elliott Abrams wrote that it was “just plain extraordinary” that the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief “knows so little about the geography of the Jerusalem area that she could write such things.” He suggested a reason for her errors:

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On December 7, the New York Times website ran a “correction” to Jodi Rudoren’s article on the E1 area between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim (a community of about 40,000 Jews living less than two miles east of the capital). The Times acknowledged that, contrary to the article, the E1 plans “would not divide the West Bank in two” and “would not technically make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible” (emphasis added). As Israeli ambassador Michael Oren noted, one would know this if one were to “just look at a map.”

Elliott Abrams wrote that it was “just plain extraordinary” that the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief “knows so little about the geography of the Jerusalem area that she could write such things.” He suggested a reason for her errors:

“Here’s my theory: that just about everyone she knows … know that they are true. Settlements are bad, the right-wing Israeli government is bad, new construction makes peace impossible and cuts the West Bank in half and destroys contiguity and means a Palestinian state is impossible. They just know it, it’s obvious, so why would you have to refer to a map, or talk to people who would tell you it’s all wrong?”

In an email to Politico, Rudoren said she “deeply regretted” that “on deadline, late at night and at the end of a very long couple of weeks, I used imprecise language and, yes, did not study the map carefully enough.” She asserted she consults “a broad variety of people” and that “most of the people” she associates with do not have “any particular perspective.” At Israel Matzav, Carl in Jerusalem ran an experiment to test Rudoren’s assertion, and cast some doubt on it.

Then on December 20, the Times ran an editorial entitled “The Fading Mideast Peace Dream”–and repeated the same Rudoren errors, alleging the E1 plans “would split the West Bank” and “prevent the creation of a viable contiguous Palestinian state.” What made the Times–two weeks after it knew the assertions were false–repeat them on its editorial page? The editors were not working on deadline, and they had ready access to maps. They had corrected Rudoren’s assertions not only December 7 on their website, but on December 16 in the print version of the paper, on page A3. They had presumably read Oren’s “just look at a map” article, since it appeared in the New York Daily News a week earlier.

I have a theory. The Times has a “worldview” of “political and cultural progressivism” that “virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times,” treating certain developments “more like causes than news subjects.” Actually, it’s not a theory, and it’s not mine. The words are those of Arthur Brisbane, in his final column earlier this year, summing up his two years as the Times’s public editor. There is a logical corollary: you are not likely to become the Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief without subscribing to its worldview of Israel–one that, as the Times editorial shows, produces errors caused by something more than long weeks and nights, deadlines, and insufficient map study.

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Erdoğan: Media’s Job Is to Praise Me

In comments to the press following an incident last week at the Middle East Technical University in which police attacked students protesting his appearance, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared, “We have a problem with the media. It is their mission to announce good things to my people. This is what I want.”

Reporters without Frontiers has dubbed Erdoğan’s Turkey “the World’s Biggest Prison for Journalists.” Many Turkish journalists are bold and at the forefront of honest reporting but when it comes to press freedom, alas, Turkish journalists have at times been their own worst enemies. Taraf, often described as a liberal, pro-democracy paper, behaved as a Turkish version of Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review, breathlessly reporting stories regarding fantastic conspiracies and alleged plots against elected officials. They cheered as their opponents were rounded up by an increasingly power-hungry Erdoğan, never mind that the evidence was dismissed as fraudulent by every independent expert that has seen it. As Harvard Professor Dani Rodrik explained:

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In comments to the press following an incident last week at the Middle East Technical University in which police attacked students protesting his appearance, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared, “We have a problem with the media. It is their mission to announce good things to my people. This is what I want.”

Reporters without Frontiers has dubbed Erdoğan’s Turkey “the World’s Biggest Prison for Journalists.” Many Turkish journalists are bold and at the forefront of honest reporting but when it comes to press freedom, alas, Turkish journalists have at times been their own worst enemies. Taraf, often described as a liberal, pro-democracy paper, behaved as a Turkish version of Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review, breathlessly reporting stories regarding fantastic conspiracies and alleged plots against elected officials. They cheered as their opponents were rounded up by an increasingly power-hungry Erdoğan, never mind that the evidence was dismissed as fraudulent by every independent expert that has seen it. As Harvard Professor Dani Rodrik explained:

The prosecution asserted that the coup was planned in 2003, citing unsigned documents on compact discs it claims were produced by the defendants at the time. However, even though the last-saved dates on these documents appear as 2002-2003, they were found to contain references to fonts and other attributes that were first introduced with Microsoft Office 2007. Hence the documents could not have been created before mid-2006, when the software was released. The handwriting on the CDs was similarly found to be forged. In addition, many defendants have proved that they were outside Turkey or hundreds of miles away from work at the time they are alleged to have prepared these documents or attended coup-planning meetings. The documents also contain countless anachronisms, such as names of organizations and places that didn’t yet exist in 2003 or were changed after that time.

Too many Turkish (and American) liberals were willing to bite their tongues at this and other blatant miscarriages of justice. By the time they realized Turkey’s Putin would come after them as well, it was too late. Perhaps the Turkish liberals should have known better, but some American diplomats and officials have an excuse: Some Turkish journalists like Cengiz Çandar actively ran interference for Erdoğan, blaming accusations of human rights abuses in Turkey on, you guessed, it neocons. All too often, whether in Turkey, Egypt, or Russia, the path to dictatorship is laid in part by journalists willing to trade principle for access. As many Turkish journalists have begun to learn, ideological fealty and self-censorship in pursuit of access erodes freedom. Alas, by the time the press learns such lessons, it is often too late.

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Will Iraq Have a Female President?

While Iraqi officials have a tight hold on news, reports both from Iranian doctors who treated Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and some Iraqi sources suggest that Jalal Talabani may be stable, but that he cannot recover nor, for that matter, can he live without permanent attachment to life support machines. Let us hope such rumors are untrue, but the embargo on news does little to contradict the whispered reports.

Over at CNN, I discussed the politics surrounding the choice of successor, and at AEI-Ideas, I outlined some of the candidates whose names have been bantered about as successor. Several Iraqi Kurds—and a commenter on my AEI-Ideas post–have put forward another name: Jalal Talabani’s wife, Hero Ibrahim Ahmad, also known as Hero Khan.

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While Iraqi officials have a tight hold on news, reports both from Iranian doctors who treated Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and some Iraqi sources suggest that Jalal Talabani may be stable, but that he cannot recover nor, for that matter, can he live without permanent attachment to life support machines. Let us hope such rumors are untrue, but the embargo on news does little to contradict the whispered reports.

Over at CNN, I discussed the politics surrounding the choice of successor, and at AEI-Ideas, I outlined some of the candidates whose names have been bantered about as successor. Several Iraqi Kurds—and a commenter on my AEI-Ideas post–have put forward another name: Jalal Talabani’s wife, Hero Ibrahim Ahmad, also known as Hero Khan.

Hero Khan has long been a major power within Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Her power is based not only on her marriage, but also her pedigree and frankly her intellect and ability. Her father, Ibrahim Ahmad, was a famous Kurdish writer whose split with Masud Barzani’s father ultimately led to the PUK’s creation. Many Westerners are impressed with her for her obvious independence and intelligence. I first met the chain-smoking Hero more than 12 years ago, when she gave me a tour of the television studio she ran in Sulaymani. She came in wearing a t-shirt and jeans to serve me coffee as I waited, and it took me a moment to realize that she was—at that point—the PUK’s first lady. She also has established a number of “non-governmental organizations” in Iraqi Kurdistan, most notably Kurdistan Save the Children.

Kurds, however, will also point out her dark side: She is a ruthless businesswoman—who has not hesitated to use her position, skirt the law or have competitors hurt in order to score triumphs. Independent Kurdish journalists suggest she is unforgiving, defensive and, at times, spiteful against those she feels have wronged her. (Barham Salih can thank Hero Khan’s interference for his earlier failure to become foreign minister. To a lesser extent, I have suffered her cold shoulder when, ironically at her son Qubad’s suggestion, I wrote a long essay detailing the growing problem of corruption in Kurdistan.) Her NGOs are among the most partisan; political independents need not apply. Kurdish medical professionals visiting the United States on exchanges say she is also a manic depressive. She will replicate the best aspects of Jalal Talabani’s personality when she is riding high, but may allow the darker sides of her personality shine through when not.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and PUK, based on their previous agreements, are insistent that the presidency should not only be reserved for a Kurd, but for a member of the PUK. (Many Arabs dispute this.) In the wake of Jalal Talabani’s stroke, the internally popular Kosrat Rasul has become provisional head of the PUK, and the externally popular Barham Salih has become deputy PUK head. That leaves Hero Khan—arguably the PUK’s most powerful member—left floating, a strange outcome unless she has her eye on something bigger.

The presidency is ceremonial—the speaker of parliament wields more power—and both Iraqi Kurds and Iraq Arabs say that the next president will be more constrained by the limits of the presidency than was Talabani, whose gregarious personality and the goodwill of Iranians and Americans allowed him to assume greater power than his position merited.

Should Hero Khan assume the presidency, the results will be mixed. Traditionally, she has been more willing to stand up to the KDP than her husband. The symbolism of a female president in Iraq will be positive, especially against the backdrop of Muqtada al-Sadr’s fierce Islamism–though her accession will also reinforce the worst aspects of Iraqi wasta.

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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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