Commentary Magazine


Topic: front-runner

Newt Gingrich’s Advice to Palin

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Newt Gingrich had some unsolicited words of advice for Sarah Palin, whose poll numbers have been dropping after the Tucson tragedy.

“I think that she has got to slow down and be more careful and think through what she’s saying and how she’s saying it,” said Gingrich, who will likely challenge Palin for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

And while that’s a good recommendation for any politician — something Gingrich should probably work on himself — will it do any good for Palin?

Her political troubles over the past few weeks weren’t caused by a failure to slow down and think carefully. In fact, a lot of her most controversial remarks have been well thought out. Those gun references from last spring? She used them repeatedly in her statements, especially after she saw the furious reaction they elicited from the media and Democrats. Her “target” map was designed by a professional graphic artist, probably with a good deal of input from her PAC’s communications staff. And her recent comment about blood libel was part of a pre-written speech crafted with the help of PR experts.

Again, Gingrich’s words were good advice for any politician. But at this point, is there any indication that Palin has any interest in being a politician (as opposed to just running for political office)? Her increasingly eye-popping statements can only be looked at in two ways. Either she’s a “media-manipulation genius” (as that old meme goes) interested in a career as a professional conservative pundit, or she’s a serious politician who is breathtakingly clueless about media strategy.

The latter one seems unlikely. Not only is Palin incredibly savvy; so are the strategists around her. But in the past year, as a potential front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, she’s continued to make pre-planned comments that even the greenest City Hall candidate would have good sense to avoid. Promoting a map with crosshairs over Democratic districts during a debate as heated as the one last spring on health care? And writing the term “blood libel” into a speech? Yes, these controversies were blown way out of proportion by the media, but they were also completely unnecessary, avoidable scandals.

Conservatives who have seen how much potential Palin has as a candidate have advised her to get serious for almost two years. But is the problem that she hasn’t heard what they are saying? Or is it that she doesn’t want to hear it?

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Newt Gingrich had some unsolicited words of advice for Sarah Palin, whose poll numbers have been dropping after the Tucson tragedy.

“I think that she has got to slow down and be more careful and think through what she’s saying and how she’s saying it,” said Gingrich, who will likely challenge Palin for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

And while that’s a good recommendation for any politician — something Gingrich should probably work on himself — will it do any good for Palin?

Her political troubles over the past few weeks weren’t caused by a failure to slow down and think carefully. In fact, a lot of her most controversial remarks have been well thought out. Those gun references from last spring? She used them repeatedly in her statements, especially after she saw the furious reaction they elicited from the media and Democrats. Her “target” map was designed by a professional graphic artist, probably with a good deal of input from her PAC’s communications staff. And her recent comment about blood libel was part of a pre-written speech crafted with the help of PR experts.

Again, Gingrich’s words were good advice for any politician. But at this point, is there any indication that Palin has any interest in being a politician (as opposed to just running for political office)? Her increasingly eye-popping statements can only be looked at in two ways. Either she’s a “media-manipulation genius” (as that old meme goes) interested in a career as a professional conservative pundit, or she’s a serious politician who is breathtakingly clueless about media strategy.

The latter one seems unlikely. Not only is Palin incredibly savvy; so are the strategists around her. But in the past year, as a potential front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, she’s continued to make pre-planned comments that even the greenest City Hall candidate would have good sense to avoid. Promoting a map with crosshairs over Democratic districts during a debate as heated as the one last spring on health care? And writing the term “blood libel” into a speech? Yes, these controversies were blown way out of proportion by the media, but they were also completely unnecessary, avoidable scandals.

Conservatives who have seen how much potential Palin has as a candidate have advised her to get serious for almost two years. But is the problem that she hasn’t heard what they are saying? Or is it that she doesn’t want to hear it?

Read Less

Right to Be Concerned, But Not Panicked, About 2012

Monday morning I was in a supermarket parking lot in my neighborhood in Northern Virginia. An older gentleman was putting grocery bags in his truck, festooned with “NO OBAMA” and “McCain-Palin” stickers. Another shopper approached him, commenting, “I like your McCain sticker but who we gonna get this time!”

That sums up what most Republicans are wondering these days. To say that the most widely discussed contenders (Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, etc.) haven’t filled the base and party activists with optimism would be putting it mildly. That, in part, accounts for the effort to change Chris Christie’s mind about a 2012 run or lure some other candidate(s) into the race. The media narrative that Palin would instantly be the “front runner” (I guess, in the way, Rudy Giuliani was the front runner before it meant anything) is belied by the determination by so many Republicans to find some other, not yet obvious, candidate.

This is more, I think, than the usual desire to find that mythical perfect candidate with oodles of experience, a fresh face, and no baggage. There is unease that those who are running are deeply flawed (either hobbled within the party or not viable in a general election) or unexciting, while those most attractive aren’t interested this time around (e.g., Christie, Marco Rubio).

To a large degree, the concern is premature. If 2008 showed us anything, it was that an early start, high name recognition, and gobs of organization don’t necessarily mean all that much two years before the first primary. Otherwise, Giuliani or Romney would have been the last nominee. But the concern among Republican activists is a healthy sign — a recognition that electability, personality, experience, and ideology must all be balanced and that this is a very critical election, too critical to roll the dice on a shaky candidate. Along with the sober House GOP leaders has come recognition in the GOP ranks that not any Republican on the ballot can win, no matter how badly the Obama administration performs.

There’s no rush for the Republicans to find the right candidate, but the GOP may have learned some lessons: get viable candidates into the race, choose wisely, and don’t sit around waiting for Obama to complete his meltdown.

Monday morning I was in a supermarket parking lot in my neighborhood in Northern Virginia. An older gentleman was putting grocery bags in his truck, festooned with “NO OBAMA” and “McCain-Palin” stickers. Another shopper approached him, commenting, “I like your McCain sticker but who we gonna get this time!”

That sums up what most Republicans are wondering these days. To say that the most widely discussed contenders (Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, etc.) haven’t filled the base and party activists with optimism would be putting it mildly. That, in part, accounts for the effort to change Chris Christie’s mind about a 2012 run or lure some other candidate(s) into the race. The media narrative that Palin would instantly be the “front runner” (I guess, in the way, Rudy Giuliani was the front runner before it meant anything) is belied by the determination by so many Republicans to find some other, not yet obvious, candidate.

This is more, I think, than the usual desire to find that mythical perfect candidate with oodles of experience, a fresh face, and no baggage. There is unease that those who are running are deeply flawed (either hobbled within the party or not viable in a general election) or unexciting, while those most attractive aren’t interested this time around (e.g., Christie, Marco Rubio).

To a large degree, the concern is premature. If 2008 showed us anything, it was that an early start, high name recognition, and gobs of organization don’t necessarily mean all that much two years before the first primary. Otherwise, Giuliani or Romney would have been the last nominee. But the concern among Republican activists is a healthy sign — a recognition that electability, personality, experience, and ideology must all be balanced and that this is a very critical election, too critical to roll the dice on a shaky candidate. Along with the sober House GOP leaders has come recognition in the GOP ranks that not any Republican on the ballot can win, no matter how badly the Obama administration performs.

There’s no rush for the Republicans to find the right candidate, but the GOP may have learned some lessons: get viable candidates into the race, choose wisely, and don’t sit around waiting for Obama to complete his meltdown.

Read Less

Connecticut Front-Runner’s Woes May Help Simmons, Not McMahon

The news that Linda McMahon’s campaign was the source for the New York Times article exposing Richard Blumenthal’s lies about his Vietnam War record provides an interesting irony for the GOP primary in Connecticut.

As Politico noted, it was probably McMahon’s deep pockets that financed the research about Blumenthal, though it must be acknowledged that when the Times wants to dig into someone’s background to find dirt — whether real or imagined — the Gray Lady finds the money. John McCain, who was the subject of a months-long investigation based on unsubstantiated allegations of infidelity during the 2008 presidential campaign, can testify to that.

However, it can be argued that the revelations about Blumenthal’s mendacity could actually undermine McMahon’s own primary campaign rather than help it. McMahon jumped into the Connecticut GOP Senate race thinking that former congressman Rob Simmons could be beaten easily in the primary by her superior financial resources. The fact that Simmons was a more credible candidate and had governmental experience was also discounted as being of negligible value in a year in which outsider status had greater appeal to discontented voters.

But by bringing to light Blumenthal’s lies about serving in Vietnam when in fact he dodged the draft by obtaining several deferments and then gaining a coveted spot in a Reserve unit in Washington (where he participated in Toys for Tots programs rather than in fighting), McMahon may have given Simmons the break he was looking for. As it happens, Simmons is a real Vietnam combat veteran. As such, he will be better placed to exploit the voters’ disgust with Blumenthal’s lies than is McMahon, whose only combat experience is of the stage-managed pro-wrestling variety in which the steroid-filled buffoons she and her husband employed pretended to hurt each other.

Once incumbent Chris Dodd decided to pull the plug on his scandal-plagued re-election effort and Blumenthal declared his intention to run, the Connecticut seat went from being in play to one that was classified as safely in the Democratic column. However, as I wrote last month, the first reviews of Blumenthal’s candidacy were decidedly negative. Though he has always been considered the golden boy of the state’s Democratic Party — albeit one that was strangely reluctant to take his chances and run for a higher office than state attorney general — once he hit the campaign trail this year, many Democrats began to worry that he was “Martha Coakley in Pants.” But the Times blockbuster isn’t merely another embarrassment for a faltering campaign. For a man like Blumenthal, whose main asset was a reputation for integrity (in a state whose high officials have had a distressing tendency to be convicted on corruption charges in recent years), a story that reveals him as a serial liar has the potential to destroy his candidacy.

Blumenthal will attempt to salvage the situation this afternoon in a press conference in which he will, no doubt, attempt to discredit the Times and/or McMahon. But you can’t help but wonder whether Connecticut Democrats, who thought they were putting scandal behind them when they replaced Dodd with Blumenthal, are now wondering whether they just exchanged one problem for another.

The news that Linda McMahon’s campaign was the source for the New York Times article exposing Richard Blumenthal’s lies about his Vietnam War record provides an interesting irony for the GOP primary in Connecticut.

As Politico noted, it was probably McMahon’s deep pockets that financed the research about Blumenthal, though it must be acknowledged that when the Times wants to dig into someone’s background to find dirt — whether real or imagined — the Gray Lady finds the money. John McCain, who was the subject of a months-long investigation based on unsubstantiated allegations of infidelity during the 2008 presidential campaign, can testify to that.

However, it can be argued that the revelations about Blumenthal’s mendacity could actually undermine McMahon’s own primary campaign rather than help it. McMahon jumped into the Connecticut GOP Senate race thinking that former congressman Rob Simmons could be beaten easily in the primary by her superior financial resources. The fact that Simmons was a more credible candidate and had governmental experience was also discounted as being of negligible value in a year in which outsider status had greater appeal to discontented voters.

But by bringing to light Blumenthal’s lies about serving in Vietnam when in fact he dodged the draft by obtaining several deferments and then gaining a coveted spot in a Reserve unit in Washington (where he participated in Toys for Tots programs rather than in fighting), McMahon may have given Simmons the break he was looking for. As it happens, Simmons is a real Vietnam combat veteran. As such, he will be better placed to exploit the voters’ disgust with Blumenthal’s lies than is McMahon, whose only combat experience is of the stage-managed pro-wrestling variety in which the steroid-filled buffoons she and her husband employed pretended to hurt each other.

Once incumbent Chris Dodd decided to pull the plug on his scandal-plagued re-election effort and Blumenthal declared his intention to run, the Connecticut seat went from being in play to one that was classified as safely in the Democratic column. However, as I wrote last month, the first reviews of Blumenthal’s candidacy were decidedly negative. Though he has always been considered the golden boy of the state’s Democratic Party — albeit one that was strangely reluctant to take his chances and run for a higher office than state attorney general — once he hit the campaign trail this year, many Democrats began to worry that he was “Martha Coakley in Pants.” But the Times blockbuster isn’t merely another embarrassment for a faltering campaign. For a man like Blumenthal, whose main asset was a reputation for integrity (in a state whose high officials have had a distressing tendency to be convicted on corruption charges in recent years), a story that reveals him as a serial liar has the potential to destroy his candidacy.

Blumenthal will attempt to salvage the situation this afternoon in a press conference in which he will, no doubt, attempt to discredit the Times and/or McMahon. But you can’t help but wonder whether Connecticut Democrats, who thought they were putting scandal behind them when they replaced Dodd with Blumenthal, are now wondering whether they just exchanged one problem for another.

Read Less

Dan Coats vs. Obama on the Middle East

I spoke this morning with Dan Coats, former senator and ambassador to Germany and now the GOP front-runner in the Indiana senate race. Together with Charles Robb and Charles Ward Coats, he had authored two reports urging a firm timetable, sanctions that “bite,” and preservation of military options to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

After fifteen months of Obama’s attempts to engage Iran, I asked Coats if Obama’s policy was a failure. “Yes, it certainly has failed. Engagement has done nothing but buy time” for the mullahs to pursue their nuclear plans, he explained. He noted that during the Bush administration we deferred to our European allies. So, he concludes, “It has been almost a decade that we’ve been down this road. The open hand has been slapped back.” In essence, Iran has, he says, simply played the “rope-a-dope game.”

Is Secretary of Defense Robert Gates correct in warning that we lack a viable plan? Coats replies, “Yes. We are lacking a viable plan because they are lacking a commander in chief to order them to put together a viable plan.” He says that a nuclear-armed Iran is our “most imminent security challenge” and yet the administration seems unwilling to examine what a nuclear-armed Iran and a potential containment strategy would look like. The sanctions currently under discussion, he explains, are deficient. His reports argued for sanctions that “bite.” He says, “If Russia and China are outside the noose, they aren’t going to be effective.”

As for containment, Coats says that analogies to the Cold War are misplaced. Then, he recalls, we had “buffer states, a military prepared to deal with any breach, Pershing missiles, and 300,000 troops in Europe.” Moreover, he says, “Clearly, we are dealing with a much more unstable regime that has defied world opinion.”

I ask him whether the focus on the Palestinian “peace process” has distracted us from the Iranian threat or undermined the U.S.-Israel alliance. He says that with a nuclear-armed Iran “the very existence of Israel would be at stake.” He says that absent a more credible policy by the U.S., “Israel will be forced to act. It is unthinkable that the U.S. will passively stand aside [while Israel takes action].” He explains that “our credibility around the world” would be irreparably harmed as it became clear that the U.S. was unwilling to protect the security of any nation. As for the peace process, he says that “it is simply a cop out” to say that we need progress there in order to deal with the threats to Middle East peace. “I don’t for a moment think that even we had resolution [of the Palestinian conflict] we would have a kumbaya moment in the Middle East.” The mullahs have their own agenda and time table, he notes. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t pursue it [a resolution of the Palestinian conflict] but we have been pursuing it for half a century.”

Finally, I ask him about the Obama administration’s desire to return our ambassador to Syria. He says, “We are past that. What we need is the administration to stand up to the reality of what is taking place in the Middle East — to show resolve and to show strength.” He says the move conveys weakness and we risk sending the signal that “we are not prepared to defend Israel.” He reminds us that this president had promised to use “all” aspects of American power. But, he says, Obama is not “willing to use American power. They must be laughing at us in the councils of Iran. And Israel sits on a powder keg.” He closes by warning that it may now be too late to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear plans, “We’re going to read in a few months that the game is over.”

Coats provides a stark contrast to the happy talk one hears from Hillary Clinton and the other administration spinners. Should he win the primary, we will perhaps see a spirited debate on Obama’s Middle East policy, unless, of course, the Democratic nominee is willing to break with Obama as Chuck Schumer did. Other senate candidates will face a similar choice.

I spoke this morning with Dan Coats, former senator and ambassador to Germany and now the GOP front-runner in the Indiana senate race. Together with Charles Robb and Charles Ward Coats, he had authored two reports urging a firm timetable, sanctions that “bite,” and preservation of military options to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

After fifteen months of Obama’s attempts to engage Iran, I asked Coats if Obama’s policy was a failure. “Yes, it certainly has failed. Engagement has done nothing but buy time” for the mullahs to pursue their nuclear plans, he explained. He noted that during the Bush administration we deferred to our European allies. So, he concludes, “It has been almost a decade that we’ve been down this road. The open hand has been slapped back.” In essence, Iran has, he says, simply played the “rope-a-dope game.”

Is Secretary of Defense Robert Gates correct in warning that we lack a viable plan? Coats replies, “Yes. We are lacking a viable plan because they are lacking a commander in chief to order them to put together a viable plan.” He says that a nuclear-armed Iran is our “most imminent security challenge” and yet the administration seems unwilling to examine what a nuclear-armed Iran and a potential containment strategy would look like. The sanctions currently under discussion, he explains, are deficient. His reports argued for sanctions that “bite.” He says, “If Russia and China are outside the noose, they aren’t going to be effective.”

As for containment, Coats says that analogies to the Cold War are misplaced. Then, he recalls, we had “buffer states, a military prepared to deal with any breach, Pershing missiles, and 300,000 troops in Europe.” Moreover, he says, “Clearly, we are dealing with a much more unstable regime that has defied world opinion.”

I ask him whether the focus on the Palestinian “peace process” has distracted us from the Iranian threat or undermined the U.S.-Israel alliance. He says that with a nuclear-armed Iran “the very existence of Israel would be at stake.” He says that absent a more credible policy by the U.S., “Israel will be forced to act. It is unthinkable that the U.S. will passively stand aside [while Israel takes action].” He explains that “our credibility around the world” would be irreparably harmed as it became clear that the U.S. was unwilling to protect the security of any nation. As for the peace process, he says that “it is simply a cop out” to say that we need progress there in order to deal with the threats to Middle East peace. “I don’t for a moment think that even we had resolution [of the Palestinian conflict] we would have a kumbaya moment in the Middle East.” The mullahs have their own agenda and time table, he notes. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t pursue it [a resolution of the Palestinian conflict] but we have been pursuing it for half a century.”

Finally, I ask him about the Obama administration’s desire to return our ambassador to Syria. He says, “We are past that. What we need is the administration to stand up to the reality of what is taking place in the Middle East — to show resolve and to show strength.” He says the move conveys weakness and we risk sending the signal that “we are not prepared to defend Israel.” He reminds us that this president had promised to use “all” aspects of American power. But, he says, Obama is not “willing to use American power. They must be laughing at us in the councils of Iran. And Israel sits on a powder keg.” He closes by warning that it may now be too late to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear plans, “We’re going to read in a few months that the game is over.”

Coats provides a stark contrast to the happy talk one hears from Hillary Clinton and the other administration spinners. Should he win the primary, we will perhaps see a spirited debate on Obama’s Middle East policy, unless, of course, the Democratic nominee is willing to break with Obama as Chuck Schumer did. Other senate candidates will face a similar choice.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

CATO points out: “When you run down this list of elements in the Obama plan and the Romney plan, they are all identical… Both the Romney plan and the Obama plan are essentially a government takeover of the health care sector of the economy.”

A new poll points to Harry Reid’s vulnerability: “U.S. Sen. Harry Reid must pick up far more support from crossover Republicans and independents to win re-election, according to a new poll that shows him losing to the GOP front-runner in a full-ballot election with eight contenders and a ‘none of these candidates’ option. The survey of Nevada voters commissioned by the Review-Journal shows Reid getting 37 percent of the vote compared with 47 percent for Republican Sue Lowden, who would win if the election were today, while the slate of third-party and nonpartisan candidates would get slim to no backing.”

Another poll points to an electoral thumping in November for the Democrats: “Republicans have slightly increased their advantage over Democrats in the generic Congressional ballot, from 46-43 last month to 47-42 now.”

Chris Christie points out: “We are, I think, the failed experiment in America—the best example of a failed experiment in America—on taxes and bigger government. Over the last eight years, New Jersey increased taxes and fees 115 times.” He seems serious about waging a war on spending, bloated pensions, public unions and regulatory excess.

Rep. Pete King points to Obama’s Israel animus: “No American ally is more trusted or reliable than Israel. Throughout the darkest days of the Cold War, and now in the war against Islamic terrorism, Israel has stood with the United States every step of the way. Israel shares our democratic principles and always has the courage to do what has to be done. The value of this unique alliance has been shared by all our Presidents — Democrats and Republicans alike. This is why I strongly believe it has been so wrong for President Obama to continually escalate and publicize his differences with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This is no way to treat such a long-time ally.”

A Senate Republican points out an Obama nominee’s non-judicial temperament: “A top Senate Republican hammered liberal law professor Goodwin Liu’s writings as ‘vicious, emotionally and racially charged’ at his confirmation hearing Friday – igniting the first real test of whether Republicans will be able to block the most controversial of President Barack Obama’s lower court judicial nominees. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) slammed Liu’s testimony against Samuel Alito during his confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court.” This same nominee “forgot” to submit over a hundred documents.

A new survey points to an uneven economy recovery: “U.S. consumer sentiment took a surprise negative turn in early April due to a persistently grim outlook on income and jobs, a private survey released on Friday showed. A slip in economic expectations to its lowest in a year likely stemmed from consumers hearing negative information on government programs and a perception that the recovery is too slow, according to Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan’s Surveys of Consumers. … The surveys’ overall index on consumer sentiments slipped to 69.5 in early April — the lowest in five months. This was below the 73.6 reading seen at the end of March and the 75.0 median forecast of analysts polled by Reuters.”

Ben Smith points to inconvenient facts for New York Democrats: “A few weeks before playing a central role in fraud charges against Goldman Sachs, hedge fund titan John Paulson invited colleagues to a fundraiser for Senator Chuck Schumer — ‘one of the few members of Congress that has consistently supported the hedge fund industry’ — according to a copy of the invitation… Schumer is credited by some with helping to kill a Democratic push to tax carried interest, which would have put a dent in the massive earnings of a small number of ultra-wealthy money managers. With Goldman, and perhaps Paulson, in the SEC’s sights, some of the taint may rub off on their allies — and both of New York’s senators are among them. Schumer’s junior colleague, Kirsten Gillibrand, is the single top recipient of contributions from Goldman Sachs employees.”

The Wall Street Journal editors point out there’s no meeting of the minds on the START deal: “Signed with some pomp last week in Prague, the pact with Russia makes modest reductions to the number of strategic warheads and delivery systems. Though those cuts are worth a close look, we’re much more concerned with the impact that new START will have on America’s ability to develop and deploy the best missile defenses available. Starting with the Reagan-era Strategic Defense Initiative, the Kremlin has sought to tie America’s hands on missile defense. The Kremlin says that this is precisely what it has negotiated with START. The Administration says it didn’t. They can’t both be right.”

CATO points out: “When you run down this list of elements in the Obama plan and the Romney plan, they are all identical… Both the Romney plan and the Obama plan are essentially a government takeover of the health care sector of the economy.”

A new poll points to Harry Reid’s vulnerability: “U.S. Sen. Harry Reid must pick up far more support from crossover Republicans and independents to win re-election, according to a new poll that shows him losing to the GOP front-runner in a full-ballot election with eight contenders and a ‘none of these candidates’ option. The survey of Nevada voters commissioned by the Review-Journal shows Reid getting 37 percent of the vote compared with 47 percent for Republican Sue Lowden, who would win if the election were today, while the slate of third-party and nonpartisan candidates would get slim to no backing.”

Another poll points to an electoral thumping in November for the Democrats: “Republicans have slightly increased their advantage over Democrats in the generic Congressional ballot, from 46-43 last month to 47-42 now.”

Chris Christie points out: “We are, I think, the failed experiment in America—the best example of a failed experiment in America—on taxes and bigger government. Over the last eight years, New Jersey increased taxes and fees 115 times.” He seems serious about waging a war on spending, bloated pensions, public unions and regulatory excess.

Rep. Pete King points to Obama’s Israel animus: “No American ally is more trusted or reliable than Israel. Throughout the darkest days of the Cold War, and now in the war against Islamic terrorism, Israel has stood with the United States every step of the way. Israel shares our democratic principles and always has the courage to do what has to be done. The value of this unique alliance has been shared by all our Presidents — Democrats and Republicans alike. This is why I strongly believe it has been so wrong for President Obama to continually escalate and publicize his differences with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This is no way to treat such a long-time ally.”

A Senate Republican points out an Obama nominee’s non-judicial temperament: “A top Senate Republican hammered liberal law professor Goodwin Liu’s writings as ‘vicious, emotionally and racially charged’ at his confirmation hearing Friday – igniting the first real test of whether Republicans will be able to block the most controversial of President Barack Obama’s lower court judicial nominees. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) slammed Liu’s testimony against Samuel Alito during his confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court.” This same nominee “forgot” to submit over a hundred documents.

A new survey points to an uneven economy recovery: “U.S. consumer sentiment took a surprise negative turn in early April due to a persistently grim outlook on income and jobs, a private survey released on Friday showed. A slip in economic expectations to its lowest in a year likely stemmed from consumers hearing negative information on government programs and a perception that the recovery is too slow, according to Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan’s Surveys of Consumers. … The surveys’ overall index on consumer sentiments slipped to 69.5 in early April — the lowest in five months. This was below the 73.6 reading seen at the end of March and the 75.0 median forecast of analysts polled by Reuters.”

Ben Smith points to inconvenient facts for New York Democrats: “A few weeks before playing a central role in fraud charges against Goldman Sachs, hedge fund titan John Paulson invited colleagues to a fundraiser for Senator Chuck Schumer — ‘one of the few members of Congress that has consistently supported the hedge fund industry’ — according to a copy of the invitation… Schumer is credited by some with helping to kill a Democratic push to tax carried interest, which would have put a dent in the massive earnings of a small number of ultra-wealthy money managers. With Goldman, and perhaps Paulson, in the SEC’s sights, some of the taint may rub off on their allies — and both of New York’s senators are among them. Schumer’s junior colleague, Kirsten Gillibrand, is the single top recipient of contributions from Goldman Sachs employees.”

The Wall Street Journal editors point out there’s no meeting of the minds on the START deal: “Signed with some pomp last week in Prague, the pact with Russia makes modest reductions to the number of strategic warheads and delivery systems. Though those cuts are worth a close look, we’re much more concerned with the impact that new START will have on America’s ability to develop and deploy the best missile defenses available. Starting with the Reagan-era Strategic Defense Initiative, the Kremlin has sought to tie America’s hands on missile defense. The Kremlin says that this is precisely what it has negotiated with START. The Administration says it didn’t. They can’t both be right.”

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Trouble back home: “Sue Lowden has established herself as the far-ahead GOP front-runner in Nevada’s U.S. Senate race and the Republican most likely to beat Sen. Harry Reid, even with a Tea Party candidate on the Nov. 2 general election ballot, according to a new poll commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. … As for Reid, the poll shows the Democratic incumbent’s popularity dipping to a new all-time low with 56 percent of registered Nevada voters saying they have an unfavorable opinion of the senator, while about four in 10 people say they would vote for him on Election Day — not enough to win.”

Trouble for the Democrats’ tax-hike plans: “When thinking about all the services provided by federal, state and local governments, 75% of voters nationwide say the average American should pay no more than 20% of their income in taxes. However, the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that most voters (55%) believe the average American actually pays 30% or more of their income in taxes. Sixty-six percent (66%) believe that America is overtaxed. Only 25% disagree.”

Trouble for Obama and Democrats who will rely on the president’s popularity this November: he’s reached an all-time low in RealClearPolitics’s poll average, at 46.1 percent approval.

Trouble in Iran (and a reminder that delay in use of military force against the mullahs comes with a price): “Ahmad Vahidi said the new Mersad, or Ambush, air defense system would be able to hit modern aircraft at low and medium altitudes. According to a photo released by Iran’s Defense Ministry, the Mersad will launch Iran’s Shahin missiles, a local version of the 1970s-era US-manufactured Hawk missile. The Hawk missile has a range 24 kilometers with a 119-pound warhead and was sold the Iran before the 1979 Islamic revolution. Iran has been looking to upgrade its air defenses, especially as Israel has refused to rule out an airstrike over concerns that Teheran is developing nuclear weapons — a charge it denies.”

Trouble for those who vouched for or believed the CBO’s scoring on ObamaCare: “White House Budget Director Peter Orszag is arguing that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) underestimates the savings from President Barack Obama’s healthcare bill. CBO, the independent agency Orszag ran before he joined the Obama administration, said the legislation will reduce deficits $143 billion in its first decade and by even more — roughly 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent of gross domestic product — in its second decade. That would probably amount to more than $1 trillion in savings, but Orszag considers that a lowball estimate.” Hmm. Funny how this didn’t come up before.

Trouble for those who argued with a straight face for “engagement” with Iran: “Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday accused President Barack Obama of making nuclear threats against the Islamic Republic.” But they don’t ever admit error, do they?

Trouble for the “Close Guantanamo!” crowd: “So how’s President Obama’s detainee policy coming along? Slowly. A senior administration official would only say that discussions with Congress — that is, Democrats and Sen. Lindsey Graham — are ‘ongoing’ about a legal framework. But frustration at the lack of public backstop from the White House is pervasive among senior officials at the Departments of Justice, State and Defense, all of whom want the Guantanamo Bay detention camp closed and the prisoners properly dealt with.” Perhaps the White House has finally run out of enthusiasm for an unworkable and politically toxic campaign stunt.

Trouble for Jews: “Anti-Semitic incidents around the world more than doubled in 2009 over the previous year, posting their worst year since monitoring began two decades ago, according to a new survey. The total number of anti-Semitic incidents was 1,129 in 2009, compared to 559 in 2008, according to a report released Sunday by the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University. The record number of incidents — cases that show clear anti-Semitic content and intention — included 566 incidents of vandalism of Jewish property, which constituted 49 percent of all incidents. Hundreds of incidents against Jewish people and property did not meet the criteria, according to the institute. Incidents also go unreported. In Europe, Britain and France led with the number of incidents, according to the report.”

Trouble back home: “Sue Lowden has established herself as the far-ahead GOP front-runner in Nevada’s U.S. Senate race and the Republican most likely to beat Sen. Harry Reid, even with a Tea Party candidate on the Nov. 2 general election ballot, according to a new poll commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. … As for Reid, the poll shows the Democratic incumbent’s popularity dipping to a new all-time low with 56 percent of registered Nevada voters saying they have an unfavorable opinion of the senator, while about four in 10 people say they would vote for him on Election Day — not enough to win.”

Trouble for the Democrats’ tax-hike plans: “When thinking about all the services provided by federal, state and local governments, 75% of voters nationwide say the average American should pay no more than 20% of their income in taxes. However, the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that most voters (55%) believe the average American actually pays 30% or more of their income in taxes. Sixty-six percent (66%) believe that America is overtaxed. Only 25% disagree.”

Trouble for Obama and Democrats who will rely on the president’s popularity this November: he’s reached an all-time low in RealClearPolitics’s poll average, at 46.1 percent approval.

Trouble in Iran (and a reminder that delay in use of military force against the mullahs comes with a price): “Ahmad Vahidi said the new Mersad, or Ambush, air defense system would be able to hit modern aircraft at low and medium altitudes. According to a photo released by Iran’s Defense Ministry, the Mersad will launch Iran’s Shahin missiles, a local version of the 1970s-era US-manufactured Hawk missile. The Hawk missile has a range 24 kilometers with a 119-pound warhead and was sold the Iran before the 1979 Islamic revolution. Iran has been looking to upgrade its air defenses, especially as Israel has refused to rule out an airstrike over concerns that Teheran is developing nuclear weapons — a charge it denies.”

Trouble for those who vouched for or believed the CBO’s scoring on ObamaCare: “White House Budget Director Peter Orszag is arguing that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) underestimates the savings from President Barack Obama’s healthcare bill. CBO, the independent agency Orszag ran before he joined the Obama administration, said the legislation will reduce deficits $143 billion in its first decade and by even more — roughly 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent of gross domestic product — in its second decade. That would probably amount to more than $1 trillion in savings, but Orszag considers that a lowball estimate.” Hmm. Funny how this didn’t come up before.

Trouble for those who argued with a straight face for “engagement” with Iran: “Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday accused President Barack Obama of making nuclear threats against the Islamic Republic.” But they don’t ever admit error, do they?

Trouble for the “Close Guantanamo!” crowd: “So how’s President Obama’s detainee policy coming along? Slowly. A senior administration official would only say that discussions with Congress — that is, Democrats and Sen. Lindsey Graham — are ‘ongoing’ about a legal framework. But frustration at the lack of public backstop from the White House is pervasive among senior officials at the Departments of Justice, State and Defense, all of whom want the Guantanamo Bay detention camp closed and the prisoners properly dealt with.” Perhaps the White House has finally run out of enthusiasm for an unworkable and politically toxic campaign stunt.

Trouble for Jews: “Anti-Semitic incidents around the world more than doubled in 2009 over the previous year, posting their worst year since monitoring began two decades ago, according to a new survey. The total number of anti-Semitic incidents was 1,129 in 2009, compared to 559 in 2008, according to a report released Sunday by the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University. The record number of incidents — cases that show clear anti-Semitic content and intention — included 566 incidents of vandalism of Jewish property, which constituted 49 percent of all incidents. Hundreds of incidents against Jewish people and property did not meet the criteria, according to the institute. Incidents also go unreported. In Europe, Britain and France led with the number of incidents, according to the report.”

Read Less

Who Are They Gonna Believe?

This report from Politico neatly sums up the looming collision between reality and White House spin:

Mounting evidence that independent voters have soured on the Democrats is prompting a debate among party officials about what rhetorical and substantive changes are needed to halt the damage. Following serious setbacks with independents in off-year elections earlier this month, White House officials attributed the defeats to local factors and said President Barack Obama sees no need to reposition his own image or the Democratic message.

Democrats who must face the voters next year can read the polls. They see not simply a falling away of support by independents but also the underlying unease with the liberal big-government, big-spending agenda. Lawmakers may not be geniuses but they are smart enough to see that their own political future is at risk and that the likely culprit is Obamaism. The fear extends to the state level as they recognize the impact of Obama’s agenda on the elections in Virginia and New Jersey. One Democratic pollster observes: “The perception of what’s happening in Congress is polluting what’s happening down below.” And the problem isn’t regional:

Democrats are anxious about the prospects of five-term Sen. Chris Dodd in Connecticut, who trails one of his GOP opponents by 28 percentage points among independents in a prospective head-to-head matchup, and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, two Democratic incumbents with shrinking approval ratings among independent voters. A Des Moines Register poll released this weekend showed the first-term Culver trailing the GOP front-runner among independents by nearly 30 percentage points.

Hmm. Democrats had assured themselves that the Republicans were becoming a regional, all-Southern party. But that was before Obama and the Democrats in Congress spent nearly a year in control.

The Obami and the Democratic leadership in Congress, on the other hand, are putting their fingers in their ears to block out the sound of stampeding independents and to ignore the obvious explanation — the public does not share their zeal to remake America and reorder the relationship between government and citizenry, and between the public and private sectors. They have a leftward lurch to complete, and they aren’t about to let the voters get in the way. Their answer: more of the same! A government health-care takeover tops the list, which of course is increasingly unpopular among these same independents.

Democrats in Congress will have to decide whether they believe the polls and election results or the self-serving spin from the White House and their leadership, which is desperate to ram home ObamaCare before the 2010 election exacts its toll. Apparently, the Obama team is not going to adjust course to save their congressional allies, so the latter will have to fend for themselves. We’ll see if Step One in the “save their skins” program is to refashion ObamaCare from a monstrous government power grab to something voters might actually like.

This report from Politico neatly sums up the looming collision between reality and White House spin:

Mounting evidence that independent voters have soured on the Democrats is prompting a debate among party officials about what rhetorical and substantive changes are needed to halt the damage. Following serious setbacks with independents in off-year elections earlier this month, White House officials attributed the defeats to local factors and said President Barack Obama sees no need to reposition his own image or the Democratic message.

Democrats who must face the voters next year can read the polls. They see not simply a falling away of support by independents but also the underlying unease with the liberal big-government, big-spending agenda. Lawmakers may not be geniuses but they are smart enough to see that their own political future is at risk and that the likely culprit is Obamaism. The fear extends to the state level as they recognize the impact of Obama’s agenda on the elections in Virginia and New Jersey. One Democratic pollster observes: “The perception of what’s happening in Congress is polluting what’s happening down below.” And the problem isn’t regional:

Democrats are anxious about the prospects of five-term Sen. Chris Dodd in Connecticut, who trails one of his GOP opponents by 28 percentage points among independents in a prospective head-to-head matchup, and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, two Democratic incumbents with shrinking approval ratings among independent voters. A Des Moines Register poll released this weekend showed the first-term Culver trailing the GOP front-runner among independents by nearly 30 percentage points.

Hmm. Democrats had assured themselves that the Republicans were becoming a regional, all-Southern party. But that was before Obama and the Democrats in Congress spent nearly a year in control.

The Obami and the Democratic leadership in Congress, on the other hand, are putting their fingers in their ears to block out the sound of stampeding independents and to ignore the obvious explanation — the public does not share their zeal to remake America and reorder the relationship between government and citizenry, and between the public and private sectors. They have a leftward lurch to complete, and they aren’t about to let the voters get in the way. Their answer: more of the same! A government health-care takeover tops the list, which of course is increasingly unpopular among these same independents.

Democrats in Congress will have to decide whether they believe the polls and election results or the self-serving spin from the White House and their leadership, which is desperate to ram home ObamaCare before the 2010 election exacts its toll. Apparently, the Obama team is not going to adjust course to save their congressional allies, so the latter will have to fend for themselves. We’ll see if Step One in the “save their skins” program is to refashion ObamaCare from a monstrous government power grab to something voters might actually like.

Read Less

A Tale of Two Elections

Last night, after the New York Post‘s investigative journalism had rendered a stringent gag order on the media ineffective, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert finally spoke out regarding the scandal that has shrouded his office for the past week. In a gloomy tone, Olmert denied taking bribes from an American businessman, and vowed that he would resign from office if indicted. At the moment, it remains unclear what the fallout will be, and two options remain if Olmert is forced from office: either a new government will form under Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, or new elections will be held.

In the event that new elections are held, this would mark the first time in two decades that the U.S. presidential and Israeli Knesset campaigns coincided. But unlike in 1988, when the pro-Israel positions of both major U.S. candidates satisfied the Israeli public, the 2008 presidential elections will most likely feature a Democratic nominee that many American Jews–and, in turn, many Israelis–don’t sufficiently trust on Israel.

Here’s my prediction: Israeli front-runner Benjamin Netanyahu will use this mistrust of Obama to decry negotiations with the Palestinians as forcefully as ever on the campaign trail, thus validating his staunch rejectionism if elected. Expect the argument to sound something like this: Israel not only lacks a negotiating partner in the Palestinians, but will lack a credible mediator in Obama if he’s elected, which appears likely. Indeed, this process is already starting, with Netanyahu’s aides leaking that American Jewish community leaders recently approached the Likud opposition leader to share their concerns regarding Obama–a stunning break from the taboo against Israeli politicos weighing in on American presidential candidates.

Insofar as Israeli-Palestinian peace remains a key U.S. strategic interest in the Middle East, Netanyahu’s election under these terms would be a disaster for U.S.-Israel relations. Granted, Netanyahu was hardly an eager participant in the U.S.-sponsored Oslo process during his first term as prime minister; however, at the time, he was still diplomatically bound to an agreement that his predecessors had signed, and therefore compelled to go through the motions. But with Oslo long dead and Obama the general election front-runner, Netanyahu is no longer constrained, and his very rationale for opposing the Annapolis meeting–“They are giving away everything and getting nothing”–indicates that outright rejection of the land-for-peace principle might soon make its return to Prime Minister’s office.

Last night, after the New York Post‘s investigative journalism had rendered a stringent gag order on the media ineffective, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert finally spoke out regarding the scandal that has shrouded his office for the past week. In a gloomy tone, Olmert denied taking bribes from an American businessman, and vowed that he would resign from office if indicted. At the moment, it remains unclear what the fallout will be, and two options remain if Olmert is forced from office: either a new government will form under Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, or new elections will be held.

In the event that new elections are held, this would mark the first time in two decades that the U.S. presidential and Israeli Knesset campaigns coincided. But unlike in 1988, when the pro-Israel positions of both major U.S. candidates satisfied the Israeli public, the 2008 presidential elections will most likely feature a Democratic nominee that many American Jews–and, in turn, many Israelis–don’t sufficiently trust on Israel.

Here’s my prediction: Israeli front-runner Benjamin Netanyahu will use this mistrust of Obama to decry negotiations with the Palestinians as forcefully as ever on the campaign trail, thus validating his staunch rejectionism if elected. Expect the argument to sound something like this: Israel not only lacks a negotiating partner in the Palestinians, but will lack a credible mediator in Obama if he’s elected, which appears likely. Indeed, this process is already starting, with Netanyahu’s aides leaking that American Jewish community leaders recently approached the Likud opposition leader to share their concerns regarding Obama–a stunning break from the taboo against Israeli politicos weighing in on American presidential candidates.

Insofar as Israeli-Palestinian peace remains a key U.S. strategic interest in the Middle East, Netanyahu’s election under these terms would be a disaster for U.S.-Israel relations. Granted, Netanyahu was hardly an eager participant in the U.S.-sponsored Oslo process during his first term as prime minister; however, at the time, he was still diplomatically bound to an agreement that his predecessors had signed, and therefore compelled to go through the motions. But with Oslo long dead and Obama the general election front-runner, Netanyahu is no longer constrained, and his very rationale for opposing the Annapolis meeting–“They are giving away everything and getting nothing”–indicates that outright rejection of the land-for-peace principle might soon make its return to Prime Minister’s office.

Read Less

Eating Crow

It wasn’t enough for me to predict, as I did on Monday, that Barack Obama would defeat Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire. Noooo. I had to predict that Obama would sink the Clinton campaign and end the Clinton Era. I even provided a eulogy. About predictions and punditry I can only say, echoing the emotional words of Senator Clinton from earlier this week, “It’s not easy.” But in the best pundit tradition, I’ll simply plow ahead, chastened but unbowed.

Some thoughts, then, on last night:

1. Hillary Clinton’s comeback was at least as impressive as what her husband did 16 years ago (he came in second in New Hampshire). A campaign that by all accounts, including her own staff, was collapsing not only stopped the free-fall; it emerged with a victory. One Clinton adviser told the Washington Post’s Dan Balz that no one in the campaign foresaw the result. And so a race that most observers thought was going to provide clarity is now as fluid (if less fractured) than the Republican race. Hillary Clinton won among women, seniors, low-income Americans and union voters; Obama won among men, young voters, high-income earners, and independents. And almost one-fifth of Democratic voters made up their mind on whom to vote for on the final day (the figure was only slightly less for Republicans). This is an indicator of just how unstable things are.

2. The Obama loss shocked almost everyone who follows politics in part, I think, because the enthusiasm for him in New Hampshire was real (the snaking lines of people waiting to hear his speeches were not imaginary)–and he made no apparent errors or missteps which would explain why his momentum came to a skidding halt.

3. Obama supporters, having had a decisive victory within their grasp, must be crestfallen. To let an opportunity like that slip away can haunt a campaign. But Obama is still well positioned. After two attempted coronations–-first hers and then his–the Democratic race is a toss up. And if you’re a Democrat this year it’s worth avoiding, at all costs, the appellation “front runner.”

4. The Obama loss will now put new and intense scrutiny on him. Clinton absorbed an enormous blow in Iowa and recovered. Will he? It’ll be fascinating to see how Obama, as well as the newly aggressive and negative Clinton campaign, wil respond.

5. The two candidates who emerged victorious last night, John McCain and Hillary Clinton, both had been declared finished–McCain in the summer of ’07 and Clinton after her loss in Iowa last week. This is a year of political resurrections.

6. Whatever flaws he has, and he does have them, McCain early on tied his campaign to the success of the surge and the success of America at war. That was admirable–and if you’re going to win a primary, being on the right side of the war is a pretty good reason to do so.

7. Based on the Democratic results in New Hampshire, we can say with high confidence that political polling–at least in New Hampshire, among Democrats–is about as reliable as our National Intelligence Estimates of Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs.

Last night Democrats could have turned the page on the Clinton Era. The voters of New Hampshire politely and emphatically declined. Time will tell if that was a wise decision or not. But for now, they’re baaack.


It wasn’t enough for me to predict, as I did on Monday, that Barack Obama would defeat Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire. Noooo. I had to predict that Obama would sink the Clinton campaign and end the Clinton Era. I even provided a eulogy. About predictions and punditry I can only say, echoing the emotional words of Senator Clinton from earlier this week, “It’s not easy.” But in the best pundit tradition, I’ll simply plow ahead, chastened but unbowed.

Some thoughts, then, on last night:

1. Hillary Clinton’s comeback was at least as impressive as what her husband did 16 years ago (he came in second in New Hampshire). A campaign that by all accounts, including her own staff, was collapsing not only stopped the free-fall; it emerged with a victory. One Clinton adviser told the Washington Post’s Dan Balz that no one in the campaign foresaw the result. And so a race that most observers thought was going to provide clarity is now as fluid (if less fractured) than the Republican race. Hillary Clinton won among women, seniors, low-income Americans and union voters; Obama won among men, young voters, high-income earners, and independents. And almost one-fifth of Democratic voters made up their mind on whom to vote for on the final day (the figure was only slightly less for Republicans). This is an indicator of just how unstable things are.

2. The Obama loss shocked almost everyone who follows politics in part, I think, because the enthusiasm for him in New Hampshire was real (the snaking lines of people waiting to hear his speeches were not imaginary)–and he made no apparent errors or missteps which would explain why his momentum came to a skidding halt.

3. Obama supporters, having had a decisive victory within their grasp, must be crestfallen. To let an opportunity like that slip away can haunt a campaign. But Obama is still well positioned. After two attempted coronations–-first hers and then his–the Democratic race is a toss up. And if you’re a Democrat this year it’s worth avoiding, at all costs, the appellation “front runner.”

4. The Obama loss will now put new and intense scrutiny on him. Clinton absorbed an enormous blow in Iowa and recovered. Will he? It’ll be fascinating to see how Obama, as well as the newly aggressive and negative Clinton campaign, wil respond.

5. The two candidates who emerged victorious last night, John McCain and Hillary Clinton, both had been declared finished–McCain in the summer of ’07 and Clinton after her loss in Iowa last week. This is a year of political resurrections.

6. Whatever flaws he has, and he does have them, McCain early on tied his campaign to the success of the surge and the success of America at war. That was admirable–and if you’re going to win a primary, being on the right side of the war is a pretty good reason to do so.

7. Based on the Democratic results in New Hampshire, we can say with high confidence that political polling–at least in New Hampshire, among Democrats–is about as reliable as our National Intelligence Estimates of Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs.

Last night Democrats could have turned the page on the Clinton Era. The voters of New Hampshire politely and emphatically declined. Time will tell if that was a wise decision or not. But for now, they’re baaack.


Read Less

Nepotism is Good

Back in 1992, with a group of other Americans scholars, I had a lovely visit to North Korea to talk about world politics with our counterparts at a Pyongyang think tank. Kim Il Sung, the legendary “Great Leader” was running the show back then, and it was already obvious that his son, Kim Jong Il — known then as the “Dear Leader” — was the heir apparent.

I pressed our hosts about the succession issue, and how the dynastic principle could fit within the Marxist-Juche framework, the official ideology instilled in every North Korean man, woman, and child at birth. Their replies — each of the scholars said exactly the same thing in exactly the same words — made it very clear that their brand of Marxism was exceptionally supple; it could explain and glorify anything and everything that Kim Il Sung ever decreed or did.

Kim Il Sung managed to transfer power to his son upon his death in 1994. But how will Kim Jong Il, at age 66, fare?

USA Today has a highly informative story today, introducing us to the cast of characters “in North Korea’s ‘My Three Sons.’” Unless the regime collapses, one of them is likely to assume power at some point in the next decade or so.

Kim Jong Nam, 36 is Kim Jong Il’s eldest son. According to USA Today, this “would seem to give him an edge in a Confucian society that values seniority. But his pedigree is tainted by illegitimacy. His mother was Song Hye Rim, an actress who had a lengthy relationship with Kim Jong Il but never married him.” What’s more, Jong Nam is obese and unruly. In 2001, he was apprehended attempting to enter Japan with a fraudulent Chinese passport — under the Chinese name Pang Xiong, or “Fat Bear” — with the intention of visiting Tokyo’s Disneyland.  

Kim Jong Chul, 26. would seem to be the front runner. A cult of personality has already developed around his mother, one of several of Kim Jong Il’s wives. USA Today reports that Jong Chul has been educated in Switzerland and was seen attending an Eric Clapton concert in Germany last year. Has his exposure to the West made him soft? Let us hope so. 

Kim Jong Woon, 23 or 24,  may be young, but evidently he is also ambitious. South Korean media reports say that his mother has “ordered high-ranking North Korean officials to start calling him ‘the Morning Star General’ in an apparent bid to put him in the succession race.”

When are the fireworks likely to start? Life expectancy in North Korea is reported to be 72, which seems far too high, given the famines and other afflictions that have descended on the country in recent years. Of course, Kim Jong Il is well fed and well-tended to, so the average North Korean figure is irrelevant as far as he is concerned. But even if his personal life-expectancy is more like the South Korean average of 78, the succession issue will inevitably be upon him before too long.

Succession is a always a weak link of dictatorships, especially Marxists dictatorships. The classic study of the problem is Myron Rush’s Political Succession in the USSR. In North Korea’s case, the risks of running such an absolute Marxist monarchy would seem to be great. But so undoubtedly are the perquisites. If Kim Jong Nam gets the slot, he wouldn’t have to travel incognito to Disneyland; he could make an official visit, or better yet, build his own.

 

Back in 1992, with a group of other Americans scholars, I had a lovely visit to North Korea to talk about world politics with our counterparts at a Pyongyang think tank. Kim Il Sung, the legendary “Great Leader” was running the show back then, and it was already obvious that his son, Kim Jong Il — known then as the “Dear Leader” — was the heir apparent.

I pressed our hosts about the succession issue, and how the dynastic principle could fit within the Marxist-Juche framework, the official ideology instilled in every North Korean man, woman, and child at birth. Their replies — each of the scholars said exactly the same thing in exactly the same words — made it very clear that their brand of Marxism was exceptionally supple; it could explain and glorify anything and everything that Kim Il Sung ever decreed or did.

Kim Il Sung managed to transfer power to his son upon his death in 1994. But how will Kim Jong Il, at age 66, fare?

USA Today has a highly informative story today, introducing us to the cast of characters “in North Korea’s ‘My Three Sons.’” Unless the regime collapses, one of them is likely to assume power at some point in the next decade or so.

Kim Jong Nam, 36 is Kim Jong Il’s eldest son. According to USA Today, this “would seem to give him an edge in a Confucian society that values seniority. But his pedigree is tainted by illegitimacy. His mother was Song Hye Rim, an actress who had a lengthy relationship with Kim Jong Il but never married him.” What’s more, Jong Nam is obese and unruly. In 2001, he was apprehended attempting to enter Japan with a fraudulent Chinese passport — under the Chinese name Pang Xiong, or “Fat Bear” — with the intention of visiting Tokyo’s Disneyland.  

Kim Jong Chul, 26. would seem to be the front runner. A cult of personality has already developed around his mother, one of several of Kim Jong Il’s wives. USA Today reports that Jong Chul has been educated in Switzerland and was seen attending an Eric Clapton concert in Germany last year. Has his exposure to the West made him soft? Let us hope so. 

Kim Jong Woon, 23 or 24,  may be young, but evidently he is also ambitious. South Korean media reports say that his mother has “ordered high-ranking North Korean officials to start calling him ‘the Morning Star General’ in an apparent bid to put him in the succession race.”

When are the fireworks likely to start? Life expectancy in North Korea is reported to be 72, which seems far too high, given the famines and other afflictions that have descended on the country in recent years. Of course, Kim Jong Il is well fed and well-tended to, so the average North Korean figure is irrelevant as far as he is concerned. But even if his personal life-expectancy is more like the South Korean average of 78, the succession issue will inevitably be upon him before too long.

Succession is a always a weak link of dictatorships, especially Marxists dictatorships. The classic study of the problem is Myron Rush’s Political Succession in the USSR. In North Korea’s case, the risks of running such an absolute Marxist monarchy would seem to be great. But so undoubtedly are the perquisites. If Kim Jong Nam gets the slot, he wouldn’t have to travel incognito to Disneyland; he could make an official visit, or better yet, build his own.

 

Read Less

Fascism Old and New

As the jury and contestants entered the second round of Stuttgart’s triennial classical song competition last week, organized by the Internationale Hugo Wolf Akademie, idealistic young singers and pianists performed lieder by Robert Schumann and Wolf, often alluding optimistically to a better world. A brief break offered time for a stroll through one of Stuttgart’s parks, where high school girls jogged dispiritedly, sidestepping piles of horse dung. I walked to the Hegel-Haus, the birthplace of the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel. On display in the charmingly spare little house were letters from Hegel’s friends, stressing the importance of freedom: “Vive la liberté” writes one, while another quotes Klopstock, an 18th century German poet who cheered the American Revolution.

Read More

As the jury and contestants entered the second round of Stuttgart’s triennial classical song competition last week, organized by the Internationale Hugo Wolf Akademie, idealistic young singers and pianists performed lieder by Robert Schumann and Wolf, often alluding optimistically to a better world. A brief break offered time for a stroll through one of Stuttgart’s parks, where high school girls jogged dispiritedly, sidestepping piles of horse dung. I walked to the Hegel-Haus, the birthplace of the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel. On display in the charmingly spare little house were letters from Hegel’s friends, stressing the importance of freedom: “Vive la liberté” writes one, while another quotes Klopstock, an 18th century German poet who cheered the American Revolution.

Such echoes of the so-called German Idealism movement are all the more timely as the current talk of the town is about Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne, who on September 14th made a speech at the opening of a new art museum in which he stated: “Wherever culture is separated from the worship of God, cult atrophies into ritualism and art becomes degenerate.” The word “degenerate” inevitably hearkens back to Nazi-era jargon, as local newspapers were quick to point out; the Nazi’s notorious 1937 Munich “Degenerate Art” exhibit was intended to ridicule modernist paintings. Meisner’s statement was followed by a backlash of articles defending the Cardinal from “Meisner-Bashing” by the so-called “word-police” This vehement support was to be expected, since Meisner controls a vast empire of real estate and church-owned media, stoked by the highest annual donation rate in Germany, estimated at around 680 million euros per annum. In 2005, Meisner asserted that women who have an abortion are comparable to mass killers like Hitler and Stalin. Stephan Kramer, General Secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, noted that Meisner repeatedly “misuses language as a taboo-breaker. If that sets an example, we should not be surprised if Nazi beliefs become respectable again.”

Meanwhile, in between sessions of idealistic song, equal concern is devoted to the Swiss national elections scheduled for October 21, where the front-runner is a billionaire named Christoph Blocher, Switzerland’s current Justice Minister. Blocher’s campaign, featuring a poster of a black sheep kicked off the Swiss flag by three white sheep under the caption: “For More Security,” has been called fascist, racist, and perhaps worst of all, “un-Swiss.” Blocher’s wealth has also bought him a TV program during which servile interviewers, likened to East German broadcasters in the old Communist days, ask him adoring questions. While Europe ponders these reminders of oppression old and new, it is particularly useful to focus on the optimistic message of an international gathering like the Wolf Akademie’s lieder contest, where the sheep are dismissed only if they hit wrong notes, not if the color of their wool offends.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.