Commentary Magazine


Topic: Clinton administration

RE: Obama’s Immigration Gambit Unmasked

More evidence surfaces each day that the immigration push by Obama is a feint designed for political posturing but not intended to produce actual legislation. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff and longtime party strategist, has argued privately that it’s a bad time for Democrats to push an immigration bill, a potential land mine in the midst of a crucial midterm election year. … He has warned that pressing ahead with an immigration bill could jeopardize the chances of moderate and conservative Democratic candidates in the run-up to the midterms, according to people familiar with the matter.

Immigration activists know all this. They are also aware that as a recruiter for Democratic congressional candidates and while in the Clinton administration, Emanuel was a naysayer on immigration reform. They want him off the issue (but he’s chief of staff, fellas) and grouse that nothing is going to happen on the immigration front so long as he is around. But is it fair to lay the blame solely on Emanuel? Neither the Congress nor the president is moving with alacrity:

With time running out, the chances of an immigration overhaul this year are receding. No bill has yet been introduced in the Senate. Come June, the Senate will be enmeshed in the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan.

Certainly, Obama has shown he is in no rush. At a Mexican heritage event earlier this month, Obama said he wanted to “begin work” on the issue this year — not complete a bill in that time frame. Yet, as a candidate in 2008, Obama promised to address immigration in his first year in office.

It seems then that Emanuel is not the stumbling block here — it’s the Democratic congressional leadership and Obama. They never intended to move forward on a bill; the grand speeches and noble-sounding promises were, like so much of what Obama does, entirely disingenuous. They all want an issue, not a solution.

You can see why state officials get fed up and resort to their own immigration legislation. Obama and the Democrats could make a real effort to pass a comprehensive bill that would, among other things, explicitly preempt the Arizona bill they like to rail against. But they won’t, because that would imperil their House and Senate members — well, imperil them more than they already are. It will be interesting to see how Obama explains in 2012 why he did absolutely nothing on an issue he supposedly cares so dearly about.

More evidence surfaces each day that the immigration push by Obama is a feint designed for political posturing but not intended to produce actual legislation. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff and longtime party strategist, has argued privately that it’s a bad time for Democrats to push an immigration bill, a potential land mine in the midst of a crucial midterm election year. … He has warned that pressing ahead with an immigration bill could jeopardize the chances of moderate and conservative Democratic candidates in the run-up to the midterms, according to people familiar with the matter.

Immigration activists know all this. They are also aware that as a recruiter for Democratic congressional candidates and while in the Clinton administration, Emanuel was a naysayer on immigration reform. They want him off the issue (but he’s chief of staff, fellas) and grouse that nothing is going to happen on the immigration front so long as he is around. But is it fair to lay the blame solely on Emanuel? Neither the Congress nor the president is moving with alacrity:

With time running out, the chances of an immigration overhaul this year are receding. No bill has yet been introduced in the Senate. Come June, the Senate will be enmeshed in the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan.

Certainly, Obama has shown he is in no rush. At a Mexican heritage event earlier this month, Obama said he wanted to “begin work” on the issue this year — not complete a bill in that time frame. Yet, as a candidate in 2008, Obama promised to address immigration in his first year in office.

It seems then that Emanuel is not the stumbling block here — it’s the Democratic congressional leadership and Obama. They never intended to move forward on a bill; the grand speeches and noble-sounding promises were, like so much of what Obama does, entirely disingenuous. They all want an issue, not a solution.

You can see why state officials get fed up and resort to their own immigration legislation. Obama and the Democrats could make a real effort to pass a comprehensive bill that would, among other things, explicitly preempt the Arizona bill they like to rail against. But they won’t, because that would imperil their House and Senate members — well, imperil them more than they already are. It will be interesting to see how Obama explains in 2012 why he did absolutely nothing on an issue he supposedly cares so dearly about.

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Increasing Arabs’ Clout in Congress: The NH-1 GOP Primary

In the New Hampshire 1st congressional district, there is a spirited, multi-candidate Republican primary race to face off against Democrat Carol Shea-Porter. The most viable Republicans are Sean Mahoney, Frank Guinta, Bob Bestani, and Rich Ashooh. (Polls suggest that Shea-Porter is in trouble, and the Cook Report pegs the seat as a “toss up.”) One of the candidates, Ashooh, is being bankrolled by a curious character. Nijad Fares and his wife, who reside in Houston, donated $2,400 to Ashooh and raised thousands more for him, likely making Ashooh the GOP candidate in the race with the most donors from  Houston. (Weird, huh?)

Now, who is Fares? He’s a self-proclaimed advocate for increasing Arab clout in Congress. This report relates:

Nijad Fares bluntly laid out his strategy for increasing the clout of Arab-Americans in an opinion piece he authored that appeared in the Detroit News on Dec. 16, 1996.

“Arab-Americans must substantially increase contributions to political candidates,” he wrote. “Even modest contributions help ensure that Members of Congress and their staffs take phone calls and are more responsive to requests. Furthermore, the contributor must make explicit an interest in Middle East-related issues.”

He and his father, Issam (“known to be close to the powerful chief of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, Ghazi Kenaan”), have been implicated in some funny business with regard to campaign donations:

After the Wall Street Journal reported the inaugural donation last month, the inaugural committee said the donation listed from Issam Fares came from the Link Group, LLC, a company headed by Nijad Fares and that the son had attempted to give credit for the donation to his father.

Both father and son have a long history of intimate political connections with U.S. politicians and have been major supporters of groups promoting Lebanon’s interests. The family’s main U.S. business holding, a Houston-based firm called the Wedge Group, is a major player in the oil services industry and is headed by William White, the former number two official at the Energy Department during the Clinton administration.

So what sorts of views does Nijad Fares hope will gain traction through fundraising like that done for Ashooh? We have some clues. It seems that Nijad Fares has a track record of giving to congressional candidates, having given handsomely to Rep. Joe Knollenberg and his state legislator son. Knollenberg “put ‘Seeds of Peace’ — a summer camp founded by Yasser Arafat’s fave biographer — on the federal budget.” He also “doled out at least $86 million of our tax money [in USAID funding to southern Lebanon] … allowing Hezbollah to rebuild its strongholds in Southern Lebanon and expand.” That, it seems, is what “increasing Arabs’ clout” is all about. (Fares also gave to Obama and to the only Republican to co-host J Street’s confab, Charles Boustany. Fares is nothing if not consistent in his choice of recipients.)

And then there is this: when the fundraising brouhaha surfaced, Issam was quick to blame the Jews. Caught in a media firestorm for paying a large sum to Colin Powell for a speech five days before the 2000 election, he immediately “accused the ‘Zionist lobby’ of spreading ‘distortion and lies.’”

And the family seems to have an unusual take on Hezbollah, as well. Issam offered this:

“It is a mistake to make a comparison between the [Al Qaeda] network … which Lebanon has condemned, and Hezbollah, which Lebanon considers a resistance party fighting the Israeli occupation,” Fares told Agence France-Presse. He claimed the group has never targeted Americans, a position disputed by U.S. officials as well as Fares’s own Wedge Group CEO.

An Ashooh spokesman had this comment when I asked about the Fares fundraising:

What I can tell you is this: People donate to the Ashooh campaign based on Rich’s positions on the issues. As a candidate, he cannot possibly know or share all of the individual positions his donors may or may not have. At this time, Rich is focused on running a very positive campaign based on fiscal responsibility and bringing conservative, New Hampshire values back to Washington.

So are Ashooh’s positions the same as those of the Fares family, and is he someone ready and willing to increase the clout of Arabs? The campaign did not respond to my direct queries on these points or whether he will return the funds. If it does, I will be sure to pass it on.

In the New Hampshire 1st congressional district, there is a spirited, multi-candidate Republican primary race to face off against Democrat Carol Shea-Porter. The most viable Republicans are Sean Mahoney, Frank Guinta, Bob Bestani, and Rich Ashooh. (Polls suggest that Shea-Porter is in trouble, and the Cook Report pegs the seat as a “toss up.”) One of the candidates, Ashooh, is being bankrolled by a curious character. Nijad Fares and his wife, who reside in Houston, donated $2,400 to Ashooh and raised thousands more for him, likely making Ashooh the GOP candidate in the race with the most donors from  Houston. (Weird, huh?)

Now, who is Fares? He’s a self-proclaimed advocate for increasing Arab clout in Congress. This report relates:

Nijad Fares bluntly laid out his strategy for increasing the clout of Arab-Americans in an opinion piece he authored that appeared in the Detroit News on Dec. 16, 1996.

“Arab-Americans must substantially increase contributions to political candidates,” he wrote. “Even modest contributions help ensure that Members of Congress and their staffs take phone calls and are more responsive to requests. Furthermore, the contributor must make explicit an interest in Middle East-related issues.”

He and his father, Issam (“known to be close to the powerful chief of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, Ghazi Kenaan”), have been implicated in some funny business with regard to campaign donations:

After the Wall Street Journal reported the inaugural donation last month, the inaugural committee said the donation listed from Issam Fares came from the Link Group, LLC, a company headed by Nijad Fares and that the son had attempted to give credit for the donation to his father.

Both father and son have a long history of intimate political connections with U.S. politicians and have been major supporters of groups promoting Lebanon’s interests. The family’s main U.S. business holding, a Houston-based firm called the Wedge Group, is a major player in the oil services industry and is headed by William White, the former number two official at the Energy Department during the Clinton administration.

So what sorts of views does Nijad Fares hope will gain traction through fundraising like that done for Ashooh? We have some clues. It seems that Nijad Fares has a track record of giving to congressional candidates, having given handsomely to Rep. Joe Knollenberg and his state legislator son. Knollenberg “put ‘Seeds of Peace’ — a summer camp founded by Yasser Arafat’s fave biographer — on the federal budget.” He also “doled out at least $86 million of our tax money [in USAID funding to southern Lebanon] … allowing Hezbollah to rebuild its strongholds in Southern Lebanon and expand.” That, it seems, is what “increasing Arabs’ clout” is all about. (Fares also gave to Obama and to the only Republican to co-host J Street’s confab, Charles Boustany. Fares is nothing if not consistent in his choice of recipients.)

And then there is this: when the fundraising brouhaha surfaced, Issam was quick to blame the Jews. Caught in a media firestorm for paying a large sum to Colin Powell for a speech five days before the 2000 election, he immediately “accused the ‘Zionist lobby’ of spreading ‘distortion and lies.’”

And the family seems to have an unusual take on Hezbollah, as well. Issam offered this:

“It is a mistake to make a comparison between the [Al Qaeda] network … which Lebanon has condemned, and Hezbollah, which Lebanon considers a resistance party fighting the Israeli occupation,” Fares told Agence France-Presse. He claimed the group has never targeted Americans, a position disputed by U.S. officials as well as Fares’s own Wedge Group CEO.

An Ashooh spokesman had this comment when I asked about the Fares fundraising:

What I can tell you is this: People donate to the Ashooh campaign based on Rich’s positions on the issues. As a candidate, he cannot possibly know or share all of the individual positions his donors may or may not have. At this time, Rich is focused on running a very positive campaign based on fiscal responsibility and bringing conservative, New Hampshire values back to Washington.

So are Ashooh’s positions the same as those of the Fares family, and is he someone ready and willing to increase the clout of Arabs? The campaign did not respond to my direct queries on these points or whether he will return the funds. If it does, I will be sure to pass it on.

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Harvard’s Double Standard on Gay Rights

On FOX News Sunday, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, in talking about the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, makes this helpful comparison:

On the one hand, Harvard accepts money from Saudis. Saudi Arabia, by the way, executes homosexuals, Saudi Arabia represses women, Saudi Arabia does not allow Christians or Jews to practice their religion, but Saudi money is fine. The American military didn’t have a policy. The Congress of the United States and the Clinton administration she served in had a policy. And for her to single out the military was an extraordinarily myopic position. And if you read what they said at the time, it was consistently focused on the military, and I just think that at a time when we have two wars, that’s a very inappropriate behavior.

This is a very good point for GOP senators to press Ms. Kagan on during her confirmation hearings. Apparently, accepting the money from a repressive government where sodomy is punishable by death is hunky-dory, but the military, in carrying through on the Clinton administration’s policy, deserves to be singled out for condemnation. (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a “moral injustice of the first order,” according to Kagan.) How exactly does one explain the different Indignation Meters at Harvard Law School?

For the record, it appears that $20 million (and perhaps considerably less) is enough to silence Harvard on the matter of human rights for gays. Here’s a report from 2005:

A Saudi prince has donated $20 million each to Harvard University and Georgetown University to advance Islamic studies and further understanding of the Muslim world. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Alsaud — whom Forbes magazine ranks as the fifth wealthiest person in the world, with assets worth $23.7 billion — is the nephew of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. “Bridging the understanding between East and West is important for peace and tolerance,” Alwaleed said in a statement released by Harvard. At Harvard, the money will fund four new senior staff professorships as well as an endowed chair in the name of the 48-year-old billionaire. Harvard will also use the funds to begin digitizing historically significant Islamic texts and materials, and make them available for research on the Internet. “We are very grateful to Prince Alwaleed for his generous gift to Harvard,” President Lawrence H. Summers said. The gift is considered one of the 25th largest in university history.

Of course, Harvard, ever open-minded, wanted to “bridge the understanding between East and West” in order to advance the cause of “tolerance.” So Harvard, for the right price, can summon tolerance even when it comes to governments’ executing people for sodomy. Yet it showed considerably less tolerance for the United States military on the matter of not allowing openly gay people to serve in the military.

How principled of Harvard.

All this is indicative of a twisted set of priorities by Harvard and worth exploring in some detail.

On FOX News Sunday, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, in talking about the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, makes this helpful comparison:

On the one hand, Harvard accepts money from Saudis. Saudi Arabia, by the way, executes homosexuals, Saudi Arabia represses women, Saudi Arabia does not allow Christians or Jews to practice their religion, but Saudi money is fine. The American military didn’t have a policy. The Congress of the United States and the Clinton administration she served in had a policy. And for her to single out the military was an extraordinarily myopic position. And if you read what they said at the time, it was consistently focused on the military, and I just think that at a time when we have two wars, that’s a very inappropriate behavior.

This is a very good point for GOP senators to press Ms. Kagan on during her confirmation hearings. Apparently, accepting the money from a repressive government where sodomy is punishable by death is hunky-dory, but the military, in carrying through on the Clinton administration’s policy, deserves to be singled out for condemnation. (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a “moral injustice of the first order,” according to Kagan.) How exactly does one explain the different Indignation Meters at Harvard Law School?

For the record, it appears that $20 million (and perhaps considerably less) is enough to silence Harvard on the matter of human rights for gays. Here’s a report from 2005:

A Saudi prince has donated $20 million each to Harvard University and Georgetown University to advance Islamic studies and further understanding of the Muslim world. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Alsaud — whom Forbes magazine ranks as the fifth wealthiest person in the world, with assets worth $23.7 billion — is the nephew of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. “Bridging the understanding between East and West is important for peace and tolerance,” Alwaleed said in a statement released by Harvard. At Harvard, the money will fund four new senior staff professorships as well as an endowed chair in the name of the 48-year-old billionaire. Harvard will also use the funds to begin digitizing historically significant Islamic texts and materials, and make them available for research on the Internet. “We are very grateful to Prince Alwaleed for his generous gift to Harvard,” President Lawrence H. Summers said. The gift is considered one of the 25th largest in university history.

Of course, Harvard, ever open-minded, wanted to “bridge the understanding between East and West” in order to advance the cause of “tolerance.” So Harvard, for the right price, can summon tolerance even when it comes to governments’ executing people for sodomy. Yet it showed considerably less tolerance for the United States military on the matter of not allowing openly gay people to serve in the military.

How principled of Harvard.

All this is indicative of a twisted set of priorities by Harvard and worth exploring in some detail.

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Kagan and the Military Recruiters

Ramesh Ponnuru makes an excellent point:

Elena Kagan helped to keep military recruiters from having equal access to the Harvard campus — based on what she called “the military’s policy” on don’t ask, don’t tell. When Congress voted to deny Defense Department funds to universities that discriminate against the military, she joined an effort to fight the law (called the Solomon amendment) in court. In effect, she was arguing that the school had a constitutional right to get government funding while discriminating against military recruiters. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the universities.

So on this issue it is hard to argue that Kagan was within the judicial mainstream. Her position is, additionally, hard to defend.

But that may not be the worst of it. The exclusion of openly gay men and lesbians — which I agree should be repealed — is not the military’s policy. It is a law that was enacted by Congress and signed by President Clinton. That didn’t stop Kagan from serving in Clinton’s White House. Nor did her opposition to what she considered the deep injustice of the policy move her to support continuing to discriminate against the recruiters when that would have required turning down some federal money.

So the military alone was supposed to pay a price for her principles — not politicians, and not the university.

Kurt Andersen also makes an interesting point on Facebook: It will, or should, be problematic for any Republican Senator who was in the Senate in 1999 to attack Elena Kagan’s appointment on the grounds that she has limited experience, since her experience is limited due in some measure to the Republican Senate in 1999. That year,  her nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals was tabled by the Republican-dominated Senate, as were all upper-court appointments by the Clinton administration, since there was an election looming and Clinton was a lame duck. This was a  nakedly partisan ideological decision undertaken in part because the same had been done to Republican administrations by Democratic-dominated Senates in 1987-8 and 1991-2.

Ramesh Ponnuru makes an excellent point:

Elena Kagan helped to keep military recruiters from having equal access to the Harvard campus — based on what she called “the military’s policy” on don’t ask, don’t tell. When Congress voted to deny Defense Department funds to universities that discriminate against the military, she joined an effort to fight the law (called the Solomon amendment) in court. In effect, she was arguing that the school had a constitutional right to get government funding while discriminating against military recruiters. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the universities.

So on this issue it is hard to argue that Kagan was within the judicial mainstream. Her position is, additionally, hard to defend.

But that may not be the worst of it. The exclusion of openly gay men and lesbians — which I agree should be repealed — is not the military’s policy. It is a law that was enacted by Congress and signed by President Clinton. That didn’t stop Kagan from serving in Clinton’s White House. Nor did her opposition to what she considered the deep injustice of the policy move her to support continuing to discriminate against the recruiters when that would have required turning down some federal money.

So the military alone was supposed to pay a price for her principles — not politicians, and not the university.

Kurt Andersen also makes an interesting point on Facebook: It will, or should, be problematic for any Republican Senator who was in the Senate in 1999 to attack Elena Kagan’s appointment on the grounds that she has limited experience, since her experience is limited due in some measure to the Republican Senate in 1999. That year,  her nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals was tabled by the Republican-dominated Senate, as were all upper-court appointments by the Clinton administration, since there was an election looming and Clinton was a lame duck. This was a  nakedly partisan ideological decision undertaken in part because the same had been done to Republican administrations by Democratic-dominated Senates in 1987-8 and 1991-2.

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The Gray Lady Is Nervous

The New York Times editors, even before the revelation of her abortion advice during the Clinton administration, were nervous about the stealth nominee. They fret:

President Obama may know that his new nominee to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, shares his thinking on the multitude of issues that face the court and the nation, but the public knows nothing of the kind. Whether by ambitious design or by habit of mind, Ms. Kagan has spent decades carefully husbanding her thoughts and shielding her philosophy from view. Her lack of a clear record on certain issues makes it hard to know whether Mr. Obama has nominated a full-throated counterweight to the court’s increasingly aggressive conservative wing. … But where, precisely, has Ms. Kagan been during the legal whirlwinds of the last few years, as issues like executive power, same-sex marriage, the rights of the accused and proper application of the death penalty have raged through the courts?

Why, hiding her views to position herself for the Court, of course. It is ironic that the president, who got to office concealing his own views, now is unsettling his base for selecting someone who has concealed hers. The lefty Times editors find this most troubling:

In a 2001 Harvard Law Review article, Ms. Kagan defended a robust assertion of presidential power unless specifically limited by Congress — albeit in the service of “progressive goals” on the domestic front. She told the Senate last year that she agreed the government has the right to indefinitely detain enemy combatants captured around the world. As Mr. Obama’s solicitor general, she has supported his administration’s positions, little changed since the Bush administration, on the use of military force against Al Qaeda, the habeas corpus rights of military detainees and the state secrets privilege.

Conservatives may roll their eyes, convinced that no Harvard Law School dean is going to cross the left. But the issue here is the rather paranoid and perpetually aggrieved left. Obama in their eyes has been a disappointment. Indeed, it was their apathy that convinced the Democrats that they had to roll the dice on ObamaCare in order to turn out the liberal base in November. Now he gives them a nominee — for the seat of the sainted leftist Justice Stevens — who’s a squish? Hmm. Obama may have been too clever by half on this. The right will probably still not embrace her, and the left will, once again, be peeved. Sort of the worst of all worlds, no?

The New York Times editors, even before the revelation of her abortion advice during the Clinton administration, were nervous about the stealth nominee. They fret:

President Obama may know that his new nominee to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, shares his thinking on the multitude of issues that face the court and the nation, but the public knows nothing of the kind. Whether by ambitious design or by habit of mind, Ms. Kagan has spent decades carefully husbanding her thoughts and shielding her philosophy from view. Her lack of a clear record on certain issues makes it hard to know whether Mr. Obama has nominated a full-throated counterweight to the court’s increasingly aggressive conservative wing. … But where, precisely, has Ms. Kagan been during the legal whirlwinds of the last few years, as issues like executive power, same-sex marriage, the rights of the accused and proper application of the death penalty have raged through the courts?

Why, hiding her views to position herself for the Court, of course. It is ironic that the president, who got to office concealing his own views, now is unsettling his base for selecting someone who has concealed hers. The lefty Times editors find this most troubling:

In a 2001 Harvard Law Review article, Ms. Kagan defended a robust assertion of presidential power unless specifically limited by Congress — albeit in the service of “progressive goals” on the domestic front. She told the Senate last year that she agreed the government has the right to indefinitely detain enemy combatants captured around the world. As Mr. Obama’s solicitor general, she has supported his administration’s positions, little changed since the Bush administration, on the use of military force against Al Qaeda, the habeas corpus rights of military detainees and the state secrets privilege.

Conservatives may roll their eyes, convinced that no Harvard Law School dean is going to cross the left. But the issue here is the rather paranoid and perpetually aggrieved left. Obama in their eyes has been a disappointment. Indeed, it was their apathy that convinced the Democrats that they had to roll the dice on ObamaCare in order to turn out the liberal base in November. Now he gives them a nominee — for the seat of the sainted leftist Justice Stevens — who’s a squish? Hmm. Obama may have been too clever by half on this. The right will probably still not embrace her, and the left will, once again, be peeved. Sort of the worst of all worlds, no?

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RE: Kagan Nominated

Michael Gerson thinks Kagan’s harsh criticism of the military and decision to join the amicus brief seeking to allow law schools to ban recruiters will be a problem, positing that “many Americans will find her actions offensive — with far more intensity than the White House expects.” He explains:

Kagan not only took this controversial action, she publicly attacked the policy as “deeply wrong,” “unwise and unjust” and “a moral injustice of the first order.” It will be hard to downplay an issue that Kagan has a history of grandstanding. Standing in the way of military recruiters may seem normal in academic circles, but it will seem radical in much of the country — like banning the American flag from campus to protest some policy disagreement with the government. This controversy will add to a broader narrative that “Manhattan’s liberal, intellectual Upper West Side” is disconnected from the views and values of Middle America.

This may not be enough to derail the Kagan nomination, but it will complicate it.

It does work against the Obama team’s selling point that they went for someone with “real life” experience (for real life, don’t look in Ivy League law schools) who understands ordinary Americans. Hey, it’s not an argument I favor, because the law is the law, and one’s biography really shouldn’t factor in, but this is what the left keeps spinning. It is amusing, however, that the left considers “real life” what most Americans find radical. Was Sonia Sotomayor’s support of quotas and set-asides reflective of “real life,” or did it reflect a specific victimology that infects minority advocacy on the left? Was a pack of law school deans in touch with “real life” when they sought to defy a perfectly legitimate statute that required them to afford access to recruiters?

All this goes to a more fundamental concern about Kagan. Her entire career has been spent either as a law school administrator or as an advocate (e.g., in a political position in the Clinton administration or as solicitor general). The question she was used to asking herself was: what do I want the law to be? But the business of judging is determining what the law is. Liberals see no difference — the law is what five justices say it is. But most Americans and a majority of the Court think otherwise. So the questions for her now are: how does she decide what the law is, what method does she use for separating personal conviction and constitutional interpretation, and does she have a view of the Supreme Court that is something other than as an uber-legislature? We’ll find out this summer.

Michael Gerson thinks Kagan’s harsh criticism of the military and decision to join the amicus brief seeking to allow law schools to ban recruiters will be a problem, positing that “many Americans will find her actions offensive — with far more intensity than the White House expects.” He explains:

Kagan not only took this controversial action, she publicly attacked the policy as “deeply wrong,” “unwise and unjust” and “a moral injustice of the first order.” It will be hard to downplay an issue that Kagan has a history of grandstanding. Standing in the way of military recruiters may seem normal in academic circles, but it will seem radical in much of the country — like banning the American flag from campus to protest some policy disagreement with the government. This controversy will add to a broader narrative that “Manhattan’s liberal, intellectual Upper West Side” is disconnected from the views and values of Middle America.

This may not be enough to derail the Kagan nomination, but it will complicate it.

It does work against the Obama team’s selling point that they went for someone with “real life” experience (for real life, don’t look in Ivy League law schools) who understands ordinary Americans. Hey, it’s not an argument I favor, because the law is the law, and one’s biography really shouldn’t factor in, but this is what the left keeps spinning. It is amusing, however, that the left considers “real life” what most Americans find radical. Was Sonia Sotomayor’s support of quotas and set-asides reflective of “real life,” or did it reflect a specific victimology that infects minority advocacy on the left? Was a pack of law school deans in touch with “real life” when they sought to defy a perfectly legitimate statute that required them to afford access to recruiters?

All this goes to a more fundamental concern about Kagan. Her entire career has been spent either as a law school administrator or as an advocate (e.g., in a political position in the Clinton administration or as solicitor general). The question she was used to asking herself was: what do I want the law to be? But the business of judging is determining what the law is. Liberals see no difference — the law is what five justices say it is. But most Americans and a majority of the Court think otherwise. So the questions for her now are: how does she decide what the law is, what method does she use for separating personal conviction and constitutional interpretation, and does she have a view of the Supreme Court that is something other than as an uber-legislature? We’ll find out this summer.

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Kagan’s Vulnerabilty

Although records from her years in the Clinton administration may raise other concerns, at this stage, the most significant vulnerability for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is her position in opposing giving military recruiters access to Harvard Law School because of the armed services’ Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. This is problematic in two respects.

First, as Bill Kristol observes, the level of invective directed at the military is noteworthy:

Notice, time and again [in her letters]: “the military’s discriminatory recruitment policy,” “the military’s policy,” “the military’s recruitment policy,” “the military’s discriminatory employment policy.”

But it is not the military’s policy. It is the policy of the U.S. Government, based on legislation passed in 1993 by (a Democratic) Congress, signed into law and implemented by the Clinton administration, legislation and implementation that are currently continued by a Democratic administration and a Democratic Congress. It is intellectually wrong and morally cowardly to call this the “military’s policy.” Wrong for obvious reasons. Cowardly because it allowed Kagan to go ahead and serve in the Clinton administration that enforced this policy she so detests, and to welcome to Harvard as Dean former members of that administration, as well as Senators and Congressmen who actually voted for the law–which is more than the military recruiters whom Kagan sought to ban did.

In addition to her attitude toward the military, one has to question her ability to put aside policy preferences and biases when engaging in constitutional analysis. She joined an amicus brief seeking to set aside as unconstitutional the Solomon Amendment, which required schools to allow military recruiters on campus. Stuart Taylor has suggested that “the Administration will have no trouble describing General Kagan’s position as reflecting that of Harvard as an institution — a position that was broadly shared among the nation’s elite Universities.” Well, that Ivy League institutions are uniformly hostile to the military and that Kagan made a constitutional argument based, it seems, on political conviction will hardly help matters. Recall, Kagan’s position lost 8-0. That’s as far out of the mainstream as you can get.

Is this grounds for opposing Kagan? Maybe not, but it also depends on what she says, what she’s written, and why she thought the Solomon Amendment was unconstitutional. This is what confirmation hearings are designed to explore.

Although records from her years in the Clinton administration may raise other concerns, at this stage, the most significant vulnerability for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is her position in opposing giving military recruiters access to Harvard Law School because of the armed services’ Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. This is problematic in two respects.

First, as Bill Kristol observes, the level of invective directed at the military is noteworthy:

Notice, time and again [in her letters]: “the military’s discriminatory recruitment policy,” “the military’s policy,” “the military’s recruitment policy,” “the military’s discriminatory employment policy.”

But it is not the military’s policy. It is the policy of the U.S. Government, based on legislation passed in 1993 by (a Democratic) Congress, signed into law and implemented by the Clinton administration, legislation and implementation that are currently continued by a Democratic administration and a Democratic Congress. It is intellectually wrong and morally cowardly to call this the “military’s policy.” Wrong for obvious reasons. Cowardly because it allowed Kagan to go ahead and serve in the Clinton administration that enforced this policy she so detests, and to welcome to Harvard as Dean former members of that administration, as well as Senators and Congressmen who actually voted for the law–which is more than the military recruiters whom Kagan sought to ban did.

In addition to her attitude toward the military, one has to question her ability to put aside policy preferences and biases when engaging in constitutional analysis. She joined an amicus brief seeking to set aside as unconstitutional the Solomon Amendment, which required schools to allow military recruiters on campus. Stuart Taylor has suggested that “the Administration will have no trouble describing General Kagan’s position as reflecting that of Harvard as an institution — a position that was broadly shared among the nation’s elite Universities.” Well, that Ivy League institutions are uniformly hostile to the military and that Kagan made a constitutional argument based, it seems, on political conviction will hardly help matters. Recall, Kagan’s position lost 8-0. That’s as far out of the mainstream as you can get.

Is this grounds for opposing Kagan? Maybe not, but it also depends on what she says, what she’s written, and why she thought the Solomon Amendment was unconstitutional. This is what confirmation hearings are designed to explore.

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Elena Kagan — Stealth Nominee?

Elena Kagan is the prohibitive favorite for the Supreme Court. She has made it through one confirmation hearing for her current post as solicitor general and possesses academic credentials, a reputation for collegiality with conservatives, and a limited paper trail. Moreover, she is the closest we have to a stealth candidate among the front-runners. As Tom Goldstein notes, “I don’t know anyone who has had a conversation with her in which she expressed a personal conviction on a question of constitutional law in the past decade.”

Casual observers assume that a dean of Harvard Law School and a domestic-policy aide in the Clinton administration must have a sizable body of work reflecting her legal views. But not so. Paul Campos has read all there is to read — and it’s not much:

Yesterday, I read everything Elena Kagan has ever published. It didn’t take long: in the nearly 20 years since Kagan became a law professor, she’s published very little academic scholarship—three law review articles, along with a couple of shorter essays and two brief book reviews. Somehow, Kagan got tenure at Chicago in 1995 on the basis of a single article in The Supreme Court Review—a scholarly journal edited by Chicago’s own faculty—and a short essay in the school’s law review. She then worked in the Clinton administration for several years before joining Harvard as a visiting professor of law in 1999. While there she published two articles, but since receiving tenure from Harvard in 2001 (and becoming dean of the law school in 2003) she has published nothing. (While it’s true law school deans often do little scholarly writing during their terms, Kagan is remarkable both for how little she did in the dozen years prior to becoming Harvard’s dean, and for never having written anything intended for a more general audience, either before or after taking that position.)

Campos goes so far as to suggest that Kagan is a Harriet Miers type – minus the cronyism. He concludes:

Indeed, the most impressive thing about Kagan is that she seems to have a remarkable ability to ingratiate herself with influential people across the ideological spectrum. … As a private lawyer, Miers, after all, had a fairly good excuse for having no public views on the great legal issues of our day. For most of the past 20 years, Kagan’s job has been to both develop and publicize such views. That she has nevertheless managed to almost completely avoid doing so is rather extraordinary.

What to make of this? Well, if a Republican president were to select a person with such a skimpy written record, conservatives would be (and were with the Miers nomination) rightfully worried. But do the same concerns — ideological infidelity, intellectual mediocrity — really apply to Kagan? Let’s be honest, it works differently for liberals. Very few are tempted to moderate their views and slide rightward, while Republican-nominated jurists (David Souter, John Paul Stevens) have a history of “disappointing” their side. And while no one has claimed that Kagan has achieved greatness in legal scholarship, the assumption — rightly or not — is that the dean of one of the top law schools in the country must have some intellectual wattage. Nevertheless, liberal legal activists might have reason to be a bit nervous — after all, would a justice who lacks judicial chops be the best choice to sway Justice Kennedy on those all-important 5-to-4 decisions? Is she really the one who is going to go toe-to-toe with Justice Scalia? There is some risk there if Obama were to choose a lesser known quantity than an appellate judge such as Diane Wood.

Nevertheless, there are clues as to Kagan’s legal mindset. Indeed, one such clue is also her primary shortcoming. Stuart Taylor explains:

The one issue that could slow down Kagan’s confirmation is her impassioned effort as dean to bar military recruiting on campus to protest the law banning openly gay people from serving in the military, which she called “a moral injustice of the first order.”

Kagan carried this opposition to the point of joining a 2005 amicus brief whose strained interpretation of a law denying federal funding to institutions that discriminate against military recruiters would — the Supreme Court held in an 8-0 decision — have rendered the statute “largely meaningless.” This helps to explain the 31 Republican votes against confirming her as solicitor general.

Well, that might be enough to lose her a batch of GOP Senate votes, but would it derail her nomination? Probably not. And it might just give enough comfort to the left that Kagan is a “safe” pick for them.

Elena Kagan is the prohibitive favorite for the Supreme Court. She has made it through one confirmation hearing for her current post as solicitor general and possesses academic credentials, a reputation for collegiality with conservatives, and a limited paper trail. Moreover, she is the closest we have to a stealth candidate among the front-runners. As Tom Goldstein notes, “I don’t know anyone who has had a conversation with her in which she expressed a personal conviction on a question of constitutional law in the past decade.”

Casual observers assume that a dean of Harvard Law School and a domestic-policy aide in the Clinton administration must have a sizable body of work reflecting her legal views. But not so. Paul Campos has read all there is to read — and it’s not much:

Yesterday, I read everything Elena Kagan has ever published. It didn’t take long: in the nearly 20 years since Kagan became a law professor, she’s published very little academic scholarship—three law review articles, along with a couple of shorter essays and two brief book reviews. Somehow, Kagan got tenure at Chicago in 1995 on the basis of a single article in The Supreme Court Review—a scholarly journal edited by Chicago’s own faculty—and a short essay in the school’s law review. She then worked in the Clinton administration for several years before joining Harvard as a visiting professor of law in 1999. While there she published two articles, but since receiving tenure from Harvard in 2001 (and becoming dean of the law school in 2003) she has published nothing. (While it’s true law school deans often do little scholarly writing during their terms, Kagan is remarkable both for how little she did in the dozen years prior to becoming Harvard’s dean, and for never having written anything intended for a more general audience, either before or after taking that position.)

Campos goes so far as to suggest that Kagan is a Harriet Miers type – minus the cronyism. He concludes:

Indeed, the most impressive thing about Kagan is that she seems to have a remarkable ability to ingratiate herself with influential people across the ideological spectrum. … As a private lawyer, Miers, after all, had a fairly good excuse for having no public views on the great legal issues of our day. For most of the past 20 years, Kagan’s job has been to both develop and publicize such views. That she has nevertheless managed to almost completely avoid doing so is rather extraordinary.

What to make of this? Well, if a Republican president were to select a person with such a skimpy written record, conservatives would be (and were with the Miers nomination) rightfully worried. But do the same concerns — ideological infidelity, intellectual mediocrity — really apply to Kagan? Let’s be honest, it works differently for liberals. Very few are tempted to moderate their views and slide rightward, while Republican-nominated jurists (David Souter, John Paul Stevens) have a history of “disappointing” their side. And while no one has claimed that Kagan has achieved greatness in legal scholarship, the assumption — rightly or not — is that the dean of one of the top law schools in the country must have some intellectual wattage. Nevertheless, liberal legal activists might have reason to be a bit nervous — after all, would a justice who lacks judicial chops be the best choice to sway Justice Kennedy on those all-important 5-to-4 decisions? Is she really the one who is going to go toe-to-toe with Justice Scalia? There is some risk there if Obama were to choose a lesser known quantity than an appellate judge such as Diane Wood.

Nevertheless, there are clues as to Kagan’s legal mindset. Indeed, one such clue is also her primary shortcoming. Stuart Taylor explains:

The one issue that could slow down Kagan’s confirmation is her impassioned effort as dean to bar military recruiting on campus to protest the law banning openly gay people from serving in the military, which she called “a moral injustice of the first order.”

Kagan carried this opposition to the point of joining a 2005 amicus brief whose strained interpretation of a law denying federal funding to institutions that discriminate against military recruiters would — the Supreme Court held in an 8-0 decision — have rendered the statute “largely meaningless.” This helps to explain the 31 Republican votes against confirming her as solicitor general.

Well, that might be enough to lose her a batch of GOP Senate votes, but would it derail her nomination? Probably not. And it might just give enough comfort to the left that Kagan is a “safe” pick for them.

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Wanted: Female Justice with Small Children (Pets a Plus)

Another Supreme Court nomination is in the works, so it’s time for another round of inanity on court appointments. The latest dose of condescension comes from Peter Beinart, who thinks it’s time for not just a woman but “a mom with kids.” (Is three better than two? What about a single mom? A divorced dad with sole custody?) Why does this matter — so they can decide cases in favor of women? No, really: he wants a woman justice “because female justices, on average, will be more sensitive to the problems women face. Since they will have likely encountered gender bias themselves, they will be more likely to support government action to remedy it.” In other words, they will violate their oath of office and give the gals a break. And then there is the old standby: we need more tokenism:

It’s not just that they may alleviate gender injustice through their rulings; they may alleviate it through their example as well. Just as Barack Obama empowers African-American kids to believe that there are no limits to what they can achieve, female Supreme Court justices send the same message to young women. As anyone who has ever watched their daughter eye a Barbie Doll can attest, role models matter.

Not Sarah Palin as VP, mind you. And Madeleine Albright, Condi Rice, and Hillary Clinton don’t suffice. Neither do the two women currently on the Court. More role models! But what’s with the kids? Beinart explains it’s the role models (again):

It’s important because otherwise, the message you’re sending young women is that they can achieve professionally, or they can have a family, but they can’t do both. And without quite realizing it, that is the message our government has been sending. According to the Census Bureau, 80 percent of American women over the age of 40 have children. But look at the women who have held Cabinet posts in the last three presidential administrations. Only two of the Clinton administration’s five female Cabinet secretaries had kids. (Attorney General Janet Reno got her job only after two women with children, Zoë Baird and Kimba Wood, were dinged for hiring illegal immigrants as nannies). In the Bush administration, the figure was two of seven. In the Obama administration, so far, it is two of four. And if Obama chooses Elena Kagan for the High Court, the figure there will be one of three.

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with appointing childless women (or men, for that matter) to high office. But our government is actually doing a pretty good job of providing role models for the 20 percent of American women who don’t want kids. Where it’s failing is in providing role models for the 80 percent that do.

But Sandra Day O’Connor had three children. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has two children. Don’t they count? Well, maybe they have to be young. So what we need is  a woman justice with at least two children under the age of 10 so that other women with children under the age of 10 will know that they too can be on the Supreme Court. Thunk.

Beinart is a smart fellow. So maybe this is a sly parody of the rampant racial and gender preferences that have overtaken Supreme Court selections. They have turned these into embarrassing “diversity” rackets in which the White House searches for the person most likely to tip the scales for this or that interest group or to bolster the self-esteem of some key demographic. So if Beinart meant to show up all that and urge us to get back to the old-fashioned notion of merit, then bravo! If not, he should be embarrassed.

Another Supreme Court nomination is in the works, so it’s time for another round of inanity on court appointments. The latest dose of condescension comes from Peter Beinart, who thinks it’s time for not just a woman but “a mom with kids.” (Is three better than two? What about a single mom? A divorced dad with sole custody?) Why does this matter — so they can decide cases in favor of women? No, really: he wants a woman justice “because female justices, on average, will be more sensitive to the problems women face. Since they will have likely encountered gender bias themselves, they will be more likely to support government action to remedy it.” In other words, they will violate their oath of office and give the gals a break. And then there is the old standby: we need more tokenism:

It’s not just that they may alleviate gender injustice through their rulings; they may alleviate it through their example as well. Just as Barack Obama empowers African-American kids to believe that there are no limits to what they can achieve, female Supreme Court justices send the same message to young women. As anyone who has ever watched their daughter eye a Barbie Doll can attest, role models matter.

Not Sarah Palin as VP, mind you. And Madeleine Albright, Condi Rice, and Hillary Clinton don’t suffice. Neither do the two women currently on the Court. More role models! But what’s with the kids? Beinart explains it’s the role models (again):

It’s important because otherwise, the message you’re sending young women is that they can achieve professionally, or they can have a family, but they can’t do both. And without quite realizing it, that is the message our government has been sending. According to the Census Bureau, 80 percent of American women over the age of 40 have children. But look at the women who have held Cabinet posts in the last three presidential administrations. Only two of the Clinton administration’s five female Cabinet secretaries had kids. (Attorney General Janet Reno got her job only after two women with children, Zoë Baird and Kimba Wood, were dinged for hiring illegal immigrants as nannies). In the Bush administration, the figure was two of seven. In the Obama administration, so far, it is two of four. And if Obama chooses Elena Kagan for the High Court, the figure there will be one of three.

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with appointing childless women (or men, for that matter) to high office. But our government is actually doing a pretty good job of providing role models for the 20 percent of American women who don’t want kids. Where it’s failing is in providing role models for the 80 percent that do.

But Sandra Day O’Connor had three children. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has two children. Don’t they count? Well, maybe they have to be young. So what we need is  a woman justice with at least two children under the age of 10 so that other women with children under the age of 10 will know that they too can be on the Supreme Court. Thunk.

Beinart is a smart fellow. So maybe this is a sly parody of the rampant racial and gender preferences that have overtaken Supreme Court selections. They have turned these into embarrassing “diversity” rackets in which the White House searches for the person most likely to tip the scales for this or that interest group or to bolster the self-esteem of some key demographic. So if Beinart meant to show up all that and urge us to get back to the old-fashioned notion of merit, then bravo! If not, he should be embarrassed.

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Bill Clinton’s Double Standard on Rhetoric

The Big Dog has slipped his leash again.

Bill Clinton began a concerted attack on the Tea Party movement in the New York Times late last week:

With the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing approaching, former President Bill Clinton… drew parallels between the antigovernment tone that preceded that devastating attack and the political tumult of today, saying government critics must be mindful that angry words can stir violent actions…  “There can be real consequences when what you say animates people who do things you would never do,” Mr. Clinton said in an interview, saying that Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the Oklahoma City bombing, and those who assisted him, “were profoundly alienated, disconnected people who bought into this militant antigovernment line.”

“Because of the Internet, there is this vast echo chamber and our advocacy reaches into corners that never would have been possible before,” said Mr. Clinton, who said political messages are now able to reach those who are both “serious and seriously disturbed.”… Mr. Clinton said his intent was not to stifle debate or muzzle critics of the government but to encourage them to consider what repercussions could follow. He acknowledged that drawing the line between acceptable discourse and that which goes too far is difficult but that lawmakers and other officials should try.

“Have at it,” he said. “You can attack the politics. Criticize their policies. Don’t demonize them, and don’t say things that will encourage violent opposition.”

Then, at an event for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, he said this:

What we learned from Oklahoma City is not that we should gag each other or that we should reduce our passion for the positions we hold — but that the words we use really do matter, because there’s this vast echo chamber, and they go across space and they fall on the serious and the delirious alike. They fall on the connected and the unhinged alike.

As you would expect from Mr. Clinton, his words are both sophisticated and slick. There is even some truth to them. Words have meaning, and context matters. Public officials in particular should be careful not to exploit passions that can become harmful. There’s no rulebook that tells us which slang phrases and locutions are clever and which are inflammatory. Things that may be fine in one context might not be so in another. We have to rely on common sense and good judgment.

The problem for Mr. Clinton is that his concern about the dangers of incendiary rhetoric seems to have taken flight during the two terms of the Bush presidency, as well as during his own. Regarding the former, there was, for starters, the 2006 film, The Death of a President, on the assassination of President Bush. Mr. Clinton did not, to my knowledge, condemn the movie in a front-page story in the New York Times or in a major speech.

Moreover, George W. Bush was, during his two terms in office, routinely called a war criminal, an international terrorist, and compared to Hitler [see a photo gallery here and here]. Signs with bullet holes in Bush’s forehead, with blood running down his face, were all part of the fun and games. The president was accused of moral cowardice by Al Gore, of being a liar and the anti-Christ, and of being a totalitarian and dictatorial leader. Members of Congress such as Keith Ellison compared the attacks on September 11 to the Reichstag fire.

This was all pretty common fare during the Bush presidency. Yet Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, remained silent, apparently unconcerned that such words would fall on the serious and the delirious, the connected and the unhinged, at the same time. And many of Mr. Clinton’s fellow Democrats, including his vice president, said words that encouraged the worst elements and instincts of the haters and the loons.

The Tea Party protests, in terms of the level of hate speech and the placards and signs used, don’t hold a candle to the anti-war protests we witnessed during the Bush years. Yet for some inexplicable reason — inexplicable because we all know the press and the political class are fantastically free of bias — the hate directed against Bush didn’t receive anything like the scrutiny the Tea Party is receiving.

It’s also worth recalling that the Clinton administration organized, coordinated, and participated in some of the ugliest rhetoric we have seen in recent American politics. I have in mind, for example, the campaign against Judge Ken Starr, who was the independent counsel during the Clinton-Lewinsky investigation. The Clinton team said Starr was a “spineless, gutless weasel” and “engaged in anti-constitutional destructiveness.” He was a “thug” and a “Grand Inquisitor for life.” His tactics were “frightening,” “vicious,” and “lawless.” His investigation was an “inquisition,” “smacks of Gestapo,” and “outstrips McCarthyism.” He was acting “irresponsibility, illegally.” Starr was “undermining the very integrity of the criminal-justice system.” The office of independent counsel was filled with “a crew of prosecutorial pirates” and Starr was using “instruments of intimidation and smear without restraint.”

And now Mr. Clinton is preaching to us about not demonizing our opponents and about the importance of not crossing rhetorical lines. Can a Clinton sermon on the importance of fidelity and the gift of celibacy be far behind?

The level of concern and consternation that is being directed at the Tea Party movement is hard to take seriously given the blinding double standard at play. When Bush was president and greater hate was directed at him than is today directed at Obama, the narrative was that this was a sign of Bush’s divisiveness. In those days dissent was the highest form of patriotism. Today, with Obama as president, everything is reversed. Obama is the victim, not the divider; dissent is viewed as sedition.

I have no problem at all condemning the Tea Party movement if it crosses lines of civility and reason. But the hypocrisy at play here is discrediting.

In a deeper sense, the impulse on display here is, despite what Clinton says, illiberal. The end game for many Tea Party critics isn’t to silence a few nuts in a movement comprising millions of people; it is to discredit the movement itself. It is to silence the overwhelming number of decent people who comprise the Tea Party movement by attaching them to the hip with haters and kooks.

This tactic will, I think, backfire. We are seeing a huge, lawful, civic uprising against the Obama agenda — and to slander people as clones of Timothy McVeigh will only add kindling wood and kerosene to this bonfire.

Liberals and the Democratic Party are losing virtually every substantive debate on the issues. It is blowing their circuits. And so they are left to resort to libel, to portray Tea Party participants as Timothy McVeighs in waiting. There will be a high price to pay for this ugly and petty tactic, beginning with the first Tuesday in November.

The Big Dog has slipped his leash again.

Bill Clinton began a concerted attack on the Tea Party movement in the New York Times late last week:

With the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing approaching, former President Bill Clinton… drew parallels between the antigovernment tone that preceded that devastating attack and the political tumult of today, saying government critics must be mindful that angry words can stir violent actions…  “There can be real consequences when what you say animates people who do things you would never do,” Mr. Clinton said in an interview, saying that Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the Oklahoma City bombing, and those who assisted him, “were profoundly alienated, disconnected people who bought into this militant antigovernment line.”

“Because of the Internet, there is this vast echo chamber and our advocacy reaches into corners that never would have been possible before,” said Mr. Clinton, who said political messages are now able to reach those who are both “serious and seriously disturbed.”… Mr. Clinton said his intent was not to stifle debate or muzzle critics of the government but to encourage them to consider what repercussions could follow. He acknowledged that drawing the line between acceptable discourse and that which goes too far is difficult but that lawmakers and other officials should try.

“Have at it,” he said. “You can attack the politics. Criticize their policies. Don’t demonize them, and don’t say things that will encourage violent opposition.”

Then, at an event for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, he said this:

What we learned from Oklahoma City is not that we should gag each other or that we should reduce our passion for the positions we hold — but that the words we use really do matter, because there’s this vast echo chamber, and they go across space and they fall on the serious and the delirious alike. They fall on the connected and the unhinged alike.

As you would expect from Mr. Clinton, his words are both sophisticated and slick. There is even some truth to them. Words have meaning, and context matters. Public officials in particular should be careful not to exploit passions that can become harmful. There’s no rulebook that tells us which slang phrases and locutions are clever and which are inflammatory. Things that may be fine in one context might not be so in another. We have to rely on common sense and good judgment.

The problem for Mr. Clinton is that his concern about the dangers of incendiary rhetoric seems to have taken flight during the two terms of the Bush presidency, as well as during his own. Regarding the former, there was, for starters, the 2006 film, The Death of a President, on the assassination of President Bush. Mr. Clinton did not, to my knowledge, condemn the movie in a front-page story in the New York Times or in a major speech.

Moreover, George W. Bush was, during his two terms in office, routinely called a war criminal, an international terrorist, and compared to Hitler [see a photo gallery here and here]. Signs with bullet holes in Bush’s forehead, with blood running down his face, were all part of the fun and games. The president was accused of moral cowardice by Al Gore, of being a liar and the anti-Christ, and of being a totalitarian and dictatorial leader. Members of Congress such as Keith Ellison compared the attacks on September 11 to the Reichstag fire.

This was all pretty common fare during the Bush presidency. Yet Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, remained silent, apparently unconcerned that such words would fall on the serious and the delirious, the connected and the unhinged, at the same time. And many of Mr. Clinton’s fellow Democrats, including his vice president, said words that encouraged the worst elements and instincts of the haters and the loons.

The Tea Party protests, in terms of the level of hate speech and the placards and signs used, don’t hold a candle to the anti-war protests we witnessed during the Bush years. Yet for some inexplicable reason — inexplicable because we all know the press and the political class are fantastically free of bias — the hate directed against Bush didn’t receive anything like the scrutiny the Tea Party is receiving.

It’s also worth recalling that the Clinton administration organized, coordinated, and participated in some of the ugliest rhetoric we have seen in recent American politics. I have in mind, for example, the campaign against Judge Ken Starr, who was the independent counsel during the Clinton-Lewinsky investigation. The Clinton team said Starr was a “spineless, gutless weasel” and “engaged in anti-constitutional destructiveness.” He was a “thug” and a “Grand Inquisitor for life.” His tactics were “frightening,” “vicious,” and “lawless.” His investigation was an “inquisition,” “smacks of Gestapo,” and “outstrips McCarthyism.” He was acting “irresponsibility, illegally.” Starr was “undermining the very integrity of the criminal-justice system.” The office of independent counsel was filled with “a crew of prosecutorial pirates” and Starr was using “instruments of intimidation and smear without restraint.”

And now Mr. Clinton is preaching to us about not demonizing our opponents and about the importance of not crossing rhetorical lines. Can a Clinton sermon on the importance of fidelity and the gift of celibacy be far behind?

The level of concern and consternation that is being directed at the Tea Party movement is hard to take seriously given the blinding double standard at play. When Bush was president and greater hate was directed at him than is today directed at Obama, the narrative was that this was a sign of Bush’s divisiveness. In those days dissent was the highest form of patriotism. Today, with Obama as president, everything is reversed. Obama is the victim, not the divider; dissent is viewed as sedition.

I have no problem at all condemning the Tea Party movement if it crosses lines of civility and reason. But the hypocrisy at play here is discrediting.

In a deeper sense, the impulse on display here is, despite what Clinton says, illiberal. The end game for many Tea Party critics isn’t to silence a few nuts in a movement comprising millions of people; it is to discredit the movement itself. It is to silence the overwhelming number of decent people who comprise the Tea Party movement by attaching them to the hip with haters and kooks.

This tactic will, I think, backfire. We are seeing a huge, lawful, civic uprising against the Obama agenda — and to slander people as clones of Timothy McVeigh will only add kindling wood and kerosene to this bonfire.

Liberals and the Democratic Party are losing virtually every substantive debate on the issues. It is blowing their circuits. And so they are left to resort to libel, to portray Tea Party participants as Timothy McVeighs in waiting. There will be a high price to pay for this ugly and petty tactic, beginning with the first Tuesday in November.

Read Less

Hammering Israel

Noah, you note that Obama “is pushing forward with his failed strategy of a year ago, only this time with a bigger hammer.” It is worth reviewing specifically why that strategy failed a year ago — because the lesson is much different from Obama’s facile explanation (“This is just really hard … we [didn’t anticipate] some of these political problems on both sides.”)

Netanyahu met with Obama six weeks after taking office, bringing with him a straightforward proposal: commence immediate negotiations with the Palestinians with no preconditions. It was an extraordinary position: Israel had just completed a year of final-status negotiations with the Palestinians, offering them a state on all of Gaza and the West Bank (after land swaps), with an international solution for the Muslim religious sites in Jerusalem. The Palestinians had rejected the proposal out of hand, just as they had rejected Ehud Barak’s offer in July 2000 at Camp David and the Clinton Parameters in January 2001.

Netanyahu could have — and probably should have — taken the position that it was pointless to resume final-status negotiations while the Palestinians had a terrorist regime in Gaza and a Palestinian Authority in the West Bank unprepared to agree to a demilitarized state or to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Under those circumstances, a new “peace process” would simply create on Israel’s eastern side what 100 percent withdrawals had brought it in the north and south. There is no rule of international law that says the Palestinians, having rejected three offers of a state, were entitled to a fourth.

Instead of endorsing Netanyahu’s offer of negotiations without preconditions, Obama established a precondition that violated a longstanding oral understanding and the written assurances of the 2004 Bush letter. He demanded that Israel cease all settlement activity, even in settlements the U.S. had already conceded in that letter would be part of Israel in any final-status agreement — and that were necessary for the “defensible borders” promised both in that letter and one the Clinton administration had provided Israel. Moreover, the Bush letter was not simply the policy or promise of prior administrations: it reflected a deal. Obama was reneging on formal U.S. reassurances that if Israel took the “risk for peace” of withdrawing every soldier and settler from Gaza, the U.S. would not require a West Bank withdrawal to indefensible borders.

Things were not “really hard” — Netanyahu had made them relatively easy with his proposal for immediate negotiations. Nor were there political problems “on both sides” — Netanyahu had overcome the ones on his side and put forward a constructive way to proceed. But Arab expectations soared as they watched Obama renege on prior U.S. commitments, demand new concessions from Israel before negotiations could start, and obviate the need for the Palestinians to negotiate themselves.

A year later, Obama has made the same mistake again, choosing to escalate a low-level administrative approval of housing in a longstanding Jewish part of Jerusalem into a crisis with Israel. It is another display of Chicago-style diplomacy designed to demand concessions he knows Netanyahu cannot make, and that were not a condition of the prior negotiations that produced three Israeli offers of a state. Once again, Obama will send Arab expectations even higher, send Israeli trust in him even lower, and reduce the chances of success for any “proximity talks” from slim to none. Another triumph of smart diplomacy — complete with, as Noah notes, a denigration of the intelligence of Israel’s leader.

Noah, you note that Obama “is pushing forward with his failed strategy of a year ago, only this time with a bigger hammer.” It is worth reviewing specifically why that strategy failed a year ago — because the lesson is much different from Obama’s facile explanation (“This is just really hard … we [didn’t anticipate] some of these political problems on both sides.”)

Netanyahu met with Obama six weeks after taking office, bringing with him a straightforward proposal: commence immediate negotiations with the Palestinians with no preconditions. It was an extraordinary position: Israel had just completed a year of final-status negotiations with the Palestinians, offering them a state on all of Gaza and the West Bank (after land swaps), with an international solution for the Muslim religious sites in Jerusalem. The Palestinians had rejected the proposal out of hand, just as they had rejected Ehud Barak’s offer in July 2000 at Camp David and the Clinton Parameters in January 2001.

Netanyahu could have — and probably should have — taken the position that it was pointless to resume final-status negotiations while the Palestinians had a terrorist regime in Gaza and a Palestinian Authority in the West Bank unprepared to agree to a demilitarized state or to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Under those circumstances, a new “peace process” would simply create on Israel’s eastern side what 100 percent withdrawals had brought it in the north and south. There is no rule of international law that says the Palestinians, having rejected three offers of a state, were entitled to a fourth.

Instead of endorsing Netanyahu’s offer of negotiations without preconditions, Obama established a precondition that violated a longstanding oral understanding and the written assurances of the 2004 Bush letter. He demanded that Israel cease all settlement activity, even in settlements the U.S. had already conceded in that letter would be part of Israel in any final-status agreement — and that were necessary for the “defensible borders” promised both in that letter and one the Clinton administration had provided Israel. Moreover, the Bush letter was not simply the policy or promise of prior administrations: it reflected a deal. Obama was reneging on formal U.S. reassurances that if Israel took the “risk for peace” of withdrawing every soldier and settler from Gaza, the U.S. would not require a West Bank withdrawal to indefensible borders.

Things were not “really hard” — Netanyahu had made them relatively easy with his proposal for immediate negotiations. Nor were there political problems “on both sides” — Netanyahu had overcome the ones on his side and put forward a constructive way to proceed. But Arab expectations soared as they watched Obama renege on prior U.S. commitments, demand new concessions from Israel before negotiations could start, and obviate the need for the Palestinians to negotiate themselves.

A year later, Obama has made the same mistake again, choosing to escalate a low-level administrative approval of housing in a longstanding Jewish part of Jerusalem into a crisis with Israel. It is another display of Chicago-style diplomacy designed to demand concessions he knows Netanyahu cannot make, and that were not a condition of the prior negotiations that produced three Israeli offers of a state. Once again, Obama will send Arab expectations even higher, send Israeli trust in him even lower, and reduce the chances of success for any “proximity talks” from slim to none. Another triumph of smart diplomacy — complete with, as Noah notes, a denigration of the intelligence of Israel’s leader.

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Obama’s Wax Wings

Rep. Marion Berry, yet another retiring Democrat, gave an interview to Jane Fullerton of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. According to Fullerton:

Berry recounted meetings with White House officials, reminiscent of some during the Clinton days, where he and others urged them not to force Blue Dogs “off into that swamp” of supporting bills that would be unpopular with voters back home.

“I’ve been doing that with this White House, and they just don’t seem to give it any credibility at all,” Berry said. “They just kept telling us how good it was going to be. The president himself, when that was brought up in one group, said, ‘Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.’ We’re going to see how much difference that makes now.” [snip]

“I began to preach last January that we had already seen this movie and we didn’t want to see it again because we know how it comes out,” said Arkansas’ 1st District congressman, who worked in the Clinton administration before being elected to the House in 1996… “I just began to have flashbacks to 1993 and ’94. No one that was here in ’94, or at the day after the election felt like. It certainly wasn’t a good feeling.”

This is yet more evidence — as if we needed any — of Obama’s almost pathological self-regard. He seems to dismiss President Clinton — a successful five-term governor who won his presidential re-election by a comfortable margin — as a political hack compared to The One. It explains how Obama can interpret the results of the Massachusetts Senate race — the third in a series of pulverizing losses for Democrats since November — as confirmation that he, well, spent too much time doing too many good and important things for the American people and, in the process, forgot to inform the simple-minded citizenry what a treasure we have in Obama.

Whatever strengths Mr. Obama brought to the job as president — and they now appear to be quite limited — they are overwhelmed by, among other things, his massive ego and otherworldly arrogance. It is leading him and his staff into a state of self-delusion. Mr. Obama’s self-regard is not only utterly unwarranted, especially given his failed first year; it is downright dangerous. He is a man whose wings are made of wax; if he’s not careful, a long fall into the deep blue sea awaits him.

(h/t: Glenn Thrush at Politico.com.)

Rep. Marion Berry, yet another retiring Democrat, gave an interview to Jane Fullerton of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. According to Fullerton:

Berry recounted meetings with White House officials, reminiscent of some during the Clinton days, where he and others urged them not to force Blue Dogs “off into that swamp” of supporting bills that would be unpopular with voters back home.

“I’ve been doing that with this White House, and they just don’t seem to give it any credibility at all,” Berry said. “They just kept telling us how good it was going to be. The president himself, when that was brought up in one group, said, ‘Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.’ We’re going to see how much difference that makes now.” [snip]

“I began to preach last January that we had already seen this movie and we didn’t want to see it again because we know how it comes out,” said Arkansas’ 1st District congressman, who worked in the Clinton administration before being elected to the House in 1996… “I just began to have flashbacks to 1993 and ’94. No one that was here in ’94, or at the day after the election felt like. It certainly wasn’t a good feeling.”

This is yet more evidence — as if we needed any — of Obama’s almost pathological self-regard. He seems to dismiss President Clinton — a successful five-term governor who won his presidential re-election by a comfortable margin — as a political hack compared to The One. It explains how Obama can interpret the results of the Massachusetts Senate race — the third in a series of pulverizing losses for Democrats since November — as confirmation that he, well, spent too much time doing too many good and important things for the American people and, in the process, forgot to inform the simple-minded citizenry what a treasure we have in Obama.

Whatever strengths Mr. Obama brought to the job as president — and they now appear to be quite limited — they are overwhelmed by, among other things, his massive ego and otherworldly arrogance. It is leading him and his staff into a state of self-delusion. Mr. Obama’s self-regard is not only utterly unwarranted, especially given his failed first year; it is downright dangerous. He is a man whose wings are made of wax; if he’s not careful, a long fall into the deep blue sea awaits him.

(h/t: Glenn Thrush at Politico.com.)

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America’s Uncertain Presence in Haiti’s Uncertain Future

The New York Times wonders what the American role in Haiti is going to be after the current disaster is dealt with. The sad reality is that it’s hard to imagine a better future for Haiti absent a great deal of American involvement, but it’s equally hard to see what strategic calculation could justify such a stepped-up American presence.

Unfashionable though it may be to say so, some of Haiti’s best years — the years when it was most free of violence and turmoil — were between 1915 and 1934, when the country was occupied by U.S. Marines. They did not run Haiti directly, but they provided support for local elites who with American backing were able to impose more stability and freedom than Haiti has enjoyed before or since. But the reason for the American takeover was not altruism; it was fear that if the U.S. did not intervene, Germany or some other hostile power would, thereby creating a base that could threaten the Panama Canal and other vital American interests. After the onset of the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration lost interest and pulled out. This lack of American involvement allowed the rise of a string of tinhorn dictators, most famously the father and son duo of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier.

The American intervention in 1994 during the Clinton administration had less strategic justification; it was mainly an example of altruism in action although there were also concerns about Haitian boat people flooding into the United States if we did not stabilize the situation. That intervention involved putting Jean-Bertrand Aristide back into power. He turned out to be a singularly inept and vicious ruler whose departure was facilitated by the Bush administration in 1996. Since then the president of Haiti has been Rene Preval, but he has enjoyed limited power over a violent and chaotic country.

What stability there is has come from “Minustah,” which sounds like a Southern pronunciation of “minister” but in fact is the French acronym for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti. This is a Brazilian-led military and police mission designed to defeat Haiti’s notorious gangs and allow the government to rule. As has become apparent during the post-earthquake looting and mayhem, Minustah has not been terribly successful since being established in 1994. Brazil’s heart is in the right place, but its troops, and those of other nations, have not been able to impose the kind of peace that NATO forces have brought to Bosnia and Kosovo.

Given American commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is scant chance we will take over the peacekeeping mission ourselves. But it would make sense to provide more support to Minustah and work in general to strengthen such international mechanisms. We desperately need a way to place dysfunctional countries like Haiti into international receivership. Until such a mechanism is invented, it appears, alas, that Haiti will continue to experience more of the lawlessness and tragedy that have characterized its history ever since the establishment of a French slave regime in the 18th century.

The New York Times wonders what the American role in Haiti is going to be after the current disaster is dealt with. The sad reality is that it’s hard to imagine a better future for Haiti absent a great deal of American involvement, but it’s equally hard to see what strategic calculation could justify such a stepped-up American presence.

Unfashionable though it may be to say so, some of Haiti’s best years — the years when it was most free of violence and turmoil — were between 1915 and 1934, when the country was occupied by U.S. Marines. They did not run Haiti directly, but they provided support for local elites who with American backing were able to impose more stability and freedom than Haiti has enjoyed before or since. But the reason for the American takeover was not altruism; it was fear that if the U.S. did not intervene, Germany or some other hostile power would, thereby creating a base that could threaten the Panama Canal and other vital American interests. After the onset of the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration lost interest and pulled out. This lack of American involvement allowed the rise of a string of tinhorn dictators, most famously the father and son duo of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier.

The American intervention in 1994 during the Clinton administration had less strategic justification; it was mainly an example of altruism in action although there were also concerns about Haitian boat people flooding into the United States if we did not stabilize the situation. That intervention involved putting Jean-Bertrand Aristide back into power. He turned out to be a singularly inept and vicious ruler whose departure was facilitated by the Bush administration in 1996. Since then the president of Haiti has been Rene Preval, but he has enjoyed limited power over a violent and chaotic country.

What stability there is has come from “Minustah,” which sounds like a Southern pronunciation of “minister” but in fact is the French acronym for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti. This is a Brazilian-led military and police mission designed to defeat Haiti’s notorious gangs and allow the government to rule. As has become apparent during the post-earthquake looting and mayhem, Minustah has not been terribly successful since being established in 1994. Brazil’s heart is in the right place, but its troops, and those of other nations, have not been able to impose the kind of peace that NATO forces have brought to Bosnia and Kosovo.

Given American commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is scant chance we will take over the peacekeeping mission ourselves. But it would make sense to provide more support to Minustah and work in general to strengthen such international mechanisms. We desperately need a way to place dysfunctional countries like Haiti into international receivership. Until such a mechanism is invented, it appears, alas, that Haiti will continue to experience more of the lawlessness and tragedy that have characterized its history ever since the establishment of a French slave regime in the 18th century.

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Obama Lawyers Fined by Federal Court

Sanctimonious Eric Holder and his equally sanctimonious minions strode into the Justice Department filled with contempt for their predecessors, who they said had “politicized” the administration of justice. (They then proceeded to override the judgment of professional lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel on the constitutionality of D.C. voting rights, appoint a slew of left-wing lawyers who are now making policy on terrorism, and override career prosecutors who chose not to pursue charges against CIA operatives who employed enhanced interrogation techniques.)

Specifically in the civil rights arena, the Obami charged that the Bush administration had failed to act with due diligence to enforce federal law. The Obama political appointees then proceeded to dismiss the New Black Panther Party case, an egregious case of voter intimidation. When last we checked, the Obama administration was refusing to allow its lawyers to respond to a subpoena by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. (Responses to written discovery requests are due on January 11.) Now comes further evidence of what passes for the “administration of justice” in the Obama-Holder regime:

This week, a federal district court in Kansas imposed sanctions on the same Civil Rights Division (CRD) officials who spiked the Panthers case, Loretta King and Steve Rosenbaum, for their refusals to provide information in another case. Breaking the president’s promise to have the most transparent administration in history, Rosenbaum and King’s concealment of information will cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars. … What is clear from reading the order is that, as usual, the CRD made broad accusations of discriminatory conduct when it filed its complaint, but when it was asked to provide specific examples or actual evidence of such discrimination, it failed to do so. Lawyers for both sides have until January 20 to determine the amount of the award to be made to the defendants. While the CRD lawyers “shall be solely responsible for paying the monetary sanctions,” there is no doubt the department will reimburse them, so the American taxpayer will end up footing the bill for Rosenbaum’s outrageous behavior and his failure to properly supervise the lawyers who work for him.

It is noteworthy that these two lawyers — the ones who directly superimposed their own legal judgment in the New Black Panther Party case — are now the subject of  the court’s order, which as the report notes is unusual, in that it is “directed at individual lawyers that specifically says their employer is not responsible for paying the costs.” To boot, King is a multiple-sanctions recipient. During the Clinton administration, she was one of the Justice Department attorneys who was responsible for a fine of more than half a million dollars.

It’s important to keep in mind that, according to those most closely involved in the matter, it’s highly unlikely that King and Rosenbaum themselves initiated the dismissal of the New Black Panther Case. The Washington Times has fingered the No. 3 man in the Justice Department. Nevertheless, the Obama team has contended to Republican congressmen that it was these “professionals” who made the call. And these are among the Obama lawyers who now are going to “improve” enforcement of civil rights laws. We now know what the Obama “professional” lawyers look like in action.

Sanctimonious Eric Holder and his equally sanctimonious minions strode into the Justice Department filled with contempt for their predecessors, who they said had “politicized” the administration of justice. (They then proceeded to override the judgment of professional lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel on the constitutionality of D.C. voting rights, appoint a slew of left-wing lawyers who are now making policy on terrorism, and override career prosecutors who chose not to pursue charges against CIA operatives who employed enhanced interrogation techniques.)

Specifically in the civil rights arena, the Obami charged that the Bush administration had failed to act with due diligence to enforce federal law. The Obama political appointees then proceeded to dismiss the New Black Panther Party case, an egregious case of voter intimidation. When last we checked, the Obama administration was refusing to allow its lawyers to respond to a subpoena by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. (Responses to written discovery requests are due on January 11.) Now comes further evidence of what passes for the “administration of justice” in the Obama-Holder regime:

This week, a federal district court in Kansas imposed sanctions on the same Civil Rights Division (CRD) officials who spiked the Panthers case, Loretta King and Steve Rosenbaum, for their refusals to provide information in another case. Breaking the president’s promise to have the most transparent administration in history, Rosenbaum and King’s concealment of information will cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars. … What is clear from reading the order is that, as usual, the CRD made broad accusations of discriminatory conduct when it filed its complaint, but when it was asked to provide specific examples or actual evidence of such discrimination, it failed to do so. Lawyers for both sides have until January 20 to determine the amount of the award to be made to the defendants. While the CRD lawyers “shall be solely responsible for paying the monetary sanctions,” there is no doubt the department will reimburse them, so the American taxpayer will end up footing the bill for Rosenbaum’s outrageous behavior and his failure to properly supervise the lawyers who work for him.

It is noteworthy that these two lawyers — the ones who directly superimposed their own legal judgment in the New Black Panther Party case — are now the subject of  the court’s order, which as the report notes is unusual, in that it is “directed at individual lawyers that specifically says their employer is not responsible for paying the costs.” To boot, King is a multiple-sanctions recipient. During the Clinton administration, she was one of the Justice Department attorneys who was responsible for a fine of more than half a million dollars.

It’s important to keep in mind that, according to those most closely involved in the matter, it’s highly unlikely that King and Rosenbaum themselves initiated the dismissal of the New Black Panther Case. The Washington Times has fingered the No. 3 man in the Justice Department. Nevertheless, the Obama team has contended to Republican congressmen that it was these “professionals” who made the call. And these are among the Obama lawyers who now are going to “improve” enforcement of civil rights laws. We now know what the Obama “professional” lawyers look like in action.

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A Political Earthquake

In today’s Rasmussen presidential poll, only 26 percent of the nation’s voters strongly approve of Barack Obama’s performance as president, while 43 percent strongly disapprove — giving him a Presidential Approval Index rating, a sum calculated by subtracting the number of strong disapprovals from the number of strong approvals, of negative 17. His overall disapproval rating is 53 percent (it has been 50 percent or more for over a month). But it is the extraordinarily high proportion of those who strongly disapprove that bears noting.

In January, George W. Bush left office with a “Strongly Disapprove” rating of … 43 percent. It took Bush eight years to achieve that level of strong disapproval, despite how the mainstream media pummeled him for years. Obama has reached that level in 11 months, despite a media that for months could not use his name in a sentence without also adding “Lincoln” and “FDR.”

To appreciate the magnitude of Obama’s ratings fall, consider that after his first full day in office, his presidential index was positive 30. Today’s index of negative 17 reflects a swing of 47 points in less than a year.

A commenter at the Huffington Post today observes that Obama has “accomplished the remarkable feat of both demoralizing the base and completely turning off voters in the center.” The president has also unified the Republican party and created a tea-party movement that in some polls is more popular than both the Democratic and Republican parties.

At this stage of the Clinton administration, voters were upset about a health-care reform being planned in secret by the president’s wife; today they appear even more upset by an administration pushing through an ultra-partisan restructuring of the economy in the dead of night. If this keeps up, there is going to be an electoral earthquake less than 11 months from now.

In today’s Rasmussen presidential poll, only 26 percent of the nation’s voters strongly approve of Barack Obama’s performance as president, while 43 percent strongly disapprove — giving him a Presidential Approval Index rating, a sum calculated by subtracting the number of strong disapprovals from the number of strong approvals, of negative 17. His overall disapproval rating is 53 percent (it has been 50 percent or more for over a month). But it is the extraordinarily high proportion of those who strongly disapprove that bears noting.

In January, George W. Bush left office with a “Strongly Disapprove” rating of … 43 percent. It took Bush eight years to achieve that level of strong disapproval, despite how the mainstream media pummeled him for years. Obama has reached that level in 11 months, despite a media that for months could not use his name in a sentence without also adding “Lincoln” and “FDR.”

To appreciate the magnitude of Obama’s ratings fall, consider that after his first full day in office, his presidential index was positive 30. Today’s index of negative 17 reflects a swing of 47 points in less than a year.

A commenter at the Huffington Post today observes that Obama has “accomplished the remarkable feat of both demoralizing the base and completely turning off voters in the center.” The president has also unified the Republican party and created a tea-party movement that in some polls is more popular than both the Democratic and Republican parties.

At this stage of the Clinton administration, voters were upset about a health-care reform being planned in secret by the president’s wife; today they appear even more upset by an administration pushing through an ultra-partisan restructuring of the economy in the dead of night. If this keeps up, there is going to be an electoral earthquake less than 11 months from now.

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How NIAC Lobbied Against Dennis Ross

As revealed in Eli Lake’s bombshell story, the National Iranian-American Council has often acted as an advocate for the interests of the Iranian regime, especially in the early days of the Obama administration and before the Iranian election in June. As Lake documents, the leader of this “Iranian-American” organization, Trita Parsi, is not an American citizen. And the council, which claims to speak on behalf of the 1-million-strong Iranian-American community, has only a few thousand members.

It is also a 501(c)(3), which means that its mission and operation must be nonpartisan — no lobbying allowed. But as information obtained in the discovery phase of a lawsuit filed by NIAC against a critic shows, the organization has been deeply involved in political advocacy. What follows is but one example.

When it became clear in early January that President-elect Obama intended to pick Dennis Ross to oversee Iran policy at the State Department, NIAC sprung into action to scuttle the nomination.

In a Google group called the “New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee,” where several political allies of NIAC, including lobbying groups, participated, Patrick Disney, NIAC’s acting policy director, wrote that “I should be clear — I think we can still influence the [Ross] selection by submitting our recommendation as soon as possible.” He continued: “NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we’re exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross. … I’d like for all of us to coordinate our message as much as possible. So let’s discuss things now and get prepared before things move ahead.”

This was followed by e-mail from Mike Amitay, who is a senior policy analyst at the Open Society Policy Center, a George Soros–funded 501(c)(4) — a lobby. Amitay agreed on the need for action against Ross and added that “a most troubling aspects [sic] of [Ross's] limited Iran-related resume is his role in crafting Bi-Partisan Policy Council report and prominence on Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran.”

So, involvement in United Against a Nuclear Iran was a disqualification for the New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee. UANI’s goal is to “promote efforts that focus on vigorous national and international, social, economic, political and diplomatic measures” in opposition to the Iranian nuclear program. Its leadership consists of a bipartisan cast of foreign-policy leaders — it is an utterly, even conspicuously, centrist organization. But for NIAC, even an organization that so much as expresses concern about the nuclear program is unacceptable.

This e-mail exchange shows not just the political radicalism of NIAC and its advocacy of Iranian-regime interests but also the way the organization skates blithely across some very thin ice. Here we have an employee of NIAC acting in his official capacity and using his NIAC e-mail address to help organize a campaign to undermine an Obama-administration nominee. NIAC claims, and its tax status requires, that it is not a lobby and spends zero percent of its time lobbying. Yet Disney is joined by Amitay, a lobbyist, in organizing what is clearly a lobbying campaign. Nowhere is there an attempt to distinguish between the activities of the two groups or to assume roles consistent with their legal statuses. In fact, just the opposite — it is Disney who seeks to spearhead the campaign.

And this comes in the context of a litany of other incriminating revelations — that Parsi set up meetings between U.S. congressmen and the Iranian ambassador to the UN, that members of NIAC attended meetings explicitly devoted to establishing lobbying agendas and tactics, and so on. And all this, it must be added, in order to help the Iranian regime get sanctions lifted and end American opposition to its nuclear ambitions.

Below the jump is a copy of the e-mail exchange in question.
Read More

As revealed in Eli Lake’s bombshell story, the National Iranian-American Council has often acted as an advocate for the interests of the Iranian regime, especially in the early days of the Obama administration and before the Iranian election in June. As Lake documents, the leader of this “Iranian-American” organization, Trita Parsi, is not an American citizen. And the council, which claims to speak on behalf of the 1-million-strong Iranian-American community, has only a few thousand members.

It is also a 501(c)(3), which means that its mission and operation must be nonpartisan — no lobbying allowed. But as information obtained in the discovery phase of a lawsuit filed by NIAC against a critic shows, the organization has been deeply involved in political advocacy. What follows is but one example.

When it became clear in early January that President-elect Obama intended to pick Dennis Ross to oversee Iran policy at the State Department, NIAC sprung into action to scuttle the nomination.

In a Google group called the “New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee,” where several political allies of NIAC, including lobbying groups, participated, Patrick Disney, NIAC’s acting policy director, wrote that “I should be clear — I think we can still influence the [Ross] selection by submitting our recommendation as soon as possible.” He continued: “NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we’re exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross. … I’d like for all of us to coordinate our message as much as possible. So let’s discuss things now and get prepared before things move ahead.”

This was followed by e-mail from Mike Amitay, who is a senior policy analyst at the Open Society Policy Center, a George Soros–funded 501(c)(4) — a lobby. Amitay agreed on the need for action against Ross and added that “a most troubling aspects [sic] of [Ross's] limited Iran-related resume is his role in crafting Bi-Partisan Policy Council report and prominence on Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran.”

So, involvement in United Against a Nuclear Iran was a disqualification for the New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee. UANI’s goal is to “promote efforts that focus on vigorous national and international, social, economic, political and diplomatic measures” in opposition to the Iranian nuclear program. Its leadership consists of a bipartisan cast of foreign-policy leaders — it is an utterly, even conspicuously, centrist organization. But for NIAC, even an organization that so much as expresses concern about the nuclear program is unacceptable.

This e-mail exchange shows not just the political radicalism of NIAC and its advocacy of Iranian-regime interests but also the way the organization skates blithely across some very thin ice. Here we have an employee of NIAC acting in his official capacity and using his NIAC e-mail address to help organize a campaign to undermine an Obama-administration nominee. NIAC claims, and its tax status requires, that it is not a lobby and spends zero percent of its time lobbying. Yet Disney is joined by Amitay, a lobbyist, in organizing what is clearly a lobbying campaign. Nowhere is there an attempt to distinguish between the activities of the two groups or to assume roles consistent with their legal statuses. In fact, just the opposite — it is Disney who seeks to spearhead the campaign.

And this comes in the context of a litany of other incriminating revelations — that Parsi set up meetings between U.S. congressmen and the Iranian ambassador to the UN, that members of NIAC attended meetings explicitly devoted to establishing lobbying agendas and tactics, and so on. And all this, it must be added, in order to help the Iranian regime get sanctions lifted and end American opposition to its nuclear ambitions.

Below the jump is a copy of the e-mail exchange in question.

—–Original Message—–
From: Mike Amitay [mailto:mamitay@osi-dc.org]
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 2:35 PM
To: jparillo@psr.org; PDisney@niacouncil.org; new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com
Subject: RE: Response to Ross as Iran envoy

Ross has not worked extensively on Iran, though his most recent employer WINEP, is a “think-tank” created by AIPAC leadership in the 1980s. As Jill points out, a most troubling aspects of his limited Iran-related resume is his role in crafting Bi-Partisan Policy Council report and prominence on Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran. (Holbrooke also serves on this body). UANI is a right-wing “pro-Israel” PR effort established to push a more militant US policy towards Iran. If in fact Ross appointment confirmed, I find this deeply troubling. One question to consider, however, is whether publicly objecting to Ross would damage our ability to work with him and others in USG in the future.

###########################################

Mike Amitay – Senior Policy Analyst
Middle East, North Africa and Central Eurasia
Open Society Institute / Open Society Policy Center
1120 19th Street, NW – 8th Floor, Washington, DC 20036
202-721-5625 (direct) 202-530-0138 (fax)
www.soros.org / www.opensocietypolicycenter.org

—–Original Message—–
From: new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com [mailto:new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com] On Behalf Of Jill Parillo
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 2:03 PM
To: PDisney@niacouncil.org; new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com; IranPWG@yahoogroups.com
Subject: RE: Response to Ross as Iran envoy

On Ross, I sent an email earlier, but I would like to add:
Engagement with Iran is aimed at reducing tension in US-Iranian relations, to avoid war and build confidence, so to get to a point where together we can develop common policies that will US and Iranian concerns.

If someone is sent to the talks (like when Burns was) who could increase tension, the policy of engagement as a solution to the Iran challenge will not be a success.
We should talk to those that know Ross well and his policies, and ability to negotiate in a peaceful fair manner.

In spending time as part of the Department of Disarmament Affairs and at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, I sat through several high level negotiations where country Ambassadors walked out of the room because of Bush Administration officials being very rude. The right person and the right policy are important.

We need to also pay attention to who the envoy will report to, in this case it is Clinton, not Obama.
I have never met Ross in person, so I will not judge if he is a good or bad pick. However, I can say I have concerns, since he signed onto the attached paper which says, “WE BELIEVE A MILITARY STRIKE IS A FEASIBLE OPTION…..the United States will need to augment its military presence in the region. This should commence the first day the new President enters office.” I am taking this out of context, so please look at this section for yourself, but in any case, it is concerning.

Best,

Jill

PS. I am off to speak in Italy until Jan 19-Pugwash Conference, so I may not be available for much of the next 10 days. Thanks

—–Original Message—–
From: new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com [mailto:new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com] On Behalf Of pdisney@niacouncil.org
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 1:33 PM
To: new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com; IranPWG@yahoogroups.com
Subject: Response to Ross as Iran envoy

All,

As the rumors appear to be more substantiated by the hour, I think we should start a conversation about what our response will be if Dennis Ross is named Iran envoy.

I should be clear–I think we can still influence the selection by submitting our recommendation as soon as possible. However, if it does prove to be Ross, we have to make a choice as to how to respond.

NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we’re exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross. We would make it clear that we prefer to work with Obama, and that Ross does not align with Obama’s plan to change America’s approach. Obviously, there are pro’s and con’s to any strategy, but if it’s simply impossible for us to work with Ross, we should be in a position to say I told you so after he messes everything up. But I’d like to hear others’ thoughts.

Again, this is a brainstorm rather than a concrete plan. I’d like for all of us to coordinate our message as much as possible. So let’s discuss things now and get prepared before things move ahead.
Thanks very much.
-p

January 7, 2009, 10:21 AM
Obama
Picks Foreign Envoys

Posted by Michelle

Levi

Transition officials confirm to CBS News’ Marc Ambinder that President-elect Obama has asked Dennis Ross, Richard Haas, and Richard Holbrooke, to serve as his chief emissaries to world hot spots. Ross and Holbrooke both served in senior Clinton administration roles. Haas had senior posts in the Bush administration from 2001 to 2003 and in the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

It’s expected that Ross will be assigned the Iran portfolio, that Holbrooke, the hard-headed architect of the Dayton Peace Accords, will take the difficult Southwest Asia portfolio, including India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that Haas will deal with the Middle East.

Each men’s turf is still in flux, so these early assignments are not firm.
Read More Posts In Transition

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Noah Nailed It

On May 20, my CONTENTIONS colleague Noah Pollak asserted that John McCain was losing the Iran policy debate to Barack Obama. McCain had framed his refusal to talk to Tehran in such a way as to ignore the fact that extensive diplomatic overtures had already failed to persuade the Iranian regime to budge. Noah wrote:

. . . it seems to me that McCain should be making a bigger deal over the fact that the western world has indeed been deeply involved in attempting to deal with the Iranian nuclear program through almost exactly the kind of diplomacy that Obama says has yet to be tried. McCain should emphasize the fact that the Iranians have not only been unmoved by this “diplomatic offensive,” but have used the negotiations in order to buy time for nuclear development.

I think Noah was right, and I think John McCain has come to see the wisdom in this point. From McCain’s AIPAC speech earlier today:

The Iranians have spent years working toward a nuclear program. And the idea that they now seek nuclear weapons because we refuse to engage in presidential-level talks is a serious misreading of history. In reality, a series of administrations have tried to talk to Iran, and none tried harder than the Clinton administration. In 1998, the secretary of state made a public overture to the Iranians, laid out a roadmap to normal relations, and for two years tried to engage. The Clinton administration even lifted some sanctions, and Secretary Albright apologized for American actions going back to the 1950s. But even under President Khatami–a man by all accounts less radical than the current president–Iran rejected these overtures.

Then, further proving the absurdity of diplomatic hopefulness, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today came out with fresh redoubled threats against both Israel and the U.S.

I must announce that the Zionist regime (Israel), with a 60-year record of genocide, plunder, invasion and betrayal is about to die and will soon be erased from the geographical scene. . . . Today, the time for the fall of the satanic power of the United States has come and the countdown to the annihilation of the emperor of power and wealth has started.

Well, Senator Obama, Tehran is talking. What is your reply?

On May 20, my CONTENTIONS colleague Noah Pollak asserted that John McCain was losing the Iran policy debate to Barack Obama. McCain had framed his refusal to talk to Tehran in such a way as to ignore the fact that extensive diplomatic overtures had already failed to persuade the Iranian regime to budge. Noah wrote:

. . . it seems to me that McCain should be making a bigger deal over the fact that the western world has indeed been deeply involved in attempting to deal with the Iranian nuclear program through almost exactly the kind of diplomacy that Obama says has yet to be tried. McCain should emphasize the fact that the Iranians have not only been unmoved by this “diplomatic offensive,” but have used the negotiations in order to buy time for nuclear development.

I think Noah was right, and I think John McCain has come to see the wisdom in this point. From McCain’s AIPAC speech earlier today:

The Iranians have spent years working toward a nuclear program. And the idea that they now seek nuclear weapons because we refuse to engage in presidential-level talks is a serious misreading of history. In reality, a series of administrations have tried to talk to Iran, and none tried harder than the Clinton administration. In 1998, the secretary of state made a public overture to the Iranians, laid out a roadmap to normal relations, and for two years tried to engage. The Clinton administration even lifted some sanctions, and Secretary Albright apologized for American actions going back to the 1950s. But even under President Khatami–a man by all accounts less radical than the current president–Iran rejected these overtures.

Then, further proving the absurdity of diplomatic hopefulness, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today came out with fresh redoubled threats against both Israel and the U.S.

I must announce that the Zionist regime (Israel), with a 60-year record of genocide, plunder, invasion and betrayal is about to die and will soon be erased from the geographical scene. . . . Today, the time for the fall of the satanic power of the United States has come and the countdown to the annihilation of the emperor of power and wealth has started.

Well, Senator Obama, Tehran is talking. What is your reply?

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Combat-Ready

I confess I haven’t listened to all 80 minutes of this interview with Nancy Pelosi. But my CONTENTIONS colleague Abe Greenwald tells me that, in addition to crediting Iranian munificence for the growing stability in Iraq, the Speaker made the following statement:

The undermining of our military strength is just staggering. We don’t have one combat-ready unit in the United States to go to protect our interests wherever they are threatened, or those of our friends .

I suppose this is further confirmation of the old chestnut about what goes around comes around: Back in 2000, conservatives were lambasting the Clinton administration for declining readiness levels (see, for instance, this Heritage paper) and promising “help is on the way.” Now it’s the turns of liberals. In both cases the attacks are partially fair, partially not.

The issue is that a unit’s combat readiness declines immediately after rotating out of a war zone. At that point, lots of soldiers and officers leave and lots of new ones come in. Worn-out equipment is repaired or discarded; new equipment arrives slowly. Gradually, the unit fills up and trains up in preparation for another deployment. Often it will not reach the highest level of combat readiness until just before the deployment. Because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, most active-duty army and marine units are either deployed, preparing for deployment, or recovering from deployment. That doesn’t leave a lot of units sitting around at high levels of readiness in CONUS–the military abbreviation for Continental United States. But the units we are sending into combat are the most experienced and best-prepared we have ever sent to fight any war.

Traditionally the 82nd Airborne Division maintained one home-based brigade at the highest state of readiness at all times-ready to deploy anywhere in the world within 72 hours. Last year all four of the 82nd brigade’s deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, handing off the “ready brigade” mission to the 101st Air Assault Division, which has lots of its units deployed too. Three of the 82nd‘s brigades have now returned home to Fort Bragg and the division is supposed to re-assume the “readiness” function next year.

It would be nice to have more units standing by at a higher level of readiness, but that hardly means the U.S. is defenseless. In addition to our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have substantial numbers of ground forces deployed in Okinawa, South Korea, and Germany that in a pinch could be used to deal with another crisis. More importantly, we have lots of air and naval assets that are not engaged in the fight today. Pelosi did not refer specifically to army units; she said “combat-ready units.” By that standard, there are lots of air force squadrons and naval task forces that qualify. And they would in fact be our first line of defense against a crisis in, say, the Korean Peninsula, the Taiwan strait, or Iran.

Anyway, just what is Pelosi’s point? Is she saying that she supports a large increase in the size of the active duty force? John McCain has called for increasing the overall size of our ground forces (army and marines) from today’s projected level of 750,000 to 900,000. Is Pelosi willing to support legislation along those lines? Or is she instead suggesting that, rather than substantially increase our forces, we downsize their missions? I suspect it’s the latter, and that her preferred option is to pull units out of Iraq, thereby losing the most significant war we’ve fought since Vietnam, in order to keep units in readiness for another contingency that may or may not materialize. But, if Vietnam teaches anything, it is that nothing is guaranteed to harm long-term readiness more than losing a war.

I confess I haven’t listened to all 80 minutes of this interview with Nancy Pelosi. But my CONTENTIONS colleague Abe Greenwald tells me that, in addition to crediting Iranian munificence for the growing stability in Iraq, the Speaker made the following statement:

The undermining of our military strength is just staggering. We don’t have one combat-ready unit in the United States to go to protect our interests wherever they are threatened, or those of our friends .

I suppose this is further confirmation of the old chestnut about what goes around comes around: Back in 2000, conservatives were lambasting the Clinton administration for declining readiness levels (see, for instance, this Heritage paper) and promising “help is on the way.” Now it’s the turns of liberals. In both cases the attacks are partially fair, partially not.

The issue is that a unit’s combat readiness declines immediately after rotating out of a war zone. At that point, lots of soldiers and officers leave and lots of new ones come in. Worn-out equipment is repaired or discarded; new equipment arrives slowly. Gradually, the unit fills up and trains up in preparation for another deployment. Often it will not reach the highest level of combat readiness until just before the deployment. Because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, most active-duty army and marine units are either deployed, preparing for deployment, or recovering from deployment. That doesn’t leave a lot of units sitting around at high levels of readiness in CONUS–the military abbreviation for Continental United States. But the units we are sending into combat are the most experienced and best-prepared we have ever sent to fight any war.

Traditionally the 82nd Airborne Division maintained one home-based brigade at the highest state of readiness at all times-ready to deploy anywhere in the world within 72 hours. Last year all four of the 82nd brigade’s deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, handing off the “ready brigade” mission to the 101st Air Assault Division, which has lots of its units deployed too. Three of the 82nd‘s brigades have now returned home to Fort Bragg and the division is supposed to re-assume the “readiness” function next year.

It would be nice to have more units standing by at a higher level of readiness, but that hardly means the U.S. is defenseless. In addition to our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have substantial numbers of ground forces deployed in Okinawa, South Korea, and Germany that in a pinch could be used to deal with another crisis. More importantly, we have lots of air and naval assets that are not engaged in the fight today. Pelosi did not refer specifically to army units; she said “combat-ready units.” By that standard, there are lots of air force squadrons and naval task forces that qualify. And they would in fact be our first line of defense against a crisis in, say, the Korean Peninsula, the Taiwan strait, or Iran.

Anyway, just what is Pelosi’s point? Is she saying that she supports a large increase in the size of the active duty force? John McCain has called for increasing the overall size of our ground forces (army and marines) from today’s projected level of 750,000 to 900,000. Is Pelosi willing to support legislation along those lines? Or is she instead suggesting that, rather than substantially increase our forces, we downsize their missions? I suspect it’s the latter, and that her preferred option is to pull units out of Iraq, thereby losing the most significant war we’ve fought since Vietnam, in order to keep units in readiness for another contingency that may or may not materialize. But, if Vietnam teaches anything, it is that nothing is guaranteed to harm long-term readiness more than losing a war.

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The League of Democracies

In his Washington Post column, Jackson Diehl adds his voice to Robert Kagan’s in explaining why the League of Democracies–an idea that Senator McCain has advocated–is not a nefarious neocon plot. In fact, it has antecedents in the Clinton administration and it has a number of advocates on the left, including Howard Dean’s former foreign policy adviser, Ivo Daalder.

I doubt this will cause the reflexive scoffers to think again (see for instance this article and this one). But I hope that the vast majority of people are who are now agnostic will at least give this innovative idea some serious consideration. Sure, it has flaws. But it’s not as if anyone else has a better idea of what the global “architecture” of the future should look like. In fact, as Diehl suggests, the Obama campaign would be well advised to embrace this bipartisan initiative. (Full disclosure: I’m a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

In his Washington Post column, Jackson Diehl adds his voice to Robert Kagan’s in explaining why the League of Democracies–an idea that Senator McCain has advocated–is not a nefarious neocon plot. In fact, it has antecedents in the Clinton administration and it has a number of advocates on the left, including Howard Dean’s former foreign policy adviser, Ivo Daalder.

I doubt this will cause the reflexive scoffers to think again (see for instance this article and this one). But I hope that the vast majority of people are who are now agnostic will at least give this innovative idea some serious consideration. Sure, it has flaws. But it’s not as if anyone else has a better idea of what the global “architecture” of the future should look like. In fact, as Diehl suggests, the Obama campaign would be well advised to embrace this bipartisan initiative. (Full disclosure: I’m a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

Read Less

Senator Lieberman’s Address

Senator Joseph Lieberman spoke last night at the annual Commentary Fund dinner at New York’s University Club, which I attended. Although he termed it a “lecture,” his address was in fact a history lesson, one that–in light of the past week’s events–it appears the country badly needs.

Lieberman reviewed the bipartisan war that both American political parties waged against fascism and then communism in the 20th century. He traced the committment to fighting totalitarianism that ran from Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy to Reagan. After a near-collapse during the Carter presidency and abandonment by a series of failed Democratic presidential candidates, that tradition of support for freedom and opposition to tyranny, he contended, was restored and became a mainstay in the Clinton administration. He praised Clinton’s willingness to use American military power in Bosnia to prevent ethnic cleansing in Europe’s midst. And he maintained this was the essential platform that he and Al Gore ran on in 2000.

With obvious pained disappointed he argued that his once stalwart Democratic party has in fact fallen prey to isolationism and defeatism. He spoke of his decision to endorse John McCain, who, he contends, understands the stakes in Iraq and more generally America’s role in the world. As for his own historic party, he is not yet ready to give up on the notion of a Democratic Party devoted to a muscular defense of American interest and thus remains an “Independent Democrat.”

What to make of the address? I confess I came away wondering how the American political alignment on this issues would have turned out had that Florida vote gone differently in 2000. But overwhelmingly, I felt a sense of regret that he really is a voice in the wilderness, without bitterness but nevertheless alone, in his struggle to return the Democratic party to its robust national security position. Still, his erudite and good-humored address reminds us that those in public life (and those who write about it) are obligated to teach and reteach the lessons of the past. Without them– properly told and properly understood–we are lost. And never more so than now.

Senator Joseph Lieberman spoke last night at the annual Commentary Fund dinner at New York’s University Club, which I attended. Although he termed it a “lecture,” his address was in fact a history lesson, one that–in light of the past week’s events–it appears the country badly needs.

Lieberman reviewed the bipartisan war that both American political parties waged against fascism and then communism in the 20th century. He traced the committment to fighting totalitarianism that ran from Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy to Reagan. After a near-collapse during the Carter presidency and abandonment by a series of failed Democratic presidential candidates, that tradition of support for freedom and opposition to tyranny, he contended, was restored and became a mainstay in the Clinton administration. He praised Clinton’s willingness to use American military power in Bosnia to prevent ethnic cleansing in Europe’s midst. And he maintained this was the essential platform that he and Al Gore ran on in 2000.

With obvious pained disappointed he argued that his once stalwart Democratic party has in fact fallen prey to isolationism and defeatism. He spoke of his decision to endorse John McCain, who, he contends, understands the stakes in Iraq and more generally America’s role in the world. As for his own historic party, he is not yet ready to give up on the notion of a Democratic Party devoted to a muscular defense of American interest and thus remains an “Independent Democrat.”

What to make of the address? I confess I came away wondering how the American political alignment on this issues would have turned out had that Florida vote gone differently in 2000. But overwhelmingly, I felt a sense of regret that he really is a voice in the wilderness, without bitterness but nevertheless alone, in his struggle to return the Democratic party to its robust national security position. Still, his erudite and good-humored address reminds us that those in public life (and those who write about it) are obligated to teach and reteach the lessons of the past. Without them– properly told and properly understood–we are lost. And never more so than now.

Read Less




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