Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 22, 2014

Netanyahu’s Uncomfortable Fig Leaf

Israel’s far-left Meretz Party doesn’t often offer much in the way of insight about either the Middle East peace process or the country’s government, but today one of the group’s leaders, MK Nitzan Horowitz spoke at least a partial truth when he referred to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni as nothing more than a “fig leaf” for Prime Minister Netanyahu. In an interview with the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz, the head of what is left of the once dominant “peace camp” decried Livni’s continued presence in the Cabinet. Horowitz’s evaluation of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as a man of peace and willingness to place a good deal of the blame for the collapse of the peace process on Netanyahu is divorced from the facts and explains why his party and its allies retain only a small sliver of support from the Israeli public. But his comments were generally on target with respect to the anomalous position of Livni inside the government of the man who has been her nemesis.

An earlier Times of Israel report documented the blowback inside the country’s government about Livni’s decision to meet with Abbas in London last week even though Netanyahu had suspended negotiations with the PA after its alliance with Hamas. Reportedly, Netanyahu was livid at her insubordination and wanted to fire her. But after calming down, the prime minister realized that if he made Livni and her small parliamentary faction walk the plank, she would generate a coalition crisis that would leave him with only a small majority in the Knesset. That would put him at the mercy of his right-wing partner/antagonist Naftali Bennett, the head of the Jewish Home Party, who used Livni’s excursion to both call for her resignation and to posture at the prime minister’s expense to the voters.

In the end, Livni accomplished nothing with her mission to Abbas. He is no more willing to budge an inch toward peace now than he was throughout the long months of negotiations during which his representatives stonewalled the eager Livni, who headed Israel’s delegation. But the dustup involving the prime minister and the woman who has always thought that she, and not Netanyahu, should be leading the country is interesting because it illustrates just how wrongheaded the critics who bash Israel’s government as inflexibly right-wing really are.

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Israel’s far-left Meretz Party doesn’t often offer much in the way of insight about either the Middle East peace process or the country’s government, but today one of the group’s leaders, MK Nitzan Horowitz spoke at least a partial truth when he referred to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni as nothing more than a “fig leaf” for Prime Minister Netanyahu. In an interview with the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz, the head of what is left of the once dominant “peace camp” decried Livni’s continued presence in the Cabinet. Horowitz’s evaluation of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as a man of peace and willingness to place a good deal of the blame for the collapse of the peace process on Netanyahu is divorced from the facts and explains why his party and its allies retain only a small sliver of support from the Israeli public. But his comments were generally on target with respect to the anomalous position of Livni inside the government of the man who has been her nemesis.

An earlier Times of Israel report documented the blowback inside the country’s government about Livni’s decision to meet with Abbas in London last week even though Netanyahu had suspended negotiations with the PA after its alliance with Hamas. Reportedly, Netanyahu was livid at her insubordination and wanted to fire her. But after calming down, the prime minister realized that if he made Livni and her small parliamentary faction walk the plank, she would generate a coalition crisis that would leave him with only a small majority in the Knesset. That would put him at the mercy of his right-wing partner/antagonist Naftali Bennett, the head of the Jewish Home Party, who used Livni’s excursion to both call for her resignation and to posture at the prime minister’s expense to the voters.

In the end, Livni accomplished nothing with her mission to Abbas. He is no more willing to budge an inch toward peace now than he was throughout the long months of negotiations during which his representatives stonewalled the eager Livni, who headed Israel’s delegation. But the dustup involving the prime minister and the woman who has always thought that she, and not Netanyahu, should be leading the country is interesting because it illustrates just how wrongheaded the critics who bash Israel’s government as inflexibly right-wing really are.

Americans who buy into the mainstream media’s reflexive dismissal of Netanyahu as “hard-line” (a word that many readers may think is his first name) and intransigent need to understand that the term tells us nothing about his policies. He began his current term in office in 2013, by offering Livni a major Cabinet post (the Justice Ministry) and the portfolio for peace talks with the Palestinians. Doing so was more or less the equivalent of President Obama choosing Mitt Romney to be secretary of state. Such alliances are, of course, less unusual in parliamentary systems, and especially so in Israel where no party has ever won an absolute majority in the Knesset. But it should be understood that Livni campaigned in the last election as a critic of Netanyahu’s peace policies and was then given an opportunity to prove him wrong by being handed the chance to strike a deal with Abbas. While the failure of the initiative championed by Secretary of State John Kerry is rightly considered to be his fiasco, the unwillingness of the Palestinians to come even close to satisfying Livni—the one Israeli that the Obama administration thought was most likely to make peace—tells us everything we need to know about the Palestinians’ responsibility for the collapse of the talks.

Rather than being the beard for Netanyahu whose purpose it is to fool the world into thinking that Israel wanted peace as Meretz and other leftists think, Livni’s presence at the table with the Palestinians is actually the proof that if Abbas wanted peace and an independent state, he could have it.  Livni doesn’t have Netanyahu’s confidence but he did let her conduct the negotiations without too much interference. If he was concerned that she would give away too much to the Palestinians or the American team led by Martin Indyk that is intractably hostile to the Israeli government, he had nothing to worry about. The Palestinians never gave her chance.

Some may think she is serving as a fig leaf for Netanyahu, but if they thought more seriously about her role in the peace process over the past year they would realize that her presence in the government did nothing to ease criticism from Washington or from the usual suspects who like to bash the Jewish state. Instead, she proved her theories and those of other Netanyahu critics wrong by trying and failing to get the Palestinians to take yes for an answer. If she stays in the government, and given her history of rank opportunism and love of office, there’s no reason to think she won’t, it will be to continue to serve as a warning to Netanyahu’s detractors that their accusations of Israeli intransigence are without a factual basis. That isn’t a particularly comfortable role for her or Netanyahu. But it does illustrate how foolish those who still laud Abbas as a man of peace really are.

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Bad History: Vox and Alexander Hamilton

Earlier today I wrote about Ezra Klein’s lame defense of the Obama presidency in which he mistakenly asserts that the office is inherently weak. Blaming the Founding Fathers for the president’s incompetence is easier than owning up to the collapse of faith in the crusade for hope and change. Rather than taking a hard look at the president’s own lack of basic political and leadership skills, Klein claims Obama is in a no-win position, an assertion that can only be accepted if you ignore the vast expansion of presidential power in the last century.

But there is one more point about Klein’s essay that bears refutation. He concludes it by taking a swipe at the doctrine of original intent when it comes to interpreting the Constitution. He writes:

That said, the Founding Fathers have been dead for some time, and even when they were alive they disagreed about quite a lot. Anyone who confidently claims they know how the Founding Fathers would feel about today’s political problems is a liar. It’s likely that Alexander Hamilton would have some questions about airplanes and African-American presidents before he’d render an opinion on congressional productivity.

It is true that there is a lot that the authors of the Constitution would find that was difficult to understand about the America of 2014. But the point of that document was to create a structure for governance. It is a work of sheer genius and has, despite its critics on the left, stood up very well to the test of time. While original intent can sometimes be a dodgy exercise that both left and right play at when it suits them, if you want to know the mindset of the Founders one can easily do so by reading either The Federalist Papers (which were written principally by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton) or Madison’s Notes on the Federal Convention.

But leaving that debate aside, Klein’s potshot at Hamilton tells us more about his own intellectual pretensions than the shortcomings of the man who was killed by Aaron Burr. In fact, if any of the founding fathers would have been at home in 21st century America it was Hamilton. He may not have known much about manned flight, but, in contrast to Madison, Jefferson, and most of the rest of his contemporaries who embraced foolish notions about the United States being principally a nation of yeoman farmers, he envisaged the emergence of America as an industrial and commercial giant as well as global power. As many scholars have pointed out, though we venerate Jefferson and to a lesser extent Madison as the men who made our country, it is Hamilton’s America we live in, not theirs.

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Earlier today I wrote about Ezra Klein’s lame defense of the Obama presidency in which he mistakenly asserts that the office is inherently weak. Blaming the Founding Fathers for the president’s incompetence is easier than owning up to the collapse of faith in the crusade for hope and change. Rather than taking a hard look at the president’s own lack of basic political and leadership skills, Klein claims Obama is in a no-win position, an assertion that can only be accepted if you ignore the vast expansion of presidential power in the last century.

But there is one more point about Klein’s essay that bears refutation. He concludes it by taking a swipe at the doctrine of original intent when it comes to interpreting the Constitution. He writes:

That said, the Founding Fathers have been dead for some time, and even when they were alive they disagreed about quite a lot. Anyone who confidently claims they know how the Founding Fathers would feel about today’s political problems is a liar. It’s likely that Alexander Hamilton would have some questions about airplanes and African-American presidents before he’d render an opinion on congressional productivity.

It is true that there is a lot that the authors of the Constitution would find that was difficult to understand about the America of 2014. But the point of that document was to create a structure for governance. It is a work of sheer genius and has, despite its critics on the left, stood up very well to the test of time. While original intent can sometimes be a dodgy exercise that both left and right play at when it suits them, if you want to know the mindset of the Founders one can easily do so by reading either The Federalist Papers (which were written principally by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton) or Madison’s Notes on the Federal Convention.

But leaving that debate aside, Klein’s potshot at Hamilton tells us more about his own intellectual pretensions than the shortcomings of the man who was killed by Aaron Burr. In fact, if any of the founding fathers would have been at home in 21st century America it was Hamilton. He may not have known much about manned flight, but, in contrast to Madison, Jefferson, and most of the rest of his contemporaries who embraced foolish notions about the United States being principally a nation of yeoman farmers, he envisaged the emergence of America as an industrial and commercial giant as well as global power. As many scholars have pointed out, though we venerate Jefferson and to a lesser extent Madison as the men who made our country, it is Hamilton’s America we live in, not theirs.

Hamilton might be surprised at the election of an incompetent like Barack Obama but I doubt he would be shocked at the evolution of our society on race over the course of the centuries to come. He was a virulent opponent of slavery (he was president of one of the country’s earliest anti-slavery societies) and thought the faculties of blacks were as good as those of whites, something that is hardly surprising since he grew up in a biracial environment in the West Indies.

The point here isn’t just that Klein is being unfair to Hamilton. The first treasury secretary needs no defense against jibes from the likes of the founder of Vox. But it says something that a liberal website that poses as the smart citizens guide to politics and culture would be so illiterate when it comes to one of the chief architects of our nation.

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Powerless President? Obama’s Lame Excuse

In the wake of the VA scandal, President Obama’s cheering section in the press has been scrambling to come up with an excuse for his latest lackluster response to a governmental problem. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told the country that Obama first heard about the disaster at the VA while watching television, the same story we were told about his discovery of the IRS scandal as well as other instances of potential misconduct. But the fact that this absentee president is incapable of coming up with original excuses about his slow response time to the fiascos that occur on his watch is just the tip of the iceberg.

Though Obama arrived at the Oval Office claiming that he would transform America in a blaze of hope and change, he has proven incapable of fixing the most mundane issues, let alone reboot the country’s political culture or turn back the oceans. Obama’s presidency is stuck in neutral as his second term drifts steadily into lame duck territory. Washington gridlock, the complexities of foreign problems that the president thought would be solved by the magic of his personality (Russian “reset,” Iran engagement, and Middle East peace), and the difficulty of rolling out his signature health-care law have left him looking not so much defeated as helpless. When he spoke to the country about the VA scandal that may have led to as many as 40 deaths of veterans kept waiting for medical service, he lacked passion. Even though VA Secretary Eric Shinseki had clearly failed in his five and half years to address the agency’s problems, Obama was prepared to give him more time. The administration’s slow response was seen as a function of a government that simply didn’t work. For those not still in thrall to Obama’s historic status this state of affairs is a damning indictment of his leadership style and inability to hold his appointees accountable for incompetence and/or failure.

But according to liberal blogger Ezra Klein, the fault lies not with Obama but with his office. In a piece published on his Vox site, Klein makes the argument that it is unfair to expect Obama to succeed when the presidency is designed to be ineffective. In Klein’s view, instead of blaming Obama for being an absentee president, we should be scolding James Madison and Alexander Hamilton for crafting a Constitution that didn’t provide a president with the ability to govern because of the checks and balances incorporated into the system. Those who differ with this view are, he wrote, subscribing to a “Green Lantern Theory of the Presidency” in which the commander-in-chief is invested with magical powers.

This is, to put it mildly, bunk. No American president who respects the Constitution (a dubious proposition when applied to Obama) can be a dictator. But the presidency has evolved from its bare-bones origins at the Federal Convention of 1787 into one that both liberals and conservatives have often dubbed an “imperial” institution. To say that Obama hasn’t the power to succeed is to engage in denial of both history and logic.

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In the wake of the VA scandal, President Obama’s cheering section in the press has been scrambling to come up with an excuse for his latest lackluster response to a governmental problem. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told the country that Obama first heard about the disaster at the VA while watching television, the same story we were told about his discovery of the IRS scandal as well as other instances of potential misconduct. But the fact that this absentee president is incapable of coming up with original excuses about his slow response time to the fiascos that occur on his watch is just the tip of the iceberg.

Though Obama arrived at the Oval Office claiming that he would transform America in a blaze of hope and change, he has proven incapable of fixing the most mundane issues, let alone reboot the country’s political culture or turn back the oceans. Obama’s presidency is stuck in neutral as his second term drifts steadily into lame duck territory. Washington gridlock, the complexities of foreign problems that the president thought would be solved by the magic of his personality (Russian “reset,” Iran engagement, and Middle East peace), and the difficulty of rolling out his signature health-care law have left him looking not so much defeated as helpless. When he spoke to the country about the VA scandal that may have led to as many as 40 deaths of veterans kept waiting for medical service, he lacked passion. Even though VA Secretary Eric Shinseki had clearly failed in his five and half years to address the agency’s problems, Obama was prepared to give him more time. The administration’s slow response was seen as a function of a government that simply didn’t work. For those not still in thrall to Obama’s historic status this state of affairs is a damning indictment of his leadership style and inability to hold his appointees accountable for incompetence and/or failure.

But according to liberal blogger Ezra Klein, the fault lies not with Obama but with his office. In a piece published on his Vox site, Klein makes the argument that it is unfair to expect Obama to succeed when the presidency is designed to be ineffective. In Klein’s view, instead of blaming Obama for being an absentee president, we should be scolding James Madison and Alexander Hamilton for crafting a Constitution that didn’t provide a president with the ability to govern because of the checks and balances incorporated into the system. Those who differ with this view are, he wrote, subscribing to a “Green Lantern Theory of the Presidency” in which the commander-in-chief is invested with magical powers.

This is, to put it mildly, bunk. No American president who respects the Constitution (a dubious proposition when applied to Obama) can be a dictator. But the presidency has evolved from its bare-bones origins at the Federal Convention of 1787 into one that both liberals and conservatives have often dubbed an “imperial” institution. To say that Obama hasn’t the power to succeed is to engage in denial of both history and logic.

Were we having this discussion in the 19th century rather than the 21st century, Klein might have a point. Up until the Civil War, American presidents had only a tiny federal bureaucracy to rule and lacked the ability to influence many domestic issues, though even then some larger-than-life characters like Andrew Jackson were able to wield enormous power by both constitutional and unconstitutional means. The vast expansion of the national budget and its consequent expansion of federal power that the Civil War helped create changed that. But even in the late 19th century, presidents had but a fraction of the ability to influence events that they do today.

However, in the 20th century, the quaint notions of the early republic with its part-time Congress (meeting only a few months out of each year) and tiny federal payrolls were forgotten as the presidency grew along with the country and the government. Contemporary presidents have at their disposal vast and numerous Cabinet departments and sundry agencies that have been gifted with virtually plenipotentiary powers over states and municipalities. They needn’t resort to attempts to govern by executive orders as Obama has done to throw their weight around. As Obama proved in his first term, the bully pulpit of the presidency and the ability to pressure Congress to act can result not only in giving the man in the White House a trillion-dollar stimulus but also the ability to transform America’s health-care system.

But Klein tells us not to believe our lying eyes and ears and instead believe that Obama’s doldrums are the function of his office. He dissects criticisms of Obama’s inability to work with Congress or to effectively communicate his agenda to the nation by claiming that those who have done so were flukes. Such “Green Lantern Presidents” as Lyndon Johnson, whose legendary ability to ram bills through Congress despite bitter opposition makes Obama’s refusal to deal with the legislative branch look particularly bad, and Ronald Reagan, who used the bully pulpit of the White House to change both foreign and domestic policies, were operating in different times and under different circumstances. He also asserts that partisan divisions are exacerbated by stark ideological splits with the opposition party always believing that it is in their interests to oppose the president on every conceivable issue (as both George W. Bush and Obama could attest).

It is true that the 21st century president has problems that even Reagan and LBJ didn’t face in eras where each party had its share of liberals and conservatives. But the power of the presidency has continued to expand as well. As Obama has perhaps belatedly realized the courts have given him wide latitude to enact policy on issues like carbon emissions. He can also use a Judiciary Department to selectively enforce laws in ways that overshadow the will of Congress.

But none of this gainsays the fact that Obama is simply incompetent in the business of political persuasion and in administration. That he lacks these basic skills that have always been considered essential to a successful presidency cannot be lain at the feet of Madison and Hamilton.

I write more about Klein’s potshot at Alexander Hamilton in a subsequent post.

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Obama’s Epic Incompetence (continued)

Yesterday I wrote a post about Barack Obama’s epic incompetence. Now, as if to prove my assertion, Karen DeYoung wrote a Washington Post story that begins this way:

A year after President Obama announced a major new counterterrorism strategy to take the country beyond the threats that flowed directly from the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, much of the agenda he outlined remains unfinished or not even begun.

In an ambitious address delivered a year ago Friday at the National Defense University, Obama said that the core of al-Qaeda was “on the path to defeat” and that the upcoming end of the war in Afghanistan had brought America to a “crossroads.”

But many of the changes Obama outlined have proved easier said than done, including new rules governing the use of force abroad, increased public information on and congressional oversight of lethal attacks with drones, and efforts to move the CIA out of the killing business.

Some initiatives have become mired in internal debates, while others have taken a back seat to other pressing issues and perceived new terrorism dangers. Congress, while demanding faster change in some areas, has resisted movement in others.

So you can add this to the list of Mr. Obama’s ineptness.

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Yesterday I wrote a post about Barack Obama’s epic incompetence. Now, as if to prove my assertion, Karen DeYoung wrote a Washington Post story that begins this way:

A year after President Obama announced a major new counterterrorism strategy to take the country beyond the threats that flowed directly from the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, much of the agenda he outlined remains unfinished or not even begun.

In an ambitious address delivered a year ago Friday at the National Defense University, Obama said that the core of al-Qaeda was “on the path to defeat” and that the upcoming end of the war in Afghanistan had brought America to a “crossroads.”

But many of the changes Obama outlined have proved easier said than done, including new rules governing the use of force abroad, increased public information on and congressional oversight of lethal attacks with drones, and efforts to move the CIA out of the killing business.

Some initiatives have become mired in internal debates, while others have taken a back seat to other pressing issues and perceived new terrorism dangers. Congress, while demanding faster change in some areas, has resisted movement in others.

So you can add this to the list of Mr. Obama’s ineptness.

There is something oddly impressive when it comes to the sheer scope of this administration’s failures. To have gone more than five years as president and to have almost no governing successes to point to is a standard most people, and most politicians, could not hope to attain. Yet Mr. Obama, being the historic figure that he is, decided to enter previously uncharted territory.

At some point I suppose it was inevitable that Jimmy Carter would be pushed aside when it came to incompetence. Now he has.

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The “War on Women” and the Democrats’ Kentucky Cheap Shots

Alison Lundergan Grimes is running for the Senate in an attempt to unseat the upper chamber’s Republican leader, and she has a message for the voters: she’s a she. As the Washington Post reports:

Often appearing in a brightly colored dress, Grimes repeatedly refers to her wardrobe in her campaign addresses, even talking about her high heels. She calls herself a “strong Kentucky woman” or an “independent Kentucky woman” and, as she did Tuesday night, describes her grandmother as “one of the fiercest Kentucky women I know.” …

“This is a Kentucky woman through and through, who proudly wears a dress,” she said at one of her final stops along a statewide bus tour that culminated with Tuesday’s primary.…

She wasn’t done talking about what she was wearing.

“I have stood strong in these heels,” she said shortly after her speech in a brief interview inside her bus. “I’ve run circles around [McConnell] in this state in my heels, and we’re going to continue to do that.”

This is an interesting tactic to highlight the Democrats’ invented and condescending “war on women.” But there are good reasons for it–most notably, she would prefer not to talk policy or the issues, since her party is so hostile to Kentucky voters’ concerns.

As the Associated Press reports, Grimes is trying desperately to avoid taking a position on whether she’d have supported ObamaCare. The president’s health-care reform law is unpopular, and Grimes no doubt would like to benefit from the fact that she was not in Congress when Democrats voted for a terrible bill they hadn’t read out of blind loyalty to their dear leader.

At the same time, Grimes doesn’t want to take a stand against it, not least because demonstrating the consensus against ObamaCare would only highlight the fact that her election would further enable ObamaCare’s destructive consequences.

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Alison Lundergan Grimes is running for the Senate in an attempt to unseat the upper chamber’s Republican leader, and she has a message for the voters: she’s a she. As the Washington Post reports:

Often appearing in a brightly colored dress, Grimes repeatedly refers to her wardrobe in her campaign addresses, even talking about her high heels. She calls herself a “strong Kentucky woman” or an “independent Kentucky woman” and, as she did Tuesday night, describes her grandmother as “one of the fiercest Kentucky women I know.” …

“This is a Kentucky woman through and through, who proudly wears a dress,” she said at one of her final stops along a statewide bus tour that culminated with Tuesday’s primary.…

She wasn’t done talking about what she was wearing.

“I have stood strong in these heels,” she said shortly after her speech in a brief interview inside her bus. “I’ve run circles around [McConnell] in this state in my heels, and we’re going to continue to do that.”

This is an interesting tactic to highlight the Democrats’ invented and condescending “war on women.” But there are good reasons for it–most notably, she would prefer not to talk policy or the issues, since her party is so hostile to Kentucky voters’ concerns.

As the Associated Press reports, Grimes is trying desperately to avoid taking a position on whether she’d have supported ObamaCare. The president’s health-care reform law is unpopular, and Grimes no doubt would like to benefit from the fact that she was not in Congress when Democrats voted for a terrible bill they hadn’t read out of blind loyalty to their dear leader.

At the same time, Grimes doesn’t want to take a stand against it, not least because demonstrating the consensus against ObamaCare would only highlight the fact that her election would further enable ObamaCare’s destructive consequences.

So she’s simply repeating over and over again that she’s wearing a dress–“She paused, looked down at her strawberry-red outfit, and let the crowd of a few dozen supporters whoop and holler at the inside joke,” the Post explains after Grimes told the crowd she “proudly wears a dress.”

There are pitfalls to this strategy as well. Grimes is a seasoned partisan, but she seems to have made a classic rookie mistake along the lines of Christine O’Donnell:

Alison Lundergan Grimes says it everywhere she goes. She said it at dozens of stops in Kentucky over the past week. She said it at her victory speech here Tuesday night after securing the Democratic nomination for Senate. And she plans to say it again all the way to November. She’s not an “empty dress.”

Ever since a Republican strategist used the insult months ago to belittle the 35-year-old Grimes, she has made it a rallying point in her quest to dislodge the Senate’s GOP leader, Mitch McConnell, from the Kentucky seat he has held for three decades.

Everywhere she goes she proclaims she’s not an empty dress? Not only does that come across as defensive, it reminds the crowds of the accusation. This is where the “war on women” rhetoric poses a challenge. Democrats don’t think women are smart enough or capable enough to out-debate and out-campaign their opponents on the issues, so they’ve instructed them to play the victim. But that requires Democratic women to consistently raise the idea that they can’t win on the merits.

If Grimes has already internalized the Democratic Party’s belief that women are inferior candidates, she’s going to have an uphill climb in a Senate election. Additionally, the “war on women” claims open the left up to accusations of hypocrisy. A notable example this election season was when Oregon Democrats spurred overly personal attacks on a Republican victim of domestic violence. The creepy attacks were meant to help Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley.

It’s too soon to tell whether that will backfire on Merkley, but Grimes is now under fire for a bizarre false attack on McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao. Specifically, Grimes attacked the family’s wealth after Chao’s mother passed away and left her daughter an inheritance. Grimes suggested Chao’s inheritance money was actually ill-gotten gains McConnell accrued in the Senate.

This is just the beginning of the campaign, so it’s possible Grimes will get her footing. Hopefully the attack on Chao over her deceased mother represents a low point for Grimes’s campaign and it’ll be uphill from here. Perhaps she’ll also find a communications team smart enough to tell her to stop announcing she’s not an empty dress. Either way, the Grimes campaign thus far is a good indication of the damage the Democrats’ “war on women” is doing to political discourse.

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Local Electricity Trumps Star Power in Philly

Yesterday, in a cliché-ridden piece that our colleague John Podhoretz referred to on Facebook as the worst column he had ever read, the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman informed the world that “local is over.” What does that mean? According to Friedman, it has to do with technology and a dustup in an elevator between celebrities. Using the same incoherent reasoning, Friedman also claims that “average is over” because of the advances of technology and that “later is over” because of something to do with global warming. Such nonsense merits no response, but it’s worth pointing out that anyone who doubted the importance of local should have spent Tuesday night in the Philadelphia area. There, a veteran politician with high name recognition, lots of money, and celebrity political endorsements got taken apart in a Democratic congressional primary by a youngster with less money and no love from national power brokers.

The veteran politician in question was Marjorie Margolies, who is best known these days for being Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law. But 20 years ago she was a member of Congress from the Philly suburbs of Montgomery County who famously cast the deciding vote to pass President Bill Clinton’s budget. She was then swept away in the 1994 Republican landslide. The seat was quickly won back by the Democrats in 1996 and held ever since, most recently by Allyson Schwartz, who was clobbered in her attempt to win the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania governor. But with Schwartz leaving the House, Margolies decided to mount a comeback and with Bill and Hillary Clinton’s help, she figured to have an easy time winning the nomination for Pennsylvania’s 13th district. But instead, Margolies was badly beaten by State Representative Brendan Boyle, a 37-year-old from Northeast Philadelphia with the face of a choirboy and the backing of some of Philadelphia’s most powerful unions.

Margolies’s loss is being interpreted in some quarters as also being a defeat for the Clintons, especially since she was the first person to be endorsed by Hillary in this election cycle. That was the conceit of a Josh Kraushaar piece published yesterday in National Journal under the headline “The Clinton Magic Fades in Philadelphia.” While the story wasn’t as bad as the headline, that take on the Margolies loss just doesn’t jive with reality. Why? Because, contrary to Tom Friedman’s column, in politics, local is very much not over.

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Yesterday, in a cliché-ridden piece that our colleague John Podhoretz referred to on Facebook as the worst column he had ever read, the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman informed the world that “local is over.” What does that mean? According to Friedman, it has to do with technology and a dustup in an elevator between celebrities. Using the same incoherent reasoning, Friedman also claims that “average is over” because of the advances of technology and that “later is over” because of something to do with global warming. Such nonsense merits no response, but it’s worth pointing out that anyone who doubted the importance of local should have spent Tuesday night in the Philadelphia area. There, a veteran politician with high name recognition, lots of money, and celebrity political endorsements got taken apart in a Democratic congressional primary by a youngster with less money and no love from national power brokers.

The veteran politician in question was Marjorie Margolies, who is best known these days for being Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law. But 20 years ago she was a member of Congress from the Philly suburbs of Montgomery County who famously cast the deciding vote to pass President Bill Clinton’s budget. She was then swept away in the 1994 Republican landslide. The seat was quickly won back by the Democrats in 1996 and held ever since, most recently by Allyson Schwartz, who was clobbered in her attempt to win the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania governor. But with Schwartz leaving the House, Margolies decided to mount a comeback and with Bill and Hillary Clinton’s help, she figured to have an easy time winning the nomination for Pennsylvania’s 13th district. But instead, Margolies was badly beaten by State Representative Brendan Boyle, a 37-year-old from Northeast Philadelphia with the face of a choirboy and the backing of some of Philadelphia’s most powerful unions.

Margolies’s loss is being interpreted in some quarters as also being a defeat for the Clintons, especially since she was the first person to be endorsed by Hillary in this election cycle. That was the conceit of a Josh Kraushaar piece published yesterday in National Journal under the headline “The Clinton Magic Fades in Philadelphia.” While the story wasn’t as bad as the headline, that take on the Margolies loss just doesn’t jive with reality. Why? Because, contrary to Tom Friedman’s column, in politics, local is very much not over.

As anyone who has covered Philadelphia (as I did for a decade) can tell you, it is a city and region whose political culture is a throwback to what was commonplace in American urban areas a half century ago. While unions and political machines are pretty much passé just about everywhere else, they are still strong in the City of Brotherly Love. While Tammany Hall went the way of all flesh back in the 1960s, the Democratic vote-gathering operation in Philly is still formidable and is built on the same bedrock of patronage and organized labor upon which the party’s governing coalitions in most cities depended.

So while Margolies had Clinton star power, Boyle had a far more important source of local electricity, John J. Dougherty, the tough-as-nails head of the Electricians Union known as “Johnny Doc” who wields more power in the city than even the former president and the woman that aspires to return to the White House in 2017. With the 13th split between suburban Montgomery County and Northeast Philly (whose working class inhabitants make it roughly analogous to New York City’s borough of Queens), Margolies found herself competing with two other liberal suburbanites while Boyle had the city portion of the district pretty much to himself. Boyle was outspent by Margolies and the other candidates and was subjected to a vigorous assault from feminist groups like Emily’s List that blasted him for his vote in the state legislature for more scrutiny on abortion clinics after the Kermit Gosnell murder case.

But the moral of the story is that even a candidate who is portrayed as a Democratic fellow-traveler in the so-called Republican “war on women” and who has the most popular Democrats in the country campaigning for his opponent can win a primary in a deep-blue region if he has the cash and the ground troops of a formidable turnout machine to back him. If anyone’s magic should be questioned in the wake of this primary, it is the pro-abortion lobby since it gambled its reputation on trashing Boyle despite the fact that he is actually, like most Democrats, a backer of abortion rights even if, like most Americans, he thinks abortion clinics should be more closely regulated.

It’s true that Margolies’s loss doesn’t enhance the Clintons’ prestige, but no one should question their magical hold on the affection of Democrats. If Hillary runs, she will sweep the 13th district in any presidential primary and the general election. However, in most places in the country, local power will always beat national interests, and that is especially true in Philadelphia. Local is not only not over, it remains the trump card in any political race and any politician or pundit who forgets that should not be taken seriously.

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Brian Schweitzer: First Into the Sea

Since the speculation about Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions really ramped up after the 2012 election, two strategies–one from the right and one from the left–have been touted as possible ways to defeat what many expect to be a Clinton juggernaut. From the right, the strategy has been to discourage her from running at all by treating her as if she’s already in the race, forcing her into a bruising pre-campaign campaign. (The Clintons expect the Benghazi hearings to be a piece of this strategy.)

From the left, the possibility has been raised that Clinton is vulnerable to her left because of her close relationship to Wall Street (which Democrats hope to continue to demonize) and her more hawkish views on foreign policy, including having voted for the Iraq war. Both of these strategies seemed to be long shots, especially the idea of a liberal challenger in the race. It’s highly unlikely serious Democratic populists, such as Elizabeth Warren, would run against Hillary.

But now there seems to be a third strategy to avoid another Clinton White House: a combination of the two. Its proponent is former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. I wrote about his toying with a presidential candidacy back in December, and it doesn’t appear to have faded. Schweitzer’s strategy is to essentially be (l’havdil, as they say in Hebrew) the Nachshon ben Aminadav of the left. The idea is that Schweitzer will combine liberal populism with an attempt to discourage Clinton from running by being the first into the sea. No high-profile Democrat has yet really tried to challenge Clinton in the public arena, and Schweitzer seems to be hoping that if he leads the way the sea will part and open up the path for countless other challengers.

As the Wall Street Journal reports:

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Since the speculation about Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions really ramped up after the 2012 election, two strategies–one from the right and one from the left–have been touted as possible ways to defeat what many expect to be a Clinton juggernaut. From the right, the strategy has been to discourage her from running at all by treating her as if she’s already in the race, forcing her into a bruising pre-campaign campaign. (The Clintons expect the Benghazi hearings to be a piece of this strategy.)

From the left, the possibility has been raised that Clinton is vulnerable to her left because of her close relationship to Wall Street (which Democrats hope to continue to demonize) and her more hawkish views on foreign policy, including having voted for the Iraq war. Both of these strategies seemed to be long shots, especially the idea of a liberal challenger in the race. It’s highly unlikely serious Democratic populists, such as Elizabeth Warren, would run against Hillary.

But now there seems to be a third strategy to avoid another Clinton White House: a combination of the two. Its proponent is former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. I wrote about his toying with a presidential candidacy back in December, and it doesn’t appear to have faded. Schweitzer’s strategy is to essentially be (l’havdil, as they say in Hebrew) the Nachshon ben Aminadav of the left. The idea is that Schweitzer will combine liberal populism with an attempt to discourage Clinton from running by being the first into the sea. No high-profile Democrat has yet really tried to challenge Clinton in the public arena, and Schweitzer seems to be hoping that if he leads the way the sea will part and open up the path for countless other challengers.

As the Wall Street Journal reports:

He slams Mrs. Clinton for her ties to Wall Street, her courting of corporate campaign cash and her vote for the Iraq war as senator, a jab he delivered during a trip through Iowa in December.

Such outspoken criticism of Mrs. Clinton, rare among Democrats, inspires some leaders in the party’s left wing, who are disillusioned with President Obama and soured by prospects of an unchallenged Clinton candidacy in 2016.

Montana has more cattle than people, making Mr. Schweitzer a long shot for the Democratic presidential nomination, should he even try. Complicating things further, the former two-term governor has little name recognition, little money and a big appetite for oil and gas exploration.

But some Democrats say Mr. Schweitzer has a chance at an important role: the maverick who speaks for disillusioned liberals, calls out Mrs. Clinton’s vulnerabilities and, perhaps, prods a more liberal champion into the race.

To be sure, the article mostly treats the strategy slightly differently than I do. It’s pitched here as way to open the path to someone challenging Clinton in the primaries. But I don’t think that’s realistic. I imagine Schweitzer is well aware of just how difficult it would be to defeat Clinton once she’s in the race, and I suspect he is also conscious of the lack of Democrats who could plausibly run on this platform who would also run against the Clinton machine. And he surely well knows that if his own presidential ambitions are serious, he needs Clinton not to run at all.

Additionally, even if more serious populist Democrats ran against Clinton in the primaries, all that would do is pull Clinton’s own rhetoric to the left. Clinton wouldn’t drink a glass of orange juice that hasn’t been focus-grouped and poll tested. If railing against the one percent or some other mindless liberal cliché polls well in the primaries, that’s what she’ll say. Once the nominee, she’ll tack to the center. She won’t lose Democratic base votes no matter what she does: American left-liberalism is guided by the ideology of power with a dash of progressive identity politics. Clinton is their perfect nominee, no matter how many checks she gets from Wall Street.

To wit: Clinton is already responding to Schweitzer’s populist critique as expected. The same Journal story has a quote from her spokesman:

Asked about all of the ex-governor’s criticisms, Hillary Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said, “She’s proud to have spent a lifetime fighting for equality and opportunity for all people, from jobs and education to health care and voting, and will continue to do so.”

Schweitzer also poses one more challenge to Clinton. Progressive identity politics is bitter and completely humorless. Schweitzer, in contrast to virtually every high-profile Democrat in the country, is funny and charming. Angry populism is something Clinton can mimic, if need be. She can excel at playing the victim. But lighthearted, down-to-earth populism? That’s her Achilles’ heel.

Thus while the odds are still against Schweitzer, he’s probably the right Democrat to make this play. Democrats around the country no doubt expect the sea to swallow him. But they’ll be watching just in case.

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Anti-Jewish Rhetoric at the Modern Language Association

Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, I have an update on the Modern Language Association’s debate on Israel. The Association is now voting on Resolution 2014-1, which calls on the “Department of State to contest Israel’s denials of entry to the West Bank by United States academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.” Voting ends on June 1.

The resolution barely passed the MLA’s Delegate Assembly back in January. That was a setback for the anti-Israel crew at the MLA, which had overwhelmingly won a similar vote back in 2008. I assumed that the resolution would easily win a full membership vote, but a group called MLA Members for Scholar’s Rights has made a real debate of it. Much of that debate has been conducted at an MLA member’s-only site, during a comment period on the resolution, which has now ended. Someone has been good enough to post most of it here.  At least two things are striking about the debate.

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Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, I have an update on the Modern Language Association’s debate on Israel. The Association is now voting on Resolution 2014-1, which calls on the “Department of State to contest Israel’s denials of entry to the West Bank by United States academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.” Voting ends on June 1.

The resolution barely passed the MLA’s Delegate Assembly back in January. That was a setback for the anti-Israel crew at the MLA, which had overwhelmingly won a similar vote back in 2008. I assumed that the resolution would easily win a full membership vote, but a group called MLA Members for Scholar’s Rights has made a real debate of it. Much of that debate has been conducted at an MLA member’s-only site, during a comment period on the resolution, which has now ended. Someone has been good enough to post most of it here.  At least two things are striking about the debate.

First, opponents fully understand that the resolution is not really about denials of entry. Neither those who sponsored the resolution nor those who are voting for it think that the State Department is deferring important policy decisions until the professors of language and literature weigh in. The resolution is “a Trojan horse for a boycott” or, to be more precise, for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, a movement that refuses to be pinned down on the question of Israel’s right to exist, that seeks to turn Israel into a pariah state on the model of apartheid South Africa, and that, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, has recommended that backers do their best to shun Israel academics because “academic exchanges with Israeli academics … have the effect of normalizing Israel and its politics of occupation and apartheid.” This line, perhaps because of the bad publicity it has generated, was recently removed from the site of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, but it can still be seen in this snapshot.

We can be confident that support for BDS is the symbolic import of the resolution because of what we know about its sponsors, Bruce Robbins of Columbia University and Richard Ohmann of Wesleyan University. Both signed a 2009 letter that, after describing the boycott campaign against South Africa, has this to say:

It is time for the United States to place a similar pressure on Israel. That Israel has been America’s beneficiary, unchallenged in its war crimes and in its acts of terror, uncontested for its racist civil constitution and illegal occupations, has not been to the United States’ advantage. On the contrary, such unquestioning support of Israel has fuelled the legitimate anger of the Islamic world, supplied the justification for terrorism, and continually tarnished the United States’ reputation among the democracies of the world.

Second, some of the resolution’s supporters, all MLA members, oblige those who find anti-Semitism in the BDS movement. For example:

As on the broader political scene, moves to seek justice and opportunity for Palestinians (or to remove obstacles to achieving those goals) are countered by Zionist attack dogs. When the Zionist lobby railroads its way through Congress, universities, and civil society no request is made for equal time for the other side. Only when a counter voice is raised in this tightly controlled wilderness, do the proponents of Israeli exceptionalism cry foul.

Another is more explicit: this “resolution rightly targets only Israel given the humongous influence that Jewish scholars have in the decision making process of Academia in general.”

Supporters of BDS will assert that it is unfair to pin a few anti-Semitic comments on them. Set aside the fact that, as one supporter puts it, the “xenophobic rhetoric of ‘outsiders’ and conspiracies” pervades the debate. At least as telling is how the BDS movement itself reacts to well-founded accusations that prominent supporters, like Roger Waters and Alice Walker deploy classic anti-Semitic tropes. As far as I know, no BDS leader has uttered a peep, and both remain propaganda tools in good standing.

This silence is presumably related to the movement’s studied ambivalence about whether it wants to roll back 1967 or 1948. While there are presumably some anti-Semites among any group that criticizes Israel, anti-Semites are an important part of BDS’s base.

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