Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 8, 2013

Hillary Hasn’t Heard the End of Benghazi

Democrats arrived at the House Oversight Committee’s hearing on the Benghazi terror attack determined to defend the reputation of the person that most believe will be their presidential candidate in 2016. Ranking member Elijah Cummings and his colleagues thundered at chair Darrel Issa and any other Republican who dared to raise questions about the way the State Department responded not only to the attack but also to questions about the aftermath, determined to cast the entire event as a partisan ambush. But the testimony of the three whistleblowers overshadowed their complaints about the necessity for the hearing or the spin being put on it by Republicans. While nothing said at the hearing was the “smoking gun” that some in the GOP suspect will eventually bring senior administration officials down because of the Libyan tragedy, enough questions were raised to keep the fires stoked on the issue for the foreseeable future.

Whether Democrats like it or not, Americans are going to be wondering about what senior diplomat Gregory Hicks told the committee about requests for military assistance on the night of the attack, the disconnect between the false story about the murders being a response to an anti-Islamic film and what he and others on the scene told Washington, and why he was told not to cooperate with the House committee. If Clinton thought she had put these issues to rest in January when she railed at senators inquiring about Benghazi asking, “What difference does it make?” who killed the Americans and why, the whistleblowers have ensured that Congress will keep pushing until they get the answers to these questions.

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Democrats arrived at the House Oversight Committee’s hearing on the Benghazi terror attack determined to defend the reputation of the person that most believe will be their presidential candidate in 2016. Ranking member Elijah Cummings and his colleagues thundered at chair Darrel Issa and any other Republican who dared to raise questions about the way the State Department responded not only to the attack but also to questions about the aftermath, determined to cast the entire event as a partisan ambush. But the testimony of the three whistleblowers overshadowed their complaints about the necessity for the hearing or the spin being put on it by Republicans. While nothing said at the hearing was the “smoking gun” that some in the GOP suspect will eventually bring senior administration officials down because of the Libyan tragedy, enough questions were raised to keep the fires stoked on the issue for the foreseeable future.

Whether Democrats like it or not, Americans are going to be wondering about what senior diplomat Gregory Hicks told the committee about requests for military assistance on the night of the attack, the disconnect between the false story about the murders being a response to an anti-Islamic film and what he and others on the scene told Washington, and why he was told not to cooperate with the House committee. If Clinton thought she had put these issues to rest in January when she railed at senators inquiring about Benghazi asking, “What difference does it make?” who killed the Americans and why, the whistleblowers have ensured that Congress will keep pushing until they get the answers to these questions.

The dramatic nature of Hicks’ testimony about the night of the attack changed what started out as a stormy proceeding as Cummings attacked Issa’s statements and motives. Hicks’s recollection of the phone going dead as Ambassador Chris Stevens told him the attack was under way made it clear that what he would say would rise above the political maelstrom. And when he spoke of his conversations with U.S. military personnel who were outraged that they weren’t being ordered to go to the rescue of the beleaguered Americans, that opened a can of worms that the administration had hoped it had definitively closed.

Just as problematic was Hicks’s telling of his shock when he heard U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice tell the country that U.S. intelligence had decided the attack was the result of film criticism run amuck. Given that he had already communicated to Washington the fact that the film wasn’t a factor in Libya and that U.S. personnel in Libya knew the assault was the work of an Islamist group connected to al-Qaeda, this makes the growing controversy about the truth behind the official administration talking points that the White House altered to downplay any connection to terror even more worrisome. As Pete Wehner noted on Monday, the emails prove that the administration knowingly misled the country about the attack in a manner that makes it impossible to believe they weren’t motivated by their desire to help President Obama win re-election.

Just as damning was Hicks’s testimony about being told by the State Department not to cooperate with the House committee and Representative Jason Chaffetz as well as how his career seems to have come to a standstill as a result of his unwillingness to toe the party line about Benghazi. When combined with other testimony raising questions about what was not done to protect or help the Americans, it’s clear that further grillings of senior officials will ensue and keep the issue alive. More than that, what we heard today will deepen the suspicion that Clinton or others very close to the top in the capital had a clear desire to lie about the attack and to make sure that no one in the know about what actually happened would speak out.

None of this may change the opinions of Democrats who have been determined to move on from Benghazi since the fateful night of 9/11/12. Nor will it deaden the enthusiasm they are feeling about the prospect of Hicks’s former boss running for president in 2016. But today’s testimony shows that the attack will be a wound that will continue to bleed in the weeks and months ahead. It may not sink Clinton, but anyone who thinks she’s heard the last of this wasn’t paying attention today.

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The U.S. Army’s Readiness Crisis

No one is seriously proposing sending large numbers of U.S. ground forces to Syria (military options are generally limited to the use of airpower and the provision of arms and training to the rebels), but it’s still dismaying to hear General Ray Odierno, the army chief of staff, warn that we will soon lose the ability to send troops even if the president wanted to. Odierno just told reporters, as quoted by Foreign Policy:

“Readiness is OK right now, but it’s degrading significantly because our training is reducing. So, the next three, four months, we probably have the capability to do it,” he said, of a Syrian incursion. “Next year, it becomes a little bit more risky.”

“If you ask me today, we have forces that can go. I think it will change over time because the longer we go cancelling training and reducing our training, the readiness levels go down.”

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No one is seriously proposing sending large numbers of U.S. ground forces to Syria (military options are generally limited to the use of airpower and the provision of arms and training to the rebels), but it’s still dismaying to hear General Ray Odierno, the army chief of staff, warn that we will soon lose the ability to send troops even if the president wanted to. Odierno just told reporters, as quoted by Foreign Policy:

“Readiness is OK right now, but it’s degrading significantly because our training is reducing. So, the next three, four months, we probably have the capability to do it,” he said, of a Syrian incursion. “Next year, it becomes a little bit more risky.”

“If you ask me today, we have forces that can go. I think it will change over time because the longer we go cancelling training and reducing our training, the readiness levels go down.”

The culprit, of course, is sequestration—the mindless cuts, amounting to some $500 billion over the next decade, which have gone into effect this year and which Congress refuses to repeal. Sequestration has already caused the cancellation of numerous training exercises and deployments which are needed to keep the armed forces fresh for the challenge of combat. The cost isn’t obvious to civilians—and it won’t be unless troops are sent unprepared into harm’s way or, more subtly, if their lack of readiness forecloses the option of sending troops when needed. Ironically, this much-publicized readiness crisis is no doubt hampering our ability to deter actual or potential foes, and thus making more likely the need to deploy troops on missions for which they are unready.

Just because sequestration is no longer front-page news doesn’t mean it’s not having an impact—it is, and that impact, as Odierno warned, will grow worse over time. If Congress waits too long to act, it may take years to restore readiness back to existing levels. Given how dangerous the world is (think just of North Korea, Pakistan, Iran, and Syria), that is time we don’t have.

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The Rubio-Heritage Foundation Sideshow

When the Heritage Foundation announced that the pathbreaking D.C. think tank had hired South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint to succeed its influential founder and president Ed Feulner, most of the political world took it as confirmation that Heritage would continue in a direction in which it was already heading. With the establishment of its activist 501(c)4 arm Heritage Action for America, the organization had been taking a much more involved role in fights over congressional legislation, and even began “scoring” legislators on their votes.

They had made it clear, as well, that they would openly challenge members of Congress on legislation they opposed before the voting actually took place. And that is how DeMint, who as a senator was instrumental in bringing Marco Rubio into the Tea Party fold, came to spend the last two days arguing with Rubio through the political press. The tiff began in earnest on Monday when Heritage (not Heritage Action) released a study purporting to show the cost of Rubio’s immigration reform proposal at $6.3 trillion. As Politico reported, conservatives struck back at Heritage. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Paul Ryan, and scholars at the Cato Institute accused Heritage of ignoring the economic benefits of immigration to the country. Yesterday, Rubio responded:

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When the Heritage Foundation announced that the pathbreaking D.C. think tank had hired South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint to succeed its influential founder and president Ed Feulner, most of the political world took it as confirmation that Heritage would continue in a direction in which it was already heading. With the establishment of its activist 501(c)4 arm Heritage Action for America, the organization had been taking a much more involved role in fights over congressional legislation, and even began “scoring” legislators on their votes.

They had made it clear, as well, that they would openly challenge members of Congress on legislation they opposed before the voting actually took place. And that is how DeMint, who as a senator was instrumental in bringing Marco Rubio into the Tea Party fold, came to spend the last two days arguing with Rubio through the political press. The tiff began in earnest on Monday when Heritage (not Heritage Action) released a study purporting to show the cost of Rubio’s immigration reform proposal at $6.3 trillion. As Politico reported, conservatives struck back at Heritage. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Paul Ryan, and scholars at the Cato Institute accused Heritage of ignoring the economic benefits of immigration to the country. Yesterday, Rubio responded:

“I have tremendous respect for [conservatives who oppose immigration reform] and for Jim DeMint,” Rubio told POLITICO Tuesday. “I agree with him on literally 96 percent of the issues, that was my score last year with Heritage. I think on this one we just have a different view on the best way to approach it.”

Rubio’s office and Heritage discussed amendments to the bill as recently as Monday, according to the Florida Republican. Rubio believes only a comprehensive approach to immigration will work, unlike conservatives in DeMint’s camp.

This morning, Heritage defended itself:

Heritage has worked with Senator Rubio on numerous issues, and we admire him. He is right: Our study is “an argument for welfare reform and entitlement reform.” He cannot pretend, however, that this already herculean task will be made easier after we have added millions of new people to a failing entitlement system. The time to fix it is now. We are ready to work with him and any man and woman of either party who realizes the urgency of our plight.

There are certainly those defending Heritage, but aside from the numbers there’s another problem with Heritage’s decision to oppose the bill on financial grounds: it almost certainly won’t matter, because the real issue is over border security. This is a point Ben Domenech has been making in the Transom, though an early version of his argument is online here. As Domenech notes, and as Byron York explained yesterday, the public is skeptical of the government’s commitment to secure the border, and that is the objection that can kill the bill:

A new survey by pollster Scott Rasmussen shows a strong public belief that currently illegal immigrants should be granted legal status only after new border security measures are in place.  The poll also shows little public faith that the federal government will actually secure the border, along with a slight decline in support for immigration reform in general.

There is good reason for this. As I’ve written in the past, border security is the “waste, fraud and abuse” of immigration promises. If the federal government wanted to secure the border and knew how to do so, they would have done so. And they certainly wouldn’t need to make it a bargaining chip in reform efforts. The fact of the matter is that the reason the controversial Arizona immigration law came about in the first place was that the federal government wasn’t securing the border, and state politicians grew tired of waiting. An unsecured border, in the age of asymmetric warfare, is an indefensible lapse in governmental responsibility.

But so is our current immigration system, which doesn’t provide the low-skilled immigration the economy needs and which turns laborers into elements of a black market, which is degrading and economically counterproductive. The country’s current immigration system, then, is an obscenely broken bureaucratic mess. But while the need for reform is clear, the skeptics of the current bill are on firm ground with regard to border security and enforcement.

The current “gang of eight” proposal sets a benchmark for border security that must be met–or else a new bureaucracy will be set up to figure out how to meet the benchmark. But the benchmark is based on knowing not only how many people are caught crossing the border but on how many people are trying to cross the border–an obviously fluid, at times subjective, and virtually improvable statistic. And bureaucracies love such statistics, because they can make them say whatever they want them to say. And a major problem with that is that bureaucracies require the perpetuation of a problem in order to continue justifying their existence–and their staffs’ often-inflated federal salaries and benefits.

The Heritage-Rubio spat over entitlement costs is essentially a sideshow, then. If Republicans are satisfied with border security provisions, they’ll support the law (though it remains to be seen if Democrats will). If not, they won’t, and the bill will almost certainly fail in the House, if not in the Senate first.

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Why Didn’t the 1967 Borders Bring Peace?

The constant refrain of Israel’s critics in the last few decades has been the need for the Jewish state to withdraw from every inch of territory it won in the Six-Day War and to return to what they erroneously refer to as the “1967 borders.” But as Israelis celebrate the 46th anniversary of the re-unification of their capital city today that was made possible by that war, it’s appropriate to ask why peace did not reign in the Middle East on June 4, 1967 prior to the beginning of the “occupation.”

There may be reasonable arguments to be made about the need for Israel and the Palestinians to live under separate sovereignty rather than the unsatisfactory status quo. But the problem with most of the discussions about the topic is the assumption that merely recreating the situation that existed before that war will bring about peace. Hard as it may be to ask news consumers to think that far back into history, it is necessary to remind those who harp on “1967” as the only possible solution that when there was not a single Jew living in the West Bank or East Jerusalem, there was no peace. Not only that, prior to that war, when the area now dubbed the “occupied territories” were in the possession of Jordan and Egypt, the focus of the Arab and Muslim world was not on the creation of a Palestinian state but on ending Jewish sovereignty over the territory of pre-1967 Israel.

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The constant refrain of Israel’s critics in the last few decades has been the need for the Jewish state to withdraw from every inch of territory it won in the Six-Day War and to return to what they erroneously refer to as the “1967 borders.” But as Israelis celebrate the 46th anniversary of the re-unification of their capital city today that was made possible by that war, it’s appropriate to ask why peace did not reign in the Middle East on June 4, 1967 prior to the beginning of the “occupation.”

There may be reasonable arguments to be made about the need for Israel and the Palestinians to live under separate sovereignty rather than the unsatisfactory status quo. But the problem with most of the discussions about the topic is the assumption that merely recreating the situation that existed before that war will bring about peace. Hard as it may be to ask news consumers to think that far back into history, it is necessary to remind those who harp on “1967” as the only possible solution that when there was not a single Jew living in the West Bank or East Jerusalem, there was no peace. Not only that, prior to that war, when the area now dubbed the “occupied territories” were in the possession of Jordan and Egypt, the focus of the Arab and Muslim world was not on the creation of a Palestinian state but on ending Jewish sovereignty over the territory of pre-1967 Israel.

The 1967 borders actually were not internationally recognized but merely the armistice lines that marked where the armies were standing when a cease-fire ended Israel’s War of Independence. In particular, those lines left the city of Jerusalem, which had a Jewish majority since the mid-19th century, divided. The Old City of Jerusalem, which fell during the fighting during a siege of the city conducted by Jordan’s Arab Legion, was off limits to Jews from 1948 to 1967. The Western Wall never heard Jewish prayer and was used as a garbage dump. The Jordanians paved a road through the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives and used some of the tombstones as construction material. A wall ran through the city much like the barrier that divided Berlin.

But those parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by the Jordanians (only the United Kingdom and Pakistan recognized their annexation of part of the city as well as the West Bank, which got that illogical name because it differentiated it from the East Bank–which is now Jordan) did not constitute a Palestinian capital. Nor was Egyptian-occupied Gaza considered part of a Palestinian state.

What those who demand a return to the 1967 lines also forget is that Israel’s liberation of the city marked the beginning of the first period in Jerusalem’s modern history that complete religious freedom and open access to all holy sites was protected.

But the situation prior to that war did bear some resemblance to what is happening today. The territories under Jordanian and Egyptian control were used as bases for Palestinians who attempted to infiltrate into pre-1967 Israel and carry out terror attacks. And it was along those borders that Arab armies massed in May 1967 while their leaders repeated threats that they would drive the Jews into the sea.

Israel survived that perilous month of waiting as the world wondered whether a second Holocaust would ensue from those Arab threats by striking first and defeating its enemies. At that moment, the Jewish state ceased to be seen as a latter-day David standing up to the Goliath of an Arab world that outnumbered its forces and became the bogeyman of the international press.

As much as that dismal pre-1967 era seems like ancient history, what those who harp on 1967 ignore is that there has been no sea change in Arab opinion about Israel since then. Even in those countries like Egypt and Jordan that have signed peace treaties with Israel, the prevailing sentiment among the populace remains one of support for their neighbor’s destruction.

Until that happens and Palestinians come to terms with the permanence of the Jewish return to the land, arguing that just forcing Israel to give up the territory it won in a war of self-defense will solve the conflict is not only illogical; it’s a demand for national suicide.

For all of contemporary Jerusalem’s problems, its re-division would immeasurably worsen the quality of life there, as well as compromise open access to holy places (the only exception to that is the Temple Mount where Jews and Christians are still forbidden from praying in order to appease the Muslim religious authorities).

As Ruthie Blum wrote in Israel Hayom, Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem didn’t start a conflict that had already existed for decades, “it was precisely the pan-Arab attempt to eliminate the ‘Zionist entity’ that sparked the three-front war in the first place. And it was Israel that liberated Jerusalem from Jordanian occupation.”

As she notes, the day Jerusalem was reunited, then-Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan issued the following statement:

This morning, the Israel Defense Forces liberated Jerusalem. We have united Jerusalem, the divided capital of Israel. We have returned to the holiest of our holy places, never to part from it again. To our Arab neighbors we extend, also at this hour — and with added emphasis at this hour — our hand in peace. And to our Christian and Muslim fellow citizens, we solemnly promise full religious freedom and rights. We did not come to Jerusalem for the sake of other peoples’ holy places, and not to interfere with the adherents of other faiths, but in order to safeguard its entirety, and to live there together with others, in unity.

Israel has kept its promise, but the Palestinians and most of their supporters have never come to terms with the reality or the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. Peace may be possible when the Palestinians change. But let us hope Jerusalem will never again be torn apart as it was in 1948 when Arab armies invaded and that the security of Israel will never be compromised or rights to the ancient homeland of the Jewish people abrogated merely in order to recreate the dangerous situation of June 4, 1967.

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Stephen Hawking Signs Up to the Academic Boycott of Israel

There was much relief when, earlier today, a spokesman for Cambridge University in England released a statement denying that Stephen Hawking, the renowned British physicist, had invoked the academic boycott of Israel as the reason for his decision to withdraw from the “Facing Tomorrow” conference, which will be hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem in June.

As it turns out, Cambridge spoke too soon. Tim Holt, the spokesman who said that Hawking had backed out for health reasons, was compelled to issue the following clarification:

“We have now received confirmation from Professor Hawking’s office that a letter was sent on Friday to the Israeli President’s office regarding his decision not to attend the Presidential Conference, based on advice from Palestinian academics that he should respect the boycott.

“We had understood previously that his decision was based purely on health grounds having been advised by doctors not to fly.”

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There was much relief when, earlier today, a spokesman for Cambridge University in England released a statement denying that Stephen Hawking, the renowned British physicist, had invoked the academic boycott of Israel as the reason for his decision to withdraw from the “Facing Tomorrow” conference, which will be hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem in June.

As it turns out, Cambridge spoke too soon. Tim Holt, the spokesman who said that Hawking had backed out for health reasons, was compelled to issue the following clarification:

“We have now received confirmation from Professor Hawking’s office that a letter was sent on Friday to the Israeli President’s office regarding his decision not to attend the Presidential Conference, based on advice from Palestinian academics that he should respect the boycott.

“We had understood previously that his decision was based purely on health grounds having been advised by doctors not to fly.”

The initial doubt over the whether the Hawking story was true is easy to understand. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has a track record of lying about its successes. Over the last few years, many of their claims about individuals and companies endorsing the boycott–including PGGM, the largest pension fund in the Netherlands, Hampshire College, Harvard University, the academic retirement fund TIAA-CREF, and telecoms giant Motorola–were quickly exposed as false. Additionally, the signal failure of the movement’s academic arm to enlist any prominent, respected scholar to its cause naturally sowed doubts about Hawking’s apparent endorsement. Finally, it seemed difficult to believe that Hawking, whose own achievements owe a great deal to the Israeli physicist Jacob Bekenstein, would approve something as crude and as ugly as a boycott.

What, exactly, has Hawking signed up to? At the outset, the idea that his decision is related to discomfort with Israel’s settlement policies should be dispensed with. The Palestinian Call for an Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel is refreshingly clear that Israel’s presence in the West Bank is simply one element of a much more comprehensive assault upon Israel’s legitimacy:

…Israel’s colonial oppression of the Palestinian people, which is based on Zionist ideology, comprises the following:

  • Denial of its responsibility for the Nakba — in particular the waves of ethnic cleansing and dispossession that created the Palestinian refugee problem — and therefore refusal to accept the inalienable rights of the refugees and displaced stipulated in and protected by international law;
  • Military occupation and colonization of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza since 1967, in violation of international law and UN resolutions;
  • The entrenched system of racial discrimination and segregation against the Palestinian citizens of Israel, which resembles the defunct apartheid system in South Africa.

In plain speaking, then, the ultimate aim of the boycott movement is to dismantle the State of Israel in its entirety, not simply to secure its withdrawal from disputed territories. We are not talking here about, in the words of the Associated Press, a strategy “designed to bring pressure on the Israeli government,” but the wholesale rejection of anything or anyone associated with Israel. It is for this reason, and rightly, that the boycott movement can credibly be described as anti-Semitic, for it seeks to deny only the Jewish people the right of self-determination, and viciously caricatures the Jewish state as a carbon copy of the old apartheid regime in South Africa.

I make this point in anticipation of the coming tussle over whether Stephen Hawking is or isn’t anti-Semitic. His supporters will certainly portray him as a fearless opponent of colonialism, a man who nobly condemned the war that ousted Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq as a war crime, and who is now being “smeared”–the favored word of anti-Zionists everywhere–as a Jew-hater. Detractors will doubtless point out that Hawking’s thinking is riddled with moral idiocy (why pick on Israel while remaining silent on serial human rights violators like North Korea and Iran?) and hypocrisy (major advances in combating Lou Gehrig’s disease, which Hawking has suffered from for more than 40 years, have been made in Israel).

The overriding consideration is that, regardless of Hawking’s personal attitudes toward Jews–which no one bar his closest confidantes could credibly claim knowledge of–he has associated himself with a movement that seeks to eliminate, in the form of the State of Israel, the one guarantee Jews have against a repeat of the genocidal persecutions of the last century. That same consideration should govern any assessment of his decision to withdraw from the Jerusalem conference.

It’s also worth noting that while Hawking’s trophy cabinet doesn’t contain a Nobel Prize, it does include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to him by President Obama in 2009. One might reasonably ask whether such an award was appropriate, given Hawking’s affinity with political movements that are antithetical to the very idea of freedom. And one might also ask whether Hawking, for the sake of consistency, will now return the medal, in protest against Obama’s decision to bestow the same honor, last year, upon none other than Shimon Peres.

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Choosing the Lesser of Two Evils

As I wrote on Monday, Republicans may live to regret Mark Sanford’s victory in the special election in South Carolina’s First Congressional District. The former governor is a lightening rod for liberal attacks, and his hijinks will likely hurt the Republicans’ national brand and serve as yet another distraction in a GOP caucus that is already burdened by a host of other problems. But his decisive win illustrates that while scandal exacts a price from politicians, it need not destroy them. Ideology appears to trump morals for most of us.

Just as even those Democrats who were disgusted by Bill Clinton’s behavior were willing to defend him because they despised his Republican opponents, so, too, there were more than enough South Carolina Republicans who were willing to schlep to the polls to allow their party to hold onto this seat. The verdict was not so much one of the “redemption” that Sanford said he was seeking as much as it was one that registered a conservative constituency’s unwillingness to elect an ally of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

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As I wrote on Monday, Republicans may live to regret Mark Sanford’s victory in the special election in South Carolina’s First Congressional District. The former governor is a lightening rod for liberal attacks, and his hijinks will likely hurt the Republicans’ national brand and serve as yet another distraction in a GOP caucus that is already burdened by a host of other problems. But his decisive win illustrates that while scandal exacts a price from politicians, it need not destroy them. Ideology appears to trump morals for most of us.

Just as even those Democrats who were disgusted by Bill Clinton’s behavior were willing to defend him because they despised his Republican opponents, so, too, there were more than enough South Carolina Republicans who were willing to schlep to the polls to allow their party to hold onto this seat. The verdict was not so much one of the “redemption” that Sanford said he was seeking as much as it was one that registered a conservative constituency’s unwillingness to elect an ally of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Of course, Sanford did pay a price for his shabby personal reputation. As New York Times blogger Nate Silver notes, his nine-point margin of victory represents a marked decrease from what he or any other Republican might have expected to win by in a neutral environment. The First District is, Silver calculates, 22 percent more Republican than the rest of the nation. Silver says the 13-point drop off is consistent with the results that researchers have found elsewhere when scandals are thrown into the electoral mix.

Thus, we can reasonably conclude that while quite a few Republicans simply couldn’t bring themselves to back a loathsome Republican, even more were unwilling to do anything that might empower a political party they consider even more repugnant. The moment Sanford stopped talking about being redeemed and starting campaigning with a cardboard cutout of Pelosi turned the election around.

Should we think ill of these conservative voters or brand them as religious hypocrites for acting in this manner? I think Jonah Goldberg has it exactly right when he writes today over at National Review that doing so is ridiculous. Defense of traditional moral values was not on the ballot in South Carolina yesterday. Indeed, it’s a cause that was lost a long time ago in this country and there’s no going back. Asking conservatives to punish Sanford in the name of their values by electing a liberal whose beliefs are antithetical to what they cherish was not reasonable. And Democrats who treat Bill Clinton like royalty and swear they would have given him a third term if they had been given the opportunity are in no position to blast Republicans for concluding that Sanford was the lesser of two evils.

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RE: Sorry, Chris, Your Health Is Our Business

I fully agree with Jonathan that the health of high public officials is very much the people’s business. But Chris Christie certainly has a large number of presidential precedents on which to base his attempt to keep his stomach surgery secret.

In the summer of 1893, Grover Cleveland had a cancer removed from his upper jaw in such secrecy that the operation was performed on a friend’s yacht while it cruised Long Island Sound. Cleveland was afraid that the news, if it got out, might add to the panic in the financial markets that had plunged the country into depression a few months earlier.

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I fully agree with Jonathan that the health of high public officials is very much the people’s business. But Chris Christie certainly has a large number of presidential precedents on which to base his attempt to keep his stomach surgery secret.

In the summer of 1893, Grover Cleveland had a cancer removed from his upper jaw in such secrecy that the operation was performed on a friend’s yacht while it cruised Long Island Sound. Cleveland was afraid that the news, if it got out, might add to the panic in the financial markets that had plunged the country into depression a few months earlier.

In 1919, Woodrow Wilson suffered a severe stroke that left him physically paralyzed and, in the words of one historian, “Wilson’s emotions were unbalanced, and his judgment was warped….Worse, his denial of illness and limitations was starting to border on delusion.” The severity of Wilson’s impairment was kept secret and his wife kept even the vice president and cabinet members away from him. She would relay questions to him and then give his answers. Whether they were his answers or, in fact, hers, can’t be known.

FDR’s paralysis was minimized with the help of a vast journalistic conspiracy. He was hardly ever photographed in his wheel chair. And his rapidly deteriorating health in 1944 and ’45 was likewise kept secret. His blood pressure was so high by that time that it couldn’t be measured, as blood pressure cuffs in those days only measured up to a systolic pressure of 350 mmHg. Anything above 180 is considered a crisis.

President Kennedy, who radiated an image of vigor and good health, was in fact, a very sick man for much of his adult life. His back pain from collapsed vertebrae was so severe that he took amphetamine shots to control it. He could barely climb a flight of stairs and couldn’t put on his own socks. In one 2 1/2 year period in the mid-1950s, when he was a senator, he was secretly hospitalized nine times.

One of the good things to come out of the Watergate scandal, perhaps, was the disappearance of the journalistic assumption of  a presidential right to privacy.

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Taxes, Immigration, and the Senate’s Identity Crisis

As Bethany has previously written, the problems with the new Internet sales tax, which passed the Senate this week, were depressingly obvious–even as the bill received Republican support. But perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of the bill is not that Republicans should have known better, but that they did know better and voted against both economic common sense and the best interests of small businesses around the country.

The legislation would have forced businesses to pay sales taxes in the home state of every online customer, thus adding a burden to doing business that large retailers could handle but their upstart competitors could not. But to listen to Republicans defending their votes in support of the measure, you could be forgiven for thinking that upholding crony capitalism was a virtue of the bill, not an unfortunate element to be downplayed. (Though it was called the Marketplace Fairness Act, Grover Norquist more accurately referred to it as the “Let People in Alabama Loot People in New York Act.”) Here, for example, is how John Thune is quoted by the New York Times:

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As Bethany has previously written, the problems with the new Internet sales tax, which passed the Senate this week, were depressingly obvious–even as the bill received Republican support. But perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of the bill is not that Republicans should have known better, but that they did know better and voted against both economic common sense and the best interests of small businesses around the country.

The legislation would have forced businesses to pay sales taxes in the home state of every online customer, thus adding a burden to doing business that large retailers could handle but their upstart competitors could not. But to listen to Republicans defending their votes in support of the measure, you could be forgiven for thinking that upholding crony capitalism was a virtue of the bill, not an unfortunate element to be downplayed. (Though it was called the Marketplace Fairness Act, Grover Norquist more accurately referred to it as the “Let People in Alabama Loot People in New York Act.”) Here, for example, is how John Thune is quoted by the New York Times:

“It’s obviously an issue that can be divisive for Republicans because a lot of the antitax groups are weighing in against it,” Senator Thune said. “But in states like mine where you’ve got a lot of smaller retailers trying to compete in smaller communities, people are going to do their business online, and that has grown dramatically over the last few years.”

Antitax groups are against it, but Thune wants to protect his favored businesses and let the government get involved in picking winners and losers. There is a bright spot, however. The Times had reported on the bill’s momentum: “Earlier test votes won as many as 75 yeses. And House action, once seemingly unthinkable, may be unstoppable.” But Speaker of the House John Boehner is signaling that reality is closer to the former than the latter, according to the LA Times:

House Speaker John A. Boehner said he probably won’t support legislation allowing states to require that larger retailers collect sales taxes on Internet purchases.

And a key House committee chairman said his panel would take a “more thoughtful” approach to the bill, which passed the Senate overwhelmingly Monday.

The comments signaled that momentum from Monday’s easy passage of the bill in the Senate won’t lead to quick House action on the controversial issue.

All to the good, but it draws attention to an interesting dynamic at play in the Congress of 2013: namely, a bit of a role reversal between the upper and lower chambers. Traditionally, because the House can pass bills on simple majority and because revenue-raising legislation originates there, the lower chamber has played an activist role to the Senate’s deliberative role. The Senate gives every state the same number of representatives, which forces regional accommodation when crafting or amending legislation. Senators also represent entire states rather than increasingly gerrymandered districts, so addressing constituent concerns in each bill is a more complicated process.

Of course the most recognizable reason for these traditional roles is the existence of the filibuster in the Senate, which doesn’t exist in the House. It can therefore be difficult to even get to a vote.

Yet for all the attention paid to the filibuster’s use by Republicans, two things remain true: the Senate has been able to pass major liberal legislation, like ObamaCare and financial regulation, and Boehner’s House has become a break on the Senate’s penchant for far-reaching legislation.

The Internet sales tax bill is an example of a bill that was passed by the Senate but faces far dimmer prospects in the House. More significant is the fact that the House’s new role has slowed down the Senate as well. From the perspective of conservatives, this is a moderating effect; to liberals, who were wondering if the Senate could possibly get any slower, it’s the opposite. But either way, the message has come through loud and clear.

To see how this plays itself out, one need look no further than the immigration reform effort. The question of whether the final immigration bill could pass the House is not just implicit; it’s invoked almost constantly by the bill’s supporters. In order to pass the House, immigration reform proponents believe (correctly) that it would almost surely need to do more than just pass the Senate. It will need broad bipartisan support that includes conservatives who are popular with the grassroots to give cover to their counterparts in the House. Additionally, the bill’s chief proponent, Marco Rubio, has been warning his fellow senators in the “gang of eight” that the bill cannot pass the House as currently constructed–a clear exhortation to take House conservative concerns about border security into consideration when amending the bill.

The reviews of this role reversal will likely be mixed, even among conservatives. There will be many on the right justifiably frustrated if the immigration reform effort stalls in the Senate because of the fear of House Republicans. But it will also be difficult to argue against the House’s instinctive distrust of crony capitalist bills like the Internet tax hike. Senate Republicans might also wonder why, especially on the issue of market distorting tax increases, they need the House to slow them down in the first place.

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Conservatism and the Limitations of Self-Reliance

In the Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore has written a review of Jesse Norman’s new biography on the man Norman refers to as “the first conservative,” Edmund Burke (h/t Peggy Noonan).

Mr. Moore’s review includes this elegant conclusion:

As his struggles for America, Ireland and Corsica showed, Burke was no automatic defender of existing authority. But what he understood, and expressed with immense rhetorical power, was how human beings stand in relation to one another. Although they are morally autonomous individuals, they do not – cannot – live in isolation. In our language, laws, institutions, religion, and in our families, we are part of a continuum.

Society is ”a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born’’. It is not society that keeps mankind in chains, but the pretence that now is the only time that matters. Almost every piece of rot you hear in politics comes from those who wish to lock man into what WH Auden called ”the prison of his days’’. It is comforting that the Burkean Jesse Norman is in the House of Commons to tell them when they are wrong.

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In the Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore has written a review of Jesse Norman’s new biography on the man Norman refers to as “the first conservative,” Edmund Burke (h/t Peggy Noonan).

Mr. Moore’s review includes this elegant conclusion:

As his struggles for America, Ireland and Corsica showed, Burke was no automatic defender of existing authority. But what he understood, and expressed with immense rhetorical power, was how human beings stand in relation to one another. Although they are morally autonomous individuals, they do not – cannot – live in isolation. In our language, laws, institutions, religion, and in our families, we are part of a continuum.

Society is ”a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born’’. It is not society that keeps mankind in chains, but the pretence that now is the only time that matters. Almost every piece of rot you hear in politics comes from those who wish to lock man into what WH Auden called ”the prison of his days’’. It is comforting that the Burkean Jesse Norman is in the House of Commons to tell them when they are wrong.

It strikes me that this ancient insight–of how we do not live in isolation, that we are part of a continuum–has been a bit neglected by American conservatives in recent years. The emphasis one hears these days has to do almost solely with liberty, which of course is vital. But there is also the trap of hyper-individualism. What’s missing, I think, is an appropriate appreciation–or at least a public appreciation–for community, social solidarity, and the common good; for the obligations and attachments we have to each other and the role institutions play in forming those attachments.

It’s not exactly clear to me why conservatives have neglected these matters. It may be the result of a counter-reaction to President Obama’s expansion of the size, scope, and reach of the federal government, combined with a growing libertarian impulse within conservatism. Whatever the explanation, conservatives are making an error–a political error, a philosophical error, a human error–in ignoring (at least in our public language) this understanding of the richness and fullness of life.

Conservatism has never been simply about being left alone. It is not exclusively about self-reliance, individual drive and “rugged individualism,” as important as these things are. We need to be careful about portraying life in a constricted way, since our characters and personalities and sensibilities are shaped by so many other factors and forces and people all along the way.

Self-reliance surely has a place in our lives. But we also rely on families and friends–and for many of us, on a community of fellow believers–to help us walk through periods of doubt and hardship and failure, as well as to share in our joys and achievements and milestones. We are a part of the main. And I imagine most of us are far more dependent than we ever fully admit on the grace and generosity, the sacrifice and love of others.

Less often than I should, when recalling the most important and supportive people in my life–the ones who have left an imprint on me that will never fade and blessed me in ways I can never fully repay–I have thought back to the words of St. Paul, in his letter to the saints at Philippi: “I thank my God upon my every remembrance of you.”

The human loves, C.S. Lewis said, can be glorious images of Divine love. We depend on both, and we should probably say so more often than we do.

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Did Beck Cross the Line? Yes.

Fans of Glenn Beck are complaining about what I wrote yesterday about his speech at the National Rifle Association convention, where he used a giant image of Michael Bloomberg photoshopped into what appeared to be an image of Hitler with his arm raised in a Nazi salute and wearing an armband. The Beck crowd now tells me that it wasn’t Hitler’s picture into which the New York mayor was transposed but that of Communist leader Vladimir Lenin. They say that means I owe Beck an apology along with the Anti-Defamation League and others who were also outraged by it.

Are they right? Nothing doing.

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Fans of Glenn Beck are complaining about what I wrote yesterday about his speech at the National Rifle Association convention, where he used a giant image of Michael Bloomberg photoshopped into what appeared to be an image of Hitler with his arm raised in a Nazi salute and wearing an armband. The Beck crowd now tells me that it wasn’t Hitler’s picture into which the New York mayor was transposed but that of Communist leader Vladimir Lenin. They say that means I owe Beck an apology along with the Anti-Defamation League and others who were also outraged by it.

Are they right? Nothing doing.

First, even if that is a picture of Lenin, Beck chose one in which the Bolshevik’s arm is raised in a manner that is suspiciously like that of the Nazis. That there is an armband on the figure’s arm is reminiscent of Hitler, who habitually wore the swastika in that fashion, rather than Lenin and the Communists, with whom that image is not generally associated. So even if it is proved that the original image is not that of Hitler, Beck and his staff clearly were trying to fudge the issue in order to make it seem more like a villain whose picture is far better known in the United States.

The imposition of the slogan “You Will” on the image of Bloomberg was also the sort of phrase that is more associated with the Nazis than Communists. Leni Riefenstahl’s classic Nazi documentary was entitled “Triumph of the Will.” Communist rhetoric, especially that of Lenin, often sounded more utopian than authoritarian even if it covered an equally murderous intent.

Nor did Beck tell his audience that it was Lenin that he wanted them to see and not Hitler when inveighing against Bloomberg. Given the concerted attempt to confuse onlookers in this matter, Beck had no right to cry foul if they drew the conclusion that he was clearly trying to entice them to arrive at.

Second, even if we were to concede that Beck was trying to associate Bloomberg with Lenin, that is not a whole lot better than the Hitler analogy. While the image of Lenin would take the use of the Holocaust out of the equation, it must be pointed out that the man who transformed Russia into the evil empire of the Soviet Union was also a mass murderer. Estimates about the number killed in the Red Terror that followed the Bolshevik coup of 1917 vary, but there is no question hundreds of thousands died. The toll of those who perished in Soviet jails and camps or at the hands of the secret police he unleashed is equally high. If one considers that he set in place the mechanism by which Stalin murdered tens of millions, he must be placed in the pantheon of the 20th century’s worst murderers.

I happen to share Beck’s disdain for Michael Bloomberg’s nanny-state liberalism. A year ago when the mayor first proposed his soda ban, I wrote here to condemn the measure and reminded readers the issue was “freedom, not soft drinks.” But comparing this infringement on personal liberty to mass murder, whether committed by Nazis or Communists, is not a rational or reasonable argument. At best, Beck’s stunt could be called hyperbole. At worst, it is the sort of demonization that undermines public discourse in a democracy.

It is true that many on the left play this same game. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews is just as guilty as Beck. Indeed, in denouncing Beck for what he, too, assumed was an inappropriate Nazi analogy, the left-wing talker called the tactic “Hitlerian.” That was hypocritical as well as over the top.

The bottom line in this discussion remains the same. By using this sort of imagery against Bloomberg, Beck is doing more than making a fool of himself again. He is doing serious damage to the cause of defending the Second Amendment. He deserves no apology. He and the NRA (which sanctioned his stunt) owe one to Bloomberg as well as to conservatives whose cause he has damaged.

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