Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jesse Jackson

Political Princes and Corruption

The rise and fall of Jesse L. Jackson Jr. provides an object lesson in the one kind of entitlement that Washington has yet to successfully wipe out. The former congressman pled guilty today to counts of wire and mail fraud in connection with his embezzlement of $750,000 in campaign funds. The son of the famed civil rights leader who once seemed likely to occupy Barack Obama’s Senate seat will instead soon be residing in federal prison for a few years.

He’s not the first crook to take up space in Congress and won’t be the last. But he does tell us a little about the way some of our political class regard the system over which they preside as well as the problems that can result when one parachutes into the system the way Jackson did. It also illustrates why the creation of Congressional rotten boroughs in Congress is not good for the health of the body politic.

Most politicians who run afoul of the law tend to fall into two categories.

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The rise and fall of Jesse L. Jackson Jr. provides an object lesson in the one kind of entitlement that Washington has yet to successfully wipe out. The former congressman pled guilty today to counts of wire and mail fraud in connection with his embezzlement of $750,000 in campaign funds. The son of the famed civil rights leader who once seemed likely to occupy Barack Obama’s Senate seat will instead soon be residing in federal prison for a few years.

He’s not the first crook to take up space in Congress and won’t be the last. But he does tell us a little about the way some of our political class regard the system over which they preside as well as the problems that can result when one parachutes into the system the way Jackson did. It also illustrates why the creation of Congressional rotten boroughs in Congress is not good for the health of the body politic.

Most politicians who run afoul of the law tend to fall into two categories.

Some are middle class Americans who often find that their political power is not matched by the financial rewards that accrue to public servants. Governors, members of the House of Representatives and senators spend much of their time hobnobbing with the wealthy to raise funds or to be chatted up by lobbyists and business owners who want favors. For those politicians with limited resources of their own, their disparity between their own meager incomes and the settings in which they find themselves is sometimes so great that those without a moral compass succumb to the temptation to take free stuff in exchange for their influence.

That is no excuse but it also puts the complaints about Congressional pay into perspective. That is especially true when you consider that those members who are not independently wealthy are forced to maintain two households and to entertain on salaries that are far less than most of them would get in the private sector.

But Jackson is a different sort of case. The son of the famed preacher and sometime presidential candidate did not grow up in poverty. The elder Jackson became prosperous in no small measure by pressuring companies into supporting his non-profit groups via threats of boycotts. Though done in the name of equality and the service of the poor, it was nonetheless corrupt even if his victims uniformly believed it was cheaper to pay than to protest it.

Jackson, Jr.’s may have though the immunity that accrued to his father via his status as the man who cradled the dying Martin Luther King Jr. in his arms might attach to him. Having crossed the line from the private to the public sector, he failed to understand that even unopposed congressman couldn’t always get away with skimming campaign funds.

But Jackson’s problem can’t only be attributed to being the son of a civil rights figure that got very little scrutiny when not running for president.

For all the talk about the corrupting influence of campaign finance contributions, nothing is more inimical to good government than the creation of single party Congressional districts that serve to create a class of politicians who need not fear the wrath of the voters. While we have many single party seats in this country where the issue is decided in primaries rather than general elections, those elected in districts that were crafted on the basis of race rather than on a purely partisan basis are especially unaccountable. While not all or even most of those who occupy those seats are corrupt, there are enough examples to illustrate why politicians who need not fear the voters or the press are especially vulnerable to temptation.

Just four years ago, Jackson was immersed in another corrupt scheme — the effort to bribe Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich via intermediaries to appoint him to the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he won the presidency. He dodged that bullet as only the governor went down in that scandal. But the sense of entitlement that pervaded Jackson’s personal and political life was impervious to the message that perhaps he should clean up his act.

The tragedy of Jackson’s truncated political career is an object lesson in the perils of creating political princes who seem to be immune to the normal limits on behavior that restrain most politicians. His fall reminds us that even such persons can’t always count on avoiding the long arm of the law.

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Hypocritical Dems In No Position to Blast GOP Over Paul

For years, Democrats have been on the defensive about the not inconsiderable portion of their party that was hostile to the State of Israel. But the attention and support being given Ron Paul in the Republican presidential race is giving them an opportunity to roast members of the GOP for refusing to treat the libertarian extremist as being beyond the pale of American politics. Thus, it was no surprise to read that the National Jewish Democratic Council condemned Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum for saying they would vote for Paul if he turned out to be the Republican nominee.

But to say this stance is hypocritical is an understatement. Did Jewish Democrats denounce their mainstream candidates for cozying up to racial hucksters and foes of Israel such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and pretending, as Romney and Santorum now do for Paul, that these persons were preferable to any Republican? Did they denounce their party for treating Jimmy Carter as a respected elder statesman? Of course not. Though it is troubling to see the other GOP candidates treat Paul as if he were a reasonable presidential choice, that is the way the game is played. Democrats are no more righteous in this respect than Republicans.

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For years, Democrats have been on the defensive about the not inconsiderable portion of their party that was hostile to the State of Israel. But the attention and support being given Ron Paul in the Republican presidential race is giving them an opportunity to roast members of the GOP for refusing to treat the libertarian extremist as being beyond the pale of American politics. Thus, it was no surprise to read that the National Jewish Democratic Council condemned Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum for saying they would vote for Paul if he turned out to be the Republican nominee.

But to say this stance is hypocritical is an understatement. Did Jewish Democrats denounce their mainstream candidates for cozying up to racial hucksters and foes of Israel such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and pretending, as Romney and Santorum now do for Paul, that these persons were preferable to any Republican? Did they denounce their party for treating Jimmy Carter as a respected elder statesman? Of course not. Though it is troubling to see the other GOP candidates treat Paul as if he were a reasonable presidential choice, that is the way the game is played. Democrats are no more righteous in this respect than Republicans.

In truth, much of the Republican Party has rightly treated Paul as anathema. The Republican Jewish Coalition rightly refused to invite him to their presidential forum. It is also reassuring to see that the other candidates are finally shifting from a strategy of ignoring Paul’s radical approach to foreign policy and instead pointing out just how dangerous he and his ideas are.

But to expect the leading candidates to go out of their way to snub Paul or to declare him unfit for the presidency is unrealistic. Just as Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry held their noses and pretended that Jackson and Sharpton were reasonable alternatives for the presidency because they wanted their supporters’ votes in the fall, so, too, do Republicans pander to Paul.

The emergence of Paul is a worrisome sign not just for Republicans but all Americans. The limited success he has enjoyed so far illustrates that despite the overwhelming support of most Americans across the political spectrum for Israel, there is still a good-sized minority on the margins of both the left and the right that must be confronted. It is to be hoped Paul’s numbers will decline as his connections with racist and extremist forces get more exposure.

It is some consolation to Republicans that Paul does far better in the polls with Democrats and independents than he does with Republicans, a point that should give partisans like the NJDC pause before they speak too loudly about the libertarian’s source of support. Given that polls also show Republicans to be even more devoted to Israel than most Democrats, there is no chance he will be the nominee.

But it takes an extra helping of chutzpah for the NJDC, a group that has relentlessly defended every swipe at Israel on the part of the Obama administration, to start demanding Republicans take loyalty tests to the Jewish state. Though the NJDC claims Republicans who refuse to condemn Paul are putting party above principle, their endless apologias for Obama and other liberal Democrats who have distanced themselves from Israel are no different than the trimming being done by Romney and Santorum about Paul.

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Palin and the Blood Libel

So Sarah Palin said this morning that she and others are the victims of “a blood libel.” This has immediately ignited a controversy over Palin’s words, which is just like the last controversy over Palin’s words, and the controversy over Palin’s words before those: she uses provocative phrasing, her critics scream, and then they scream more loudly, and they scream following each other’s screams, and the phrase is amplified and amplified and amplified, getting a cultural currency it would never have achieved otherwise (“death panels,” “lock and load,” “hopey-changey thing”). The overreaction by her enemies triggers heated defense among her supporters and an ah-shucks tone among those who find her interesting and tend to agree with her views but are uneasy with her loose command of wonky facts and detail.

As for the use of the phrase “blood libel,” it’s perfectly appropriate if taken as two words strung together. We have all, those of us on the right, been accused of having blood on our hands in the wake of this massacre, it is a libel, and it is therefore a blood libel. But “blood libel” is also a term to describe a very specific brand of anti-Semitism. It’s the accusation, born in medieval England, that Jews sought out Christian babies for their blood to use in Passover matzah. It has been repeated and echoed over the centuries, and the term has come to mean, very generally, the evil notion that Jews are killing non-Jews to make use of their corpses in some fashion.

So in the sense that the words “blood” and “libel” in sequence are to be taken solely as referring to this anti-Semitic slander, Palin’s appropriation of it was vulgar and insensitive. I guess. The problem is that I doubt Sarah Palin knew this history, because most people don’t know this history, including most of the anti-Palin hysterics screaming about it on Twitter at this very moment. She used it as shorthand for “false accusation that the right bears responsibility for the blood of the innocent.” She shouldn’t have, though she certainly had no intention of giving offense to those sensitive about it, because it would be an act of lunacy to open that can of worms for no reason.

But here’s the thing. Sarah Palin has become a very important person in the United States. Important people have to speak with great care, because their words matter more than the words of other people. If they are careless, if they are sloppy, if they are lazy about finding the right tone and setting it and holding it, they will cease, after a time, to be important people, because without the discipline necessary to modulate their words, those words will lose their power to do anything but offer a momentary thrill — either pleasurable or infuriating. And then they will just pass on into the ether.

If she doesn’t serious herself up, Palin is on the direct path to irrelevancy. She won’t be the second Ronald Reagan; she’ll be the Republican incarnation of Jesse Jackson.

So Sarah Palin said this morning that she and others are the victims of “a blood libel.” This has immediately ignited a controversy over Palin’s words, which is just like the last controversy over Palin’s words, and the controversy over Palin’s words before those: she uses provocative phrasing, her critics scream, and then they scream more loudly, and they scream following each other’s screams, and the phrase is amplified and amplified and amplified, getting a cultural currency it would never have achieved otherwise (“death panels,” “lock and load,” “hopey-changey thing”). The overreaction by her enemies triggers heated defense among her supporters and an ah-shucks tone among those who find her interesting and tend to agree with her views but are uneasy with her loose command of wonky facts and detail.

As for the use of the phrase “blood libel,” it’s perfectly appropriate if taken as two words strung together. We have all, those of us on the right, been accused of having blood on our hands in the wake of this massacre, it is a libel, and it is therefore a blood libel. But “blood libel” is also a term to describe a very specific brand of anti-Semitism. It’s the accusation, born in medieval England, that Jews sought out Christian babies for their blood to use in Passover matzah. It has been repeated and echoed over the centuries, and the term has come to mean, very generally, the evil notion that Jews are killing non-Jews to make use of their corpses in some fashion.

So in the sense that the words “blood” and “libel” in sequence are to be taken solely as referring to this anti-Semitic slander, Palin’s appropriation of it was vulgar and insensitive. I guess. The problem is that I doubt Sarah Palin knew this history, because most people don’t know this history, including most of the anti-Palin hysterics screaming about it on Twitter at this very moment. She used it as shorthand for “false accusation that the right bears responsibility for the blood of the innocent.” She shouldn’t have, though she certainly had no intention of giving offense to those sensitive about it, because it would be an act of lunacy to open that can of worms for no reason.

But here’s the thing. Sarah Palin has become a very important person in the United States. Important people have to speak with great care, because their words matter more than the words of other people. If they are careless, if they are sloppy, if they are lazy about finding the right tone and setting it and holding it, they will cease, after a time, to be important people, because without the discipline necessary to modulate their words, those words will lose their power to do anything but offer a momentary thrill — either pleasurable or infuriating. And then they will just pass on into the ether.

If she doesn’t serious herself up, Palin is on the direct path to irrelevancy. She won’t be the second Ronald Reagan; she’ll be the Republican incarnation of Jesse Jackson.

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Congress Objects to Obami’s Israel and Iran Policies

Seventy-six senators have joined in a letter, backed by AIPAC, to Hillary Clinton asking that the Obama administration knock off its Jerusalem onslaught and focus attention on Palestinian rejectionism. They write:

We write to urge you to do everything possible to ensure that the recent tensions between the U.S. and Israeli administrations over the untimely announcement of future housing construction in East Jerusalem do not derail Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations or harm U.S.-Israel relations. In fact, we strongly believe that it is more important than ever for Israel and the Palestinians to enter into direct, face-to-face negotiations without preconditions on either side.

Despite your best efforts, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been frozen for over a year. Indeed, in a reversal of 16 years of policy, Palestinian leaders are refusing to enter into direct negotiations with Israel. Instead, they have put forward a growing list of unprecedented preconditions. By contrast, Israel’s prime minister stated categorically that he is eager to begin unconditional peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Direct negotiations are in the interest of all parties involved — including the United States.

They want Hillary to reaffirm the “unbreakable bonds” between the two countries and remind the administration that “differences are best resolved amicably and in a manner that befits longstanding strategic allies.” It is noteworthy who signed and who did not. Chuck Schumer, who gave a rousing speech at AIPAC but recently ducked an incisive inquiry on the Obami policy, signed on, as did some Democrats up for re-election, including Barbara Boxer, Arlen Specter, and Kirsten Gillibrand. Who’s missing? The Democratic leadership: Harry Reid, Richard Durbin, veteran senators Diane Feinstein and Chris Dodd, and unofficial secretary of state John Kerry. The five apparently are still in the business of running interference for the administration.

Now, the letter could have been more pointed, calling attention to the administration’s “condemnation” of Israel and objecting to the prospect of an “imposed” settlement agreement. Yes, the White House and some key, dutiful congressional allies remain seemingly impervious to the harm inflicted on the U.S.-Israeli relationship, and in turn on the credibility and standing of the U.S.. Nevertheless, this is a hopeful sign that there is broad opposition to the Obami’s anti-Israel gambit. Perhaps before it is too late we’ll hear a definitive and clear renunciation — a condemnation! — of the idea of an imposed settlement deal.

Meanwhile, steam is also gathering on both the House and Senate sides to move forward with an Iran sanctions bill. Later today, Reps. Mike Pence and Jesse Jackson, Jr. are scheduled to hold a presser to introduce a letter advocating that “punishing sanctions” be imposed on the Iranian regime. Again, the Obami policy — thin-gruel sanctions that Obama proclaims are “no magic wand” to halting the Iranians’ nuclear program – seems to lack the confidence of a broad bipartisan group of lawmakers. We’ll see if the administration is amenable to pressure from them. So far, it’s been immune to public or congressional objections in its effort to reorient American Middle East policy. It remains to be seen whether the gang whose solution to opposition is usually “double-down!” will relent in its assault against Israel and rev up its efforts to prevent Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions.

Seventy-six senators have joined in a letter, backed by AIPAC, to Hillary Clinton asking that the Obama administration knock off its Jerusalem onslaught and focus attention on Palestinian rejectionism. They write:

We write to urge you to do everything possible to ensure that the recent tensions between the U.S. and Israeli administrations over the untimely announcement of future housing construction in East Jerusalem do not derail Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations or harm U.S.-Israel relations. In fact, we strongly believe that it is more important than ever for Israel and the Palestinians to enter into direct, face-to-face negotiations without preconditions on either side.

Despite your best efforts, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been frozen for over a year. Indeed, in a reversal of 16 years of policy, Palestinian leaders are refusing to enter into direct negotiations with Israel. Instead, they have put forward a growing list of unprecedented preconditions. By contrast, Israel’s prime minister stated categorically that he is eager to begin unconditional peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Direct negotiations are in the interest of all parties involved — including the United States.

They want Hillary to reaffirm the “unbreakable bonds” between the two countries and remind the administration that “differences are best resolved amicably and in a manner that befits longstanding strategic allies.” It is noteworthy who signed and who did not. Chuck Schumer, who gave a rousing speech at AIPAC but recently ducked an incisive inquiry on the Obami policy, signed on, as did some Democrats up for re-election, including Barbara Boxer, Arlen Specter, and Kirsten Gillibrand. Who’s missing? The Democratic leadership: Harry Reid, Richard Durbin, veteran senators Diane Feinstein and Chris Dodd, and unofficial secretary of state John Kerry. The five apparently are still in the business of running interference for the administration.

Now, the letter could have been more pointed, calling attention to the administration’s “condemnation” of Israel and objecting to the prospect of an “imposed” settlement agreement. Yes, the White House and some key, dutiful congressional allies remain seemingly impervious to the harm inflicted on the U.S.-Israeli relationship, and in turn on the credibility and standing of the U.S.. Nevertheless, this is a hopeful sign that there is broad opposition to the Obami’s anti-Israel gambit. Perhaps before it is too late we’ll hear a definitive and clear renunciation — a condemnation! — of the idea of an imposed settlement deal.

Meanwhile, steam is also gathering on both the House and Senate sides to move forward with an Iran sanctions bill. Later today, Reps. Mike Pence and Jesse Jackson, Jr. are scheduled to hold a presser to introduce a letter advocating that “punishing sanctions” be imposed on the Iranian regime. Again, the Obami policy — thin-gruel sanctions that Obama proclaims are “no magic wand” to halting the Iranians’ nuclear program – seems to lack the confidence of a broad bipartisan group of lawmakers. We’ll see if the administration is amenable to pressure from them. So far, it’s been immune to public or congressional objections in its effort to reorient American Middle East policy. It remains to be seen whether the gang whose solution to opposition is usually “double-down!” will relent in its assault against Israel and rev up its efforts to prevent Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions.

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Is Reid the Best They Can Do?

Pundits are divided: is Harry Reid a racist or just a buffoon? I tend to agree with Mark Steyn and Matt Yglesias (hard to believe there would ever be an occasion to write those words):

It’s good that Reid apologized, but at the same time you can’t really apologize for being the sort of person who’d be inclined to use the phrase “negro dialect” and it’s more the idea of Reid being that kind of person that’s creepy here than anything else.

Ruth Marcus put it this way:

For anyone in public life to use the word “Negro” in 2008 is beyond stupid. What was once polite has become demeaning. (Although, interestingly enough, the U.S. Census chose to retain the word on the 2010 census form because so many respondents wrote it in 10 years ago.) The lame explanation offered by an aide — that the remarks were not intended for use in the book — is about as convincing as Jesse Jackson’s assertion that he did not consider his “Hymietown” comments to the Washington Post’s Milton Coleman on the record. (“Let’s talk black talk,” Jackson had said to Coleman.)

Nor is this the only time Harry Reid showed an odd obsession with the manner in which prominent African Americans express themselves. It was Reid who declared of Justice Clarence Thomas: “I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written.” (He nevertheless had kind words for Justice Scalia, the other sharp-penned conservative on the court.) And then there was his remark that Republicans who opposed ObamaCare were comparable to those who opposed the repeal of slavery. It is hard to think of another figure in public life who is so tone-deaf on matters of race.

There is something, well, just not right about Reid’s propensity to toss around incendiary racial analogies and observations. Goodness knows what’s in his heart, but this simply isn’t what we expect of public leaders, who, if they can’t think of something helpful or enlightening to say on race relations, should at the very least keep quiet. Honestly, is he the best that the Democrats can do for a majority leader, or the best the people of Nevada can do for a senator? I suppose we’ll find out in November. But the Democrats’ insistence that there’s nothing wrong with Reid aside from a slip of the tongue (well, lots and lots of them) or nothing wrong enough to be disqualifying rings hollow. You’d think they’d at least prefer someone who doesn’t absorb days of media attention in apology mode.

You might expect the Democratic establishment to quietly encourage him to follow Chris Dodd’s example. In circling the wagons around their wounded and increasingly embarrassing leader, the Democrats in D.C. are passing the buck to Nevada voters, who, I suspect, will be more anxious than ever to elect someone more in line with their views and less offensive in his public rhetoric.

Pundits are divided: is Harry Reid a racist or just a buffoon? I tend to agree with Mark Steyn and Matt Yglesias (hard to believe there would ever be an occasion to write those words):

It’s good that Reid apologized, but at the same time you can’t really apologize for being the sort of person who’d be inclined to use the phrase “negro dialect” and it’s more the idea of Reid being that kind of person that’s creepy here than anything else.

Ruth Marcus put it this way:

For anyone in public life to use the word “Negro” in 2008 is beyond stupid. What was once polite has become demeaning. (Although, interestingly enough, the U.S. Census chose to retain the word on the 2010 census form because so many respondents wrote it in 10 years ago.) The lame explanation offered by an aide — that the remarks were not intended for use in the book — is about as convincing as Jesse Jackson’s assertion that he did not consider his “Hymietown” comments to the Washington Post’s Milton Coleman on the record. (“Let’s talk black talk,” Jackson had said to Coleman.)

Nor is this the only time Harry Reid showed an odd obsession with the manner in which prominent African Americans express themselves. It was Reid who declared of Justice Clarence Thomas: “I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written.” (He nevertheless had kind words for Justice Scalia, the other sharp-penned conservative on the court.) And then there was his remark that Republicans who opposed ObamaCare were comparable to those who opposed the repeal of slavery. It is hard to think of another figure in public life who is so tone-deaf on matters of race.

There is something, well, just not right about Reid’s propensity to toss around incendiary racial analogies and observations. Goodness knows what’s in his heart, but this simply isn’t what we expect of public leaders, who, if they can’t think of something helpful or enlightening to say on race relations, should at the very least keep quiet. Honestly, is he the best that the Democrats can do for a majority leader, or the best the people of Nevada can do for a senator? I suppose we’ll find out in November. But the Democrats’ insistence that there’s nothing wrong with Reid aside from a slip of the tongue (well, lots and lots of them) or nothing wrong enough to be disqualifying rings hollow. You’d think they’d at least prefer someone who doesn’t absorb days of media attention in apology mode.

You might expect the Democratic establishment to quietly encourage him to follow Chris Dodd’s example. In circling the wagons around their wounded and increasingly embarrassing leader, the Democrats in D.C. are passing the buck to Nevada voters, who, I suspect, will be more anxious than ever to elect someone more in line with their views and less offensive in his public rhetoric.

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Obama, Jewish Voters, and the Lessons of 1984

Turns out there are real questions about the accuracy of that recent Quinnipiac poll showing President Obama’s approval rating at just 52 percent among Jewish voters. As the JTA’s Eric Fingerhut pointed out, the Jewish sampling “was derived from a sample of just 71 respondents, for a margin of error of plus or minus 11.6 percent — a sample size that pollsters generally say makes such surveys unreliable.”

Actually, common sense and some knowledge of Jewish voting habits should be enough to render any such poll findings suspect at best. Obama enjoys two important advantages that make him almost a shoo-in to win another landslide among Jewish voters three years from now: he’s a well-spoken, nonthreatening black man (a factor not to be underestimated when considering the voting psychology of liberal and moderate Jews), and he’s adamantly opposed to and by the Christian Right. Read More

Turns out there are real questions about the accuracy of that recent Quinnipiac poll showing President Obama’s approval rating at just 52 percent among Jewish voters. As the JTA’s Eric Fingerhut pointed out, the Jewish sampling “was derived from a sample of just 71 respondents, for a margin of error of plus or minus 11.6 percent — a sample size that pollsters generally say makes such surveys unreliable.”

Actually, common sense and some knowledge of Jewish voting habits should be enough to render any such poll findings suspect at best. Obama enjoys two important advantages that make him almost a shoo-in to win another landslide among Jewish voters three years from now: he’s a well-spoken, nonthreatening black man (a factor not to be underestimated when considering the voting psychology of liberal and moderate Jews), and he’s adamantly opposed to and by the Christian Right.

To put those realities into historical context, it’s instructive to look back at the presidential election of 1984. For a Republican, Ronald Reagan had done exceedingly well among Jews in 1980, winning 39 percent of their votes and holding the incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, to an unimpressive plurality of 45 percent. (Third-party candidate John Anderson got the rest.) And then came the 1984 National Survey of American Jews, conducted between April and August that year, which found that while 39 percent of respondents acknowledged voting for Reagan in 1980, some 53 percent said that, looking back, Reagan was the candidate they would have preferred.

Certainly Reagan seemed poised to at least hold on to his 1980 share of the Jewish vote — and quite possibly exceed it.

In addition to Reagan’s performance in office, there was, in 1984, the Jesse Jackson factor. The longtime civil-rights firebrand was running for the Democratic nomination that year, and during the course of the campaign many of his past derogatory comments about Jews and Israel resurfaced, fueled both by his reference, in what he thought was an off-the-record conversation, to New York City as “Hymietown” and his reluctance to separate himself from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

The Jackson factor was widely thought to threaten the Democratic party’s decades-old hold on Jewish loyalties, particularly when a Los Angeles Times poll of African-American delegates at the 1984 Democratic National Convention revealed that 75 percent of the delegates pledged to Jackson and almost 50 percent of those backing eventual nominee Walter Mondale felt no need to distance themselves from Farrakhan or his statements.

Come November, however, Reagan actually ended up losing significant ground among Jewish voters. “Exit polls taken the day of the election,” wrote Charles Silberman in his 1985 book A Certain People, “indicated that no more than 35 percent of American Jews, and perhaps as few as 31 percent, had voted for Reagan; the Jewish vote for Mondale was put at 65-69 percent … analysis of the polls indicated that between 25 and 35 percent of the Jews who had voted for Reagan in 1980 switched to Mondale in 1984.”

It seems that Reagan’s increasingly vocal embrace of the New — specifically, the Christian — Right scared Jews more than anything said by either Jackson or Farrakhan. Nearly 80 percent of Jews had an unfavorable opinion of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the most visible face of the Christian Right (never mind that Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin had presented Falwell with the Jabotinsky Prize in recognition of his strong support of the Jewish state). In fact, Silberman noted, “more Jewish voters indicated an unfavorable opinion of Falwell than of Jesse Jackson.”

The historian Stephen Whitfield elaborated on that point in 1986, writing: “The rise of the New Right has been more disturbing to Jews than the circulation within the Democratic Party of Third World sympathies that collide with Israeli interests.”

How does all this relate to Obama and Jewish support? For one thing, the Republican party’s identification with the Christian Right is immeasurably stronger today than it was 25 years ago, making it unlikely that liberal or moderate Jews will find a comfort level with the GOP anytime soon. For another, the current generation of American Jews is not nearly as supportive of Israel and Israeli policies as were their parents and grandparents — and support for Israel was the one factor that in the past might have swayed some liberal Jews to vote for a Republican.

If Jimmy Carter, fresh off a disastrous four years in office and displaying an increasingly palpable animus toward Israel, could still outpoll his Republican opponent among Jews (and absent the Anderson candidacy, Carter probably would have won at least 55 percent of the Jewish vote), there’s no reason to believe that even a mediocre Democratic president — particularly if he’s a likable African American who talks a good liberal game — need worry about Jewish voters.

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Obama Color Blind When It Comes to the Recession

Is the Barack Obama of “There is not a black America and a white America . . . but the United States of America” back? On Wednesday, 10 members of the Black Caucus  boycotted a key House committee vote on financial regulations to pressure their fellow members and the White House to focus more attention on targeting assistance to blacks and other minority businesses in the recession. But the president refused to be mau-maued by the caucus. In an interview with USA Today, President Obama said in response to a question about why he is not doing more to help blacks specifically:

The most important thing I can do for the African-American community is the same thing I can do for the American community, period, and that is get the economy going again and get people hiring again.

He may not have much of a clue about how best to do that, but at least he’s not turning the recession into a racial issue. Putting distance between himself and Maxine Waters or Jesse Jackson (whom I recently debated on “The Color of Recession” before a D.C. audience) is not only good politics; it’s also good policy.

Is the Barack Obama of “There is not a black America and a white America . . . but the United States of America” back? On Wednesday, 10 members of the Black Caucus  boycotted a key House committee vote on financial regulations to pressure their fellow members and the White House to focus more attention on targeting assistance to blacks and other minority businesses in the recession. But the president refused to be mau-maued by the caucus. In an interview with USA Today, President Obama said in response to a question about why he is not doing more to help blacks specifically:

The most important thing I can do for the African-American community is the same thing I can do for the American community, period, and that is get the economy going again and get people hiring again.

He may not have much of a clue about how best to do that, but at least he’s not turning the recession into a racial issue. Putting distance between himself and Maxine Waters or Jesse Jackson (whom I recently debated on “The Color of Recession” before a D.C. audience) is not only good politics; it’s also good policy.

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Reid’s Prediction

Stop the presses: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has predicted today that the race for the Democratic nomination will be over in a matter of days.

“By this time next week, it’ll be all over, give or take a day,” Reid told an audience at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club, where he was promoting his new book.

OK, so it’s not exactly headline news. But what is news is that Reid and his House counterpart Nancy Pelosi will be doing some arm-twisting between now and then to get superdelegates to go public to seal the deal for Barack Obama.

All this smacks of smoke-filled rooms and party hacks-the remnants of machine politics the Democrats have been eschewing since 1968.  The party has been endlessly re-writing its rules ever since, trying to come up with the perfect formula to keep its many disparate interest groups from tearing each other apart.  The very idea of awarding a portion of state delegates on a proportional basis was hatched in 1988 to try to appease Jesse Jackson.

Apparently Democrats never imagined that one day they’d face a situation where two viable candidates would emerge from the very interest groups for whom they’d carved out token representation.

Stop the presses: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has predicted today that the race for the Democratic nomination will be over in a matter of days.

“By this time next week, it’ll be all over, give or take a day,” Reid told an audience at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club, where he was promoting his new book.

OK, so it’s not exactly headline news. But what is news is that Reid and his House counterpart Nancy Pelosi will be doing some arm-twisting between now and then to get superdelegates to go public to seal the deal for Barack Obama.

All this smacks of smoke-filled rooms and party hacks-the remnants of machine politics the Democrats have been eschewing since 1968.  The party has been endlessly re-writing its rules ever since, trying to come up with the perfect formula to keep its many disparate interest groups from tearing each other apart.  The very idea of awarding a portion of state delegates on a proportional basis was hatched in 1988 to try to appease Jesse Jackson.

Apparently Democrats never imagined that one day they’d face a situation where two viable candidates would emerge from the very interest groups for whom they’d carved out token representation.

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Colorblind or Just Blind?

As Abe noted earlier, today Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post lacerates Hillary Clinton for her statement in USA Today that Barack Obama’s coalition among “hardworking Americans, white Americans, is weakening again. I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on.” Clinton is, according to Robinson, playing the race card again. And he writes this:

How silly of me. I thought the Democratic Party believed in a colorblind America.

Come again? Democrats believe in a “colorblind America”? If that’s the case, then how would Robinson explain why the Democratic Party has been leading the charge for race-based quotas and set-asides over the years? That they promote justices who want to take race into account in their judicial rulings? Just how is it that liberals count by race and reward points by race and reduce as many issues as they can to race–yet insist all the while that they believe in a colorblind society? And while we’re at it: how does Robinson explain the fact that “civil rights” activists like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who over the years have done so much to create, exploit, and fuel racial tensions in this nation (including Sharpton’s despicable role in the Tawana Brawley case), find a comfortable home in the Democratic Party?

One may agree or disagree with using race as a consideration in, say, college admissions. Reasonable people can debate what role, if any, race should play in such matters. (I side with Professor Alexander Bickel, who in The Morality of Consent wrote, “[A] racial quota derogates the human dignity and individuality of all to whom it is applied; it is invidious in principle as well as in practice… The history of the racial quota is a history of subjugation, not beneficence…. a quota is a divider of society, a creator of castes, and it is all the worse for its racial base, especially in a society desperately striving for an equality that will make race irrelevant.”) But whatever those who advocate such positions are promoting, it is not a colorblind America. It is, in fact, the very opposite. And surely Eugene Robinson must, on some level, know it. How silly of him to claim what is so clearly not true.

As Abe noted earlier, today Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post lacerates Hillary Clinton for her statement in USA Today that Barack Obama’s coalition among “hardworking Americans, white Americans, is weakening again. I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on.” Clinton is, according to Robinson, playing the race card again. And he writes this:

How silly of me. I thought the Democratic Party believed in a colorblind America.

Come again? Democrats believe in a “colorblind America”? If that’s the case, then how would Robinson explain why the Democratic Party has been leading the charge for race-based quotas and set-asides over the years? That they promote justices who want to take race into account in their judicial rulings? Just how is it that liberals count by race and reward points by race and reduce as many issues as they can to race–yet insist all the while that they believe in a colorblind society? And while we’re at it: how does Robinson explain the fact that “civil rights” activists like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who over the years have done so much to create, exploit, and fuel racial tensions in this nation (including Sharpton’s despicable role in the Tawana Brawley case), find a comfortable home in the Democratic Party?

One may agree or disagree with using race as a consideration in, say, college admissions. Reasonable people can debate what role, if any, race should play in such matters. (I side with Professor Alexander Bickel, who in The Morality of Consent wrote, “[A] racial quota derogates the human dignity and individuality of all to whom it is applied; it is invidious in principle as well as in practice… The history of the racial quota is a history of subjugation, not beneficence…. a quota is a divider of society, a creator of castes, and it is all the worse for its racial base, especially in a society desperately striving for an equality that will make race irrelevant.”) But whatever those who advocate such positions are promoting, it is not a colorblind America. It is, in fact, the very opposite. And surely Eugene Robinson must, on some level, know it. How silly of him to claim what is so clearly not true.

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Bigot Bowl

In the aftermath of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s stunning reemergence as an obstacle to Barack Obama’s presidential prospects, left-wing pundits have settled on a new strategy for dealing with the fallout. It goes something like this: every time Wright’s name is mentioned, remind the public that the Republicans also have their bigots. In this vein, Ann Friedman of American Prospect has implored liberal bloggers to match every reference to Rev. Wright with a mention of Reverend John Hagee, the controversial evangelical pastor who has endorsed John McCain. Meanwhile, the “progressive” watch-dog group Media Matters lamented the greater coverage that Wright has received over Hagee, while the New York Times, Boston Globe, and Washington Post ran opinion pieces prominently highlighting Hagee’s endorsement of McCain in an apparent bid to neutralize the damage that Wright has caused Obama’s campaign.

But if these opinion-makers believe that they’ve found their escape route in calling attention to Hagee, they are sorely mistaken. For starters, the empirics don’t work in their favor, as Hagee’s relationship with McCain isn’t remotely analogous to Wright’s relationship with Obama. Indeed, despite Hagee’s disturbing bigotry–he has said that the planning of a gay pride parade in New Orleans prompted Hurricane Katrina as a divine response–he is merely one of McCain’s many endorsers. But Rev. Wright is, after all, Obama’s spiritual guide of two decades–a man that Obama respected so much that he refused to distance himself from Wright for months after the pastor’s anti-American vitriol first hit YouTube.

In turn, the sheer imprecision of the Hagee-is-McCain’s-Wright argument will ultimately keep liberal opinion-makers on the defensive. After all, when Michael Moore, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson make their quadrennial pilgrimages to the Democratic National Convention, the Democrats will look downright hypocritical for having declared their outrage over the lesser-known Hagee. Voters will thus be reminded that, when it comes to relying on notorious bigots to mobilize key electoral cleavages, the Democrats are no better than Republicans. The difference, however, is that only the front-running Democratic candidate has compared one of these bigots to his grandmother.

In the aftermath of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s stunning reemergence as an obstacle to Barack Obama’s presidential prospects, left-wing pundits have settled on a new strategy for dealing with the fallout. It goes something like this: every time Wright’s name is mentioned, remind the public that the Republicans also have their bigots. In this vein, Ann Friedman of American Prospect has implored liberal bloggers to match every reference to Rev. Wright with a mention of Reverend John Hagee, the controversial evangelical pastor who has endorsed John McCain. Meanwhile, the “progressive” watch-dog group Media Matters lamented the greater coverage that Wright has received over Hagee, while the New York Times, Boston Globe, and Washington Post ran opinion pieces prominently highlighting Hagee’s endorsement of McCain in an apparent bid to neutralize the damage that Wright has caused Obama’s campaign.

But if these opinion-makers believe that they’ve found their escape route in calling attention to Hagee, they are sorely mistaken. For starters, the empirics don’t work in their favor, as Hagee’s relationship with McCain isn’t remotely analogous to Wright’s relationship with Obama. Indeed, despite Hagee’s disturbing bigotry–he has said that the planning of a gay pride parade in New Orleans prompted Hurricane Katrina as a divine response–he is merely one of McCain’s many endorsers. But Rev. Wright is, after all, Obama’s spiritual guide of two decades–a man that Obama respected so much that he refused to distance himself from Wright for months after the pastor’s anti-American vitriol first hit YouTube.

In turn, the sheer imprecision of the Hagee-is-McCain’s-Wright argument will ultimately keep liberal opinion-makers on the defensive. After all, when Michael Moore, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson make their quadrennial pilgrimages to the Democratic National Convention, the Democrats will look downright hypocritical for having declared their outrage over the lesser-known Hagee. Voters will thus be reminded that, when it comes to relying on notorious bigots to mobilize key electoral cleavages, the Democrats are no better than Republicans. The difference, however, is that only the front-running Democratic candidate has compared one of these bigots to his grandmother.

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Kicking Hillary and Taking Names

Still on the Rolling Temper Tantrum Tour ’08, Bill Clinton gave a revelatory radio interview yesterday. Losing his cool and discarding any remnants of good sense, he was in top meltdown form, complete with a not-quite-out-of-earshot bit of profanity. Here’s what we learned:

1. The fallout over his comparing Obama’s South Carolina primary victory to Jesse Jackson’s was a matter of the race card being used against him. Though he brought up Jackson in connection with Obama, any connection on basis of race was introduced by the Obama camp in an effort to smear poor Bill.

2. He knows this now for a fact, because of some unearthed memos from the Obama camp.

3. You have to work pretty darn hard to cast Bill Clinton as a racist because . . . he has an office in Harlem.

4. He doesn’t think he “should take any s**t from anybody on that, do you?”

Actually, he should. On that and a great many other things, Americans (especially his wife) are hoping against hope that Bill Clinton will pipe down, get humble, and disappear. His inability to do so approaches the pathological. What’s fascinating about this most recent interview is not the victim mentality, the paranoia, or the commercial real estate approach to civil rights.

It’s that nothing offered in this outburst could possibly help his wife in Pennsylvania today. The temptation to psychoanalyze candidates and their spouses is best resisted, but in the case of Bill Clinton no analysis is required. He’s openly telling you: He doesn’t think he should take s**t from anybody, campaign be damned. With delegate math making things nearly impossible for Hillary, it’s as if Bill has decided to try and fight for some obscure personal validation. Can there be any question that the Clintons are heading for a double defeat?

Still on the Rolling Temper Tantrum Tour ’08, Bill Clinton gave a revelatory radio interview yesterday. Losing his cool and discarding any remnants of good sense, he was in top meltdown form, complete with a not-quite-out-of-earshot bit of profanity. Here’s what we learned:

1. The fallout over his comparing Obama’s South Carolina primary victory to Jesse Jackson’s was a matter of the race card being used against him. Though he brought up Jackson in connection with Obama, any connection on basis of race was introduced by the Obama camp in an effort to smear poor Bill.

2. He knows this now for a fact, because of some unearthed memos from the Obama camp.

3. You have to work pretty darn hard to cast Bill Clinton as a racist because . . . he has an office in Harlem.

4. He doesn’t think he “should take any s**t from anybody on that, do you?”

Actually, he should. On that and a great many other things, Americans (especially his wife) are hoping against hope that Bill Clinton will pipe down, get humble, and disappear. His inability to do so approaches the pathological. What’s fascinating about this most recent interview is not the victim mentality, the paranoia, or the commercial real estate approach to civil rights.

It’s that nothing offered in this outburst could possibly help his wife in Pennsylvania today. The temptation to psychoanalyze candidates and their spouses is best resisted, but in the case of Bill Clinton no analysis is required. He’s openly telling you: He doesn’t think he should take s**t from anybody, campaign be damned. With delegate math making things nearly impossible for Hillary, it’s as if Bill has decided to try and fight for some obscure personal validation. Can there be any question that the Clintons are heading for a double defeat?

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What We Have To Look Forward To

Barack Obama met with a group of Pennsylvania Jewish leaders today. According to reports, he said “We should only sit down with Hamas if they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and abide by past agreements.” He refused to condemn Jimmy Carter’s Hamas outreach, but said he had a “fundamental disagreement” with Carter. (No word on whether he was asked about visiting graves of terrorists.)

The report concludes: “Obama also said at the meeting that he’s willing to make diplomatic overtures to Iran” even though it had “funded Hamas and other militant groups.” What about applying the standards he applies to Hamas? Nope. And no explanation was given as to why Iran, which is indisputably helping to kill Americans in Iraq, gets better treatment than Hamas. This whirlwind of inconsistency is what we have to look forward to in an Obama administration.

Another report adds this curious response:

Would he continue to veto anti-Israeli resolutions at the UN? He said he would and that he would be “uniquely positioned” to do so due to his background. “That kind of blunt talk is something I can deliver with more credibility than some other presidents might.”

Does he mean to suggest that because he is African-American, Israel’s enemies will accept a veto more readily? It’s hard to imagine what “background” he has that gives him superior credibility in dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict. This comment is frankly baffling. In a separate interview, Obama made clear the real reasons why he is having a difficult time allaying the concerns of Jewish voters:

“Let’s be clear, there has been a really systematic effort to suggest that I’m not sufficiently pro-Israel,” he said. “The fact that my middle name is Hussein, I’m sure, does not help in that regard . . . Again some of this dates back to the ’60s between the African-American and the Jewish community as a consequence of [Louis] Farrakhan. There was flap about some of Jesse Jackson’s statements during his presidential race, so I inherit all this baggage.”

But not to worry. He says “no one’s been a more stalwart ally of Israel.” Never mind his choice of advisors, his past embrace of Palestinian activists, or his association with the hate-mongering Reverend Wright. It’s the fault of of those pesky Jews, who are (for some incomprehensible, asinine reason) spooked by the rhetoric of his advisers and close associates. Voters can be so dim.

Barack Obama met with a group of Pennsylvania Jewish leaders today. According to reports, he said “We should only sit down with Hamas if they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and abide by past agreements.” He refused to condemn Jimmy Carter’s Hamas outreach, but said he had a “fundamental disagreement” with Carter. (No word on whether he was asked about visiting graves of terrorists.)

The report concludes: “Obama also said at the meeting that he’s willing to make diplomatic overtures to Iran” even though it had “funded Hamas and other militant groups.” What about applying the standards he applies to Hamas? Nope. And no explanation was given as to why Iran, which is indisputably helping to kill Americans in Iraq, gets better treatment than Hamas. This whirlwind of inconsistency is what we have to look forward to in an Obama administration.

Another report adds this curious response:

Would he continue to veto anti-Israeli resolutions at the UN? He said he would and that he would be “uniquely positioned” to do so due to his background. “That kind of blunt talk is something I can deliver with more credibility than some other presidents might.”

Does he mean to suggest that because he is African-American, Israel’s enemies will accept a veto more readily? It’s hard to imagine what “background” he has that gives him superior credibility in dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict. This comment is frankly baffling. In a separate interview, Obama made clear the real reasons why he is having a difficult time allaying the concerns of Jewish voters:

“Let’s be clear, there has been a really systematic effort to suggest that I’m not sufficiently pro-Israel,” he said. “The fact that my middle name is Hussein, I’m sure, does not help in that regard . . . Again some of this dates back to the ’60s between the African-American and the Jewish community as a consequence of [Louis] Farrakhan. There was flap about some of Jesse Jackson’s statements during his presidential race, so I inherit all this baggage.”

But not to worry. He says “no one’s been a more stalwart ally of Israel.” Never mind his choice of advisors, his past embrace of Palestinian activists, or his association with the hate-mongering Reverend Wright. It’s the fault of of those pesky Jews, who are (for some incomprehensible, asinine reason) spooked by the rhetoric of his advisers and close associates. Voters can be so dim.

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The Gore Option

It was not so long ago that, after a debate in Hollywood between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Democrats (and some media cheerleaders) enthused that the party would do well to have either one of them as candidates.

Well, that was then and this is now. Clinton’s favorable rating sunk to 37% in the last NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Democrats are fretting that Obama’s association with Reverend Wright and refusal to make a clean break with his “mentor” has doomed his chances with white, working class voters. John McCain now leads both Democrats in a number of key swing states including Ohio, Florida and Missouri.

What to do? Joe Klein offered up a solution: Al Gore. The superdelegates, he postulated, faced with a choice between a faltering Obama or a Clinton seeking to snatch the nomination from the pledged delegate winner instead, could turn to Gore “for the good of the party.” While Klein’s admittedly far-fetched scheme seems ripped from an Allen Drury novel, it does point to a troubling conclusion the Democrats are slowly reaching: neither one of their candidates matches up very well against John McCain.

Why would they turn to Gore? Well, he has no racial baggage, having never associated himself with a hate-mongering preacher or disparaged his opponent as another Jesse Jackson. He has actual experience in foreign and domestic policy. He has international stature as the guru of global warming. Gore even has a spouse who is not a liability. We can argue about the wisdom of his policy positions. But we’re dealing with Democrats looking for a deus ex machina.

And what does that say in turn about the most likely nominee, Obama? He is the un-Gore. Obama sports a giant potential liability in his association with Wright. He lacks any real governing expertise or track record. He has never been in any executive role. For independents he may simply seem too callow and untested to be trusted with national security. So it’s little wonder that Democrats are developing a serious case of buyer’s remorse.

It would seem then that the “Gore Option” is further proof–if any was needed–that Democrats are growing increasingly queasy about the person most likely to gain the nomination. Yet they just can’t bring themselves to accept Clinton as the alternative.

It was not so long ago that, after a debate in Hollywood between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Democrats (and some media cheerleaders) enthused that the party would do well to have either one of them as candidates.

Well, that was then and this is now. Clinton’s favorable rating sunk to 37% in the last NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Democrats are fretting that Obama’s association with Reverend Wright and refusal to make a clean break with his “mentor” has doomed his chances with white, working class voters. John McCain now leads both Democrats in a number of key swing states including Ohio, Florida and Missouri.

What to do? Joe Klein offered up a solution: Al Gore. The superdelegates, he postulated, faced with a choice between a faltering Obama or a Clinton seeking to snatch the nomination from the pledged delegate winner instead, could turn to Gore “for the good of the party.” While Klein’s admittedly far-fetched scheme seems ripped from an Allen Drury novel, it does point to a troubling conclusion the Democrats are slowly reaching: neither one of their candidates matches up very well against John McCain.

Why would they turn to Gore? Well, he has no racial baggage, having never associated himself with a hate-mongering preacher or disparaged his opponent as another Jesse Jackson. He has actual experience in foreign and domestic policy. He has international stature as the guru of global warming. Gore even has a spouse who is not a liability. We can argue about the wisdom of his policy positions. But we’re dealing with Democrats looking for a deus ex machina.

And what does that say in turn about the most likely nominee, Obama? He is the un-Gore. Obama sports a giant potential liability in his association with Wright. He lacks any real governing expertise or track record. He has never been in any executive role. For independents he may simply seem too callow and untested to be trusted with national security. So it’s little wonder that Democrats are developing a serious case of buyer’s remorse.

It would seem then that the “Gore Option” is further proof–if any was needed–that Democrats are growing increasingly queasy about the person most likely to gain the nomination. Yet they just can’t bring themselves to accept Clinton as the alternative.

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Sectarian Strife–Amongst The Dems

A new poll shows that 20 percent of Barack Obama’s supporters would vote for John McCain if Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination. Similarly, 19 percent of Hillary’s supporters would vote for McCain should Obama be running against him. And people thought the GOP was split!

This fracturing in the Democratic Party is yet another result of identity politics. Once people have chosen a candidate solely because of gender or race, there’s no ideological commonality to reconcile different voter blocs within the party. If a Hillary voter’s favorite Hillary policy is that she’s a woman, what need is there of Obama’s healthcare plan? The same dynamic holds on both sides. If an Obama supporter is solely concerned with his candidate’s racial composition, what sway does Hillary’s troop withdrawal hold?

The nasty tenor of the Democratic race is another factor, and here the blame lies squarely with the Clinton camp. From the start, Bill Clinton has missed no opportunity to demean Obama, either by diminishing his credentials or reducing him to a black phenomenon (by, say, comparing his South Carolina victory to Jesse Jackson’s). Hillary picked up where Bill left off. She made too much of Obama’s relationship with Tony Rezko, and she shamefully played up any reference to race or cultural exoticism.

This is ugly stuff. At least the Republican crack-up-that-wasn’t was ideological. Rush Limbaugh and company pointed to a handful of policy decisions they felt rendered John McCain unfit. This meant there was room to patch things up. When dealing in degrees of political conservatism, one side can budge, the other can give, a few pledges can be made, and so on. Hillary Clinton can’t turn black and Barack Obama can’t become a woman. Even the most fervent “change”-peddler wouldn’t promise that much. (At least until Pennsylvania.)

A new poll shows that 20 percent of Barack Obama’s supporters would vote for John McCain if Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination. Similarly, 19 percent of Hillary’s supporters would vote for McCain should Obama be running against him. And people thought the GOP was split!

This fracturing in the Democratic Party is yet another result of identity politics. Once people have chosen a candidate solely because of gender or race, there’s no ideological commonality to reconcile different voter blocs within the party. If a Hillary voter’s favorite Hillary policy is that she’s a woman, what need is there of Obama’s healthcare plan? The same dynamic holds on both sides. If an Obama supporter is solely concerned with his candidate’s racial composition, what sway does Hillary’s troop withdrawal hold?

The nasty tenor of the Democratic race is another factor, and here the blame lies squarely with the Clinton camp. From the start, Bill Clinton has missed no opportunity to demean Obama, either by diminishing his credentials or reducing him to a black phenomenon (by, say, comparing his South Carolina victory to Jesse Jackson’s). Hillary picked up where Bill left off. She made too much of Obama’s relationship with Tony Rezko, and she shamefully played up any reference to race or cultural exoticism.

This is ugly stuff. At least the Republican crack-up-that-wasn’t was ideological. Rush Limbaugh and company pointed to a handful of policy decisions they felt rendered John McCain unfit. This meant there was room to patch things up. When dealing in degrees of political conservatism, one side can budge, the other can give, a few pledges can be made, and so on. Hillary Clinton can’t turn black and Barack Obama can’t become a woman. Even the most fervent “change”-peddler wouldn’t promise that much. (At least until Pennsylvania.)

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It’s About Politics, Not Race

The revelations about Jeremiah Wright are so strange precisely because it’s next to impossible to imagine Barack Obama agreeing at all with this man’s incendiary remarks. I don’t think for a second that Obama’s cool demeanor is a put-on; that he’s masking some sort of pent-up anger and resentment. Yet Obama obviously respects Wright, and has for some time. This leaves me to consider what is it about Wright that so attracts Obama. And that leads me to some troubling conclusions.

Given everything that is known about Barack Obama, and the totality of what he has written and said, there is absolutely no reason to believe that he adheres to the racial grievance theory of America articulated by the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, whatever the Clintons might want to imply. Rather, the legitimate concern about Obama ought to be, and has always been, about his politics. Is he sympathetic to the hard left narrative of America, and if so, does this influence his views about the use of American power? The recent remarks of his wife suggest that he might; one hears a distinct echo of Wright in her statements about this country. Instead of worrying about what Obama knew and when he knew it, we should be asking him what he thinks of Harry Truman (strange that this titan of the anti-communist cause and the Democratic Party never appears anywhere in Obama’s rhetoric) and the way he went about ending World War II. That seems like a far more relevant, not to mention fair, question for a commander in chief than, “Do you agree with your Pastor that the government invented HIV to kill black people?”

The revelations about Jeremiah Wright are so strange precisely because it’s next to impossible to imagine Barack Obama agreeing at all with this man’s incendiary remarks. I don’t think for a second that Obama’s cool demeanor is a put-on; that he’s masking some sort of pent-up anger and resentment. Yet Obama obviously respects Wright, and has for some time. This leaves me to consider what is it about Wright that so attracts Obama. And that leads me to some troubling conclusions.

Given everything that is known about Barack Obama, and the totality of what he has written and said, there is absolutely no reason to believe that he adheres to the racial grievance theory of America articulated by the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, whatever the Clintons might want to imply. Rather, the legitimate concern about Obama ought to be, and has always been, about his politics. Is he sympathetic to the hard left narrative of America, and if so, does this influence his views about the use of American power? The recent remarks of his wife suggest that he might; one hears a distinct echo of Wright in her statements about this country. Instead of worrying about what Obama knew and when he knew it, we should be asking him what he thinks of Harry Truman (strange that this titan of the anti-communist cause and the Democratic Party never appears anywhere in Obama’s rhetoric) and the way he went about ending World War II. That seems like a far more relevant, not to mention fair, question for a commander in chief than, “Do you agree with your Pastor that the government invented HIV to kill black people?”

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Lost In The Scandal

In the blur of yesterday’s news about Eliot Spitzer’s self-destruction came two unrelated comments that should have gotten more attention. First, there was the latest Michelle Obama utterance, this time insulting men. As we learned yesterday, some men do put themselves first. But trashing an entire gender hardly seems fair or politic. Her list of the mean and rotten things in life is growing longer: America, men, college loan payments. Western civilization as a whole is surely next.

Then there was Geraldine Ferraro, who said that no one would be talking about Barack Obama if he were white. (She also showed a little self-awareness and admitted she would never have been Walter Mondale’s VP if she were a man.) Clinton’s spokesman responded with a terse “We disagree with her.” Clearly after Bill Clinton’s South Carolina outburst comparing Obama to Jesse Jackson, this is not something the Clinton folks want to touch with a ten-foot pole. (They’re too busy patronizing Obama with an offer of the VP slot, provided he can bone up on foreign policy by the convention.)

John McCain couldn’t have had any idea that his jaunt to Israel and Europe would provide such a contrast between himself and his Democratic opponents. Who knew the gravitas gap would be so large? There are times when it is good to appear entirely above the fray. And this is one of those times.

In the blur of yesterday’s news about Eliot Spitzer’s self-destruction came two unrelated comments that should have gotten more attention. First, there was the latest Michelle Obama utterance, this time insulting men. As we learned yesterday, some men do put themselves first. But trashing an entire gender hardly seems fair or politic. Her list of the mean and rotten things in life is growing longer: America, men, college loan payments. Western civilization as a whole is surely next.

Then there was Geraldine Ferraro, who said that no one would be talking about Barack Obama if he were white. (She also showed a little self-awareness and admitted she would never have been Walter Mondale’s VP if she were a man.) Clinton’s spokesman responded with a terse “We disagree with her.” Clearly after Bill Clinton’s South Carolina outburst comparing Obama to Jesse Jackson, this is not something the Clinton folks want to touch with a ten-foot pole. (They’re too busy patronizing Obama with an offer of the VP slot, provided he can bone up on foreign policy by the convention.)

John McCain couldn’t have had any idea that his jaunt to Israel and Europe would provide such a contrast between himself and his Democratic opponents. Who knew the gravitas gap would be so large? There are times when it is good to appear entirely above the fray. And this is one of those times.

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The Real Clinton Divide

Barack Obama’s victory speech in South Carolina last night was a visual and rhetorical masterpiece. His gaze literally fixed on some imaginary horizon, his chin raised as if to clear the shoulder-high muck of the past few weeks, the senator spoke of a newly united electorate with a confidence that suggested history in real-time. Obama’s vision of a pluralistic America with a shared will manages to rouse beyond the expected levels of mushy melting-pot sentiment. The senator constructs his unity dream from a real world blueprint, creating the most important effect for any running politician: you want to believe him.

Whether you bought this practical utopianism or you didn’t, the speech was a poetic triumph of the grand over the petty. Without ever saying their names, Obama shamed the Clintons. His high road was so elevated that Bill and Hillary’s malignant sniping and race-tactics seemed unreal by comparison. He made fellowship shine where division repulses, and redefined effortless in the process.

So, what does it mean that Bill Clinton answered ABC News’ David Wright’s question about Obama’s win with: “Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in ’84 and ’88. Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here”? We know the divide-and-conquer approach at work here. If the Clintons can split the vote down black-white lines, Hillary will win through sheer mathematics, as white voters outnumber their black counterparts. But the Clintons have been so thoroughly exposed (and seemingly punished) for exploiting race, one would think Bill would attempt to cloak this strategy. The fact that he didn’t means one of two things: either the Clintons are so cocooned from public sentiment that they exist in a reality of their own making, or they’ve finally admitted that venom is their medium and embraced it without apology. That’s the real Clinton choice. Both options are equally chilling.

Barack Obama’s victory speech in South Carolina last night was a visual and rhetorical masterpiece. His gaze literally fixed on some imaginary horizon, his chin raised as if to clear the shoulder-high muck of the past few weeks, the senator spoke of a newly united electorate with a confidence that suggested history in real-time. Obama’s vision of a pluralistic America with a shared will manages to rouse beyond the expected levels of mushy melting-pot sentiment. The senator constructs his unity dream from a real world blueprint, creating the most important effect for any running politician: you want to believe him.

Whether you bought this practical utopianism or you didn’t, the speech was a poetic triumph of the grand over the petty. Without ever saying their names, Obama shamed the Clintons. His high road was so elevated that Bill and Hillary’s malignant sniping and race-tactics seemed unreal by comparison. He made fellowship shine where division repulses, and redefined effortless in the process.

So, what does it mean that Bill Clinton answered ABC News’ David Wright’s question about Obama’s win with: “Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in ’84 and ’88. Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here”? We know the divide-and-conquer approach at work here. If the Clintons can split the vote down black-white lines, Hillary will win through sheer mathematics, as white voters outnumber their black counterparts. But the Clintons have been so thoroughly exposed (and seemingly punished) for exploiting race, one would think Bill would attempt to cloak this strategy. The fact that he didn’t means one of two things: either the Clintons are so cocooned from public sentiment that they exist in a reality of their own making, or they’ve finally admitted that venom is their medium and embraced it without apology. That’s the real Clinton choice. Both options are equally chilling.

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IOWA: Obama’s Not Exactly Historic Victory

Watch out for the hyperventilating. Barack Obama is not the first black man to win a Democratic primary (if the projections hold). In 1984, Jesse Jackson won five primaries, including Michigan, which is actually a state in which a significant number of people actually live, as opposed to Iowa, where a cow lives. It is true that Obama’s victory in a very, very white state is interesting. But of course it is not just a white state. It is among the most liberal white states in the union.

Watch out for the hyperventilating. Barack Obama is not the first black man to win a Democratic primary (if the projections hold). In 1984, Jesse Jackson won five primaries, including Michigan, which is actually a state in which a significant number of people actually live, as opposed to Iowa, where a cow lives. It is true that Obama’s victory in a very, very white state is interesting. But of course it is not just a white state. It is among the most liberal white states in the union.

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The Decline of Racial Politics

If the findings of a new Pew poll are any indication, race—or more specifically, the declining prospects of African-Americans—ought to be at the very center of the presidential campaign. Today, notes Juan Williams, summarizing the grim numbers,

only 20 percent of black Americans think life is generally better for black people than it was five years ago, the lowest positive response to that question in polls going back 24 years. Only 44 percent of black people expect life to get better; that’s well below the 57 percent who predicted a better life for black people when the same question was asked in 1986.

And yet, race is playing the smallest role in any election since 1964. Part of the reason for this is the absence of a black Democrat using the presidential primaries to campaign indirectly for the leadership of black America. There is no Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton in the contest. Barack Obama’s appeal, though it has a racial element, is primarily to the same sorts of upper-middle-class Americans who once thought Adlai Stevenson a model of gentlemanly intellect. But more importantly there has been a shift in attitudes that make it harder to use race as a political issue. The Pew Poll found that

71 percent of whites and 59 percent of Hispanics feel that personal behavior—values, education, hard work—is what holds back those black Americans still trapped in poverty. But what is most striking is that a small majority, 53 percent, of black Americans agree that “blacks who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition.”

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If the findings of a new Pew poll are any indication, race—or more specifically, the declining prospects of African-Americans—ought to be at the very center of the presidential campaign. Today, notes Juan Williams, summarizing the grim numbers,

only 20 percent of black Americans think life is generally better for black people than it was five years ago, the lowest positive response to that question in polls going back 24 years. Only 44 percent of black people expect life to get better; that’s well below the 57 percent who predicted a better life for black people when the same question was asked in 1986.

And yet, race is playing the smallest role in any election since 1964. Part of the reason for this is the absence of a black Democrat using the presidential primaries to campaign indirectly for the leadership of black America. There is no Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton in the contest. Barack Obama’s appeal, though it has a racial element, is primarily to the same sorts of upper-middle-class Americans who once thought Adlai Stevenson a model of gentlemanly intellect. But more importantly there has been a shift in attitudes that make it harder to use race as a political issue. The Pew Poll found that

71 percent of whites and 59 percent of Hispanics feel that personal behavior—values, education, hard work—is what holds back those black Americans still trapped in poverty. But what is most striking is that a small majority, 53 percent, of black Americans agree that “blacks who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition.”

Confirmation of the shift described by the Pew Poll can be found in the controversy surrounding a new survey by Congressional Quarterly, which found that Detroit was the most crime ridden city: “More people were murdered in Detroit than in San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, and San Jose combined—and each one of those cities has a bigger population than Detroit.” The findings were contested by the American Society of Criminology, which denounced it as an “irresponsible misuse” of crime data. Not surprisingly, Detroit’s African-American police chief concurred. “Every year,” said Ella Bully-Cummings, “this organization sends out a press release with big, bold lettering that labels a certain city as Most Dangerous, USA…. It really makes you wonder if the organization is truly concerned with evaluating crime or increasing its profit.”

But strikingly, the Detroit Free Press refused to be assuaged by Bully-Cummings’s attempts at displacement. The Free Press took mocking aim at the chief’s

bizarre defense that the report didn’t account for all the crime victims who are druggies and felons. That, of course, is supposed to show that crime isn’t “random” in Detroit, so the city is not that dangerous…. Applying the chief’s logic, why even bother to count undesirables as whole people? When a drug addict gets gunned down by a drug dealer, or an ex-con is shot in a robbery, those should be half-murders. A victim with two priors maybe counts as only a third.

(The phrase “whole people” refers, of course, to the Three-Fifths Compromise, the amendment to the Constitution that defined slaves as 3/5 of a person for the purpose of allocating seats in the House of Representatives.)

Philadelphia’s soaring black-on-black murder rate similarly has made it harder to play racial politics. In 2003, corrupt mayor John “If you want to play you have to pay” Street won re-election by campaigning against an alleged white racist plot against him. But the new mayor Michael Nutter (also an African-American) won by making honest administration and cleaning up the violent crime that’s shaken the city—and not institutional racism—the central campaign issues. “The sad truth,” argues Henry Louis Gates Jr., “is that the civil rights movement cannot be reborn until we identify the causes of black suffering, some of them self-inflicted.” There’s no political hay to be made out of that conclusion—which may be why it’s had such a hard time gaining traction.

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Barron Backs Barack

Yesterday, Barack Obama picked up the endorsement of Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron. Tellingly, the first words to come from an Obama spokesperson were these:

Sen. Obama disagrees with Councilman Barron’s statements on several issues, but this campaign is about asking people to unite instead of divide, despite our differences.

It’s understandable that the Obama campaign would seek to distance itself publicly from Barron, a former black panther. Barron’s history is littered with disgraceful behavior, the latest incident being his defense of a staffer, Viola Plummer, who threatened to kill a City Councilman (a particularly serious outburst considering the murder of Councilman James Davis, gunned down on the floor of the City Council chamber in the summer of 2003). Barron’s support for Plummer’s assassination threat was altogether unremarkable considering the fact that Barron is a long-time supporter of Robert Mugabe—a man who actually does kill his political opponents.

Endorsements are somewhat over-hyped occurrences in presidential campaigns, and there’s no reason to think that Obama shares the more controversial viewpoints, or approves of the outrageous tactics, of Charles Barron. Indeed, Obama has distinguished himself, in his rhetoric, from racial hucksters like Barron, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson (who in September complained that Obama was “acting like he’s white”). But this is the second controversial endorsement Obama has had to endure in just the past few weeks. His campaign recently invited the “ex-gay” gospel singer Donnie McClurkin (who has claimed that gays are “trying to kill our children”) to perform at a gospel concert in South Carolina. Obama stated that he does not agree with McClurkin’s views, but nevertheless has not disowned the performer’s endorsement.

Though Obama has tried to put some distance between himself and these disreputable figures, he must know how useful they might be in attracting black Democratic voters (who are, at the moment, overwhelmingly supporting Hillary Clinton). Obama’s acceptance of these endorsements doesn’t mean he’s a racist or homophobe. But endorsements are nonetheless useful in making educated assumptions about the policies a candidate might pursue, and values he will reflect, if elected. These two recent ones suggest that for all of Obama’s talk about his purported wish to “unite” people and his supporters’ claims that his “campaign is about asking people to unite instead of divide, despite our differences,” he can (or wants to) play partisan identity politics with the best of them. If Republicans constantly are vilified for the endorsements they garner, there’s no reason Democrats shouldn’t face the same scrutiny.

Yesterday, Barack Obama picked up the endorsement of Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron. Tellingly, the first words to come from an Obama spokesperson were these:

Sen. Obama disagrees with Councilman Barron’s statements on several issues, but this campaign is about asking people to unite instead of divide, despite our differences.

It’s understandable that the Obama campaign would seek to distance itself publicly from Barron, a former black panther. Barron’s history is littered with disgraceful behavior, the latest incident being his defense of a staffer, Viola Plummer, who threatened to kill a City Councilman (a particularly serious outburst considering the murder of Councilman James Davis, gunned down on the floor of the City Council chamber in the summer of 2003). Barron’s support for Plummer’s assassination threat was altogether unremarkable considering the fact that Barron is a long-time supporter of Robert Mugabe—a man who actually does kill his political opponents.

Endorsements are somewhat over-hyped occurrences in presidential campaigns, and there’s no reason to think that Obama shares the more controversial viewpoints, or approves of the outrageous tactics, of Charles Barron. Indeed, Obama has distinguished himself, in his rhetoric, from racial hucksters like Barron, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson (who in September complained that Obama was “acting like he’s white”). But this is the second controversial endorsement Obama has had to endure in just the past few weeks. His campaign recently invited the “ex-gay” gospel singer Donnie McClurkin (who has claimed that gays are “trying to kill our children”) to perform at a gospel concert in South Carolina. Obama stated that he does not agree with McClurkin’s views, but nevertheless has not disowned the performer’s endorsement.

Though Obama has tried to put some distance between himself and these disreputable figures, he must know how useful they might be in attracting black Democratic voters (who are, at the moment, overwhelmingly supporting Hillary Clinton). Obama’s acceptance of these endorsements doesn’t mean he’s a racist or homophobe. But endorsements are nonetheless useful in making educated assumptions about the policies a candidate might pursue, and values he will reflect, if elected. These two recent ones suggest that for all of Obama’s talk about his purported wish to “unite” people and his supporters’ claims that his “campaign is about asking people to unite instead of divide, despite our differences,” he can (or wants to) play partisan identity politics with the best of them. If Republicans constantly are vilified for the endorsements they garner, there’s no reason Democrats shouldn’t face the same scrutiny.

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