Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bill Clinton

How Many Palestinians Would Endorse a Jewish State?

In “The Real ‘Jewish State’ Story,” Ben-Dror Yemini, a senior Maariv journalist, notes the issue of Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state was not raised first by Benjamin Netanyahu. It was not raised first by the Israeli right. It was not raised recently. It was part of the 2000 Clinton Parameters, which proposed “the state of Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people and the state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.”

Yemini notes that recognition of a Jewish state is endorsed across the entire Israeli political spectrum, both within and without the governing coalition.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) has just released a new poll, conducted March 20-22 in the West Bank and Gaza, in which one of the polling questions raised this issue:

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In “The Real ‘Jewish State’ Story,” Ben-Dror Yemini, a senior Maariv journalist, notes the issue of Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state was not raised first by Benjamin Netanyahu. It was not raised first by the Israeli right. It was not raised recently. It was part of the 2000 Clinton Parameters, which proposed “the state of Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people and the state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.”

Yemini notes that recognition of a Jewish state is endorsed across the entire Israeli political spectrum, both within and without the governing coalition.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) has just released a new poll, conducted March 20-22 in the West Bank and Gaza, in which one of the polling questions raised this issue:

There is a proposal that after the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and the settlement of all issues in dispute, including the refugees and Jerusalem issues, there will be mutual recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the state of the Palestinian people. Do you agree or disagree to this proposal?” [Emphasis added].

The percentage of Palestinians that “certainly agreed” was 3 percent. A total of 58.5 percent disagreed.

In other words–just as Israel’s Ron Dermer asserted at AIPAC five years ago–the Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state does not involve the refugees. The poll assumed “all issues in dispute” were settled, including the refugees. But even with no other issue remaining on the hypothetical table, a lopsided majority of Palestinians rejected a Jewish state.

The Palestinians push a specious “right of return” (which no other refugee group has ever been granted, much less Arab ones from a war the Arabs started). They express faux concern for the Arab minority in Israel, but those Arabs have far more civil and religious rights than they would under a Palestinian state (according to the PCPSR poll, only 31 percent believe people in the West Bank can criticize the PA; only 22 percent believe people in Gaza can criticize Hamas).

In 1947, the UN proposed a two-state solution involving an “Arab state” and a “Jewish state.” The Arabs rejected the resolution, rejected a state for themselves, and started a war. They still reject a Jewish state 66 years later. Yemini ends his article as follows:

[A]nyone who justifies the Palestinian refusal is not bringing peace any closer, but rather pushing the chances of a two state solution further away … On this issue [Netanyahu] deserves total support. Not to torpedo peace. But just the opposite. To pave the way to peace.

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re: Why the Secrecy on the Iran Deal?

Earlier this week, Emanuele Ottolenghi asked “Why the Secrecy” about the Iran deal, a reference to the Obama administration keeping the implementation agreement of the Joint Plan of Action out of the public eye. Ottolenghi is absolutely correct that the desire to keep the agreement secret “will only enhance legitimate suspicions that none of Iran’s concessions are irreversible and that the West volunteered to reduce its own leverage in exchange for vague promises.”

There are many more specific reasons why the State Department leaders want to keep the agreement secret, and a lot of them have to do with learning the wrong lessons from the past. Among other episodes, my new book Dancing with the Devil, a history of American diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups, explores Bill Clinton-era diplomacy in depth.

The Clinton administration, of course, considered the 1994 Agreed Framework a great success. After the deal had been signed, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland noted the difficulty of trusting North Korea, and demanded that Clinton’s team answer three questions:

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Earlier this week, Emanuele Ottolenghi asked “Why the Secrecy” about the Iran deal, a reference to the Obama administration keeping the implementation agreement of the Joint Plan of Action out of the public eye. Ottolenghi is absolutely correct that the desire to keep the agreement secret “will only enhance legitimate suspicions that none of Iran’s concessions are irreversible and that the West volunteered to reduce its own leverage in exchange for vague promises.”

There are many more specific reasons why the State Department leaders want to keep the agreement secret, and a lot of them have to do with learning the wrong lessons from the past. Among other episodes, my new book Dancing with the Devil, a history of American diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups, explores Bill Clinton-era diplomacy in depth.

The Clinton administration, of course, considered the 1994 Agreed Framework a great success. After the deal had been signed, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland noted the difficulty of trusting North Korea, and demanded that Clinton’s team answer three questions:

 (1)   Do they really believe that North Korea has ceased being a backlash state and should therefore be trusted?

(2)   Why did Kim Jong-il do the deal now?

(3)   Won’t it serve as an incentive for other backlashers to pursue nuclear-weapons programs, to get bought off by the United States if for no other reason?

Clinton refused to answer such questions but, by 1997, there was little doubt that the Agreed Framework had failed. The State Department would not accept such findings, though, even when they came from the intelligence community. To do so would invalidate Clinton’s approach. Nicholas Burns, the State Department spokesman (and an avid supporter of Obama’s diplomacy with Iran) declared, “We are absolutely confident … that the agreed framework, put in place two and a half years ago is in place, it’s working. We are absolutely clear that North Korea’s nuclear program has been frozen and will remain frozen.”

When they looked at the facts, the General Accounting Office (GAO) concluded otherwise. In 1999, it reported that it could no longer verify how North Korea distributed or used its food aid. North Korea would allow international monitors to visit only 10 percent of institutions receiving food aid, and regularly blocked inspectors. The State Department refused to accept the GAO findings, though, because to accept them would be to admit North Korean cheating and to undermine the premise of the diplomatic process in which they had already invested too much. Likewise, when the GAO reported that monitoring of heavy fuel oil had gone awry, the State Department informed Congress that they trusted that the regime’s use of the heavy fuel oil was consistent with the Agreed Framework. Like today, Congress was dubious, but the State Department effectively covered up North Korean noncompliance and insisted that the deal was “a concrete success.”

A theme of my book is that the State Department never conducts lessons-learned episodes to determine why certain high-profile diplomatic engagements have failed in order to better execute diplomacy in the future. Perhaps that’s unfair, however. It seems that the State Department has considered what went wrong 15 years ago but, rather than conclude that the original agreement or rogue behavior was the problem, they have determined that too much transparency forces them to answer uncomfortable questions and can empower Congress to demand accountability. That, more than rogue regime cheating, seems to be the State Department’s greatest concern. Simply put, a secret agreement is necessary, in diplomats’ eyes, in order to ensure that cheating, violations, and insincerity don’t sidetrack the continuation of the diplomatic process.

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Will de Blasio Secure Hillary’s Left Flank?

In politics, having a good memory can always be something of a liability. It was, after all, only a couple of decades ago that Bill Clinton was one of the leaders of the centrist faction of the Democratic Party and his presidency is considered to have succeeded in large measure because of his decision to distance himself from liberal dogma. Nevertheless, both the former president and his spouse—who hopes to return to the White House in 2016—were front and center at the inauguration of Bill de Blasio as New York City’s new mayor. The event was a celebration not just of the new mayor but of the leftist ideology he championed during his campaign. Class warfare was the theme of the day articulated by a blistering diatribe by new Public Advocate Leticia James, in a poem recited by a college student, and repeated by de Blasio when he said the chief purpose of his administration of the country’s largest city would be, as the New York Times noted, to “fix” inequality in Gotham.

This theme may dovetail nicely with President Obama’s attempt to change the focus of the national political discussion from one about the impact of his disastrous health-care law to one about populist initiatives such as an increase in the minimum wage. But it also represents the kind of muscle flexing on the part of the party’s liberal base that hasn’t been seen since Clinton’s so-called “New Democrats” took control of things in the early ’90s. And that is exactly why Hillary Clinton and her ubiquitous husband were eager to associate themselves with not only de Blasio’s victory but also with the leftist surge that brought him to office. Having failed to win the presidency in 2008 because of an inability to defend her left flank, Clinton seems determined not to make that same mistake in her next try for the White House. But the question remains whether worrying so much about liberal sensibilities is the smartest thing for her to do in the long run.

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In politics, having a good memory can always be something of a liability. It was, after all, only a couple of decades ago that Bill Clinton was one of the leaders of the centrist faction of the Democratic Party and his presidency is considered to have succeeded in large measure because of his decision to distance himself from liberal dogma. Nevertheless, both the former president and his spouse—who hopes to return to the White House in 2016—were front and center at the inauguration of Bill de Blasio as New York City’s new mayor. The event was a celebration not just of the new mayor but of the leftist ideology he championed during his campaign. Class warfare was the theme of the day articulated by a blistering diatribe by new Public Advocate Leticia James, in a poem recited by a college student, and repeated by de Blasio when he said the chief purpose of his administration of the country’s largest city would be, as the New York Times noted, to “fix” inequality in Gotham.

This theme may dovetail nicely with President Obama’s attempt to change the focus of the national political discussion from one about the impact of his disastrous health-care law to one about populist initiatives such as an increase in the minimum wage. But it also represents the kind of muscle flexing on the part of the party’s liberal base that hasn’t been seen since Clinton’s so-called “New Democrats” took control of things in the early ’90s. And that is exactly why Hillary Clinton and her ubiquitous husband were eager to associate themselves with not only de Blasio’s victory but also with the leftist surge that brought him to office. Having failed to win the presidency in 2008 because of an inability to defend her left flank, Clinton seems determined not to make that same mistake in her next try for the White House. But the question remains whether worrying so much about liberal sensibilities is the smartest thing for her to do in the long run.

It is true that the alliance between de Blasio and the Clintons runs both ways. The mayor ran Hillary’s first Senate campaign, but his political roots are to be found on the party’s far left and he was never part of her inner circle. By having the former president rather than a judge or some other public figure swear him in, it could be said that de Blasio was attempting to associate himself with the Clintons’ pragmatism rather than the other way around. Indeed, as the Times noted in another article on the inauguration, de Blasio is hoping to use the Clintons to keep the city’s business interests from open opposition to his administration, something that is a potential problem for the mayor given the tone of the anti-capitalist rants he and his followers have been sounding.

Yet both Bill and Hillary are past masters of the art of putting their fingers to the wind to determine their future course of action. And since the wind in the Democratic Party is blowing hard to the left these days, their decision to make de Blasio’s inauguration an official Clinton affair must be understood as an indication of how Hillary perceives her current political dilemma.

Clinton lost the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination largely because she was seen as the centrist in the race. That resulted in her left flank being left wide open for Barack Obama to ride a wave of anti-war sentiment to the White House. Having seen how poorly such a stance played to Democratic primary voters, Clinton is obviously determined never to make the same mistake again. And given the resurgence of the left wing of her party, a tilt in their direction would make it harder for potential gadfly candidacies from people like California Governor Jerry Brown or former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer to gain traction in the winter and spring of 2016 or a more mainstream challenge from Vice President Biden. As we have seen throughout the past months, this time the Clintons are leaving nothing to chance when it comes to the next presidential election–and if that means spending as much if not more of their time echoing the left’s rhetorical excesses about inequality as kissing up to their usual Wall Street donors, so be it.

But Clinton needs to be careful about identifying too much with the de Blasio faction and other left-wingers. Though they are the flavor of the month today as the White House tries to sound similar themes, hitching her star to the mayor’s wagon may not seem like such a brilliant idea if his “progressive” administration really does go to war against business as well as reversing police procedures that have kept crime rates down in the Big Apple. If tax increases start to chase business and the middle and upper classes out of the city, Clinton may find by 2016 that the association with the mayor is as much of a burden on her hopes to win the presidency as it is an asset.

More to the point, a shift this far to the left is going to necessitate a swing back to the center if, after easily winning her party’s nomination, she wants to win in November. The problem with Clinton in 2008 wasn’t as much her centrism as it was her lack of authenticity and inability to connect with voters as well as Obama. Politically motivated ideological mood swings will only remind voters of their previous doubts about her. Just as important, anything that distracts the public from her sales pitch to be the first woman in the White House is a mistake.

The Clintons’ embrace of de Blasio is a tactical stroke that makes a lot of sense right now. But over the long haul, it may be yet another example of Hillary’s predilection for being too clever by half.

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Why Obama Chose Podesta

The potential impact of President Obama’s decision to bring veteran Democratic figure John Podesta on board to save his floundering presidency continues to be debated, and is the subject of a Glenn Thrush analysis today. But Thrush’s article seems to have fallen victim to the reportorial success of its author, with Thrush having been able to get such a juicy quote out of Podesta that the quote itself has overshadowed the rest of the story.

That’s too bad, because the more important element of the story is not Podesta’s quote, though that’s worth mentioning as well: “[Obama and his team] need to focus on executive action given that they are facing a second term against a cult worthy of Jonestown in charge of one of the houses of Congress,” Podesta told Thrush, comparing the GOP and the large segment of the American public that elected them to the cult movement that ended in infamous mass suicide.

There’s not much surprising about the quote. Now that the moderate wing of the Democratic Party has all but disappeared, unhinged rhetoric and uncontrolled temper tantrums characterize much of the left’s discourse. And the modern Democratic Party has an unhealthy fascination with murder fantasy, from their political ads depicting legislators throwing people off a cliff to their columnists’ attachment to effigy executions. What’s important about the quote is not its morbid conclusion but the first half of it, which is the subject of Thrush’s article:

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The potential impact of President Obama’s decision to bring veteran Democratic figure John Podesta on board to save his floundering presidency continues to be debated, and is the subject of a Glenn Thrush analysis today. But Thrush’s article seems to have fallen victim to the reportorial success of its author, with Thrush having been able to get such a juicy quote out of Podesta that the quote itself has overshadowed the rest of the story.

That’s too bad, because the more important element of the story is not Podesta’s quote, though that’s worth mentioning as well: “[Obama and his team] need to focus on executive action given that they are facing a second term against a cult worthy of Jonestown in charge of one of the houses of Congress,” Podesta told Thrush, comparing the GOP and the large segment of the American public that elected them to the cult movement that ended in infamous mass suicide.

There’s not much surprising about the quote. Now that the moderate wing of the Democratic Party has all but disappeared, unhinged rhetoric and uncontrolled temper tantrums characterize much of the left’s discourse. And the modern Democratic Party has an unhealthy fascination with murder fantasy, from their political ads depicting legislators throwing people off a cliff to their columnists’ attachment to effigy executions. What’s important about the quote is not its morbid conclusion but the first half of it, which is the subject of Thrush’s article:

This is not just about providing added muscle to a beleaguered and undermanned West Wing staff. According to interviews in recent weeks with an array of Obama insiders and a dozen current and former senior aides, Podesta’s hire is explicitly meant to shake things up inside the White House. In effect, I was told, it represents the clearest sign to date of the administration’s interest in shifting the paradigm of Obama’s presidency through the forceful, unapologetic and occasionally provocative application of White House power. Podesta, whose official mandate includes enforcement of numerous executive orders on emissions and the environment, suggested as much when he spoke with me earlier this fall about Obama’s team. “They need to focus on executive action given that they are facing a second term against a cult worthy of Jonestown in charge of one of the houses of Congress,” he told me.

“I think [White House officials] were naturally preoccupied with legislating at first, and I think it took them a while to make the turn to execution. They are focused on that now,” Podesta added. “They have to realize that the president has broad authority, that he’s not just the prime minister. He can drive a whole range of action. They always grasped that on foreign policy and in the national security area. Now they are doing it on the domestic side.”

The confirmation that Obama wants a divisive partisan steering his second-term agenda isn’t exactly breaking news, and neither is the fact that he wants to ignore Congress and continue amassing power in the executive branch. But it’s significant precisely because it isn’t surprising. None of this would constitute a change of course for Obama, but a change of course can often be a productive way for a president to salvage a second term from the challenge of lame-duck status and diminishing political capital.

Obama is often compared to the previous Democratic president, Bill Clinton, and this should be no different. Even before Clinton’s second term really fell apart, he understood the growing influence of the House Republican caucus and the public appetite for some of the right’s policy preferences. When Clinton needed to replace Leon Panetta as his chief of staff, he did not give the job to Panetta’s deputy, Harold Ickes, but instead brought in Erskine Bowles.

The Baltimore Sun reported on a January 1997 one-day retreat in which Clinton stressed bipartisanship and working with congressional Republicans on balancing the budget. Though these were general administration priorities, the Sun noted that the event “very much had the stamp of new Chief of Staff Erskine B. Bowles.” His organizational skills and ability to work with Republicans were going to be key in getting the president’s second-term agenda off the ground. The Sun added:

Top Cabinet officials suggested that a good relationship with Congress isn’t as difficult as it sounds and that it essentially entails being willing to compromise with Republicans on tax and spending cuts while delivering a budget that is in balance by the year 2002.

The Democrats have certainly come a long way from those days of compromise and fiscal responsibility. Those are not priorities for Obama-era Democrats, but more than that, the Obama administration doesn’t believe it needs to compromise with congressional Republicans because the president doesn’t recognize their authority.

The Sun had noted that Clinton was more open to compromise with Republicans after his reelection because he didn’t “need Republicans as a foil anymore.” But for Obama, the campaign never ends, so the need for a foil is always there. Because the campaign never ends, serious governing–as opposed to executive power grabs and bureaucratic rulemaking–never begins. The perfect candidate for this job, the president believes, is John Podesta. And Podesta seems to agree.

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Can Obama’s Promise Still Be Kept?

Between the military cuts, the push to expand subprime mortgages, the colossal failure of Mideast peace negotiations, and the recession that greeted his exit from office, Bill Clinton made a habit of ill-considered policies that he would later, in true Clintonesque fashion, blame on his successors. So it is with some sympathy that I read Ezra Klein’s take on the former president’s role in the recent health-care debacle.

As Jonathan noted yesterday, Clinton took a shot at President Obama for his promise that if people liked their health-care plans they could keep them. Klein counters that Clinton poisoned the well for his successors, making clear messaging on health-care reform impossible. Clinton, he explains, tried to pass a health-care reform law that would upend the insurance market, thus dooming the plan because most people who have insurance tend to be happy with it. Klein continues:

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Between the military cuts, the push to expand subprime mortgages, the colossal failure of Mideast peace negotiations, and the recession that greeted his exit from office, Bill Clinton made a habit of ill-considered policies that he would later, in true Clintonesque fashion, blame on his successors. So it is with some sympathy that I read Ezra Klein’s take on the former president’s role in the recent health-care debacle.

As Jonathan noted yesterday, Clinton took a shot at President Obama for his promise that if people liked their health-care plans they could keep them. Klein counters that Clinton poisoned the well for his successors, making clear messaging on health-care reform impossible. Clinton, he explains, tried to pass a health-care reform law that would upend the insurance market, thus dooming the plan because most people who have insurance tend to be happy with it. Klein continues:

In the aftermath of Clinton’s failure, health-care reformers swung far to the other side. Rather than building a plan in which almost everyone lost their insurance, they began trying to build plans in which almost no one lost their insurance — and selling them under the promise that literally no one would.

Klein is right that it takes a certain chutzpah for Clinton to kick sand in Obama’s face in order to help his wife’s potential 2016 presidential campaign. But Klein’s argument only goes so far. Klein is essentially arguing that Clinton’s health-care experience had two major effects on the current law: that it would be crafted to minimize insurance turnover, and that Obama would have to sell the plan by pushing a major falsehood. Neither of those two things is true, but the latter–that Clinton deserves the blame for someone else’s lie–seems pretty unjustifiable.

The idea that ObamaCare was designed to enable people to keep their insurance is not accurate. As we know, it was designed to kick large numbers of people off their insurance by rendering many existing plans noncompliant. But the more important part of Clinton’s statement is that Obama should keep his promise, because it’s unclear, as Politico explains, that he can:

Allowing the 2013 plans to continue to operate into 2014 — a proposal that has generated interest in Congress — is considered unlikely. Insurers wouldn’t be able to quickly restore plans that are already being shut down and it would undercut some central promises of Obama’s signature law.

Jonathan Gruber, one of the authors of the Massachusetts health plan and an MIT economics professor, says such an idea is impractical. There is no “free lunch” in which people can just decide not to join the Obamacare plans, which were priced on the assumption that the insurers would get a certain number of customers.

The White House is “just reacting to one broken promise by imposing a much larger and harmful one: our promise to insurers that if they priced fairly, we would deliver a broad pool of insured,” Gruber wrote in an email. “If you allow the healthy enrollees to stay out in their old policy, the insurers lose money and the program falls apart.”

The “keep your insurance” nonsense wasn’t the only broken promise, and fixing it may require breaking other promises. ObamaCare was always unwise policy, but it’s becoming clear to the public just how faulty this reform law is. That surely has something to do with the latest dismal polling on Obama from Quinnipiac. The most telling result in the poll is probably the fact that when asked whether they trust Obama or Republicans in Congress more on health care, congressional Republicans edge the president 43-42 percent. Here’s Quinnipiac’s trend chart to show the significance of it:

quinnipiacHC

The president has dropped eleven points on that question since his high of July 2009. But the danger here is not just that Americans find Republicans more trustworthy on the president’s signature issue. It’s that these numbers may not represent the president’s floor.

It now appears, as the Washington Post reports, that the Healthcare.gov website may not be fixed by its end-of-November deadline. In light of the other issues, the website may seem like the least of the administration’s troubles. But it’s not, because if the numbers of those who get kicked off their insurance plans keep rising, and those policies can’t be reinstated, then a broken exchange website means that ObamaCare will have cost many their insurance and is now keeping them from getting new insurance.

They can extend the deadline for compliance with the individual mandate all they want: those losing their insurance due to the health-care law that is also preventing them from getting new insurance are probably not worrying primarily about the mandate noncompliance penalty. They are worried about the rest of the damage ObamaCare is doing to their health care and that of millions of others because of a promise that wasn’t, and probably can’t be, kept.

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Bill Clinton Sticks a Knife in ObamaCare

The five-year-long dance between the Clintons and President Obama has always been an interesting show, but never more so than now as the runner-up in the 2008 Democratic presidential contest starts to maneuver in preparation for 2016. Hillary Clinton spent her four years as secretary of state playing the good soldier for the president, doing little of value but also (and unlike her spectacularly inept successor John Kerry) causing him little trouble. She exited the cabinet with a presidential love fest that had to annoy Vice President Joe Biden, her only likely rival for 2016. But now that she is safely out of the Washington maelstrom and embarked on a path that she hopes will see her return to the White House as president rather than first lady, her relationship with Obama has undergone a not-so-subtle change. That has allowed some of the old antagonism between her and, in particular, her husband and the man who beat her in 2008 to resurface.

That antagonism was on display today as Bill Clinton joined the growing chorus of critics of the ObamaCare rollout in an interview published in a web magazine. Speaking much as if he was one of the angry red-state Democrats who think the president’s lies about ObamaCare can sink their hopes of reelection next year, the 42nd president stuck a knife into the 44thpresident by saying the law should be changed to accommodate the demands of those who are losing their coverage despite the president’s promises to the contrary:

“I personally believe even if it takes a change in the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they got.”

In doing so, the former unofficial “explainer in chief” for Obama has helped undermine the notion that the president’s signature health-care legislation can be kept intact. But he has also begun the process by which Hillary will begin to disassociate herself from an administration that is beginning to take on the odor of lame-duck failure.

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The five-year-long dance between the Clintons and President Obama has always been an interesting show, but never more so than now as the runner-up in the 2008 Democratic presidential contest starts to maneuver in preparation for 2016. Hillary Clinton spent her four years as secretary of state playing the good soldier for the president, doing little of value but also (and unlike her spectacularly inept successor John Kerry) causing him little trouble. She exited the cabinet with a presidential love fest that had to annoy Vice President Joe Biden, her only likely rival for 2016. But now that she is safely out of the Washington maelstrom and embarked on a path that she hopes will see her return to the White House as president rather than first lady, her relationship with Obama has undergone a not-so-subtle change. That has allowed some of the old antagonism between her and, in particular, her husband and the man who beat her in 2008 to resurface.

That antagonism was on display today as Bill Clinton joined the growing chorus of critics of the ObamaCare rollout in an interview published in a web magazine. Speaking much as if he was one of the angry red-state Democrats who think the president’s lies about ObamaCare can sink their hopes of reelection next year, the 42nd president stuck a knife into the 44thpresident by saying the law should be changed to accommodate the demands of those who are losing their coverage despite the president’s promises to the contrary:

“I personally believe even if it takes a change in the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they got.”

In doing so, the former unofficial “explainer in chief” for Obama has helped undermine the notion that the president’s signature health-care legislation can be kept intact. But he has also begun the process by which Hillary will begin to disassociate herself from an administration that is beginning to take on the odor of lame-duck failure.

White House spokesmen Jay Carney tried to represent Clinton’s defection as somehow consistent with the president’s comments during his cribbed “apology” for the false information about the bill that he repeated ad nauseum during the last three years (“If you like your health care plan…”) during an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd last week. The president said his team would study how to make it up to the millions who are losing their coverage and being hit with huge increases in their premiums. But he knows very well that to do that would essential destroy the system on which ObamaCare is based. The point is there is no way for responsible citizens who pay for their insurance not to be the losers in this scheme since without bilking them (as well as the recruitment of vast numbers of young, healthy people who will pay for more insurance than most will want or need) it will be impossible to carry off the vast redistribution of wealth that is at the core of ObamaCare.

That’s why the willingness of Democrats to embrace the bill proposed by Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu (one of those endangered red-state Democrats) to legislate a fix that would allow Americans to keep their existing coverage is so dangerous for ObamaCare. It’s not clear such a fix is even possible, but the willingness of Democrats like California’s Dianne Feinstein to jump at that wagon shows that the ground is slipping away from underneath the president’s feet. While the White House has said their concern is eliminating substandard insurance policies, this is another barefaced lie as the whole point here is roping in more people to pay for those who are currently uninsured, not improving their coverage.

This may be a turning point in the history of ObamaCare as the dysfunctional website now appears to be the least of the president’s problems. But it is also a sign that his would-be successor now believes that she must detach herself from what appears to be a disastrous second term. If we needed an official notification that the future of the Democratic Party wants no part of the problems of the present, Hillary’s husband just delivered it.

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Is the U.S. Too Engaged in Peace Talks?

Since the beginning of the Obama presidency, the administration has navigated foreign policy through the fog of public war-weariness. It may now find its diplomacy hounded by the other side of that coin: peace fatigue–or, rather, peace process fatigue. Israel Hayom reports on a new poll, commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League, that surveyed Americans’ opinions on a range of issues related to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the broader Middle East.

The poll found high support for Israel, with 76 percent of respondents agreeing with the sentence: “Israel can be counted on as a strong, loyal U.S. ally.” When asked to choose if their sympathies lie more with Israel or the Palestinians, 48 percent said Israel against 16 percent for the Palestinians. Outside the Arab-Israeli conflict, 50 percent of respondents supported using force to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, with 41 percent opposed. If Israel launched an attack on Iran, 40 percent said the U.S. should support the Jewish state and nine percent said the U.S. should oppose the action.

But on the peace process, currently enjoying yet another round of American diplomatic attention, respondents were pretty realistic on a key point:

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Since the beginning of the Obama presidency, the administration has navigated foreign policy through the fog of public war-weariness. It may now find its diplomacy hounded by the other side of that coin: peace fatigue–or, rather, peace process fatigue. Israel Hayom reports on a new poll, commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League, that surveyed Americans’ opinions on a range of issues related to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the broader Middle East.

The poll found high support for Israel, with 76 percent of respondents agreeing with the sentence: “Israel can be counted on as a strong, loyal U.S. ally.” When asked to choose if their sympathies lie more with Israel or the Palestinians, 48 percent said Israel against 16 percent for the Palestinians. Outside the Arab-Israeli conflict, 50 percent of respondents supported using force to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, with 41 percent opposed. If Israel launched an attack on Iran, 40 percent said the U.S. should support the Jewish state and nine percent said the U.S. should oppose the action.

But on the peace process, currently enjoying yet another round of American diplomatic attention, respondents were pretty realistic on a key point:

A large majority of Americans believe the U.S. should have minimal involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, according to the results of a new survey released by the Anti-Defamation League.

Some 62 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “It is up to the Palestinians and the Israelis to solve their own problems. Any lasting peace agreement between them must be reached with minimal involvement from the U.S.,” while only 29% agreed with the statement, “Peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will never take place without the leadership and involvement of the U.S. government.”

A few caveats: we don’t know what “minimal involvement” means exactly, so there is only so much we can take away from such results. Additionally, the ADL’s report on the poll seems to present only two options, so how the choices are phrased could make a real difference. And finally, it’s impossible to know just how much of the response to this question is intended as a referendum not on the broad contours of the peace process but on the hapless and often clueless chief American diplomat leading the charge, John Kerry.

With that said, the peace process fatigue is a good instinct. The series of events that led to Oslo and the famous handshake at the White House between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin were part of a conscious peace process, admittedly, but one without the attention of later years. It’s no coincidence that this period was also the most productive diplomatic push of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Even after the formal process got underway, the two sides were doing two things that were crucial to progress: keeping expectations modest and talking directly. And this was at a time long before the Likud Party officially adopted the model of “two states for two peoples” as its guiding force for the talks–even Rabin was famously uncomfortable with the idea of an independent Palestinian state–so there was plenty of reason on the Palestinian side to doubt Israel’s ability to carry out any comprehensive deal.

The problem is that when the sole superpower becomes closely involved (and at the time of the Madrid conference the Soviet Union was well on its way to dissolving, leaving the U.S. alone on the world stage), everyone’s incentives change. For the Americans, there is the lure of legacy. President George H.W. Bush was less susceptible to this than his successors because he already presided over America’s official emergence as the world’s great power. But politicians are only human, and the longer the conflict drags on, the more impressive “peace in the Middle East” appears.

The incentive structure got no better for the U.S. as time dragged on because of the natural evolution of the process. At first, vague notions of “peace” were seen as the objective. But after Bill Clinton left office and George W. Bush took over, the creation of a Palestinian state became the benchmark by which the conflict would be deemed “resolved.” The race to create a Palestinian state has run up against a by-now familiar obstacle: the sense of urgency among world opinion for a Palestinian state progressed while the actual task of state-building in the West Bank and Gaza stagnated.

The expectations game has been managed terribly by all involved, and the high profile of the peace process has become an obstacle. With their domestic populations–and the world–following along, Israeli and Palestinian leaders behave as though their every step is being watched closely, because it is. All the American attention has resulted, finally, in needing to lure the Palestinians to the table.

This is insanity. If the Palestinians have to be bribed to even enter negotiations, then they don’t have a desire to end the conflict. And Israeli leaders are not going to take major diplomatic risks if they’ve already spent their political capital on freeing Palestinian terrorists from jail or halting construction in Jewish communities for a process that keeps going nowhere. The United States has a constructive role to play in the peace process, but it’s not the one Kerry envisions. And the ADL polls suggests Americans are starting to agree.

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Obama’s Plea for Irrelevance

President Obama’s political instincts are generally compared unfavorably to those of the previous Democratic president, the glad-handing triangulator Bill Clinton. But there is one mistake of Clinton’s that Obama is almost sure not to replicate. The lowest moment of Clinton’s first term was his plea that “the president is still relevant here,” an indication that at the moment he was a bystander to political events and wanted desperately to change that perception in the media.

The reason Obama is unlikely to make that mistake, however, is that he refuses to countenance the idea that he is relevant at all. Whether it’s the IRS scandal, Benghazi, the targeting of journalists, or other controversies, the president has portrayed himself as always the last one to know. And now, as Politico points out, he is reacting to the abysmal rollout of the ObamaCare exchanges the same way:

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President Obama’s political instincts are generally compared unfavorably to those of the previous Democratic president, the glad-handing triangulator Bill Clinton. But there is one mistake of Clinton’s that Obama is almost sure not to replicate. The lowest moment of Clinton’s first term was his plea that “the president is still relevant here,” an indication that at the moment he was a bystander to political events and wanted desperately to change that perception in the media.

The reason Obama is unlikely to make that mistake, however, is that he refuses to countenance the idea that he is relevant at all. Whether it’s the IRS scandal, Benghazi, the targeting of journalists, or other controversies, the president has portrayed himself as always the last one to know. And now, as Politico points out, he is reacting to the abysmal rollout of the ObamaCare exchanges the same way:

His “nobody’s madder than me” Monday echoed the kinds of statements he’s repeatedly made about problems over the last few months — “Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it” (the IRS scandal), “It’s not as if I don’t have a personal interest” (the NSA scandal), “This is not a world we should accept” (Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons). He puts himself forward as a man frustrated with what’s happened on his watch, promising change, insisting that nothing of the sort could ever happen again.

There’s a level of semantic distance there, though, that often gets interpreted as an inherent refusal to take responsibility. Obama is, after all, the president. He has more than a little say in what happens within his own administration.

This time, however, Politico wonders how the president could hope to sell this excuse to a public that should know better:

And on this issue, at least, there’s no question the president has been very involved. Leading up to the launch of the website and the rest of the Obamacare rollout, the president was receiving regular briefings, even dropping in to occasional meetings that weren’t on his schedule. Part of the president’s frustration appears to stem directly from that involvement — the question of why wasn’t he given more accurate or expansive information, or a full sense of the problems once they started to appear.

“He’s had a level of skin in this game that’s been under-reported,” said one former senior administration official. “This isn’t a problem that crept up on him. He has been very, very, very focused on it for a long time. He understood the importance of it, and he has made time for it.”

Yes, this is the president’s signature “achievement” (if it ever gets off the ground). His name is on it. As yesterday’s embarrassing press conference/infomercial showed, he will continue to sell it until he’s blue in the face.

But all this amounts to a sense that the president should have known about the kinks in the program. That’s unflattering enough, as it suggests Obama was confused by his own legislation. But as the Washington Post reports today, it was worse than that: the administration did know what was wrong with the ObamaCare web portal. It turns out the system crashed during a weak test–and the White House took the site live anyway.

The question is: why? The administration understood the stakes, and so did the president. What made officials release a broken version of Obama’s signature policy that the public already disliked?

The Post suggests it was a combination of stubbornness and pride:

Some key testing of the system did not take place until the week before launch, according to this person. As late as Sept. 26, there had been no tests to determine whether a consumer could complete the process from beginning to end: create an account, determine eligibility for federal subsidies and sign up for a health insurance plan, according to two sources familiar with the project.

People working on the project knew that Oct. 1 was set in stone as a launch date. “We named it the tyranny of the October 1 date,” said a person close to the project.

They set a date and were unwilling to take the embarrassing step of admitting it wasn’t ready by then. One developer, the AP reports, “was nearly brought to tears over the stress of finishing on time.”

Both the Post and AP reports are worth reading in full for the whole story, but they paint a picture of a government program in complete disarray. And it is fitting that this is the accomplishment that bears Obama’s name, since its disastrous rollout embodies the president’s flaws as a chief executive. He may not be experienced, voters were told in 2008, but he has a presidential temperament, a compromising spirit, a gift for management and efficiency, and a preference for adaptability and ideological flexibility over dogma. The brief history of his most prized accomplishment proves otherwise.

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Let Us Now Praise Public Morality

By the time New York’s Democrats voted in their primary this week, the issue that transfixed the chattering classes earlier in the year had virtually disappeared. As it turns out, both of the disgraced celebrity politicians who sought redemption in this year’s municipal elections were soundly thrashed. The prospect that the political careers of both Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer are over is a source of understandable grief to headline writers and the bottom lines of New York’s tabloids, but the rest of the nation surely breathed a sigh of relief at the demise of the hopes of that unholy duo. That should cause those of us who wondered about what the ability of such figures to survive personal scandals meant for America to not be quite as shy about putting forward a case for public morality in the future.

The idea that public figures should be held to a standard of moral conduct is widely ridiculed by most of the chattering classes these days. It’s not that they approve of aberrant or immoral behavior, they tell us, but when those in the cross hairs of scandalmongers are either useful or popular, especially if they are liberals, then we are told not to confuse private conduct with public duties. The notion that there can be any link between immorality and qualification for high office is generally considered to be either passé or downright perverse. But it is also possible that after Weiner and Spitzer flopped at the polls, what we are seeing is that many voters, even in cosmopolitan New York, expect more from those they entrust with public honors than pop stars. If so, then that is something we should not only welcome but also encourage.

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By the time New York’s Democrats voted in their primary this week, the issue that transfixed the chattering classes earlier in the year had virtually disappeared. As it turns out, both of the disgraced celebrity politicians who sought redemption in this year’s municipal elections were soundly thrashed. The prospect that the political careers of both Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer are over is a source of understandable grief to headline writers and the bottom lines of New York’s tabloids, but the rest of the nation surely breathed a sigh of relief at the demise of the hopes of that unholy duo. That should cause those of us who wondered about what the ability of such figures to survive personal scandals meant for America to not be quite as shy about putting forward a case for public morality in the future.

The idea that public figures should be held to a standard of moral conduct is widely ridiculed by most of the chattering classes these days. It’s not that they approve of aberrant or immoral behavior, they tell us, but when those in the cross hairs of scandalmongers are either useful or popular, especially if they are liberals, then we are told not to confuse private conduct with public duties. The notion that there can be any link between immorality and qualification for high office is generally considered to be either passé or downright perverse. But it is also possible that after Weiner and Spitzer flopped at the polls, what we are seeing is that many voters, even in cosmopolitan New York, expect more from those they entrust with public honors than pop stars. If so, then that is something we should not only welcome but also encourage.

It must be admitted that each such case of a transgressor seeking redemption is different. The free pass much of the nation gave—and continues to give—President Clinton for his lies about sex and dalliances with a White House intern in the Oval Office led some, like William Bennett, to lament “the death of outrage” and to rightly point out the deleterious impact this would have on society as a whole. Perhaps if Weiner or Spitzer had not both been generally despised as obnoxious political loners even when they were riding high, they, too, might have been quickly forgiven and their detractors ostracized as Puritan hypocrites. Perhaps also the nature of some of these offenses has something to do with it as straight-forward adultery, such as that committed by former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, was more easily understood by voters in a society where divorce is commonplace than the bizarre doings of Weiner or Spitzer’s money-laundering that enabled his patronage of prostitutes.

Indeed, in Weiner’s case, it was, as was true of Clinton, the lies that were most damnable. Perhaps the time has not yet arrived when Americans will think nothing of a member of the House of Representatives tweeting photos of their genitals to strange women, but I doubt there will ever be much tolerance for those who do such things and then claim that the journalists (like the late Andrew Breitbart) who reported it were perpetrating a hoax. Nor will the public ever accept a politician who claims he’s reformed and then is revealed to have continued his mad behavior long after he said he went straight, as Weiner did.

But in a country whose worst problems are caused in no small measure by social pathologies such as illegitimacy and the breakdown of the family, can we really afford to be blasé about those who aspire to lead the nation whose personal immorality becomes a matter of public record?

To praise public morality doesn’t mean that we should be putting politicians who can’t behave in the stocks. We all make mistakes and those who are not reticent about casting the first stone should remember what happened to the political careers of adulterous House Republicans who impeached Clinton on charges relating to sexual impropriety. Neither party has a monopoly on morality or truth.

But it does mean that we should not treat these matters as lightly as many in the media would have us do when their favorites are not the targets of the tabloids. Outrage about wrongdoing doesn’t mean we must chain those who sin to a rock. A nation with high moral standards need not be a nation of saints, but it is one that knows the difference between right and wrong. Heaven help us if we ever become a country where not knowing that difference is no longer a political problem. The idea that there is no connection between loose morals and public integrity is a theory that admirers of John F. Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, and others adhere to. But that is a case that is hard to make for most ordinary politicians whose honesty is usually a fungible commodity.

Earlier this year, Mark Sanford ran for and won a congressional seat by apologizing endlessly for his misdeeds. That played well in a religious state where belief in redemption is widespread. Weiner and Spitzer’s apologies were perfunctory and quickly abandoned and they found out that in sophisticated New York, not so many people love a former sinner as in the south. Let’s hope their defeats will serve as an example that will help remind our leaders that their belief that they have impunity to misbehave says more about their egos than it does public opinion.

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Israel Is Not a Single-Issue Country

One of the most pernicious and lasting effects of the Oslo Accords, whose 20th anniversary will be marked this Friday, was to warp the prism through which most non-Israelis view Israel: From a country with the same broad spectrum of concerns as all other countries, it became, in the world’s eyes, a single-issue country, where nothing but the “peace process” could possibly matter. This attitude is epitomized by a 1998 conversation between President Bill Clinton and his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, whose transcript was published in Haaretz two weeks ago. Though the main topic was an impending military operation in Iraq, Clinton also briefed Mubarak on the peace process:

I think the Israeli public is coming along [in regard to the Oslo process]. The problem is, when they have elections there, Israeli society is becoming more complicated, and a lot of people get elected to the Knesset for reasons that don’t have much to do with the peace process. Then we have trouble getting a solid majority to do the right thing.”

One can practically hear the outrage in his voice: How dare those Israelis elect legislators who care about the same issues American voters do–jobs, cost of living, education, crime, etc.–rather than exclusively about the peace process? The fact that Israelis actually have to live in their country–and therefore must care about those issues, which are vital to any country’s well-being–appears to have escaped him entirely.

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One of the most pernicious and lasting effects of the Oslo Accords, whose 20th anniversary will be marked this Friday, was to warp the prism through which most non-Israelis view Israel: From a country with the same broad spectrum of concerns as all other countries, it became, in the world’s eyes, a single-issue country, where nothing but the “peace process” could possibly matter. This attitude is epitomized by a 1998 conversation between President Bill Clinton and his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, whose transcript was published in Haaretz two weeks ago. Though the main topic was an impending military operation in Iraq, Clinton also briefed Mubarak on the peace process:

I think the Israeli public is coming along [in regard to the Oslo process]. The problem is, when they have elections there, Israeli society is becoming more complicated, and a lot of people get elected to the Knesset for reasons that don’t have much to do with the peace process. Then we have trouble getting a solid majority to do the right thing.”

One can practically hear the outrage in his voice: How dare those Israelis elect legislators who care about the same issues American voters do–jobs, cost of living, education, crime, etc.–rather than exclusively about the peace process? The fact that Israelis actually have to live in their country–and therefore must care about those issues, which are vital to any country’s well-being–appears to have escaped him entirely.

Having presided over Oslo’s signing, Clinton was perhaps uniquely invested in the Oslo process. Yet his attitude is far from unique. After Israel’s new government took office in March, for instance, a Hungarian journalist called me with a burning question: How could Yair Lapid’s center-left Yesh Atid party possibly sit in the same government as Naftali Bennett’s right-of-center Bayit Yehudi? I explained that despite their differences on the peace process, Lapid and Bennett have similar views on many domestic issues, and since the peace process had at that point been frozen for four years and showed no signs of thawing, the election was mainly about Israel’s many serious domestic problems. To which he replied, “But how can they sit together when they disagree about the peace process?” After several iterations of this, we both gave up in despair.

A comedy writer could probably make a good sketch of the scene, but there’s nothing funny about it. The failure to grasp that Israelis have concerns other than the peace process is a major reason why so many diplomats and pundits consistently misread Israel. Even worse, this attitude has undermined pro-Israel sentiment worldwide by reducing Israel from a complicated, multifaceted country to a one-dimensional caricature. For who can have sympathy or affection for a caricature?

The truth is that Israel can live without peace if necessary; it’s done so successfully for 65 years now. But it can’t live without a functioning economy, decent schools, adequate health care and all the other things that distinguish successful states from failed ones. And Israelis, because they live here, never have the luxury of forgetting that for long.

Non-Israelis, in contrast, won’t suffer if Israel has failing schools or high unemployment, so it’s easy to overlook these issues. But nobody who cares about Israel should do so. For by treating Israel as a single-issue country, they are helping to reduce it to a caricature that’s all too easy to hate.

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Same Old Clintons Back at Work

The process of preparing Hillary Clinton’s likely 2016 presidential candidacy is bringing some new scrutiny to an institution that has largely flown below the radar of the mainstream press in the last decade: the Clinton Foundation. Though it has garnered a lot of good publicity and huge corporate donations due to the visibility of the former president at its head, little is generally known about the philanthropy that has given a useful platform to Bill Clinton and his family since he exited the White House in January 2001. The governance of the foundation as well as questions about its practices and its incestuous ties with various corporations can’t be ignored any longer since Hillary Clinton is set to use it as a convenient landing spot while she prepares to run for president. It is in that context that a lengthy front-page feature in the New York Times today on the foundation should be read. While the article raises far more questions than it answers, it should remind Americans that the once and possibly future first couple of the land are the same characters that presided over a corrupt Little Rock governor’s mansion and a White House where ethical considerations were checked at the door.

The causes—health, AIDS, obesity and poverty—that the Foundation has funded are unexceptionable. But the team of old Clinton loyalists and faithful family retainers that has operated the global initiative has played fast and loose with its finances and management. More to the point, it’s hard to see where the foundation ends and the influence peddling begins. The story of its operations is also rife with conflicts of interest that have a familiar ring from those who remember the Clinton White House’s shameless fundraising record that had such trouble staying on the right side of the law. A major housecleaning now going on in order to try to sanitize the foundation for Hillary’s arrival and its renaming to include the former first lady and first daughter makes it clear that the foundation is going to have to be on its best behavior lest its hijinks sabotage their political ambitions.

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The process of preparing Hillary Clinton’s likely 2016 presidential candidacy is bringing some new scrutiny to an institution that has largely flown below the radar of the mainstream press in the last decade: the Clinton Foundation. Though it has garnered a lot of good publicity and huge corporate donations due to the visibility of the former president at its head, little is generally known about the philanthropy that has given a useful platform to Bill Clinton and his family since he exited the White House in January 2001. The governance of the foundation as well as questions about its practices and its incestuous ties with various corporations can’t be ignored any longer since Hillary Clinton is set to use it as a convenient landing spot while she prepares to run for president. It is in that context that a lengthy front-page feature in the New York Times today on the foundation should be read. While the article raises far more questions than it answers, it should remind Americans that the once and possibly future first couple of the land are the same characters that presided over a corrupt Little Rock governor’s mansion and a White House where ethical considerations were checked at the door.

The causes—health, AIDS, obesity and poverty—that the Foundation has funded are unexceptionable. But the team of old Clinton loyalists and faithful family retainers that has operated the global initiative has played fast and loose with its finances and management. More to the point, it’s hard to see where the foundation ends and the influence peddling begins. The story of its operations is also rife with conflicts of interest that have a familiar ring from those who remember the Clinton White House’s shameless fundraising record that had such trouble staying on the right side of the law. A major housecleaning now going on in order to try to sanitize the foundation for Hillary’s arrival and its renaming to include the former first lady and first daughter makes it clear that the foundation is going to have to be on its best behavior lest its hijinks sabotage their political ambitions.

Calling it the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Foundation gives the operation a homier feel that suits both its philanthropic image as well as their desire to associate the likely 2016 presidential candidate and the family’s crown princess, who has political hopes of her own, with its good works. But suspicions about the way the foundation mixes charity with old-fashioned influence peddling won’t go away when Hillary and her staff (including their unofficial “adopted daughter” Huma Abedin) move into the operation’s New York headquarters.

The problem is not just that, as the Times details, Clintonistas like Ira Magaziner and Doug Band run a philanthropic endeavor with the kind of predilection for red ink that would do the federal government proud. It’s that the line between the good works and lucrative private capital ventures headed by many of the same people has been so blurred as to be largely indistinct. Teneo, a consulting and banking firm founded by Band (described by the Times as the president’s “surrogate son”) is also mixed up in the foundation’s business and largely profits from Clinton’s donors.

That may be par for the course in the world of high finance and do-gooding that the Clintons move in these days. But while it may have been considered a non-issue while the Foundation gave Bill something to do in his post-presidency, it will be a bigger deal as his wife uses it as a platform for her candidacy before she formally declares sometime in the next two years. That makes it imperative that the foundation not be a liability but also raises concerns about its use as political platform with tax-exempt status.

The foundation has been the perfect vehicle for the Clinton family as they cleaned up the former president’s image and kept their ties to former political donors and big business partners for future use. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion after reading about it in depth that it is just as much the function of the Clintons’ absent moral compass as their past political operations often were. As with the Clinton presidency, we are expected to let their stated good intentions wash away any doubts about their behavior or inattention to ethics. Let’s hope the press as well as responsible legal authorities keep a sharp eye on the foundation rather than let it play the same game as Hillary transitions to the next stage in her long slog to the top of the political heap.

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NBC Miniseries Won’t Do Hillary a Favor

The news that NBC is planning to film a miniseries on the life of Hillary Clinton may be interpreted in some quarters as just another lollipop being thrown by the network at its Democratic crush. The movie will star actress Diane Lane as the former first lady, senator, and secretary of state and will cover her life from the 1998 Monica Lewinsky scandal up until the present day. Though we are told the work would include “aspects that were both critical of Mrs. Clinton and supportive of her,” it’s not likely the network with a cable news outlet where nary a discouraging word is uttered about liberalism and the Democrats will exert itself to highlight the less savory parts of the Clinton story. But anyone under the assumption that this project, which must be completed and aired before Clinton announces for the presidency in 2016 to avoid NBC having to give her opponents equal time, will boost the drive to make Hillary President Obama’s successor is probably wrong. As the Clintons were reminded this past week as the Weiner scandal caused many Americans to think back on l’affaire Lewinsky, this kind of scrutiny, even if done by friends, doesn’t help them.

If, as Fred Dicker reports today in the New York Post, Bill and Hillary are “livid” about the comparisons being made between their conduct and that of the couple that married at their Chappaqua estate, it can’t be just because they think the former president’s dalliances with an intern in the Oval Office and escapades with various girlfriends and mistresses during his time as governor of Arkansas are not as icky as Weiner’s bizarre Internet activities (a point I thought Peter Beinart rightly disputed last week). It’s because Huma Abedin’s pathetic performance last week beside her disturbed husband is highly reminiscent of the decision by Hillary to stand by her man and to regard his critics as merely the effusion of a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” Hillary’s potential candidacy is at its intimidating best—at least to serious Democratic contenders who will probably pass on the presidency rather than taker her on—when the discussion is about the need for America to elect its first female president. When the conversation turns to the history of Mrs. Clinton’s troubled marriage, her expected coronation in January 2017 seems a bit less inevitable.

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The news that NBC is planning to film a miniseries on the life of Hillary Clinton may be interpreted in some quarters as just another lollipop being thrown by the network at its Democratic crush. The movie will star actress Diane Lane as the former first lady, senator, and secretary of state and will cover her life from the 1998 Monica Lewinsky scandal up until the present day. Though we are told the work would include “aspects that were both critical of Mrs. Clinton and supportive of her,” it’s not likely the network with a cable news outlet where nary a discouraging word is uttered about liberalism and the Democrats will exert itself to highlight the less savory parts of the Clinton story. But anyone under the assumption that this project, which must be completed and aired before Clinton announces for the presidency in 2016 to avoid NBC having to give her opponents equal time, will boost the drive to make Hillary President Obama’s successor is probably wrong. As the Clintons were reminded this past week as the Weiner scandal caused many Americans to think back on l’affaire Lewinsky, this kind of scrutiny, even if done by friends, doesn’t help them.

If, as Fred Dicker reports today in the New York Post, Bill and Hillary are “livid” about the comparisons being made between their conduct and that of the couple that married at their Chappaqua estate, it can’t be just because they think the former president’s dalliances with an intern in the Oval Office and escapades with various girlfriends and mistresses during his time as governor of Arkansas are not as icky as Weiner’s bizarre Internet activities (a point I thought Peter Beinart rightly disputed last week). It’s because Huma Abedin’s pathetic performance last week beside her disturbed husband is highly reminiscent of the decision by Hillary to stand by her man and to regard his critics as merely the effusion of a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” Hillary’s potential candidacy is at its intimidating best—at least to serious Democratic contenders who will probably pass on the presidency rather than taker her on—when the discussion is about the need for America to elect its first female president. When the conversation turns to the history of Mrs. Clinton’s troubled marriage, her expected coronation in January 2017 seems a bit less inevitable.

There’s never been much evidence that movies, whether produced for the big screen or the small one, have much impact on presidential elections. Last year, many Republicans feared that various films that focused on the killing of Osama bin Laden would give President Obama a huge edge. But while they probably didn’t hurt the Democratic campaign, it’s not as if Americans—who were reminded about bin Laden’s shooting by Navy SEALs in virtually every speech the president gave for more than year—needed a movie to remind them of the fact. Obama’s historic status and slavish press coverage ensured his reelection and no film, whether positive or negative, was going to change that.

An even better example is the impact that The Right Stuff, the 1983 film version of Tom Wolfe’s book about the original Mercury astronauts, had on the 1984 presidential election. One of the Mercury seven, Ohio Senator John Glenn, was portrayed in the book as something of a prig. That caused some to worry that the film would harm his prospects for the Democratic nomination in 1984. But Ed Harris’s portrayal of Glenn made him appear to be not just moral, but a shining example of a true American hero and the film was thought to boost his chances. But not even a Hollywood lollipop that reminded the nation that the senator had been the first American to orbit the earth was enough to turn Glenn into a viable candidate, and he spent the next 20 years trying to pay off his $3 million campaign debt.

No matter how adoring the film will be, any movie about the Clintons in 1998, even one that also discusses her subsequent government service, distracts the public from the story her campaign will want to tell about her intended rendezvous with history in 2016. Even worse, any biopic will serve as an excuse for critics and defenders to rehash past scandals, whether it involves the Rose law firm, Whitewater, or Paula Jones, that the Clintons had hoped were permanently in their rear view mirror. As much as her career has its roots in her husband’s overwhelming electoral success and the continuing admiration he inspires among Democrats, Hillary’s presidential hopes are based not so much on a desire to go back to the 1990s as on a view of her career that is independent of that of her spouse.

Should Clinton run for president, as everyone assumes will happen, she will be the presumptive Democratic nominee no matter whether Lane makes her seem a goddess or not. But, like the Weiner blowback on Hillary because of her close ties to Abedin, a revival of interest in the most memorable incident of her time in the White House should not be considered a favor to her.

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What Weiner and Clinton Have Taught Us

All veteran journalists know that the only thing to do with fish in a barrel is to shoot them, as the cliché demands. Thus, all members of the media, left, right, and center, have spent this week eagerly popping away at Anthony Weiner and his hapless wife Huma Abedin. And who can blame us? The spectacle of the serial sexter and flasher and his enabler wife is the stuff of implausible fiction, not normal political news. But not everyone is chortling along with a public that can’t seem to get enough of this scandal.

Over at the Daily Beast, Peter Beinart writes to say the calls from conservatives as well as liberal organs like the New York Times for Weiner to leave the race immediately and take his severe behavioral disorder somewhere out of the public square are wrong. Beinart believes it is anti-democratic for prudes to seek to deny the voters their right to vote for the man better known by the name of his alter ego Carlos Danger. Since the need for the body politic to make room for sexual deviants is, I think, nowhere mentioned in the Federalist Papers, I think that’s an odd conception of the essentials of democracy. But in order to make this argument, Beinart stumbles across a profound truth: Democrats have already excused behavior that is, if anything, far worse than Weiner’s bizarre act. And by that he is, of course, referring to Bill Clinton:

By any reasonable standard, Weiner’s behavior is less damning than Clinton’s. Yes, Weiner committed adultery (of a kind). Yes, he repeatedly lied about it. Yes, he humiliated his wife in an effort to save his candidacy. Clinton did all that, too. What Weiner, in contrast to Clinton, has not done—as far as we know—is use his office to reward his paramours. He has not publicly besmirched their character. He has not asked them to violate the law. And he has not violated campaign disclosure laws in his effort to keep them silent. According to legal experts, he has also not committed sexual harassment.

Beinart leaves out Clinton’s lying under oath, but he’s right. But rather than using the refusal of the New York Times to condemn Clinton, let alone demand that Clinton leave the 1992 presidential race or resign once in office, as a rationale to justify Weiner’s continued presence in the public square, what he has done is remind us of the moral bankruptcy of Clinton’s many defenders who continue to ignore the voluminous evidence of his misconduct and treat him as a revered elder statesman–not to mention a future presidential spouse.

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All veteran journalists know that the only thing to do with fish in a barrel is to shoot them, as the cliché demands. Thus, all members of the media, left, right, and center, have spent this week eagerly popping away at Anthony Weiner and his hapless wife Huma Abedin. And who can blame us? The spectacle of the serial sexter and flasher and his enabler wife is the stuff of implausible fiction, not normal political news. But not everyone is chortling along with a public that can’t seem to get enough of this scandal.

Over at the Daily Beast, Peter Beinart writes to say the calls from conservatives as well as liberal organs like the New York Times for Weiner to leave the race immediately and take his severe behavioral disorder somewhere out of the public square are wrong. Beinart believes it is anti-democratic for prudes to seek to deny the voters their right to vote for the man better known by the name of his alter ego Carlos Danger. Since the need for the body politic to make room for sexual deviants is, I think, nowhere mentioned in the Federalist Papers, I think that’s an odd conception of the essentials of democracy. But in order to make this argument, Beinart stumbles across a profound truth: Democrats have already excused behavior that is, if anything, far worse than Weiner’s bizarre act. And by that he is, of course, referring to Bill Clinton:

By any reasonable standard, Weiner’s behavior is less damning than Clinton’s. Yes, Weiner committed adultery (of a kind). Yes, he repeatedly lied about it. Yes, he humiliated his wife in an effort to save his candidacy. Clinton did all that, too. What Weiner, in contrast to Clinton, has not done—as far as we know—is use his office to reward his paramours. He has not publicly besmirched their character. He has not asked them to violate the law. And he has not violated campaign disclosure laws in his effort to keep them silent. According to legal experts, he has also not committed sexual harassment.

Beinart leaves out Clinton’s lying under oath, but he’s right. But rather than using the refusal of the New York Times to condemn Clinton, let alone demand that Clinton leave the 1992 presidential race or resign once in office, as a rationale to justify Weiner’s continued presence in the public square, what he has done is remind us of the moral bankruptcy of Clinton’s many defenders who continue to ignore the voluminous evidence of his misconduct and treat him as a revered elder statesman–not to mention a future presidential spouse.

Beinart is also correct to note that if phone cameras had been available back in Arkansas when then Governor Clinton was running riot with the assistance of his faithful State Trooper bodyguards, the evidence of his disgusting carryings-on might have been too much for even his cheering section in the press to ignore or excuse. There is more than a grain of truth in his point that the difference between Weiner’s indiscretions and those of Clinton and previous generations of sexual predators and philanderers entrusted with high public office is primarily one of technology.

The point about Clinton is telling because it reminds us that allowing people who abuse and lie in the manner that Bill and Hillary did—and which Anthony and Huma would like to emulate—has consequences. The willingness of Democrats and liberal soapboxes like the Times to embrace Clinton in 1992 set us up for what would follow. From that point on, every lying predator in political office or seeking one has been able to say that if Clinton could be excused, so could they.

People like Beinart and others continually tell us that we were right to give the Clintons a pass and that it would have been a tragedy if other sexual miscreants who found their way into the Oval Office like John F. Kennedy had been made accountable for their conduct since it would have deprived of us of their gifts. Yet if there is anything that is an eternal truth about democracy it is that no man or woman is indispensable. We are a nation of laws, not men. That’s something that should not be forgotten three years from now when Huma’s mentors the Clintons attempt to regain their lapsed lease on the White House.

Perhaps what Beinart calls the “disproportionate” response to Weiner is merely the result of him being a “pioneer” in the field of using social media to misbehave rather than more private means. But instead of shrugging at this spectacle and resigning ourselves to more like it in the future as Beinart glumly expects we must, perhaps this is the moment for Americans to finally say that we demand more of those charged with the public’s trust. If the Clintons and the Weiners have taught us anything, it is that there is still a viable argument to be made for public morality.

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Bill Clinton on Syria: Don’t Rely on the Polls

On Tuesday night I attended a benefit dinner in New York for the McCain Institute at Arizona State University. The star attraction was Bill Clinton, in conversation with John McCain. Like other attendees I was startled to hear Clinton come out in favor of aiding the Syrian rebels, but I wasn’t planning to write about it because the event was off the record. However, Politico has obtained a tape recording of Clinton’s talk and posted an article about it.

The article quotes Clinton as follows: “My view is that we shouldn’t over-learn the lessons of the past. I don’t think Syria is necessarily Iraq or Afghanistan — no one has asked us to send any soldiers in there. I think it’s more like Afghanistan was in the ’80s when they were fighting the Soviet Union … when President Reagan was in office [and] got an enormous amount of influence and gratitude by helping to topple the Soviet-backed regime and then made the error of not hanging around in Afghanistan.”

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On Tuesday night I attended a benefit dinner in New York for the McCain Institute at Arizona State University. The star attraction was Bill Clinton, in conversation with John McCain. Like other attendees I was startled to hear Clinton come out in favor of aiding the Syrian rebels, but I wasn’t planning to write about it because the event was off the record. However, Politico has obtained a tape recording of Clinton’s talk and posted an article about it.

The article quotes Clinton as follows: “My view is that we shouldn’t over-learn the lessons of the past. I don’t think Syria is necessarily Iraq or Afghanistan — no one has asked us to send any soldiers in there. I think it’s more like Afghanistan was in the ’80s when they were fighting the Soviet Union … when President Reagan was in office [and] got an enormous amount of influence and gratitude by helping to topple the Soviet-backed regime and then made the error of not hanging around in Afghanistan.”

Clinton also suggested that any president who refused to intervene simply because it would be unpopular to do so is not acting very presidential: “When people are telling you ‘no’ in these situations, very often what they’re doing is flashing a giant yellow light and saying, ‘For God’s sakes, be careful, tell us what you’re doing, think this through, be careful.’ But still they hire their president to look around the corner and down the street, and you just think–if you refuse to act and you cause a calamity, the one thing you cannot say when all the eggs have been broken, is that, ‘Oh my God, two years ago there was a poll that said 80 percent of you were against it.’ Right? You’d look like a total fool.”

The implication is obvious: Obama is in danger of looking like a “total fool.”

On one level Clinton’s criticism is not terribly surprising since his wife was in favor of aiding the rebels last summer. But Clinton, whatever resentment he may feel toward Obama, has been loyal in public. That he has chosen to break with the White House over Syria is significant. One hopes his comments, which he surely knew would leak, may presage a wider revolt among Democrats in Congress who, like Clinton, are disgusted with Obama’s do-nothing policy on Syria.

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Bill Clinton’s Big Israeli Payday

We are constantly reminded of the fact that there’s no better gig in the world than being an ex-president. With lucrative book contracts (for books that don’t always get read but for which publishers feel obligated to shell out big bucks in advances), highly paid speaking engagements and uncounted perks as well as lifetime security, our former commanders-in-chief live the rest of their lives high on the proverbial hog. And when they’re done repairing their personal finances, they can start foundations and shake down everyone who wants their ear or to link their names with a former president. That’s pretty much the story of the last 12 years of Bill Clinton’s life, as he has become a wealthy man as well as one with a personal foundation to which he can funnel almost unlimited amounts of contributions from those who wish to earn his good will or that of his wife, who has her own eye on the White House in 2016.

But there is a point when even the usual post-presidential gravy train becomes excess and it appears that Clinton has reached just such a moment. By accepting a $500,000 honorarium from the Shimon Peres Academic Center, Clinton has exposed himself and his hosts (which include the Jewish National Fund, which is co-sponsoring the event as part of its president’s summit in Israel this summer) to scorn and criticism. Clinton apparently demanded that the Center and the JNF pony up a cool half million and deliver it to his foundation a year in advance to secure his appearance at an event honoring the Israeli president’s 90th birthday. This raises questions not only of good taste but also of the propriety of one charitable endeavor profiting at the expense of the other.

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We are constantly reminded of the fact that there’s no better gig in the world than being an ex-president. With lucrative book contracts (for books that don’t always get read but for which publishers feel obligated to shell out big bucks in advances), highly paid speaking engagements and uncounted perks as well as lifetime security, our former commanders-in-chief live the rest of their lives high on the proverbial hog. And when they’re done repairing their personal finances, they can start foundations and shake down everyone who wants their ear or to link their names with a former president. That’s pretty much the story of the last 12 years of Bill Clinton’s life, as he has become a wealthy man as well as one with a personal foundation to which he can funnel almost unlimited amounts of contributions from those who wish to earn his good will or that of his wife, who has her own eye on the White House in 2016.

But there is a point when even the usual post-presidential gravy train becomes excess and it appears that Clinton has reached just such a moment. By accepting a $500,000 honorarium from the Shimon Peres Academic Center, Clinton has exposed himself and his hosts (which include the Jewish National Fund, which is co-sponsoring the event as part of its president’s summit in Israel this summer) to scorn and criticism. Clinton apparently demanded that the Center and the JNF pony up a cool half million and deliver it to his foundation a year in advance to secure his appearance at an event honoring the Israeli president’s 90th birthday. This raises questions not only of good taste but also of the propriety of one charitable endeavor profiting at the expense of the other.

The Center and the JNF attempted to recoup some of the money by charging those who attended the gala to take place on June 17 in Reshoot, Israel approximately $800 a head. But Peres was scandalized by the idea of asking so much from those coming to his birthday party and the Times of Israel reports he said he wouldn’t attend if it was nothing but a fundraiser.

Of course, it is almost certain that the half million was not taken out of the money Jews around the world donate to the JNF to plant trees or otherwise help the environment in Israel. A major donor probably pledged the money Clinton demands for the pleasure of his company and writes it off as a charitable deduction. The assumption is that Clinton’s name will be enough to draw in enough paying customers to the event to make it worth the charity’s while. But Peres’s embarrassment at the egregious nature of the former president’s fee has obviously made it difficult for the JNF and the Center since they must absorb the costs of the evening.

Nevertheless, there is something unseemly about Clinton, who will receive the President’s Award from Peres at an event scheduled for two days later where Tony Blair and Mikhail Gorbachev will also show up (their fees have not been made public), shaking down the JNF and its donor base for this kind of money for his personal charity. As New York Magazine noted, that amounts to $11,111.00 per minute.

Clinton may escape the kind of opprobrium that Ronald Reagan received when he received large fees for speeches in the first years after his presidency ended (and before Alzheimer’s Disease claimed him) because the money he gets will go to his foundation. But any claim that the Clinton family’s political brand doesn’t benefit from the foundation’s work is completely disingenuous. If Clinton wants to honor his old friend Peres, it shouldn’t require someone who cares about the Peres Center or the JNF to fork over that kind of money to a cause that, for all of its good work, is a vanity project for a former president who would like very much to be the nation’s First Gentleman three years from now.

Throughout his post-presidency, Clinton has engaged in this kind of money making taking six-figure fees from all sorts of charities and even churches and synagogues without coming in for much criticism. We seem to take it as a given that former presidents are not only entitled to have the nation build them pyramid-like monuments in the form of libraries and museums, but also to rake in cash in a manner that previous generations would have considered beneath the dignity of a president. Given that these fees are donated by rich people who are happy to pay for the honor of hobnobbing with Clinton for an hour or two, perhaps we should consider this a question of public relations rather than ethics. But it can also be observed that once again the 42nd president has found another way to diminish the high office with which he was entrusted.

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NYT to GOP: Remember Monica Lewinsky

On Wednesday I mentioned the possibility that President Obama will be treated as though his name is on the ballot in 2016 even though he won’t be running–much the way Obama himself ran against George W. Bush in 2008. But today the New York Times tackles a much more immediate version of this story: whether and how Obama will be used against Democrats in next year’s mid-term congressional elections.

The conceit of the Times story is that Republicans are tempted to tie Obama to the various scandals of his administration currently in the news, and then tie Democrats to Obama, but they face a major obstacle: voters give Obama high marks for personal likability. It is another article warning Republicans against “overreaching,” with an added–and, frankly, bizarre–twist. The Times claims Republicans risk re-enacting the fallout from their predecessors’ conduct during Bill Clinton’s scandal-plagued year in his second term.

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On Wednesday I mentioned the possibility that President Obama will be treated as though his name is on the ballot in 2016 even though he won’t be running–much the way Obama himself ran against George W. Bush in 2008. But today the New York Times tackles a much more immediate version of this story: whether and how Obama will be used against Democrats in next year’s mid-term congressional elections.

The conceit of the Times story is that Republicans are tempted to tie Obama to the various scandals of his administration currently in the news, and then tie Democrats to Obama, but they face a major obstacle: voters give Obama high marks for personal likability. It is another article warning Republicans against “overreaching,” with an added–and, frankly, bizarre–twist. The Times claims Republicans risk re-enacting the fallout from their predecessors’ conduct during Bill Clinton’s scandal-plagued year in his second term.

There are plenty of sensible suggestions in the article, but the overarching comparison doesn’t hold up. Although many Americans believed Clinton had acted unethically with Monica Lewinsky and illegally by misleading the grand jury, many of those same Americans also agreed when Clinton said that he had been asked “questions no American citizen would ever want to answer.” He would later be impeached for it.

Additionally, plenty of Clinton’s supporters argued the personal scandal had nothing to do with Clinton’s presidential responsibilities. That cannot be persuasively argued in the case of President Obama’s scandals, which are on the issues and which are completely intertwined with his approach to governing and how his decisions in the White House impact Americans. The tragedy in Benghazi is testament to the dangers of the president’s “lead from behind” foreign policy and refusal to be frank about the threats facing America.

The IRS scandal was about a powerful enforcement arm of the government targeting those who disagreed with Obama and blatantly trampling on the constitutional rights of his political opponents. As McClatchy reports, the IRS abuse may have been much more comprehensive than first reported:

A group of anti-abortion activists in Iowa had to promise the Internal Revenue Service it wouldn’t picket in front of Planned Parenthood.

Catherine Engelbrecht’s family and business in Texas were audited by the government after her voting-rights group sought tax-exempt status from the IRS.

Retired military veteran Mark Drabik of Nebraska became active in and donated to conservative causes, then found the IRS challenging his church donations.

While the developing scandal over the targeting of conservatives by the tax agency has largely focused to date on its scrutiny of groups with words such as “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, these examples suggest the government was looking at a broader array of conservative groups and perhaps individuals. Their collective experiences at a minimum could spread skepticism about the fairness of a powerful agency that should be above reproach and at worst could point to a secret political vendetta within the government against conservatives.

The emerging stories from real people raise questions about whether the IRS scrutiny extended beyond applicants for tax-exempt status and whether individuals who donated to these tax-exempt organizations or to conservative causes also were targeted.

McClatchy’s use of the term “real people” here is awkward to say the least, but the point the reporters are making is that the IRS was initially believed to have targeted organizations but in fact may have been targeting individuals as well, expressly for their political beliefs. The IRS appears to have gone looking for possible conservatives to hassle and silence.

Obama’s health-care reform sets out to expand the size and scope of both the federal government generally and the IRS specifically. Whether Obama personally ordered the IRS to target conservatives and pro-Israel groups beyond simply egging on suspicion of them publicly and repeatedly doesn’t change the way his approach to governing enables this behavior. Clinton’s dalliances may have had limited or no relevance to Americans’ own lives, but the opposite is true of the Obama administration’s IRS scandal.

Conservatives don’t have to accuse Obama of unethical behavior to make this point. The president’s vision for the country, and that of his party, is to increase the power and reach of the IRS into the health care of Americans. If Democrats think that constitutes a personal attack, then they object to any criticism of their leader. And they shouldn’t expect congressional candidates around the country to play along.

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Can Mitt Be Our Favorite Ex-Non-President?

There is no better job in the world than being an ex-president. We build museums and libraries to honor them like ancient Egyptians built pyramids for dead pharaohs and they live on the government tab for the rest of their lives, free to play golf as well as doing good works that burnish their reputations and make occasional side trips into partisan activity to help friends and allies.

There is no worse job than being a failed presidential candidate. While your opponent gets to hear “Hail to the Chief” every time he walks into a room, November’s loser must slink off into obscurity, generally despised even more by members of his own party (who will never forgive their candidate for losing) than even their opponents.

But judging from the latest reports about Mitt Romney’s plans, he sounds as if he’s trying to combine the two jobs. As the Wall Street Journal writes today, Romney’s plans to “rejoin the national dialogue” seem to be based on the idea that he still has the potential to do his country and his party some good. While Republicans desperately need to turn the page from his failed 2012 campaign and put new faces in front of the voters, Romney may be on to something.

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There is no better job in the world than being an ex-president. We build museums and libraries to honor them like ancient Egyptians built pyramids for dead pharaohs and they live on the government tab for the rest of their lives, free to play golf as well as doing good works that burnish their reputations and make occasional side trips into partisan activity to help friends and allies.

There is no worse job than being a failed presidential candidate. While your opponent gets to hear “Hail to the Chief” every time he walks into a room, November’s loser must slink off into obscurity, generally despised even more by members of his own party (who will never forgive their candidate for losing) than even their opponents.

But judging from the latest reports about Mitt Romney’s plans, he sounds as if he’s trying to combine the two jobs. As the Wall Street Journal writes today, Romney’s plans to “rejoin the national dialogue” seem to be based on the idea that he still has the potential to do his country and his party some good. While Republicans desperately need to turn the page from his failed 2012 campaign and put new faces in front of the voters, Romney may be on to something.

According to the Journal:

As a first step, the former Republican presidential nominee plans to welcome 200 friends and supporters to a three-day summit next week that he will host at a Utah mountain resort. He is considering writing a book and a series of opinion pieces, and has plans to campaign for 2014 candidates.

The “Experts and Enthusiasts” summit is apparently more than just a GOP gabfest. It will center on philanthropic and business issues as well as political ones and even includes an appearance from former top Democratic strategist David Axelrod. Which makes it sound like something that we’d expect to be run by a popular ex-president like Bill Clinton, who has helped build his brand by combining advocacy with charity work in his foundation.

The point is Romney doesn’t want to go away and hide, though that is precisely what a lot of conservative Republicans may want him to do. In his characteristic technocratic can-do style, he still wants to help brainstorm solutions to the country’s problems while also keeping his hand in politics and doing good works.

There are good reasons for him to worry about becoming too prominent, and according to the Journal he’s sensitive to those concerns. Romney is a favorite whipping boy of the left and liberal media outlets and there’s little doubt they will take every opportunity to pour on the abuse. The deep bench of GOP presidential prospects for 2016 also provides a variety of views that makes it unnecessary for Romney to become too visible. The party needs to avoid doing anything that makes it seem as if a rejected politician like Romney is its de facto leader. His image as a plutocrat that was reinforced by a year’s worth of Democratic attack ads, gaffes as well as his views on issues like immigration are not the sort of things that can help Republicans win in 2014 or 2016.

But there is plenty of room for Romney to play a role as an elder statesman who is no longer out for his own personal advancement while still seeking to help America. That’s the sort of perch usually reserved for ex-presidents, not mere failed politicians who either return to the political fray in some other guise (like John Kerry or John McCain) or just fade from view other than the occasional television commercial like Bob Dole.

Republicans need a completely different style of candidate in 2016. One more in touch with common concerns—something the remote Romney never could master—as well as someone who isn’t filthy rich would be a good place to start. But there is a place in our national discussion for a figure that can be both a political voice and a wealthy do-gooder with the stature to bring out attention to issues when he deems it vital to do so.

Mitt Romney might have made a good president, but he was a terrible politician, so we’ll never get to know just how well he might have done if he had been given the chance to sit in the Oval Office. But he can skip the four- or eight-year waiting period and jump right into the business of being an ex-president, using his prestige, wealth and ability to speak out to do as much to aid needy causes or highlight issues as the two Bushes or Clinton can while also avoiding the vitriol and ill will toward Israel that has ruined Jimmy Carter’s ex-presidency.

If Mitt sticks with it, he may turn out to be our best and most beloved ex-non-president in history. While it’s not as good as being president, it’s nothing to snicker at either.

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The Obama Scandals and Republicans

Republican lawmakers are receiving lots of advice–some from people sympathetic to the GOP, some less so–on the political dangers posed to them by the scandals engulfing the Obama administration.

It seems to me the proper approach is fairly obvious. Don’t get ahead of the facts. Don’t talk about impeachment or declare this or that scandal to be worse than Watergate (which placed the president at the center of a criminal conspiracy). Don’t allow opposition to President Obama to slip into hatred for him. Don’t come across as zealous partisans. And don’t become so obsessed by scandals that they set aside the hard and necessary work of recalibrating the GOP, which still faces significant problems in terms of its appeal to a changing electorate. Remember the words of Chekhov: “You don’t become a saint through other people’s sins.” 

At the same time, Republicans should of course pursue the scandals through the appropriate investigative channels, including congressional hearings. They have an obligation to do so in the name of the public interest. Those on the center-left and hard left who are urging Republicans to play down these scandals, in order to avoid a repeat of the Clinton-Lewinsky blowback, may have something other than the GOP’s interests in mind.

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Republican lawmakers are receiving lots of advice–some from people sympathetic to the GOP, some less so–on the political dangers posed to them by the scandals engulfing the Obama administration.

It seems to me the proper approach is fairly obvious. Don’t get ahead of the facts. Don’t talk about impeachment or declare this or that scandal to be worse than Watergate (which placed the president at the center of a criminal conspiracy). Don’t allow opposition to President Obama to slip into hatred for him. Don’t come across as zealous partisans. And don’t become so obsessed by scandals that they set aside the hard and necessary work of recalibrating the GOP, which still faces significant problems in terms of its appeal to a changing electorate. Remember the words of Chekhov: “You don’t become a saint through other people’s sins.” 

At the same time, Republicans should of course pursue the scandals through the appropriate investigative channels, including congressional hearings. They have an obligation to do so in the name of the public interest. Those on the center-left and hard left who are urging Republicans to play down these scandals, in order to avoid a repeat of the Clinton-Lewinsky blowback, may have something other than the GOP’s interests in mind.

Perhaps it’s worth restating the obvious: Scandals and criminal investigations always harm an administration. Ask yourself this question: Do you think that Bill Clinton and Democrats, in looking back at the 1990s, are glad that Lewinsky scandal occurred? Of course not. The same goes for Watergate, Iran-Contra and countless minor ones. Political scandals are not good for presidencies–and they are not good for the country. But if they occur, they need to be pursued.

Republican lawmakers should approach the unfolding scandals in a manner that is sober, measured, purposeful, and rhetorically restrained. Follow the facts. Connect that dots when necessary–and don’t be afraid to say when the dots don’t connect. Resist the temptation to twist facts to fit into a preferred narrative.

All of this is easier to understand in theory than it is to execute in practice. But if Republicans do so, they’ll serve themselves, and the nation, well.

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Choosing the Lesser of Two Evils

As I wrote on Monday, Republicans may live to regret Mark Sanford’s victory in the special election in South Carolina’s First Congressional District. The former governor is a lightening rod for liberal attacks, and his hijinks will likely hurt the Republicans’ national brand and serve as yet another distraction in a GOP caucus that is already burdened by a host of other problems. But his decisive win illustrates that while scandal exacts a price from politicians, it need not destroy them. Ideology appears to trump morals for most of us.

Just as even those Democrats who were disgusted by Bill Clinton’s behavior were willing to defend him because they despised his Republican opponents, so, too, there were more than enough South Carolina Republicans who were willing to schlep to the polls to allow their party to hold onto this seat. The verdict was not so much one of the “redemption” that Sanford said he was seeking as much as it was one that registered a conservative constituency’s unwillingness to elect an ally of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

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As I wrote on Monday, Republicans may live to regret Mark Sanford’s victory in the special election in South Carolina’s First Congressional District. The former governor is a lightening rod for liberal attacks, and his hijinks will likely hurt the Republicans’ national brand and serve as yet another distraction in a GOP caucus that is already burdened by a host of other problems. But his decisive win illustrates that while scandal exacts a price from politicians, it need not destroy them. Ideology appears to trump morals for most of us.

Just as even those Democrats who were disgusted by Bill Clinton’s behavior were willing to defend him because they despised his Republican opponents, so, too, there were more than enough South Carolina Republicans who were willing to schlep to the polls to allow their party to hold onto this seat. The verdict was not so much one of the “redemption” that Sanford said he was seeking as much as it was one that registered a conservative constituency’s unwillingness to elect an ally of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Of course, Sanford did pay a price for his shabby personal reputation. As New York Times blogger Nate Silver notes, his nine-point margin of victory represents a marked decrease from what he or any other Republican might have expected to win by in a neutral environment. The First District is, Silver calculates, 22 percent more Republican than the rest of the nation. Silver says the 13-point drop off is consistent with the results that researchers have found elsewhere when scandals are thrown into the electoral mix.

Thus, we can reasonably conclude that while quite a few Republicans simply couldn’t bring themselves to back a loathsome Republican, even more were unwilling to do anything that might empower a political party they consider even more repugnant. The moment Sanford stopped talking about being redeemed and starting campaigning with a cardboard cutout of Pelosi turned the election around.

Should we think ill of these conservative voters or brand them as religious hypocrites for acting in this manner? I think Jonah Goldberg has it exactly right when he writes today over at National Review that doing so is ridiculous. Defense of traditional moral values was not on the ballot in South Carolina yesterday. Indeed, it’s a cause that was lost a long time ago in this country and there’s no going back. Asking conservatives to punish Sanford in the name of their values by electing a liberal whose beliefs are antithetical to what they cherish was not reasonable. And Democrats who treat Bill Clinton like royalty and swear they would have given him a third term if they had been given the opportunity are in no position to blast Republicans for concluding that Sanford was the lesser of two evils.

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Gay or Liberal? Don’t Even Ask

The gay-advocacy group GLAAD portrays itself as a voice in the LGBT community that ”promotes understanding, increases acceptance, and advances equality.” In the March issue of our magazine James Kirchick discussed the LGBT community’s inability to see past politics in order to do what is best for those who they claim to represent: LGBT individuals. As if on cue, GLAAD were all too willing to prove his point with two recent stunts that show the group to be nothing more than a front for liberals’ favorite pastimes: hating Fox News and promoting flawed heroes like Bill Clinton.  

Last week GLAAD made news and garnered applause from liberal groups like Media Matters when it loudly uninvited future guests with the Fox News network from its events. It soon came out, however, that the group banned Fox News attendees after two of the network’s anchors were invited to and attended their most recent media awards dinner. Hilariously, TVNewser obtained a copy of an email from the director of creative development at GLAAD buttering up a Fox News employee, asking for financial sponsorship of the awards event beforehand. It seems that GLAAD was more than happy to take a principled stand against Fox–but only after they had invited their anchors and quietly asked the network for cash. If GLAAD were really interested in garnering better coverage for LGBT issues and individuals from Fox, publicly humiliating two supporters, one of whom was on the “NY Host Committee” for the event, this was not how to do it. GLAAD’s objective was merely intended to cause a splash among liberals who care more about taking down Fox News, rather than their stated mission of growing their movement’s ranks.

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The gay-advocacy group GLAAD portrays itself as a voice in the LGBT community that ”promotes understanding, increases acceptance, and advances equality.” In the March issue of our magazine James Kirchick discussed the LGBT community’s inability to see past politics in order to do what is best for those who they claim to represent: LGBT individuals. As if on cue, GLAAD were all too willing to prove his point with two recent stunts that show the group to be nothing more than a front for liberals’ favorite pastimes: hating Fox News and promoting flawed heroes like Bill Clinton.  

Last week GLAAD made news and garnered applause from liberal groups like Media Matters when it loudly uninvited future guests with the Fox News network from its events. It soon came out, however, that the group banned Fox News attendees after two of the network’s anchors were invited to and attended their most recent media awards dinner. Hilariously, TVNewser obtained a copy of an email from the director of creative development at GLAAD buttering up a Fox News employee, asking for financial sponsorship of the awards event beforehand. It seems that GLAAD was more than happy to take a principled stand against Fox–but only after they had invited their anchors and quietly asked the network for cash. If GLAAD were really interested in garnering better coverage for LGBT issues and individuals from Fox, publicly humiliating two supporters, one of whom was on the “NY Host Committee” for the event, this was not how to do it. GLAAD’s objective was merely intended to cause a splash among liberals who care more about taking down Fox News, rather than their stated mission of growing their movement’s ranks.

This week GLAAD followed their Fox News announcement with another, far more transparently partisan, one. The group has decided to honor former President Bill Clinton, the signature on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), for its “Advocate for Change award.” The group’s strategic giving officer, Wilson Cruz, told Politico that “leaders and allies like President Clinton are critical to moving our march for equality forward.” What President Clinton has accomplished for the “march for equality” besides repudiating a bill he himself signed into law after leaving office is unclear. There is no indication that the group has extended any sort of similar award to Republican Senators Olympia Snowe, Mark Kirk or Rob Portman, all of whom have, while still in office, made public statements in support of gay marriage. It’s far more politically risky for a Republican to come out in favor of same-sex marriage, yet three sitting Senators have chosen to do so in the last several weeks.

For Democrats like Hillary Clinton and President Obama, reversing their previously held positions on the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman has now become politically necessary both for fundraising and for youth support. It would behoove those at GLAAD to support Republican politicians like Snowe, Kirk and Portman who are in a far more precarious position, at risk of alienating a large portion of their party’s base. Democrats don’t need any of the reinforcement that an award from GLAAD would provide, though Republicans wavering on announcing a change of heart could be swayed by a sincere attempt by GLAAD to support their announcement. If GLAAD were really interested in more sitting politicians coming out in support of their message, this political calculus would be taken into account while deciding who should receive an award from the group.

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