Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 22, 2013

Can Yair Lapid Survive Success?

The big winner of Tuesday’s election in Israel was undoubtedly journalist Yair Lapid. His Yesh Atid party appears to have won 19 seats in the Knesset, coming out of nowhere to become the second-largest faction in the country’s parliament. Lapid capitalized on discontent about the cost of living as well as the resentment of Israel’s secular majority against the power of the ultra-Orthodox.

This is a great achievement for Lapid, and it has likely made him the lynchpin of any government organized by Prime Minister Netanyahu. It gives him the ability to name his price for joining the cabinet and he will undoubtedly influence policy on the economy as well as have the chance to thrill his secular supporters by actually helping to change the system by which most Haredim evade the draft. But it needs to be pointed out that although his success is extraordinary every previous such independent winner has crashed the next time they faced the voters. The interesting question to ask about Lapid in the aftermath of his win is whether he can evade the fate of every other secular/centrist party that has shot to the top in the last few decades of Israeli political history.

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The big winner of Tuesday’s election in Israel was undoubtedly journalist Yair Lapid. His Yesh Atid party appears to have won 19 seats in the Knesset, coming out of nowhere to become the second-largest faction in the country’s parliament. Lapid capitalized on discontent about the cost of living as well as the resentment of Israel’s secular majority against the power of the ultra-Orthodox.

This is a great achievement for Lapid, and it has likely made him the lynchpin of any government organized by Prime Minister Netanyahu. It gives him the ability to name his price for joining the cabinet and he will undoubtedly influence policy on the economy as well as have the chance to thrill his secular supporters by actually helping to change the system by which most Haredim evade the draft. But it needs to be pointed out that although his success is extraordinary every previous such independent winner has crashed the next time they faced the voters. The interesting question to ask about Lapid in the aftermath of his win is whether he can evade the fate of every other secular/centrist party that has shot to the top in the last few decades of Israeli political history.

Starting in 1977 when the Dash Party led by archeologist Yigal Yadin won 15 seats and became part of Menachem Begin’s first government, there have a steady string of such independent centrist groups that won the affection of Israel’s voters. But Dash, like Tzomet in 1992, the Third Way in 1996, the Center Party in 1999, the Shinui Party in 2003 (that won 15 seats under the leadership of Lapid’s father Yosef) and the Pensioners Party in 2006, collapsed at the next election. Each time, the religious parties that were the focus of voter outrage outlasted their would-be tormentors.

The fatal flaw of all these parties was that although they spoke to a desire on the part of Israeli voters to have an alternative to the traditional choices on the left and the right, such groupings inevitably were compromised by a decision to join the new government. Once in the cabinet these parties were able to secure patronage for their followers, but having done so, they could no longer pose as the outsiders looking to hold the establishment accountable. Nor could they maintain the voters’ enthusiasm in a country where war and peace issues are always the most important. And all failed to do the one thing that secular voters have demanded: create a more equitable system of compulsory military service that would no longer exempt the Haredim.

Lapid’s obvious interest in joining the government will leave him open to the charge that he, like his predecessors, is just looking to gain power rather than to stand for principle. Lapid is reportedly urging Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich to join with him in the next government, but she rightly understands that is not the path to future electoral success. The only way to get her once-dominant faction back to the point where it can claim to be one of the country’s two big parties will be to lead the opposition to Netanyahu rather than allow herself to be co-opted by him. That’s exactly the danger that Lapid’s success poses to his party, since if he does join the cabinet no matter how much he is able to influence the course of the government he won’t be able to campaign next time as an agent of change.

The one possible escape for Lapid is the chance that he and Netanyahu will actually be able to pass a new draft law. Doing so will absolve him to some extent from the charge that his party merely cashed in on its victory without accomplishing anything the way all those that came before him did. But even if he does manage to do that, it’s not clear whether it is possible for him to build his party and allow it to maintain its strength while serving as one of Netanyahu’s partners.

Lapid will be able to enjoy playing the kingmaker in the coming days and weeks as negotiations to form the next government unfold. But his real challenge will be trying to ensure that Yesh Atid is not just another one-election wonder.

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Netanyahu Wins, Religious Parties May Lose

The polls are closed in Israel and the counting of the ballots is now being conducted. But if the published exit polls are accurate, there is, as expected, no doubt about who will lead the next government. The exits show Netanyahu’s Likud getting 31 Knesset seats–far more than any other party. The parties making up the current coalition received 61 seats, a clear majority. But Netanyahu will have other options, and the big losers could be the religious parties that could wind up on the outside looking in at the next government.

That’s because the big winner of the election turned out to be journalist Yair Lapid’s secular Yesh Atid Party, whose main platform plank was support for a change in the conscription laws that would mandate the drafting of ultra-Orthodox Jews into the Israel Defense Forces. That’s a proposition on which the Likud as well as the Jewish Home Party led by Naftali Bennett could easily agree. Netanyahu is already reportedly reaching out to Lapid to join him in a broad coalition that he would probably prefer to the current cabinet. It’s also something most non-Haredi Israelis will applaud.

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The polls are closed in Israel and the counting of the ballots is now being conducted. But if the published exit polls are accurate, there is, as expected, no doubt about who will lead the next government. The exits show Netanyahu’s Likud getting 31 Knesset seats–far more than any other party. The parties making up the current coalition received 61 seats, a clear majority. But Netanyahu will have other options, and the big losers could be the religious parties that could wind up on the outside looking in at the next government.

That’s because the big winner of the election turned out to be journalist Yair Lapid’s secular Yesh Atid Party, whose main platform plank was support for a change in the conscription laws that would mandate the drafting of ultra-Orthodox Jews into the Israel Defense Forces. That’s a proposition on which the Likud as well as the Jewish Home Party led by Naftali Bennett could easily agree. Netanyahu is already reportedly reaching out to Lapid to join him in a broad coalition that he would probably prefer to the current cabinet. It’s also something most non-Haredi Israelis will applaud.

It should be remembered that exit polls are not actual votes and even if they do reflect the results, the army vote–which is counted last–could also change the results and tilt the numbers a bit more to the advantage of the nationalist parties.

Lapid has apparently won 18 or 19 seats, far more than the last polls showed him getting. Over the last week it appears Israel’s swing voters, who wanted to keep Netanyahu as prime minister but wanted to register a slight note of protest, went for Lapid’s list in larger numbers than those who voted for Bennett.

Though many, especially in the foreign press, tended to lump Lapid in with Labor as part of a center-left faction, his positions on security and defense issues are quite compatible with those of Netanyahu. His vote cannot be interpreted as a pro-peace protest against Netanyahu. Rather, it is very much in a long tradition of Israeli parties that capitalized on secular resentment against the power of the ultra-Orthodox parties. He ought to be able to exact a high price from Netanyahu, but there’s little doubt the prime minister will be happy to pay it since Lapid might be easier to deal with than the political extortionists at Shas and United Torah Judaism that are always available to sell their votes to the highest bidders. 

As for Bennett, his total fell short of his highest poll numbers. But he is still in a very strong position. His 12 seats make him an essential part of any coalition led by Netanyahu. He will act as a brake on any possible lurch to the left on the peace process, but given the lack of interest on the part of the Palestinian Authority in returning to negotiations, its doubtful that he has much to worry about. Moreover, his religious Zionist party won’t have any trouble supporting a change in the draft laws to ensure more Haredim serve in the army.

Another potential member of the next government would be Tzipi Livni. Her new Hatnua Party won approximately seven seats. There’s no love lost between Livni and Netanyahu, but if she refuses to join a coalition that already included Lapid, she would be effectively marginalized. That’s something Livni probably wouldn’t be able to stand. Of all the party leaders, she is the one left with the toughest choice.

One party that is unlikely to join Netanyahu would be Labor, which finished a disappointing third. Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich knows that the only hope to build her party back to its position as one of Israel’s two biggest is by leading the opposition in the next Knesset. She will stand aside this time and hold onto the not-unreasonable hope that she will do far better the next time.

There will be those who will portray these numbers as something of a rebuke to Netanyahu, and there is something to that. But as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, his biggest problem in this vote was that he couldn’t lose. Since the lack of a serious alternative to him made his re-election a certainty, voters were free to support smaller parties rather than the Likud and therefore register their preference for the kind of coalition he would lead. Though Netanyahu would have liked to have a bigger total for Likud, he can’t be disappointed with the bottom line of this vote: he remains prime minister and will be able to pick and choose his coalition partners. The next government will be fractious and difficult to manage but for all of his problems, Netanyahu remains the only possible choice to be prime minister for the foreseeable future. 

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Putin Retaliates Against U.S. on Behalf of the “Merchant of Death”

Vladimir Putin is putting the finishing touches on a second retaliation for American legislation targeting Russian human rights abusers. After the U.S. passed the Magnitsky Act, banning American entry of Russian officials involved in the brutal prison death of a whistleblower, Putin responded by having his allies push through a ban on American adoption of Russian children. This was a particularly cruel act, since Americans are the ones who usually adopt disabled Russian children; Putin was gratuitously punishing the young and disabled.

But Putin has since added another ban on Americans in retaliation for the Magnitsky Act, since one was not enough to fully convey Putin’s disdain for human rights. And this one is a list of his own: now finalized, the “Guantanamo list” bans certain Americans from entering Russia, and it is centered on the supposedly “medieval” conditions of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. According to one Russian official, however, calling it the “Guantanamo list” is merely a convenient categorization; “It’s a label,” Russia’s deputy minister of foreign affairs told Bloomberg. “Like Johnnie Walker.” And true to form, Putin’s version of the list was constructed without much actual concern for human rights, as the Washington Times reports:

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Vladimir Putin is putting the finishing touches on a second retaliation for American legislation targeting Russian human rights abusers. After the U.S. passed the Magnitsky Act, banning American entry of Russian officials involved in the brutal prison death of a whistleblower, Putin responded by having his allies push through a ban on American adoption of Russian children. This was a particularly cruel act, since Americans are the ones who usually adopt disabled Russian children; Putin was gratuitously punishing the young and disabled.

But Putin has since added another ban on Americans in retaliation for the Magnitsky Act, since one was not enough to fully convey Putin’s disdain for human rights. And this one is a list of his own: now finalized, the “Guantanamo list” bans certain Americans from entering Russia, and it is centered on the supposedly “medieval” conditions of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. According to one Russian official, however, calling it the “Guantanamo list” is merely a convenient categorization; “It’s a label,” Russia’s deputy minister of foreign affairs told Bloomberg. “Like Johnnie Walker.” And true to form, Putin’s version of the list was constructed without much actual concern for human rights, as the Washington Times reports:

He said the additions to the list included “judges, investigators, justice ministry officials and special service agents” who had participated in the prosecution of Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer, and Konstantin Yaroshenko, a convicted drug smuggler.

Bout, whose nickname is the “merchant of death” and who was apparently the inspiration for Nicolas Cage’s character in Lord of War, is a legend in the world of illicit arms dealing. Russia has fought Bout’s extradition to the U.S. after he was finally arrested in Bangkok in 2008, probably because Bout knows a thing or two the Kremlin would like to remain under wraps. The Russian government’s links to Russian arms dealers are well known, and at the very least it is thought to be impossible for Bout to carry out his work without acquiescence from Putin. But according to Bout’s biographer Douglas Farah, sometime around 2005 “Putin imposed control on intelligence services. Bout goes from being an outside operator, from being a freelance operator, to being part of the system.”

Speaking of Bout’s arrest, here is Colum Lynch’s description of the sting operation that nabbed him:

During a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sting operation in Bangkok in March 2008, the alleged arms dealer, known as the Merchant of Death, was caught on tape describing his plan to sell millions of dollars in weapons to the Colombian rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to “kill American pilots.”

Bout claimed he never intended to follow through; a jury tossed his defense right back at him attached to a 25-year prison sentence. And while the plan Bout facilitated was designed to end with the shedding of American blood, this is far from a U.S.-Russia bilateral issue. Lynch describes some of Bout’s history:

The Security Council imposed a travel ban on Bout in March 2004 and later froze his financial assets for his alleged role in supplying arms to former Liberian leader Charles Taylor, who was tried for war crimes by a U.N.-backed court. “[B]etween 1996 and 2008, BOUT had the capacity to transport large-scale military machinery, as well as extensive stores of weapons to virtually any location in the world,” read a 2009 federal indictment by the U.S. attorney from the Southern District of New York.

Putin is believed to want Bout back in a Cold War-style prisoner swap, but chances for that are dim. There is also the possibility that the Guantanamo list was drawn up and expanded six-fold because the adoption ban has provoked an outcry from Russian protesters, media, and human rights groups. Opponents of the ban hope it will be quietly dropped at a later date, and thus the Guantanamo list will stand as the official mode of Russian retaliation.

But there is also a good chance that both bans will stand. Putin is quite obviously attempting to create bargaining chips to nudge along the second-term “flexibility” President Obama promised him before the election. And as shameless and reprehensible as they are, these moves demonstrate a certain amount of weakness on Putin’s part; if he had the means to challenge the U.S. in other, more substantial ways, he would most likely employ them. Nonetheless, the Obama administration’s attempts to patch up relations with Russia have failed repeatedly and spectacularly. Putin’s bad faith suggests the administration’s diplomatic time and effort would be better spent elsewhere.

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Obamism in a Single Sentence

The most striking sentence in President Obama’s second inaugural address was his assertion that “preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action”–by which he means more government. It is a succinct statement of the equation of government with freedom, and of the implicit corollary: the more government, the more freedom it can provide. This is why Obama expressed no concern yesterday about the multi-trillion-dollar government debt he once thought unpatriotic: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other government spending “empowers our citizens” and “free us to take the risks that make this country great.” When freedom is defined in this fashion, those who want to reduce government spending are striking a blow against “freedom.” They’re unpatriotic.

Obama reportedly said last month that government has no spending problem–only a problem of reducing the cost of healthcare. Yesterday he said we must “make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit”: in other words, deficit reduction means giving government more power to control the cost of providing freedom. Reduce the cost of health care, and the deficit will go down, but do not restrict government itself–that would be restricting freedom. This is why Obama insists on raising tax rates without spending reductions; on increasing the debt limit without spending reductions; and on enacting any future spending reductions only if “balanced” with new revenue (so that if you want him to reduce spending, you must give him more money to spend). Higher tax rates, more debt, and new revenues give government the resources to keep us free–thus the more, the better, by definition.  

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The most striking sentence in President Obama’s second inaugural address was his assertion that “preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action”–by which he means more government. It is a succinct statement of the equation of government with freedom, and of the implicit corollary: the more government, the more freedom it can provide. This is why Obama expressed no concern yesterday about the multi-trillion-dollar government debt he once thought unpatriotic: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other government spending “empowers our citizens” and “free us to take the risks that make this country great.” When freedom is defined in this fashion, those who want to reduce government spending are striking a blow against “freedom.” They’re unpatriotic.

Obama reportedly said last month that government has no spending problem–only a problem of reducing the cost of healthcare. Yesterday he said we must “make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit”: in other words, deficit reduction means giving government more power to control the cost of providing freedom. Reduce the cost of health care, and the deficit will go down, but do not restrict government itself–that would be restricting freedom. This is why Obama insists on raising tax rates without spending reductions; on increasing the debt limit without spending reductions; and on enacting any future spending reductions only if “balanced” with new revenue (so that if you want him to reduce spending, you must give him more money to spend). Higher tax rates, more debt, and new revenues give government the resources to keep us free–thus the more, the better, by definition.  

In his erudite and important book, I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism, Claremont professor Charles R. Kesler explained that Obamism is the logical outcome of the progressive redefinition of freedom over the past century–and is creating a tipping point as the price of government-provided “freedom” increases beyond the ability of the private sector to finance it (my PJ Media review of the book is here). With his single sentence yesterday, Obama provided the movement with its new clarion call: ask not what “freedom” costs (or even what it means); ask what you can do to let government tax, borrow and spend to provide more of it.

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Netanyahu-Bashers Shouldn’t Rejoice

The buzz in Israel at this hour is that leaked exit polls are showing that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party may be doing far worse than expected in today’s election. The story is that Likud’s total of Knesset seats will drop below 30 and that centrist newcomer Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party will wind up in second place, with right-wing star Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home also doing well and the Labor Party possibly dropping to third or even fourth place.

If true, this would cause a major shake-up in Israeli politics. But President Obama and other American liberal critics of Netanyahu shouldn’t get too excited. Even if the rumors and leaked polls are accurate, there’s no doubt that Netanyahu will still be leading the next Israeli government.

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The buzz in Israel at this hour is that leaked exit polls are showing that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party may be doing far worse than expected in today’s election. The story is that Likud’s total of Knesset seats will drop below 30 and that centrist newcomer Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party will wind up in second place, with right-wing star Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home also doing well and the Labor Party possibly dropping to third or even fourth place.

If true, this would cause a major shake-up in Israeli politics. But President Obama and other American liberal critics of Netanyahu shouldn’t get too excited. Even if the rumors and leaked polls are accurate, there’s no doubt that Netanyahu will still be leading the next Israeli government.

A scenario in which Lapid and Bennett’s parties are big winners would certainly mean that Netanyahu would be weakened. But that was already in the cards, as his own party (which absorbed Avigdor Lieberman’s party prior to the campaign) had become one in which those to the right of the prime minister were going to have more influence.

But even a Likud that scores under 30 would still mean that right-wing and religious parties will wind up with more than a majority, meaning there is no chance of a government led by anyone but Netanyahu. However, the rise of Lapid does give the prime minister a chance to form a government without the religious parties since, if the rumors are correct, Yesh Atid could wind up with as many seats as those parties may get.

While Lapid is put in the same camp as left-wingers like Labor’s Shelly Yacimovich or Tzipi Livni, he has also made it clear that he is largely on the same page as Netanyahu when it comes to issues of war and peace. His priority is domestic politics, and principally in changing the law to ensure that the Haredim are drafted into the Israel Defense Forces like other Israelis. A coalition with Likud, Bennett (whose modern Orthodox and secular supporters also support draft equality) and Lapid is not out of the question. It would be a difficult marriage, but so would any possible collection of Israeli parties. If this happens, there will be no real shift in Israel’s position on borders or settlements.

We’ll find out later today whether the actual results will resemble the rumors (Israel is seven hours ahead of the Eastern United States, meaning that by mid-evening EST, we should have a good idea of what will happen). But even in the worst scenario for the Likud, Netanyahu is still on track to get his third term in the prime minister’s office. 

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Will Liberals Meet Reality on the NYC School Bus Strike?

In the New York Post last week, John wrote an excellent piece on the latest union-taxpayer showdown in New York City–the school bus driver strike that began earlier this month. This battle, like many across the country for oversized compensation for unionized workers that outpaces a municipality’s ability to pay, could shape the financial future of New York City for years to come. In the Post John explained, 

You should watch this one closely, whether you have kids who’ve been kicked off a bus or not, because it’s a sneak preview of what is likely to be coming over the next decade in municipalities across the country.

These workers aren’t city employees. They work for private companies. The city’s contracts with those companies are up in June. The city plans to bid out the work.

It has to. You want it to. Trust me: Under the terms of the current contracts, providing this bus service costs — I hope you’re sitting down before you read this next clause — $7,000 a year per passenger.

That’s seven grand per kid.

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In the New York Post last week, John wrote an excellent piece on the latest union-taxpayer showdown in New York City–the school bus driver strike that began earlier this month. This battle, like many across the country for oversized compensation for unionized workers that outpaces a municipality’s ability to pay, could shape the financial future of New York City for years to come. In the Post John explained, 

You should watch this one closely, whether you have kids who’ve been kicked off a bus or not, because it’s a sneak preview of what is likely to be coming over the next decade in municipalities across the country.

These workers aren’t city employees. They work for private companies. The city’s contracts with those companies are up in June. The city plans to bid out the work.

It has to. You want it to. Trust me: Under the terms of the current contracts, providing this bus service costs — I hope you’re sitting down before you read this next clause — $7,000 a year per passenger.

That’s seven grand per kid.

Predictably, the unions have spent a considerable amount of time, effort and money trying to convince parents that their children would be safest in the hands of unionized drivers. The New York Post reported on the statistics regarding bus accidents with supposedly safer unionized drivers yesterday: 

Buses with public-school contracts were involved in more than 1,700 accidents in which the driver was at fault in each of the past five years for which numbers are available, according to statistics compiled by the city’s Department of Education.

The incidents range from minor fender-benders to collisions that resulted in 912 injuries in 2011, the latest year for which stats are available.

A year earlier, there were 1,792 accidents resulting in two deaths and 1,796 injuries.

Despite this bloody record, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 claims its crippling bus strike is being waged in the best interests of its student passengers — because only its members can do the job safely.

While thousands of New York City parents have been inconvenienced, the strike has hit the city’s disabled students the hardest. The New York Daily News reported on the heartbreaking reality for students who rely on school transportation to provide them with physical therapy and social interaction. The strike has left these vulnerable students homebound indefinitely, setting back progress they may have been making not only educationally, but also physically and emotionally. 

The former head of the MTA (the city’s transportation authority), Joe Lhota, recently announced his bid for mayor as a Republican, immediately shaking up the field of contenders. On Fox 5 New York this week Lhota commented on the strike,

These are private sector bus drivers who want to be treated as civil servants. That’s a very, very slippery slope that we’d go down. This is a contract arrangement between a private company… and these bus drivers. These bus drivers aren’t like transit authority workers, they are private sector workers, but they want the same benefits… The mayor is absolutely correct. The courts have held that what the union is asking for is illegal. You should not negotiate when something is illegal. 

The perceived mayoral front-runner, Christine Quinn, refuses to get involved in the debate, despite Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s hard line with the strikers. If the dispute outlasts Bloomberg’s administration (ending in November), which it may, its future under a new mayor is still very much up in the air. Candidates’ stances on the strike could play an outsized role in the race for parents and grandparents inconvenienced for the remaining months of the school year. 

While the strike is a local issue for residents of New York, it is yet another example of how unions across the country, despite claims regarding their competency and dedication, are interested in their own bottom lines and little else. For New Yorkers famous for their extremely liberal voting records, this could be a very rude awakening about the reality of union conflicts across the country.

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Resurgent Liberalism Must Pay Its Bills

The consensus on the left today is that they have finally gotten the man they thought they were voting for in 2008. Barack Obama’s Second Inaugural speech was free of the post-partisan eyewash that was a staple of his first presidential campaign. The speech presented him as he is, a liberal ideologue that has little respect for opposing views and no interest in compromising on issues he cares about, like the budget. This was no surprise to conservatives who have never been deluded by the conceit that Obama was above ideology. But it does encourage liberals to believe that, as some are saying, this administration was on the verge of reversing the achievements of the Ronald Reagan era. Listen closely to MSNBC and CNN and you can almost hear the strains of “Happy Days Are Here Again,” as left-wing talkers envision the return of an era in which a permanent Democratic majority would ensure that America was on a permanent long march to a liberal utopia that the right was helpless to halt.

Such triumphalism is almost forgivable on Inauguration Day. But even if we take the president at his word, there is a big difference between our current situation and the world prior to 1981, when the left never doubted that their project would be derailed. Liberalism may be feeling its oats today, but looming over the inaugural parties is the fact that it cannot pay the bill for the party.

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The consensus on the left today is that they have finally gotten the man they thought they were voting for in 2008. Barack Obama’s Second Inaugural speech was free of the post-partisan eyewash that was a staple of his first presidential campaign. The speech presented him as he is, a liberal ideologue that has little respect for opposing views and no interest in compromising on issues he cares about, like the budget. This was no surprise to conservatives who have never been deluded by the conceit that Obama was above ideology. But it does encourage liberals to believe that, as some are saying, this administration was on the verge of reversing the achievements of the Ronald Reagan era. Listen closely to MSNBC and CNN and you can almost hear the strains of “Happy Days Are Here Again,” as left-wing talkers envision the return of an era in which a permanent Democratic majority would ensure that America was on a permanent long march to a liberal utopia that the right was helpless to halt.

Such triumphalism is almost forgivable on Inauguration Day. But even if we take the president at his word, there is a big difference between our current situation and the world prior to 1981, when the left never doubted that their project would be derailed. Liberalism may be feeling its oats today, but looming over the inaugural parties is the fact that it cannot pay the bill for the party.

While the president paid some lip service to fiscal realities yesterday, the overall tone was one that sought to rekindle confidence in the idea of a liberal narrative which depicts the country on an inexorable path to greater equality as well as more government services to do good. While we should all applaud the idea of equality, which is, as the president notes, integral to our identity as a nation, the attempt to channel the confidence of mid-19th century American liberalism in the early 21st century is bound to be a bust.

Americans came to accept in the 1980s and ’90s that the welfare state had failed to help the poor and was sinking the country in a moral and fiscal morass. But the problem for resurgent liberalism in 2013 is not just that most Americans already know that big government isn’t the answer to every problem, but that we are also aware that we haven’t the money to pay for the existing entitlements that Washington has promised, let alone any new ones.

President Obama can speak as if the cost of his new health care entitlement will not make it even harder to keep the debt from spiraling out of control and even promise more new costly projects. He can pretend that Medicare and Social Security must remain unchanged without bankrupting the country. He can also ignore the fact that the size not just of the federal government but also of local and state governments is fiscally unsustainable. But reality has a way of interfering with even the sweetest liberal fantasies.

Like it or not, liberalism must now face the problem of how to pay the bill for its big-government agenda. That was something that never occurred to Americans in the heyday of liberal political ascendance from the 1930s to the 1960s, as the thought of such limits was not imaginable. But there is no evading the fact that unless entitlements are reformed the whole system will collapse sometime in the coming decades. Liberals never used to worry about paying for their schemes, but now they must.

That is a problem that responsible politicians are struggling with these days, but it is not one that seems to interest the president very much. He prefers to live in a fantasy world in which Washington can go on taxing and spending with impunity and words like deficit and debt are treated as mere details.

Yesterday was an escape from reality for liberals. Let’s hope they and the president enjoyed it. In the real world in which we live the president’s vision of resurgent liberalism leads only to a North American version of Greece.

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Are You There Obama? It’s Me, CNN

Over the weekend, CNN anchor and reporter Tom Foreman wrote a piece for CNN’s website explaining the genesis of a tradition he has kept for the last four years. He was absolutely correct that his behavior required an explanation, but the one he provided was far from adequate. Foreman has been writing President Obama a letter every single day of Obama’s first term. Some letters offered Obama advice, while others explained to Obama why Foreman rarely buys a lottery ticket. Some talked about his family, others about sports. He wondered whether Obama had read any of the 1,460 letters, and he asked the president to call if he got the chance. Some demonstrated Foreman’s lack of self-awareness more clearly than others, such as when he wrote this before Inauguration Day:

Of course, as a journalist I am paid to never get that “into” any candidate, but even if I had, I can’t imagine that I’d ever feel so strongly about an elected official that I’d pack my bags and get onto an airplane just to cheer for him or her from a distance. But hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans are going to do that in just a few days because that is how they feel about you. Isn’t that something?

As an objective CNN reporter, he would never get so “into” a candidate as to travel to watch him speak. But he would write said candidate more than a thousand letters. But beyond the strangeness of it all, and the obvious questions about bias, lies another revealing element of this. The family updates, the requests for Obama to please call him when he’s not too busy, the wondering if Obama ever read all those letters: liberals, especially those in the media, have a particularly off-putting way of treating Obama as a father figure.

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Over the weekend, CNN anchor and reporter Tom Foreman wrote a piece for CNN’s website explaining the genesis of a tradition he has kept for the last four years. He was absolutely correct that his behavior required an explanation, but the one he provided was far from adequate. Foreman has been writing President Obama a letter every single day of Obama’s first term. Some letters offered Obama advice, while others explained to Obama why Foreman rarely buys a lottery ticket. Some talked about his family, others about sports. He wondered whether Obama had read any of the 1,460 letters, and he asked the president to call if he got the chance. Some demonstrated Foreman’s lack of self-awareness more clearly than others, such as when he wrote this before Inauguration Day:

Of course, as a journalist I am paid to never get that “into” any candidate, but even if I had, I can’t imagine that I’d ever feel so strongly about an elected official that I’d pack my bags and get onto an airplane just to cheer for him or her from a distance. But hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans are going to do that in just a few days because that is how they feel about you. Isn’t that something?

As an objective CNN reporter, he would never get so “into” a candidate as to travel to watch him speak. But he would write said candidate more than a thousand letters. But beyond the strangeness of it all, and the obvious questions about bias, lies another revealing element of this. The family updates, the requests for Obama to please call him when he’s not too busy, the wondering if Obama ever read all those letters: liberals, especially those in the media, have a particularly off-putting way of treating Obama as a father figure.

Foreman’s far from alone. Whether it’s liberals writing in worshipful tones that Obama is like a basketball star taking the time out to play with kids (Congress, in this case), or Kevin Drum’s announcement that if he and Obama “were in a room and disagreed about some issue on which I had any doubt at all, I’d literally trust his judgment over my own,” the leftist intellectual class speaks and writes from a childlike perspective when it comes to Obama.

It is human nature to think more highly of those we agree with than those we think are usually wrong. And it is true that the liberal anti-intellectualism of recent years has not yet begun to fade. But the liberal inclination to literally–to use Drum’s word–outsource their thinking to a Democratic president is an Obama-era phenomenon. And this kind of bias as well as the more popular brand of cultish behavior will only get worse in Obama’s second term, with the president’s Second Inaugural clearly expressing the fact that yes, he is a standard-issue left-liberal and no, he’s not Eisenhower, or George H.W. Bush, or Bill Clinton or any other of the centrist personalities to which the left bizarrely and against all evidence compared Obama in his first term.

It also presents CNN with a bit of a challenge. They’re not hiding Foreman’s letters, after all–they’re promoting them. And CNN reporter Jim Acosta was observed on-air expressing his giddiness over being close to Obama at the inauguration. Of the three major cable news stations Fox has always been on the right, CNN the left, and MSNBC far out on the fringe. But CNN has sought to move MSNBC into the mainstream left and position itself in the center. It is unlikely that a single person in the country believes this. And it makes CNN look a bit ridiculous, like they’re the only ones not in on the joke.

Liberal journalism professor Jay Rosen has for quite some time advised media companies to just embrace their biases and stop pretending. It would probably earn them some goodwill from viewers, who can’t possibly take CNN seriously if the network is going to claim impartiality while its anchors are one-way pen pals with the president.

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Misunderstanding Israel’s Election

Just as we already know the broad outlines of today’s Israeli election, we also know pretty much what the international and American media will say about the results. They will tell us that the victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the parties that make up his current coalition represents a sharp step to the right for Israel. It will be portrayed as a rejection of peace and a blow to the chance of a two-state solution to the conflict. Sadly, it will almost certainly lead to editorials and op-eds calling for a reevaluation of the U.S.-Israel alliance and even for American Jews to question the ties between their community and the Jewish state. The narrative of a cruel Israel that is indifferent to the suffering of the Palestinians will be endlessly rehearsed and the vote will be used to justify the isolation of Israel and to garner support for the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement. But while it is true that the likely outcome of the vote will show gains for Israel’s right-wing and nationalist parties, the reason for this, as well as the sentiments of the voters, will be misunderstood and falsely construed.

Netanyahu’s victory as well as the major gains that will be scored by the party to his right, led by Naftali Bennett, will not be largely the result of a philosophical shift to embrace right-wing ideology. It is not the charms of the notoriously unlikeable Netanyahu or even the undeniable attraction that Bennett has for many Israelis who like his modern outlook as well as his military and business record. The change in the Israeli electorate from an evenly divided electorate between left and right is due entirely to the experience of the last 20 years, during which Israel has tried to make peace with the Palestinians. It is the Palestinians’ consistent rejection of peace and embrace of terror and violence that has changed the minds of so many Israelis and convinced them that even though they want a two-state solution, there is no partner for peace with whom they can make such a deal. Rather than damn Israelis for turning their backs on peace, the rest of the world, and especially Americans who think of themselves as friends of Israel, should be asking themselves what it is that Israelis know about their neighborhood that they have preferred to ignore.

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Just as we already know the broad outlines of today’s Israeli election, we also know pretty much what the international and American media will say about the results. They will tell us that the victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the parties that make up his current coalition represents a sharp step to the right for Israel. It will be portrayed as a rejection of peace and a blow to the chance of a two-state solution to the conflict. Sadly, it will almost certainly lead to editorials and op-eds calling for a reevaluation of the U.S.-Israel alliance and even for American Jews to question the ties between their community and the Jewish state. The narrative of a cruel Israel that is indifferent to the suffering of the Palestinians will be endlessly rehearsed and the vote will be used to justify the isolation of Israel and to garner support for the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement. But while it is true that the likely outcome of the vote will show gains for Israel’s right-wing and nationalist parties, the reason for this, as well as the sentiments of the voters, will be misunderstood and falsely construed.

Netanyahu’s victory as well as the major gains that will be scored by the party to his right, led by Naftali Bennett, will not be largely the result of a philosophical shift to embrace right-wing ideology. It is not the charms of the notoriously unlikeable Netanyahu or even the undeniable attraction that Bennett has for many Israelis who like his modern outlook as well as his military and business record. The change in the Israeli electorate from an evenly divided electorate between left and right is due entirely to the experience of the last 20 years, during which Israel has tried to make peace with the Palestinians. It is the Palestinians’ consistent rejection of peace and embrace of terror and violence that has changed the minds of so many Israelis and convinced them that even though they want a two-state solution, there is no partner for peace with whom they can make such a deal. Rather than damn Israelis for turning their backs on peace, the rest of the world, and especially Americans who think of themselves as friends of Israel, should be asking themselves what it is that Israelis know about their neighborhood that they have preferred to ignore.

Bennett’s rise is the big story in this election, and there’s little doubt that his mix of traditional Zionist sentiment and hardheaded thinking about the Palestinians is generating a surge for his Jewish Home Party that puzzles liberal Americans. It is true that many in his party represent hard-core settlers and illiberal religious leaders who have little in common with Americans. But his appeal is also the product of a realization on the part of some more secular Israelis that his approach is a throwback to a more heroic era in Israeli thought. Though the tension between Netanyahu and Bennett, who once worked for the prime minister, is palpable, he is a mainstream figure whose future in his country’s politics is likely to eventually find him back in the Likud rather than leading a smaller party.

But while some insist that this is a “Seinfeld” election that is about nothing, that nothing is a context in which the country’s once-dominant left-wing parties and traditional left have been essentially marginalized or forced to drop peace as a major issue, as is the case with Labor. Where once there was a consensus that Israel needed to try to trade land for peace with the Palestinians, after Oslo, the withdrawal from Gaza, and the rejection by both Yasir Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas of Israeli offers of statehood that included a share of Jerusalem, only a mindless ideologue can pretend that the lack of peace is due to Israel’s failure to make concessions. The fact that the Likud and its nationalist competitors have shifted even more to the right on peace is rooted in a widespread understanding that, as Bennett’s TV ads say, the Palestinians are no more likely to ever accept a two-state solution (no matter where Israel’s borders would be drawn) than for “The Sopranos” to make a comeback.

If many Americans not otherwise prejudiced against Jews and Israel nevertheless blame the Jewish state for the standoff in the Middle East, it is largely due to ignorance of the context of events in the Middle East and the history of the conflict. Rather than thinking, as President Obama reportedly does, that we understand Israel’s “best interests” better than the country’s voters, Americans should show a little humility. If Netanyahu and the right are winning, it is not because Israelis don’t want peace but because they have paid attention to the events of the last two decades and drawn the only possible conclusion.

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