Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 8, 2013

Anti-Semitic Hate for Kids … and Adults

Prior to his wife’s illness, the assumption was that Secretary of State John Kerry would be returning to the Middle East this week for another round of shuttle diplomacy aimed at reviving the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. But whenever Kerry does get back to wandering between Jerusalem and Ramallah, the same obstacles that have prevented peace will still be there. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas knows that if he does as Kerry bids and negotiates with Israel and signs an agreement ending the conflict, he will be running up against the Palestinian reluctance to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. But while the media continues to focus on the deadlocked talks about talks, they rarely devote much energy to determining what exactly is driving the Palestinian culture of rejection.

Part of the answer to that puzzle is supplied from those who, unlike the mainstream media, do pay attention to what is written and broadcast in the official Palestinian media run by Abbas’s PA. Those wondering why the Palestinians would reject peace offers including an independent state (as they have three times since 2000), can do no better than to view this PA TV excerpt brought to our attention from Palestinian Media Watch in which two little Palestinian girls are asked to recite a hateful poem that refers to Jews in the following manner:

“Most evil among creations, barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs,” condemned to “humiliation and hardship.”

It also went on to say the following about the Jewish presence in Jerusalem:

Jerusalem vomits from within it your impurity

Because Jerusalem, you impure ones, is pious, immaculate

And Jerusalem, you who are filth, is clean and pure.

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Prior to his wife’s illness, the assumption was that Secretary of State John Kerry would be returning to the Middle East this week for another round of shuttle diplomacy aimed at reviving the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. But whenever Kerry does get back to wandering between Jerusalem and Ramallah, the same obstacles that have prevented peace will still be there. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas knows that if he does as Kerry bids and negotiates with Israel and signs an agreement ending the conflict, he will be running up against the Palestinian reluctance to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. But while the media continues to focus on the deadlocked talks about talks, they rarely devote much energy to determining what exactly is driving the Palestinian culture of rejection.

Part of the answer to that puzzle is supplied from those who, unlike the mainstream media, do pay attention to what is written and broadcast in the official Palestinian media run by Abbas’s PA. Those wondering why the Palestinians would reject peace offers including an independent state (as they have three times since 2000), can do no better than to view this PA TV excerpt brought to our attention from Palestinian Media Watch in which two little Palestinian girls are asked to recite a hateful poem that refers to Jews in the following manner:

“Most evil among creations, barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs,” condemned to “humiliation and hardship.”

It also went on to say the following about the Jewish presence in Jerusalem:

Jerusalem vomits from within it your impurity

Because Jerusalem, you impure ones, is pious, immaculate

And Jerusalem, you who are filth, is clean and pure.

It is shocking that the official media of the group that Kerry considers a partner for peace would be broadcasting hate and using children to do it. But, of course, as anyone who follows the PMW website regularly knows, there is actually nothing unusual about the PA acting in this manner.

The PA media has broadcast a steady diet of hatred against Israel and Jews since its inception after the Oslo Accords brought it into existence with numerous examples of them employing children and broadcasts specifically aimed at youngsters to do so. One of the great tragedies of the last 20 years has been the way Israel’s supposed peace partners have sowed the seeds of future conflict by inculcating their youth with doctrines that treat Jews as subhuman monsters with no rights or claims upon the land that both sides claim as their own.

There will be those who will argue that similar hatred exists among Israelis, as occasional incidents inside the green line and so-called “price tag” attacks on Palestinians in the territories indicate. But the difference between the two sides is actually illustrative of the way Israel has embraced the hope for peace while Palestinians have not.

The point is hatred of Jews by Palestinians is something that is officially endorsed by the Palestinian Authority while hatred of Arabs is incessantly condemned by the Israeli media and the government. Jewish prejudice against Arabs exists, but only as the actions of a minority, while mainstream Palestinian culture endorses hate. While Israeli schools adopted curricula seeking to promote “peace education,” the Palestinian schools still use textbooks that are filled with the same kind of vile delegitimization seen on PA TV.

But such hatred isn’t limited to just the Palestinians. As the Elder of Ziyon blog reports today, the American website Mondoweiss seems to be competing with the PA in the effort to delegitimize Jewish rights. In the course of a blog post alleging that Jewish settlers were infringing on the rights of Arab worshippers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Mondoweiss editor and contributor Annie Robbins made the following claim in response to a comment from a reader who pointed out that the Tomb is an ancient site of Jewish worship that even predates the Holy Temples in Jerusalem:

allegedly. there’s no proof that was the location of some grand temple. maybe lots of jewish stuff retroactively lands itself right underneath islamic structures. did you ever think of that? jealous much?

For anyone commenting on the Middle East to not know that the Muslim Conquests involved the planting of mosques on top of the holy sites of other faiths in places like Turkey, India as well as Israel is to demonstrate historical illiteracy on an Olympic scale. The line that separates stupidity from religious prejudice in such assertions is nonexistent since the only possible motivation for these statements is malice rooted in anti-Semitic hatred.

But while we know that Mondoweiss represents the views of denizens of the fever swamps of the left, it is important to remember that it is quite common for Abbas to make similar statements denying any Jewish connection to Jerusalem or the existence of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah or the temple. So long as hate speech is mainstream among the Palestinians, peace with Israel is not something that can be conjured up by a hard working secretary of state.

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The Campaign Strategy Hillary Can’t Avoid

One way to tell how much confidence the political world has in Hillary Clinton’s chances in 2016 is that reporters are already writing the stories about her they normally reserve for a politician who has won a major party nomination. For example: in May 2008, Jonathan Martin, then of Politico, wrote a piece titled “Will age be just a number in ’08?” Martin led off the article with another question: “Is John McCain Ronald Reagan or Bob Dole?”

The point was that John McCain was old–but not too old (probably) for voters. A month earlier Steve Kornacki had already written a piece for the New York Observer titled “McCain Is Old Like Reagan, Not Like Dole,” explaining that there’s old, and then there’s old. A candidate can embody energy and optimism at any age. Kornacki seemed to anticipate Martin’s question: age really is just a number.

Martin’s article on McCain’s age was published six months before the presidential election that year. But last week, Martin published the 2016 version of that story in the New York Times. This time it’s about Hillary Clinton–and it was published about 40 months before Election Day. Martin wrote that Republicans were thinking of painting Clinton as old news, especially if they run a charismatic young senator against her. (Hillary has seen this play before.)

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One way to tell how much confidence the political world has in Hillary Clinton’s chances in 2016 is that reporters are already writing the stories about her they normally reserve for a politician who has won a major party nomination. For example: in May 2008, Jonathan Martin, then of Politico, wrote a piece titled “Will age be just a number in ’08?” Martin led off the article with another question: “Is John McCain Ronald Reagan or Bob Dole?”

The point was that John McCain was old–but not too old (probably) for voters. A month earlier Steve Kornacki had already written a piece for the New York Observer titled “McCain Is Old Like Reagan, Not Like Dole,” explaining that there’s old, and then there’s old. A candidate can embody energy and optimism at any age. Kornacki seemed to anticipate Martin’s question: age really is just a number.

Martin’s article on McCain’s age was published six months before the presidential election that year. But last week, Martin published the 2016 version of that story in the New York Times. This time it’s about Hillary Clinton–and it was published about 40 months before Election Day. Martin wrote that Republicans were thinking of painting Clinton as old news, especially if they run a charismatic young senator against her. (Hillary has seen this play before.)

Today, Clinton’s supporters hit back via Martin’s former colleague at Politico, Maggie Haberman. Democrats, Haberman writes, “are confident that giving voters the chance to make history by electing the first female president — by definition a forward-looking act — would trump any argument that Clinton is too 20th century and give her a ‘change’ mantra of her own.”

One rejoinder Hillaryland may deploy in her defense, according to Martin, is–stop me if you’ve heard this one–the precedent set by Reagan. And of course the Republican nominee will almost certainly run as a youthful Reagan Republican, both with his politics and his sunny disposition.

In other words, we may have a 2016 presidential election in which one candidate will claim the mantle of Reagan while speaking the language of Obama and the other candidate will claim the mantle of Obama while speaking the language of Reagan. Confused? Don’t worry, you still have about 1,200 days of these articles to figure it out.

For Clinton, Haberman’s article is both good news and bad news. The good news is that the “historic” nature of her candidacy would be a potent political force. The bad news is that Clinton almost certainly would prefer not to run on her gender.

Throughout Clinton’s career, she has faced a certain amount of skepticism. Any doubts raised by the fact that her husband’s presidency launched her political career were not erased when she leapfrogged several rungs on the political ladder to take a Senate seat in New York where she never faced a tough election before being appointed secretary of state. The 2008 Democratic primary fight was her one and only difficult election, and she lost after squandering a lead and alienating a good portion of her party. Her term as secretary of state was devoid of accomplishments and rife with mismanagement, inattention, and whistleblower accusations of corruption and cover-ups.

Her age, then, is less an indication that she couldn’t handle being president and more a reminder that she’s at the end of her political career without much to show for it. What she would probably prefer is to win a presidential election on the merits–which she certainly has, being among the smartest and hardest working politicos around. Though of course she will never run against Obama, one can easily imagine her dream campaign capitalizing on buyer’s remorse, offering Obama’s progressive values but without the ubiquitous incompetence and smug bitterness of this administration.

She would give Democrats a do-over while reminding wavering independents and liberal Republicans of the perils of putting too much hope in a charismatic but inexperienced senator who is in line more with his party’s ideological wing than the mythical center to which so many voters pretend they belong. She might flatter voters instead of inspiring them, but she’d convince them that they all made the same mistake and all learned the same lesson.

She will not do so. This president has done much for her campaign already by shielding Clinton as much as possible from the fallout of the Benghazi tragedy and by very clearly making it known that he would like her to succeed him instead of his own sitting vice president. And the last thing Clinton should do to prove she isn’t the divisive figure Democrats remember from 2008 is to trash, in any way, her party’s sitting president.

So she may have no other real choice but to ask voters to make history, again, and elect her president. It’s a tired, clichéd strategy, but it’s also probably her best shot.

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Obama’s Claims Nothing But Dust in Wind

According to news reports, more than 50 people were killed on Monday when demonstrators enraged by the military overthrow of Egypt’s elected Islamist president clashed with Egyptian forces. It was the deadliest incident since Mohamed Morsi’s removal. In addition to the dead, hundreds of Egyptians were wounded.

So Egypt, the most important Arab nation in the world, is in turmoil. President Obama, meanwhile, has succeeded in alienating virtually every faction (both the pro- and anti-Morsi elements within Egypt feel betrayed by the United States). Having the Egyptian military depose from power the Muslim Brotherhood might have been the best of some very bad options. But it isn’t optimal by any means. The effect of the coup may well be to destabilize Egypt for years, it might further radicalize the Brotherhood, and a more fundamentalist Islamist faction within Egypt, the Salafist/Al Nour party, is emerging as political kingmakers.

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According to news reports, more than 50 people were killed on Monday when demonstrators enraged by the military overthrow of Egypt’s elected Islamist president clashed with Egyptian forces. It was the deadliest incident since Mohamed Morsi’s removal. In addition to the dead, hundreds of Egyptians were wounded.

So Egypt, the most important Arab nation in the world, is in turmoil. President Obama, meanwhile, has succeeded in alienating virtually every faction (both the pro- and anti-Morsi elements within Egypt feel betrayed by the United States). Having the Egyptian military depose from power the Muslim Brotherhood might have been the best of some very bad options. But it isn’t optimal by any means. The effect of the coup may well be to destabilize Egypt for years, it might further radicalize the Brotherhood, and a more fundamentalist Islamist faction within Egypt, the Salafist/Al Nour party, is emerging as political kingmakers.

But the turmoil in Egypt shouldn’t obscure the disaster that is unfolding in Syria, where a brutal civil war has killed upwards of 100,000 people, displaced millions more, and is destabilizing traditional American allies like Jordan, strengthening both Iran and Hezbollah and allowing Russia to establish a greater presence in the Middle East. And Syria, in turn, should not distract us from the rising authoritarian rule and Islamist tendencies of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, the further destabilization of nuclear-armed Pakistan, the increasing violence and instability in Iraq, the worrisome developments in Afghanistan, and the uncertainty surrounding the future of Libya, to name just a few other world hotspots.

There are many different ways to measure the multiplying failures of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, but one good place to start is to read the president’s June 4, 2009 speech in Cairo, where he pledged a “new beginning” between America and the Arab/Islamic world. It’s very instructive (and depressing) to be reminded of what Mr. Obama promised versus what has unfolded on his watch.

A second place to go is to Vali Nasr’s book The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat. Nasr, who is now dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, served in the Obama administration for two years. His book lays out a highly critical case against the president’s foreign policy–including why Obama’s purposeful retreat from the Middle East has been a grave error that has, among other things, given the strategic advantage to China. In Nasr’s words:

America – dragged by Europeans into ending butchery in Libya, abandoning Afghanistan to an uncertain future, resisting a leadership role in ending the massacre of civilians in Syria, and then rolling back its commitments to the region to “pivot” to Asia – hardly looks indispensable.

In the cocoon of our public debate Obama gets high marks on foreign policy. That is because his policies’ principal aim is not to make strategic decisions but to satisfy public opinion – he has done more of the things that people want and fewer o f the things we have to do that may be unpopular. To our allies, however, our constant tactical maneuvers don’t add up to a coherent strategy or a vision of global leadership. Gone is the exuberant American desire to lead the world. In its place there is the image of a superpower tired of the world and in retreat, most visibility from the one area of the world where it has been most intensely engaged. That impression serves neither America’s long-run interest nor stability around the world.

But even if you grant all that, there is something more that needs to be said–something that everyone who serves in high positions in the federal government, and especially in the White House, eventually learns. It is that governing is more difficult than giving speeches; that the world is complicated and untidy; and that often events are simply beyond the capacity of America to shape.

Before he became president, Barack Obama spoke as if the powers of the office, at least with him at the helm, would be nearly limitless. He would halt the rise of the oceans and remake the world. All the problems that existed were the responsibility of his predecessor. If Obama were elected, nations would bend to his will and leaders would bend to his ways. He was, we were assured, a world-historical figure, a once-in-a-generation leader, even a Lincoln-like one. 

It turns out Mr. Obama’s claims were nothing more than dust in the wind. He has been humbled by events and is now at the mercy of them. Some of this is certainly due to his own ineptness; some of it is also due to forces beyond his control. A more self-aware individual would have been wiser about all this before he took office. But now he knows his limitations. And so do we.

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Is Perry a Viable 2016 Contender?

Texas Governor Rick Perry’s decision to pass up a chance for a fourth full term in office will make for a lively race to replace him next year. But the fact that he is clearly leaving the door open for another run for the presidency in 2016 raises the question as to whether a second try will give Perry a better chance than he had in 2012. Though there is an informal tradition among Republicans that the second time is invariably the charm, if Perry thinks he can count on that helping him to the nomination, he may be in for as unhappy a ride in 2016 as his 2012 run.

Perry’s record as governor is, if anything, even more of an asset today than it was in 2011 when he declared his ultimately unsuccessful candidacy, and three years is a lifetime in politics. But there is simply no precedent for a man who was a laughingstock as a presidential candidate in one election cycle to transform himself into the winner at the next contest. The memory of what happened to Perry in those first disastrous months of his campaign combined with the far more formidable nature of the competition in 2016 should give him and his potential backers pause before they commit themselves to an effort that is unlikely to meet with any more success than he had before. No one has ever better illustrated the gap between success at the statewide level—even in a state as big as Texas—and the national stage than Rick Perry.

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Texas Governor Rick Perry’s decision to pass up a chance for a fourth full term in office will make for a lively race to replace him next year. But the fact that he is clearly leaving the door open for another run for the presidency in 2016 raises the question as to whether a second try will give Perry a better chance than he had in 2012. Though there is an informal tradition among Republicans that the second time is invariably the charm, if Perry thinks he can count on that helping him to the nomination, he may be in for as unhappy a ride in 2016 as his 2012 run.

Perry’s record as governor is, if anything, even more of an asset today than it was in 2011 when he declared his ultimately unsuccessful candidacy, and three years is a lifetime in politics. But there is simply no precedent for a man who was a laughingstock as a presidential candidate in one election cycle to transform himself into the winner at the next contest. The memory of what happened to Perry in those first disastrous months of his campaign combined with the far more formidable nature of the competition in 2016 should give him and his potential backers pause before they commit themselves to an effort that is unlikely to meet with any more success than he had before. No one has ever better illustrated the gap between success at the statewide level—even in a state as big as Texas—and the national stage than Rick Perry.

After 13 years in office, Perry has placed an indelible stamp on Texas political history. Though he has his detractors on the left, it’s difficult to argue that the state’s growth and prosperity has nothing to do with his leadership. The specific economic circumstances that apply to Texas may have worked to his advantage, but the least you could say about Perry is that he didn’t get in the way of those factors. Nor did he allow the legislature or the state bureaucracy to derail the boom. No matter how you look at it, he’s been an efficient manager and an effective promoter of the Lone Star State’s virtues. Any governor or president would be thrilled to be able to boast of a record that was anywhere close to what he achieved. After eight years of Barack Obama’s indifferent leadership, that ought to make for a powerful argument for Perry in 2016.

But any talk about another Perry presidential run has to start—and perhaps end—with a discussion of what happened to him the first time he ran.

Perry did enter the race late in the election cycle. By the time he declared his candidacy in August 2011 (on the day of the Ames, Iowa straw poll), his rivals had been at it for months if not years. But while he, and any other candidate, would be well advised to start a lot earlier in the run-up to 2016, it would be a mistake to assume that late start hurt him. In fact, it might have helped. After a summer and a couple of early debates that showed just how lackluster the GOP field was, Perry’s entrance into the contest could not have been better timed to ensure an easy path to the nomination for him. Perry looked to be the perfect candidate with a strong resume as a governor as well as close ties to both religious conservatives and Tea Partiers who loved his small government Texas philosophy. Indeed, the polls taken after his declaration showed him to be the frontrunner, easily eclipsing Mitt Romney and his other rivals.

It was only after he started opening his mouth and actually campaigning and taking part in the seemingly endless round of GOP debates that the trouble started.

What the nation soon learned was that while Perry had won three gubernatorial elections in Texas, he had never had to face the competition he was up against in the presidential contest. It wasn’t just that he soon got the kind of scrutiny from the national press that for the most part he didn’t receive in Austin. It was that he seemed utterly unprepared, if not completely incapable of putting forward a coherent argument for his candidacy.

The standard excuse for Perry’s disastrous debate performances is that he was still recovering from back surgery. That probably didn’t help him, but the indelible image of his “oops” moment when he couldn’t remember the three federal departments he said he wanted to disband is something that will stick with him until the day he dies. There are lots of reasons why a candidate can flop under that kind of pressure, but excuses don’t cut it in the big leagues in which he sought to compete. Within a few months, he went from being a likely winner to a punch line. It wasn’t that he lost so much as it was that he appeared to be in over his head outside the friendly confines of Texas politics. That is the sort of transformation that doesn’t just require a political makeover but an obituary.

The second try paradigm is what is tempting Perry back into the race, but the examples of Mitt Romney, John McCain, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush and even Ronald Reagan don’t really offer much comfort to Perry. All of them mustered decent showings in their previous tries for the presidency. If this “rule” offers much hope to anyone it should be encouraging Rick Santorum, who came from the back of the pack to win a dozen primaries and caucuses before ending up as the unofficial runner-up for the nomination.

But what both Santorum and Perry have to contend with in 2016 is a potentially far tougher field than they faced in 2012. With political stars like Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Scott Walker and Ted Cruz in the mix, retreads from the failed attempts to stop Barack Obama have no reason to assume they start with an advantage over newcomers. More than that, the constituencies that seemed most likely to boost Perry in 2012 now have stronger claimants on their support. Santorum is a more natural candidate to support for social conservatives while Tea Partiers are far more likely to embrace fellow Texan Ted Cruz or one of the other conservatives. With Christie and potentially Walker in the race, Perry will also have strong competition for the title of most successful governor.

Perry may be a better candidate if he runs for president again, but the point is that his first try was so bad that anything would be an improvement. Second tries only lead to victory if the first impression a candidate makes on the national electorate is not as dismal as the one Perry made in 2011 and 2012. There are no absolutes in politics, but pegging him as a long shot for 2016 would probably be giving him more of a chance than he actually has.  

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The Muslim Brotherhood Is Not the Victim

The shootings in Cairo this morning that took the lives of what is reported to be more than 50 supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood movement have shocked the world and will, no doubt, influence the debate about where the United States should come down on the coup carried out last week by the army. The Brotherhood has claimed that the victims of the shooting were merely peaceful protesters, while the army has asserted that soldiers were attacked with rocks and perhaps even gunfire by masked protesters before the lethal barrage that killed dozens. But the incident may well prove to be a crucial turning point in the discussion here about Egypt and whether the U.S. should support Morsi’s ouster. Whatever it was that led to the killings, if it should help to reinforce the narrative theme that the Brotherhood and even Morsi are the innocent victims of a brutal army determined to repress dissent, then it may influence the Obama administration’s decision making process as to whether to continue American aid to Egypt or to withdraw it in order to push for a return to “democratic” rule.

But it would be a terrible mistake if Washington policymakers allowed today’s event to endorse the idea that what is at stake in Egypt now is democracy or that the Brotherhood is a collection of innocent victims. Even if we concede that the killings are a crime that should be investigated and punished, the conflict there is not about the right of peaceful dissent or even the rule of law, as the Brotherhood’s apologists continue to insist. While our Max Boot is right to worry that the army’s behavior may signal an incapacity to run the country that could lead to a collapse that would benefit extremists, I think the more imminent danger is that American pressure on the new government could undermine its ability to assert control over the situation and lead the Brotherhood and other Islamists to think they can return to power.

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The shootings in Cairo this morning that took the lives of what is reported to be more than 50 supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood movement have shocked the world and will, no doubt, influence the debate about where the United States should come down on the coup carried out last week by the army. The Brotherhood has claimed that the victims of the shooting were merely peaceful protesters, while the army has asserted that soldiers were attacked with rocks and perhaps even gunfire by masked protesters before the lethal barrage that killed dozens. But the incident may well prove to be a crucial turning point in the discussion here about Egypt and whether the U.S. should support Morsi’s ouster. Whatever it was that led to the killings, if it should help to reinforce the narrative theme that the Brotherhood and even Morsi are the innocent victims of a brutal army determined to repress dissent, then it may influence the Obama administration’s decision making process as to whether to continue American aid to Egypt or to withdraw it in order to push for a return to “democratic” rule.

But it would be a terrible mistake if Washington policymakers allowed today’s event to endorse the idea that what is at stake in Egypt now is democracy or that the Brotherhood is a collection of innocent victims. Even if we concede that the killings are a crime that should be investigated and punished, the conflict there is not about the right of peaceful dissent or even the rule of law, as the Brotherhood’s apologists continue to insist. While our Max Boot is right to worry that the army’s behavior may signal an incapacity to run the country that could lead to a collapse that would benefit extremists, I think the more imminent danger is that American pressure on the new government could undermine its ability to assert control over the situation and lead the Brotherhood and other Islamists to think they can return to power.

Despite evidence of provocation and even violence on the part of the Brotherhood demonstrators, it is unlikely that the army will be able to avoid being labeled as murderers by the international press. Indeed, if the Egyptian generals have any doubt about that they should ask their colleagues in Israel who have been similarly branded as killers even though the Israel Defense Forces have never done anything remotely as irresponsible as what happened today in Cairo.

But however deplorable today’s violence might be, that should not serve as an excuse for media coverage or policies that are rooted in the idea that the Brotherhood is a peaceful movement or that it’s goal is democracy. The whole point of the massive protests that shook Egypt last week and forced the military to intervene to prevent civil war was that the Brotherhood government was well on its way to establishing itself as an unchallengeable authoritarian regime that could impose Islamist law on the country with impunity. The Brotherhood may have used the tactics of democracy in winning elections in which they used their superior organizational structure to trounce opponents, but, as with other dictatorial movements, these were merely tactics employed to promote an anti-democratic aim.

Stopping the Brotherhood from achieving their goals should have been priority for the U.S. in its approach to Egypt, but instead the administration allowed itself to be depicted as the Brotherhood’s loyal supporter even if the truth was a bit more complicated than that. The president’s continued waffling in the days since the coup has only added to the suspicion that he was far more comfortable with Morsi than he is with those who prevented him from establishing an Islamist rather than a purely authoritarian dictatorship like that of Hosni Mubarak.

The shootings may also gain traction for those, like Senator John McCain, who wish to cut off U.S. aid to Egypt in the wake of the coup. Though it is possible that a U.S. government that does not blush about falsely characterizing foreign regimes when it suits Obama’s policy predilections would be able to stick to the “it’s not a coup” excuse for continuing aid, the violence could be just the lever critics of aid to Egypt are looking for.

But such a cutoff or threats to that effect would be a terrible mistake.

Any American action at this crucial moment that would convey the impression that the United States thinks a reversal of the coup or even a new Brotherhood government is a desirable outcome could have a devastating impact on the conflict there. Fortunately, the first reactions out of the White House now indicate that it won’t cut off aid. Let’s hope they stick to this resolution if Brotherhood apologists step up the pressure. Should the army falter in its resolve to ensure that a Morsi/Brotherhood dictatorship should be stopped in its tracks, it could encourage more violence and possibly help the Brotherhood gain support for an armed revolt.

Despite the idealistic posture that America should push at all costs for a swift return to democratic rule in Egypt, it needs to be remembered that genuine democracy is not an option there right now. The only way for democracy to thrive is to create a consensus in favor of that form of government. So long as the Islamists of the Brotherhood and other groups that are even more extreme are major players in Egypt, that can’t happen. The Brotherhood remains the main threat to freedom in Egypt, not a victim. While we should encourage the military to eventually put a civilian government in place, America’s priority should be that of the Egyptian people: stopping the Brotherhood. Anything that undermines that struggle won’t help Egypt or the United States. 

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Will Late-Term Abortion Fight Go National?

If you relied on the fawning media coverage of Texas legislator Wendy Davis and her filibuster of a bill restricting abortion in Texas, you’d never know what it was Davis was actually taking a stand against. The Texas legislature proposed a bill that would have forced abortion clinics to upgrade their facilities to further protect the health and safety of the women who use them, and it would have tailored the state’s abortion laws according to public opinion.

That helps explain why Davis resolutely refused to say what she was doing. In interviews she would avoid uttering the word “abortion” and was sometimes helped in this Orwellian quest by the rather embarrassing journalists from major networks who mostly asked her about her shoes. But then a funny thing happened: pollsters went out to take the temperature of the public on the issue, and the results revealed the vast canyon between the elite media and the American public on abortion–a divide which is stark on many issues, but perhaps none more so than this one.

And it’s throwing a wrench in the Democrats’ plans to “turn Texas blue,” reports Politico. Democrats were hoping to enlist Texas Hispanics in the effort, but there is an obstacle:

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If you relied on the fawning media coverage of Texas legislator Wendy Davis and her filibuster of a bill restricting abortion in Texas, you’d never know what it was Davis was actually taking a stand against. The Texas legislature proposed a bill that would have forced abortion clinics to upgrade their facilities to further protect the health and safety of the women who use them, and it would have tailored the state’s abortion laws according to public opinion.

That helps explain why Davis resolutely refused to say what she was doing. In interviews she would avoid uttering the word “abortion” and was sometimes helped in this Orwellian quest by the rather embarrassing journalists from major networks who mostly asked her about her shoes. But then a funny thing happened: pollsters went out to take the temperature of the public on the issue, and the results revealed the vast canyon between the elite media and the American public on abortion–a divide which is stark on many issues, but perhaps none more so than this one.

And it’s throwing a wrench in the Democrats’ plans to “turn Texas blue,” reports Politico. Democrats were hoping to enlist Texas Hispanics in the effort, but there is an obstacle:

On the surface, at least, the polls don’t look promising for a party that’s basking in the national spotlight because of a fight over abortion rights. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 53 percent of Hispanic Catholics say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. That’s a lower percentage than white evangelical Protestants and Mormons, but it’s higher than all other religious voting groups, including white Catholics, white mainline Protestants, black Protestants, and Jews.

And Steve Munisteri, the chairman of the Texas Republican Party, cited a poll by the Wilson Perkins Allen research firm that found a 2-1 “pro-life” margin among the state’s Hispanic voters. The poll, conducted for the state GOP, showed that 62 percent of Texas Hispanics who voted in the 2012 election described themselves as pro-life while just 32 percent called themselves pro-choice, according to Chris Perkins, the pollster who worked on the survey.

It turns out that Texans don’t vote based on the color and style of Wendy Davis’s sneakers. The Politico story quotes liberal activists saying that they kind of knew that already and preferred to conduct their Hispanic outreach without emphasizing the national Democratic Party’s uncontained enthusiasm for abortion. The Democrats’ position on abortion conflicts with Hispanics’ religious belief, and it also conflicts with basic biology. Hispanics in Texas are more pro-life and pro-science than most Democrats, but, Politico adds, “The fight was forced upon them, they say, when Gov. Rick Perry added the anti-abortion bill to last month’s special session and revived it in a second special session that started July 1.”

No one is actually forced to defend unsafe, unlimited and unregulated abortion; Texas Democrats are merely following the national party’s lead. As for the religious aspect, it could not have helped Democrats that their supporters showed up to chant “hail Satan” in Austin. But the Politico story includes this revealing bit of strategy from the left: “Some Democratic strategists say the key to winning over Latinos is to avoid focusing too much on any one issue — especially abortion.” Democrats seem to understand that if voters ever figure out the true aims of American liberalism, they’ll run in the other direction.

The mainstream media obviously didn’t get that memo. Journalists seem eager to nationalize this debate, and they may get their wish. Marco Rubio is reportedly on the cusp of sponsoring a Senate bill that would limit late-term abortion:

Anti-abortion groups have asked Rubio to take the lead, and while his office says no final decision has been made, the senator is expected to sign on this week after returning from a family vacation.

The bill, which has zero chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate, would make exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother — but not for cases when a mother’s health is deemed in danger.

The most common reason to propose legislation that won’t pass is to get everyone on record about it. Congressional Republicans will keep proposing bills to repeal ObamaCare to make a point about the bill’s continued unpopularity. If Rubio wants the Senate to vote on a bill restricting late-term abortion, it’s because he thinks he’s on the side of the public–and Democrats aren’t.

The other possibility is that Rubio is trying to get back in the good graces of conservative primary voters after incurring their wrath by backing comprehensive immigration reform. This may give him something of an edge over his rivals by being the public face of the pro-life movement, but it won’t make too much of a difference. Rick Santorum will still be more associated with opposition to abortion than any newcomers, and the other prospective 2016 GOP candidates in the Senate will vote for the bill anyway.

In all likelihood, Rubio is reading the national polls and thinks Democrats have more to lose from a vote on abortion than Republicans. But Rubio better be prepared for the waves of hostility from the media if he takes up this fight. If you’re on the side of life, you don’t get asked about your shoes.

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Egypt’s Coup and the Vietnam Precedent

By coincidence, even as the coup in Egypt has been unfolding, I have been reading about the coup which occurred in Saigon on November 1-2, 1963. The generals who ousted Ngo Dinh Diem were also widely cheered by the people of South Vietnam–and by the United States government which played a much more active role in encouraging that change of regime than (at least as far as we know) the one currently unfolding. But the South Vietnamese generals found it much easier to topple the old government than to create a new government in its place.

The coup was led by General Duong Van Minh–known to Americans as “Big Minh”–but he lasted only three months as president before being pushed aside by another general. South Vietnam was to be in for constant turmoil and instability that lasted right up to the North Vietnamese invasion in 1975 which ended the state’s existence. Indeed the political uncertainty which followed Diem’s demise–and that of his influential brother Ngo Dinh Nhu–made the Communists’ job of destabilizing the state much easier.

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By coincidence, even as the coup in Egypt has been unfolding, I have been reading about the coup which occurred in Saigon on November 1-2, 1963. The generals who ousted Ngo Dinh Diem were also widely cheered by the people of South Vietnam–and by the United States government which played a much more active role in encouraging that change of regime than (at least as far as we know) the one currently unfolding. But the South Vietnamese generals found it much easier to topple the old government than to create a new government in its place.

The coup was led by General Duong Van Minh–known to Americans as “Big Minh”–but he lasted only three months as president before being pushed aside by another general. South Vietnam was to be in for constant turmoil and instability that lasted right up to the North Vietnamese invasion in 1975 which ended the state’s existence. Indeed the political uncertainty which followed Diem’s demise–and that of his influential brother Ngo Dinh Nhu–made the Communists’ job of destabilizing the state much easier.

Is this an augury of what Egypt–which is under the threat not of a Communist but rather of a Salafist takeover–faces? It’s impossible to say, but the early signs are not promising. The generals won widespread backing for ousting the incompetent and unloved Mohamed Morsi. But their initial choice for prime minister, Mohamed ElBaradei, was withdrawn after objections from the Salafist Al Nour party. Al Nour, which was the second-largest vote getter after the Muslim Brotherhood, had initially backed the coup but now seems to have developed cold feet. Its leaders cited as the reason for withdrawing from the governing process the massacre carried out by troops who have killed more than 50 protesters backing a restoration of the Morsi regime.

This shocking violence–the worst such incident since Hosni Mubarak was toppled in 2011–could be an anomaly or it could signal the start of more widespread fighting, even perhaps a civil war. The Muslim Brotherhood still retains mass support and it has an organizational structure that could easily go underground to wage its battle for power with bombs rather than ballots. The Salafists also have many armed extremists in their midst. This is, to put it mildly, a dangerous situation. The generals will have to show hitherto-unsuspected political wisdom in steering Egypt through the current crisis which occurs as the economy continues to tank and law and order continue to break down. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions–Ataturk comes to mind–few generals have proven very successful dictators: the skill sets needed to command troops are far different from those needed to play the political game.

That is why, however happy most Americans (including me) are to see Morsi ousted from power, the U.S. government needs to make clear it will not tolerate indefinite unconstitutional rule by the Egyptian military. The U.S. has limited leverage but the $1.5 billion in aid we provide annually does give us some influence, and we need to use it to press for return to civilian rule, the promulgation of a new constitution, and the holding of elections. Egypt is far too important a country to drift along as South Vietnam did in the 1960s after its own military coup.

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Bush Versus the Right on Immigration

It is to be expected that former President George W. Bush’s statement endorsing the immigration reform bill recently passed by the Senate won’t have much impact on the activists urging House Republicans to trash the legislation. The Tea Party movement that grew up in the years after Bush left office was, to no small degree, a reaction to the way the party seemed to crash and burn in the final years of his presidency. The consensus among many in the grass roots was that Bush and many congressional Republicans lost their way in the last decade, becoming advocates for big government in a way that undermined the GOP’s principles while also demonstrating no aptitude for governing.

The party’s resurgence of 2010 was driven by a new brand of Tea Party Republicanism that rejected the supposed legacy of Bush’s tax-and-spend policies almost as much as it did those of President Obama. But just as polls show that the country is reassessing its negative views of the Bush presidency, so, too, should Republicans who believed that kicking the 43rd president to the curb was essential to ensuring their future.

It is in that context that conservative activists should listen to Bush’s terse advice and remember that their views about immigration policy should be separated from the tendency of many on the right to oppose anything endorsed by Obama. Rather than dismissing Bush as a relic of an era of big government Republicanism, they should remember that for all of his faults and the mistakes made during his administration, the last GOP candidate to win the presidency was someone who had a better grasp of the sentiments of middle America than most of those conservatives currently claiming to represent its interests.

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It is to be expected that former President George W. Bush’s statement endorsing the immigration reform bill recently passed by the Senate won’t have much impact on the activists urging House Republicans to trash the legislation. The Tea Party movement that grew up in the years after Bush left office was, to no small degree, a reaction to the way the party seemed to crash and burn in the final years of his presidency. The consensus among many in the grass roots was that Bush and many congressional Republicans lost their way in the last decade, becoming advocates for big government in a way that undermined the GOP’s principles while also demonstrating no aptitude for governing.

The party’s resurgence of 2010 was driven by a new brand of Tea Party Republicanism that rejected the supposed legacy of Bush’s tax-and-spend policies almost as much as it did those of President Obama. But just as polls show that the country is reassessing its negative views of the Bush presidency, so, too, should Republicans who believed that kicking the 43rd president to the curb was essential to ensuring their future.

It is in that context that conservative activists should listen to Bush’s terse advice and remember that their views about immigration policy should be separated from the tendency of many on the right to oppose anything endorsed by Obama. Rather than dismissing Bush as a relic of an era of big government Republicanism, they should remember that for all of his faults and the mistakes made during his administration, the last GOP candidate to win the presidency was someone who had a better grasp of the sentiments of middle America than most of those conservatives currently claiming to represent its interests.

As Bush noted in the interview with ABC News this past weekend, the debate on the right about whether the immigration bill will improve the prospects of the Republicans among Hispanics is beside the point. “Good policy yields good politics, as far as I’m concerned,” Bush said.

Tea Partiers have lambasted the idea of “compassionate conservatism” that Bush ran on in 2000 and 2004 as a failed experiment in which the GOP sought to outdo the Democrats when it came to distributing goodies to the voters. To some extent that critique is right. The expansion of Medicare that provided free prescription drug benefits passed by a GOP Congress and signed by Bush was a fiscal disaster and is rightly cited by conservatives as an example of how the “compassionate conservatives” drove the party into a ditch. But that doesn’t mean that every aspect of Bush’s attempt to reposition the party as one that represented the center as well as the right was incorrect. His spirit of openness—exemplified by his support of immigration reform—was integral to his electoral success and his ability to lead until war weariness and a fiscal collapse (that was brought on by a housing bubble created by Democratic policies as much as those of the GOP) derailed his presidency.

Much of the debate over the immigration bill this summer will focus on its strengths and weaknesses, but the real issue isn’t so much the details as whether Republicans have lost faith in the idea that, as Bush said, “I think it’s very important to fix a broken system, to treat people with respect. And have confidence in our capacity to assimilate people.”

Strip away a lot of the sophistry and misleading statistics that are put forward by some of the bill’s critics and what you see is a basic lack of confidence in that capacity and a lack of faith in the country’s future as its population changes. The nativist tone of many of the arguments used against the bill isn’t just a function of that lamentable tendency on the part of some on the right to deplore and to futilely attempt to halt the rise in the Hispanic population as it is a desire to keep out foreigners who wish to work in the United States. That is, as Peter Wehner noted earlier today, not just wrong but completely contrary to the spirit of Republicanism as articulated by its iconic leaders Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.

The assumption on the part of many on the right is that Bush is ancient history and should be ignored. Though the president’s mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush, was right when she said, “we’ve had enough Bushes” in the White House, Republicans do need to remember that they will never grow their party or win back the White House by allowing isolationism or nativism to dominate their thinking.

As one conservative critic wrote at National Review Online today, immigration has been an issue since 1789, but while he was right about that what he failed to point out is that those who hitch their wagon to the Know Nothing strain of our political tradition always lose in the end.

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Eliot Spitzer Wants Back in Politics

The New York Times is reporting, in its lead article this morning, that former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who was forced to resign after his liaison with a high-priced call girl became public knowledge, is going to run for city comptroller in this year’s New York City elections. Like Anthony Weiner, who is running for mayor after being forced to resign from Congress because of a “sexting” scandal, he is asking the public to forgive him.

Personally, I’ve never thought that one’s private sexual peccadilloes, even if they become public, should automatically disbar someone from public office. After all, both Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy were capable presidents while being chronic philanderers. Finding that the high and the mighty have feet of clay is irresistible journalistic catnip, but it’s a poor way to choose leaders. After all, as Catholics say, we are all miserable sinners.

But let’s take a look at Spitzer’s performance as a public servant, specifically his career as New York attorney general. In that office he was far more interested in his own political advancement than in anything else, choosing his cases with an eye to generating publicity as a crusader against Wall Street peculation. And his tactics in these cases were often abhorrent: As Ben Smith writes:

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The New York Times is reporting, in its lead article this morning, that former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who was forced to resign after his liaison with a high-priced call girl became public knowledge, is going to run for city comptroller in this year’s New York City elections. Like Anthony Weiner, who is running for mayor after being forced to resign from Congress because of a “sexting” scandal, he is asking the public to forgive him.

Personally, I’ve never thought that one’s private sexual peccadilloes, even if they become public, should automatically disbar someone from public office. After all, both Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy were capable presidents while being chronic philanderers. Finding that the high and the mighty have feet of clay is irresistible journalistic catnip, but it’s a poor way to choose leaders. After all, as Catholics say, we are all miserable sinners.

But let’s take a look at Spitzer’s performance as a public servant, specifically his career as New York attorney general. In that office he was far more interested in his own political advancement than in anything else, choosing his cases with an eye to generating publicity as a crusader against Wall Street peculation. And his tactics in these cases were often abhorrent: As Ben Smith writes:

Spitzer was, as New York State Attorney General, a terrifying and fascinating figure. He had learned from his legendary former boss Robert Morgenthau that under-resourced public prosecutors can’t beat deep-pocketed law firms on a level playing field, and that where banks and wealthy defendants may have time and money on their side, prosecutors can use the press to erase at least the first advantage. He leaked shamelessly, and even as he denied leaking, playing extremely high-stakes games with the stock prices of major corporations. He understood the power of fear and the innate conservatism of corporate executives, and persuaded much of New York City’s financial elite that he was actually out of his mind — an incredibly valuable perception in high-stakes negotiations.

Bullying was standard operating procedure for Spitzer as attorney general. When the former head of Goldman Sachs, John Whitehead, criticized his prosecution of a financial executive, Spitzer called him and said, “Mr. Whitehead, it’s now a war between us and you’ve fired the first shot. I will be coming after you. You will pay the price. This is only the beginning and you will pay dearly for what you have done. You will wish you had never written that letter.” His language was often far worse with other victims of his wrath.

Indictment for an individual is, certainly, bad news. But for a corporation it can be a death sentence, especially on Wall Street where trust is everything. Credit dries up, deals disappear, the stock price collapses. So when Spitzer went after Hank Greenberg, the long-time head of A.I.G., the insurance giant, the company felt that it had no choice but to have Mr. Greenberg—who had built the small company into one of the world’s largest insurance companies—resign. Greenberg was replaced by a mediocrity and in 2008, the company—which was “too big to fail”—had to be bailed out by the federal government. We’ll never know if Greenberg could have prevented that calamity, but he was never indicted criminally and most of the civil charges have been dismissed.

There’s no reason he wouldn’t bring the same tactics to the office of city comptroller. New York City is quite uncivil enough as it is without the likes of Eliot Spitzer’s bullying, threatening, and self-aggrandizing.

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The GOP Is More Serious Than Sarah Palin

In a recent interview, former Alaska governor and GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin indicated she was open to leaving the GOP and starting a third party. After expressing her enthusiasm for the name “The Freedom Party,” Palin went on to say this: 

If the GOP continues to back away from the planks in our platform, from the principles that built this party of Lincoln and of Reagan, then yeah, more and more of us are gonna start saying, “You know, what’s wrong with being an independent?” Kind of, with that libertarian streak that much of us have. In other words, we want government to back off and not infringe upon our rights. I think there will be a lot of us who start saying, “GOP, if you abandon us, what–we have nowhere else to go except to become more independent and not enlisted in a, one or the other of the private majority parties that rule in our nation — either a Democrat or a Republican.” Remember these are private parties. And no one forces us to be enlisted in either party.

Let’s begin with this observation: Ms. Palin is a fierce opponent of immigration reform, and any openness by the Republican leadership in the House would move her a good deal closer to abandoning the GOP. Which of course makes her reference to both Lincoln and Reagan odd, since Reagan was an advocate of amnesty and as president granted it to millions of illegal immigrants (“I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and have lived here even though sometime back they may have entered illegally,” Reagan said in his 1984 debate with Walter Mondale). 

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In a recent interview, former Alaska governor and GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin indicated she was open to leaving the GOP and starting a third party. After expressing her enthusiasm for the name “The Freedom Party,” Palin went on to say this: 

If the GOP continues to back away from the planks in our platform, from the principles that built this party of Lincoln and of Reagan, then yeah, more and more of us are gonna start saying, “You know, what’s wrong with being an independent?” Kind of, with that libertarian streak that much of us have. In other words, we want government to back off and not infringe upon our rights. I think there will be a lot of us who start saying, “GOP, if you abandon us, what–we have nowhere else to go except to become more independent and not enlisted in a, one or the other of the private majority parties that rule in our nation — either a Democrat or a Republican.” Remember these are private parties. And no one forces us to be enlisted in either party.

Let’s begin with this observation: Ms. Palin is a fierce opponent of immigration reform, and any openness by the Republican leadership in the House would move her a good deal closer to abandoning the GOP. Which of course makes her reference to both Lincoln and Reagan odd, since Reagan was an advocate of amnesty and as president granted it to millions of illegal immigrants (“I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and have lived here even though sometime back they may have entered illegally,” Reagan said in his 1984 debate with Walter Mondale). 

As for Lincoln, in a new biography on him, Rich Lowry points out that “Lincoln was broadly pro-immigration… Clearly, Lincoln’s default position today would be generosity toward immigrants. The effectively permanent status as second-class citizens of millions of illegal immigrants would be anathema to him.” In their tone and substantive approach to legal and illegal immigration, then, people like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are far closer to Reagan and Lincoln than Ms. Palin is.

And what about the broader indictment by Palin, which is that the GOP is moving away from its principles and becoming a less conservative party? That charge–shared by some others on the right–strikes me as rather wide of the mark. After all, in many respects the GOP is becoming more amenable to her brand of Tea Party conservatism than it was in and prior to 2008–when Palin was a proud Republican and the party’s vice presidential pick.

For example, a smaller percentage of GOP senators voted for immigration reform last month than was the case in 2006. Representative Paul Ryan has on several occasions now presented a very serious plan to re-limit government and reform entitlements, especially Medicare–and in doing so he has gone far beyond anything that Ronald Reagan ever proposed. And to the astonishment of many, Ryan secured the support of virtually the entire Republican House. In addition, the GOP has uniformly opposed higher taxes. (Compare this once again to Reagan, who in 1982 signed what at the time was the largest tax increase in American history.) In fact, congressional Republicans have consistently been pushing for tax cuts. They accepted sequester cuts earlier this year, when many on the right predicted they would buckle. House and Senate Republicans have also opposed, almost to a person, the Affordable Care Act, and pushed for its repeal. Republicans voted en masse against the 2009 stimulus package. The GOP remains staunchly pro-life. It has opposed the president’s gun control and climate change agenda. And many Republicans have backed away from a larger federal role in education. Then there are Republican governors, current and recent, many of whom are conservative, successful and reform-oriented. 

Let’s stipulate that no party is perfect, that different currents exist within political parties, and that key figures within them will act in ways with which we disagree. The GOP certainly isn’t fully abiding by my recommendations. That said, where precisely is this great abandonment of principle we’re supposedly seeing? The GOP is in many ways a more conservative party today than it was during the Reagan years.

Several things are happening, I think. One is that some elements within the GOP base are in an agitated mood, spoiling for a fight, eager to make themselves look principled by constantly asserting the GOP is unprincipled. It’s similar to a quarrelsome marriage; every word one spouse says is interpreted in the worst possible light by the other. Sarah Palin and those like her are now disposed to attack the GOP, and perhaps even looking for reasons to break from it. But let’s be clear: It’s being driven by her/their frame of mind, not the heresies of the Republican Party. 

The other thing that is occurring is that Palin and those like her have undergone a fairly dramatic shift in the last few years. One telling example is her reaction to Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency leaks. Palin has gone out of her way to defend Snowden  and asserted that America is “becoming a totalitarian surveillance state.” This is a silly charge–and evidence that Palin has lurched in a much more libertarian direction since she enthusiastically agreed to be John McCain’s running mate in 2008.

It may also be that Palin, having quit after serving less than one term as governor, is simply not very serious about, or even all that interested in, governing. She does seem better suited to compose tweets and star in reality shows than to carry out the duties of governing.

But Ms. Palin is right about this: No one forces us to be enlisted in either party. She is free to leave the GOP at any time, for any reason. And there may be more than a few Republicans who hope she will, if only so that they do not have to spend any more time explaining to the rest of the world why the GOP, for all its shortcomings, is far more serious than Sarah Palin.

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Media Help America Misunderstand Egypt

Americans are frequently accused of being clueless about the Middle East. But given the nonsense they’re fed by the so-called “serious” mainstream media, cluelessness is virtually inevitable.

Take, for instance, the explanation of last week’s Egyptian coup offered by a star columnist for one of America’s premier newspapers: According to the New York Times’s Roger Cohen, it was about the ousted government’s failure to satisfy the following cravings: “personal empowerment, a demand to join the modern world, and live in an open society under the rule of law rather than the rule of despotic whim.” And on what does he base this conclusion? He quotes exactly two people–the director of Human Rights Watch’s Cairo office and former International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohamed ElBaradei. In other words, two members of the same liberal elite to which Cohen belongs–but which is highly unrepresentative of most of the estimated 14 million demonstrators who thronged Egypt’s streets last Sunday.

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Americans are frequently accused of being clueless about the Middle East. But given the nonsense they’re fed by the so-called “serious” mainstream media, cluelessness is virtually inevitable.

Take, for instance, the explanation of last week’s Egyptian coup offered by a star columnist for one of America’s premier newspapers: According to the New York Times’s Roger Cohen, it was about the ousted government’s failure to satisfy the following cravings: “personal empowerment, a demand to join the modern world, and live in an open society under the rule of law rather than the rule of despotic whim.” And on what does he base this conclusion? He quotes exactly two people–the director of Human Rights Watch’s Cairo office and former International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohamed ElBaradei. In other words, two members of the same liberal elite to which Cohen belongs–but which is highly unrepresentative of most of the estimated 14 million demonstrators who thronged Egypt’s streets last Sunday.

Reporters who spoke to those demonstrators, like Haaretz’s anonymous (presumably for his/her own protection) correspondent in Cairo, got a very different picture. “There’s no construction in Egypt and no company is hiring workers,” complained an unemployed engineer. A small boat owner said he could no longer feed his children because the falloff in tourism had killed his livelihood, which was taking tourists on Nile cruises. A Cairo street vendor who voted for the Muslim Brotherhood last year said bluntly, “The city is dead. Dead. No work. No food.” As columnist David P. Goldman (aka Spengler) noted, “It is not that hard to get 14 million people into the streets if there is nothing to eat at home.”

This is not a minor misunderstanding. If you think last week’s revolution was primarily a revolt against the Muslim Brotherhood’s undemocratic behavior, then you’ll think the West’s main goal should be “supporting the Egyptian people in their aspirations to democracy and inclusive governance,” as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton put it last week–for instance, by helping them draft a new and improved constitution. But if you realize that the revolution was primarily about economic distress, then you’ll understand the West’s main goals should be arranging short-term aid and pushing long-term economic reforms needed to stabilize the economy–because without economic improvement, even the best constitution won’t prevent another coup next year. Desperate people can’t afford to wait for the next election to bring about policy changes.

I’ve written before about how journalists’ tendency to talk almost exclusively with their counterparts abroad–i.e. members of the liberal elite–leads to gross misunderstanding of the countries they’re ostensibly enlightening their readers about. And the inevitable outcome is bad policymaking: It’s not possible to craft intelligent policy based on erroneous information.

But since the mainstream media isn’t going to change, policymakers urgently need to develop their own sources of information rather than relying so heavily on the media to understand foreign countries. As COMMENTARY’s Michael Rubin has frequently argued, ordering diplomats to spend less time hobnobbing with the liberal elite and more time learning what everyone else thinks might be a good place to start.

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Can Egypt’s New Leaders Handle Ramadan?

Ramadan, the Islamic month in which observant Muslims fast and refrain from any drink from sunrise to sundown, begins tomorrow evening. The tempo of life changes during Ramadan. Those observing the holiday eat before dawn, and then sleep late into the morning. Many television stations broadcast serials—some of which have received attention in the West for their outright anti-Semitism—in the Arab equivalent of sweeps week. Tempers can flare toward the late afternoon when the strain of fasting takes its toll, and it’s always best to stay clear of the roads in the couple of hours before sundown and drivers who might in any other month appear aggressive can during Ramadan bring road rage to a new level as they rush to get home.

The new Egyptian authorities will have three challenges, with very little time to prepare.

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Ramadan, the Islamic month in which observant Muslims fast and refrain from any drink from sunrise to sundown, begins tomorrow evening. The tempo of life changes during Ramadan. Those observing the holiday eat before dawn, and then sleep late into the morning. Many television stations broadcast serials—some of which have received attention in the West for their outright anti-Semitism—in the Arab equivalent of sweeps week. Tempers can flare toward the late afternoon when the strain of fasting takes its toll, and it’s always best to stay clear of the roads in the couple of hours before sundown and drivers who might in any other month appear aggressive can during Ramadan bring road rage to a new level as they rush to get home.

The new Egyptian authorities will have three challenges, with very little time to prepare.

First, while they will likely face quiet mornings, people flood into the streets at night. The evening activities need not be political, but with so much tension remaining throughout the country, the Egyptian government will probably face some middle-of-the-night clashes.

Second, food becomes even more important during Ramadan than during the rest of the year. Even poor families will try to put on a better spread to entertain friends and families. Mosques also provide iftar (break-fast) meals. Distributing food is a challenge on the best of days, but if the new government falls short during Ramadan, they may hemorrhage good will far quicker than many outsiders expect.

Lastly, Ramadan can be a period of religiosity. Just as many Jews might only appear in synagogue during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and many Christians might only visit their church on Christmas and Easter, many Muslims who are less observant might be more likely to visit the mosque for communal prayers during the holy month. As the mosques have traditionally been the political center for both the Muslim Brotherhood and the broader Islamist political underground, Egyptian government hopes that the Muslim Brotherhood rage will dissipate quickly as the coup becomes a fait accompli are probably optimistic at best.

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