Commentary Magazine


Topic: messenger

Forget Mixed Seating. How About the President Just Mailing It In?

In the wake of President Obama’s call for more civility in the wake of the tragedy in Arizona, some in his party are seeking a symbolic effort to play down partisanship during one of the Capitol’s annual displays of partisanship: the State of the Union speech. Democratic Senator Mark Udall of Colorado has called for mixed seating during the event. The Democratic leaders like it, and Republicans, who are leery of being portrayed as insufficiently sensitive or overly partisan, are not opposing the plan.

Is there anything wrong with the idea? Not really. The tradition of having Democrats sit on one side of the Chamber and Republicans on the other is based on the way Congress operates when it is in a normal session. Congressional seating patterns, not to mention the existence of organized political parties, are nowhere to be found in the Constitution.

However, it is not clear that mixed seating will achieve the avowed purpose of those advocating this measure, which is to avoid the sophomoric displays of partisanship that have become a regular feature of State of the Union speeches. While representatives and senators from both parties stand and applaud, as they should, during the president’s entrance, once the speech starts, the two sides morph into a congressional version of a college football game, where the supporters of the two teams divide the stadium and engage in organized cheers. It doesn’t matter which party holds the White House or Congress. Every year, the president can count on raucous cheers and standing ovations from his fellow party members in the chamber while members of the other party ostentatiously stay seated and silent.

Will mixed seating prevent a recurrence of this nonsense? The answer here is probably not. When the president speaks a line that is designed to appeal to the sensibilities of his own party — for example, one urging Congress not to repeal his health-care program — most Democrats are likely to stand and cheer while Republicans will remain seated (and need to restrain themselves from muttering their disapproval, which would lead to accusations of bad manners, such as those aimed at Justice Samuel Alito, who silently voiced his disapproval at a presidential barb aimed at the Supreme Court last year). The odds are, Democrats will get up and applaud and Republicans will not at certain points in the speech. And they will do so even if they have not clumped together by party. Read More

In the wake of President Obama’s call for more civility in the wake of the tragedy in Arizona, some in his party are seeking a symbolic effort to play down partisanship during one of the Capitol’s annual displays of partisanship: the State of the Union speech. Democratic Senator Mark Udall of Colorado has called for mixed seating during the event. The Democratic leaders like it, and Republicans, who are leery of being portrayed as insufficiently sensitive or overly partisan, are not opposing the plan.

Is there anything wrong with the idea? Not really. The tradition of having Democrats sit on one side of the Chamber and Republicans on the other is based on the way Congress operates when it is in a normal session. Congressional seating patterns, not to mention the existence of organized political parties, are nowhere to be found in the Constitution.

However, it is not clear that mixed seating will achieve the avowed purpose of those advocating this measure, which is to avoid the sophomoric displays of partisanship that have become a regular feature of State of the Union speeches. While representatives and senators from both parties stand and applaud, as they should, during the president’s entrance, once the speech starts, the two sides morph into a congressional version of a college football game, where the supporters of the two teams divide the stadium and engage in organized cheers. It doesn’t matter which party holds the White House or Congress. Every year, the president can count on raucous cheers and standing ovations from his fellow party members in the chamber while members of the other party ostentatiously stay seated and silent.

Will mixed seating prevent a recurrence of this nonsense? The answer here is probably not. When the president speaks a line that is designed to appeal to the sensibilities of his own party — for example, one urging Congress not to repeal his health-care program — most Democrats are likely to stand and cheer while Republicans will remain seated (and need to restrain themselves from muttering their disapproval, which would lead to accusations of bad manners, such as those aimed at Justice Samuel Alito, who silently voiced his disapproval at a presidential barb aimed at the Supreme Court last year). The odds are, Democrats will get up and applaud and Republicans will not at certain points in the speech. And they will do so even if they have not clumped together by party.

An even better suggestion than mixed seating would be to do away with this televised extravaganza altogether. While the Constitution does mandate that the president report to the Congress annually on the state of the union, it does not say he needs to go there and speak to them in person on national TV. Until the 20th century, the practice (initiated by Thomas Jefferson, who thought the speech that his two predecessors had delivered was too reminiscent of the British monarch’s annual speech from the throne) was for the president to write his report and then have it delivered via messenger to the Congress, where the Clerk of the House publicly read it. Woodrow Wilson revived the practice of delivering it in person; and as first radio and then television entered into the question, it became a highly choreographed ritual that served as a valuable PR tool for every president.

The point is, if ending the obnoxious partisanship and pointless rituals of the occasion is the goal, the president can write and then deliver his speech from the Oval Office, something that would satisfy his constitutional obligation without forcing the nation to endure a pointless spectacle. While I am sure that no president will take up this suggestion, doing so will not only end the partisanship that nobody likes but might also encourage presidents to stick to serious policy points and avoid the smarmy feel-good touches (such as singling out praiseworthy citizens who have been invited to sit in the gallery) that have made the speech an even lengthier and more boring ordeal that it needs to be.

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Searching

As I noted on Friday, the GOP could use some unifiers who can fuse the Tea Party’s enthusiasm and small-government devotion with the mature street smarts of conservative stalwarts who possess bipartisan appeal. It is not an easy task. The media envision (and egg on) a competition for the soul of the GOP, and the battle for the 2012 nomination — Sarah Palin vs. everyone else. That sort of standoff may play out, but it’s not a useful paradigm if the Republicans hope to capture the White House.

The midterm results illustrate this vividly. Sarah Palin’s Tea Party favorites Joe Miller, Sharron Angle, and Christine O’Donnell all went down to defeat, as did independent Tom Tancredo, whom she backed in the Colorado gubernatorial race. Her critics cite this as evidence that while potent within the conservative movement, she lacks the appeal and political judgment required for the GOP to win in 2012. Her defenders will remind us that she also backed Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Nikki Haley, who all won. The argument for Rubio is not all that persuasive, of course; Rubio didn’t need Palin to win. The concern remains among conservatives: in a presidential race, you need to win not just deep Red States but also ones that are in play in competitive years.

There is another model. If Palin has reinforced doubts about her electability, Haley Barbour has some crowing to do. As head of the hugely successful Republican Governors’ Association, he can claim fundraising prowess and a role in the remarkable sweep in gubernatorial races from Maine to Florida to Wisconsin to New Mexico. The number of e-mails sent out touting his fundraising totals and electoral successes strongly suggests that he is getting his resume in order for a presidential run. But Barbour himself may not be the man to meld the two halves of the party. The image of an older, white Southern male with a successful lobbying career risks alienating the Tea Party contingent, whose enthusiasm and ideological zest led to many of those victories. Read More

As I noted on Friday, the GOP could use some unifiers who can fuse the Tea Party’s enthusiasm and small-government devotion with the mature street smarts of conservative stalwarts who possess bipartisan appeal. It is not an easy task. The media envision (and egg on) a competition for the soul of the GOP, and the battle for the 2012 nomination — Sarah Palin vs. everyone else. That sort of standoff may play out, but it’s not a useful paradigm if the Republicans hope to capture the White House.

The midterm results illustrate this vividly. Sarah Palin’s Tea Party favorites Joe Miller, Sharron Angle, and Christine O’Donnell all went down to defeat, as did independent Tom Tancredo, whom she backed in the Colorado gubernatorial race. Her critics cite this as evidence that while potent within the conservative movement, she lacks the appeal and political judgment required for the GOP to win in 2012. Her defenders will remind us that she also backed Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Nikki Haley, who all won. The argument for Rubio is not all that persuasive, of course; Rubio didn’t need Palin to win. The concern remains among conservatives: in a presidential race, you need to win not just deep Red States but also ones that are in play in competitive years.

There is another model. If Palin has reinforced doubts about her electability, Haley Barbour has some crowing to do. As head of the hugely successful Republican Governors’ Association, he can claim fundraising prowess and a role in the remarkable sweep in gubernatorial races from Maine to Florida to Wisconsin to New Mexico. The number of e-mails sent out touting his fundraising totals and electoral successes strongly suggests that he is getting his resume in order for a presidential run. But Barbour himself may not be the man to meld the two halves of the party. The image of an older, white Southern male with a successful lobbying career risks alienating the Tea Party contingent, whose enthusiasm and ideological zest led to many of those victories.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, who on paper might seem well-suited to the times (businessman, successful governor), is hobbled, maybe fatally, by his authorship of a health-care plan that bears a striking resemblance to the one which both Republican insiders and Tea Party activists are determined to obliterate. This is no small handicap.

So what’s the formula for success? Republicans supported and emerged victorious with serious-minded conservative candidates – Rob Portman in Ohio, Dan Coats in Indiana, and John Boozman in Arkansas – while finding new faces (Rubio, Ron Johnson) who avoided the hot-button rhetoric that derailed a number of the Tea Party candidates. Although ideologically not all that different from the Tea Party–preferred candidates, the GOP victors demonstrated how to meld fiscal conservatism with a more accessible brand of populism. They hardly disappointed the Tea Party crowd; but neither did they alienate independent voters.

Are there GOP hopefuls in 2012 who can fuse Tea Party populism with sober conservative governance? Many in the conservative intelligentsia pine for Gov. Chris Christie, who has become a rock star on YouTube; he won in a Blue State and now is battling against the Trenton insiders. And he’s doing it with showmanship that only Palin can top. But he joked that apparently only “suicide” would convince us that he wasn’t interested. I’m thinking he might be serious about not running.

Then there is Rep. Paul Ryan, soon to take over the chair of the Budget Committee. He excites many conservatives in and outside the Beltway. He’s brainy and articulate, with a shake-up-the-status-quo approach to entitlement and budget reform. He already matched up well against Obama, arguably winning a TKO in the health-care summit. And he will be front and center in the key legislative battles, in some ways the face of the GOP House majority, for the next two years. While he’s said he’s not interested in a 2012 run, he’s not been Christie-esque in his denials. As for the “rule” that House members can’t make viable presidential candidates, I think the rulebook was shredded in the last few years.

Of course, there is Marco Rubio, the party’s genuine superstar (with an immigrant story and deep belief in American exceptionalism), who proved to be an especially effective messenger of conservative principles. However, both he and his most fervent supporters seem to agree: it’s too soon.

So the search goes on. The good news for the GOP is that they have a slew of new governors (e.g., John Kasich) and senators and some retiring ones (Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels) who understand how to forge the center-right coalition needed to get elected. A few faces familiar to political junkies (Mike Pence, John Thune) are also considering a run, which will test whether a Washington insider can nevertheless take on the mantle of reformer/outsider. Can any from this group of Republicans — who frankly lack magnetic personalities – also engage Tea Partiers? We will see.

So conservatives keep looking and trying to persuade the reluctant pols to throw their hats into the ring. Those who imagine they can win back the White House without full engagement of the 2010 winning formula (Tea Partiers plus traditionalists) should think again. A plan by half of the Republican alliance to overpower the other half is a formula for a second Obama term.

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Performance and Politics

Chris Christie’s latest YouTube hit demonstrates the qualities that are defining his public persona and causing many a conservative to wonder whether he is “the guy” to take on Obama. (He insists he isn’t, but the conservative buzz about him has only grown.) In this clip, Christie methodically reels off a list of nonsense bills on which the New Jersey legislature has spent time, all the while ignoring major issues like property-tax relief and pension reform. Yes, what he is saying is important, but it is the how he is saying it that makes him a rising star.

His background as a U.S. attorney certainly comes through: the use of vernacular, the good humor, the methodical pacing. If the GOP wants to deliver some tough medicine in the next few years — on entitlement reform, spending discipline, etc. — they’d better find an appealing messenger and a down-to-earth manner of delivering the message.

Christie may actually mean what he says and may refuse to run. But the other 2012 contenders should take note. If you want to win an election and a mandate, you will need more than a clipboard and PowerPoint presentation. Politics is serious stuff, but it is also about performance. And with the exception of Sarah Palin, there isn’t any Republican contender for 2012 in sight who looks like he is having fun out there. There’s more to politics than a telegenic personality, a good sense of humor, and a flair for the dramatic, but none of these qualities hurt. Republican voters should look for a suitably conservative message, but they will inevitably be swayed by the skill and appeal of the messenger himself.

Chris Christie’s latest YouTube hit demonstrates the qualities that are defining his public persona and causing many a conservative to wonder whether he is “the guy” to take on Obama. (He insists he isn’t, but the conservative buzz about him has only grown.) In this clip, Christie methodically reels off a list of nonsense bills on which the New Jersey legislature has spent time, all the while ignoring major issues like property-tax relief and pension reform. Yes, what he is saying is important, but it is the how he is saying it that makes him a rising star.

His background as a U.S. attorney certainly comes through: the use of vernacular, the good humor, the methodical pacing. If the GOP wants to deliver some tough medicine in the next few years — on entitlement reform, spending discipline, etc. — they’d better find an appealing messenger and a down-to-earth manner of delivering the message.

Christie may actually mean what he says and may refuse to run. But the other 2012 contenders should take note. If you want to win an election and a mandate, you will need more than a clipboard and PowerPoint presentation. Politics is serious stuff, but it is also about performance. And with the exception of Sarah Palin, there isn’t any Republican contender for 2012 in sight who looks like he is having fun out there. There’s more to politics than a telegenic personality, a good sense of humor, and a flair for the dramatic, but none of these qualities hurt. Republican voters should look for a suitably conservative message, but they will inevitably be swayed by the skill and appeal of the messenger himself.

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The Peace Process Lacks Palestinian Peacemakers

Oh no, they tell us Mahmoud Abbas is on the ropes. A new cadre of PA figures is on the rise that is “less supportive of negotiations with Israel’s government.” Less than Abbas? Or more candid? You can’t get much less supportive than Abbas and his current crew, who continue to extol the names of terrorists and flee negotiations at the first opportune moment. But then again, Abbas has been reduced to the status of Arab League messenger boy. The new PA leadership wants to employ Gandhi-like nonviolent resistance? All they need is a tradition of nonviolent resistance, an ideology that shuns violence, and a popular consensus that killing Jews is a bad thing. I think Gandhi’s idea of a “march to the sea” isn’t exactly what the Palestinians have in mind.

But let’s understand the import of this: even within the PA, Abbas lacks a base of support. And he, we are told by the Obami, is the man and this is the unique moment that are going to give birth to a peace deal. Yes, it’s quite absurd.

It seems there is never quite the right Palestinian leader in place. This one is well-meaning, but has no backing. That one is popular, but allergic to peace talks. Another, after all, was imprisoned for terrorism. Perhaps there just isn’t someone who is willing to make a deal and who enjoys support within the Palestinian leadership and population. It might just be that the past 18 months of peace-processing, not to mention the past 60 years, have been a colossal waste of time.

Oh no, they tell us Mahmoud Abbas is on the ropes. A new cadre of PA figures is on the rise that is “less supportive of negotiations with Israel’s government.” Less than Abbas? Or more candid? You can’t get much less supportive than Abbas and his current crew, who continue to extol the names of terrorists and flee negotiations at the first opportune moment. But then again, Abbas has been reduced to the status of Arab League messenger boy. The new PA leadership wants to employ Gandhi-like nonviolent resistance? All they need is a tradition of nonviolent resistance, an ideology that shuns violence, and a popular consensus that killing Jews is a bad thing. I think Gandhi’s idea of a “march to the sea” isn’t exactly what the Palestinians have in mind.

But let’s understand the import of this: even within the PA, Abbas lacks a base of support. And he, we are told by the Obami, is the man and this is the unique moment that are going to give birth to a peace deal. Yes, it’s quite absurd.

It seems there is never quite the right Palestinian leader in place. This one is well-meaning, but has no backing. That one is popular, but allergic to peace talks. Another, after all, was imprisoned for terrorism. Perhaps there just isn’t someone who is willing to make a deal and who enjoys support within the Palestinian leadership and population. It might just be that the past 18 months of peace-processing, not to mention the past 60 years, have been a colossal waste of time.

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Exporting the Imam’s Message

A sharp-eyed reader e-mails me, observing that, in a way, Obama has already “spoken” on the Ground Zero mosque. She writes that Obama’s “decision to send Imam Rauf on a mission to explain the U.S. to the world is Obama’s comment.” Indeed.

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, along similar lines, wrote a letter to Hillary Clinton this week, which reads, in part:

Unfortunately, Imam Feisal’s message, unless he has had a change of heart, is that the United States deserved what she got in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and was, in essence, “an accessory to the crime that happened.” In a 60 Minutes interview, when asked why he considered the United States an accessory, Imam Feisal replied, “Because we have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the U.S.A.” If our State Department gives its imprimatur to this trip, it will also put its imprimatur on the message delivered.

Furthermore, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is currently in the center of a major controversy concerning the building of a mosque, the Cordoba Initiative, near Ground Zero, the World Trade Center site in New York City. Regardless of one’s opinion of Imam Feisal, or whether the opponents of a mosque near Ground Zero are right or wrong, Imam Feisal has become a symbol of the conflict between Islam and many Americans. Everywhere the imam goes, he will be the symbol of conflict and not of harmony. Even if Imam Feisal does not raise the issue of the Cordoba Mosque, his very presence will raise the issue. In other words, we will be responsible for having exported the debate to the Middle East and the messenger will be the message.

But it is that message which the screeching Ground Zero mosque promoters would rather conceal than illuminate. In a must read column, Cliff May explains that, from Mayor Bloomberg to Peter Beinart (whose intellect cannot bear to be exposed to contrary views, exploding in ad hominem attacks and demanding that his closed universe of semi-informed rhetoric be protected from May’s e-mails), the proponents of the project insist that we all shut up because they really don’t want to face the inconvenient truth of the the views of the imam they are defending:

Among Rauf’s Huffingtonian statements: that American policy was “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11, and that Osama bin Laden was “made in America.”

Rauf will not say whether he views Hamas — which intentionally slaughters civilians, has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, and advocates the extermination of both Israelis and Jews — as a terrorist organization.

He explains his reticence by saying that “the issue of terrorism is a very complex question.” No, actually, it’s quite simple: Whatever your grievances, you do not express them by murdering other people’s children. Not accepting that proposition does not make you a terrorist. But it disqualifies you as an anti-terrorist and identifies you as an anti-anti-terrorist.

Hardly the messenger of “peace,” Rauf is precisely the wrong sort of messenger to send frolicking abroad:

Rauf also has ties to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), organizations created by the Muslim Brotherhood and named by the U.S. Justice Department as unindicted co-conspirators in a terrorism-financing case.

A note on the Muslim Brotherhood: It is not a college fraternity. Its founder, Hasan al-Banna, famously said: “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.” In 1991, the Muslim Brotherhood’s American leadership prepared an internal memorandum describing its mission as a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.

May argues that what is at work here is the left’s familiar inability to make moral distinctions other than “reflexively regard[ing] those from the Third World as virtuous and those from the West as steeped in blame, shame, and guilt.” And that is very hard to do when you actually examine whether the objects of such affection are virtuous or, rather, are the face of evil in the modern world. No wonder Beinart wants to put his fingers in his ears and hum.

A sharp-eyed reader e-mails me, observing that, in a way, Obama has already “spoken” on the Ground Zero mosque. She writes that Obama’s “decision to send Imam Rauf on a mission to explain the U.S. to the world is Obama’s comment.” Indeed.

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, along similar lines, wrote a letter to Hillary Clinton this week, which reads, in part:

Unfortunately, Imam Feisal’s message, unless he has had a change of heart, is that the United States deserved what she got in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and was, in essence, “an accessory to the crime that happened.” In a 60 Minutes interview, when asked why he considered the United States an accessory, Imam Feisal replied, “Because we have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the U.S.A.” If our State Department gives its imprimatur to this trip, it will also put its imprimatur on the message delivered.

Furthermore, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is currently in the center of a major controversy concerning the building of a mosque, the Cordoba Initiative, near Ground Zero, the World Trade Center site in New York City. Regardless of one’s opinion of Imam Feisal, or whether the opponents of a mosque near Ground Zero are right or wrong, Imam Feisal has become a symbol of the conflict between Islam and many Americans. Everywhere the imam goes, he will be the symbol of conflict and not of harmony. Even if Imam Feisal does not raise the issue of the Cordoba Mosque, his very presence will raise the issue. In other words, we will be responsible for having exported the debate to the Middle East and the messenger will be the message.

But it is that message which the screeching Ground Zero mosque promoters would rather conceal than illuminate. In a must read column, Cliff May explains that, from Mayor Bloomberg to Peter Beinart (whose intellect cannot bear to be exposed to contrary views, exploding in ad hominem attacks and demanding that his closed universe of semi-informed rhetoric be protected from May’s e-mails), the proponents of the project insist that we all shut up because they really don’t want to face the inconvenient truth of the the views of the imam they are defending:

Among Rauf’s Huffingtonian statements: that American policy was “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11, and that Osama bin Laden was “made in America.”

Rauf will not say whether he views Hamas — which intentionally slaughters civilians, has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, and advocates the extermination of both Israelis and Jews — as a terrorist organization.

He explains his reticence by saying that “the issue of terrorism is a very complex question.” No, actually, it’s quite simple: Whatever your grievances, you do not express them by murdering other people’s children. Not accepting that proposition does not make you a terrorist. But it disqualifies you as an anti-terrorist and identifies you as an anti-anti-terrorist.

Hardly the messenger of “peace,” Rauf is precisely the wrong sort of messenger to send frolicking abroad:

Rauf also has ties to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), organizations created by the Muslim Brotherhood and named by the U.S. Justice Department as unindicted co-conspirators in a terrorism-financing case.

A note on the Muslim Brotherhood: It is not a college fraternity. Its founder, Hasan al-Banna, famously said: “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.” In 1991, the Muslim Brotherhood’s American leadership prepared an internal memorandum describing its mission as a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.

May argues that what is at work here is the left’s familiar inability to make moral distinctions other than “reflexively regard[ing] those from the Third World as virtuous and those from the West as steeped in blame, shame, and guilt.” And that is very hard to do when you actually examine whether the objects of such affection are virtuous or, rather, are the face of evil in the modern world. No wonder Beinart wants to put his fingers in his ears and hum.

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Jeb in 2012?

It’s widely discussed among those conservatives who have not yet found the presidential candidate of their dreams for 2012 that Jeb Bush might, if not for the name, earn that distinction. He was a successful governor in a diverse state, combines wonkish devotion to policy with an accessible personality, and is intellectually and instinctively conservative. But it is widely assumed that he is not running and won’t, both because of his desire to make money in the private sector and because of the name. The New York Times provides an altogether favorable profile of him (which the Gray Lady sometimes is wont to do for conservatives who are not running for office and who can hence make those who are look poor by comparison). The report explains:

The party needs a messenger who can keep its Tea Party-type activists energized behind an agenda and a nominee. But Republicans will also be looking for someone who can reposition the party nationally and make its more strident ideology palatable to the wider American electorate.

This explains why some influential Republicans persist in believing that Mr. Bush might still make a strong candidate in 2012. He is a favorite of the anti-establishment crowd (he is said to have mentored Marco Rubio, the Senate challenger in Florida who gave the Tea Partiers a national lift), but he is also a political celebrity with a pronounced independent streak. As governor, for instance, Mr. Bush strongly opposed drilling in the shallow waters off Florida, and he favors increasing legal immigration, rather than restricting it.

There is this intriguing discussion about the family name:

Jeb Bush’s admirers insist, however, that whatever cloud existed over the name is lifting, as memories of the last Bush era recede, replaced by a hardened conservative opposition to Mr. Obama’s policies. And those who know Mr. Bush say he has never concerned himself with it. “He’s the guy who cares about that the least,” said Nicholas Ayers, executive director of the Republican Governors Association. …

When I asked him whether Mr. Obama had a legitimate point — whether his brother’s administration did, in fact, bear responsibility for the country’s economic collapse — Mr. Bush paused and, for the only time in our interview, appeared to carefully assemble his words.

“Look, I think there was a whole series of decisions made over a long period of time, the cumulative effect of which created the financial meltdown that has created the hardship that we’re facing,” he said slowly. “Congress, the administration, everyone can accept some responsibility.”

“The issue to me is what we do now,” Jeb Bush said. “Who cares who’s to blame?”

Let’s be honest: most conventional wisdom about who can and cannot run or win has been blown to smithereens. If Obama, with no executive experience and a mere two undistinguished years in the Senate, can win, all bets are off. And more to the point, if Obama continues on his current trajectory and the public becomes desperate to find a fiscal reformer and a stalwart defender of American interests abroad, I suspect they won’t care all that much about that person’s last name. The only issue is whether Jeb Bush wants to be that man.

It’s widely discussed among those conservatives who have not yet found the presidential candidate of their dreams for 2012 that Jeb Bush might, if not for the name, earn that distinction. He was a successful governor in a diverse state, combines wonkish devotion to policy with an accessible personality, and is intellectually and instinctively conservative. But it is widely assumed that he is not running and won’t, both because of his desire to make money in the private sector and because of the name. The New York Times provides an altogether favorable profile of him (which the Gray Lady sometimes is wont to do for conservatives who are not running for office and who can hence make those who are look poor by comparison). The report explains:

The party needs a messenger who can keep its Tea Party-type activists energized behind an agenda and a nominee. But Republicans will also be looking for someone who can reposition the party nationally and make its more strident ideology palatable to the wider American electorate.

This explains why some influential Republicans persist in believing that Mr. Bush might still make a strong candidate in 2012. He is a favorite of the anti-establishment crowd (he is said to have mentored Marco Rubio, the Senate challenger in Florida who gave the Tea Partiers a national lift), but he is also a political celebrity with a pronounced independent streak. As governor, for instance, Mr. Bush strongly opposed drilling in the shallow waters off Florida, and he favors increasing legal immigration, rather than restricting it.

There is this intriguing discussion about the family name:

Jeb Bush’s admirers insist, however, that whatever cloud existed over the name is lifting, as memories of the last Bush era recede, replaced by a hardened conservative opposition to Mr. Obama’s policies. And those who know Mr. Bush say he has never concerned himself with it. “He’s the guy who cares about that the least,” said Nicholas Ayers, executive director of the Republican Governors Association. …

When I asked him whether Mr. Obama had a legitimate point — whether his brother’s administration did, in fact, bear responsibility for the country’s economic collapse — Mr. Bush paused and, for the only time in our interview, appeared to carefully assemble his words.

“Look, I think there was a whole series of decisions made over a long period of time, the cumulative effect of which created the financial meltdown that has created the hardship that we’re facing,” he said slowly. “Congress, the administration, everyone can accept some responsibility.”

“The issue to me is what we do now,” Jeb Bush said. “Who cares who’s to blame?”

Let’s be honest: most conventional wisdom about who can and cannot run or win has been blown to smithereens. If Obama, with no executive experience and a mere two undistinguished years in the Senate, can win, all bets are off. And more to the point, if Obama continues on his current trajectory and the public becomes desperate to find a fiscal reformer and a stalwart defender of American interests abroad, I suspect they won’t care all that much about that person’s last name. The only issue is whether Jeb Bush wants to be that man.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Peter Beinart and the Destruction of Liberal Zionism

In political debates, it remains true that the messenger usually matters more than the message. I say this because Peter Beinart’s much-discussed essay in the New York Review of Books and the reaction to it has been in substance merely a procession of the kind of cliches on liberal disaffection with Israel that anyone who has been paying attention became familiar with years ago. But because Beinart is a Jewish former editor of a steadfastly pro-Israel magazine, the New Republic, his public apostasy has garnered attention in great disproportion to the quality or originality of his complaints.

The most important requirement for joining the Israel-bashers is to charge Israel with bad faith in the course of the effort to bring peace to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, which is the glue that holds the narrative together and makes the recriminations seem warranted. This charge has two subordinate tenets: revisionism for dealing with the past, and conspiracy theory for dealing with the present. Thus, in Beinart’s telling, large numbers of Israelis are racists and authoritarians who never really wanted peace, and their political leaders are fanatics manipulating guileless Americans and Palestinians while mainstream American Jewish organizations enable them from the sidelines.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

In political debates, it remains true that the messenger usually matters more than the message. I say this because Peter Beinart’s much-discussed essay in the New York Review of Books and the reaction to it has been in substance merely a procession of the kind of cliches on liberal disaffection with Israel that anyone who has been paying attention became familiar with years ago. But because Beinart is a Jewish former editor of a steadfastly pro-Israel magazine, the New Republic, his public apostasy has garnered attention in great disproportion to the quality or originality of his complaints.

The most important requirement for joining the Israel-bashers is to charge Israel with bad faith in the course of the effort to bring peace to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, which is the glue that holds the narrative together and makes the recriminations seem warranted. This charge has two subordinate tenets: revisionism for dealing with the past, and conspiracy theory for dealing with the present. Thus, in Beinart’s telling, large numbers of Israelis are racists and authoritarians who never really wanted peace, and their political leaders are fanatics manipulating guileless Americans and Palestinians while mainstream American Jewish organizations enable them from the sidelines.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Another Senate Candidate in Trouble

Richard Blumenthal and Rand Paul (with Blanche Lincoln and perhaps Joe Sestak close behind) have gotten most of the attention in the “embattled Senate candidates” media coverage, but let’s not forget the Mob’s banker, Alexi Giannoulias:

His family’s business, Broadway Bank, was seized by regulators last month. He’s had trouble getting robust support from a White House that originally preferred another candidate. And political writer Stu Rothenberg devoted a column last week to asking “Is it time for Democrats to shove Giannoulias out?”

Now, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who did not endorse anyone in the Democratic primary, is flirting with the idea of backing Republican nominee Mark Kirk in the general election.

And he might not be the only one: Bobby Rush is down on Rezko’s banker as well. (He told the Hill “in December 2009 that he was ‘afraid’ of a Giannoulias-Kirk matchup. ‘The messenger has to stand before the message. And if the messenger is weak, then the message is weak,’ he told the paper.”)

The rumblings have started about how to shove Giannoulias out of the way. But, as Rothenberg explained, it won’t be easy to dump him:

Democrats who worry about Giannoulias’ viability in the fall have a problem, though. Since the nominee isn’t running far behind Kirk in trial heats, it won’t be easy to persuade him to leave quietly. And if there is something Democratic insiders don’t need, it’s a messy food fight with a nominee they are trying to dump (especially after Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania went public that White House insiders had offered him a job to get him to pass up a primary challenge to party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter).

Yes, one candidate’s scandal makes it harder to toss another scandal-plagued candidate overboard.

Republicans should take note for 2010 and 2012. The reason the Democrats are in disarray and the race is competitive is not merely because the Democratic nominee has a load of problems; it is because the Republicans were wise enough to select a top-notch candidate well-suited to the state. (Politico notes: “Kirk already is popular in the politically competitive Chicago suburbs he represents and has a strong relationship with the state’s pro-Israel voters and donors.”) It’s really not enough in a deep Blue State to luck into a flawed Democratic candidate. For Republicans to win, they need smart candidates well-attuned to the electorate. Otherwise, golden opportunities will slip through their fingers.

Richard Blumenthal and Rand Paul (with Blanche Lincoln and perhaps Joe Sestak close behind) have gotten most of the attention in the “embattled Senate candidates” media coverage, but let’s not forget the Mob’s banker, Alexi Giannoulias:

His family’s business, Broadway Bank, was seized by regulators last month. He’s had trouble getting robust support from a White House that originally preferred another candidate. And political writer Stu Rothenberg devoted a column last week to asking “Is it time for Democrats to shove Giannoulias out?”

Now, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who did not endorse anyone in the Democratic primary, is flirting with the idea of backing Republican nominee Mark Kirk in the general election.

And he might not be the only one: Bobby Rush is down on Rezko’s banker as well. (He told the Hill “in December 2009 that he was ‘afraid’ of a Giannoulias-Kirk matchup. ‘The messenger has to stand before the message. And if the messenger is weak, then the message is weak,’ he told the paper.”)

The rumblings have started about how to shove Giannoulias out of the way. But, as Rothenberg explained, it won’t be easy to dump him:

Democrats who worry about Giannoulias’ viability in the fall have a problem, though. Since the nominee isn’t running far behind Kirk in trial heats, it won’t be easy to persuade him to leave quietly. And if there is something Democratic insiders don’t need, it’s a messy food fight with a nominee they are trying to dump (especially after Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania went public that White House insiders had offered him a job to get him to pass up a primary challenge to party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter).

Yes, one candidate’s scandal makes it harder to toss another scandal-plagued candidate overboard.

Republicans should take note for 2010 and 2012. The reason the Democrats are in disarray and the race is competitive is not merely because the Democratic nominee has a load of problems; it is because the Republicans were wise enough to select a top-notch candidate well-suited to the state. (Politico notes: “Kirk already is popular in the politically competitive Chicago suburbs he represents and has a strong relationship with the state’s pro-Israel voters and donors.”) It’s really not enough in a deep Blue State to luck into a flawed Democratic candidate. For Republicans to win, they need smart candidates well-attuned to the electorate. Otherwise, golden opportunities will slip through their fingers.

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Democrats Try to Smother the Bad News

As I’ve noted during the week, the ObamaCare steamroller is already flattening the bottom lines of a number of large employers. Not content to see billions of losses pile up, the Democrats have now begun to berate employers for accurately accounting for the anticipated losses. The Wall Street Journal editors note:

Henry Waxman and House Democrats announced yesterday that they will haul these companies in for an April 21 hearing because their judgment “appears to conflict with independent analyses, which show that the new law will expand coverage and bring down costs.”

In other words, shoot the messenger. Black-letter financial accounting rules require that corporations immediately restate their earnings to reflect the present value of their long-term health liabilities, including a higher tax burden. Should these companies have played chicken with the Securities and Exchange Commission to avoid this politically inconvenient reality? Democrats don’t like what their bill is doing in the real world, so they now want to intimidate CEOs into keeping quiet.

On top of AT&T’s $1 billion, the writedown wave so far includes Deere & Co., $150 million; Caterpillar, $100 million; AK Steel, $31 million; 3M, $90 million; and Valero Energy, up to $20 million. Verizon has also warned its employees about its new higher health-care costs, and there will be many more in the coming days and weeks.

Well, this is par for the course: a complete disregard for the consequences of their own handiwork, the bullying of private enterprise, and the determination to politicize what were once economic and legal judgments. One can see in the Democrats’ fury the desperate attempt to conceal the implications of their monstrous legislation, to maintain as long as possible the fiction that ObamaCare is a great cost-saver, and boon to employers. It’s going to be hard to keep up the charade, for as the editors note, ObamaCare “was such a shoddy, jerry-rigged piece of work that the damage is coming sooner than even some critics expected.”

In that regard the adverse consequences of ObamaCare will likely be more apparent than those of the ill-conceived stimulus plan, which “merely” added to the ocean of red ink. How will shareholders, small-business owners, employees, and retirees react as they see the damage pile up, and learn that there is more in store if the bill is fully implemented? Well, they might find “Repeal and Replace!” an attractive message.

As I’ve noted during the week, the ObamaCare steamroller is already flattening the bottom lines of a number of large employers. Not content to see billions of losses pile up, the Democrats have now begun to berate employers for accurately accounting for the anticipated losses. The Wall Street Journal editors note:

Henry Waxman and House Democrats announced yesterday that they will haul these companies in for an April 21 hearing because their judgment “appears to conflict with independent analyses, which show that the new law will expand coverage and bring down costs.”

In other words, shoot the messenger. Black-letter financial accounting rules require that corporations immediately restate their earnings to reflect the present value of their long-term health liabilities, including a higher tax burden. Should these companies have played chicken with the Securities and Exchange Commission to avoid this politically inconvenient reality? Democrats don’t like what their bill is doing in the real world, so they now want to intimidate CEOs into keeping quiet.

On top of AT&T’s $1 billion, the writedown wave so far includes Deere & Co., $150 million; Caterpillar, $100 million; AK Steel, $31 million; 3M, $90 million; and Valero Energy, up to $20 million. Verizon has also warned its employees about its new higher health-care costs, and there will be many more in the coming days and weeks.

Well, this is par for the course: a complete disregard for the consequences of their own handiwork, the bullying of private enterprise, and the determination to politicize what were once economic and legal judgments. One can see in the Democrats’ fury the desperate attempt to conceal the implications of their monstrous legislation, to maintain as long as possible the fiction that ObamaCare is a great cost-saver, and boon to employers. It’s going to be hard to keep up the charade, for as the editors note, ObamaCare “was such a shoddy, jerry-rigged piece of work that the damage is coming sooner than even some critics expected.”

In that regard the adverse consequences of ObamaCare will likely be more apparent than those of the ill-conceived stimulus plan, which “merely” added to the ocean of red ink. How will shareholders, small-business owners, employees, and retirees react as they see the damage pile up, and learn that there is more in store if the bill is fully implemented? Well, they might find “Repeal and Replace!” an attractive message.

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Is the U.S. Preparing to Bomb Iran? Check the Source First

Mistrust the press — that is one important lesson from Max Boot’s post about Mark Perry’s sensationalist (and sensationally inaccurate) attribution of the U.S.-Israel fallout to General Petraeus.

Elsewhere in the news, be prepared for more instances of the mass media’s inability to distinguish between fact and fiction. Take the report that the U.S. is seemingly getting ready to bomb Iran. The Herald, the Scottish daily, notes that a shipment has left California with military supplies for Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean. This shipment includes huge quantities of bunker busters. Now all this may be true — but their news story is that these supplies are in preparation of a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The source of this analysis?

Professor Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

According to the Herald, Plesch said:

They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran … US bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours … The preparations were being made by the US military, but it would be up to President Obama to make the final decision. He may decide that it would be better for the US to act instead of Israel … The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely …

How many times has Professor Plesch claimed this before?

OpenDemocracy, March, 21, 2005, “Iran, the coming war“:

So when might the attack on Iran occur? The Bush administration has, from its perspective, allowed the Europeans and the non-proliferation diplomats enough time to fail. They will certainly use the UN conference on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament from 2-27 May 2005 as an opportunity to grandstand.

For US domestic political purposes a “crisis” in spring 2006 when the EU and the UN can once more be confronted with their alleged failures, and challenged to support US leadership, would be timely for mid-term elections in which the ultra-conservative coalition will wish to consolidate its gains and eliminate any nascent moderate or realistic Republican candidate in good time for the 2008 presidential election.

The Guardian, “Are we going to war with Iran?” October, 21, 2005:

A new war may not be as politically disastrous in Washington as many believe … For an embattled President Bush, combating the mullahs of Tehran may be a useful means of diverting attention from Iraq and reestablishing control of the Republican party prior to next year’s congressional elections. From this perspective, even an escalating conflict would rally the nation behind a war president. As for the succession to President Bush, Bob Woodward has named Mr Cheney as a likely candidate, a step that would be easier in a wartime atmosphere. Mr Cheney would doubtless point out that US military spending, while huge compared to other nations, is at a far lower percentage of gross domestic product than during the Reagan years. With regard to Mr Blair’s position, it would be helpful to know whether he has committed Britain to preventing an Iranian bomb “come what may” as he did with Iraq.

New Statesman, February, 19, 2007, “Iran — ready to attack”:

American military operations for a major conventional war with Iran could be implemented any day. They extend far beyond targeting suspect WMD facilities and will enable President Bush to destroy Iran’s military, political and economic infrastructure overnight using conventional weapons.

Four predictions in five years — and no war so far.

Professor Plesch does not seem to have his fact-checking machine and his sources up to date, tuned in, and reliably informed. It may not matter to some media outlets, which will probably continue to publish on ideological rather than factual grounds.

Still, journalists should remember that a good news story cannot rely just on the sensation of the message but must also ensure the credibility of the messenger. With Professor Plesch, it seems, this is just not the case.

Mistrust the press — that is one important lesson from Max Boot’s post about Mark Perry’s sensationalist (and sensationally inaccurate) attribution of the U.S.-Israel fallout to General Petraeus.

Elsewhere in the news, be prepared for more instances of the mass media’s inability to distinguish between fact and fiction. Take the report that the U.S. is seemingly getting ready to bomb Iran. The Herald, the Scottish daily, notes that a shipment has left California with military supplies for Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean. This shipment includes huge quantities of bunker busters. Now all this may be true — but their news story is that these supplies are in preparation of a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The source of this analysis?

Professor Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

According to the Herald, Plesch said:

They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran … US bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours … The preparations were being made by the US military, but it would be up to President Obama to make the final decision. He may decide that it would be better for the US to act instead of Israel … The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely …

How many times has Professor Plesch claimed this before?

OpenDemocracy, March, 21, 2005, “Iran, the coming war“:

So when might the attack on Iran occur? The Bush administration has, from its perspective, allowed the Europeans and the non-proliferation diplomats enough time to fail. They will certainly use the UN conference on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament from 2-27 May 2005 as an opportunity to grandstand.

For US domestic political purposes a “crisis” in spring 2006 when the EU and the UN can once more be confronted with their alleged failures, and challenged to support US leadership, would be timely for mid-term elections in which the ultra-conservative coalition will wish to consolidate its gains and eliminate any nascent moderate or realistic Republican candidate in good time for the 2008 presidential election.

The Guardian, “Are we going to war with Iran?” October, 21, 2005:

A new war may not be as politically disastrous in Washington as many believe … For an embattled President Bush, combating the mullahs of Tehran may be a useful means of diverting attention from Iraq and reestablishing control of the Republican party prior to next year’s congressional elections. From this perspective, even an escalating conflict would rally the nation behind a war president. As for the succession to President Bush, Bob Woodward has named Mr Cheney as a likely candidate, a step that would be easier in a wartime atmosphere. Mr Cheney would doubtless point out that US military spending, while huge compared to other nations, is at a far lower percentage of gross domestic product than during the Reagan years. With regard to Mr Blair’s position, it would be helpful to know whether he has committed Britain to preventing an Iranian bomb “come what may” as he did with Iraq.

New Statesman, February, 19, 2007, “Iran — ready to attack”:

American military operations for a major conventional war with Iran could be implemented any day. They extend far beyond targeting suspect WMD facilities and will enable President Bush to destroy Iran’s military, political and economic infrastructure overnight using conventional weapons.

Four predictions in five years — and no war so far.

Professor Plesch does not seem to have his fact-checking machine and his sources up to date, tuned in, and reliably informed. It may not matter to some media outlets, which will probably continue to publish on ideological rather than factual grounds.

Still, journalists should remember that a good news story cannot rely just on the sensation of the message but must also ensure the credibility of the messenger. With Professor Plesch, it seems, this is just not the case.

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Obama’s Strategy Is to Weaken or Remove Bibi

The Obama administration seeks to recover from the stagnation it imposed on the peace process a year ago by doubling down on its strategy of making impossible demands on the Israelis, hoping that this time they will cave.

The administration thought it had discovered a way forward in the form of proximity talks, in which the U.S. would serve as mediator in indirect negotiations between the two sides, being that the Palestinians are refusing direct talks (this ongoing Palestinian refusal, of course, earns zero criticism from the White House).

But now the administration is attaching new demands to the commencement of the talks:

to reverse last week’s approval of 1,600 housing units in a disputed area of Jerusalem, make a substantial gesture toward the Palestinians, and publicly declare that all of the “core issues” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the status of Jerusalem, be included in upcoming talks.

It should be obvious, at this point, that Obama is trying to manufacture an immense political dilemma for Netanyahu by forcing him to choose between two crises — one with the United States should he accept the demands, the other with his coalition partners and the Israeli public should he reject them. For Netanyahu, this is a no-win situation. The only choice is between less damaging options.

Netanyahu should reject the new demands, because they are not made in good faith, they are a reversal of previous Obama commitments, and, most important, the proximity talks themselves are a trap.

Obama has demonstrated very clearly that he is not an “honest broker” — he is instead behaving as a lawyer for the Palestinians. The danger of proximity talks in which all the “core issues” of the conflict would be on the table is that the U.S. would act not as mediator but in tandem with the Palestinians to pressure Israel into making dangerous and unprecedented concessions. As Haaretz reported two weeks ago,

According to a senior official in the Palestinian Authority, the Obama administration has promised Abbas that if either side fails to live up to expectations, the United States will not conceal its disappointment, nor will it hesitate to take steps to remove the obstacle. In addition, the PA was promised that the United States would not be satisfied with playing the role of messenger. According to what the official read to me, the Obama administration will present its own proposals in an effort to bridge the gaps.

Obama has shown very clearly that, as on health care, he is personally passionate, emotionally invested, and possessed of the belief that he has the power to push through sweeping changes. The proximity talks would give Obama just the opening he needs to subject Netanyahu to an escalating series of demands and punishments — confronting him with the same dilemma he faces right now, only even more severe. Danger lies ahead.

The Obama administration seeks to recover from the stagnation it imposed on the peace process a year ago by doubling down on its strategy of making impossible demands on the Israelis, hoping that this time they will cave.

The administration thought it had discovered a way forward in the form of proximity talks, in which the U.S. would serve as mediator in indirect negotiations between the two sides, being that the Palestinians are refusing direct talks (this ongoing Palestinian refusal, of course, earns zero criticism from the White House).

But now the administration is attaching new demands to the commencement of the talks:

to reverse last week’s approval of 1,600 housing units in a disputed area of Jerusalem, make a substantial gesture toward the Palestinians, and publicly declare that all of the “core issues” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the status of Jerusalem, be included in upcoming talks.

It should be obvious, at this point, that Obama is trying to manufacture an immense political dilemma for Netanyahu by forcing him to choose between two crises — one with the United States should he accept the demands, the other with his coalition partners and the Israeli public should he reject them. For Netanyahu, this is a no-win situation. The only choice is between less damaging options.

Netanyahu should reject the new demands, because they are not made in good faith, they are a reversal of previous Obama commitments, and, most important, the proximity talks themselves are a trap.

Obama has demonstrated very clearly that he is not an “honest broker” — he is instead behaving as a lawyer for the Palestinians. The danger of proximity talks in which all the “core issues” of the conflict would be on the table is that the U.S. would act not as mediator but in tandem with the Palestinians to pressure Israel into making dangerous and unprecedented concessions. As Haaretz reported two weeks ago,

According to a senior official in the Palestinian Authority, the Obama administration has promised Abbas that if either side fails to live up to expectations, the United States will not conceal its disappointment, nor will it hesitate to take steps to remove the obstacle. In addition, the PA was promised that the United States would not be satisfied with playing the role of messenger. According to what the official read to me, the Obama administration will present its own proposals in an effort to bridge the gaps.

Obama has shown very clearly that, as on health care, he is personally passionate, emotionally invested, and possessed of the belief that he has the power to push through sweeping changes. The proximity talks would give Obama just the opening he needs to subject Netanyahu to an escalating series of demands and punishments — confronting him with the same dilemma he faces right now, only even more severe. Danger lies ahead.

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The White House Grumpy Act

Never have we seen such a put-upon, grouchy White House. Rahm Emanuel has to deal with Obama — who doesn’t seem to understand that Rahm is smarter than everyone else. Obama is miffed at everyone from Fox to the Democrats who are interested in grubby matters, such as their own re-election. And now David Axelrod lumbers forward to spin his tale of woe. Now — I know this is shocking but he thinks it’s all a “communication problem.”

The Gray Lady hosts the grievance session:

The Obama White House has lost the narrative in the way that the Obama campaign never did,” said James Morone, a political scientist at Brown University. “They essentially took the president’s great strength as a messenger and failed to use it smartly.” Mr. Axelrod said he accepts some blame for what he called “communication failures,” though he acknowledges bafflement that the administration’s efforts to stimulate the economy in a crisis, overhaul health care and prosecute two wars have been so routinely framed by opponents as the handiwork of a big-government, soft-on-terrorism, politics-of-the-past ideologue.

Really, how in the world could the American people look at cap-and-trade, the spend-a-thon, and ObamaCare, and get the idea that Obama is interested in expanding the reach of the federal government? Dupes and fools, they must be. And as for Washington — the whole town is just insufferable:

In an interview in his office, Mr. Axelrod was often defiant, saying he did not give a “flying” expletive “about what the peanut gallery thinks” and did not live for the approval “of the political community.” He denounced the “rampant lack of responsibility” of people in Washington who refuse to solve problems, and cited the difficulty of trying to communicate through what he calls “the dirty filter” of a city suffused with the “every day is Election Day sort of mentality.”

Here’s the thing: leave if you don’t like it or can’t convince people of what a swell job you’re doing. There is no mandatory draft for the White House. In fact, some people consider it an honor and privilege to serve there. And  it dpes sound as though the excuses are mounting for an exit. “Mr. Axelrod’s friends worry about the toll of his job — citing his diet (cold-cut-enriched), his weight (20 pounds heavier than at the start of the presidential campaign), sleep deprivation (five fitful hours a night), separation from family (most back home in Chicago) and the fact that at 55, he is considerably older than many of the wunderkind workaholics of the West Wing. He wakes at 6 in his rented condominium just blocks from the White House and typically returns around 11.” Oh, my — the stress! The hours!

A friend of Axelrod confides, “I think he’s getting close to a burnout kind of thing.” Yes, failure is stressful. But whining is tiresome. If Axelrod and the rest can’t figure out how to make this all work, maybe the country would be better served by their return to the cesspool of Illinois politics. I hear Tony Rezko’s banker needs some help with his Senate campaign.

Never have we seen such a put-upon, grouchy White House. Rahm Emanuel has to deal with Obama — who doesn’t seem to understand that Rahm is smarter than everyone else. Obama is miffed at everyone from Fox to the Democrats who are interested in grubby matters, such as their own re-election. And now David Axelrod lumbers forward to spin his tale of woe. Now — I know this is shocking but he thinks it’s all a “communication problem.”

The Gray Lady hosts the grievance session:

The Obama White House has lost the narrative in the way that the Obama campaign never did,” said James Morone, a political scientist at Brown University. “They essentially took the president’s great strength as a messenger and failed to use it smartly.” Mr. Axelrod said he accepts some blame for what he called “communication failures,” though he acknowledges bafflement that the administration’s efforts to stimulate the economy in a crisis, overhaul health care and prosecute two wars have been so routinely framed by opponents as the handiwork of a big-government, soft-on-terrorism, politics-of-the-past ideologue.

Really, how in the world could the American people look at cap-and-trade, the spend-a-thon, and ObamaCare, and get the idea that Obama is interested in expanding the reach of the federal government? Dupes and fools, they must be. And as for Washington — the whole town is just insufferable:

In an interview in his office, Mr. Axelrod was often defiant, saying he did not give a “flying” expletive “about what the peanut gallery thinks” and did not live for the approval “of the political community.” He denounced the “rampant lack of responsibility” of people in Washington who refuse to solve problems, and cited the difficulty of trying to communicate through what he calls “the dirty filter” of a city suffused with the “every day is Election Day sort of mentality.”

Here’s the thing: leave if you don’t like it or can’t convince people of what a swell job you’re doing. There is no mandatory draft for the White House. In fact, some people consider it an honor and privilege to serve there. And  it dpes sound as though the excuses are mounting for an exit. “Mr. Axelrod’s friends worry about the toll of his job — citing his diet (cold-cut-enriched), his weight (20 pounds heavier than at the start of the presidential campaign), sleep deprivation (five fitful hours a night), separation from family (most back home in Chicago) and the fact that at 55, he is considerably older than many of the wunderkind workaholics of the West Wing. He wakes at 6 in his rented condominium just blocks from the White House and typically returns around 11.” Oh, my — the stress! The hours!

A friend of Axelrod confides, “I think he’s getting close to a burnout kind of thing.” Yes, failure is stressful. But whining is tiresome. If Axelrod and the rest can’t figure out how to make this all work, maybe the country would be better served by their return to the cesspool of Illinois politics. I hear Tony Rezko’s banker needs some help with his Senate campaign.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Odd that Saudi Arabia isn’t contributing anything to Haiti, or even covering it on English-language state news. “It seems it was God’s little joke to hand the greatest supplies of oil and natural gas to a people who part with their riches for their own ends only.”

House Democrats are saying they aren’t voting for the Senate health-care bill. Maybe they won’t vote again for the House bill.

Democratic pollster and strategist Douglas Schoen: “The defeat of Martha Coakley represents a complete repudiation of President Obama’s domestic agenda, going well beyond health care. Massachusetts voters made it clear tonight with the decisive victory they gave to Republican Scott Brown that they want and expect the administration to pursue a dramatically different approach.” And he’s a Democrat.

Sen. Jim Webb is calling foul on the gamesmanship: “It is vital that we restore the respect of the American people in our system of government and in our leaders. To that end, I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated.” Could it be that the White House has lost control of the process?

Lanny Davis is pleading for sanity: “Liberal Democrats might attempt to spin the shocking victory of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts by claiming that the loss was a result of a poor campaign by Martha Coakley. Would that it were so. This was a defeat not of the messenger, but of the message—and the sooner progressive Democrats face up to that fact, the better. It’s the substance, stupid! … The question is, will we stop listening to the strident, purist base of our party who seem to prefer defeat to winning elections and no change at all if they don’t get all the change they want. Stay tuned.”

Michael Gerson chides the see-no-danger Democrats: “So, a Republican has convincingly won Ted Kennedy’s former Senate seat. After opposing health reform. And supporting the waterboarding of terrorists. And appearing as a nude centerfold. In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by three to one. And where Republicans haven’t won a Senate election since 1972. After a high-profile visit by President Obama. Who won the state by 26 points last year. But who now carries no political weight in the bluest state in the country. With vicious, public recriminations starting among Democrats even before election day. Following major losses in Virginia and New Jersey. All of which led one popular Democratic blog to argue: ‘Why Massachusetts doesn’t matter.’”

Hard to argue that: “This is the first time in years that David Gergen has helped elect a Republican.” The line “This is the people’s seat” is going to go down with “I paid for this microphone” in campaign lore.

Chris Cillizza observes: “With the Coakley loss now in the rear view mirror, the attention of the political world will now quickly turn to the question of whether or not congressional Democrats — particularly those in swing areas — will start jumping ship.” I think the only question is how many jump. “Several Democratic operatives acknowledged privately over the past few days that a Coakley defeat could put control of the House in play if enough targeted members head for the hills. It remains to be seen whether those doomsday predictions come to pass but it’s now clear that Democrats must work day in and day out to avoid broad losses outside of the historic norms for a first term, midterm election.”

Hans von Spakovsky looks for clues to White House meddling in the New Black Panther Party case: “Perhaps the single most important question that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the White House are refusing to answer in the growing scandal (for the stonewalling and subpoena violations make it a scandal) is which political appointees were involved in the obviously wrongful decision to dismiss the lawsuit — a civil suit filed under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Newly released White House visitor records present strong circumstantial evidence of White House involvement in what should have been an independent and impartial law-enforcement decision.”

Before the returns were in last night, from Stuart Rothenberg: “If Brown wins, and he may, it will be the biggest political upset of my adult life. Some have compared a possible Republican win to Democrat Harris Wofford’s 1991 Pennsylvania special election Senate victory over Republican Dick Thornburgh, who was U.S. attorney general. But to me, a Brown win would be much bigger.” Yes, it is.

Odd that Saudi Arabia isn’t contributing anything to Haiti, or even covering it on English-language state news. “It seems it was God’s little joke to hand the greatest supplies of oil and natural gas to a people who part with their riches for their own ends only.”

House Democrats are saying they aren’t voting for the Senate health-care bill. Maybe they won’t vote again for the House bill.

Democratic pollster and strategist Douglas Schoen: “The defeat of Martha Coakley represents a complete repudiation of President Obama’s domestic agenda, going well beyond health care. Massachusetts voters made it clear tonight with the decisive victory they gave to Republican Scott Brown that they want and expect the administration to pursue a dramatically different approach.” And he’s a Democrat.

Sen. Jim Webb is calling foul on the gamesmanship: “It is vital that we restore the respect of the American people in our system of government and in our leaders. To that end, I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated.” Could it be that the White House has lost control of the process?

Lanny Davis is pleading for sanity: “Liberal Democrats might attempt to spin the shocking victory of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts by claiming that the loss was a result of a poor campaign by Martha Coakley. Would that it were so. This was a defeat not of the messenger, but of the message—and the sooner progressive Democrats face up to that fact, the better. It’s the substance, stupid! … The question is, will we stop listening to the strident, purist base of our party who seem to prefer defeat to winning elections and no change at all if they don’t get all the change they want. Stay tuned.”

Michael Gerson chides the see-no-danger Democrats: “So, a Republican has convincingly won Ted Kennedy’s former Senate seat. After opposing health reform. And supporting the waterboarding of terrorists. And appearing as a nude centerfold. In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by three to one. And where Republicans haven’t won a Senate election since 1972. After a high-profile visit by President Obama. Who won the state by 26 points last year. But who now carries no political weight in the bluest state in the country. With vicious, public recriminations starting among Democrats even before election day. Following major losses in Virginia and New Jersey. All of which led one popular Democratic blog to argue: ‘Why Massachusetts doesn’t matter.’”

Hard to argue that: “This is the first time in years that David Gergen has helped elect a Republican.” The line “This is the people’s seat” is going to go down with “I paid for this microphone” in campaign lore.

Chris Cillizza observes: “With the Coakley loss now in the rear view mirror, the attention of the political world will now quickly turn to the question of whether or not congressional Democrats — particularly those in swing areas — will start jumping ship.” I think the only question is how many jump. “Several Democratic operatives acknowledged privately over the past few days that a Coakley defeat could put control of the House in play if enough targeted members head for the hills. It remains to be seen whether those doomsday predictions come to pass but it’s now clear that Democrats must work day in and day out to avoid broad losses outside of the historic norms for a first term, midterm election.”

Hans von Spakovsky looks for clues to White House meddling in the New Black Panther Party case: “Perhaps the single most important question that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the White House are refusing to answer in the growing scandal (for the stonewalling and subpoena violations make it a scandal) is which political appointees were involved in the obviously wrongful decision to dismiss the lawsuit — a civil suit filed under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Newly released White House visitor records present strong circumstantial evidence of White House involvement in what should have been an independent and impartial law-enforcement decision.”

Before the returns were in last night, from Stuart Rothenberg: “If Brown wins, and he may, it will be the biggest political upset of my adult life. Some have compared a possible Republican win to Democrat Harris Wofford’s 1991 Pennsylvania special election Senate victory over Republican Dick Thornburgh, who was U.S. attorney general. But to me, a Brown win would be much bigger.” Yes, it is.

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Child Abuse among the Ultra-Orthodox

For the last month, the Israeli media have been awash with cases of horrific child abuse, mostly among ultra-Orthodox, or “haredi,” families. I will spare readers most of the awful, awful details, which can be found by following the links.

First there was the 52-year-old mother of 12 from Beit Shemesh, who had been the head of a group of women who clothed themselves in black and wore a Muslim-style veil (these women were known as the “Taliban of Beit Shemesh”), who was just arrested for severely abusing her children and encouraging incest among them. In Netivot, a 38-year-old mother of eight was charged with raping two of her sons, age 8 and 11, to get back at her husband for leaving her. In Ramla, a 45-year-old man was charged, together with his wife, of with horribly beating his 8 children from a former marriage. And in Jerusalem, a 38-year-old American immigrant who “comes from a prominent family in the New York Jewish community” was charged with repeatedly abusing her three- and four-year-old boys, using means we normally associate with the interrogation of terrorists.

One of the most debilitating aspects of ultra-Orthodox Judaism today, both in Israel and the U.S., is the widespread belief that child abuse should be covered up in order to protect the public image of the community. In many cases, parental abuse goes unreported, whereas educators who molest their students are either ignored or transferred to other educational institutions, and the sense of shame and the alienation from the authorities prevents anyone from stepping in or taking decisive action. As Ynet columnist Tali Farkash put it in a column today:

The famous conspiracy of silence among the haredi population, which the welfare services and police are dealing with, is a mark of disgrace to the entire sector. Wanting to maintain an image of morality at any cost, they fall into the hole dug by negative elements in the name of Torah, in the name of righteousness. An intensive brainwash has turned psychologists into “religion’s enemies”, social workers into those “causing people to leave religion” and the police into the messenger of the foreign regime. In this glass house, monsters grow and thrive among us.

This is a community that is slow to change, and prides itself in following the rulings of its rabbis. If rabbinic leaders do not take aggressive, public action to discourage abuse, to encourage its reporting, and to find a way to make sure predators are separated from their prey, then the awful consequences–borne by thousands of innocent children every day and carried with them for the rest of their lives–will be on their heads.


For the last month, the Israeli media have been awash with cases of horrific child abuse, mostly among ultra-Orthodox, or “haredi,” families. I will spare readers most of the awful, awful details, which can be found by following the links.

First there was the 52-year-old mother of 12 from Beit Shemesh, who had been the head of a group of women who clothed themselves in black and wore a Muslim-style veil (these women were known as the “Taliban of Beit Shemesh”), who was just arrested for severely abusing her children and encouraging incest among them. In Netivot, a 38-year-old mother of eight was charged with raping two of her sons, age 8 and 11, to get back at her husband for leaving her. In Ramla, a 45-year-old man was charged, together with his wife, of with horribly beating his 8 children from a former marriage. And in Jerusalem, a 38-year-old American immigrant who “comes from a prominent family in the New York Jewish community” was charged with repeatedly abusing her three- and four-year-old boys, using means we normally associate with the interrogation of terrorists.

One of the most debilitating aspects of ultra-Orthodox Judaism today, both in Israel and the U.S., is the widespread belief that child abuse should be covered up in order to protect the public image of the community. In many cases, parental abuse goes unreported, whereas educators who molest their students are either ignored or transferred to other educational institutions, and the sense of shame and the alienation from the authorities prevents anyone from stepping in or taking decisive action. As Ynet columnist Tali Farkash put it in a column today:

The famous conspiracy of silence among the haredi population, which the welfare services and police are dealing with, is a mark of disgrace to the entire sector. Wanting to maintain an image of morality at any cost, they fall into the hole dug by negative elements in the name of Torah, in the name of righteousness. An intensive brainwash has turned psychologists into “religion’s enemies”, social workers into those “causing people to leave religion” and the police into the messenger of the foreign regime. In this glass house, monsters grow and thrive among us.

This is a community that is slow to change, and prides itself in following the rulings of its rabbis. If rabbinic leaders do not take aggressive, public action to discourage abuse, to encourage its reporting, and to find a way to make sure predators are separated from their prey, then the awful consequences–borne by thousands of innocent children every day and carried with them for the rest of their lives–will be on their heads.


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Waiting For Returns

While we peruse the obtuse (and in all likelihood inaccurate) exit polls, there are a couple of bits of news. First, the Obama camp feels compelled to respond to the flap about Michelle Obama’s “never proud of America before” comments. What do they do? When in a bind, always accuse the media and your opponents of “misconstruing what she said to score political points.” That tactic, it seems, is rather trite political gamesmanship.

As for the contention that she and her husband are “positive,” I see little evidence of this in their view of an America populated by tiresome politicians and corrupt lobbyists and captive to a fear-mongering foreign policy. As Abe observed, if you can sniff them out, Obama’s political views are not that appealing. Pointing that out, of course, will merely draw the accusation that you are practicing the politics of “division,” but it seems that politics in its best sense is practiced by drawing distinctions and making informed choices.

Second, perhaps a signal of grim things to come, Hillary Clinton releases extracts of her speech tonight making the case that:

One of us is ready to be commander in chief in a dangerous world . . . One of us has a plan to provide health care for every single American – no one left out . . . Finally, one of us has faced serious Republican opposition in the past. And one of us is ready to do it again.

It is remarkable how much of her experience is by association (I think the “serious Republican opposition” was not Rick Lazio). Obama supporters might point out that if he borrowed a line or two for a speech, he is at least running on his own record. I suspect that the heart of her argument is the concluding snippet: “It’s about picking a president who relies not just on words – but on work, hard work, to get America back to work. Someone who’s not just in the speeches business – but will get America back in the solutions business.” It is not a bad argument, but it may come too late and from a messenger too flawed.

While we peruse the obtuse (and in all likelihood inaccurate) exit polls, there are a couple of bits of news. First, the Obama camp feels compelled to respond to the flap about Michelle Obama’s “never proud of America before” comments. What do they do? When in a bind, always accuse the media and your opponents of “misconstruing what she said to score political points.” That tactic, it seems, is rather trite political gamesmanship.

As for the contention that she and her husband are “positive,” I see little evidence of this in their view of an America populated by tiresome politicians and corrupt lobbyists and captive to a fear-mongering foreign policy. As Abe observed, if you can sniff them out, Obama’s political views are not that appealing. Pointing that out, of course, will merely draw the accusation that you are practicing the politics of “division,” but it seems that politics in its best sense is practiced by drawing distinctions and making informed choices.

Second, perhaps a signal of grim things to come, Hillary Clinton releases extracts of her speech tonight making the case that:

One of us is ready to be commander in chief in a dangerous world . . . One of us has a plan to provide health care for every single American – no one left out . . . Finally, one of us has faced serious Republican opposition in the past. And one of us is ready to do it again.

It is remarkable how much of her experience is by association (I think the “serious Republican opposition” was not Rick Lazio). Obama supporters might point out that if he borrowed a line or two for a speech, he is at least running on his own record. I suspect that the heart of her argument is the concluding snippet: “It’s about picking a president who relies not just on words – but on work, hard work, to get America back to work. Someone who’s not just in the speeches business – but will get America back in the solutions business.” It is not a bad argument, but it may come too late and from a messenger too flawed.

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The Road Ahead

Here and there among liberal pundits are suggestions that there is less than meets the eye in the Barack Obama message. If you lose Paul Krugman and Joe Klein thinks Obama-mania is getting “creepy” there may be a problem. Well, the Obama campaign did not get where it is by being dim. In Wisconsin, Obama is running an ad on an actual issue, health care. While the ad is not exactly a Brookings Institution policy paper, it does address a core issue for voters. I think, if he is the nominee, you will expect to see more substance, less chanting. It will be John McCain’s job, not an enviable one, to point out why, aside from the exceptional messenger, this is more of the same liberal domestic policy wish list agenda. It is never fun being the “No, you can’t” candidate, but it is a role that fits McCain well. (“No you can’t have the $1M Woodstock museum,” “No you can’t run a war on the cheap,” etc.) It remains to be seen whether he can do this without descending into the voice of doom and gloom and being painted as the naysayer. (His message can be phrased in positive terms, but “Yes, we can reach an acceptable outcome in Iraq” doesn’t exactly stir the masses.)

Here and there among liberal pundits are suggestions that there is less than meets the eye in the Barack Obama message. If you lose Paul Krugman and Joe Klein thinks Obama-mania is getting “creepy” there may be a problem. Well, the Obama campaign did not get where it is by being dim. In Wisconsin, Obama is running an ad on an actual issue, health care. While the ad is not exactly a Brookings Institution policy paper, it does address a core issue for voters. I think, if he is the nominee, you will expect to see more substance, less chanting. It will be John McCain’s job, not an enviable one, to point out why, aside from the exceptional messenger, this is more of the same liberal domestic policy wish list agenda. It is never fun being the “No, you can’t” candidate, but it is a role that fits McCain well. (“No you can’t have the $1M Woodstock museum,” “No you can’t run a war on the cheap,” etc.) It remains to be seen whether he can do this without descending into the voice of doom and gloom and being painted as the naysayer. (His message can be phrased in positive terms, but “Yes, we can reach an acceptable outcome in Iraq” doesn’t exactly stir the masses.)

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Romney Pulls Out

Mitt Romney is nothing if not a savvy businessman. We and others have calculated the nomination slipped out of grasp as the Super Tuesday votes were counted. He, smartly for himself, the Party and the country, pulled out.

Romney starts by giving a red meat, well received speech celebrating conservative values. He is, in front of the crowd, back to the Iowa Romney, stressing family and American traditional culture. He is energetic and polished, yet the speech strikes one as entirely ordinary. (That perhaps is part of his problem: offering oneself up as the conventional conservative is simply not enough, especially when not combined with a compelling messenger.) He then veers into energy independence and entitlement reform. Next, he addresses the threat of radical jihadism, whacking the Clinton presidency for cutting defense spending and reciting his litany of proposals to increase defense spending.
He warns that either Clinton or Obama would result in higher taxes and defeat in the war on terror. He says the crowd would be willing to fight on to the convention but that unlike 1976, this is a nation at war. This is both a clever and deeply reasonable basis for distinguishing between himself and Reagan and letting his followers down easy. He continues that it is not an easy decision and he “hates to lose,” but says it has “never been just about me.” All in all, a very classy way to go out. If he has ambitions for the future, he helped himself today.

Mitt Romney is nothing if not a savvy businessman. We and others have calculated the nomination slipped out of grasp as the Super Tuesday votes were counted. He, smartly for himself, the Party and the country, pulled out.

Romney starts by giving a red meat, well received speech celebrating conservative values. He is, in front of the crowd, back to the Iowa Romney, stressing family and American traditional culture. He is energetic and polished, yet the speech strikes one as entirely ordinary. (That perhaps is part of his problem: offering oneself up as the conventional conservative is simply not enough, especially when not combined with a compelling messenger.) He then veers into energy independence and entitlement reform. Next, he addresses the threat of radical jihadism, whacking the Clinton presidency for cutting defense spending and reciting his litany of proposals to increase defense spending.
He warns that either Clinton or Obama would result in higher taxes and defeat in the war on terror. He says the crowd would be willing to fight on to the convention but that unlike 1976, this is a nation at war. This is both a clever and deeply reasonable basis for distinguishing between himself and Reagan and letting his followers down easy. He continues that it is not an easy decision and he “hates to lose,” but says it has “never been just about me.” All in all, a very classy way to go out. If he has ambitions for the future, he helped himself today.

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Academic “Freedom”

Higher education deeply cherishes the notion of skeptical and unsparing critical inquiry—just not about itself. Last year, the Students for Academic Freedom (SAF) drew up a Student Bill of Rights, a carefully worded manifesto about the importance of intellectual freedom for teachers and students. Insisting that students not be subjected to political indoctrination in the guise of instruction, the document invoked the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, drawn up by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

According to it, “Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.” The AAUP is evidently unhappy at having its own words quoted back to it. It has just issued a lengthy committee report, suggesting that those words don’t exactly mean what they say:

Modern critics of the university seek to impose on university classrooms mandatory and ill-conceived standards of “balance,” “diversity, and “respect.” We ought to learn from history that the vitality of institutions of higher learning has been damaged far more by efforts to correct abuses of freedom than by those alleged abuses. We ought to learn from history that education cannot possibly thrive in an atmosphere of state-encouraged suspicion and surveillance.

The AAUP considers four specific charges leveled against the modern university: that many professors routinely practice political indoctrination, fail to present alternative points of view, are hostile to students’ political or religious views, and introduce irrelevant political digressions into class. In each instance, the charge is not so much as considered but explained away.

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Higher education deeply cherishes the notion of skeptical and unsparing critical inquiry—just not about itself. Last year, the Students for Academic Freedom (SAF) drew up a Student Bill of Rights, a carefully worded manifesto about the importance of intellectual freedom for teachers and students. Insisting that students not be subjected to political indoctrination in the guise of instruction, the document invoked the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, drawn up by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

According to it, “Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.” The AAUP is evidently unhappy at having its own words quoted back to it. It has just issued a lengthy committee report, suggesting that those words don’t exactly mean what they say:

Modern critics of the university seek to impose on university classrooms mandatory and ill-conceived standards of “balance,” “diversity, and “respect.” We ought to learn from history that the vitality of institutions of higher learning has been damaged far more by efforts to correct abuses of freedom than by those alleged abuses. We ought to learn from history that education cannot possibly thrive in an atmosphere of state-encouraged suspicion and surveillance.

The AAUP considers four specific charges leveled against the modern university: that many professors routinely practice political indoctrination, fail to present alternative points of view, are hostile to students’ political or religious views, and introduce irrelevant political digressions into class. In each instance, the charge is not so much as considered but explained away.

How can there be personal bias, it asks, when course descriptions are vetted by departments and administrations? The possibility that those departmental colleagues might themselves have an overwhelming ideological uniformity is not considered. Complaints about hostility? Students have no “right not to have their most cherished beliefs challenged.” Ideological one-sidedness? One must not restrict the legitimate prerogative of a teacher to present his material in his own way. And so on, in alternately blithe and testy tones, to the conclusion that the only chronic problem truly afflicting higher education is the fascistic disposition of its critics: “calls for the regulation of higher education are almost invariably appeals to the coercive power of the state.”

Anyone who follows education will recognize some of the serious controversies and scandals that go utterly unmentioned in the AAUP report. Just to name one, there is the matter of “disposition assessment.” The guidelines of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, formulated in 2002, explain that universities should not only evaluate such understandable criteria as punctuality and dress but the political views of its students: “if . . . a commitment to social justice is one disposition it expects of teachers who can become agents of change, then it is expect that unit assessments include some measure of a candidate’s commitment to social justice.”

This came to light in 2005, when Ed Swan, a student at Washington State University, was kicked out of its teachers program for his conservative views. The revelation that professors of education were entitled to act as grand inquisitors, drawing out the political orientation of their students by carefully formulated “unit assignments,” inspired a strongly worded protest by the National Association of Scholars to the U. S. Department of Education.

About all of this there is not one word in the report of the AAUP. Although it warns sternly of “the coercive power of the state,” it ignores how state power is already at play, massively and implacably, wherever its state-supported universities and public schools are enforcing the “disposition” control of the NCATE. The AAUP has issued a document that is deeply discreditable to all concerned, a sad performance of shooting the messenger from behind circled wagons. This time, however, there are far too many messengers to shoot.

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Islamic Medical Terrorists

Why do some Muslim doctors want to kill?

The arrest of eight Muslims in Great Britain, most of them physicians or in allied medical fields, raises the obvious question of what led men and women in the healing profession to seek to maim and kill innocent civilians by the dozens if not the hundreds. Why did these men and women pack nails together with explosives in a lethal cocktail and seek to ignite them in crowded places? We may never get the full story from those now in custody; one of them has burns over 90 percent of his body from the gasoline he was pouring on the Jeep Cherokee he was trying to detonate in the Glasgow airport.

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Why do some Muslim doctors want to kill?

The arrest of eight Muslims in Great Britain, most of them physicians or in allied medical fields, raises the obvious question of what led men and women in the healing profession to seek to maim and kill innocent civilians by the dozens if not the hundreds. Why did these men and women pack nails together with explosives in a lethal cocktail and seek to ignite them in crowded places? We may never get the full story from those now in custody; one of them has burns over 90 percent of his body from the gasoline he was pouring on the Jeep Cherokee he was trying to detonate in the Glasgow airport.

But a fascinating picture of a doctor’s conversion to radical Islam, and to membership in a terrorist organization, can be found in an essential new publication put out by the Hudson Institute’s Center on Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World.

In the latest issue of Current Trends in Islamist Ideology one finds “The Development of a Jihadi’s Mind” by Tawfiq Hamid, a medical doctor who tells of his journey, baffling to an outsider, from an upper-middle-class childhood in Cairo—the son of an orthopedic surgeon father and a French-teacher mother, both of them secular and liberal—to the aspiration to become a shaheed, or martyr.

This desire was to bring him to Afghanistan in the 1980’s to join the anti-Soviet resistance. “We viewed both the Soviets and the Americans as enemies,” Hamid writes. “The Soviets were considered infidels because they did not believe in the existence of God, while the Americans did not follow Islam. Although we planned to fight the Soviets first, our ultimate objective was to destroy the United States—the greatest symbol of the infidel’s freedom.”

In the course of his training as a Jihadist, Hamid was to meet, among others, Ayman al-Zawahari, also a doctor—a highly skilled surgeon—and now, depending on one’s guess about whether Osama bin Laden is dead or alive, number one or number two in al Qaeda. It was in this period and in this milieu that Hamid descended into a murderous ideological framework. He describes in close detail the evolution of an Islamic fanatic’s mind, namely, his own:

I passed through three psychological stages to reach this level of comfort with death: hatred of non-Muslims or dissenting Muslims, suppression of my conscience, and acceptance of violence in the service of Allah. Salafi religious indoctrination played a major role in this process. Salafists promoted our hatred for non-Muslims by emphasizing the Quranic verse that read, “Thou wilt not find any people who believe in Allah and the Last Day loving those who resist (i.e., do not follow) Allah and His Messenger” (Quran 58:22).

Salafi writings also helped me to suppress my conscience by holding that many activities I had considered to be immoral were, instead, halal—that is, allowed by Allah and the Prophet. My conscience would normally reject polygamy, for example, because of the severe psychological pain it would cause my future wife. Salafi teaching encourages polygamy, however, permitting up to four wives as halal: “Marry women of your choice, two or three or four” (Quran 4:3). I accepted such ideas—ideas that contradicted my moral outlook—because I came to believe that we cannot negotiate with God about his commandments: “He (Allah) cannot be questioned for His acts, but they will be questioned [for theirs]” (Quran 21:23).

One would expect any human being, and especially those in the medical professions, to be revolted by the thought of killing fellow human beings in cold blood. However, the difficulty is that even if our categories and concepts about human life are universal in application, they are not universally shared. To those in the grip of Islamism, physicians and everyone else, killing infidels is fair game.

During the cold war, perhaps the most important essays and books on the USSR were those which explored the Communist mind. What was the nature of the appeal which led men and women to murder their neighbors—“class enemies”—by the millions? One thinks immediately of the logic of obedience portrayed in a book like Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler.

A similar body of writing is beginning to appear in response to the murderous currents flowing in the Islamic world; no great works of literature have yet to appear, but there are essays that have become vital reading if we are to understand why doctors would plant car bombs on London streets and then attempt to blow up a civilian airport. Current Trends in Islamist Ideology has performed a public service by bringing Tawfiq Hamid’s essential memoir to public attention.

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Appeasing the Imam?

It is not easy for a non-Muslim to gain the approval of Sheikh Abdal-Hakim Murad. A prominent British convert to Islam, he is the secretary of the Muslim Academic Trust in London and director of the Sunna Project at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge University. He is also the imam of the Cambridge mosque and an influential commentator on the BBC and in the British press.

Abdal-Hakim regards himself as a moderate, and is taken at his own valuation by the British media. A careful study of his website (which, as it happens, shares its name with this one) causes me to doubt the sheikh’s moderation. This, after all, is a man who sees the Bush administration as “theocratic” but who warns the West that “the Caliph’s first task will be to flog those who call Islam an ideology.” It is clear that the years he spent at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and later in Saudi Arabia, have left their mark: Abdal-Hakim is a Sunni fundamentalist.

He is, however, broad-minded enough to write for a Christian newspaper, the Catholic Herald. Last week he reviewed Islam: Past, Present, and Future, the new book on Islam by Hans Küng. Küng is a controversial Swiss theologian who has been in conflict with the Catholic Church for some 30 years, but remains a Catholic priest “in good standing,” as he likes to remind his critics.

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It is not easy for a non-Muslim to gain the approval of Sheikh Abdal-Hakim Murad. A prominent British convert to Islam, he is the secretary of the Muslim Academic Trust in London and director of the Sunna Project at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge University. He is also the imam of the Cambridge mosque and an influential commentator on the BBC and in the British press.

Abdal-Hakim regards himself as a moderate, and is taken at his own valuation by the British media. A careful study of his website (which, as it happens, shares its name with this one) causes me to doubt the sheikh’s moderation. This, after all, is a man who sees the Bush administration as “theocratic” but who warns the West that “the Caliph’s first task will be to flog those who call Islam an ideology.” It is clear that the years he spent at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and later in Saudi Arabia, have left their mark: Abdal-Hakim is a Sunni fundamentalist.

He is, however, broad-minded enough to write for a Christian newspaper, the Catholic Herald. Last week he reviewed Islam: Past, Present, and Future, the new book on Islam by Hans Küng. Küng is a controversial Swiss theologian who has been in conflict with the Catholic Church for some 30 years, but remains a Catholic priest “in good standing,” as he likes to remind his critics.

Here is Abdal-Hakim’s approving summary of Küng’s treatment of Islam:

Its bearer, the Prophet Mohammed, must be regarded by Christians as a true messenger from God. The Qu’ran is, “in principle,” God’s word. Islam was not imposed at the point of a scimitar; on the contrary, the early Muslim conquests were generally welcomed by Christians and Jews who had been oppressed by Byzantine officialdom. Jihad is not “holy war,” but is comparable to Christian just-war traditions. Islamist terrorism is not organically related to the religion, but is denounced by the religion’s leaders, being the consequence of external factors, chief among them being the creation of the state of Israel.

What a meeting of minds between the “moderate” Muslim and the “liberal” Catholic who asserts the truth of Islam! (Though I think it unlikely that the sheikh will be writing a book any time soon that returns any of these favors.)

And yet, not even this obeisance before Islam is enough. Küng is a theologian notorious for scathing attacks on his own church leadership, particularly the last pope and the present one, and has nothing but praise for “the Other.” But Murad denounces his book’s “huge crop of factual errors,” its “disengagement from Muslims,” and its repetition of “old myths” that “will make this book useless to historians of ideas despite some moments of profound and, some would say, long-overdue insight.”

It is reasonable to conclude from this rebuff that Küng’s attempt at appeasement is not only intellectually disreputable but almost entirely ineffectual. It seems that nothing other than an abjuration of Küng’s minimalist Catholicism in favor of a full-scale embrace of Islam—in short, conversion—would satisfy Abdal-Hakim Murad. The literal meaning of “Islam” is “submission,” and that is what it demands from the infidel—nothing more but certainly nothing less.

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