Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 15, 2014

The Tea Party Comes Into Its Own

The main takeaway from recent GOP primaries, which saw the victories of Nebraska’s Ben Sasse and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, was a continuation of a lesson conservatives have been learning the past few election cycles: the candidate matters. In the past, conservatives have often learned this by losing–see Todd Akin, Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, etc. Now they seem to be proving it by winning.

Slate’s John Dickerson is always worth reading, and he has another typically thoughtful piece today, asking “Why Is the GOP’s Civil War So Civil?” He notes, correctly, that the returns in North Carolina and Nebraska mean “the grassroots conservatives of the Tea Party and elites of the GOP establishment can both claim victories.” But I think it’s actually part of a larger trend that includes not just recent nominees but also the successful politicians the Tea Party has already elevated. Dickerson writes:

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The main takeaway from recent GOP primaries, which saw the victories of Nebraska’s Ben Sasse and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, was a continuation of a lesson conservatives have been learning the past few election cycles: the candidate matters. In the past, conservatives have often learned this by losing–see Todd Akin, Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, etc. Now they seem to be proving it by winning.

Slate’s John Dickerson is always worth reading, and he has another typically thoughtful piece today, asking “Why Is the GOP’s Civil War So Civil?” He notes, correctly, that the returns in North Carolina and Nebraska mean “the grassroots conservatives of the Tea Party and elites of the GOP establishment can both claim victories.” But I think it’s actually part of a larger trend that includes not just recent nominees but also the successful politicians the Tea Party has already elevated. Dickerson writes:

Nebraska is a safe Republican state. Perhaps the forces of the establishment would have jumped in more heavily if the march to the majority in the Senate were threatened. But that’s not a certainty. Sasse is no Christine O’Donnell or Richard Mourdock, two of the candidates often cited as being substandard. Sasse has political skill, an Ivy League education, and credentials as a Bush administration veteran. He will win the general election in the heavily red state and come to Washington as a Rand Paul or Ron Johnson type of senator—what used to be known as simply a good movement conservative.

The reference to Paul and Johnson (and an earlier one to Marco Rubio) provides a good opportunity to check in with the senators who were part of earlier successful Tea Party grassroots efforts. Johnson is far from a firebrand, and he has settled into the Senate nicely without expressing any interest (at least yet) in using it as a platform for a near-term presidential run. But even the ones considering a run for the presidency have–perhaps for that reason–paid a lot of attention to their tone lately as well.

Rubio’s an obvious one, having pushed for comprehensive immigration reform: “It’s really hard to get people to listen to you on economic growth, on tax rates, on healthcare if they think you want to deport their grandmother,” Rubio said after the 2012 election.

More recently, Paul–nobody’s idea of a RINO–did some tapdancing after trying to thread the needle on voter ID. “Everybody’s gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing,” Paul told the New York Times last week. “I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people.” After a bit of an uproar on the right, Paul explained himself to Sean Hannity (via Hot Air’s Allahpundit):

Like I say, I think both sides have made mistakes in…this issue. But it’s mainly in presentation and perception, not in reality. In the sense that, if Republicans are going to go around the country and this becomes a central theme and issue, you have to realize, rightly or wrongly, it is being perceived by some — and this is the point I was making and I think it’s still a valid point, that I’m trying to go out and say to African Americans ‘I want your vote and the Republican Party wants your vote’. If they perceive, rightly or wrongly, that showing their ID is an attempt to get them not to vote because they perceive it in the lineage of a time when it truly did happen through poll taxes and questioning to try and prevent people, if they perceive it that way, we have to be aware that the perception is out there and be careful about not so overdoing something that we further alienate a block of people we need to attract.

After posting that quote, Allahpundit remarked: “That’s basically the same rationale amnesty fans have used to justify comprehensive immigration reform.”

Perhaps, and it’s interesting to see Paul join Rubio in the group of Tea Party rising stars worrying aloud about perception as much as policy. But I think it’s more analogous to the disastrous town hall meetings congressional Republicans called to rally the base against the comprehensive immigration reform favored by then-President Bush (and John McCain). There are legitimate concerns about seeming to incentivize illegal immigration, but those town halls were an angry and, in some cases, offensive escalation of the party’s rhetoric toward immigrants.

In addition to Paul and Rubio, there’s Mike Lee’s thoughtful call for a renewed effort to fight poverty, and–though he’s in a slightly different category than the Tea Party senators–Scott Walker’s explanation of his governing philosophy in an interview with the Washington Examiner: “It’s a phrase I use often: Austerity is not the answer, reform is.”

The civility of the GOP’s “civil war” is part of a broader trend of the party’s conservatives adjusting to the fact they’re often addressing a national audience. That’s especially true for those planning a run for the presidency. Contrary to the left’s hopefully declarations that it has run its course, a Tea Party that vets its candidates and embraces governing is a political force that’s just warming up.

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Nakba Day and Plausible Peace Plans

The market for new Middle East peace plans is pretty much like that available for diets. Just as there will never be a shortage of schemes offering you a way to lose weight by various means, the supply of “new” solutions to the conflict in the Middle East is a well that never runs dry. The latest entry to what is a growing genre comes from Israeli journalist and author Ari Shavit, whose book—My Promised Land—on the conflict got generally favorable reviews in the United States. Writing in the New Republic, Shavit offers what he claims is not only a new approach but a “plausible” one that seeks to learn from the mistakes made by the peace processors in the more than 20 years since the Oslo Accords.

Like that book (which was subjected to a thorough and withering takedown by the irreplaceable Ruth Wisse), whose superficial evenhandedness endeared it to both liberal Jewish friends of Israel and many who are not its friends, Shavit’s plan sounds smart and also avoids the clichés about Israelis needing to search their souls or having to be saved from themselves by wise foreigners. Indeed, there is much to recommend it. Shavit counsels that we should forget about what he calls “Old Peace” with its obsession with crafting grand agreements and promoting White House ceremonies and instead concentrate on “New Peace”—an idea that will focus on Palestinian economic development and reform as a way to transition them and their Israeli neighbors to accepting a two state solution that will be based on ending the conflict rather than merely pausing it. But the idea isn’t new. Though he gives the back of his hand to Israel’s current government as being part of the problem rather than the solution, this concept of fostering change on the ground as the foundation for genuine reconciliation is what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been advocating for years even as he has accepted a two-state solution as the basis for agreements.

But as smart as this may be, the problem with Shavit’s “New Peace” is pretty much the same as the shortcomings with the old variety. And the evidence of the impractical nature of his plan is very much on display today as the Palestinians and their cheerleaders around the world celebrate “Nakba Day.” May 15 is the anniversary of Israel’s Independence in 1948, an event that Palestinians refer to as the “disaster” or nakba. The parades, speeches, and vows of eliminating the Jewish state that are echoing throughout the political culture of the Palestinians today are proof that, at least for the foreseeable future, such practical plans as that of Shavit, which require them to put aside their historic grudges and focus on building a productive future, haven’t got a chance.

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The market for new Middle East peace plans is pretty much like that available for diets. Just as there will never be a shortage of schemes offering you a way to lose weight by various means, the supply of “new” solutions to the conflict in the Middle East is a well that never runs dry. The latest entry to what is a growing genre comes from Israeli journalist and author Ari Shavit, whose book—My Promised Land—on the conflict got generally favorable reviews in the United States. Writing in the New Republic, Shavit offers what he claims is not only a new approach but a “plausible” one that seeks to learn from the mistakes made by the peace processors in the more than 20 years since the Oslo Accords.

Like that book (which was subjected to a thorough and withering takedown by the irreplaceable Ruth Wisse), whose superficial evenhandedness endeared it to both liberal Jewish friends of Israel and many who are not its friends, Shavit’s plan sounds smart and also avoids the clichés about Israelis needing to search their souls or having to be saved from themselves by wise foreigners. Indeed, there is much to recommend it. Shavit counsels that we should forget about what he calls “Old Peace” with its obsession with crafting grand agreements and promoting White House ceremonies and instead concentrate on “New Peace”—an idea that will focus on Palestinian economic development and reform as a way to transition them and their Israeli neighbors to accepting a two state solution that will be based on ending the conflict rather than merely pausing it. But the idea isn’t new. Though he gives the back of his hand to Israel’s current government as being part of the problem rather than the solution, this concept of fostering change on the ground as the foundation for genuine reconciliation is what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been advocating for years even as he has accepted a two-state solution as the basis for agreements.

But as smart as this may be, the problem with Shavit’s “New Peace” is pretty much the same as the shortcomings with the old variety. And the evidence of the impractical nature of his plan is very much on display today as the Palestinians and their cheerleaders around the world celebrate “Nakba Day.” May 15 is the anniversary of Israel’s Independence in 1948, an event that Palestinians refer to as the “disaster” or nakba. The parades, speeches, and vows of eliminating the Jewish state that are echoing throughout the political culture of the Palestinians today are proof that, at least for the foreseeable future, such practical plans as that of Shavit, which require them to put aside their historic grudges and focus on building a productive future, haven’t got a chance.

Shavit’s plan requires Israel to enact a total freeze on building in those Jewish settlements in the West Bank that are beyond the security fence. That’s a measure that wouldn’t inconvenience Israel all that much since almost all of the new housing beyond the 1967 lines is in Jerusalem and the settlement blocs that are inside the fence and would be kept by Israel in any peace agreement. But Shavit also says that Israel should withdraw completely from large swaths of the West Bank and that each such area would become an economic opportunity zone for Palestinian entrepreneurs where a free-market economy would grow without the debilitating corruption of the current Palestinian Authority.

The zones would be aided by the Arab states and the European Union and overseen by the United States. This new spirit of growth would foster a different civil political culture that would replace the old Palestinian one in which national identity is inextricably tied to war to the death against Zionism. Only by recreating themselves in this manner will Palestinians ever be willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. As Shavit writes:

The new Palestinian moderates can grow and prosper within the protective greenhouse of a New Peace structure that will expand the Palestinian geographic, political, and economic space—year by year, quarter by quarter. If at any given point in time the Palestinians are better off than in the previous point in time, there is hope. A new generation of modernized and globalized West Bankers may find reconciliation with their Israeli neighbors essential—and feasible. Over time, a benign Palestine may be established and a two-state steady-state may come to be.

Anyone who cares about Israel or the Palestinians should hope it someday becomes a reality. But the problem with what Shavit calls “Fayyadism”—named for the reform-minded former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad—was amply illustrated by his failure. Despite the praise showered on him by Americans, Europeans, and Israelis and the aid they sought to give him, Fayyad and other like-minded Palestinians have no discernible constituency among their own people. The corrupt kleptocrats of Fatah and the terrorists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad may have nothing to offer Palestinians but more of the same blood, privation, and failure they’ve been giving them throughout the century-old conflict over the land with the Jews, but they remain the only viable factions.

Shavit’s reference to his opportunity zones as a “greenhouse” is telling. It should be remembered that when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, wealthy American Jews bought the greenhouses built by Jewish settlers in order to give them to local Arabs who could then build their economy. But the greenhouses were destroyed in a paroxysm of Palestinian rage against anything connected to the Jews hours after the Israelis left. Much as Shavit might hope that Israeli withdrawals in the West Bank will produce a different result, there is no reason to think that any land abandoned to the Palestinians will not be converted to terrorist hotbeds, much as the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza soon became.

Unlike most foreign critics of Israel, Shavit understands that Israelis have become disillusioned with the peace process not because they want to rule over the Palestinians but because every previous peace deal has resulted in a trade of land for terror, not peace. He’d like the next time to be different, but offers no safeguards for that other than vague talk about American supervision. But does he really think Americans wish to take up the job of counter-terrorism in the West Bank currently done by Israelis just when they’ve tired of fighting counter-insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Shavit knows that Palestinians must change if they are ever to have peace or sovereignty. But the idea that this change can be imposed upon them from the outside or be the result of foreign investment projects is to engage in the same kind of magical thinking that has sunk every “Old Peace” venture in the last generation. The sea change in Palestinian political culture that will finally give up the fight to reverse the verdict of the Nakba must come from within. Until it does, Shavit’s peace plan, like every other one proposed by Americans or Israelis from the left, right, and center, is a waste of time.

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Fighting Back in France

When Roger Cukierman returned to holding the presidency of CRIF (Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France)—the umbrella group of French Jewish organizations and the pre-eminent voice of that community in Paris—in 2013, pieces began appearing in the press criticizing Cukierman’s leadership of French Jewry. Cukierman was painted by some as being weak in the face of rampant French anti-Semitism and of essentially advocating a policy of appeasement. One piece from January that appeared in Tablet claimed that Cuckierman’s strategy for combating anti-Semitism in France consisted of having the French Jewish community distance itself from Israel (so that Jewish institutions wouldn’t simply be viewed as an annex of the Israeli embassy). Another piece accused Cukierman of claiming that the Quenelle gesture—the inverted Nazi salute—isn’t always anti-Semitic, another argued that France’s aging Jewish leadership is out of touch with younger generations—a common, if mindless, complaint heard the world over.

So when I met with Cukierman (who is also vice president of the World Jewish Congress) I was surprised to find someone whose outlook broke with the above representation in just about every way. When I questioned Cukierman about the relationship between Israel and anti-Semitism in France he responded quite emphatically, “It’s not true that anti-Semitism is the result of Israeli policy,” insisting that this is the same anti-Semitism that has existed since long before the creation of the State of Israel. Pushing the matter further, I wondered what CRIF’s president thought of the notion that Diaspora Jews should be seen to be more critical of Israel; after all, it’s an idea that’s gaining traction both among some Jewish leaders in Europe and with certain liberal Jewish groups in America. Again, Cukierman was unequivocal, “the Israeli citizen is the one who is risking his skin … it would be outrageous to tell the Israelis what they should do for their own security … I consider it their risk, and their choice, and their life.” So no mistaking his position on that matter.

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When Roger Cukierman returned to holding the presidency of CRIF (Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France)—the umbrella group of French Jewish organizations and the pre-eminent voice of that community in Paris—in 2013, pieces began appearing in the press criticizing Cukierman’s leadership of French Jewry. Cukierman was painted by some as being weak in the face of rampant French anti-Semitism and of essentially advocating a policy of appeasement. One piece from January that appeared in Tablet claimed that Cuckierman’s strategy for combating anti-Semitism in France consisted of having the French Jewish community distance itself from Israel (so that Jewish institutions wouldn’t simply be viewed as an annex of the Israeli embassy). Another piece accused Cukierman of claiming that the Quenelle gesture—the inverted Nazi salute—isn’t always anti-Semitic, another argued that France’s aging Jewish leadership is out of touch with younger generations—a common, if mindless, complaint heard the world over.

So when I met with Cukierman (who is also vice president of the World Jewish Congress) I was surprised to find someone whose outlook broke with the above representation in just about every way. When I questioned Cukierman about the relationship between Israel and anti-Semitism in France he responded quite emphatically, “It’s not true that anti-Semitism is the result of Israeli policy,” insisting that this is the same anti-Semitism that has existed since long before the creation of the State of Israel. Pushing the matter further, I wondered what CRIF’s president thought of the notion that Diaspora Jews should be seen to be more critical of Israel; after all, it’s an idea that’s gaining traction both among some Jewish leaders in Europe and with certain liberal Jewish groups in America. Again, Cukierman was unequivocal, “the Israeli citizen is the one who is risking his skin … it would be outrageous to tell the Israelis what they should do for their own security … I consider it their risk, and their choice, and their life.” So no mistaking his position on that matter.

If Cukierman does not consider anti-Israel sentiments to be at the root of France’s alarming upsurge in anti-Semitism, then how is it to be explained? Cukierman suggests that there are three separate sources of hostility to Jews in France; the far-right, the far-left and radical Islam. Others from his office suggested also the role of economic hardships and post-colonial guilt. Still, these factors are certainly at play in other European countries, but it is France that seems to be considered one of the most troubled locations on the map of global anti-Semitism. Could it be less a matter of the combustible concoction of all these factors and more the fact that France has each factor in greater abundance than anywhere else? Perhaps in France, after a fraught flight from North Africa, post-colonial feeling is particularly intense; perhaps France’s Muslim population is larger and less assimilated than in other places; perhaps the left is particularly dominant in Franc; or perhaps the right has some particularly charismatic leaders in the form of the le Pens.

When I asked Cukierman and his delegation what they thought was unique about the situation in France, their suggestion was Diuedonne, the inflammatory comedian who has popularized the Quenelle and, as Cukierman explained, united disparate elements on the various fringes. It wouldn’t be the first time that a rabble rousing orator directed the mob against the Jews, but for that to happen, there has to at least be a rousable mob to be directed in the first place. Cukierman concedes that efforts by the French government to censor Diuedonne may have perversely caused some in the mainstream to become more sympathetic to him. Yet it would seem that Cukierman still favors this kind of intervention by the government to deny Diuedonne a platform, as he explains, when Jewish schools are being attacked and when it’s not safe to appear identifiably Jewish on the Paris metro, it’s not so easy to just sit back.

Cukierman praises the efforts of the French government to try and protect the Jews and stamp out anti-Semitism. The current French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has been particularly supportive, even having asserted that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are one and the same. For their part the Jewish leadership in France has been spearheading its own campaign. Cukierman is eager to tell me about their inter-communal initiative to have religious, political, and Trade Union leaders come out and publicly sign their names to a declaration calling for greater tolerance. One hopes it works. Presumably Cukierman understands his country and community better than we do.

With so many Jews now leaving France or expressing an interest in doing so, surely the leadership must be worried. But Cukierman explains that the flight is being driven more by economics than anti-Semitism, since it’s not only the Jews that are trying to leave. And to all those who think the Jewish sojourn in France is coming to an end Cukierman had this to say: “There have been Jews in France for 2,000 years, we’ve gone through many dramas including the Shoah and still there are Jews in France and Europe … And I’m not sure the future of the Jews in America will be eternal.”

Jewish life in France may yet continue for some time; it remains the world’s second-largest diaspora community. However, Cukierman laments that French Jewish life has become increasingly ghettoized. Ah, so then at least intermarriage must be down? Alas, the delegation reports that intermarriage in France is flourishing like never before. 

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Dishonesty Has Cost for Radical Animal Activists

I grew up in a family of veterinarians, and have been surrounded by animals since I was born. I count myself as a serious lover of animals. Almost every vacation I took in my early adult life was geared toward seeing animals in their natural environment. Indeed, my top three vacations of all time were a visit to the Galapagos Islands in 1989, a place to which I hope to return; a visit to the Ngornogorno Crater four years later, and an opportunity to pet baby whales in the Sea of Cortez back in 1997. My first degree was in biology and, in one of those road-not-taken moments, in 1993, I had a choice between two summer internships: One was to work for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the other was to study cliff swallow behavior in western Nebraska.

Every internship I took cascaded into the next, and so had I chosen differently two decades ago, my life might have been far different now. That said, I seldom get any writing done at home without “Neocatservative” on my lap and I look forward perhaps even more than my toddler daughter to our frequent trips to the zoo. One of my earliest memories was a trip to the circus, an experience I hope to replicate for my daughter when she turns three and can sit still for a little longer.

Needless to say, I might write mostly about the Middle East and U.S. diplomacy, but I remain keenly interested in animal welfare and believe there is a special place in hell for people who abuse animals. There should also be a special place for people who lie about it or cast such aspersions in pursuit of a political agenda, especially if their lies actually threatened to do greater harm to animals by undercutting conservation or removing animals from a social environment they love.

Back in March, I blogged briefly about how animal-rights activists had the circus in their cross-hairs. While various groups alleged animal cruelty, especially with regard to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’s treatment of elephants, the accusations of malfeasance were transparently geared to the larger agenda of banning the use of animals in entertainment. The reality is that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus treats elephants quite well, elephants are social animals and for centuries have been working animals as well, and many become depressed when unable to work. And, of course, the circus provides a crucial service in educating the public about animals.

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I grew up in a family of veterinarians, and have been surrounded by animals since I was born. I count myself as a serious lover of animals. Almost every vacation I took in my early adult life was geared toward seeing animals in their natural environment. Indeed, my top three vacations of all time were a visit to the Galapagos Islands in 1989, a place to which I hope to return; a visit to the Ngornogorno Crater four years later, and an opportunity to pet baby whales in the Sea of Cortez back in 1997. My first degree was in biology and, in one of those road-not-taken moments, in 1993, I had a choice between two summer internships: One was to work for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the other was to study cliff swallow behavior in western Nebraska.

Every internship I took cascaded into the next, and so had I chosen differently two decades ago, my life might have been far different now. That said, I seldom get any writing done at home without “Neocatservative” on my lap and I look forward perhaps even more than my toddler daughter to our frequent trips to the zoo. One of my earliest memories was a trip to the circus, an experience I hope to replicate for my daughter when she turns three and can sit still for a little longer.

Needless to say, I might write mostly about the Middle East and U.S. diplomacy, but I remain keenly interested in animal welfare and believe there is a special place in hell for people who abuse animals. There should also be a special place for people who lie about it or cast such aspersions in pursuit of a political agenda, especially if their lies actually threatened to do greater harm to animals by undercutting conservation or removing animals from a social environment they love.

Back in March, I blogged briefly about how animal-rights activists had the circus in their cross-hairs. While various groups alleged animal cruelty, especially with regard to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’s treatment of elephants, the accusations of malfeasance were transparently geared to the larger agenda of banning the use of animals in entertainment. The reality is that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus treats elephants quite well, elephants are social animals and for centuries have been working animals as well, and many become depressed when unable to work. And, of course, the circus provides a crucial service in educating the public about animals.

Today it was announced that the Humane Society of the United States and several co-defendants have had to pay more than $15 million to Feld Entertainment, the parent company of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, after more than a decade of litigation which the Humane Society initiated charging that the circus was treating its elephants poorly. The U.S. District Court ruled that the Humane Society’s case was “frivolous,” “vexatious,” and “groundless and unreasonable from its inception.” The settlement also covered a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) case that Feld Entertainment had filed after they discovered that the Humane Society and co-complainants had paid a witness and then tried to cover that up.

In effect, rather than utilize donations from well-meaning supporters who wanted nothing more than to help animals, the Humane Society, Wildlife Advocacy Project, Born Free USA, and other groups sought to channel that money into a radical political agenda. At least some of the settlement monies will help support the admirable work Feld does with its own Center for Elephant Conservation. Let us hope in the meantime that this case provides a wake-up call to those organizations that would use bait-and-switch tactics to utilize donor money to pursue agendas that have little to do with the intent of the donors.

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Why Bigger Government Does Not Equal More Services

The Democratic group Third Way is releasing the results of a survey on political “moderates,” which deviates from, and is more informative than, surveys on supposed “independents.” The Atlantic’s Molly Ball has piece discussing the survey as well as a memo Third Way officials gave Ball ahead of time to frame the results. It’s an interesting survey, especially with the parties gearing up for midterm elections. But the survey is undermined by a flaw that pervades such polls with regard to voters’ attitudes toward the size and scope of government.

That particular recurring survey question is rarely if ever challenged, but those who want an honest rendering of Americans’ political and policy preferences shouldn’t let it slide. Or, rather, conservatives shouldn’t let it slide, because the question is dishonestly designed to elicit a more favorable answer for supporters of expanding government. Here’s Ball:

Moderates’ perspective on the role of government has elements in common with both liberals and conservatives. Only 23 percent of moderates favor a larger government that provides more services (compared to 54 percent of liberals and 13 percent of conservatives); 37 percent favor a smaller government with fewer services (compared to 12 percent of liberals and 62 percent of conservatives).

As anyone who knows anything about the government can tell you, this is what our president might call a false choice. The simple fact is that the growth of the modern bureaucratic state is such that the larger government/more services vs. leaner government/fewer services framing is outdated and irrelevant. This type of poll question is trumpeted often by liberals who either don’t fully understand how the government works or who do understand but prefer not to clue their readers in on the con.

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The Democratic group Third Way is releasing the results of a survey on political “moderates,” which deviates from, and is more informative than, surveys on supposed “independents.” The Atlantic’s Molly Ball has piece discussing the survey as well as a memo Third Way officials gave Ball ahead of time to frame the results. It’s an interesting survey, especially with the parties gearing up for midterm elections. But the survey is undermined by a flaw that pervades such polls with regard to voters’ attitudes toward the size and scope of government.

That particular recurring survey question is rarely if ever challenged, but those who want an honest rendering of Americans’ political and policy preferences shouldn’t let it slide. Or, rather, conservatives shouldn’t let it slide, because the question is dishonestly designed to elicit a more favorable answer for supporters of expanding government. Here’s Ball:

Moderates’ perspective on the role of government has elements in common with both liberals and conservatives. Only 23 percent of moderates favor a larger government that provides more services (compared to 54 percent of liberals and 13 percent of conservatives); 37 percent favor a smaller government with fewer services (compared to 12 percent of liberals and 62 percent of conservatives).

As anyone who knows anything about the government can tell you, this is what our president might call a false choice. The simple fact is that the growth of the modern bureaucratic state is such that the larger government/more services vs. leaner government/fewer services framing is outdated and irrelevant. This type of poll question is trumpeted often by liberals who either don’t fully understand how the government works or who do understand but prefer not to clue their readers in on the con.

For example, during the controversy over Cliven Bundy, the New York Times’s Josh Barro was one of the commentators who sought to use the issue to make the point that limited-government conservatism, and especially libertarianism, can be explained by race. Here’s Barro:

A 2011 National Journal poll found that 42 percent of white respondents agreed with the statement, “Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.” Just 17 percent of blacks, 16 percent of Asians and 25 percent of Hispanics agreed. In 2011 and 2012, the Pew Research Center found that 55 percent of Asian-Americans and fully 75 percent of Hispanic-Americans say they prefer a bigger government providing more services over a smaller one providing fewer services, compared with just 41 percent of the general population.

An obvious problem is the wording of each question. The first question he uses offers two choices: government is either the problem or the solution. The lack of nuance–and, plainly, honesty–helps Barro’s argument but does a great disservice to his readers (though in fairness it’s not as though Barro himself wrote the survey question). The second question is the one that reappears in the Third Way survey.

The truth of the matter is that government has become unmanageably large in many ways, undermining the idea that a larger government necessarily results in more services.

A good resource for those who want the more accurate picture is Philip K. Howard’s The Rule of Nobody, which takes aim at the reasons government has, on important issues, ground to a halt. Howard opens with the story of the Bayonne Bridge, which spans the channel that connects New York Harbor to the port of Newark, the largest on the East Coast. The bridge, however, isn’t high enough to accommodate ships built to use the widened Panama Canal, set to be completed next year.

So what’s the solution? Howard notes that the government agency in charge decided the choices were either build a new bridge or dig a tunnel, each costing more than $4 billion. Then a new idea presented itself: raise the existing bridge roadway, at a cost of $1 billion, saving $3 billion. The resolution was “like a miracle.” And it went nowhere. The full story is worth reading and incredibly convoluted (which is Howard’s point), but here’s the gist:

Building anything important in America requires layers of approvals from multiple levels of government—in this project, forty-seven permits from nineteen different governmental entities. Environmental review has evolved into an academic exercise, like a game of who can find the most complications. Balkanization of authority among different agencies and levels of government creates a dynamic of buck-passing. “The process is aimed not at trying to solve problems,” Ms. Papageorgis observed, “but trying to find problems. You can’t get in trouble by saying no.” With any large project, something might go wrong. More studies are done.

The story of the Bayonne Bridge, and others like it–Howard’s book makes for sobering but important reading–is that the larger government got the more it cost while providing fewer services. Howard writes about school systems paralyzed by regulations, the culture of corruption fostered by the inability to navigate all the red tape, the resulting “involuntary noncompliance,” and the government’s erosion of civil society while then failing to provide the services whose responsibility was transferred from the private sphere to the public sector.

Larger government doesn’t just erode freedom. At a certain point, it begins providing fewer services than it did before it ballooned beyond manageability. Howard shows that often the only way around the most absurd bureaucratic extremism is public shaming. That should be applied to the survey questions designed to enable such bad governance as well.

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France’s Role in Putin’s War

At a time when the West is trying to make Russia pay a price for its aggression in Ukraine, what kind of message does it send if France delivers to Russia two top-of-the-line Mistral-class amphibious assault ships?

“Each of the ships would be able to carry 16 helicopters, four landing craft, 60 armored vehicles, 13 tanks and up to 700 soldiers,” reports the New York Times correspondent Michael Gordon, and they would significantly augment Putin’s power projection capabilities.

Jim Stavridis, a retired admiral who was NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander from 2009 to 2013, says: “The technology and capability represented by the Mistral should not be passed to a Russian Federation that continues to threaten its neighbors.”

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At a time when the West is trying to make Russia pay a price for its aggression in Ukraine, what kind of message does it send if France delivers to Russia two top-of-the-line Mistral-class amphibious assault ships?

“Each of the ships would be able to carry 16 helicopters, four landing craft, 60 armored vehicles, 13 tanks and up to 700 soldiers,” reports the New York Times correspondent Michael Gordon, and they would significantly augment Putin’s power projection capabilities.

Jim Stavridis, a retired admiral who was NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander from 2009 to 2013, says: “The technology and capability represented by the Mistral should not be passed to a Russian Federation that continues to threaten its neighbors.”

The Obama administration has been delivering that message to Paris ever since 2010. Yet two successive French governments have turned a deaf ear to American entreaties. So much for President Obama’s vaunted powers of persuasion. President Francois Hollande has no trouble saying “non” to a Nobel Peace Prize winner–and “oui” to the new tsar in the Kremlin–because it means an extra $1.6 billion or so for the French arms industry.

At the very least France deserves to suffer international opprobrium for this reckless, short-sighted, profit-first behavior that comes at the cost of enabling further Russian aggression. And if I were in a senior leadership position in one of the states directly threatened by Russian power–states like Georgia, Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltic republics–I would think of taking matters into my own hands in the way that Israel would if some outside power were to deliver powerful weapons to its enemies.

Those Eastern European states should give careful consideration to using their secret services to sabotage the French ships if possible because their entry into the Russian fleet will pose a direct threat to the future independence of these former Soviet satellites. That may be a shocking suggestion, but there are precedents for attacking French naval forces before they fall into enemy hands–e.g., the Royal Navy’s attack on the French fleet off Algeria on July 3, 1940, when it was in Vichy hands. 

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Judge the Times the Way It Judges Others

Love it or hate it, the New York Times remains one of the principal institutions of American journalism. So when its executive editor is abruptly and publicly fired with none of the usual platitudes or polite white lies about the victim deciding to explore other opportunities or spend more time with their families and with the process not dragged out to ensure a smooth and seemingly orderly transition, it is big news in the world of journalism. But the decision of Times publisher Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger Jr. to “oust”—to use the word used by the newspaper in the headline of its own story about the firing—Jill Abramson seems more like a public hanging than a routine replacement of a top editor. Abramson is a deeply repellent figure in many ways, but her treatment is shocking not because it might be undeserved but because it is highly unusual for someone at this level to walk the plank in such a manner.

Let’s admit that most of us speculating about what caused this to happen don’t know all the details. But while there is an element to this story for other journalists that seems like a car wreck that we know we should turn away from but can’t help staring at, what we have learned about what preceded Sulzberger’s decision is highly suspicious. If, as Ken Auletta informs us in the New Yorker, Abramson made some loud complaints to her boss about not getting paid as much as her predecessor Bill Keller, then the paper has a lot of explaining to do about the decision. The implications of the public statements about Abramson by her successor Dean Baquet—in which he gave her a backhanded compliment about teaching him “the value of great ambition” and then followed it by praising another former colleague for teaching about how “great editors can be humane editors”—leads observers to the obvious conclusion that he and his audience of Times staffers thought she was a horror.

But this piling on Abramson will naturally lead others to wonder whether this new sensitivity about her obnoxiousness is an attempt to distract us from the real reason she was fired. Were this kind of thing going on anywhere else, it’s easy to imagine the New York Times editorial page speculating about whether what we are watching is just another instance of an old boys club closing ranks against a “bossy”—to use a term that some feminists are now saying is a key indicator of sexism—female who annoyed the powerful men around her. And that is the most important point to be made about this episode.

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Love it or hate it, the New York Times remains one of the principal institutions of American journalism. So when its executive editor is abruptly and publicly fired with none of the usual platitudes or polite white lies about the victim deciding to explore other opportunities or spend more time with their families and with the process not dragged out to ensure a smooth and seemingly orderly transition, it is big news in the world of journalism. But the decision of Times publisher Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger Jr. to “oust”—to use the word used by the newspaper in the headline of its own story about the firing—Jill Abramson seems more like a public hanging than a routine replacement of a top editor. Abramson is a deeply repellent figure in many ways, but her treatment is shocking not because it might be undeserved but because it is highly unusual for someone at this level to walk the plank in such a manner.

Let’s admit that most of us speculating about what caused this to happen don’t know all the details. But while there is an element to this story for other journalists that seems like a car wreck that we know we should turn away from but can’t help staring at, what we have learned about what preceded Sulzberger’s decision is highly suspicious. If, as Ken Auletta informs us in the New Yorker, Abramson made some loud complaints to her boss about not getting paid as much as her predecessor Bill Keller, then the paper has a lot of explaining to do about the decision. The implications of the public statements about Abramson by her successor Dean Baquet—in which he gave her a backhanded compliment about teaching him “the value of great ambition” and then followed it by praising another former colleague for teaching about how “great editors can be humane editors”—leads observers to the obvious conclusion that he and his audience of Times staffers thought she was a horror.

But this piling on Abramson will naturally lead others to wonder whether this new sensitivity about her obnoxiousness is an attempt to distract us from the real reason she was fired. Were this kind of thing going on anywhere else, it’s easy to imagine the New York Times editorial page speculating about whether what we are watching is just another instance of an old boys club closing ranks against a “bossy”—to use a term that some feminists are now saying is a key indicator of sexism—female who annoyed the powerful men around her. And that is the most important point to be made about this episode.

That may be unfair to Sulzberger, Baquet, and the rest of the Times firing squad. Moreover, I think even those who are most critical of the Times’s liberal bias and increasing propensity for slipshod journalism and dumbing down of standards should try to resist the temptation of wallowing in schaudenfraude at Abramson’s downfall. But I do think it is entirely fair for the rest of us to judge the Times’s behavior the way it judges everyone else.

There may well have been good reasons why Abramson was not paid as much as Keller that had nothing to do with sexism. Perhaps Sulzberger belatedly realized that having an editor that was not as “humane” as Baquet implied she should have been was a big mistake that needed to be rectified as soon as possible. Abramson may have been considered a great journalist by many of her liberal admirers who shared her belief that reading the Times should be considered a religious rite. But a close look at her career—which was jump-started by her participation in the lynching of Clarence Thomas with biased reporting and a subsequent book written with Jane Mayer—does not justify that conclusion.

But the same newspaper that has regularly treated far less evidence of sexism as enough to justify public crucifixions of less powerful institutions than the Times should now be put under the same scrutiny. Any other place that couldn’t tolerate a powerful and highly regarded woman because of her “brusque manner,” or who sought to influence hiring decisions that was the purview of the publisher and made untimely demands about being paid the same as the boys, would be assumed to be a bastion of chauvinism deserving of the kind of obloquy that only the Times can dish out with slanted news stories and pontificating editorials.

It is a terrible thing to see any veteran journalist get turned out on the street in this kind of manner and I don’t think anyone—except perhaps for Thomas—would be justified in exulting about has happened to Abramson. But for the Times itself, I have no compassion or sympathy. The Times deserves to be judged and condemned as the classic example of liberal hypocrisy.

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A Deal to Let Iran Cheat More Efficiently

To understand the pointlessness of the nuclear negotiations now underway in Vienna between Iran and the so-called P5+1, it’s enough to read a new report leaked to Reuters earlier this week by the UN Panel of Experts that monitors nuclear sanctions on Iran. The report found “a decrease” in Iran’s efforts “to procure items for prohibited programs” since President Hassan Rouhani took office mid-2013 and optimistically declared this might stem from “the new political environment in Iran and diplomatic progress towards a comprehensive solution.”

Now let’s remove the rose-colored glasses and consider the facts: Under the “moderate” Rouhani–the man the world has declared it can do a deal with–Iran has continued trying to smuggle in parts for the illicit nuclear program it denies having; at most, it has decreased the pace a bit. And, as the report later admits, maybe not even that: It may simply have developed “more sophisticated” methods of “concealing procurement, while expanding prohibited activities.” Alternatively, it may have reduced its smuggling effort because, as the report further acknowledged, it has “demonstrated a growing capability to produce key items indigenously”–not a capability it would need if it were planning to give up its nuclear program.

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To understand the pointlessness of the nuclear negotiations now underway in Vienna between Iran and the so-called P5+1, it’s enough to read a new report leaked to Reuters earlier this week by the UN Panel of Experts that monitors nuclear sanctions on Iran. The report found “a decrease” in Iran’s efforts “to procure items for prohibited programs” since President Hassan Rouhani took office mid-2013 and optimistically declared this might stem from “the new political environment in Iran and diplomatic progress towards a comprehensive solution.”

Now let’s remove the rose-colored glasses and consider the facts: Under the “moderate” Rouhani–the man the world has declared it can do a deal with–Iran has continued trying to smuggle in parts for the illicit nuclear program it denies having; at most, it has decreased the pace a bit. And, as the report later admits, maybe not even that: It may simply have developed “more sophisticated” methods of “concealing procurement, while expanding prohibited activities.” Alternatively, it may have reduced its smuggling effort because, as the report further acknowledged, it has “demonstrated a growing capability to produce key items indigenously”–not a capability it would need if it were planning to give up its nuclear program.

In short, Iran has continued cheating its way to nuclear capability even while signing an interim nuclear agreement with the P5+1 in January and conducting months of “productive” negotiations on a permanent agreement. So even if a permanent deal is signed in the next few months, why would anyone imagine Iran would suddenly stop cheating and actually abide by the agreed-upon limits to its nuclear program? On the contrary, it would be able to cheat much more efficiently, unimpeded by the sanctions now in place.

Then there’s Rouhani’s own statement on Sunday that Iran’s nuclear technology actually isn’t “up for negotiation” at all; “We have nothing to put on the table and offer to them but transparency.” Even if one dismisses the first half of that statement as standard pre-negotiation posturing, there’s a real problem with elevating transparency from the status of a necessary precondition for a deal to a substantive Iranian concession equivalent to actually dismantling parts of its program–because, as also became clear this week, Iran’s idea of “transparency” doesn’t match that of the rest of the world.

Under an agreement signed with the International Atomic Energy Agency in November, Iran was supposed to answer various questions about its nuclear program by today. Iran says it has complied fully, but the IAEA doesn’t agree: It still wants more information about one of the most crucial issues of all–Iran’s experiments with explosive bridge wire detonators, which can be used to trigger nuclear bombs. The parties also haven’t reached any agreement on resolving other outstanding questions that weren’t covered by November’s deal. Due to these twin impasses, Monday’s meeting between IAEA and Iranian officials broke up without even an agreement on when to meet again.

Yet there’s no reason to believe Iran won’t stonewall any new agreement on transparency just as it has the previous ones–especially when it can do so with little fear of consequences, since the sanctions regime, once disabled, is unlikely to be reestablished for anything short of a nuclear explosion.

There are many other reasons for disliking the nuclear deal now under discussion, including those detailed by Michael Rubin and Jonathan Tobin earlier this week. But the simplest reason of all is that, as its past behavior shows, Iran can’t be trusted to honor any such agreement: It will simply continue merrily cheating its way to a nuclear bomb. And a sanctions-ending deal will make it easier for Tehran to do so.

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