Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 2013

NYT to GOP: Remember Monica Lewinsky

On Wednesday I mentioned the possibility that President Obama will be treated as though his name is on the ballot in 2016 even though he won’t be running–much the way Obama himself ran against George W. Bush in 2008. But today the New York Times tackles a much more immediate version of this story: whether and how Obama will be used against Democrats in next year’s mid-term congressional elections.

The conceit of the Times story is that Republicans are tempted to tie Obama to the various scandals of his administration currently in the news, and then tie Democrats to Obama, but they face a major obstacle: voters give Obama high marks for personal likability. It is another article warning Republicans against “overreaching,” with an added–and, frankly, bizarre–twist. The Times claims Republicans risk re-enacting the fallout from their predecessors’ conduct during Bill Clinton’s scandal-plagued year in his second term.

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On Wednesday I mentioned the possibility that President Obama will be treated as though his name is on the ballot in 2016 even though he won’t be running–much the way Obama himself ran against George W. Bush in 2008. But today the New York Times tackles a much more immediate version of this story: whether and how Obama will be used against Democrats in next year’s mid-term congressional elections.

The conceit of the Times story is that Republicans are tempted to tie Obama to the various scandals of his administration currently in the news, and then tie Democrats to Obama, but they face a major obstacle: voters give Obama high marks for personal likability. It is another article warning Republicans against “overreaching,” with an added–and, frankly, bizarre–twist. The Times claims Republicans risk re-enacting the fallout from their predecessors’ conduct during Bill Clinton’s scandal-plagued year in his second term.

There are plenty of sensible suggestions in the article, but the overarching comparison doesn’t hold up. Although many Americans believed Clinton had acted unethically with Monica Lewinsky and illegally by misleading the grand jury, many of those same Americans also agreed when Clinton said that he had been asked “questions no American citizen would ever want to answer.” He would later be impeached for it.

Additionally, plenty of Clinton’s supporters argued the personal scandal had nothing to do with Clinton’s presidential responsibilities. That cannot be persuasively argued in the case of President Obama’s scandals, which are on the issues and which are completely intertwined with his approach to governing and how his decisions in the White House impact Americans. The tragedy in Benghazi is testament to the dangers of the president’s “lead from behind” foreign policy and refusal to be frank about the threats facing America.

The IRS scandal was about a powerful enforcement arm of the government targeting those who disagreed with Obama and blatantly trampling on the constitutional rights of his political opponents. As McClatchy reports, the IRS abuse may have been much more comprehensive than first reported:

A group of anti-abortion activists in Iowa had to promise the Internal Revenue Service it wouldn’t picket in front of Planned Parenthood.

Catherine Engelbrecht’s family and business in Texas were audited by the government after her voting-rights group sought tax-exempt status from the IRS.

Retired military veteran Mark Drabik of Nebraska became active in and donated to conservative causes, then found the IRS challenging his church donations.

While the developing scandal over the targeting of conservatives by the tax agency has largely focused to date on its scrutiny of groups with words such as “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, these examples suggest the government was looking at a broader array of conservative groups and perhaps individuals. Their collective experiences at a minimum could spread skepticism about the fairness of a powerful agency that should be above reproach and at worst could point to a secret political vendetta within the government against conservatives.

The emerging stories from real people raise questions about whether the IRS scrutiny extended beyond applicants for tax-exempt status and whether individuals who donated to these tax-exempt organizations or to conservative causes also were targeted.

McClatchy’s use of the term “real people” here is awkward to say the least, but the point the reporters are making is that the IRS was initially believed to have targeted organizations but in fact may have been targeting individuals as well, expressly for their political beliefs. The IRS appears to have gone looking for possible conservatives to hassle and silence.

Obama’s health-care reform sets out to expand the size and scope of both the federal government generally and the IRS specifically. Whether Obama personally ordered the IRS to target conservatives and pro-Israel groups beyond simply egging on suspicion of them publicly and repeatedly doesn’t change the way his approach to governing enables this behavior. Clinton’s dalliances may have had limited or no relevance to Americans’ own lives, but the opposite is true of the Obama administration’s IRS scandal.

Conservatives don’t have to accuse Obama of unethical behavior to make this point. The president’s vision for the country, and that of his party, is to increase the power and reach of the IRS into the health care of Americans. If Democrats think that constitutes a personal attack, then they object to any criticism of their leader. And they shouldn’t expect congressional candidates around the country to play along.

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Holder Should Resign, but Obama Is the Problem

A prediction: there will be an effort by Team Obama to rally around Eric Holder, but before too long he will resign as attorney general. He’ll do so because he’s doing considerable, even durable, damage to the president–and the president, well-versed in the Chicago Way, will jettison Holder if he determines it’s in his political interest.

It is.

The attorney general is being criticized, and being urged to resign, from those on both the left and the right. The House of Representative is considering looking into whether Mr. Holder committed perjury (he clearly misled Congress on his role in the James Rosen matter). And in the background of all this is the fact that Holder is a man of unusual incompetence.

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A prediction: there will be an effort by Team Obama to rally around Eric Holder, but before too long he will resign as attorney general. He’ll do so because he’s doing considerable, even durable, damage to the president–and the president, well-versed in the Chicago Way, will jettison Holder if he determines it’s in his political interest.

It is.

The attorney general is being criticized, and being urged to resign, from those on both the left and the right. The House of Representative is considering looking into whether Mr. Holder committed perjury (he clearly misled Congress on his role in the James Rosen matter). And in the background of all this is the fact that Holder is a man of unusual incompetence.

Set aside Holder’s record of pushing to reopen an investigation of CIA interrogators who had already been cleared by career prosecutors and wanting to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed in a civilian court in Manhattan, both of which were busts (for more, see here); Mr. Holder can’t even organize a mea culpa with the press without turning it into a controversy.

Now, I’d prefer for Mr. Holder to resign, if only because I’d prefer that a man who misled Congress regarding his role in secretly monitoring the private e-mails of Fox’s James Rosen and for his role in the Fast and Furious operation (for which he was held in contempt of Congress)–a man who is self-righteous as well inept–not be attorney general of the United States. But whether Holder stays or goes is, if not exactly beside the point, not the central issue involved here.

What matters is that we have an administration that had contempt for the rule of law and believes it is right and proper to use the power of the federal government to target, intimidate, and silence its political opponents. That has been happening since nearly the beginning of the Obama Era. Eric Holder is not the generator of this culture of intimidation and corruption; he is merely one of its executioners. The real problem with the Obama administration begins at the top. Getting rid of Eric Holder may be a good idea. But it won’t solve the deeper pathologies of this presidency.

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Is Benghazi Taking Its Toll on Hillary Clinton’s Poll Numbers?

In discussing Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential prospects, media commentators have made a common and constant error, which I tried to point out repeatedly. They noted Clinton’s high approval ratings as secretary of state, and suggested those numbers buoyed her chances in 2016. But her approval numbers at State were unimpressive: her predecessors had those numbers too, and some had approval ratings even higher than Clinton. Secretary of state is viewed as an apolitical position and the face of the American government abroad, and as such earns inflated poll numbers.

I pointed out that those numbers not only don’t portend future political success (anyone remember President Colin Powell, who left office with a 77 percent approval rating at State?), but they would also come down to earth once Clinton left Foggy Bottom and began to re-enter the political arena. And so they have. Quinnipiac’s new survey finds Clinton’s favorability rating dropping to 52 percent (from Quinnipiac’s previous finding of 61). Her once-daunting lead over hypothetical challengers has narrowed to a surmountable 8 percent over Rand Paul and Jeb Bush.

And all that comes before Clinton actually begins campaigning–that is, if she decides to run. It would be difficult to beat her in a Democratic primary, but even the typical primary campaign process would expose some of her flaws as a candidate, as Keith Koffler writes in Politico. Clinton is hardworking, determined, sharp, and well connected, but that hasn’t stopped her from being, in Koffler’s determination, “the most overrated politician of her generation.” Koffler gets it exactly right when he notes that after her failure to produce results in health care, “The rest of Clinton’s record reads like an excruciatingly long CV that seeks to overwhelm with content but out of which nothing particularly impressive pops out.”

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In discussing Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential prospects, media commentators have made a common and constant error, which I tried to point out repeatedly. They noted Clinton’s high approval ratings as secretary of state, and suggested those numbers buoyed her chances in 2016. But her approval numbers at State were unimpressive: her predecessors had those numbers too, and some had approval ratings even higher than Clinton. Secretary of state is viewed as an apolitical position and the face of the American government abroad, and as such earns inflated poll numbers.

I pointed out that those numbers not only don’t portend future political success (anyone remember President Colin Powell, who left office with a 77 percent approval rating at State?), but they would also come down to earth once Clinton left Foggy Bottom and began to re-enter the political arena. And so they have. Quinnipiac’s new survey finds Clinton’s favorability rating dropping to 52 percent (from Quinnipiac’s previous finding of 61). Her once-daunting lead over hypothetical challengers has narrowed to a surmountable 8 percent over Rand Paul and Jeb Bush.

And all that comes before Clinton actually begins campaigning–that is, if she decides to run. It would be difficult to beat her in a Democratic primary, but even the typical primary campaign process would expose some of her flaws as a candidate, as Keith Koffler writes in Politico. Clinton is hardworking, determined, sharp, and well connected, but that hasn’t stopped her from being, in Koffler’s determination, “the most overrated politician of her generation.” Koffler gets it exactly right when he notes that after her failure to produce results in health care, “The rest of Clinton’s record reads like an excruciatingly long CV that seeks to overwhelm with content but out of which nothing particularly impressive pops out.”

That might not have been such a weakness before Benghazi. Genuinely revolutionary foreign-policy accomplishments emanating from the State Department are the exception, not the rule. The fact that the dispute over Kashmir remains unresolved is not a failure of each American secretary of state, and the same goes for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other such issues. If anything, a bit of modesty from America’s diplomats would do them some good. But Benghazi changed the calculus on her tenure because Clinton’s massive failure of leadership, organization, attention, and accountability in the death of an American ambassador and three others tips the scales in the wrong direction for Clinton.

A few weeks ago, the New York Times conducted one of its “Room for Debate” roundtables on Clinton and her legacy at State. No one was able to drum up a genuine accomplishment, because there weren’t any. She was praised for traveling a lot, which seems damning with faint praise at best. She was lauded as a voice for women’s rights, which is important but which yielded no tangible results. No doubt she will use this experience in the campaign by name-dropping world leaders and other impressive names from her Rolodex. But sounding like a living, breathing Tom Friedman column isn’t going to win over many of those who don’t already support her.

It isn’t just Benghazi, either; there isn’t much for Clinton to brag about in the developments of the Arab Spring or her administration’s silent acceptance of an overtly anti-Semitic new Islamist tyrant in Egypt. Her mishandling of the Russian “reset” is a topic she’ll probably want to ignore as well. Which leaves the mostly superficial “pivot” to Asia. Yet “Vote for Hillary: She’s been to Laos” strikes me as an underwhelming campaign theme.

None of this may matter in a Democratic primary, however, since her party seems desperate to hand her the nomination and because the Democrats have for a decade run solely on identity politics and stayed miles away from serious policy discussions. And whatever her flaws, Clinton would be a far better nominee than her would-be rivals like Martin O’Malley and Joe Biden–though Biden’s chances would depend much on how the Obama presidency ends.

But for a general election, it should matter a great deal. Clinton is no longer an up-and-coming party insurgent. She is a veteran near the end of her political career, and ought to have some accomplishments–or any, in fact. She will have to make the argument that if they elect her, voters can expect more than just speeches and photo-ops. That might be a tougher sell than her fans realize.

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Can Mitt Be Our Favorite Ex-Non-President?

There is no better job in the world than being an ex-president. We build museums and libraries to honor them like ancient Egyptians built pyramids for dead pharaohs and they live on the government tab for the rest of their lives, free to play golf as well as doing good works that burnish their reputations and make occasional side trips into partisan activity to help friends and allies.

There is no worse job than being a failed presidential candidate. While your opponent gets to hear “Hail to the Chief” every time he walks into a room, November’s loser must slink off into obscurity, generally despised even more by members of his own party (who will never forgive their candidate for losing) than even their opponents.

But judging from the latest reports about Mitt Romney’s plans, he sounds as if he’s trying to combine the two jobs. As the Wall Street Journal writes today, Romney’s plans to “rejoin the national dialogue” seem to be based on the idea that he still has the potential to do his country and his party some good. While Republicans desperately need to turn the page from his failed 2012 campaign and put new faces in front of the voters, Romney may be on to something.

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There is no better job in the world than being an ex-president. We build museums and libraries to honor them like ancient Egyptians built pyramids for dead pharaohs and they live on the government tab for the rest of their lives, free to play golf as well as doing good works that burnish their reputations and make occasional side trips into partisan activity to help friends and allies.

There is no worse job than being a failed presidential candidate. While your opponent gets to hear “Hail to the Chief” every time he walks into a room, November’s loser must slink off into obscurity, generally despised even more by members of his own party (who will never forgive their candidate for losing) than even their opponents.

But judging from the latest reports about Mitt Romney’s plans, he sounds as if he’s trying to combine the two jobs. As the Wall Street Journal writes today, Romney’s plans to “rejoin the national dialogue” seem to be based on the idea that he still has the potential to do his country and his party some good. While Republicans desperately need to turn the page from his failed 2012 campaign and put new faces in front of the voters, Romney may be on to something.

According to the Journal:

As a first step, the former Republican presidential nominee plans to welcome 200 friends and supporters to a three-day summit next week that he will host at a Utah mountain resort. He is considering writing a book and a series of opinion pieces, and has plans to campaign for 2014 candidates.

The “Experts and Enthusiasts” summit is apparently more than just a GOP gabfest. It will center on philanthropic and business issues as well as political ones and even includes an appearance from former top Democratic strategist David Axelrod. Which makes it sound like something that we’d expect to be run by a popular ex-president like Bill Clinton, who has helped build his brand by combining advocacy with charity work in his foundation.

The point is Romney doesn’t want to go away and hide, though that is precisely what a lot of conservative Republicans may want him to do. In his characteristic technocratic can-do style, he still wants to help brainstorm solutions to the country’s problems while also keeping his hand in politics and doing good works.

There are good reasons for him to worry about becoming too prominent, and according to the Journal he’s sensitive to those concerns. Romney is a favorite whipping boy of the left and liberal media outlets and there’s little doubt they will take every opportunity to pour on the abuse. The deep bench of GOP presidential prospects for 2016 also provides a variety of views that makes it unnecessary for Romney to become too visible. The party needs to avoid doing anything that makes it seem as if a rejected politician like Romney is its de facto leader. His image as a plutocrat that was reinforced by a year’s worth of Democratic attack ads, gaffes as well as his views on issues like immigration are not the sort of things that can help Republicans win in 2014 or 2016.

But there is plenty of room for Romney to play a role as an elder statesman who is no longer out for his own personal advancement while still seeking to help America. That’s the sort of perch usually reserved for ex-presidents, not mere failed politicians who either return to the political fray in some other guise (like John Kerry or John McCain) or just fade from view other than the occasional television commercial like Bob Dole.

Republicans need a completely different style of candidate in 2016. One more in touch with common concerns—something the remote Romney never could master—as well as someone who isn’t filthy rich would be a good place to start. But there is a place in our national discussion for a figure that can be both a political voice and a wealthy do-gooder with the stature to bring out attention to issues when he deems it vital to do so.

Mitt Romney might have made a good president, but he was a terrible politician, so we’ll never get to know just how well he might have done if he had been given the chance to sit in the Oval Office. But he can skip the four- or eight-year waiting period and jump right into the business of being an ex-president, using his prestige, wealth and ability to speak out to do as much to aid needy causes or highlight issues as the two Bushes or Clinton can while also avoiding the vitriol and ill will toward Israel that has ruined Jimmy Carter’s ex-presidency.

If Mitt sticks with it, he may turn out to be our best and most beloved ex-non-president in history. While it’s not as good as being president, it’s nothing to snicker at either.

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Confusing Cause and Effect in Pakistan

In this New York Times op-ed and in a book he has written, Akbar Ahmed, a former Pakistani official now teaching at American University in Washington, tries mightily hard to blame U.S. drone strikes for the growing radicalization in Pakistan’s tribal areas. He thereby confuses cause and effect.

He notes correctly that tribal authority has weakened in the frontier regions of Pakistan. The same thing has happened in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Yemen, Somalia, and other lands where violent Salafist organizations such the Taliban, al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and al-Shabaab have tried to substitute their own form of militant rule in favor of the traditional structures that have governed tribal life.

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In this New York Times op-ed and in a book he has written, Akbar Ahmed, a former Pakistani official now teaching at American University in Washington, tries mightily hard to blame U.S. drone strikes for the growing radicalization in Pakistan’s tribal areas. He thereby confuses cause and effect.

He notes correctly that tribal authority has weakened in the frontier regions of Pakistan. The same thing has happened in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Yemen, Somalia, and other lands where violent Salafist organizations such the Taliban, al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and al-Shabaab have tried to substitute their own form of militant rule in favor of the traditional structures that have governed tribal life.

But in the case of Pakistan, Ahmed chooses to place the blame not where it belongs–on a corrupt and ineffectual Pakistani state that can’t govern its own territory and on a violent movement called the Pakistani Taliban which has been taking advantage of state weakness–but rather on America’s program of drone strikes. He does so by clever juxtaposition of timelines, which implies causality where the evidence for it is actually tenuous.

He writes that “over the past few decades,” the pillars of tribal society in western Pakistan

have weakened. And in 2004, with the Pakistani army’s unprecedented assault and American drones’ targeting suspected supporters of Al Qaeda in Waziristan, the pillars of authority began to crumble.

In the vacuum that followed, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or Pakistani Taliban, emerged. Its first targets were tribal authorities. Approximately 400 elders have been killed in Waziristan alone, a near-decapitation of traditional society.

Note how this conflates two separate developments–carefully targeted U.S. drone strikes and the Pakistani Army’s ham-handed and brutal assault into South Waziristan–as if they were one and the same. Ahmed makes no attempt to disentangle the threads here; rather he prefers to blame all of the weakness of tribal society and all of the brutality of the Pakistani Taliban on U.S. drone strikes. That’s a lot of weight to assign to an estimated 356 drone strikes since 2004–or roughly 40 a year, less than one a week–all of which are far more carefully targeted than the Pakistani Army’s blunderbuss use of artillery and air strikes against villages.

That rate actually exaggerates the pace of strikes since the average is driven up by an especially high number of strikes in 2010 (122); the number was much smaller before under President Bush and has fallen since. The reason why the number of drone strikes has increased is precisely because of the growing sway that militants have established in the tribal areas; the notion that the strikes themselves have caused the growth in militant activity remains, at most, an unproven supposition.

I have never believed that drone strikes can be the end all and be all of counterterrorism policy. I do believe that we need a more effective state-building strategy in Pakistan and that simply eliminating individual terrorist leaders will not make the threat go away.

But at the same time I don’t for a minute believe–as Ahmed and other critics of the strikes implicitly suggest–that if we simply stopped the drone strikes, then the tribal elders would re-establish their authority and the threat from the Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups would recede. Quite the opposite: The drone strikes are one of the few effective measures keeping these extremist groups in check. Stop the strikes and the threat to the Pakistani state will grow. And that, in turn, means that the threat to the U.S. will grow because we can’t allow Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal to fall into the wrong heads.

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Holder’s Divide and Conquer Strategy

Attorney General Eric Holder’s press charm offensive began earlier this week with an interview in the Daily Beast in which he expressed regrets for the Justice Department’s spying on journalists. It escalated yesterday with the first of a series of meetings with publication executives and bureau chiefs where he claimed the DOJ would rethink its guidelines for dealing with journalists who have been leaked government information.

But while these efforts may seem like futile gestures that won’t get Holder off the hook, they are actually a clever tactic. Those who attend these meetings need to be conscious that what is going on is not so much an attempt to mend fences with the media but an effort to divide and conquer the press. The attorney general and the president know that if they can tap into the liberal mainstream media’s inherent sympathy for Obama and antipathy for his critics, they can divert attention from the current spate of scandals. The refusal of many liberal pundits–who had joined in the universal condemnation of the government’s spying on the Associated Press and Fox News reporter James Rosen–to connect the dots when it comes to Holder’s lies about the issue shows that there is good reason to believe the administration can succeed in avoiding being held accountable for their actions. Getting journalists to make nice with Holder rather than hold his feet to the fire is the first step toward making this a reality.

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Attorney General Eric Holder’s press charm offensive began earlier this week with an interview in the Daily Beast in which he expressed regrets for the Justice Department’s spying on journalists. It escalated yesterday with the first of a series of meetings with publication executives and bureau chiefs where he claimed the DOJ would rethink its guidelines for dealing with journalists who have been leaked government information.

But while these efforts may seem like futile gestures that won’t get Holder off the hook, they are actually a clever tactic. Those who attend these meetings need to be conscious that what is going on is not so much an attempt to mend fences with the media but an effort to divide and conquer the press. The attorney general and the president know that if they can tap into the liberal mainstream media’s inherent sympathy for Obama and antipathy for his critics, they can divert attention from the current spate of scandals. The refusal of many liberal pundits–who had joined in the universal condemnation of the government’s spying on the Associated Press and Fox News reporter James Rosen–to connect the dots when it comes to Holder’s lies about the issue shows that there is good reason to believe the administration can succeed in avoiding being held accountable for their actions. Getting journalists to make nice with Holder rather than hold his feet to the fire is the first step toward making this a reality.

Though most of those invited to the meetings begged off because holding an off-the-record talk with the person at the center of this scandal was inappropriate, those who did show up dished most of the details. As Politico, whose editor-in-chief John Harris was there, reported, the talk centered on non-controversial suggestions about seeking a better “balance” between protecting national security and respecting the First Amendment rights of journalists.

That’s all well and good but what the press needs to be doing with General Holder is not holding his hand and pledging mutual coexistence. He needs to be pressed on why he lied to Congress on May 15 about knowing nothing about potential prosecutions of journalists when he had already signed off on documents accusing Rosen of being a “co-conspirator” in a crime for doing his job. Holder and his boss President Obama also need to explain how it is the same person that was responsible for these outrageous attacks on press freedoms can possibly be trusted to stop such abuses in the future.

The point is we don’t really need a redrawing of guidelines about national security and the press. What we need is an attorney general who respects the Constitution.

No one disputes that the government has a duty to protect genuine secrets or that the press should not publish or broadcast material that would endanger lives or compromise America’s ability to defend itself. But despite the pious proclamations on these subjects emanating from those seeking to rationalize the indefensible treatment of the AP and Rosen, what’s happened the past four and half years can’t really be excused in that manner.

Holder’s jihad against the press isn’t really about leaks. Leaking is, after all, something the Obama White House has turned into an art form. The series of flattering stories about Obama’s prowess as a national security leader that wound up on the front page of the Sunday New York Times last year prior to his re-election were all anonymously sourced from administration figures. But we have yet to hear of anyone in the White House or their little friends in the media getting the James Rosen treatment.

This administration has prosecuted more people for speaking about government secrets than all of its predecessors combined. What Holder has done is to create an atmosphere of intimidation aimed at preventing people from talking about government operations with the press, not making it harder for officials to puff the president even if, as with the case with last year’s stories in the Times, they were based on highly secret national security matters.

What is needed at DOJ is a change of leadership, not better communication skills. Anyone in the media, especially those who troop to Holder’s office to make nice with him this week, needs to keep that in mind. Liberal journalists who protect this president and his attorney general rather than defending the principles of a free press are falling prey to a divide and conquer strategy aimed at isolating the president’s critics, not a reevaluation of a flawed policy.

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Why Did Apple Hire Lisa Jackson?

After the 2008 presidential election, when Barack Obama began putting his team together, he sent the clearest message on what to expect from his administration with one nomination in particular. No, it wasn’t Hillary Clinton at State and the rather silly “team of rivals” message he tried to send by hiring fellow Democrats. It wasn’t his decision to keep Robert Gates as defense secretary, since it was still unclear what national security policy Gates would be presiding over.

The clearest message he sent was in choosing Lisa Jackson to lead the Environmental Protection Agency–a foreshadowing of suffocating regulation and government control, unaccountable bureaucracy, and a defiant secrecy that would make a mockery of the rule of law and standards of transparency. Jackson–who has just been hired by Apple as an environmental advisor–may have shamelessly pursued unconstitutional power grabs and earned a congressional investigation for using an alias email address in her dog’s name while at EPA, but none of that would have been a surprise to those in Jackson’s previous jurisdiction: New Jersey.

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After the 2008 presidential election, when Barack Obama began putting his team together, he sent the clearest message on what to expect from his administration with one nomination in particular. No, it wasn’t Hillary Clinton at State and the rather silly “team of rivals” message he tried to send by hiring fellow Democrats. It wasn’t his decision to keep Robert Gates as defense secretary, since it was still unclear what national security policy Gates would be presiding over.

The clearest message he sent was in choosing Lisa Jackson to lead the Environmental Protection Agency–a foreshadowing of suffocating regulation and government control, unaccountable bureaucracy, and a defiant secrecy that would make a mockery of the rule of law and standards of transparency. Jackson–who has just been hired by Apple as an environmental advisor–may have shamelessly pursued unconstitutional power grabs and earned a congressional investigation for using an alias email address in her dog’s name while at EPA, but none of that would have been a surprise to those in Jackson’s previous jurisdiction: New Jersey.

Before coming back to the federal EPA, Jackson ran the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection during the Corzine administration (before becoming Corzine’s chief of staff). Though Jackson seems to have steered clear of the corruption around her, the state’s environmental apparatus has played an important role in Jersey’s corrupt state Democratic machine, which went something like this: miles of red tape were backed up by the use of obscure and blatantly irrelevant laws to make building a structure–home or commercial–in many cases close to impossible. That enabled politicians and bureaucrats at various state agencies to go looking for bribes and kickbacks to cut through that tape or to change zoning laws to increase favored property values.

The regulations won bureaucrats high marks from environmental lobbies, but they didn’t actually make anybody safer because they were bypassed by greasing the wheels. When such corruption schemes were busted, as one high-profile one was in 2009, suddenly thousands of residents all over the state had no idea if their buildings were safe, because the building inspectors were also bribed. And then on top of that, the corrupt politicians routinely win the endorsements of the environmental groups that push for the rules that don’t get enforced, encourage corruption, and reduce everyone’s safety.

Welcome to New Jersey.

None of this is to suggest that Jackson has ever done anything illegal, only that her penchant for regulation doesn’t accomplish its goals but does enable corruption and makes life more difficult for honest folks. A good example of the latter is this Star-Ledger column from 2008 by Paul Mulshine, explaining what happened to Hunterdon County homeowner Nick Scamuffa. He spent $12,000 and got all the necessary permits to install a wood-burning heating system at his home. Soon county officials egged on by Jackson’s DEP showed up unannounced and demanded he shut the heating system down without explaining to him what laws he’d crossed.

He wasn’t the only one, and soon hundreds of residents with such heating systems–all perfectly legal–were demanding answers. These homeowners soon found out that they were being hassled under a 1977 law regulating commercial wood-burning heating systems that “specifically excludes one- and two-family dwellings.” But the NJ DEP decided that since the wood-burning furnaces sit outside the main structure, they could pretend they were commercial and harass Scamuffa’s 80-year-old mother (and hundreds like her) into deactivating her home heating system.

When Mulshine got an air-quality official at the DEP on the phone to explain, he said there are newer furnaces that burn cleaner than the old ones. Mulshine scoffed:

That’s great. And if the DEP wants to push for a law requiring that new technology in new construction, that would be a valid issue for the Legislature to consider. But this heavy-handed enforcement occurred on Jackson’s watch at DEP, which she headed until this month. And if this is typical of the approach she plans to take as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, then everybody in America is going to get a chance to see what it’s like to live in New Jersey.

I don’t think they’re going to like it quite as much as we do.

That’s about right. The Wall Street Journal’s Joseph Rago sums up Jackson’s tenure this way in a reaction to the news of her new job at Apple: “At the EPA Ms. Jackson proved to be an especially abusive and willful regulator, even for the Obama administration, and her epic rule-making bender continues to drag on economic growth. But nothing about her career suggests any expertise in technology; prior to her EPA posting Ms. Jackson was a political functionary in New Jersey and New York.”

So why would Apple hire her? Rago suggests that Apple executives, who are being dragged in front of congressional committees for obeying tax laws and making money, might think bringing Jackson on board would insulate them from the political attacks. At the Washington Examiner, Tim Carney asks: “Will Jackson’s job be about chasing subsidies for the renewable investments Apple is already making?” Whatever the reason, if her past experience is any indication, even with the best of intentions it will be counterproductive and costly.

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Excusing Eric Holder’s Deceptions

The way the press has united to protest the Justice Department’s attempts to spy on journalists has been remarkable. Though a few outlier contrarians are claiming the Associated Press or James Rosen of Fox News were in the wrong and deserved to be snooped on, from right to left the press has largely joined together to protest this unprecedented encroachment on the constitutional rights of journalists. Even most liberal members of the media understand that the attempt to brand Rosen’s activity as a violation of the 1917 Espionage Act is nothing less than an attempt to criminalize reporting about the government.

However, there are clear limits to the sense of outrage about government’s war on journalists. What we have witnessed in the last month is what Jonah Goldberg wittily referred to as an Arab Spring in the media as some Obama apologists have allowed the leak prosecutions, as well as questions about Benghazi and the IRS, to cause them to do some unusually critical reporting about the administration. But when it comes to connecting the dots between their justified outrage and Attorney General Eric Holder’s conduct, the old partisan divide appears to be reappearing. Though Holder appears to have either perjured himself when he appeared before a House committee on May 15 when testifying about prosecutions of journalists or else lied on the documents he sent to federal judges to get them to authorize the snooping on James Rosen, many in the press have reverted to form and are giving him a pass.

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The way the press has united to protest the Justice Department’s attempts to spy on journalists has been remarkable. Though a few outlier contrarians are claiming the Associated Press or James Rosen of Fox News were in the wrong and deserved to be snooped on, from right to left the press has largely joined together to protest this unprecedented encroachment on the constitutional rights of journalists. Even most liberal members of the media understand that the attempt to brand Rosen’s activity as a violation of the 1917 Espionage Act is nothing less than an attempt to criminalize reporting about the government.

However, there are clear limits to the sense of outrage about government’s war on journalists. What we have witnessed in the last month is what Jonah Goldberg wittily referred to as an Arab Spring in the media as some Obama apologists have allowed the leak prosecutions, as well as questions about Benghazi and the IRS, to cause them to do some unusually critical reporting about the administration. But when it comes to connecting the dots between their justified outrage and Attorney General Eric Holder’s conduct, the old partisan divide appears to be reappearing. Though Holder appears to have either perjured himself when he appeared before a House committee on May 15 when testifying about prosecutions of journalists or else lied on the documents he sent to federal judges to get them to authorize the snooping on James Rosen, many in the press have reverted to form and are giving him a pass.

That’s the only way to explain the decision of many liberal pundits to accept the notion that Holder wasn’t lying to the House. To refresh our memories, here is what Holder said on May 15 when specifically questioned by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) about the possibility of journalists being prosecuted under the Espionage Act for reporting information that the government labeled as classified:

With regard to the potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material, that is not something that I’ve ever been involved in, heard of or would think would be a wise policy. In fact, my view is quite the opposite.

Yet we know that early in Obama’s first term, Holder had personally signed off on requests for judicial permission to read James Rosen’s emails and seize his phone records by labeling him as a “co-conspirator” and someone who “aided and abetted” a crime by seeking to get a source to give him information.

Holder’s liberal defenders as well as the White House are parsing his statement as being about actual ongoing attempts to prosecute and since Rosen hadn’t actually been charged, what the attorney general said could be interpreted as being literally true. But Holder referred to “potential prosecution of the press,” not cases already on the dock. That means that the most generous way to evaluate his statement is to say that it was an attempt to deceive. In plain English, he perjured himself and there’s little doubt that’s exactly what liberal pundits would be saying if any of George W. Bush’s attorney generals had spoken in this manner to Congress.

An alternative interpretation is that Holder’s statement was true because the DOJ’s request for the right to spy on Rosen was where the lying occurred. It is entirely possible that the document with Holder’s signature that spoke of Rosen as a “co-conspirator” in a crime was blatantly disingenuous. While this administration has prosecuted more leakers (though not any of the anonymous White House officials who gave friendly media outlets flattering information about President Obama and his policies) than all of its predecessors combined, perhaps Holder wasn’t so stupid as to think he could actually get away with criminalizing journalism. Instead, he just brazenly lied to the judges in order to con them into authorizing federal snooping.

A third theory gets Holder off the hook for lying to Congress or the judiciary but is an indictment of his leadership. That one holds that Holder didn’t know what was being done in his name (even on documents he signed) and therefore simply came up blank when asked about the Espionage Act. This fits in with the “we’re not criminal, just incompetent” excuse the administration has been using on the IRS and Benghazi. But it also treats Holder as a cipher rather than the experienced and powerful figure that he actually is.

But no matter which of these three options you want to pick, Holder has clearly exhibited behavior that is not only not up to the high standards the president supposedly holds for his government but is a disgrace by any standard. It’s time for liberals to stop trying to excuse his mendacious behavior. Holder may still have the affection of his friend in the Oval Office, but its time for his defenders in the press to cut him loose.

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Jake Tapper, Journalist

I’ve had some critical things to say about the elite media, particularly for their soft–and sometimes outright worshipful–coverage of Barack Obama. But there are impressive exceptions, one of whom is Jake Tapper of CNN.

Anyone who followed his work at ABC News, where he was its White House correspondent, and now at CNN, where he hosts his own show, cannot help but be impressed by his professional integrity. Mr. Tapper is tough-minded but not mean-spirited toward those in power, regardless of their party affiliation. And he actually uses his platform to inform viewers.

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I’ve had some critical things to say about the elite media, particularly for their soft–and sometimes outright worshipful–coverage of Barack Obama. But there are impressive exceptions, one of whom is Jake Tapper of CNN.

Anyone who followed his work at ABC News, where he was its White House correspondent, and now at CNN, where he hosts his own show, cannot help but be impressed by his professional integrity. Mr. Tapper is tough-minded but not mean-spirited toward those in power, regardless of their party affiliation. And he actually uses his platform to inform viewers.

One example is the timeline of the Department of Justice’s investigation of Fox News’s James Rosen that Tapper discussed with Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker, which you can watch here. It’s not earth shattering and it’s not advocacy journalism. It is instead straightforward, factual, and helpful, putting an important story in context. Which these days means it’s rare and welcome.

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Assad’s Foolish Boast

Bashar Assad has long had a reputation for not being the smartest strongman in the Middle East; in fact he would never have become Syria’s president if his older brother Bassel, who was being groomed to succeed their father Hafez, hadn’t died in a car accident in 1994. It is a safe bet that his ruthless father would not have allowed protests against him to spin out of control, as Bashar has done. One reckons that old man Assad also would have been bright enough to avoid doing what Bashar just did—which is to say, bragging in a television interview that Russia has delivered the advanced S-300 air-defense system to him.

The time to brag about the S-300 is once it goes operational; bragging about it before it’s actually online is simply an invitation to Israel to launch a preemptive strike, something that will almost surely happen whenever Israeli intelligence assesses that there is a good opportunity and pressing need to do so. As it happens, Israeli government sources are suggesting that Russia has only delivered some components and that the entire system is far from being ready to use. No doubt Assad hopes to rally Syrian and Lebanese supporters by building up an image of strength. But what he is doing is like waving a red cape at a bull—and if Israel takes out his vaunted S-300 system, as it should, it will undermine rather than enhance his aura of authority.

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Bashar Assad has long had a reputation for not being the smartest strongman in the Middle East; in fact he would never have become Syria’s president if his older brother Bassel, who was being groomed to succeed their father Hafez, hadn’t died in a car accident in 1994. It is a safe bet that his ruthless father would not have allowed protests against him to spin out of control, as Bashar has done. One reckons that old man Assad also would have been bright enough to avoid doing what Bashar just did—which is to say, bragging in a television interview that Russia has delivered the advanced S-300 air-defense system to him.

The time to brag about the S-300 is once it goes operational; bragging about it before it’s actually online is simply an invitation to Israel to launch a preemptive strike, something that will almost surely happen whenever Israeli intelligence assesses that there is a good opportunity and pressing need to do so. As it happens, Israeli government sources are suggesting that Russia has only delivered some components and that the entire system is far from being ready to use. No doubt Assad hopes to rally Syrian and Lebanese supporters by building up an image of strength. But what he is doing is like waving a red cape at a bull—and if Israel takes out his vaunted S-300 system, as it should, it will undermine rather than enhance his aura of authority.

But even if Assad’s boasts are premature and ill-advised, they do highlight the deeply malicious, indeed repugnant, role that Russia continues to play in Syria where it has emerged as the No. 2 foreign backer—behind Iran—of a regime that has slaughtered its own people en masse, including through the use of chemical weapons. This brutally exposes just how farcical the Obama foreign policy team is if it thinks that Vladimir Putin is going to cooperate in any way in ending the Syrian civil war. Why would Putin want to lose such a good customer for Russian arms?

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The Decline and Fall of David Cameron’s Tory Centrism

David Cameron is in trouble. His Tory party is fraying, with conservatives fleeing or threatening to flee to right-wing parties and non-conservatives distinctly unimpressed with his flailing dash to the center. He is unable to win over converts or keep his own party in line, and thus his career is fading along with his poll numbers. Last week the Washington Post reported on a Tory revolt in the House of Commons over Cameron’s stance on social issues. And today, the UK edition of GQ magazine hits newsstands and contains an interview with Cameron’s former spokesman which discusses the gains of the prime minister’s intraparty rival.

Though rumors have swirled for quite some time that Cameron was susceptible to a Tory leadership challenge from London Mayor Boris Johnson–who is not a member of the British parliament (though he served until 2008) and thus should not be nearly so close in Cameron’s rearview mirror–the idea that Johnson will replace him is now commonly discussed in terms of when, not if (though perhaps they should be discussing how). Cameron’s former flack, Andy Coulson, was asked by GQ about the Boris effect. The full interview seems to be behind a paywall, but the magazine has released snippets to non-subscribers. When asked for his take on Johnson, Coulson responded:

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David Cameron is in trouble. His Tory party is fraying, with conservatives fleeing or threatening to flee to right-wing parties and non-conservatives distinctly unimpressed with his flailing dash to the center. He is unable to win over converts or keep his own party in line, and thus his career is fading along with his poll numbers. Last week the Washington Post reported on a Tory revolt in the House of Commons over Cameron’s stance on social issues. And today, the UK edition of GQ magazine hits newsstands and contains an interview with Cameron’s former spokesman which discusses the gains of the prime minister’s intraparty rival.

Though rumors have swirled for quite some time that Cameron was susceptible to a Tory leadership challenge from London Mayor Boris Johnson–who is not a member of the British parliament (though he served until 2008) and thus should not be nearly so close in Cameron’s rearview mirror–the idea that Johnson will replace him is now commonly discussed in terms of when, not if (though perhaps they should be discussing how). Cameron’s former flack, Andy Coulson, was asked by GQ about the Boris effect. The full interview seems to be behind a paywall, but the magazine has released snippets to non-subscribers. When asked for his take on Johnson, Coulson responded:

Boris Johnson desperately wants to be prime minister and David has known that fact longer than most.  When Boris asked me to pass on the message that he was keen to stand as mayor of London, David responded, “Well, if he wins, he’ll want my job next.”  If proof were needed that our PM is a man untroubled by self doubt, it came in his next sentence, “So I think he’ll be a bloody brilliant candidate for us”…..Stabbing David, or anyone else for that matter, in the back would be distinctly off brand — just not very Boris.  He would much prefer to see David fail miserably in the election and ride in on his bike to save party and country.

Though it would likely be easy to find a seat in the Commons for Johnson, and though the premiership has evolved unofficially over time from more modest–and still unofficial, in a strict sense–beginnings, this would be a remarkable turn of events. Born in New York City with family roots scattered across Europe, Johnson is a colorful loose cannon able to appeal to working-class voters despite his classic Eton and Oxford education. That has been the right mix for Londoners, who have now twice elected him over Labour’s “Red” Ken Livingstone. Boris today has a 65 percent approval rating, with “charismatic” being the most popular one-term description of the mayor.

That poll is better for Boris than it looks. YouGov asked respondents which term applies to Johnson: charismatic; sticks to beliefs; natural leader; in touch with ordinary people; strong; decisive; good in a crisis; honest; none of these; don’t know. Almost 60 percent said charismatic, his highest among the choices. YouGov asked respondents the same question of Cameron, and the term chosen the most was: none of these, at 45 percent.

But the idea that Cameron is already a lame duck within his own party, and maybe even about to be replaced by the mayor of London, would mean Cameron has risen fast and fallen faster. How did that happen? It isn’t same-sex marriage, to be sure. Cameron’s vacillating on Britain’s membership in the European Union has been far more consequential an issue to his fellow Tories (and to the party scooping up Tory defectors, UKIP). The Washington Post story gets closer to the answer, when it gets a quote from Tory Lord David Howell:

“Old fossils like me always wondered about this great shift to the promised land of the center,” said Lord David Howell, who served in Thatcher’s conservative cabinet in the 1980s. “Is it really just a journey to a place where no one really likes you anymore?”

In Cameron’s case, the answer appears to be: yes. But it would be more accurate to say that Cameron’s popularity never really existed as prime minister in the first place, and that his steady shift to the center, on the EU and other matters, were the disease and not the cure–though Cameron confused each for its opposite.

Almost exactly one year before the May 2010 general election, Cameron’s Conservative Party polled at 43 percent, which gave them a 16 percent lead in first place. The lead fluctuated, but generally hovered around that mark until it began slipping in the fall and continued dropping into the new year. By mid-April, the lead had completely evaporated, with the Liberal Democrats posting a one-point lead and Labour only seven points behind. Cameron eventually recovered for a seven-point victory that forced a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

What happened? At the risk of oversimplifying, Cameron was beginning to waver on campaign promises months before he even won. Polls in September 2009 found majority support for a national referendum on EU membership. By early October, the Guardian was reporting that “David Cameron retreats on European referendum,” instead promising to “repatriate” some powers back to Britain in lieu of letting the people make the choice. That same article notes that a certain mayor of London publicly disagreed, saying he wanted a referendum “and a lot of people will agree with me.”

There is more to Cameron’s unpopularity than just the EU issue, but it’s indicative of his general governing style: desperately grasping for a centrist solution that will maximize support but which ends up minimizing support, in part because of poor policy ideas and in part because he gives off the impression of a politician in over his head. Once upon a time Cameron benefited from debates about whether Boris Johnson could do any better than he could. If they are now debating whether Boris could possibly do any worse, Cameron is on his way out.

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The Palestinian Excuse Machine

Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort to revive the Middle East peace process hasn’t accomplished much so far and isn’t likely to do better in the future. But it has posed an interesting challenge to the Palestinians. Given that they don’t wish to further offend the United States or disrupt the flow of Western aid that keeps the corrupt Palestinian Authority afloat, and also don’t wish to return to negotiating with Israel under virtually any circumstances, how do they justify continuing their four-and-half-year-old boycott of peace talks? Their answer to that dilemma is clear: continue to pile on the calumnies against the Jewish state and hope that it will be seen to justify their ongoing refusal to even talk with Israel.

Their reasoning for sticking to this tried and true formula for avoiding peace talks is sound. Given that both Washington and much of the Western media has always been ready to buy into their abuse of Israel and to stick to the idea that the Palestinians are innocent victims rather than the principle authors of their own misery, why shouldn’t they continue to pretend that Israeli building in Jerusalem is an obstacle to peace that prevents them from returning to the table?

But anyone who is familiar with the parameters of past peace talks that they claim to wish to build on understands that their complaints about Jews in Jerusalem or canards about ethnic cleansing are not only false but simply excuses manufactured to justify their unwillingness to play ball with Kerry.

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Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort to revive the Middle East peace process hasn’t accomplished much so far and isn’t likely to do better in the future. But it has posed an interesting challenge to the Palestinians. Given that they don’t wish to further offend the United States or disrupt the flow of Western aid that keeps the corrupt Palestinian Authority afloat, and also don’t wish to return to negotiating with Israel under virtually any circumstances, how do they justify continuing their four-and-half-year-old boycott of peace talks? Their answer to that dilemma is clear: continue to pile on the calumnies against the Jewish state and hope that it will be seen to justify their ongoing refusal to even talk with Israel.

Their reasoning for sticking to this tried and true formula for avoiding peace talks is sound. Given that both Washington and much of the Western media has always been ready to buy into their abuse of Israel and to stick to the idea that the Palestinians are innocent victims rather than the principle authors of their own misery, why shouldn’t they continue to pretend that Israeli building in Jerusalem is an obstacle to peace that prevents them from returning to the table?

But anyone who is familiar with the parameters of past peace talks that they claim to wish to build on understands that their complaints about Jews in Jerusalem or canards about ethnic cleansing are not only false but simply excuses manufactured to justify their unwillingness to play ball with Kerry.

The Palestinian complaints about Israeli building in East Jerusalem dooming peace talks are patently absurd. The plans, which consist of tenders for the construction of 300 apartments in the Ramot neighborhood and 800 in the Gilo area, would in no way affect the Palestinian position or their hopes for an independent state that might include part of the city.

Ramot and Gilo are located in parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 and thus are over the “green line” that once divided the city. But these are 40-year-old neighborhoods that are long established, not some remote hilltop settlements in parts of the West Bank that are assumed to be part of a future Palestinian state.

In every peace plan put forward by peace groups as well as the Israeli government’s offers of statehood to the Palestinians, the Jewish areas of East Jerusalem remain part of Israel. The Palestinians know that even in the most generous distribution of territory—including the one put forward by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008 that called for the abandonment of the Old City by Israel—Ramot and Gilo and other such neighborhoods are not going to be handed over to them and emptied of their Jewish inhabitants. In other words, if the Palestinian goal is truly to have a state alongside Israel that includes the Arab sections of East Jerusalem, it doesn’t matter how many Jews are in Ramot and Gilo.

But, of course, the PA isn’t really interested in a partition of Jerusalem or the 1967 lines as it is in finding a reason to avoid talking to Israel. That’s why they are forced to try to blow up the issue of Jews in East Jerusalem as a provocation that prevents them from negotiating.

To be fair to the Palestinians, they are in some ways merely following the lead of the Obama administration that has made an issue of building in Jerusalem during the president’s first term. But, fortunately, Obama and Kerry have seen sense and abandoned past attempts to get Israel to agree to a building freeze in its own capital and instead urged the Palestinians to negotiate without preconditions.

But that is something that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas knows he cannot do. Abbas fled from Olmert’s offer that would have given him virtually everything he says he wants because he knows that he could not survive after signing a deal that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn.

Despite Kerry’s naïve optimism that he can succeed where all his predecessors have failed, the intervening years have not altered Abbas’s position. With his Hamas rivals ensconced in Gaza and his own political position still precarious as he serves the ninth year of his four-year term as president, Abbas has no leeway to agree to a peace that would conclude the conflict. Palestinian politics remains mired in the rejectionism that has characterized its relationship toward Zionism since its inception. Nor is Abbas strong enough to resist the demands of the descendants of the 1948 refugees for Israel’s destruction even if he really were willing to make peace.

But faced with Kerry’s pleas for talks, all Abbas can do is to stall and pretend that Jews building in areas that the Palestinians will never get even in a division of Jerusalem is reason to avoid talking. Both Washington and the Western press shouldn’t fall for the latest version of the PA’s excuses.

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Phyllis Schlafly and the Road to GOP Ruin

In a radio interview, longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly said, “The Hispanics who come in like this are going to vote Democrat. And there is not the slightest bit of evidence that they are going to vote Republican.”

She added, “The people the Republicans should reach out to are the white votes — the white voters who didn’t vote in the last election. And there are millions of them. And I think when you have an establishment-run nomination system, they give us a series of losers, which they’ve given us with Dole, and McCain, and Romney and they give us people who don’t connect with the grassroots.”

Let’s deal with first things first: The notion that there’s “not the slightest bit of evidence” that Hispanics are going to vote Republican is quite wrong. George W. Bush won roughly 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. As for the “series of losers” the “establishment-run nomination system” produced: Perhaps Schlafly believes the path to a GOP victory in 2012 would have been paved by GOP presidential nominee Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann. If so, she’s living on another planet. Mitt Romney won the Republican nomination because he won more Republican voters in more primary states than any of his competitors did.

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In a radio interview, longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly said, “The Hispanics who come in like this are going to vote Democrat. And there is not the slightest bit of evidence that they are going to vote Republican.”

She added, “The people the Republicans should reach out to are the white votes — the white voters who didn’t vote in the last election. And there are millions of them. And I think when you have an establishment-run nomination system, they give us a series of losers, which they’ve given us with Dole, and McCain, and Romney and they give us people who don’t connect with the grassroots.”

Let’s deal with first things first: The notion that there’s “not the slightest bit of evidence” that Hispanics are going to vote Republican is quite wrong. George W. Bush won roughly 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. As for the “series of losers” the “establishment-run nomination system” produced: Perhaps Schlafly believes the path to a GOP victory in 2012 would have been paved by GOP presidential nominee Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann. If so, she’s living on another planet. Mitt Romney won the Republican nomination because he won more Republican voters in more primary states than any of his competitors did.

But Ms. Schlafly’s comments provide a good opportunity to call attention to recent remarks by Henry Olsen of the American Enterprise Institute. Among the points made by Olsen:

  • The election was clearly decided by the non-white vote for the first time in American history. Seventy-two percent of the electorate in the 2012 election was white, according to the exit poll. That bloc includes people of many different ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. But while there’s no monolithic white vote any more than there is a monolithic non-white vote, the racial differences are still stark.
  • Mitt Romney carried the white vote 59 percent to 39 percent, a 20 point lead. No candidate in American history had ever carried 59 percent of the white vote and lost the presidency. Governor Romney lost, by four points. He lost by four points because he lost the non-white vote by 63 points. (Among Hispanics, Romney lost 71 percent v. 27 percent.)
  • In every election since the 1996 election, like clockwork, the share of the non-white vote has gone up as a share of the total voters by 2 percent and the share of the white vote has gone down by 2 percent, much of that stemming from Hispanic population increases.
  • In 2016, if there is not a dramatic shrinkage in the African-American vote, a Republican candidate will need to get 60 percent of the white vote, plus a record high among African-Americans, plus a record high among Asians, plus a record high among Hispanics, plus a record high among those people who don’t classify themselves in any of those categories, or are American-Indian or Hawaiian or Aleut, to win a bare 50.1 percent of the vote.

Now these data points by themselves don’t mean Republicans should support the immigration reform legislation that is being crafted in the Senate. That legislation needs to be judged on its substantive merits. It’s also true that Mitt Romney did not appeal to white working class and blue-collar voters in anything like the numbers he needed to in order to win. But of course one can do both: appeal to rising immigrant groups and white working class voters. It’s not an either/or proposition.

In addition, the data points cited by Olsen do indicate that the strategy Ms. Schlafly is recommending–which is that Republicans should give up on Hispanic voters, who will never vote for Republicans anyway, and simply reach out to white voters–is a path to permanent political minority status. Republican presidential candidates are already doing fantastically well with white voters. The problem for the GOP is that they are a shrinking percentage of the electorate (from 89 percent of the electorate in 1976 to 72 percent in 2012).

As for the Schlafly mindset, Michael Gerson and I addressed it in our recent essay in COMMENTARY, when we wrote this:

Conservative critics of such [immigration] reforms sometimes express the conviction that Hispanic voters are inherently favorable to bigger government and thus more or less permanently immune to Republican appeals. It is a view that combines an off-putting sense of ideological superiority—apparently “those people” are not persuadable—with a pessimism about the drawing power of conservative ideals. Such attitudes are the prerogative of a sectarian faction. They are not an option for a political party, which cannot afford to lose the ambition to convince.

Phyllis Schlafly has lost the ambition to convince, which is just one reason why her counsel should be ignored. 

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Weiner’s Non-Redemption Campaign

The Anthony Weiner comeback is a godsend for journalists as well as a source of worry for his rivals in the race to be the next mayor of New York. It’s not just that Weiner is a fascinating character whose ambition, ego and single-minded drive for political power makes for a compelling story. Anyone who has followed his career has to admit that he has natural political talent and the ability to make people notice and even follow him, traits that have always stood him in good stead as he rose up the political ladder. But if he is to be successful in his attempt to revive his career after the bizarre scandal and the lies that forced him to resign from Congress in 2011, shouldn’t the Weiner reboot be predicated at least in part on the idea that he is a changed man from the guy who popularized the word “sexting” and whose brazen denials and false accusations of a hoax on the part of his critics outraged the nation?

As Maggie Haberman reveals in a must-read story in Politico today, the answer to that question is no. Weiner is not entirely unrepentant in that he’s sorry he got caught and for the humiliation he caused his wife. But there’s no pretense that he has undergone any real introspection about the character traits and problems that sent him off the rails. Indeed, as he tells Haberman in an interview, he seems to think New Yorkers want him to be the exactly same obnoxious guy whose aberrant behavior made him one of the most notorious figures in our recent political history.

Weiner is within his rights to act in this way, and if a majority of New Yorkers agrees that he is still the best man to lead their city government, he’s going to wind up the next mayor. But both he and his backers are taking a huge gamble. Without any sense that he understands what drove him to bad behavior or any real commitment to change, what guarantee does anyone have that he won’t slip back to it or do something else that is just as weird, or even worse, in the future?

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The Anthony Weiner comeback is a godsend for journalists as well as a source of worry for his rivals in the race to be the next mayor of New York. It’s not just that Weiner is a fascinating character whose ambition, ego and single-minded drive for political power makes for a compelling story. Anyone who has followed his career has to admit that he has natural political talent and the ability to make people notice and even follow him, traits that have always stood him in good stead as he rose up the political ladder. But if he is to be successful in his attempt to revive his career after the bizarre scandal and the lies that forced him to resign from Congress in 2011, shouldn’t the Weiner reboot be predicated at least in part on the idea that he is a changed man from the guy who popularized the word “sexting” and whose brazen denials and false accusations of a hoax on the part of his critics outraged the nation?

As Maggie Haberman reveals in a must-read story in Politico today, the answer to that question is no. Weiner is not entirely unrepentant in that he’s sorry he got caught and for the humiliation he caused his wife. But there’s no pretense that he has undergone any real introspection about the character traits and problems that sent him off the rails. Indeed, as he tells Haberman in an interview, he seems to think New Yorkers want him to be the exactly same obnoxious guy whose aberrant behavior made him one of the most notorious figures in our recent political history.

Weiner is within his rights to act in this way, and if a majority of New Yorkers agrees that he is still the best man to lead their city government, he’s going to wind up the next mayor. But both he and his backers are taking a huge gamble. Without any sense that he understands what drove him to bad behavior or any real commitment to change, what guarantee does anyone have that he won’t slip back to it or do something else that is just as weird, or even worse, in the future?

Weiner resists being “put on the couch” by reporters who want to know what’s going on inside his head and insists that the election should be about the issues, not his personality traits. Fair enough. He claimed in his roll-out video that he “made some big mistakes and I know I let a lot of people down. But I’ve also learned some tough lessons.” But if so, what possible lessons could he have learned if he’s convinced that it’s OK to be the exactly same person who made the mistakes?

One needn’t be an advocate for the culture of therapy that pervades so much of contemporary American life to understand that when you break down, you’ve got to come to terms with what brought you to that point and caused the behavior that caused the problem. Weiner appears completely without interest in doing so and not just because he’s said that—contrary to what his aides promised when he resigned from Congress—he didn’t undergo therapy or rehab. Redemption is, as Haberman notes, always a popular theme with voters. But if Weiner’s mea culpas are this perfunctory and he thinks people want him to be the same person he was, that sounds like a formula for future trouble.

As much as Weiner wants the race to be about issues, any election to an executive post eventually comes down to personalities and trust. Despite New Yorkers liking politicians with combative styles—Rudy Giuliani and Ed Koch being just two of the most recent outstanding examples—it’s an open question as to whether they are willing to buy into the idea that Weiner’s hyper-aggressive personality is so attractive as to overwhelm concerns about what brought him down in the first place. As Politico makes clear today, Weiner thinks the answer to that question is yes.

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More on That Frequent White House Visitor

As I blogged the other day, Douglas Shulman, the commissioner of Internal Revenue, has been a frequent visitor to the White House, unlike any of his predecessors in that job.

Now the Daily Caller has been doing a little journalism. It reports this morning that Shulman visited the White House a stunning total of 157 times during the Obama administration. How does that compare with other high-ranking officials? Eric Holder, holding the far more important job of attorney general and the president’s close friend, shows up in the White House visitors’ log less than half as often as Shulman. The Daily Caller writes:

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As I blogged the other day, Douglas Shulman, the commissioner of Internal Revenue, has been a frequent visitor to the White House, unlike any of his predecessors in that job.

Now the Daily Caller has been doing a little journalism. It reports this morning that Shulman visited the White House a stunning total of 157 times during the Obama administration. How does that compare with other high-ranking officials? Eric Holder, holding the far more important job of attorney general and the president’s close friend, shows up in the White House visitors’ log less than half as often as Shulman. The Daily Caller writes:

Shulman has more recorded visits to the White House than HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (48), DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano (34), Education Secretary Arne Duncan (31), former Energy Secretary Steven Chu (22) and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates (17) combined.

To be sure, as the Daily Caller points out, some people are pre-cleared and don’t have to sign in and so may not always show up in the logs. (Perhaps, for the sake of history, not to mention journalism, that practice should end and everybody be required to sign in, with a classified log for highly sensitive visits by ambassadors, etc.)

Asked by a congressman at the recent hearings why he had visited so often, Shulman replied with a smirk that showed a contempt for Congress, if not contempt of Congress, that perhaps the Easter egg roll with his kids was one reason. But as Brit Hume tweeted regarding my original post, “Sooner or later this question will have to be answered: What was the ex-IRS chief doing at the White House all those times?”

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Michele Bachmann Is No Margaret Thatcher

Mark Steyn is someone whom I enjoy reading and listening to. He’s informed, intelligent, and has a wonderful (and sometimes wicked) sense of humor. But once in a while his analysis is, in my estimation, a bit wide of the mark. Take his comments about Michele Bachmann, who yesterday announced she will not seek reelection. In paying tribute to her, Steyn said she could have been “America’s Thatcher.”

No she couldn’t. Margaret Thatcher was a once-in-a-generation leader. She changed the trajectory of history, bending it toward liberty. She was a woman who possessed a powerful intellect. Her speeches were thoughtful and historically literate, she always did her homework, and she was a first-rate debater. Margaret Thatcher’s achievements were staggeringly impressive. Michele Bachmann, on the other hand, was a member of the House of Representatives who had some strengths but also some real weaknesses and limitations. 

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Mark Steyn is someone whom I enjoy reading and listening to. He’s informed, intelligent, and has a wonderful (and sometimes wicked) sense of humor. But once in a while his analysis is, in my estimation, a bit wide of the mark. Take his comments about Michele Bachmann, who yesterday announced she will not seek reelection. In paying tribute to her, Steyn said she could have been “America’s Thatcher.”

No she couldn’t. Margaret Thatcher was a once-in-a-generation leader. She changed the trajectory of history, bending it toward liberty. She was a woman who possessed a powerful intellect. Her speeches were thoughtful and historically literate, she always did her homework, and she was a first-rate debater. Margaret Thatcher’s achievements were staggeringly impressive. Michele Bachmann, on the other hand, was a member of the House of Representatives who had some strengths but also some real weaknesses and limitations. 

When someone we like retires we’re inclined to shower more praise on them than they deserve. I get that. But saying that Michele Bachmann could have been “America’s Thatcher” is (to be generous) hyperbole. And my guess is that Steyn himself, on reflection, would agree.

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Could Weiner Win on Education? Maybe if He Tried.

With the introduction of Anthony Weiner into the New York City mayoral race, things in the Big Apple have definitely become more interesting (and that’s not just in the form of suggestive New York Post headlines). As Jonathan mentioned last week, the race for Gracie Mansion, as far as Weiner is concerned, is dependent upon the middle class. With that in mind, Weiner came out swinging (albeit wildly) at his debate debut on an issue on the minds of many middle-class voters in New York: education.

The New York Daily News reported on Weiner’s controversy-sparking comments on education, which were directly addressed to New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo. Weiner and Cuomo had a public spat last week when it was widely reported that Cuomo told the editorial board of the the Post-Standard and Syracuse Media Group “Shame on us” if Weiner is elected mayor. By couching his comments on education within the spat with Cuomo, Weiner guaranteed that his comments would make the papers. 

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With the introduction of Anthony Weiner into the New York City mayoral race, things in the Big Apple have definitely become more interesting (and that’s not just in the form of suggestive New York Post headlines). As Jonathan mentioned last week, the race for Gracie Mansion, as far as Weiner is concerned, is dependent upon the middle class. With that in mind, Weiner came out swinging (albeit wildly) at his debate debut on an issue on the minds of many middle-class voters in New York: education.

The New York Daily News reported on Weiner’s controversy-sparking comments on education, which were directly addressed to New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo. Weiner and Cuomo had a public spat last week when it was widely reported that Cuomo told the editorial board of the the Post-Standard and Syracuse Media Group “Shame on us” if Weiner is elected mayor. By couching his comments on education within the spat with Cuomo, Weiner guaranteed that his comments would make the papers. 

During the debate Weiner took what would be considered a somewhat conservative approach to education by promising to take on local teachers’ unions in order to reward top performing teachers. Weiner blasted high-stakes testing originating in Albany but did not join his fellow Democratic candidates in criticizing Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s focus on the expansion of charter schools. Many of these education stances have support from middle-class parents who are increasingly overwhelmed by struggling schools and admissions processes that rival that of most Ivy League universities. Recently, the city’s parents have become obsessed by two scandals involving testing for students wishing to enter the coveted gifted and talented program. Access to quality and affordable education is an important issue to parents and students across the country, but for those in New York City, it is one fraught with an incredible amount of confusion, anxiety and cost.

If Weiner had come off during the debate as well-informed and passionate about the issue, it could have been a game changing debate for his young and highly mocked campaign. However, according to the New York Times roundup of the debate, Weiner came off incredibly flippant and ill-informed on a crucial issue to a constituency his campaign has hinged its success on. Late in the debate, the candidates were all asked about an influential founder of a charter-school network in the city and whether she received special treatment from city hall, as her detractors allege, and Weiner didn’t seem to have any idea who she was. There are few issues more important to middle-class voters in New York City right now than education. Weiner’s disregard for voters and their concerns doesn’t bode well for his chances. 

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A Step Closer to a Shared Burden

Those who look at Israel only through the prism of the conflict with the Palestinians have been paying more attention to Secretary of State John Kerry’s doomed attempt to restart the Middle East peace process than it deserves. But for those who understand that Palestinian intransigence doomed that effort even before it started, the real news in Israel has been going on in a negotiation between the country’s political parties, not with Fatah or Hamas. Yesterday’s decision by a Knesset committee to approve a proposal to reform the law governing the military draft could be the first step toward something that the overwhelming majority of the country truly cares about, by adopting a plan to require ultra-Orthodox men to be drafted into the army much the same as other Jewish citizens.

The effort to share the burden of service is at the core of the complaints of the majority of secular, traditional and modern Orthodox Israelis who bitterly resent a situation whereby Haredim are excused from military service and don’t even join the work force. Removing the exemption for all but a handful of men studying in religious seminaries goes a long way toward ending a situation in which one sector of the Jewish community was able to avoid the obligations of citizenship in a nation that remains subject to military threats every day of the year. That the committee approved a version of the legislation that includes potential criminal penalties for Haredim that don’t comply with the requirement to serve is also a triumph for Finance Minister Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid Party.

While the law is still a long way from final passage let alone implementation, it has the potential to not only change Israeli society but also transform its politics. If Lapid, whose new party vaulted to a surprise second-place finish in the elections held in January on the basis of a pledge to change the draft law as well as his charisma, is actually able to make his promise a reality, it could give him the ability to mount a credible challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the next time the country goes to the polls.

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Those who look at Israel only through the prism of the conflict with the Palestinians have been paying more attention to Secretary of State John Kerry’s doomed attempt to restart the Middle East peace process than it deserves. But for those who understand that Palestinian intransigence doomed that effort even before it started, the real news in Israel has been going on in a negotiation between the country’s political parties, not with Fatah or Hamas. Yesterday’s decision by a Knesset committee to approve a proposal to reform the law governing the military draft could be the first step toward something that the overwhelming majority of the country truly cares about, by adopting a plan to require ultra-Orthodox men to be drafted into the army much the same as other Jewish citizens.

The effort to share the burden of service is at the core of the complaints of the majority of secular, traditional and modern Orthodox Israelis who bitterly resent a situation whereby Haredim are excused from military service and don’t even join the work force. Removing the exemption for all but a handful of men studying in religious seminaries goes a long way toward ending a situation in which one sector of the Jewish community was able to avoid the obligations of citizenship in a nation that remains subject to military threats every day of the year. That the committee approved a version of the legislation that includes potential criminal penalties for Haredim that don’t comply with the requirement to serve is also a triumph for Finance Minister Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid Party.

While the law is still a long way from final passage let alone implementation, it has the potential to not only change Israeli society but also transform its politics. If Lapid, whose new party vaulted to a surprise second-place finish in the elections held in January on the basis of a pledge to change the draft law as well as his charisma, is actually able to make his promise a reality, it could give him the ability to mount a credible challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the next time the country goes to the polls.

Lapid’s is not the first centrist party that campaigned on a platform of draft reform to achieve success in its first try for the Knesset. But every one that came before him crashed and burned because it was compromised by taking office alongside one of the dominant parties of the left or the right and failed to make progress toward equalizing the burden of national service.

But this time may really be different.

The last election was the first ever to be held in Israel that was not fought on issues of war and peace. After 20 years of attempts to trade land for peace, the overwhelming majority of Israelis have rightly given up on the negotiations with a Palestinian leadership that has proved that it doesn’t want peace. Instead, they are concentrating on domestic concerns and the economy. Lapid, who got stuck with the short straw in coalition negotiations and wound up with the unenviable task of having to balance the budget, won’t earn any glory in making the tough decisions about the country’s finances. But if Haredim really are drafted by the time of the election, he will have done what no other Israeli politician before him has ever come close to achieving.

If so, Yesh Atid will not only not be yet another “one and done” political flash in the pan, but could become the natural party of government rather than a partner to Netanyahu’s Likud.

There could still be plenty of pitfalls for Lapid and his law before it is enforced.

The new law will face constitutional changes on the grounds that it still affords the Haredim unequal treatment, albeit in a far less unfair manner than the status quo.

Even more seriously, Haredi protests and draft resistance could test the resolve of Netanyahu to keep his promise to both Lapid and Naftali Bennett, the head of the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi Party to change the draft law. Earlier this week when Lapid had to threaten to bolt the government in order to get the committee to include sanctions against draft dodgers, Haredi leaders threatened to “fill the prisons” en masse rather than serve.

But these problems notwithstanding, Lapid has already taken a giant step toward doing what most Israelis have been begging their government to do for decades. If he can follow through, the sky is the limit for him and his party.

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Obama Goes from Lincolnian to Carteresque

The November 7, 2008 broadcast of PBS’s Charlie Rose featured a conversation with David Remnick of the New Yorker and historians Alan Brinkley and Michael Beschloss.

“The extraordinary outpouring of celebration, joy, and hope all over the world at this election is something I could never have imagined in my lifetime,” according to Professor Brinkley. “There’s a discipline to Obama that is so extraordinary,” he raved. And then he added: “I don’t think we’ve had a president since Lincoln who has the oratorical skills that Obama has. Obama has that quality that Lincoln had.”

Mr. Remnick also compared Obama’s rhetorical skills to Lincoln. The campaign also “shows him in a decision-making mold that is very encouraging.” Obama demonstrated a “receptivity to ideas outside the frame” and possesses a “worldview that allows for complexity.” He “assumes a maturity in the American public” and possesses “great audacity.” Not to believe Obama’s election will have “enormous effect” on the streets of Cairo, or Nairobi, or Jerusalem is “naive.” It continued in this vein until Remnick finally had to say, “We’ll climb out of the tank soon.” (For the record, Remnick never has.) 

I mention that discussion for several reasons. The first is that as a general matter it’s not wise to compare any person to Lincoln, particularly before they’ve even taken office, which was the case during this 2008 discussion. Second, Obama had achieved nothing in his life that deserved these types of encomiums. It didn’t matter. Journalists and historians were besotted by the Myth of Obama, not the reality. But now that we’re four years and four months into the Obama presidency, reality has set in. And let’s just say that Mr. Obama has lost some distance to Lincoln in the race for the greatest president in American history. Quite some distance, in fact.

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The November 7, 2008 broadcast of PBS’s Charlie Rose featured a conversation with David Remnick of the New Yorker and historians Alan Brinkley and Michael Beschloss.

“The extraordinary outpouring of celebration, joy, and hope all over the world at this election is something I could never have imagined in my lifetime,” according to Professor Brinkley. “There’s a discipline to Obama that is so extraordinary,” he raved. And then he added: “I don’t think we’ve had a president since Lincoln who has the oratorical skills that Obama has. Obama has that quality that Lincoln had.”

Mr. Remnick also compared Obama’s rhetorical skills to Lincoln. The campaign also “shows him in a decision-making mold that is very encouraging.” Obama demonstrated a “receptivity to ideas outside the frame” and possesses a “worldview that allows for complexity.” He “assumes a maturity in the American public” and possesses “great audacity.” Not to believe Obama’s election will have “enormous effect” on the streets of Cairo, or Nairobi, or Jerusalem is “naive.” It continued in this vein until Remnick finally had to say, “We’ll climb out of the tank soon.” (For the record, Remnick never has.) 

I mention that discussion for several reasons. The first is that as a general matter it’s not wise to compare any person to Lincoln, particularly before they’ve even taken office, which was the case during this 2008 discussion. Second, Obama had achieved nothing in his life that deserved these types of encomiums. It didn’t matter. Journalists and historians were besotted by the Myth of Obama, not the reality. But now that we’re four years and four months into the Obama presidency, reality has set in. And let’s just say that Mr. Obama has lost some distance to Lincoln in the race for the greatest president in American history. Quite some distance, in fact.

One example: In the Daily Beast, the influential Democratic political consultant Bob Shrum has written a column in which the best defense he can offer the president in the context of the IRS scandal is this:

For the White House, there is no crime here, there is no scandal, no matter how feverishly, irresponsibly, or demagogically the GOP labors to concoct one. This is not a case of Nixonian indifference to the Constitution, the law, and the president’s oath of office. But it does look like a reprise of Cartersque incompetence, increasingly so as we learn more about how the White House staff handled—or mishandled—a crisis they knew was coming… For the White House, the problem here resembles Carter, not Nixon.

This critique echoes the comments made to CBS’s Sharyl Attkisson by an Obama administration official, who told her in the context of the Benghazi scandal, “We’re portrayed by Republicans as either being lying or idiots. It’s actually closer to us being idiots.”

Before he took office, we were told time and again that Obama was a Lincolnian figure. Now that he’s been in office and demonstrated his governing skills, his strongest liberal supporters and his own staff are defending the president by insisting that we have a White House that is being run by Carteresque idiots.

Welcome to reality. 

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The Color of Anti-Semitism, Part Two

Mainstream Jewish groups are more or less united in their opposition to those who advocate the boycott of Israel. But the question of how to express that opposition is one that continues to divide them. While some rightly label those who advocate discrimination against Israel and its people as anti-Semitism, many refuse to draw the logical conclusion about those who back the BDS (boycott, divest and sanctions against Israel) movement and continue to welcome them into the community and even honor them. Another example of this bizarre disconnect comes to our attention from Lori Lowenthal Marcus who writes today in the Jewish Press that New York City’s 92nd Street Y will be hosting writer Alice Walker tomorrow night in a dialogue with Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler.

Walker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author best known for The Color Purple. But for those who follow the anti-Israel activities that are festering in the fever swamps of the American left, Walker is also known as an enthusiastic BDS backer. As I wrote here last year, Walker is so fervent in her antipathy for the Jewish state that she refused to allow The Color Purple to be translated into Hebrew. Walker said she took the action because of her sympathy for the Palestinians. But in taking this step, she wasn’t merely protesting against some Israeli policies. Instead, she was trying to treat Jews and Hebrew, the national language of the Jewish people, as beyond the pale of civilized discourse. That was as rank an act of anti-Semitism as can be imagined, but as Marcus points out, a few months later she actually signed a letter with other leftist artists seeking to bar the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra from performing in New York’s Carnegie Hall. To add to that, she publicly called on singer Alicia Keys to cancel her scheduled July concert in Israel and urged her to visit the Hamas-ruled terrorist state in Gaza instead. 

Walker has made her feelings about the rights of Jews and her desire to discriminate against them quite clear. The question is, how is it possible that a venerable Jewish institution like the 92nd Street Y would choose to welcome someone who advocates bias against Jews?

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Mainstream Jewish groups are more or less united in their opposition to those who advocate the boycott of Israel. But the question of how to express that opposition is one that continues to divide them. While some rightly label those who advocate discrimination against Israel and its people as anti-Semitism, many refuse to draw the logical conclusion about those who back the BDS (boycott, divest and sanctions against Israel) movement and continue to welcome them into the community and even honor them. Another example of this bizarre disconnect comes to our attention from Lori Lowenthal Marcus who writes today in the Jewish Press that New York City’s 92nd Street Y will be hosting writer Alice Walker tomorrow night in a dialogue with Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler.

Walker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author best known for The Color Purple. But for those who follow the anti-Israel activities that are festering in the fever swamps of the American left, Walker is also known as an enthusiastic BDS backer. As I wrote here last year, Walker is so fervent in her antipathy for the Jewish state that she refused to allow The Color Purple to be translated into Hebrew. Walker said she took the action because of her sympathy for the Palestinians. But in taking this step, she wasn’t merely protesting against some Israeli policies. Instead, she was trying to treat Jews and Hebrew, the national language of the Jewish people, as beyond the pale of civilized discourse. That was as rank an act of anti-Semitism as can be imagined, but as Marcus points out, a few months later she actually signed a letter with other leftist artists seeking to bar the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra from performing in New York’s Carnegie Hall. To add to that, she publicly called on singer Alicia Keys to cancel her scheduled July concert in Israel and urged her to visit the Hamas-ruled terrorist state in Gaza instead. 

Walker has made her feelings about the rights of Jews and her desire to discriminate against them quite clear. The question is, how is it possible that a venerable Jewish institution like the 92nd Street Y would choose to welcome someone who advocates bias against Jews?

The defenders of Walker and the Y will, no doubt, continue to try to differentiate between BDS and traditional Jew-hatred. But it bears repeating that anyone who advocates treating one people and one nation differently than others and denying them the same right to exist or self-defense that no one denies anyone else is committing an act of prejudice. The term of art for such acts when committed against Jews is anti-Semitism. To argue that anyone who wishes to prohibit Israelis from reading their work in their own language or the right to perform in public is not an anti-Semite renders the term devoid of any meaning. Walker’s actions are living, breathing illustration that the line between her open anti-Zionism and more traditional forms of Jew-hatred has been erased.

The Y, which appeals to New York’s liberal Jewish elites as well as more broad-based audiences that enjoy their lectures and concerts, is free to host anyone it wants. But by inviting Walker to grace their auditorium and by lauding her on their website as “a muse for our times; a writer with an extraordinary ability to both touch and propel the reader to action,” what are they saying? Unless the Y is hoping Walker will move her listeners to such anger at her outrageous attacks on Israel, what “action” are they talking about?

But by inviting Walker, whose opinions and actions about Israel are not exactly a secret, the Y is signaling that it and its members do not consider advocacy for the anti-Israel BDS movement to be a disqualifying factor when it comes to the people they invite to their hall. Those donors and members of the Y who have not yet lost their sense of outrage or their connection to the rest of the Jewish people need to make it clear to the group that such actions are not acceptable. Those who support or subsidize an institution that sees such a person as worthy of this honor are, whether they like it or not, complicit in the war against Israel.

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