Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 18, 2013

GOP Ought to Trash Caucuses in 2016

The blowback from the right against the Republican National Committee’s autopsy of the 2012 election has begun with a barrage of bitter attacks from supporters of Rand Paul and Rick Santorum. But no one should be under the assumption that the critique of the report—especially its blueprint for revising the 2016 presidential nominating process—has anything to do with better representing the grass roots of the party or enhancing its chances of winning the next election.

As I mentioned earlier today, the RNC’s “Growth and Opportunity Project” is a comprehensive attempt to assess the failings of the party and cited the article by our Pete Wehner and Michael Gerson on “How to Save the Republican Party” in the March issue of COMMENTARY. But it also recommends streamlining the nominating process and making it less likely that well organized minorities can hijack the delegate selection process in some states via undemocratic caucuses and state conventions rather than primaries. While some on the right are curiously uncomfortable with the notion of a methodical look at where the GOP fell short in 2012, some are particularly unhappy with any idea of shortening the process, reducing the number of debates or diminishing the number of states that pick their delegates in a manner that requires the fewest number of participants.

While keeping the system just the way it is makes sense if you are running a campaign that appeals primarily to a narrow ideological faction, it doesn’t make sense if the purpose of the whole exercise is to choose the Republican with the most broad-based support or the best chance of winning in November. That’s why the huffing and puffing about the RNC report, especially from the Paulbots, strikes a particularly disingenuous note.

Read More

The blowback from the right against the Republican National Committee’s autopsy of the 2012 election has begun with a barrage of bitter attacks from supporters of Rand Paul and Rick Santorum. But no one should be under the assumption that the critique of the report—especially its blueprint for revising the 2016 presidential nominating process—has anything to do with better representing the grass roots of the party or enhancing its chances of winning the next election.

As I mentioned earlier today, the RNC’s “Growth and Opportunity Project” is a comprehensive attempt to assess the failings of the party and cited the article by our Pete Wehner and Michael Gerson on “How to Save the Republican Party” in the March issue of COMMENTARY. But it also recommends streamlining the nominating process and making it less likely that well organized minorities can hijack the delegate selection process in some states via undemocratic caucuses and state conventions rather than primaries. While some on the right are curiously uncomfortable with the notion of a methodical look at where the GOP fell short in 2012, some are particularly unhappy with any idea of shortening the process, reducing the number of debates or diminishing the number of states that pick their delegates in a manner that requires the fewest number of participants.

While keeping the system just the way it is makes sense if you are running a campaign that appeals primarily to a narrow ideological faction, it doesn’t make sense if the purpose of the whole exercise is to choose the Republican with the most broad-based support or the best chance of winning in November. That’s why the huffing and puffing about the RNC report, especially from the Paulbots, strikes a particularly disingenuous note.

As Politico reports, the reaction from the camp of Rand Paul to the report was predictably over the top, with one of his supporters saying it meant “nuclear war with the grassroots, social conservatives and Ron Paul movement.” But this is an empty threat.

Rand Paul looks to be a far more formidable candidate and may well be able to appeal to a wider cross-section of Republicans than his extremist libertarian father Ron. But rather than showing confidence that he can parlay his filibuster-fueled celebrity into mainstream appeal, Paul’s faction appears to be worried that any nominating process that doesn’t tilt the playing field in the direction of a candidate that appeals to the base rather than the center of the party hurts them. The same goes for Santorum and others who are unhappy about the prospect of fewer states that can be won by out-organizing opponents rather than winning the votes of the most Republicans.

The willingness of some states to go on picking delegates by a process that seems to be a function of 19th and early 20th century “smoke-filled room” politics is itself an anachronism. Primaries were first championed a century ago by Republicans like Theodore Roosevelt and others who sought to democratize the presidential selection process at the same time they were also seeking to end the practice of electing U.S. senators by the votes of legislatures rather than the citizens of each state.

Looking back at what happened in some of the caucus states last year, it’s easy to see why the Rough Rider and other Republicans thought this procedure should be relegated to the dustbin of history along with other practices, such as citizens having to announce their vote at the poll rather than having a secret ballot.

It’s not just that caucuses deter voter participation by their insular nature. It’s that the votes of even the people who are able to figure out how to get into each local caucus and then cast a ballot are not always respected. In several cases, those elected to participate in state conventions by caucus-goers wound up supporting candidates other than those to whom they were pledged or were even circumvented by maneuvers that allowed outliers like Ron Paul or even Santorum to win the convention delegates. That’s not only unfair but a turnoff to anyone inclined to vote in November.

The pushback against the RNC is all about the fear on the part of some in the base that a national party establishment will steal the GOP from them. Given the often-unwarranted critiques of the Tea Party heard by some party grandees and officeholders, that resentment is understandable. But changing the process to make it less of a circus in which the sideshows overshadow the serious candidates (as was often the case over the course of the numerous debates) or to maximize participation doesn’t preclude the nomination of a conservative.

Once upon a time, conservatives deplored state conventions and caucuses because they feared establishment types would use their better ground games to elect people like Gerald Ford over the more popular grass roots favorite Ronald Reagan. But now those who claim to have inherited the Reagan mantle want to skew the results to have the least representative candidate rather than one with a broad appeal.

That may serve the interests of a libertarian fringe that doesn’t have much confidence in their ability to seize control of the party even with a Rand Paul at their head, but it doesn’t make sense for the rest of the Republican Party. The RNC needs to ignore the critics and implement the report’s recommendations. While the new rules may allow Iowa to retain its traditional first-in-the-nation caucus, it is high time that unrepresentative state’s influence be cut back. Unless the goal of the 2016 GOP nominating process is to lose rather than to win the election, other caucus and state convention systems from the horse-and-buggy era of American politics ought to be trashed.

Read Less

The American Public, Not the Realists, Understands the Middle East

The idea that America’s Middle East policy is purely the result of the machinations of a shadowy “Israel Lobby” was once again proven to be a canard with the release of a new poll that shows that an overwhelming majority of the American people sympathizes with the Jewish state. The Washington Post/ABC news poll published today on the eve of President Obama’s visit to the country shows that Americans sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinian Authority by a margin of 55 to 9 percent, with 35 saying they liked both or had no opinion. It also showed that a plurality of those polled thought the U.S. needed to pressure the Palestinians to make peace more than the Israelis. Most interestingly, an even more resounding majority thought the U.S. ought not to be the prime mover of the peace process, with fully 69 percent saying the decision should be left to the parties while only 26 percent thought it should play a leading role.

The results, especially with regard to support for Israel, are consistent with previous polls. But the number of those who want America to be running the peace negotiations has plummeted in the last decade as the futility of trying to coax the Palestinians to abandon terrorism and embrace a two-state solution has been amply demonstrated. This gives the lie to both the “Israel Lobby” theories as well as the notion that Americans want their president to be twisting the arm of the Israeli government to make concessions to revive a process that the Palestinians have shown no interest in.

The basic numbers illustrate why those who claim the across-the-board bipartisan support for the alliance with the Jewish state in Congress is bought and paid for by Jewish campaign finance donations (as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman put it) is a lie. Israel has the backing of every political and demographic group measured by the poll showing that backing Israel is simply a matter of political survival irrespective of how many Jews vote or donate money in a given district or state.

Read More

The idea that America’s Middle East policy is purely the result of the machinations of a shadowy “Israel Lobby” was once again proven to be a canard with the release of a new poll that shows that an overwhelming majority of the American people sympathizes with the Jewish state. The Washington Post/ABC news poll published today on the eve of President Obama’s visit to the country shows that Americans sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinian Authority by a margin of 55 to 9 percent, with 35 saying they liked both or had no opinion. It also showed that a plurality of those polled thought the U.S. needed to pressure the Palestinians to make peace more than the Israelis. Most interestingly, an even more resounding majority thought the U.S. ought not to be the prime mover of the peace process, with fully 69 percent saying the decision should be left to the parties while only 26 percent thought it should play a leading role.

The results, especially with regard to support for Israel, are consistent with previous polls. But the number of those who want America to be running the peace negotiations has plummeted in the last decade as the futility of trying to coax the Palestinians to abandon terrorism and embrace a two-state solution has been amply demonstrated. This gives the lie to both the “Israel Lobby” theories as well as the notion that Americans want their president to be twisting the arm of the Israeli government to make concessions to revive a process that the Palestinians have shown no interest in.

The basic numbers illustrate why those who claim the across-the-board bipartisan support for the alliance with the Jewish state in Congress is bought and paid for by Jewish campaign finance donations (as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman put it) is a lie. Israel has the backing of every political and demographic group measured by the poll showing that backing Israel is simply a matter of political survival irrespective of how many Jews vote or donate money in a given district or state.

That said, the numbers do show a difference between the affection for Israel shown by Republicans and conservatives on the one hand and Democrats and liberals on the other. Republicans back Israel by a margin of 73-4 and conservatives do so by 72-5. However, Democrats back it by only a 49-11 and liberals by an even smaller margin of 39-16. Independents and moderates support Israel by margins of 51-10 and 55-10. Clearly, support on the left for the Jewish state is shaky. This is a trend that ought to worry those who believe that blind partisan loyalties for Democrats can trump principles and strengthening the arguments of those who believe Republicans are more reliable on the Middle East.

But the numbers about Americans not wanting the U.S. to take a leading role in peace talks ought not to be interpreted as indifference or neutrality about the conflict, as even the Post‘s headline on the story about the poll (“Public Wants U.S. Out of Middle East”) seems to say.

To the contrary, the poll reflects an accurate assessment of the two sides’ goals. The healthy majority that sympathizes with Israel understands that it has repeatedly shown its desire for peace by offering the Palestinians statehood in exchange for an end to the conflict and that neither the Palestinian Authority nor its Hamas rivals have ever accepted these deals or given up their dream of destroying Israel.

In this respect, ordinary Americans prove themselves to be far more sensible than many in the foreign policy establishment who call themselves “realists” while clinging to a view of the conflict rooted in the fantasy that Israeli concessions or territorial surrenders will bring peace.

For the moment at least, the Obama administration seems to have assimilated this wisdom. With the president heading to Jerusalem without seeking to impose a peace plan on the new Netanyahu government, but instead concentrating on coordinating policy on the Iranian nuclear threat, for once U.S. policy is in tune with both American public opinion and reality. We can only hope that it will stay that way.

Read Less

No Need to Repent for Support of Iraq War

The tenth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War has occasioned a lot of interesting and anguished appraisals. For those of us who supported the decision to invade, all such occasions present a chance for reflection on what went wrong—and right—and whether our backing for the war effort was misbegotten. Most of those who initially supported the decision to go to war—including our current secretaries of state and defense—long ago disowned their early hawkishness. For my part, I have resisted the urge to “repent,” as critics of the war effort would have it.

I should make clear that, unlike some supporters of the war effort, I would not have backed the invasion if I had known what we now know—that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. There were, to be sure, secondary reasons to act, in particular the desire to implant a democracy in the middle of the Middle East. But, while I am a firm believer in democracy promotion, I don’t believe that its spread justifies exposing our soldiers to danger unless there is an overriding threat to our own security. In the case of Iraq, it was almost universally believed prior to the invasion that such a threat existed: not just the CIA but the Mossad, MI6, and every other allied intelligence agency agreed that Saddam had WMD. Heck, even his own generals believed it—Saddam out-bluffed himself. 

That’s why there was so much support in this country for the initial invasion—more support, it is worth recalling, than there was for the Gulf War precipitated by Saddam’s occupation of Kuwait. I feel no shame in being part of the 75 percent of Americans who believed at the beginning that this was a war worth waging. I am equally satisfied to have been part of the minority (roughly 40 percent of those surveyed) who continued to support the war even as it was going badly in the years from 2003 to 2007.

Read More

The tenth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War has occasioned a lot of interesting and anguished appraisals. For those of us who supported the decision to invade, all such occasions present a chance for reflection on what went wrong—and right—and whether our backing for the war effort was misbegotten. Most of those who initially supported the decision to go to war—including our current secretaries of state and defense—long ago disowned their early hawkishness. For my part, I have resisted the urge to “repent,” as critics of the war effort would have it.

I should make clear that, unlike some supporters of the war effort, I would not have backed the invasion if I had known what we now know—that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. There were, to be sure, secondary reasons to act, in particular the desire to implant a democracy in the middle of the Middle East. But, while I am a firm believer in democracy promotion, I don’t believe that its spread justifies exposing our soldiers to danger unless there is an overriding threat to our own security. In the case of Iraq, it was almost universally believed prior to the invasion that such a threat existed: not just the CIA but the Mossad, MI6, and every other allied intelligence agency agreed that Saddam had WMD. Heck, even his own generals believed it—Saddam out-bluffed himself. 

That’s why there was so much support in this country for the initial invasion—more support, it is worth recalling, than there was for the Gulf War precipitated by Saddam’s occupation of Kuwait. I feel no shame in being part of the 75 percent of Americans who believed at the beginning that this was a war worth waging. I am equally satisfied to have been part of the minority (roughly 40 percent of those surveyed) who continued to support the war even as it was going badly in the years from 2003 to 2007.

While I can understand why so many jumped off the bandwagon when it started to roll into a ditch, I believe this was fundamentally a short-sighted decision designed to assuage the conscience of erstwhile war-supporters at the cost of doing even greater damage to American interests. Just because we made lots of mistakes in the early going in Iraq doesn’t mean we could have simply left while the country was collapsing into civil war. The result would have looked like Syria today, only the U.S. would have been directly responsible for unleashing all that mayhem. That would have been an immoral and costly mistake.

Having started a war, we had an obligation to see it through to a satisfactory conclusion. Just because the war turned out to be a lot harder and bloodier than anyone could have imagined at the outset doesn’t mean we could have simply abandoned it—any more than we could have abandoned the Civil War when the Union armies did not win a quick victory at First Bull Run or abandoned the Second World War after the setbacks of Pearl Harbor and Kasserine Pass. 

Of course, you may retort, it is easy for me to say that—I wasn’t one of the soldiers on the frontlines at risk of death and dismemberment. That’s true, although, unlike many war opponents, I did visit Iraq regularly to see conditions for myself. Admittedly I came as a (relatively) coddled visitor—not as a frontline grunt. But at least it did give me a chance to ask soldiers for their own views of the war. And while some wondered what it was all about, the majority of military personnel I spoke to were against immediate withdrawal because they knew the chaos that would result.  

The real proof of military attitudes lay in the fact that, although the army had trouble recruiting during the worst years of the war (which also happened to be boom years back home), retention remained strong, especially in frontline combat units exposed to the most risk. U.S. troops are volunteers; they can vote with their feet if they no longer want to serve; and while some were there involuntarily because of “stop-loss” orders, most remained ready to fight, even if they were fighting primarily for their buddies and their unit rather than for some grand conception of Iraqi democracy.

Was their sacrifice worthwhile? From today’s vantage point, unfortunately, the answer looks increasingly to be “no”—but it did not need to turn out that way. The “surge” of 2007-2008 reduced violence by 90 percent and set Iraq on track to become a functional democracy. Alas, President Obama did not show much commitment to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement that would have kept American forces there past 2011. The result is that U.S. influence in Iraq has plummeted while Iranian influence has soared. Left to his own devices, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is acting in increasingly sectarian fashion that is alienating the Sunnis and allowing al-Qaeda in Iraq—virtually defeated by 2009—to spring back to life. In short, we have managed to squander many of the gains that U.S. troops fought so hard to achieve during the long, bloody years of war.

But all is not lost yet. Thanks to its oil revenues, Iraq has a robust economy with some of the highest growth rates in the world. Nor is it entirely lost to the West, as Maliki’s willingness to have the CIA train his counter-terrorism forces indicates. There is still a chance, however scant, that Iraq will meet the fondest hopes of invasion supporters who wanted to establish a new democracy. It is just not as big of a chance as it was a couple of years ago.

Read Less

Multilateralism and the Arms Trade Treaty

The negotiation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which I am observing at the U.N., offers a wonderful environment in which to observe the various species of hypocrisy. But like any zoo, you pretty well know what’s in the cage. Iran will be smoothly menacing, Syria will spit venom, and every developing nation will demand “implementation assistance,” i.e. more foreign aid. In the U.N., the dangers and the silliness are somewhat mitigated by their predictability.

Not so in the press, as David Bosco illustrated. Writing in the “Multilaterialist” blog for Foreign Policy, Bosco offers what he appears to regard as a novel argument about the ATT. His thesis goes like this: Britain is very much in favor of the ATT. It is also in favor of providing military support to the Syrian rebels. But the ATT would purportedly impose strict human rights conditions on arms transfers, and since the rebels have been accused of human rights violations, aiding them would breach the ATT. Thus, Bosco triumphantly concludes, the ATT needs an independent review process to prevent Britain from aiding the rebels.

In the four years I have been following the ATT, this is the single most morally and practically confused piece I have read on this subject. It may well be true that, as Michael Rubin argued earlier this month, that it is unwise to arm the Syrian rebels because they are increasingly dominated by Islamist radicals. And you don’t even have to cite human rights concerns under the ATT to make the legal case for arming the rebels look doubtful at best. As I have pointed out in a paper on the ATT for the Heritage Foundation, the treaty will oblige all nations party to it to avoid circumventing the import control systems of other UN member states–and Syria is a UN member state.

Read More

The negotiation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which I am observing at the U.N., offers a wonderful environment in which to observe the various species of hypocrisy. But like any zoo, you pretty well know what’s in the cage. Iran will be smoothly menacing, Syria will spit venom, and every developing nation will demand “implementation assistance,” i.e. more foreign aid. In the U.N., the dangers and the silliness are somewhat mitigated by their predictability.

Not so in the press, as David Bosco illustrated. Writing in the “Multilaterialist” blog for Foreign Policy, Bosco offers what he appears to regard as a novel argument about the ATT. His thesis goes like this: Britain is very much in favor of the ATT. It is also in favor of providing military support to the Syrian rebels. But the ATT would purportedly impose strict human rights conditions on arms transfers, and since the rebels have been accused of human rights violations, aiding them would breach the ATT. Thus, Bosco triumphantly concludes, the ATT needs an independent review process to prevent Britain from aiding the rebels.

In the four years I have been following the ATT, this is the single most morally and practically confused piece I have read on this subject. It may well be true that, as Michael Rubin argued earlier this month, that it is unwise to arm the Syrian rebels because they are increasingly dominated by Islamist radicals. And you don’t even have to cite human rights concerns under the ATT to make the legal case for arming the rebels look doubtful at best. As I have pointed out in a paper on the ATT for the Heritage Foundation, the treaty will oblige all nations party to it to avoid circumventing the import control systems of other UN member states–and Syria is a UN member state.

But any sort of supranational review process run through the UN would be guaranteed to alienate the U.S., every other major power, and indeed most of the UN’s member states (even though it would certainly be biased in favor of the non-democratic majority). The mere fact that it is now being put forward as a supposedly serious suggestion–and this is not the first time that a treaty proponent has had a bright idea of this sort–illustrates one of the most dangerous things about the ATT: when it doesn’t work, its advocates are just going to escalate their demands. Ideas that are now regarded as laughable, ridiculous, and not to be contemplated–as this one is–will in a few years be a core demand of the NGOs, and in a decade creeping their way onto the U.N. agenda.

More than that, though, it should be obvious that Iran is not going to pay the slightest attention to any prohibitions on arming the Assad regime (or, indeed, of arming any group of terrorists or any despot who serves Iran’s interests), and that every rebellion against a murderous dictatorship will always be accused (spuriously or not) of human rights violations. So when I read Bosco’s piece, I could not help but think of John Stuart Mill’s A Few Words on Non-Intervention (1859), in which Mill wrote the following devastating assessment of those who advocate for non-intervention in all cases, in a world where dictators definitely do intervene to protect their clients and friends:

The doctrine of non-intervention, to be a legitimate principle of morality, must be accepted by all governments. The despots must consent to be bound by it as well as the free States. Unless they do, the profession of it by free countries comes but to this miserable issue, that the wrong side may help the wrong, but the right must not help the right.

And that is exactly where Bosco, and others who argue with him, end up: in a multilaterialism that Mill regarded as miserably one-sided, which is incompatible with any support for those who are in fact fighting for their freedom against a tyranny, and which Orwell stigmatized in 1942 as “objectively pro-Fascist.”

Read Less

GOP Leadership Seeks Its Own Rebranding

As the Republican Party rolls out its rebranding efforts today, the RNC’s “Growth and Opportunity Project” is getting the most press and the most attention. Flying slightly under the radar, however, is a piece of news related to the party’s rebranding efforts. Politico reports that a McLaughlin poll commissioned by the YG Network–an outgrowth of the “Young Guns” of the House GOP–is warning Republicans that the party’s focus on debt and deficits is missing the mark with voters.

I wrote about this subject last week, noting that the right’s focus on balancing the budget was crowding out the rest of its economic message and that it would ultimately prove a distraction from a more effective–and marketable–policy approach. Politico is reporting that the House GOP is getting similar feedback from its survey:

Read More

As the Republican Party rolls out its rebranding efforts today, the RNC’s “Growth and Opportunity Project” is getting the most press and the most attention. Flying slightly under the radar, however, is a piece of news related to the party’s rebranding efforts. Politico reports that a McLaughlin poll commissioned by the YG Network–an outgrowth of the “Young Guns” of the House GOP–is warning Republicans that the party’s focus on debt and deficits is missing the mark with voters.

I wrote about this subject last week, noting that the right’s focus on balancing the budget was crowding out the rest of its economic message and that it would ultimately prove a distraction from a more effective–and marketable–policy approach. Politico is reporting that the House GOP is getting similar feedback from its survey:

The YG Network polling, conducted by the GOP firm McLaughlin & Associates, found that 38 percent of Americans name the “economy and jobs” as the issue of greatest importance to them. Twenty percent named “deficit and debt” as their top concern, and 16 percent pointed to health care….

The polling questions related to entitlements are just as bracing. Voters are willing to consider some changes to the Medicare system – raising the eligibility age to 67 and means-testing benefits – but less than half are enthusiastic about changing the system immediately in order to balance the budget over a decade.

Asked to choose one government program they would be willing to cut, only 14 percent of respondents named Social Security or Medicare. Just over three quarters – 76 percent – picked military spending or other, unspecified “welfare programs.”

It remains the case that cutting debt is a worthy goal and finds support among the voters. But it is simply not enough of an agenda for them. Americans have a full range of concerns tied to the current economic challenges they face, and it’s not at all clear Republicans have really been listening. This doesn’t mean conservatives in Congress have to pander by offering free goodies or more government programs. But they have to be able to offer a range of solutions.

More important than the results of the survey, however, is where it came from. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is the highest ranking “young gun” and generally seen as a conservative force in the House, pulling Speaker John Boehner to the right on legislation. But what often gets missed is that Cantor has been trying to rebrand himself as being closer to the center than he is currently thought to be:

John Murray, who heads the YG Network, confirmed that the poll was “specifically designed to challenge the assumption that spending cuts as a central theme is sufficient.”

It’s not that spending restraint is a bad issue for conservatives, according to Murray; it’s just not enough, on its own, to drive middle-class support for a center-right policy vision.

“It doesn’t feel aspirational and it doesn’t feel like a message of the future,” said Murray, who suggested conservatives need an agenda “broad enough so [Americans] feel like it impacts them in a real way.” …

“You can see where you can have a very solid center-right platform,” he said.

The “young guns” include not just Cantor but Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy as well. And it’s clear they believe the efforts to label conservatives as unconcerned about the poor and middle class are working. They seem almost to be conceding the point by talking about switching to a “center-right” agenda. As Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee last year, Ryan was visibly troubled by this on the campaign trail. He gave speeches about strengthening civil society and the need for a social safety net that encompasses more than federal welfare or entitlement programs.

What is meaningful about the McLaughlin poll, then, is that Cantor’s office wanted a survey that would justify his own desire to move away from an all-debt-all-the-time message, fully aware that he was losing the attention of the American people. And if the poll was structured to tell Cantor basically what he wanted to hear, then the results are perhaps even more significant, because a look at the results shows that what Cantor wanted to hear was more about education, energy policy, and even comprehensive immigration reform.

Quite apart from the self-conscious use of the term “center-right,” these are also issues the GOP should want to address. The GOP would almost certainly gain from taking the immigration issue off the table (though immigration reform is the right thing to do anyway). And the lack of discussion on the right about education is mindboggling. Conservatives are winning the argument on school choice and opportunity, yet find themselves mostly talking about teacher contracts. And high-profile Democratic politicians have been caught suppressing scientific studies showing the safety of economy-boosting and job-creating domestic energy production at a time of high unemployment, putting the issue of energy on a silver platter for conservatives.

The RNC reboot is getting all the attention today, but if this story is to be believed, the shift in the House GOP leadership may be of greater consequence.

Read Less

Candidates, Not Message or Tactics, Will Determine 2016 Outcome

Republican National Committee Chair Reince Preibus deserves kudos from his party for the exhaustive report produced by his staff about what the party needs to do to recover from its defeat last November. The “Growth and Opportunity Project” is must reading for Republicans who continue to grouse about the party’s problems amid recriminations about Mitt Romney’s loss. It contains valuable insights that ought to be heeded by conservatives about how to win elections in the future. Its sections on messaging, fundraising, voter registration, technology, turnout efforts, outreach to neglected sections of the electorate like Hispanics and youth voters and candidate selection all reflect both an honest assessment of what went wrong and what needs be done in the future to ensure the GOP returns to majority status. Other suggestions like limiting presidential candidate debates during the primaries, streamlining the nominating process and moving up the date of the national convention are also smart.

It’s not clear yet whether ornery conservatives who resent the idea of a party rebranding will now start calling Preibus a RINO for suggesting some things have to change if a Republican is going to win the White House in the foreseeable future. To the extent that they believe–as some speakers at CPAC seemed to suggest–all the GOP needs to do is to ignore the problems and simply be more faithful to conservative ideology, they are part of the problem rather than the solution. As Our Pete Wehner and Michael Gerson wrote in their seminal article on the future of the Republicans in the March issue of COMMENTARY (which was quoted in the RNC report), serious thought must be given to rethinking the way the party approaches elections and some issues without abandoning its principles.

But the debate about this necessary report should not overlook one salient fact. No matter how smart the Republicans get in the next four years, they won’t win the presidency back until they nominate a better candidate than their opponents. That may seem to be such an obvious conclusion that it doesn’t merit discussion, let alone debate. But even as Republicans are rightly urged to heed the conclusions of the RNC report, it is still worth remembering.

Read More

Republican National Committee Chair Reince Preibus deserves kudos from his party for the exhaustive report produced by his staff about what the party needs to do to recover from its defeat last November. The “Growth and Opportunity Project” is must reading for Republicans who continue to grouse about the party’s problems amid recriminations about Mitt Romney’s loss. It contains valuable insights that ought to be heeded by conservatives about how to win elections in the future. Its sections on messaging, fundraising, voter registration, technology, turnout efforts, outreach to neglected sections of the electorate like Hispanics and youth voters and candidate selection all reflect both an honest assessment of what went wrong and what needs be done in the future to ensure the GOP returns to majority status. Other suggestions like limiting presidential candidate debates during the primaries, streamlining the nominating process and moving up the date of the national convention are also smart.

It’s not clear yet whether ornery conservatives who resent the idea of a party rebranding will now start calling Preibus a RINO for suggesting some things have to change if a Republican is going to win the White House in the foreseeable future. To the extent that they believe–as some speakers at CPAC seemed to suggest–all the GOP needs to do is to ignore the problems and simply be more faithful to conservative ideology, they are part of the problem rather than the solution. As Our Pete Wehner and Michael Gerson wrote in their seminal article on the future of the Republicans in the March issue of COMMENTARY (which was quoted in the RNC report), serious thought must be given to rethinking the way the party approaches elections and some issues without abandoning its principles.

But the debate about this necessary report should not overlook one salient fact. No matter how smart the Republicans get in the next four years, they won’t win the presidency back until they nominate a better candidate than their opponents. That may seem to be such an obvious conclusion that it doesn’t merit discussion, let alone debate. But even as Republicans are rightly urged to heed the conclusions of the RNC report, it is still worth remembering.

It’s easy and fun to spin out counter-factual scenarios and to imagine different results. Yet even if the Republicans had not bored everyone silly with nearly two dozen candidate debates that drove the discussion to the margins rather than the center; if their convention wasn’t overshadowed by hurricane coverage; if their get-out-the-vote effort not been a fiasco; and their candidate hadn’t alienated Hispanics or failed to connect with young voters, Mitt Romney was not going to defeat Barack Obama.

This was more the function of Obama’s strengths as a historic president with a built-in advantage with the media than it was of Romney’s weaknesses. Romney was, after all, the most electable of all the Republican contenders and it’s doubtful that any of his competitors would have done as well as he did.

But not even a Republican Party that was technologically up-to-date and appealing to Hispanics rather than turning them off with threats of “self-deportation” would have been strong enough to overcome Obama, especially with a candidate like Romney who lacked the ability to connect with ordinary Americans (a trait that was only exacerbated by his fatal “47 percent” gaffe).

None of this should serve as an argument in favor of ignoring the RNC report, whose conclusions should be heeded if the GOP is going to continue to compete in the future. Building the party is, however, not quite the same thing as winning a presidential election, which hinges on two specific personalities more than it does on the strengths of their parties.

Fortunately for the Republicans they now have a deep bench from which to choose a better candidate than Romney. Equally fortunate for them is the fact that Barack Obama won’t be on the ballot in 2016 and if Hillary Clinton fails to run, it will be the Democrats who will probably be fielding a less able vote getter.

However, no one can tell yet whether the GOP contenders will pan out or if some Democrat surges to the fore as Obama did in 2008. Even if the RNC achieves all of its stated goals and Republicans embrace immigration reform, it won’t matter if the next matchup is as lopsided as it was in 2012.

Read Less

Inciting Intifada: A New Low for the Times

The bias against Israel in the press, and especially the New York Times, has become so steady and predictable that it can be difficult to muster outrage. But that doesn’t mean the Times isn’t still trying to make waves. Indeed, since the paper flaunts, rather than attempts to disguise, its hostility to Israel, it can be easy to miss when the Times crosses yet another line. And the paper and its editors have done so again this weekend with its depraved magazine cover article cheerleading a new intifada against Israel.

As Jonathan wrote yesterday, the Times has chosen to greet President Obama’s trip to Israel with the magazine piece on the Palestinian settlement of Nabi Saleh and the story by Jodi Rudoren on the supposed injustice of allowing Jews to live in Jerusalem. Jonathan ably deconstructed the Rudoren piece and explained quite clearly why the author of the magazine piece, Ben Ehrenreich, who trumpets the nobility of anti-Zionism, lacks any credibility on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It can’t be argued that the Times didn’t know exactly what it was getting with Ehrenreich. And so it should be asked, instead, why the Times’s editors wanted a piece openly supportive of another intifada. After all, the article is crystal clear about its intentions. One key part comes late in the piece, when Ehrenreich writes:

Read More

The bias against Israel in the press, and especially the New York Times, has become so steady and predictable that it can be difficult to muster outrage. But that doesn’t mean the Times isn’t still trying to make waves. Indeed, since the paper flaunts, rather than attempts to disguise, its hostility to Israel, it can be easy to miss when the Times crosses yet another line. And the paper and its editors have done so again this weekend with its depraved magazine cover article cheerleading a new intifada against Israel.

As Jonathan wrote yesterday, the Times has chosen to greet President Obama’s trip to Israel with the magazine piece on the Palestinian settlement of Nabi Saleh and the story by Jodi Rudoren on the supposed injustice of allowing Jews to live in Jerusalem. Jonathan ably deconstructed the Rudoren piece and explained quite clearly why the author of the magazine piece, Ben Ehrenreich, who trumpets the nobility of anti-Zionism, lacks any credibility on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It can’t be argued that the Times didn’t know exactly what it was getting with Ehrenreich. And so it should be asked, instead, why the Times’s editors wanted a piece openly supportive of another intifada. After all, the article is crystal clear about its intentions. One key part comes late in the piece, when Ehrenreich writes:

That elite lives comfortably within the so-called “Ramallah bubble”: the bright and relatively carefree world of cafes, NGO salaries and imported goods that characterize life in the West Bank’s provisional capital. During the day, the clothing shops and fast-food franchises are filled. New high-rises are going up everywhere. “I didn’t lose my sister and my cousin and part of my life,” Bassem said, “for the sons of the ministers” to drive expensive cars.

Worse than any corruption, though, was the apparent normalcy. Settlements are visible on the neighboring hilltops, but there are no checkpoints inside Ramallah. The I.D.F. only occasionally enters the city, and usually only at night. Few Palestinians still work inside Israel, and not many can scrape a living from the fields. For the thousands of waiters, clerks, engineers, warehouse workers, mechanics and bureaucrats who spend their days in the city and return to their villages every evening, Ramallah — which has a full-time population of less than 100,000 — holds out the possibility of forgetting the occupation and pursuing a career, saving up for a car, sending the children to college.

But the checkpoints, the settlements and the soldiers are waiting just outside town, and the illusion of normalcy made Nabi Saleh’s task more difficult. If Palestinians believed they could live better by playing along, who would bother to fight?

That is an almost-perfect distillation of the choice before the Palestinians. On the one hand there is peace, prosperity, international integration, and political autonomy. On the other is armed struggle. As Ehrenreich notes, the “normal” life, the peaceful life, is “worse than any corruption.” Those are Ehrenreich’s words, and easy for him to say since he doesn’t have to stay there. But Bassem Tamimi, the subject of the story, confirms them. He says he didn’t struggle and fight and sacrifice for peace, for nice cars, for a college education for his children–for “normalcy” that is worse than any corruption.

But in fact the article pushes this line from the very beginning. The headline asks “Is This Where the Third Intifada Will Start?” Note the word “will.” There will be blood, says the Times; who will get the glory? Incitement is the only theme of the piece. Ehrenreich explains the origins of the Nabi Saleh-based protest movement, marching first in 2009. But, Ehrenreich laments, the “momentum has been hard to maintain.”

He and others like him are doing their part, though. The villagers march each Friday, “joined at times by equal numbers of journalists and Israeli and foreign activists.” It isn’t clear why journalists and activists merit separate categories here beside for the propagation of a silly illusion that perhaps assuages some of Ehrenreich’s guilt. The activists may speak words of peace, but they are, he writes, “young anarchists in black boots.” Ehrenreich notes that “a pilgrimage to Nabi Saleh has achieved a measure of cachet among young European activists, the way a stint with the Zapatistas did in Mexico in the 1990s.” It isn’t about the Palestinians; it’s never about the Palestinians. But Ehrenreich and the others make sure not to tell the Palestinians that as they shove the Tamimis into battle, stand back and take pictures, and then get on a plane and fly home.

Bassem Tamimi condemns the Oslo peace process that gave the Palestinian leadership authority but no real power, as he sees it. As a result, Bassem is paid by the Palestinian Authority to do nothing, so he can stay home and stay care of his ailing mother and still receive a paycheck. But that’s not what he wants. When talk turns to the first intifada, Ehrenreich tells us, Bassem “speaks of those years, as many Palestinians his age do, with something like nostalgia.” They miss the armed conflict. “If there is a third intifada,” Bassem tells Ehrenreich, “we want to be the ones who started it.”

Throughout the piece, Ehrenreich continually brings up the prospects of a new intifada. What are its chances? What will be the “spark”? Is the village ready? The villagers try to sell the line that they are nonviolent, but that doesn’t even convince Ehrenreich, who points out that in fact they throw grenades, Molotov cocktails, and rocks like the one that put a young child in critical condition last week. A more important point is that, as Ehrenreich notes, past intifadas have only escalated; no matter where or how they started, they quickly became more and more violent. There is no way the intifada Ehrenreich, the Times magazine, and the Palestinian villagers encourage will be nonviolent. So, again: why does the Times want an article like this? We probably don’t want to know the answer.

Read Less

Iraq Lessons Can’t Mean Paralysis on Iran

There’s been a deluge of articles and features in the media in the last week about the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War. The bulk of it has been a rehash of the old “Bush lied us into war” thesis that was convincingly debunked by Peter Feaver at Foreign Policy yesterday. Though much of what people think they know about the mistakes made by the U.S. before the invasion and after it are wrong, suffice it to say that most Americans aren’t particularly interested in debating the issue anymore. The prevailing narrative that the decision to topple Saddam Hussein was a mistake based on false intelligence and that all of America’s efforts to stabilize the country afterward were futile has become entrenched in our popular culture and the minds of most Americans, and it’s not likely anything can change that.

But the focus of American foreign policy is no longer whether Iraq was the wrong war or Afghanistan was the right one. With even President Obama acknowledging last week that Iran is probably within a year of a nuclear weapon, the question is whether the nation’s Iraq hangover will prevent it from taking action on a threat that can’t be honestly represented as the product of cooked U.S. intelligence or a neoconservative plot. As they continue to stall Western diplomats and ignore President Obama’s threats, Iran’s leaders are counting on America’s Iraq hangover to prevent Washington from ever taking action to forestall their nuclear ambitions.

Whether that calculation is correct will depend on whether the president means what he says about stopping Iran and all options being on the table—promises that he will repeat this week when he visits Israel. But as we get closer to the administration’s moment of truth on Iran, it’s vital to point out that the analogies between this dilemma and the Iraq conflict are specious and should be ignored by the president.

Read More

There’s been a deluge of articles and features in the media in the last week about the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War. The bulk of it has been a rehash of the old “Bush lied us into war” thesis that was convincingly debunked by Peter Feaver at Foreign Policy yesterday. Though much of what people think they know about the mistakes made by the U.S. before the invasion and after it are wrong, suffice it to say that most Americans aren’t particularly interested in debating the issue anymore. The prevailing narrative that the decision to topple Saddam Hussein was a mistake based on false intelligence and that all of America’s efforts to stabilize the country afterward were futile has become entrenched in our popular culture and the minds of most Americans, and it’s not likely anything can change that.

But the focus of American foreign policy is no longer whether Iraq was the wrong war or Afghanistan was the right one. With even President Obama acknowledging last week that Iran is probably within a year of a nuclear weapon, the question is whether the nation’s Iraq hangover will prevent it from taking action on a threat that can’t be honestly represented as the product of cooked U.S. intelligence or a neoconservative plot. As they continue to stall Western diplomats and ignore President Obama’s threats, Iran’s leaders are counting on America’s Iraq hangover to prevent Washington from ever taking action to forestall their nuclear ambitions.

Whether that calculation is correct will depend on whether the president means what he says about stopping Iran and all options being on the table—promises that he will repeat this week when he visits Israel. But as we get closer to the administration’s moment of truth on Iran, it’s vital to point out that the analogies between this dilemma and the Iraq conflict are specious and should be ignored by the president.

The faulty intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction continues to mar the legacy of a George W. Bush presidency that deserves far more credit than it has gotten for keeping the country safe after 9/11 and for taking down evil governments in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it has made U.S. intelligence and the foreign policy establishment even more gun shy about asserting the truth about deadly threats to American security.

Saddam Hussein deceived the world into thinking he was still actively developing nuclear and biological weapons. But that mistake cannot inform the debate about Iran. Whereas the evidence about Iraq was fragmentary at best, the Iranian nuclear program is an established fact and not the figment of anyone’s imagination or fears. The Iranians are quite up-front about the enormous effort they have put into developing this project. The existence of their facilities has been photographed and documented. The presence of centrifuges spinning away refining uranium to the point where it can be used in a bomb is also an established fact.

For a time the reluctance of the intelligence community to face up to the facts about Iran served to deter a strong U.S. stand on the issue. The National Intelligence Estimate of 2007 on the subject claimed Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program. But subsequent investigations by the International Atomic Energy Agency have thoroughly debunked that claim and even the Obama administration, which spent most of its first years in office acting as if they had all the time in the world to deal with the problem, now has adopted a sense of urgency about the nature of the threat.

So while opponents of the use of force against Iran will raise the specter of the blunders committed in Iraq to bolster their arguments in favor of containing or even ignoring a nuclear Iran, the analogies fall flat.

The only question about Iran is whether to believe their assertions that their intention is to use these facilities to produce energy or to conduct scientific or medical research, rather than to build bombs. And since only Tehran’s most egregious apologists buy the idea that an oil producing country needs nuclear power or that they have any sincere interest in science or medicine, the lessons of the intelligence failures prior to Iraq don’t really apply.

The notion that U.S. action would mean another land war in the Middle East is also a false argument. Regime change in Tehran is a desirable goal and the throngs that demonstrated in Tehran during the summer of 2009 about a stolen presidential election before being brutally suppressed bear witness to the tyrannical nature of the Islamist government. But the U.S. objective in any putative strike on the country is far more limited than the ambitious goals of the invasion of Iraq. All the U.S. needs to do is to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities. That will not be easy (though it is something that U.S. forces are better suited to accomplish than Israel’s) and it will not be without cost or the possibility of retaliation via terror or attacks on U.S. allies. But it will not require a land invasion of Iran or its occupation.

There’s no doubt Americans are war weary. President Obama’s decision to bail on both Iraq and Afghanistan have been widely popular and embraced even by many Republicans, who either buy into Rand Paul’s neo-isolationism or are just echoing the nation’s collective combat fatigue. But none of this should inform the American decision to take action on Iran. Even if one doesn’t take Tehran’s threats against Israel and the West seriously, a nuclear Iran cannot be safely contained. Nor can the U.S. blithely contemplate a Middle East in which Hezbollah, Hamas or even the faltering regime of Bashar Assad in Syria is given a nuclear umbrella.

It is still possible to hope that sanctions and diplomacy will work to force the ayatollahs to back down. But the odds of that happening are slim. Barring a decision to accept a North Korea-like compromise that will leave Iran a back door to a bomb, force will have to be considered. There will be many who will wave the bloody shirt from Iraq in an effort to persuade the president to renege on his promise to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But that argument will ring false. Invading Iraq may have been a mistake. But not taking out Iran’s nuclear facilities could be just as, if not more, dangerous.

Read Less

Conservatives and Collapsing Trust in Government

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, only 26 percent of those surveyed say they can trust government always or most of the time, while 73 percent say they can trust the government only some of the time or never. “Majorities across all partisan and demographic groups express little or no trust in government,” according to the study.

It’s clear that the Obama years, rather than deepening public confidence in government, has had the opposite effect. A president who has almost limitless faith in government is having a corrosive effect on its reputation. To some of us this is not an irony but an inevitability.

In this environment, conservatives can offer several arguments, the most obvious of which is this: Right now the federal government is doing far more than it should, doing very little of it well, and doing outright harm in far too many circumstances.

Read More

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, only 26 percent of those surveyed say they can trust government always or most of the time, while 73 percent say they can trust the government only some of the time or never. “Majorities across all partisan and demographic groups express little or no trust in government,” according to the study.

It’s clear that the Obama years, rather than deepening public confidence in government, has had the opposite effect. A president who has almost limitless faith in government is having a corrosive effect on its reputation. To some of us this is not an irony but an inevitability.

In this environment, conservatives can offer several arguments, the most obvious of which is this: Right now the federal government is doing far more than it should, doing very little of it well, and doing outright harm in far too many circumstances.

Beyond that, conservative lawmakers could respond not by saying they’ll dismantle government, which is neither realistic nor wise. Rather, they could present themselves as those best equipped to re-limit, reform and modernize government–including our tax code, entitlement and immigration systems, regulatory regime, and schools. Many of these programs were designed decades ago, when circumstances were profoundly different, and they are badly out of date and out of touch. One example: our current immigration policy, passed into law the same year (1965) the Beatles met Elvis and The Sound of Music was the biggest grossing film in America, created a bias toward so-called family reunification. Today we need to alter our approach by tightening family reunification and substantially increasing visas for high-skilled workers.

I’d add two other points. The first is that conservatives in the 1990s experienced remarkable success against three seemingly intractable problems–welfare dependency, drug use, and violent crime–not by scaling back government’s involvement but by implementing better public policies at both the federal and local level. The massive drop in crime, for example, was attributable to several factors, including higher incarceration rates, an increase in police per capita, improvements in policing techniques, and addressing urban disorder and vandalism, which have a magnetic attraction to criminals.

The second point is that conservatives should recognize that the hemorrhage of trust in government is harmful to a liberal democracy (as well as something of a self-indictment). Skepticism toward government is one thing; outright hostility is quite another. It is hard for citizens to fully love their country if they have utter disdain for its government. Indeed, sustained contempt for America’s government often leads one to feel ashamed of America.

The 19th century economist Alfred Marshall described government as “the most precious of human institutions, and no care can be too great to be spent on enabling it to do its work in the best way.” Thinking of government as a precious human institution doesn’t come naturally to many modern-day conservatives. It’s easy to understand why, given the damage government is doing on a daily basis. Still, there’s an important truth in Marshall’s insight. And there’s a world of difference between showering dismissive contempt on government versus restoring respect for government by re-limiting and reforming it.

It seems to me that conservatives should, for philosophical and practical reasons, make the case that they will give Americans a government, and therefore a country, they can once again take great pride in.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.