Commentary Magazine


Topic: columnist

A Moment for Political Courage

According to media accounts, in his State of the Union address, President Obama is going to avoid dealing with our entitlement crisis. The question is: will Republicans?

That is setting up to be the key debate of the next several months.

There is one line of argument, articulated by Ramesh Ponnuru, that insists that for House Republicans to take on entitlement reform would be noble but politically suicidal. The reasoning is that (a) for the next two years, reform is impossible unless and until President Obama takes the lead on it; (b) Republicans have no mandate for reform even if they wanted to; and (c) every time they have tried to reform entitlements in the past (George W. Bush on Social Security and Newt Gingrich on Medicare), they have paid a high political price.

The more responsible approach would be to champion cuts in discretionary spending and continue to insist on the repeal of ObamaCare. That would be entirely enough, this argument goes; to do more will require a Republican president willing to educate the nation on the entitlement crisis and to do something about it.

The counterargument is that we are in a new and different moment when it comes to entitlement reform. Due to the financial crisis of 2008 and the spending habits of President Obama and the 111th Congress, what was a serious problem has become an acute one. In the past, the deficit and debt were manageable; now, every serious person who has studied this matter concedes, the situation is unsustainable. The public understands this in one way or another; and if they’re not yet ready to take on entitlement reforms, they are certainly educable in a way that has never been the case before. Read More

According to media accounts, in his State of the Union address, President Obama is going to avoid dealing with our entitlement crisis. The question is: will Republicans?

That is setting up to be the key debate of the next several months.

There is one line of argument, articulated by Ramesh Ponnuru, that insists that for House Republicans to take on entitlement reform would be noble but politically suicidal. The reasoning is that (a) for the next two years, reform is impossible unless and until President Obama takes the lead on it; (b) Republicans have no mandate for reform even if they wanted to; and (c) every time they have tried to reform entitlements in the past (George W. Bush on Social Security and Newt Gingrich on Medicare), they have paid a high political price.

The more responsible approach would be to champion cuts in discretionary spending and continue to insist on the repeal of ObamaCare. That would be entirely enough, this argument goes; to do more will require a Republican president willing to educate the nation on the entitlement crisis and to do something about it.

The counterargument is that we are in a new and different moment when it comes to entitlement reform. Due to the financial crisis of 2008 and the spending habits of President Obama and the 111th Congress, what was a serious problem has become an acute one. In the past, the deficit and debt were manageable; now, every serious person who has studied this matter concedes, the situation is unsustainable. The public understands this in one way or another; and if they’re not yet ready to take on entitlement reforms, they are certainly educable in a way that has never been the case before.

The way to frame this argument, according to those who want to take on entitlement programs, is to simply state the reality of the situation: we can act now, in a relatively incremental and responsible way, in order to avoid the painful austerity measures that are occurring in Europe and elsewhere. Or we can delay action and, at some point not far into the future, be unable to avoid cuts that will cause a great deal of social unrest.

So we’re clear, the entitlement that really matters is Medicare. “The fact is,” my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin told Michael Gerson, “Medicare is going to crush the government, and if Republicans leave it unreformed then the debt picture is very, very ugly. They might never — literally never — show the budget reaching balance. Not in the 10-year window and not if they take their graphs out a hundred years. Obama could probably show balance just past the budget window in the middle of the next decade because of the massive Medicare cuts he proposes, even if in practice they will never actually happen.”

To get a sense of what we’re talking about, Veronique de Rugy has put together a very useful chart that can be found here.

It makes the point that cutting discretionary spending only makes a small difference in the overall budget picture. She lays out the difference between the Republican Study Committee plan, which cuts $2 trillion over 10 years and is therefore a good deal more aggressive than the House Republican leadership proposal, and where spending would be without those cuts over the next 10 years. As you will see, it’s a small difference. Spending keeps growing rapidly either way. Without entitlement reform, then, this is about as much as we could reasonably do — and it just isn’t that much.

In other words, if Republicans don’t take on Medicare, their credibility as a party of fiscal responsibility and limited government will be shattered. The math guarantees it. The GOP, having made the 2010 election largely (though not exclusively) a referendum on the deficit and the debt, will be viewed as fraudulent.

Compounding the problem is the fact that, as Gerson explains, if Republicans don’t touch Medicare, their budget approach — on paper, at least — will have less long-term debt reduction than Obama’s, both because Obama supports tax increases and he uses a slew of budget gimmicks to make his health-care plan appear to be far more affordable than it really is.

It’s a pretty good bet that the president will advance the same kind of gimmicks in his 2012 budget. If so, then unless Republicans are willing to champion Medicare reform (meaning changing it from a defined benefit program to a defined contribution program), Obama will be able to position himself as a budget hawk, at least compared to the GOP. This could have devastating political effects, including dispiriting the Republican base and the Tea Party movement. Having just elected Republicans in large measure to stop the financial hemorrhage and to restore fiscal balance, voters will not react well when they are told, in so many words, “Never Mind.”

So count me as one who believes Republicans need to embrace entitlement reform in general, and Medicare reforms in particular, because not doing so is irresponsible. It means willfully avoiding what everyone knows needs to be done in the hope that at some future, as-yet-to-be-determined date, a better and easier moment will arrive.

Sometime a political party needs to comfort itself with the axiom that good policy makes good politics. That isn’t always the case, certainly, but often it is. In any event, if the GOP avoids reforming Medicare, there is no way any Republican lawmaker, when pressed by reporters on fiscal matters, can make a plausible argument that their actions are remotely consistent with their stated philosophy.

They will hem and haw and duck and dodge and try to change the subject — and they will emerge as counterfeit, deceptive, and unserious. Here it’s worth recalling the words of the columnist Walter Lippmann, who wrote:

With exceptions so rare that they are regarded as miracles and freaks of nature, successful democratic politicians are insecure and intimidated men. They advance politically only as they placate, appease, bribe, seduce, bamboozle, or otherwise manage to manipulate the demanding and threatening elements in their constituencies. The decisive consideration is not whether the proposition is good but whether it is popular — not whether it will work well and prove itself but whether the active talking constituents like it immediately.

Perhaps I’m asking GOP lawmakers to prove themselves to be miracles and freaks of nature. But if I am right in my analysis, that is what is called for. It would mean Republicans have an enormous public-education campaign ahead of them. They will have to explain why their policies are the most responsible and humane. They will need to articulate the case not simply for entitlement reform but also for limited government. And they will need to explain, in a compelling and accessible way, why limited government is crucial to civic character.

None of this is easy — but lawmakers weren’t elected to make easy decisions. They were elected to make the right ones. And reforming Medicare is, in our time, the right decision.

Let’s get on with it.

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Is This the End for the Palestinian Authority Leadership?

As more Palestinian Papers continue to leak out, the Jerusalem Post is reporting this morning that Hamas has called on Palestinians to protest the alleged “concessions” the PA offered to Israel.

Hamas’s incitement is no surprise. Since yesterday, Al Jazeera has reported that the PA offered the Israelis many of the settlements and admitted that the “right of return” was impractical. And tomorrow, the news network has indicated it will be broadcasting a story on the PA’s alleged collaboration with the Israeli security forces.

Jerusalem Post columnist Khaled Abu Toameh writes that the manner in which Al Jazeera has covered the papers is the equivalent of a show trial.

“In other words, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his men have been convicted of high treason — which, in the Arab and Islamic world, is a crime punishable by death,” he wrote. “Al-Jazeera is now waiting for the executioner (the Palestinians, in this case) to carry out the death sentence.”

That seems like a very possible fallout from the papers. While PA leaders claim that the documents are inaccurate, they have little ammunition to fight back against Al Jazeera’s reporting. Al Jazeera is a widely respected news outlet in the Arab world; in comparison, Mahmoud Abbas’s government was already viewed suspiciously by many Palestinians.

Toameh sees this as the beginning of the end for the current West Bank government:

It’s hard to see how, in light of this damning verdict, the PA will be able to salvage what’s left of its credibility. Al- Jazeera has succeeded in instilling in the minds of many Palestinians and Arabs the belief that the leaders of the PA are a bunch of corrupt traitors who serve Israeli and American interests.

The damage to the PA’s image and reputation is colossal and irreparable.

Maybe not irreparable, but it’s very hard to see how the already unstable PA will be able to survive this one.

As more Palestinian Papers continue to leak out, the Jerusalem Post is reporting this morning that Hamas has called on Palestinians to protest the alleged “concessions” the PA offered to Israel.

Hamas’s incitement is no surprise. Since yesterday, Al Jazeera has reported that the PA offered the Israelis many of the settlements and admitted that the “right of return” was impractical. And tomorrow, the news network has indicated it will be broadcasting a story on the PA’s alleged collaboration with the Israeli security forces.

Jerusalem Post columnist Khaled Abu Toameh writes that the manner in which Al Jazeera has covered the papers is the equivalent of a show trial.

“In other words, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his men have been convicted of high treason — which, in the Arab and Islamic world, is a crime punishable by death,” he wrote. “Al-Jazeera is now waiting for the executioner (the Palestinians, in this case) to carry out the death sentence.”

That seems like a very possible fallout from the papers. While PA leaders claim that the documents are inaccurate, they have little ammunition to fight back against Al Jazeera’s reporting. Al Jazeera is a widely respected news outlet in the Arab world; in comparison, Mahmoud Abbas’s government was already viewed suspiciously by many Palestinians.

Toameh sees this as the beginning of the end for the current West Bank government:

It’s hard to see how, in light of this damning verdict, the PA will be able to salvage what’s left of its credibility. Al- Jazeera has succeeded in instilling in the minds of many Palestinians and Arabs the belief that the leaders of the PA are a bunch of corrupt traitors who serve Israeli and American interests.

The damage to the PA’s image and reputation is colossal and irreparable.

Maybe not irreparable, but it’s very hard to see how the already unstable PA will be able to survive this one.

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Palestine Papers Confirm What Israel Has Said All Along

I don’t know whether the “Palestine Papers” published yesterday by Al Jazeera and the Guardian are real or, as Barry Rubin argues, a fake aimed at discrediting the Palestinian Authority’s current leadership. What is certainly false, however, is the claim, as Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland put it, that “Now we know. Israel had a peace partner.”

If the papers are true, then, as Noah pointed out, they show the PA agreeing to let Israel keep most — though not all — of the huge Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, which are home to hundreds of thousands of Israelis. The Guardian deems this concession shameful. Freedland terms it “unthinkable”; the paper’s editorial goes even further, accusing Palestinians of agreeing “to flog the family silver.”

Yet, as Rick noted, every peace plan of the past decade — starting with the Clinton Parameters in 2000, which virtually the entire world claims to view as the basis for any agreement — has proposed assigning the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to Israel. The Guardian is entitled to fantasize about a Palestinian state “created on 1967 borders, not around them,” but no serious mediator or negotiator ever has. Even UN Security Council Resolution 242, which everyone accepts as the basis for talks, was drafted so as to allow changes to the pre-1967 armistice lines.

Indeed, far from constituting an “unthinkable” concession, the PA offer detailed in these documents didn’t even amount to the minimum that every peace plan of the past decade has deemed necessary for an agreement — because every such plan, again starting with the Clinton Parameters, has also proposed giving Israel additional parts of the West Bank (usually in exchange for equivalent territory inside Israel) so as to allow it to retain some of the major settlement blocs. And, according to these documents, the Palestinians wouldn’t agree to that.

This, of course, tallies exactly with what Israel has said for the past decade. Israel never claimed that negotiations broke down over Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, but it repeatedly claimed that talks broke down over other issues, such as borders. In 2008, for instance, Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians 93 percent of the West Bank plus territorial swaps equivalent to the remainder, but the Palestinians refused to sign: they insisted on land swaps of only about 2 percent (see here or here).

The Palestine Papers also claim that the PA agreed to cede exclusive control over the Temple Mount in favor of management by “a body or committee.” But that, too, was in Olmert’s offer: a five-member committee composed of Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the U.S., thereby ensuring an Arab majority. And, again, the Palestinians refused to sign. Indeed, PA President Mahmoud Abbas subsequently told the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl that “the gaps were wide.”

The documents did, however, contain one revealing quote: chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat allegedly told an American official, “Israelis want the two state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians.”

Whether or not Erekat actually said that, it’s unfortunately true. And until it changes, peace will remain a distant dream.

I don’t know whether the “Palestine Papers” published yesterday by Al Jazeera and the Guardian are real or, as Barry Rubin argues, a fake aimed at discrediting the Palestinian Authority’s current leadership. What is certainly false, however, is the claim, as Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland put it, that “Now we know. Israel had a peace partner.”

If the papers are true, then, as Noah pointed out, they show the PA agreeing to let Israel keep most — though not all — of the huge Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, which are home to hundreds of thousands of Israelis. The Guardian deems this concession shameful. Freedland terms it “unthinkable”; the paper’s editorial goes even further, accusing Palestinians of agreeing “to flog the family silver.”

Yet, as Rick noted, every peace plan of the past decade — starting with the Clinton Parameters in 2000, which virtually the entire world claims to view as the basis for any agreement — has proposed assigning the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to Israel. The Guardian is entitled to fantasize about a Palestinian state “created on 1967 borders, not around them,” but no serious mediator or negotiator ever has. Even UN Security Council Resolution 242, which everyone accepts as the basis for talks, was drafted so as to allow changes to the pre-1967 armistice lines.

Indeed, far from constituting an “unthinkable” concession, the PA offer detailed in these documents didn’t even amount to the minimum that every peace plan of the past decade has deemed necessary for an agreement — because every such plan, again starting with the Clinton Parameters, has also proposed giving Israel additional parts of the West Bank (usually in exchange for equivalent territory inside Israel) so as to allow it to retain some of the major settlement blocs. And, according to these documents, the Palestinians wouldn’t agree to that.

This, of course, tallies exactly with what Israel has said for the past decade. Israel never claimed that negotiations broke down over Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, but it repeatedly claimed that talks broke down over other issues, such as borders. In 2008, for instance, Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians 93 percent of the West Bank plus territorial swaps equivalent to the remainder, but the Palestinians refused to sign: they insisted on land swaps of only about 2 percent (see here or here).

The Palestine Papers also claim that the PA agreed to cede exclusive control over the Temple Mount in favor of management by “a body or committee.” But that, too, was in Olmert’s offer: a five-member committee composed of Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the U.S., thereby ensuring an Arab majority. And, again, the Palestinians refused to sign. Indeed, PA President Mahmoud Abbas subsequently told the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl that “the gaps were wide.”

The documents did, however, contain one revealing quote: chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat allegedly told an American official, “Israelis want the two state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians.”

Whether or not Erekat actually said that, it’s unfortunately true. And until it changes, peace will remain a distant dream.

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RE: Gail Collins and Joe Lieberman

Following up on John’s post on Gail Collins and Joe Lieberman: a standard trope in the mainstream news media is to bemoan the decline of bipartisanship and the disappearance of centrist politicians. If only there were more lawmakers willing to vote based on their principles rather than politics, we often hear, Washington would be a better place. Except this week just such a politician announced his retirement, and instead of offering him tributes for his political bravery, he has been kicked in the shins for daring to deviate from the party line.

I am thinking, of course, of Joe Lieberman, who has come to define genuine bipartisanship in Washington. A liberal Democrat on many issues, he voted for ObamaCare and led the charge to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But he also courageously supported the Iraq war even when it became extremely unpopular to do so, and he stood by his friend John McCain even when McCain was opposing Barack Obama, the liberal darling. Thus Lieberman’s retirement announcement has been greeted not with tributes to his statesmanship but with brickbats hurled by the likes of New York Times columnist Gail Collins.

In an ungraceful and unpleasant column, Collins cannot seem to find anything nice to say about one of the nicest people in Washington. She even slights him rather than praises him for his leadership on allowing gays to serve openly in the military:

Last month, when he helped lead the fight for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” some people seemed more than a tad resentful at having to give up complaining about him for the duration of the debate. “Of course, he wants gay people in the military,” wrote Alex Pareene at Salon.com, “He wants everyone in the military.”

Whatever happened to civility in politics — that virtue much praised in recent weeks? Do its dictates apply only to Republicans? And is “courage” a virtue that can be exhibited only by those who take liberal policy stands? Silly questions, I know.  The commentary on Lieberman’s retirement confirms that there is no institution quite so partisan as the MSM, even as it sings the praises of bipartisanship.

Following up on John’s post on Gail Collins and Joe Lieberman: a standard trope in the mainstream news media is to bemoan the decline of bipartisanship and the disappearance of centrist politicians. If only there were more lawmakers willing to vote based on their principles rather than politics, we often hear, Washington would be a better place. Except this week just such a politician announced his retirement, and instead of offering him tributes for his political bravery, he has been kicked in the shins for daring to deviate from the party line.

I am thinking, of course, of Joe Lieberman, who has come to define genuine bipartisanship in Washington. A liberal Democrat on many issues, he voted for ObamaCare and led the charge to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But he also courageously supported the Iraq war even when it became extremely unpopular to do so, and he stood by his friend John McCain even when McCain was opposing Barack Obama, the liberal darling. Thus Lieberman’s retirement announcement has been greeted not with tributes to his statesmanship but with brickbats hurled by the likes of New York Times columnist Gail Collins.

In an ungraceful and unpleasant column, Collins cannot seem to find anything nice to say about one of the nicest people in Washington. She even slights him rather than praises him for his leadership on allowing gays to serve openly in the military:

Last month, when he helped lead the fight for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” some people seemed more than a tad resentful at having to give up complaining about him for the duration of the debate. “Of course, he wants gay people in the military,” wrote Alex Pareene at Salon.com, “He wants everyone in the military.”

Whatever happened to civility in politics — that virtue much praised in recent weeks? Do its dictates apply only to Republicans? And is “courage” a virtue that can be exhibited only by those who take liberal policy stands? Silly questions, I know.  The commentary on Lieberman’s retirement confirms that there is no institution quite so partisan as the MSM, even as it sings the praises of bipartisanship.

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Gail Collins and Joe Lieberman: Not Much of a Competition There

Gail Collins of the New York Times has written a column upon Joe Lieberman’s announcement of his retirement from the Senate that, as with so many of her pieces, is written in a spirit of jocularity when its author actually has no observable sense of humor. This one is full of invective without wit. It’s as if Collins, whose tenure as the editor of the Times editorial page made for excellent bird-cage lining, were the bastard child of Don Rickles and David Broder.

Of Lieberman, she says he was, at the outset of his career, “extremely boring.” Of his speech yesterday, she writes: “Lieberman has reached a point in his public career when every single thing he does, including talking about his grandparents, is irritating.” She quotes “a friend in Connecticut” who said, “He’s the kind of guy who, when you see him in line at the supermarket, you go and get in a different line so you won’t have to make conversation.” She then tasks him, through a quote from a Connecticut pol, for “taking it personally” when people called him a baby-killer and a monster and evil for supporting the war in Iraq.

Listen. Hate Joe Lieberman all you want for his ideas — and she freely acknowledges she does hate him for “watering down” the health-care bill and “consolidating the intelligence services” — but it is simply preposterous to describe him as boring or the kind of person you flee from. Until the Iraq war rended the nation and heated up politics in Washington to a dangerous roil, Lieberman was certainly among the best-liked senators among people on both sides of the aisle. His staffers loved him, and so did the staffs of committees on which he served. And he is the opposite of boring: once (or maybe even twice) he won a contest that judged the funniest elected politician in Washington. Granted, that’s not much of a contest, but in the contest for unfunniest columnist in America, Gail Collins would win hands-down.

I know him a little; his daughter Rebecca is a very close friend of mine. At Rebecca’s wedding, Lieberman got up to make the paternal toast. “I am so happy today,” he said, “that I wish I could give you all an earmark.” If she lived a hundred lifetimes, Gail Collins would be unable to crack a joke one-thousandth as clever. Believe me, if you had to pick one or the other to go out and have a drink with, even if you were Noam Chomsky, you’d have a better time with Joe.

Gail Collins of the New York Times has written a column upon Joe Lieberman’s announcement of his retirement from the Senate that, as with so many of her pieces, is written in a spirit of jocularity when its author actually has no observable sense of humor. This one is full of invective without wit. It’s as if Collins, whose tenure as the editor of the Times editorial page made for excellent bird-cage lining, were the bastard child of Don Rickles and David Broder.

Of Lieberman, she says he was, at the outset of his career, “extremely boring.” Of his speech yesterday, she writes: “Lieberman has reached a point in his public career when every single thing he does, including talking about his grandparents, is irritating.” She quotes “a friend in Connecticut” who said, “He’s the kind of guy who, when you see him in line at the supermarket, you go and get in a different line so you won’t have to make conversation.” She then tasks him, through a quote from a Connecticut pol, for “taking it personally” when people called him a baby-killer and a monster and evil for supporting the war in Iraq.

Listen. Hate Joe Lieberman all you want for his ideas — and she freely acknowledges she does hate him for “watering down” the health-care bill and “consolidating the intelligence services” — but it is simply preposterous to describe him as boring or the kind of person you flee from. Until the Iraq war rended the nation and heated up politics in Washington to a dangerous roil, Lieberman was certainly among the best-liked senators among people on both sides of the aisle. His staffers loved him, and so did the staffs of committees on which he served. And he is the opposite of boring: once (or maybe even twice) he won a contest that judged the funniest elected politician in Washington. Granted, that’s not much of a contest, but in the contest for unfunniest columnist in America, Gail Collins would win hands-down.

I know him a little; his daughter Rebecca is a very close friend of mine. At Rebecca’s wedding, Lieberman got up to make the paternal toast. “I am so happy today,” he said, “that I wish I could give you all an earmark.” If she lived a hundred lifetimes, Gail Collins would be unable to crack a joke one-thousandth as clever. Believe me, if you had to pick one or the other to go out and have a drink with, even if you were Noam Chomsky, you’d have a better time with Joe.

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Wise Words on the Palin Obsession

Ross Douthat of the New York Times has written a very intelligent column on the very odd, and in some respects co-dependent, relationship between the media and Sarah Palin.

Here is how Douthat concludes his column:

To the media: Cover Sarah Palin if you want, but stop acting as if she’s the most important conservative politician in America. Stop pretending that she has a plausible path to the presidency in 2012. (She doesn’t.) Stop suggesting that she’s the front-runner for the Republican nomination. (She isn’t.) And every time you’re tempted to parse her tweets for some secret code or crucial dog whistle, stop and think, this woman has fewer Twitter followers than Ben Stiller, and then go write about something else instead.

To Palin: You were an actual politician once (remember that?), but you’re becoming the kind of caricature that your enemies have always tried to make of you. So maybe it’s time to turn off your iPad for a while, and take a break from Facebook and Fox News. The world won’t end if you don’t respond to every criticism, and you might even win a few more admirers if you cultivated a lighter touch and a more above-the-fray persona. Oh, and when that reality-TV producer sends you a pitch for “Sarah Plus Five Plus Kate Plus Eight,” just say no.

Breaking up is hard to do, of course. But for the majority of Americans who are neither Palinoiacs nor Palinistas, here’s the good news: If the press (including this columnist!) and Sarah Palin can’t quit each other, you can still quit us.

These are wise words all the way around.

Ross Douthat of the New York Times has written a very intelligent column on the very odd, and in some respects co-dependent, relationship between the media and Sarah Palin.

Here is how Douthat concludes his column:

To the media: Cover Sarah Palin if you want, but stop acting as if she’s the most important conservative politician in America. Stop pretending that she has a plausible path to the presidency in 2012. (She doesn’t.) Stop suggesting that she’s the front-runner for the Republican nomination. (She isn’t.) And every time you’re tempted to parse her tweets for some secret code or crucial dog whistle, stop and think, this woman has fewer Twitter followers than Ben Stiller, and then go write about something else instead.

To Palin: You were an actual politician once (remember that?), but you’re becoming the kind of caricature that your enemies have always tried to make of you. So maybe it’s time to turn off your iPad for a while, and take a break from Facebook and Fox News. The world won’t end if you don’t respond to every criticism, and you might even win a few more admirers if you cultivated a lighter touch and a more above-the-fray persona. Oh, and when that reality-TV producer sends you a pitch for “Sarah Plus Five Plus Kate Plus Eight,” just say no.

Breaking up is hard to do, of course. But for the majority of Americans who are neither Palinoiacs nor Palinistas, here’s the good news: If the press (including this columnist!) and Sarah Palin can’t quit each other, you can still quit us.

These are wise words all the way around.

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Iran Declares War on Purim

Less than two years ago, the readers of the New York Times were being treated to Roger Cohen’s tribute to Iran’s supposedly kindly treatment of the remnant of a once-great Jewish community. Cohen’s rosy description of life inside the Islamist republic was widely scorned for his willingness to buy into the lies being peddled by the tyrants of Tehran. The Times columnist’s motive for trying to soften the image of that openly anti-Semitic government was to undermine support for sanctions or the use of force to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The point was that if Iran’s eliminationist rhetoric about the State of Israel could be rationalized or its reputation for Jew-hatred wished away, it would be that much harder to forge an international consensus on the need to stop this regime for gaining nuclear capability.

In the intervening two years since Cohen’s fallacious pro-Iranian broadside, we haven’t heard much about the treatment of the small Jewish community there. But this week, via a report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, we learned that the Iranian news agency FARS has announced that the site of the Tomb of Mordechai and Esther in the city of Hamdan has lost its official status as a religious pilgrimage site. The FARS report says that Iranian children are now being taught that the site, which honors the biblical heroine Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai, who are the central figures in the story of the Jewish holiday of Purim, was “an arm of Israeli imperialism that impugns Iranian sovereignty.” FARS went on to say that the name of the shrine must be obliterated in order to teach Iranians to “beware of the crimes of the Jews.” It goes on to say that the site must become “a Holocaust memorial” to the “Iranian victims of Esther and Mordechai” and be placed under the supervision of the state religious-endowments authority. This is, of course, the same Iranian government that officially denies the fact of the actual Holocaust.

The Iranian account speaks of the events of the Purim story, in which Esther and Mordechai foiled a plan hatched by the King’s minister Haman to exterminate the Jews of the Persian Empire, who then strike back against the forces arrayed to slaughter them.

The action against the tomb appears to be a response to a demonstration by Iranian students who called for its destruction in response to a false report that Israel was digging beneath the al-Aksa mosque in Jerusalem.

While we cannot know whether the Iranians will follow through on this threat and actually tear down the tomb or transform it into a center of anti-Jewish hate, it does provide yet another insight into the virulent nature of the attitudes of those in power there. Not satisfied with whipping up hatred against the State of Israel and the tiny, cowed remnant community that still lives there, the Iranians are now striking out against biblical Jews. The vicious nature of this regime is rooted in a view of Islam that apologists for Tehran have consistently sought to ignore. While the blow against Esther and Mordechai may be purely symbolic, it must be placed in the context of a long-running campaign of incitement against Jews and Israel that makes the possible acquisition of nuclear arms by this country even more alarming.

The Iranian war on Purim makes it even more imperative that they never be allowed to gain the power to do what the ayatollah’s ancient hero Haman attempted: the physical elimination of a Jewish population. Anyone who thinks that we can live with a nuclear Iran needs to consider the madness of allowing a government that thinks the Purim story should be reversed the power to do just that.

Less than two years ago, the readers of the New York Times were being treated to Roger Cohen’s tribute to Iran’s supposedly kindly treatment of the remnant of a once-great Jewish community. Cohen’s rosy description of life inside the Islamist republic was widely scorned for his willingness to buy into the lies being peddled by the tyrants of Tehran. The Times columnist’s motive for trying to soften the image of that openly anti-Semitic government was to undermine support for sanctions or the use of force to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The point was that if Iran’s eliminationist rhetoric about the State of Israel could be rationalized or its reputation for Jew-hatred wished away, it would be that much harder to forge an international consensus on the need to stop this regime for gaining nuclear capability.

In the intervening two years since Cohen’s fallacious pro-Iranian broadside, we haven’t heard much about the treatment of the small Jewish community there. But this week, via a report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, we learned that the Iranian news agency FARS has announced that the site of the Tomb of Mordechai and Esther in the city of Hamdan has lost its official status as a religious pilgrimage site. The FARS report says that Iranian children are now being taught that the site, which honors the biblical heroine Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai, who are the central figures in the story of the Jewish holiday of Purim, was “an arm of Israeli imperialism that impugns Iranian sovereignty.” FARS went on to say that the name of the shrine must be obliterated in order to teach Iranians to “beware of the crimes of the Jews.” It goes on to say that the site must become “a Holocaust memorial” to the “Iranian victims of Esther and Mordechai” and be placed under the supervision of the state religious-endowments authority. This is, of course, the same Iranian government that officially denies the fact of the actual Holocaust.

The Iranian account speaks of the events of the Purim story, in which Esther and Mordechai foiled a plan hatched by the King’s minister Haman to exterminate the Jews of the Persian Empire, who then strike back against the forces arrayed to slaughter them.

The action against the tomb appears to be a response to a demonstration by Iranian students who called for its destruction in response to a false report that Israel was digging beneath the al-Aksa mosque in Jerusalem.

While we cannot know whether the Iranians will follow through on this threat and actually tear down the tomb or transform it into a center of anti-Jewish hate, it does provide yet another insight into the virulent nature of the attitudes of those in power there. Not satisfied with whipping up hatred against the State of Israel and the tiny, cowed remnant community that still lives there, the Iranians are now striking out against biblical Jews. The vicious nature of this regime is rooted in a view of Islam that apologists for Tehran have consistently sought to ignore. While the blow against Esther and Mordechai may be purely symbolic, it must be placed in the context of a long-running campaign of incitement against Jews and Israel that makes the possible acquisition of nuclear arms by this country even more alarming.

The Iranian war on Purim makes it even more imperative that they never be allowed to gain the power to do what the ayatollah’s ancient hero Haman attempted: the physical elimination of a Jewish population. Anyone who thinks that we can live with a nuclear Iran needs to consider the madness of allowing a government that thinks the Purim story should be reversed the power to do just that.

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‘Have You No Decency, Sir?’

I agree completely with Pete that Krauthammer’s column is a great blow to Krugman. It’s made all the more forceful by the fact that Krauthammer is not only a brilliant columnist but also a psychiatrist by training.

I also agree that this may be a tipping point in Krugman’s disgraceful career as a columnist. For one thing, he is intellectually lazy and seems to operate on the principle that a Krugman assertion is, ipso facto, an established fact. He rarely buttresses his assertions with evidence. His one bit of evidence that “eliminationist rhetoric” in American political life is overwhelmingly on the right was to quote Rep. Michelle Bachmann as saying that people who oppose the Obama agenda should be “armed and dangerous.”

Far worse, however, he is intellectually dishonest. Even the Times‘s first public editor, Daniel Okrent, said that Krugman has a “disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults.” He is no less cavalier with quotes. As John Hinderacker at Power Line shows, complete with a recording of the entire interview, Michelle Bachmann was merely using a metaphor. She was holding a town hall meeting with constituents regarding the cap-and-trade bill and said, “I’m going to have materials for people when they leave. I want people armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax, because we need to fight back.” She was arming them with information, not bullets, so they could successfully oppose a terrible bill, not shoot politicians.

On June 19, 1954, Joseph Welch asked Senator Joe McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” It turned out to be the tipping point in McCarthy’s career, the moment when public opinion turned decisively against him. By the end of the year, he had been censured by the Senate. He died a few years later, the object of public scorn, which he remains for most.

I hope that Krugman’s column on Monday, when he shamelessly used a tragedy to smear his political opponents, will be his have-you-no-decency-sir moment. He deserves one. He is the Joe McCarthy of our times.

I agree completely with Pete that Krauthammer’s column is a great blow to Krugman. It’s made all the more forceful by the fact that Krauthammer is not only a brilliant columnist but also a psychiatrist by training.

I also agree that this may be a tipping point in Krugman’s disgraceful career as a columnist. For one thing, he is intellectually lazy and seems to operate on the principle that a Krugman assertion is, ipso facto, an established fact. He rarely buttresses his assertions with evidence. His one bit of evidence that “eliminationist rhetoric” in American political life is overwhelmingly on the right was to quote Rep. Michelle Bachmann as saying that people who oppose the Obama agenda should be “armed and dangerous.”

Far worse, however, he is intellectually dishonest. Even the Times‘s first public editor, Daniel Okrent, said that Krugman has a “disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults.” He is no less cavalier with quotes. As John Hinderacker at Power Line shows, complete with a recording of the entire interview, Michelle Bachmann was merely using a metaphor. She was holding a town hall meeting with constituents regarding the cap-and-trade bill and said, “I’m going to have materials for people when they leave. I want people armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax, because we need to fight back.” She was arming them with information, not bullets, so they could successfully oppose a terrible bill, not shoot politicians.

On June 19, 1954, Joseph Welch asked Senator Joe McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” It turned out to be the tipping point in McCarthy’s career, the moment when public opinion turned decisively against him. By the end of the year, he had been censured by the Senate. He died a few years later, the object of public scorn, which he remains for most.

I hope that Krugman’s column on Monday, when he shamelessly used a tragedy to smear his political opponents, will be his have-you-no-decency-sir moment. He deserves one. He is the Joe McCarthy of our times.

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Krauthammer on Krugman

Sometimes, a future Hall of Fame pitcher is, during a key moment, asked to pitch out of rotation. So, too, with certain columnists.

Charles Krauthammer’s regular slot in the Washington Post is Friday — but he was moved up in order to address the liberal libel that the Tucson massacre was the result of a “climate of hate” created by conservatives. The result is a spectacularly good column. And it concludes with a devastating knockout of the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who has earned the distinction of being the most scurrilous and irresponsible commentator on the Tucson killings (the competition was stiff).

“The origins of [Jared] Loughner’s delusions are clear: mental illness,” Krauthammer writes. “What are the origins of Krugman’s?”

An excellent question. And whatever the answer is, Paul Krugman — based on his grotesque conduct during the past five days and Krauthammer’s withering takedown — will not recover. He may continue to write, but he has become, in serious circles, an object of ridicule as well as contempt.

Sometimes, a future Hall of Fame pitcher is, during a key moment, asked to pitch out of rotation. So, too, with certain columnists.

Charles Krauthammer’s regular slot in the Washington Post is Friday — but he was moved up in order to address the liberal libel that the Tucson massacre was the result of a “climate of hate” created by conservatives. The result is a spectacularly good column. And it concludes with a devastating knockout of the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who has earned the distinction of being the most scurrilous and irresponsible commentator on the Tucson killings (the competition was stiff).

“The origins of [Jared] Loughner’s delusions are clear: mental illness,” Krauthammer writes. “What are the origins of Krugman’s?”

An excellent question. And whatever the answer is, Paul Krugman — based on his grotesque conduct during the past five days and Krauthammer’s withering takedown — will not recover. He may continue to write, but he has become, in serious circles, an object of ridicule as well as contempt.

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Is the Right Worse Than the Left?

Some on the left are still attempting to justify the biased nature of the story line that depicts conservative opinions as being the source of a poisoned debate that allegedly leads to violence. To that end, Michael Kinsley writes today in Politico that the real problem with coverage of the debate about Arizona isn’t the fact that the entire topic is a red herring promulgated in an attempt to silence the right, but that in the course of introducing this utterly false narrative, some liberals are accepting a “false balance” between the right and the left.

Though Kinsley concedes, “Democrats should be cautious about flinging accusations,” he still insists that “It seems — in fact, it seems obvious — that the situation is not balanced. Extremists on the right are more responsible for the poisonous ideological atmosphere than extremists on the left, whoever they may be. And extremists on the left have a lot less influence on nonextremists on the left than extremists on the right have on right-wing moderates.”

Why is this so? Because Kinsley says so, that’s why. From his perspective, the extreme left is represented by the chicly biased liberalism of NPR that is, I suppose, inherently more tasteful than Fox News.

But in order to accept Kinsley’s premise, you have to ignore the tone of Democratic opposition to President Bush for eight years, which was largely aimed at delegitimizing that administration and which encouraged even more extreme street rhetoric that manifested itself in demonstrations where vulgar and violent speech were commonplace. And you also have to ignore the rants that are heard today from the likes of Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, to mention just two left-wing talk-show hosts. Not to mention the more intellectual riffs of anti-conservative hatred that emanate from Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Princeton University. Yesterday I noted that Krugman called for “hanging Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy” because of the senator’s stand on ObamaCare. I neglected to mention that, according to a largely flattering profile in the New Yorker, Krugman hosted an election-night party at his home during which an effigy of Sen. John McCain was burned in effigy. Indeed, guests were invited to burn effigies of any politician they disliked. And yes, this is the same New York Times columnist who wrote that the Arizona shooting was the result of a “climate of hate” fostered by conservative rhetoric. Read More

Some on the left are still attempting to justify the biased nature of the story line that depicts conservative opinions as being the source of a poisoned debate that allegedly leads to violence. To that end, Michael Kinsley writes today in Politico that the real problem with coverage of the debate about Arizona isn’t the fact that the entire topic is a red herring promulgated in an attempt to silence the right, but that in the course of introducing this utterly false narrative, some liberals are accepting a “false balance” between the right and the left.

Though Kinsley concedes, “Democrats should be cautious about flinging accusations,” he still insists that “It seems — in fact, it seems obvious — that the situation is not balanced. Extremists on the right are more responsible for the poisonous ideological atmosphere than extremists on the left, whoever they may be. And extremists on the left have a lot less influence on nonextremists on the left than extremists on the right have on right-wing moderates.”

Why is this so? Because Kinsley says so, that’s why. From his perspective, the extreme left is represented by the chicly biased liberalism of NPR that is, I suppose, inherently more tasteful than Fox News.

But in order to accept Kinsley’s premise, you have to ignore the tone of Democratic opposition to President Bush for eight years, which was largely aimed at delegitimizing that administration and which encouraged even more extreme street rhetoric that manifested itself in demonstrations where vulgar and violent speech were commonplace. And you also have to ignore the rants that are heard today from the likes of Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, to mention just two left-wing talk-show hosts. Not to mention the more intellectual riffs of anti-conservative hatred that emanate from Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Princeton University. Yesterday I noted that Krugman called for “hanging Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy” because of the senator’s stand on ObamaCare. I neglected to mention that, according to a largely flattering profile in the New Yorker, Krugman hosted an election-night party at his home during which an effigy of Sen. John McCain was burned in effigy. Indeed, guests were invited to burn effigies of any politician they disliked. And yes, this is the same New York Times columnist who wrote that the Arizona shooting was the result of a “climate of hate” fostered by conservative rhetoric.

Kinsley is right when he decries hateful rhetoric. But he is not above taking comments out of context to back up his point. For instance, he claims Bill O’Reilly’s reaction to one of his columns consisted of a call by the FOX News host for Kinsley’s head to be cut off. That sounds despicable. But he neglects to mention that what O’Reilly was saying was that Kinsley’s opposition to Guantanamo and other tough anti-terror measures was so obstinate and foolish that perhaps the only thing that might change his mind was for al-Qaeda terrorists to treat him the same way they did Daniel Pearl. That’s pretty harsh, but not the same thing as a call for a beheading.

The cockeyed lesson that liberals seem intent on shoving down the throats of their fellow citizens is that when conservatives talk tough about liberals, it is tantamount to incitement to murder, but that when liberals talk tough about conservatives, it’s just talk, because liberals don’t mean anyone any harm. We have heard a great deal about the way political debate in this country has been debased by violent rhetoric in recent years. But for all of the nastiness of the left about Bush and of the right about Obama, I don’t think any of that has done as much damage to the fabric of democracy as the determination the past few days by the mainstream media and its liberal elites to exploit a crime carried out by a mentally ill person to further their own narrow partisan political agenda.

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Don’t Ignore the Politics of Mossad’s Iran Assessment

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is clearly doing her best to defuse the bombshell dropped last week by Israel’s outgoing Mossad chief, Meir Dagan. During a visit to the Gulf states yesterday, she stressed that Dagan’s assertion that Iran will not go nuclear before 2015 is no excuse for not keeping up the pressure on Tehran.

In their posts last week, Jonathan Tobin and J.E. Dyer both offered good reasons not to be reassured by Dagan’s prediction. But Clinton also alluded to a very different reason. “We don’t want anyone to be misled by anyone’s intelligence analysis,” she said.

That’s a diplomatic way of saying what two respected Israeli military analysts said openly that same day: Dagan’s public assessment must be evaluated in the light of its clear political purpose — to thwart any possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran, which he is known to oppose.

As Haaretz columnist Amir Oren put it, “Dagan didn’t provide a pure intelligence assessment, but rather a political statement designed to influence government policy.” And Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel, noting that Dagan avoided the media like the plague for the previous eight years of his tenure, termed the decision to go public with this assessment “a Bibi-bypass maneuver” — a way of constraining Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu by publicly asserting that military action against Iran is unnecessary.

Nobody is suggesting that Dagan deliberately falsified the evidence to reach this conclusion. But when intelligence is evaluated with a particular desired outcome in mind, it is human nature to magnify the importance of information that supports this outcome and downplay the importance of information that contradicts it.

That is precisely what happened with the now widely discredited 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. The professionals who prepared it certainly didn’t deliberately falsify information; but they did want a result that would make it impossible, from a public-opinion standpoint, for then-President George W. Bush to go to war against another Muslim country. As a result, the report downplayed all the indications that Iran was continuing its nuclear program in order to reach its now-infamous conclusion: that Iran had halted its drive to obtain a nuclear bomb in 2003 and had yet to restart it.

It’s also important to remember, as Oren noted, that “in a marketplace of opinions based on the same intelligence data, his [Dagan’s] opinion is not superior to a contrary one held by other senior officials.” Some intelligence professionals have already reached different conclusions; others, including military intelligence staffers and the incoming Mossad chief, will certainly be reviewing the data, and may do so as well.

Precisely because Dagan is known to have vehemently opposed military action against Iran, his confident assertion that Iran won’t have the bomb before 2015 should be taken with a large grain of salt. Dagan is both a dedicated patriot and a consummate professional, but even patriotic professionals are still human. And it is only human nature to read the tea leaves in a way that supports what you would most like to believe.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is clearly doing her best to defuse the bombshell dropped last week by Israel’s outgoing Mossad chief, Meir Dagan. During a visit to the Gulf states yesterday, she stressed that Dagan’s assertion that Iran will not go nuclear before 2015 is no excuse for not keeping up the pressure on Tehran.

In their posts last week, Jonathan Tobin and J.E. Dyer both offered good reasons not to be reassured by Dagan’s prediction. But Clinton also alluded to a very different reason. “We don’t want anyone to be misled by anyone’s intelligence analysis,” she said.

That’s a diplomatic way of saying what two respected Israeli military analysts said openly that same day: Dagan’s public assessment must be evaluated in the light of its clear political purpose — to thwart any possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran, which he is known to oppose.

As Haaretz columnist Amir Oren put it, “Dagan didn’t provide a pure intelligence assessment, but rather a political statement designed to influence government policy.” And Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel, noting that Dagan avoided the media like the plague for the previous eight years of his tenure, termed the decision to go public with this assessment “a Bibi-bypass maneuver” — a way of constraining Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu by publicly asserting that military action against Iran is unnecessary.

Nobody is suggesting that Dagan deliberately falsified the evidence to reach this conclusion. But when intelligence is evaluated with a particular desired outcome in mind, it is human nature to magnify the importance of information that supports this outcome and downplay the importance of information that contradicts it.

That is precisely what happened with the now widely discredited 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. The professionals who prepared it certainly didn’t deliberately falsify information; but they did want a result that would make it impossible, from a public-opinion standpoint, for then-President George W. Bush to go to war against another Muslim country. As a result, the report downplayed all the indications that Iran was continuing its nuclear program in order to reach its now-infamous conclusion: that Iran had halted its drive to obtain a nuclear bomb in 2003 and had yet to restart it.

It’s also important to remember, as Oren noted, that “in a marketplace of opinions based on the same intelligence data, his [Dagan’s] opinion is not superior to a contrary one held by other senior officials.” Some intelligence professionals have already reached different conclusions; others, including military intelligence staffers and the incoming Mossad chief, will certainly be reviewing the data, and may do so as well.

Precisely because Dagan is known to have vehemently opposed military action against Iran, his confident assertion that Iran won’t have the bomb before 2015 should be taken with a large grain of salt. Dagan is both a dedicated patriot and a consummate professional, but even patriotic professionals are still human. And it is only human nature to read the tea leaves in a way that supports what you would most like to believe.

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SPJ Executive Committee Recommends Renaming Helen Thomas Award

Yesterday, the Society of Professional Journalists’ executive committee voted in favor of renaming the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement. But the decision isn’t yet binding — it still has to be approved by the full board of directors, which will vote on it within the next 10 days:

The recommendation issued Jan. 8 by the national journalists’ group, based on anti-Zionist remarks made by Thomas, will be sent to its board of directors within 10 days. The award will still be given, but without Thomas’ name.

“While we support Helen Thomas’ right to speak her opinion, we condemn her statements in December as offensive and inappropriate,” the executive committee said in making its recommendation.

On Dec. 2, in a speech to an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich., Thomas, 90, said that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street “are owned by the Zionists.”  The remarks raised fresh concerns about the sincerity of an apology for her remarks last summer to a video blogger that Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the United States.

The executive committee’s decision doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Other institutions have already removed Thomas’s name from awards, so the SPJ can follow suit while avoiding too much controversy. On the other hand, if the organization had voted to keep the name on the award, there’s no way it would have been able to get past this incident quietly. The SPJ executive committee said this pretty unambiguously in its press release:

During robust debate on Saturday, the committee considered positions from those supporting Thomas’ right to free speech and those who considered her remarks unbecoming of an honor given by SPJ. The committee decided while both positions have merit, the best way to return the focus to SPJ’s important work would be to distance itself from the controversy now overshadowing this award.

“Let’s work on what unites us rather than what divides us,” Limor said.

This is an understandable position, and I assume the board of directors will vote in favor of the executive committee’s recommendation.

Of course, Thomas’s new employer doesn’t seem to share the SPJ’s aversion to controversy. The former White House correspondent was recently hired as a columnist by the Falls Church News-Press — an alternative-weekly paper in Northern Virginia — and the editor Nick Benton has vigorously defended his decision. Read More

Yesterday, the Society of Professional Journalists’ executive committee voted in favor of renaming the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement. But the decision isn’t yet binding — it still has to be approved by the full board of directors, which will vote on it within the next 10 days:

The recommendation issued Jan. 8 by the national journalists’ group, based on anti-Zionist remarks made by Thomas, will be sent to its board of directors within 10 days. The award will still be given, but without Thomas’ name.

“While we support Helen Thomas’ right to speak her opinion, we condemn her statements in December as offensive and inappropriate,” the executive committee said in making its recommendation.

On Dec. 2, in a speech to an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich., Thomas, 90, said that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street “are owned by the Zionists.”  The remarks raised fresh concerns about the sincerity of an apology for her remarks last summer to a video blogger that Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the United States.

The executive committee’s decision doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Other institutions have already removed Thomas’s name from awards, so the SPJ can follow suit while avoiding too much controversy. On the other hand, if the organization had voted to keep the name on the award, there’s no way it would have been able to get past this incident quietly. The SPJ executive committee said this pretty unambiguously in its press release:

During robust debate on Saturday, the committee considered positions from those supporting Thomas’ right to free speech and those who considered her remarks unbecoming of an honor given by SPJ. The committee decided while both positions have merit, the best way to return the focus to SPJ’s important work would be to distance itself from the controversy now overshadowing this award.

“Let’s work on what unites us rather than what divides us,” Limor said.

This is an understandable position, and I assume the board of directors will vote in favor of the executive committee’s recommendation.

Of course, Thomas’s new employer doesn’t seem to share the SPJ’s aversion to controversy. The former White House correspondent was recently hired as a columnist by the Falls Church News-Press — an alternative-weekly paper in Northern Virginia — and the editor Nick Benton has vigorously defended his decision.

“I’ve had no less than eight hours of personal one-on-one conversations with her since that happened,” Benton told the Washington Post. “She’s not bigoted or racist or anti-Semitic. She has her differences about foreign policy but you’re allowed that.”

According to the Post, Benton has been criticized by Jewish leaders in the past for publishing views that some believed bordered on anti-Semitism. “In 2004, his paper touched nerves with an editorial that some Jewish leaders complained suggested a Jewish cabal controlling U.S. foreign policy,” reported the Post.

The Post is likely referring to a 2004 column written by Benton, in which he endorsed the re-election bid of Rep. Jim Moran, who was running against “the well-financed campaign of a political neophyte, Alexandria attorney Andy Rosenberg.” Benton wrote that the election had become “about a cabal of powerful Washington, D.C., based interests backing the Bush administration’s support for rightwing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s handling of the Middle East conflict trying to upend an outspoken and powerful Democratic opponent.”

It’s not exactly like telling Israeli Jews to go back to Germany, but with those editorial leanings, it sounds like Thomas will feel very much at home at the paper.

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SPJ Voting on Whether to Rename Helen Thomas Award

Helen Thomas’s alma mater, Wayne State University, has already decided to rename an award it gave in her name, and now it looks like the Society of Professional Journalists may follow suit. The SPJ will vote on whether to change the title of its Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement on Jan. 8, in response to her continued anti-Semitic public remarks:

The Society of Professional Journalists is revisiting its decision last summer not to change the name of its Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award after Thomas, 90, told an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich., last month that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street “are owned by the Zionists.”

Thomas, a 67-year-veteran of Washington reporting, resigned from her job as a columnist at Hearst last June after remarking to a video blogger that Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the United States. She later apologized, but her remarks in Michigan on Dec. 2 have raised fresh concerns about the sincerity of the apology.

“Ms. Thomas’ most recent remarks led to calls for a reconsideration of the issue by the executive board,” said Hagit Limor, president of the Society of Professional Journalists and an investigative journalist for WCPO-TV in Cincinnati.

The SPJ published two letters debating the name change in its journal. One letter was from Abraham Foxman of the ADL, which has mounted a pretty successful campaign to get universities and other institutions to rename awards given in Thomas’s honor. Foxman wrote that Thomas’s recent deplorable remarks at an Arab-American dinner “were carefully thought out and reveal a person who is deeply infected with anti-Semitism.”

“No academic institution or organization should want to be associated with an unrepentant anti-Semite and bigot, and it should no longer be considered an honor to receive an award bearing her name,” said Foxman.

The other letter, by Lloyd H. Weston, argued that Thomas was merely voicing an opinion, and that he “fail[ed] to see the controversy.” Read More

Helen Thomas’s alma mater, Wayne State University, has already decided to rename an award it gave in her name, and now it looks like the Society of Professional Journalists may follow suit. The SPJ will vote on whether to change the title of its Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement on Jan. 8, in response to her continued anti-Semitic public remarks:

The Society of Professional Journalists is revisiting its decision last summer not to change the name of its Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award after Thomas, 90, told an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich., last month that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street “are owned by the Zionists.”

Thomas, a 67-year-veteran of Washington reporting, resigned from her job as a columnist at Hearst last June after remarking to a video blogger that Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the United States. She later apologized, but her remarks in Michigan on Dec. 2 have raised fresh concerns about the sincerity of the apology.

“Ms. Thomas’ most recent remarks led to calls for a reconsideration of the issue by the executive board,” said Hagit Limor, president of the Society of Professional Journalists and an investigative journalist for WCPO-TV in Cincinnati.

The SPJ published two letters debating the name change in its journal. One letter was from Abraham Foxman of the ADL, which has mounted a pretty successful campaign to get universities and other institutions to rename awards given in Thomas’s honor. Foxman wrote that Thomas’s recent deplorable remarks at an Arab-American dinner “were carefully thought out and reveal a person who is deeply infected with anti-Semitism.”

“No academic institution or organization should want to be associated with an unrepentant anti-Semite and bigot, and it should no longer be considered an honor to receive an award bearing her name,” said Foxman.

The other letter, by Lloyd H. Weston, argued that Thomas was merely voicing an opinion, and that he “fail[ed] to see the controversy.”

“[T]he same First Amendment that protects my right to be a Jew and a Zionist in America, protects Helen Thomas’ right to express her opinion of Jews and Zionists, no matter what that opinion may be,” wrote Weston. “And while I vehemently disagree with the opinions she has expressed about Jews and Zionists, I will defend, as long as I live, her right to express them.”

How courageous for Weston to vow to “defend” Thomas’s right to an opinion, but I don’t think anybody here is attempting to deny her that right. This issue isn’t about freedom of speech; it’s about the public image of a respected institution. Societies like the SPJ give these types of awards because they’re considered prestigious for both the honoree and the organization. Well-regarded groups probably wouldn’t pass out awards named after, say, David Duke or Paris Hilton.

So to echo what Foxman said, I’m not sure many journalists would want to put “Recipient of the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement” alongside their byline. I also have a hunch that the SPJ’s public affairs department probably doesn’t want to deal with the inevitably uncomfortable press coverage every time they hand out the award.

Thomas still has a great deal of friends, supporters, and defenders in the journalism industry, but I have a feeling that this vote will result in a name change. It would be a nightmare for SPJ if its Executive Committee decided otherwise. As unfortunate as it may be, Thomas’s recent anti-Semitic statements have come to define her. And fair or not, if SPJ votes to continue to issue the award in her name, it will be viewed as a nod of support for her remarks.

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Most Odious Column of the Month—or Is That Year?

The prize for the most odious column of the month, if not the year, goes (drum roll, please) to Colman McCarthy of the Washington Post. In the midst of a screed against letting ROTC on campus, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been repealed, he writes this:

To oppose ROTC, as I have since my college days in the 1960s, when my school enticed too many of my classmates into joining, is not to be anti-soldier. I admire those who join armies, whether America’s or the Taliban’s: for their discipline, for their loyalty to their buddies and to their principles, for their sacrifices to be away from home.

Whether America’s or the Taliban’s? As if there is no distinction to be made between the army of a democratic republic that spreads freedom in its wake and adheres to the laws of war, and a vile totalitarian movement that peddles drugs, deliberately kills civilians, tortures homosexuals to death, and throws acid in the faces of unveiled women.

It is hard to believe that the kind of hysterical, purblind anti-military prejudice exhibited by Colman McCarthy can still be found anywhere today, much less in the pages of a reputable newspaper, especially one like the Washington Post, which is run by Don Graham, an exemplar of honorable military service — he volunteered for service in Vietnam after graduating from Harvard.

Apparently, McCarthy has no idea how offensive what he just said is. But then what do you expect from a columnist who thinks this is a serious, well-reasoned position: “ROTC and its warrior ethic taint the intellectual purity of a school, if by purity we mean trying to rise above the foul idea that nations can kill and destroy their way to peace.” Heaven forbid that the “intellectual purity” of American higher education be tainted by an idea whose truth has been repeatedly validated, from the American Civil War to World War II — only two of many instances of nations killing and destroying their way to establish a just peace.

The prize for the most odious column of the month, if not the year, goes (drum roll, please) to Colman McCarthy of the Washington Post. In the midst of a screed against letting ROTC on campus, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been repealed, he writes this:

To oppose ROTC, as I have since my college days in the 1960s, when my school enticed too many of my classmates into joining, is not to be anti-soldier. I admire those who join armies, whether America’s or the Taliban’s: for their discipline, for their loyalty to their buddies and to their principles, for their sacrifices to be away from home.

Whether America’s or the Taliban’s? As if there is no distinction to be made between the army of a democratic republic that spreads freedom in its wake and adheres to the laws of war, and a vile totalitarian movement that peddles drugs, deliberately kills civilians, tortures homosexuals to death, and throws acid in the faces of unveiled women.

It is hard to believe that the kind of hysterical, purblind anti-military prejudice exhibited by Colman McCarthy can still be found anywhere today, much less in the pages of a reputable newspaper, especially one like the Washington Post, which is run by Don Graham, an exemplar of honorable military service — he volunteered for service in Vietnam after graduating from Harvard.

Apparently, McCarthy has no idea how offensive what he just said is. But then what do you expect from a columnist who thinks this is a serious, well-reasoned position: “ROTC and its warrior ethic taint the intellectual purity of a school, if by purity we mean trying to rise above the foul idea that nations can kill and destroy their way to peace.” Heaven forbid that the “intellectual purity” of American higher education be tainted by an idea whose truth has been repeatedly validated, from the American Civil War to World War II — only two of many instances of nations killing and destroying their way to establish a just peace.

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Palin’s Got Bigger Problems Than Charles Krauthammer

Last night on Bill O’Reilly’s show, the FOX News host asked Sarah Palin what she thought about columnist Charles Krauthammer’s observation that the former Alaska governor’s reality TV show, in which she hangs out with fellow TLC network reality star Kate Gosselin, wasn’t exactly presidential.

Palin could have merely responded that she and the eminent analyst had a lot in common lately, as both have been critical of the Republican congressional leadership’s tax deal with President Obama, and that her qualifications for the presidency should be judged by her conservative policy stands, not a television show that everyone knows is meant as entertainment intended to boost her public profile.

But, as even those of us who have been inclined to judge her more favorably than much of the chattering class have come to understand, Sarah Palin is every bit as thin-skinned as the man she’d like to replace in the White House. Her response was vintage Palin, combining a sort of schoolyard banter with bristling resentment. “Oooh. Sorry that I’m not so hoity-toity,” was the best she could come up with as a retort while gesturing that she was not someone who had to put her finger in the air to determine what to think, as if the intellectual yet down-to-earth conservative sage Krauthammer was some liberal media consultant. Just as disturbing as the obnoxiousness of her response was the vague thought that perhaps she’s not quite sure who exactly Krauthammer is. I know she probably isn’t reading his columns (which ought to be required reading for every serious student of politics and policy, no matter where they are on the political spectrum), but you’d think she watches the network where both appear regularly.

But Palin has bigger problems than Krauthammer. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that 60 percent of registered voters said they would “definitely not consider” voting for Palin for president and that she would lose to President Obama in a head-to-head match-up by a margin of 53-40 percent.

Palin’s popularity among Republicans continues to be high, and she will be a formidable contender for the GOP nomination if, as appears likely, she runs. But her appeal is limited to those who already share her views. Palin’s resentment of the Washington establishment and perhaps even of such intellectual gatekeepers of the conservative movement as Krauthammer may resonate with many conservative voters, but her attitude (which is the opposite of conservative icon Ronald Reagan’s genial responses to hostile media) alienates everyone else.

Everything she does and says lately seems geared toward reinforcing the negative opinion of that 60 percent already convinced that she isn’t qualified to be the commander in chief. And there’s simply no way that a person that six out of 10 voters wouldn’t vote for under any circumstances can be elected president.

So, rather than taunting people like Krauthammer, who merely said aloud what so many others are thinking about her unpresidential demeanor, maybe Sarah Palin ought to be waking up to the fact that she is simply unelectable.

Last night on Bill O’Reilly’s show, the FOX News host asked Sarah Palin what she thought about columnist Charles Krauthammer’s observation that the former Alaska governor’s reality TV show, in which she hangs out with fellow TLC network reality star Kate Gosselin, wasn’t exactly presidential.

Palin could have merely responded that she and the eminent analyst had a lot in common lately, as both have been critical of the Republican congressional leadership’s tax deal with President Obama, and that her qualifications for the presidency should be judged by her conservative policy stands, not a television show that everyone knows is meant as entertainment intended to boost her public profile.

But, as even those of us who have been inclined to judge her more favorably than much of the chattering class have come to understand, Sarah Palin is every bit as thin-skinned as the man she’d like to replace in the White House. Her response was vintage Palin, combining a sort of schoolyard banter with bristling resentment. “Oooh. Sorry that I’m not so hoity-toity,” was the best she could come up with as a retort while gesturing that she was not someone who had to put her finger in the air to determine what to think, as if the intellectual yet down-to-earth conservative sage Krauthammer was some liberal media consultant. Just as disturbing as the obnoxiousness of her response was the vague thought that perhaps she’s not quite sure who exactly Krauthammer is. I know she probably isn’t reading his columns (which ought to be required reading for every serious student of politics and policy, no matter where they are on the political spectrum), but you’d think she watches the network where both appear regularly.

But Palin has bigger problems than Krauthammer. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that 60 percent of registered voters said they would “definitely not consider” voting for Palin for president and that she would lose to President Obama in a head-to-head match-up by a margin of 53-40 percent.

Palin’s popularity among Republicans continues to be high, and she will be a formidable contender for the GOP nomination if, as appears likely, she runs. But her appeal is limited to those who already share her views. Palin’s resentment of the Washington establishment and perhaps even of such intellectual gatekeepers of the conservative movement as Krauthammer may resonate with many conservative voters, but her attitude (which is the opposite of conservative icon Ronald Reagan’s genial responses to hostile media) alienates everyone else.

Everything she does and says lately seems geared toward reinforcing the negative opinion of that 60 percent already convinced that she isn’t qualified to be the commander in chief. And there’s simply no way that a person that six out of 10 voters wouldn’t vote for under any circumstances can be elected president.

So, rather than taunting people like Krauthammer, who merely said aloud what so many others are thinking about her unpresidential demeanor, maybe Sarah Palin ought to be waking up to the fact that she is simply unelectable.

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Conservative Complaints About Tax Deal Must Be Heeded by GOP

We’ve spent most of the last week hearing about how the left thinks congressional Republicans rolled President Obama on tax cuts. After Obama’s startling rant about his liberal critics last week at a White House press conference, that embarrassing topic has lost some of its currency in the mainstream media. So today’s topic is the increasing unhappiness on the Tea Party right about the compromise. It’s one thing for Sen. Jim DeMint and Sarah Palin to decry the deal; it’s quite another for Charles Krauthammer to see it as an Obama triumph.

Krauthammer made his negative opinion about the deal known early via Fox News but got little attention, since most of the negative comments about it were coming from liberals who felt betrayed by Obama’s decision not to try to increase taxes on wealthier Americans. But with articles in both the New York Times and the Washington Post today, the possibility of a conservative revolt, as opposed to a liberal one, is finally getting some notice.

Most conservatives were initially so happy about the GOP leadership’s forcing Obama to back down on his opposition to the across-the-board extension of the Bush tax cuts that they didn’t notice what else is included in the deal. As Krauthammer noted on Friday, the compromise includes a lot of things that no foe of big government ought to be willing to stomach, such as more subsidies for boondoggles like ethanol and windmills, as well as extensions of death taxes and a host of other provisions that justify the columnist’s calling it another version of Obama’s failed stimulus. Indeed, as Krauthammer points out, it might well be even more expensive than that disaster, blowing “another near-$1 trillion hole in the budget.”

Though extending the tax cuts was important and cutting payroll taxes is something that every Tea Party sympathizer ought to applaud, this deal may well be remembered as the final act of a profligate Congress whose largesse with taxpayer money will haunt the nation for decades to come.

Krauthammer fears that this second stimulus will help re-elect Obama by pumping up the economy in the next two years, even if it will lead to another disaster after November 2012. Maybe so, but that assumes that, unlike the first stimulus, this act will actually jump-start the economy. No matter how much federal money Obama or the Congress waste, it is unlikely that we will be able to spend our way to prosperity. And if unemployment and growth are still problems in the fall of 2012, no one will look back on this tax deal and think it was the decisive moment when Obama’s victory or defeat was preordained.

Despite the carping from both the right and the left, the compromise deal will probably be passed before the lame-duck Congress slinks out of Washington. But the anger on the right ought to serve as a wake-up call to the GOP leadership that they should not take the Tea Party’s support for granted in the future. The new Congress with more conservatives in the House and the Senate will be a less-hospitable place for the sort of deal in which both sides of the aisle get pet projects funded whether or not they make sense. Despite the applause for groups that preach such compromises (such as the laughable No Labels), that will be a change for the better.

We’ve spent most of the last week hearing about how the left thinks congressional Republicans rolled President Obama on tax cuts. After Obama’s startling rant about his liberal critics last week at a White House press conference, that embarrassing topic has lost some of its currency in the mainstream media. So today’s topic is the increasing unhappiness on the Tea Party right about the compromise. It’s one thing for Sen. Jim DeMint and Sarah Palin to decry the deal; it’s quite another for Charles Krauthammer to see it as an Obama triumph.

Krauthammer made his negative opinion about the deal known early via Fox News but got little attention, since most of the negative comments about it were coming from liberals who felt betrayed by Obama’s decision not to try to increase taxes on wealthier Americans. But with articles in both the New York Times and the Washington Post today, the possibility of a conservative revolt, as opposed to a liberal one, is finally getting some notice.

Most conservatives were initially so happy about the GOP leadership’s forcing Obama to back down on his opposition to the across-the-board extension of the Bush tax cuts that they didn’t notice what else is included in the deal. As Krauthammer noted on Friday, the compromise includes a lot of things that no foe of big government ought to be willing to stomach, such as more subsidies for boondoggles like ethanol and windmills, as well as extensions of death taxes and a host of other provisions that justify the columnist’s calling it another version of Obama’s failed stimulus. Indeed, as Krauthammer points out, it might well be even more expensive than that disaster, blowing “another near-$1 trillion hole in the budget.”

Though extending the tax cuts was important and cutting payroll taxes is something that every Tea Party sympathizer ought to applaud, this deal may well be remembered as the final act of a profligate Congress whose largesse with taxpayer money will haunt the nation for decades to come.

Krauthammer fears that this second stimulus will help re-elect Obama by pumping up the economy in the next two years, even if it will lead to another disaster after November 2012. Maybe so, but that assumes that, unlike the first stimulus, this act will actually jump-start the economy. No matter how much federal money Obama or the Congress waste, it is unlikely that we will be able to spend our way to prosperity. And if unemployment and growth are still problems in the fall of 2012, no one will look back on this tax deal and think it was the decisive moment when Obama’s victory or defeat was preordained.

Despite the carping from both the right and the left, the compromise deal will probably be passed before the lame-duck Congress slinks out of Washington. But the anger on the right ought to serve as a wake-up call to the GOP leadership that they should not take the Tea Party’s support for granted in the future. The new Congress with more conservatives in the House and the Senate will be a less-hospitable place for the sort of deal in which both sides of the aisle get pet projects funded whether or not they make sense. Despite the applause for groups that preach such compromises (such as the laughable No Labels), that will be a change for the better.

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On Human Nature and Capitalism

The American Enterprise Institute’s online magazine The American has posted an essay I co-wrote with Arthur Brooks, president of AEI, on “Human Nature and Capitalism.” We argue that the model of human nature one embraces will guide and shape everything else, from the economic system one prefers to the political system one supports.

At the core of every social, political, and economic system is a picture of human nature (to paraphrase 20th-century columnist Walter Lippmann). The suppositions we begin with—the ways in which that picture is developed—determine the lives we lead, the institutions we build, and the civilizations we create. They are the foundation stone.

You can read the whole thing here.

The American Enterprise Institute’s online magazine The American has posted an essay I co-wrote with Arthur Brooks, president of AEI, on “Human Nature and Capitalism.” We argue that the model of human nature one embraces will guide and shape everything else, from the economic system one prefers to the political system one supports.

At the core of every social, political, and economic system is a picture of human nature (to paraphrase 20th-century columnist Walter Lippmann). The suppositions we begin with—the ways in which that picture is developed—determine the lives we lead, the institutions we build, and the civilizations we create. They are the foundation stone.

You can read the whole thing here.

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Obama’s Not-So-Very-Good Week

David Brooks is not only an outstanding columnist; he’s also a friend. And so I want to register a friendly dissent with his column today.

As Rick noted, David argues that Barack Obama ran for president as a “network liberal” — defined as  one who believes progress is achieved by leaders savvy enough to build coalitions. (Brooks contrasts this with “cluster liberals/cluster conservatives,” meaning those who believe that victory is achieved through “maximum unity” and that “partisan might” should be “bluntly applied.”) But in office, Brooks writes, “Obama, like George W. Bush before him, narrowed his networks.”

That is, I think, an unfair reading of the Bush presidency.

One of the first significant legislative undertakings of President Bush, for example, was No Child Left Behind, which was the result of substantial bipartisan cooperation. President Obama has, until now, shown no such inclination to work with Republicans. In the first term, Bush also worked with Democrats on Medicare prescription drugs. Both the Afghanistan and Iraq war resolutions had substantial to overwhelming bipartisan support; so did the Patriot Act. Even on the 2001 tax cuts, Bush worked with Democrats and took into account their input. (Then House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt said a corporate tax cut was a non-starter with his caucus; he suggested instead sending out rebate checks to low- and moderate-income households. In response Bush, against his better judgment, instructed the White House staff to replace the corporate rate cut with Gephardt’s rebates. For more, see Karl Rove’s Courage and Consequence, chapter 19.)

At comparable points in their presidency, then, George W. Bush was much more of a “network conservative” than Obama has been a “network liberal.” Read More

David Brooks is not only an outstanding columnist; he’s also a friend. And so I want to register a friendly dissent with his column today.

As Rick noted, David argues that Barack Obama ran for president as a “network liberal” — defined as  one who believes progress is achieved by leaders savvy enough to build coalitions. (Brooks contrasts this with “cluster liberals/cluster conservatives,” meaning those who believe that victory is achieved through “maximum unity” and that “partisan might” should be “bluntly applied.”) But in office, Brooks writes, “Obama, like George W. Bush before him, narrowed his networks.”

That is, I think, an unfair reading of the Bush presidency.

One of the first significant legislative undertakings of President Bush, for example, was No Child Left Behind, which was the result of substantial bipartisan cooperation. President Obama has, until now, shown no such inclination to work with Republicans. In the first term, Bush also worked with Democrats on Medicare prescription drugs. Both the Afghanistan and Iraq war resolutions had substantial to overwhelming bipartisan support; so did the Patriot Act. Even on the 2001 tax cuts, Bush worked with Democrats and took into account their input. (Then House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt said a corporate tax cut was a non-starter with his caucus; he suggested instead sending out rebate checks to low- and moderate-income households. In response Bush, against his better judgment, instructed the White House staff to replace the corporate rate cut with Gephardt’s rebates. For more, see Karl Rove’s Courage and Consequence, chapter 19.)

At comparable points in their presidency, then, George W. Bush was much more of a “network conservative” than Obama has been a “network liberal.”

Second, David — in contrasting Obama favorably this week with “cluster liberals” — writes:

Cluster liberals in the House and the commentariat are angry. They have no strategy for how Obama could have better played his weak hand — with a coming Republican majority, an expiring tax law and several Democratic senators from red states insisting on extending all the cuts. They just sense the waning of their moment and are howling in protest.

They believe nonliberals are blackmailers or hostage-takers or the concentrated repositories of human evil, so, of course, they see coalition-building as collaboration. They are also convinced that Democrats should never start a negotiation because they will always end up losing in the end. (Perhaps psychologists can explain the interesting combination: intellectual self-confidence alongside a political inferiority complex.)

Some of this analysis I agree with. I would point out, however, that (a) during his press conference, Obama was as visibly angry as many people can recall seeing him, and (b) the term “hostage takers” was used by Obama against Republicans.

Finally, I disagree with David’s verdict that Obama had “a very good week.” Brooks’s argument is that Obama has put himself in a position to govern again, and I understand and have some sympathy with the point he’s making: Obama is distancing himself from his liberal base and, in so doing, embracing a policy that is both fairly popular and wise.

What’s going to damage Obama, though, is the manner in which the distancing was done. The president’s base is enraged at him; what we’re seeing looks very much like a political revolt within his own ranks. It’s stating the obvious to say that having members of your own congressional caucus cursing at you is not a very good thing. And as President George H.W. Bush found out with his violation of his “no new taxes” pledge, creating fury within your base in order to tack to the center can hurt one rather than help one.

Nor is it clear yet that Nancy Pelosi will even bring the legislation Obama has blessed to the floor for a vote without changes. I assume she will — but if the speaker decides not to, and if as a result Obama fails to get this deal signed into law, it will be a terrifically damaging blow to his prestige and his presidency. And even if Obama does succeed, he has created enormous unhappiness and mistrust among his base. This won’t be forgotten any time soon. Presidents, while needing to distance themselves from their base at times, don’t usually succeed when they are at war with it.

Democratic tempers will cool over time; new political battles will reconnect Obama to his party. And the key variable remains the economy. If in 2012 unemployment is going down, if the economy is growing at a brisk pace, and if people are confident about the trajectory the country is on, Obama will be in good shape with both his base and with independents. For now, though, the president is in a precarious position, having (for the moment at least) lost his base without having won over the rest of the country. It may be that the former is necessary to achieve the latter — but the way these things are done matters quite a lot. And this has been ugly all the way around.

If David Brooks is right and this week signaled the beginning of a fundamental change in Obama’s governing philosophy, then the president has helped himself. If, on the other hand, what Obama did this week was simply an anomaly, a tactical shift without a fundamental rethinking, then he has complicated his life and damaged his presidency.

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A Refreshing Change

It’s too early to declare a trend. But the near-simultaneous publication of calls for an Arab gesture toward Israel from two unlikely sources — president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb and Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar — represents a refreshing change from the usual discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which only Israel is ever expected to give.

Gelb served as assistant secretary of state under Jimmy Carter and spent years as a New York Times correspondent. One would expect someone with that resume to be reflexively pro-Palestinian, and indeed, in a Daily Beast article on Sunday, he opposed an emerging U.S.-Israeli deal on a settlement freeze for being “overly generous” and reducing American leverage over Israel.

But that makes the article’s conclusion, which Jennifer quoted at length yesterday, all the more stunning. What is needed to promote peace, he said, is a “dramatic step” by Palestinian leaders: Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad should emulate Anwar Sadat and go to the Knesset and “pledge acceptance of ‘a Jewish state of Israel.’”

Eldar’s column on Monday was perhaps even more shocking. I’ve read hundreds of Eldar columns in recent years, and they have one unchanging theme: the absence of peace is 100 percent Israel’s fault. But in this one, for the first time I can remember, he attacked Arab leaders for “treating dialogue with Israeli society as part of ‘normalization’ — the ‘fruits of peace’ that the Israelis will get to taste only after they pledge to withdraw from all the territories,” instead of understanding, as Sadat did, that the risks of withdrawal won’t seem worth taking unless Israelis are assured of peace beforehand. And he concluded:

Indeed, what would happen if [Egyptian] President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah and Saudi King Abdullah, together with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, and promised from the Knesset rostrum, “No more war”? That would be much easier for them than what Israel is being asked to do: evacuate tens of thousands of people from the settlements and divide Jerusalem.

It seems like common sense: surely a mere statement is easier than evacuating tens of thousands of fellow citizens. Moreover, as Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman noted this week, if the Palestinians are really so desperate for a state, then it’s hard to understand why Israel is the one constantly being asked to “pay another additional price for the joy of conducting negotiations” aimed at giving them one.

But of course, if the world began demanding gestures from the Palestinians or the Saudis, the inevitable refusal might finally force it to confront the truth: both are still unwilling to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist. That’s why Abbas, Fayyad, and Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah never will come to the Knesset to make the statements Gelb and Eldar suggest. And that’s why most of the international community, unwilling to give up its delusions of peace, will never ask it of them.

It’s too early to declare a trend. But the near-simultaneous publication of calls for an Arab gesture toward Israel from two unlikely sources — president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb and Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar — represents a refreshing change from the usual discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which only Israel is ever expected to give.

Gelb served as assistant secretary of state under Jimmy Carter and spent years as a New York Times correspondent. One would expect someone with that resume to be reflexively pro-Palestinian, and indeed, in a Daily Beast article on Sunday, he opposed an emerging U.S.-Israeli deal on a settlement freeze for being “overly generous” and reducing American leverage over Israel.

But that makes the article’s conclusion, which Jennifer quoted at length yesterday, all the more stunning. What is needed to promote peace, he said, is a “dramatic step” by Palestinian leaders: Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad should emulate Anwar Sadat and go to the Knesset and “pledge acceptance of ‘a Jewish state of Israel.’”

Eldar’s column on Monday was perhaps even more shocking. I’ve read hundreds of Eldar columns in recent years, and they have one unchanging theme: the absence of peace is 100 percent Israel’s fault. But in this one, for the first time I can remember, he attacked Arab leaders for “treating dialogue with Israeli society as part of ‘normalization’ — the ‘fruits of peace’ that the Israelis will get to taste only after they pledge to withdraw from all the territories,” instead of understanding, as Sadat did, that the risks of withdrawal won’t seem worth taking unless Israelis are assured of peace beforehand. And he concluded:

Indeed, what would happen if [Egyptian] President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah and Saudi King Abdullah, together with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, and promised from the Knesset rostrum, “No more war”? That would be much easier for them than what Israel is being asked to do: evacuate tens of thousands of people from the settlements and divide Jerusalem.

It seems like common sense: surely a mere statement is easier than evacuating tens of thousands of fellow citizens. Moreover, as Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman noted this week, if the Palestinians are really so desperate for a state, then it’s hard to understand why Israel is the one constantly being asked to “pay another additional price for the joy of conducting negotiations” aimed at giving them one.

But of course, if the world began demanding gestures from the Palestinians or the Saudis, the inevitable refusal might finally force it to confront the truth: both are still unwilling to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist. That’s why Abbas, Fayyad, and Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah never will come to the Knesset to make the statements Gelb and Eldar suggest. And that’s why most of the international community, unwilling to give up its delusions of peace, will never ask it of them.

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Ben Smith Spills the Beans: Obama’s Middle East Policy Is a Disaster

Ben Smith reveals what nearly every serious Middle East observer already knows: Obama has made things worse, not better, in that volatile region. He reports:

Instead of becoming a heady triumph of his diplomatic skill and special insight, Obama’s peace process is viewed almost universally in Israel as a mistake-riddled fantasy. And far from becoming the transcendent figure in a centuries-old drama, Obama has become just another frustrated player on a hardened Mideast landscape. …

Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders have refused American demands to hold peace talks with the Israelis before the freeze is extended. Talks with Arab states over gestures intended to build Israeli confidence – a key part of Obama’s early plan — have long since been scrapped.

The political peace process to which Obama committed so much energy is considered a failure so far. And in the world’s most pro-American state, the public and its leaders have lost any faith in Obama and – increasingly — even in the notion of a politically negotiated peace.

Obama naturally blames everyone else. But the criticism is biting and personal: it is Obama and his misguided ideology that are at the root of the problem: Read More

Ben Smith reveals what nearly every serious Middle East observer already knows: Obama has made things worse, not better, in that volatile region. He reports:

Instead of becoming a heady triumph of his diplomatic skill and special insight, Obama’s peace process is viewed almost universally in Israel as a mistake-riddled fantasy. And far from becoming the transcendent figure in a centuries-old drama, Obama has become just another frustrated player on a hardened Mideast landscape. …

Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders have refused American demands to hold peace talks with the Israelis before the freeze is extended. Talks with Arab states over gestures intended to build Israeli confidence – a key part of Obama’s early plan — have long since been scrapped.

The political peace process to which Obama committed so much energy is considered a failure so far. And in the world’s most pro-American state, the public and its leaders have lost any faith in Obama and – increasingly — even in the notion of a politically negotiated peace.

Obama naturally blames everyone else. But the criticism is biting and personal: it is Obama and his misguided ideology that are at the root of the problem:

[T]he American president has been diminished, even in an era without active hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians. His demands on the parties appear to shrink each month, with the path to a grand peace settlement narrowing to the vanishing point. The lack of Israeli faith in him and his process has them using the talks to extract more tangible security assurances – the jets. And though America remains beloved, Obama is about as popular here as he is in Oklahoma. A Jerusalem Post poll in May found 9 percent of Israelis consider Obama “pro-Israel,” while 48 percent say he’s “pro-Palestinian.” …

“Israelis really hate Obama’s guts,” said Shmuel Rosner, a columnist for two leading Israeli newspapers. “We used to trust Americans to act like Americans, and this guy is like a European leader.”

Many senior Israeli leaders have concluded that Hillary Clinton and John McCain were right about Obama’s naivete and inexperience.

“The naïve liberals who are at the heart of the administration really believe in all the misconceptions the Palestinians and all their friends all over the world are trying to place,” said Yossi Kuperwasser, a former high-ranking military intelligence officer who is now deputy director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs.

But in some sense, Ben Smith’s account is too generous. It is not merely that Obama has made hash out of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; it is that he has undermined American stature more broadly in the Middle East. Yes, the Israelis and the PA regard him as foolish, but what’s even more important is that so do the Syrians, Saudis, and Iranians. He has wasted time on the non-peace process and in fact exacerbated tensions as the other nations looked on. The aging Sunni leaders regard him with alarm: has he no idea what to do about Iran? The mullahs regard him with contempt: he has already told them that they need not worry about military action.

Obama is right — there is such a thing as linkage, but not in the way he imagined. The progress of the Middle East non-peace talks is irrelevant to the threat of an Iranian nuclear power. But what is highly relevant, and deeply troubling, is the perception of an American administration in over its head, disloyal to friends, and anxious to make a deal at any cost to preserve the patina of competency it is struggling to maintain. And to make matters worse, it’s fair to conclude that beyond the Middle East — in China, Russia, and North Korea — they are learning the same lesson.

One final note. The well-sourced and dead-on report comes from Ben Smith, not the nominal foreign affairs reporter for Politico. This is because the latter, a former Journo-list member, is among the worse and least-informative foreign affairs “reporters” out there. In fact, she’s no more than a scribe for the Obami and the J Street crowd. And that explains why none of the material, widely available to followers of the mainstream media, was ever reported by her. Maybe it’s time to get a full-time person on the foreign affairs beat who actually reports rather than regurgitates the left’s take on American foreign policy.

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