Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 3, 2013

How “Inevitable” Is Chris Christie?

These are heady times for supporters of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie is heading for a landslide reelection on Tuesday with polls showing his expected margin of victory ranging between 19 points and a staggering 33 percent over Democrat Barbara Buono. Thus is it no surprise that more than a few Republicans are pointing toward Christie’s impressive performance in office as well as his bipartisan electoral appeal as the party’s model for how to win in 2016. Equally unsurprising is the fact that Christie agrees with this analysis. When asked about it yesterday by NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell he responded with characteristic candor:

Asked by O’Donnell if it’s fair to say that Christie, who is widely seen as a 2016 presidential contender on the GOP side, is planning for a message that extends beyond New Jersey, Christie replied, “I’m not planning for it, I just think it’s inevitable.”

In the interview, which aired on “Meet the Press,” Christie added, “I think you people look at elections, and they try to discern things from them about what they mean at that moment and what they mean for the future. And I think that what people are going to see is so unusual for what our party has created in the last couple of years that invariably people are going to draw lessons from it and I hope they do.”

Christie is right about the significance of what he’s accomplished. While many on the right nurse grudges about Christie’s embrace of President Obama last year or resent his sensible rebuke of Rand Paul’s isolationism on foreign policy, his ability to govern as a conservative in a blue state illustrates that the alternative to the Tea Party activist model is one that holds out the hope of general-election victory. It’s obviously premature to anoint him as the frontrunner more than two years before the primaries and caucuses begin, but it isn’t too soon to speculate whether the arrogance Christie showed with O’Donnell is as much of an obstacle to his presidential hopes as the resentment of the right.

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These are heady times for supporters of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie is heading for a landslide reelection on Tuesday with polls showing his expected margin of victory ranging between 19 points and a staggering 33 percent over Democrat Barbara Buono. Thus is it no surprise that more than a few Republicans are pointing toward Christie’s impressive performance in office as well as his bipartisan electoral appeal as the party’s model for how to win in 2016. Equally unsurprising is the fact that Christie agrees with this analysis. When asked about it yesterday by NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell he responded with characteristic candor:

Asked by O’Donnell if it’s fair to say that Christie, who is widely seen as a 2016 presidential contender on the GOP side, is planning for a message that extends beyond New Jersey, Christie replied, “I’m not planning for it, I just think it’s inevitable.”

In the interview, which aired on “Meet the Press,” Christie added, “I think you people look at elections, and they try to discern things from them about what they mean at that moment and what they mean for the future. And I think that what people are going to see is so unusual for what our party has created in the last couple of years that invariably people are going to draw lessons from it and I hope they do.”

Christie is right about the significance of what he’s accomplished. While many on the right nurse grudges about Christie’s embrace of President Obama last year or resent his sensible rebuke of Rand Paul’s isolationism on foreign policy, his ability to govern as a conservative in a blue state illustrates that the alternative to the Tea Party activist model is one that holds out the hope of general-election victory. It’s obviously premature to anoint him as the frontrunner more than two years before the primaries and caucuses begin, but it isn’t too soon to speculate whether the arrogance Christie showed with O’Donnell is as much of an obstacle to his presidential hopes as the resentment of the right.

The argument against Christie’s inevitability is that he is too moderate to win the nomination of a party that has grown steadily more conservative. The notion that a union-bashing conservative like Christie is a closet-liberal stems from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in which he embraced Obama and then attacked House Republicans who held up a bill that aided the victims. Neither of those incidents will mean much in 2016, but there are issues on which the right will have a bone to pick with Christie. He is clearly out of step with those who regard immigration reform as a threat to the GOP because it will mean more Hispanic voters. And he has also outlined a position on foreign policy that will put him at odds with Rand Paul’s libertarian wing of the party.

Yet the assumption that the Tea Party will have a veto over the GOP nominee exaggerates their considerable influence. As the last two nomination fights illustrated, conservatives have great sway over the party, but there are plenty of states that are winnable for a moderate, especially if, as was the case for Mitt Romney, the bulk of the field is fighting for conservative votes. Nor should the right dismiss Christie as another Romney since his consistent pro-life stand makes him harder to paint as a blue state flip-flopper.

That said, the snippet aired on NBC may reveal the governor’s Achilles heel. The tough-guy persona is at the core of Christie’s appeal, but the brusque manner that he used to become a YouTube star may not play as well on a national stage.

After Tuesday, the rules are about to change for Christie. Up until now he’s been the darling of the press which lauded his ability to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats and his willingness to tell off the right wing of his own party. But once he becomes the putative GOP frontrunner—albeit years in advance of a possible run for the presidency—he will become the No. 1 target of the same mainstream liberal media that has given him so much love. At that point, they will dismiss his ability to get support from minorities and start trying to make the case that the pro-life, tough-on-teachers’ unions Christie is the enemy of women.

This faux “war on women” will be just as much of a fraud as the one the Democrats and their media enablers used to such good effect last year. But they will use Christie’s manner to bolster it. Thus, the challenge for the governor may not be so much his need to convince conservatives that he is not only their best bet to beat the Democrats, but also one of them. Instead, the real danger for Christie may be the attempt to paint him as a bully who is not ready for the presidency. As the last few election cycles show, he wouldn’t be the first Republican to be felled by this tactic. Avoiding that trap may be the real obstacle to his inevitability.

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The Anti-Zionist Civil War on the Left

Some in the pro-Israel community are having a good chuckle at the feud that has erupted between Jewish left-wingers in the past couple of weeks. But rather than laughing, those who care not only about Israel but also the direction of the conversation about Israel in the post-Oslo era and what it portends for the future should be concerned.

The exchange between the anti-Zionist Max Blumenthal and his antagonists among the ranks of left-wingers who are often critical of Israel but defend its existence shows how pointless much of the debate that has been carried on between the left and the right about borders and settlements has been. As risible as the arguments put forward by Blumenthal trashing Israelis as “non-indigenous” interlopers in the Arab world who must be made to surrender their sovereignty, culture, and homes may be, they represent the cutting edge of left-wing thought that has come to dominate European discussions of the Middle East.

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Some in the pro-Israel community are having a good chuckle at the feud that has erupted between Jewish left-wingers in the past couple of weeks. But rather than laughing, those who care not only about Israel but also the direction of the conversation about Israel in the post-Oslo era and what it portends for the future should be concerned.

The exchange between the anti-Zionist Max Blumenthal and his antagonists among the ranks of left-wingers who are often critical of Israel but defend its existence shows how pointless much of the debate that has been carried on between the left and the right about borders and settlements has been. As risible as the arguments put forward by Blumenthal trashing Israelis as “non-indigenous” interlopers in the Arab world who must be made to surrender their sovereignty, culture, and homes may be, they represent the cutting edge of left-wing thought that has come to dominate European discussions of the Middle East.

The dustup centers on Goliath, a new anti-Israel screed by Blumenthal, the son of Clinton administration figure Sidney Blumenthal, published by Nation Books. But to Blumenthal’s chagrin, the magazine (which is no stranger to anti-Zionist articles) allowed columnist Eric Alterman to write about it in The Nation. Alterman is himself a fierce and often obnoxious critic of Israel and defenders of Israel, and has been a major promoter of the myth that the pro-Israel community has been seeking to silence the Jewish state’s critics. Yet Blumenthal’s book was so appalling that Alterman took it apart in the magazine that spawned it. Calling it “The ‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook,” Alterman scored it for its frequent comparisons of the Jews with the Nazis and its complete absence of any acknowledgement of the Muslim and Arab war to destroy Israel. As Alterman wrote in a subsequent blog post, “It is no exaggeration to say that this book could have been published by the Hamas Book-of-the-Month Club (if it existed).”

To give you a taste of how outrageous this book is, Blumenthal even has the nerve to recount a conversation with Israeli author David Grossman who has been an important figure in the peace movement in which he lectured the Israeli about the need for the state to be dismantled and for its citizens to make their peace with the need to rejoin the Diaspora rather than to cling to their homes. Grossman responds to Blumenthal by walking out and telling him to tear up his phone number. Blumenthal attributes Grossman’s reaction to Israeli myopia.

But it gets better. As the Forward’s J.J. Goldberg writes in his own column on the dispute, Blumenthal appeared at a Philadelphia event with the University of Pennsylvania’s Ian Lustick (whose recent anti-Zionist diatribe in the New York Times was discussed here).

Almost halfway through their 83-minute encounter (minute 34:00 on YouTube), Lustick emotionally asks Blumenthal whether he believes, like Abraham at Sodom, that there are enough “good people” in Israel to justify its continued existence — or whether he’s calling for a mass “exodus,” the title of his last chapter, and “the end of Jewish collective life in the land of Israel.”

Blumenthal gives a convoluted answer that comes down to this: “There should be a choice placed to the settler-colonial population” (meaning the entire Jewish population of Israel): “Become indigenized,” that is, “you have to be part of the Arab world.” Or else …? “The maintenance and engineering of a non-indigenous demographic population is non-negotiable.”

This is sobering stuff and, as Goldberg, put it, “a chilling moment even for the anti-Zionists among us.”

The bottom line here is that the real debate about the Middle East is not between the so-called “Jewish establishment” and left-wing critics of Israel like the J Street lobby and writers like Alterman and Goldberg. Rather it is between anyone who recognizes that Jews have a right to a state and those who wish to see that state destroyed. The vitriolic nature of Blumenthal’s disingenuous responses (here and here) to criticisms from these left-wing writers is, in its own way, a mirror image of the way Palestinians and European anti-Zionists have raised the ante in the past two decades as the line between critiques of Israel and traditional Jew-hatred have been blurred. Suffice it to say that in Blumenthal’s world, anyone who believes in the Jewish right to a state even in a tiny slice of their ancient homeland is a fascist, a Nazi, or a fellow traveler.

This shows how the discussion of Israel has deteriorated in the last generation of peace processing. Instead of appeasing its critics, every move toward peace in which Israel has given up territory has only convinced its enemies that it can be portrayed as a thief that can be made to surrender stolen property. While some of Israel’s critics think that conception can be limited to the lands beyond the 1949 cease-fire lines, people like Blumenthal remind us that this is an illusion.

For 20 years since the Oslo Accords Israel tried to trade land for peace only to have each offer of statehood for the Palestinians be rejected. Despite the spin that is directed at the West by some Palestinians, their culture of hatred for Israel and the Jews has made it impossible for even their most “moderate” leaders to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. While Israel’s political thinking has shifted in this period to the point where even the supposedly “hard line” Benjamin Netanyahu has accepted a two-state solution, the Palestinians remain stuck in a time warp in which Fatah and Hamas compete for support based on their belligerency toward the Jews.

Unfortunately many American Jews are similarly stuck in the past and cling to the belief that Israel could entice the Palestinians to make peace via concessions. But rather than continuing to bang away at each other, as they have for a generation, the pro-Israel left and the pro-Israel right need to focus on the real opponent: the growing BDS (boycott, disinvest, sanction) movement that seeks to wage economic warfare on the Jewish state whose aim is its destruction and its allies.

Alterman and Goldberg may think that if only Netanyahu and the overwhelming majority of Israelis who have drawn logical conclusions from Oslo’s collapse would change their minds, peace would be possible. But they, like those on the right who see them and J Street as the real enemy, are wasting their time. The only argument that means anything in the post-Oslo era is between those who stand with Israel’s right to exist and those who oppose it. While Blumenthal’s despicable hate is deserving of every possible condemnation, he deserves our thanks for reminding us of this.

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Tennis Deals a Blow to the Boycott of Israel

Malik Jaziri, the top-ranked tennis player in Tunisia who has an impressive record of representing his country in international tournaments, was about to play a quarterfinal match at the ATP Challenger Tournament in Uzbekistan last October. Moments before stepping onto the court, he received a career-shattering email from his bosses at the tennis federation back in Tunis.

Jaziri had been drawn against an Israeli professional, Amir Weintraub; the Tunisian tennis federation, which continues to follow the Arab League boycott of the State of Israel to the letter, declared this to be a red line that Jaziri was not permitted to cross. “Following a meeting this afternoon with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, I have the immense regret to inform you that you are ordered not to play against the Israeli player,” read the email. Jaziri had no choice but to withdraw and Weintraub went through to the semi-final on a forfeit.

It goes without saying that Jaziri himself was blameless in the matter. Interviewed after being forced to withdraw, he expressed the fear that the decision would badly damage his career. His brother and manager, Amir Jaziri, slammed the decision as “shocking, because it brings politics into sport.”  Meanwhile, Amir Weintraub himself described Jaziri as “a good friend,” adding wistfully that the Tunisian had “really wanted to play.”

That in of itself is not a surprise; after all, athletes live for competition, not political strife. But what is noteworthy is that the International Tennis Federation (ITF), mindful that this was not the first time that Israeli players had been subjected to a boycott, and anxious to bring the practice to an end, took unprecedented action.  Hence this statement released yesterday by the ITF’s Board of Directors at their meeting in Cagliari, Italy, confirming that Tunisia has been suspended from next year’s Davis Cup:

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Malik Jaziri, the top-ranked tennis player in Tunisia who has an impressive record of representing his country in international tournaments, was about to play a quarterfinal match at the ATP Challenger Tournament in Uzbekistan last October. Moments before stepping onto the court, he received a career-shattering email from his bosses at the tennis federation back in Tunis.

Jaziri had been drawn against an Israeli professional, Amir Weintraub; the Tunisian tennis federation, which continues to follow the Arab League boycott of the State of Israel to the letter, declared this to be a red line that Jaziri was not permitted to cross. “Following a meeting this afternoon with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, I have the immense regret to inform you that you are ordered not to play against the Israeli player,” read the email. Jaziri had no choice but to withdraw and Weintraub went through to the semi-final on a forfeit.

It goes without saying that Jaziri himself was blameless in the matter. Interviewed after being forced to withdraw, he expressed the fear that the decision would badly damage his career. His brother and manager, Amir Jaziri, slammed the decision as “shocking, because it brings politics into sport.”  Meanwhile, Amir Weintraub himself described Jaziri as “a good friend,” adding wistfully that the Tunisian had “really wanted to play.”

That in of itself is not a surprise; after all, athletes live for competition, not political strife. But what is noteworthy is that the International Tennis Federation (ITF), mindful that this was not the first time that Israeli players had been subjected to a boycott, and anxious to bring the practice to an end, took unprecedented action.  Hence this statement released yesterday by the ITF’s Board of Directors at their meeting in Cagliari, Italy, confirming that Tunisia has been suspended from next year’s Davis Cup:

The Board was not satisfied with the case put forward by the Tunisian Tennis Federation and voted to suspend Tunisia from the 2014 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas competition. The decision of the ITF Board was unanimous although ITF Board Member from Tunisia, Tarak Cherif, recused himself from the discussion and the vote.

The 2013 ITF Constitution states the ITF and its members must preserve the integrity and independence of Tennis as a sport and must carry out their objects and purposes without unfair discrimination on grounds of colour, race, nationality, ethnic or national origin, age, sex or religion.

 “There is no room for prejudice of any kind in sport or in society,” said ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti. “The ITF Board decided to send a strong message to the Tunisian Tennis Federation that this kind of action will not be tolerated by any of our members.

“The Board felt that suspension from Davis Cup, a competition that was founded 113 years ago to encourage better understanding through sport, would provide a good lesson for the Federation and a fitting penalty for their unfortunate action.”

The decision of the ITF Board of Directors is final.

The ITF’s announcement is a welcome and courageous one for three reasons. Firstly, by correctly depicting the Tunisian decision as based upon “prejudice,” it rejects wholesale all the justifications and rationalizations for the boycott of Israel and Israelis advanced by the Arab League Central Boycott Office and its contemporary echo, the anti-Semitic “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) movement, which portrays the boycott of Israel as the twenty-first century incarnation of the movement to boycott apartheid South Africa.

Secondly, the announcement shifts the costs of a boycott away from the Israelis onto the boycotting countries themselves. Those countries that continue insisting on a boycott of Israeli athletes now have a choice: either drop this primitive bigotry, or accept that through your actions, it is your own professional sports representatives that will be punished.

Lastly, the ITF decision should properly be read as establishing a precedent that can equally apply in other sports. At an international swimming competition in Dubai last month, the Israeli team was grudgingly allowed to participate, but scoreboards at the event, as well as television broadcasts, were banned from mentioning the word “Israel.” Gratifyingly, the success of the Israeli swimmers at the tournament meant that the policy of pretending that the team was not present became untenable.

Nonetheless, there should be consequences to these actions. As well as ejecting boycotting countries from competitions, international sporting authorities should also ban countries that still advocate the boycott of Israel – like Qatar, which will host the 2022 soccer World Cup – from hosting such prestigious events. Thanks to the ITF, that outcome is now one step closer.

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Ripping Off the Self-Insured

Larry Kudlow of CNBC has a question:

As a 60-something, relatively healthy person, I don’t want lactation and maternity services, abortion services, speech therapy, mammograms, fertility treatments or Viagra. I don’t want it. So why should I have to tear up my existing health-care plan, and then buy a plan with far more expensive premiums and deductibles, and with services I don’t need or want?

President Obama, on his campaign swing through Boston last week (oh, wait a minute, the campaign is over, isn’t it: someone should tell the White House), says that it is to require those rascally insurance companies (among the most heavily regulated enterprises in the entire U.S. economy) to finally offer insurance contracts that provide “minimum standards” of coverage. Minimum standards covering such things as lifetime limits and prescription drugs make sense to avoid people being driven into bankruptcy by severe illness.

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Larry Kudlow of CNBC has a question:

As a 60-something, relatively healthy person, I don’t want lactation and maternity services, abortion services, speech therapy, mammograms, fertility treatments or Viagra. I don’t want it. So why should I have to tear up my existing health-care plan, and then buy a plan with far more expensive premiums and deductibles, and with services I don’t need or want?

President Obama, on his campaign swing through Boston last week (oh, wait a minute, the campaign is over, isn’t it: someone should tell the White House), says that it is to require those rascally insurance companies (among the most heavily regulated enterprises in the entire U.S. economy) to finally offer insurance contracts that provide “minimum standards” of coverage. Minimum standards covering such things as lifetime limits and prescription drugs make sense to avoid people being driven into bankruptcy by severe illness.

But requiring a 60-year-old man to pay for insurance to cover his possible need for maternity care is not about meeting minimum standards. It’s about ripping people off. Imagine the howls of outrage if millions of homeowners were to receive notices from their house insurance companies saying their premiums were going up $300 a month next year to cover possible damage to their tennis court and swimming pool when they don’t have either.

This is not about minimum standards. It’s about funding insurance for people whose risks are higher but whose insurance companies are forbidden to charge a premium commensurate with those risks, thanks to ObamaCare. By insuring against events that can’t happen, such as men becoming pregnant, they will have funds to cover real risks they can’t charge for.

In other words, Larry Kudlow and millions of others are being forced to redistribute their income to others that the government deems more worthy, but without the money actually going through the government by means of taxes and the politicians therefore having to take the political consequences that come with raising taxes.

At the moment, this only affects people who carry their own insurance, who are a relatively small part of the health-insurance market. They are raising a stink, as well they might, but the Obama administration is betting there are not enough of them to move Congress to change the law. That is no small part of the reason Obama, without a scintilla of legal authority, postponed the employer mandate a few months ago. Ninety million people are covered by their employers and when their insurance is forced to meet the new “minimum standards,” those costs will be passed along.

Had the inevitable blowback from that come this year, in the midst of individuals complaining, the website a debacle, and a midterm election looming, I doubt Obamacare would have survived unscathed.

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Of Mad Men and Diplomacy

While Pentagon employees faced furlough and military contractors received pink slips, the State Department continued operating basically as normal. After all, diplomacy is essential stuff, even when the U.S. government is $17 trillion in debt. And while certainly it makes sense to keep essential diplomats at their posts, continue American citizen services, and keep embassies open, it’s long past time the State Department stopped treating public diplomacy as a slush fund to pursue projects that are far from essential.

Take, for example, the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain. Just days before the government shutdown, the embassy sponsored a visit by Andre and Marie Jacquemetton, writers and producers for the TV show Mad Men. Now, I like Mad Men, and I’m sure it has its Bahraini fan base as well, but I remain at a loss as to how sponsoring their visit enhances American interests.

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While Pentagon employees faced furlough and military contractors received pink slips, the State Department continued operating basically as normal. After all, diplomacy is essential stuff, even when the U.S. government is $17 trillion in debt. And while certainly it makes sense to keep essential diplomats at their posts, continue American citizen services, and keep embassies open, it’s long past time the State Department stopped treating public diplomacy as a slush fund to pursue projects that are far from essential.

Take, for example, the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain. Just days before the government shutdown, the embassy sponsored a visit by Andre and Marie Jacquemetton, writers and producers for the TV show Mad Men. Now, I like Mad Men, and I’m sure it has its Bahraini fan base as well, but I remain at a loss as to how sponsoring their visit enhances American interests.

Ditto this band performance sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Oman, and Turkey gets the Kung-Fu Masters, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. The U.S. Embassy in Morocco “empowered” hundreds of Moroccan youth by sponsoring skateboarding workshops in six cities. It’s not just the Middle East where such expenditures are made. The U.S. Embassy in Belize is assisting with “Teaching Tumbling to Youth,” and the State Department sent a sculptor to Honduras to help judge a local art contest. Meanwhile, of course, budget cuts have prevented the deployment of a U.S. hospital ship which would have provided medical services to a number of countries in the Caribbean and Latin America. The U.S. Embassy in Ireland flew a chef from Washington D.C. to Dublin to give cooking lessons, so U.S.-Irish relations are now secure.

A culture of profligate spending continues to permeate public service. Projects are sponsored to fill programming space and keep junior officers busy with little consideration for how that money fulfills core U.S. interests. Government workers have blurred the distinction between essential and frivolous, and the State Department remains unable to show any lasting benefit from sponsoring such programming. Alas, when it comes to U.S. foreign policy, the problem is no longer just the budget, but the culture in which decisions regarding spending priorities are made.

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