Commentary Magazine


Topic: Easter

Easter in Palestine Means Blaming Israel, Not Muslims, for Christian Woes

Easter is an apt moment for the West to ponder the fate of Christians in the Arab and Muslim worlds but, as is usually the case on Christmas, the media tends to focus its attention on anything but the real problem. A typical example was this feature broadcast on CNN about the difficulties being faced by Palestinian Christians. The focus of the piece was how Israeli policies were negatively impacting Christians living in the West Bank.

But though Palestinian Christians, such as the Nablus family shown in the spot, are inconvenienced by security regulations intended to keep terrorists from slaughtering civilians, the discussion not only distorts that issue but also completely ignores the factor that is driving Christians out of the West Bank as well as other parts of the Middle East: Islamist intolerance.

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Easter is an apt moment for the West to ponder the fate of Christians in the Arab and Muslim worlds but, as is usually the case on Christmas, the media tends to focus its attention on anything but the real problem. A typical example was this feature broadcast on CNN about the difficulties being faced by Palestinian Christians. The focus of the piece was how Israeli policies were negatively impacting Christians living in the West Bank.

But though Palestinian Christians, such as the Nablus family shown in the spot, are inconvenienced by security regulations intended to keep terrorists from slaughtering civilians, the discussion not only distorts that issue but also completely ignores the factor that is driving Christians out of the West Bank as well as other parts of the Middle East: Islamist intolerance.

In a perfect world, Christians and Muslims from the West Bank would have free access to Jerusalem. Indeed, that was largely the case before the terrorist war launched by the Palestinian Authority in 2000 when not just worshipers but tens of thousands of Arab workers flocked to Israel to earn a living. The chief price of that wholly unnecessary conflict was paid in the blood of over 1,000 Israelis and many more Arabs who died as a result of a conscious decision of the Palestinian Authority to answer Israeli peace offers, including statehood, with violence.

Without the construction of a security fence, many more might still lose their lives. Yet CNN followed the lead of Palestinian propagandists in portraying its function as primarily a means for harassing innocent travelers and, on Easter, Christians who want to walk along the route that is thought to be that of Jesus.

Yet, as the broadcast throws in as a throwaway line, Israel has granted 95 percent of all requests by West Bank Christians to enter Jerusalem. This is consistent with the fact that the only period in its history in which all faiths have had free access to all of the holy sites has been in the years since Jerusalem was reunited under Israeli rule. That’s a fact that is curiously absent from the discussions in the media of Christians in the Middle East.

But as bad as that might be, it is not as great an omission as the complete disinterest on the part of the media in the most serious problem facing Palestinian Christians: the rise of an aggressive Muslim movement that has forced increasing numbers of them to leave the region.

While it is understood, though rarely reported, that Christians are now unwelcome in Hamas-run Gaza, the same is becoming true in areas of the Fatah-ruled West Bank, including the city of Nablus. Christian strongholds like Bethlehem have seen a dramatic population shift.

As is the case throughout the Middle East where an aggressive Islam has targeted all religious minorities—such as the Christian Copts of Egypt who are laboring under the burden of rule by the Muslim Brotherhood—Palestinian Christians are realizing that their future in a Palestine run by Fatah or Hamas is not one in which they will be allowed to flourish.

Yet Palestinian Christians don’t speak much about their woes at the hands of Arab Muslims and instead do their best to be as loud as possible in their complaints about Israel. Doing so gives them some legitimacy within Palestinian society, and foreign reporters who don’t understand what lies behind this dynamic follow along without asking pertinent questions.

There is something vaguely pathetic about the futile efforts of Palestinian Christians to prove their worth to their neighbors by being among the most outspoken enemies of the Jews, but it won’t alter the facts about what is really happening to them. Israel remains a haven of religious freedom while the areas under Palestinian control continue to sink in a morass of Islamist intolerance. But don’t expect CNN or most other media outlets to report that when blaming Israel for Christian problems remains a holiday tradition.

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You Can’t Fire the Star of a One-Man Show

Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, thinks that whoever has been responsible for the Obama administration’s Middle East policy should be fired. He runs through the possibilities — Emanuel, Axelrod, Mitchell, Clinton, Jones — but realizes the problem may go higher:

The more we find out about who makes decisions in the White House on every subject from nuclear weapons to coloring of Easter eggs, it turns out to be the man in the Oval Office himself. He’s the expert. He’s the decider. He invites everyone to state his or her piece or peace, then he tells them what to do — and seemingly without question, they do his bidding.

Gelb writes that Obama entered office with a “near-zero base of foreign-policy knowledge and no experience in the Middle East,” demanded a pre-negotiation halt to West Bank construction, to which “no Israeli leader, even a dovish one” would ever agree, adopted the “brilliant tactic” of publicly humiliating Israel’s prime minister (not even shaking his hand at the end of the prior meeting), and “only made matters worse” this week by appearing as if he were cowed by domestic politics into treating Netanyahu well. Gelb concludes that Obama needs new advisers.

That is a little like blaming the bit players for the failures of a one-man show.

The problem has been more than a staffing issue. Over the past year, Netanyahu (1) formed a coalition government with parties to both his right and left, (2) proposed immediate negotiations with no preconditions, (3) formally endorsed a two-state solution (as long as one of them is Jewish and the other is demilitarized), (4) removed scores of West Bank roadblocks and checkpoints, (5) implemented an unprecedented settlement moratorium, and (6) plans even more gestures to the perpetually confidence-impaired Palestinians to encourage them to join negotiations to give them a state.

During the same period, the Palestinians have been unwilling to commence direct negotiations unless Israel first conceded the principal issues to be negotiated, and Obama has acted as if he were the Palestinians’ attorney – not bound by U.S. commitments to Israel (the 2004 Bush letter), ignoring longstanding understandings on the meaning of a settlement freeze, manufacturing a crisis about future Jewish housing in the Jewish area of the capital of the Jewish state, voting for a UN resolution singling out Israel on its most sensitive defense issue, etc.

It is good that there was a tectonic shift in atmospherics this week. But it is remarkable that it is considered an achievement that, unlike last time, Israel’s prime minister was allowed to (1) enter the White House during business hours, (2) have a photo opportunity, (3) speak briefly at a press availability, (4) receive a meal, and (5) be treated courteously on his departure. It is an indication of how bad the script of this one-man show has been.

Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, thinks that whoever has been responsible for the Obama administration’s Middle East policy should be fired. He runs through the possibilities — Emanuel, Axelrod, Mitchell, Clinton, Jones — but realizes the problem may go higher:

The more we find out about who makes decisions in the White House on every subject from nuclear weapons to coloring of Easter eggs, it turns out to be the man in the Oval Office himself. He’s the expert. He’s the decider. He invites everyone to state his or her piece or peace, then he tells them what to do — and seemingly without question, they do his bidding.

Gelb writes that Obama entered office with a “near-zero base of foreign-policy knowledge and no experience in the Middle East,” demanded a pre-negotiation halt to West Bank construction, to which “no Israeli leader, even a dovish one” would ever agree, adopted the “brilliant tactic” of publicly humiliating Israel’s prime minister (not even shaking his hand at the end of the prior meeting), and “only made matters worse” this week by appearing as if he were cowed by domestic politics into treating Netanyahu well. Gelb concludes that Obama needs new advisers.

That is a little like blaming the bit players for the failures of a one-man show.

The problem has been more than a staffing issue. Over the past year, Netanyahu (1) formed a coalition government with parties to both his right and left, (2) proposed immediate negotiations with no preconditions, (3) formally endorsed a two-state solution (as long as one of them is Jewish and the other is demilitarized), (4) removed scores of West Bank roadblocks and checkpoints, (5) implemented an unprecedented settlement moratorium, and (6) plans even more gestures to the perpetually confidence-impaired Palestinians to encourage them to join negotiations to give them a state.

During the same period, the Palestinians have been unwilling to commence direct negotiations unless Israel first conceded the principal issues to be negotiated, and Obama has acted as if he were the Palestinians’ attorney – not bound by U.S. commitments to Israel (the 2004 Bush letter), ignoring longstanding understandings on the meaning of a settlement freeze, manufacturing a crisis about future Jewish housing in the Jewish area of the capital of the Jewish state, voting for a UN resolution singling out Israel on its most sensitive defense issue, etc.

It is good that there was a tectonic shift in atmospherics this week. But it is remarkable that it is considered an achievement that, unlike last time, Israel’s prime minister was allowed to (1) enter the White House during business hours, (2) have a photo opportunity, (3) speak briefly at a press availability, (4) receive a meal, and (5) be treated courteously on his departure. It is an indication of how bad the script of this one-man show has been.

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Why Does the New York Times Only Cover Some Kinds of Anti-Semitism?

Here’s a pop quiz that I’m sure nobody will have a hard time passing: Which of the following two stories made it into the New York Times?

1. One of the top leaders of Hamas, Mahmoud Zahar, a man who has been written about on hundreds of occasions in the Times, responded to the dedication of a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem by delivering a viciously anti-Semitic rant in which he promised the annihilation of Israel and said that the Jews “killed and murdered your prophets” and “have always dealt in loan-sharking” and are “destined to be destroyed.”

2. A Vatican preacher compared condemnation of the Church over its sex-abuse scandal to the persecution of Jews, remarks from which Church officials immediately distanced themselves.

The first story, of course, was not covered. The second was not just covered, but given above-the-fold, front page treatment. Why is this?

Is it because this is Easter weekend? This fact probably elevates media interest a little bit — but enough to land the story on the front page? Maybe it’s because Jewish groups complained about the sermon? Sure, but Jewish groups routinely complain about anti-Semitism and incitement and are routinely greeted with yawns from the press. So why the different treatment?

The reason, I think, is because the Times is a left-wing paper and adheres to one of the central tenets of enlightened progressivism: people who can be identified as Third World, or who are not members of the Judeo-Christian/European world, must not be held to the same standards to which white, First World people are held. This double-standard — it is the racism of the enlightened — pervades the treatment of different cultures and religions in the strongholds of Western liberalism, that is, in the media, academia, and the “human rights” community.

The fact of the matter is that the most violent and genocidal kinds of anti-Semitic (and anti-Christian, and anti-American) hate speech are commonplace in the Muslim Middle East, yet are covered in the West only by boutique outlets such as MEMRI and Palestinian Media Watch. But when a white, Christian, European makes a statement that really is far more insensitive and dumb than it is anti-Semitic, not only does it land on the front page of the New York Times, but it is given sensational media coverage throughout the western world. The key factor is not the offense itself — it is the religious or cultural identity of the person who has committed the offense.

As Charles Jacobs one wrote,

To predict what the human rights community (and the media) focus on, look not at the oppressed; look instead at the party seen as the oppressor. Imagine the media coverage and the rights groups’ reaction if it were “whites” enslaving blacks in Sudan. Having the “right” oppressor would change everything.

This is because, as Pascal Bruckner points out in his magnificent new book, The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism, progressivism is obsessed with a belief in the hypocrisy and guilt of Western Civilization, and therefore with the need for repentance. “The duty to repent forbids the Western bloc, which is eternally guilty, to judge or combat other systems, other states, other religions. Our past crimes command us to keep our mouths closed. Our only right is to remain silent.”

We can see the truth of this thesis before our eyes today: the mildly offensive words of a Vatican preacher get front-page scrutiny. The genocidal hatred of a Hamas leader doesn’t even make it into the paper.

Here’s a pop quiz that I’m sure nobody will have a hard time passing: Which of the following two stories made it into the New York Times?

1. One of the top leaders of Hamas, Mahmoud Zahar, a man who has been written about on hundreds of occasions in the Times, responded to the dedication of a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem by delivering a viciously anti-Semitic rant in which he promised the annihilation of Israel and said that the Jews “killed and murdered your prophets” and “have always dealt in loan-sharking” and are “destined to be destroyed.”

2. A Vatican preacher compared condemnation of the Church over its sex-abuse scandal to the persecution of Jews, remarks from which Church officials immediately distanced themselves.

The first story, of course, was not covered. The second was not just covered, but given above-the-fold, front page treatment. Why is this?

Is it because this is Easter weekend? This fact probably elevates media interest a little bit — but enough to land the story on the front page? Maybe it’s because Jewish groups complained about the sermon? Sure, but Jewish groups routinely complain about anti-Semitism and incitement and are routinely greeted with yawns from the press. So why the different treatment?

The reason, I think, is because the Times is a left-wing paper and adheres to one of the central tenets of enlightened progressivism: people who can be identified as Third World, or who are not members of the Judeo-Christian/European world, must not be held to the same standards to which white, First World people are held. This double-standard — it is the racism of the enlightened — pervades the treatment of different cultures and religions in the strongholds of Western liberalism, that is, in the media, academia, and the “human rights” community.

The fact of the matter is that the most violent and genocidal kinds of anti-Semitic (and anti-Christian, and anti-American) hate speech are commonplace in the Muslim Middle East, yet are covered in the West only by boutique outlets such as MEMRI and Palestinian Media Watch. But when a white, Christian, European makes a statement that really is far more insensitive and dumb than it is anti-Semitic, not only does it land on the front page of the New York Times, but it is given sensational media coverage throughout the western world. The key factor is not the offense itself — it is the religious or cultural identity of the person who has committed the offense.

As Charles Jacobs one wrote,

To predict what the human rights community (and the media) focus on, look not at the oppressed; look instead at the party seen as the oppressor. Imagine the media coverage and the rights groups’ reaction if it were “whites” enslaving blacks in Sudan. Having the “right” oppressor would change everything.

This is because, as Pascal Bruckner points out in his magnificent new book, The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism, progressivism is obsessed with a belief in the hypocrisy and guilt of Western Civilization, and therefore with the need for repentance. “The duty to repent forbids the Western bloc, which is eternally guilty, to judge or combat other systems, other states, other religions. Our past crimes command us to keep our mouths closed. Our only right is to remain silent.”

We can see the truth of this thesis before our eyes today: the mildly offensive words of a Vatican preacher get front-page scrutiny. The genocidal hatred of a Hamas leader doesn’t even make it into the paper.

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Passover Mush

Obama, as presidents have traditionally done, released a Passover message. It is typical Obama — off-key, hyper-political, and condescending. The core of the message is this:

The enduring story of the Exodus teaches us that, wherever we live, there is oppression to be fought and freedom to be won. In retelling this story from generation to generation, we are reminded of our ongoing responsibility to fight against all forms of suffering and discrimination, and we reaffirm the ties that bind us all.

No, he didn’t have the nerve to recite the emphatic exhortation “Next year in Jerusalem.” And frankly, it sounds like Eric Holder and his civil rights lawyers drafted it. Is Passover really about discrimination? Or is it about the deliverance of God’s Chosen People by God from bondage to the land of Israel? Hmm. Obama notes the “rich symbols, rituals, and traditions” but skips the God part. What is missing from Obama’s secularized spiel is the unique, historic, and, indeed, religious message of the Jewish holiday.

After a similarly tone-deaf message last year, a sharp wit contrasted Obama’s politically correct pablum with a message George Bush delivered on April 7, 2007, which adroitly affirmed the distinctive message of Passover (which fell the same week as Easter that year), and which read in part:

This week, people around the world celebrate Passover and Easter. These holy days remind us of the presence of a loving God who delivers His people from oppression, and offers a love more powerful than death. We take joy in spending this special time with family and friends, and we give thanks for the many blessings in our lives.

One of our greatest blessings as Americans is that we have brave citizens who step forward to defend us. Every man or woman who wears our Nation’s uniform is a volunteer, a patriot who has made the noble decision to serve a cause larger than self. This weekend, many of our service men and women are celebrating the holidays far from home. They are separated from their families by great distances, but they are always close in our thoughts. And this Passover and Easter, I ask you to keep them in your prayers.

As Rachel Abrams noted then: “This religion without God thing is a tricky business.” And indeed a Passover message without Jerusalem is not only off-putting but it also reveals Obama’s mindset and lack of sympatico with the Jewish state and its centrality in the history and religious memory of the Jewish people. After all, the president who delivered the Cairo speech suggesting that Israel’s legitimacy rests on Holocaust guilt is really not the sort to get the Passover message right.

Obama, as presidents have traditionally done, released a Passover message. It is typical Obama — off-key, hyper-political, and condescending. The core of the message is this:

The enduring story of the Exodus teaches us that, wherever we live, there is oppression to be fought and freedom to be won. In retelling this story from generation to generation, we are reminded of our ongoing responsibility to fight against all forms of suffering and discrimination, and we reaffirm the ties that bind us all.

No, he didn’t have the nerve to recite the emphatic exhortation “Next year in Jerusalem.” And frankly, it sounds like Eric Holder and his civil rights lawyers drafted it. Is Passover really about discrimination? Or is it about the deliverance of God’s Chosen People by God from bondage to the land of Israel? Hmm. Obama notes the “rich symbols, rituals, and traditions” but skips the God part. What is missing from Obama’s secularized spiel is the unique, historic, and, indeed, religious message of the Jewish holiday.

After a similarly tone-deaf message last year, a sharp wit contrasted Obama’s politically correct pablum with a message George Bush delivered on April 7, 2007, which adroitly affirmed the distinctive message of Passover (which fell the same week as Easter that year), and which read in part:

This week, people around the world celebrate Passover and Easter. These holy days remind us of the presence of a loving God who delivers His people from oppression, and offers a love more powerful than death. We take joy in spending this special time with family and friends, and we give thanks for the many blessings in our lives.

One of our greatest blessings as Americans is that we have brave citizens who step forward to defend us. Every man or woman who wears our Nation’s uniform is a volunteer, a patriot who has made the noble decision to serve a cause larger than self. This weekend, many of our service men and women are celebrating the holidays far from home. They are separated from their families by great distances, but they are always close in our thoughts. And this Passover and Easter, I ask you to keep them in your prayers.

As Rachel Abrams noted then: “This religion without God thing is a tricky business.” And indeed a Passover message without Jerusalem is not only off-putting but it also reveals Obama’s mindset and lack of sympatico with the Jewish state and its centrality in the history and religious memory of the Jewish people. After all, the president who delivered the Cairo speech suggesting that Israel’s legitimacy rests on Holocaust guilt is really not the sort to get the Passover message right.

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Obama’s Thugocracy

The White House chests are puffed, and they are marveling at their political muscle. Health care can be rammed through, and Israel can be bullied — so what else to do? Ah, run roughshod over the Senate. The Hill reports:

President Barack Obama on Saturday wielded his recess appointment powers for the first time, clearing 15 nominees to assume posts that have remained vacant for months due to insurmountable congressional roadblocks.

Among the 15 named just days before the Senate departs for Easter recess are Craig Becker and Mark Pearce, the White House’s two, hotly contested nominees for the National Labor Relations Board.

Big Labor bosses will coo approvingly over the NLRB appointments. After all, the SEIU and AFL-CIO’s lawyer is now going to make labor law. Meanwhile, any pretense of bipartisanship or moderation has evaporated:

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) condemned the administration’s move on Saturday, adding that Becker’s appointment “is yet another episode of [the president] choosing a partisan path despite bipartisan opposition.”

“The president previously held that appointing an individual in this manner meant that the nominee would have ‘less credibility,’ and that assessment certainly fits this nomination,” the GOP leader said. “This is a purely partisan move that will make a traditionally bipartisan labor board an unbalanced agenda-driven panel.”

The only surprise: the radical lawyer Dawn Johnsen was not named to the Office of Legal Counsel. Perhaps the Obami have had enough of the accusations that the Justice Department, far from depoliticizing, has become a hotbed of ideologues.

This is the reality of Obama — unbending, ideologically extreme, and contemptuous of the other branches. He has revealed himself to be precisely what liberals used to rail against — until they got the levers of power. The Chicago pols are certainly plying their trade.

The White House chests are puffed, and they are marveling at their political muscle. Health care can be rammed through, and Israel can be bullied — so what else to do? Ah, run roughshod over the Senate. The Hill reports:

President Barack Obama on Saturday wielded his recess appointment powers for the first time, clearing 15 nominees to assume posts that have remained vacant for months due to insurmountable congressional roadblocks.

Among the 15 named just days before the Senate departs for Easter recess are Craig Becker and Mark Pearce, the White House’s two, hotly contested nominees for the National Labor Relations Board.

Big Labor bosses will coo approvingly over the NLRB appointments. After all, the SEIU and AFL-CIO’s lawyer is now going to make labor law. Meanwhile, any pretense of bipartisanship or moderation has evaporated:

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) condemned the administration’s move on Saturday, adding that Becker’s appointment “is yet another episode of [the president] choosing a partisan path despite bipartisan opposition.”

“The president previously held that appointing an individual in this manner meant that the nominee would have ‘less credibility,’ and that assessment certainly fits this nomination,” the GOP leader said. “This is a purely partisan move that will make a traditionally bipartisan labor board an unbalanced agenda-driven panel.”

The only surprise: the radical lawyer Dawn Johnsen was not named to the Office of Legal Counsel. Perhaps the Obami have had enough of the accusations that the Justice Department, far from depoliticizing, has become a hotbed of ideologues.

This is the reality of Obama — unbending, ideologically extreme, and contemptuous of the other branches. He has revealed himself to be precisely what liberals used to rail against — until they got the levers of power. The Chicago pols are certainly plying their trade.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

No (except from the Obami): “Does anyone think that Iran would be shipping arms to terrorists or building nuclear weapons if it was a democracy?” asks Elliott Abrams.

Predictable (when you nominate Tony Rezko’s banker): “It could be a rough few months ahead for Alexi Giannoulias. A federal judge ruled Wednesday that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s trial will proceed on June 3, as scheduled. Blagojevich’s team had been seeking a postponement until November, saying they didn’t have enough time to prepare. … But that’s not all Giannoulias will be dealing with. By late April, the Giannoulias family bank must come up with $85 million in order to comply with a federal agreement and keep operating. Giannoulias has already said that he expects the bank to fail.”

Pathetic: “Rounding up the votes for health care has also proven difficult. House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn told McClatchy Newspapers that final consideration of the bill may not occur until Easter (April 4) or later. He is dealing with dozens of members who refuse to commit to a firm position in hopes their silence will force the leadership to pull the bill and move on to other issues. ‘Just say nothing,’ is how one Democratic staffer explained the strategy being taken by many members. ‘Maybe it will just go away, and we can avoid a tough vote this close to the election.'” Maybe it will just go away? Profiles in courage they aren’t.

Close: According to Byron York, “there are 209 votes against the bill at this moment, leaving opponents seven short of being able to defeat it. By the same count, there are 204 votes for the bill, leaving the Democratic leadership 12 short of being able to pass it. There are 18 votes thought to be undecided.” In other words, seven votes away from Obama’s Waterloo.

Cranky Big Labor bosses descend on the White House: “AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is headed into a meeting with President Obama this afternoon after the White House and Congressional leaders have begun to discuss a higher-than-expected excise tax on some health care plans, in order to maintain their claim that health care legislation will reduce the deficit, a source involved in health care talks said.” Remember that the overwhelming support of core Democrats in midterm elections is what’s supposed to counteract the tsunami of opposition to ObamaCare. But what if that support is only lukewarm?

Obvious who you want making national-security calls. “Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top commander of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan, contradicted the attorney general on Wednesday when he said that actually, the military still wants to capture Osama bin Laden alive. ‘I think that is something that is understood by everyone,’ he said. But perhaps not by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who on Tuesday told a House subcommittee that the chances of capturing Mr. bin Laden alive were ‘infinitesimal’ and that he would either be killed by the United States or killed by his own people.”

Common, among many observers these days: “Arab world says hopes in Obama are dwindling.”

Picky, picky: “From Maine to Hawaii, Americans send people to Washington, D.C., to be their representatives — to cast votes that represent the will of the people who elected them to do the job. But now, as the House of Representatives moves toward approving one of the most sweeping pieces of domestic legislation in U.S. history, critics are fuming that Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to usher through a health care bill … without a vote.”

No (except from the Obami): “Does anyone think that Iran would be shipping arms to terrorists or building nuclear weapons if it was a democracy?” asks Elliott Abrams.

Predictable (when you nominate Tony Rezko’s banker): “It could be a rough few months ahead for Alexi Giannoulias. A federal judge ruled Wednesday that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s trial will proceed on June 3, as scheduled. Blagojevich’s team had been seeking a postponement until November, saying they didn’t have enough time to prepare. … But that’s not all Giannoulias will be dealing with. By late April, the Giannoulias family bank must come up with $85 million in order to comply with a federal agreement and keep operating. Giannoulias has already said that he expects the bank to fail.”

Pathetic: “Rounding up the votes for health care has also proven difficult. House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn told McClatchy Newspapers that final consideration of the bill may not occur until Easter (April 4) or later. He is dealing with dozens of members who refuse to commit to a firm position in hopes their silence will force the leadership to pull the bill and move on to other issues. ‘Just say nothing,’ is how one Democratic staffer explained the strategy being taken by many members. ‘Maybe it will just go away, and we can avoid a tough vote this close to the election.'” Maybe it will just go away? Profiles in courage they aren’t.

Close: According to Byron York, “there are 209 votes against the bill at this moment, leaving opponents seven short of being able to defeat it. By the same count, there are 204 votes for the bill, leaving the Democratic leadership 12 short of being able to pass it. There are 18 votes thought to be undecided.” In other words, seven votes away from Obama’s Waterloo.

Cranky Big Labor bosses descend on the White House: “AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is headed into a meeting with President Obama this afternoon after the White House and Congressional leaders have begun to discuss a higher-than-expected excise tax on some health care plans, in order to maintain their claim that health care legislation will reduce the deficit, a source involved in health care talks said.” Remember that the overwhelming support of core Democrats in midterm elections is what’s supposed to counteract the tsunami of opposition to ObamaCare. But what if that support is only lukewarm?

Obvious who you want making national-security calls. “Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top commander of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan, contradicted the attorney general on Wednesday when he said that actually, the military still wants to capture Osama bin Laden alive. ‘I think that is something that is understood by everyone,’ he said. But perhaps not by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who on Tuesday told a House subcommittee that the chances of capturing Mr. bin Laden alive were ‘infinitesimal’ and that he would either be killed by the United States or killed by his own people.”

Common, among many observers these days: “Arab world says hopes in Obama are dwindling.”

Picky, picky: “From Maine to Hawaii, Americans send people to Washington, D.C., to be their representatives — to cast votes that represent the will of the people who elected them to do the job. But now, as the House of Representatives moves toward approving one of the most sweeping pieces of domestic legislation in U.S. history, critics are fuming that Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to usher through a health care bill … without a vote.”

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Is It Working Yet?

Rasmussen reports: “Republican candidates have now stretched their lead over Democrats to 10 points in the Generic Congressional Ballot, their biggest lead ever in nearly three years of weekly tracking. The GOP has been leading on the ballot for months.” Gosh, might it have something to do with the nonstop focus on a health-care bill the public intensely dislikes? Could it be that talk of passing the measure by not really voting on it is one more insult to the voters’ intelligence and sense of constitutional propriety? Could just be.

Obama keeps telling everyone who will listen that ObamaCare is the salvation of his party. But a vast array of polling data and the skittishness of both Democratic incumbents and challengers suggest that the reality is otherwise. The only question remains is whether Obama and Nancy Pelosi have enough carrots and sticks to prod congressmen into voting (or “deeming and passing” or whatever they call the extra-constitutional process) for a bill no one believes constitutes “reform” and that, as is becoming increasingly obvious, is a political dud.

It may just be that the gears are grinding to a halt. Democratic Whip James Clyburn is saying that this may take until Easter, that he needs 216 votes, and that it’s going to be closer than last time. It seems that the key Democrats needed to reach the 216-count majority are digging in their heels, resisting their plunge over the “precipice.” Unlike the president, they very much want another term.

Rasmussen reports: “Republican candidates have now stretched their lead over Democrats to 10 points in the Generic Congressional Ballot, their biggest lead ever in nearly three years of weekly tracking. The GOP has been leading on the ballot for months.” Gosh, might it have something to do with the nonstop focus on a health-care bill the public intensely dislikes? Could it be that talk of passing the measure by not really voting on it is one more insult to the voters’ intelligence and sense of constitutional propriety? Could just be.

Obama keeps telling everyone who will listen that ObamaCare is the salvation of his party. But a vast array of polling data and the skittishness of both Democratic incumbents and challengers suggest that the reality is otherwise. The only question remains is whether Obama and Nancy Pelosi have enough carrots and sticks to prod congressmen into voting (or “deeming and passing” or whatever they call the extra-constitutional process) for a bill no one believes constitutes “reform” and that, as is becoming increasingly obvious, is a political dud.

It may just be that the gears are grinding to a halt. Democratic Whip James Clyburn is saying that this may take until Easter, that he needs 216 votes, and that it’s going to be closer than last time. It seems that the key Democrats needed to reach the 216-count majority are digging in their heels, resisting their plunge over the “precipice.” Unlike the president, they very much want another term.

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How a Bill Becomes Law in Three Minutes—and How a Party Becomes Toast in Six Months

Americans, it is said, don’t care about political procedure — how the House and Senate do things. That’s true. But they’re about to. If, indeed, Nancy Pelosi and Louise Slaughter and the Democrats actually attempt to declare the health-care bill law without its having been voted on, there is going to be a massive populist revolt. That’s not because Republicans will gin one up. It’s because there’s a cultural provenance here.

Everyone between the ages of 35 and 50 in this country probably saw, as a kid, this – I’m Just a Bill — a three-minute-long Saturday-morning cartoon that ran on ABC intermittently for several years. And everybody over the age of 50 probably has an atavistic memory of some “How a Bill Becomes Law” moment in a civics class (they don’t teach such irrelevant matters any longer, I gather). The single thing nonpolitical people may know about legislation is that Congress has to vote on it before the president signs it. The fundamental breach that is under discussion right now, even if it’s been done in minor ways before, is exactly the sort of political action that can explode outward in a million ways, and I suspect that even Nancy Pelosi is aware of the kind of damage she is going to inflict on herself and her own party if she attempts it. Which is why she is going to spend the rest of the week strong-arming Democratic House members any way she can, as Yuval Levin explores here. That, too, presents its own kind of peril, because there is no way the deals she has struck will remain hidden from view, and every one of them will be used as a weapon against her, the Democrat who was bribed, and the party as a whole.

There will be a lull right after President Obama signs it, as the media drop consideration of the controversy to discuss just how historic the historic nature of the historic legislation is, historically speaking, in historic terms … and then Congress will return home for the Easter recess on March 26, and all hell will break loose.

Americans, it is said, don’t care about political procedure — how the House and Senate do things. That’s true. But they’re about to. If, indeed, Nancy Pelosi and Louise Slaughter and the Democrats actually attempt to declare the health-care bill law without its having been voted on, there is going to be a massive populist revolt. That’s not because Republicans will gin one up. It’s because there’s a cultural provenance here.

Everyone between the ages of 35 and 50 in this country probably saw, as a kid, this – I’m Just a Bill — a three-minute-long Saturday-morning cartoon that ran on ABC intermittently for several years. And everybody over the age of 50 probably has an atavistic memory of some “How a Bill Becomes Law” moment in a civics class (they don’t teach such irrelevant matters any longer, I gather). The single thing nonpolitical people may know about legislation is that Congress has to vote on it before the president signs it. The fundamental breach that is under discussion right now, even if it’s been done in minor ways before, is exactly the sort of political action that can explode outward in a million ways, and I suspect that even Nancy Pelosi is aware of the kind of damage she is going to inflict on herself and her own party if she attempts it. Which is why she is going to spend the rest of the week strong-arming Democratic House members any way she can, as Yuval Levin explores here. That, too, presents its own kind of peril, because there is no way the deals she has struck will remain hidden from view, and every one of them will be used as a weapon against her, the Democrat who was bribed, and the party as a whole.

There will be a lull right after President Obama signs it, as the media drop consideration of the controversy to discuss just how historic the historic nature of the historic legislation is, historically speaking, in historic terms … and then Congress will return home for the Easter recess on March 26, and all hell will break loose.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Michael Barone on ObamaCare: “In fall 2009, Democrats could have pivoted on health care to craft a popular bill or a watered-down unpopular bill to be passed by a bipartisan safe-seat coalition. Instead, they plunged ahead and rammed through unpopular bills on party-line votes. … It’s beginning to look like the goal of health care legislation was a bridge too far. There’s a reason it’s hard to pass unpopular legislation on party-line votes. It’s not the Senate rules. It’s called democracy.”

Prospects don’t look bright for ObamaCare: “House Democratic leaders hoping to pass a health care reform bill by the Easter congressional recess face increasingly difficult odds, as several of the party’s rank-and-file have come out against the plan passed by the Senate in December. According to an ongoing CNN survey, 17 House Democrats indicate that they would vote no on the Senate plan as currently written, including six members who voted in favor of the House bill passed in November.”

Especially without the pro-life Democrats: “House Democratic leaders abandoned a long struggle to appease the most ardent abortion opponents in their ranks, gambling Thursday that they can secure the support for President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care legislation with showdown votes looming next week. … Congressional leaders are hoping they can find enough support from other wavering Democrats to pass legislation that only cleared the House by five votes in an earlier incarnation.” But where are such votes?

No one has spotted them yet: “Our latest whip count shows no progress for House Dem leadership. In fact, more members are sneaking onto the watch list, as Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI) voiced concern over whether the Senate would actually pass a sidecar bill.”

More cringey news from Illinois for Democrats: “The owner of the Boston Blackie’s restaurant chain — a man with strong political ties to U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias — was charged today with bank fraud, along with the owner’s son and an employee. Boston Blackie’s owner Nick Giannis, 62, his son, Chris Giannis, 38, and Boston Blackie’s manager Andy Bakopoulos, 38, allegedly defrauded Charter One and Washington Mutual banks of nearly $2 million, Cook County prosecutors said.”

In the New York Senate race: “Encouraged by state and national Republican Party leaders, Dan Senor, an author, private equity executive and Defense Department adviser in the last Bush administration, is seriously considering a political challenge against Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, according to three people told of the discussions. … The Republican leaders, who cautioned that they were not backing any single candidate, have told Mr. Senor that his deep ties in the party, expertise on national security and background as a businessman would make him a formidable candidate.” Well, if you’re a Republican with political ambitions, this is certainly the year to make a run.

Mark Levin pierces the fog of sanctimony surrounding the Justice Department lawyers who previously represented terrorists: “And on what basis do we think the Obama administration selected these seven lawyers (there may be more) from 1 million other lawyers to serve in top political positions at Justice? Is it a coincidence that they had roles (direct or related) in defending detainees? … Personnel makes policy, and that includes lawyers in policy positions. So, while the selection of these lawyers clearly has some relationship to their private practices, the attempt to identify who they are and what they’re doing since being appointed is said to be off limits, unless, of course, you appointed them. Preposterous.”

Let’s face it: the”most transparent administration in history” isn’t. Sen. Jeff Sessions, for one, wants to know why Eric Holder didn’t disclose in his confirmation hearing an amicus brief in support of Jose Padilla.

A wonderful suggestion by George Will: no one should go to the State of the Union. “Next year, Roberts and the rest of the justices should stay away from the president’s address. So should the uniformed military, who are out of place in a setting of competitive political grandstanding. For that matter, the 535 legislators should boycott these undignified events. They would, if there were that many congressional grown-ups averse to being props in the childishness of popping up from their seats to cheer, or remaining sullenly seated in semi-pouts, as the politics of the moment dictates.”

Michael Barone on ObamaCare: “In fall 2009, Democrats could have pivoted on health care to craft a popular bill or a watered-down unpopular bill to be passed by a bipartisan safe-seat coalition. Instead, they plunged ahead and rammed through unpopular bills on party-line votes. … It’s beginning to look like the goal of health care legislation was a bridge too far. There’s a reason it’s hard to pass unpopular legislation on party-line votes. It’s not the Senate rules. It’s called democracy.”

Prospects don’t look bright for ObamaCare: “House Democratic leaders hoping to pass a health care reform bill by the Easter congressional recess face increasingly difficult odds, as several of the party’s rank-and-file have come out against the plan passed by the Senate in December. According to an ongoing CNN survey, 17 House Democrats indicate that they would vote no on the Senate plan as currently written, including six members who voted in favor of the House bill passed in November.”

Especially without the pro-life Democrats: “House Democratic leaders abandoned a long struggle to appease the most ardent abortion opponents in their ranks, gambling Thursday that they can secure the support for President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care legislation with showdown votes looming next week. … Congressional leaders are hoping they can find enough support from other wavering Democrats to pass legislation that only cleared the House by five votes in an earlier incarnation.” But where are such votes?

No one has spotted them yet: “Our latest whip count shows no progress for House Dem leadership. In fact, more members are sneaking onto the watch list, as Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI) voiced concern over whether the Senate would actually pass a sidecar bill.”

More cringey news from Illinois for Democrats: “The owner of the Boston Blackie’s restaurant chain — a man with strong political ties to U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias — was charged today with bank fraud, along with the owner’s son and an employee. Boston Blackie’s owner Nick Giannis, 62, his son, Chris Giannis, 38, and Boston Blackie’s manager Andy Bakopoulos, 38, allegedly defrauded Charter One and Washington Mutual banks of nearly $2 million, Cook County prosecutors said.”

In the New York Senate race: “Encouraged by state and national Republican Party leaders, Dan Senor, an author, private equity executive and Defense Department adviser in the last Bush administration, is seriously considering a political challenge against Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, according to three people told of the discussions. … The Republican leaders, who cautioned that they were not backing any single candidate, have told Mr. Senor that his deep ties in the party, expertise on national security and background as a businessman would make him a formidable candidate.” Well, if you’re a Republican with political ambitions, this is certainly the year to make a run.

Mark Levin pierces the fog of sanctimony surrounding the Justice Department lawyers who previously represented terrorists: “And on what basis do we think the Obama administration selected these seven lawyers (there may be more) from 1 million other lawyers to serve in top political positions at Justice? Is it a coincidence that they had roles (direct or related) in defending detainees? … Personnel makes policy, and that includes lawyers in policy positions. So, while the selection of these lawyers clearly has some relationship to their private practices, the attempt to identify who they are and what they’re doing since being appointed is said to be off limits, unless, of course, you appointed them. Preposterous.”

Let’s face it: the”most transparent administration in history” isn’t. Sen. Jeff Sessions, for one, wants to know why Eric Holder didn’t disclose in his confirmation hearing an amicus brief in support of Jose Padilla.

A wonderful suggestion by George Will: no one should go to the State of the Union. “Next year, Roberts and the rest of the justices should stay away from the president’s address. So should the uniformed military, who are out of place in a setting of competitive political grandstanding. For that matter, the 535 legislators should boycott these undignified events. They would, if there were that many congressional grown-ups averse to being props in the childishness of popping up from their seats to cheer, or remaining sullenly seated in semi-pouts, as the politics of the moment dictates.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Christopher Hitchens is out hawking his book with tales of his Oxford escapades. Alas, now “he’s a Dorian-Gray picture of his former self invoking the memory of it all to sell books this time around, and he’s given it—and himself—a very bad name indeed.”

In case there was any confusion about what the enemy is up to: “Al-Qaida’s American-born spokesman on Sunday called on Muslims serving in the U.S. armed forces to emulate the Army major charged with killing 13 people in Fort Hood. In a 25-minute video posted on militant Web sites, Adam Gadahn described Maj. Nidal Hasan as a pioneer who should serve as a role model for other Muslims, especially those serving Western militaries. ‘Brother Nidal is the ideal role-model for every repentant Muslim in the armies of the unbelievers and apostate regimes,’ he said.”

This was televised on C-SPAN: “Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich talked about ethics in politics. Following his remarks he responded to questions from law professors. The panel included Professors Tonja Jacobi, Donald Gordon, and Donna Leff.” (h/t Taegan Goddard) Seems better suited to Comedy Central.

Who better to send on a fool’s errand? “U.S. President Barack Obama dispatches his vice president to the Middle East on Sunday to try to build support for reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks despite deep skepticism on both sides.”

Clark Hoyt gets around to discussing the latest plagiarism scandal at the New York Times involving now departed Zachery Kouwe. He wonders: “How did his serial plagiarism happen and go undetected for so long? Why were warning signs overlooked? Was there anything at fault in the culture of DealBook, the hyper-competitive news blog on which Kouwe worked? And, now that the investigation is complete, what about a full accounting to readers?” Well, for starters, the Times let Maureen Dowd get away with plagiarism, so maybe Kouwe got the idea that it wasn’t really a “mortal journalistic sin.”

David Freddoso on the ongoing sanctimony festival: “‘Bankers don’t need another vote in the United States Senate,’ President Obama said as he urged Massachusetts voters to support Attorney General Martha Coakley over Republican Scott Brown. He also railed against ‘the same fat-cats who are getting rewarded for their failure.’ But in Illinois, Democrats have nominated a banker for Obama’s old Senate seat. Not only is Alexi Giannoulias’s family bank on the verge of failing, but he has a golden parachute made of federal tax refunds.”

Like all those Iran deadlines, no real deadline on ObamaCare: “Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Sunday dodged a series of questions about the White House’s plans for healthcare reform in the event lawmakers failed to pass it by the Easter recess. When asked on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ whether President Barack Obama would still pursue that legislation after the break, Sebelius offered no direct answer, only stressing, ‘I think we’ll have the votes when the leadership decides to call the votes, and I think it will pass.'”

Dana Perino on Fox News Sunday sums up the difficulty in rounding up votes for ObamaCare: “I think that a lot of the details just are now going past people’s heads and that the fundamental problem for the Democrats is that people do not want the big government spending. They don’t want the big program. They don’t understand why they’re pushing so hard on this and not on jobs. And it occurs to me that you can only vote against your constituents so many times before they start to vote against you.”

Robert Zelnick is very upset to learn that the Gray Lady doesn’t report news adverse to Obama. On Obama’s Medicare gimmickry: “The Times should, of course, be over this story like flies at a picnic table.Where will the money come from, Mr. President? Is there any precedent for draining funds like this from one soon-to-be insolvent program to another? Have you computed how the projected cuts in payment to doctors would affect the supply of physicians, the quality of medicine practiced, the health and longevity of the American people? Aren’t we really dealing with a series of misrepresentations — both explicit and implicit — unprecedented in the nation’s history.”

Reason to celebrate: “Defying a sustained barrage of mortars and rockets in Baghdad and other cities, Iraqis went to the polls in numbers on Sunday to choose a new parliament meant to outlast the American military presence here. … Insurgents here vowed to disrupt the election, and the concerted wave of attacks — as many as 100 thunderous blasts in the capital alone starting just before the polls opened — did frighten voters away, but only initially. The shrugging response of voters could signal a fundamental weakening of the insurgency’s potency.” And reason to be so very proud of one of the greatest military forces ever assembled, which, despite the naysayers, freed Iraqis from a brutal dictatorship.

Christopher Hitchens is out hawking his book with tales of his Oxford escapades. Alas, now “he’s a Dorian-Gray picture of his former self invoking the memory of it all to sell books this time around, and he’s given it—and himself—a very bad name indeed.”

In case there was any confusion about what the enemy is up to: “Al-Qaida’s American-born spokesman on Sunday called on Muslims serving in the U.S. armed forces to emulate the Army major charged with killing 13 people in Fort Hood. In a 25-minute video posted on militant Web sites, Adam Gadahn described Maj. Nidal Hasan as a pioneer who should serve as a role model for other Muslims, especially those serving Western militaries. ‘Brother Nidal is the ideal role-model for every repentant Muslim in the armies of the unbelievers and apostate regimes,’ he said.”

This was televised on C-SPAN: “Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich talked about ethics in politics. Following his remarks he responded to questions from law professors. The panel included Professors Tonja Jacobi, Donald Gordon, and Donna Leff.” (h/t Taegan Goddard) Seems better suited to Comedy Central.

Who better to send on a fool’s errand? “U.S. President Barack Obama dispatches his vice president to the Middle East on Sunday to try to build support for reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks despite deep skepticism on both sides.”

Clark Hoyt gets around to discussing the latest plagiarism scandal at the New York Times involving now departed Zachery Kouwe. He wonders: “How did his serial plagiarism happen and go undetected for so long? Why were warning signs overlooked? Was there anything at fault in the culture of DealBook, the hyper-competitive news blog on which Kouwe worked? And, now that the investigation is complete, what about a full accounting to readers?” Well, for starters, the Times let Maureen Dowd get away with plagiarism, so maybe Kouwe got the idea that it wasn’t really a “mortal journalistic sin.”

David Freddoso on the ongoing sanctimony festival: “‘Bankers don’t need another vote in the United States Senate,’ President Obama said as he urged Massachusetts voters to support Attorney General Martha Coakley over Republican Scott Brown. He also railed against ‘the same fat-cats who are getting rewarded for their failure.’ But in Illinois, Democrats have nominated a banker for Obama’s old Senate seat. Not only is Alexi Giannoulias’s family bank on the verge of failing, but he has a golden parachute made of federal tax refunds.”

Like all those Iran deadlines, no real deadline on ObamaCare: “Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Sunday dodged a series of questions about the White House’s plans for healthcare reform in the event lawmakers failed to pass it by the Easter recess. When asked on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ whether President Barack Obama would still pursue that legislation after the break, Sebelius offered no direct answer, only stressing, ‘I think we’ll have the votes when the leadership decides to call the votes, and I think it will pass.'”

Dana Perino on Fox News Sunday sums up the difficulty in rounding up votes for ObamaCare: “I think that a lot of the details just are now going past people’s heads and that the fundamental problem for the Democrats is that people do not want the big government spending. They don’t want the big program. They don’t understand why they’re pushing so hard on this and not on jobs. And it occurs to me that you can only vote against your constituents so many times before they start to vote against you.”

Robert Zelnick is very upset to learn that the Gray Lady doesn’t report news adverse to Obama. On Obama’s Medicare gimmickry: “The Times should, of course, be over this story like flies at a picnic table.Where will the money come from, Mr. President? Is there any precedent for draining funds like this from one soon-to-be insolvent program to another? Have you computed how the projected cuts in payment to doctors would affect the supply of physicians, the quality of medicine practiced, the health and longevity of the American people? Aren’t we really dealing with a series of misrepresentations — both explicit and implicit — unprecedented in the nation’s history.”

Reason to celebrate: “Defying a sustained barrage of mortars and rockets in Baghdad and other cities, Iraqis went to the polls in numbers on Sunday to choose a new parliament meant to outlast the American military presence here. … Insurgents here vowed to disrupt the election, and the concerted wave of attacks — as many as 100 thunderous blasts in the capital alone starting just before the polls opened — did frighten voters away, but only initially. The shrugging response of voters could signal a fundamental weakening of the insurgency’s potency.” And reason to be so very proud of one of the greatest military forces ever assembled, which, despite the naysayers, freed Iraqis from a brutal dictatorship.

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Not the Voters!

Greg Sargent observes:

One possible scenario that reform proponents dread is that Congress fails to pass reform before the Easter break — leaving Congressional Dems in the position of returning to their constituents empty-handed, just as they did over last summer’s recess. In the Capitol just now, a top spokesperson for Nancy Pelosi refused to endorse the White House’s prefered timetable for passing reform. Yesterday Robert Gibbs declared, perhaps unrealistically, that the White House would like the House to pass the Senate bill by March 18th, before the President goes abroad.

There are a few points worth noting. First, it’s quite obvious that Pelosi is a long way from getting her votes lined up. There is no reason to drag this out, unless, of course, Pelosi still can’t put together a majority. Jake Tapper has been keeping an unofficial whip count and there is far more bad news than good news for Pelosi, as the no’s are hardening and previous supporters are turning undecided. Second, the underlying problem, as it was last year, is that their members need to be kept as far from the voters as possible. Send them back home with the vote still pending and they risk an avalanche of opposition. Not in recent memory (or ever?) can I recall congressional leaders so wary of their members’ encounter with the electorate. That alone should tell those wavering members something. And finally, the time when Congress took the White House very seriously is over: the White House can no longer influence the substance, let alone the timing, of the vote on the bill. Right now it comes down to House Democrats — can they be bullied into doing something so plainly not in their self-interest? Stay tuned.

Greg Sargent observes:

One possible scenario that reform proponents dread is that Congress fails to pass reform before the Easter break — leaving Congressional Dems in the position of returning to their constituents empty-handed, just as they did over last summer’s recess. In the Capitol just now, a top spokesperson for Nancy Pelosi refused to endorse the White House’s prefered timetable for passing reform. Yesterday Robert Gibbs declared, perhaps unrealistically, that the White House would like the House to pass the Senate bill by March 18th, before the President goes abroad.

There are a few points worth noting. First, it’s quite obvious that Pelosi is a long way from getting her votes lined up. There is no reason to drag this out, unless, of course, Pelosi still can’t put together a majority. Jake Tapper has been keeping an unofficial whip count and there is far more bad news than good news for Pelosi, as the no’s are hardening and previous supporters are turning undecided. Second, the underlying problem, as it was last year, is that their members need to be kept as far from the voters as possible. Send them back home with the vote still pending and they risk an avalanche of opposition. Not in recent memory (or ever?) can I recall congressional leaders so wary of their members’ encounter with the electorate. That alone should tell those wavering members something. And finally, the time when Congress took the White House very seriously is over: the White House can no longer influence the substance, let alone the timing, of the vote on the bill. Right now it comes down to House Democrats — can they be bullied into doing something so plainly not in their self-interest? Stay tuned.

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‘Tis the Season to Be Obnoxious

Garrison Keillor, one of my least favorite people, has written a column in which he tells “nonbelievers” to butt out of Christmas. He especially objects, it seems, to Christmas songs written by Jewish composers: “And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck.” Dreck is certainly an interesting word choice in this instance.

Some Christmas songs were indeed written by Jewish composers, such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “White Christmas.” (Irving Berlin, just to rub it in, also wrote the most — perhaps only — famous Easter song, “Easter Parade”). Rodgers (who was Jewish) and Hammerstein (who was raised Presbyterian by his Scottish mother) wrote “Happy Christmas, Little Friend,” a lovely Christmas song that, inexplicably, never caught on. “Jingle Bells,” however, was written by James Lord Pierpont, who was J. P. Morgan’s uncle. Jewish he wasn’t.

What jerks like Garrison Keillor don’t realize is that the Christian holy day that celebrates the birth of Christ and the utterly secular holiday of presents, Santa Claus, mistletoe, office parties, etc. are completely different. They just happen to both be called Christmas and fall on December 25th. I wrote about this dichotomy for the Wall Street Journal a while back. Jews, of course, often make the same mistake. A few years ago a mother objected to her son going on a class trip to see a dramatization of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, so the whole trip was canceled. Dickens’s famous tale is a ghost story, for heaven’s sake. It has nothing whatever to do with the Christian holy day, but rather with an unhappy old man’s rediscovery of love. Should a class trip to see The Diary of Anne Frank be canceled because the play has a scene in which the family celebrates Hanukah?

Some people love the Christmas season. I’m not one of them. The Garrison Keillors of the world are part of the reason.

Garrison Keillor, one of my least favorite people, has written a column in which he tells “nonbelievers” to butt out of Christmas. He especially objects, it seems, to Christmas songs written by Jewish composers: “And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck.” Dreck is certainly an interesting word choice in this instance.

Some Christmas songs were indeed written by Jewish composers, such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “White Christmas.” (Irving Berlin, just to rub it in, also wrote the most — perhaps only — famous Easter song, “Easter Parade”). Rodgers (who was Jewish) and Hammerstein (who was raised Presbyterian by his Scottish mother) wrote “Happy Christmas, Little Friend,” a lovely Christmas song that, inexplicably, never caught on. “Jingle Bells,” however, was written by James Lord Pierpont, who was J. P. Morgan’s uncle. Jewish he wasn’t.

What jerks like Garrison Keillor don’t realize is that the Christian holy day that celebrates the birth of Christ and the utterly secular holiday of presents, Santa Claus, mistletoe, office parties, etc. are completely different. They just happen to both be called Christmas and fall on December 25th. I wrote about this dichotomy for the Wall Street Journal a while back. Jews, of course, often make the same mistake. A few years ago a mother objected to her son going on a class trip to see a dramatization of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, so the whole trip was canceled. Dickens’s famous tale is a ghost story, for heaven’s sake. It has nothing whatever to do with the Christian holy day, but rather with an unhappy old man’s rediscovery of love. Should a class trip to see The Diary of Anne Frank be canceled because the play has a scene in which the family celebrates Hanukah?

Some people love the Christmas season. I’m not one of them. The Garrison Keillors of the world are part of the reason.

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St. Barack and His Pastor

In a front page story yesterday the New York Times devoted 1,500 words to how some pastors would base their Easter Sunday sermons on the controversy surrounding Barack Obama and his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr. Among the gems we read are this:

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland, said she would preach about when Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” went to Jesus’ tomb and were met by an angel who rolled away the stone before the cave to reveal that Christ had risen from the dead. “I’m going to talk about the stones that need to be rolled away from the tombs of lives, that are holding us in places of death and away from God,” Ms. Lind said. “One of the main stones in our churches, synagogues, mosques, communities, countries, world is the pervasive tone of racism. What Obama has done is moved the stone a little bit. “I will ask our congregation to look at the stones in our lives,” she said.

And this:

The Rev. Kent Millard of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis said he felt Mr. Obama had explained the reality of the relationship between a pastor and his congregants. “Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is member of our congregation, and I would hope he would never be held accountable for everything I have said in the last 15 years,” said Dr. Millard, who is white. “Why is there any assumption that a person in church is expected to agree with everything a pastor says?”

And this:

Some black ministers said that their sermons might address how the reputation of a man many of them revere was reduced to sound bites. They pointed out that sermons in black churches covered a long and circuitous path from crisis to resolution, and it was unfair to judge the entire message on one or two sentences. “I may not use his exact language,” said the Rev. Kenneth L. Samuel, pastor of Victory Church in Stone Mountain, Ga., “but I can tell you that the basic thrust of much of my preaching resonates with Dr. Wright. I don’t think I’m necessarily trying to preach people into anger, but I am trying to help people become conscious, become aware, to realize our power to make change in society.” Mr. Samuel said his Easter sermon would be titled “Dangerous Proclamations,” and would focus on the Apostle Paul, “who was also under attack for his faith in Jesus, and for preaching the Resurrection.”

And this:

On Easter, one of the nation’s foremost preachers, the Rev. James A. Forbes, senior minister emeritus at the Riverside Church in New York, said he would take Mr. Wright’s place preaching the 6 p.m. service at Trinity in Chicago. Dr. Forbes plans to preach about how the nation is in a “night season,” a dark, destabilizing time, given the war, the economy and the vitriol over race and gender in the political primary. “It is nighttime in America,” Dr. Forbes said, “and I want to bring a word of encouragement.”

What ought we to make of the story and these quotes?

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In a front page story yesterday the New York Times devoted 1,500 words to how some pastors would base their Easter Sunday sermons on the controversy surrounding Barack Obama and his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr. Among the gems we read are this:

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland, said she would preach about when Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” went to Jesus’ tomb and were met by an angel who rolled away the stone before the cave to reveal that Christ had risen from the dead. “I’m going to talk about the stones that need to be rolled away from the tombs of lives, that are holding us in places of death and away from God,” Ms. Lind said. “One of the main stones in our churches, synagogues, mosques, communities, countries, world is the pervasive tone of racism. What Obama has done is moved the stone a little bit. “I will ask our congregation to look at the stones in our lives,” she said.

And this:

The Rev. Kent Millard of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis said he felt Mr. Obama had explained the reality of the relationship between a pastor and his congregants. “Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is member of our congregation, and I would hope he would never be held accountable for everything I have said in the last 15 years,” said Dr. Millard, who is white. “Why is there any assumption that a person in church is expected to agree with everything a pastor says?”

And this:

Some black ministers said that their sermons might address how the reputation of a man many of them revere was reduced to sound bites. They pointed out that sermons in black churches covered a long and circuitous path from crisis to resolution, and it was unfair to judge the entire message on one or two sentences. “I may not use his exact language,” said the Rev. Kenneth L. Samuel, pastor of Victory Church in Stone Mountain, Ga., “but I can tell you that the basic thrust of much of my preaching resonates with Dr. Wright. I don’t think I’m necessarily trying to preach people into anger, but I am trying to help people become conscious, become aware, to realize our power to make change in society.” Mr. Samuel said his Easter sermon would be titled “Dangerous Proclamations,” and would focus on the Apostle Paul, “who was also under attack for his faith in Jesus, and for preaching the Resurrection.”

And this:

On Easter, one of the nation’s foremost preachers, the Rev. James A. Forbes, senior minister emeritus at the Riverside Church in New York, said he would take Mr. Wright’s place preaching the 6 p.m. service at Trinity in Chicago. Dr. Forbes plans to preach about how the nation is in a “night season,” a dark, destabilizing time, given the war, the economy and the vitriol over race and gender in the political primary. “It is nighttime in America,” Dr. Forbes said, “and I want to bring a word of encouragement.”

What ought we to make of the story and these quotes?

For one thing, the Times piece was much more charitable toward Reverend Wright than I can ever remember the New York Times being toward anyone on the “religious right.” Making a hate-spewing, conspiracy-minded, anti-American pastor appear sympathetic isn’t easy–but leave it to the good folks at the Times to try their best to achieve it.

Beyond that, Senator Obama has now taken on, at least among his supporters, angelic powers. To them St. Barack can move figurative (and perhaps even literal?) stones that are holding us in places of death and away from God. And to think I only viewed him as an impressive, if deeply liberal, junior senator from Illinois. Silly me.

As for Senator Lugar’s pastor: I’m sure Senator Lugar hasn’t agreed with everything he’s heard from the pulpit. But I also assume that if Senator Lugar heard his pastor asking God (repeatedly) to damn America rather than bless it and giving voice to batty conspiracy theories (America invented AIDS in order to champion genocide), Lugar would be troubled – troubled enough at least to raise the issue with the Reverend Millard and perhaps even troubled enough to leave the church if such rhetoric persisted.

I’m personally delighted to learn that the Reverend Samuel “may not use [Wright’s] exact language,” even as the basic thrust of much of his preaching would resonate with Wright. I am oh-so-eager to see just what formulations Kenneth Samuel would use that would bring joy and delight to the heart of Jeremiah Wright.

And then there is James A. Forbes, representing our reliable old friends at Riverside Church in New York City. It’s “nighttime” in America, according to the good Reverend, but fear not; James Forbes will bring a word of encouragement to us all. Of course the proposition on which Forbes relies–that America is a dark, aggrieved, divided and broken country– requires him to ignore the fact that we are the most fortunate and blessed people not only on earth but in human history; that we live in a nation that is imperfect and plagued by problems, but one that is more prosperous, freer, more benevolent, and filled with more opportunities than any Reverend Forbes could name.

Risible comments like those made by Forbes and company underscore why the “mainstream” churches in America have been steadily losing congregants for decades. They are utterly consumed by left-wing politics, so much so that on the most holy day of the Christian year they decide to devote their sermons to racial politics and an effort to restore the reputation of Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. The degree to which the Left is contorting itself in an effort to rationalize the venom of Wright is now moving into the comical category. One can only imagine what kind of story Laurie Goldstein and Neela Banerjee of the Times would have written if they had stumbled across words as fierce, demagogic, and loathsome as Wright’s from a right-winger instead of a left-winger.

The double standard of the Times is on display almost every day, but it is rarely as apparent as it was on Easter Sunday.

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