Commentary Magazine


Topic: Commentary

A Cancellation 16 Years in the Making

Joseph Epstein, well known to Commentary readers and other literate types as one of America’s most distinguished essayists, has cancelled his subscription to the New York Times.

In an article appearing in the current edition of the Weekly Standard titled “Adios, Gray Lady,” Epstein writes that while the Times once enjoyed an aura of “a certain stateliness … the the possession of high virtue,” those days are gone.

“[T]the Gray Lady,” he continues, “is far from the grande dame she once was. For years now she has been going heavy on the rouge, lipstick, and eyeliner, using a push-up bra, and gadding about in stiletto heels. … I’ve had it with the old broad; after nearly 50 years together, I’ve determined to cut her loose.”

Far from an impulsive act, Epstein’s break with the Times actually was years in the making. Though he doesn’t mention it in his Weekly Standard article, back in 1994 he wrote a lengthy essay on his problems with the paper  — “The Degradation of the New York Times” — for Commentary, in which he lamented the paper’s steady drift away from at least attempts at objective reporting to out-and-out advocacy disguised as news coverage:

[T]he news columns of the Times have become so filled with opinion that one has become all but inured to the phenomenon…. Not that one should ever read a newspaper story without a proper measure of skepticism, but in The New York Times of late the gentle whir of political axes being ground has come to serve as a kind of basso continuo to the paper’s reporting.

In his Weekly Standard piece, Epstein elaborates on his decision to forgo the Times: “For so many decades the paper has been part of my morning mental hygiene. Yet in recent years I’ve been reading less and less of each day’s paper. … With the exception of David Brooks, who allows that his general position is slightly to the right of center but who is not otherwise locked into a Pavlovian political response, I find no need to read any of the Times’s regular columnists.”

And it’s not only the paper’s columnists Epstein realizes he can live without. “I’d sooner read the fine print in my insurance policies,” he writes, “than the paper’s perfectly predictable editorials.” Here, too, Epstein’s dismay was already evident in his 1994 Commentary essay:

One can now predict how the Times will come out editorially on nearly every issue, problem, or question of the day. The only amusement, or instruction, is in watching its editorial writers squirm in defending the indefensible, or rationalizing the irrational.

Reading both of Epstein’s articles  — and bearing in mind they were writen sixteen years apart – one doesn’t know whether to marvel at his ineffable patience in waiting this long before finally kicking the Times to the curb or to ask, perhaps uncharitably but with only the best of intentions, Why the interminable delay?

Joseph Epstein, well known to Commentary readers and other literate types as one of America’s most distinguished essayists, has cancelled his subscription to the New York Times.

In an article appearing in the current edition of the Weekly Standard titled “Adios, Gray Lady,” Epstein writes that while the Times once enjoyed an aura of “a certain stateliness … the the possession of high virtue,” those days are gone.

“[T]the Gray Lady,” he continues, “is far from the grande dame she once was. For years now she has been going heavy on the rouge, lipstick, and eyeliner, using a push-up bra, and gadding about in stiletto heels. … I’ve had it with the old broad; after nearly 50 years together, I’ve determined to cut her loose.”

Far from an impulsive act, Epstein’s break with the Times actually was years in the making. Though he doesn’t mention it in his Weekly Standard article, back in 1994 he wrote a lengthy essay on his problems with the paper  — “The Degradation of the New York Times” — for Commentary, in which he lamented the paper’s steady drift away from at least attempts at objective reporting to out-and-out advocacy disguised as news coverage:

[T]he news columns of the Times have become so filled with opinion that one has become all but inured to the phenomenon…. Not that one should ever read a newspaper story without a proper measure of skepticism, but in The New York Times of late the gentle whir of political axes being ground has come to serve as a kind of basso continuo to the paper’s reporting.

In his Weekly Standard piece, Epstein elaborates on his decision to forgo the Times: “For so many decades the paper has been part of my morning mental hygiene. Yet in recent years I’ve been reading less and less of each day’s paper. … With the exception of David Brooks, who allows that his general position is slightly to the right of center but who is not otherwise locked into a Pavlovian political response, I find no need to read any of the Times’s regular columnists.”

And it’s not only the paper’s columnists Epstein realizes he can live without. “I’d sooner read the fine print in my insurance policies,” he writes, “than the paper’s perfectly predictable editorials.” Here, too, Epstein’s dismay was already evident in his 1994 Commentary essay:

One can now predict how the Times will come out editorially on nearly every issue, problem, or question of the day. The only amusement, or instruction, is in watching its editorial writers squirm in defending the indefensible, or rationalizing the irrational.

Reading both of Epstein’s articles  — and bearing in mind they were writen sixteen years apart – one doesn’t know whether to marvel at his ineffable patience in waiting this long before finally kicking the Times to the curb or to ask, perhaps uncharitably but with only the best of intentions, Why the interminable delay?

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Wikileaks and the Final Defeat of Tet

I agree with Max that the content of the leaked Afghan war documents is underwhelming. The thousands of pedestrian, narrow-scope field reports tell us nothing we didn’t already know about the overall conduct of the war or our coalition partners’ roles in it. The real story here is how accurate our view of the war in Afghanistan has been: even the failures and missteps have been chronicled with thematic, if not always specific, fidelity.

A swelling chorus of voices is pondering the roles of New and Old Media in the Wikileaks disclosure, with its effect being compared to that of Tet and the Pentagon Papers (see here, here, here, and here, for example). These analogies are overblown — wildly so, in my view — but there is nevertheless an important New/Old Media dynamic to watch in this case. The question in the coming days will be whether the Old Media — of which Time, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, et al. are members — can establish a counterfactual narrative and make it politically decisive. Will Congress, for example, consider itself bound to accept the narrative that this massive leak amounts to a set of game-changing revelations?

I predict not. Although John Kerry has stated already that the leaked documents “raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan,” my sense is that there is simply too much knowledge of that reality, both in Congress and among the public, for the political gambit to go anywhere. Much credit for that knowledge must go to New Media — independent online reporters like Michael Totten, Michael Yon, and COMMENTARY’s Max Boot, websites like Long War Journal and Small Wars Journal — which has labored to bring the war to the average reader in a level of detail unimaginable even two decades ago.

Credit is also due to both the Bush and Obama administrations and the military that has served them. In terms of “secrets” about the war, political or operational, there’s just no story in the leaked documents. We already know about all the categories of information revealed in them. They are, moreover, tactical-level reports from the field; they are not a source of “smoking-gun” policy documents like the Pentagon Papers’ infamous McNaughton Memo, which demonstrated that Johnson’s actual policy in Vietnam differed from the justification he presented to the public. (James Fallows raises this topic by referring to the McNaughton Memo in his Atlantic post, linked above.)

The severity of the leaks is related primarily to the damage they may do to our forces’ operational security in Afghanistan, and much of what is reflected about their activities is outdated now. Meanwhile, the eager hope of left-wing pundits that this leak will turn American sentiment to widespread anger and unrest is unfounded. From 1968 to 1971, Americans had few alternatives to Walter Cronkite and the New York Times. Today they have thousands. I believe the New Media will succeed in the signal task of burying Old Media’s “Tet-effect” talisman, once and for all.

I agree with Max that the content of the leaked Afghan war documents is underwhelming. The thousands of pedestrian, narrow-scope field reports tell us nothing we didn’t already know about the overall conduct of the war or our coalition partners’ roles in it. The real story here is how accurate our view of the war in Afghanistan has been: even the failures and missteps have been chronicled with thematic, if not always specific, fidelity.

A swelling chorus of voices is pondering the roles of New and Old Media in the Wikileaks disclosure, with its effect being compared to that of Tet and the Pentagon Papers (see here, here, here, and here, for example). These analogies are overblown — wildly so, in my view — but there is nevertheless an important New/Old Media dynamic to watch in this case. The question in the coming days will be whether the Old Media — of which Time, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, et al. are members — can establish a counterfactual narrative and make it politically decisive. Will Congress, for example, consider itself bound to accept the narrative that this massive leak amounts to a set of game-changing revelations?

I predict not. Although John Kerry has stated already that the leaked documents “raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan,” my sense is that there is simply too much knowledge of that reality, both in Congress and among the public, for the political gambit to go anywhere. Much credit for that knowledge must go to New Media — independent online reporters like Michael Totten, Michael Yon, and COMMENTARY’s Max Boot, websites like Long War Journal and Small Wars Journal — which has labored to bring the war to the average reader in a level of detail unimaginable even two decades ago.

Credit is also due to both the Bush and Obama administrations and the military that has served them. In terms of “secrets” about the war, political or operational, there’s just no story in the leaked documents. We already know about all the categories of information revealed in them. They are, moreover, tactical-level reports from the field; they are not a source of “smoking-gun” policy documents like the Pentagon Papers’ infamous McNaughton Memo, which demonstrated that Johnson’s actual policy in Vietnam differed from the justification he presented to the public. (James Fallows raises this topic by referring to the McNaughton Memo in his Atlantic post, linked above.)

The severity of the leaks is related primarily to the damage they may do to our forces’ operational security in Afghanistan, and much of what is reflected about their activities is outdated now. Meanwhile, the eager hope of left-wing pundits that this leak will turn American sentiment to widespread anger and unrest is unfounded. From 1968 to 1971, Americans had few alternatives to Walter Cronkite and the New York Times. Today they have thousands. I believe the New Media will succeed in the signal task of burying Old Media’s “Tet-effect” talisman, once and for all.

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Big Questions About Being a Parent

Coincident with the arrival of my third child, I am astonished to see, once again, the topic of just how horribly awful it is to be a parent popping up again in the navel-gazer media — New York magazine and the like. The self-righteously straight-talking journalism that reveals the ways in which having children don’t make an upper-middle-class Brooklynite “happy” tends to be far more revelatory about the conflicts between the present-day obsession with the narrowest aspect of self-fulfillment than it does about the nature of being a mother or a father and how being one not only changes you but fulfills the most basic hunger/obligation of any earthly creature — to keep life itself alive.

The most affecting riposte to this sort of talk I’ve read recently comes from my old friend Rod Dreher, with whom I have many disagreements ideologically but few on the most fundamental matters. Dreher is now editing a truly wonderful new website at the John Templeton Foundation called Big Questions Online under the supervision of Gary Rosen, who was a senior editor at COMMENTARY for more than a decade. It’s worth taking half an hour this weekend to look around Big Questions and see the way its writers are grappling with fundamental issues of reason and faith, science and religion — the very subjects about which the Templeton Foundation has distinguished itself through its support and consideration over the years.

Coincident with the arrival of my third child, I am astonished to see, once again, the topic of just how horribly awful it is to be a parent popping up again in the navel-gazer media — New York magazine and the like. The self-righteously straight-talking journalism that reveals the ways in which having children don’t make an upper-middle-class Brooklynite “happy” tends to be far more revelatory about the conflicts between the present-day obsession with the narrowest aspect of self-fulfillment than it does about the nature of being a mother or a father and how being one not only changes you but fulfills the most basic hunger/obligation of any earthly creature — to keep life itself alive.

The most affecting riposte to this sort of talk I’ve read recently comes from my old friend Rod Dreher, with whom I have many disagreements ideologically but few on the most fundamental matters. Dreher is now editing a truly wonderful new website at the John Templeton Foundation called Big Questions Online under the supervision of Gary Rosen, who was a senior editor at COMMENTARY for more than a decade. It’s worth taking half an hour this weekend to look around Big Questions and see the way its writers are grappling with fundamental issues of reason and faith, science and religion — the very subjects about which the Templeton Foundation has distinguished itself through its support and consideration over the years.

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Sestak Can’t Shut Up Critics, Can’t Hide

The Jewish Exponent is not exactly a conservative publication, so its coverage of ECI’s ad and of Joe Sestak’s Israel problem must be of particular concern to the Sestak camp. The report explains:

A new effort to attack U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak’s record on Israel has gone viral. A debate that has long been playing out in the pages of the Jewish Exponent has now made its way to MSNBCs “Morning Joe,” and Web sites such as Politico, The Atlantic, Commentary, the Huffington Post and YouTube. … At the centerpiece of the new campaign against Sestak is a television ad sponsored by a prominent group of Jews and Evangelical Christians calling itself the Emergency Committee for Israel.

The ad, airing in Pennsylvania this week — including during a Phillies game — highlights an appearance he made before a controversial Muslim group in 2007 and criticizes him for signing one congressional letter urging Israel to ease its blockade of Gaza and for not signing another one affirming Israel-U.S. ties. The spot is likely the first strike in what organizers have vowed will be a sustained effort to challenge Democrats and President Barack Obama on policy toward Israel.

The Exponent is not buying Sestak’s defense of his speech to CAIR in 2007: “According to the Anti-Defamation League, CAIR has ‘refused for many years to unequivocally condemn by name Hezbollah and Palestinian terror organizations.’” Nor does it appear that Sestak will be able to duck the controversy:

“Michael Bronstein, a Philadelphia political consultant and pro-Israel activist who is supporting Sestak, said that the new commercial “is completely different from anything that we have seen before. I suspect it will be effective without an adequate response.” …

For his part, Toomey, through his spokeswoman, told the Exponent: “It’s really unfortunate that Joe Sestak has repeatedly chosen to align himself with the most anti-Israel faction in Congress.”

It is not simply that Sestak gave the speech to a group that often spouts anti-Israel venom. It is that, as the Exponent points out, “Despite repeated calls for Sestak to have canceled before the CAIR speech, and calls for him to admit the appearance was a mistake, he has never backed down.” Even now that CAIR continues to carry water (and censor books) on behalf of radical Islamists and even now that CAIR’s track record is well known (see here and here and here), Sestak has never issued an apology or denounced the group.

You can understand why his lawyer tried to take down the ad. In doing so, however, he’s only called more attention to Sestak’s shabby record.

The Jewish Exponent is not exactly a conservative publication, so its coverage of ECI’s ad and of Joe Sestak’s Israel problem must be of particular concern to the Sestak camp. The report explains:

A new effort to attack U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak’s record on Israel has gone viral. A debate that has long been playing out in the pages of the Jewish Exponent has now made its way to MSNBCs “Morning Joe,” and Web sites such as Politico, The Atlantic, Commentary, the Huffington Post and YouTube. … At the centerpiece of the new campaign against Sestak is a television ad sponsored by a prominent group of Jews and Evangelical Christians calling itself the Emergency Committee for Israel.

The ad, airing in Pennsylvania this week — including during a Phillies game — highlights an appearance he made before a controversial Muslim group in 2007 and criticizes him for signing one congressional letter urging Israel to ease its blockade of Gaza and for not signing another one affirming Israel-U.S. ties. The spot is likely the first strike in what organizers have vowed will be a sustained effort to challenge Democrats and President Barack Obama on policy toward Israel.

The Exponent is not buying Sestak’s defense of his speech to CAIR in 2007: “According to the Anti-Defamation League, CAIR has ‘refused for many years to unequivocally condemn by name Hezbollah and Palestinian terror organizations.’” Nor does it appear that Sestak will be able to duck the controversy:

“Michael Bronstein, a Philadelphia political consultant and pro-Israel activist who is supporting Sestak, said that the new commercial “is completely different from anything that we have seen before. I suspect it will be effective without an adequate response.” …

For his part, Toomey, through his spokeswoman, told the Exponent: “It’s really unfortunate that Joe Sestak has repeatedly chosen to align himself with the most anti-Israel faction in Congress.”

It is not simply that Sestak gave the speech to a group that often spouts anti-Israel venom. It is that, as the Exponent points out, “Despite repeated calls for Sestak to have canceled before the CAIR speech, and calls for him to admit the appearance was a mistake, he has never backed down.” Even now that CAIR continues to carry water (and censor books) on behalf of radical Islamists and even now that CAIR’s track record is well known (see here and here and here), Sestak has never issued an apology or denounced the group.

You can understand why his lawyer tried to take down the ad. In doing so, however, he’s only called more attention to Sestak’s shabby record.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not any doubt where Obama’s priorities lie. And thankfully, not everyone is confused as to who’s responsible for the flotilla incident. “Turkey sends a thugs bunch of Jew-baiting Al-Qaeda friendly street-fighters on a floating lynch party and the one party chided by name is … Israel. Well, those pesky facts aren’t too hard to pin down Mr. President–the folks you’ve pinned your peace hopes on are laughing in your face and rolling you like a duck pin.”

Not a good sign when Iran’s assessment is saner than Obama’s: “Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said resolutions such as the one passed by the U.N. Security Council today ‘have no value … it is like a used handkerchief that should be thrown in the waste bin.’”

Not holding my breath: “The main issues inside the conference still include whether and how to meet the Obama administration’s demand for an exemption from new sanctions for countries that are deemed to be ‘cooperating’ with U.S. efforts. Republican lawmakers worry that the White House will use that to broadly exempt some of Iran closest business partners, such as Russia and China. ‘It is clear the president’s policy has failed. It is now time for the Congress to approve the Iran sanctions bill currently in conference committee, without watering it down or plugging it full of loopholes, and then the president should actually use it,’ said Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ.”

Not even her Washington Post colleagues can stomach Katrina vanden Heuvel’s “Bush is a Nazi” rant: “Mengele and his cohorts performed grotesque operations that left his victims with permanent physical, emotional and psychological scars — if they were lucky enough to survive. Most did not. Sometimes death was the objective; he would at times kill his ‘patients’ so that he could get right to the business of dissecting the body. This is monstrous. This is evil incarnate. This is not what the Bush administration did.” Why would the Post editors allow someone who can’t grasp this to write for them? (Really, a single Nation is one too many. Her role in the persecution of a Soviet dissident was covered by COMMENTARY in June 1988.)

Not a day on which this headline is inapt: “Beinart Gets It Wrong Again.” Hard to believe he knows even less about U.S. politics than he does Israeli politics, isn’t it?

Not every Democrat has lost his moral compass: “A member of Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s staff, himself a former major and judge advocate in the U.S. Marines, is calling Blumenthal a liar and disgrace to the Marine Corps for representing himself repeatedly as having served in Vietnam.”

Not a friend in sight: “As Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) pivots from her surprise primary victory on Tuesday night to her general election run against Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark), she finds herself deserted both by traditional allies and outside groups that helped her win the nomination.” ( h/t Ben Smith)

Not going to waste time or money on her: “It’s nice for Blanche Lincoln that she won the runoff in Arkansas last night but I hope that no groups that care about getting Democratic Senators elected spend another dollar in the state this year. That doesn’t have anything to do with her ideology — judging her worthwhileness there is not part of my job as a pollster — but there are just a boatload of races where Democrats have a better chance to win this fall and could use their resources more wisely.”

Not winning support: “Though the vast majority of voters remain confident that Elena Kagan will be confirmed by the Senate to the U.S. Supreme Court, the number who oppose her confirmation has risen to its highest level to date. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters shows 33% think Kagan should be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. But 41% do not think she should be confirmed.”

Not a class act: “White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday there have been no second thoughts over President Obama’s coarse language directed at oil giant BP earlier in the week. ‘No, I have not heard any regrets about the language,’ Gibbs told reporters in his daily White House briefing.”

Not only Andrew Sullivan is obsessed with Sarah Palin’s breasts.

Not rallying around this character: “Today, South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Carol Fowler asked Alvin Greene to withdraw from the race for US Senate. Greene, a resident of Manning S.C., was the apparent winner of the Democratic Party’s nomination for U.S. Senate in yesterday’s primary. Since the election, the Associated Press has revealed that Greene was recently charged with disseminating, procuring or promoting obscenity after showing obscene photos to a University of South Carolina student.”

Not any doubt where Obama’s priorities lie. And thankfully, not everyone is confused as to who’s responsible for the flotilla incident. “Turkey sends a thugs bunch of Jew-baiting Al-Qaeda friendly street-fighters on a floating lynch party and the one party chided by name is … Israel. Well, those pesky facts aren’t too hard to pin down Mr. President–the folks you’ve pinned your peace hopes on are laughing in your face and rolling you like a duck pin.”

Not a good sign when Iran’s assessment is saner than Obama’s: “Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said resolutions such as the one passed by the U.N. Security Council today ‘have no value … it is like a used handkerchief that should be thrown in the waste bin.’”

Not holding my breath: “The main issues inside the conference still include whether and how to meet the Obama administration’s demand for an exemption from new sanctions for countries that are deemed to be ‘cooperating’ with U.S. efforts. Republican lawmakers worry that the White House will use that to broadly exempt some of Iran closest business partners, such as Russia and China. ‘It is clear the president’s policy has failed. It is now time for the Congress to approve the Iran sanctions bill currently in conference committee, without watering it down or plugging it full of loopholes, and then the president should actually use it,’ said Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ.”

Not even her Washington Post colleagues can stomach Katrina vanden Heuvel’s “Bush is a Nazi” rant: “Mengele and his cohorts performed grotesque operations that left his victims with permanent physical, emotional and psychological scars — if they were lucky enough to survive. Most did not. Sometimes death was the objective; he would at times kill his ‘patients’ so that he could get right to the business of dissecting the body. This is monstrous. This is evil incarnate. This is not what the Bush administration did.” Why would the Post editors allow someone who can’t grasp this to write for them? (Really, a single Nation is one too many. Her role in the persecution of a Soviet dissident was covered by COMMENTARY in June 1988.)

Not a day on which this headline is inapt: “Beinart Gets It Wrong Again.” Hard to believe he knows even less about U.S. politics than he does Israeli politics, isn’t it?

Not every Democrat has lost his moral compass: “A member of Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s staff, himself a former major and judge advocate in the U.S. Marines, is calling Blumenthal a liar and disgrace to the Marine Corps for representing himself repeatedly as having served in Vietnam.”

Not a friend in sight: “As Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) pivots from her surprise primary victory on Tuesday night to her general election run against Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark), she finds herself deserted both by traditional allies and outside groups that helped her win the nomination.” ( h/t Ben Smith)

Not going to waste time or money on her: “It’s nice for Blanche Lincoln that she won the runoff in Arkansas last night but I hope that no groups that care about getting Democratic Senators elected spend another dollar in the state this year. That doesn’t have anything to do with her ideology — judging her worthwhileness there is not part of my job as a pollster — but there are just a boatload of races where Democrats have a better chance to win this fall and could use their resources more wisely.”

Not winning support: “Though the vast majority of voters remain confident that Elena Kagan will be confirmed by the Senate to the U.S. Supreme Court, the number who oppose her confirmation has risen to its highest level to date. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters shows 33% think Kagan should be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. But 41% do not think she should be confirmed.”

Not a class act: “White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday there have been no second thoughts over President Obama’s coarse language directed at oil giant BP earlier in the week. ‘No, I have not heard any regrets about the language,’ Gibbs told reporters in his daily White House briefing.”

Not only Andrew Sullivan is obsessed with Sarah Palin’s breasts.

Not rallying around this character: “Today, South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Carol Fowler asked Alvin Greene to withdraw from the race for US Senate. Greene, a resident of Manning S.C., was the apparent winner of the Democratic Party’s nomination for U.S. Senate in yesterday’s primary. Since the election, the Associated Press has revealed that Greene was recently charged with disseminating, procuring or promoting obscenity after showing obscene photos to a University of South Carolina student.”

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Is There a Higher-Education Bubble?

Glenn Harlan Reynolds, who has a book review in this month’s COMMENTARY, says yes. With my third child on the way, I devoutly hope something is going to give before I have simultaneous college tuitions that, given the rate of inflation, could top $100,000 per year each by the time my children get there. Also, note this frightening analysis from Steve Eisman, one of the Wall Streeters who predicted the housing bubble.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds, who has a book review in this month’s COMMENTARY, says yes. With my third child on the way, I devoutly hope something is going to give before I have simultaneous college tuitions that, given the rate of inflation, could top $100,000 per year each by the time my children get there. Also, note this frightening analysis from Steve Eisman, one of the Wall Streeters who predicted the housing bubble.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

It took too long, but the myth of Obama’s competence is crumbling: “The WH political shop leaves much to be desired. Take your pick as to which is worse: The fact that Pres. Obama’s team opened itself up to GOP ridicule over feelers it put out to Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) and ex-CO House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D); the fact that those feelers didn’t actually work, displaying an ineptness absent during George W. Bush’s tenure; or the fact that the WH has gone more than a week without being able to move past the story.”

It took too long, but the Obama spin on the economic “recovery” is no longer carrying the day: “Private employers did little hiring last month, undermining hopes that the economic recovery was gathering pace and helping send U.S. stocks down more than 3% on the day. The Labor Department said Friday that 431,000 jobs were added in May. But the vast majority were temporary workers hired by the government to conduct the 2010 Census. Private-sector employment rose by only 41,000, the smallest monthly increase since January. Without faster private-sector job growth, the U.S. faces a bumpy recovery restrained by households with little income to spend.”

It took too long, but even the New York Times has stopped shilling for Obama with respect to the economy: “President Obama tried to put a gloss on the jobs report, telling workers at a trucking company in Hyattsville, Md., that the numbers showed an economy that was ‘getting stronger by the day.’ Mr. Obama mentioned that Census Bureau hiring accounted for most of the new jobs, but he added that the nation had added jobs for each of the last five months. ‘These numbers do mean that we are moving in the right direction,’ he said. ‘There are going to be ups and downs.’ In fact, the May figures suggested a job market wheezing after months of more vigorous growth.”

It took too long, but the Washington Post is calling for transparency on the Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff job offers:”Is President Obama comfortable with the actions of White House officials in dangling federal jobs as political inducements? An episode involving former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) is more troubling than the previously disclosed incident involving Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.). . .  White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Mr. Obama did not know about the Romanoff overtures in advance, and Mr. Gibbs blew off questions about his reaction by saying he hadn’t discussed the matter with the president. That’s not sufficient. The American people deserve to hear directly from the president about whether he is happy with this behavior.”

It took too long, but an advocate for Israel emerges in the administration: “Biden’s instinctive embrace of Israel at a moment it was under fire from the international community was the most vivid example yet of Biden’s emergence as the West Wing’s most prominent public supporter of the Jewish state. ” Too bad Obama isn’t and he ignores most of what Biden says.

It took too long, but foreign-policy gurus across the political spectrum are complaining that “when it comes to the question of democracy in the Muslim world, many see a U.S. administration more keen to reinforce status quo support for authoritarian regimes than to push for meaningful political reform.”

It took too long, but cranky Republicans are admitting that, “after this Obama nightmare, the Bush brand is looking pretty good.” (The occasion was a New York GOP convention at which Jeb Bush stole the show.)

It took too long, but there is a is a brilliant novel of teenage angst other than (and smarter than) Catcher in the Rye. (The most insightful review is, of course, in this month’s COMMENTARY.)

And with plenty of time to spare, Mitch Daniels emerges as a potential 2012 contender: “He is at once so visible and so self-effacing that he seems to have sunk into a black hole of personal magnetism and come out the other side, where the very lack of charisma becomes charismatic. He is the un-Obama. Republicans — notably some wealthy and powerful ones who have decided he should be president​ — seem to like that.”

It took too long, but the myth of Obama’s competence is crumbling: “The WH political shop leaves much to be desired. Take your pick as to which is worse: The fact that Pres. Obama’s team opened itself up to GOP ridicule over feelers it put out to Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) and ex-CO House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D); the fact that those feelers didn’t actually work, displaying an ineptness absent during George W. Bush’s tenure; or the fact that the WH has gone more than a week without being able to move past the story.”

It took too long, but the Obama spin on the economic “recovery” is no longer carrying the day: “Private employers did little hiring last month, undermining hopes that the economic recovery was gathering pace and helping send U.S. stocks down more than 3% on the day. The Labor Department said Friday that 431,000 jobs were added in May. But the vast majority were temporary workers hired by the government to conduct the 2010 Census. Private-sector employment rose by only 41,000, the smallest monthly increase since January. Without faster private-sector job growth, the U.S. faces a bumpy recovery restrained by households with little income to spend.”

It took too long, but even the New York Times has stopped shilling for Obama with respect to the economy: “President Obama tried to put a gloss on the jobs report, telling workers at a trucking company in Hyattsville, Md., that the numbers showed an economy that was ‘getting stronger by the day.’ Mr. Obama mentioned that Census Bureau hiring accounted for most of the new jobs, but he added that the nation had added jobs for each of the last five months. ‘These numbers do mean that we are moving in the right direction,’ he said. ‘There are going to be ups and downs.’ In fact, the May figures suggested a job market wheezing after months of more vigorous growth.”

It took too long, but the Washington Post is calling for transparency on the Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff job offers:”Is President Obama comfortable with the actions of White House officials in dangling federal jobs as political inducements? An episode involving former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) is more troubling than the previously disclosed incident involving Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.). . .  White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Mr. Obama did not know about the Romanoff overtures in advance, and Mr. Gibbs blew off questions about his reaction by saying he hadn’t discussed the matter with the president. That’s not sufficient. The American people deserve to hear directly from the president about whether he is happy with this behavior.”

It took too long, but an advocate for Israel emerges in the administration: “Biden’s instinctive embrace of Israel at a moment it was under fire from the international community was the most vivid example yet of Biden’s emergence as the West Wing’s most prominent public supporter of the Jewish state. ” Too bad Obama isn’t and he ignores most of what Biden says.

It took too long, but foreign-policy gurus across the political spectrum are complaining that “when it comes to the question of democracy in the Muslim world, many see a U.S. administration more keen to reinforce status quo support for authoritarian regimes than to push for meaningful political reform.”

It took too long, but cranky Republicans are admitting that, “after this Obama nightmare, the Bush brand is looking pretty good.” (The occasion was a New York GOP convention at which Jeb Bush stole the show.)

It took too long, but there is a is a brilliant novel of teenage angst other than (and smarter than) Catcher in the Rye. (The most insightful review is, of course, in this month’s COMMENTARY.)

And with plenty of time to spare, Mitch Daniels emerges as a potential 2012 contender: “He is at once so visible and so self-effacing that he seems to have sunk into a black hole of personal magnetism and come out the other side, where the very lack of charisma becomes charismatic. He is the un-Obama. Republicans — notably some wealthy and powerful ones who have decided he should be president​ — seem to like that.”

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“We Con the World”

The Flotilla Choir explains it all in a brilliant comic video – the work of Latma TV, the satirical website on Israeli media run by the uncompromising Jerusalem Post columnist and COMMENTARY contributor Caroline Glick.

The Flotilla Choir explains it all in a brilliant comic video – the work of Latma TV, the satirical website on Israeli media run by the uncompromising Jerusalem Post columnist and COMMENTARY contributor Caroline Glick.

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Realists Become Neocons

Richard Haass, the self-described “realist” who has come around to favor regime change in Iran and warned Obama to get over his obsession with the Middle East “peace process,” reviews the list of belligerent moves by North Korea and then offers up some advice to the Obama administration masterminds:

The next real opportunity to change things for the better is likely to come when North Korea’s mercurial tyrant Kim Jong Il departs the scene once and for all time. But positive change will only happen if China acts. If in real estate all that matters is location, location and location, it is only a slight exaggeration to contend that what matters most when it comes to North Korea is China, China and China. …

American and South Korean officials need to do more than just point out the risk to their Chinese counterparts of China’s current course. They also need to discuss the character of a unified Korea and how one would get there, addressing legitimate Chinese strategic concerns including the questions of non-Korean troop presence and the full denuclearization of the peninsula. …

South Korea’s president may have signaled an interest in just this on Monday, saying “It is now time for the North Korean regime to change.” President Obama should follow suit. There would be no better way to mark this June’s 60th anniversary of the Korean war.

Regime change to deal with despots? Dispense with self-defeating peace processing in the Middle East? Not remarkable views at all for CONTENTIONS or for COMMENTARY magazine, but startling indeed for a middle-of-the-road establishment figure like Haass. It seems that for those willing to absorb reality and not simply adopt the slogan of “realists,” the evidence is mounting that Obama’s absorption with engagement and disinclination to confront despots is useless and indeed counterproductive. These realists understand that the thugocracies are becoming more aggressive and the U.S. less credible and that some serious course correction is needed.

Political moderates and even liberals have grown disgusted with Obama’s abysmal record on human rights and religious freedom and nervous about his reluctance to project American power. The silver lining in Obama’s inept foreign policy is that a potentially broad-based alliance of critics is forming to suggest policies more in sync with neocon thinkers than with the starry-eyed multilateralist president. If not for the dangers to the U.S. and its allies, which Obama is doing little to abate (and much to increase), it would be a very positive development. Provided we and our allies can weather the Obama storm, his successor may have the benefit of a new bipartisan foreign-policy consensus, which has eluded us for some time.

Richard Haass, the self-described “realist” who has come around to favor regime change in Iran and warned Obama to get over his obsession with the Middle East “peace process,” reviews the list of belligerent moves by North Korea and then offers up some advice to the Obama administration masterminds:

The next real opportunity to change things for the better is likely to come when North Korea’s mercurial tyrant Kim Jong Il departs the scene once and for all time. But positive change will only happen if China acts. If in real estate all that matters is location, location and location, it is only a slight exaggeration to contend that what matters most when it comes to North Korea is China, China and China. …

American and South Korean officials need to do more than just point out the risk to their Chinese counterparts of China’s current course. They also need to discuss the character of a unified Korea and how one would get there, addressing legitimate Chinese strategic concerns including the questions of non-Korean troop presence and the full denuclearization of the peninsula. …

South Korea’s president may have signaled an interest in just this on Monday, saying “It is now time for the North Korean regime to change.” President Obama should follow suit. There would be no better way to mark this June’s 60th anniversary of the Korean war.

Regime change to deal with despots? Dispense with self-defeating peace processing in the Middle East? Not remarkable views at all for CONTENTIONS or for COMMENTARY magazine, but startling indeed for a middle-of-the-road establishment figure like Haass. It seems that for those willing to absorb reality and not simply adopt the slogan of “realists,” the evidence is mounting that Obama’s absorption with engagement and disinclination to confront despots is useless and indeed counterproductive. These realists understand that the thugocracies are becoming more aggressive and the U.S. less credible and that some serious course correction is needed.

Political moderates and even liberals have grown disgusted with Obama’s abysmal record on human rights and religious freedom and nervous about his reluctance to project American power. The silver lining in Obama’s inept foreign policy is that a potentially broad-based alliance of critics is forming to suggest policies more in sync with neocon thinkers than with the starry-eyed multilateralist president. If not for the dangers to the U.S. and its allies, which Obama is doing little to abate (and much to increase), it would be a very positive development. Provided we and our allies can weather the Obama storm, his successor may have the benefit of a new bipartisan foreign-policy consensus, which has eluded us for some time.

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The PA-12

A friend of COMMENTARY who spent six days in the Pennsylvania 12th district reports that in the race to fill the seat of deceased Rep. John Murtha, the polls don’t necessarily reflect what is happening on the ground. (A recent poll had the Democrat up eight points; most polls have the race within the margin of error.) He e-mails that he has been going door-to-door for Republican Tim Burns: “The Republican base is more motivated than the other guys and it will be all about turn out. Scott Brown spoke here [Friday]. The Dems are pouring it on, and the SEIU is in this big time, but we’ll win this race.”

Democrat Mark Critz picked up the endorsements of local media, but let’s face it: this is meaningless. The overwhelming number of local media outlets also backed Jon Corzine, Creigh Deeds, and Martha Coakley. And there is a reason why Bill Clinton — who may be the most popular figure Democrats have with blue-collar crowds — came to the district on Sunday. A loss for the Democrats in what has been characterized as a “bellwether” district will likely intensify the panic building in Democratic ranks.

A friend of COMMENTARY who spent six days in the Pennsylvania 12th district reports that in the race to fill the seat of deceased Rep. John Murtha, the polls don’t necessarily reflect what is happening on the ground. (A recent poll had the Democrat up eight points; most polls have the race within the margin of error.) He e-mails that he has been going door-to-door for Republican Tim Burns: “The Republican base is more motivated than the other guys and it will be all about turn out. Scott Brown spoke here [Friday]. The Dems are pouring it on, and the SEIU is in this big time, but we’ll win this race.”

Democrat Mark Critz picked up the endorsements of local media, but let’s face it: this is meaningless. The overwhelming number of local media outlets also backed Jon Corzine, Creigh Deeds, and Martha Coakley. And there is a reason why Bill Clinton — who may be the most popular figure Democrats have with blue-collar crowds — came to the district on Sunday. A loss for the Democrats in what has been characterized as a “bellwether” district will likely intensify the panic building in Democratic ranks.

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What “Unacceptable” Is

David P. Goldman, who wrote for years under the nom de plume “Spengler,” is a brilliant and cultivated man; I asked him last year to review a book for COMMENTARY about Leonard Bernstein, and he obliged with a fascinating and tough piece. He is now an editor at First Things, the monthly magazine of religion and public life edited by my old friend and colleague Jody Bottum. We have genuine disagreements, notably about the value of American politico-military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan that go by the name “nation-building,” but they stem from the same root — a conviction that the West is under ideological assault and needs defending from its Islamofascist enemies.

But Goldman has now, I think, stepped beyond the pale both intellectually, ideologically, and as a simple matter of taste, expressing a sentiment about President Obama that might be explicable in the midst of a beer-and-scotch-addled late-night bull session in a dorm room but not in the precincts of an important publication. At the end of an item on the Iranian nuclear threat and the disastrous condition of American-Israeli relations, Goldman writes:

Obama is the loyal son of a left-wing anthropologist mother who sought to expiate her white guilt by going to bed with Muslim Third World men. He is a Third World anthropologist studying us, learning our culture and our customs the better to neutralize what he considers to be a malignant American influence in world affairs.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, disgusting. In the first place, Obama is not responsible for his mother or her political views, any more than Ronald Reagan should have been be held accountable for the fact that his father was a drunk. In the second place, Goldman’s speculation about her sexual history is appalling in about a hundred different ways. I’m sure I’d hold no brief for Stanley Ann Dunham, but the idea that the lower-middle-class daughter of a furniture salesman from Mercer Island, Washington, would be awash in “white guilt” — far more a species of upper-middle-class Northeastern opinion — speaks more of Goldman’s inability to achieve imaginative sympathy with someone from circumstances different from his than it does anything about the president or his family.

Finally, there is Goldman’s description of Obama, who lived for less than a year in Indonesia from age 6 to age 10, as a “Third World anthropologist studying us.” Casting Obama as a malign foreign influence is a particular and unforgivable intellectual madness on the Right over the past two years. There is nothing foreign about Obama’s ideas or ideology, alas, which can be understood, in my view, almost entirely from the curricula and extracurricular ideas endemic in the American university in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when he was in college.

Goldman wrote a piece for First Things last year in which he revealed his history as a member of the bizarre and paranoid political cult around the extremist Lyndon LaRouche. Goldman intended the article to be an explanation of and break from his past. But thinking of the sort revealed in this blog item is in the direct line of descent from LaRouche’s vision of the world. It appears you can take the man out of LaRouche, but you can’t take LaRouche out of the man.

The opposition to Barack Obama needs to keep its wits. His domestic-policy proposals and foreign-policy ideas constitute a profound challenge to the good working order of the United States and the world. Spewing repellent nonsense about Obama’s mother and spinning bizarre notions about his innate foreignness — when he is in fact the possessor of one of the great and enduring American stories, and is in his own person a demonstration of precisely the kind of American exceptionalism that Obama so pointedly pooh-poohs — can be used to discredit his opposition. That is why I find it necessary to take such public exception to Goldman’s unacceptable musings.

David P. Goldman, who wrote for years under the nom de plume “Spengler,” is a brilliant and cultivated man; I asked him last year to review a book for COMMENTARY about Leonard Bernstein, and he obliged with a fascinating and tough piece. He is now an editor at First Things, the monthly magazine of religion and public life edited by my old friend and colleague Jody Bottum. We have genuine disagreements, notably about the value of American politico-military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan that go by the name “nation-building,” but they stem from the same root — a conviction that the West is under ideological assault and needs defending from its Islamofascist enemies.

But Goldman has now, I think, stepped beyond the pale both intellectually, ideologically, and as a simple matter of taste, expressing a sentiment about President Obama that might be explicable in the midst of a beer-and-scotch-addled late-night bull session in a dorm room but not in the precincts of an important publication. At the end of an item on the Iranian nuclear threat and the disastrous condition of American-Israeli relations, Goldman writes:

Obama is the loyal son of a left-wing anthropologist mother who sought to expiate her white guilt by going to bed with Muslim Third World men. He is a Third World anthropologist studying us, learning our culture and our customs the better to neutralize what he considers to be a malignant American influence in world affairs.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, disgusting. In the first place, Obama is not responsible for his mother or her political views, any more than Ronald Reagan should have been be held accountable for the fact that his father was a drunk. In the second place, Goldman’s speculation about her sexual history is appalling in about a hundred different ways. I’m sure I’d hold no brief for Stanley Ann Dunham, but the idea that the lower-middle-class daughter of a furniture salesman from Mercer Island, Washington, would be awash in “white guilt” — far more a species of upper-middle-class Northeastern opinion — speaks more of Goldman’s inability to achieve imaginative sympathy with someone from circumstances different from his than it does anything about the president or his family.

Finally, there is Goldman’s description of Obama, who lived for less than a year in Indonesia from age 6 to age 10, as a “Third World anthropologist studying us.” Casting Obama as a malign foreign influence is a particular and unforgivable intellectual madness on the Right over the past two years. There is nothing foreign about Obama’s ideas or ideology, alas, which can be understood, in my view, almost entirely from the curricula and extracurricular ideas endemic in the American university in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when he was in college.

Goldman wrote a piece for First Things last year in which he revealed his history as a member of the bizarre and paranoid political cult around the extremist Lyndon LaRouche. Goldman intended the article to be an explanation of and break from his past. But thinking of the sort revealed in this blog item is in the direct line of descent from LaRouche’s vision of the world. It appears you can take the man out of LaRouche, but you can’t take LaRouche out of the man.

The opposition to Barack Obama needs to keep its wits. His domestic-policy proposals and foreign-policy ideas constitute a profound challenge to the good working order of the United States and the world. Spewing repellent nonsense about Obama’s mother and spinning bizarre notions about his innate foreignness — when he is in fact the possessor of one of the great and enduring American stories, and is in his own person a demonstration of precisely the kind of American exceptionalism that Obama so pointedly pooh-poohs — can be used to discredit his opposition. That is why I find it necessary to take such public exception to Goldman’s unacceptable musings.

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Is Organic Food Just Marketing Hype?

COMMENTARY readers in the New York area are welcomed to participate in an impassioned live debate next Tuesday (April 13) in Manhattan. The topic of contention will be whether organic food is just marketing hype. Arguing that indeed it is will be Dennis Avery, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food Issues; Blake Hurst, writer and farmer; and John Krebs, former chairman of the Food Standards Agency in the UK. Defending the merits of organic food will be Charles Benbrook, chief scientist at The Organic Center; Urvashi Rangan, director of technical policy for the Consumers Union; and Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue magazine food critic.

For more information about the live event, visit its organizers’ website.

COMMENTARY readers in the New York area are welcomed to participate in an impassioned live debate next Tuesday (April 13) in Manhattan. The topic of contention will be whether organic food is just marketing hype. Arguing that indeed it is will be Dennis Avery, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food Issues; Blake Hurst, writer and farmer; and John Krebs, former chairman of the Food Standards Agency in the UK. Defending the merits of organic food will be Charles Benbrook, chief scientist at The Organic Center; Urvashi Rangan, director of technical policy for the Consumers Union; and Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue magazine food critic.

For more information about the live event, visit its organizers’ website.

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From the Horse’s Mouth: Petraeus on Israel

Back on March 13, terrorist groupie Mark Perry — a former Arafat aide who now pals around with Hamas and Hezbollah — posted an article on Foreign Policy’s website, claiming that General David Petraeus was behind the administration’s policy of getting tough with Israel. He attributed to Petraeus the view that “Israel’s intransigence” — meaning its unwillingness to give up every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem tomorrow — “could cost American lives.” His item received wide circulation though it may be doubted whether, as he now says, “It changed the way people think about the conflict.”

I tried to set the record straight with two Commentary items (see here and here) in which I suggested, based on talking to an officer familiar with Petraeus’s thinking, that Perry’s item was a gross distortion —in fact a fraud. I noted that in Petraeus’s view, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was only one factor among many affecting U.S. interests in the region and that Israeli settlements were far from the only, or even the main, obstacle to peace. I even suggested — again, based on inside information — that the 56-page posture statement that Central Command had submitted to Congress, which stated that the Arab-Israeli conflict “foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel,” was not the best indicator of his thinking. Better to look at what he actually told Congress — in a hearing he barely mentioned Israel (until prompted to do so) and never talked about settlements at all.

This brought hoots of derision from commentators on both the Left and the Right, who claimed that I was putting words into Petraeus’s mouth — that I was, in Joe Klein’s phrase, taking a “flying leap.” Predictably piling on were Andrew Sullivan, who said I was “glossing over” what Petraeus said, and Robert Wright, who claimed that, “by Boot’s lights, Petraeus is anti-Israel.” Diana West added a truly inventive spin, by suggesting that Petraeus was a protégé of Stephen Walt, who was his faculty adviser many years ago at Princeton before the good professor won renown as a leading basher of the “Israel Lobby” and the state of Israel itself. It was from Walt, Ms. West claims, that Petraeus imbibed his “Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes.”

So who was off-base here: those of us who tried to explain the nuances of General Petraeus’s thinking or those bloggers and commentators who tried to suggest that he is a strident critic of Israel?

The answer has now been publicly provided by Petraeus himself in a speech in New Hampshire. Watch it for yourself. A good summary is provided by the American Spectator’s Philip Klein, who was present at the event and asked Petraeus to clarify his thinking.

The general said that it was “unhelpful” that “bloggers” had “picked … up” what he had said and “spun it.” He noted that, aside from Israel’s actions, there are many other important factors standing in the way of peace, including “a whole bunch of extremist organizations, some of which by the way deny Israel’s right to exist. There’s a country that has a nuclear program who denies that the Holocaust took place. So again we have all these factors in there. This [Israel] is just one.”

What about Perry’s claim that American support for Israel puts our soldiers at risk? Petraeus said, “There is no mention of lives anywhere in there. I actually reread the statement. It doesn’t say that at all.”

He concluded by noting that he had sent to General Gabi Ashkenazi, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, the “blog by Max Boot” which, he said, had “picked apart this whole thing, as he typically does, pretty astutely.”

I hope Petraeus’s comments will put an end to this whole weird episode. Those who are either happy or unhappy about the administration’s approach to Israel should lodge their compliments or complaints where they belong — at the White House, not at Central Command.

Back on March 13, terrorist groupie Mark Perry — a former Arafat aide who now pals around with Hamas and Hezbollah — posted an article on Foreign Policy’s website, claiming that General David Petraeus was behind the administration’s policy of getting tough with Israel. He attributed to Petraeus the view that “Israel’s intransigence” — meaning its unwillingness to give up every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem tomorrow — “could cost American lives.” His item received wide circulation though it may be doubted whether, as he now says, “It changed the way people think about the conflict.”

I tried to set the record straight with two Commentary items (see here and here) in which I suggested, based on talking to an officer familiar with Petraeus’s thinking, that Perry’s item was a gross distortion —in fact a fraud. I noted that in Petraeus’s view, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was only one factor among many affecting U.S. interests in the region and that Israeli settlements were far from the only, or even the main, obstacle to peace. I even suggested — again, based on inside information — that the 56-page posture statement that Central Command had submitted to Congress, which stated that the Arab-Israeli conflict “foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel,” was not the best indicator of his thinking. Better to look at what he actually told Congress — in a hearing he barely mentioned Israel (until prompted to do so) and never talked about settlements at all.

This brought hoots of derision from commentators on both the Left and the Right, who claimed that I was putting words into Petraeus’s mouth — that I was, in Joe Klein’s phrase, taking a “flying leap.” Predictably piling on were Andrew Sullivan, who said I was “glossing over” what Petraeus said, and Robert Wright, who claimed that, “by Boot’s lights, Petraeus is anti-Israel.” Diana West added a truly inventive spin, by suggesting that Petraeus was a protégé of Stephen Walt, who was his faculty adviser many years ago at Princeton before the good professor won renown as a leading basher of the “Israel Lobby” and the state of Israel itself. It was from Walt, Ms. West claims, that Petraeus imbibed his “Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes.”

So who was off-base here: those of us who tried to explain the nuances of General Petraeus’s thinking or those bloggers and commentators who tried to suggest that he is a strident critic of Israel?

The answer has now been publicly provided by Petraeus himself in a speech in New Hampshire. Watch it for yourself. A good summary is provided by the American Spectator’s Philip Klein, who was present at the event and asked Petraeus to clarify his thinking.

The general said that it was “unhelpful” that “bloggers” had “picked … up” what he had said and “spun it.” He noted that, aside from Israel’s actions, there are many other important factors standing in the way of peace, including “a whole bunch of extremist organizations, some of which by the way deny Israel’s right to exist. There’s a country that has a nuclear program who denies that the Holocaust took place. So again we have all these factors in there. This [Israel] is just one.”

What about Perry’s claim that American support for Israel puts our soldiers at risk? Petraeus said, “There is no mention of lives anywhere in there. I actually reread the statement. It doesn’t say that at all.”

He concluded by noting that he had sent to General Gabi Ashkenazi, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, the “blog by Max Boot” which, he said, had “picked apart this whole thing, as he typically does, pretty astutely.”

I hope Petraeus’s comments will put an end to this whole weird episode. Those who are either happy or unhappy about the administration’s approach to Israel should lodge their compliments or complaints where they belong — at the White House, not at Central Command.

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Signs of Life Strife

A few days ago, I called attention to a quote from one of the creators of a new musical called Signs of Life, which is set in and around the Thereseinstadt concentration camp. (I compared it to The Producers, and specifically to “Springtime for Hitler,” the musical-within-the-musical, described by its deranged creator as “a gay romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden.”) The quote in question averred that the questions about Nazi era Germans and how they responded to their leaders had a great deal to teach us about America over the past decade — an observation of which the best that can be said is that it is a bit more tasteful than the very notion of a musical set at Thereseinstadt.

The writers and creators of Signs of Life, evidently thrilled that anybody is willing to write about them at all, have fired a broadside at me using the old “how can he criticize our show without seeing it” gambit:

You are well-known as a protector of the memory of the Holocaust and as someone who, by his own admission, knows “the lyrics to every show tune ever written.” We were therefore dismayed to read your post on Commentary about our new off-Broadway musical, Signs of Life. Your casually insulting aside about the “wonderfully tuneful” quality of the show-which as far as we can tell you have not seen-is irresponsible enough, but to make the ugly accusation that we believe “the Holocaust exists as a dramatic trope to teach us lessons about America in the age of Bush” is contemptible.

The characters in our show must participate in the Nazi propaganda machine in order to survive; when they realize the implications of their participation they face ethical choices that endanger their lives. But the obligation of citizens across the political spectrum to question our leaders and evaluate the truth of their answers did not end on V-Day.

The idea you seem to advocate-that if you put an event as vastly horrific as the Holocaust onstage you should do it as a museum piece, rather than exploring what we might learn from it about human nature-implies that today’s society is no longer capable of a Holocaust, which is a position both false and dangerous.

We would like to invite you to see Signs of Life and to judge based on experience rather than distortion and mockery whether our show honors the memory of those slaughtered in the Holocaust. Please e-mail us and we’ll arrange tickets for whatever date you’d like.

Now, while I do place myself very much on the anti side on the admittedly complex aesthetic question of using the Holocaust as an artistic setting — and, not incidentally, on the anti side when it comes to the use of the musical form as a vehicle for the serious treatment of just about any topic, notwithstanding my deep love of musicals and the American songbook they created — that wasn’t the reason I wrote the item. I wrote the item because of something the show’s composer, Joel Derfner, said. Which was this: “The message of our show is not ‘Killing Jews is bad.’ It’s: ‘What do you do when you find out you’ve been lied to? What is telling the truth worth?’ In the last 30 years this question has been vital to American life and especially so in the last nine years.”

Now let’s parse this. What happened 30 years ago in this country? Ronald Reagan’s election. What happened nine years ago? George W. Bush’s inauguration. Who’s making repulsive and unwarranted associations now? The Signs of Life team is right that someone said something contemptible, but it wasn’t I.

And thanks for the invitation, but I’ll pass; I already did my time years ago when, courtesy of P.J. O’Rourke, who secured it from God-knows-where, I once read the entirety of the screenplay for the Jerry Lewis epic, The Day the Clown Cried.

A few days ago, I called attention to a quote from one of the creators of a new musical called Signs of Life, which is set in and around the Thereseinstadt concentration camp. (I compared it to The Producers, and specifically to “Springtime for Hitler,” the musical-within-the-musical, described by its deranged creator as “a gay romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden.”) The quote in question averred that the questions about Nazi era Germans and how they responded to their leaders had a great deal to teach us about America over the past decade — an observation of which the best that can be said is that it is a bit more tasteful than the very notion of a musical set at Thereseinstadt.

The writers and creators of Signs of Life, evidently thrilled that anybody is willing to write about them at all, have fired a broadside at me using the old “how can he criticize our show without seeing it” gambit:

You are well-known as a protector of the memory of the Holocaust and as someone who, by his own admission, knows “the lyrics to every show tune ever written.” We were therefore dismayed to read your post on Commentary about our new off-Broadway musical, Signs of Life. Your casually insulting aside about the “wonderfully tuneful” quality of the show-which as far as we can tell you have not seen-is irresponsible enough, but to make the ugly accusation that we believe “the Holocaust exists as a dramatic trope to teach us lessons about America in the age of Bush” is contemptible.

The characters in our show must participate in the Nazi propaganda machine in order to survive; when they realize the implications of their participation they face ethical choices that endanger their lives. But the obligation of citizens across the political spectrum to question our leaders and evaluate the truth of their answers did not end on V-Day.

The idea you seem to advocate-that if you put an event as vastly horrific as the Holocaust onstage you should do it as a museum piece, rather than exploring what we might learn from it about human nature-implies that today’s society is no longer capable of a Holocaust, which is a position both false and dangerous.

We would like to invite you to see Signs of Life and to judge based on experience rather than distortion and mockery whether our show honors the memory of those slaughtered in the Holocaust. Please e-mail us and we’ll arrange tickets for whatever date you’d like.

Now, while I do place myself very much on the anti side on the admittedly complex aesthetic question of using the Holocaust as an artistic setting — and, not incidentally, on the anti side when it comes to the use of the musical form as a vehicle for the serious treatment of just about any topic, notwithstanding my deep love of musicals and the American songbook they created — that wasn’t the reason I wrote the item. I wrote the item because of something the show’s composer, Joel Derfner, said. Which was this: “The message of our show is not ‘Killing Jews is bad.’ It’s: ‘What do you do when you find out you’ve been lied to? What is telling the truth worth?’ In the last 30 years this question has been vital to American life and especially so in the last nine years.”

Now let’s parse this. What happened 30 years ago in this country? Ronald Reagan’s election. What happened nine years ago? George W. Bush’s inauguration. Who’s making repulsive and unwarranted associations now? The Signs of Life team is right that someone said something contemptible, but it wasn’t I.

And thanks for the invitation, but I’ll pass; I already did my time years ago when, courtesy of P.J. O’Rourke, who secured it from God-knows-where, I once read the entirety of the screenplay for the Jerry Lewis epic, The Day the Clown Cried.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The ObamaCare votes don’t seem to be there. Could those “votes” have figured out that they are the sacrificial lambs in the Obami’s game plan?

Well, as Steny Hoyer says, “At this point in time we don’t have a bill. … It’s a little difficult to count votes if you don’t have a bill.”

Republicans can’t quite believe their good fortune. “First, it has allowed what is a relatively fractious group of Republicans Senators to appear entirely united — a sharp contrast to the divisions that have played out publicly between the moderate and liberal wings of the Democratic party. Second, Republicans argue, the health care focus is the main reason for the abandonment of Democratic candidates by independent voters in gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey as well as in Sen. Scott Brown’s (R) special election victory in January.”

You need a lineup card: Rangel is out, Stark is out: “Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) will be the acting chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced to her caucus on Thursday. … [Rep. Pete] Stark was the next in line for the post in terms of seniority, but some panel members recoiled at the idea of his leading the committee. Stark is known for making controversial and eccentric remarks, and in 2007 he apologized on the House floor for comments about President George W. Bush and the Iraq War.”

Phil Klein proves once again that all wisdom is contained in the Bible and The Godfather (I and II, definitely not III). It’s the Frankie Pentangeli moment — get the brother. “Obama has just awarded a judicial appointment to the brother of Utah Rep. Jim Matheson, who voted against the health care bill in November but who is now undecided.”

DNC chairman Tim Kaine says that something other than merit may be at work here. After all, “Life is life.” I imagine Republicans are collecting these pearls for their ad campaigns.

Speaking of criminal intrigue: did the White House violate federal statutes by dangling federal jobs in front of Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff to try to get them out of Senate primaries? “The real question, of course, is whether Eric Holder, who was so quick to reopen an investigation into CIA employees dedicated to trying to protect this country, will open an investigation into his political patrons in the White House who, in their dedication to furthering political objectives, may have violated several federal criminal laws.” I’m not holding my breath either.

I think there’s something to Megan McArdle’s theory of the Democrats’ scandal-a-thon: “The more members you have, the more members you have who can do something disastrous to your party’s public image. … Any party is going to have a given percentage of people in it doing fairly appalling things. If you up the numbers, and the transparency, you get about what we’re seeing now. And no doubt will see again, once the Republicans are back in power. ” Which will be fairly soon, many predict.

Andrew Roberts (a COMMENTARY contributor) goes after his own Israel-bashing Financial Times on its coverage of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh’s assassination: “All that the Dubai operation will do is remind the world that the security services of states at war — and Israel’s struggle with Hamas, Fatah and Hizbollah certainly constitutes that — occasionally employ targeted assassination as one of the weapons in their armoury, and that this in no way weakens their legitimacy. … The intelligence agents of states — sometimes operating with direct authority, sometimes not — have carried out many assassinations and assassination attempts in peacetime without the legitimacy of those states being called into question, or their being described as ‘rogue.’ … No, that insult is reserved for only one country: Israel.”

The ObamaCare votes don’t seem to be there. Could those “votes” have figured out that they are the sacrificial lambs in the Obami’s game plan?

Well, as Steny Hoyer says, “At this point in time we don’t have a bill. … It’s a little difficult to count votes if you don’t have a bill.”

Republicans can’t quite believe their good fortune. “First, it has allowed what is a relatively fractious group of Republicans Senators to appear entirely united — a sharp contrast to the divisions that have played out publicly between the moderate and liberal wings of the Democratic party. Second, Republicans argue, the health care focus is the main reason for the abandonment of Democratic candidates by independent voters in gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey as well as in Sen. Scott Brown’s (R) special election victory in January.”

You need a lineup card: Rangel is out, Stark is out: “Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) will be the acting chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced to her caucus on Thursday. … [Rep. Pete] Stark was the next in line for the post in terms of seniority, but some panel members recoiled at the idea of his leading the committee. Stark is known for making controversial and eccentric remarks, and in 2007 he apologized on the House floor for comments about President George W. Bush and the Iraq War.”

Phil Klein proves once again that all wisdom is contained in the Bible and The Godfather (I and II, definitely not III). It’s the Frankie Pentangeli moment — get the brother. “Obama has just awarded a judicial appointment to the brother of Utah Rep. Jim Matheson, who voted against the health care bill in November but who is now undecided.”

DNC chairman Tim Kaine says that something other than merit may be at work here. After all, “Life is life.” I imagine Republicans are collecting these pearls for their ad campaigns.

Speaking of criminal intrigue: did the White House violate federal statutes by dangling federal jobs in front of Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff to try to get them out of Senate primaries? “The real question, of course, is whether Eric Holder, who was so quick to reopen an investigation into CIA employees dedicated to trying to protect this country, will open an investigation into his political patrons in the White House who, in their dedication to furthering political objectives, may have violated several federal criminal laws.” I’m not holding my breath either.

I think there’s something to Megan McArdle’s theory of the Democrats’ scandal-a-thon: “The more members you have, the more members you have who can do something disastrous to your party’s public image. … Any party is going to have a given percentage of people in it doing fairly appalling things. If you up the numbers, and the transparency, you get about what we’re seeing now. And no doubt will see again, once the Republicans are back in power. ” Which will be fairly soon, many predict.

Andrew Roberts (a COMMENTARY contributor) goes after his own Israel-bashing Financial Times on its coverage of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh’s assassination: “All that the Dubai operation will do is remind the world that the security services of states at war — and Israel’s struggle with Hamas, Fatah and Hizbollah certainly constitutes that — occasionally employ targeted assassination as one of the weapons in their armoury, and that this in no way weakens their legitimacy. … The intelligence agents of states — sometimes operating with direct authority, sometimes not — have carried out many assassinations and assassination attempts in peacetime without the legitimacy of those states being called into question, or their being described as ‘rogue.’ … No, that insult is reserved for only one country: Israel.”

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LIVE BLOG: More on Obama’s Performance

I wrote earlier about differences in perception owing to ideology by citing Jonathan Chait of the New Republic. Now Yuval Levin, who has written about health care for COMMENTARY and is the editor of the wonderful National Affairs, offers his view at the Corner:

An important part of the Democrats’ problem is that Obama himself is their only star, and this format is not working for him. He certainly seems engaged and well informed (even given a few misstatements of fact, at least one of which John Kyl made very clear.) But he doesn’t seem like the President of the United States—more like a slightly cranky committee chairman or a patronizing professor who thinks that saying something is “a legitimate argument” is a way to avoid having an argument. He is diminished by the circumstances, he’s cranky and prickly when challenged, and he’s got no one to help him.

Yuval and I are in agreement about Obama’s professorial mien, which he calls “patronizing” and I called “condescending.” But I still think Obama comes across well on balance. And yet, thinking a little more about the peculiarity of Democrats talking so sweetly about how little difference there is between them and the Republicans, I am beginning to think Yuval has it right that “it is hard to see how the Democrats are doing themselves anything but harm with the health-care summit.”

This whole thing was a terrific blunder, probably, because with their own proposals’s support sinking and their own case for those proposals being made so haphazardly and disingenuously, Democrats are strengthening rather than weakening the Republican argument that the whole thing needs to be thrown out — because if Republicans disagree with them, and Republicans have more credibility on this right now, their judgment will more closely track with the public’s. And therefore, should Democrats decide to muscle their legislation through, they will all but ensure a voter uprising.

I wrote earlier about differences in perception owing to ideology by citing Jonathan Chait of the New Republic. Now Yuval Levin, who has written about health care for COMMENTARY and is the editor of the wonderful National Affairs, offers his view at the Corner:

An important part of the Democrats’ problem is that Obama himself is their only star, and this format is not working for him. He certainly seems engaged and well informed (even given a few misstatements of fact, at least one of which John Kyl made very clear.) But he doesn’t seem like the President of the United States—more like a slightly cranky committee chairman or a patronizing professor who thinks that saying something is “a legitimate argument” is a way to avoid having an argument. He is diminished by the circumstances, he’s cranky and prickly when challenged, and he’s got no one to help him.

Yuval and I are in agreement about Obama’s professorial mien, which he calls “patronizing” and I called “condescending.” But I still think Obama comes across well on balance. And yet, thinking a little more about the peculiarity of Democrats talking so sweetly about how little difference there is between them and the Republicans, I am beginning to think Yuval has it right that “it is hard to see how the Democrats are doing themselves anything but harm with the health-care summit.”

This whole thing was a terrific blunder, probably, because with their own proposals’s support sinking and their own case for those proposals being made so haphazardly and disingenuously, Democrats are strengthening rather than weakening the Republican argument that the whole thing needs to be thrown out — because if Republicans disagree with them, and Republicans have more credibility on this right now, their judgment will more closely track with the public’s. And therefore, should Democrats decide to muscle their legislation through, they will all but ensure a voter uprising.

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Zuckerman Candidacy Would Change Everything in New York Senate Race

Well-heeled New York Democrats dismayed at the prospect of even another two years of Kirsten Gillibrand in the United States Senate have been floating the candidacy of former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. But the floundering candidacy of Ford may be bolstered by the appearance of a new Republican candidate for the seat: publisher and real-estate magnate Mortimer Zuckerman.

According to the New York Times, the 72-year-old Zuckerman is considering a run for the Senate this year. It is assumed that if he  throws his hat in the ring, the 72-year-old billionaire will have the GOP nomination for the asking. But if Zuckerman runs, it will also have an impact on the Democrats.

Until Ford’s boomlet appeared last month, Gillibrand appeared to be cruising to an easy primary victory simply because Chuck Schumer, New York’s senior senator, has very much enjoyed his last year in office. That’s because Gillibrand, unlike her predecessor Hillary Clinton, not only does whatever Schumer asks her to do, but is also content to let the legendary Brooklyn publicity hound hog have all the media attention. So Schumer has used his considerable fund-raising power to not only help build Gillibrand’s campaign account, but to also intimidate possible foes such as Manhattan Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from pursuing the race. But the problem with this scheme is that Gillibrand has made such a poor impression in the Senate that despite Schumer’s best efforts, some Democrats still think that not only can they do better but also that she is potentially vulnerable in November. Gillibrand’s weakness is accentuated by the possibility that the mid-term election this fall will feature a Republican tide sweeping the country.

So far, Ford’s tryout in the media hasn’t gone that well. His initial interview with the Times was almost as disastrous as a similar encounter with the press, in which Caroline Kennedy’s putative candidacy for the appointment that eventually went to Gillibrand went down in flames. Back in December 2008, Kennedy set new indoor records for a would-be politician saying “You know” and “um” when speaking to reporters. Last month Ford was more articulate but he probably would have done just as well saying “you know” and “um” rather than admitting that, as a vice president for Merrill Lynch, he rarely takes the subway, had only flown over the outer boroughs of New York, and likes pedicures and breakfast at swank hotels.

When the only Republicans considering a run for the Senate were unknowns with little chances of victory in November, Gillibrand’s cipher-like profile wasn’t an obstacle to a Democratic victory. But against a candidate like Zuckerman, whose vast fortune would make her considerable war chest look like a pittance, a safe Democratic seat might become a tossup. Indeed, given Zuckerman’s impeccable pro-Israel credentials (he’s a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and his command of both economic issues and foreign affairs has been demonstrated in the columns he has written and in appearances on talk shows); his candidacy has the potential to put a sizable percentage of the Jewish vote in question. It is true that Democrats will dismiss this possibility because the vast majority of Jews are liberals and loyal Democrats (see former COMMENTARY editor Norman Podhoretz’s insightful book Why Are Jews Liberal?). But in New York there is a larger percentage than in the rest of the country of Orthodox Jews and of those who care deeply about Israel. Though it should be conceded that even a weak Democrat could do well against a strong pro-Israel Jewish Republican in New York, there is little question that Zuckerman could cut into the expected huge Democratic majority in the Jewish vote. In a state where Jews still make up about 9 percent of the population (and a much larger percentage of those who actually vote) even a small shift in the Jewish vote could make the difference for a massively financed Zuckerman campaign.

It’s not clear yet that Ford could poll any better against Zuckerman than Gillibrand could, or that he can beat her in a primary even if he raises all the money he needs. Nor do we know yet whether Zuckerman is really interested in running. But with a billionaire GOP candidate looming in the wings, you’d have to expect that some Democrats who are reluctantly backing Gillibrand would re-examine their options.

Well-heeled New York Democrats dismayed at the prospect of even another two years of Kirsten Gillibrand in the United States Senate have been floating the candidacy of former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. But the floundering candidacy of Ford may be bolstered by the appearance of a new Republican candidate for the seat: publisher and real-estate magnate Mortimer Zuckerman.

According to the New York Times, the 72-year-old Zuckerman is considering a run for the Senate this year. It is assumed that if he  throws his hat in the ring, the 72-year-old billionaire will have the GOP nomination for the asking. But if Zuckerman runs, it will also have an impact on the Democrats.

Until Ford’s boomlet appeared last month, Gillibrand appeared to be cruising to an easy primary victory simply because Chuck Schumer, New York’s senior senator, has very much enjoyed his last year in office. That’s because Gillibrand, unlike her predecessor Hillary Clinton, not only does whatever Schumer asks her to do, but is also content to let the legendary Brooklyn publicity hound hog have all the media attention. So Schumer has used his considerable fund-raising power to not only help build Gillibrand’s campaign account, but to also intimidate possible foes such as Manhattan Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from pursuing the race. But the problem with this scheme is that Gillibrand has made such a poor impression in the Senate that despite Schumer’s best efforts, some Democrats still think that not only can they do better but also that she is potentially vulnerable in November. Gillibrand’s weakness is accentuated by the possibility that the mid-term election this fall will feature a Republican tide sweeping the country.

So far, Ford’s tryout in the media hasn’t gone that well. His initial interview with the Times was almost as disastrous as a similar encounter with the press, in which Caroline Kennedy’s putative candidacy for the appointment that eventually went to Gillibrand went down in flames. Back in December 2008, Kennedy set new indoor records for a would-be politician saying “You know” and “um” when speaking to reporters. Last month Ford was more articulate but he probably would have done just as well saying “you know” and “um” rather than admitting that, as a vice president for Merrill Lynch, he rarely takes the subway, had only flown over the outer boroughs of New York, and likes pedicures and breakfast at swank hotels.

When the only Republicans considering a run for the Senate were unknowns with little chances of victory in November, Gillibrand’s cipher-like profile wasn’t an obstacle to a Democratic victory. But against a candidate like Zuckerman, whose vast fortune would make her considerable war chest look like a pittance, a safe Democratic seat might become a tossup. Indeed, given Zuckerman’s impeccable pro-Israel credentials (he’s a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and his command of both economic issues and foreign affairs has been demonstrated in the columns he has written and in appearances on talk shows); his candidacy has the potential to put a sizable percentage of the Jewish vote in question. It is true that Democrats will dismiss this possibility because the vast majority of Jews are liberals and loyal Democrats (see former COMMENTARY editor Norman Podhoretz’s insightful book Why Are Jews Liberal?). But in New York there is a larger percentage than in the rest of the country of Orthodox Jews and of those who care deeply about Israel. Though it should be conceded that even a weak Democrat could do well against a strong pro-Israel Jewish Republican in New York, there is little question that Zuckerman could cut into the expected huge Democratic majority in the Jewish vote. In a state where Jews still make up about 9 percent of the population (and a much larger percentage of those who actually vote) even a small shift in the Jewish vote could make the difference for a massively financed Zuckerman campaign.

It’s not clear yet that Ford could poll any better against Zuckerman than Gillibrand could, or that he can beat her in a primary even if he raises all the money he needs. Nor do we know yet whether Zuckerman is really interested in running. But with a billionaire GOP candidate looming in the wings, you’d have to expect that some Democrats who are reluctantly backing Gillibrand would re-examine their options.

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Should the U.S. Step Back from Its Special Relationship with Israel?

COMMENTARY readers in the New York area are welcomed to participate in an impassioned live debate next Tuesday (Feb 9) in Manhattan. The topic of contention will be whether the U.S. should step back from its special relationship with Israel. Roger Cohen and Rashid Khalidi, no surprise there, will argue that it should. Countering their arguments and defending the diplomatic affinity between the U.S. and the Jewish state will be Stuart Eizenstat and Itamar Rabinovich.

For more information about the live event, visit its organizers’ website: if you purchase tickets now you can save 30% by using the code 30OFF at checkout.

We hope to see a lot of you there.

COMMENTARY readers in the New York area are welcomed to participate in an impassioned live debate next Tuesday (Feb 9) in Manhattan. The topic of contention will be whether the U.S. should step back from its special relationship with Israel. Roger Cohen and Rashid Khalidi, no surprise there, will argue that it should. Countering their arguments and defending the diplomatic affinity between the U.S. and the Jewish state will be Stuart Eizenstat and Itamar Rabinovich.

For more information about the live event, visit its organizers’ website: if you purchase tickets now you can save 30% by using the code 30OFF at checkout.

We hope to see a lot of you there.

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Toomey’s Path to Victory: Don’t Listen to Rick

In today’s New York Post, COMMENTARY magazine contributor Abby Wisse Schachter writes about the voters’ “revolt in Pennsylvania,” as conservative Republican Pat Toomey now leads incumbent and newly minted Democrat Arlen Specter by a 45-to-31 percent margin in the latest Franklin & College poll. Given the rising tide of dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress; the cynical Specter party switch may turn out to have been in vain.

Interestingly, Schachter quotes former Republican Senator Rick Santorum (who backed Specter against Toomey in the 2004 GOP primary, which the latter lost by a whisker) as advising Toomey to stick to the economy while continuing his campaign in the coming months. He’s right about that but given the way his own career in the Senate ended in a landslide loss to lackluster Democrat Bob Casey, Jr. in 2006, Santorum is probably the last person Toomey should be listening to. Nevertheless, Santorum’s rise and fall provides an interesting set of lessons for Northeastern Republicans.

• Good Timing is Crucial: Santorum was first elected to the Senate in 1994, the year of the GOP Congressional avalanche led by Newt Gingrich. He lost his seat in 2006, the year the Democrats took back both houses of Congress. If, as it seems to be the case today, 2010 will be a big Republican year, Toomey’s got this point nailed.

• Be Fortunate in Your Opponents: In 1994, Santorum beat Harris Wofford, an old-time New Deal Democrat who didn’t excite voters in a year when being the incumbent didn’t help. In 2000, when Santorum won an easy race for re-election, he faced conservative Democrat Rep. Ron Klink. Besides an unfortunate name and no statewide appeal, Klink was intensely disliked by his party’s liberal base. Toomey has this category in his favor too. Specter has the burden of being an incumbent who also lacks an enthusiastic base, since most Democrats are less than thrilled about backing a turncoat whose cynicism is legendary.

• Don’t Let Your Opponent Brand You as an Extremist: In 1994, both Santorum and Wofford were able to say that their opponents represented their party’s hard-liners. Neither was able to capture the center but in a Republican year Santorum won a narrow victory. In 2000, after six years of doing his best to portray himself as a politician more interested in serving his constituents than in ideology, Santorum was immune to the Democratic strategy of branding him as an extremist. But by 2006, after a second term during which he acted as if the audience he cared most about was his party’s base as he maneuvered for a possible future run for the White House (an ambition that, believe it or not, he still seems to harbor), the Democrats were easily able to label Santorum as the embodiment of the Conservative Christian movement. This is a potential danger for Toomey as he is every bit the social conservative Santorum was. But as a relatively fresh face on the statewide level, Toomey has the chance to show voters what he cares most about: free market economics. Being pro-life isn’t the kiss of death in Pennsylvania — many Democrats, including the man who beat Santorum in 2006, are against abortion — but coming across as a rigid extremist is fatal.

• Stick to Your Principles: Voters respect a candidate who sticks to his guns even if they disagree on some issues. In 2006, as a two-term incumbent who had become part of a Senate leadership that had presided over a vast expansion of federal spending, Santorum was no longer able to portray himself as a principled conservative on economic issues. Toomey has built all his campaigns for office on opposing not only more taxes and spending but also the whole system of patronage and earmarks by which politicians have always bought the votes of their constituents. In a year in which anger at government is again at a fever pitch, Toomey is perfectly positioned to run against Arlen Specter, whose whole career has been built on the existing corrupt system.

Thus, while Pat Toomey is right to welcome Santorum’s belated support, the latter’s best advice would be “do as I say, not as I did.”

In today’s New York Post, COMMENTARY magazine contributor Abby Wisse Schachter writes about the voters’ “revolt in Pennsylvania,” as conservative Republican Pat Toomey now leads incumbent and newly minted Democrat Arlen Specter by a 45-to-31 percent margin in the latest Franklin & College poll. Given the rising tide of dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress; the cynical Specter party switch may turn out to have been in vain.

Interestingly, Schachter quotes former Republican Senator Rick Santorum (who backed Specter against Toomey in the 2004 GOP primary, which the latter lost by a whisker) as advising Toomey to stick to the economy while continuing his campaign in the coming months. He’s right about that but given the way his own career in the Senate ended in a landslide loss to lackluster Democrat Bob Casey, Jr. in 2006, Santorum is probably the last person Toomey should be listening to. Nevertheless, Santorum’s rise and fall provides an interesting set of lessons for Northeastern Republicans.

• Good Timing is Crucial: Santorum was first elected to the Senate in 1994, the year of the GOP Congressional avalanche led by Newt Gingrich. He lost his seat in 2006, the year the Democrats took back both houses of Congress. If, as it seems to be the case today, 2010 will be a big Republican year, Toomey’s got this point nailed.

• Be Fortunate in Your Opponents: In 1994, Santorum beat Harris Wofford, an old-time New Deal Democrat who didn’t excite voters in a year when being the incumbent didn’t help. In 2000, when Santorum won an easy race for re-election, he faced conservative Democrat Rep. Ron Klink. Besides an unfortunate name and no statewide appeal, Klink was intensely disliked by his party’s liberal base. Toomey has this category in his favor too. Specter has the burden of being an incumbent who also lacks an enthusiastic base, since most Democrats are less than thrilled about backing a turncoat whose cynicism is legendary.

• Don’t Let Your Opponent Brand You as an Extremist: In 1994, both Santorum and Wofford were able to say that their opponents represented their party’s hard-liners. Neither was able to capture the center but in a Republican year Santorum won a narrow victory. In 2000, after six years of doing his best to portray himself as a politician more interested in serving his constituents than in ideology, Santorum was immune to the Democratic strategy of branding him as an extremist. But by 2006, after a second term during which he acted as if the audience he cared most about was his party’s base as he maneuvered for a possible future run for the White House (an ambition that, believe it or not, he still seems to harbor), the Democrats were easily able to label Santorum as the embodiment of the Conservative Christian movement. This is a potential danger for Toomey as he is every bit the social conservative Santorum was. But as a relatively fresh face on the statewide level, Toomey has the chance to show voters what he cares most about: free market economics. Being pro-life isn’t the kiss of death in Pennsylvania — many Democrats, including the man who beat Santorum in 2006, are against abortion — but coming across as a rigid extremist is fatal.

• Stick to Your Principles: Voters respect a candidate who sticks to his guns even if they disagree on some issues. In 2006, as a two-term incumbent who had become part of a Senate leadership that had presided over a vast expansion of federal spending, Santorum was no longer able to portray himself as a principled conservative on economic issues. Toomey has built all his campaigns for office on opposing not only more taxes and spending but also the whole system of patronage and earmarks by which politicians have always bought the votes of their constituents. In a year in which anger at government is again at a fever pitch, Toomey is perfectly positioned to run against Arlen Specter, whose whole career has been built on the existing corrupt system.

Thus, while Pat Toomey is right to welcome Santorum’s belated support, the latter’s best advice would be “do as I say, not as I did.”

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Pops and Pale

I don’t usually link favorably to the New York Times, but all COMMENTARY readers should hie to Michiko Kakutani’s review of our chief culture critic Terry Teachout’s newly published biography of Louis Armstrong. Pops has been received ecstatically, and nowhere more than in Kakutani’s review today:

With “Pops,” his eloquent and important new biography of Armstrong, the critic and cultural historian Terry Teachout restores this jazzman to his deserved place in the pantheon of American artists…[he] writes with a deep appreciation of Armstrong’s artistic achievements, while situating his work and his life in a larger historical context. He draws on Armstrong’s wonderfully vivid writings and hours of tapes in which the musician recorded his thoughts and conversations with friends, and in doing so, creates an emotionally detailed portrait of Satchmo as a quick, funny, generous, observant and sometimes surprisingly acerbic man.

She’s right.

Also of note is the inclusion of “Beyond the Pale,” a stunning story by COMMENTARY’s longtime contributor Joseph Epstein, in the latest edition of The Best American Short Stories. “Beyond the Pale” was originally published in COMMENTARY’s March 2008 issue.

I don’t usually link favorably to the New York Times, but all COMMENTARY readers should hie to Michiko Kakutani’s review of our chief culture critic Terry Teachout’s newly published biography of Louis Armstrong. Pops has been received ecstatically, and nowhere more than in Kakutani’s review today:

With “Pops,” his eloquent and important new biography of Armstrong, the critic and cultural historian Terry Teachout restores this jazzman to his deserved place in the pantheon of American artists…[he] writes with a deep appreciation of Armstrong’s artistic achievements, while situating his work and his life in a larger historical context. He draws on Armstrong’s wonderfully vivid writings and hours of tapes in which the musician recorded his thoughts and conversations with friends, and in doing so, creates an emotionally detailed portrait of Satchmo as a quick, funny, generous, observant and sometimes surprisingly acerbic man.

She’s right.

Also of note is the inclusion of “Beyond the Pale,” a stunning story by COMMENTARY’s longtime contributor Joseph Epstein, in the latest edition of The Best American Short Stories. “Beyond the Pale” was originally published in COMMENTARY’s March 2008 issue.

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