Commentary Magazine


Topic: Barck Obama

Even Moderate Mitt Should Talk About Religious Freedom

In the aftermath of the second presidential debate, Democrats are attempting to reboot the “war on women” theme that was the keynote for President Obama’s re-election campaign during the spring and summer. That’s being driven in large part by Mitt Romney’s “binders of women” comment, but it was also the product of the exchange at Hofstra between the two about insurance coverage of contraception. The president slammed Romney for opposing universal coverage of contraception under his ObamaCare bill, while the Republican claimed he wanted to ensure full access to it for all women.

Democrats are claiming this is another example of the new “Moderate Mitt” that has replaced the “severely conservative” candidate that campaigned in Republican primaries, and to some extent they are right. Romney was telling the truth in that he clearly does not oppose denying access to contraception to anyone, nor does he think that “employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not.” But he passed on the chance to explain to voters how the ObamaCare mandate infringes on the religious freedom of religious institutions and individuals, since it forces them to pay for services that violate their consciences and their faith. This was just one of a number of flubbed opportunities to hit the president on issues where he is vulnerable on Tuesday, but it reinforced the impression that in his desire not to offend moderates and especially women voters, he is willing to abandon the principles he campaigned on up to this point. Given the stakes that might be understandable, but the Romney campaign ought not to confuse the need to portray the candidate as a reasonable person that women can trust with a less laudable desire to fudge the differences with Obama on important issues. Romney should be speaking more about religious freedom, not abandoning the issue to the president.

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In the aftermath of the second presidential debate, Democrats are attempting to reboot the “war on women” theme that was the keynote for President Obama’s re-election campaign during the spring and summer. That’s being driven in large part by Mitt Romney’s “binders of women” comment, but it was also the product of the exchange at Hofstra between the two about insurance coverage of contraception. The president slammed Romney for opposing universal coverage of contraception under his ObamaCare bill, while the Republican claimed he wanted to ensure full access to it for all women.

Democrats are claiming this is another example of the new “Moderate Mitt” that has replaced the “severely conservative” candidate that campaigned in Republican primaries, and to some extent they are right. Romney was telling the truth in that he clearly does not oppose denying access to contraception to anyone, nor does he think that “employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not.” But he passed on the chance to explain to voters how the ObamaCare mandate infringes on the religious freedom of religious institutions and individuals, since it forces them to pay for services that violate their consciences and their faith. This was just one of a number of flubbed opportunities to hit the president on issues where he is vulnerable on Tuesday, but it reinforced the impression that in his desire not to offend moderates and especially women voters, he is willing to abandon the principles he campaigned on up to this point. Given the stakes that might be understandable, but the Romney campaign ought not to confuse the need to portray the candidate as a reasonable person that women can trust with a less laudable desire to fudge the differences with Obama on important issues. Romney should be speaking more about religious freedom, not abandoning the issue to the president.

Far from a minor point, ObamaCare remains one of the key points at stake in this election. If the president is re-elected, the legislation will be fully implemented. Opponents of the bill, among whom Romney presumably numbers himself, believe that the president’s efforts to impose this mandate unconstitutionally infringes on our first freedom — religious liberty — and must be stopped. If it is implemented it will mark a turning point in which liberals will be able to redefine religious freedom in such a way as to restrict to it the home and the church, but to rout it out of the public square.

It is vital that Romney show himself not to be the monster that is shown in Democratic attack ads. The first debate was important because it was the first opportunity for many American women to take a good look at the Republican alongside the president. The boost in Romney’s popularity among women was far more the result of their favorable opinion of him than the president’s lackluster performance.

Maintaining that momentum among female voters doesn’t require Romney to backtrack on ObamaCare or religious freedom. To the contrary, these are issues that are as important to women as to men. The idea that free contraception is the issue on which the female vote will turn is a liberal myth. Women won’t be threatened by a discussion that centers on the rights of believers so long as he makes it plain that he isn’t interested in stopping anyone from doing what they want in their personal lives. Romney’s failure to explain his differences with the president on the issue won’t help him win the women’s vote, or anybody else’s for that matter.

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“60 Minutes” Liberal Bias on Display Again

As I wrote earlier, the headline coming out of the dueling interviews of President Obama and Mitt Romney on CBS’s “60 Minutes” last night was the president’s assertion that he wasn’t going to be diverted from defending the interests of the American people by any “noise” coming from Israel about Iran. This was a clear statement that the administration didn’t have the honesty to admit that its Iran policies have failed and that a course correction was needed. But the show’s producers weren’t content with merely contrasting the president’s position with that of Romney, who strongly criticized Obama for his decision to distance the U.S. from Israel. Instead, seeking to capitalize on the increasing tension between the two countries, they dug up an interview with former Mossad chief Meir Dagan out of their archive.

Dagan is a bitter critic of Netanyahu, and in the piece first broadcast in March he disparaged the prime minister’s sense of urgency about the threat from Iran, claiming more covert operations as well as efforts to promote regime change in Tehran would be smarter than a direct attack on its nuclear facilities. While Dagan is someone whose views on the subject deserve a hearing, the re-rerun of his interview is problematic for several reasons. As I first wrote after the original broadcast back in March, Dagan has personal motives for his public vendetta against Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak that are not referred to in the segment. But the real problem is that as shaky as Dagan’s case was in March, it is barely relevant today.

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As I wrote earlier, the headline coming out of the dueling interviews of President Obama and Mitt Romney on CBS’s “60 Minutes” last night was the president’s assertion that he wasn’t going to be diverted from defending the interests of the American people by any “noise” coming from Israel about Iran. This was a clear statement that the administration didn’t have the honesty to admit that its Iran policies have failed and that a course correction was needed. But the show’s producers weren’t content with merely contrasting the president’s position with that of Romney, who strongly criticized Obama for his decision to distance the U.S. from Israel. Instead, seeking to capitalize on the increasing tension between the two countries, they dug up an interview with former Mossad chief Meir Dagan out of their archive.

Dagan is a bitter critic of Netanyahu, and in the piece first broadcast in March he disparaged the prime minister’s sense of urgency about the threat from Iran, claiming more covert operations as well as efforts to promote regime change in Tehran would be smarter than a direct attack on its nuclear facilities. While Dagan is someone whose views on the subject deserve a hearing, the re-rerun of his interview is problematic for several reasons. As I first wrote after the original broadcast back in March, Dagan has personal motives for his public vendetta against Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak that are not referred to in the segment. But the real problem is that as shaky as Dagan’s case was in March, it is barely relevant today.

The release of the latest reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran’s progress in the last year makes his belief that Israel has “more time” than Netanyahu believed then sound foolish. So, too, does the fact that another round of Western diplomacy with Iran flopped in the intervening months. But the network ran the interview anyway, juxtaposed with those of Obama and Romney in order to make the president look wise and the prime minister and Romney look foolish.

As I wrote in March:

Those who are promoting Dagan as a counterpoint to Netanyahu should remember a few key facts about his unprecedented public advocacy on the Iran issue that are not well known in the United States. Far from being an entirely dispassionate intelligence professional, Dagan’s anger at Netanyahu and Barak stems in no small part from the fact that the pair are the ones responsible for his being fired from his job. This happened after a series of intelligence failures–the most public of which was the disastrous hit on a Hamas official in Dubai.

Second, though interviewer Leslie Stahl focuses her attention on Dagan’s opposition to a strike on Iran now, the subtext to his position is that he spent much of his time at the head of the Mossad working on efforts to spike the ayatollah’s nuclear ambition. Under his leadership, Israeli intelligence concentrated much of its resources on covert activities whose purpose was to slow or stop progress toward an Iranian bomb. Although he says he considers the Iranian regime “rational” (though he added “not exactly our [idea of] rational”), that doesn’t mean he thinks containing a nuclear Iran (something President Obama has now specifically rejected) is a good idea.

Instead, as one might expect from a veteran spook, Dagan wants more emphasis on covert activities and other efforts that are aimed at an even more ambitious project than a mere surgical taking out of Iran’s nuclear facilities: regime change. In the sense that a democratic Iran, or at least one not ruled by Islamist fanatics, would be much safer for Israel and the rest of the world, he is, of course, right. But to say his opinions on this subject are somehow more realistic than the less grandiose intentions of Netanyahu and Barak, who only wish to make sure Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei doesn’t get his hands on a nuke, is obviously a stretch.

The question of how much time Israel has before it is too late to do anything about an Iranian nuclear weapon is not unimportant. Dagan is clearly of the opinion the situation is not yet critical. But, as he was careful to point out to Stahl, “I never said a lot of time. [There is] more time.”

Whatever news value the Dagan interview had six months ago has vanished in the intervening time. The Iranians have proven even more conclusively in this time that cyber attacks on their system have failed. The IAEA report that showed that the Iranians have doubled the number of centrifuges enriching uranium and stored them underground makes the time factor critical. An argument for further delay is tantamount to a concession that Iran will go nuclear and that there is nothing Israel or the West can do about it. As for his hopes for regime change, the idea that the Israelis could ever get President Obama to buy into that idea is comical. The real “noise” here is coming from CBS and Dagan, not Netanyahu.

The only point in running the Dagan interview alongside the Obama/Romney segments was to bolster the president and make Romney’s support of Netanyahu look craven. This is hardly the first time the show has tipped its hand, but the conspicuous nature of this decision ought to embarrass anyone associated with the network. Anyone wishing to argue that “60 Minutes” is not a principal organ of the mainstream liberal media’s partisan agenda is being disingenuous.

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