Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jimmy Carter

Flotsam and Jetsam

I’m sure it is going to be blamed on the Chamber of Commerce: “Gallup finds 21% of Americans satisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time. If that figure does not improve considerably in the next two weeks, it would be the lowest level of U.S. satisfaction Gallup has measured at the time of a midterm election in more than 30 years of tracking this measure.”

If Jimmy Carter is talking about Israel, it’s going to be slanderous: “Former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that Palestinians are ‘living in a cage’ in Gaza and that the militant group Hamas must be included in all major efforts for peace.” Oh, and Obama’s Medal of Freedom winner Mary Robinson was along for the trip.

Now that the PA has bugged out of direct non-peace talks, Israeli leaders are right to be concerned that the next step is going to be an attempt to impose a peace deal. Ambassador Michael Oren is having none of it: “Like Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu will not allow the United Nations, or any other organization, to dictate our borders. They will be determined through negotiations.”

If he’s not taking responsibility for the economy or his party’s train wreck now, there’s no way he’s going to be sticking around to explain the election results: “President Obama is giving Republicans a 10-day window to set the agenda for a lame-duck session and the new legislative year by leaving the country right after the midterm elections.” In short, run away!

Jack Conway is going to be the winner of one contest, according to Jason Zengerle: “There are still two weeks left until the midterm elections, but it’s not too early to declare a winner in the contest for the most despicable political ad of this campaign season. … When the debate was over, Paul refused to shake Conway’s hand. Frankly, I don’t blame him. First, no candidate over the age of, say, 30 should be held politically accountable for anything he or she did in college—short of gross academic misconduct or committing a felony. Second, and more importantly, a politician’s religious faith should simply be off-limits.”

Matt Continetti explains that it’s not going to be easy for Sarah Palin to get the GOP nod: “Palin needs to run a campaign in which she demonstrates the ability to stay on message, raise significant sums of money from a broad group of donors, demonstrate familiarity with the intricacies of domestic and foreign policy, and present a unifying theme of American strength, at home and abroad. It’s a tall order, I know. But the next Republican president will do all these things.” At least she’ll have the argument that an Ivy League degree is irrelevant to the presidency.

It’s going to be a long two years: “[T]he Obama administration is still absorbing the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to date rejected a proposed American compromise package that would have offered various security and other assurances to Israel in exchange for a 60-day renewal of a partial West Bank settlement freeze that expired last month. The American team is said to be frustrated and upset at Netanyahu’s dismissal to date of the package, which was drafted by the NSC’s Dennis Ross in close consultation with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molho.” They didn’t see this coming? Now that is scary.

I’m sure it is going to be blamed on the Chamber of Commerce: “Gallup finds 21% of Americans satisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time. If that figure does not improve considerably in the next two weeks, it would be the lowest level of U.S. satisfaction Gallup has measured at the time of a midterm election in more than 30 years of tracking this measure.”

If Jimmy Carter is talking about Israel, it’s going to be slanderous: “Former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that Palestinians are ‘living in a cage’ in Gaza and that the militant group Hamas must be included in all major efforts for peace.” Oh, and Obama’s Medal of Freedom winner Mary Robinson was along for the trip.

Now that the PA has bugged out of direct non-peace talks, Israeli leaders are right to be concerned that the next step is going to be an attempt to impose a peace deal. Ambassador Michael Oren is having none of it: “Like Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu will not allow the United Nations, or any other organization, to dictate our borders. They will be determined through negotiations.”

If he’s not taking responsibility for the economy or his party’s train wreck now, there’s no way he’s going to be sticking around to explain the election results: “President Obama is giving Republicans a 10-day window to set the agenda for a lame-duck session and the new legislative year by leaving the country right after the midterm elections.” In short, run away!

Jack Conway is going to be the winner of one contest, according to Jason Zengerle: “There are still two weeks left until the midterm elections, but it’s not too early to declare a winner in the contest for the most despicable political ad of this campaign season. … When the debate was over, Paul refused to shake Conway’s hand. Frankly, I don’t blame him. First, no candidate over the age of, say, 30 should be held politically accountable for anything he or she did in college—short of gross academic misconduct or committing a felony. Second, and more importantly, a politician’s religious faith should simply be off-limits.”

Matt Continetti explains that it’s not going to be easy for Sarah Palin to get the GOP nod: “Palin needs to run a campaign in which she demonstrates the ability to stay on message, raise significant sums of money from a broad group of donors, demonstrate familiarity with the intricacies of domestic and foreign policy, and present a unifying theme of American strength, at home and abroad. It’s a tall order, I know. But the next Republican president will do all these things.” At least she’ll have the argument that an Ivy League degree is irrelevant to the presidency.

It’s going to be a long two years: “[T]he Obama administration is still absorbing the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to date rejected a proposed American compromise package that would have offered various security and other assurances to Israel in exchange for a 60-day renewal of a partial West Bank settlement freeze that expired last month. The American team is said to be frustrated and upset at Netanyahu’s dismissal to date of the package, which was drafted by the NSC’s Dennis Ross in close consultation with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molho.” They didn’t see this coming? Now that is scary.

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Americans’ Own Experiences vs. Obama’s Rhetoric

The Obama recovery bears an uncanny resemblance to a recession. That’s the New York Times‘s take:

Less than a month before November elections, the United States is mired in a grim New Normal that could last for years. . . Call it recession or recovery, for tens of millions of Americans, there’s little difference.

Born of a record financial collapse, this recession has been more severe than any since the Great Depression and has left an enormous oversupply of houses and office buildings and crippling debt. The decision last week by leading mortgage lenders to freeze foreclosures, and calls for a national moratorium, could cast a long shadow of uncertainty over banks and the housing market. Put simply, the national economy has fallen so far that it could take years to climb back.

Or put differently, Obama’s economic policies have been entirely ineffective in addressing historically high unemployment and underemployment. The Times notes:

At the current rate of job creation, the nation would need nine more years to recapture the jobs lost during the recession. And that doesn’t even account for five million or six million jobs needed in that time to keep pace with an expanding population. Even top Obama officials concede the unemployment rate could climb higher still.

But Obama insists on a massive tax increase on the “rich” and a bevy of new regulations and mandates on employers. Certainly, nine more years of Obama-like policies aren’t going to bring unemployment down. As the Times examines the dreary economic conditions across the country, one is struck by the disconnect between the White House’s rhetoric and the economic predicament faced by Americans, as well as the equally vast disconnect between the administration’s anti-growth, anti-business policies and the economic challenges these people are facing.

In this economic climate, Obama’s hyper-partisan, desperate rhetoric seems particularly jarring. He’s talking about phony foreign donors to the Chamber of Commerce; in suburban Arizona, “subdivisions sit in the desert, some half-built and some dreamy wisps, like the emerald green putting green sitting amid acres of scrub and cacti. Signs offer discounts, distress sales and rent with the first and second month free. Discounts do not help if your income is cut in half.” Obama rails at Wall Street; in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, meanwhile, “home prices have fallen by 16 percent since 2006, and houses now take twice as long to sell as they did five years ago. That’s enough to inflict pain on homeowners who need to sell because of a job loss or drop in income. Some are being forced to get rid of their houses in short sales, asking less than they owe on a mortgage. As of last week, 10 percent of all listings in this well-tended suburb were being offered as short sales.” Obama is obsessed with George Bush and Citizens United; in Atlanta, “small banks are a particular disaster, 43 having gone under in Georgia since 2008. (Federal regulators closed 129 nationally this year, up from 25 last year.) Real estate was the beginning, the middle and the end of the troubles.”

No wonder Obama’s ratings are diving. He is talking about things that bear no relation to voters’ concerns. He insists his policies have worked, but voters’ own experiences tell them otherwise. Obama’s rhetoric against a growing list of political adversaries only reinforces the impression that he is focused on the wrong things. The analogy is not Jimmy Carter. It is Herbert Hoover by way of Richard Nixon.

The Obama recovery bears an uncanny resemblance to a recession. That’s the New York Times‘s take:

Less than a month before November elections, the United States is mired in a grim New Normal that could last for years. . . Call it recession or recovery, for tens of millions of Americans, there’s little difference.

Born of a record financial collapse, this recession has been more severe than any since the Great Depression and has left an enormous oversupply of houses and office buildings and crippling debt. The decision last week by leading mortgage lenders to freeze foreclosures, and calls for a national moratorium, could cast a long shadow of uncertainty over banks and the housing market. Put simply, the national economy has fallen so far that it could take years to climb back.

Or put differently, Obama’s economic policies have been entirely ineffective in addressing historically high unemployment and underemployment. The Times notes:

At the current rate of job creation, the nation would need nine more years to recapture the jobs lost during the recession. And that doesn’t even account for five million or six million jobs needed in that time to keep pace with an expanding population. Even top Obama officials concede the unemployment rate could climb higher still.

But Obama insists on a massive tax increase on the “rich” and a bevy of new regulations and mandates on employers. Certainly, nine more years of Obama-like policies aren’t going to bring unemployment down. As the Times examines the dreary economic conditions across the country, one is struck by the disconnect between the White House’s rhetoric and the economic predicament faced by Americans, as well as the equally vast disconnect between the administration’s anti-growth, anti-business policies and the economic challenges these people are facing.

In this economic climate, Obama’s hyper-partisan, desperate rhetoric seems particularly jarring. He’s talking about phony foreign donors to the Chamber of Commerce; in suburban Arizona, “subdivisions sit in the desert, some half-built and some dreamy wisps, like the emerald green putting green sitting amid acres of scrub and cacti. Signs offer discounts, distress sales and rent with the first and second month free. Discounts do not help if your income is cut in half.” Obama rails at Wall Street; in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, meanwhile, “home prices have fallen by 16 percent since 2006, and houses now take twice as long to sell as they did five years ago. That’s enough to inflict pain on homeowners who need to sell because of a job loss or drop in income. Some are being forced to get rid of their houses in short sales, asking less than they owe on a mortgage. As of last week, 10 percent of all listings in this well-tended suburb were being offered as short sales.” Obama is obsessed with George Bush and Citizens United; in Atlanta, “small banks are a particular disaster, 43 having gone under in Georgia since 2008. (Federal regulators closed 129 nationally this year, up from 25 last year.) Real estate was the beginning, the middle and the end of the troubles.”

No wonder Obama’s ratings are diving. He is talking about things that bear no relation to voters’ concerns. He insists his policies have worked, but voters’ own experiences tell them otherwise. Obama’s rhetoric against a growing list of political adversaries only reinforces the impression that he is focused on the wrong things. The analogy is not Jimmy Carter. It is Herbert Hoover by way of Richard Nixon.

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Why the November Election Will Be Unprecedented

Gallup just released its weekly “generic” poll, and for the second week in a row it is forecasting a colossal wipeout for Democrats — with likely voters voting Republican by a margin between 12 and 17 points. Rasmussen, widely and unfairly considered biased towards Republicans, has shown a markedly smaller Republican lead, but this week its likely-voter number has Republicans besting Democrats by 8 percent. Meanwhile, statewide and district-wide polls suggest that a minor surge by Democrats at the end of September seems either to have evaporated or was never all that real in the first place.

The potential for a GOP landslide has been much-discussed. One thing that has been less noted is the extraordinarily dramatic nature of the voter turnaround here. In 1992, the election that preceded the one in November 1994, the non-Democratic vote for president nationwide was 57 percent (Bush + Perot), and  Republicans actually picked up 9 seats in the House. It is true that the 1994 elections came as a huge surprise, but that was in part due to an odd misreading of the election results in 1992 by pundits and pollsters and Bill Clinton, who staked his first two years on a massive government health-care plan rather than taking account of the fact that 19 percent of Americans had just voted for a lunatic single-issue candidate who spent a year yelling and screaming about the size of the deficit. Those Perot voters took a look at Clinton and simply integrated themselves into the GOP electorate.

The story of America since 2006 is radically different. In the two elections preceding this one, Democratsoutperformed Republicans nationally by a margin of 53-46 both in the 2006 midterm and the 2008 Obama triumph. The results in 2010, if they go as it appears they will, are unlike those in 1992 because there was nothing in 2008 that anticipated them.

An 8-t0-15 point Republican margin in 2010, which seems increasingly possible, will represent a partisan and ideological turnaround of 15 to 24 percent. That is without precedent in the modern era. At the presidential level, Ronald Reagan’s victory over Jimmy Carter in 1980 was a landslide but still featured a shift away from Carter of 11 points among the electorate (Carter dropped from 51 percent in 1976 to 40 percent). George W. Bush did increase his own vote total by 22 percent between 2000 and 2004, but that was an affirmation of what was taken to be a successful first term, not a repudiation of the party in power (and John Kerry increased the Democratic vote total over 2000 by 15 percent).

Michael Barone has described the current political dynamic as suggestive of a new “open-field politics” in which every election is any party’s to win. Certainly, the fact that the majority of the vote went from center-left in 2000 (Gore+Nader=53 percent) to center-right in 2002 and 2004 to liberal left in 2006 and 2008 demonstrates a far greater ideological and partisan fluidity than we’ve ever seen. But Barone’s term doesn’t quite get at the vertiginous effect of a shift as extreme as the one we may be seeing in 2010.

There’s no reason to think that independents and disaffected Democrats are going to become Republicans, the way the Perotistas did. But the goings-on after Barack Obama’s inauguration may have created a new swing-voting camp of anti-liberals, at least as far as Democratic party orthodoxy defines “liberal,” and how this new camp views the post-November political dynamic will define American politics for the next decade.

Gallup just released its weekly “generic” poll, and for the second week in a row it is forecasting a colossal wipeout for Democrats — with likely voters voting Republican by a margin between 12 and 17 points. Rasmussen, widely and unfairly considered biased towards Republicans, has shown a markedly smaller Republican lead, but this week its likely-voter number has Republicans besting Democrats by 8 percent. Meanwhile, statewide and district-wide polls suggest that a minor surge by Democrats at the end of September seems either to have evaporated or was never all that real in the first place.

The potential for a GOP landslide has been much-discussed. One thing that has been less noted is the extraordinarily dramatic nature of the voter turnaround here. In 1992, the election that preceded the one in November 1994, the non-Democratic vote for president nationwide was 57 percent (Bush + Perot), and  Republicans actually picked up 9 seats in the House. It is true that the 1994 elections came as a huge surprise, but that was in part due to an odd misreading of the election results in 1992 by pundits and pollsters and Bill Clinton, who staked his first two years on a massive government health-care plan rather than taking account of the fact that 19 percent of Americans had just voted for a lunatic single-issue candidate who spent a year yelling and screaming about the size of the deficit. Those Perot voters took a look at Clinton and simply integrated themselves into the GOP electorate.

The story of America since 2006 is radically different. In the two elections preceding this one, Democratsoutperformed Republicans nationally by a margin of 53-46 both in the 2006 midterm and the 2008 Obama triumph. The results in 2010, if they go as it appears they will, are unlike those in 1992 because there was nothing in 2008 that anticipated them.

An 8-t0-15 point Republican margin in 2010, which seems increasingly possible, will represent a partisan and ideological turnaround of 15 to 24 percent. That is without precedent in the modern era. At the presidential level, Ronald Reagan’s victory over Jimmy Carter in 1980 was a landslide but still featured a shift away from Carter of 11 points among the electorate (Carter dropped from 51 percent in 1976 to 40 percent). George W. Bush did increase his own vote total by 22 percent between 2000 and 2004, but that was an affirmation of what was taken to be a successful first term, not a repudiation of the party in power (and John Kerry increased the Democratic vote total over 2000 by 15 percent).

Michael Barone has described the current political dynamic as suggestive of a new “open-field politics” in which every election is any party’s to win. Certainly, the fact that the majority of the vote went from center-left in 2000 (Gore+Nader=53 percent) to center-right in 2002 and 2004 to liberal left in 2006 and 2008 demonstrates a far greater ideological and partisan fluidity than we’ve ever seen. But Barone’s term doesn’t quite get at the vertiginous effect of a shift as extreme as the one we may be seeing in 2010.

There’s no reason to think that independents and disaffected Democrats are going to become Republicans, the way the Perotistas did. But the goings-on after Barack Obama’s inauguration may have created a new swing-voting camp of anti-liberals, at least as far as Democratic party orthodoxy defines “liberal,” and how this new camp views the post-November political dynamic will define American politics for the next decade.

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Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, and America’s “Crisis in Spirit”

I’ve certainly had my run-ins with Joe Klein in recent years. But this story, written after a four-week road trip across America, is worth reading. “Topic A is the growing sense that our best days as a nation are behind us,” Klein writes, “that our kids won’t live as well as we did, that China is in the driver’s seat. … I found the same themes dominant everywhere — a rethinking of basic assumptions, a moment of national introspection.”

The reasons for this anxiety and national introspection are complicated — based in part, but certainly not solely, on the failure of our political class. Yet in the coming years, this cast of mind is going to frame politics in America, much like Jimmy Carter’s “crisis of spirit” speech framed politics at the end of the 1970s. On July 15, 1979, Carter gave his most memorable, and disastrous, speech – declaring, in part, this:

But after listening to the American people I have been reminded again that all the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America. So, I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even more serious than energy or inflation. I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.

I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

In the end, the public will (rightfully) insist that its political leaders not simply diagnosis such problems, but do something to solve them. Ronald Reagan did this for the country as a whole, which is one reason he’s now widely seen as having been a great president. On a smaller scale, Rudy Giuliani could have lamented the desiccated state of New York City when he became mayor. Instead, he took steps to repair it. The result was a better, stronger, prouder city. New York became great again.

So far, President Obama has fallen terribly short of what the citizenry expects of him. He has contributed rather than ameliorated the anxieties and concerns people have. His policies, especially on the economy, are holding us down. Mr. Obama doesn’t seem able to tap into America’s remarkable strengths, spirit, and resilience, which are unique in the world and virtually unmatched in history. Indeed, in some deep way, he doesn’t even seem to recognize them and can therefore hardly acknowledge them.

If the president doesn’t correct these things relatively soon – if this “crisis of confidence” continues to spread and the president seems impotent to deal with the problems we face – then Barack Obama will share a fate similar to that of Jimmy Carter.

I’ve certainly had my run-ins with Joe Klein in recent years. But this story, written after a four-week road trip across America, is worth reading. “Topic A is the growing sense that our best days as a nation are behind us,” Klein writes, “that our kids won’t live as well as we did, that China is in the driver’s seat. … I found the same themes dominant everywhere — a rethinking of basic assumptions, a moment of national introspection.”

The reasons for this anxiety and national introspection are complicated — based in part, but certainly not solely, on the failure of our political class. Yet in the coming years, this cast of mind is going to frame politics in America, much like Jimmy Carter’s “crisis of spirit” speech framed politics at the end of the 1970s. On July 15, 1979, Carter gave his most memorable, and disastrous, speech – declaring, in part, this:

But after listening to the American people I have been reminded again that all the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America. So, I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even more serious than energy or inflation. I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.

I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

In the end, the public will (rightfully) insist that its political leaders not simply diagnosis such problems, but do something to solve them. Ronald Reagan did this for the country as a whole, which is one reason he’s now widely seen as having been a great president. On a smaller scale, Rudy Giuliani could have lamented the desiccated state of New York City when he became mayor. Instead, he took steps to repair it. The result was a better, stronger, prouder city. New York became great again.

So far, President Obama has fallen terribly short of what the citizenry expects of him. He has contributed rather than ameliorated the anxieties and concerns people have. His policies, especially on the economy, are holding us down. Mr. Obama doesn’t seem able to tap into America’s remarkable strengths, spirit, and resilience, which are unique in the world and virtually unmatched in history. Indeed, in some deep way, he doesn’t even seem to recognize them and can therefore hardly acknowledge them.

If the president doesn’t correct these things relatively soon – if this “crisis of confidence” continues to spread and the president seems impotent to deal with the problems we face – then Barack Obama will share a fate similar to that of Jimmy Carter.

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This Is Not the Worst of Times

As others have pointed out, during his farewell remarks from the White House, Rahm Emanuel said to President Obama, “I want to thank you for being the toughest leader any country could ask for in the toughest times any president has ever faced.” Earlier that week, Jimmy Carter told PBS’s Charlie Rose that Obama took office facing “the most difficult circumstances a president has ever faced.” And Mr. Obama added his own interpretation of events in his interview with Rolling Stone: “Guys, wake up. We have accomplished an incredible amount in the most adverse circumstances imaginable.”

None of this is true or even close to true, as any elementary-school student who has studied American history could tell you. What these comments useful highlight, though, is the mindset that has taken hold of the president, his closest aides, and some of his remaining supporters. They really seem to believe that the scale of problems they face is unprecedented in American history, that the hand they have been dealt is worse than any who have come before them.

I worked in the White House during the worst attack on our homeland in history, two wars, a recession, and one of the worst natural disasters in our history (I had left the White House by the time the financial collapse of 2008 occurred) — and neither I nor any of my colleagues entertained, even for a moment, the thought that what we faced held a candle to what Washington, Lincoln, or Roosevelt (to name just three past presidents) confronted. If we had, it would have rightly elicited ridicule.

At least the Book of Lamentations contains real poetry and some important theological lessons in it. What we are getting from the president and his team is simply self-pitying nonsense.

As others have pointed out, during his farewell remarks from the White House, Rahm Emanuel said to President Obama, “I want to thank you for being the toughest leader any country could ask for in the toughest times any president has ever faced.” Earlier that week, Jimmy Carter told PBS’s Charlie Rose that Obama took office facing “the most difficult circumstances a president has ever faced.” And Mr. Obama added his own interpretation of events in his interview with Rolling Stone: “Guys, wake up. We have accomplished an incredible amount in the most adverse circumstances imaginable.”

None of this is true or even close to true, as any elementary-school student who has studied American history could tell you. What these comments useful highlight, though, is the mindset that has taken hold of the president, his closest aides, and some of his remaining supporters. They really seem to believe that the scale of problems they face is unprecedented in American history, that the hand they have been dealt is worse than any who have come before them.

I worked in the White House during the worst attack on our homeland in history, two wars, a recession, and one of the worst natural disasters in our history (I had left the White House by the time the financial collapse of 2008 occurred) — and neither I nor any of my colleagues entertained, even for a moment, the thought that what we faced held a candle to what Washington, Lincoln, or Roosevelt (to name just three past presidents) confronted. If we had, it would have rightly elicited ridicule.

At least the Book of Lamentations contains real poetry and some important theological lessons in it. What we are getting from the president and his team is simply self-pitying nonsense.

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A Possible Obama Primary Challenge

Last night, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann interviewed the filmmaker Michael Moore. Both of them are disgusted with the Democratic Party and its leadership. Now Olbermann and Moore inhabit a fantasy world in which Democrats are failing not because they passed ObamaCare but because they don’t have the courage to trumpet their support for it. Democrats, you see, are too spineless and too passive, not willing to thump their chests to celebrate their role in passing incredibly unpopular legislation.

This is what happens to dogmatic people when their grand ideological ambitions fail. It cannot be because of any defects in their ideology; the problem must rest with weak-willed politicians who aren’t aggressive enough to fight on behalf of their ideology. They don’t have the courage of their convictions.

This critique is of course ludicrous. But for President Obama, it highlights a serious threat: in the aftermath of the forthcoming midterm elections, where Democrats are going to suffer enormous losses, liberals will grow more angry, more disillusioned, and more disgusted with Obama and the Democratic Party establishment. They will blame the election losses on them, not on liberalism; and quicker than you can imagine, the defections will begin. And if Obama doesn’t begin to turn things around in 2011, he may well face a challenge from within his own party.

That might seem unthinkable now — but let’s see where things stand on November 3, when the recriminations get really ugly.

Failed presidencies elicit primary challenges. Just ask Jimmy Carter.

We’re clearly not at this point yet, of course, and a challenge to Obama is still more unlikely than not. And we haven’t seen a sitting president dislodged since LBJ. (Eugene McCarthy nearly defeated Johnson in the New Hampshire primary; Johnson withdrew shortly after that, and Hubert Humphrey went on to win the Democratic nomination.) But you can count on this: to protect liberalism, the left will jettison even Obama if it deems it necessary for The Cause. If Obama remains or becomes increasingly radioactive in 2011, liberals will seek to separate their movement from a deeply unpopular president. And the man who in the past has been so quick to throw others (like Jeremiah Wright) under the bus may find himself suffering a similar fate. The cruelest cut of all, of course, would be for this act to come courtesy of those who were once Obama’s more worshipful supporters.

That is part of the danger of having built a campaign on a cult of personality.

Last night, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann interviewed the filmmaker Michael Moore. Both of them are disgusted with the Democratic Party and its leadership. Now Olbermann and Moore inhabit a fantasy world in which Democrats are failing not because they passed ObamaCare but because they don’t have the courage to trumpet their support for it. Democrats, you see, are too spineless and too passive, not willing to thump their chests to celebrate their role in passing incredibly unpopular legislation.

This is what happens to dogmatic people when their grand ideological ambitions fail. It cannot be because of any defects in their ideology; the problem must rest with weak-willed politicians who aren’t aggressive enough to fight on behalf of their ideology. They don’t have the courage of their convictions.

This critique is of course ludicrous. But for President Obama, it highlights a serious threat: in the aftermath of the forthcoming midterm elections, where Democrats are going to suffer enormous losses, liberals will grow more angry, more disillusioned, and more disgusted with Obama and the Democratic Party establishment. They will blame the election losses on them, not on liberalism; and quicker than you can imagine, the defections will begin. And if Obama doesn’t begin to turn things around in 2011, he may well face a challenge from within his own party.

That might seem unthinkable now — but let’s see where things stand on November 3, when the recriminations get really ugly.

Failed presidencies elicit primary challenges. Just ask Jimmy Carter.

We’re clearly not at this point yet, of course, and a challenge to Obama is still more unlikely than not. And we haven’t seen a sitting president dislodged since LBJ. (Eugene McCarthy nearly defeated Johnson in the New Hampshire primary; Johnson withdrew shortly after that, and Hubert Humphrey went on to win the Democratic nomination.) But you can count on this: to protect liberalism, the left will jettison even Obama if it deems it necessary for The Cause. If Obama remains or becomes increasingly radioactive in 2011, liberals will seek to separate their movement from a deeply unpopular president. And the man who in the past has been so quick to throw others (like Jeremiah Wright) under the bus may find himself suffering a similar fate. The cruelest cut of all, of course, would be for this act to come courtesy of those who were once Obama’s more worshipful supporters.

That is part of the danger of having built a campaign on a cult of personality.

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It’s Not Just Afghanistan

Peter Baker at The New York Times (h/t Peter Feaver) highlights this nugget from Bob Woodward’s book:

During a daily intelligence briefing in May 2009, [Dennis] Blair warned the president that radicals with American and European passports were being trained in Pakistan to attack their homelands. Mr. Emanuel afterward chastised him, saying, “You’re just trying to put this on us so it’s not your fault.” Mr. Blair also skirmished with Mr. Brennan about a report on the failed airliner terrorist attack on Dec. 25. Mr. Obama later forced Mr. Blair out.

Let’s unpack this: seven months before the Christmas Day bombing attempt and a year before the Times Square bomber’s failed effort, Blair was trying to raise the red flag about jihadists attacks on the homeland. What he got was a chewing out by the Obama hacks, who think such matters shouldn’t be “put” on them. It’s baffling really — is this above Obama’s pay grade?

Here again, we have the startling indifference to national security and the domination of politics over policy. You can just see the wheels clicking: We don’t want to get blamed. We’ll have no plausible deniability if they don’t keep telling us stuff.

Even Jimmy Carter, shocked by Afghanistan, took national security seriously (albeit, he was hobbled by incompetency). Obama really is in a class by himself when it comes to shirking national-security concerns.

Peter Baker at The New York Times (h/t Peter Feaver) highlights this nugget from Bob Woodward’s book:

During a daily intelligence briefing in May 2009, [Dennis] Blair warned the president that radicals with American and European passports were being trained in Pakistan to attack their homelands. Mr. Emanuel afterward chastised him, saying, “You’re just trying to put this on us so it’s not your fault.” Mr. Blair also skirmished with Mr. Brennan about a report on the failed airliner terrorist attack on Dec. 25. Mr. Obama later forced Mr. Blair out.

Let’s unpack this: seven months before the Christmas Day bombing attempt and a year before the Times Square bomber’s failed effort, Blair was trying to raise the red flag about jihadists attacks on the homeland. What he got was a chewing out by the Obama hacks, who think such matters shouldn’t be “put” on them. It’s baffling really — is this above Obama’s pay grade?

Here again, we have the startling indifference to national security and the domination of politics over policy. You can just see the wheels clicking: We don’t want to get blamed. We’ll have no plausible deniability if they don’t keep telling us stuff.

Even Jimmy Carter, shocked by Afghanistan, took national security seriously (albeit, he was hobbled by incompetency). Obama really is in a class by himself when it comes to shirking national-security concerns.

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Bill Clinton: Giving Carter a Run for His Money

Bill Clinton’s noxious comments, complaining that Russian immigrants to Israel pose an obstacle to peace, sounded like the utterances of xenophobes in America who lament that our country is being “overrun” by outsiders. Clinton’s comments were cringe-inducing:

“An increasing number of the young people in the IDF are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land. This presents a staggering problem,” Clinton said. “It’s a different Israel. 16 percent of Israelis speak Russian.”

And then to prove that decency and discretion were never Clinton’s strong suits, he cited a conversation between him and Natan Sharansky:

“I said, ‘Natan, what is the deal [about not supporting the peace deal],’” Clinton recalled. “He said, ‘I can’t vote for this, I’m Russian… I come from one of the biggest countries in the world to one of the smallest. You want me to cut it in half. No, thank you.’”

Clinton responded, “Don’t give me this, you came here from a jail cell. It’s a lot bigger than your jail cell.”

Classy, Bill. Maybe next he’ll go after Elie Wiesel.

As you can imagine, Israelis were not too pleased. Bibi, demonstrating the art of understatement which has marked his political maturation, had this to say:

As a friend of Israel, Clinton should know that the immigrants from the former Soviet Union have contributed and are making a great contribution to the advancement, development and strengthening of the IDF and the State of Israel. Only a strong Israel can establish solid and safe peace.

Now with Bill Clinton — it’s always a safe bet that he’s making stuff up. Sharansky’s associates hinted as much. (“Sharansky’s associates were surprised by Clinton’s remarks. The Jewish Agency chairman said, ‘I wasn’t even at Camp David. Clinton may have gotten confused with our conversations three years earlier, when I expressed my doubts over the dictatorial nature of the Palestinian Authority regime.’”)

But, as a colleague observed, the best retort was this:

Coalition Chairman Zeev Elkin said he felt “great pride” following Clinton’s remarks. Elkin, who a Russian immigrant himself, told Ynet, “I am proud of former President Clinton’s distinctions. He made the right distinction that the Russian speakers and settlers have been carrying the Zionism banner in the State of Israel in recent years. “We see this in the number of people graduating from IDF officer courses, and unfortunately, in the Second Lebanon War obituaries. We also see it in the struggle for our right to settle in all of the Land of Israel.”

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Another, as detailed in Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, is that Russians have provided much of the brainpower and entrepreneurial risk-taking that has fueled Israel’s technology boom, transforming Israel’s economy from a socialist basket-case to a vibrant, modern economy.

Why does Clinton say these things? Who knows — maybe he’s tired of Jimmy Carter and his wife getting all the headlines. Or maybe he’s just an undisciplined egomaniac who says whatever pops into his head.

Bill Clinton’s noxious comments, complaining that Russian immigrants to Israel pose an obstacle to peace, sounded like the utterances of xenophobes in America who lament that our country is being “overrun” by outsiders. Clinton’s comments were cringe-inducing:

“An increasing number of the young people in the IDF are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land. This presents a staggering problem,” Clinton said. “It’s a different Israel. 16 percent of Israelis speak Russian.”

And then to prove that decency and discretion were never Clinton’s strong suits, he cited a conversation between him and Natan Sharansky:

“I said, ‘Natan, what is the deal [about not supporting the peace deal],’” Clinton recalled. “He said, ‘I can’t vote for this, I’m Russian… I come from one of the biggest countries in the world to one of the smallest. You want me to cut it in half. No, thank you.’”

Clinton responded, “Don’t give me this, you came here from a jail cell. It’s a lot bigger than your jail cell.”

Classy, Bill. Maybe next he’ll go after Elie Wiesel.

As you can imagine, Israelis were not too pleased. Bibi, demonstrating the art of understatement which has marked his political maturation, had this to say:

As a friend of Israel, Clinton should know that the immigrants from the former Soviet Union have contributed and are making a great contribution to the advancement, development and strengthening of the IDF and the State of Israel. Only a strong Israel can establish solid and safe peace.

Now with Bill Clinton — it’s always a safe bet that he’s making stuff up. Sharansky’s associates hinted as much. (“Sharansky’s associates were surprised by Clinton’s remarks. The Jewish Agency chairman said, ‘I wasn’t even at Camp David. Clinton may have gotten confused with our conversations three years earlier, when I expressed my doubts over the dictatorial nature of the Palestinian Authority regime.’”)

But, as a colleague observed, the best retort was this:

Coalition Chairman Zeev Elkin said he felt “great pride” following Clinton’s remarks. Elkin, who a Russian immigrant himself, told Ynet, “I am proud of former President Clinton’s distinctions. He made the right distinction that the Russian speakers and settlers have been carrying the Zionism banner in the State of Israel in recent years. “We see this in the number of people graduating from IDF officer courses, and unfortunately, in the Second Lebanon War obituaries. We also see it in the struggle for our right to settle in all of the Land of Israel.”

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Another, as detailed in Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, is that Russians have provided much of the brainpower and entrepreneurial risk-taking that has fueled Israel’s technology boom, transforming Israel’s economy from a socialist basket-case to a vibrant, modern economy.

Why does Clinton say these things? Who knows — maybe he’s tired of Jimmy Carter and his wife getting all the headlines. Or maybe he’s just an undisciplined egomaniac who says whatever pops into his head.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A “primer in rotten politics”: Assemblyman Vito Lopez is captured on videotape “threatening a group of old ladies during an effort to consolidate power as Kings County kingmaker.”

A chilling thought: Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes (who gets his Iraq info from Google) tells us that the Obami will make sure Iran’s nuclear intentions are peaceful before another fruitless round of engagement. “Just when will Iran have to demonstrate the peaceful intent of its nuclear program? After they build the bomb as a check on Israeli aggression, perhaps? And anyway, Ben Rhodes is not a national security adviser, or rather, would not be in any universe that made sense. He was Obama’s top foreign-policy speechwriter and was then made a Deputy National Security adviser … for Communications. I suppose it’s possible that he’s not only writing speeches but also dictating foreign policy, in which case it’s time I take my suicide pills.”

A dopey suggestion from Bill Clinton on the Ground Zero mosque: “Much or even most of the controversy … could have been avoided, and perhaps still can be, if the people who want to build the center were to simply say, ‘We are dedicating this center to all the Muslims who were killed on 9/11.’” Because Muslims should dedicate things only to Muslims, you see.

And a noxious analysis by the ex-president of the problem with Russian immigrants in Israel. Maybe he’s competing with Jimmy Carter for the ex-president limelight.

An exercise in self-delusion: Nate Silver says the generic polls don’t really mean that a debacle is ahead for the Democrats.

Another result of “reform” Obama-style: drug companies may hike prices to offset the ObamaCare drug discount. It was supposed to fill “the doughnut hole.” Instead, it may worsen the health-care inflation problem.

A 10-point plan for reducing unemployment: “If we truly want to create jobs, it is not enough to simply berate business to create them. We must address the dynamics that keep businesses from offering jobs and that keep people from accepting jobs. We can use policy to create jobs — we just have to care enough about the jobless to make creating jobs a political priority.”

A sign of a weak president and Senate minority leader: “In the face of a promised filibuster by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Democrats could not convince a single GOP senator to cross over and provide the 60th vote needed to begin debate on a defense spending bill containing the repeal measure. The vote to open debate failed, 56-43, with Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) joining all Republicans in opposing taking up the bill.”

An undersecretary of something’s bailiwick? No, the sort of mini-issue Hillary lives for: “She told the Clinton Global Initiative forum that the public-private clean stoves plan, dubbed ‘Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves,’ would seek to install the new, 25-dollar units by 2020.”

A “primer in rotten politics”: Assemblyman Vito Lopez is captured on videotape “threatening a group of old ladies during an effort to consolidate power as Kings County kingmaker.”

A chilling thought: Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes (who gets his Iraq info from Google) tells us that the Obami will make sure Iran’s nuclear intentions are peaceful before another fruitless round of engagement. “Just when will Iran have to demonstrate the peaceful intent of its nuclear program? After they build the bomb as a check on Israeli aggression, perhaps? And anyway, Ben Rhodes is not a national security adviser, or rather, would not be in any universe that made sense. He was Obama’s top foreign-policy speechwriter and was then made a Deputy National Security adviser … for Communications. I suppose it’s possible that he’s not only writing speeches but also dictating foreign policy, in which case it’s time I take my suicide pills.”

A dopey suggestion from Bill Clinton on the Ground Zero mosque: “Much or even most of the controversy … could have been avoided, and perhaps still can be, if the people who want to build the center were to simply say, ‘We are dedicating this center to all the Muslims who were killed on 9/11.’” Because Muslims should dedicate things only to Muslims, you see.

And a noxious analysis by the ex-president of the problem with Russian immigrants in Israel. Maybe he’s competing with Jimmy Carter for the ex-president limelight.

An exercise in self-delusion: Nate Silver says the generic polls don’t really mean that a debacle is ahead for the Democrats.

Another result of “reform” Obama-style: drug companies may hike prices to offset the ObamaCare drug discount. It was supposed to fill “the doughnut hole.” Instead, it may worsen the health-care inflation problem.

A 10-point plan for reducing unemployment: “If we truly want to create jobs, it is not enough to simply berate business to create them. We must address the dynamics that keep businesses from offering jobs and that keep people from accepting jobs. We can use policy to create jobs — we just have to care enough about the jobless to make creating jobs a political priority.”

A sign of a weak president and Senate minority leader: “In the face of a promised filibuster by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Democrats could not convince a single GOP senator to cross over and provide the 60th vote needed to begin debate on a defense spending bill containing the repeal measure. The vote to open debate failed, 56-43, with Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) joining all Republicans in opposing taking up the bill.”

An undersecretary of something’s bailiwick? No, the sort of mini-issue Hillary lives for: “She told the Clinton Global Initiative forum that the public-private clean stoves plan, dubbed ‘Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves,’ would seek to install the new, 25-dollar units by 2020.”

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Can Obama Be a “Superior” Ex-President, Too?

Jimmy Carter has been an annoyance to every one of his successors. He’s played footsie with dictators, made common cause with Israel’s enemies, made Osama bin Laden’s book list, and demonstrated the peevishness that was not yet fully in evidence during his presidency. He then pronounces that he is “superior” to all his successors. Sensing that is a bit much for Saint Jimmy, he backpedals, explaining, “What I meant was, for 27 years the Carter Center has provided me with superior opportunities to do good.” Not much better is it? Frankly, on this one even Bill Clinton has the right to be offended.

Carter, as one of the wittiest commentators points out, now insists in his diary (on Osama bin Laden’s nightstand no doubt!) that he would have won in 1980 had it not been for those darn hostages and the pesky Ted Kennedy. (If, alas, the latter were true, we’d finally have something to praise Kennedy for.) But truth be told, those were the least of his problems. “Had he not also, in other words, been the worst U.S. president ever, before, that is, the Advent of Barak Obama, he would have been re-elected.”

Having “surpassed” Carter in so many ways (e.g., disdain for Americans, cluelessness about our enemies), one can only imagine that Obama in his ex-presidency will be characterized by the same humbleness, wisdom, and love of the Jewish state that has marked Carter in his. Carter has managed, arguably, to be a worse ex-president than president. For Obama, that will be a challenge.

Jimmy Carter has been an annoyance to every one of his successors. He’s played footsie with dictators, made common cause with Israel’s enemies, made Osama bin Laden’s book list, and demonstrated the peevishness that was not yet fully in evidence during his presidency. He then pronounces that he is “superior” to all his successors. Sensing that is a bit much for Saint Jimmy, he backpedals, explaining, “What I meant was, for 27 years the Carter Center has provided me with superior opportunities to do good.” Not much better is it? Frankly, on this one even Bill Clinton has the right to be offended.

Carter, as one of the wittiest commentators points out, now insists in his diary (on Osama bin Laden’s nightstand no doubt!) that he would have won in 1980 had it not been for those darn hostages and the pesky Ted Kennedy. (If, alas, the latter were true, we’d finally have something to praise Kennedy for.) But truth be told, those were the least of his problems. “Had he not also, in other words, been the worst U.S. president ever, before, that is, the Advent of Barak Obama, he would have been re-elected.”

Having “surpassed” Carter in so many ways (e.g., disdain for Americans, cluelessness about our enemies), one can only imagine that Obama in his ex-presidency will be characterized by the same humbleness, wisdom, and love of the Jewish state that has marked Carter in his. Carter has managed, arguably, to be a worse ex-president than president. For Obama, that will be a challenge.

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RE: Their Time Has Come

I certainly agree with Jen that Barack Obama helped mightily to make the Tea Party movement as powerful as it has become. But I also think the movement represents the culmination of a gathering anger that is decades old. After all, it was Jimmy Carter who first campaigned on the theme of changing Washington’s ways, although he was a dismal failure at that. Indeed, he was eaten alive by Washington’s ways, and has been whining about it ever since. He was elected the same year that Network came out, with its now iconic signature line, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” being shouted out of windows across America, much like the Iranians yelling “Allahu Akbar!” from the roof tops.

Ronald Reagan was much more successful than Carter, but the forces of the status quo were only defeated by him, not annihilated, and have been attempting a counter-reformation ever since, not without success. But the forces of history have been against them, and it seems that Barack Obama’s regressive ideas, Chicago ways, and unlikeable personality have now galvanized the Tea Party movement and turned its platform into an immensely powerful political force. The establishment and its media minions are left saying, like Paul Newman’s Butch Cassidy, “Who are those guys?”

Victor Hugo explained who they are in 1877 in his novel L’histoire d’un Crime: “On résiste à l’invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas à l’invasion des idées.” One can resist the invasion of armies but not the invasion of ideas.

I certainly agree with Jen that Barack Obama helped mightily to make the Tea Party movement as powerful as it has become. But I also think the movement represents the culmination of a gathering anger that is decades old. After all, it was Jimmy Carter who first campaigned on the theme of changing Washington’s ways, although he was a dismal failure at that. Indeed, he was eaten alive by Washington’s ways, and has been whining about it ever since. He was elected the same year that Network came out, with its now iconic signature line, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” being shouted out of windows across America, much like the Iranians yelling “Allahu Akbar!” from the roof tops.

Ronald Reagan was much more successful than Carter, but the forces of the status quo were only defeated by him, not annihilated, and have been attempting a counter-reformation ever since, not without success. But the forces of history have been against them, and it seems that Barack Obama’s regressive ideas, Chicago ways, and unlikeable personality have now galvanized the Tea Party movement and turned its platform into an immensely powerful political force. The establishment and its media minions are left saying, like Paul Newman’s Butch Cassidy, “Who are those guys?”

Victor Hugo explained who they are in 1877 in his novel L’histoire d’un Crime: “On résiste à l’invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas à l’invasion des idées.” One can resist the invasion of armies but not the invasion of ideas.

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About That Settlement Freeze

Israeli historian Yaacov Lozowick is in favor of continuing the settlement freeze that’s set to expire later this month — as long as the freeze is only in West Bank settlements that are actually up for discussion and that might plausibly be dismantled in a future peace deal with Palestinians. “Not in Modi’in Illit,” he said, referring to an ultra-Orthodox settlement immediately adjacent the Green Line, “which will remain in Israel no matter what, and certainly not in any part of Jerusalem.”

Israel annexed all of Jerusalem decades ago. And while very few Jews move to and build in Arab neighborhoods, enormous Jewish neighborhoods have been constructed on land that used to be empty. There is no chance these places will ever be part of a Palestinian state unless the Palestinians first conquer Israel. It doesn’t matter if Israelis should or should not have built in these areas. The fact is that they did. Hundreds of thousands of people live there today.

The same goes for some of the settlements near the Green Line, such as those in Gush Etzion. They have not been formally annexed to Israel like Jerusalem has, but because they can be annexed without disrupting or fatally compromising a Palestinian state in the future, they will be. Last year, after Jimmy Carter visited the Gush Etzion settlement of Neve Daniel, he said, “This particular settlement area is not one that I can envision ever being abandoned or changed over into Palestinian territory. This is part of settlements close to the 1967 line that I think will be here forever.”

Imposing a building freeze in areas that will never be Palestinian is actually a little bit dangerous. It puts these places on the table, so to speak, and tells the Palestinians they stand a chance of acquiring them as parts of their own state down the road if only enough pressure can be brought to bear.

But it isn’t going to happen. Israel is no more likely to uproot all these people than the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Hebron will voluntarily transfer themselves to Jordan. The only way to permanently relocate that many people in the Middle East is with an invasion or a ruthless campaign of mass murder.

Christopher Hitchens once wrote that “terrorism is the tactic of demanding the impossible, and demanding it at gunpoint.” The Palestinians need to understand that conquering areas where hundreds of thousands of Jews live is impossible. Many among them will continue insisting on it at gunpoint regardless, but at least they won’t be inadvertently egged on by the White House.

Israeli historian Yaacov Lozowick is in favor of continuing the settlement freeze that’s set to expire later this month — as long as the freeze is only in West Bank settlements that are actually up for discussion and that might plausibly be dismantled in a future peace deal with Palestinians. “Not in Modi’in Illit,” he said, referring to an ultra-Orthodox settlement immediately adjacent the Green Line, “which will remain in Israel no matter what, and certainly not in any part of Jerusalem.”

Israel annexed all of Jerusalem decades ago. And while very few Jews move to and build in Arab neighborhoods, enormous Jewish neighborhoods have been constructed on land that used to be empty. There is no chance these places will ever be part of a Palestinian state unless the Palestinians first conquer Israel. It doesn’t matter if Israelis should or should not have built in these areas. The fact is that they did. Hundreds of thousands of people live there today.

The same goes for some of the settlements near the Green Line, such as those in Gush Etzion. They have not been formally annexed to Israel like Jerusalem has, but because they can be annexed without disrupting or fatally compromising a Palestinian state in the future, they will be. Last year, after Jimmy Carter visited the Gush Etzion settlement of Neve Daniel, he said, “This particular settlement area is not one that I can envision ever being abandoned or changed over into Palestinian territory. This is part of settlements close to the 1967 line that I think will be here forever.”

Imposing a building freeze in areas that will never be Palestinian is actually a little bit dangerous. It puts these places on the table, so to speak, and tells the Palestinians they stand a chance of acquiring them as parts of their own state down the road if only enough pressure can be brought to bear.

But it isn’t going to happen. Israel is no more likely to uproot all these people than the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Hebron will voluntarily transfer themselves to Jordan. The only way to permanently relocate that many people in the Middle East is with an invasion or a ruthless campaign of mass murder.

Christopher Hitchens once wrote that “terrorism is the tactic of demanding the impossible, and demanding it at gunpoint.” The Palestinians need to understand that conquering areas where hundreds of thousands of Jews live is impossible. Many among them will continue insisting on it at gunpoint regardless, but at least they won’t be inadvertently egged on by the White House.

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Have You Heard the One About . . .

Polls are one way to see who’s ahead in the endless game of politics. Humor is another, for the guys on the losing side tend to be a bit grumpy.

FDR had a wonderful sense of humor. His remarks about his “little dog, Fala” are a classic. So is his “Martin, Barton, and Fish” line that became a staple of the 1940 reelection campaign. It was later echoed by Hubert Humphrey in his acceptance speech for the nomination for vice president at the 1964 Democratic convention, where he ended paragraph after paragraph with the line, “But not Senator Goldwater!” Ronald Reagan was forever telling funny stories and his deadpan masterpiece during a debate with Walter Mondale knocked the age issue out of the ballpark in 1984. Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, wouldn’t get a joke if it hit him on the nose. He got the boot after one term.

So who has the lead in humor this election? It isn’t the liberals. They, in fact, have been noticeably grumpy since the days of Hubert Humphrey, who, like Al Smith before him, was known as the Happy Warrior after Wordsworth’s great poem. According to liberals, the Tea Party movement is a hotbed of racism and a white-only club. The Tea Party begs to differ and this YouTube clip pretty much demolishes the idea with humor.

We’ll see who gets the last laugh on November 2nd. I don’t think it will be liberals.

Polls are one way to see who’s ahead in the endless game of politics. Humor is another, for the guys on the losing side tend to be a bit grumpy.

FDR had a wonderful sense of humor. His remarks about his “little dog, Fala” are a classic. So is his “Martin, Barton, and Fish” line that became a staple of the 1940 reelection campaign. It was later echoed by Hubert Humphrey in his acceptance speech for the nomination for vice president at the 1964 Democratic convention, where he ended paragraph after paragraph with the line, “But not Senator Goldwater!” Ronald Reagan was forever telling funny stories and his deadpan masterpiece during a debate with Walter Mondale knocked the age issue out of the ballpark in 1984. Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, wouldn’t get a joke if it hit him on the nose. He got the boot after one term.

So who has the lead in humor this election? It isn’t the liberals. They, in fact, have been noticeably grumpy since the days of Hubert Humphrey, who, like Al Smith before him, was known as the Happy Warrior after Wordsworth’s great poem. According to liberals, the Tea Party movement is a hotbed of racism and a white-only club. The Tea Party begs to differ and this YouTube clip pretty much demolishes the idea with humor.

We’ll see who gets the last laugh on November 2nd. I don’t think it will be liberals.

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The Sound of Silence

The focus of Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic article was, as its title indicated, the “Point of No Return” for Israel — the point at which the Jewish state will conclude it can no longer wait for the charade of non-unanimous, non-crippling, non-uniformly-enforced sanctions to work, and will find itself forced to take the action the United States, under Barack Obama, will not take.

But there is another “point of no return” that might occur even earlier. It relates not to Israel but to the other states in the region. At a certain point, they will themselves conclude that the U.S. is not going to act, and their response will be not to help bomb Iran, but to accommodate it. Once that process reaches a critical point — and it has already started — Iran will have won a historic geopolitical victory, which its eventual acquisition of nuclear weapons will simply confirm.

Perhaps the two most important paragraphs in Goldberg’s article dealt not with Israel but with the Arab states — and a message Goldberg heard multiple times:

Several Arab officials complained to me that the Obama administration has not communicated its intentions to them, even generally. No Arab officials I spoke with appeared to believe that the administration understands the regional ambitions of their Persian adversary. One Arab foreign minister told me that he believes Iran is taking advantage of Obama’s “reasonableness.”

“Obama’s voters like it when the administration shows that it doesn’t want to fight Iran, but this is not a domestic political issue,” the foreign minister said. “Iran will continue on this reckless path, unless the administration starts to speak unreasonably. The best way to avoid striking Iran is to make Iran think that the U.S. is about to strike Iran. We have to know the president’s intentions on this matter. We are his allies.” [Emphasis added].

Goldberg cited two administration sources as saying this issue had caused tension between Obama and Admiral Dennis Blair, the recently dismissed director of national intelligence:

Blair, who was said to put great emphasis on the Iranian threat, told the president that America’s Arab allies needed more reassurance. Obama reportedly did not appreciate the advice.

So the administration has not communicated its intentions to its Arab allies, even generally; the president did not appreciate advice according to which he needed to reassure them; his secretary of state told the Arab press earlier this year that the military option was off the table; Obama told David Brooks, at the beginning of his presidential campaign, that Iran wanted nuclear weapons for defensive purposes and could be contained — the approach of Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser.

You don’t have to be a weatherman (or even read a long article) to know where this is headed. The irony is that the advice of the Arab foreign minister was in fact the only way diplomacy might succeed: military force can be avoided only by convincing Iran the U.S. will use it. Obama needs to say publicly, as John McCain did, that the only thing worse than bombing Iran would be Iran with a bomb. Instead, the countries in the region hear only the silence of the lambs, the neighing of a weak horse, the strategic equivalent of voting “present.”

The focus of Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic article was, as its title indicated, the “Point of No Return” for Israel — the point at which the Jewish state will conclude it can no longer wait for the charade of non-unanimous, non-crippling, non-uniformly-enforced sanctions to work, and will find itself forced to take the action the United States, under Barack Obama, will not take.

But there is another “point of no return” that might occur even earlier. It relates not to Israel but to the other states in the region. At a certain point, they will themselves conclude that the U.S. is not going to act, and their response will be not to help bomb Iran, but to accommodate it. Once that process reaches a critical point — and it has already started — Iran will have won a historic geopolitical victory, which its eventual acquisition of nuclear weapons will simply confirm.

Perhaps the two most important paragraphs in Goldberg’s article dealt not with Israel but with the Arab states — and a message Goldberg heard multiple times:

Several Arab officials complained to me that the Obama administration has not communicated its intentions to them, even generally. No Arab officials I spoke with appeared to believe that the administration understands the regional ambitions of their Persian adversary. One Arab foreign minister told me that he believes Iran is taking advantage of Obama’s “reasonableness.”

“Obama’s voters like it when the administration shows that it doesn’t want to fight Iran, but this is not a domestic political issue,” the foreign minister said. “Iran will continue on this reckless path, unless the administration starts to speak unreasonably. The best way to avoid striking Iran is to make Iran think that the U.S. is about to strike Iran. We have to know the president’s intentions on this matter. We are his allies.” [Emphasis added].

Goldberg cited two administration sources as saying this issue had caused tension between Obama and Admiral Dennis Blair, the recently dismissed director of national intelligence:

Blair, who was said to put great emphasis on the Iranian threat, told the president that America’s Arab allies needed more reassurance. Obama reportedly did not appreciate the advice.

So the administration has not communicated its intentions to its Arab allies, even generally; the president did not appreciate advice according to which he needed to reassure them; his secretary of state told the Arab press earlier this year that the military option was off the table; Obama told David Brooks, at the beginning of his presidential campaign, that Iran wanted nuclear weapons for defensive purposes and could be contained — the approach of Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser.

You don’t have to be a weatherman (or even read a long article) to know where this is headed. The irony is that the advice of the Arab foreign minister was in fact the only way diplomacy might succeed: military force can be avoided only by convincing Iran the U.S. will use it. Obama needs to say publicly, as John McCain did, that the only thing worse than bombing Iran would be Iran with a bomb. Instead, the countries in the region hear only the silence of the lambs, the neighing of a weak horse, the strategic equivalent of voting “present.”

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Obama: A Gift to the GOP That Keeps On Giving

Jonathan Rauch has written an interesting cover story in the National Journal on “The Tea Party Paradox.” He argues that the country has indeed moved to the right but it’s not clear whether this is happening in a way that helps the GOP in the long run (he does say it will help Republicans in the short term, for sure).

In his article, Rauch quotes from something I recently wrote, in which I pointed to opinion polls showing that a growing percentage of Americans regard the Democrats as too liberal. “What’s happening, in other words, is that an increasing number of Americans are becoming more conservative,” I wrote. “This is more fallout from the Age of Obama. Mr. Obama is, for the GOP, the gift that keeps on giving.”

Then comes this:

Wrong, replies Ruy Teixeira, a Democratic-leaning political analyst and a senior fellow with the liberal Center for American Progress. “It’s not Obama that’s the gift that keeps on giving, it’s the economy that’s the gift that keeps on giving,” he said in a recent interview. “I think it’s a judgment on how things are going in the country. I don’t think it’s a judgment to take the country in a conservative direction.”

Teixeira is repeating an argument some of the New Republic’s bloggers make ad nauseam: the problem isn’t Obama; it’s the economy. If Obama had a roaring economy, he’d be far more popular than he is. Obama’s policies are not to blame; the conditions of the country are. To which one could respond: if during the presidency of Jimmy Carter, the inflation and interest rates had been 2 percent instead of topping 18 percent, Carter would have been more popular too. But they weren’t, and he wasn’t. Mr. Carter was judged a failure and jettisoned from office after a single term because people believed the conditions of the country were due, in large measure, to his performance as president.

Teixeira’s argument can work when a president has been in office for one month; it’s harder to pull off when he’s been in office for more than 18 months. And if you read public-opinion polls carefully, what you will find isn’t simply that people are upset by the state of the economy; they are also troubled by Obama’s response to the economy. They believe he’s pursuing policies that are making things worse, not better. That is why Obama’s poll ratings are sinking and why his party is in danger of losing both the House and the Senate come November. And in response to Obamaism, the nation is, in significant respects, moving in a more conservative direction.

This trend is not inexorable. If liberals are correct and the policies that Obama is pursing are wise and necessary, then we will see their manifestation: unemployment figures will tumble, the deficit will shrink, the economy will come roaring back — and Obama will sail to victory in 2012. The country will also give liberalism a second look. But if conservatives are correct and the policies Obama is pursuing are misguided, then we will see that manifest itself, too. And Obama and his party will continue to pay a very heavy price for this.

It’s true that many people ascribe too much influence to the president when it comes to the economy. On the other hand, administration policies matter quite a lot — and when the Obama administration makes grand, sweeping claims for its economic policies and insists the stimulus package will keep unemployment below 8 percent when it ends up topping 10 percent, the public is right to hold the White House responsible.

American voters tend to be pretty fair and reasonable. They don’t expect the president to be a magician — but they do insist on progress, on results, and on accountability. Obama is no exception. These days, liberals comfort themselves by telling each other that in his second year as president, Ronald Reagan was unpopular too, and Obama is really another Reagan. Conservatives hear this comparison and chuckle; Obama is more nearly the antithesis of Reagan — they point out — and the policies Obama is pursuing will not meet with nearly the same success as Reagan’s did.

Time will tell who is right and who is wrong. At this stage, conservatives certainly have the better of the argument, though this political drama has several more acts to play out. But here’s one thing you can be sure of: if unemployment is still high, if the deficit and debt are still exploding, and if the economy is still struggling in 2011 and 2012, then the Teixeira/TNR effort to create miles of distance between Obama and the economic conditions of the country will fail. Appeals to sophisticated political-science models and pleas for more time and understanding will fail. Lashing out at critics and Bush won’t work. And if dogmatic liberals continue to insist, as they have in the past, that “the widespread conclusion that Obama is losing popularity because he’s too liberal … is totally unpersuasive,” they will be seen as increasingly detached from reality.

The public will hold the president accountable for his actions. That is what Obama’s increasingly desperate courtiers are most afraid of.

Jonathan Rauch has written an interesting cover story in the National Journal on “The Tea Party Paradox.” He argues that the country has indeed moved to the right but it’s not clear whether this is happening in a way that helps the GOP in the long run (he does say it will help Republicans in the short term, for sure).

In his article, Rauch quotes from something I recently wrote, in which I pointed to opinion polls showing that a growing percentage of Americans regard the Democrats as too liberal. “What’s happening, in other words, is that an increasing number of Americans are becoming more conservative,” I wrote. “This is more fallout from the Age of Obama. Mr. Obama is, for the GOP, the gift that keeps on giving.”

Then comes this:

Wrong, replies Ruy Teixeira, a Democratic-leaning political analyst and a senior fellow with the liberal Center for American Progress. “It’s not Obama that’s the gift that keeps on giving, it’s the economy that’s the gift that keeps on giving,” he said in a recent interview. “I think it’s a judgment on how things are going in the country. I don’t think it’s a judgment to take the country in a conservative direction.”

Teixeira is repeating an argument some of the New Republic’s bloggers make ad nauseam: the problem isn’t Obama; it’s the economy. If Obama had a roaring economy, he’d be far more popular than he is. Obama’s policies are not to blame; the conditions of the country are. To which one could respond: if during the presidency of Jimmy Carter, the inflation and interest rates had been 2 percent instead of topping 18 percent, Carter would have been more popular too. But they weren’t, and he wasn’t. Mr. Carter was judged a failure and jettisoned from office after a single term because people believed the conditions of the country were due, in large measure, to his performance as president.

Teixeira’s argument can work when a president has been in office for one month; it’s harder to pull off when he’s been in office for more than 18 months. And if you read public-opinion polls carefully, what you will find isn’t simply that people are upset by the state of the economy; they are also troubled by Obama’s response to the economy. They believe he’s pursuing policies that are making things worse, not better. That is why Obama’s poll ratings are sinking and why his party is in danger of losing both the House and the Senate come November. And in response to Obamaism, the nation is, in significant respects, moving in a more conservative direction.

This trend is not inexorable. If liberals are correct and the policies that Obama is pursing are wise and necessary, then we will see their manifestation: unemployment figures will tumble, the deficit will shrink, the economy will come roaring back — and Obama will sail to victory in 2012. The country will also give liberalism a second look. But if conservatives are correct and the policies Obama is pursuing are misguided, then we will see that manifest itself, too. And Obama and his party will continue to pay a very heavy price for this.

It’s true that many people ascribe too much influence to the president when it comes to the economy. On the other hand, administration policies matter quite a lot — and when the Obama administration makes grand, sweeping claims for its economic policies and insists the stimulus package will keep unemployment below 8 percent when it ends up topping 10 percent, the public is right to hold the White House responsible.

American voters tend to be pretty fair and reasonable. They don’t expect the president to be a magician — but they do insist on progress, on results, and on accountability. Obama is no exception. These days, liberals comfort themselves by telling each other that in his second year as president, Ronald Reagan was unpopular too, and Obama is really another Reagan. Conservatives hear this comparison and chuckle; Obama is more nearly the antithesis of Reagan — they point out — and the policies Obama is pursuing will not meet with nearly the same success as Reagan’s did.

Time will tell who is right and who is wrong. At this stage, conservatives certainly have the better of the argument, though this political drama has several more acts to play out. But here’s one thing you can be sure of: if unemployment is still high, if the deficit and debt are still exploding, and if the economy is still struggling in 2011 and 2012, then the Teixeira/TNR effort to create miles of distance between Obama and the economic conditions of the country will fail. Appeals to sophisticated political-science models and pleas for more time and understanding will fail. Lashing out at critics and Bush won’t work. And if dogmatic liberals continue to insist, as they have in the past, that “the widespread conclusion that Obama is losing popularity because he’s too liberal … is totally unpersuasive,” they will be seen as increasingly detached from reality.

The public will hold the president accountable for his actions. That is what Obama’s increasingly desperate courtiers are most afraid of.

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No Isn’t Enough for Republicans

A story in the Washington Post about the GOP’s growing optimism that its no votes will be sufficient to reclaim control of Congress includes this quote by Representative Tom Cole, a deputy whip in the House:

We’re very comfortable where we’re at; we have very few members who feel endangered. We feel like we are reflecting a broader mood of dissatisfaction. Right now, the American people want us saying no.

The story also reports this:

There has been little public criticism within GOP ranks of the continued opposition. At the same time, some Republicans would like the no votes combined with more discussion of the party’s positive vision. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said last week that Republicans were reluctant to adopt his comprehensive plan to bring down the federal deficit and reform Social Security and Medicare because “they are talking to their pollsters.”

Representative Cole is correct that the American people want Republicans to say no. It’s hard to come to any other conclusion when you analyze the polling data. But Representative Ryan is correct as well; Republicans need to combine their no votes — which are necessary and admirable — with a sufficiently detailed governing agenda. There are plenty of fine ideas out there — beginning with Ryan’s own plan, a Roadmap for America’s Future. That need not be the only one, by any means.

The danger Republicans face is that of developing a mindset that is defensive and de minimus; that of fearing that in offering up specific, concrete plans, they will open themselves up to criticisms and therefore win fewer House and Senate seats.

That is the perennial fear of politicians, and it needs to be resisted. For one thing, voters are looking for solutions rather than slogans. For another, the point of politics is not simply to gain power but also to govern responsibly once you attain it. Republicans need to have confidence in their ideas and, to the extent possible, win a mandate for them.

When Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980, he was receiving a lot of counsel in favor of running a relatively content-free campaign. His supply-side agenda, it was said, would make him an enormous target for Jimmy Carter. The math didn’t add up. The public would never accept “voodoo economics.” Reagan wisely ignored that advice, won in a landslide, and — for the most part — governed based on the ideas he ran and won on. He is now considered among our greatest presidents. Reagan helped to transform his party and his nation. So did Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain. So, for that matter, did Abraham Lincoln.

These are the models Republican candidates should look to as they are told by pollsters and campaign advisers to say nothing substantive, to aim low, to play it safe. Republicans should be smart, aim high, and provide a clear alternative to Obamaism. It’s in their self-interest and in the nation’s best interests. Those are two pretty good reasons to do it.

A story in the Washington Post about the GOP’s growing optimism that its no votes will be sufficient to reclaim control of Congress includes this quote by Representative Tom Cole, a deputy whip in the House:

We’re very comfortable where we’re at; we have very few members who feel endangered. We feel like we are reflecting a broader mood of dissatisfaction. Right now, the American people want us saying no.

The story also reports this:

There has been little public criticism within GOP ranks of the continued opposition. At the same time, some Republicans would like the no votes combined with more discussion of the party’s positive vision. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said last week that Republicans were reluctant to adopt his comprehensive plan to bring down the federal deficit and reform Social Security and Medicare because “they are talking to their pollsters.”

Representative Cole is correct that the American people want Republicans to say no. It’s hard to come to any other conclusion when you analyze the polling data. But Representative Ryan is correct as well; Republicans need to combine their no votes — which are necessary and admirable — with a sufficiently detailed governing agenda. There are plenty of fine ideas out there — beginning with Ryan’s own plan, a Roadmap for America’s Future. That need not be the only one, by any means.

The danger Republicans face is that of developing a mindset that is defensive and de minimus; that of fearing that in offering up specific, concrete plans, they will open themselves up to criticisms and therefore win fewer House and Senate seats.

That is the perennial fear of politicians, and it needs to be resisted. For one thing, voters are looking for solutions rather than slogans. For another, the point of politics is not simply to gain power but also to govern responsibly once you attain it. Republicans need to have confidence in their ideas and, to the extent possible, win a mandate for them.

When Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980, he was receiving a lot of counsel in favor of running a relatively content-free campaign. His supply-side agenda, it was said, would make him an enormous target for Jimmy Carter. The math didn’t add up. The public would never accept “voodoo economics.” Reagan wisely ignored that advice, won in a landslide, and — for the most part — governed based on the ideas he ran and won on. He is now considered among our greatest presidents. Reagan helped to transform his party and his nation. So did Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain. So, for that matter, did Abraham Lincoln.

These are the models Republican candidates should look to as they are told by pollsters and campaign advisers to say nothing substantive, to aim low, to play it safe. Republicans should be smart, aim high, and provide a clear alternative to Obamaism. It’s in their self-interest and in the nation’s best interests. Those are two pretty good reasons to do it.

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Bipartisan on Israel Means Accountability, Not Silence

The uproar over the efforts of the new Emergency Committee for Israel to highlight the record of Rep. Joe Sestak, the Democratic candidate for the Senate in Pennsylvania, is getting nasty. Sestak and his supporters are hoping to manufacture a backlash against the congressman’s critics that will not only change the subject from his record but will also cause Pennsylvania Jews to rally around the Democrats as the victims of what they are calling a sleazy smear campaign that is wrongly politicizing the issue of support for Israel.

The notion that the Republicans are trying to politicize Israel played a part in the previous two election cycles, during which large-scale efforts by the Republican Jewish Coalition to raise the issue of left-wing disaffection from Israel were treated with similar scorn. In 2006 and 2008, Republican ads highlighted the anti-Israel records of various prominent Democrats, such as Jimmy Carter, and left-wing activist groups, such as Moveon.org. As with the reaction to the ECI campaign, those comments seemed to center less on complaints about the content of the ads than on the premise that judging a Democratic candidate on his stand on Israel was itself illegitimate. They argued then, as they do now, that any effort that uses Israel as a wedge issue turns it into a political football and that this process undermines the broad coalition that has made the U.S.-Israel alliance a fact of American political life.

But this is a false argument that has more to do with the needs of partisanship than it does with maintaining a pro-Israel consensus. What the Democrats want is not more civility but rather to remove Israel from political debate. Given their existing advantage among Jewish voters, who are already overwhelmingly Democratic, this would certainly be to their advantage — especially because the greatest current threat to the pro-Israel consensus is the rising tide of hostility to Jewish self-defense and Zionism on the political left. But in doing so, Democrats are effectively relieving our politicians of any accountability on Middle East issues.

If we can’t judge politicians like Sestak on their positions concerning Israel and related issues, then it is the Democratic argument that Israel is off-limits for discussion — and not the anti-Sestak or Republican Jewish Coalition ads — that signals the end of the pro-Israel consensus. If a member of Congress can, with impunity, speak at a CAIR fundraiser without confronting that group over its origins and positions, or if he can sign letters aimed at heightening pressure on Israel and undermining its right of self-defense, then advocacy groups might as well close up shop; no one will have any reason to believe that the pro-Israel community means what it says when it seeks — as any group in a democracy will do — to support its friends and oppose its foes.

So long as the parties and candidates are actively competing for pro-Israel votes — and one suspects that there are more Christian pro-Israel votes in play here than Jewish ones because for many of the latter, partisan loyalty trumps their affection for Zionism — then we have reason to believe that the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus is safe. That means that both Democrats and Republicans must confront members of their party who are unsupportive or lukewarm toward Israel instead of giving them blanket immunity on the issue.

It is certainly legitimate for Sestak to spin his record or to argue that we must judge him by other things he has done in an attempt to prove his pro-Israel bona fides. But it is not legitimate for Sestak or any Democrat — or any Republican, for that matter — to say that their record on Israel is off-limits for discussion.

The uproar over the efforts of the new Emergency Committee for Israel to highlight the record of Rep. Joe Sestak, the Democratic candidate for the Senate in Pennsylvania, is getting nasty. Sestak and his supporters are hoping to manufacture a backlash against the congressman’s critics that will not only change the subject from his record but will also cause Pennsylvania Jews to rally around the Democrats as the victims of what they are calling a sleazy smear campaign that is wrongly politicizing the issue of support for Israel.

The notion that the Republicans are trying to politicize Israel played a part in the previous two election cycles, during which large-scale efforts by the Republican Jewish Coalition to raise the issue of left-wing disaffection from Israel were treated with similar scorn. In 2006 and 2008, Republican ads highlighted the anti-Israel records of various prominent Democrats, such as Jimmy Carter, and left-wing activist groups, such as Moveon.org. As with the reaction to the ECI campaign, those comments seemed to center less on complaints about the content of the ads than on the premise that judging a Democratic candidate on his stand on Israel was itself illegitimate. They argued then, as they do now, that any effort that uses Israel as a wedge issue turns it into a political football and that this process undermines the broad coalition that has made the U.S.-Israel alliance a fact of American political life.

But this is a false argument that has more to do with the needs of partisanship than it does with maintaining a pro-Israel consensus. What the Democrats want is not more civility but rather to remove Israel from political debate. Given their existing advantage among Jewish voters, who are already overwhelmingly Democratic, this would certainly be to their advantage — especially because the greatest current threat to the pro-Israel consensus is the rising tide of hostility to Jewish self-defense and Zionism on the political left. But in doing so, Democrats are effectively relieving our politicians of any accountability on Middle East issues.

If we can’t judge politicians like Sestak on their positions concerning Israel and related issues, then it is the Democratic argument that Israel is off-limits for discussion — and not the anti-Sestak or Republican Jewish Coalition ads — that signals the end of the pro-Israel consensus. If a member of Congress can, with impunity, speak at a CAIR fundraiser without confronting that group over its origins and positions, or if he can sign letters aimed at heightening pressure on Israel and undermining its right of self-defense, then advocacy groups might as well close up shop; no one will have any reason to believe that the pro-Israel community means what it says when it seeks — as any group in a democracy will do — to support its friends and oppose its foes.

So long as the parties and candidates are actively competing for pro-Israel votes — and one suspects that there are more Christian pro-Israel votes in play here than Jewish ones because for many of the latter, partisan loyalty trumps their affection for Zionism — then we have reason to believe that the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus is safe. That means that both Democrats and Republicans must confront members of their party who are unsupportive or lukewarm toward Israel instead of giving them blanket immunity on the issue.

It is certainly legitimate for Sestak to spin his record or to argue that we must judge him by other things he has done in an attempt to prove his pro-Israel bona fides. But it is not legitimate for Sestak or any Democrat — or any Republican, for that matter — to say that their record on Israel is off-limits for discussion.

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Why Obama Just Might Fight Iran

Walter Russell Mead argues in the American Interest that President Barack Obama is more likely to go to war with Iran than many conventional observers believe. “In my view,” he wrote, “Iran and this president are headed toward a confrontation in which President Obama will either have to give up all hope on the issues he cares most about, or risk the use of force to stop Iran.”

The president is not likely to go to war with Iran for Israel’s sake. He’s even less likely to go to war with Iran on behalf of the Middle East’s Sunni Arabs. He’s not even all that likely to go to war with Iran to protect American interests in the Levant and the Persian Gulf. He just might, though, as Mead says, go to war to protect what he values most and hopes to accomplish as president.

Obama is often described as a cold-blooded “realist,” but in some ways he’s a Wilsonian. He’s a different kind of Wilsonian from President George W. Bush, but he is one nonetheless. “In many ways a classic example of the Wilsonian school of American foreign policy,” Mead writes, “President Obama believes that American security can best be safeguarded by the construction of a liberal and orderly world,” like a loose and less centralized European Union on a planet-wide scale. And yet, as Mead points out, “Iran’s success means the complete, utter and historic destruction of everything President Obama wants to build.”

He’s right. If Iran emerges as a nuclear-armed terrorist-sponsoring hegemon over the world’s primary energy fields, Obama’s neo-Wilsonian project — which is already a long-shot, at best, as it is — will stand no chance at all for the duration of his tenure and most likely beyond. His domestic American agenda will go sideways, as well, if he loses a re-election bid in 2012 for sending the Middle East and the stability of the world’s energy economy into a tailspin.

Surely, Obama knows he is often compared to former President Jimmy Carter by his domestic opponents — and not in a good way. Carter’s presidency was cut short for a number of reasons, the most memorable being his inability to rescue or negotiate the release of 52 hostages seized from the American Embassy in Tehran by Ayatollah Khomeini’s radical Islamists during Iran’s post-revolutionary struggle for power. That very same regime now threatens Obama’s presidency and place in history, too. As much as he fears and loathes the thought of going to war with Iran, he can’t relish the possibility of becoming Jimmy Carter Redux and losing everything.

American presidents, like all leaders everywhere, are forced to choose between bad and worse options. And it’s not always clear which option is which. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s likely Obama will use the military power at his disposal to prevent Iran from going nuclear, but it’s not unthinkable that he’ll surprise everyone — for good or for ill — if he feels those who destroyed Carter are on the verge of scalping him, too.

Walter Russell Mead argues in the American Interest that President Barack Obama is more likely to go to war with Iran than many conventional observers believe. “In my view,” he wrote, “Iran and this president are headed toward a confrontation in which President Obama will either have to give up all hope on the issues he cares most about, or risk the use of force to stop Iran.”

The president is not likely to go to war with Iran for Israel’s sake. He’s even less likely to go to war with Iran on behalf of the Middle East’s Sunni Arabs. He’s not even all that likely to go to war with Iran to protect American interests in the Levant and the Persian Gulf. He just might, though, as Mead says, go to war to protect what he values most and hopes to accomplish as president.

Obama is often described as a cold-blooded “realist,” but in some ways he’s a Wilsonian. He’s a different kind of Wilsonian from President George W. Bush, but he is one nonetheless. “In many ways a classic example of the Wilsonian school of American foreign policy,” Mead writes, “President Obama believes that American security can best be safeguarded by the construction of a liberal and orderly world,” like a loose and less centralized European Union on a planet-wide scale. And yet, as Mead points out, “Iran’s success means the complete, utter and historic destruction of everything President Obama wants to build.”

He’s right. If Iran emerges as a nuclear-armed terrorist-sponsoring hegemon over the world’s primary energy fields, Obama’s neo-Wilsonian project — which is already a long-shot, at best, as it is — will stand no chance at all for the duration of his tenure and most likely beyond. His domestic American agenda will go sideways, as well, if he loses a re-election bid in 2012 for sending the Middle East and the stability of the world’s energy economy into a tailspin.

Surely, Obama knows he is often compared to former President Jimmy Carter by his domestic opponents — and not in a good way. Carter’s presidency was cut short for a number of reasons, the most memorable being his inability to rescue or negotiate the release of 52 hostages seized from the American Embassy in Tehran by Ayatollah Khomeini’s radical Islamists during Iran’s post-revolutionary struggle for power. That very same regime now threatens Obama’s presidency and place in history, too. As much as he fears and loathes the thought of going to war with Iran, he can’t relish the possibility of becoming Jimmy Carter Redux and losing everything.

American presidents, like all leaders everywhere, are forced to choose between bad and worse options. And it’s not always clear which option is which. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s likely Obama will use the military power at his disposal to prevent Iran from going nuclear, but it’s not unthinkable that he’ll surprise everyone — for good or for ill — if he feels those who destroyed Carter are on the verge of scalping him, too.

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Goldberg: What’s Wrong with J Street?

Jeffrey Goldberg shares a letter from a frustrated reader:

I watched your debate with Jeremy Ben-Ami the other night and it seemed like you agreed with nearly everything the guy had to say. You should understand that J Street is not a Zionist group at all. It supports congressional candidates who are hostile to Israel, and, in its own statements it says it’s opposed even to the threat of military action against Iran, something that Obama does regularly. Why don’t you understand that J Street is a wolf in sheep’s clothing? It is designed to separate Israel from the Democratic Party. It is not interested in supporting Israel, it is interested in providing cover for Jews who dislike Israel but need a Jewish cover to say so.

Goldberg’s retort is as unpersuasive as it is sad. He doesn’t rebut the readers’ points but says he’s troubled that the reader thinks such awful things. He also assures us that the people from J Street he’s met love Israel (he knows this, I guess, because they say so) and that they’re in favor of ending settlements just like Goldberg is. They are also in favor of carving up Jerusalem and lifting the Gaza blockade — and opposed to sanctions against Iran and statements, however bland, in support of Israel’s right of self-defense. But Goldberg doesn’t bother with all that. Nor does he address why it is that J Street hosted a confab filled with apologists for the mullahs.

He then makes this mind-boggling assertion: “Since I’m for an end to the settlements myself, I find it hard to believe that J Street is anti-Israel, since I am certainly not anti-Israel.” What?! (CAIR is in favor of ending settlements too, so does that mean … oh never mind.) He ends with a non-sequitur: “There has to be room in American Jewry for people who disagree with the policies of Israeli governments but want Israel to survive as a Jewish democracy. ” This of course sidesteps the question as to whether J Street is really pro-Israel and what it means by “survive.” (And there is “room” for everyone engaged in nonviolent debate in America, but not everyone deserves recognition as “pro-Israel.”)

Goldberg’s post is so halfhearted and unreasoned that one almost suspects he is mocking those who defend J Street. But alas, I think he’s serious — and exemplifies the difficulty that liberal Jews have in discerning who is on Israel’s side and what it means to be on Israel’s side.

In any case, next time there is a debate with Jeremy Ben-Ami, the organizers should come up with someone (Goldberg’s reader, maybe) who actually disagrees with J Street and can explain why not everyone who is against settlements (Jimmy Carter?) is pro-Israel. But maybe the organizers of these events aren’t so much interested in shedding light on J Street as in providing cover for it. In that case, they picked the perfect man. Goldberg is, by the way, also the perfect man to run Politics and Prose.

Jeffrey Goldberg shares a letter from a frustrated reader:

I watched your debate with Jeremy Ben-Ami the other night and it seemed like you agreed with nearly everything the guy had to say. You should understand that J Street is not a Zionist group at all. It supports congressional candidates who are hostile to Israel, and, in its own statements it says it’s opposed even to the threat of military action against Iran, something that Obama does regularly. Why don’t you understand that J Street is a wolf in sheep’s clothing? It is designed to separate Israel from the Democratic Party. It is not interested in supporting Israel, it is interested in providing cover for Jews who dislike Israel but need a Jewish cover to say so.

Goldberg’s retort is as unpersuasive as it is sad. He doesn’t rebut the readers’ points but says he’s troubled that the reader thinks such awful things. He also assures us that the people from J Street he’s met love Israel (he knows this, I guess, because they say so) and that they’re in favor of ending settlements just like Goldberg is. They are also in favor of carving up Jerusalem and lifting the Gaza blockade — and opposed to sanctions against Iran and statements, however bland, in support of Israel’s right of self-defense. But Goldberg doesn’t bother with all that. Nor does he address why it is that J Street hosted a confab filled with apologists for the mullahs.

He then makes this mind-boggling assertion: “Since I’m for an end to the settlements myself, I find it hard to believe that J Street is anti-Israel, since I am certainly not anti-Israel.” What?! (CAIR is in favor of ending settlements too, so does that mean … oh never mind.) He ends with a non-sequitur: “There has to be room in American Jewry for people who disagree with the policies of Israeli governments but want Israel to survive as a Jewish democracy. ” This of course sidesteps the question as to whether J Street is really pro-Israel and what it means by “survive.” (And there is “room” for everyone engaged in nonviolent debate in America, but not everyone deserves recognition as “pro-Israel.”)

Goldberg’s post is so halfhearted and unreasoned that one almost suspects he is mocking those who defend J Street. But alas, I think he’s serious — and exemplifies the difficulty that liberal Jews have in discerning who is on Israel’s side and what it means to be on Israel’s side.

In any case, next time there is a debate with Jeremy Ben-Ami, the organizers should come up with someone (Goldberg’s reader, maybe) who actually disagrees with J Street and can explain why not everyone who is against settlements (Jimmy Carter?) is pro-Israel. But maybe the organizers of these events aren’t so much interested in shedding light on J Street as in providing cover for it. In that case, they picked the perfect man. Goldberg is, by the way, also the perfect man to run Politics and Prose.

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The Missing Link: It’s Not McChrystal

General Stanley McChrystal’s frustration – some of it most improperly expressed – reminded me of the Washington Post background piece from December 2009, in which the authors communicated the Obama Afghanistan policy thus:

The White House’s desired end state in Afghanistan, officials said, envisions more informal local security arrangements than in Iraq, a less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence.

According to an administration official:

The guidance they [the military] have is that we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever. … The hardest intellectual exercise will be settling on how much is enough.

I wrote at the time that this was not executable guidance. It’s the kind of guidance that can be used with some limited success by an individual leader who has a more specific plan and enjoys latitude, trust, and support from his seniors. But success will always be limited — local, situational, and tactical — when the overarching guidance consists not of an objective but of an anti-objective. McChrystal has made the most of his options within the framework of guidance, which amounts to a politically-manipulable exit strategy. But it has been clear for months that his political supervisors — Karl Eikenberry, Richard Holbrooke, the president — are fundamentally disengaged from the actual campaign plan being implemented.

Who has the sense that President Obama is politically and morally invested in the surge being ramped up in Kandahar? When does he speak of it in public? When does he lend the weight of statesmanlike rhetoric to the military effort in its specific incarnations? As commander in chief, he has confined himself largely to expressing generic thanks to the troops for their service and sacrifice. He speaks occasionally about political relations with Afghanistan and the Karzai regime, but we never hear him making a military-operational case for NATO’s endeavors there — or tying the military approach to our political goals.

That is a virtually unique failing in an American president. Think back through all the presidents in your lifetime: each one of them, even Jimmy Carter, gave a stronger impression of integrated, accountable leadership in the military realm. This is not a matter of putting on a show or cultivating appearances either. The issue is conveying that what’s being done in the field in Afghanistan represents the president’s will and intention and has a purpose he is fully committed to.

The truth is, however, that there is no commitment to an objective. That’s what it means when Obama’s advisers speak vaguely of a “less-capable national government” for Afghanistan than for Iraq, a “greater tolerance of insurgent violence,” and “not doing everything and not doing it forever.” I believe, with Max Boot and others, that Afghanistan is winnable; but even with McChrystal’s strategy, I do not believe it can be won while the political guidance is temporizing and uncommitted. Military force is a tool of political will, not a substitute for it.

Sadly, a chastened General McChrystal will function even less effectively in this environment. When your job entails offering unpalatable truths and unwelcome advice, breaches of trust are very hard to overcome. In this painful situation, it would be a better sign of Obama’s own engagement if he picked a new commander. If he doesn’t, I wish McChrystal all the lucky breaks he can get. He’s going to need them.

General Stanley McChrystal’s frustration – some of it most improperly expressed – reminded me of the Washington Post background piece from December 2009, in which the authors communicated the Obama Afghanistan policy thus:

The White House’s desired end state in Afghanistan, officials said, envisions more informal local security arrangements than in Iraq, a less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence.

According to an administration official:

The guidance they [the military] have is that we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever. … The hardest intellectual exercise will be settling on how much is enough.

I wrote at the time that this was not executable guidance. It’s the kind of guidance that can be used with some limited success by an individual leader who has a more specific plan and enjoys latitude, trust, and support from his seniors. But success will always be limited — local, situational, and tactical — when the overarching guidance consists not of an objective but of an anti-objective. McChrystal has made the most of his options within the framework of guidance, which amounts to a politically-manipulable exit strategy. But it has been clear for months that his political supervisors — Karl Eikenberry, Richard Holbrooke, the president — are fundamentally disengaged from the actual campaign plan being implemented.

Who has the sense that President Obama is politically and morally invested in the surge being ramped up in Kandahar? When does he speak of it in public? When does he lend the weight of statesmanlike rhetoric to the military effort in its specific incarnations? As commander in chief, he has confined himself largely to expressing generic thanks to the troops for their service and sacrifice. He speaks occasionally about political relations with Afghanistan and the Karzai regime, but we never hear him making a military-operational case for NATO’s endeavors there — or tying the military approach to our political goals.

That is a virtually unique failing in an American president. Think back through all the presidents in your lifetime: each one of them, even Jimmy Carter, gave a stronger impression of integrated, accountable leadership in the military realm. This is not a matter of putting on a show or cultivating appearances either. The issue is conveying that what’s being done in the field in Afghanistan represents the president’s will and intention and has a purpose he is fully committed to.

The truth is, however, that there is no commitment to an objective. That’s what it means when Obama’s advisers speak vaguely of a “less-capable national government” for Afghanistan than for Iraq, a “greater tolerance of insurgent violence,” and “not doing everything and not doing it forever.” I believe, with Max Boot and others, that Afghanistan is winnable; but even with McChrystal’s strategy, I do not believe it can be won while the political guidance is temporizing and uncommitted. Military force is a tool of political will, not a substitute for it.

Sadly, a chastened General McChrystal will function even less effectively in this environment. When your job entails offering unpalatable truths and unwelcome advice, breaches of trust are very hard to overcome. In this painful situation, it would be a better sign of Obama’s own engagement if he picked a new commander. If he doesn’t, I wish McChrystal all the lucky breaks he can get. He’s going to need them.

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