Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 24, 2013

Nobody Should Fear a Merry Christmas

The notion of a liberal war on Christmas has become something of a seasonal evergreen discussion topic for pundits. As such, at this point at times it’s not clear whether conservatives like Fox’s Bill O’Reilly talk about it more than politically correct secularists wage it. In this overwhelmingly Christian country, there is little doubt that Christmas is a national holiday and is often practiced in such a manner as to make it more of a secular celebration of consumerism than a Christian religious observance.

Nevertheless, it must be admitted that the holiday plays a not unimportant role in the ongoing battle over the height of the so-called wall of separation between church and state. The fight about whether crèches, the lyrics in carols, or Christmas trees constitute an unconstitutional establishment of Christianity has done little to undermine the hold of the holiday or to make religious minorities more comfortable in America. To the contrary, such disputes do much to undermine good community relations between members of different faiths. Dennis Prager is correct when he writes today that those who claim to be “emotionally troubled” by the sight of a Christmas display on public property are indeed emotionally troubled.

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The notion of a liberal war on Christmas has become something of a seasonal evergreen discussion topic for pundits. As such, at this point at times it’s not clear whether conservatives like Fox’s Bill O’Reilly talk about it more than politically correct secularists wage it. In this overwhelmingly Christian country, there is little doubt that Christmas is a national holiday and is often practiced in such a manner as to make it more of a secular celebration of consumerism than a Christian religious observance.

Nevertheless, it must be admitted that the holiday plays a not unimportant role in the ongoing battle over the height of the so-called wall of separation between church and state. The fight about whether crèches, the lyrics in carols, or Christmas trees constitute an unconstitutional establishment of Christianity has done little to undermine the hold of the holiday or to make religious minorities more comfortable in America. To the contrary, such disputes do much to undermine good community relations between members of different faiths. Dennis Prager is correct when he writes today that those who claim to be “emotionally troubled” by the sight of a Christmas display on public property are indeed emotionally troubled.

In particular some liberal Jews have made a habit out of manufacturing outrage about Christmas festivities retaining even a smidge of religious content. As Prager rightly notes, many of those who pick fights over such issues are not religious but instead seem to practice a version of Judaism this time of year whose sole point is to insist that communal celebrations are stripped of Christianity.

There may be some who believe the First Amendment rule against establishing any religion ought to mean Christmas should not be treated as a legal holiday. But, just as the presence of the phrase “In God We Trust” on coins does not infringe anyone’s liberty, neither does the fact that the government shuts down on December 25. One needn’t observe Christmas in any way to understand that it is part of the secular culture of this country. Religious minorities who do without trees, tinsel, and Santa Claus are not in any way damaged by the presence of a crèche or a tree on public property or that children in a public school might sing some Christmas songs.

Why not? Because in the absence of compulsion or of any penalties exacted against those who do not participate, such rites are merely harmless celebrations. Attempts to suppress Christmas are not a defense of religious freedom. Instead, as O’Reilly and others have pointed out, they smack more of a desire to infringe on the religious liberty of believers. Those who imagine that Christmas is a threat to the right to dissent from the majority culture are living in a fevered dream world that is divorced from the reality of American tolerance.

In that spirit, we at COMMENTARY have no compunction about wishing our readers and friends a very merry Christmas. May all who celebrate the day as a matter of faith as well as those who don’t enjoy the holiday. It is as good a time as any to take a moment to thank Divine Providence for the ongoing miracle that is American democracy and for the religious freedom it has provided all of us.

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ObamaCare Deadline Desperation

An axiom of humor is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to satirize something that is already ridiculous. Thus, it is hard to think of a humorous way to send up the fact that today the administration extended the deadline for enrollment in ObamaCare for the second consecutive day. As the New York Times reports:

The original deadline was Dec. 15 for people to sign up for coverage that takes effect in January; it was later extended by eight days. On Monday, the White House added a 24-hour grace period, to 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday.

Then on Tuesday, in another bid to expand coverage, the administration provided details of a “special enrollment period” for people who would miss the deadline.

“If you weren’t able to enroll in an insurance plan by Dec. 23 because of problems you had using HealthCare.gov, you still may be able to get coverage that starts Jan. 1,” the administration told visitors to the website. “Even though we have passed the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline for coverage starting Jan. 1, we don’t want you to miss out if you’ve been trying to enroll.

Though the administration claimed the new deadlines were the result of heavy traffic on the infamous HealthCare.gov website, the real reasons for the changes are very different from the upbeat spin being fed to the media. With the figures for enrollment in ObamaCare only a fraction of not only what they originally predicted but also falling far short of the volume needed for the scheme to be economically viable, the administration is desperate to pump them up by any means necessary.

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An axiom of humor is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to satirize something that is already ridiculous. Thus, it is hard to think of a humorous way to send up the fact that today the administration extended the deadline for enrollment in ObamaCare for the second consecutive day. As the New York Times reports:

The original deadline was Dec. 15 for people to sign up for coverage that takes effect in January; it was later extended by eight days. On Monday, the White House added a 24-hour grace period, to 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday.

Then on Tuesday, in another bid to expand coverage, the administration provided details of a “special enrollment period” for people who would miss the deadline.

“If you weren’t able to enroll in an insurance plan by Dec. 23 because of problems you had using HealthCare.gov, you still may be able to get coverage that starts Jan. 1,” the administration told visitors to the website. “Even though we have passed the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline for coverage starting Jan. 1, we don’t want you to miss out if you’ve been trying to enroll.

Though the administration claimed the new deadlines were the result of heavy traffic on the infamous HealthCare.gov website, the real reasons for the changes are very different from the upbeat spin being fed to the media. With the figures for enrollment in ObamaCare only a fraction of not only what they originally predicted but also falling far short of the volume needed for the scheme to be economically viable, the administration is desperate to pump them up by any means necessary.

Saving face is obviously at the core of the decision-making process with regard to the deadlines. Even if the website is more functional today than it was after the disastrous rollout of the new law, the problems at the national level as well as with some of the state exchanges are undermining the faith of Democrats that somehow the president’s signature legislation will prove popular. In order to maintain that faith, they need to try to somehow inflate the total number of those enrolled in the plans.

One by one the administration has set back the implementation of various aspects of ObamaCare. As we noted here on Friday, the pileup of postponements has given the impression that this big-government scheme is unraveling. Indeed, every such announcement adds to the notion that what is happening is not just a delay but a de facto repeal of the law, piece by ungainly piece.

The problem with ObamaCare isn’t the website or even the looming deadlines that cannot be extended indefinitely. Even when people log on to the website what they find are not the high-quality and affordable insurance they were promised by the president and his cheerleaders but plans with high deductibles that often force consumers to purchase coverage they don’t need or want. With millions of Americans being forced off their plans by the various ObamaCare mandates and with those who are compelled to purchase the new plans encountering sticker shock, optimistic liberals who are hoping for an end to the negative stories and bad feedback are in for a shock.

The deadline shifts were a sign of desperation on the part of an administration that knows it has committed itself to an ongoing fiasco. What will follow in 2014 as more Americans realize what the president has saddled them with will be far worse.

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North Korea Amnesia and Iran Engagement

Who says the ayatollahs don’t have any holiday spirit? In what some might interpret as a courtesy to their Western diplomatic partners, Iran suspended the negotiations being conducted to nail down the details of the implementation of the Geneva agreement they reached with the U.S. and the P5+1 group last month until after the Christmas holidays. Though some might consider this gesture just one more delaying tactic, the Iranians are confident that the Obama administration will be just as pliable after the celebrations as before them. With the president threatening a veto of a proposed bill to toughen sanctions on Iran, the commitment of this administration to what appears to be a push for détente with Tehran is not in question. Nor is it worried much about having to defend the Geneva deal since much of the foreign-policy establishment loves the idea of more engagement and a war-weary public is disinclined to support further confrontation with the Islamist regime in spite of worries about the nuclear threat from Iran.

But in spite of the clear public-relations advantage the administration has in the debate over their approach to Iran, the news cycle has a way of exposing even the most confident narrative involving negotiations with rogue states. As often as President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, and other administration figures speak up about the need to try diplomacy and to avoid “breaking faith” with Iran, the example of the last tyranny that the U.S. tried to bribe to drop a nuclear program keeps popping up. As the New York Times reports today:

Satellite imagery suggests that North Korea may have begun producing fuel rods for its recently restarted nuclear reactor, a United States-based research institute said in a report published Tuesday.

The signs of new activity at North Korea’s main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, follow the country’s repeated assertions that it is strengthening its capabilities to produce nuclear arms. North Korea, which has conducted three nuclear tests since 2006, the most recent in February, has used spent fuel rods from the reactor as a source for plutonium, a key component for nuclear weapons.

The five-megawatt reactor was restarted earlier this year after a six-year hiatus. Its ability to produce plutonium again depends in part on how quickly North Korea can supply it with new fuel rods. North Korea is believed to have only 2,000 fuel rods in its inventory, a quarter of the 8,000 needed for a full load of fuel.

It bears repeating that Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, the lead negotiator with Iran at Geneva, played the same role for the Clinton administration with North Korea. Sherman claims that there is no comparison between the two situations, but the plain fact remains that Sherman believed Pyongyang could be bribed rather than pressured into giving up its nukes and thinks the same thing now about Iran. That is why even those who are unenthusiastic about confronting Tehran think there’s little doubt that the U.S. is well down the road toward embracing containment of a nuclear Iran rather than stopping it.

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Who says the ayatollahs don’t have any holiday spirit? In what some might interpret as a courtesy to their Western diplomatic partners, Iran suspended the negotiations being conducted to nail down the details of the implementation of the Geneva agreement they reached with the U.S. and the P5+1 group last month until after the Christmas holidays. Though some might consider this gesture just one more delaying tactic, the Iranians are confident that the Obama administration will be just as pliable after the celebrations as before them. With the president threatening a veto of a proposed bill to toughen sanctions on Iran, the commitment of this administration to what appears to be a push for détente with Tehran is not in question. Nor is it worried much about having to defend the Geneva deal since much of the foreign-policy establishment loves the idea of more engagement and a war-weary public is disinclined to support further confrontation with the Islamist regime in spite of worries about the nuclear threat from Iran.

But in spite of the clear public-relations advantage the administration has in the debate over their approach to Iran, the news cycle has a way of exposing even the most confident narrative involving negotiations with rogue states. As often as President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, and other administration figures speak up about the need to try diplomacy and to avoid “breaking faith” with Iran, the example of the last tyranny that the U.S. tried to bribe to drop a nuclear program keeps popping up. As the New York Times reports today:

Satellite imagery suggests that North Korea may have begun producing fuel rods for its recently restarted nuclear reactor, a United States-based research institute said in a report published Tuesday.

The signs of new activity at North Korea’s main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, follow the country’s repeated assertions that it is strengthening its capabilities to produce nuclear arms. North Korea, which has conducted three nuclear tests since 2006, the most recent in February, has used spent fuel rods from the reactor as a source for plutonium, a key component for nuclear weapons.

The five-megawatt reactor was restarted earlier this year after a six-year hiatus. Its ability to produce plutonium again depends in part on how quickly North Korea can supply it with new fuel rods. North Korea is believed to have only 2,000 fuel rods in its inventory, a quarter of the 8,000 needed for a full load of fuel.

It bears repeating that Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, the lead negotiator with Iran at Geneva, played the same role for the Clinton administration with North Korea. Sherman claims that there is no comparison between the two situations, but the plain fact remains that Sherman believed Pyongyang could be bribed rather than pressured into giving up its nukes and thinks the same thing now about Iran. That is why even those who are unenthusiastic about confronting Tehran think there’s little doubt that the U.S. is well down the road toward embracing containment of a nuclear Iran rather than stopping it.

The problem with negotiating with such regimes is that the West plays by the rules but nuclear tyrannies don’t. The North Koreans never put forward an alleged moderate as the face of their government the clever way the Iranians have done with Hassan Rouhani. But they often made the same kind of promises to American negotiators like Sherman about giving up their nukes for relaxation of sanctions, the way the Iranians have now done. Despite pledges of transparency and allowing inspections, such governments can revoke their promises at the whim of leaders like Kim Jong-un or Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In the absence of the rule of law, any deception is possible.

But the problem goes deeper than just a matter of a few foolish negotiators or the technical problems of keeping track of nuclear scofflaws. Integral to the story of what happened with North Korea and what may well be unfolding now with Iran is a refusal to learn from history and the inclination of Westerners to project their own beliefs onto totalitarians—be they Communists or Islamists—that view such foolishness as their diplomatic ace in the hole. Twenty years ago, the notion of a nuclear North Korea was considered science fiction by many in the foreign policy establishment. Today, it is a fact. Ten years from now we may look back on our current debate about Iran with the same incredulity that Sherman’s talks with North Korea now provoke. So long as there will be gullible diplomats whose zeal for the deal exceeds their common sense, Western governments will believe the promises of countries like North Korea and Iran.

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Israel Boycotts and the Lure of Notoriety

Here on the blog, Jonathan Marks has been covering the ongoing saga of the American Studies Association’s academic boycott of Israel, leaving off last week with a note about the possible next target for academics’ anti-Israel zealotry. He wrote that the upcoming conference of the Modern Language Association, which has a larger membership than the ASA, will host a roundtable on the topic stacked with pro-boycott voices. The “playbook,” he comments, would normally have this year’s conference used as the backdrop for a boycott resolution at next year’s conference.

The trend does indeed usually go in one direction. But perhaps there is reason to hope this trend will slow dramatically at this point. The pushback against the boycott from American academia has been swift. On Sunday night, William Jacobson posted at Legal Insurrection the latest tally of schools that had rejected the boycott and/or terminated their membership in the ASA. There were over thirty schools and counting to reject the boycott, and Yair Rosenberg has been noting the additional schools to come out against the boycott over the last couple of days, including Smith College and the University of Cincinnati.

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Here on the blog, Jonathan Marks has been covering the ongoing saga of the American Studies Association’s academic boycott of Israel, leaving off last week with a note about the possible next target for academics’ anti-Israel zealotry. He wrote that the upcoming conference of the Modern Language Association, which has a larger membership than the ASA, will host a roundtable on the topic stacked with pro-boycott voices. The “playbook,” he comments, would normally have this year’s conference used as the backdrop for a boycott resolution at next year’s conference.

The trend does indeed usually go in one direction. But perhaps there is reason to hope this trend will slow dramatically at this point. The pushback against the boycott from American academia has been swift. On Sunday night, William Jacobson posted at Legal Insurrection the latest tally of schools that had rejected the boycott and/or terminated their membership in the ASA. There were over thirty schools and counting to reject the boycott, and Yair Rosenberg has been noting the additional schools to come out against the boycott over the last couple of days, including Smith College and the University of Cincinnati.

At first glance, it might seem obvious to reject such a boycott: it flies in the face of the principles of academic engagement. The pro-boycott voices have taken a stand against the free flow of ideas and in favor of ethnic discrimination, a strange position for a university to take up–or, at least, it should be. But anti-Israel activists have been known not for their intellectual pursuit but for their extremism. Even Mahmoud Abbas opposes the boycott, making these activists and academics more extremely anti-Israel than Yasser Arafat’s successor.

And so the condemnation of these fanatic purveyors of hate came not only from the right but even from the left, which has become increasingly uncomfortable with Israel but which has not gone so far as to surpass the Palestinian Authority in its opposition to the current Israeli government, unlike the ASA. Today the Washington Post reported on the universities’ attempts to distance themselves from the ASA’s extremism:

Schools including Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Princeton and Boston universities and the Universities of Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Texas at Austin  and others have slammed the boycott, issuing statements similar to one by Harvard President Drew Faust that said that academic boycotts “subvert the academic freedoms and values necessary to the free flow of ideas, which is the lifeblood of the worldwide community of scholars.”

Penn State University at Harrisburg and Brandeis University have said they are withdrawing their memberships from the American Studies Association, and other schools are considering doing the same thing. In addition, two major associations of institutions of higher education, the Association of American Universities and the Association of American University Professors, have issued statements rejecting the boycott.

The Post includes some of the university presidents’ statements supporting dialogue over exclusion, such as from the University of Connecticut’s Susan Herbst:

Academic leaders at UConn will continue to visit Israel and Arab nations, invite Israeli and Arab scholars to our campuses, encourage our students and faculty to study in these nations, and pursue research collaboration with the many outstanding Israeli universities. We do this with pride and a productive focus on social justice, to forge the very critical dialogues that will someday lead to the peace we all seek.

That is the true essence of a university — to foster dialogue and develop solutions to problems without regard to political, racial, and cultural differences.

You can sense a kind of exasperation in some of these statements, as though the presidents of major American universities can’t quite believe they have to explain the basic principles of academic engagement and the rank senselessness of boycotting the Jewish state–and only the Jewish state, as opposed to non-democracies, unfree societies, etc.

Will it matter? How will this response factor into the decisions of groups like the MLA, who will be considering whether to codify their commitment to ethnic discrimination? There are two possibilities.

The first is that they will read the statements from presidents of dozens of universities expressing the embarrassment these boycotts bring to the good name of American academia and take the ASA’s experiment as a cautionary tale in letting their organizations be hijacked by anti-Israel extremists. Rather than choose sides, they will choose academic open-mindedness.

The second option is to embrace the opprobrium as confirmation of their wacky ideas about Zionist conspiracies. That would be the Walt-Mearsheimer path. When the two academics first proposed their silly ideas about the Israel lobby as a magazine piece, it was obviously wrongheaded but taken as an interesting conversation starter. When they expanded it into book form, it was dismaying to the pro-Israel community at first, because the authors had realized how lucrative it is in this day and age to peddle conspiracy theories about Jews.

When the book came out, however, there was much relief: the book could be easily criticized without consideration of the authors’ motives because it was of such shoddy scholarship as to be self-discrediting. The authors had their facts wrong, and clearly didn’t understand even the basics of Middle Eastern politics. From an academic perspective, the book was a complete failure, an embarrassment to the very idea of serious scholarship.

But that didn’t matter: anti-Zionism sells. Of course the facts weren’t on the authors’ side, but it soon became clear that was never a consideration. You can go from being an academic to a sought-after household name by dedicating your career to catering to the conspiracy-theorist fringe. Thus academic groups similar to the ASA may come to their senses and remember their mission is to educate. Or they may anticipate the notoriety that comes with abandoning that mission and embrace it for the sake of fame and intellectual martyrdom. The blowback against the ASA may be the end of this nonsense, in other words, or it may only be the beginning.

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A Complex Issue and a Simplistic Snowden

The Washington Post’s interview with Edward Snowden is bound to evoke complicated, on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other responses–a complexity that contrasts sharply with Snowden’s own simplistic, shallow conception of the issues at play. And it is this contrast that leaves those skeptical of massive government programs ultimately still in search of an advocate worthy of the cause of transparency, for Edward Snowden is not that advocate.

On the one hand, those seeking to defend the NSA’s domestic digital intelligence collection point out that, as Michael Mukasey notes today, the members of the president’s intel review board “have not uncovered any official efforts to suppress dissent or any intent to intrude into people’s private lives without legal justification.” On the other hand, critics of big government are on plenty firm ground when they say they should not be required to await abuse to argue, on principle, against secretive programs ripe for such abuse. The prevention of abuse of power, not simply the correction of abuse of power, is a legitimate goal for a self-governing people.

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The Washington Post’s interview with Edward Snowden is bound to evoke complicated, on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other responses–a complexity that contrasts sharply with Snowden’s own simplistic, shallow conception of the issues at play. And it is this contrast that leaves those skeptical of massive government programs ultimately still in search of an advocate worthy of the cause of transparency, for Edward Snowden is not that advocate.

On the one hand, those seeking to defend the NSA’s domestic digital intelligence collection point out that, as Michael Mukasey notes today, the members of the president’s intel review board “have not uncovered any official efforts to suppress dissent or any intent to intrude into people’s private lives without legal justification.” On the other hand, critics of big government are on plenty firm ground when they say they should not be required to await abuse to argue, on principle, against secretive programs ripe for such abuse. The prevention of abuse of power, not simply the correction of abuse of power, is a legitimate goal for a self-governing people.

But is that Edward Snowden’s goal? The overwhelming evidence would suggest it is manifestly not. In fact, Snowden’s interview, for those who could sit through the messianic self-aggrandizing delusions, was most revealing in Snowden’s clear distaste for the very concept of democracy. An argument can be made that the system of checks and balances surrounding the NSA program is insufficiently skeptical toward the means because of governmental deference to the ends. But it remains the case that the American people have elected representatives, to whom Snowden did not first go with this information, despite there being obviously sympathetic members of Congress (Ron Wyden, Rand Paul, etc.).

Additionally, the intel collection has legal oversight and its constitutionality has been challenged and upheld. Again, this doesn’t mean the process is flawless–conservatives consider some laws to be unconstitutional despite the high court’s acquiescence. But compare that with Snowden’s response when his interviewer, Barton Gellman–one of the journalists through whom Snowden has been leaking his information–asks him about his sense of authority and entitlement:

“That whole question — who elected you? — inverts the model,” he said. “They elected me. The overseers.”

He named the chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees.

“Dianne Feinstein elected me when she asked softball questions” in committee hearings, he said. “Mike Rogers elected me when he kept these programs hidden. . . . The FISA court elected me when they decided to legislate from the bench on things that were far beyond the mandate of what that court was ever intended to do. The system failed comprehensively, and each level of oversight, each level of responsibility that should have addressed this, abdicated their responsibility.”

“It wasn’t that they put it on me as an individual — that I’m uniquely qualified, an angel descending from the heavens — as that they put it on someone, somewhere,” he said. “You have the capability, and you realize every other [person] sitting around the table has the same capability but they don’t do it. So somebody has to be the first.”

There are two possible conclusions to be drawn from Snowden’s answer. Either he is a deeply unintelligent man with a tenuous grasp on reality, or he is a deeply dishonest man brimming with hostility toward Western democracy. That he accomplished what he did and now lives under the watchful gaze of the Russian security services suggests that the latter is far more likely. That’s not to say there isn’t also evidence for the former theory–witness his choice of historical analogy:

Snowden likened the NSA’s powers to those used by British authorities in Colonial America, when “general warrants” allowed for anyone to be searched. The FISA court, Snowden said, “is authorizing general warrants for the entire country’s metadata.”

“The last time that happened, we fought a war over it,” he said.

The comparison is historically illiterate and the conclusion asinine. Nonetheless, it fits with his pattern of dishonesty and self-promotion. He’s also a hypocrite: he claims to be for transparency, but has given his interview to a friendly and cooperative source, and even then he declines to answer certain questions about his own activity and the materials he possesses. He claims to be for the rule of law, but eschewed legal channels for his activity in favor of breaking the law and then evaded the legal consequences with the help of authoritarian, criminal regimes. He claims to want a discussion about domestic spying, but revealed damaging information about American spying abroad.

There is plenty, in other words, Edward Snowden is not telling us, and what he is telling us undermines his hollow attempts to claim the dignified posture of a whistleblower. There are troubling aspects to the NSA’s data collection, and an honest argument about transparency and security might keep that trouble at bay. But Snowden is not an honest messenger and he is not conducting an honest discussion. The American people, and the cause of transparency and limited government, deserve better than Edward Snowden.

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Schumer’s Iran Sanctions Test

Is there hope for passage of new sanctions on Iran? If there is, it will be thanks to New York Senator Charles Schumer, who is defying President Obama and other members of the Senate Democratic leadership by supporting the bill proposed by fellow Democrat Bob Menendez and Republican Mark Kirk. Schumer spoke up for the bill on Meet the Press on Sunday with some blunt talk about Iran:

Well, look, there are many of us, Democrats and Republicans, in this Senate who believe the best way to avoid war and get around to give up nuclear weapons is by ratcheting up sanctions, not by reducing them. The Iranians didn’t come to the table out of the goodness of their heart. This administration still labels them a terrorist organization–the supreme leader Khomeini is still pulling the strings. And only tough sanctions will get them to give up. Now, look, I give the president credit for talking. I don’t agree with some on the hard line who say no talking until they give up everything. But the bottom line is very simple. It’s pretty logical that it’s sanctions, tough sanctions that brought them to the table. If they think they can ease up on the sanctions without getting rid of their nuclear capabilities, they’re– they’re going to do that. So we have to be tough. And the legislation we put in says to the Iranians, if you don’t come to an agreement after six months and the president can extend it to a year, the sanctions are going to toughen up. … I think that will make them negotiate better and give up more.

The stand has earned Schumer fulsome praise from supporters of Israel as well as those in the media who are reading from the foreign-policy establishment’s appeasement hymnal on the subject. The New York Daily News rewarded Schumer with an editorial titled “Hang Tough Chuck” in which they rightly lauded such “stout-hearted Democrats” for “defying” President Obama. I agree with both Schumer and the News but those pinning their hopes for the sanctions bill on Schumer’s intrepid stand may wind up disappointed. If Schumer is serious about really standing up to the president the bill may have a chance to pass and set up a dramatic confrontation with the president that could influence the outcome of the negotiations with Iran. But it’s also entirely possible that he is counting on the president’s veto threat and the opposition to the proposal from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Banking Committee chair Tim Johnson and other leading Democrats to save him from any real danger of a serious battle with Obama.

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Is there hope for passage of new sanctions on Iran? If there is, it will be thanks to New York Senator Charles Schumer, who is defying President Obama and other members of the Senate Democratic leadership by supporting the bill proposed by fellow Democrat Bob Menendez and Republican Mark Kirk. Schumer spoke up for the bill on Meet the Press on Sunday with some blunt talk about Iran:

Well, look, there are many of us, Democrats and Republicans, in this Senate who believe the best way to avoid war and get around to give up nuclear weapons is by ratcheting up sanctions, not by reducing them. The Iranians didn’t come to the table out of the goodness of their heart. This administration still labels them a terrorist organization–the supreme leader Khomeini is still pulling the strings. And only tough sanctions will get them to give up. Now, look, I give the president credit for talking. I don’t agree with some on the hard line who say no talking until they give up everything. But the bottom line is very simple. It’s pretty logical that it’s sanctions, tough sanctions that brought them to the table. If they think they can ease up on the sanctions without getting rid of their nuclear capabilities, they’re– they’re going to do that. So we have to be tough. And the legislation we put in says to the Iranians, if you don’t come to an agreement after six months and the president can extend it to a year, the sanctions are going to toughen up. … I think that will make them negotiate better and give up more.

The stand has earned Schumer fulsome praise from supporters of Israel as well as those in the media who are reading from the foreign-policy establishment’s appeasement hymnal on the subject. The New York Daily News rewarded Schumer with an editorial titled “Hang Tough Chuck” in which they rightly lauded such “stout-hearted Democrats” for “defying” President Obama. I agree with both Schumer and the News but those pinning their hopes for the sanctions bill on Schumer’s intrepid stand may wind up disappointed. If Schumer is serious about really standing up to the president the bill may have a chance to pass and set up a dramatic confrontation with the president that could influence the outcome of the negotiations with Iran. But it’s also entirely possible that he is counting on the president’s veto threat and the opposition to the proposal from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Banking Committee chair Tim Johnson and other leading Democrats to save him from any real danger of a serious battle with Obama.

Let’s first state that Schumer’s willingness to at least speak up on the need for more Iran sanctions is a valuable contribution to the debate on the issue. He’s entirely right that a new bill with tougher measures would actually strengthen the president’s hand in negotiations with Iran. If the administration really wants to hold Tehran’s feet to the fire, the bill would, along with the existing sanctions and the considerable military and economic leverage the West holds over the Islamist regime, be more than enough to force them to give up their nuclear ambitions. The fact that the president is so angry about the prospect of putting more pressure on Iran during talks that Tehran’s envoys are already stalling is highly suspicious. The anxiety in the White House and the State Department about even raising the question of Iran’s missile programs, support for terror, and its demonizing of Israel raises the question that Washington’s intent may be to promote détente with Iran rather than to bring it line.

But our applause for Schumer’s stand needs to be tempered by the knowledge that his statements may be more for show than substance. So long as Reid and Johnson are backing Obama’s play on Iran, the odds are against getting a vote on the Menendez-Kirk bill. And if Obama is really determined to veto it, it is highly unlikely that there are 67 votes available for an override in the Senate (though there may well be a two-thirds majority for more sanctions in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives). Safe in the knowledge that the measure has no chance, all Schumer may be doing is a little grandstanding in order to shore up his reputation as a friend of Israel that was damaged by his support for Chuck Hagel last winter.

However, if Schumer were as determined as he would like us to believe on this issue, he could cause a great deal of trouble for the president. As the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, Schumer could call in some markers from his colleagues and maybe even persuade Reid, who has strong ties to the pro-Israel community, to allow a vote that would force Obama to make good on his veto threat. Perhaps the president isn’t bluffing about the veto, but he would also be loath to defend the Iranians in this manner.

If Schumer does help put the president in the corner on Iran, he will have earned the praise he’s currently getting. But if not, his talk about on Iran will turn out to be just that. “Hanging tough” means more than saying something on Meet the Press.

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This Day in Health-Care History

Lest we forget: exactly four years ago today, Senate Democrats rammed through what would later be called ObamaCare, on a purely partisan vote, ignoring warnings it would be a BFD (big future disaster). On Thursday, December 24, 2009, the New York Times reported on the week:

The vote on Monday, in the dead of night, was 60 to 40. The vote on Tuesday, just after daybreak, was 60 to 39. And the vote on Wednesday afternoon, at a civil hour but after less-than-civil debate, was 60 to 39 again — an immutable tally that showed Democrats unwavering in the march to adopt a far-reaching overhaul of the health care system …

The health care legislation was approved Thursday morning, with the Senate divided on party lines — something that has not happened in modern times on so important a shift in domestic policy, or on major legislation of any kind, lawmakers and Congressional historians said. The Democrats flaunted their unity on Wednesday at a news conference with nearly their entire caucus in attendance.

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Lest we forget: exactly four years ago today, Senate Democrats rammed through what would later be called ObamaCare, on a purely partisan vote, ignoring warnings it would be a BFD (big future disaster). On Thursday, December 24, 2009, the New York Times reported on the week:

The vote on Monday, in the dead of night, was 60 to 40. The vote on Tuesday, just after daybreak, was 60 to 39. And the vote on Wednesday afternoon, at a civil hour but after less-than-civil debate, was 60 to 39 again — an immutable tally that showed Democrats unwavering in the march to adopt a far-reaching overhaul of the health care system …

The health care legislation was approved Thursday morning, with the Senate divided on party lines — something that has not happened in modern times on so important a shift in domestic policy, or on major legislation of any kind, lawmakers and Congressional historians said. The Democrats flaunted their unity on Wednesday at a news conference with nearly their entire caucus in attendance.

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), 92 years old, had been pushed onto the Senate floor in a wheelchair, placing “no small burden on the frail nonagenarian” (unable even to deliver his customary Christmas address on the Senate floor); there was not a vote, nor a moment, to spare. The Times illustrated the action in the Senate “to reinvent the nation’s health care system” with three quotes from Democratic senators:

Hostility to the health insurance industry was a theme running through the Senate debate. Senator Sherrod Brown [D-Ohio], said insurance companies were often “just one step ahead of the sheriff.’’ Senator Dianne Feinstein [D-CA], said the industry “lacks a moral compass.’’ … Senator Sheldon Whitehouse [D-RI], said the business model of the health insurance industry deserved to die. “It deserves a stake through its cold and greedy heart,’’ Mr. Whitehouse said.

Shortly after 9 a.m., a pleased president praised the Senate and immediately left for his vacation in Hawaii. The bill had given him, he said, 95 percent of what he wanted. It had been only three and a half months since September 9, when the president had appeared before a joint session of Congress and a national TV audience to deliver an address that emphasized two things:

First, if you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, or Medicare, or Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have.  (Applause.)  Let me repeat this: Nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.

Second, the president extolled Congress on his new insurance exchange, where he said people would be able to shop “at competitive prices,” with tax credits for those who couldn’t afford them. And best of all:

This exchange will take effect in four years, which will give us time to do it right.

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