Commentary Magazine


Topic: George W. Bush

My Return to the White House

I returned to the White House today for the presentation of the portraits of President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush. The event included remarks by the current and former presidents, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Mrs. Bush. The spirit of the event was quite nice; the president was congenial, while Mrs. Obama was warm and charitable. But this moment belonged to America’s 43rd president and his wife. President Bush’s words were moving (particularly when speaking about his father), humorous, and gracious.

Having served in the White House for almost the entire two terms of the Bush presidency, returning to the White House activated memories that had begun to fade just a bit – from the events of 9/11, to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, to Bush’s re-election, to the worst days of the Iraq war. Some of these events felt like they happened a time long ago and far away; and yet sitting in the East Room also felt familiar, almost as if the White House years had never ended. On a personal level, it was a joy to renew friendships with former colleagues, among whom can be counted some of the finest public servants imaginable.

As for President Bush, I am the first to admit I am not an entirely objective observer of the man. But I did have the benefit of having seen him up close during challenging and consequential times, and in ways that not many other Americans could ever really know. Virtually every person who worked for him or got to know him can testify to his enormous personal decency and integrity. He was one of the gutsiest politicians of our lifetime. (Consider among other things his commitment to the surge in Iraq when almost everyone else had given up on the war.) And he showed great mercy in helping the people of Africa and a ferocious commitment to pursuing his main duty, protecting our country.

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I returned to the White House today for the presentation of the portraits of President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush. The event included remarks by the current and former presidents, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Mrs. Bush. The spirit of the event was quite nice; the president was congenial, while Mrs. Obama was warm and charitable. But this moment belonged to America’s 43rd president and his wife. President Bush’s words were moving (particularly when speaking about his father), humorous, and gracious.

Having served in the White House for almost the entire two terms of the Bush presidency, returning to the White House activated memories that had begun to fade just a bit – from the events of 9/11, to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, to Bush’s re-election, to the worst days of the Iraq war. Some of these events felt like they happened a time long ago and far away; and yet sitting in the East Room also felt familiar, almost as if the White House years had never ended. On a personal level, it was a joy to renew friendships with former colleagues, among whom can be counted some of the finest public servants imaginable.

As for President Bush, I am the first to admit I am not an entirely objective observer of the man. But I did have the benefit of having seen him up close during challenging and consequential times, and in ways that not many other Americans could ever really know. Virtually every person who worked for him or got to know him can testify to his enormous personal decency and integrity. He was one of the gutsiest politicians of our lifetime. (Consider among other things his commitment to the surge in Iraq when almost everyone else had given up on the war.) And he showed great mercy in helping the people of Africa and a ferocious commitment to pursuing his main duty, protecting our country.

George W. Bush was hardly flawless, and certainly neither were those of us who worked under him. Yet having faced crises of considerable dimensions, President Bush served his nation exceedingly well and with honor.

“We cannot live our dreams,” Oliver Wendell Holmes said in summing up his years on the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. “We are lucky enough if we can give a sample of our best, and if in our hearts we can feel that it has been nobly done.”

President Bush gave his best; and in his heart, he can take some comfort that it was nobly done.

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How Irrelevant is Amnesty International?

The news that Amnesty International’s annual report on the state of the world has condemned the American raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan, as “unlawful” should surprise no one. The group’s obtuse effort to brand every effort of the United States to defend itself against terrorists has long since reached the level of parody. Where once it could claim some moral legitimacy as a neutral compiler and observer of human rights violations wherever they were committed, the decision of the group to treat the West’s ongoing conflict with al-Qaeda and its Islamist allies as if it were a matter of American persecution of Third World innocents has lost Amnesty its last shred of credibility.

The defense of Osama bin Laden’s right to life and liberty should place the group’s criticisms of Israel’s efforts to fend off Palestinian terrorism in perspective. While human rights monitors are vital in a world where tyrannies are still commonplace, the inability of groups like AI to tell the difference between the perpetrators of violence and those attempting to defend themselves is a fatal flaw that has rendered them irrelevant to useful discussions about how to advance the cause of humanity.

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The news that Amnesty International’s annual report on the state of the world has condemned the American raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan, as “unlawful” should surprise no one. The group’s obtuse effort to brand every effort of the United States to defend itself against terrorists has long since reached the level of parody. Where once it could claim some moral legitimacy as a neutral compiler and observer of human rights violations wherever they were committed, the decision of the group to treat the West’s ongoing conflict with al-Qaeda and its Islamist allies as if it were a matter of American persecution of Third World innocents has lost Amnesty its last shred of credibility.

The defense of Osama bin Laden’s right to life and liberty should place the group’s criticisms of Israel’s efforts to fend off Palestinian terrorism in perspective. While human rights monitors are vital in a world where tyrannies are still commonplace, the inability of groups like AI to tell the difference between the perpetrators of violence and those attempting to defend themselves is a fatal flaw that has rendered them irrelevant to useful discussions about how to advance the cause of humanity.

It’s not clear there was ever a time when Amnesty International deserved the moral standing that some in the press have accorded it. The human rights group’s greatest strength was its willingness to take on all countries, including those beloved of the left. That meant rather than just focus its attention on the alleged abuses of the West, it also devoted a great deal of attention on those nations where denial of human rights was not the exception to the rule but the whole point of the state apparatus. If that meant treating the Soviet Union as being on the same moral plane as the United States, we were instructed that this was the price to be paid for having a group lionized by the left pay some attention to the plight of those imprisoned in the Gulag Archipelago. But a willingness to treat genuine problems in democratic countries where the rule of law is respected as no different from dictatorships and totalitarian regimes was always absurd. Now it has been overshadowed by the group’s inability to comprehend that states have a right to defend themselves against terrorists.

In the case of Israel, the group largely ignores the fact that Gaza became a Hamas terrorist state after the Israeli withdrawal in 2005, and then its tyrannical Islamist masters allowed its territory to be used as a launching pad for terror strikes. Gaza’s leaders are at war with Israel, but AI treats the Jewish state’s attempts to keep military hardware out of the hands of those terrorists as a violation of human rights even though the flow of food and medicine into the area has not stopped. Israel is not perfect, but it is a functioning democracy where all have access to courts and a free press. The fact that AI also criticizes Hamas and Fatah for their tyrannical rule over Palestinians in the Gaza and West Bank doesn’t provide legitimacy for the group’s stands that have the effect of delegitimizing democratic Israel’s right of self-defense.

It’s not that every instance cited by AI is false. Many of their reports are reliable, especially those that note problems in the Third World, that few in the so-called human rights community that is obsessed with destroying Israel, care about. The organization’s commitment to neutrality in conflicts is fine, the problem is that this has always brought with it a willingness to treat every country and cause as morally equivalent. Such a stance has led them to condemn the raid on Osama bin Laden and in the same report condemn Canada for not arresting former President George W. Bush on bogus human rights charges. AI isn’t just a joke anymore; it’s rendered itself completely irrelevant to the cause that it claims to cherish.

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George W. Bush and the Freedom Agenda

President Bush returned to Washington earlier this week to mark the opening of the “Freedom Collection” at the Bush Institute in Dallas. At the event, President Bush gave a speech that was turned into an op-ed  for the Wall Street Journal that’s worth reading.

President Bush offered a sophisticated critique of (among other things) the so-called Arab Spring. “The collapse of an old order can unleash resentments and power struggles that a new order is not yet prepared to handle,” the former president said. Years of transition can be difficult. He acknowledged that there is nothing easy about the achievement of freedom. But Bush pointed out that there is an inbuilt crisis in tyrannies, which is that they are illegitimate and, eventually, citizens rise up against them. Regardless of their culture, people don’t want to be subject to repression, violence, and the lash of the whip.

Egypt is a good example. Whatever one thinks about the short, medium, and long-term prospects there – and there are certainly reasons for concern —  the revolution itself was organic. America didn’t provoke the uprising and, until the 11th hour, we stood with Hosni Mubarak. We were essentially bystanders to events there. Mubarak did not take the necessary steps for reform and liberation when he could  — and in the end, he was consumed by the resentments and hatreds he helped to create.

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, then, tectonic plates are shifting, whether we like it or not. What does that mean for American policy? Read More

President Bush returned to Washington earlier this week to mark the opening of the “Freedom Collection” at the Bush Institute in Dallas. At the event, President Bush gave a speech that was turned into an op-ed  for the Wall Street Journal that’s worth reading.

President Bush offered a sophisticated critique of (among other things) the so-called Arab Spring. “The collapse of an old order can unleash resentments and power struggles that a new order is not yet prepared to handle,” the former president said. Years of transition can be difficult. He acknowledged that there is nothing easy about the achievement of freedom. But Bush pointed out that there is an inbuilt crisis in tyrannies, which is that they are illegitimate and, eventually, citizens rise up against them. Regardless of their culture, people don’t want to be subject to repression, violence, and the lash of the whip.

Egypt is a good example. Whatever one thinks about the short, medium, and long-term prospects there – and there are certainly reasons for concern —  the revolution itself was organic. America didn’t provoke the uprising and, until the 11th hour, we stood with Hosni Mubarak. We were essentially bystanders to events there. Mubarak did not take the necessary steps for reform and liberation when he could  — and in the end, he was consumed by the resentments and hatreds he helped to create.

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, then, tectonic plates are shifting, whether we like it or not. What does that mean for American policy?

According to America’s 43rd president:

As Americans, our goal should be to help reformers turn the end of tyranny into durable, accountable civic structures. Emerging democracies need strong constitutions, political parties committed to pluralism, and free elections. Free societies depend upon the rule of law and property rights, and they require hopeful economies, drawn into open world markets.

This work will require patience, creativity and active American leadership. It will involve the strengthening of civil society—with a particular emphasis on the role of women. It will require a consistent defense of religious liberty. It will mean the encouragement of development, education and health, as well as trade and foreign investment. There will certainly be setbacks. But if America does not support the advance of democratic institutions and values, who will?

It’s important to bear in mind that the United States’ transition to freedom was hardly smooth. Nearly a century after our liberation from Great Britain we fought what the historian Daniel J. Boorstin called “probably the bloodiest civil war of the 19th century and perhaps even of all modern history.” It was, he said, “the great trauma of our national life.” With the Civil War on our record, we might want to show a bit of patience toward those who are emerging from broken and pathologized societies.

To be clear: the overthrow of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes does not always end well. One form of tyranny can give way to another. As Bush said in his speech, “Freedom is a powerful force.  But it does not advance on wheels of historical inevitability. And it is history that proves this point. The American Revolution of 1776 produced George Washington, who embodied the democratic habits of a new nation. The French Revolution of 1789 eventually produced Napoleon, who set out to conquer Europe. The outcome of a freedom revolution is determined by human choices and the creation of durable democratic traditions.”

To return to the here and now: Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafi could be much worse than Egypt under Mubarak. But the revolution came. We couldn’t have stopped it even if we wanted to. The pertinent question is whether the United States has either the interest or the capacity to help shape the outcome there and elsewhere in the Muslim world in ways that strengthen civil society and advance genuine human liberty; in ways that bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice, one might say.

Once upon a time, the United States had a president – several presidents, in fact – who cared about such things. Today, it’s not at all clear that we do.

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Obama’s Afghan Policy Speech: Two Halves That Don’t Add Up

You have to hand it to President Obama. He delivered a great speech from Bagram Air Base last night — one that sounded tough yet reasonable, even while skillfully eliding all the tough questions about his Afghan policy.

In fact, he won even before he opened his mouth: the image of the president, standing in front of two hulking MRAP armored vehicles, at a military base in a war zone, was a powerful visual reminder of the stature and power of the commander-in-chief. President Bush certainly made good use of the prerogatives of the office to establish himself in the public’s eye as a strong leader, and Obama showed he was a worthy successor in that regard.

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You have to hand it to President Obama. He delivered a great speech from Bagram Air Base last night — one that sounded tough yet reasonable, even while skillfully eliding all the tough questions about his Afghan policy.

In fact, he won even before he opened his mouth: the image of the president, standing in front of two hulking MRAP armored vehicles, at a military base in a war zone, was a powerful visual reminder of the stature and power of the commander-in-chief. President Bush certainly made good use of the prerogatives of the office to establish himself in the public’s eye as a strong leader, and Obama showed he was a worthy successor in that regard.

The substance of the speech—somber and serious and largely free of election-year politicking—was of a piece with its setting. The headline event was the signing of a U.S.-Afghan Security Partnership Agreement earlier in the day. Obama announced that “the agreement we signed today sends a clear message to the Afghan people: as you stand up, you will not stand alone.” He then made an argument for why it is important to stay the course in Afghanistan—”to make sure that al-Qaeda could never again use this country to launch attacks against us.” He also spoke of the progress that U.S. and allied troops are making toward achieving that objective.

It could just as easily have been George W. Bush rather than Barack Obama making those statements. In fact, Obama borrowed the “as you stand up” phrasing from his predecessor.

But the speech was finely balanced so it gave hope to doves as well as hawks. Obama once again iterated that his objectives are relatively narrow—”our goal is not to build a country in America’s image, or to eradicate every vestige of the Taliban”—and that he has a clear timeline for bringing troops home: “Last year, we removed 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Another 23,000 will leave by the end of the summer. After that, reductions will continue at a steady pace, with more of our troops coming home. And as our coalition agreed, by the end of 2014 the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country.”

All of that sounds eminently reasonable—until you start to question whether the two halves of his policy add up. Is it actually possible to bring the troops home on the timeline he envisions, while also cutting funding for the Afghan security forces, and still achieve his goal of an Afghanistan secure enough to never again become a haven for al-Qaeda? I hope so, but I have grave doubts. I fear that President Obama may have put his objective of troop withdrawal ahead of his competing objective of stabilizing Afghanistan and “delivering justice to al-Qaeda.”

But Obama remains the master of projecting an air of serious, cerebral centrism—at least when he is not in full Republican-bashing campaign mode. And he was not at Bagram. He was at his best, making a deeply ambivalent policy—a policy at war with itself—seem like the only way to go.

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Dan Rather and His Great White Whale

Dan Rather was once at the top of the journalistic universe, having replaced Walter Cronkite as the anchor of the “CBS Evening News” (when network news broadcasts still meant something). But then came a story meant to smear President George W. Bush, based on forged documents that were almost immediately revealed as such. Then (as this Daily Beast story recounts) came the Rather apology; the revelation that CBS News could no longer vouch for their credibility; the CBS-commissioned investigation faulting Rather and his top producer, Mary Mapes; and finally, the end of Rather’s career at CBS.

Now nearly 80 years old and hawking a new book, Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News, Rather insists the forged documents are accurate. “I believe them to be genuine. I did at the time, I did in the immediate aftermath of it, and yes, I do now.”

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Dan Rather was once at the top of the journalistic universe, having replaced Walter Cronkite as the anchor of the “CBS Evening News” (when network news broadcasts still meant something). But then came a story meant to smear President George W. Bush, based on forged documents that were almost immediately revealed as such. Then (as this Daily Beast story recounts) came the Rather apology; the revelation that CBS News could no longer vouch for their credibility; the CBS-commissioned investigation faulting Rather and his top producer, Mary Mapes; and finally, the end of Rather’s career at CBS.

Now nearly 80 years old and hawking a new book, Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News, Rather insists the forged documents are accurate. “I believe them to be genuine. I did at the time, I did in the immediate aftermath of it, and yes, I do now.”

This claim is silly, as this 224-page Report of the Independent Review Panel makes clear. (While CBS’s independent panel report didn’t specifically take up the question of whether the documents were forgeries, it retained a document expert, Peter Tytell, who concluded that the documents in question were “not produced on a typewriter in the early 1970s and therefore were not authentic.”) Three years after the story, Rather filed a $70 million lawsuit against CBS and its parent company, Viacom, claiming he had been made a “scapegoat.” In 2009, a New York State Appeals Court said Rather’s $70 million complaint should be dismissed in its entirety, and that a lower court erred in denying CBS’s motion to throw out the lawsuit.

What appears to have happened is that Rather cannot emotionally or psychologically accept that the Bush National Guard story was built on lies, which ended up destroying his career. And so he has become a desperate, embittered man, frantically trying to vindicate his name, unable to see that his efforts merely remind us what a pitiable figure he has become.

“To the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”  These are the words of Captain Ahab as he tosses his harpoon toward the great white whale.

Dan Rather may want to reacquaint himself with Moby Dick. Things didn’t end well for the obsessive and revenge-seeking Captain Ahab. And they’re not ending well for Rather, either.

 

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Obama Will Have to Walk Fine Line on Foreign Policy Message

Vice President Biden gave a foreign policy address at NYU this morning, which, as you could probably guess, included numerous references to the fact that Osama bin Laden is no longer alive. But Biden also floated a new addition to the campaign’s OBL-centric foreign policy message by warning that a Mitt Romney presidency would be a rerun of the George W. Bush years.

“[Romney] takes us back to the failed policies that President Obama has dug us out of,” said Biden. “He would take us back to dangerous and discredited policy that would…make America less secure.”

The bulk of Biden’s speech was focused on attacking Romney. But it was full of apparent contradictions: Romney is too much of a hard-liner, but also can’t be counted on to make tough decisions. Romney is too inexperienced, and yet Obama was fully prepared in 2008. Romney has no interest in foreign policy and would outsource decisions to the State Department, and yet he’s also a dangerous ideologue who is “mired in a Cold War mindset.”

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Vice President Biden gave a foreign policy address at NYU this morning, which, as you could probably guess, included numerous references to the fact that Osama bin Laden is no longer alive. But Biden also floated a new addition to the campaign’s OBL-centric foreign policy message by warning that a Mitt Romney presidency would be a rerun of the George W. Bush years.

“[Romney] takes us back to the failed policies that President Obama has dug us out of,” said Biden. “He would take us back to dangerous and discredited policy that would…make America less secure.”

The bulk of Biden’s speech was focused on attacking Romney. But it was full of apparent contradictions: Romney is too much of a hard-liner, but also can’t be counted on to make tough decisions. Romney is too inexperienced, and yet Obama was fully prepared in 2008. Romney has no interest in foreign policy and would outsource decisions to the State Department, and yet he’s also a dangerous ideologue who is “mired in a Cold War mindset.”

The speech illustrated the difficult line the Obama campaign will have to walk on its foreign policy message. It will have to simultaneously tout its accomplishments, which have practically all been achieved through the continuation (and escalation) of robust, Bush-era policies, while attacking Romney as Bush redux.

Yes, Obama has succeeded at killing a large number of al-Qaeda targets – but he did this by ramping up the drone program. Yes, Obama was able to locate and kill Osama bin Laden – but he did this by using intelligence and gathering methods put into place by the Bush administration. Yes, Obama has increased Iran’s isolation in the world – but only because hawks in Congress strong-armed him into implementing sanctions that he originally opposed.

Biden had to argue today that Romney would be too meek and indecisive to accomplish these things, but was also so hawkish and ideological that he would lead the U.S. into dangerous conflicts. It was a disjointed message, and one that didn’t draw much applause from the audience full of NYU students at the College Democrat event.

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Making a Federal Case Out of Jerusalem

Last year, I suggested there was no need for President Obama to make a federal case out of Menachem Zivotofsky’s request to have “Israel” designated on his passport as his place of birth, pursuant to a law giving Americans born in Jerusalem the right to that designation if they requested. My idea — which I thought might resonate with Obama — was to blame Bush!

Congress enacted the law in 2002; President Bush signed it, but said he would not enforce it; Obama had campaigned against Bush’s many signing statements, saying a president generally had only two choices – sign a bill or veto it; and Obama could have said he was simply faithfully executing a law his predecessor had signed. If he wanted, Obama could have done what President Clinton did regarding Taiwan: comply with the passport law while declaring American foreign policy remained unchanged. Case closed! But Obama proceeded to the Supreme Court, which ruled the issue can be adjudicated; and because the controversy continues, we may continue to be treated to colloquies like the one at the State Department yesterday.

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Last year, I suggested there was no need for President Obama to make a federal case out of Menachem Zivotofsky’s request to have “Israel” designated on his passport as his place of birth, pursuant to a law giving Americans born in Jerusalem the right to that designation if they requested. My idea — which I thought might resonate with Obama — was to blame Bush!

Congress enacted the law in 2002; President Bush signed it, but said he would not enforce it; Obama had campaigned against Bush’s many signing statements, saying a president generally had only two choices – sign a bill or veto it; and Obama could have said he was simply faithfully executing a law his predecessor had signed. If he wanted, Obama could have done what President Clinton did regarding Taiwan: comply with the passport law while declaring American foreign policy remained unchanged. Case closed! But Obama proceeded to the Supreme Court, which ruled the issue can be adjudicated; and because the controversy continues, we may continue to be treated to colloquies like the one at the State Department yesterday.

State’s spokesperson was tortured with a series of questions about whether Jerusalem is part of Israel. Given the position the administration is still defending in court, she had to refuse to acknowledge even West Jerusalem (where Zivotofsky was born) as part of Israel. She thus repeatedly had to dodge the question, obviously acting on instructions to say only that Jerusalem is an issue to be resolved by negotiations. She gave the same answer to the question, “What is the capital of Israel?”

The reporter might have referenced the State Department website, which identifies Israel’s capital as Jerusalem (and says Israel’s area is 20,330 square kilometers, “including Jerusalem”); or the CIA website, which says the same thing; or the Department of Defense website, which is replete with references to “Jerusalem, Israel” – including a picture of Secretary Gates and Prime Minister Netanyahu “during a working lunch meeting in Jerusalem, Israel.” But for the same reason the White House scrubbed its website of references to Vice President Biden in “Jerusalem, Israel” and scrubbed references even in Bush administration documents, the official policy had to be restated yesterday no matter how the question was asked.

This all could have been avoided if the White House had followed my advice last year; ended the charade about the city that has been Israel’s capital since 1950; and stopped fighting a nine-year old boy’s passport designation in the Supreme Court and beyond. Sometimes I think the White House doesn’t read my posts.

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State Department Spin on Jerusalem Meltdown is Already Wrong

This morning, the State Department will begin to walk back the spectacular meltdown that was yesterday’s press briefing, wherein State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland gave the Palestinians a de facto retroactive veto over Israel’s 1949 decision to make Jerusalem its capital.

The talking point will be that the Obama administration, by insisting that the status of West Jerusalem is subject to final-status negotiations, was only reiterating the explicit policies of past administrations. If that were true, then Obama critics would be making the same points they’ve made throughout this White House’s diplomatic campaign against Israel: that Obama, by making controversies out of issues everyone had been content to leave quietly buried, was unnecessarily damaging the U.S.-Israeli relationship and the prospects for long-term Middle East peace. Read More

This morning, the State Department will begin to walk back the spectacular meltdown that was yesterday’s press briefing, wherein State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland gave the Palestinians a de facto retroactive veto over Israel’s 1949 decision to make Jerusalem its capital.

The talking point will be that the Obama administration, by insisting that the status of West Jerusalem is subject to final-status negotiations, was only reiterating the explicit policies of past administrations. If that were true, then Obama critics would be making the same points they’ve made throughout this White House’s diplomatic campaign against Israel: that Obama, by making controversies out of issues everyone had been content to leave quietly buried, was unnecessarily damaging the U.S.-Israeli relationship and the prospects for long-term Middle East peace.

As it so happens, the claim is false. Previous administrations have recognized Israel’s right to at least part of its capital city. The debate has turned on whether the Jewish State is entitled to “all” of Jerusalem, not whether it’s entitled to any part of the city. It was always about not prejudicing whether Israel would have share Jerusalem with a Palestinian state, not whether the entire city was up for grabs (let alone whether the Palestinians can retroactively veto Israel’s sovereign decision to make the parts of Jerusalem it controlled pre-1967 its capital).

White Houses have declined to move the embassy out of Tel Aviv because it would be treated as a symbolic acknowledgement of Israel’s rights over all Jerusalem, e.g. a statement that Israel wouldn’t have to share the city. Sitting on their hands on the embassy allowed presidents to dodge broader questions, which had the benefit of not running contrary to black-letter American law going back to 1995 recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Until now, no administration has ever put Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem as such on the table, or implied that even West Jerusalem was up for grabs. Bush even used to insert language into his waivers stating “My administration remains committed to beginning the process of moving our embassy to Jerusalem.”

Also, there’s this from President Clinton: “the benefits of the agreement… [include] the incorporation of most of the settlers into Israel, and the Jewish capital of Jerusalem recognized by all, not just the United States, by everybody in the world.”

Also, there’s this from President Bush: “Mr. Bush said the Palestinians must elect ‘new and different’ leaders who were not ‘compromised by terror’… As soon as the Palestinians changed their leadership, stopped terrorist attacks on Israel and moved towards democracy, the U.S. would boost their economy and push Israel into meaningful negotiations… He refused to speculate on the three major sticking points: Palestinian demands that Israel return the territory won in the 1967 war, share Jerusalem as the capital and allow millions of Palestinian refugees to return.”

Also, there’s this from Senator Barack Obama. Note that while he took back the part of the speech that spoke of Israel’s capital remaining undivided, even his clarification emphasized “that Israel has a legitimate claim on” at least part of Jerusalem. Apparently that position has changed in the last few years, but the administration shouldn’t be allowed to pretend this is just the way things have always been.

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Re: Obama’s Revealing Comments to Medvedev

To add to Pete’s post on President Obama’s revealing exchange with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, it should be noted that we now have two such incidents from the president. His first saw him insulting Benjamin Netanyahu with his French counterpart when he thought the microphones were off. In this regard, Obama fares quite poorly when compared with his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Bush had a memorable hot-mic moment during his presidency. It occurred as the Second Lebanon War raged on and the international community was hoping for a cease-fire. Bush was talking to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, both of whom suggested, while they thought their microphones were off, that they didn’t much like UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan for a cease-fire, as it would not actually solve anything. Bush said to Blair:

The irony is, what they really need to do is to get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this sh–, and it’s over.

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To add to Pete’s post on President Obama’s revealing exchange with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, it should be noted that we now have two such incidents from the president. His first saw him insulting Benjamin Netanyahu with his French counterpart when he thought the microphones were off. In this regard, Obama fares quite poorly when compared with his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Bush had a memorable hot-mic moment during his presidency. It occurred as the Second Lebanon War raged on and the international community was hoping for a cease-fire. Bush was talking to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, both of whom suggested, while they thought their microphones were off, that they didn’t much like UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan for a cease-fire, as it would not actually solve anything. Bush said to Blair:

The irony is, what they really need to do is to get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this sh–, and it’s over.

He was, of course, correct. But the point is that when the microphones were off, Bush was–to no one’s surprise–just as supportive of our allies and as tough on our adversaries as he was in public. These moments might seem insignificant, but they reveal why some presidents are able to win the trust of our allies, and others are not. Our most candid moments will always play an outsized role in others’ approximations of our moral compass. This is even more so when they confirm a pattern of behavior.

I don’t remember if Bush had any hot-mic incidents with his Russian counterpart, but Condoleezza Rice had a famous one with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in 2006. The two were arguing about Russia’s lack of support for the American-led aid effort in Iraq. Here is the UK Telegraph’s writeup of the exchange:

Mr Lavrov tried to explain that the international community should not become involved in Iraq’s political process – something that Miss Rice opposes – but should be involved “in support of the political process.”

“What does that mean?” Miss Rice demanded.

After a long pause, Mr Lavrov replied with a sneer: “I think you understand.”

“No, I don’t,” she shot back. As Mr Lavrov refused to lend Russian support to the new aid programme, Miss Rice grew increasingly irritated.

“I just want to register that I think it’s a pity that we can’t endorse something that’s been endorsed by the Iraqis and by the UN,” she said. “But if that’s how Russia sees it, that’s fine.”

The article notes that the other foreign ministers barely spoke at all during the exchange. That’s because they usually rely on the Americans to register the West’s disapproval of Russia’s mischief making.

Well, they used to.

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Lessons of Presidential Persuasion: Be the Commander-In-Chief

I finally got around to reading Ezra Klein’s interesting take on what I consider to be a fascinating subject: the power of presidents to persuade the public. Klein’s piece, in the March 19 New Yorker, takes a dim view of the practical uses of presidential rhetoric, using mostly presidents Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama as case studies. Reagan, Klein notes, was considered to be a great communicator (or, as he is remembered, the Great Communicator), yet his approval ratings were average and many of his primary policy prescriptions never caught on with the public.

Overall, he writes, the same is true of Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Bush was unable to convince the country to accept social security reform, and Obama has been unable to sell additional fiscal stimulus and most notably his health care reform law, which remains broadly unpopular. The overestimation of the power of the bully pulpit, he finds, is more likely to harm a president’s domestic policy agenda than advance it. But I think the key word there is “domestic.” Switch the subject to foreign policy, and the power is somewhat restored.

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I finally got around to reading Ezra Klein’s interesting take on what I consider to be a fascinating subject: the power of presidents to persuade the public. Klein’s piece, in the March 19 New Yorker, takes a dim view of the practical uses of presidential rhetoric, using mostly presidents Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama as case studies. Reagan, Klein notes, was considered to be a great communicator (or, as he is remembered, the Great Communicator), yet his approval ratings were average and many of his primary policy prescriptions never caught on with the public.

Overall, he writes, the same is true of Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Bush was unable to convince the country to accept social security reform, and Obama has been unable to sell additional fiscal stimulus and most notably his health care reform law, which remains broadly unpopular. The overestimation of the power of the bully pulpit, he finds, is more likely to harm a president’s domestic policy agenda than advance it. But I think the key word there is “domestic.” Switch the subject to foreign policy, and the power is somewhat restored.

Bush may not have been able to sell Social Security reform, but it would be difficult to conjure a more memorable scene from Bush’s eight years in office than his speech atop the fire truck at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. It was—and remains—both moving and inspiring to hear the president emerge brilliantly from the shell of his tendency toward the folksy, and sometimes awkward, when ad-libbing, at that scene. It all could have gone very differently, since the bullhorn he was using worked only intermittently, and the crowd began losing patience. Yet, as they shouted that they couldn’t hear him, Bush remained calm, steady, and delivered a fine moment when he responded, “I can hear you. I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

Reagan’s most famous line, obviously, was “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” It is what he is remembered for as well—not just the words, but the sentiment, and the political risk involved. Very few conversations about Reagan center on what he said before or after his first-term tax deal with the Democrats. It’s fitting, because though presidential elections usually turn on the economy, the chief executive has more influence on foreign affairs. This is no different for Obama.

After Obama announced a troop “surge” in Afghanistan in December 2009, polls showed a 9-percent jump in Americans who thought staying in Afghanistan was the right course of action, and a 6-percent drop in those who opposed the war. Americans favored the speech itself by a 23-point margin. And the president saw a 7-point jump in public approval of his handling of the war.

None of this is out of the ordinary. When I interviewed James Robbins about his book on Vietnam, This Time We Win, he argued that polls at the time showed Lyndon Johnson to have more support for the war effort—especially its escalation—than most people think in retrospect.

“According to opinion polls at the time taken directly after Tet and a few weeks after Tet, the American people wanted to escalate the war,” Robbins told me. “They understand that the enemy had suffered a terrible defeat, so there was an opportunity if we had taken concerted action to actually win this thing.” Even on college campuses, he said, more people identified as hawks than doves: “The notion that young people were long-haired dope smoking draft resisters in 1967-68 is not true. The ‘Forrest Gump’ view of history is wrong.”

If you expand the category to national security in general, Clinton gets a boost as well. This one is more difficult to measure than support for a war, but leading up the Oklahoma City bombing, Clinton had been marginalized to such a degree by Newt Gingrich’s masterful ability to control the narrative that Clinton offered his much-mocked plea at a briefing: “The president is still relevant here.” The bombing happened the next day, and Clinton’s ability to project empathy and his portrayal of opposition to his presidency as right-wing anti-government excess partly to blame for any dark mood in which someone bombs a federal building completely changed the pace and tone of the coverage of his presidency.

Speeches delivered in the service of selling a tax increase or even solving a debt-ceiling showdown are often treated as the president taking his eye off the ball. The president as commander-in-chief, however, is a role for which voters consistently express their support.

I want to offer Klein one more note of optimism. He writes:

Back-room bargains and quiet negotiations do not, however, present an inspiring vision of the Presidency. And they fail, too. Boehner and Obama spent much of last summer sitting in a room together, but, ultimately, the Speaker didn’t make a private deal with the President for the same reason that Republican legislators don’t swoon over a public speech by him: he is the leader of the Democratic Party, and if he wins they lose. This suggests that, as the two parties become more sharply divided, it may become increasingly difficult for a President to govern—and there’s little that he can do about it.

I disagree. The details of the deal matter, not just the party lines about the dispute. There is no way the backroom negotiations Clinton conducted with Gingrich over social security reform could have been possible if we had prime ministers, instead of presidents. The president possesses political capital Congress doesn’t. History tells us there are effective ways to use that capital. One lesson: quiet action on domestic policy, visible and audible leadership on national security.

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Obama Still Not Fooling Anyone on Israel

When foreign policy “realists,” pseudo-realists, and leftists claim that the pro-Israel establishment is preventing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, their argument fails to account for one aspect of recent Mideast history: During the administrations of American presidents seen as favoring Israel, the Jewish state’s leaders made serious offers for a final-status agreement.

So the argument that more “daylight” is needed between the U.S. and Israel is generally met with proper skepticism. So is the declaration that President Obama is just as pro-Israel as his predecessors, he’s just showing his friends a bit of tough love–heavy on the tough, light on the love. Aaron David Miller, part of Bill Clinton’s Mideast negotiating team, doesn’t think there’s any reason to fool yourself about that last point. He has written an article for Foreign Policy’s website detailing the six most damaging myths of the U.S.-Israel relationship. No. 6 is: “Barack Obama is just as pro-Israel as Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.” Miller writes:

There’s no question that Obama understands and appreciates the special relationship between Israel and the United States. But Obama isn’t Bill Clinton or George W. Bush when it comes to Israel — not even close. These guys were frustrated by Israeli prime ministers too, but they also were moved and enamored by them (Clinton by Yitzhak Rabin, Bush by Ariel Sharon). They had instinctive, heartfelt empathy for the idea of Israel’s story, and as a consequence they could make allowances at times for Israel’s behavior even when it clashed with their own policy goals. Obama is more like George H.W. Bush when it comes to Israel, but without the strategy…

If Obama had a chance to reset the U.S.-Israel relationship and make it a little less special, he probably would. But I guess that’s the point: He probably won’t have the chance.

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When foreign policy “realists,” pseudo-realists, and leftists claim that the pro-Israel establishment is preventing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, their argument fails to account for one aspect of recent Mideast history: During the administrations of American presidents seen as favoring Israel, the Jewish state’s leaders made serious offers for a final-status agreement.

So the argument that more “daylight” is needed between the U.S. and Israel is generally met with proper skepticism. So is the declaration that President Obama is just as pro-Israel as his predecessors, he’s just showing his friends a bit of tough love–heavy on the tough, light on the love. Aaron David Miller, part of Bill Clinton’s Mideast negotiating team, doesn’t think there’s any reason to fool yourself about that last point. He has written an article for Foreign Policy’s website detailing the six most damaging myths of the U.S.-Israel relationship. No. 6 is: “Barack Obama is just as pro-Israel as Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.” Miller writes:

There’s no question that Obama understands and appreciates the special relationship between Israel and the United States. But Obama isn’t Bill Clinton or George W. Bush when it comes to Israel — not even close. These guys were frustrated by Israeli prime ministers too, but they also were moved and enamored by them (Clinton by Yitzhak Rabin, Bush by Ariel Sharon). They had instinctive, heartfelt empathy for the idea of Israel’s story, and as a consequence they could make allowances at times for Israel’s behavior even when it clashed with their own policy goals. Obama is more like George H.W. Bush when it comes to Israel, but without the strategy…

If Obama had a chance to reset the U.S.-Israel relationship and make it a little less special, he probably would. But I guess that’s the point: He probably won’t have the chance.

Miller has made this point before. And when he says “He probably won’t have the chance,” that’s because the American public and their representatives in the Congress don’t want to downgrade the U.S.-Israeli relationship, so they will work to prevent Obama from doing so. The problem for the president is that he cannot argue that his way is more effective—he thus far has moved the parties in the conflict further away from where they’ve been in the past—or that he is the victim. After all, even Clinton—who never hid his disdain for Benjamin Netanyahu–got Netanyahu to sign a deal, and with Yasser Arafat no less.

Under the previous two administrations—one Democratic, one Republican–the Israeli right, left, and center have all signed agreements, made final-status offers, or led Israel to make unprecedented sacrifices for the peace process. As Yossi Klein Halevi wrote recently: “Israelis still recall with disbelief how Obama refused to honor Bush’s written commitment to Ariel Sharon—that the U.S. would support settlement blocs being incorporated into Israel proper. And never has an American president treated an Israeli prime minister with such shabbiness as Obama has treated Netanyahu. Indeed one gets the impression that of all the world’s leaders, Obama most detests the prime minister of Israel.”

Read that last sentence again and understand why it matters that Obama thinks less of Israel than his predecessors did, and why he has failed both the Israelis and the Palestinians because of it.

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On Iran Rights, Obama Finally Echoes Bush

As Alana noted, Barack Obama’s Nowruz message to Iran has evolved from being solicitous of the Iranian regime to supportive of the Iranian people. Good for him, I guess, in the way that it’s always considered “fair” to say “good for him” after Obama weakly imitates the right move too late.  But it should not be forgotten that this approach is precisely what George W. Bush used in 2008 as the first American president to extend Nowruz greetings directly to Iran. Bush said:

First of all, the United States of America wishes everybody a Happy New Year. Secondly, [the] people of the United States respect the great Iranian history and culture. We have great respect for the people, and we’ve got problems with the government. We have problems with the government because the government has been threatening, has made decisions that –and statements that — really have isolated the people of Iran.

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As Alana noted, Barack Obama’s Nowruz message to Iran has evolved from being solicitous of the Iranian regime to supportive of the Iranian people. Good for him, I guess, in the way that it’s always considered “fair” to say “good for him” after Obama weakly imitates the right move too late.  But it should not be forgotten that this approach is precisely what George W. Bush used in 2008 as the first American president to extend Nowruz greetings directly to Iran. Bush said:

First of all, the United States of America wishes everybody a Happy New Year. Secondly, [the] people of the United States respect the great Iranian history and culture. We have great respect for the people, and we’ve got problems with the government. We have problems with the government because the government has been threatening, has made decisions that –and statements that — really have isolated the people of Iran.

My message to the young in Iran is that someday your society will be free. And it will be a blessed time for you. My message to the women of Iran is that the women of America share your deep desire for children to grow up in a hopeful society and to live in peace.

The cowboy bellicosity of that man! Reaching out to oppressed Iranian women and children! Not to worry, one year later Obama, was sure to put the focus on the true sufferers — the disrespected mullahs:

[I]n this season of new beginnings I would like to speak clearly to Iran’s leaders.  We have serious differences that have grown over time.  My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community.  This process will not be advanced by threats.  We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.

Lest the mullahs doubted that respect, he adorned his message with Googleable Persian quotes. (The Obama speech writing team must retain a full-time foreign language phoneticist.)

Four months later, protecting a rigged election, the objects of Obama’s respect killed, jailed, and raped the objects of Bush’s concern in the streets of Tehran. Three years later, we’ve got an Iranian terror plot in D.C., a terrorist campaign against Israelis around the globe, a Hezbollah incursion into Latin America, a newly revealed enrichment facility, and a few months left on the Iranian nuclear countdown clock. That is some season of new beginnings.

Who among the vaunted liberal-smart power-realist foreign policy set will acknowledge that Obama spent years ignoring the Iranian people in favor of Iranian theocrats only to return—too late, naturally—to Bush’s approach?

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Obama’s Debt: More Red Ink Than Bush

The Obama administration has encountered another pothole on the road to re-election.  CBS is reporting that the national debt taken on in the three years and two months of the Obama administration now exceeds the debt added during the Bush administration’s entire eight years in office: $4.899 trillion for Bush, $4.939 for Obama.

In other words, Bush ran up the tab at the rate of $51 billion a month, while Obama is running it up at the rate of $137 billion a month, 2.6 times as fast.  The debt now stands at $15.566 trillion, over 100 percent of GDP for the first time since the immediate aftermath of World War II. Obama’s own budget projections show no end in sight: $16.3 trillion by the end of 2012, $17.5 in 2013, $20 trillion by the end of Obama’s second term if, heaven forefend, he wins one. That would mean an increase of 87 percent in the total debt over Obama’s two terms.

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The Obama administration has encountered another pothole on the road to re-election.  CBS is reporting that the national debt taken on in the three years and two months of the Obama administration now exceeds the debt added during the Bush administration’s entire eight years in office: $4.899 trillion for Bush, $4.939 for Obama.

In other words, Bush ran up the tab at the rate of $51 billion a month, while Obama is running it up at the rate of $137 billion a month, 2.6 times as fast.  The debt now stands at $15.566 trillion, over 100 percent of GDP for the first time since the immediate aftermath of World War II. Obama’s own budget projections show no end in sight: $16.3 trillion by the end of 2012, $17.5 in 2013, $20 trillion by the end of Obama’s second term if, heaven forefend, he wins one. That would mean an increase of 87 percent in the total debt over Obama’s two terms.

Obama, to be sure, faced a tough economic situation when he was inaugurated in January 2009. The economy was shrinking rapidly, the stock market was down by nearly fifty percent, and unemployment was headed towards 10.2 percent. Deficit spending is inescapable in those circumstances and, in fact, desirable. And Obama has rarely missed a chance to let us know that he faced the worst economy since the Great Depression, although as Peter Wehner has pointed out, that is, to say the least, an arguable proposition.

But not even Obama argues that he faced a worse situation than Franklin Roosevelt faced in March 1933. The GDP had fallen by half, unemployment was above 25 percent, and the stock market was down not by 50 percent but by 90 percent. Farms were being foreclosed at the rate of 20,000 a month. Banks were entirely closed in 38 states and in only very limited operation in the other ten. Hoovervilles dotted the landscape of American cities.

So how did FDR do in his first three years? The debt increased in those years by 73 percent, but from a very low base (only 33.6 percent of GDP). While Obama’s debt/GDP ratio has increased 33 percentage points, FDR’s increased only 7 percentage points in the same time frame. In his first eight years, as the Great Depression lingered on and on, FDR presided over an increase in the debt of 124 percent and saw the debt rise as a percentage of GDP from 33.6 percent to 50.85 percent. As a percentage of GDP, in other words, Obama has increased the national debt more in three years of moderate economic troubles than FDR did in eight years of economic catastrophe.

Not much of a record to run on, is it?

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Santorum’s Life With a Political Cannibal

Rick Santorum has enough problems these days with his gaffe insisting on English being the official language of Puerto Rico and the impact of his insistence on raising troubling social issues such as contraception and pornography even though these discussion do him no good. But the real gift that keeps on giving for Santorum is his decision in 2004 to back Arlen Specter’s bid for re-election against an impeccable conservative challenge, then Rep. Pat Toomey. The issue has caused him no end of embarrassment in subsequent years, especially after Specter backed President Obama’s stimulus boondoggle and then ObamaCare after turning his coat and switching to the Democrats in 2009.

The issue will get another hearing this month because, as Politico reports, Specter’s political memoir Life With the Cannibals will soon be released. In it, Specter details Santorum’s help in 2004 as well as his 2009 advice about how to hold onto the seat he would lose, ironically enough, to Toomey in 2010. Specter’s book won’t help Santorum among conservatives who regard the decision as one more instance of how the Pennsylvanian’s desire to be a “team player” often came into conflict with his conservative values. But as much as Santorum deserves to be criticized for his decision, a little perspective on that race is in order.

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Rick Santorum has enough problems these days with his gaffe insisting on English being the official language of Puerto Rico and the impact of his insistence on raising troubling social issues such as contraception and pornography even though these discussion do him no good. But the real gift that keeps on giving for Santorum is his decision in 2004 to back Arlen Specter’s bid for re-election against an impeccable conservative challenge, then Rep. Pat Toomey. The issue has caused him no end of embarrassment in subsequent years, especially after Specter backed President Obama’s stimulus boondoggle and then ObamaCare after turning his coat and switching to the Democrats in 2009.

The issue will get another hearing this month because, as Politico reports, Specter’s political memoir Life With the Cannibals will soon be released. In it, Specter details Santorum’s help in 2004 as well as his 2009 advice about how to hold onto the seat he would lose, ironically enough, to Toomey in 2010. Specter’s book won’t help Santorum among conservatives who regard the decision as one more instance of how the Pennsylvanian’s desire to be a “team player” often came into conflict with his conservative values. But as much as Santorum deserves to be criticized for his decision, a little perspective on that race is in order.

First of all, though Specter credits Santorum for pulling him through a difficult primary in which he wound up beating Toomey in a close race, it should also be remembered that the most important conservative backing the incumbent in Pennsylvania that year was not Santorum. It was George W. Bush, who believed keeping Specter on the ticket was vital to his chances of winning Pennsylvania in a tough battle for re-election.

Another point often obscured in discussions of that election is that the issue was not so much, as Santorum now insists, a matter of ensuring that conservative Supreme Court justices were confirmed in Bush’s second term (though even Santorum and Specter’s most virulent conservative critics can’t fault his efforts to secure the confirmation of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito) as it was giving Bush a chance in Pennsylvania and holding onto a slim GOP majority in the Senate that fall. The assumption then was that Toomey simply couldn’t hold the seat. That’s why everyone in the Republican establishment including Santorum (who was then a member of the Senate leadership) moved heaven and earth in 2003 to persuade Toomey to back off.

That assumption was incorrect, as I think Toomey could have beaten then Rep. Joseph Hoeffel, the Democrat who eventually lost to Specter in November 2004. But none of the trio of Bush, Karl Rove and Santorum thought it was worth gambling a Senate majority on Toomey when they assumed Specter would have an easy time in a general election. As it turned out, Specter didn’t win by the landslide the GOP thought he would, a result that was a harbinger of future trouble for the senator.

It should also be remembered that literally hours after declaring victory in the primary, Specter held a news conference in Philadelphia in which he repaid both Bush and Santorum by giving them the back of his hand by stating he didn’t consider himself bound to support the president’s measures in the coming years. Those who believe Specter’s recent statements about private conversations he had with Santorum about court confirmations in 2004 should remember that double cross as well as the countless other betrayals that can be credited to Specter when they take his word for it when he says he made no promises to his colleague.

As for Santorum’s intervention call in 2009 seeking to “help” Specter hold onto his seat by persuading him to vote against the stimulus, that, too, deserves some perspective. Heading into 2009, the feud between Specter and Toomey had seemingly been forgotten. At that time, a tacit agreement between the two existed in which Toomey would forgo another primary challenge against Specter in exchange for the latter’s support for the conservative’s run for the post of governor of Pennsylvania. So in urging Specter to stick with his party on the stimulus, Santorum was an advocate not so much for the “team” as for peace in a still bitterly divided Pennsylvania GOP. But once Specter left the GOP reservation on the stimulus, the anger of conservatives was such that Toomey felt obliged to abandon his plans to run for governor and instead challenge Specter. Specter rightly understood that without Bush and Santorum holding his coat, he had no chance of winning a Republican primary and jumped to the Democrats. In an act of poetic justice, Specter lost the Democratic primary the next year to a more liberal candidate, Rep. Joe Sestak, who was, in turn, defeated by Toomey in November.

Santorum deserves blame, as do Bush and Rove, for enabling Specter to survive for six more years. But the moral of the story is not so much Santorum’s lack of principle (an argument that a onetime liberal GOP Senate candidate like Mitt Romney is ill-placed to make) as it is the difficulty of dealing with as slippery a character as Specter. Though Specter now presents himself as being too pure to survive any longer in the dark world of American politics, he was himself the worst example of an unprincipled politician that we have had in the last 30 years. As his 2004 opponent Hoeffel memorably said of him, “It’s hard to run against Arlen on the issues because he’s on both sides of every one.” If Santorum is to be shamed for his 2004 decision, he is as entitled as anyone to lament how hard it was serving alongside a “cannibal”-like Specter in the Senate for 12 years.

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Polls Tell Democrats to Wipe That Smile Off Their Faces

In the last couple of months as the Republican presidential candidates began to tear each other to pieces and the economy began an ever so slight recovery, Democrats have begun to get back some of their old 2008 swagger. The bumpy first years of the Obama presidency followed by a landslide loss in the 2010 midterms had taken its toll on the party. A bad economy and a clear lack of presidential leadership during the debt ceiling crisis last year had left Democrats in the dumps. But the spectacle of the GOP contenders and their supporters and super PACs pointing out each other’s shortcomings cheered them up no end. After a long, hard winter of bad news it seemed that spring was bringing them back some of the hope and change mojo that might lead them to victory in 2012.

Unfortunately for them, the Obama mojo isn’t quite as potent as it once was. A New York Times/CBS poll published today confirms what the ABC News/Washington Post poll that came out yesterday told us: Even in the midst of what seemed to be a strong comeback, Obama is in deep trouble. The president’s approval ratings have dropped dramatically in recent weeks with the public disapproving of his job performance by a 47-41-percentage point margin. This is ominous news for a president at any point in his term in office but coming less than eight months away from his attempt to win re-election, it is a portent of possible disaster.

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In the last couple of months as the Republican presidential candidates began to tear each other to pieces and the economy began an ever so slight recovery, Democrats have begun to get back some of their old 2008 swagger. The bumpy first years of the Obama presidency followed by a landslide loss in the 2010 midterms had taken its toll on the party. A bad economy and a clear lack of presidential leadership during the debt ceiling crisis last year had left Democrats in the dumps. But the spectacle of the GOP contenders and their supporters and super PACs pointing out each other’s shortcomings cheered them up no end. After a long, hard winter of bad news it seemed that spring was bringing them back some of the hope and change mojo that might lead them to victory in 2012.

Unfortunately for them, the Obama mojo isn’t quite as potent as it once was. A New York Times/CBS poll published today confirms what the ABC News/Washington Post poll that came out yesterday told us: Even in the midst of what seemed to be a strong comeback, Obama is in deep trouble. The president’s approval ratings have dropped dramatically in recent weeks with the public disapproving of his job performance by a 47-41-percentage point margin. This is ominous news for a president at any point in his term in office but coming less than eight months away from his attempt to win re-election, it is a portent of possible disaster.

The president can take some solace from the fact that the Times/CBS poll still gives him a slight advantage over his two most likely Republican challengers in a head-to-head matchup. He leads Mitt Romney 47-44 and Rick Santorum 48-44 though as the paper points out, with a three percent margin of error, that makes either possible matchup a toss-up.

What’s the reason for this decline? Clearly, the rise in gas prices is a major factor. The poll shows that a clear majority of respondents think the president has the power to do something about rising prices. That faith in presidential power may be unfounded. Though Obama’s actions to restrain drilling and cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline has certainly been harmful, he is as much a hostage to a fluctuating oil market as was his predecessor. Rising gas prices fed a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the Republicans in 2008. They appear to be playing the same role this year with the Democrats; that only goes to prove that what goes around, comes around.

But gas prices are not the only reason for Obama’s worries. Though foreign policy appears to be one of his stronger points with the public, that edge is clearly declining as concerns about Iran and the chaos in Afghanistan have undermined his pose as an able commander-in-chief. Killing Osama bin Laden was a good thing and something that rightly earned him the plaudits of the public, but by itself it is not going to get Obama re-elected no matter how many times he and his surrogates mention it.

But though, like any president, Obama’s poll ratings are tied to the ebb and flow of events, perhaps there are other factors. In today’s Politico, Josh Gerstein compiles an impressive list of things President Obama has done without drawing too many protests that his predecessor could not have gotten away with. The laundry list includes actions in the war on terror that highlighted the Democrats’ hypocritical criticisms of George W. Bush as well as Obama’s cronyism, his hypocritical stance on campaign finance and his self-indulgence that has led him to play golf frequently, a sport Politico notes that the 43rd president dropped during his time in office.

Though Gerstein portrays Obama as getting off scot free from actions that would create hurricanes of outrage had Bush done any of it, perhaps the sheer volume of Obama’s hypocrisy is starting to leech into his poll ratings. Americans may not be that enthused about the Republicans in 2012, but during the last four years they have gotten to know Barack Obama pretty well. Despite a mainstream media that continues to fawn upon him and to trash his foes, the best the president can do is to merely tread water at a time when he should be soaring in the polls. That’s a sign that once he is faced with a single GOP challenger and a united opposition (something that must be acknowledged as not being a given) he may be in bigger trouble than even his cheerleaders at the Times think.

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A Model for Medicare Reform

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan held a hearing today with Richard Foster, the chief actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. During the hearing, this important exchange took place:

CHAIRMAN RYAN: As you may know, I’ve been working across the aisle with a member of the Oregon delegation from the Senate on a premium support plan that uses competitive bidding to help determine the contribution. Competitive bidding we’ve seen has worked well in Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage. I’d like to get your thoughts on choice and competition as it relates to these previous successful reform plans. Given what we’ve seen in these aspects of Medicare, do you believe that competitive bidding is a process that can be successfully applied Medicare-wide?

CMS CHIEF ACTUARY FOSTER: Yes, I think it can. Obviously, it would represent a large change from the status quo, but I think it could work. We’ve seen the signs of this – you mentioned the Part D prescription drug program, for example, where the different drug plans compete against each other on the quality of their benefit package and the premium level. And we’ve seen – every year since Part D started – a migration of beneficiaries to more efficient plans with lower premiums. So that can help. We’ve also seen for durable medical equipment that competitive bidding, in this particular area of Fee-For-Service Medicare, reduced prices that we had to pay by 40 percent.

RYAN: By forty percent?

FOSTER: Forty percent, that’s right.

RYAN: Those are the kinds of cost savings we’re going to have to achieve if want to make good on the promise of the Medicare guarantee.

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House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan held a hearing today with Richard Foster, the chief actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. During the hearing, this important exchange took place:

CHAIRMAN RYAN: As you may know, I’ve been working across the aisle with a member of the Oregon delegation from the Senate on a premium support plan that uses competitive bidding to help determine the contribution. Competitive bidding we’ve seen has worked well in Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage. I’d like to get your thoughts on choice and competition as it relates to these previous successful reform plans. Given what we’ve seen in these aspects of Medicare, do you believe that competitive bidding is a process that can be successfully applied Medicare-wide?

CMS CHIEF ACTUARY FOSTER: Yes, I think it can. Obviously, it would represent a large change from the status quo, but I think it could work. We’ve seen the signs of this – you mentioned the Part D prescription drug program, for example, where the different drug plans compete against each other on the quality of their benefit package and the premium level. And we’ve seen – every year since Part D started – a migration of beneficiaries to more efficient plans with lower premiums. So that can help. We’ve also seen for durable medical equipment that competitive bidding, in this particular area of Fee-For-Service Medicare, reduced prices that we had to pay by 40 percent.

RYAN: By forty percent?

FOSTER: Forty percent, that’s right.

RYAN: Those are the kinds of cost savings we’re going to have to achieve if want to make good on the promise of the Medicare guarantee.

There are two important things to take away from this exchange.

The first is that the market mechanisms put in place when the Medicare prescription drug plan (Medicare Part D) was passed have worked spectacularly well.

As I pointed out in a Weekly Standard article with my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague James Capretta, pro-market reformers have long contended that, with the right policies, health care could operate more like other sectors of the economy, with strong price and quality competition rewarding those market participants who improved productivity while also satisfying the consumer. The Medicare prescription drug plan allowed us to test that theory against reality.

Medicare beneficiaries choose every year from among competing, privately run drug-coverage plans. The government’s contribution toward this coverage is set at a fixed percentage of the average premium, and no more. If beneficiaries want to enroll in a plan that costs more than the average, they can do so–but they, not the government, must pay the additional premium. This structure provides strong incentives for the drug coverage plans to secure discounts from manufacturers and encourage use of lower cost products over more expensive alternatives. Drug plans that fail to cut costs risk losing enrollment to cheaper competitors. The program’s competitive design is holding down costs for both Medicare beneficiaries and for government – fully 40 percent, according to Foster.

More importantly, the choice and competition that has worked for Medicare Part D can be applied to Medicare more broadly, which is precisely what Chairman Ryan and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden are advocating, against the fierce opposition of reactionary liberals like President Obama.

In the midst of a political year in which many silly things are being said, it’s useful from time to time to pull back to the substance of governing and learn from what works. George W. Bush did what no other president before or since has done: provide a successful, groundbreaking template for addressing the most urgent domestic issue facing America — structurally reforming the entitlement state in general and Medicare in particular. This is the kind of reform that a serious conservative governing movement would celebrate, highlight, and attempt to replicate. Which is precisely what Paul Ryan, conservative-policy-wonk-turned-budget-chairman, is attempting to do.

 

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Europeans Miss Cowboy Diplomacy

Fred Hiatt writes that Obama isn’t making friends in Europe. In fact, the Europeans are on to what many on the right in the U.S. have already figured out: Obama spends more time tending to our foes than cementing relationships with our friends. He notes that Alexandr Vondra (a former dissident and later the Czech Republic’s ambassador to Washington and then foreign minister and deputy prime minister) spoke to the Atlantic Council and declared that “President Obama’s ‘cool realism’ is putting long-standing ties at risk.” Hiatt explains:

Vondra said that the Obama administration rewards rivals — notably Russia and China — with “carrots” while handing out only “tasks” to its allies. He said the U.S. agenda with its allies seems to be driven by U.S. domestic needs and U.S. priorities, especially nuclear disarmament, Iran and Afghanistan, while neglecting the priorities of its allies.

Vondra said that the United States is actively approaching Russia with its offer to “reset” relations. Meanwhile Russia is assertively approaching the Czech Republic and other nations, driven by its enmity to NATO and its belief that it is entitled to hold sway in its own sphere of influence. But the third side of that triangle — between the United States and allies — is inactive, Vondra said, creating a danger that nations and policies less amenable to U.S. values will fill the vacuum.

Ah, one longs for the days when the much vilified George W. Bush was cheered in the Knesset, welcomed warmly in Britain, and enjoyed a productive relationship with India. The about-face in the Obama administration is not going unnoticed among our allies and our enemies. The latter are learning to play us — as Russia did in extracting a free pass on UN sanctions. Our friends (Israel, Eastern Europe) are learning not to trust us. And those despotic states like Syria, China, and Iran realize that it’s not such a bad thing to be a foe of the U.S. — you get lots of inducements, endless offers to negotiate, and a hear-no-evil/see-no-evil stance toward, well, evil. Obama thinks everything is going swimmingly, so there is little chance he will change. But that, as he says, is what elections are for.

Fred Hiatt writes that Obama isn’t making friends in Europe. In fact, the Europeans are on to what many on the right in the U.S. have already figured out: Obama spends more time tending to our foes than cementing relationships with our friends. He notes that Alexandr Vondra (a former dissident and later the Czech Republic’s ambassador to Washington and then foreign minister and deputy prime minister) spoke to the Atlantic Council and declared that “President Obama’s ‘cool realism’ is putting long-standing ties at risk.” Hiatt explains:

Vondra said that the Obama administration rewards rivals — notably Russia and China — with “carrots” while handing out only “tasks” to its allies. He said the U.S. agenda with its allies seems to be driven by U.S. domestic needs and U.S. priorities, especially nuclear disarmament, Iran and Afghanistan, while neglecting the priorities of its allies.

Vondra said that the United States is actively approaching Russia with its offer to “reset” relations. Meanwhile Russia is assertively approaching the Czech Republic and other nations, driven by its enmity to NATO and its belief that it is entitled to hold sway in its own sphere of influence. But the third side of that triangle — between the United States and allies — is inactive, Vondra said, creating a danger that nations and policies less amenable to U.S. values will fill the vacuum.

Ah, one longs for the days when the much vilified George W. Bush was cheered in the Knesset, welcomed warmly in Britain, and enjoyed a productive relationship with India. The about-face in the Obama administration is not going unnoticed among our allies and our enemies. The latter are learning to play us — as Russia did in extracting a free pass on UN sanctions. Our friends (Israel, Eastern Europe) are learning not to trust us. And those despotic states like Syria, China, and Iran realize that it’s not such a bad thing to be a foe of the U.S. — you get lots of inducements, endless offers to negotiate, and a hear-no-evil/see-no-evil stance toward, well, evil. Obama thinks everything is going swimmingly, so there is little chance he will change. But that, as he says, is what elections are for.

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Why Obama Won’t Be Going to Israel

Jen’s post on the White House rabbinical meetings contained this summary of the rabbis’ input:

[Rabbi Jack] Moline said the major responses from the rabbis were to urge Obama to visit Israel, to express some concern of there being a double standard for Israel and to tell Obama that they were not “confident from the President himself that he feels Israel in his kishkes.”

The rabbis thus echoed the request that 37 Jewish Democratic lawmakers made in their own meeting with Obama last week: go to Israel and give a speech (“Message: I care”). It is the same request that liberal Israeli and American columnists made last year. It will be ignored again, for at least four reasons.

First, Obama cannot give the speech without changing the underlying policy that necessitated it in the first place. He has adopted a foreign policy that relies on putting daylight between the U.S. and Israel to “reset” our relations with the Arab and Muslim world. There cannot be a Jerusalem speech to offset the Cairo one — because one of the principal purposes of the latter was precisely to demonstrate that Israel no longer enjoys its former position in American foreign policy.

Second, Obama is unlikely to risk a less-than-admiring reception from the Knesset, which often — as does the British Parliament — features simultaneous rebuttals from the floor. These days, Obama does not even risk prime-time press conferences in the United States. His last interview was with Bono.

Third, a Knesset speech would invite comparisons with George W. Bush’s Knesset address — which, Seth Lipsky correctly observed, “will stand as a measure for those who follow him” and which captured an extraordinary moment in history. Speaking on Israel Independence Day, Bush began as follows:

We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence, founded on the “natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.” What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David — a homeland for the chosen people, Eretz Yisrael.

Obama cannot approximate Bush’s address, because he does not share Bush’s perspective.

Fourth, even if Obama gave a comparable speech, it would not be believed. His actions — reneging on his pledge of an undivided Jerusalem; failing to honor U.S. understandings regarding settlements; ignoring the commitments in the 2004 Bush letter, given in exchange for the Gaza withdrawal; failing to visit Israel when he visited Turkey, failing again when he visited Egypt, and failing again over the past 12 months; slurring Israel in his Cairo speech; telling U.S. Jewish groups that closeness to Israel had resulted in “no progress” in the peace process; attempting to attend the Durban II conference; awarding a presidential medal to Durban I’s Mary Robinson; granting legitimacy to the anti-Semitic UN Human Rights Council; demanding compliance with Palestinian preconditions for peace negotiations; repeatedly humiliating Israel’s prime minister during his U.S. visits; castigating Israel for planning Jewish homes in the Jewish area of the Jewish capital; endless patience with Iran combined with public impatience with Israel; etc. — represent a record that cannot be corrected merely with a speech, even if it begins with “Let me be clear.”

The rabbis hope for a speech in Israel to show how Obama feels in his kishkes, but it is not going to happen. In any event, we already know how Obama feels, and the gently-phrased response of the rabbis (they are not “confident” about him) suggests that, despite their reluctance to admit it, they know it too.

Jen’s post on the White House rabbinical meetings contained this summary of the rabbis’ input:

[Rabbi Jack] Moline said the major responses from the rabbis were to urge Obama to visit Israel, to express some concern of there being a double standard for Israel and to tell Obama that they were not “confident from the President himself that he feels Israel in his kishkes.”

The rabbis thus echoed the request that 37 Jewish Democratic lawmakers made in their own meeting with Obama last week: go to Israel and give a speech (“Message: I care”). It is the same request that liberal Israeli and American columnists made last year. It will be ignored again, for at least four reasons.

First, Obama cannot give the speech without changing the underlying policy that necessitated it in the first place. He has adopted a foreign policy that relies on putting daylight between the U.S. and Israel to “reset” our relations with the Arab and Muslim world. There cannot be a Jerusalem speech to offset the Cairo one — because one of the principal purposes of the latter was precisely to demonstrate that Israel no longer enjoys its former position in American foreign policy.

Second, Obama is unlikely to risk a less-than-admiring reception from the Knesset, which often — as does the British Parliament — features simultaneous rebuttals from the floor. These days, Obama does not even risk prime-time press conferences in the United States. His last interview was with Bono.

Third, a Knesset speech would invite comparisons with George W. Bush’s Knesset address — which, Seth Lipsky correctly observed, “will stand as a measure for those who follow him” and which captured an extraordinary moment in history. Speaking on Israel Independence Day, Bush began as follows:

We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence, founded on the “natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.” What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David — a homeland for the chosen people, Eretz Yisrael.

Obama cannot approximate Bush’s address, because he does not share Bush’s perspective.

Fourth, even if Obama gave a comparable speech, it would not be believed. His actions — reneging on his pledge of an undivided Jerusalem; failing to honor U.S. understandings regarding settlements; ignoring the commitments in the 2004 Bush letter, given in exchange for the Gaza withdrawal; failing to visit Israel when he visited Turkey, failing again when he visited Egypt, and failing again over the past 12 months; slurring Israel in his Cairo speech; telling U.S. Jewish groups that closeness to Israel had resulted in “no progress” in the peace process; attempting to attend the Durban II conference; awarding a presidential medal to Durban I’s Mary Robinson; granting legitimacy to the anti-Semitic UN Human Rights Council; demanding compliance with Palestinian preconditions for peace negotiations; repeatedly humiliating Israel’s prime minister during his U.S. visits; castigating Israel for planning Jewish homes in the Jewish area of the Jewish capital; endless patience with Iran combined with public impatience with Israel; etc. — represent a record that cannot be corrected merely with a speech, even if it begins with “Let me be clear.”

The rabbis hope for a speech in Israel to show how Obama feels in his kishkes, but it is not going to happen. In any event, we already know how Obama feels, and the gently-phrased response of the rabbis (they are not “confident” about him) suggests that, despite their reluctance to admit it, they know it too.

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A Sermon on Morality

For a fellow who presumably doesn’t much care for finger-wagging moralists, E.J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post has gotten quite good at that role over the years.

In his column today, Dionne deals with the fall from grace of Rep. Mark Souder, who resigned after admitting to an affair with an aide, as an opportunity to “shout as forcefully as I can to my conservative Christian friends: Enough! … Enough with pretending that personal virtue is connected with political creeds. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, and then insisting upon understanding after the failures of someone on your own side become known to the world.”

Dionne ends his column on Souder this way:

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s a scriptural passage that no doubt appeals to Mark Souder. But it would be lovely if conservative Christians remembered Jesus’ words not only when needing a lifeline but also when they are tempted to give speeches or send out mailers excoriating their political foes as permissive anti-family libertines. How many more scandals will it take for people who call themselves Christian to rediscover the virtues of humility and solidarity?

And wouldn’t it be lovely if liberal Christians remembered Jesus’s words when they were tempted, as the prominent liberal evangelical Jim Wallis has been, to say words excoriating their political foes as war criminals. I have in mind, for example, what Wallis said here:

I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. … Almost 4,000 young Americans are dead because of the lies of this administration, tens of thousands more wounded and maimed for life, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also dead, and 400 billion dollars wasted — because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.

But I don’t favor impeachment, as some have suggested. I would wait until after the election, when they are out of office, and then I would favor investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges. And if they are found guilty of these high crimes, I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison — after offering their repentance to every American family who has lost a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.

It’s worth noting that Dionne has had glowing things to say about Wallis, going so far as comparing him to the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah, Amos, Micah, or Isaiah — something that, on reflection, even E.J. must cringe at.

Mr. Wallis doesn’t exhaust the list of offenders, by any means. Take the case of Randall Balmer, an influential professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University, an editor for Christianity Today, author of a dozen books, and Emmy Award nominee. In his book To Change the World, the sociologist James Davison Hunter writes that in Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament:

[Balmer’s] disdain for the Christian Right lead him to engage in name-calling that is as one-dimensional and dehumanizing as the most extreme voices of the Christian Right, labeling his opponents “right-wing zealots” and “bullies” and their followers “minions,” who together are “intolerant,” “vicious,” “militaristic,” “bloviating,” and theocratic. In this regard, his perspective also matches the Manichaeism of the most extreme voices of the Christian Right for there is no shade or nuance in his description of the political realities with which he is wrestling.

I don’t recall Dionne often, or ever, specifically taking on liberal evangelicals for their slashing rhetoric — to say nothing of the left’s often uncivil and vicious attacks against conservatives, from George W. Bush on down. (Some examples can be found here.) The Outrage Meter seems to have been out of commission during that brief eight-year interlude.

And so let me take E.J.’s column to shout out as forcefully as I can to my liberal Christian friends: enough! Enough with the double standards. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, in a spirit that is markedly un-Christian. Enough with pretending that all the vices lie on one side rather than on both. Enough of the Manichaeism. Enough with the rigid ideology. Enough with the hypocrisy. Enough with pretending that you care about civility when what you really care about is advancing liberalism.

For a fellow who presumably doesn’t much care for finger-wagging moralists, E.J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post has gotten quite good at that role over the years.

In his column today, Dionne deals with the fall from grace of Rep. Mark Souder, who resigned after admitting to an affair with an aide, as an opportunity to “shout as forcefully as I can to my conservative Christian friends: Enough! … Enough with pretending that personal virtue is connected with political creeds. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, and then insisting upon understanding after the failures of someone on your own side become known to the world.”

Dionne ends his column on Souder this way:

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s a scriptural passage that no doubt appeals to Mark Souder. But it would be lovely if conservative Christians remembered Jesus’ words not only when needing a lifeline but also when they are tempted to give speeches or send out mailers excoriating their political foes as permissive anti-family libertines. How many more scandals will it take for people who call themselves Christian to rediscover the virtues of humility and solidarity?

And wouldn’t it be lovely if liberal Christians remembered Jesus’s words when they were tempted, as the prominent liberal evangelical Jim Wallis has been, to say words excoriating their political foes as war criminals. I have in mind, for example, what Wallis said here:

I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. … Almost 4,000 young Americans are dead because of the lies of this administration, tens of thousands more wounded and maimed for life, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also dead, and 400 billion dollars wasted — because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.

But I don’t favor impeachment, as some have suggested. I would wait until after the election, when they are out of office, and then I would favor investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges. And if they are found guilty of these high crimes, I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison — after offering their repentance to every American family who has lost a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.

It’s worth noting that Dionne has had glowing things to say about Wallis, going so far as comparing him to the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah, Amos, Micah, or Isaiah — something that, on reflection, even E.J. must cringe at.

Mr. Wallis doesn’t exhaust the list of offenders, by any means. Take the case of Randall Balmer, an influential professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University, an editor for Christianity Today, author of a dozen books, and Emmy Award nominee. In his book To Change the World, the sociologist James Davison Hunter writes that in Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament:

[Balmer’s] disdain for the Christian Right lead him to engage in name-calling that is as one-dimensional and dehumanizing as the most extreme voices of the Christian Right, labeling his opponents “right-wing zealots” and “bullies” and their followers “minions,” who together are “intolerant,” “vicious,” “militaristic,” “bloviating,” and theocratic. In this regard, his perspective also matches the Manichaeism of the most extreme voices of the Christian Right for there is no shade or nuance in his description of the political realities with which he is wrestling.

I don’t recall Dionne often, or ever, specifically taking on liberal evangelicals for their slashing rhetoric — to say nothing of the left’s often uncivil and vicious attacks against conservatives, from George W. Bush on down. (Some examples can be found here.) The Outrage Meter seems to have been out of commission during that brief eight-year interlude.

And so let me take E.J.’s column to shout out as forcefully as I can to my liberal Christian friends: enough! Enough with the double standards. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, in a spirit that is markedly un-Christian. Enough with pretending that all the vices lie on one side rather than on both. Enough of the Manichaeism. Enough with the rigid ideology. Enough with the hypocrisy. Enough with pretending that you care about civility when what you really care about is advancing liberalism.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The question is whether anyone has written a funnier, more devastating parody of liberal Jews than this. Definitely not!

The question is becoming not whether Israel will strike Iran, but when: “Israel, which initially tolerated President Obama’s effort to thwart Iranian nuclear ambitions through sanctions, has grown increasingly impatient in recent weeks with the approach and concerned that whatever is agreed to now at the U.N. Security Council will only allow Iran more time to advance its program.” When will mainstream Jewish groups voice impatience with Obama?

The question is when will the lies stop? Richard Blumenthal declared that he isn’t going to allow the race to be “about attacks on my character and service. … I have made mistakes. … I regret them. And I have taken responsibility.” No, he hasn’t. He has never apologized. He’s just sorry he got caught.

The question this election season for candidates, David Broder says, is whether you are with Obama or against him. “A liberal government is struggling to impose its agenda on an electorate increasingly responsive to an activist conservative movement operating inside the Republican Party. … [T]he Democrats are facing a populist backlash against the interventionist, expensive policies that Obama and others have pursued.”

The question is whether Obama “wasted” a Supreme Court nomination. According to a Fox poll, 33 percent don’t know whether Elena Kagan should be confirmed, which is exactly the right answer, given the paucity of information on her views and her lack of judicial track record.

The question is whether Obama should use this opportunity to abolish the job of director of national intelligence. John Noonan writes: “Unnecessary bureaucracy has a venomous effect on the national security establishment, whether it’s infantry or intelligence. The director of national intelligence, which has ballooned to a 1,500-man supporting office, was a top down solution to a bottom up problem.”

The question is whether there is any reason not to put Chris Christie on the shortlist for a place on the GOP ticket for 2012: “New Jersey Governor Chris Christie may have set a record for the speediest veto in American history on Thursday when he rejected an income tax surcharge passed by the Democratic legislature two minutes after it arrived on his desk. … Mr. Christie continues to stand out as a lone voice of economic sanity in Trenton and as a national fiscal leader.” I can’t think of one. (And by 2012, he’ll have had more years of executive experience — both in running the U.S. attorney’s office and as governor — than Obama did when he took office.)

The question is whether voters will laugh: Obama is going to run against George W. Bush in the 2010 election. Republicans are crossing their fingers that he be really serious about deploying this buck-passing, transparent gambit.

The question is now whether the Gray Lady will endorse him anyway. New York Times editor Clark Hoyt gives a somewhat candid assessment of the Times story on Richard Blumenthal’s serial lies, concluding: “In the end, through all the swirling sand the article has kicked up, a clear set of facts remains uncontested: On more than one occasion, Blumenthal said he had served in Vietnam when he had not. Did people the Times talked to have agendas? Sure. Did the Times independently verify the information? Yes, and that’s what counts.”

The question is whether anyone has written a funnier, more devastating parody of liberal Jews than this. Definitely not!

The question is becoming not whether Israel will strike Iran, but when: “Israel, which initially tolerated President Obama’s effort to thwart Iranian nuclear ambitions through sanctions, has grown increasingly impatient in recent weeks with the approach and concerned that whatever is agreed to now at the U.N. Security Council will only allow Iran more time to advance its program.” When will mainstream Jewish groups voice impatience with Obama?

The question is when will the lies stop? Richard Blumenthal declared that he isn’t going to allow the race to be “about attacks on my character and service. … I have made mistakes. … I regret them. And I have taken responsibility.” No, he hasn’t. He has never apologized. He’s just sorry he got caught.

The question this election season for candidates, David Broder says, is whether you are with Obama or against him. “A liberal government is struggling to impose its agenda on an electorate increasingly responsive to an activist conservative movement operating inside the Republican Party. … [T]he Democrats are facing a populist backlash against the interventionist, expensive policies that Obama and others have pursued.”

The question is whether Obama “wasted” a Supreme Court nomination. According to a Fox poll, 33 percent don’t know whether Elena Kagan should be confirmed, which is exactly the right answer, given the paucity of information on her views and her lack of judicial track record.

The question is whether Obama should use this opportunity to abolish the job of director of national intelligence. John Noonan writes: “Unnecessary bureaucracy has a venomous effect on the national security establishment, whether it’s infantry or intelligence. The director of national intelligence, which has ballooned to a 1,500-man supporting office, was a top down solution to a bottom up problem.”

The question is whether there is any reason not to put Chris Christie on the shortlist for a place on the GOP ticket for 2012: “New Jersey Governor Chris Christie may have set a record for the speediest veto in American history on Thursday when he rejected an income tax surcharge passed by the Democratic legislature two minutes after it arrived on his desk. … Mr. Christie continues to stand out as a lone voice of economic sanity in Trenton and as a national fiscal leader.” I can’t think of one. (And by 2012, he’ll have had more years of executive experience — both in running the U.S. attorney’s office and as governor — than Obama did when he took office.)

The question is whether voters will laugh: Obama is going to run against George W. Bush in the 2010 election. Republicans are crossing their fingers that he be really serious about deploying this buck-passing, transparent gambit.

The question is now whether the Gray Lady will endorse him anyway. New York Times editor Clark Hoyt gives a somewhat candid assessment of the Times story on Richard Blumenthal’s serial lies, concluding: “In the end, through all the swirling sand the article has kicked up, a clear set of facts remains uncontested: On more than one occasion, Blumenthal said he had served in Vietnam when he had not. Did people the Times talked to have agendas? Sure. Did the Times independently verify the information? Yes, and that’s what counts.”

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