Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 15, 2013

Good News for Christie: The Taft Precedent

Chris Christie faces some formidable obstacles in his path to the presidency. There are those who think his abrasive personality will ultimately do him in during the heat of a primary or general election campaign. Others point to the hostility with which many conservatives view him and say his post-hurricane embrace of President Obama will never be forgiven on the right. But others say that the real problem for Christie is his weight. Some speculate as to whether his health will allow him to survive the grueling task of running for president. And in an age in which body image seems to mean more to Americans than just about anything, it’s tough to imagine the country electing someone who can only be described as obese rather than just overweight.

Seen in that light, Christie’s fans may not have been pleased to see the New York Times focus attention today on the only real precedent for a Christie presidency: William Howard Taft. The paper ran a feature about research into the dieting methods of our 27th president. As the paper reports, Taft, whose weight fluctuated between 255-355 pounds during his career in national office, used modern dieting methods including a low-fat diet that had sporadic success. He also kept a food diary and counted calories in a manner that might seem familiar to contemporary Americans. But in the end, Taft stayed fat and was the butt of a lot jokes in his own time, not to mention stories about him getting stuck in his jumbo-size bathtub. But as much as Taft (who is remembered as much for his weight problem as for the achievements of a long and varied career in public service) is not exactly the person that Christie would want voters to think about when considering his potential presidential candidacy, there is another side to this story that actually works to his advantage.

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Chris Christie faces some formidable obstacles in his path to the presidency. There are those who think his abrasive personality will ultimately do him in during the heat of a primary or general election campaign. Others point to the hostility with which many conservatives view him and say his post-hurricane embrace of President Obama will never be forgiven on the right. But others say that the real problem for Christie is his weight. Some speculate as to whether his health will allow him to survive the grueling task of running for president. And in an age in which body image seems to mean more to Americans than just about anything, it’s tough to imagine the country electing someone who can only be described as obese rather than just overweight.

Seen in that light, Christie’s fans may not have been pleased to see the New York Times focus attention today on the only real precedent for a Christie presidency: William Howard Taft. The paper ran a feature about research into the dieting methods of our 27th president. As the paper reports, Taft, whose weight fluctuated between 255-355 pounds during his career in national office, used modern dieting methods including a low-fat diet that had sporadic success. He also kept a food diary and counted calories in a manner that might seem familiar to contemporary Americans. But in the end, Taft stayed fat and was the butt of a lot jokes in his own time, not to mention stories about him getting stuck in his jumbo-size bathtub. But as much as Taft (who is remembered as much for his weight problem as for the achievements of a long and varied career in public service) is not exactly the person that Christie would want voters to think about when considering his potential presidential candidacy, there is another side to this story that actually works to his advantage.

Though Americans tend to prefer handsome and fit presidents (a description that fits most but not all of those who both preceded and followed Taft into the White House), those who question whether Christie can take the stress of the trials of the presidency, need to remember that Taft actually lived to be 73, a ripe old age for someone who was born in 1857. If Big Bill could live a full and vigorous life until he died while serving as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, there’s no reason why Christie, who has the advantage of the better medical care available to Americans a century later, can’t do just as well if not better.

As the Times points out, had he lived today, Taft would have had the option of weight-loss surgery (a procedure that Christie underwent earlier this year) which might have helped him. But aside from that, he would be in the same position of having to cope with the travails of diets and self-monitoring.

But as Taft’s life proves, the notion that obesity shortens life spans may be a statistical meme but it is not a certain death sentence. For all of his obsessing over his weight and the embarrassment over the attention it brought him, Taft lived a full life, playing golf and being involved in useful work that he cared about. His post-presidential career was especially satisfying since it led to his joining the Supreme Court, a post that had always been the summit of his ambition. The decision to run for president was something that had more to do with the wishes of his friend and predecessor Theodore Roosevelt (though once in the White House he broke with TR and lost his bid for re-election because Roosevelt ran as a third party candidate) than his own desires. He hated his time as president.

Christie clearly revels in the work of running a large, complex state like New Jersey (a post he is in no danger of losing this fall as his current lead over his Democratic opponent is at 24 percentage points in the latest poll) as well as in the political combat that comes with it and would likely thrive in the White House as well.

However, the real challenge would not so much lie in being president as in running for the job. Unlike 1908 when Taft could follow the practice of staying home and campaigning from his front porch while surrogates were detailed to do the dirty work of hitting the hustings and making the case for his election, Christie would be forced to engage in the two-year-long sprint that is the current method candidates must endure. But given the large number of Americans who face the same problem today (due to the availability of food and health care, far more Americans are obese today than they were in 1908 and 1912) he could count on a lot of sympathy for his weight struggles than might overcome any tendency to reject a fat president.

We can’t predict Christie’s future health any more than Taft’s doctors could say how long he would live more than a century ago. Nor can we be certain of the political forecast. But the odds are, if Christie is not going to win in 2016 it will not be due to his weight.

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Will Biden Strike Back at Hillary on Terror?

Most of the early focus on the 2016 presidential election has been on the Republicans as a gaggle of potential first-tier contenders maneuver for position. But those who thought the cheap shots would be confined to the infighting between Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and a long list of other likely candidates were wrong. In what may have been the first shot fired in the Democratic nomination contest, former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stuck a knife in the back of a former colleague who is a possible rival. As Politico reports:

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday took some indirect swipes at Vice President Joe Biden at an off-the-record gathering, a state representative in attendance told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I know she’s running for president now, because toward the end, she was asked about the Osama bin Laden raid. She took 25 minutes to answer,” George State Rep. Tom Taylor told the newspaper. “Without turning the knife too deeply, she put it to [Vice President Joe] Biden.”

Clinton, a top potential 2016 contender, addressed the National Association of Convenience Stores in Atlanta on Tuesday, where “social media, photography, recording, writing about and/or videotaping” was prohibited, according to guidance released a day earlier.

But Taylor told the newspaper that while answering the question about bin Laden, Clinton depicted herself and former CIA Director Leon Panetta as champions of the raid, while also noting Biden’s opposition to the action. Biden is also a potential 2016 hopeful.

“She took the rest of the time and went over, answering that question,” Taylor, a Republican, said. “She was ready to speak on that.”

Clinton struck a similar theme at another recent speech before the Long Island Association, according to an attendee.

The remarks show that, contrary to the expectations of many pundits who think Biden will stay out if she runs, Clinton clearly believes that Biden is in the race no matter what she does. Rather than play nice and hope that the vice president will choose not to challenge his old allies, Clinton seems to think a no holds barred approach to the most serious potential adversary is in order. As such, and very much in line with the old Clinton “war room” philosophy, she is determined to destroy him even they confront each other in the primaries. But by highlighting her alleged toughness on terrorism, Clinton may be giving an opening to Biden (not to mention Republicans) to ask some hard questions about her role in the Benghazi fiasco, including some behind-the-scenes information that could be problematic for her presidential hopes.

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Most of the early focus on the 2016 presidential election has been on the Republicans as a gaggle of potential first-tier contenders maneuver for position. But those who thought the cheap shots would be confined to the infighting between Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and a long list of other likely candidates were wrong. In what may have been the first shot fired in the Democratic nomination contest, former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stuck a knife in the back of a former colleague who is a possible rival. As Politico reports:

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday took some indirect swipes at Vice President Joe Biden at an off-the-record gathering, a state representative in attendance told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I know she’s running for president now, because toward the end, she was asked about the Osama bin Laden raid. She took 25 minutes to answer,” George State Rep. Tom Taylor told the newspaper. “Without turning the knife too deeply, she put it to [Vice President Joe] Biden.”

Clinton, a top potential 2016 contender, addressed the National Association of Convenience Stores in Atlanta on Tuesday, where “social media, photography, recording, writing about and/or videotaping” was prohibited, according to guidance released a day earlier.

But Taylor told the newspaper that while answering the question about bin Laden, Clinton depicted herself and former CIA Director Leon Panetta as champions of the raid, while also noting Biden’s opposition to the action. Biden is also a potential 2016 hopeful.

“She took the rest of the time and went over, answering that question,” Taylor, a Republican, said. “She was ready to speak on that.”

Clinton struck a similar theme at another recent speech before the Long Island Association, according to an attendee.

The remarks show that, contrary to the expectations of many pundits who think Biden will stay out if she runs, Clinton clearly believes that Biden is in the race no matter what she does. Rather than play nice and hope that the vice president will choose not to challenge his old allies, Clinton seems to think a no holds barred approach to the most serious potential adversary is in order. As such, and very much in line with the old Clinton “war room” philosophy, she is determined to destroy him even they confront each other in the primaries. But by highlighting her alleged toughness on terrorism, Clinton may be giving an opening to Biden (not to mention Republicans) to ask some hard questions about her role in the Benghazi fiasco, including some behind-the-scenes information that could be problematic for her presidential hopes.

The substance of this line of attack also shows that Clinton thinks that if running on the death of bin Laden was good for President Obama, it can be just as good for her. Portraying the verbose Biden as a wimp when it comes to giving the order to kill the arch-criminal gives the lie to the vice president’s blood-curdling rhetoric about the same subject in which he has frequently thumped his chest and talked about pursuing the bad guys to the gates of hell.

But in striking the first blow in such a snarky manner, Clinton is more or less daring Biden to either dispute the charge and/or to start dishing about the chaos in the State Department on 9/11/12. The assumption on the part of the mainstream media has always been that Clinton was bulletproof on Benghazi because the only people complaining about the decisions that led to the deaths of four Americans and the lies told about the event afterwards were conservatives. But if Biden starts probing or, even worse, relaying whatever inside gossip about the event that has made its way to the West Wing, it could open the floodgates for liberals to begin asking the questions that have heretofore been solely the province of Republicans. Even if Clinton did nothing wrong other than minimize the importance of the lies (“What difference does it make?”) that will still hamper her efforts and give Biden a boost.

Biden may be a blowhard but he has never been known to shy away from a fight. If Clinton thinks her shots fired in his direction will deter him from running, she’s wrong. If anything, it could have the opposite reaction. While President Obama may want the two 2016 contenders to shut up, this is not likely to be the last blow struck between two Democratic powerhouses. Though Hillary drew first blood, it also could be the beginning of a bumpy ride for a Clinton candidacy that many of us thought would be acclaimed with near unanimity.

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Who Let Iran Get So Close to a Nuke?

The smoke signals coming from the first session of the reconvened P5+1 talks in Geneva today don’t tell us much about whether Iran’s charm offensive is succeeding. The Iranians presented a plan to the group of negotiators representing the members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany that will do little to alter their drive to gain a nuclear weapon. Tehran is counting on the ardent desire of the Obama administration for an end to the confrontation over the issue echoed by some (though perhaps not all) of its European partners to enable them to at least draw out the negotiations over the coming months if not to fool the West into signing onto a deal that will be easily evaded by the ayatollahs.

So far, we have little indication as to whether the U.S. is willing to accept the sort of “bad deal” that Secretary of State John Kerry, let alone Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, has warned against. But there is one thing that we know. The reason why the negotiations are so critical is that over the past several years Iran has made so much progress toward the completion of a bomb that there isn’t time for a long drawn out diplomatic process. As the New York Times reports:

On Monday, a senior American official said that the United States wanted Iran to take steps that were “transparent and verifiable” to constrain its program and to assure the West that it was not intending to produce a nuclear bomb.

Iran’s nuclear efforts had advanced so much, the American official added, that Iran needed to take stops now to halt or even reverse its nuclear program so there was time to negotiate a comprehensive agreement.

It’s fair to point out that American officials have spent the last five years persuading those who are worried about the nuclear threat reassuring us that there is plenty of time to talk about it and that the “window of diplomacy” was still open. To that end, the Obama administration has wasted years on laughable attempts to engage the Islamist regime and on diplomacy aimed at assembling a weak international coalition willing to impose sanctions on Iran and a diplomatic process that consistently flopped. Thus, if Iran is so much closer to realizing its dream of obtaining a genocidal weapon and making diplomacy difficult it is only because they have successfully manipulated a U.S. administration that wanted to be deceived. That’s something to be taken into consideration as we observe the ability of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to persuade the West to restart diplomacy almost as if the past decade of talks had never occurred.

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The smoke signals coming from the first session of the reconvened P5+1 talks in Geneva today don’t tell us much about whether Iran’s charm offensive is succeeding. The Iranians presented a plan to the group of negotiators representing the members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany that will do little to alter their drive to gain a nuclear weapon. Tehran is counting on the ardent desire of the Obama administration for an end to the confrontation over the issue echoed by some (though perhaps not all) of its European partners to enable them to at least draw out the negotiations over the coming months if not to fool the West into signing onto a deal that will be easily evaded by the ayatollahs.

So far, we have little indication as to whether the U.S. is willing to accept the sort of “bad deal” that Secretary of State John Kerry, let alone Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, has warned against. But there is one thing that we know. The reason why the negotiations are so critical is that over the past several years Iran has made so much progress toward the completion of a bomb that there isn’t time for a long drawn out diplomatic process. As the New York Times reports:

On Monday, a senior American official said that the United States wanted Iran to take steps that were “transparent and verifiable” to constrain its program and to assure the West that it was not intending to produce a nuclear bomb.

Iran’s nuclear efforts had advanced so much, the American official added, that Iran needed to take stops now to halt or even reverse its nuclear program so there was time to negotiate a comprehensive agreement.

It’s fair to point out that American officials have spent the last five years persuading those who are worried about the nuclear threat reassuring us that there is plenty of time to talk about it and that the “window of diplomacy” was still open. To that end, the Obama administration has wasted years on laughable attempts to engage the Islamist regime and on diplomacy aimed at assembling a weak international coalition willing to impose sanctions on Iran and a diplomatic process that consistently flopped. Thus, if Iran is so much closer to realizing its dream of obtaining a genocidal weapon and making diplomacy difficult it is only because they have successfully manipulated a U.S. administration that wanted to be deceived. That’s something to be taken into consideration as we observe the ability of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to persuade the West to restart diplomacy almost as if the past decade of talks had never occurred.

While the details of the Iranian proposal were not made public, the regime’s representatives have made it clear that they have no intention of exporting their existing stockpile of enriched uranium or of halting their production of more nuclear fuel. But even if the West rejects, as they likely will, the Iranian proposal, there is little doubt that the talks will continue. But the Iranians have already scored a triumph by getting the U.S. to concede their right to a nuclear program, as President Obama said at the United Nations last month, albeit one whose purpose is peaceful. So long as Iran keeps enriching and their existing supply remains within their borders, they retain the capacity to quickly repossess it and get it up to military grade thus rendering the safeguards proposed by Western negotiators meaningless.

Most of those pushing for the new talks because of their belief in Rouhani’s supposed moderation have emphasized the need to turn the page on the failure of past diplomatic endeavors with Iran. But it is precisely because the Iranians have been so good at deceiving the West before that skepticism should be the main theme of American diplomacy with Iran.

This is, after all, not the first time that a president came into office determined to push diplomacy on this issue. When President Obama arrived at the White House in January 2009, he acted as if his predecessor had never tried to reach out to the Iranians. Though the Iranians had repeatedly stiffed the Bush administration’s efforts to cut a nuclear deal with them (with Rouhani being the point man in the deception at one point), President Obama insisted that the U.S. had to restart the process at square one as his outreach efforts were employed.

If rather than ignoring the past in 2009, Obama had built upon the experiences of the past the U.S. might not be in the difficult position in which it now finds itself with little margin for error when it comes to Iran. Had tough sanctions been imposed in 2009 rather than waiting until 2012, not only would the Islamist regime be far weaker, they would also be approaching nuclear talks without having used that time to build up its supply of enriched uranium.

The point of rehashing this history is not so much to blame the president for leaving the world so little margin of error on this threat — though he certainly deserves it — but to illustrate that there is a high price to pay for mistakes. Giving the diplomats more time to fail is not, as the administration seems to think, a cost-free exercise. Having spent five years failing to halt Iran, the same president is now embarking on a diplomatic process that may well prove to be open-ended and unlikely to succeed. Another such triumph for Iran may take the U.S. to the point where it may well be too late to use force to stop the Iranians. If so, instead of merely chalking that up to Iranian bad faith, we would do well to hold accountable those in the West that made this possible.

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Playing the Racism Card in the Shutdown

 The government shutdown has brought out the worst in our political class but the same is true of pundits. It’s bad enough when politicians call each other terrorists and hostage takers or, as Barbara Boxer did yesterday, to compare them to those who commit domestic abuse. We know that’s what Democrats have always thought of Republicans and it takes very little provocation to get them up on their high horses seeking to turn a political disagreement, however bitter it might be, into one in which the other side is depicted as pure scum rather than merely wrong. But the willingness of liberals to speak as if all those who disagree with Barack Obama are, almost by definition, racists, is about as low as it gets.

The attempt to paint the Tea Party as a warmed over version of the Ku Klux Klan has been a staple of liberal commentary for over three years. The fact that race has played virtually no part in the argument about the stimulus, ObamaCare and the current shutdown/debt ceiling crisis doesn’t deter the left from branding its foes as motivated by prejudice rather than just by different views about which decent people can disagree. That’s the conceit of much of Roger Simon’s column in Politico yesterday. Jonah Goldberg rightly called it “fairly trollish” and used it as an example of how formerly respected reporters turned columnists expose the liberal bias of much of the mainstream press in an excellent post on National Review’s The Corner blog. I made a similar point in a piece about a related topic on Sunday. But Simon’s piece exposes a different angle of the bias issue that I’d like to explore further.

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 The government shutdown has brought out the worst in our political class but the same is true of pundits. It’s bad enough when politicians call each other terrorists and hostage takers or, as Barbara Boxer did yesterday, to compare them to those who commit domestic abuse. We know that’s what Democrats have always thought of Republicans and it takes very little provocation to get them up on their high horses seeking to turn a political disagreement, however bitter it might be, into one in which the other side is depicted as pure scum rather than merely wrong. But the willingness of liberals to speak as if all those who disagree with Barack Obama are, almost by definition, racists, is about as low as it gets.

The attempt to paint the Tea Party as a warmed over version of the Ku Klux Klan has been a staple of liberal commentary for over three years. The fact that race has played virtually no part in the argument about the stimulus, ObamaCare and the current shutdown/debt ceiling crisis doesn’t deter the left from branding its foes as motivated by prejudice rather than just by different views about which decent people can disagree. That’s the conceit of much of Roger Simon’s column in Politico yesterday. Jonah Goldberg rightly called it “fairly trollish” and used it as an example of how formerly respected reporters turned columnists expose the liberal bias of much of the mainstream press in an excellent post on National Review’s The Corner blog. I made a similar point in a piece about a related topic on Sunday. But Simon’s piece exposes a different angle of the bias issue that I’d like to explore further.

The headline of his article was “Government shutdown unleashes racism” and it was accompanied by a photo of Tea Party demonstrator waving a Confederate flag in front of the White House at a demonstration this past weekend. But the headline promised more than Simon could deliver as the only points presented in the piece that backed up the accusation lodged in the headline was the flag and a comment made on radio by “Joe the Plumber,” the conservative pseudo celebrity of the 2008 campaign who said in his blog that America needed a “white Republican president” to replace Barack Obama. Other than these two items, Simon’s piece was just the standard denunciation of the Republican stand on the shutdown and it was that theme rather than racism riff that was its substance.

I happen to agree with Simon, and probably most other Americans, that what the plumber said is racist and has no place in our public discourse, though if liberal pundits weren’t recycling the writings of the artist otherwise known as Samuel Wurzelbacher, I’m not sure that most of us would be aware of them.

I also agree that there is something offensive about waving Confederate flags in just about any context other than a Civil War reenactment. I know that those from the Old South see it as part of their heritage but I think we should be able to evolve as a nation away from the “Gone With The Wind” view of the War Between the States. Which means that the rebel battle flag is, whether inhabitants of the old Confederacy like it or not, a symbol of racism and treason (a term I know I employ at the risk of generating a host of angry comments from those unreconstructed Confederates who think the Civil War was about state’s rights rather than slavery and who believe recycling Jefferson Davis’ views about the right of secession isn’t irrational). While the attempts of many liberals like Chris Matthews to interpret all criticism of President Obama as being motivated by racism is slanderous as well as utterly disingenuous, I will concede to Simon that anyone who waves the stars and bars in front of the Obamas’ current residence is pretty much asking to be labeled a bigot and should get no defense from any responsible conservative.

The bias in discussing this issue doesn’t stem from a desire to condemn people who do such stupid things. Rather it is in the unwillingness to place them in reasonable context.

After all, at the height of the public protests against the Iraq War, the mass demonstrations in major American cities convened by liberal groups included large numbers of people who were more or less the leftist moral equivalent of the flag waver at the White House. You didn’t have to work hard at these events to find considerable numbers of those demonstrators waving signs accusing George W. Bush and/or Dick Cheney of being Nazis. Nor was there any shortage of rhetoric from these people demanding the ouster of the government of the republic by any means necessary. Yet that didn’t stop the mainstream liberal media from depicting the demonstrations as being in no way tainted by extremists who were along for the ride or from asserting, probably rightly, that they were a reflection of a large segment of American public opinion.

Just as the vast majority of those who wanted out of Iraq were able to see the difference between Bush/Cheney and Hitler, playing the racism card against the Tea Party is intellectually lazy as well as wrong. Both the left and the right need to do a better job policing those on the margins of mainstream movements. But that is not the same thing as painting an entire ideological segment of the public as a function of the fever swamps. Call Republicans who hatched the shutdown strategy misguided or even stupid if you like, but associating all those who want to restrain government spending and taxing and to repeal Obamacare, with racism is slander, not a rational argument.

That liberal pundits can’t resist the temptation to play off this meme says more about media bias than it does about problems on the right.

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What to Do With a Dead Nazi

Predictably, the death of one of the last living war criminals from the Nazi era has triggered the usual emotional storm, showing how difficult it is for Western societies to fully come to terms with the past and act with moral clarity when it comes to its ghosts.

Erich Priebke was an SS officer in Rome when the occupying power ordered the execution of hundreds of Jews and political prisoners in response to an attack by the Italian Resistance. Priebke participated in the slaughter and was condemned. He passed away last week in Rome, the scene of his crimes 69 years ago. Like so many war criminals, in 1945 he found an escape route to South America, where he lived, undaunted, undisturbed and unrepentant, until he was finally extradited in 1994 to stand trial in Italy. By then, Priebke was an octogenarian pensioner, who, unlike his victims, lived a full and free existence. He even begat a child whom he raised in the same values of anti-Semitic hatred, if one is to judge by the recent declarations of his son.

Nor was his punishment commensurate to his crimes – being so old when he was extradited, he spent his confinement at the home of his lawyer, rather than in a prison cell, or under six feet of dirt like his victims. Every additional day of life for Priebke has been an insult to the memory of his victims and all those who died at the hands of The Nazi extermination machinery. That he died at age 100, in the tranquility of his lawyer’s residence in Rome, is a reminder of the limits of human justice.

It is also the trigger of a disingenuous polemic about pity, piety, mercy and the dignity of death, for now many voices are being raised in Italy to give him a proper burial, inclusive of religious sacraments. But given his crimes, no measure of prayer and holy water should save his soul.

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Predictably, the death of one of the last living war criminals from the Nazi era has triggered the usual emotional storm, showing how difficult it is for Western societies to fully come to terms with the past and act with moral clarity when it comes to its ghosts.

Erich Priebke was an SS officer in Rome when the occupying power ordered the execution of hundreds of Jews and political prisoners in response to an attack by the Italian Resistance. Priebke participated in the slaughter and was condemned. He passed away last week in Rome, the scene of his crimes 69 years ago. Like so many war criminals, in 1945 he found an escape route to South America, where he lived, undaunted, undisturbed and unrepentant, until he was finally extradited in 1994 to stand trial in Italy. By then, Priebke was an octogenarian pensioner, who, unlike his victims, lived a full and free existence. He even begat a child whom he raised in the same values of anti-Semitic hatred, if one is to judge by the recent declarations of his son.

Nor was his punishment commensurate to his crimes – being so old when he was extradited, he spent his confinement at the home of his lawyer, rather than in a prison cell, or under six feet of dirt like his victims. Every additional day of life for Priebke has been an insult to the memory of his victims and all those who died at the hands of The Nazi extermination machinery. That he died at age 100, in the tranquility of his lawyer’s residence in Rome, is a reminder of the limits of human justice.

It is also the trigger of a disingenuous polemic about pity, piety, mercy and the dignity of death, for now many voices are being raised in Italy to give him a proper burial, inclusive of religious sacraments. But given his crimes, no measure of prayer and holy water should save his soul.

To the Vatican’s credit — a further sign that Pope Francis’ warmth to the Jewish people is not just genuine but driven by moral resolve — an order has gone out to all Roman churches not to celebrate the funeral. Priebke’s lawyer is stuck with a Nazi cadaver in his home, and Italy is debating how to dispose of his dead body.

And this is where moral clarity is missing – Priebke and his fellow thugs never gave any of their victims the dignity of a decent burial. Complicit governments gave him a new lease of life, letting him escape justice and live for another 69 years after his crimes were consummated. Now that he is dead, human forgetfulness and some measure of malice is chastising those who wish to prevent his burial on Italian soil, let alone with the succor of religious sacraments.

Priebke’s cadaver should simply be cremated; his ashes dispersed at sea, outside Italy’s territorial waters, so as not to pollute the memory of his victims further by his presence and so as not to provide another pilgrimage site for European Neo-Nazis.

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The GOP Chooses Surrender Over Suicide

After more than two weeks, it appears that a deal is in place to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. The bargain that has been agreed to in principle by the leaders of the Senate will kick the can down the round until early next year. It will end the current crisis before things get so messy that it will cease to be a political problem and become an economic one. But there isn’t much doubt about the fact that Republicans get virtually nothing out of it. After months of huffing and puffing about ObamaCare as well as the debt, the GOP is now in a position where it has to choose between spiraling the country into what could become an economic crisis or to concede that it was basically all for nothing.

At the moment it appears that House Speaker John Boehner will ask members of his caucus to vote for a House version of the deal that is so similar to that of the Senate that any distinction is purely theoretical. But some of the conservatives who goaded Boehner into setting off this showdown are saying they won’t wave the white flag and hand this victory to President Obama. Indeed, one of them said this to the New York Times about supporting the Senate plan:

“We’ve got a name for it in the House: it’s called the Senate surrender caucus,” said Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas. “Anybody who would vote for that in the House as Republican would virtually guarantee a primary challenger.”

Huelskamp is blowing smoke about a primary challenge for everyone who votes with Boehner but he’s right that what he and other Republicans are being asked to do today is to surrender. But the question for him is the same one that could have been posed every day throughout this debate. What’s the alternative? Having started a fight without a strategy to win it or an endgame that could allow them to opt out of it without looking servile, it’s a little late to complain about a surrender caucus when the only other choice is a suicide caucus since allowing the debt ceiling to expire or to continue the shutdown indefinitely is not only bad politics but a blueprint for, as our John Steele Gordon pointed out yesterday, another recession or worse.

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After more than two weeks, it appears that a deal is in place to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. The bargain that has been agreed to in principle by the leaders of the Senate will kick the can down the round until early next year. It will end the current crisis before things get so messy that it will cease to be a political problem and become an economic one. But there isn’t much doubt about the fact that Republicans get virtually nothing out of it. After months of huffing and puffing about ObamaCare as well as the debt, the GOP is now in a position where it has to choose between spiraling the country into what could become an economic crisis or to concede that it was basically all for nothing.

At the moment it appears that House Speaker John Boehner will ask members of his caucus to vote for a House version of the deal that is so similar to that of the Senate that any distinction is purely theoretical. But some of the conservatives who goaded Boehner into setting off this showdown are saying they won’t wave the white flag and hand this victory to President Obama. Indeed, one of them said this to the New York Times about supporting the Senate plan:

“We’ve got a name for it in the House: it’s called the Senate surrender caucus,” said Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas. “Anybody who would vote for that in the House as Republican would virtually guarantee a primary challenger.”

Huelskamp is blowing smoke about a primary challenge for everyone who votes with Boehner but he’s right that what he and other Republicans are being asked to do today is to surrender. But the question for him is the same one that could have been posed every day throughout this debate. What’s the alternative? Having started a fight without a strategy to win it or an endgame that could allow them to opt out of it without looking servile, it’s a little late to complain about a surrender caucus when the only other choice is a suicide caucus since allowing the debt ceiling to expire or to continue the shutdown indefinitely is not only bad politics but a blueprint for, as our John Steele Gordon pointed out yesterday, another recession or worse.

At this point, the problem is no longer about who is to blame for this.

Yes, as I have noted many times, blaming it all on the Tea Party doesn’t tell us much about how it happened. President Obama and the Democrats are being just as ideological as the GOP when they say they will not accept the defunding of ObamaCare. It’s also true that the president has been hoping for a shutdown since 2011 because he thought it would damage Republicans. His refusal to negotiate made the standoff happen and his party is also suffering a decline in public approval as a result of it.

But let’s also not deceive ourselves about which side gave Obama what he wanted. Conservatives like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee pushed for a showdown because they assured us that if Republicans hung tough, the president would blink. Much to the dismay of many more sober conservatives, Speaker Boehner went along with them and the GOP did wind up hanging as tough as the Tea Partiers had demanded. But as just about everybody who didn’t drink Cruz’s Kool-Aid predicted, the Democrats also stood their ground. With control of the Senate and the White House, the Democrats have a clear advantage over the Republicans and used it. If Boehner is now looking for the exit sign from the dead end that his party’s hardliners backed him into, it is because there really isn’t a choice.

No doubt conservatives will try and cling to some of the fig leaves left the in the Senate and House versions of the deal and say they accomplished something. But this will be as disingenuous as the Democrats’ claim to be the adults in the room. This is a Republican defeat pure and simple and there’s no way to sugarcoat it. And they’re accepting it because the alternative is to do the country material damage and to dig an even deeper political hole than the one they’ve already dug for themselves.

If there is anything to be retrieved from the rubble of the shutdown for Republicans it is the hope that the budget conference that is part of the deal might enable Rep. Paul Ryan — the voice of principle and sanity in the GOP caucus — to move the discussion from the simplistic demands of Cruz and Lee to a more productive debate about entitlement reform and debt that will strengthen the party’s position.

But that’s a discussion for another day. The real story now is about a GOP decision between surrender and suicide and their inevitable vote in favor of the former. It’s a bitter day for Boehner but the ones who should really be eating crow are Cruz, Lee and all those who backed him into this foolish gambit.

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Re: About That Gaza Humanitarian Crisis

As Jonathan noted Sunday, many diplomats, journalists and human rights organizations spent years loudly condemning Israel for a “humanitarian crisis in Gaza” that never existed. The truly remarkable thing, however, is how silent all these parties have fallen over the last few months, when Gaza has been suffering far worse than it ever did back when its “humanitarian crisis” was a cause célèbre. The reason, of course, is that there’s no possible way to blame the current crisis on Israel: The culprits are Egypt and the Palestinians’ own rival governments; Israel, in contrast, has been trying to alleviate the distress. And it turns out that if Palestinian distress can’t be used as a stick to bludgeon Israel, Gaza’s erstwhile champions have no interest in it whatsoever.

Ever since the Egyptian military overthrew the elected Muslim Brotherhood government this summer, it has cracked down ruthlessly on Gaza, accusing that territory’s Hamas government of complicity in jihadist terror in Sinai and of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to attack police stations and prisons. As journalist Khaled Abu Toameh wrote recently, this crackdown is hurting Hamas far worse than Israel’s military offensives in Gaza ever did. Here are just a few of the steps Egypt has taken:

  • It has destroyed an estimated 90% of the tunnels from Sinai into Gaza. This move is entirely Hamas’s own fault: Its purpose is to stop is the extensive two-way traffic in arms and terrorists that Hamas presided over for years, and which has fueled much of the terror in Sinai. But since the tunnels were also a source of cheap Egyptian goods, their demolition has caused real hardship for impoverished Gazans.

To compensate, Israel has increased its own shipments of food and other supplies to Gaza, but Israeli goods are more expensive than their heavily subsidized Egyptian counterparts. Moreover, Hamas rejected an Israeli-Egyptian offer to send one particularly critical product previously brought in through the tunnels – cheap Egyptian fuel – via Israel instead, leading to serious shortages.

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As Jonathan noted Sunday, many diplomats, journalists and human rights organizations spent years loudly condemning Israel for a “humanitarian crisis in Gaza” that never existed. The truly remarkable thing, however, is how silent all these parties have fallen over the last few months, when Gaza has been suffering far worse than it ever did back when its “humanitarian crisis” was a cause célèbre. The reason, of course, is that there’s no possible way to blame the current crisis on Israel: The culprits are Egypt and the Palestinians’ own rival governments; Israel, in contrast, has been trying to alleviate the distress. And it turns out that if Palestinian distress can’t be used as a stick to bludgeon Israel, Gaza’s erstwhile champions have no interest in it whatsoever.

Ever since the Egyptian military overthrew the elected Muslim Brotherhood government this summer, it has cracked down ruthlessly on Gaza, accusing that territory’s Hamas government of complicity in jihadist terror in Sinai and of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to attack police stations and prisons. As journalist Khaled Abu Toameh wrote recently, this crackdown is hurting Hamas far worse than Israel’s military offensives in Gaza ever did. Here are just a few of the steps Egypt has taken:

  • It has destroyed an estimated 90% of the tunnels from Sinai into Gaza. This move is entirely Hamas’s own fault: Its purpose is to stop is the extensive two-way traffic in arms and terrorists that Hamas presided over for years, and which has fueled much of the terror in Sinai. But since the tunnels were also a source of cheap Egyptian goods, their demolition has caused real hardship for impoverished Gazans.

To compensate, Israel has increased its own shipments of food and other supplies to Gaza, but Israeli goods are more expensive than their heavily subsidized Egyptian counterparts. Moreover, Hamas rejected an Israeli-Egyptian offer to send one particularly critical product previously brought in through the tunnels – cheap Egyptian fuel – via Israel instead, leading to serious shortages.

  • Egypt has shut down the Rafah border crossing almost entirely, turning Gaza, for the first time, into the open-air prison its erstwhile champions used to falsely proclaim it. As long as Rafah was open, Palestinians were never imprisoned; they could travel to and from Gaza via Egypt. Now, however, they truly lack any way to enter and leave.

But here’s the kicker: Sympathetic to their distress, Israel offered to reopen its own crossing with Gaza, on condition that the Palestinian Authority handle security on the Palestinian side. That would solve the problem that originally led to the crossing’s closure: Since Hamas refuses to recognize Israel, security can’t be coordinated with it. But Hamas rejected this offer – and if it hadn’t, the PA almost certainly would have, given its rejection of a similar Egyptian proposal to enable the reopening of Rafah.

  • Egypt has razed houses along the Gaza border to create a buffer zone and shot at Palestinian fishing boats seeking to evade Israel’s naval blockade of the Hamas-run government. Needless to say, both are steps the world denounced when Israel took them in the past.

These and other measures have produced a crisis of unprecedented severity in Gaza. But since there’s no way to blame Israel for it, Gaza’s erstwhile champions have gone AWOL. One can only pity any Palestinians naive enough to have thought the world actually cared about their suffering.

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