Commentary Magazine


Topic: president of the United States

Don’t Let the Door Hit You, Rahm

Rahm Emanuel is leaving, and American Jewish leaders couldn’t care less. In this regard, they have figured out who is running the U.S.-Israel policy (and hence, where the problem is):

“A lot of people like to think this Israeli-Palestinian policy has been Rahm Emanuel’s and it’s not. It’s Barack Obama’s,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a Democratic strategist and former Clinton administration aide. …

Noted William Daroff, the Jewish Federations of North America’s vice president for public policy and director of its Washington Office: “The buck stops at the desk of the president of the United States, so any staff change shouldn’t impact the relationship [Obama] has with the state of Israel or the Jewish community.”

The savviest remark comes from a “Jewish community professional” who observes:

“In some ways,” that professional added, Emanuel’s belief that he could effortlessly handle the Jewish community due to his deep connections has “been a detriment to the White House [because Emanuel's] saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got that,’ but then he doesn’t.”

Well, he didn’t. And there’s a smidgen of candor — well, what passes for candor in Washington (a blind quote, in other words):

“That hasn’t always been of a great benefit to Israel,” noted one of the Jewish leaders previously quoted on background. “In an American government, a friend of Israel is more important a factor than whether they’re Jewish.”

Emanuel’s religion, in fact, already seems to be having a negative net impact on his bid to become Chicago’s next mayor.

According to the Chicago Tribune, some politically conservative Jews tend to blame Emanuel, the son of an Israeli doctor, for some of the Obama administration’s tensions with Israel, while Orthodox Jews quibbled with his decision to announce his resignation on Friday of last week, Simchat Torah.

Alas, that’s Rahm’s problem now. As for American Jewish leaders and pro-Israel pundits, it’s about time they wised up. They have learned the hard way that the president’s naming a Jew as chief of staff doesn’t mean that his heart is in the right place on Israel. The departure of one adviser out of many selected by a president convinced of his own wisdom on the Middle East is virtually meaningless. What matters is that a president was elected who lacks empathy toward and understanding of the nature of the Zionist enterprise, who imagines kicking a democratic ally will impress its despotic foes, who is convinced he can engage the mullahs and then contain them after they rebuff his entreaties, and who fails to grasp that serial weakness by the U.S. places both the U.S. and Israel at risk.

That such an overwhelming majority of American Jewish leaders cheered, vouched and raised money for candidate Obama explains, in large part, their reluctance to come to terms with what a disaster he has been for U.S.-Israel relations and for the West’s security in the face of an Islamic revolutionary state bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Let’s see if they can now work strenuously — as strenuously as they did to elect him – to limit the damage their chosen candidate will inflict on both American and Israeli security, which the president seems not to fully comprehend are inextricably linked. And then the real test will come in 2012, when they will have the opportunity to shed their “sick addiction” to the president and his party. Or will “a woman’s right to choose,” government-run health care, and the supposed scourge of global warming once more take precedence over the fate of the Jewish state?

Rahm Emanuel is leaving, and American Jewish leaders couldn’t care less. In this regard, they have figured out who is running the U.S.-Israel policy (and hence, where the problem is):

“A lot of people like to think this Israeli-Palestinian policy has been Rahm Emanuel’s and it’s not. It’s Barack Obama’s,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a Democratic strategist and former Clinton administration aide. …

Noted William Daroff, the Jewish Federations of North America’s vice president for public policy and director of its Washington Office: “The buck stops at the desk of the president of the United States, so any staff change shouldn’t impact the relationship [Obama] has with the state of Israel or the Jewish community.”

The savviest remark comes from a “Jewish community professional” who observes:

“In some ways,” that professional added, Emanuel’s belief that he could effortlessly handle the Jewish community due to his deep connections has “been a detriment to the White House [because Emanuel's] saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got that,’ but then he doesn’t.”

Well, he didn’t. And there’s a smidgen of candor — well, what passes for candor in Washington (a blind quote, in other words):

“That hasn’t always been of a great benefit to Israel,” noted one of the Jewish leaders previously quoted on background. “In an American government, a friend of Israel is more important a factor than whether they’re Jewish.”

Emanuel’s religion, in fact, already seems to be having a negative net impact on his bid to become Chicago’s next mayor.

According to the Chicago Tribune, some politically conservative Jews tend to blame Emanuel, the son of an Israeli doctor, for some of the Obama administration’s tensions with Israel, while Orthodox Jews quibbled with his decision to announce his resignation on Friday of last week, Simchat Torah.

Alas, that’s Rahm’s problem now. As for American Jewish leaders and pro-Israel pundits, it’s about time they wised up. They have learned the hard way that the president’s naming a Jew as chief of staff doesn’t mean that his heart is in the right place on Israel. The departure of one adviser out of many selected by a president convinced of his own wisdom on the Middle East is virtually meaningless. What matters is that a president was elected who lacks empathy toward and understanding of the nature of the Zionist enterprise, who imagines kicking a democratic ally will impress its despotic foes, who is convinced he can engage the mullahs and then contain them after they rebuff his entreaties, and who fails to grasp that serial weakness by the U.S. places both the U.S. and Israel at risk.

That such an overwhelming majority of American Jewish leaders cheered, vouched and raised money for candidate Obama explains, in large part, their reluctance to come to terms with what a disaster he has been for U.S.-Israel relations and for the West’s security in the face of an Islamic revolutionary state bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Let’s see if they can now work strenuously — as strenuously as they did to elect him – to limit the damage their chosen candidate will inflict on both American and Israeli security, which the president seems not to fully comprehend are inextricably linked. And then the real test will come in 2012, when they will have the opportunity to shed their “sick addiction” to the president and his party. Or will “a woman’s right to choose,” government-run health care, and the supposed scourge of global warming once more take precedence over the fate of the Jewish state?

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Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel Laureate

The Nobel Prize for Literature, given to as many horrible writers as worthy ones, is now of value only for two reasons: It makes its recipient rich (now up to $1.5 million), and it causes people to take account of the careers of some notable authors. Such is the case with this year’s Laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa. He achieved a broad international reputation in the 1980s and 1990s–indeed, for a time, he was probably one of the world’s best-known writers–but that has faded somewhat over the past decade. He is, quite simply, wonderful–a novelist and essayist of great wit, range, sagacity, playfulness, and high seriousness.

He first came to prominence in the United States with the late-1970s translation of his hilarious, joyful, and wildly original blend of novel and memoir, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, a study of the unique circumstances that led to his first marriage to a much older distant cousin; he draws a comic parallel between his life and the crazed plots devised by Peru’s leading soap-opera writer, a monastic lunatic who seems nonetheless to embody the creative process itself. The next work of his to appear in English was extraordinarily different and extraordinary in every sense of the word: The War for the End of the World, a highly realistic historical novel about a millenarian cult in fin-de-siecle Brazil. It offered a portrait, unparalleled in our time, of the way in which radical ideas can seize hold of ordinary people and drive them to suicidal madness.

This was the first of his novels to reveal Vargas Llosa’s mature world view: Almost alone among Latin American intellectuals of his time, he had become a liberal in the classic sense of the word, a believer in and advocate for Western-style free speech, free markets, and free inquiry. This was the result of an ideological journey not unlike the one taken by neoconservatives in the United States, except that in Vargas Llosa’s case it was even more remarkable given the lack of any kind of liberal culture in South America and especially in the world of Latin novelists, who were, to a man, radical Leftists either aligned with or entirely joined at the hip with Marxist-Leninist-Castroist activism. He made his decisive spiritual break with the Left plain with a short novel called The Real Life of Alejandro Meyta, which specifically linked radical Leftist thinking to the impulse to terrorism.

The same year he published that book, he became head of a commission in Peru examining the devastation wrought by a terrorist group called the Shining Path. He wrote one of the great essays of our time for the New York Times Magazine on the matter, called “Inquest in the Andes.” Alas, it appears to be unavailable on the Times website, suggesting Vargas Llosa withheld rights to its electronic distribution. That is a shame, but you can read the astounding essay he wrote for the same magazine entitled “My Son the Rastafarian,” about grappling with his teenager’s rebellion and the horror of being a judge at the Cannes Film Festival. (That son, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, became the editorial-page editor of the Spanish language edition of the Miami Herald and an even greater rarity among South Americans, a libertarian.)

It is important to note that Vargas Llosa really is a liberal, not a conservative in any sense of the word. His work is often frankly libertine, as his powerful erotic novel In Praise of the Stepmother demonstrates. He doesn’t have a populist bone in him, and suffered from his inability to connect with ordinary people when he ran for president of Peru — offering sensible austerity measures that caused him to lose to a dangerous populist named Alberto Fujimori who drove the country into chaos and then fled to Japan ahead of corruption charges. Imagine Saul Bellow as president of the United States and you get some sense of what it might have meant for Vargas Llosa actually to have won his race. He wrote a remarkable book about that too, called A Fish in the Water.

He is one of the most interesting men of our time and I’m glad he got the Nobel money. Doesn’t wash the Nobel clean by any means, but at least the proceeds will be spent by someone who deserves it. Vargas Llosa wrote a visionary essay for COMMENTARY in 1992 called “The Miami Model,” which we’re making available from our archives today. Sample:

This profession of faith—hatred for the United States disguised as anti-imperialism—nowadays is actually a rather subtle form of neocolonialism. By adopting it, the Latin American intellectual does and says what the cultural establishment of the United States (and by extension, elsewhere in the West) expects of him. His proclamations, condemnations, and manifestoes, with all their grace notes and glissandos, serve to confirm all the stereotypes of the Latin American universe cherished by much of the North American cultural community.

It’s an honor to have published it, and a pleasure to congratulate our contributor on his award.

The Nobel Prize for Literature, given to as many horrible writers as worthy ones, is now of value only for two reasons: It makes its recipient rich (now up to $1.5 million), and it causes people to take account of the careers of some notable authors. Such is the case with this year’s Laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa. He achieved a broad international reputation in the 1980s and 1990s–indeed, for a time, he was probably one of the world’s best-known writers–but that has faded somewhat over the past decade. He is, quite simply, wonderful–a novelist and essayist of great wit, range, sagacity, playfulness, and high seriousness.

He first came to prominence in the United States with the late-1970s translation of his hilarious, joyful, and wildly original blend of novel and memoir, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, a study of the unique circumstances that led to his first marriage to a much older distant cousin; he draws a comic parallel between his life and the crazed plots devised by Peru’s leading soap-opera writer, a monastic lunatic who seems nonetheless to embody the creative process itself. The next work of his to appear in English was extraordinarily different and extraordinary in every sense of the word: The War for the End of the World, a highly realistic historical novel about a millenarian cult in fin-de-siecle Brazil. It offered a portrait, unparalleled in our time, of the way in which radical ideas can seize hold of ordinary people and drive them to suicidal madness.

This was the first of his novels to reveal Vargas Llosa’s mature world view: Almost alone among Latin American intellectuals of his time, he had become a liberal in the classic sense of the word, a believer in and advocate for Western-style free speech, free markets, and free inquiry. This was the result of an ideological journey not unlike the one taken by neoconservatives in the United States, except that in Vargas Llosa’s case it was even more remarkable given the lack of any kind of liberal culture in South America and especially in the world of Latin novelists, who were, to a man, radical Leftists either aligned with or entirely joined at the hip with Marxist-Leninist-Castroist activism. He made his decisive spiritual break with the Left plain with a short novel called The Real Life of Alejandro Meyta, which specifically linked radical Leftist thinking to the impulse to terrorism.

The same year he published that book, he became head of a commission in Peru examining the devastation wrought by a terrorist group called the Shining Path. He wrote one of the great essays of our time for the New York Times Magazine on the matter, called “Inquest in the Andes.” Alas, it appears to be unavailable on the Times website, suggesting Vargas Llosa withheld rights to its electronic distribution. That is a shame, but you can read the astounding essay he wrote for the same magazine entitled “My Son the Rastafarian,” about grappling with his teenager’s rebellion and the horror of being a judge at the Cannes Film Festival. (That son, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, became the editorial-page editor of the Spanish language edition of the Miami Herald and an even greater rarity among South Americans, a libertarian.)

It is important to note that Vargas Llosa really is a liberal, not a conservative in any sense of the word. His work is often frankly libertine, as his powerful erotic novel In Praise of the Stepmother demonstrates. He doesn’t have a populist bone in him, and suffered from his inability to connect with ordinary people when he ran for president of Peru — offering sensible austerity measures that caused him to lose to a dangerous populist named Alberto Fujimori who drove the country into chaos and then fled to Japan ahead of corruption charges. Imagine Saul Bellow as president of the United States and you get some sense of what it might have meant for Vargas Llosa actually to have won his race. He wrote a remarkable book about that too, called A Fish in the Water.

He is one of the most interesting men of our time and I’m glad he got the Nobel money. Doesn’t wash the Nobel clean by any means, but at least the proceeds will be spent by someone who deserves it. Vargas Llosa wrote a visionary essay for COMMENTARY in 1992 called “The Miami Model,” which we’re making available from our archives today. Sample:

This profession of faith—hatred for the United States disguised as anti-imperialism—nowadays is actually a rather subtle form of neocolonialism. By adopting it, the Latin American intellectual does and says what the cultural establishment of the United States (and by extension, elsewhere in the West) expects of him. His proclamations, condemnations, and manifestoes, with all their grace notes and glissandos, serve to confirm all the stereotypes of the Latin American universe cherished by much of the North American cultural community.

It’s an honor to have published it, and a pleasure to congratulate our contributor on his award.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

He’d have a year more experience in a high office than the incumbent did if he ran in 2012. “Axelrod won’t handicap 2012. Prompted to talk about Chris Christie, he says he ‘likes him,’ and ‘he’s a serious person.’ Axe doubts ‘he would leave a job he just began to run for president.’”

Republicans have more credibility than the Democrats on the economy: “47 percent of those questioned say the economic policies of congressional Republicans are more likely to improve economic conditions, with 41 percent saying Democrats in Congress have the better prescriptions.”

When do the Democrats decide they have spent more than enough money on Joe Sestak’s inept campaign? Two more polls have Toomey solidly ahead.

Eighty-seven senators have had more than enough of Obama’s Israel-bashing. “Eighty-seven U.S. senators have already signed on to a letter, which was initially circulated only three days ago, calling on Obama to publicly pressure Abbas to continue with the direct peace talks begun Sept. 1 in Washington.”

The Obami used to have more charm, no? “Vice President Joe Biden on Monday urged Democrats to overcome their differences and support their candidates at the polls by telling them to ‘stop whining.’”

Have we had a more partisan president? Ed Gillespie: “I’ve never seen a president of the United States on either side of the aisle engage in the kind of personal attacks [on members of Congress] the way President Obama has chosen to do. I’d tell him to focus on the issues. I think that when he goes out there and he stumps, I’m sure [the attacks have] some short-term energizing effect of core voters but it has a very energizing long-term effect for conservatives and independents and drives independents further into Republicans’ arms.”

Perhaps if politicians sent their kids to D.C. schools, they’d have more of a stake in improving them. “President Obama said Monday that his daughters could not get the same level of education from D.C. public schools that they receive at the elite private school they attend.”

He’d have a year more experience in a high office than the incumbent did if he ran in 2012. “Axelrod won’t handicap 2012. Prompted to talk about Chris Christie, he says he ‘likes him,’ and ‘he’s a serious person.’ Axe doubts ‘he would leave a job he just began to run for president.’”

Republicans have more credibility than the Democrats on the economy: “47 percent of those questioned say the economic policies of congressional Republicans are more likely to improve economic conditions, with 41 percent saying Democrats in Congress have the better prescriptions.”

When do the Democrats decide they have spent more than enough money on Joe Sestak’s inept campaign? Two more polls have Toomey solidly ahead.

Eighty-seven senators have had more than enough of Obama’s Israel-bashing. “Eighty-seven U.S. senators have already signed on to a letter, which was initially circulated only three days ago, calling on Obama to publicly pressure Abbas to continue with the direct peace talks begun Sept. 1 in Washington.”

The Obami used to have more charm, no? “Vice President Joe Biden on Monday urged Democrats to overcome their differences and support their candidates at the polls by telling them to ‘stop whining.’”

Have we had a more partisan president? Ed Gillespie: “I’ve never seen a president of the United States on either side of the aisle engage in the kind of personal attacks [on members of Congress] the way President Obama has chosen to do. I’d tell him to focus on the issues. I think that when he goes out there and he stumps, I’m sure [the attacks have] some short-term energizing effect of core voters but it has a very energizing long-term effect for conservatives and independents and drives independents further into Republicans’ arms.”

Perhaps if politicians sent their kids to D.C. schools, they’d have more of a stake in improving them. “President Obama said Monday that his daughters could not get the same level of education from D.C. public schools that they receive at the elite private school they attend.”

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Even Obama’s Fire Sale Didn’t Sell Out

Gail Sheehy, writing for the Daily Beast, reports from the Roosevelt Hotel:

Who would have thought that six weeks before a cliffhanger election, President Obama would have to reach down to the D list to fill a room to listen to him? Most of us low rollers arrived early to see President Obama up close and personal. Our tickets for the general reception at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York were only $100. Some thought the email invitation was a joke. Some bought tickets for $50 from their desperate Democratic committeeman. Some bought the same day.

“It’s Filene’s,” enthused Sharon Douglas, reliving her heady days as a volunteer in Obama’s 2008 campaign. The doorman beckoned conspiratorially and ushered us out one door and in through another to stand at the back of the $500 line. Their crowd came from Wall Street in car services and killer heels. Our crowd came on subways in flats and scuffed teacher’s shoes.

Only after I received four email invitations and two personal calls imploring me to come did I call Speaker Pelosi’s office to check the admission price. “You mean, to be in the room with the President of the United States is now on fire sale for $100?”

“Yup.”

“How long do we get?”

“Half hour.”

“How many $100 givers have rsvp’d?”

“Mmmm 250.”

“Do we need to line up early to get in?”

“That’s not necessary. Everybody will get in.”

And everybody did — 450 people in a room that holds 650. Even Obama’s fire sale didn’t sell out.

This is what the “enthusiasm gap” looks like when it’s translated from polling data to actual events. And it explains, in part, why the Democratic Party is going to be lacerated in the mid-term elections.

Gail Sheehy, writing for the Daily Beast, reports from the Roosevelt Hotel:

Who would have thought that six weeks before a cliffhanger election, President Obama would have to reach down to the D list to fill a room to listen to him? Most of us low rollers arrived early to see President Obama up close and personal. Our tickets for the general reception at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York were only $100. Some thought the email invitation was a joke. Some bought tickets for $50 from their desperate Democratic committeeman. Some bought the same day.

“It’s Filene’s,” enthused Sharon Douglas, reliving her heady days as a volunteer in Obama’s 2008 campaign. The doorman beckoned conspiratorially and ushered us out one door and in through another to stand at the back of the $500 line. Their crowd came from Wall Street in car services and killer heels. Our crowd came on subways in flats and scuffed teacher’s shoes.

Only after I received four email invitations and two personal calls imploring me to come did I call Speaker Pelosi’s office to check the admission price. “You mean, to be in the room with the President of the United States is now on fire sale for $100?”

“Yup.”

“How long do we get?”

“Half hour.”

“How many $100 givers have rsvp’d?”

“Mmmm 250.”

“Do we need to line up early to get in?”

“That’s not necessary. Everybody will get in.”

And everybody did — 450 people in a room that holds 650. Even Obama’s fire sale didn’t sell out.

This is what the “enthusiasm gap” looks like when it’s translated from polling data to actual events. And it explains, in part, why the Democratic Party is going to be lacerated in the mid-term elections.

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RE: Blaming James Madison

A smart political reporter suggests that David Axelrod’s op-ed in the Washington Post is further evidence of the bizarre and entirely unproductive exercise in blaming the First Amendment for the Democrats’ political collapse. Axelrod whines:

All of Washington is in a frenzy, speculating about the outcome of the fall elections. Yet the development that could most tip the scales is getting far too little public attention. That hidden factor is the audacious stealth campaign being mounted by powerful corporate special interests that are vying to put their Republican allies in control of Congress and turn back common-sense reforms that strengthen America’s middle class.

Good grief — maybe that stuff works in Chicago but does the public at large buy any of that, or even care if a group called Americans for Prosperity is raising money for candidates who are attuned to the populist outcry against runaway spending? It is as though Axelrod thinks he is running a Democratic primary race and not working for President of the United States. This is what a high-ranking government official spends his time doing — grousing that the other side has more money?

But the telling sign is the last paragraph:

Pundits will spend a lot of time predicting who will win in November. But more is at stake than the fate of Democrats or Republicans. What’s at stake is whether the powerful corporate special interests will go back to writing our laws or whether our democracy will remain where it belongs — in the hands of the American people.

No, actually, what is at stake is control of the House and Senate and the complete repudiation of the Obama agenda. No wonder Axelrod wants to change the topic.

A smart political reporter suggests that David Axelrod’s op-ed in the Washington Post is further evidence of the bizarre and entirely unproductive exercise in blaming the First Amendment for the Democrats’ political collapse. Axelrod whines:

All of Washington is in a frenzy, speculating about the outcome of the fall elections. Yet the development that could most tip the scales is getting far too little public attention. That hidden factor is the audacious stealth campaign being mounted by powerful corporate special interests that are vying to put their Republican allies in control of Congress and turn back common-sense reforms that strengthen America’s middle class.

Good grief — maybe that stuff works in Chicago but does the public at large buy any of that, or even care if a group called Americans for Prosperity is raising money for candidates who are attuned to the populist outcry against runaway spending? It is as though Axelrod thinks he is running a Democratic primary race and not working for President of the United States. This is what a high-ranking government official spends his time doing — grousing that the other side has more money?

But the telling sign is the last paragraph:

Pundits will spend a lot of time predicting who will win in November. But more is at stake than the fate of Democrats or Republicans. What’s at stake is whether the powerful corporate special interests will go back to writing our laws or whether our democracy will remain where it belongs — in the hands of the American people.

No, actually, what is at stake is control of the House and Senate and the complete repudiation of the Obama agenda. No wonder Axelrod wants to change the topic.

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Religious Provocateurs and the Liberal Elite

A crackpot pastor with a “flock” of 50 threatens to burn Korans. The entire political establishment, including the president and the defense secretary, Republican officials and 2012 contenders, and Christian and Jewish leaders implore him to stop. So much for the notion that America is a hotbed of Islamophobia. (The elite media — ever eager to show Americans’ “intolerance” – is the entity most responsible for fanning the flames on this one.)

We saw, of course, no similar outpouring of condemnation and pleading from the chattering class or from Muslim officials when Imam Rauf announced that he would build a mosque on the site where 3,000 Americans were incinerated in the name of Islam.You see, empathy runs only one way for the Muslim outreachers. Under no circumstances must we expect or request a modicum of respect for non-Muslims from the mosque builders. What is revealing in the Koran incident is not what it tells us about the pastor, but what it tells us about the left.

We’ve known for sometime, of course, that the left really doesn’t much mind it when the religious insults are hurled against Christians. The Piss Christ exhibit, you see, was an act of “artistic expression.” And as Daniel Gordis detailed, virulent anti-Semitism is not only acceptable but increasingly de rigueur in the liberal media. It’s only when Muslim sensibilities are involved that the left rushes forth in a tizzy about religious sensibilities. Contrast the insistence that the Koran-burning minister call off his stunt to the support the left gives to Imam Rauf’s incendiary act. The latter is construed as an “act of reconciliation”; only the former is recognized as divisive and hateful.

Charles Lane pegged it correctly:

The president seemed oblivious to the contradiction between his pressure on Jones and his view, repeated at Friday’s press conference, that the U.S. must strictly follow the Constitution when prosecuting terrorism suspects — lest the terrorists win by getting us to curtail liberty. “We can’t be frightened by a handful of people who are trying to do us harm,” he said. Yet to the extent Obama opposed [Rev. Terry] Jones’s exercise of free speech — including mere “threats of action” — because it might trigger a violent reaction, he was expressing, and yielding to, fear of those very “people.”…

Instead, the president of the United States broadcast his fear that a U.S. citizen’s exercise of his liberty will provoke Muslim violence — without even calling upon Muslims to refrain from such attacks, much less declaring that they would be completely unjustified, and correspondingly resisted.

Remember the Obama rule: tolerance is what Muslims should expect from non-Muslims, never the reverse.

Meanwhile, Rauf pronounces: “You know, had I known this would happen, we certainly would never have done this. … We would not have done something that would have created more divisiveness.” If he admits his effort at reconciliation was a debacle and has proved counterproductive, why not call if off? But to hear Mayor Bloomberg, the president, and the rest of the left, to urge him to do just that is to “betray our values” and engage in bigotry.

It is this sort of moral and intellectual incoherence that contributes to the disdain many citizens feel toward the liberal intelligentsia. The average American can figure out that we should use moral persuasion and public criticism to prevent gratuitous insults by misguided or intentionally provocative religious figures (and to ignore the truly marginal figures like the Koran burner, whose bonanza of publicity is sure to attract copycats). Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the chattering class or this administration. It’s a wonder that confidence in elite institutions isn’t lower than it already is.

A crackpot pastor with a “flock” of 50 threatens to burn Korans. The entire political establishment, including the president and the defense secretary, Republican officials and 2012 contenders, and Christian and Jewish leaders implore him to stop. So much for the notion that America is a hotbed of Islamophobia. (The elite media — ever eager to show Americans’ “intolerance” – is the entity most responsible for fanning the flames on this one.)

We saw, of course, no similar outpouring of condemnation and pleading from the chattering class or from Muslim officials when Imam Rauf announced that he would build a mosque on the site where 3,000 Americans were incinerated in the name of Islam.You see, empathy runs only one way for the Muslim outreachers. Under no circumstances must we expect or request a modicum of respect for non-Muslims from the mosque builders. What is revealing in the Koran incident is not what it tells us about the pastor, but what it tells us about the left.

We’ve known for sometime, of course, that the left really doesn’t much mind it when the religious insults are hurled against Christians. The Piss Christ exhibit, you see, was an act of “artistic expression.” And as Daniel Gordis detailed, virulent anti-Semitism is not only acceptable but increasingly de rigueur in the liberal media. It’s only when Muslim sensibilities are involved that the left rushes forth in a tizzy about religious sensibilities. Contrast the insistence that the Koran-burning minister call off his stunt to the support the left gives to Imam Rauf’s incendiary act. The latter is construed as an “act of reconciliation”; only the former is recognized as divisive and hateful.

Charles Lane pegged it correctly:

The president seemed oblivious to the contradiction between his pressure on Jones and his view, repeated at Friday’s press conference, that the U.S. must strictly follow the Constitution when prosecuting terrorism suspects — lest the terrorists win by getting us to curtail liberty. “We can’t be frightened by a handful of people who are trying to do us harm,” he said. Yet to the extent Obama opposed [Rev. Terry] Jones’s exercise of free speech — including mere “threats of action” — because it might trigger a violent reaction, he was expressing, and yielding to, fear of those very “people.”…

Instead, the president of the United States broadcast his fear that a U.S. citizen’s exercise of his liberty will provoke Muslim violence — without even calling upon Muslims to refrain from such attacks, much less declaring that they would be completely unjustified, and correspondingly resisted.

Remember the Obama rule: tolerance is what Muslims should expect from non-Muslims, never the reverse.

Meanwhile, Rauf pronounces: “You know, had I known this would happen, we certainly would never have done this. … We would not have done something that would have created more divisiveness.” If he admits his effort at reconciliation was a debacle and has proved counterproductive, why not call if off? But to hear Mayor Bloomberg, the president, and the rest of the left, to urge him to do just that is to “betray our values” and engage in bigotry.

It is this sort of moral and intellectual incoherence that contributes to the disdain many citizens feel toward the liberal intelligentsia. The average American can figure out that we should use moral persuasion and public criticism to prevent gratuitous insults by misguided or intentionally provocative religious figures (and to ignore the truly marginal figures like the Koran burner, whose bonanza of publicity is sure to attract copycats). Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the chattering class or this administration. It’s a wonder that confidence in elite institutions isn’t lower than it already is.

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Shilling for Obama’s Religiosity

I’m sure you’ve said it a thousand times: “What did we do before the Internet?” Well, I, for one, wouldn’t have followed this trail. On an issue unrelated (more on that in a separate post), at First Read I came across a stunning assertion, even for the cable-news chief cheerleader for Obama. In his frenzy to defend Obama, Chuck Todd asserts: “President Obama is more religious than Reagan or H.W. Bush ever was; in fact, he gets Bible verses sent to his blackberry EVERY DAY.” Good golly — how does Todd know the level of religiosity of these three men? (And I imagine he knows what Obama gets on his blackberry because the White House tells him so, and that’s good enough for him.)

But that did get me thinking about George H.W. Bush. And, because I live in the Internet age, I found this speech, which Bush 41 delivered to the National Association of Evangelicals. It is a beautiful statement on religion and faith in public life that is worth reading in full. A sample:

As I said many times before, prayer always has been important in our lives. And without it, I really am convinced, more and more convinced, that no man or no woman who has the privilege of serving in the Presidency could carry out their duties without prayer. I think of Lincoln’s famous remark, “I’ve been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” The intercessionary prayers that so many Americans make on behalf of the President of the United States, in this instance on behalf of me and also of my family, they inspire us, and they give us strength. And I just wanted you to know that, and Barbara and I are very, very grateful to you. …

Like you, President Reagan and I understood that the cold war wasn’t simply some mundane competition between rival world powers. It was a struggle for the mind of man. On one side was a system dedicated to denying the life of the spirit and celebrating the omnipotence of the state. On the other was a system founded on a profound truth, that our Creator has endowed his children with inalienable rights that no government can deny.

And now, 8 years later, we can say confidently, Americans won the cold war. We won it by standing for what’s right. Tonight our children and grandchildren — and I take great joy in this — tonight our children and our grandchildren will go to their beds untroubled by the fears of nuclear holocaust that haunted two generations of Americans. In our prayers we asked for God’s help. I know our family did, and I expect all of you did. We asked for God’s help. And now in this shining outcome, in this magnificent triumph of good over evil, we should thank God. We should give thanks.

Yes, wow. And needless to say, there are oodles of equally and even more eloquent discourses by Reagan on faith, prayer, evil, and God.

Now, I’m not about to rank presidents by devoutness, but Todd’s got some nerve boasting about Obama’s religious faith, which is, as with all presidents, unknowable except to the Creator. It’s bad enough when Todd shills for the White House on subjects that are a matter of public record, but he really should leave religion out of it.

I’m sure you’ve said it a thousand times: “What did we do before the Internet?” Well, I, for one, wouldn’t have followed this trail. On an issue unrelated (more on that in a separate post), at First Read I came across a stunning assertion, even for the cable-news chief cheerleader for Obama. In his frenzy to defend Obama, Chuck Todd asserts: “President Obama is more religious than Reagan or H.W. Bush ever was; in fact, he gets Bible verses sent to his blackberry EVERY DAY.” Good golly — how does Todd know the level of religiosity of these three men? (And I imagine he knows what Obama gets on his blackberry because the White House tells him so, and that’s good enough for him.)

But that did get me thinking about George H.W. Bush. And, because I live in the Internet age, I found this speech, which Bush 41 delivered to the National Association of Evangelicals. It is a beautiful statement on religion and faith in public life that is worth reading in full. A sample:

As I said many times before, prayer always has been important in our lives. And without it, I really am convinced, more and more convinced, that no man or no woman who has the privilege of serving in the Presidency could carry out their duties without prayer. I think of Lincoln’s famous remark, “I’ve been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” The intercessionary prayers that so many Americans make on behalf of the President of the United States, in this instance on behalf of me and also of my family, they inspire us, and they give us strength. And I just wanted you to know that, and Barbara and I are very, very grateful to you. …

Like you, President Reagan and I understood that the cold war wasn’t simply some mundane competition between rival world powers. It was a struggle for the mind of man. On one side was a system dedicated to denying the life of the spirit and celebrating the omnipotence of the state. On the other was a system founded on a profound truth, that our Creator has endowed his children with inalienable rights that no government can deny.

And now, 8 years later, we can say confidently, Americans won the cold war. We won it by standing for what’s right. Tonight our children and grandchildren — and I take great joy in this — tonight our children and our grandchildren will go to their beds untroubled by the fears of nuclear holocaust that haunted two generations of Americans. In our prayers we asked for God’s help. I know our family did, and I expect all of you did. We asked for God’s help. And now in this shining outcome, in this magnificent triumph of good over evil, we should thank God. We should give thanks.

Yes, wow. And needless to say, there are oodles of equally and even more eloquent discourses by Reagan on faith, prayer, evil, and God.

Now, I’m not about to rank presidents by devoutness, but Todd’s got some nerve boasting about Obama’s religious faith, which is, as with all presidents, unknowable except to the Creator. It’s bad enough when Todd shills for the White House on subjects that are a matter of public record, but he really should leave religion out of it.

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The Toxicity of Tolerance

In an article at the Daily Beast about the Cordoba House mosque and Islamic community center, Sam Harris wrote, “It goes without saying that tolerance is a value to which we should all be deeply committed.” Does it? Tolerance is not, in fact, a value at all. If Sue tolerates a kindly bore during a brief conversation is she employing the same moral standard as Tom who tolerates a stoppable violent crime in his presence? Moreover, does this standard qualify as one to which we should all be deeply committed?

By the way, Harris goes on to make some insightful points. But first he has his own faiths to defend—liberalism and atheism—and the above comes from early on in the piece, where he strives to distance himself from “those sincerely awaiting the Rapture, opportunistic Republican politicians, and utter lunatics who yearn to see Sarah Palin become the next president of the United States (note that Palin herself probably falls into several of these categories).” Tolerantly put, no?

That Harris is incapable of practicing in one sentence what he preaches in the preceding one should come as no surprise. Tolerance is not a context-free virtue; it is a simpleton’s word, an artificial political term used to indict those we cannot tolerate.

Tolerance scenarios are not merely hypothetical. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the New York Times that the mosque near Ground Zero will be “a monument to tolerance.” If by tolerance, Mayor Bloomberg is referring to the fact that the planned mosque’s Imam, Faisal Abdul Rauf is not judgmental of terrorist organizations, he is correct. Asked by WABC radio’s Aaron Klein if Hamas was a terrorist group, Rauf responded, “Look, I am not a politician. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question.” He hemmed and hawed and when the question was posed again, said, “I am a peace builder. I will not allow anybody to put me in a position where I am seen by any party in the world as an adversary or as an enemy.”

Sam Harris—still struggling with his own advice—writes in the Daily Beast of “religious stupidity.” But aren’t Rauf’s words the very embodiment of Harris’s exhortation that we commit deeply to the value of tolerance?

While Harris toils away at the intellectual knot tied from strands of his religious liberalism and his religious atheism, Bloomberg is gathering fellow travelers. Former speechwriter for George W. Bush, Michael Gerson praised President Obama’s tolerance of the mosque, noting that “the way to marginalize radicalism is to respect the best traditions of Islam and protect the religious liberty of Muslim Americans.” In itself, this is true. But are we now saying that an Imam who refuses to call Hamas a terrorist organization represents “the best traditions of Islam”?

There are those of us who have been hoping for the institutional influence of a truly moderate Islam; of an unequivocal anti-terrorist leader and a mosque to temper what is obviously an urgent crisis in the Muslim world. For us, the election of a Hamas-indifferent Imam as the paragon of Islamic moderation is dispiriting. But for the West’s individual moderate Muslims–and there are many–who have been waiting desperately on a modern, welcoming house of Islam, one in which to practice their religion alongside the like-minded, it is absolute invalidation. Rauf and Cordoba House, say tolerant Westerners, are as good as it gets.

In an article at the Daily Beast about the Cordoba House mosque and Islamic community center, Sam Harris wrote, “It goes without saying that tolerance is a value to which we should all be deeply committed.” Does it? Tolerance is not, in fact, a value at all. If Sue tolerates a kindly bore during a brief conversation is she employing the same moral standard as Tom who tolerates a stoppable violent crime in his presence? Moreover, does this standard qualify as one to which we should all be deeply committed?

By the way, Harris goes on to make some insightful points. But first he has his own faiths to defend—liberalism and atheism—and the above comes from early on in the piece, where he strives to distance himself from “those sincerely awaiting the Rapture, opportunistic Republican politicians, and utter lunatics who yearn to see Sarah Palin become the next president of the United States (note that Palin herself probably falls into several of these categories).” Tolerantly put, no?

That Harris is incapable of practicing in one sentence what he preaches in the preceding one should come as no surprise. Tolerance is not a context-free virtue; it is a simpleton’s word, an artificial political term used to indict those we cannot tolerate.

Tolerance scenarios are not merely hypothetical. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the New York Times that the mosque near Ground Zero will be “a monument to tolerance.” If by tolerance, Mayor Bloomberg is referring to the fact that the planned mosque’s Imam, Faisal Abdul Rauf is not judgmental of terrorist organizations, he is correct. Asked by WABC radio’s Aaron Klein if Hamas was a terrorist group, Rauf responded, “Look, I am not a politician. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question.” He hemmed and hawed and when the question was posed again, said, “I am a peace builder. I will not allow anybody to put me in a position where I am seen by any party in the world as an adversary or as an enemy.”

Sam Harris—still struggling with his own advice—writes in the Daily Beast of “religious stupidity.” But aren’t Rauf’s words the very embodiment of Harris’s exhortation that we commit deeply to the value of tolerance?

While Harris toils away at the intellectual knot tied from strands of his religious liberalism and his religious atheism, Bloomberg is gathering fellow travelers. Former speechwriter for George W. Bush, Michael Gerson praised President Obama’s tolerance of the mosque, noting that “the way to marginalize radicalism is to respect the best traditions of Islam and protect the religious liberty of Muslim Americans.” In itself, this is true. But are we now saying that an Imam who refuses to call Hamas a terrorist organization represents “the best traditions of Islam”?

There are those of us who have been hoping for the institutional influence of a truly moderate Islam; of an unequivocal anti-terrorist leader and a mosque to temper what is obviously an urgent crisis in the Muslim world. For us, the election of a Hamas-indifferent Imam as the paragon of Islamic moderation is dispiriting. But for the West’s individual moderate Muslims–and there are many–who have been waiting desperately on a modern, welcoming house of Islam, one in which to practice their religion alongside the like-minded, it is absolute invalidation. Rauf and Cordoba House, say tolerant Westerners, are as good as it gets.

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What Would You Do About Iran?

What would you do about Iran if you were Netanyahu? That’s the question Jeffrey Goldberg asks Christopher Hitchens in one of a series of interesting videos posted at the Atlantic‘s website that accompanies Goldberg’s major piece on the question of the threat from Iran.

Hitchens’s reply was that a better question is what would he do if he were president of the United States, because “That’s where the question has to be asked.”

Though he is at pains to remind us that he is a severe critic of Israel and Zionism and thinks it “wouldn’t have been a bad thing if it [Israel] had never been started,” Hitchens says that if, as seems inevitable, Iran is prepared to weaponize, it will be Obama’s “obligation to take out” the Iranian regime and to do it before it acts on its nefarious intentions.

Hitchens’s rationale is that since Iran has many times sworn in writing and in international forums that it has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons, while also declaring its intent to destroy Israel, then the United States must act “if international law means anything.” He also points out that there is no comparison between Iran’s nuclear program and the one that already exists in Israel, because the latter is a “status quo power,” while the former is run by a “crowd of genocidal fanatical theocrats.” Indeed, Hitchens takes the anti-Semitism of the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad government seriously and rightly points out that civilization can’t stand by and watch the Jews being slaughtered again.

But listening to Hitchens one wonders whether anyone in the current administration takes seriously the notion that it is America’s obligation to hold Iran accountable. It is more likely that the president and his advisers are more worried about validating the Bush doctrine that a preemptive strike is justified when the threat of a rogue regime getting hold of a weapon of mass destruction is on the table. Everything this administration has done seems to indicate that it sees a potential strike on Iran as more of a threat to the world than the Iranian bomb itself. Since Obama is almost certainly more afraid of another Iraq than he is of a genocidal threat to Israel’s existence, it is difficult to believe that he will take Hitchens’s advice.

What would you do about Iran if you were Netanyahu? That’s the question Jeffrey Goldberg asks Christopher Hitchens in one of a series of interesting videos posted at the Atlantic‘s website that accompanies Goldberg’s major piece on the question of the threat from Iran.

Hitchens’s reply was that a better question is what would he do if he were president of the United States, because “That’s where the question has to be asked.”

Though he is at pains to remind us that he is a severe critic of Israel and Zionism and thinks it “wouldn’t have been a bad thing if it [Israel] had never been started,” Hitchens says that if, as seems inevitable, Iran is prepared to weaponize, it will be Obama’s “obligation to take out” the Iranian regime and to do it before it acts on its nefarious intentions.

Hitchens’s rationale is that since Iran has many times sworn in writing and in international forums that it has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons, while also declaring its intent to destroy Israel, then the United States must act “if international law means anything.” He also points out that there is no comparison between Iran’s nuclear program and the one that already exists in Israel, because the latter is a “status quo power,” while the former is run by a “crowd of genocidal fanatical theocrats.” Indeed, Hitchens takes the anti-Semitism of the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad government seriously and rightly points out that civilization can’t stand by and watch the Jews being slaughtered again.

But listening to Hitchens one wonders whether anyone in the current administration takes seriously the notion that it is America’s obligation to hold Iran accountable. It is more likely that the president and his advisers are more worried about validating the Bush doctrine that a preemptive strike is justified when the threat of a rogue regime getting hold of a weapon of mass destruction is on the table. Everything this administration has done seems to indicate that it sees a potential strike on Iran as more of a threat to the world than the Iranian bomb itself. Since Obama is almost certainly more afraid of another Iraq than he is of a genocidal threat to Israel’s existence, it is difficult to believe that he will take Hitchens’s advice.

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A Political Crybaby

Sen. John Kerry told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria this:

I think what’s happened is, Fareed, in the last six months I think there was an article even in the paper this week about people no longer blaming Bush. They’re beginning to target this White House. That’s a natural course of events as you go through any administration, but I don’t think it is fair to the President… I think that part of the problem is that a lot has been accomplished, but the story has not been sufficiently told, and we need to go out with some passion, and energy, and a little bit of anger even and make sure people understand how difficult this road has been against constant, non-stop Republican obstructionism.

Kerry’s short answer reveals a lot.

For one thing, it reminds people that Sen. Kerry, like others in his party, is a chronic political crybaby.

Whether the Massachusetts senior senator understands it or not, the public is right to hold the president of the United States responsible for his policies more than 18 months after he’s been in office. That is doubly true in the case of President Obama, whose administration made certain guarantees in advance about what its policies would produce. (For example, passing the stimulus package would keep unemployment from rising above 8 percent; it topped 10 percent and is currently well above 9 percent.)

In addition, Kerry (like many other liberals) insists that the major difficulty facing the Obama administration is a “communication problem.” This is a risible explanation, given that Obama has at his disposal the largest bully pulpit in the world, to say nothing of Democratic control of both branches of Congress and a largely sympathetic media (at least compared to what a Republican president faces).

The problems facing Obama and the Democrats don’t have to do with a failure to communicate; they have to do with a failure to even begin to meet the expectations they set – from a flourishing economy to the dawning of a new age of effective diplomacy to the most ethical Congress ever, and much else.

The strategy Mr. Kerry is advocating is essentially this: Democrats should: (a) complain more than they are; (b) point fingers at Obama’s predecessor even beyond what they already have (which is very nearly impossible); and (c) become even angrier when making the case that they are overmatched by events.

That this counsel is the best that the Democratic Party’s 2004 presidential nominee has to offer underscores what a difficult bind Democrats find themselves in these days.

Sen. John Kerry told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria this:

I think what’s happened is, Fareed, in the last six months I think there was an article even in the paper this week about people no longer blaming Bush. They’re beginning to target this White House. That’s a natural course of events as you go through any administration, but I don’t think it is fair to the President… I think that part of the problem is that a lot has been accomplished, but the story has not been sufficiently told, and we need to go out with some passion, and energy, and a little bit of anger even and make sure people understand how difficult this road has been against constant, non-stop Republican obstructionism.

Kerry’s short answer reveals a lot.

For one thing, it reminds people that Sen. Kerry, like others in his party, is a chronic political crybaby.

Whether the Massachusetts senior senator understands it or not, the public is right to hold the president of the United States responsible for his policies more than 18 months after he’s been in office. That is doubly true in the case of President Obama, whose administration made certain guarantees in advance about what its policies would produce. (For example, passing the stimulus package would keep unemployment from rising above 8 percent; it topped 10 percent and is currently well above 9 percent.)

In addition, Kerry (like many other liberals) insists that the major difficulty facing the Obama administration is a “communication problem.” This is a risible explanation, given that Obama has at his disposal the largest bully pulpit in the world, to say nothing of Democratic control of both branches of Congress and a largely sympathetic media (at least compared to what a Republican president faces).

The problems facing Obama and the Democrats don’t have to do with a failure to communicate; they have to do with a failure to even begin to meet the expectations they set – from a flourishing economy to the dawning of a new age of effective diplomacy to the most ethical Congress ever, and much else.

The strategy Mr. Kerry is advocating is essentially this: Democrats should: (a) complain more than they are; (b) point fingers at Obama’s predecessor even beyond what they already have (which is very nearly impossible); and (c) become even angrier when making the case that they are overmatched by events.

That this counsel is the best that the Democratic Party’s 2004 presidential nominee has to offer underscores what a difficult bind Democrats find themselves in these days.

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Obama’s Blame Game

“I tell you, it’s very frustrating that it’s not breaking through, when you look at these things and their scale,” said a top Obama adviser, speaking on background to Politico. “Can you imagine if Bill Clinton had achieved even one of these? Part of it is because we are divided, even on the left. … And part of it is the culture of immediate gratification.”

Let’s see if we can follow the bouncing ball.

First, the White House blamed Obama’s predecessor and the Republicans for everything that is wrong with America, from unemployment to profligate spending to diaper rash. Last November, David Axelrod felt he had to remind people that the president is “not a magician. You don’t with a wave of a wand make everything different.” This past June, President Obama offered the American people this piercing insight: “Even though I’m president of the United States, my power is not limitless.” And now, we are told by top Obama aides that they are frustrated because Obama isn’t getting his proper due. The problem doesn’t have to do with their policies, you see; it has to do with “the culture of immediate gratification.”

How difficult it must be for a demigod to be walking among mere mortals. And how frustrating it must be for Barack the Great to have done so many things so well, for the country to be prospering so much under his stewardship — and yet he doesn’t seem to get any credit for it. The world can be such a thankless and ungrateful place.

The truth is that this is all getting rather pathetic. The Democratic Party is heading for a historical repudiation in November. The White House and the Democrats on Capitol Hill are turning on each other. Obama’s press spokesman, Robert Gibbs, admits that there is “no doubt” the Republicans could regain control of the House, while former Clinton adviser William Galston is predicting that the Democrats may well lose the Senate. “If you ask me where the silver lining is for President Obama, I have to say I cannot see one,” said Galston.

What we are seeing is a president and a White House of unusual — and very nearly otherworldly — hubris being beaten down by events. Reality is slowly crushing the Obama presidency. Its policies are failing, its popularity is sinking, its excuses aren’t working, and its incompetence is showing. Yet the administration appears incapable of admitting – even to itself, even in quiet moments – that it has made mistakes, that it may be wrong, that it may be on the wrong track.

All of this, in turn, is creating considerable cognitive dissonance among Obama, his advisers, and many of his supporters. They cannot deny they are in trouble; but they continue to deny they are responsible for causing any of it. So the fault lies with Bush, or the Republicans, or the ridiculously high expectations of the public, or divisions within the Democratic Party, or with the “culture of immediate gratification.”

What President Obama desperately needs is someone with standing in his life to intervene – to say to him that the fault, dear Barack, lies not with our stars but rather with yourself and with your policies.

I rather doubt this will happen; and even if it did, I rather doubt Obama would accept any part of the critique. He is a man, after all, who sees himself as a world historical figure, as America’s philosopher-king, as Socrates on the Potomac. It is not simply that he doesn’t seem able to see his own flaws and shortcomings; it is as if he could not even process the possibility that they exist.

This is not going to end well.

“I tell you, it’s very frustrating that it’s not breaking through, when you look at these things and their scale,” said a top Obama adviser, speaking on background to Politico. “Can you imagine if Bill Clinton had achieved even one of these? Part of it is because we are divided, even on the left. … And part of it is the culture of immediate gratification.”

Let’s see if we can follow the bouncing ball.

First, the White House blamed Obama’s predecessor and the Republicans for everything that is wrong with America, from unemployment to profligate spending to diaper rash. Last November, David Axelrod felt he had to remind people that the president is “not a magician. You don’t with a wave of a wand make everything different.” This past June, President Obama offered the American people this piercing insight: “Even though I’m president of the United States, my power is not limitless.” And now, we are told by top Obama aides that they are frustrated because Obama isn’t getting his proper due. The problem doesn’t have to do with their policies, you see; it has to do with “the culture of immediate gratification.”

How difficult it must be for a demigod to be walking among mere mortals. And how frustrating it must be for Barack the Great to have done so many things so well, for the country to be prospering so much under his stewardship — and yet he doesn’t seem to get any credit for it. The world can be such a thankless and ungrateful place.

The truth is that this is all getting rather pathetic. The Democratic Party is heading for a historical repudiation in November. The White House and the Democrats on Capitol Hill are turning on each other. Obama’s press spokesman, Robert Gibbs, admits that there is “no doubt” the Republicans could regain control of the House, while former Clinton adviser William Galston is predicting that the Democrats may well lose the Senate. “If you ask me where the silver lining is for President Obama, I have to say I cannot see one,” said Galston.

What we are seeing is a president and a White House of unusual — and very nearly otherworldly — hubris being beaten down by events. Reality is slowly crushing the Obama presidency. Its policies are failing, its popularity is sinking, its excuses aren’t working, and its incompetence is showing. Yet the administration appears incapable of admitting – even to itself, even in quiet moments – that it has made mistakes, that it may be wrong, that it may be on the wrong track.

All of this, in turn, is creating considerable cognitive dissonance among Obama, his advisers, and many of his supporters. They cannot deny they are in trouble; but they continue to deny they are responsible for causing any of it. So the fault lies with Bush, or the Republicans, or the ridiculously high expectations of the public, or divisions within the Democratic Party, or with the “culture of immediate gratification.”

What President Obama desperately needs is someone with standing in his life to intervene – to say to him that the fault, dear Barack, lies not with our stars but rather with yourself and with your policies.

I rather doubt this will happen; and even if it did, I rather doubt Obama would accept any part of the critique. He is a man, after all, who sees himself as a world historical figure, as America’s philosopher-king, as Socrates on the Potomac. It is not simply that he doesn’t seem able to see his own flaws and shortcomings; it is as if he could not even process the possibility that they exist.

This is not going to end well.

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McChrystal’s Future Looks Bleak

This statement has been issued by Sens. John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and Joe Lieberman:

“We have the highest respect for General McChrystal and honor his brave service and sacrifice to our nation.  General McChrystal’s comments, as reported in Rolling Stone, are inappropriate and inconsistent with the traditional relationship between Commander-in-Chief and the military.  The decision concerning General McChrystal’s future is a decision to be made by the President of the United States.”

If McCain, Graham, and Lieberman — three of the most stalwart pro-military voices in the Congress — aren’t willing to back General McChrystal, he is in deep trouble.

This statement has been issued by Sens. John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and Joe Lieberman:

“We have the highest respect for General McChrystal and honor his brave service and sacrifice to our nation.  General McChrystal’s comments, as reported in Rolling Stone, are inappropriate and inconsistent with the traditional relationship between Commander-in-Chief and the military.  The decision concerning General McChrystal’s future is a decision to be made by the President of the United States.”

If McCain, Graham, and Lieberman — three of the most stalwart pro-military voices in the Congress — aren’t willing to back General McChrystal, he is in deep trouble.

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Obama Grasps at Straws

Barack Obama is learning the hard way about the limits of the power of the presidency.

Obama told Louisiana residents, who are confronting the worst environmental disaster in history because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, that he couldn’t “suck it up with a straw.” “Even though I’m president of the United States, my power is not limitless,” Obama told residents from Grand Isle as they sat around a table together. “So I can’t dive down there and plug the hole. I can’t suck it up with a straw.”

When a major American city was 80 percent under water due to a breached levee caused by one of the worst hurricanes in our history, then-Senator Obama was silent about the limits on the power of the president. In fact, he excoriated his predecessor for his “unconscionable ineptitude” in the context of Katrina, despite the fact that George W. Bush had to deal with local and state leaders far more incompetent than the ones facing Obama. “We can talk about a trust that was broken, the promise that our government will be prepared, will protect us, and will respond in a catastrophe,” Obama said in 2008.

There was no mention of straws.

Obama’s comments to Louisiana residents come on top of what Obama told Politco’s Roger Simon in an interview. “The overwhelming majority of the American people” have reasonable expectations, Obama said. “What they hope and expect is for the president to do everything that’s within his power. They don’t expect us to be magicians.”

I think most American do have reasonable expectations of what a president can and cannot do. But if their expectations are reasonable, it is not because of anything Barack Obama has ever said before. In fact, you can review his speeches during the campaign, and you will find a lot about what a magical, transformational, hopeful, and historical moment his election would be. Even when offering a perfunctory acknowledgement of his own limitations, what Obama promised America was, even by campaign standards, extraordinary (see here and here.)

Yet almost 17 months into his presidency, the man who was going to remake this nation, who was going to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, who was going to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace, who was going to open doors of opportunities to our kids and replace cynicism with hope and stop the rise of the oceans and heal the planet — this man has come up short. None of this has come to pass. It turns out he cannot even, in his own words, “plug the damn hole.” He has not issued waivers that he should, nor has he provided Gulf Coast governors with the requests they need, nor coordinated the clean-up effort that the people of the Louisiana are begging for. He can do nothing, it seems, except blame others. The man whom, we were told, was the next Lincoln and FDR is coming to grips with his own impotence and ineptitude. From Iran to the Gulf of Mexico, from Middle East peace to job creation, from uniting our country to cleansing our politics, Barack Obama is being brought to his knees.

This doesn’t mean the Obama presidency is broken or beyond repair. And Obama’s admission of the limits to the power of the presidency is justified. The problem for the president is that his comments now were preceded by so much hubris. Obama and his aides set mythic expectations. Those expectations now lie in ruin. What we’re seeing was, therefore, inevitable and predictable. Barack Obama is reaping what he has sown. Let’s hope for the sake of the country that he learns from the punishing blows reality has dealt him.

Barack Obama is learning the hard way about the limits of the power of the presidency.

Obama told Louisiana residents, who are confronting the worst environmental disaster in history because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, that he couldn’t “suck it up with a straw.” “Even though I’m president of the United States, my power is not limitless,” Obama told residents from Grand Isle as they sat around a table together. “So I can’t dive down there and plug the hole. I can’t suck it up with a straw.”

When a major American city was 80 percent under water due to a breached levee caused by one of the worst hurricanes in our history, then-Senator Obama was silent about the limits on the power of the president. In fact, he excoriated his predecessor for his “unconscionable ineptitude” in the context of Katrina, despite the fact that George W. Bush had to deal with local and state leaders far more incompetent than the ones facing Obama. “We can talk about a trust that was broken, the promise that our government will be prepared, will protect us, and will respond in a catastrophe,” Obama said in 2008.

There was no mention of straws.

Obama’s comments to Louisiana residents come on top of what Obama told Politco’s Roger Simon in an interview. “The overwhelming majority of the American people” have reasonable expectations, Obama said. “What they hope and expect is for the president to do everything that’s within his power. They don’t expect us to be magicians.”

I think most American do have reasonable expectations of what a president can and cannot do. But if their expectations are reasonable, it is not because of anything Barack Obama has ever said before. In fact, you can review his speeches during the campaign, and you will find a lot about what a magical, transformational, hopeful, and historical moment his election would be. Even when offering a perfunctory acknowledgement of his own limitations, what Obama promised America was, even by campaign standards, extraordinary (see here and here.)

Yet almost 17 months into his presidency, the man who was going to remake this nation, who was going to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, who was going to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace, who was going to open doors of opportunities to our kids and replace cynicism with hope and stop the rise of the oceans and heal the planet — this man has come up short. None of this has come to pass. It turns out he cannot even, in his own words, “plug the damn hole.” He has not issued waivers that he should, nor has he provided Gulf Coast governors with the requests they need, nor coordinated the clean-up effort that the people of the Louisiana are begging for. He can do nothing, it seems, except blame others. The man whom, we were told, was the next Lincoln and FDR is coming to grips with his own impotence and ineptitude. From Iran to the Gulf of Mexico, from Middle East peace to job creation, from uniting our country to cleansing our politics, Barack Obama is being brought to his knees.

This doesn’t mean the Obama presidency is broken or beyond repair. And Obama’s admission of the limits to the power of the presidency is justified. The problem for the president is that his comments now were preceded by so much hubris. Obama and his aides set mythic expectations. Those expectations now lie in ruin. What we’re seeing was, therefore, inevitable and predictable. Barack Obama is reaping what he has sown. Let’s hope for the sake of the country that he learns from the punishing blows reality has dealt him.

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Obama’s Ideas

Dorothy Rabinowitz’s brilliant piece today in the Wall Street Journal makes the important point that the genuine innovation of Barack Obama’s presidency is that it has imported much of its sense of the United States and its role in the world straight from the precincts of the post-1960s academy:

The beliefs and attitudes that this president has internalized are to be found everywhere—in the salons of the left the world over—and, above all, in the academic establishment, stuffed with tenured radicals and their political progeny. The places where it is held as revealed truth that the United States is now, and has been throughout its history, the chief engine of injustice and oppression in the world. They are attitudes to be found everywhere, but never before in a president of the United States. Mr. Obama may not hold all, or the more extreme, of these views. But there can be no doubt by now of the influences that have shaped him.

Dorothy Rabinowitz’s brilliant piece today in the Wall Street Journal makes the important point that the genuine innovation of Barack Obama’s presidency is that it has imported much of its sense of the United States and its role in the world straight from the precincts of the post-1960s academy:

The beliefs and attitudes that this president has internalized are to be found everywhere—in the salons of the left the world over—and, above all, in the academic establishment, stuffed with tenured radicals and their political progeny. The places where it is held as revealed truth that the United States is now, and has been throughout its history, the chief engine of injustice and oppression in the world. They are attitudes to be found everywhere, but never before in a president of the United States. Mr. Obama may not hold all, or the more extreme, of these views. But there can be no doubt by now of the influences that have shaped him.

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Iran Threatens War in the Mediterranean

Yesterday, Ali Shirazi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps said its naval forces “are fully prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys to Gaza with all their powers and capabilities.” Never mind the cynical use of the words “freedom” and “peace” from a repressive regime that steals votes and cracks heads. Breaking a blockade by force is a declaration of war and could, in this case, easily and instantly spark a region-wide conflagration.

More likely than not, Iran is just posturing. Ever since Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in the 1979 revolution, the Iranian government has been waging a relentless campaign to win over Arab public opinion with apocalyptic anti-Zionism and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. And last week it was upstaged by Turkey and its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when howling denunciations of Israel almost everywhere in the world followed the now-infamous battle aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara vessel. Even the president of the United States says Israel’s blockade of Gaza is no longer sustainable, though at least he says it calmly. Not Iran, Syria, Hamas, or Hezbollah, but Turkey has been the toast of the Middle East’s radicals for a week now.

The Turks have been slowly turning away from their alliance with the West since 2003. Erdogan, more recently, has not only been reorienting his country toward the Sunni Muslim world of which it’s a part; he’s also adopting the causes of the Resistance Bloc, led by Iran’s Shia theocracy and the atheist non-Muslim Alawite clan, which rules Syria. He’s been trying for years now to join Tehran and Jerusalem in setting the regional agenda, and he finally and unambiguously succeeded last Monday.

Iran is supposed to lead the “resistance,” however, and I suspect its leaders are trying to seize the region’s attention again. They feel insecure behind all that bombast. As Persians and, especially, Shias, they’re looked upon with suspicion and loathing, despite their hardest of hard lines against Israel. The Turks aren’t Arabs either, and some resentment remains from the imperial Ottoman days; but they’re Sunnis, at least, like most in the Middle East.

So while Erdogan’s Turkey may look in some ways like a de facto Iranian ally from the American and Israeli perspectives, from the point of view of Tehran it’s a convenient, useful, triangulating competitor. Syria’s Bashar Assad is content to be Iran’s junior partner, but Istanbul was once the capital of a powerful Sunni empire that, not long ago, held sway over much of the Mediterranean. As a member of NATO (for now, anyway), it can’t be entirely trusted and won’t likely ever take orders from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Ali Khamenei.

Iran needs its mojo back — now — and huffing and puffing and bluffing about the blockade is one way to get it. Still, it would only surprise me a little if Tehran thinks it has a green light from most of the world to proceed. Israel is more isolated than it has been in decades, and this wouldn’t be the first time one of its enemies miscalculated and did something stupid. Now would be a good time for the Obama administration to say, firmly and in no uncertain terms, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Yesterday, Ali Shirazi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps said its naval forces “are fully prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys to Gaza with all their powers and capabilities.” Never mind the cynical use of the words “freedom” and “peace” from a repressive regime that steals votes and cracks heads. Breaking a blockade by force is a declaration of war and could, in this case, easily and instantly spark a region-wide conflagration.

More likely than not, Iran is just posturing. Ever since Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in the 1979 revolution, the Iranian government has been waging a relentless campaign to win over Arab public opinion with apocalyptic anti-Zionism and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. And last week it was upstaged by Turkey and its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when howling denunciations of Israel almost everywhere in the world followed the now-infamous battle aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara vessel. Even the president of the United States says Israel’s blockade of Gaza is no longer sustainable, though at least he says it calmly. Not Iran, Syria, Hamas, or Hezbollah, but Turkey has been the toast of the Middle East’s radicals for a week now.

The Turks have been slowly turning away from their alliance with the West since 2003. Erdogan, more recently, has not only been reorienting his country toward the Sunni Muslim world of which it’s a part; he’s also adopting the causes of the Resistance Bloc, led by Iran’s Shia theocracy and the atheist non-Muslim Alawite clan, which rules Syria. He’s been trying for years now to join Tehran and Jerusalem in setting the regional agenda, and he finally and unambiguously succeeded last Monday.

Iran is supposed to lead the “resistance,” however, and I suspect its leaders are trying to seize the region’s attention again. They feel insecure behind all that bombast. As Persians and, especially, Shias, they’re looked upon with suspicion and loathing, despite their hardest of hard lines against Israel. The Turks aren’t Arabs either, and some resentment remains from the imperial Ottoman days; but they’re Sunnis, at least, like most in the Middle East.

So while Erdogan’s Turkey may look in some ways like a de facto Iranian ally from the American and Israeli perspectives, from the point of view of Tehran it’s a convenient, useful, triangulating competitor. Syria’s Bashar Assad is content to be Iran’s junior partner, but Istanbul was once the capital of a powerful Sunni empire that, not long ago, held sway over much of the Mediterranean. As a member of NATO (for now, anyway), it can’t be entirely trusted and won’t likely ever take orders from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Ali Khamenei.

Iran needs its mojo back — now — and huffing and puffing and bluffing about the blockade is one way to get it. Still, it would only surprise me a little if Tehran thinks it has a green light from most of the world to proceed. Israel is more isolated than it has been in decades, and this wouldn’t be the first time one of its enemies miscalculated and did something stupid. Now would be a good time for the Obama administration to say, firmly and in no uncertain terms, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

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There He Goes Again

Jim Wallis, the liberal Christian social activist and one of Barack Obama’s spiritual advisers, wrote a piece that included this gem of a paragraph:

I am just going to say it. There is something wrong with a political movement like the Tea Party which is almost all white. Does that mean every member of the Tea Party is racist? Likely not. But is an undercurrent of white resentment part of the Tea Party ethos, and would there even be a Tea Party if the president of the United States weren’t the first black man to occupy that office? It’s time we had some honest answers to that question. And as far as I can tell, Libertarianism has never been much of a multi-cultural movement. Need I say that racism — overt, implied, or even subtle — is not a Christian virtue.

Whatever problems one might have with the Tea Party and libertarian movements — and I have expressed some concerns about them — the charge that what is fueling the Tea Party movement is the color of Obama’s skin rather than the content of his policies is preposterous and slanderous. If Barack Obama were white, the Tea Party movement would certainly exist. And if Barack Obama were a fiscal conservative, it would not.

So I am going to say it. There is something wrong with a self-proclaiming Christian, one who fancies himself as a “prophet,” a man interested in “dialogue,” and a voice for civility and reason in the public square, attempting to recklessly smear an entire political movement. Need I say that libel — overt, implied, or even subtle — is not a Christian virtue.

When it comes to those who hold views different from his own, Jim Wallis is a hater. And I hope that those on the left who express such deep concern about incivility in our public discourse might have a word or two admonishing Mr. Wallis.

Jim Wallis, the liberal Christian social activist and one of Barack Obama’s spiritual advisers, wrote a piece that included this gem of a paragraph:

I am just going to say it. There is something wrong with a political movement like the Tea Party which is almost all white. Does that mean every member of the Tea Party is racist? Likely not. But is an undercurrent of white resentment part of the Tea Party ethos, and would there even be a Tea Party if the president of the United States weren’t the first black man to occupy that office? It’s time we had some honest answers to that question. And as far as I can tell, Libertarianism has never been much of a multi-cultural movement. Need I say that racism — overt, implied, or even subtle — is not a Christian virtue.

Whatever problems one might have with the Tea Party and libertarian movements — and I have expressed some concerns about them — the charge that what is fueling the Tea Party movement is the color of Obama’s skin rather than the content of his policies is preposterous and slanderous. If Barack Obama were white, the Tea Party movement would certainly exist. And if Barack Obama were a fiscal conservative, it would not.

So I am going to say it. There is something wrong with a self-proclaiming Christian, one who fancies himself as a “prophet,” a man interested in “dialogue,” and a voice for civility and reason in the public square, attempting to recklessly smear an entire political movement. Need I say that libel — overt, implied, or even subtle — is not a Christian virtue.

When it comes to those who hold views different from his own, Jim Wallis is a hater. And I hope that those on the left who express such deep concern about incivility in our public discourse might have a word or two admonishing Mr. Wallis.

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Mia Farrow Speaks Up Again

Mia Farrow has been sounding the alarm about Sudan and risking the ire of her movie pals by calling out Obama for his abominable human rights record. She is at it again:

Last week U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that although he remains supportive of “international efforts” to bring Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to justice, the Obama administration is also pursuing “locally owned accountability and reconciliation mechanisms in light of the recommendations made by the African Union’s high-level panel on Darfur.” … Perversely, Mr. Gration has now thrown U.S. government support to a [African Union] tribunal that does not and probably will never exist. Even if it did, the “locally owned accountability” he refers to is not feasible under prevailing political conditions, as any Sudan-based court will be controlled by the perpetrators themselves.

This is a far cry from candidate Obama. And Farrow isn’t shy about reminding her readers that Obama has badly let down human rights activists — and more important, the suffering 3 million Sudanese:

When Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, hope abounded, even in Darfur’s bleak refugee camps. Darfuris believed this son of Africa could understand their suffering, end the violence that has taken so much from them, and bring Mr. Bashir to justice. The refugees hoped that “Yes we can” was meant for them too. They believed President Obama would bring peace and protection to Darfur and would settle for nothing less than true justice. … Such hopes did not last long.

Her advice is clear-headed and equally applicable to many rogue regimes that continue to brutalize their people: “lead a diplomatic offensive to convince the world to isolate [war criminal Omar] al-Bashir as a fugitive from justice.” (I’m not a fan of the International Criminal Court, in which she suggests trying him, but in this case, there may be no alternative.) But the Obama team is not in the isolating business. Rather, Obama engages thugs, sends envoys hither and yon to accomplish nothing, and leaves the oppressed to their own devices. Obama’s academic exercise in “smart diplomacy” has failed, and in Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Burma, Eygpt, China, and elsewhere, the despots cheer.

Mia Farrow has been sounding the alarm about Sudan and risking the ire of her movie pals by calling out Obama for his abominable human rights record. She is at it again:

Last week U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that although he remains supportive of “international efforts” to bring Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to justice, the Obama administration is also pursuing “locally owned accountability and reconciliation mechanisms in light of the recommendations made by the African Union’s high-level panel on Darfur.” … Perversely, Mr. Gration has now thrown U.S. government support to a [African Union] tribunal that does not and probably will never exist. Even if it did, the “locally owned accountability” he refers to is not feasible under prevailing political conditions, as any Sudan-based court will be controlled by the perpetrators themselves.

This is a far cry from candidate Obama. And Farrow isn’t shy about reminding her readers that Obama has badly let down human rights activists — and more important, the suffering 3 million Sudanese:

When Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, hope abounded, even in Darfur’s bleak refugee camps. Darfuris believed this son of Africa could understand their suffering, end the violence that has taken so much from them, and bring Mr. Bashir to justice. The refugees hoped that “Yes we can” was meant for them too. They believed President Obama would bring peace and protection to Darfur and would settle for nothing less than true justice. … Such hopes did not last long.

Her advice is clear-headed and equally applicable to many rogue regimes that continue to brutalize their people: “lead a diplomatic offensive to convince the world to isolate [war criminal Omar] al-Bashir as a fugitive from justice.” (I’m not a fan of the International Criminal Court, in which she suggests trying him, but in this case, there may be no alternative.) But the Obama team is not in the isolating business. Rather, Obama engages thugs, sends envoys hither and yon to accomplish nothing, and leaves the oppressed to their own devices. Obama’s academic exercise in “smart diplomacy” has failed, and in Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Burma, Eygpt, China, and elsewhere, the despots cheer.

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A Sermon on Morality

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

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

Dionne ends his column on Souder this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dionne ends his column on Souder this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Throwing Jerusalem’s Barkat Under the Bus

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is no extreme right-wing extremist. A generally non-ideological and secular Jew who served in the paratroopers, he was a successful high-tech venture capitalist before entering politics. Barkat’s career has, to date, been solely centered on the city of Jerusalem. He was elected mayor of the city only days after Barack Obama was elected president of the United States in November 2008. The important fact about Barkat’s win was that he beat an ultra-Orthodox candidate, a symbolic as well as a tangible victory for those who hope to keep Israel’s capital from becoming a Haredi shtetl.

In his years on the city council and now as mayor, Barkat’s focus has been on development and improved services but he also understands that the city’s future depends on it remaining united. If it is once again divided, as it was during Jordan’s illegal occupation of half of it from 1948 to 1967, the city will be an embattled and ghetto-ized backwater with no hope of attracting investment. Thus, he is adamantly opposed to those who want to make Arab neighborhoods into a capital of a putative Palestinian state, despite the fact that even the “moderate” Palestinian leadership won’t sign a deal that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. Dividing the city is, he says, like putting a “Trojan Horse” within Israel. He is also appalled, as are most Israelis, at the idea of treating the post-67 Jewish neighborhoods, where over 200,000 Jews live, as illegal settlements by an Obama administration that is demanding a building freeze in Jerusalem. He rightly sees Israeli acquiescence to this unreasonable demand as a blow to Israel’s sovereignty over its capital as well as a threat to the Jews of Jerusalem.

These are points that Barkat has been making to the press and the public during a visit this week to Washington. The reaction from the Obama administration has been chilly but perhaps not as chilly as that of the Israeli Embassy. The New York Times, which contrasted the chummy reception that Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak got here this week from the Obami with that given to Barkat, noted that a spokesman from the Israeli embassy was at pains to distance the embassy from Barkat.

“For us, it’s lousy timing,” said a spokesman for the embassy, Jonathan Peled. He tried to put things in perspective, comparing Mr. Barkat to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty of Washington. “He’s not going to be the one negotiating peace with the Palestinians, in the same way that Fenty is not going to be the one negotiating the Start agreement with Russia,” Mr. Peled said.”

It’s true that Barkat is not a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government — or even of one of the parties that forms his coalition — and is not bound to follow its lead nor empowered to represent it. But neither is he an insignificant or powerless functionary who deserves to be ignored or mocked. Moreover, his position opposing both Jerusalem’s partition and a Jewish building freeze (while Arab building continues at a higher rate and without protest from anyone) happens to be identical to that of Netanyahu.

It’s easy to understand the embassy’s desire to downplay any differences between Israel and the administration during such a tense time. Moreover, if Netanyahu has actually caved in to Obama and promised to put in place some sort of unannounced freeze in Jerusalem, he’s got to be unhappy about Barkat either opposing such a change or making it clear that development in the city will continue regardless of what Obama wants.

But people who, like Peled, are tasked with the difficult job of selling Israel’s position on its capital to both the administration and to the American public, should be wary of making it appear as though they are throwing Barkat under the proverbial bus. Disavowing a respected mayor who is also an articulate advocate for the same position as the Netanyahu government on Jerusalem may make it a little easier to deal with the White House this week but in the long run it can have a deleterious effect on Israel’s efforts to defend its capital in Washington and at home.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is no extreme right-wing extremist. A generally non-ideological and secular Jew who served in the paratroopers, he was a successful high-tech venture capitalist before entering politics. Barkat’s career has, to date, been solely centered on the city of Jerusalem. He was elected mayor of the city only days after Barack Obama was elected president of the United States in November 2008. The important fact about Barkat’s win was that he beat an ultra-Orthodox candidate, a symbolic as well as a tangible victory for those who hope to keep Israel’s capital from becoming a Haredi shtetl.

In his years on the city council and now as mayor, Barkat’s focus has been on development and improved services but he also understands that the city’s future depends on it remaining united. If it is once again divided, as it was during Jordan’s illegal occupation of half of it from 1948 to 1967, the city will be an embattled and ghetto-ized backwater with no hope of attracting investment. Thus, he is adamantly opposed to those who want to make Arab neighborhoods into a capital of a putative Palestinian state, despite the fact that even the “moderate” Palestinian leadership won’t sign a deal that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. Dividing the city is, he says, like putting a “Trojan Horse” within Israel. He is also appalled, as are most Israelis, at the idea of treating the post-67 Jewish neighborhoods, where over 200,000 Jews live, as illegal settlements by an Obama administration that is demanding a building freeze in Jerusalem. He rightly sees Israeli acquiescence to this unreasonable demand as a blow to Israel’s sovereignty over its capital as well as a threat to the Jews of Jerusalem.

These are points that Barkat has been making to the press and the public during a visit this week to Washington. The reaction from the Obama administration has been chilly but perhaps not as chilly as that of the Israeli Embassy. The New York Times, which contrasted the chummy reception that Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak got here this week from the Obami with that given to Barkat, noted that a spokesman from the Israeli embassy was at pains to distance the embassy from Barkat.

“For us, it’s lousy timing,” said a spokesman for the embassy, Jonathan Peled. He tried to put things in perspective, comparing Mr. Barkat to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty of Washington. “He’s not going to be the one negotiating peace with the Palestinians, in the same way that Fenty is not going to be the one negotiating the Start agreement with Russia,” Mr. Peled said.”

It’s true that Barkat is not a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government — or even of one of the parties that forms his coalition — and is not bound to follow its lead nor empowered to represent it. But neither is he an insignificant or powerless functionary who deserves to be ignored or mocked. Moreover, his position opposing both Jerusalem’s partition and a Jewish building freeze (while Arab building continues at a higher rate and without protest from anyone) happens to be identical to that of Netanyahu.

It’s easy to understand the embassy’s desire to downplay any differences between Israel and the administration during such a tense time. Moreover, if Netanyahu has actually caved in to Obama and promised to put in place some sort of unannounced freeze in Jerusalem, he’s got to be unhappy about Barkat either opposing such a change or making it clear that development in the city will continue regardless of what Obama wants.

But people who, like Peled, are tasked with the difficult job of selling Israel’s position on its capital to both the administration and to the American public, should be wary of making it appear as though they are throwing Barkat under the proverbial bus. Disavowing a respected mayor who is also an articulate advocate for the same position as the Netanyahu government on Jerusalem may make it a little easier to deal with the White House this week but in the long run it can have a deleterious effect on Israel’s efforts to defend its capital in Washington and at home.

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Strange Herring

I know that Iran is close to getting a bomb, and the national debt now exceeds the number of calories in a KFC Double Down, and earthquakes are killing thousands of people worldwide, but this is serious.

Speaking of earthquakes, according to one expert, naughtiness causes them. Whether he’s an expert on naughtiness or seismic activity is unclear.

Blago wants the court to subpoena the president of the United States as a witness in his corruption trial. Just picture that scene… There are also all kinds of alleged allegations allegedly alleged against the alleged pres — the president.

If you’re looking to raise the I.Q. of your kiddies, Mensa’s here to help. Years ago I devised one of my own brainiac games. It was called Cromwell and was like chess, only the king, the queen, and the bishops were all dead. Two new pieces were added: this guy Phil and his young son Leonard, who played the lute. Tournaments could last years, as no one was sure of the object, given that pieces could not only move in any direction for any number of spaces but also across boards, even games, so that a knight could wind up owning Park Place. Needless to say, it failed to catch on, but it did catch fire, which landed me in court more than once. Then I turned 12.

Who needs nukes when you can have one of these thingees: “the Prompt Global Strike warhead would be mounted on a long-range missile to start its journey toward a target. It would travel through the atmosphere at several times the speed of sound, generating so much heat that it would have to be shielded with special materials to avoid melting.” Wow. That’s almost as fast as it took Benjamin Netanyahu to say feh to Obama’s mini-nukes summit…

Those animation farceurs Trey Parker and Matt Stone have had their lives threatened by an Islamic website, which is “annoyed” that Mohammad was depicted — in a bear costume. Never mind that Siddhartha Gautama has been shown snorting lines of coke, or that Jesus, whom Christians believe to be a divine person and not merely a prophet or a supremely enlightened avatar, is regularly reduced to, well, a cartoon. Given what was done to Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, the threat is no joke.

But wait: turns out Comedy Central censored the episode and saved their lives! — if not their artistic integrity. (All right, all right, but these things are relative, you know…)

Chachi has a Twitter account. And he definitely does not love Joanie, if Joanie is another one of those bleeding-heart commie Hollywood liberals. (So he just never wants to work again, is that it?)

This has been a long time in coming, ladies and gentlemen, and now finally, finally, we can rest easy.

A software engineer and a next-generation iPhone walk into a bar

Mum and daughter are banned from Euro Disney because they were dressed as princesses. Man, the French take their revolution seriously…

New $100 bills will have hidden images running vertically. Will depict dogs playing poker, sad clowns, and Elvis on velvet.

Those hysterical Hitler-parody rants on YouTube? History.

A drunken sailor takes offense. (H/T Midwest Conservative Journal)

I want one of these, but only if it comes with Surround Sound.

One of the guys who voice the Geico ads has been fired for bad-mouthing Tea Partiers. Forget car insurance, thank goodness for unemployment insurance.

When will the hate finally stop?

Finally, for those who hate the Yankees, witness their first triple play in 350 years. Yes, not since Ezekiel Fear-the-Lord threw to Samuel Temperance Search-the-Scriptures, who tossed it to Elijah Miserable Reprobate has New York seen such a thing…

I know that Iran is close to getting a bomb, and the national debt now exceeds the number of calories in a KFC Double Down, and earthquakes are killing thousands of people worldwide, but this is serious.

Speaking of earthquakes, according to one expert, naughtiness causes them. Whether he’s an expert on naughtiness or seismic activity is unclear.

Blago wants the court to subpoena the president of the United States as a witness in his corruption trial. Just picture that scene… There are also all kinds of alleged allegations allegedly alleged against the alleged pres — the president.

If you’re looking to raise the I.Q. of your kiddies, Mensa’s here to help. Years ago I devised one of my own brainiac games. It was called Cromwell and was like chess, only the king, the queen, and the bishops were all dead. Two new pieces were added: this guy Phil and his young son Leonard, who played the lute. Tournaments could last years, as no one was sure of the object, given that pieces could not only move in any direction for any number of spaces but also across boards, even games, so that a knight could wind up owning Park Place. Needless to say, it failed to catch on, but it did catch fire, which landed me in court more than once. Then I turned 12.

Who needs nukes when you can have one of these thingees: “the Prompt Global Strike warhead would be mounted on a long-range missile to start its journey toward a target. It would travel through the atmosphere at several times the speed of sound, generating so much heat that it would have to be shielded with special materials to avoid melting.” Wow. That’s almost as fast as it took Benjamin Netanyahu to say feh to Obama’s mini-nukes summit…

Those animation farceurs Trey Parker and Matt Stone have had their lives threatened by an Islamic website, which is “annoyed” that Mohammad was depicted — in a bear costume. Never mind that Siddhartha Gautama has been shown snorting lines of coke, or that Jesus, whom Christians believe to be a divine person and not merely a prophet or a supremely enlightened avatar, is regularly reduced to, well, a cartoon. Given what was done to Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, the threat is no joke.

But wait: turns out Comedy Central censored the episode and saved their lives! — if not their artistic integrity. (All right, all right, but these things are relative, you know…)

Chachi has a Twitter account. And he definitely does not love Joanie, if Joanie is another one of those bleeding-heart commie Hollywood liberals. (So he just never wants to work again, is that it?)

This has been a long time in coming, ladies and gentlemen, and now finally, finally, we can rest easy.

A software engineer and a next-generation iPhone walk into a bar

Mum and daughter are banned from Euro Disney because they were dressed as princesses. Man, the French take their revolution seriously…

New $100 bills will have hidden images running vertically. Will depict dogs playing poker, sad clowns, and Elvis on velvet.

Those hysterical Hitler-parody rants on YouTube? History.

A drunken sailor takes offense. (H/T Midwest Conservative Journal)

I want one of these, but only if it comes with Surround Sound.

One of the guys who voice the Geico ads has been fired for bad-mouthing Tea Partiers. Forget car insurance, thank goodness for unemployment insurance.

When will the hate finally stop?

Finally, for those who hate the Yankees, witness their first triple play in 350 years. Yes, not since Ezekiel Fear-the-Lord threw to Samuel Temperance Search-the-Scriptures, who tossed it to Elijah Miserable Reprobate has New York seen such a thing…

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