Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 28, 2013

Low Student Loan Rates Not the Point

Republicans, candidates and the party alike, have a serious problem with young voters. The national party has conducted extensive research into how to solve the problem and it has already taken some promising steps in the right direction on several fronts, including digital strategy. The latest messaging meant for young donors coming from the RNC and Republicans in congressional leadership positions on student loan rates, however, is not only antithetical to the principles of conservatism, but will also prove ineffective in appealing to young voters.

Senate Republicans are justifiably frustrated at their Democratic colleagues’ inability to come to an agreement on student loan rates, which are poised to double on July 1 if a deal isn’t reached. Inexplicably, Senate Democrats have even rejected a proposal that President Obama set forth in his budget earlier this year.

Today the RNC gathered a small well-dressed group of young people that consisted of what their own official Twitter account described as interns, with handmade signs that appeared made with the same posterboard and markers, to protest the likely scenario of student loan rates doubling this summer. The protest may have been designed to appear organic, but the picture that emerged instead came across as quite staged. It seems Republicans believe that messaging on this Democratic failure will somehow endear them to young voters struggling under the weight of ballooning student debt.

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Republicans, candidates and the party alike, have a serious problem with young voters. The national party has conducted extensive research into how to solve the problem and it has already taken some promising steps in the right direction on several fronts, including digital strategy. The latest messaging meant for young donors coming from the RNC and Republicans in congressional leadership positions on student loan rates, however, is not only antithetical to the principles of conservatism, but will also prove ineffective in appealing to young voters.

Senate Republicans are justifiably frustrated at their Democratic colleagues’ inability to come to an agreement on student loan rates, which are poised to double on July 1 if a deal isn’t reached. Inexplicably, Senate Democrats have even rejected a proposal that President Obama set forth in his budget earlier this year.

Today the RNC gathered a small well-dressed group of young people that consisted of what their own official Twitter account described as interns, with handmade signs that appeared made with the same posterboard and markers, to protest the likely scenario of student loan rates doubling this summer. The protest may have been designed to appear organic, but the picture that emerged instead came across as quite staged. It seems Republicans believe that messaging on this Democratic failure will somehow endear them to young voters struggling under the weight of ballooning student debt.

Unfortunately for both the RNC and students, stopping a raise in rates wouldn’t solve the problem for the majority of students struggling not with the interest payments on their loans, but the principal. The ease with which students have taken out more loans than they can conceivably pay back after graduation is at the heart of the crisis. Making more money available at less cost would actually make the crisis worse for students and for an already bankrupt federal government, which has no business in the student loan business in the first place. Today the Wall Street Journal explained

The skyrocketing cost of a college education is a classic unintended consequence of government intervention. Colleges have responded to the availability of easy federal money by doing what subsidized industries generally do: Raising prices to capture the subsidy. Sold as a tool to help students cope with rising college costs, student loans have instead been a major contributor to the problem

In truth, America’s student loan problem won’t be solved by low interest rates—for many students, the debt would be crippling even if the interest rate were zero.

If we want to solve the very real problem of excessive student-loan debt, college costs need to be brought under control. A 2010 study by the Goldwater Institute identified “administrative bloat” as a leading reason for higher costs. The study found that many American universities now have more salaried administrators than teaching faculty.

The RNC’s populist message, which would do nothing to solve the student loan crisis, is unlikely to even register with most young voters. Few are even aware of the rates on their student loans, both when they take them out and when they graduate. The information isn’t even that easy to obtain: I spent over half an hour myself today figuring out the rates on each of my four federal loans to see how they compared to the rates currently being discussed.

The Republican Party has the right idea in trying to craft a message that appeals to young voters. What would not only resonate more, but also actually help them would be a plan to bring down costs, much like what Texas Governor Rick Perry has proposed with a $10,000 degree. Innovative solutions to bring down costs like Perry’s, not partisan demagoguery, is the future of the GOP’s outreach to younger voters. 

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The Right Kind of Tax Reform

Count me among those who think one obvious response to the IRS scandal is tax reform. The IRS and its few defenders have, even if inadvertently, made the case for simplifying the tax code and scaling down the IRS’s reach and powers just as well as the agency’s critics have (though critics of the taxman, unsurprisingly, outnumber defenders).

The revelations that the IRS targeted conservative organizations specifically and groups that seemed to disagree with President Obama generally have been in the public square for the better part of two months now, and we have two explanations for the abuse of power. Either the influential higher-ups at the agency were deliberately seeking to silence conservatives, or the agency’s bungling bureaucrats were too confused and overwhelmed to do their jobs properly. In neither scenario does the agency justify retaining the power it currently wields.

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Count me among those who think one obvious response to the IRS scandal is tax reform. The IRS and its few defenders have, even if inadvertently, made the case for simplifying the tax code and scaling down the IRS’s reach and powers just as well as the agency’s critics have (though critics of the taxman, unsurprisingly, outnumber defenders).

The revelations that the IRS targeted conservative organizations specifically and groups that seemed to disagree with President Obama generally have been in the public square for the better part of two months now, and we have two explanations for the abuse of power. Either the influential higher-ups at the agency were deliberately seeking to silence conservatives, or the agency’s bungling bureaucrats were too confused and overwhelmed to do their jobs properly. In neither scenario does the agency justify retaining the power it currently wields.

Part of this is a problem with campaign finance reform efforts, which result in limiting political speech and in some cases tasking the IRS with those responsibilities. But the IRS is either corrupt or irredeemably incompetent. Surely this argument can be made about much of the federal government, though the IRS is in the news now and has a rare slice of the public’s attention. As such, this would be a good moment to push for tax reform. But this, which the AP reported yesterday, does not seem like the best way to go about it:

The top Democrat and Republican on the Senate’s tax writing committee said Thursday they’re starting with a “blank slate” approach to tax reform that envisions stripping the code of every single tax break as a setup to a debate over which ones to add back in.

But wouldn’t that just lead to a massive lobbying frenzy which would eventually result in insignificant tax breaks disappearing but the bulk of them right back in the tax code? Indeed, as the Hill reports:

Senators only have until July 26 to get back to Baucus and Hatch, giving K Street shops little time to formulate their strategy for what one lobbyist dubbed the Full Employment for Tax Lobbyists Act of 2013.

A separate lobbyist said the wide-open debate could result in something resembling a food fight, as various groups sparred and jockeyed for position, hunting for lawmakers to make the case for them.

“You’re going up against the entire world,” the lobbyist said. “There will be a ton of money spent on this.”…

Backers of the most popular big-ticket tax breaks – like the mortgage interest deduction and the exclusion for employee-sponsored health insurance – could be on safer ground, according to some on K Street.

The Hill offers what is intended to be good news, sort of: some of the tax breaks will be in trouble because their supporters don’t want to go on record defending them. But isn’t that just another way of saying that the tax code is even more in need of reform than the public knows? Anything resembling a lobbyist bidding war on tax breaks won’t exactly inspire confidence among the public looking for a leaner and cleaner government.

Additionally, I don’t think anyone believes that the final version would stay that way–that exemptions of all sorts wouldn’t creep in again when no one is paying much attention. That is one of the major weaknesses of centering tax reform on the strength of lobbying. We’ll end up, most likely, with a very similar tax code to what we have now and set it on the road to eventually be identical to what we have now, the major difference being along the way we’ll have a period of adjustment and uncertainty that the IRS is manifestly unprepared to navigate.

But the fact that we’re even talking about major tax reform is at least a start. Government agencies that prove themselves too big to succeed should be scaled down, and tax agencies should not have the power to bar their critics from equal participation in the political process. Though those two points may seem obvious (or at least they should), the current size of the federal government and the scandals it’s experiencing prove commonsense governance cannot be taken for granted.

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History, Not Hispanics Will Judge GOP

The approval by the Senate yesterday of the immigration reform bill is, as most observers are rightly noting, less a victory for its advocates than a prelude to a defeat. After struggling mightily to garner 68 votes in the Senate, the gang of eight must come to grips with the fact that only 15 Republicans (including four of the original sponsors) voted for the bill. Though the yes votes, comprising more than two-thirds of the Senate, represented an impressive bipartisan coalition the prospects of passage in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives are slim if not entirely non-existent. The ability of anti-reform forces to rally much of the GOP grass roots to oppose the reform proposal as “amnesty” or a fraudulent attempt to bolster border security has entirely intimidated the House leadership and much of the party. Though some supporters of the idea, such as Rep. Paul Ryan, are vowing to bring forward a version of reform that might conceivably be meshed with the Senate bill in a conference, passage of any compromise that might conceivably satisfy either party seems unlikely.

The defeat of immigration reform will, if it happens, set off a new round of public soul searching and blame-assigning on the part of Republicans and their critics. The end of this attempt, which many thought might address the GOP’s growing problems with the fastest growing sector of voters—Hispanics—will be seen by some as a dismal follow-up to last November’s electoral debacle. By contrast, some conservatives will act as if the entire problem is a figment of the imagination of the dreaded party establishment. But I think too much of the discussion about this issue has centered on the implications of whether it will help Republicans win elections and not enough effort has been made to place it in historical perspective. Though we have treated this debate as if it were an entirely new issue in American politics whose only antecedent is the 1986 bill that is widely regarded as a failure, arguments about immigration stretch back through American history. The problem for Republicans then is not so much what Hispanics (many of whom are not likely to embrace the GOP anytime soon no matter what it does) think of them as it is what history will say about their apparent decision to squander an opportunity to fix a problem in a way that might accrue to their advantage as well as to align themselves with anti-immigration sentiments that have not exactly aided those who espoused them in the past.

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The approval by the Senate yesterday of the immigration reform bill is, as most observers are rightly noting, less a victory for its advocates than a prelude to a defeat. After struggling mightily to garner 68 votes in the Senate, the gang of eight must come to grips with the fact that only 15 Republicans (including four of the original sponsors) voted for the bill. Though the yes votes, comprising more than two-thirds of the Senate, represented an impressive bipartisan coalition the prospects of passage in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives are slim if not entirely non-existent. The ability of anti-reform forces to rally much of the GOP grass roots to oppose the reform proposal as “amnesty” or a fraudulent attempt to bolster border security has entirely intimidated the House leadership and much of the party. Though some supporters of the idea, such as Rep. Paul Ryan, are vowing to bring forward a version of reform that might conceivably be meshed with the Senate bill in a conference, passage of any compromise that might conceivably satisfy either party seems unlikely.

The defeat of immigration reform will, if it happens, set off a new round of public soul searching and blame-assigning on the part of Republicans and their critics. The end of this attempt, which many thought might address the GOP’s growing problems with the fastest growing sector of voters—Hispanics—will be seen by some as a dismal follow-up to last November’s electoral debacle. By contrast, some conservatives will act as if the entire problem is a figment of the imagination of the dreaded party establishment. But I think too much of the discussion about this issue has centered on the implications of whether it will help Republicans win elections and not enough effort has been made to place it in historical perspective. Though we have treated this debate as if it were an entirely new issue in American politics whose only antecedent is the 1986 bill that is widely regarded as a failure, arguments about immigration stretch back through American history. The problem for Republicans then is not so much what Hispanics (many of whom are not likely to embrace the GOP anytime soon no matter what it does) think of them as it is what history will say about their apparent decision to squander an opportunity to fix a problem in a way that might accrue to their advantage as well as to align themselves with anti-immigration sentiments that have not exactly aided those who espoused them in the past.

The prospect of consigning the gang of eight’s bill to the dustbin of history has led many on the right to use the occasion of the Senate vote to start crowing about their effective veto on any measure that might fix our broken immigration system. They are feeling cocky about the way they have buffaloed much of Congress into branding what was a reasonable compromise as being the embodiment of everything conservatives are supposed to hate. This is in spite of the fact that it combined the most serious attempt to deal with border security with a scheme that would have eventually brought 11 million illegal immigrants out of the shadows. I have yet to hear a coherent response to the question of what conservative principle was at stake in preventing either of these outcomes. But what I have heard from many opponents of the bill is something that is far more troubling than mere disagreement.

If Congress fails to deal with immigration reform in this session it may not, as some have said, necessarily doom the Republican Party to defeats in future elections. Nor need it end the presidential hopes of Senator Marco Rubio, who is being unfairly branded a RINO by the bill’s foes. As John Podhoretz wrote this morning, three years is a lifetime in politics and anything can happen that might boost Rubio to the GOP nomination or to sink the Democrats in 2016. But anyone who thinks the tenor of this debate has not materially affected the ability of the Republican Party to appeal to Hispanics simply hasn’t been paying attention. With so many on the right acting as if their goal was not so much to turn the border with Mexico into the Great Wall of China (something that the Corker-Hoeven amendment to the gang’s bill might well have come close to achieving) but to demonstrate their antipathy for legal immigration and to make sure that those who are here without permission are treated as pariahs rather than offered, as most Americans rightly support, a chance to have their status legalized.

This is a disaster not so much because it alienates Hispanics as because it consigns what appears to be the majority of the House GOP caucus to being remembered as the latest iteration of the Know Nothing tradition of American history. Opponents of the bill will claim this is a slander, but as Peter Wehner rightly noted yesterday, the change in Republican rhetoric about immigration from the open-minded and optimistic tone of Ronald Reagan to the sort of thing we are hearing from the netroots these days should discourage any thinking conservative.

There is still time for the GOP to think twice about killing reform. It is possible for Republicans to pass a bill that does all the things the Senate bill might achieve even if it reverses the order and prioritizes security. But having painted themselves into a rhetorical corner on the issue, it’s not clear that those who have demagogued the issue have the ability to do it. At this point, alienated Hispanics may not care much what Republicans do on the issue the rest of the year, but history will not ignore the opportunity wasted or the unnecessary enemies made by those who may bring about this result.

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Building in Jerusalem Won’t Prevent Peace

Secretary of State John Kerry is back in Israel today for another bout of what some wags are calling “couples therapy” for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas. The chances of this push leading to fruitful negotiations, let alone a peace agreement, are slim. But what is most interesting about the chatter all this talking about talking is producing is the way the Palestinians and other critics of Israel are trying to raise the ante even before anyone sits down together. Thus, the willingness of PA negotiator Saeb Erekat to turn the announcement of building permits in a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem into an excuse for not making peace tells us a lot more about the Palestinian mindset than it does about the Netanyahu government.

The permits for constructing 69 apartments in the Har Homa neighborhood was treated as a big deal in today’s New York Times, which validated Erekat’s attempt to inflate the decision into a cause célèbre. The Times was also quick to compare it to the 2010 episode in which the Obama administration picked a fight with Netanyahu over a routine announcement about a housing start in a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem. The administration claimed it was an “insult” to Vice President Joe Biden, who happened to be passing through the city at the time. Little good came of that for anyone, especially since the Palestinians failed to use the U.S. tilt in their direction by returning to peace talks. But it bears repeating that the Palestinian desire to claim that any building in parts of Jerusalem that were once illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 and during which Jews were banned from even worshiping at the Western Wall–let alone living in those parts of their ancient capital–is an obstacle to peace simply doesn’t make any sense.

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Secretary of State John Kerry is back in Israel today for another bout of what some wags are calling “couples therapy” for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas. The chances of this push leading to fruitful negotiations, let alone a peace agreement, are slim. But what is most interesting about the chatter all this talking about talking is producing is the way the Palestinians and other critics of Israel are trying to raise the ante even before anyone sits down together. Thus, the willingness of PA negotiator Saeb Erekat to turn the announcement of building permits in a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem into an excuse for not making peace tells us a lot more about the Palestinian mindset than it does about the Netanyahu government.

The permits for constructing 69 apartments in the Har Homa neighborhood was treated as a big deal in today’s New York Times, which validated Erekat’s attempt to inflate the decision into a cause célèbre. The Times was also quick to compare it to the 2010 episode in which the Obama administration picked a fight with Netanyahu over a routine announcement about a housing start in a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem. The administration claimed it was an “insult” to Vice President Joe Biden, who happened to be passing through the city at the time. Little good came of that for anyone, especially since the Palestinians failed to use the U.S. tilt in their direction by returning to peace talks. But it bears repeating that the Palestinian desire to claim that any building in parts of Jerusalem that were once illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 and during which Jews were banned from even worshiping at the Western Wall–let alone living in those parts of their ancient capital–is an obstacle to peace simply doesn’t make any sense.

Even under a peace plan, such as the one proposed by Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert, Israel would retain Har Homa and other Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem–though the former PM did concede sovereignty over the Old City (something few Israelis would accept). The point is, if the Palestinians really want a state in almost all the West Bank (something Netanyahu has signaled this week he can live with) and a share of Jerusalem, what does it matter to them how many Jews live in the parts they won’t get?

Palestinian objections about building in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem are no more logical than Israeli complaints about Arabs building homes in the West Bank in parts of the country that would not remain under Israeli control. But Israel isn’t complaining about Arab building. They’re just asking the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table without preconditions after boycotting talks for four and a half years.

But, of course, such Palestinian complaints do make sense, at least from the point of view of most Palestinians. Their goal isn’t a state alongside Israel or to share Jerusalem. They want Jews out of Har Homa for the same reason they want them out of most other parts of the country since what they desire is a Palestinian state free of Jews.

Attempts to depict the Jewish presence in Jerusalem as illegal is deeply offensive, but in line with PA propaganda that has consistently sought to deny Jewish ties to the city and Jewish history itself. While the PA cannot be under any illusion that the Netanyahu government—or any Israeli government for that matter, regardless of who is at its head—would consent to giving up Jerusalem, what they want is to brand every Jew there a “settler” who can be treated as an outlaw rather than a party to talks with rights. Treating building even in those areas that no one thinks would be handed over to the Palestinians under any circumstance as off limits is not about making peace. It’s about delegitimizing Israel.

So long as the Palestinians cling to the delusion that Israel will be shifted out of Jerusalem or back to the 1967 lines—something that President Obama has reinforced with his frequent support for using those lines as the starting point for talks, should they ever be resumed—the chances that a peace agreement will ever be signed is nonexistent. Peace is theoretically possible on terms that would call for the Palestinians to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state. The focus on opposing the Jewish presence in the city is a sign that we are a long way away from that happening.

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A Victory For Religious Freedom

The decision last year by the U.S. Supreme Court to deem ObamaCare constitutional was a blow to opponents of the president’s signature health care legislation, but it also added to the worries of those Americans who considered it a threat to their religious freedom. In particular, the decision by the Health and Human Services Department to demand that employers provide certain types of health services placed those religious believers who opposed the use of abortion-inducing drugs in a difficult position. They could go along with the HHS mandate and thus betray their consciences and beliefs, or resist the ruling and face complete financial ruin due to the draconian penalties imposed on businesses that do not comply with the government’s rulings.

But with the aid of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Green family, which owns the Hobby Lobby chain of stores, sued to prevent the government from imposing the mandate on their business. Yesterday, the Greens won a key victory when the 10th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals overruled the district court and said Hobby Lobby should not have been denied an injunction that would have prevented the government from imposing millions in fines while the case was still pending. In doing so, the majority of the appellate court judges said the Greens had a good chance of prevailing on the merits of their case—Hobby Lobby v. Kathleen Sebelius—which claims that the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act ought to prevent HHS from imposing practices on the business that effectively deny the religious freedom of its owners. While the Hobby Lobby case still has a long way to go, this is an important win that not only holds out the possibility of eventual triumph for the plaintiffs but also removes a key weapon from the government that might have made it impossible for the suit to go on.

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The decision last year by the U.S. Supreme Court to deem ObamaCare constitutional was a blow to opponents of the president’s signature health care legislation, but it also added to the worries of those Americans who considered it a threat to their religious freedom. In particular, the decision by the Health and Human Services Department to demand that employers provide certain types of health services placed those religious believers who opposed the use of abortion-inducing drugs in a difficult position. They could go along with the HHS mandate and thus betray their consciences and beliefs, or resist the ruling and face complete financial ruin due to the draconian penalties imposed on businesses that do not comply with the government’s rulings.

But with the aid of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Green family, which owns the Hobby Lobby chain of stores, sued to prevent the government from imposing the mandate on their business. Yesterday, the Greens won a key victory when the 10th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals overruled the district court and said Hobby Lobby should not have been denied an injunction that would have prevented the government from imposing millions in fines while the case was still pending. In doing so, the majority of the appellate court judges said the Greens had a good chance of prevailing on the merits of their case—Hobby Lobby v. Kathleen Sebelius—which claims that the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act ought to prevent HHS from imposing practices on the business that effectively deny the religious freedom of its owners. While the Hobby Lobby case still has a long way to go, this is an important win that not only holds out the possibility of eventual triumph for the plaintiffs but also removes a key weapon from the government that might have made it impossible for the suit to go on.

When the HHS mandate was first handed down, the key battle was fought over the government’s desire to impose the contraceptive mandate on the institutions of the Catholic Church. While the administration was able to manipulate the discussion of this direct attack on religious freedom into one about a so-called “war on women,” eventually a campaign of public pressure led the government to back down on their desire to enforce the mandate on both churches and then church institutions. But that still left individual business owners who had strong religious convictions in the cross-hairs of the HHS mandate. The administration calculated that if it removed the church from the fight on the mandate, it would be able to easily defeat the efforts of people like the owners of Hobby Lobby to resist.

They may eventually prevail, but the decision of the 10th circuit gives hope to those who believe the willingness of the government to intrude on individual consciences in this manner is outrageous.

It should be specified that the owners of Hobby Lobby are not attempting to prevent their employees from having access to contraception. But making religious Catholics pay for abortion drugs crosses the line between reasonable insurance regulations and a concerted attack on religious liberty.

Liberal defenders of the HHS mandate have characterized resistance to the mandate as an attack on women’s health while claiming the regulation does not deny the store owners’ right to worship or to personally refrain from any practice that offends their religion. But if the government eventually prevails, it would impose a cribbed version of religious liberty that would significantly impair the First Amendment rights of believers.

The government and its defenders seem to believe that religious freedom means only the right to believe something and to practice it in private. If the HHS mandate were upheld, it would signal to the country that faith is fine at home or in houses of worship but not in the public square. Religious believers would be told that if they wish to practice their faith they must refrain from commerce or any public activity. Forcing the Greens to pay for abortion drugs is no different from telling them they must keep their stores open on Sunday (they are closed on that day due to the owners’ religious beliefs) or to require a Jew to keep his business running on the Sabbath or that they must serve non-kosher food at kosher restaurants.

It may be that the Greens’ views on these drugs are not universally held and may, in fact, be unpopular. But one needn’t agree with them on contraception in order to realize that an attack on their religious freedom is a blow to the liberty of every American no matter what their faith, or even if they believe in no religion. This preliminary win for Hobby Lobby and the Becket Fund is a hopeful sign for the future of American liberty.

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Media Clings to Disproven Narrative; Hilarity Ensues

As elated as mainstream journalists were when Chief Justice John Roberts decided to cave to political pressure and uphold ObamaCare, it posed a challenge to the left. They had become so invested in their narrative of the illegitimacy of conservative constitutional jurisprudence, they may have even believed it. As the Supreme Court signaled it was considering striking down the constitutionally suspect ObamaCare, liberals ramped up the rhetoric.

But because of the vote-buying and procedural shenanigans used to pass the bill, and because of its extreme unpopularity and bipartisan opposition, supporters of ObamaCare actually needed the country to somehow accept the legitimacy of the court’s opinion, which they had spent months denigrating. Liberals couldn’t break the habit anyway, however. Though Roberts mistakenly thought he would win the court some legitimacy from the president and his palace guards in the press, the opposite happened: with the ObamaCare decision now in their pockets, they resumed trashing the Roberts court as far more “radical” than any of its predecessors.

Though it was sad to watch Roberts get played so easily by the administration and its allies, there was still something amusing about the left’s reaction. They had to engage in some pretty nifty intellectual gymnastics to argue that the court was not moving right despite its major liberal decisions but that the Roberts court’s major liberal decisions were part of its master plan to trick the public into complacency. And so it is with this week’s court rulings. The Roberts court made the right call in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, as we have argued in this magazine. But it was also a ruling the left celebrated not just from a legal standpoint but from a cultural one. So how to argue that the Roberts court is radical when it so clearly is not? The Times gives it a try today:

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As elated as mainstream journalists were when Chief Justice John Roberts decided to cave to political pressure and uphold ObamaCare, it posed a challenge to the left. They had become so invested in their narrative of the illegitimacy of conservative constitutional jurisprudence, they may have even believed it. As the Supreme Court signaled it was considering striking down the constitutionally suspect ObamaCare, liberals ramped up the rhetoric.

But because of the vote-buying and procedural shenanigans used to pass the bill, and because of its extreme unpopularity and bipartisan opposition, supporters of ObamaCare actually needed the country to somehow accept the legitimacy of the court’s opinion, which they had spent months denigrating. Liberals couldn’t break the habit anyway, however. Though Roberts mistakenly thought he would win the court some legitimacy from the president and his palace guards in the press, the opposite happened: with the ObamaCare decision now in their pockets, they resumed trashing the Roberts court as far more “radical” than any of its predecessors.

Though it was sad to watch Roberts get played so easily by the administration and its allies, there was still something amusing about the left’s reaction. They had to engage in some pretty nifty intellectual gymnastics to argue that the court was not moving right despite its major liberal decisions but that the Roberts court’s major liberal decisions were part of its master plan to trick the public into complacency. And so it is with this week’s court rulings. The Roberts court made the right call in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, as we have argued in this magazine. But it was also a ruling the left celebrated not just from a legal standpoint but from a cultural one. So how to argue that the Roberts court is radical when it so clearly is not? The Times gives it a try today:

Viewed in isolation, the Supreme Court term that just ended had elements of modesty. The court declined to do away with affirmative action, gave Congress another shot at salvaging the Voting Rights Act and refused to find a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

But glancing at an end-of term snapshot can be misleading….

Chief Justice Roberts has proved adept at persuading the court’s more liberal justices to join compromise opinions, allowing him to cite their concessions years later as the basis for closely divided and deeply polarizing conservative victories.

His patient and methodical approach has allowed him to establish a robustly conservative record while ranking second only to Justice Anthony Kennedy as the justice most frequently in the majority.

This is a stunningly honest statement of the Times’s extremism on legal issues. Roberts has, the Times tells us, made major ruling after major ruling upholding liberal conventional wisdom on a host of cultural and political issues deemed essential to the liberal project, and he has often sought not to use the court majority to push through wholly conservative opinions but instead to engage with the liberal justices, find common ground, and forge compromises that meet in the middle.

That may sound like an eminently reasonable and, from a political standpoint, admirable record. But the Times strongly disapproves of such behavior, because it does not want the court to possess such legitimacy and it does not approve of compromise with conservatives it believes should only be the object of demonization.

The Times tells us that a larger-than-usual percent of the court’s decisions were unanimous this year. But that, too, is bad news, because the article also tells us that Obama’s solicitor general has had below-average success in front of the court defending administration preferences. To the Times, that means the liberal justices are complicit in a rightward shift. The reality, of course, is that President Obama, a supposed constitutional law expert, is uniquely poor at governing according to the Constitution.

The Washington Post also tries to fit this week’s court decisions into its larger narrative about the Roberts court, with similar results. It reviews the liberal decisions handed down by the judges recently and then quotes a former lawyer in the Obama White House: “If you weren’t paying close attention, you might say, ‘What a liberal Supreme Court we have.’ ”

That’s an interesting phrase, “if you weren’t paying close attention.” And it basically sums up the way the media, confronted with the essential and obvious fraudulence of its narrative about the Roberts court, has explained away its journalistic advocacy.

Don’t be fooled by the moderate and ideologically diverse record of the Roberts court, they say, and don’t be fooled by the lengths to which Roberts will go to compromise with liberal justices and craft decisions that all the judges can get behind. That may be the reality, but it conflicts with the press narrative and one of them must be wrong. It can’t be the press, can it?

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GOP’s Self-Defeating Immigration Rhetoric

Republicans seem to truly have a death wish. They know that they have lost the last two presidential elections in no small part because they are losing the support of an ever-growing number of immigrants–primarily Latinos but also Asians. They know that the current immigration system isn’t working–that it has led to the creation of an underclass of 11 million undocumented aliens. But they refuse to pursue any serious reform beyond a desire to erect a Berlin Wall along our Southern border.

The comprehensive immigration bill passed by the Senate on a bipartisan 68 to 32 vote will not solve all of the issues related to immigration, but it is a start toward seriously addressing them. This balanced legislation includes a provision to allow undocumented migrants who have stayed out of legal trouble to become legal residents; a provision to increase spending on border security; a provision to increase the number of H1-B visas issued to highly skilled workers; and a provision to increase the number of low-skilled guest workers who can arrive to work in our farm fields and other areas.

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Republicans seem to truly have a death wish. They know that they have lost the last two presidential elections in no small part because they are losing the support of an ever-growing number of immigrants–primarily Latinos but also Asians. They know that the current immigration system isn’t working–that it has led to the creation of an underclass of 11 million undocumented aliens. But they refuse to pursue any serious reform beyond a desire to erect a Berlin Wall along our Southern border.

The comprehensive immigration bill passed by the Senate on a bipartisan 68 to 32 vote will not solve all of the issues related to immigration, but it is a start toward seriously addressing them. This balanced legislation includes a provision to allow undocumented migrants who have stayed out of legal trouble to become legal residents; a provision to increase spending on border security; a provision to increase the number of H1-B visas issued to highly skilled workers; and a provision to increase the number of low-skilled guest workers who can arrive to work in our farm fields and other areas.

Personally, I think the move to send tens of thousands more Border Patrol agents to the southern border, at an estimated cost of $40 billion over 10 years, is a bit silly; even with those additional agents, it will never be possible to seal off such a long border, and the money would be better spent on our armed forces, which are going to be devastated by a trillion dollars in budget cuts over that time. But while there may be individual complaints about this or that section of the bill, it is remarkable that it managed to win the support of both the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. It will help both Silicon Valley and the Central Valley (where much of the nation’s produce comes from).

And now it will be killed in the House where short-sighted Republicans have nothing to offer but a punitive approach to immigration. Seal the border, they say, and send ‘em home. This is sloganeering, not serious policymaking. No one has any actual plan to deport 11 million illegals. As Sen. Marco Rubio has pointed out, we have granted de facto “amnesty” to illegal immigrants right now. That House Republicans are pledged to maintain this status quo can be explained for short-sighted political reasons, as John has noted, but it will ensure the national Republican Party suffers the same long-term fate as the California GOP.

After decades of ascendance, the California Republican Party went into terminal decline after Gov. Pete Wilson embraced an anti-immigrant message with his support of Proposition 187–a punitive measure designed to stop undocumented residents from using public schools, health care, and other essential social services–back in 1994. Other factors certainly contributed to the California party’s downfall, including its insistence on hewing to a hard-line position on social issues, but there is little doubt that its perceived opposition to the growing number of immigrants was a major factor in its growing irrelevancy.

Why House Republicans want to emulate this example I have no idea. But obviously they do.

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Arab Spring Prompts Arab-Israeli Christians to Reevaluate Israel

Today’s Israel Hayom has an important article about an Israeli Greek Orthodox priest that every Christian in the West should read. Father Gabriel Nadaf and his family are suffering harassment and even death threats from their fellow Arabs for arguing that Israeli Arab Christians should serve in the Israel Defense Forces. On Tuesday, he was even summoned to a disciplinary hearing by the local Greek Orthodox patriarch, Theophilus III, which ended with Theophilus keeping Nadaf in office but asking him to lower his profile. The account of the hearing given by one of Nadaf’s close associates, Shady Halul, is revealing:

“The patriarch told Father Nadaf that he is not an opponent of the state of Israel,” he said. “On the contrary, he is very appreciative of the security enjoyed by Christians in Israel. He did ask Nadaf to tone down his statements concerning his work with the forum so as to ensure the safety of Christians in the Palestinian Authority and the Arab states.”

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Today’s Israel Hayom has an important article about an Israeli Greek Orthodox priest that every Christian in the West should read. Father Gabriel Nadaf and his family are suffering harassment and even death threats from their fellow Arabs for arguing that Israeli Arab Christians should serve in the Israel Defense Forces. On Tuesday, he was even summoned to a disciplinary hearing by the local Greek Orthodox patriarch, Theophilus III, which ended with Theophilus keeping Nadaf in office but asking him to lower his profile. The account of the hearing given by one of Nadaf’s close associates, Shady Halul, is revealing:

“The patriarch told Father Nadaf that he is not an opponent of the state of Israel,” he said. “On the contrary, he is very appreciative of the security enjoyed by Christians in Israel. He did ask Nadaf to tone down his statements concerning his work with the forum so as to ensure the safety of Christians in the Palestinian Authority and the Arab states.”

It has become a truism among some Christian groups that Israel is primarily to blame for the suffering of Middle East Christians. In 2010, for instance, a synod of Catholic bishops from the Middle East blamed the Christian exodus from the region on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Thus it’s worth listening to what these Israeli Christians have to say: that Israel is actually the one place in the region where Arab Christians enjoy security; elsewhere, they are oppressed by their fellow Arab Muslims.

Even more noteworthy, however, is that since the Arab Spring erupted, the “forum” to which Halul referred in the above quote–the Forum for the Enlistment of the Christian Community, founded by a group of Christian IDF veterans–has seen a marked increase in the number of Christians seeking to enlist, though they still represent a minority of the Arab Christian community. Previously, many Arab Christians bought into pan-Arab ideology, and thus believed their interests lay with their fellow Arabs. But the Arab Spring shattered this ideology: In country after country, Arab Islamists have turned on fellow Arabs who fail to toe their religious line, and this, naturally, includes Christians. By comparison, Israel is a haven.

“We feel secure in the state of Israel,” Nadaf explained, “and we see ourselves as citizens of the state with all the attendant rights as well as obligations.”

Indeed, the shift is so marked that the forum even lobbied (successfully) to get Arab Christians integrated into Jewish units rather than into Bedouin units (Bedouin are the only Muslims who serve in the IDF in significant numbers), thereby opting to forgo the comfort of serving with other Arabic-speakers.

As I’ve written before, a similar sea change is occurring among the Druze of the Golan Heights: Since the Syrian civil war erupted, the number seeking Israeli citizenship has soared by hundreds of percent, after decades in which most preferred to retain Syrian citizenship. As one explained, “People see murdered children and refugees fleeing to Jordan and Turkey, lacking everything, and ask themselves: Where do I want to raise my children. The answer is clear–in Israel and not Syria.”

All this leaves only one question: When are those western Christian groups that reflexively view Israel as the root of all evil going to reach the same realization that Nadaf and his followers have?

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Immigration: Everybody Wins (on the Politics)

The Senate’s passage of the immigration-reform bill is a landmark moment … in the history of cynicism, I’m afraid. The bill will now go to the House of Representatives, where it will die, just as the immigration-reform bill of 2006 died there under eerily similar circumstances. The political world has been consumed with the spectacle of the immigration bill for months now, even though from the outset, it was a reasonable bet it would never pass the House and therefore would never become law. So what was the point of all this action, this coverage, this debate?

Truth is, it helps everyone involved that the bill did not pass. Consider, first, the Republican senators who advocated the bill—primarily Marco Rubio of Florida—did so not only because they believe in a more open immigration system but because they live in states where they are obliged as an electoral matter to take serious account of Hispanic populations or whose industries rely heavily on immigration (both legal and illegal). Senators represent the entirety of the states in which they live, and the swing-state-ier their state is, the more they need to be more supple politically than their colleagues from states that are more lopsided in partisan terms. Win or lose, these senators have established a marker of bona fides with the electorates of their states that will make their reelection bids easier—assuming they are not defeated in primaries, of course.

Now consider the Republicans in opposition, both in the House and Senate. This was a gimme to them also. The party’s grass roots went absolutely ballistic over the bill, and so they can show their fealty to the base with a vote against. As for those grass-roots groups, this has been a fundraising bonanza for them, and also a thrilling way to demonstrate their hold over the party. So they too benefit from the defeat of immigration reform.

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The Senate’s passage of the immigration-reform bill is a landmark moment … in the history of cynicism, I’m afraid. The bill will now go to the House of Representatives, where it will die, just as the immigration-reform bill of 2006 died there under eerily similar circumstances. The political world has been consumed with the spectacle of the immigration bill for months now, even though from the outset, it was a reasonable bet it would never pass the House and therefore would never become law. So what was the point of all this action, this coverage, this debate?

Truth is, it helps everyone involved that the bill did not pass. Consider, first, the Republican senators who advocated the bill—primarily Marco Rubio of Florida—did so not only because they believe in a more open immigration system but because they live in states where they are obliged as an electoral matter to take serious account of Hispanic populations or whose industries rely heavily on immigration (both legal and illegal). Senators represent the entirety of the states in which they live, and the swing-state-ier their state is, the more they need to be more supple politically than their colleagues from states that are more lopsided in partisan terms. Win or lose, these senators have established a marker of bona fides with the electorates of their states that will make their reelection bids easier—assuming they are not defeated in primaries, of course.

Now consider the Republicans in opposition, both in the House and Senate. This was a gimme to them also. The party’s grass roots went absolutely ballistic over the bill, and so they can show their fealty to the base with a vote against. As for those grass-roots groups, this has been a fundraising bonanza for them, and also a thrilling way to demonstrate their hold over the party. So they too benefit from the defeat of immigration reform.

And Democrats? They have the best of both worlds. If legislation were to be signed by the president, they were confident it would have benefited their party politically by eventually creating new voters who they think would be in their camp. Failure would mean a new line of attack against Republicans with Hispanics to keep them in line and convinced the GOP is their enemy.

The only person whose political future is muddied by this in big-picture terms is Marco Rubio, whose opponents in the grass roots seem to believe he has made his nomination for the presidency in 2016 impossible. True? Maybe. But probably not. The primaries don’t begin for another 30 months, which is practically an epoch in politics, and a great many things will happen between now and then that will give Rubio a chance to boost his standing with those who dislike him now and will do injury to others the grass roots now seem to love. (Two words: Iran nukes.)

And please recall that the steward of the 2006 plan was one John McCain—who went on to win the GOP nomination in 2008. 

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