Commentary Magazine


Topic: Chuck Schumer

Open Primaries

It is a rare day when I find myself in agreement with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. After all, he is a prime mover behind the attempt, by constitutional amendment, to gut the First Amendment when it comes to political speech. The text is quite lengthy, at least by constitutional amendment standards, but it could effectively be put into a single sentence, “The power of Congress to enact incumbent protection legislation shall not be limited.”

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It is a rare day when I find myself in agreement with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. After all, he is a prime mover behind the attempt, by constitutional amendment, to gut the First Amendment when it comes to political speech. The text is quite lengthy, at least by constitutional amendment standards, but it could effectively be put into a single sentence, “The power of Congress to enact incumbent protection legislation shall not be limited.”

But Senator Schumer has come out in today’s New York Times in favor of open primaries. That is a very good idea. He points out that the center of American politics is nearly empty these days as the parties have become much more ideologically and much less geographically based. Combine that with gerrymandering, and it is more and more the primary elections that determine who eventually wins the seat up for grabs.

But most states have party primaries, where only registered party members can vote. With parties more ideological than ever, it is the true believers, usually at the left or right extreme of each party, who turn out for these primary elections. That forces politicians to move to the left or right in order to win the primary, or avoid having to run in one at all. “Primary” has long been a noun and an adjective; it has now become a verb as well, as in “We will primary him if he doesn’t support … .”

Party primaries, of course, also disenfranchise those registered as independents, now about one-third of the American electorate.

Schumer advocates a system where there are no party primaries, only a single primary, open to all who qualify regardless of party. If one candidate wins a majority of the vote, he’s elected. If no one gets a majority, then the top two vote getters run in the general election.

Open primaries enfranchise independents (centrists almost be definition) as well as greatly reducing the influence of the political extremes. They would help to restore the power of the center in American politics, where successful public policy almost always originates. (Just consider the ObamaCare disaster, wholly a product of the left.)

This system began in Louisiana (to be sure, not a state exactly famous for its enlightened or squeaky-clean politics) in the 1970s. In 2010 it was adopted by referendum in California and, according to Senator Schumer, “The move has had a moderating influence on both parties and a salutary effect on the political system and its ability to govern.” Washington State has had open primaries since 2008 and Colorado and Oregon will consider them this year.

It would seem that the idea is spreading, as good ideas always do. For the sake of American politics I hope it spreads far and fast.

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Dems’ Plan to Counter Criticism: Outlaw It

A common pattern in American political discourse is for conservatives to accuse liberals of some statist extremism, liberals to insist the complaint has no merit whatsoever, and then when it’s clear conservatives are on to something liberals lament, more in sorrow than in anger, that conservatives had a point but took it way too far. How vindicated conservatives then feel if information comes to light to back up their warnings about the slippery slope of state power.

The evolution of the Democrats’ deranged attacks on the Koch brothers and political participation in general has followed precisely this pattern. The trickle of mentions of the Kochs turned into a flood, as Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid became thoroughly incapable of discussing any topic–campaign finance, Ukraine, the minimum wage–without calling out the libertarian philanthropists. He called their participation in the political process “un-American” in an ever-escalating crusade to declare them former people and seek to pressure the judiciary into permitting limitations on free speech rights.

Conservatives warned that high-profile Democrats’ hostility to the First Amendment was liable to result in the curbing of Americans’ constitutional rights. Liberals scoffed. Yet now, the Hill reports, Democrats–who haven’t exactly been models of subtlety, but who at least permitted liberals some plausible deniability–are through beating around the bush. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer has announced his party’s newest midterm election strategy: amend the Constitution to rein in its free speech protections. From the Hill:

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A common pattern in American political discourse is for conservatives to accuse liberals of some statist extremism, liberals to insist the complaint has no merit whatsoever, and then when it’s clear conservatives are on to something liberals lament, more in sorrow than in anger, that conservatives had a point but took it way too far. How vindicated conservatives then feel if information comes to light to back up their warnings about the slippery slope of state power.

The evolution of the Democrats’ deranged attacks on the Koch brothers and political participation in general has followed precisely this pattern. The trickle of mentions of the Kochs turned into a flood, as Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid became thoroughly incapable of discussing any topic–campaign finance, Ukraine, the minimum wage–without calling out the libertarian philanthropists. He called their participation in the political process “un-American” in an ever-escalating crusade to declare them former people and seek to pressure the judiciary into permitting limitations on free speech rights.

Conservatives warned that high-profile Democrats’ hostility to the First Amendment was liable to result in the curbing of Americans’ constitutional rights. Liberals scoffed. Yet now, the Hill reports, Democrats–who haven’t exactly been models of subtlety, but who at least permitted liberals some plausible deniability–are through beating around the bush. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer has announced his party’s newest midterm election strategy: amend the Constitution to rein in its free speech protections. From the Hill:

Democratic leaders on Wednesday unveiled a plan to vote on a constitutional amendment “very soon” to overturn the Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, which have empowered wealthy donors such as Charles and David Koch.

The amendment has virtually no chance of passing this year because it must garner two-thirds support from both chambers of Congress and receive ratification from three-quarters of the states. Democrats believe it will help them preserve their Senate majority, however.

Campaign finance reform traditionally rates low on voters’ lists of concerns, but Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate Democrats’ chief political strategist, believes a battle over a constitutional amendment will bolster their populist economic message.

“The constitutional amendment we know requires two-thirds, it’s a long hard road. But given the McCutcheon decision we have to begin it,” he said. “Most Americans don’t believe the system works in their favor. We are showing whose side you’re on.”

Now, of course the idea of amending the Constitution itself isn’t crazy, and Schumer should be commended for at least adhering to the process. But the First Amendment is rarely the target. Voters tend to be pretty fond of that one, though Democrats increasingly aren’t.

Campaign-finance restrictions of the sort Democrats favor are quite plainly incumbent protection plans. Democrats have been taking a beating lately in the polls, as public opinion has soured on their flailing agenda. So Schumer has proposed a solution: no need to change the policies to adhere to public opinion if you can just restrict the public’s ability to express that opinion.

A constitutional amendment to outlaw criticism is a bit heavyhanded even for someone like Schumer. But it has the effect of confirming, from the mouths of Democrats themselves, that yes, there is a slippery slope from criticizing the wealthy to explicitly targeting constitutional rights–and they intend to slide down it head-first.

Obviously the attempt will fail to get the votes; whatever their faults, it’s doubtful most of the Democrats running for reelection have completely lost their minds. Additionally, the Democrats have already sacrificed seats for The Cause, by voting for ObamaCare and then getting their clocks cleaned in the following midterms. I’m not sure how many times the White House and Democratic congressional leadership can hope to get their party to vote for abusive federal power grabs that are openly hostile to public opinion and individual rights.

The point, according to Schumer and Co., is really about messaging anyway. The message is this: they have to take away your rights in order to take away the Kochs’ rights. Democrats are keen on fairness, and it’s only fair to legally bar everyone from certain constitutionally protected political activism in order to weaken Democrats’ opponents. It’s possible this sounded less crazy in Schumer’s head before he announced it, but either way he seems pretty committed to it now, a fact which I imagine delights Republican candidates across the country.

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Demonizing SCOTUS: The OCare Precedent

When Chief Justice John Roberts rewrote ObamaCare from the bench in order to save it, most of the ramifications were immediately apparent. But there was one aspect of the stunt that as a member of the Supreme Court Roberts should have been sensitive to: precedent. Having caved to a public intimidation campaign from the president and his congressional allies (as well as the media) Roberts signaled that the way to get a conservative justice to discard his better judgment and rule against constitutional law was to impugn the court’s reputation in the public square.

Be mean to John Roberts and his friends, in other words, and you can have your welfare state for all he cares. This was among the most damaging effects of Roberts’s call back in 2012. And unsurprisingly, Democrats have learned their lesson. I wrote at the time that within days of the decision the media had gone back to bashing Roberts and the high court’s poll numbers had dropped. But Democrats had a found a well they were certain to return to in times of desperation. And as the Hill reports today, that time has come:

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When Chief Justice John Roberts rewrote ObamaCare from the bench in order to save it, most of the ramifications were immediately apparent. But there was one aspect of the stunt that as a member of the Supreme Court Roberts should have been sensitive to: precedent. Having caved to a public intimidation campaign from the president and his congressional allies (as well as the media) Roberts signaled that the way to get a conservative justice to discard his better judgment and rule against constitutional law was to impugn the court’s reputation in the public square.

Be mean to John Roberts and his friends, in other words, and you can have your welfare state for all he cares. This was among the most damaging effects of Roberts’s call back in 2012. And unsurprisingly, Democrats have learned their lesson. I wrote at the time that within days of the decision the media had gone back to bashing Roberts and the high court’s poll numbers had dropped. But Democrats had a found a well they were certain to return to in times of desperation. And as the Hill reports today, that time has come:

Senate Democrats and liberal groups are mounting a pressure campaign against the Supreme Court, hoping to influence future decisions by blasting conservative justices for alleged political bias.

The effort from the left also portrays the high court as an instrument rigged to help the wealthy, and is intended to energize Democratic voters and increase turnout in the midterm elections.

Some legal experts see the effort as akin to basketball or soccer players “working the ref” in a high-stakes game.

Critics say Democratic leaders used a similar strategy in 2010, when they piled on the court for striking down the ban on political spending by corporations in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Some court watchers speculated that Chief Justice John Roberts felt chastened by the angry reaction and sought to avoid another uproar, when he crafted the majority decision in 2012 that largely upheld ObamaCare.

“The left clearly tried to work the refs on the Affordable Care Act,” said Randy Barnett, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. “They worked the refs after Citizens United, which helped set things up for the Affordable Care Act challenge. If it seems to work, why not continue? It’s unfortunate, I think, that they’ve been encouraged in this behavior by its apparent success.”

And it’s not just a public disinformation campaign:

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) plan to hold hearings on the court’s ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission striking down aggregate limits on campaign donations. …

Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.) panned it for granting greater influence to wealthy donors, such as Charles and David Koch, the wealthy conservative donors, whom he again slammed on the Senate floor Monday.

Of course Reid would find a way to turn a complaint about the court into another tool in his quest to turn libertarian activists into former people. In one sense, this is irrational, because it has no intellectual merit and should be beneath the leaders of the world’s greatest deliberative body. But in another sense, it’s completely rational: people respond to incentives, and in his ObamaCare ruling Roberts incentivized demonizing–that’s the Hill’s word–the Supreme Court.

The story notes that chief among the left’s worries is the upcoming ruling on the ObamaCare contraception mandate. And on that note, the best line in the story has to be this: “Democrats say the present-day court lacks the experience to understand the corrupting influence of money in politics, because none of its members have held publicly elected office.” Democrats just don’t believe that law abiding, upstanding men and women who have never been offered a bribe could ever really understand ObamaCare. And you’ve got to admit, they have a point, don’t they?

We may or may not find out if the pressure campaign works. After all, a decision on the case may not be a result of the intimidation tactics, either as a concession to them or as an act of defiance against them. It may be just another ruling on the merits of the case. But that’s one of the consequences of the Democrats’ shenanigans: the idea that the court will rule on the merits of the case becomes only one of several possibilities. Roberts thought he was protecting the legitimacy of the court in his 2012 decision. It’s quite clear now that he has done precisely the opposite.

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The Odious Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough interviewed Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, asking him about the charge by Majority Leader Harry Reid that the conservative philanthropist David Koch is “un-American.” Scarborough asked Schumer whether he associated himself with Reid’s statement. 

Senator Schumer began his answer by ducking and weaving, shifting attention from Reid’s claim to Schumer’s disagreement with the Kochs’ preferred policies.

“But, senator, can’t we have a disagreement about how charity is funded without calling somebody un-American?” Scarborough countered. He continued to press Schumer to answer his question. “Do you think David Koch is un-American?”

Schumer finally said, “The commercials he runs are not part of the American mainstream. No two people [David Koch and his brother Charles] should have such a huge influence on our politics. That’s not First Amendment … I think the commercials he is running are against the American grain and un-American, yes …. I think what Harry Reid was saying was the actions are un-American. And they are, and they should change.”

I wonder if people quite appreciate how disgusting this all is. Here we have two Democratic senators labeling a private citizen as being “un-American” because that citizen is vocally advocating public policies they disagree with.

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MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough interviewed Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, asking him about the charge by Majority Leader Harry Reid that the conservative philanthropist David Koch is “un-American.” Scarborough asked Schumer whether he associated himself with Reid’s statement. 

Senator Schumer began his answer by ducking and weaving, shifting attention from Reid’s claim to Schumer’s disagreement with the Kochs’ preferred policies.

“But, senator, can’t we have a disagreement about how charity is funded without calling somebody un-American?” Scarborough countered. He continued to press Schumer to answer his question. “Do you think David Koch is un-American?”

Schumer finally said, “The commercials he runs are not part of the American mainstream. No two people [David Koch and his brother Charles] should have such a huge influence on our politics. That’s not First Amendment … I think the commercials he is running are against the American grain and un-American, yes …. I think what Harry Reid was saying was the actions are un-American. And they are, and they should change.”

I wonder if people quite appreciate how disgusting this all is. Here we have two Democratic senators labeling a private citizen as being “un-American” because that citizen is vocally advocating public policies they disagree with.

Can you imagine the media (and Hollywood) firestorm if Senator Ted Cruz went to the Senate floor and repeatedly accused, say, Jeffrey Katzenberg of being “un-American”–and Mike Lee echoed the charge?

It’s worth considering, too, the corrupting effect on language these charges have. If advocating cuts in record-high federal spending and running ads opposing the Affordable Care Act are deemed to be “un-American,” where exactly does this all end? Allowing powerful senators like Reid and Schumer to smear private citizens in this way further undermines our political and civic life. You might think members of the political class would speak out against such things. But you would be wrong (apart from honorable exceptions like Scarborough).

For the record, the definition of McCarthyism is “the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism.” Speaking of which, here is what Edward R. Murrow said of Senator Joseph McCarthy:

His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind … We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men …

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities.

Senators Reid and Schumer, small and mean men, are trying to usher in a new age of unreason. This is no time for those who oppose them to keep silent. Because we cannot escape responsibility for the result.

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Sochi’s a Disaster. Does It Matter?

In Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, Russia clocks in at number 127: tied with Pakistan but more corrupt than Egypt and Belarus. It comes in at 148 on Reporters Without Borders’s press freedom rankings. The decision, then, to hold the Winter Olympics in Russia was always going to be something of a gamble, making the question as to whether the site would be ready on time anyone’s guess.

Because of the secrecy, there was no telling what athletes, reporters, and guests would find when they finally arrived in Sochi for the games, which begin this weekend. But it’s doubtful they expected the disaster Sochi has become. Every day brings new stories, some bizarre and some quite serious, all of them likely to give Vladimir Putin and the heads of the International Olympic Committee indigestion.

Incidentally, they can try to calm that indigestion with yogurt, but Russia is currently banning the popular Chobani Greek yogurt from the games, prompting the intervention of Senator Chuck Schumer, who had to appeal to Russia’s Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance, declaring, “There is simply no time to waste in getting our Olympic athletes a nutritious and delicious food.”

None of this, amazingly enough, is a joke. And neither are the reports of wild dogs greeting hotel guests or of reporters being told not to ingest the toxic (and almost fluorescent) tap water. Concerns and complaints about one of the event’s courses caused American snowboarding star Shaun White to withdraw from one of the events. Reading that story on CBS News’s website, I couldn’t help noticing another nearby headline from its Sochi coverage: “Sochi Olympics: Ground zero for avalanches?”

No speculation, apparently, is beyond the realm of possibility: let your imagination roam free like the hotel dogs. In Sochi, anything can happen. The question looming over all this is: does it matter that the Sochi Olympics have been a comedy of errors thus far?

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In Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, Russia clocks in at number 127: tied with Pakistan but more corrupt than Egypt and Belarus. It comes in at 148 on Reporters Without Borders’s press freedom rankings. The decision, then, to hold the Winter Olympics in Russia was always going to be something of a gamble, making the question as to whether the site would be ready on time anyone’s guess.

Because of the secrecy, there was no telling what athletes, reporters, and guests would find when they finally arrived in Sochi for the games, which begin this weekend. But it’s doubtful they expected the disaster Sochi has become. Every day brings new stories, some bizarre and some quite serious, all of them likely to give Vladimir Putin and the heads of the International Olympic Committee indigestion.

Incidentally, they can try to calm that indigestion with yogurt, but Russia is currently banning the popular Chobani Greek yogurt from the games, prompting the intervention of Senator Chuck Schumer, who had to appeal to Russia’s Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance, declaring, “There is simply no time to waste in getting our Olympic athletes a nutritious and delicious food.”

None of this, amazingly enough, is a joke. And neither are the reports of wild dogs greeting hotel guests or of reporters being told not to ingest the toxic (and almost fluorescent) tap water. Concerns and complaints about one of the event’s courses caused American snowboarding star Shaun White to withdraw from one of the events. Reading that story on CBS News’s website, I couldn’t help noticing another nearby headline from its Sochi coverage: “Sochi Olympics: Ground zero for avalanches?”

No speculation, apparently, is beyond the realm of possibility: let your imagination roam free like the hotel dogs. In Sochi, anything can happen. The question looming over all this is: does it matter that the Sochi Olympics have been a comedy of errors thus far?

The answer has to do with one aspect of the games, and it’s not yogurt. At one point late this afternoon the top two headlines in the New York Times’s World section were “An Olympics in the Shadow of a War Zone” and, next to it, “Terrorism and Tension for Sochi, Not Sports and Joy.”

And here we get to the serious part. The latter story, by Juliet Macur, was particularly bleak. After asking whether one of the tense issues related to the games had reached its boiling point, Macur wrote:

We’ll find out soon. At the same time, athletes will be winning medals. But will anyone notice?

Never before has the pre-Olympic chatter been less about the athletes or the sports. And never before has the conversation leading to the Games been so grim: suicide bombers have struck Volgograd, about 400 miles north of Sochi, three times since the fall — including strikes in December that killed at least 34 people.

Global security experts have called this the most dangerous Games ever, based on the location of the competitions, the seriousness of the threats (including one from the head of a terrorist organization who last summer lifted a moratorium on civilian targets), and the capability of terrorist groups to carry out their plans (several in that region already have).

Macur followed that with the kind of rebuke to the IOC that other authoritarian-hosted Olympics don’t usually earn:

“It was a very, very risky decision for the Olympic committee” to hold the Olympics in Sochi, said Andrew C. Kuchins, the director and senior fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a security think tank in Washington. He basically said what is on the minds of many people headed to the Games, and the many people — including athletes’ families and friends — who were too scared to attend.

What was the International Olympic Committee thinking?

In the end, few will remember whether the yogurt got to American athletes in time (though I’m sure Chuck Schumer will remind us), and most of the tap water does not, in fact, glow in the dark. As embarrassing as those are, they won’t be the metric by which these games will be judged, because the larger worry is whether the Russians can keep the athletes and spectators safe.

On CNN this evening, Wolf Blitzer asked Mitt Romney about granting the Olympics to Sochi: “Was that a mistake that the International Olympic Committee made?” It’s both too late and too early to answer that question. But the frequency with which it’s being asked on the eve of the games is an indication that a great many in the international community already think the answer is yes.

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Another NY Times Misfire on Gun Rights

In the lead-up to the high-stakes 2010 Senate election between Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican challenger Sharron Angle, a curious drama unfolded within the National Rifle Association. The NRA was, reportedly, considering endorsing Reid, incurring pushback from its conservative-leaning membership. Why would the NRA endorse a Democrat, even one more friendly to gun rights than most Democrats? Because, the logic went, a Reid loss coupled with the Democrats holding the Senate could elevate Chuck Schumer to lead the Senate.

Schumer is not just anti-gun, but the worst kind of anti-gun extremist: an East Coast liberal elitist who doesn’t know anything about guns or gun culture but hates them anyway. This propensity by Schumer to allow ignorance and prejudice to set his legislative agenda made the NRA understandably nervous. The NRA eventually chose to stay neutral in the race. This episode is worth keeping in mind when reading the New York Times Magazine’s lengthy article recreating the failure of the Manchin-Toomey gun-control legislation earlier this year. The bill was aimed at beefing up background checks amid the “do-something” rush of activity following the Newtown massacre.

The effort was almost torpedoed by Schumer immediately; the tragic news of the shooting gave Schumer the opportunity he craved to punish law-abiding gun owners–people who, according to Schumer, only existed in theory anyway. As the Times reports:

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In the lead-up to the high-stakes 2010 Senate election between Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican challenger Sharron Angle, a curious drama unfolded within the National Rifle Association. The NRA was, reportedly, considering endorsing Reid, incurring pushback from its conservative-leaning membership. Why would the NRA endorse a Democrat, even one more friendly to gun rights than most Democrats? Because, the logic went, a Reid loss coupled with the Democrats holding the Senate could elevate Chuck Schumer to lead the Senate.

Schumer is not just anti-gun, but the worst kind of anti-gun extremist: an East Coast liberal elitist who doesn’t know anything about guns or gun culture but hates them anyway. This propensity by Schumer to allow ignorance and prejudice to set his legislative agenda made the NRA understandably nervous. The NRA eventually chose to stay neutral in the race. This episode is worth keeping in mind when reading the New York Times Magazine’s lengthy article recreating the failure of the Manchin-Toomey gun-control legislation earlier this year. The bill was aimed at beefing up background checks amid the “do-something” rush of activity following the Newtown massacre.

The effort was almost torpedoed by Schumer immediately; the tragic news of the shooting gave Schumer the opportunity he craved to punish law-abiding gun owners–people who, according to Schumer, only existed in theory anyway. As the Times reports:

Joe Manchin shared the concern that the Democrats who were leading the charge on gun legislation didn’t understand how deeply people care about guns and needed to if they were ever to get anything passed. By January the universal background-checks legislation was being spearheaded in the Senate by Charles Schumer, a liberal from New York City. “Joe, I didn’t know anybody who owned a gun when I grew up,” Schumer said to Manchin, who replied, “Chuck, I didn’t know anybody who didn’t own a gun.” Schumer’s bill contained no provisions that might attract the support of gun owners, a fatal omission in Manchin’s view. “The bill Chuck Schumer dropped was one that I didn’t think anyone from a gun state would or should support,” Manchin told me. “So I reached out to the N.R.A. and said, ‘Let’s have an alternative.’ ”

That is, the Democratic effort on a major issue was being led by a man who was proud of his total lack of knowledge about the issue. It’s unclear whether Schumer realized his bill would never pass and therefore just wanted an opportunity to grandstand, or just wasn’t capable of leading a serious legislative effort. Manchin ended up nearly saving the effort by getting actual gun owners and experts involved, and crafting a quite reasonable bill that combined modest increases in restrictions in areas that arguably needed them with additional protections for gun rights.

In the end, the bill still didn’t quite make it, but it’s instructive to look at why that happened. Robert Draper, the author of the Times piece, says anti-gun activists must learn to better “break down the barriers of fear and mistrust from which the N.R.A. derives much of its power.” He then says this:

Yet even as the votes in the chambers still favor the N.R.A., gun-control advocates have some cause for optimism. Time does not seem to be on the N.R.A.’s side. According to data compiled by the nonpartisan National Opinion Research Center, between 1977 and 2012 the percentage of American households possessing one or more guns declined by 36 percent. That decline should not be surprising. Tom W. Smith, director of the research center, says: “There are two main reasons, if you ask people, why they have firearms: hunting and personal protection. Now, from external sources like the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, we know the proportion of adults who hunt has declined over the decades. And since the ‘90s, the crime rate has fallen. So the two main reasons people might want to have a gun have both decreased.”

On the issue of “fear and mistrust,” Draper throughout the article seems to ignore his own reporting. He notes, for example, that Anita Dunn spoke to a gathering of anti-gun Democrats and kept using “the R-word,” registration. This makes gun owners fear–wrongly according to Democrats–that the goal is to keep a registry of firearms owners to better confiscate them when the time comes. But as J.D. Tuccille recently pointed out at Reason, gun owners have been receiving confiscation notices from state government officials even as such moves are dismissed by lawmakers. “The problem for gun control advocates,” Tuccille writes, “is that they keep promising that no way will registration lead to confiscation of firearms, even as it does just that.”

And on Draper’s claim that time isn’t on the NRA’s side, it’s worth looking at the polling. It’s true that gun ownership rates have dropped, but that in no way means support for gun owners will drop. Here is Gallup’s detailed, long-term trend polling on gun rights, the most recent of which was taken in early October. It finds that household gun possession is at its lowest point since 1999. And yet, support for making gun-sale laws “more strict” is nearly twenty points lower than it was twenty years ago, and nearly thirty points lower than in 1990.

Support for a handgun ban has been dropping for decades, from 60 percent in 1959 to 25 percent today. The Gallup polling shows broad support for the expansion of background checks in the Manchin-Toomey legislation–regulation initially supported by the NRA as well. But when asked for some reasons respondents didn’t want the legislation to pass, 40 percent named Second Amendment rights.

The fact is, Americans take their constitutional rights quite seriously, even when they don’t directly impact them. Schumer and Co. seem to think rights of which they don’t avail themselves are irrelevant. It is to the American public’s great credit that they disagree.

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Intransigent Democrats and the Shutdown

With only hours to go before a congressional standoff triggers a government shutdown, the mainstream media is virtually unanimous in allocating the blame for this mess: it’s the Republicans’ fault. By choosing to demand that the price of a continuing resolution to fund the government is a delay of the implementation of ObamaCare, the GOP caucus in the House of Representatives has set in motion a series of events that, barring a last-minute compromise, will lead to a shutdown. Count me among those conservatives who believe this is a tactic with little chance of success. But that doesn’t mean the narrative that blames the GOP for all the bad things that will result from this dispute is true. Senator Ted Cruz and the rest of those who have led the rush to this precipice can be labeled as intransigent. They refuse to consider any option that will allow the president’s signature health-care legislation to be implemented. But they aren’t the only ones who are digging in their heels and refusing to negotiate. Indeed, not only are Democrats behaving just as unreasonably as their foes, they have been working just as hard as Cruz to get us to this point.

The fallacy at the heart of the conventional wisdom about today’s dilemma is that the Democrats are the adults in the room who are working to preserve the government while Cruz and the Republicans are having a tantrum that may well damage the economy as well as cause suffering to those who depend on governmental largesse. But as Senator Chuck Schumer admitted on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program today, the Democrats are simply refusing to negotiate with Republicans. That’s also been the consistent stand of President Obama, who signaled again over the weekend that he would veto any spending bill that defunded or even delayed ObamaCare. Republicans can be faulted for acting as if they can dictate policy while Democrats still control the Senate and the White House. But it is time for those who have been dumping on conservatives to admit that it is just as unrealistic for the president and his party to behave as if the Republicans don’t control the House, where all spending bills originate.

Far from seeking to avoid a confrontation, the president and his followers have been seeking this day for years because they believe a shutdown will work to their political advantage. There is no guarantee that if the president had actively sought a compromise, a reasonable accommodation could have been found. But we do know that the president has never tried that route. What’s more, he has done virtually everything in his power to goad Republicans into a confrontation that would shut down the government while denouncing them for doing so. His position in which there can be no compromise on the rollout of the fiscal disaster that is ObamaCare is no less fanatical and just as much rooted in ideology as that of Cruz.

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With only hours to go before a congressional standoff triggers a government shutdown, the mainstream media is virtually unanimous in allocating the blame for this mess: it’s the Republicans’ fault. By choosing to demand that the price of a continuing resolution to fund the government is a delay of the implementation of ObamaCare, the GOP caucus in the House of Representatives has set in motion a series of events that, barring a last-minute compromise, will lead to a shutdown. Count me among those conservatives who believe this is a tactic with little chance of success. But that doesn’t mean the narrative that blames the GOP for all the bad things that will result from this dispute is true. Senator Ted Cruz and the rest of those who have led the rush to this precipice can be labeled as intransigent. They refuse to consider any option that will allow the president’s signature health-care legislation to be implemented. But they aren’t the only ones who are digging in their heels and refusing to negotiate. Indeed, not only are Democrats behaving just as unreasonably as their foes, they have been working just as hard as Cruz to get us to this point.

The fallacy at the heart of the conventional wisdom about today’s dilemma is that the Democrats are the adults in the room who are working to preserve the government while Cruz and the Republicans are having a tantrum that may well damage the economy as well as cause suffering to those who depend on governmental largesse. But as Senator Chuck Schumer admitted on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program today, the Democrats are simply refusing to negotiate with Republicans. That’s also been the consistent stand of President Obama, who signaled again over the weekend that he would veto any spending bill that defunded or even delayed ObamaCare. Republicans can be faulted for acting as if they can dictate policy while Democrats still control the Senate and the White House. But it is time for those who have been dumping on conservatives to admit that it is just as unrealistic for the president and his party to behave as if the Republicans don’t control the House, where all spending bills originate.

Far from seeking to avoid a confrontation, the president and his followers have been seeking this day for years because they believe a shutdown will work to their political advantage. There is no guarantee that if the president had actively sought a compromise, a reasonable accommodation could have been found. But we do know that the president has never tried that route. What’s more, he has done virtually everything in his power to goad Republicans into a confrontation that would shut down the government while denouncing them for doing so. His position in which there can be no compromise on the rollout of the fiscal disaster that is ObamaCare is no less fanatical and just as much rooted in ideology as that of Cruz.

Democrats can argue with some justice that the president’s reelection was based in part on his desire to preserve ObamaCare. But so long as he lacks a majority in both houses of Congress, the issue is not completely settled. Given that he has begun to postpone some elements of the program, it is not unreasonable that Republicans would seek more delay of a vast expansion of government power that may make health care less affordable despite the official title of the bill. Having passed it via a partisan vote after a ruthlessly cynical legislative process that did not correct its obvious flaws and unwieldy nature, Democrats are determined to carry ObamaCare through to implementation without ever listening to the other side. This may turn out to be good politics, but it is neither reasonable nor good policy.

There has been a good deal of criticism about Cruz’s tactics and the fact that he and other hardliners on the issue don’t appear to have a strategy to counter the Democrats’ intransigence. Whether or not it is fair, it is probably a fact that more Americans will blame the GOP than the Democrats for a shutdown. That’s why President Obama has been daring Republicans to do just that ever since the summer of 2011 when the first of a series of battles over the budget and the debt ceiling was fought.

But though Republicans might have been wise not to accept that dare, there should be no question about the fact that the president and his backers are just as responsible for the results of this brinksmanship as anyone in the GOP caucus. Had the president been willing to bend a bit on ObamaCare he would have enabled House Speaker John Boehner to come up with a deal that a majority of Republicans might have been able to live with. That he wouldn’t do so is the product not only of clever political strategy but his ideological inflexibility. Cruz’s belief that ObamaCare must be stopped at all costs has brought us to the brink today. But the same can be said of the president’s unwillingness to allow a delay in a job-killing program that is still opposed by the majority of the American public. He will stop at nothing to see it implemented. Democrats also won’t negotiate today because they fear it will set a precedent that will force them to compromise on other issues in the future. That may be clever politics but it should not be confused with good government.

We can hope that sanity will prevail in Washington today and that somehow a shutdown will be averted. But if it isn’t, Democrats will be every bit as responsible for that outcome as Republicans.

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Schumer’s Dishonest Hagel Sob Story

Following the latest string of revelations about Chuck Hagel’s defamatory comments about Israel and its supporters, a lot of attention has been focused on whether New York Senator Chuck Schumer would change his position on President Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense. But any hopes that Schumer would prioritize the principles that he has always claimed he was elected to the Senate to defend over political expediency have now been dashed. At a New York City event this morning reported by Politico’s Maggie Haberman, Schumer doubled down on his support for Hagel claiming the former senator cried when discussing his slurs about the “Jewish lobby.”

 The account of Schumer’s fateful meeting with the nominee was fascinating but more important than that was his decision to repeat the claim that “not a major Jewish organization” was against Hagel and to assert that the issue driving opposition to him was anger about his opposition to the war in Iraq. Both claims are not only false but are a transparent attempt to deflect attention from the real issue in the debate over Hagel: the president’s choice of an incompetent nominee who is also a well known antagonist of Israel with a record of opposition to getting tough on Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah.

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Following the latest string of revelations about Chuck Hagel’s defamatory comments about Israel and its supporters, a lot of attention has been focused on whether New York Senator Chuck Schumer would change his position on President Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense. But any hopes that Schumer would prioritize the principles that he has always claimed he was elected to the Senate to defend over political expediency have now been dashed. At a New York City event this morning reported by Politico’s Maggie Haberman, Schumer doubled down on his support for Hagel claiming the former senator cried when discussing his slurs about the “Jewish lobby.”

 The account of Schumer’s fateful meeting with the nominee was fascinating but more important than that was his decision to repeat the claim that “not a major Jewish organization” was against Hagel and to assert that the issue driving opposition to him was anger about his opposition to the war in Iraq. Both claims are not only false but are a transparent attempt to deflect attention from the real issue in the debate over Hagel: the president’s choice of an incompetent nominee who is also a well known antagonist of Israel with a record of opposition to getting tough on Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah.

Schumer’s discussion of Hagel’s tears when he explained to him that his crack about the “Jewish lobby” was rooted in prejudice may be a truthful but the idea, as the New Yorker put it, that “I’m sure you didn’t mean it” is patently disingenuous. When Hagel used that term in 2006  (at his confirmation hearing he said it was the only time he said it “on the record”) or made other disturbing comments about the Israeli Foreign Ministry controlling the U.S. State Department or that Israel was on its way to being an “apartheid state,” he knew exactly what he was saying. Far from a misunderstanding, there is a clear pattern in Hagel’s record and it speaks to his contempt for the U.S.-Israel alliance and its supporters. Indeed, the context of the “Jewish lobby” remark showed that he considered it a point of honor to stand up to Israel’s supporters.

The notion that Hagel’s contrite interview with Schumer or any of his other fumbling attempts to walk back a long record of antagonism should outweigh a record replete with votes and statements demonstrating his desire to stand apart from the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus is absurd.

Just as dishonest though is Schumer’s claim that “no major Jewish organization” opposes Hagel. Just this past weekend, the American Jewish Committee — a large liberal-leaning group that more or less defines the term — demanded that the Senate not vote before it further reviewed Hagel’s record in the wake of recent revelations of more prejudicial statements by the nominee.

In the weeks prior to Hagel’s disastrous confirmation hearing, Schumer had attempted to use the strategic silence of many Jewish groups on Hagel as cover for his own decision to go along with the president on the nomination. But after the AJC statement and Anti-Defamation League leader Abe Foxman’s questions about Hagel’s statements, that line of defense no longer works. For Schumer to go on pretending that Jewish groups are neutral about Hagel can only be characterized as blatantly dishonest.

But it is not any more dishonest than Schumer’s attempt to claim that the motive behind the opposition to Hagel is “neocon” anger about his critique of the war in Iraq. Senator John McCain may still hold a grudge about Hagel’s foolish opposition to the Iraq surge (and contrary to Schumer’s comments, Hagel — who voted in favor of the war — was wrong about the surge) but that is not an issue that interests anyone else who cares about this awful nomination.

Neoconservatives may have disagreed with Hagel about Iraq but if that were the only issue about his candidacy he would already be sitting in his office in the Pentagon. It is, as Schumer well knows, Hagel’s terrible record on Israel, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah that has scared many Americans about his fitness for office. Even more think his performance at his confirmation hearing when he was unable to demonstrate a grasp of the issues before the nation or defend his positions shows he’s just not up to the job.

When faced with a choice between doing the right thing about Hagel and demonstrating loyalty to President Obama, Schumer had done the latter. That is bad enough and a terrible commentary about the willingness of pro-Israel Democrats to put their party’s interests above principle. But for him to back up this decision with lies and distortions speaks volumes about his own character.

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Can Jewish Groups Speak Out on Hagel?

One of the interesting subtexts about the debate over the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense has been the relative silence from the organized Jewish world. Though there was widespread shock from most pro-Israel activists, even those who were loyal liberal Democrats, about the president’s decision to choose one of the least Israel-friendly members of the U.S. Senate in the last generation to run the Pentagon, none of the major groups, aside from the Zionist Organization of America, spoke up publicly about his unsuitability for the post or his out-of-the mainstream views.

The reasons for this silence were obvious to anyone who understands their missions and how they operate. The refusal of the major Jewish organizations was rooted in their natural reluctance to embroil themselves in fights they think would hamper their ability to do their jobs. But at this juncture in the Hagel saga, after the nominee flopped at his Senate confirmation hearing and demonstrated how insincere his conversion from being tough on Israel and soft on Iran to a garden-variety backer of the Jewish state, it is time for them to reconsider. Though the odds still favor his confirmation, and with some senators, including Chuck Schumer and Claire McCaskill, citing their silence for their support for the nominee, the rationale of the organized Jewish world for staying out of this contretemps has evaporated.

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One of the interesting subtexts about the debate over the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense has been the relative silence from the organized Jewish world. Though there was widespread shock from most pro-Israel activists, even those who were loyal liberal Democrats, about the president’s decision to choose one of the least Israel-friendly members of the U.S. Senate in the last generation to run the Pentagon, none of the major groups, aside from the Zionist Organization of America, spoke up publicly about his unsuitability for the post or his out-of-the mainstream views.

The reasons for this silence were obvious to anyone who understands their missions and how they operate. The refusal of the major Jewish organizations was rooted in their natural reluctance to embroil themselves in fights they think would hamper their ability to do their jobs. But at this juncture in the Hagel saga, after the nominee flopped at his Senate confirmation hearing and demonstrated how insincere his conversion from being tough on Israel and soft on Iran to a garden-variety backer of the Jewish state, it is time for them to reconsider. Though the odds still favor his confirmation, and with some senators, including Chuck Schumer and Claire McCaskill, citing their silence for their support for the nominee, the rationale of the organized Jewish world for staying out of this contretemps has evaporated.

Groups like the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee or even AIPAC are not in the business of involving themselves in partisan fights. Nor are they interested in futile gestures that embroil them in squabbles that would make it more difficult for them to gain access to decision makers. These are things that often infuriate people who rail at them for not being representative of ordinary Jews or being “self-appointed” leaders. But these are generally unfair criticisms.

All Jewish groups in this country are voluntary associations. If the heads of these groups are not elected by a broad cross-section of the community it is only because most Jews don’t take the trouble to get involved with these organizations. We can argue about whether many of the so-called “major” groups still perform any vital functions. Indeed, many of them are vestigial remnants that have long ceased having any rationale other than institutional inertia. Others are mere partisan fronts for the political parties (the Republican Jewish Coalition has actively campaigned against Hagel while the National Jewish Democratic Council has tried to downplay the appointment) or Jewish surrogates for other liberal causes. Many are merely fundraising outlets for various causes. But some do still perform vital tasks, like compiling data about anti-Semitism or advocacy on behalf of Israel, and don’t deserve all of the scorn that is thrown in their direction.

However, the Hagel nomination illustrated that groups that see themselves as above politics can’t entirely avoid some fights. The nomination of a person who has publicly bragged about his standing up to the “Jewish lobby” and opposed sanctions or even the threat of using force against Iran should have crossed the line between something that merely raised eyebrows and battle that needed to be fought.

Some of the major organizations, or at least their leading donors, are dyed-in the-wool Democrats who would never put themselves in direct opposition to the president. Yet even those who were privately upset about Hagel reasoned that the campaign to stop Hagel was doomed. After abandoning Susan Rice, his preferred candidate for the State Department, there was good reason to believe that President Obama would fight harder for his “soul mate” at Defense. A popular president whose party has a majority in the Senate is not liable to lose such a nomination fight, so they thought it made more sense to shut up about Hagel and retain their access than to fight and lose.

This was a not unreasonable conclusion, but it was also a self-fulfilling prophecy. While many Jewish leaders were hoping that Hagel could be stopped without their help, by their very silence they gave cover to pro-Israel Democrats who decided that avoiding giving offense to the president took precedent over defending their principles. On this point, Schumer, whose announcement of public support for the nominee seemed to take all the drama out of the confirmation battle, has been quite candid, as he has explained that it was impossible for him to fight Hagel while Jewish groups kept their own counsel.

But my expectation that Schumer’s move would more or less end the controversy was confounded by Hagel’s catastrophic performance at his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday. At this point even those who have no problem with Hagel’s troubling positions are grappling with the fact that the president’s choice has given the appearance of incompetence and an inability to articulate the president’s stated positions on the issues.

It was assumed that Hagel’s confirmation conversion to positions that affirmed the alliance with Israel and hostility to Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran would be done in such a manner as to at least quiet concerns about his transformation from foe to friend of the pro-Israel community. But at his hearing, Hagel was not just unprepared; the insincerity of his flip-flops was transparent. He refused to admit that he was wrong to refuse to vote to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group. Nor did he disavow his slanders about Israel’s conduct during the 2006 Lebanon War. And he could not give a straight answer as to his views about containment of Iran even when given three tries to do so.

At this moment, when even partisan Democrats are expressing their discomfort about Hagel, it is time for the major Jewish groups to, at the very least, express their belief that the nomination should be reconsidered. They needn’t issue an outright call for a no vote on his confirmation or directly fight the president. But they can speak out about the problematic nature of what Hagel said at his hearing and whether the president ought to think twice about insisting on shoving him down the throat of an obviously troubled Democratic caucus.

Doing so would involve some risk and cause them to be criticized by some Democratic partisans. But as they already know, the only people who are actually enthusiastic about Hagel are those, like the vicious Israel-basher MJ Rosenberg, who think the nominee is lying about changing his views about Israel and Iran.

Let’s also dispense with the notion that if Jewish groups speak out on Hagel, they will be confirming the myth that the “Israel Lobby” is an all-powerful force that, as the nominee said, “intimidates” Congress into doing “stupid things.” It is true that that is what some foes of Israel will say if Hagel loses. But the truth is they are already saying it and the vast majority of Americans—who are the backbone of the bipartisan consensus in support of Israel—reject these slanders. The question now is whether an advocate of those views, even one who has now disavowed some of that statement, albeit in a manner that lacks all credibility, will be elevated to one of the highest positions in the government.

Whatever it was that Hagel has been telling Democrats like Schumer or even the big Jewish groups who got a private meeting with the nominee, no one who watched that hearing can seriously believe his protestations of a change of heart. Though he may still be confirmed if the president goes to the mat for him, the outcome is by no means certain. That means this is a moment when the major Jewish groups must drop their reticence and speak truth courageously to power.

Though it is often wise for such groups to stay out of fights with the White House, this is not the moment for such caution. Were the major groups to call for a reconsideration of his nomination, it could be the tipping point in the debate. Should they fail to find their voices now about Hagel, many of the good people inside these organizations may have reason to look back with regret on their decisions. Hagel’s appointment raises genuine doubts about this administration’s commitment to stopping Iran’s nuclear threat and continued support of Israel at a time when its enemies (such as the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt) are gaining strength. Silence at such a moment is impossible for men and women of conscience.

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Hagel’s Credibility Left in Shreds

It’s not clear if administration sources that leaked the story that Chuck Hagel had three practice sessions before a mock committee before his actual Senate confirmation hearing were trying to help or hurt the former senator. Hagel’s performance was so shaky that even some of his liberal supporters like Peter Beinart were lamenting on Twitter about his stumbling and bumbling answers to tough questions. That he flopped so badly after being rehearsed speaks volumes about how bad he was. Indeed, he had so many misstatements that it will be hard for news organizations to choose which of them to broadcast in their highlights of the hearings. But as much as his inability to speak coherently and present a plausible defense of his record while under pressure was exposed today, in what was probably the worst showing by a presidential nominee in a confirmation hearing in memory, it was his credibility that took the biggest hit.

Time and again throughout the day, Hagel bobbed and weaved when presented with examples of the contradictions between the voluminous record of votes and statements about Israel, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah and what he has been saying in public since President Obama nominated him to be the next secretary of defense. Under tough questioning from Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, Roger Wicker and Ted Cruz, Hagel’s pose as a consistent and ardent friend of Israel and foe of Iran was shown to be nothing but a hastily constructed façade that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

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It’s not clear if administration sources that leaked the story that Chuck Hagel had three practice sessions before a mock committee before his actual Senate confirmation hearing were trying to help or hurt the former senator. Hagel’s performance was so shaky that even some of his liberal supporters like Peter Beinart were lamenting on Twitter about his stumbling and bumbling answers to tough questions. That he flopped so badly after being rehearsed speaks volumes about how bad he was. Indeed, he had so many misstatements that it will be hard for news organizations to choose which of them to broadcast in their highlights of the hearings. But as much as his inability to speak coherently and present a plausible defense of his record while under pressure was exposed today, in what was probably the worst showing by a presidential nominee in a confirmation hearing in memory, it was his credibility that took the biggest hit.

Time and again throughout the day, Hagel bobbed and weaved when presented with examples of the contradictions between the voluminous record of votes and statements about Israel, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah and what he has been saying in public since President Obama nominated him to be the next secretary of defense. Under tough questioning from Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, Roger Wicker and Ted Cruz, Hagel’s pose as a consistent and ardent friend of Israel and foe of Iran was shown to be nothing but a hastily constructed façade that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

As I have written repeatedly since his nomination was announced, Hagel has been working hard to disappoint those who have always shared his views since he was so eager to discard principles that he had ardently supported. But one such supporter was unfazed by his reversals. Former Media Matters staffer MJ Rosenberg is a bitter critic of Israel and its supporters to the point where he is considered toxic even by many on the left. But as Twitchy notes, Rosenberg wasn’t particularly helpful to Hagel today since he tweeted:

I spent a couple of hours with Hagel a few years ago. Talked with him about Israel. Happily, he is lying today &  knows it. He’ll be a good SeDef.

But you didn’t have to have that kind of inside information to understand that what was happening in the confirmation wasn’t particularly honest. Throughout the day when faced with offensive quotes or votes that were inconsistent with his current stands, Hagel rationalized about changing times or context. But the more the context of each incident was examined, the less truthful the Nebraskan sounded. It wasn’t just gaffes like his statement that his opposition to designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group was rooted in his belief that the Islamist regime was a “legitimate and elected government,” which he later walked back. It was his inability to explain why he refused to support Israel during the intifada or branded its defensive war against Hezbollah as a “slaughter.”

But his deceitful approach wasn’t solely focused on his views about Israel and Iran. His attempt to explain his role in producing a report about America’s nuclear deterrent was just as bad. He refused to own up to his views and the plain language of a document that he co-authored. His inability to be honest about his opposition to the Iraq surge when pressed to do so by John McCain was not so much outrageous as it was transparently weak.

By the end of the day, Hagel was reduced to saying something that shouldn’t inspire much confidence in his leadership when he said his opinions didn’t matter so much because he was not being appointed to a policymaking position. Hagel’s defense of himself as a mere bureaucrat may be in line with the Obama administration’s top-down approach to policy but it is a dispiriting exhibition for someone who is actually being tapped for one of the most important positions in the Cabinet.

Chuck Hagel demonstrated today that he isn’t fit for such a senior post. His incompetent testimony should have embarrassed the president and backers like Chuck Schumer, who gambled his own reputation on a man who has little credibility. That may not be enough to derail a nomination that is being rammed through on a partisan basis by the Senate’s majority caucus. But today’s disappointing show by Hagel shamed not just Democrats but a nation whose defense is being entrusted to an incompetent liar.

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Mighty Mouse Is on His Way

Have no fear, Israel. Here he comes, to save the day!

Mr. Netanyahu, your democratically elected prime minister may not–unlike, say, Mohamed Morsi or Fidel Castro–know where his country’s best interests lie. And, by extension, you who democratically elected him and are about to reelect him may not know either. But there is one who does.

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Have no fear, Israel. Here he comes, to save the day!

Mr. Netanyahu, your democratically elected prime minister may not–unlike, say, Mohamed Morsi or Fidel Castro–know where his country’s best interests lie. And, by extension, you who democratically elected him and are about to reelect him may not know either. But there is one who does.

Who has whiled away many a pleasant hour on the luxury golf courses of Hawaii and the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard considering, pondering, knuckling his brow over the best interests of your cute little Middle Eastern democracy. Now, Mr. Obama may never have fought in a war (let alone 3 or 4 or 5); never lived surrounded by vicious enemies dedicated to his extinction; never had to spend months in a bomb shelter; never had to put a gas mask on his 4-year-old; never had to reassure his children that their bus would not be blown up on the way to school. But, hey, Chicago isn’t exactly Switzerland. And he braved the oh-so-fearsome Israel Lobby–twice–in his quest for the presidency.

So go ahead and shoot yourselves in the foot by voting for Mr. Netanyahu again next week. Because now that his own reelection has given him “flexibility,” Mr. Obama is going to do his utmost–with an able assist from Senator Chuck Schumer–to save you from yourselves.

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What it Means to Be a Pro-Israel Democrat

A lot of the drama was taken out of the battle to confirm Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense today when New York Senator Chuck Schumer endorsed the nomination. Schumer said he had made the decision after a long conversation with his former Senate colleague in which he was, he said, reassured that the new Pentagon chief had changed his mind about the relationship between Israel and the United States as well as his previous views about Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. Schumer directly addressed the concerns that members of the pro-Israel community have expressed about Hagel’s sudden change of heart by saying this:

“I know some will question whether Senator Hagel’s assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post,” Mr. Schumer said. “But I don’t think so. Senator Hagel realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago.”

Such faith in Hagel’s conversion from a politician who bragged about standing up to the “Jewish lobby” and an opponent of sanctions against Iran as well as an advocate of engagement with Hamas and Hezbollah is remarkable. How is it possible that in the space of only a few months that Hagel could have had such a dramatic change of heart? Given Hagel’s disdain for the current government of Israel and the fact that only last fall he was signing letters expressing opposition to any mention of the use of force against Iran, only the most cynical of partisans could believe for a minute that the Nebraskan’s new positions are a sincere expression of his actual opinions. While Schumer, a powerful senator who has no fear about possible challenges to his seat, may think his seal of approval of Hagel will have no consequences, it is the sort of thing that, at the least, ought to raise the question of what it actually means to be a pro-Israel Democrat these days.

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A lot of the drama was taken out of the battle to confirm Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense today when New York Senator Chuck Schumer endorsed the nomination. Schumer said he had made the decision after a long conversation with his former Senate colleague in which he was, he said, reassured that the new Pentagon chief had changed his mind about the relationship between Israel and the United States as well as his previous views about Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. Schumer directly addressed the concerns that members of the pro-Israel community have expressed about Hagel’s sudden change of heart by saying this:

“I know some will question whether Senator Hagel’s assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post,” Mr. Schumer said. “But I don’t think so. Senator Hagel realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago.”

Such faith in Hagel’s conversion from a politician who bragged about standing up to the “Jewish lobby” and an opponent of sanctions against Iran as well as an advocate of engagement with Hamas and Hezbollah is remarkable. How is it possible that in the space of only a few months that Hagel could have had such a dramatic change of heart? Given Hagel’s disdain for the current government of Israel and the fact that only last fall he was signing letters expressing opposition to any mention of the use of force against Iran, only the most cynical of partisans could believe for a minute that the Nebraskan’s new positions are a sincere expression of his actual opinions. While Schumer, a powerful senator who has no fear about possible challenges to his seat, may think his seal of approval of Hagel will have no consequences, it is the sort of thing that, at the least, ought to raise the question of what it actually means to be a pro-Israel Democrat these days.

Let’s specify that many Democrats are sincere and ardent backers of Israel. They are a vital element in the across-the-board bipartisan coalition that has made the U.S.-Israel alliance an integral part of American foreign and defense policy. That is why the tepid response from so many Democrats to the president’s choice of Hagel is so disappointing.

It’s time for a little honesty about Hagel. Were someone with his record and history of incendiary comments about fighting the influence of the “Jewish lobby” and tender-hearted concern for radical Islamists put forward by a Republican president there’s little doubt that Democrats would be fighting each other to get face time in front of network cameras denouncing the nomination, with a publicity hound like Schumer at the front of the line.

After all, this is the same Chuck Hagel that even the National Jewish Democratic Council—a group that is generally blind to the shortcomings of anyone in their party no matter how egregious their transgressions—denounced as unsuitable for high office in 2009 when his name was put forward for a place on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

Democrats who have spent the last four years rationalizing Barack Obama’s inclination to pick fights with Israel and attempts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians enjoyed the election-year Jewish charm offensive in which the administration dropped its previous antagonism toward the Jewish state. But the decision to choose Hagel calls into question whether a second term will mean that the president plans to abandon his pledges on Iran or whether the 2012 cease-and-desist order about U.S. pressure on Israel will expire.

Hagel’s nomination gave politicians like Schumer a chance to show that they had no intention of allowing the president to make fools of them by policy reversals that would contradict his campaign promises on which they had staked their own good names.

But instead of showing some independence as well as common sense about the likelihood that Hagel could be trusted to do the right thing at the Pentagon, Schumer has shown that they will not stick their necks out if it means opposing the president.

As I stated earlier today, Hagel’s 180 does show that he had to disavow the views that made him the darling of the Israel-bashers if he wanted to be confirmed. Like the president’s campaign pledges, that will make it difficult, although not impossible, for the administration to abandon its stands on opposing containment of Iran or recognition of Hamas.

But the willingness of heretofore pro-Israel Democratic stalwarts to be willing accomplices to Hagel’s charade also tarnishes the reputation of their party on this issue. Whatever else this nomination has accomplished, it has made it more difficult for Democrats to assert that they are every bit as solid on Israel as their GOP foes.

That may not trouble Barack Obama or even Chuck Schumer, but it should worry rank-and-file Democrats who wonder what has happened to their party.

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Schumer Rolls Over, Supports Hagel

Contrary to the Walt-and-Mearsheimer fantasy that there’s some all-powerful “Israeli lobby” pulling puppet strings behind the scenes, Senator Chuck Schumer always had much more of a political incentive to support the administration’s nominee. The only surprise here is how early Schumer caved on Hagel–why not wait until the confirmation hearings started? It sounds like the administration must have made him a pretty persuasive offer

After a 90-minute meeting in the West Wing of the White House on Monday, Mr. Schumer appeared to be mollified on a number of concerns he has with some votes Mr. Hagel made while serving in the Senate and myriad comments he has subsequently made regarding the nuclear threat of Iran and other matters.

“Based on several key assurances provided by Senator Hagel,” Mr. Schumer said in a prepared statement, “I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation. I encourage my Senate colleagues who have shared my previous concerns to also support him.” Mr. Schumer is likely to have influence over many of his Senate colleagues, particularly Democrats, who have been fretting over the nomination. He called Mr. Hagel Tuesday morning to let him know he was prepared to support him.

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Contrary to the Walt-and-Mearsheimer fantasy that there’s some all-powerful “Israeli lobby” pulling puppet strings behind the scenes, Senator Chuck Schumer always had much more of a political incentive to support the administration’s nominee. The only surprise here is how early Schumer caved on Hagel–why not wait until the confirmation hearings started? It sounds like the administration must have made him a pretty persuasive offer

After a 90-minute meeting in the West Wing of the White House on Monday, Mr. Schumer appeared to be mollified on a number of concerns he has with some votes Mr. Hagel made while serving in the Senate and myriad comments he has subsequently made regarding the nuclear threat of Iran and other matters.

“Based on several key assurances provided by Senator Hagel,” Mr. Schumer said in a prepared statement, “I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation. I encourage my Senate colleagues who have shared my previous concerns to also support him.” Mr. Schumer is likely to have influence over many of his Senate colleagues, particularly Democrats, who have been fretting over the nomination. He called Mr. Hagel Tuesday morning to let him know he was prepared to support him.

Can’t beat the timing, either. The Emergency Committee for Israel put out a full-page ad in the New York Times this morning, asking readers to call Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s offices to voice their concerns about Hagel. I’m sure the White House wanted to lock down Schumer before there was any real backlash from his constituents. It would have been too much of a gamble otherwise.

Now what happens? The best prediction is that Gillibrand and other “pro-Israel” Democrats follow Schumer, which means a filibuster and unified GOP opposition is the only path left for blocking Hagel. Whether that’s effective largely depends on how much political capital the Republicans want to spend opposing him. With the debt ceiling, immigration, and gun control debates heating up, it’s hard to say.

This fight hasn’t been a total loss so far. The one victory here for the pro-Israel community–if you can call it that–is that Hagel was forced to renounce all of his lunatic policy positions–the same positions that attracted his most fervent supporters in the first place. In a mea culpa letter this morning, he endorsed sanctions against Iran, condemned Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, apologized for his “Jewish lobby” comment, and acknowledged that it came off as anti-Israel. In other words, he renounced almost everything that attracted the anti-Israel lobby that’s been defending his nomination for the past month.

Does he really believe any of it? Probably not. But at least it’s an acknowledgement, by the administration and by Hagel himself, that the “old Chuck Hagel” positions were far outside the mainstream and unacceptable in a defense secretary.

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Why Hagel Is a Fight Worth Having

The stakes will be high when Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for secretary of defense, meets with New York Senator Chuck Schumer. Along with Republican John McCain, Schumer is the key to the question of whether critics of the appointment can rally enough votes to derail Hagel’s chances. Though he is understandably reluctant to pick a fight with the Obama administration, Schumer takes a dim view of Hagel’s antagonism toward Israel and the pro-Israel community as well as his soft stands on Iran. The question is whether Hagel’s rapid backtracking from these positions is persuasive enough to convince Schumer that trying to take him down is not worth the effort.

But regardless of the outcome of that meeting, the discussion about Hagel is bound to heat up in the coming days and weeks. Hagel’s past bragging about standing up to the “Jewish lobby” and his history of opposition to sanctions or the use of force against the Iranian nuclear threat places him outside of the mainstream of American opinion and also could create the dangerous impression that U.S. policy could be shifting. But there is a still a genuine reluctance on the part of many in the Jewish community to turn this nomination into an all-out battle that would pit the administration against the pro-Israel community. The dangers of such a confrontation, especially if Hagel were to survive a close vote, are real. But the argument here is that win or lose, this is a battle worth fighting.

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The stakes will be high when Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for secretary of defense, meets with New York Senator Chuck Schumer. Along with Republican John McCain, Schumer is the key to the question of whether critics of the appointment can rally enough votes to derail Hagel’s chances. Though he is understandably reluctant to pick a fight with the Obama administration, Schumer takes a dim view of Hagel’s antagonism toward Israel and the pro-Israel community as well as his soft stands on Iran. The question is whether Hagel’s rapid backtracking from these positions is persuasive enough to convince Schumer that trying to take him down is not worth the effort.

But regardless of the outcome of that meeting, the discussion about Hagel is bound to heat up in the coming days and weeks. Hagel’s past bragging about standing up to the “Jewish lobby” and his history of opposition to sanctions or the use of force against the Iranian nuclear threat places him outside of the mainstream of American opinion and also could create the dangerous impression that U.S. policy could be shifting. But there is a still a genuine reluctance on the part of many in the Jewish community to turn this nomination into an all-out battle that would pit the administration against the pro-Israel community. The dangers of such a confrontation, especially if Hagel were to survive a close vote, are real. But the argument here is that win or lose, this is a battle worth fighting.

The downside of a confrontation over Hagel is that it will further antagonize President Obama, reducing the ability of pro-Israel groups to influence his decision making about another return to a policy aimed at forcing the Jewish state into foolish concessions in a vain attempt to revive the Middle East peace process. It might also make him less, rather than more, inclined to adopt policies toward Iran that would match the tough rhetoric he has used on the subject. There is also the question of who would get the job if Hagel were rejected. Would it be someone even worse?

These are serious points to consider. But though the possibility of turning Hagel into a rerun of the disastrous 1981 battle over the sale of AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia in which the Reagan administration overcame the opposition of AIPAC are not negligible, the risks are not as great as some make them out to be.

First of all, it needs to be understood that if anyone has picked a fight here it is the president and not the friends of Israel. By choosing a man who was one of the most openly hostile senators to Israel and the pro-Israel community, President Obama has invited this battle certain that a re-elected president won’t have his choice for the Pentagon thwarted over his comments about Israel, the Jews and Iran. In doing so, the White House has placed the bipartisan consensus on Israel and Iran in jeopardy and it is up to both Republicans and Democrats who care about these issues to ensure that it is not completely destroyed by the president’s bad judgment.

The process by which Hagel is being called to account for his comments about standing up to the “Jewish lobby” and for his desire for engagement with Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran is actually quite helpful to restoring that consensus. The plain fact is that if Hagel wishes to survive what should be a difficult confirmation process he’s going to have to keep walking back his past statements and beliefs. Cynics are right to question the sincerity of any such retractions or attempts to spin his long history of hostility to the pro-Israel community. But in doing so, Hagel will be put in the same position that the 2012 campaign put Obama. Over the course of the last year, the president was forced to first disavow any thought of containing a nuclear Iran or making a deal that would allow them to retain a nuclear program. That’s painted the administration into a very tight corner on an issue where there’s little doubt the White House would prefer to have more room to maneuver to craft an unsatisfactory compromise that might be a disaster for Israel and the West.

As for the alternatives to Hagel, the idea that the president could come up with someone worse than the former Nebraska senator seems a bit far-fetched. It’s unlikely that there is any possible candidate, no matter how liberal, that would bring the kind of baggage that Hagel carries with him. To ponder the alternatives is to make plain just how much of an outlier Hagel is.

If the president is thwarted on Hagel or even just seriously challenged, he will be upset about it. But does anyone think that will make him even less favorably inclined toward the current Israel government or those Americans who support it? The president’s temper tantrums directed at Israel over the past four years have already exposed his antagonism. Stopping Hagel won’t make him any friendlier, but it is doubtful that it could produce anything nastier than his May 2012 ambush of Netanyahu about the 1967 borders.

Most of all, the notion that friends of Israel or Jews should fear being singled out for opposing the president or that they should seek to avoid raising the hackles of the foreign policy and defense establishment is absurd. Those who don’t like Israel or the Jews need no excuse or extra motivation. Were those who care about Israel to be silent about Hagel, advocates of the pernicious Walt-Mearsheimer thesis would not stand down or seek trying to isolate the Jewish state or stigmatize its friends. The Israel-haters and the critics of AIPAC will be just as loud even if not a word is said about Hagel.

There are times when it is better for Israel’s friends to keep their own counsel rather than seeking to contest the administration on every possible point of contention. But this is not such a moment. Hagel’s nomination is a chance for Congress to reaffirm the U.S.-Israel alliance and to put Iran on notice that its expectation that a second Obama administration will be no obstacle to their nuclear ambitions. Whether or not Hagel gets the job, this is very much a fight worth having.

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Hagel Should Be the Red Line for Pro-Israel Dems

Senator Chuck Schumer hasn’t publicly taken a side in the Chuck Hagel debate yet, but as Politico reports, his final decision could tip the scales:

Schumer, the most powerful Jewish Democrat in Congress, has been noncommittal in his public statements on Hagel’s nomination. But privately, several sources say he has told senators it would be “very hard” for him to support Hagel as the next defense secretary because of his positions on Israel over the years. In New York, Schumer has told allies and power brokers in the Jewish community that he’s uneasy about Hagel’s nomination, a concern he reiterated at a private breakfast in Manhattan’s posh Park Avenue Winter restaurant on Wednesday.

If Schumer were to oppose Hagel, it would almost certainly amount to a fatal blow to his candidacy since a number of pro-Israel Democrats who are squeamish about the nominee could very well be influenced by the No. 3 Democrat’s position. It would also give bipartisan political cover to Republicans and neocons fighting Hagel’s nomination.

Still, Schumer could also provide critical support for Hagel’s nomination. Should he support Hagel, it very likely would ride on what the former Nebraska GOP senator eventually says on Israel at an upcoming one-on-one meeting with the New York Democrat and during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Schumer declined to be interviewed Thursday for this story. The White House also declined to comment.

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Senator Chuck Schumer hasn’t publicly taken a side in the Chuck Hagel debate yet, but as Politico reports, his final decision could tip the scales:

Schumer, the most powerful Jewish Democrat in Congress, has been noncommittal in his public statements on Hagel’s nomination. But privately, several sources say he has told senators it would be “very hard” for him to support Hagel as the next defense secretary because of his positions on Israel over the years. In New York, Schumer has told allies and power brokers in the Jewish community that he’s uneasy about Hagel’s nomination, a concern he reiterated at a private breakfast in Manhattan’s posh Park Avenue Winter restaurant on Wednesday.

If Schumer were to oppose Hagel, it would almost certainly amount to a fatal blow to his candidacy since a number of pro-Israel Democrats who are squeamish about the nominee could very well be influenced by the No. 3 Democrat’s position. It would also give bipartisan political cover to Republicans and neocons fighting Hagel’s nomination.

Still, Schumer could also provide critical support for Hagel’s nomination. Should he support Hagel, it very likely would ride on what the former Nebraska GOP senator eventually says on Israel at an upcoming one-on-one meeting with the New York Democrat and during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Schumer declined to be interviewed Thursday for this story. The White House also declined to comment.

It’s hard to overstate Schumer’s power in this debate. Pro-Israel Senate Democrats who aren’t getting much guidance on this issue from AIPAC (at least not officially) will look to Schumer for cues. This is particularly important in the case of his fellow New York Senator, Kirstin Gillibrand, whose vote on the Armed Services Committee could be the deciding factor in whether Hagel’s nomination is referred to the floor.

But If Schumer backs him, it would essentially give Hagel’s views the kosher seal of approval, letting the White House claim that any criticism of his Israel record is a faux controversy drummed up by the GOP. Politically, Schumer probably has an interest in doing this: the White House would owe him a major favor, and he’d be able to dodge a high-profile fight he has a real possibility of losing.

Pro-Israel Democrats should ask themselves this. How did they get to a point where the leader of their party is nominating one of the most anti-Israel senators who ever walked the halls of the Capitol–a man who routinely made the anti-Semitic Washington Report of Middle East Affairs’ annual Congressional Hall of Fame list?

The party is shifting around them. The ranks of the pro-Israel Democrats in Congress are shrinking. Representatives Rothman, Frank, Berman, Ackerman, Weiner, and Senator Joe Lieberman are gone. The advocacy groups and think tanks incubating the next generation of Democratic leaders are increasingly moving against Israel.

There is still a strong up-and-coming generation of pro-Israel Democrats. But they have fewer leaders to look to and fewer roles to fill in the party. If people like Schumer won’t stand up against Hagel, what message would this send to these young activists and operatives working in the trenches? That they should either change their opinions or their party affiliation?

Hagel is the red line. He is the most anti-Israel defense secretary nominee in memory, chosen at a time when Iran is on the verge of nuclear weapons capability. If pro-Israel Democrats cave on his confirmation, what would they possibly stand against?

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Bloomberg’s Quest for a Celebrity Successor

In December, I wrote about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempts to find a big-name successor, which focused on Hillary Clinton. Clinton is at the very least keeping her options open for a possible 2016 presidential run, which would have to start far too early to take on a responsibility like running New York City. But according to a report in the New York Times today, Bloomberg has been a one-man search committee, floating not just Clinton but also Ed Rendell, Mortimer Zuckerman, Chuck Schumer, and former Bloomberg deputy Edward Skyler.

That’s quite a list, and says much about how Bloomberg views the job. New York City is the media capital of the world, the front lines of 21st century homeland security, and a powerhouse when it comes to urban policymaking, especially with regard to fighting crime. There’s a reason that, as Rendell put it to the Times, he often hears it described as “the second most difficult job in the country.” There’s no doubt Bloomberg believes this–after all, he’s been in office three terms and still hasn’t gotten it right. But Bloomberg’s opinion of what it takes to run the city diverges both with precedent and the judgment of New Yorkers.

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In December, I wrote about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempts to find a big-name successor, which focused on Hillary Clinton. Clinton is at the very least keeping her options open for a possible 2016 presidential run, which would have to start far too early to take on a responsibility like running New York City. But according to a report in the New York Times today, Bloomberg has been a one-man search committee, floating not just Clinton but also Ed Rendell, Mortimer Zuckerman, Chuck Schumer, and former Bloomberg deputy Edward Skyler.

That’s quite a list, and says much about how Bloomberg views the job. New York City is the media capital of the world, the front lines of 21st century homeland security, and a powerhouse when it comes to urban policymaking, especially with regard to fighting crime. There’s a reason that, as Rendell put it to the Times, he often hears it described as “the second most difficult job in the country.” There’s no doubt Bloomberg believes this–after all, he’s been in office three terms and still hasn’t gotten it right. But Bloomberg’s opinion of what it takes to run the city diverges both with precedent and the judgment of New Yorkers.

Of that list of five names, Rendell is the most interesting, because he is in some ways both the most and least logical of that list. He was born and raised in New York City. And he was also a (successful) big-city mayor in the Northeast, having run Philadelphia quite competently beginning in 1992, just two years before Rudy Giuliani would begin his first term in New York. But he is also far removed from his New York days, and has a keen understanding of why he would also be a poor choice to run New York City. “I’m not sure how many times I’ve stepped foot in Brooklyn,” he told the Times. “I have no understanding of Queens and no understanding of the Bronx.”

New York City is far more than just Manhattan, a fact which explains why the current crop of mayoral candidates is so underwhelming. The perceived Democratic frontrunner is City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a Manhattanite. There is no viable candidate with strong roots in the outer boroughs. Like it or not, this is what would have made Anthony Weiner the putative frontrunner, had he not stumbled over a sex scandal.

Although Bloomberg has taken Quinn under his wing, these stories are fairly insulting to Quinn, since Bloomberg appears desperate to prevent her succession. And if a Manhattanite barely has the New York street cred to be mayor, a Philadelphia transplant most certainly has even less. Chuck Schumer wouldn’t have this problem, but he’s staying put in the Senate, having a clear shot at the Democrats’ top Senate leadership spot if Harry Reid retires (or is defeated) in 2016.

That leaves, of the five, Skyler and Zuckerman. Skyler is a relative unknown, and it’s far from clear that even with Bloomberg’s backing he could overtake Quinn. That leaves Zuckerman, the controversial billionaire publisher of the New York Daily News. He, too, is flattered by the suggestion but will be passing on the race:

“I would love to be in that job,” said Mr. Zuckerman, a student of policy who has no party affiliation and weighed running for the Senate a few years ago.

He insisted that Mr. Bloomberg’s suggestion had an informal “teasing” feel, even as he acknowledged a longstanding call to public service in New York.

“If I could be appointed, I’d probably be serious about it,” he added, wryly.

This whole quest is a classically Bloombergian love letter to the city. Bloomberg thinks highly of New York, and even more highly of himself. So he wants someone with the star power to keep New York at the top of the map. But New York doesn’t need his help to do so, and all signs point to Bloomberg’s legacy being a failed technocratic experiment anyway.

Bloomberg should notice something about the other candidates who are either running or considering it. In addition to Quinn and other Democrats, former Giuliani aide Joe Lhota is seriously exploring a run. Lhota is leaving his post as a well-respected head of the city’s transportation authority. And Republicans are apparently still trying to get Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to run. Kelly is popular and has obvious real experience running an essential part of city governance. The street-level experience, the granular knowledge of life in New York, and the years spent paying their dues by working to craft city policy are all things they have in common.

If Bloomberg’s time in office has demonstrated anything, it’s that the city would be ill served by a celebrity figurehead. Bloomberg may love New York, but he needs to have more faith in New Yorkers.

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Solid Case Against Birth Control Mandate?

More than 40 religious institutions, included Catholic universities and charities, filed simultaneous lawsuits against the Obama administration’s birth control mandate yesterday, As The Hill reports, the biggest threat to the mandate in court is a 1993 religious freedom law, which was originally introduced by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and then-Rep. Chuck Schumer, of all people:

RFRA sailed through Congress with broad bipartisan support in response to an unpopular decision by the Supreme Court that was seen as curbing Native Americans’ religious freedom to use peyote, a traditional hallucinogen.

Now it will force the government to prove that federal regulators did not have another way to expand women’s access to birth control that would be less burdensome on religion — an argument experts say conservatives can win.

The law puts the onus on the federal government to show that it had a compelling interest in requiring Catholic employers to provide birth control coverage, and that it couldn’t have achieved these aims another way. The Hill reports that legal experts think this case is solid:

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More than 40 religious institutions, included Catholic universities and charities, filed simultaneous lawsuits against the Obama administration’s birth control mandate yesterday, As The Hill reports, the biggest threat to the mandate in court is a 1993 religious freedom law, which was originally introduced by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and then-Rep. Chuck Schumer, of all people:

RFRA sailed through Congress with broad bipartisan support in response to an unpopular decision by the Supreme Court that was seen as curbing Native Americans’ religious freedom to use peyote, a traditional hallucinogen.

Now it will force the government to prove that federal regulators did not have another way to expand women’s access to birth control that would be less burdensome on religion — an argument experts say conservatives can win.

The law puts the onus on the federal government to show that it had a compelling interest in requiring Catholic employers to provide birth control coverage, and that it couldn’t have achieved these aims another way. The Hill reports that legal experts think this case is solid:

“I think the odds are pretty good for the plaintiffs here,” Marc DeGirolami, an assistant law professor at St. John’s University, told The Hill.

Because of the law, courts now have to apply certain standards to federal actions that might inadvertently infringe on religious liberty. In one sense, laws under scrutiny must aim to achieve a “compelling” government interest. In another sense, they must be designed in a way that burdens religion as little as possible.

It’s much smarter for Catholic groups to fight this in the courts than through Congress. The legal challenge will refocus the issue on religious freedom, and make it much more difficult for Democrats to argue that opposition to the birth control mandate is all about waging a “war on women.” And the administration will be forced to argue against a religious freedom law backed by the late Ted Kennedy and Democratic attack dog Chuck Schumer, who helped push the war on women narrative.

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Chuck Schumer and Chris Christie

Chuck Schumer is a senator from New York. He is upset that Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, canceled an ill-conceived and wildly expensive rail project that would have dug a new tunnel between the Garden State and the Empire State. According to today’s Wall Street Journal,

Schumer, a Democrat, also called Christie’s decision to cancel that tunnel “one of the most shortsighted in New York’s history.”

OK, but the thing is, Christie isn’t from New York. He’s from New Jersey. So maybe Christie didn’t think it was shortsighted for New Jersey.

Chuck Schumer is a senator from New York. He is upset that Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, canceled an ill-conceived and wildly expensive rail project that would have dug a new tunnel between the Garden State and the Empire State. According to today’s Wall Street Journal,

Schumer, a Democrat, also called Christie’s decision to cancel that tunnel “one of the most shortsighted in New York’s history.”

OK, but the thing is, Christie isn’t from New York. He’s from New Jersey. So maybe Christie didn’t think it was shortsighted for New Jersey.

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So Much for Civility: Dem Senator Likens Tax Cutters to “Terrorists”

When establishment kibitzers talk about the need to restore for civility, there isn’t much doubt whom they are complaining about. In the last year and a half, Tea Party insurgents helped change the nature of the political conversation in this country from one that assumed that President Obama’s election meant a return to orthodox liberal big-government solutions to one where even Democrats are talking about lowering taxes. So it’s clear that the lack of civility being deplored is the rudeness liberals encountered from angry independents and conservatives on the hustings and at the ballot box, not the liberal backlash at the temerity of the unwashed masses.

But the pious bleating we’ve been hearing from the chattering classes in recent months about how political speakers needed to behave was always delivered via a double standard. Angry taxpayers who gave politicians hell at town meetings were portrayed as little better than terrorists, while liberal politicians who regularly demonized their opponents were either ignored or praised as truth tellers.

But just as the carrying-on about civility was reaching its peak, we can thank an influential member of the Senate Democratic caucus for reminding us just how hypocritical much of this discussion has been. At a press conference with other Democratic leaders yesterday, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) likened Senate Republicans who disagree with him about tax cuts to “terrorists.”

Menendez expressed his frustration with Republicans who believe all and not just some of the Bush tax cuts should be preserved, thereby avoiding a major tax increase next year, with the following statement: “Do you allow yourself to be held hostage and get something done for the sake of getting something done, when in fact it might be perverse in its ultimate results? It’s almost like the question of do you negotiate with terrorists.”

A Menendez spokesman later dismissed those who questioned the statement by saying it was taken out of context. But the implication of his remarks was clear. Republican ideas about tax cuts aren’t just wrong; they’re “perverse.” His opponents aren’t just standing firm on their principles; they’re like “terrorists.” Again, it’s a case of a liberal stooping not just to class warfare but also to the demonization and delegitimization of those who disagree with him.

As for the merits of the issue in question, Menendez undermined his own argument about taxes by falsely claiming that tax cuts for wealthier citizens would mean “taking money out of your [the middle classes’] pockets.” The point is, raising taxes on anyone, especially the richest Americans, who are the likeliest source of investment in the private sector, at a time of layoffs and recession isn’t an economic plan; it’s an exercise in politically inspired rabble-rousing, albeit not one that has shown much sign of attracting a lot of support for all the Democrats’ confidence in the idea that the word “millionaire” will give the willies to the Republicans. It also reflects the liberal mentality that sees everyone’s private income as somehow really belonging to the government. To people like Menendez, every dollar you have that the government doesn’t take from you via taxes is to be viewed as stolen from the government or from other citizens who would like it to be redistributed to them.

If anything, Menendez’s absurd rant — which was uttered while Democrat Chuck Schumer chuckled and leered behind him — reflects his party’s inability to cope with the political realities of life in the Tea Party era. It knows that the public wants to hear less hyper-liberal talk about the expansion of government power and more about tax-cutting. But it can’t seem to manage it without resorting to its familiar rhetoric, which attempts to label all opposition as being beyond the pale. So much for liberal civility.

When establishment kibitzers talk about the need to restore for civility, there isn’t much doubt whom they are complaining about. In the last year and a half, Tea Party insurgents helped change the nature of the political conversation in this country from one that assumed that President Obama’s election meant a return to orthodox liberal big-government solutions to one where even Democrats are talking about lowering taxes. So it’s clear that the lack of civility being deplored is the rudeness liberals encountered from angry independents and conservatives on the hustings and at the ballot box, not the liberal backlash at the temerity of the unwashed masses.

But the pious bleating we’ve been hearing from the chattering classes in recent months about how political speakers needed to behave was always delivered via a double standard. Angry taxpayers who gave politicians hell at town meetings were portrayed as little better than terrorists, while liberal politicians who regularly demonized their opponents were either ignored or praised as truth tellers.

But just as the carrying-on about civility was reaching its peak, we can thank an influential member of the Senate Democratic caucus for reminding us just how hypocritical much of this discussion has been. At a press conference with other Democratic leaders yesterday, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) likened Senate Republicans who disagree with him about tax cuts to “terrorists.”

Menendez expressed his frustration with Republicans who believe all and not just some of the Bush tax cuts should be preserved, thereby avoiding a major tax increase next year, with the following statement: “Do you allow yourself to be held hostage and get something done for the sake of getting something done, when in fact it might be perverse in its ultimate results? It’s almost like the question of do you negotiate with terrorists.”

A Menendez spokesman later dismissed those who questioned the statement by saying it was taken out of context. But the implication of his remarks was clear. Republican ideas about tax cuts aren’t just wrong; they’re “perverse.” His opponents aren’t just standing firm on their principles; they’re like “terrorists.” Again, it’s a case of a liberal stooping not just to class warfare but also to the demonization and delegitimization of those who disagree with him.

As for the merits of the issue in question, Menendez undermined his own argument about taxes by falsely claiming that tax cuts for wealthier citizens would mean “taking money out of your [the middle classes’] pockets.” The point is, raising taxes on anyone, especially the richest Americans, who are the likeliest source of investment in the private sector, at a time of layoffs and recession isn’t an economic plan; it’s an exercise in politically inspired rabble-rousing, albeit not one that has shown much sign of attracting a lot of support for all the Democrats’ confidence in the idea that the word “millionaire” will give the willies to the Republicans. It also reflects the liberal mentality that sees everyone’s private income as somehow really belonging to the government. To people like Menendez, every dollar you have that the government doesn’t take from you via taxes is to be viewed as stolen from the government or from other citizens who would like it to be redistributed to them.

If anything, Menendez’s absurd rant — which was uttered while Democrat Chuck Schumer chuckled and leered behind him — reflects his party’s inability to cope with the political realities of life in the Tea Party era. It knows that the public wants to hear less hyper-liberal talk about the expansion of government power and more about tax-cutting. But it can’t seem to manage it without resorting to its familiar rhetoric, which attempts to label all opposition as being beyond the pale. So much for liberal civility.

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Dems Try to Muscle Jews into Backing Russian Treaty

The call by Democratic senators Chuck Schumer and Carl Levin for AIPAC to back passage of the stalled START treaty with Russia speaks volumes about the growing desperation of both the White House and its Senate allies.

The administration is reportedly going all-out to push Jewish groups to lobby for the treaty, but it is unlikely that AIPAC will succumb to the pressure. The group has been scrupulous about sticking to its agenda of working only on behalf of Israel-related issues, a policy that keeps it strictly neutral on arms control measures like START. Nevertheless, Schumer and Levin claim that friends of Israel are obligated to back a measure that is key to Obama’s “reset” of relations with Russia because it is the price the United States must pay to keep the Medvedev/Putin regime on board with the effort to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear capacity.

That’s an argument that the liberal-leaning Anti-Defamation League as well as Obama’s cheering section at the National Jewish Democratic Council and J Street have accepted, though the latter group seems to be backing it more out of a knee-jerk reaction to any appeasement measure rather than concern about Iranian nukes. But this selling point is based on a false assumption about both Russia’s intentions and its interests.

While the need to build an anti-Iranian coalition is something all friends of Israel care about, it is far from clear that Obama’s impulse to sacrifice America’s own defense interests in the cause of making the authoritarian regime in Moscow more comfortable is something that will tangibly impact the ability of the international community to confront Tehran. The Russians have exacted a high price from Obama for their half-hearted support for tepid sanctions on Iran that are clearly inadequate to the task, even though it is obviously just as much in their interest to stop Tehran as it is in the rest of the international community’s.

Moreover, once we strip away the talk about this treaty’s being essential to Iran policy, it is easy to see that its passage has more to do with Obama’s fetish about arms control agreements than anything else, and it is on the merits of that issue alone that this issue should be decided.

As for Jewish groups that might be tempted to wade in on START, they also need to understand that the push to pass the treaty before the end of the year in Congress’s lame duck session smacks of the sort of partisanship that groups like AIPAC and the ADL ought to avoid. While Jewish Democrats are fond of castigating the GOP for attempting to win votes by comparing its record on Israel to that of the Democrats, what’s going on here is a far more blatant instance of Jewish groups carrying the water for one side of the political aisle. The Senate ought to wait until January, when newly elected members are seated and will have a chance to consider this treaty. And Jewish and pro-Israel organizations should stay out of a fight that has everything to do with the Obama administration’s foreign policy obsessions and little to do with the defense of Israel.

The call by Democratic senators Chuck Schumer and Carl Levin for AIPAC to back passage of the stalled START treaty with Russia speaks volumes about the growing desperation of both the White House and its Senate allies.

The administration is reportedly going all-out to push Jewish groups to lobby for the treaty, but it is unlikely that AIPAC will succumb to the pressure. The group has been scrupulous about sticking to its agenda of working only on behalf of Israel-related issues, a policy that keeps it strictly neutral on arms control measures like START. Nevertheless, Schumer and Levin claim that friends of Israel are obligated to back a measure that is key to Obama’s “reset” of relations with Russia because it is the price the United States must pay to keep the Medvedev/Putin regime on board with the effort to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear capacity.

That’s an argument that the liberal-leaning Anti-Defamation League as well as Obama’s cheering section at the National Jewish Democratic Council and J Street have accepted, though the latter group seems to be backing it more out of a knee-jerk reaction to any appeasement measure rather than concern about Iranian nukes. But this selling point is based on a false assumption about both Russia’s intentions and its interests.

While the need to build an anti-Iranian coalition is something all friends of Israel care about, it is far from clear that Obama’s impulse to sacrifice America’s own defense interests in the cause of making the authoritarian regime in Moscow more comfortable is something that will tangibly impact the ability of the international community to confront Tehran. The Russians have exacted a high price from Obama for their half-hearted support for tepid sanctions on Iran that are clearly inadequate to the task, even though it is obviously just as much in their interest to stop Tehran as it is in the rest of the international community’s.

Moreover, once we strip away the talk about this treaty’s being essential to Iran policy, it is easy to see that its passage has more to do with Obama’s fetish about arms control agreements than anything else, and it is on the merits of that issue alone that this issue should be decided.

As for Jewish groups that might be tempted to wade in on START, they also need to understand that the push to pass the treaty before the end of the year in Congress’s lame duck session smacks of the sort of partisanship that groups like AIPAC and the ADL ought to avoid. While Jewish Democrats are fond of castigating the GOP for attempting to win votes by comparing its record on Israel to that of the Democrats, what’s going on here is a far more blatant instance of Jewish groups carrying the water for one side of the political aisle. The Senate ought to wait until January, when newly elected members are seated and will have a chance to consider this treaty. And Jewish and pro-Israel organizations should stay out of a fight that has everything to do with the Obama administration’s foreign policy obsessions and little to do with the defense of Israel.

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