Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 5, 2013

Snowden, Amash, and the Isolationist Peril

Rep. Justin Amash has risen from being a generally obscure conservative Republican member of Congress to being a leading voice of a rising tide of libertarianism that looks at times as if it is about to take control of his party. His ability to rally nearly half of the House of Representatives to vote for an amendment he proposed to end a controversial National Security Agency metadata mining program has catapulted him to the front rank of talking heads on the cable news networks. So it was no surprise to find Amash being interviewed yesterday on Fox News Sunday to comment about national security issues. But the juxtaposition of his defense of Edward Snowden, the man who illegally leaked information about the NSA, with the news that the United States had closed embassies and consulates throughout the Middle East as a result of concern over threats of a new wave of al-Qaeda terrorism, which were obviously obtained by U.S. intelligence activity, should have put Amash’s grandstanding about security policy in a less defensible context.

While Amash and his allies in the Senate, such as Rand Paul, like to talk about the threat to our rights from an untrammeled security state, the threat of terrorism should serve as a reminder of what happens when the September 10th caucus these libertarians are leading succeeds. Though many Americans have been acting as if President Obama’s boasts about having destroyed al-Qaeda were true, both the Benghazi attack and the threats that have sent U.S. diplomats scurrying for cover this week put Amash’s labeling of Snowden as a “whistleblower” rather than a traitor in a very different context than he intended.

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Rep. Justin Amash has risen from being a generally obscure conservative Republican member of Congress to being a leading voice of a rising tide of libertarianism that looks at times as if it is about to take control of his party. His ability to rally nearly half of the House of Representatives to vote for an amendment he proposed to end a controversial National Security Agency metadata mining program has catapulted him to the front rank of talking heads on the cable news networks. So it was no surprise to find Amash being interviewed yesterday on Fox News Sunday to comment about national security issues. But the juxtaposition of his defense of Edward Snowden, the man who illegally leaked information about the NSA, with the news that the United States had closed embassies and consulates throughout the Middle East as a result of concern over threats of a new wave of al-Qaeda terrorism, which were obviously obtained by U.S. intelligence activity, should have put Amash’s grandstanding about security policy in a less defensible context.

While Amash and his allies in the Senate, such as Rand Paul, like to talk about the threat to our rights from an untrammeled security state, the threat of terrorism should serve as a reminder of what happens when the September 10th caucus these libertarians are leading succeeds. Though many Americans have been acting as if President Obama’s boasts about having destroyed al-Qaeda were true, both the Benghazi attack and the threats that have sent U.S. diplomats scurrying for cover this week put Amash’s labeling of Snowden as a “whistleblower” rather than a traitor in a very different context than he intended.

The reaction to the NSA programs has been largely the function of complacency about terrorism borne of the successful American intelligence operations in the years since the 9/11 attacks. But the notion that we can treat the war against Islamist terrorism as having already been won is a myth that both Obama and his libertarian opponents have helped foster. Paul and Amash represent a worldview that sees American counter-terror efforts, whether in terms of drone attacks on al-Qaeda targets or intelligence gathering, as happening in a vacuum that ignores the reality of ongoing efforts to attack the West. That is why they have sought to whip up hysteria about hypothetical drone attacks on Americans sitting in Starbucks, as Paul has done, and to treat a legal program conducted under judicial review and congressional oversight as the arrival of Big Brother totalitarianism.

Conservatives are rightly suspicious of President Obama and his belief in untrammeled government power. But to the extent that he has continued many, if not most, of his predecessor’s efforts to defend Americans against terrorism, he deserves the support of conservatives who backed Bush for the same measures.

To refer to Snowden, who dealt a body blow to counter-terrorism intelligence, as a “whistle-blower” is to treat the war on Islamist terror as either fake or no longer being fought. In doing so, Amash has demonstrated how some on the right have, as Paul’s father often did, made common cause with left-wingers who think the world would be better off if America were booted off the global stage and retreated behind our borders. As I’ve noted previously, the left thinks America is always up to no good while their right-wing counterparts tend to act as if the country will only be safe if it seals itself off from the rest of the world. But as a practical matter, the two positions amount to the same thing.

This ought to have embarrassed Amash, but whether it did or not, it illustrates not only the problems that such an attitude creates for U.S. policy but the political implications of a Republican drift toward isolationism. If the GOP abandons its traditional posture as advocates for a strong defense and America maintaining its stature as a global power, then it renders itself vulnerable to the tides of war that may give the lie to both Obama’s boasts and Amash’s ostrich-like posture. This past weekend should give Republicans a glimpse of just how disastrous that would be.

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Beit Shemesh and the Israeli Culture Wars

The cover story in the latest issue of the New Republic is titled “The Feminists of Zion: An unlikely alliance between Orthodox and progressive women will save Israel from fundamentalism,” which does not lack for ambition. But the virtue of the article itself is that it doesn’t attempt to live up to the headline, almost surely because the authors didn’t choose the headline themselves. One of the essay’s accomplishments, then, is that its subjects are not larger-than-life, comic-book superheroes and villains but everyday people experiencing a new variation on a recurring theme in Israeli life: the ethno-religious compartmentalization of lived society.

The essay revolves around the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh. It was the site of an unambiguously shameful series of incidents brought to the attention of the country, and the wider world, in late 2011. That was when eight-year-old Naama Margolese, a resident of Beit Shemesh, appeared with her mother on an Israeli news program to tell her story: she was being insulted and spit on by Haredi onlookers as she walked to school in the morning. Her family is modern Orthodox, and dresses accordingly, and her story is unfortunately not the only one of its kind. Out of this outrage grew an Orthodox-secular feminist alliance, and the TNR article details what it sees as its triumphs:

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The cover story in the latest issue of the New Republic is titled “The Feminists of Zion: An unlikely alliance between Orthodox and progressive women will save Israel from fundamentalism,” which does not lack for ambition. But the virtue of the article itself is that it doesn’t attempt to live up to the headline, almost surely because the authors didn’t choose the headline themselves. One of the essay’s accomplishments, then, is that its subjects are not larger-than-life, comic-book superheroes and villains but everyday people experiencing a new variation on a recurring theme in Israeli life: the ethno-religious compartmentalization of lived society.

The essay revolves around the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh. It was the site of an unambiguously shameful series of incidents brought to the attention of the country, and the wider world, in late 2011. That was when eight-year-old Naama Margolese, a resident of Beit Shemesh, appeared with her mother on an Israeli news program to tell her story: she was being insulted and spit on by Haredi onlookers as she walked to school in the morning. Her family is modern Orthodox, and dresses accordingly, and her story is unfortunately not the only one of its kind. Out of this outrage grew an Orthodox-secular feminist alliance, and the TNR article details what it sees as its triumphs:

The new public consciousness of women’s treatment had a profound impact on last January’s parliamentary elections. Two newcomers, Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, deftly forged a modern-Orthodox/secular alliance, pledging to end the special status of Haredi men, including sweeping them into the national draft. Lapid was careful to promote women and women’s issues as an election issue and top priority for his new party, Yesh Atid.

In the 2013 election, for the first time, three women led major parties, and, thanks in no small part to Yesh Atid, the number of women in the legislature rose to a record high of 27—comprising 23 percent of the legislature. Yesh Atid women include new Knesset members Aliza Lavie, a modern-Orthodox feminist activist and university professor, and Ruth Calderon, a secular Jewish academic who founded a non-Orthodox yeshiva. A video of Calderon leading a groundbreaking Talmud study session in the Knesset went viral, showing a female secular scholar discussing Talmud as ultra-Orthodox members of the Knesset nodded respectfully.

And while the ultra-Orthodox parties stayed female-free, for the first time, a woman in that community dared to object. Esti Shoshan, a Haredi journalist, created a Facebook page called, “If we can’t run, we won’t vote,” openly challenging the fact that the ultra-Orthodox parties excluded women from their party lists and declaring that Haredi women should not vote for their sectoral parties as a result.

The most recognizable way Haredim separate themselves in Israeli society is exemption from military service. When Israel was founded in 1948, the devastation of the Holocaust had convinced Israeli leaders that there should be a center of high Jewish study and scholarship under the watchful care of the new Jewish state. Full-time yeshiva students, of which there were a few hundred at the outset, were exempted from service in the Israeli armed forces.

This was not a one-sided concession at the time; Israel’s political leaders thought the establishment of leading yeshivot was crucial to the Jewish state’s identity and its prestige among Diaspora Jewry. The Orthodox oversight of the state levers of halakha-related regulation was also given in this spirit, and it had the effect of truly making Israel a Jewish state even though its citizens were overwhelmingly non-Orthodox. But it also essentially put the Orthodox in a museum of sorts. What happened if and when the Haredi population surged and they left the museum to walk among the modern and largely non-observant State of Israel was anybody’s guess.

That integration was postponed because of another facet of Israeli society: though much of the country’s residents live in large cities such as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa, within those ethnically diverse cities exist ethnic and cultural enclaves. Throughout the rest of the country, immigrant groups have tended to establish themselves in certain towns and cities–except for Russian immigrants, whose sheer numbers make such relative isolation impossible.

What is true for Russian immigrants is beginning to be true for Haredim, and some level of integration is essential. The reason army service is so important is because that has been a major source of integration in the past by plucking Israelis from their enclaves and putting their lives–and the survival of the state–in each other’s hands. Not only does this engender cross-cultural affinity but it builds trust and social cohesion. It is debatable whether the Israel Defense Forces actually needs the manpower of mass Haredi army service, but the benefits of social integration and “sharing the burden” are apparent.

Additionally, participation in the army is reasonably assumed to be a gateway to economic integration; the IDF teaches useful skills and enables Israelis to make connections. It gives them options, and not all those Haredi soldiers will go back to the yeshiva.

And that is why one quote in the article, by a Haredi woman named Surie Ackerman, strikes me as the wrong attitude:

Asked whether the prospect of ultra-Orthodox women joining Israel’s workforce in droves won’t change that dynamic, Ackerman is doubtful: “Small groups of like-minded women might make things different for themselves,” she says, citing a group of Haredi women entrepreneurs who created an annual business forum four years ago. “But it doesn’t break any framework. They aren’t staying in the kitchen anymore, but it’s not a revolution.”

Perhaps the term “revolution” is overused and Ackerman is wise not to do so herself. But the entry of Haredi women into the work force is significant because of the compound interest of such integration: they will not only encourage their friends to follow their example, but they may have a Haredi-sized family and teach the next generation the virtues of careers and social integration.

And the aforementioned Haredi journalist who organized a Facebook group to protest the exclusion of women from Haredi politics may very well have its ripple effects. The headline of the TNR essay, in other words, may be right (or at least have a point). But the divisions within Israeli society have taken decades to produce the trends now leading to these conflicts. Moving those trend lines in the right direction is what’s needed. If they can accomplish that, the revolution will take care of itself.

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Culture of Violence: A Palestinian Hobby

In the last year, the Western press has focused a great deal of attention on what has been described as a wave of violence committed by Jewish settlers living in the West Bank against Palestinians. The vandalism and other crimes committed by Jews—known as “price tag” attacks—have been widely condemned by the Israeli government and virtually everyone in Israeli society outside of the extreme right. But this marginal phenomenon—and even Israel’s sternest critics must concede that this is something that is the work of a tiny minority even of settlers, let alone Israel—that has received disproportionate news coverage is rarely contrasted with a far more widespread phenomenon: Arab violence against settlers and Israelis.

As we learn in a front-page story published today in the New York Times under the headline of “My Hobby is Throwing Stones,” violence directed at Jews isn’t just a troubling trend, it is something that has become more or less the national Palestinian sport. Children, adolescents, and even adults treat flinging lethal rocks at any passing car with Israeli license plates as not merely boys being boys but acceptable behavior that is somehow justified by the ongoing dispute between the two peoples over the land and a host of other issues. The conflict between Jews and Arabs over the land is complex and there are victims on both sides. But what this story tells us about contemporary Palestinian culture and its glorification of violence, as well as the rejection of alternate means of dealing with the Jewish presence in their midst, speaks volumes about how difficult it will be to ever achieve peace.

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In the last year, the Western press has focused a great deal of attention on what has been described as a wave of violence committed by Jewish settlers living in the West Bank against Palestinians. The vandalism and other crimes committed by Jews—known as “price tag” attacks—have been widely condemned by the Israeli government and virtually everyone in Israeli society outside of the extreme right. But this marginal phenomenon—and even Israel’s sternest critics must concede that this is something that is the work of a tiny minority even of settlers, let alone Israel—that has received disproportionate news coverage is rarely contrasted with a far more widespread phenomenon: Arab violence against settlers and Israelis.

As we learn in a front-page story published today in the New York Times under the headline of “My Hobby is Throwing Stones,” violence directed at Jews isn’t just a troubling trend, it is something that has become more or less the national Palestinian sport. Children, adolescents, and even adults treat flinging lethal rocks at any passing car with Israeli license plates as not merely boys being boys but acceptable behavior that is somehow justified by the ongoing dispute between the two peoples over the land and a host of other issues. The conflict between Jews and Arabs over the land is complex and there are victims on both sides. But what this story tells us about contemporary Palestinian culture and its glorification of violence, as well as the rejection of alternate means of dealing with the Jewish presence in their midst, speaks volumes about how difficult it will be to ever achieve peace.

There are a couple of key points to understand about this wildly popular Palestinian “hobby.”

The first is that though the story only mentions the victims of the stone throwing in passing in one sentence, flinging a large rock at an individual or a moving vehicle is not a game. It is a form of terrorism. Such actions are felonious assaults by any definition of the law. The purpose of the stone throwing is not making a political statement but to inflict injury and even death on those so unfortunate as to be in range of these missiles. Anyone who wants to understand what is driving the “price tag” attacks by a small number of settlers need only read this piece and understand that what they are reacting to is routine illegal violence that is condoned by the entire Arab community.

Defenders of the Palestinians may say that stone throwing is a reaction to the “occupation” and that those who throw rocks have no other way of protesting the settlements or what they consider wrongful behavior on the part of the Israel Defense Forces. But this ignores the fact that most of the tense encounters between the IDF and Palestinians stems from the violence that the latter habitually commit.

That leads to the second point: nowhere in this story does anyone ever stop and say that perhaps it would be better for the Palestinians’ quality of life and even their political aspirations if they decided to treat the Jews who live near them as human beings rather than merely enemy targets.

It is worth noting that Beit Omar, the town featured in the Times story, is located nearby the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements in the West Bank. Jodi Rudoren, the paper’s Jerusalem bureau chief, notes that Beit Omar’s location is ideal for stone throwing since it abuts a major highway near a group of Jewish communities. But she leaves out the fact that there is an interesting history of Jewish-Arab interaction in the era that is instructive in understanding the conflict.

The Gush Etzion bloc is, after all, not built on stolen Arab land, as the cliché goes about all such West Bank settlements, but on the ruins of Jewish communities that existed prior to 1948. In the months prior to Israel’s birth as the ruling British stood back and allowed a civil war to rage on their watch, local Arabs, aided by foreign volunteers, laid siege to the Jewish villages in the Gush Etzion area. Efforts to reinforce them from Jerusalem (which was itself under siege) failed and eventually they fell to Arab attack. Many of the inhabitants were subject to indiscriminate massacre while others were captured. Their homes were destroyed as local Palestinian Arabs celebrated.

Nineteen years later, after Israel took possession of the West Bank ending an illegal Jordanian occupation, the process of rebuilding Gush Etzion began and today the various towns in the area flourish and are rightly seen as Jerusalem suburbs that are not centers of settler violence or intolerance. No one envisions its evacuation even in the unlikely scenario of a peace deal being signed.

If Palestinians still dream of repeating the events of 1948, at least as far as Gush Etzion is concerned, that is more than a public safety problem. It represents a basic unwillingness to live in peace alongside their Jewish neighbors. If Palestinians can think of nothing better to do than to steal from or attack Jews in the town over the hill, how can we believe they are ready to accept peace with Israel under virtually any circumstances?

The Palestinians’ culture of violence goes much deeper than stone throwing. It is in fact merely a symptom of the hatred of Jews and Israelis that is fomented in their official media and throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Whatever your opinion about settlements or where the borders of Israel should be located, the longer Palestinians condone routine violence and train new generations of children to take part in this mayhem, the longer they are putting off the day when peace will arrive.

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Rouhani’s Words and the Truth About Iran

Last Friday’s speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani didn’t really tell us much that was new about the man touted by many in the West as a moderate, since it was hardly a surprise to know that he viewed Israel as a “wound” on the Islamic world. But the kerfuffle about the mistake in the translation of his remarks made by Iran’s state-run press service did tell us a lot about those who are so eager to protect that ruse and to heap abuse on those who seek to expose it. Now that Rouhani is sworn in, the impulse to avoid the truth about the nature of the regime and its nuclear program is a significant factor in the struggle to determine what, if anything, the United States will do about the Iranian nuclear threat. The need to preserve the pretense that Rouhani somehow offers a real opportunity for a diplomatic solution to the problem is influencing the way some discussed this incident as well as his subsequent actions.

On the surface, there wouldn’t appear to be much reason to treat the discrepancy between the original translation issued by the semi-official ISNA press agency and its revised article as significant. In both, Rouhani was quoted as telling one of many mass anti-Israel rallies held around Iran last week that Israel was “a wound [or 'sore'] that has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world for many years.” The only difference was that the incorrect version added the words “which must be removed.” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu responded to this by saying that it showed that “Rouhani’s true face has been revealed earlier than expected.” When the correction was issued, many, especially among Israel’s critics on the left, crowed that this showed that Netanyahu and others, such as this site, were wrong about Rouhani and that the willingness to jump on the mistranslation illustrated all that was wrong with those urging Obama to take action on Iran. But none of those who made this point about the mistake took any notice of the fact that even without the added words, having Iran’s new president speaking this way about Israel to anti-Zionist mobs still makes Netanyahu’s point.

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Last Friday’s speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani didn’t really tell us much that was new about the man touted by many in the West as a moderate, since it was hardly a surprise to know that he viewed Israel as a “wound” on the Islamic world. But the kerfuffle about the mistake in the translation of his remarks made by Iran’s state-run press service did tell us a lot about those who are so eager to protect that ruse and to heap abuse on those who seek to expose it. Now that Rouhani is sworn in, the impulse to avoid the truth about the nature of the regime and its nuclear program is a significant factor in the struggle to determine what, if anything, the United States will do about the Iranian nuclear threat. The need to preserve the pretense that Rouhani somehow offers a real opportunity for a diplomatic solution to the problem is influencing the way some discussed this incident as well as his subsequent actions.

On the surface, there wouldn’t appear to be much reason to treat the discrepancy between the original translation issued by the semi-official ISNA press agency and its revised article as significant. In both, Rouhani was quoted as telling one of many mass anti-Israel rallies held around Iran last week that Israel was “a wound [or 'sore'] that has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world for many years.” The only difference was that the incorrect version added the words “which must be removed.” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu responded to this by saying that it showed that “Rouhani’s true face has been revealed earlier than expected.” When the correction was issued, many, especially among Israel’s critics on the left, crowed that this showed that Netanyahu and others, such as this site, were wrong about Rouhani and that the willingness to jump on the mistranslation illustrated all that was wrong with those urging Obama to take action on Iran. But none of those who made this point about the mistake took any notice of the fact that even without the added words, having Iran’s new president speaking this way about Israel to anti-Zionist mobs still makes Netanyahu’s point.

Is there a significant difference between saying that Israel’s existence—and not, it should be noted, any specific policy of the Jewish state—is a “sore” or a “wound” on the Islamic world and saying that it is one that should be removed? What, after all, does one do with a sore or a wound except to seek means to remove it or to have it heal and thereby disappear? Indeed, ISNA’s mistake is understandable since the extra words about removal are merely the logical conclusion of the sentence that most of Rouhani’s audience, both in person and on Iranian television, understood even without him uttering the words.

As with previous attempts to parse statements issued by Rouhani’s less presentable predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (who also spoke at a similar rally elsewhere in Iran on the same day) or their boss, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the desire to avoid the obvious conclusion about the vicious hatred of Israel that is promoted by the Islamist regime is unpersuasive. This is a government whose leaders, both the alleged extremists and the alleged moderates, have always denounced Israel’s existence, and which has been a major source of financial support for the efforts of groups like Hezbollah and Hamas that seek to translate that wish into action. As an article on the controversy that ran on the New York Times website noted:

Mr. Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the far more powerful cleric who rules Iran, have repeatedly predicted that Israel will cease to exist and openly support militant groups that are pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state. In some cases, they have even used language similar to what was falsely attributed to Mr. Rouhani on Friday. “The Zionist regime is a true cancer tumor on this region that should be cut off,” Iran’s supreme leader said in a speech last year. “And it definitely will be cut off.”

The fact is, Iran’s apologists would far rather play semantic games about Rouhani’s speech than deal with the reality of Iranian nuclear policy, which, in his inaugural address, the new president reaffirmed. Rouhani said yesterday that neither sanctions nor the threat of war would change the mind of the Iranian leadership on its drive for nuclear capability.

Nor is it really worth our time to play the game once perfected by Kremlinologists during the era of the Soviet Union and to wonder whether Rouhani’s cabinet will really be moderates. Though most appear to be retreads from the administration of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in the 1990s, no one seems capable of showing us why the equally extreme Iran of that era should be regarded as somehow a model for a new period of mutual understanding.

Far more important is the news reported today by the Wall Street Journal that Iran’s nuclear program is also pursuing an alternate track to its uranium enrichment program that could lead to a bomb:

In recent months, U.S. and European officials say, the Tehran regime has made significant advances on the construction of a heavy water reactor in the northwestern city of Arak. A reactor like the one under construction is capable of using the uranium fuel to produce 40 megawatts of power. Spent fuel from it contains plutonium—which, like enriched uranium, can serve as the raw material for an explosive device. India and Pakistan have built plutonium-based bombs, as has North Korea.

The Arak facility, when completed, will be capable of producing two nuclear bombs’ worth of plutonium a year, said U.S. and U.N. officials.

In the face of these facts, the controversy over the translation of Rouhani’s words is exposed as a farce with little meaning. But the willingness of those who are hoping to defuse pressure on Obama to act on Iran to seize on any discrepancy in an already extreme statement by the Iranian leader shows just how much some in the West want to ignore the truth about him and the regime he is part of.

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The Real GOP Clash: Governors v. Congress

One of the more idiosyncratic contradictions in Chris Christie’s rise to national fame is that his success has been fueled by a crowd-pleasing outspokenness and yet the question of what he stands for has been marked by broad confusion. Christie is happy to tell you what he believes in any given situation, though he somehow remains, ideologically, an enigma. He is currently grappling with the challenge of “proving” his conservatism even though he has generally governed as a conservative.

This may have contributed to his recent spat with Rand Paul over foreign policy. Christie rarely dwells much on labels, or at least does so less than most politicians with national aspirations. So while his attack on Paul’s stance on national security was par for the course, his generalization–that Paul is representative of a dangerous strain of libertarianism–was not. It was an uneasy step into label-obsessed national politics that will be necessary for him to navigate the Republican presidential primary contests. Why this situation rendered the usually sure-footed Christie a bit off-balance is captured well in a few sentences buried in New York magazine’s lengthy cover profile of the New Jersey governor:

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One of the more idiosyncratic contradictions in Chris Christie’s rise to national fame is that his success has been fueled by a crowd-pleasing outspokenness and yet the question of what he stands for has been marked by broad confusion. Christie is happy to tell you what he believes in any given situation, though he somehow remains, ideologically, an enigma. He is currently grappling with the challenge of “proving” his conservatism even though he has generally governed as a conservative.

This may have contributed to his recent spat with Rand Paul over foreign policy. Christie rarely dwells much on labels, or at least does so less than most politicians with national aspirations. So while his attack on Paul’s stance on national security was par for the course, his generalization–that Paul is representative of a dangerous strain of libertarianism–was not. It was an uneasy step into label-obsessed national politics that will be necessary for him to navigate the Republican presidential primary contests. Why this situation rendered the usually sure-footed Christie a bit off-balance is captured well in a few sentences buried in New York magazine’s lengthy cover profile of the New Jersey governor:

For Christie, the villain is always specific: not government, not socialism, not impersonal historical forces, but one moron in particular—the teachers union, or Steve Sweeney, or in this case Rand Paul, the libertarian ophthalmologist, high-mindedly denouncing government while his state is on its dole. “He’s not the first politician to try to use me to get attention,” Christie said later, dismissing Paul’s slight. “And I’m sure he won’t be the last.”

What Christie is doing when he starts arguments with other Republicans—and it is telling that what looks very much like a presidential run has begun with a sequence of fights—is offering his party the chance to preserve its anger, while trading in its revolutionaries for a furious institutionalist.

A good, and often overlooked, example of this is the issue of collective bargaining. Christie was one of the early conservative governors to take on the public unions. But other governors, like Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Rick Snyder in Michigan, went further by attempting to rein in the unions’ organizing power through collective bargaining restrictions or right-to-work laws.

When Christie was asked about collective bargaining, his response was characteristically blunt. “I love collective bargaining,” he said, later adding: “I’ve said let’s get rid of civil service and let everything be collectively bargained, as long as collective bargaining is fair, tough, adversarial and there’s someone in that room representing you,” he said. There are no molehills, only mountains. Christie wasn’t trying to destroy every last vestige of the practice, and so he had to “love” it.

But there was a good–and simple–reason Christie wasn’t fighting to restrict collective bargaining or take other such steps: Walker and Snyder had Republican majorities in their respective state senates, so they could pass legislation on the strength of Republican votes. Christie has no such electoral advantage; his rhetorical agility is essential to his success because he constantly has to put state Republicans on his back and carry them. He isn’t used to having numbers on his side. He can’t outvote the Democrats, so he enlists the public in an uber-populist quest to overwhelm the political opposition. And that brings us to another point of conflict in Christie’s interaction with the national GOP: the relationship between the states and the federal government.

The most famous issue that pitted Christie against the GOP’s conservative congressional caucus was disaster relief after Hurricane Sandy devastated the Jersey Shore. Christie is an emotional and combatant governor who was in no mood to count nickels while his state was suffering. He saw the House’s reticence to rush through an aid bill because of concerns over pork-barrel spending as callous and miserly.

But his fellow Republicans had legitimate concerns. Why does every bill Congress passes have to shell out wasteful spending intended to protect incumbents? And isn’t the callous move here not to temporarily hold up a spending bill but rather to lard up an ostensible relief bill with self-serving earmarks? Nonetheless, such conflicts are an inevitable result of Republican success: the GOP now controls 30 governorships, and the states’ relationship to the federal government will often mean those governors are put at odds with their ideological allies in Congress.

Today’s New York Times carries yet another example. “Worried about the potential impact on the fragile economies in their states,” the Times reports, “Republican governors this weekend warned their counterparts in Congress not to shut down the federal government as part of an effort to block financing for President Obama’s health care law.” It’s not the supposed squishes, either. Scott Walker is opposed to risking a government shutdown over ObamaCare, as is Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, who declined ObamaCare’s expansion of Medicaid in his state, so he can hardly be considered a willing collaborator on the health law.

GOP control of the House and the majority of state governorships will put the two in conflict time and again. It’s not about conservatives vs. RINOs, or establishment vs. the grassroots, or even internationalists vs. libertarians. There is certainly an ideological component to it, but the greater challenge is going to be how conservatives respond when two undeniably conservative factions are in conflict–and they’re both right.

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Christie’s Red Hot But Not in GOP

Chris Christie raised some eyebrows, as well as the expectations of potential supporters, in the last couple of weeks as he traded barbs with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul in a clash of potential Republican presidential contenders. But while a new Quinnipiac poll should encourage those who think the New Jersey governor is the ideal Republican candidate in 2016, it also illustrates his biggest problem: fellow Republicans.

The poll measures the popularity of leading members of both parties in which voters were asked to measure their feelings toward them on a scale of 0 (ice cold) to 100 (red hot). Out of a field of 22 Democrats and Republicans, Christie placed first with a 53.1 percent rating, beating out second-place finisher Hillary Clinton, who had 52.1 percent approval. That’s the good news for Christie. The bad news is that when narrowed down to the 23 percent of the sample that identified themselves as Republicans, he slipped from first to eighth, finishing behind most of his leading rivals for the presidency–even a dark horse like Rick Santorum. While those figures don’t doom Christie’s hopes for the GOP nomination—he still scores a 59.8 percent rating among Republicans and also can point to his first-place standing among independents—it does illustrate the problem of being perceived as the most moderate contender in the field in a party with a base that takes a dim view of such a stance.

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Chris Christie raised some eyebrows, as well as the expectations of potential supporters, in the last couple of weeks as he traded barbs with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul in a clash of potential Republican presidential contenders. But while a new Quinnipiac poll should encourage those who think the New Jersey governor is the ideal Republican candidate in 2016, it also illustrates his biggest problem: fellow Republicans.

The poll measures the popularity of leading members of both parties in which voters were asked to measure their feelings toward them on a scale of 0 (ice cold) to 100 (red hot). Out of a field of 22 Democrats and Republicans, Christie placed first with a 53.1 percent rating, beating out second-place finisher Hillary Clinton, who had 52.1 percent approval. That’s the good news for Christie. The bad news is that when narrowed down to the 23 percent of the sample that identified themselves as Republicans, he slipped from first to eighth, finishing behind most of his leading rivals for the presidency–even a dark horse like Rick Santorum. While those figures don’t doom Christie’s hopes for the GOP nomination—he still scores a 59.8 percent rating among Republicans and also can point to his first-place standing among independents—it does illustrate the problem of being perceived as the most moderate contender in the field in a party with a base that takes a dim view of such a stance.

The survey supplies Christie’s supporters with a powerful argument about electability. The New Jersey governor has a unique appeal that transcends the fans he originally won on the right for his YouTube videos in which he berates liberals and unions and plays the kind of tough-guy blunt politician that voters can’t get enough of. Many on the right may never completely forgive him for hugging President Obama in the week before the election last fall during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, but Christie’s ability to appeal to centrists, independents, and even some Democrats could make him a formidable general election candidate. But the fact that he has a 53.2 percent rating among Democrats while no other GOP figure scores higher than 32.9 percent (Marco Rubio) is exactly why a lot of Republicans can’t stand him.

The contrast between Christie’s overall numbers and his also-ran finish among Republicans is not the only interesting tidbit from this poll. The fact that Rep. Paul Ryan is the top-rated figure among Republicans with 68.7 percent might help fuel interest in a presidential run by the party’s 2012 veep candidate. Senator Ted Cruz’s second-place rank (65.6 percent) will also give him a boost. But with that pair and Rubio, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Senator Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, and Rick Santorum also scoring 60 percent or higher, it’s clear that there is no single front runner even if it is obvious that Christie might struggle to win in primaries or caucuses where only Republicans are allowed to vote.

Should Hillary Clinton run, there isn’t much doubt that she will be the Democratic nominee in 2016 and her first-place standing in her party with 77.7 percent exceeds even that of President Obama. What is interesting is that freshman Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts actually ranks third in popularity with all voters at 49.2, beating out Obama with 47.6 percent. Warren trails only Clinton, Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden among Democrats. Should Clinton not run for some unknown reason, Warren’s ability to galvanize the party’s left-wing base could make her an interesting possibility for a long shot upset.

These numbers give us only the broadest possible view of the battle for 2016, two years before the real battle for the nominations will begin. But they do demonstrate that trying to maintain a balance between general election and primary popularity will be even more difficult for Republicans in 2016 than it was in 2012 and 2008 when the GOP wound up nominating a relative moderate to the dismay of much of their base. Conservatives may be wrong to think that Mitt Romney and John McCain’s relative moderation was the reason Barack Obama beat them both and that 2016 is the year to nominate someone who will appeal to their party’s grass roots. But that conviction is not going to be an easy obstacle for someone like Christie to overcome. If, as I wrote last week, the battle between Christie and some of his rivals on foreign and defense policy issues is a fight for the soul of the party, his apparent ability to win in November may still not persuade many in his party to drop their objections to him.

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