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Twice yearly we come to you for support for COMMENTARY’s signature purposes—promoting the truth about Western greatness and American goodness, bearing witness to the evil of anti-Semitism, and speaking out for the national aspirations of the Jewish people. Today, we are needed more than ever, with ISIS on the march in Iraq and Iran on the verge of an Obama-guaranteed right to nuclearize, with the anti-Israel movement on campuses tipping directly into pure Jew-hatred, and American liberals tipping into old-fashioned anti-Americanism yet again. We rely not only on subscribers but on the generosity of our visionary donors to get the word out. That is why I am asking for your help. You can make your tax-deductible donation by clicking here.

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How to Defend Israel? Talk About Rights. Not Just Security

Israel diplomats were reportedly shocked this week when their country’s new deputy foreign minister asked them to speak up about Israel’s rights in the conflict with the Palestinians rather than just its security needs. As the Times of Israel reports, Tzipi Hotovely raised more than a few eyebrows when she told a gathering of the country’s diplomatic personnel that it was a mistake to downplay the country’s own territorial claims when seeking to counter complaints about Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The very idea of quoting the Torah when speaking of ties to the biblical heartland of the Jewish homeland seemed to strike them and left-wing commentators who howled about it later as absurd. Indeed, as the left-wing Haaretz put it, the world may find the minister “hard to swallow.” But while the Likud Knesset member is swimming against the tide of international opinion as well as the culture of the ministry she’s running, she is right. Though many in an international community increasingly influenced by anti-Semitism and misinformation about Israel will never accept such arguments, as the Palestinians have demonstrated over the last generation, talk of rights always trumps security.

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Israel diplomats were reportedly shocked this week when their country’s new deputy foreign minister asked them to speak up about Israel’s rights in the conflict with the Palestinians rather than just its security needs. As the Times of Israel reports, Tzipi Hotovely raised more than a few eyebrows when she told a gathering of the country’s diplomatic personnel that it was a mistake to downplay the country’s own territorial claims when seeking to counter complaints about Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The very idea of quoting the Torah when speaking of ties to the biblical heartland of the Jewish homeland seemed to strike them and left-wing commentators who howled about it later as absurd. Indeed, as the left-wing Haaretz put it, the world may find the minister “hard to swallow.” But while the Likud Knesset member is swimming against the tide of international opinion as well as the culture of the ministry she’s running, she is right. Though many in an international community increasingly influenced by anti-Semitism and misinformation about Israel will never accept such arguments, as the Palestinians have demonstrated over the last generation, talk of rights always trumps security.

Hotovely, whose importance will be heightened by current the lack of a foreign minister (Prime Minister Netanyahu is reserving the post for himself while hoping to give it opposition leader Isaac Herzog should he join the government), is being dismissed as a right-wing extremists for even mentioning Jewish rights, but her critics would do well to heed her advice.

For the last 20 years, Israel’s diplomatic posture about the territories has concentrated on its willingness to make peace. Israel has repeatedly demonstrated its desire to negotiate with the Palestinians and give them a state if they are willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state next to them. But the Palestinians have repeatedly refused to do that. But they are not generally held accountable for this unreasonable stand because their position is basically that negotiations are unnecessary because Israel has not right to be in any of the lands that it took in the 1967 Six Day War. If the West Bank and Jerusalem are, as the Palestinians claim, stolen property, then they have a point.

But these lands are disputed territory to which both sides can make a legitimate claim. As I wrote in 2012, a report on the legality of Israel’s presence in the territories makes a definitive case that Jews have every right to be there. Asserting that right does not preclude surrendering some or even all of this land in exchange for genuine peace. But as long as the world accepts the fallacious notion that Israel is only there because of fears for its security, few will back it and that assumption undermines Israel’s negotiating position even as it seeks compromise rather than surrender.

Such a stand discomfits most Israeli foreign ministry employees and always has. Standing up for Jewish rights would make them even more unpopular in many of the countries where they serve than they already are. But they should be willing to brave the brickbats that will be thrown at them.

Israel’s case for its presence in the West Bank is based on historical, legal and spiritual factors that cannot be negated by revisionist Arab history of the region or the hate that the Jewish state inspires in its foes. It’s time for all of its representatives to stop trying to avoid the core issues of the conflict and to realize that no one will back Israel because its scientists are brilliant, its high-tech industry is innovative or its beaches are beautiful. The only answer to the apartheid state lies is a counter-argument that is rooted in the same sense of justice that motivates those who sympathize with the Palestinians. Saying Jews have a right to be in the West Bank doesn’t preclude a two-state solution. Not saying so ensures that the world will never seek to force the Palestinians to compromise and make peace.

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While Hillary Slept

Only the most conspiratorial among us suspected that the State Department’s decision to release a tranche of Hillary Clinton’s private emails on the Friday before a long holiday weekend just might be an effort to bury the revelations. Well, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

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Only the most conspiratorial among us suspected that the State Department’s decision to release a tranche of Hillary Clinton’s private emails on the Friday before a long holiday weekend just might be an effort to bury the revelations. Well, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

The journalists who combed through the emails learned, among other things, that State officials spent quite a bit of their time investigating leads sent to Clinton via her longtime associate Sidney Blumenthal. Though Barack Obama’s White House blocked Clinton’s request to add Blumenthal to her staff at State as a speechwriter, it seems that the Clinton confidant served as a key outside advisor to the former secretary of state.

But some of the most compelling details in those emails regarding Clinton’s conduct were in regards to the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi. The emails reveal that the White House regarded Clinton as the “public face of the U.S. effort in Libya” in 2012. “She was instrumental in security the authorization, building the coalition, and tightening the noose around Qadhafi and his regime.” The White House noted that Clinton had been a “critical voice on Libya,” working closely with the president, NATO, and a number of contact groups both during the coalition intervention and in its aftermath. And when officials received a presidential briefing three days after the September 11, 2012 attack that took the life of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, Hillary Clinton was asleep.

“I just woke up,” Clinton wrote in an email sent at 10:43 a.m. ET on the morning of Saturday September 15, 2012. Surely, those Republicans tasked with crafting political advertisements in 2016 will not fail to contrast this revelation with Clinton’s famous 2008 spot in which she suggested that she would be a better candidate to take the crisis call that comes in at 3 a.m. When the crisis arrived, Hillary was literally napping.

When Clinton’s first private email account was exposed earlier this year, she belatedly took to a podium at the United Nations to control the spiraling damage that the scandalous revelation was doing to her political prospects. Clinton was asked if she was ever “specifically briefed on the security implications” of using a private email to conduct State affairs. To this inquiry, Clinton launched into a response that centered on the fact that she had never sent classified information over the one “homebrew” server of which the public was aware.

“I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email,” Clinton insisted. “There is no classified material. So I’m certainly well-aware of the classification requirements and did not send classified material.”  Once again, America, whether Clinton engaged in any impropriety depends on what the definition of “is” is.

No one asked Clinton about classified information, per se. And it was revealed this week that Clinton had, in fact, received sensitive/unclassified materials via her email account. One of the emails released by the State Department on Friday indicated that the former secretary of state had receive electronic correspondences that included a classified document, but that document was only officially awarded classified status on the same day those emails were released – more than 32 months after the Benghazi attack. Curious.

As The Washington Free Beacon’s Lachlan Markay observed, Clinton wrote in her 2014 autobiography Hard Choices that her first thoughts after she learned of the attack were with the late U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. In an interview with Wall Street Journal reporter Monica Langley, an exchange apparently so fawning that Clinton’s aides exchanged a series of emails mocking the reporter’s obsequiousness and repeated invasions of Clinton’s personal space, the secretary made it clear how hard she had taken his loss.

“I sent Chris Stevens to Benghazi at the height of the Libyan conflict [during the Arab Spring],” Clinton told Langley. “He was eager to go and was very effective. I recommended him as ambassador.” Except that Clinton was apparently not even fully aware of Stevens’ name. In an email sent to her confidants at state on the evening of the attack, Clinton referred to him as Chris Smith, noted that she had received informal confirmation of his death, and asked when that news should be disclosed.

Finally, Clinton seemed to be acutely aware of the political damage that might have been done by the administration’s ill-considered efforts to blame the attacks on a spontaneous demonstration related to a YouTube video. In a September 30 email to her aides at State, Clinton asked if she had ever described the conditions prior to the assault on the Benghazi outpost as a “spontaneous” demonstration. Her aides relieved her of any stress when they noted that she had been appropriately cautious with her words.

Indeed, even Reuters noted that the frequency with which Clinton and her cadre of aides prioritized protecting Clinton’s image in the wake of the deadly attack was conspicuous.

“The emails from Clinton’s personal email account made public by the State Department do not appear to contain any revelations that could badly damage her bid for the presidency in 2016 or provide fodder for Republicans who accuse her of being negligent before the Benghazi attacks,” the Reuters dispatch read. “But they offer a glimpse into how Clinton’s team was concerned about her image immediately afterward.”

There is nothing like a little beauty rest to help image maintenance. These emails are only a fraction of those released to the State Department for review, and those are just the emails that Clinton’s team did not summarily delete. Surely, these are not the only embarrassing revelations about Clinton’s behavior at State that will be disclosed in coming days.

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Anyone looking for a definitive exposition of a significant historical moment—whether UC Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement, say, or the battles over “general education” at Harvard—has at his fingertips an inestimable gift: COMMENTARY’s archives, which contain countless gems of reporting and analysis. Today’s generation of COMMENTARY writers is building an equally invaluable store of knowledge for future researchers and scholars. Please click below to donate.

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Obama on Israel: A Judgmental Friend and Its Open Enemies

President Obama’s sales pitch for his still unfinished nuclear deal with Iran went to the next level today as he spoke at a Washington, D.C. synagogue to commemorate Jewish Heritage Month. As he always does when speaking before friendly liberal Jewish audiences, the president knows just what buttons to push to win the hearts of his listeners. Flattery about the place of Jews in American history? Check. Appeals to common liberal values and Jewish participation in the civil rights movement? Of course. Support for Israel? I’ve got your back. Opposition to an Iranian nuclear bomb? I’ll never let it happen. Outrage about anti-Semitism? You got it. The result is always the same. Liberal Jews reconfirm their love affair with the president and file away any doubts they have about his predilection for picking fights with the Jewish state and for his pursuit of détente with one of the most anti-Semitic governments in the world. But Barack Obama’s troubling ideas about friendship with Israel should give even his most ardent Jewish fans pause. The problem with Obama is not that he’s an avowed enemy of Israel but that he’s the sort of judgmental friend whose positions are often indistinguishable from those of its foes.

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President Obama’s sales pitch for his still unfinished nuclear deal with Iran went to the next level today as he spoke at a Washington, D.C. synagogue to commemorate Jewish Heritage Month. As he always does when speaking before friendly liberal Jewish audiences, the president knows just what buttons to push to win the hearts of his listeners. Flattery about the place of Jews in American history? Check. Appeals to common liberal values and Jewish participation in the civil rights movement? Of course. Support for Israel? I’ve got your back. Opposition to an Iranian nuclear bomb? I’ll never let it happen. Outrage about anti-Semitism? You got it. The result is always the same. Liberal Jews reconfirm their love affair with the president and file away any doubts they have about his predilection for picking fights with the Jewish state and for his pursuit of détente with one of the most anti-Semitic governments in the world. But Barack Obama’s troubling ideas about friendship with Israel should give even his most ardent Jewish fans pause. The problem with Obama is not that he’s an avowed enemy of Israel but that he’s the sort of judgmental friend whose positions are often indistinguishable from those of its foes.

Obama’s purpose was twofold.

One is to rally liberal Jews behind the Iran nuclear deal despite its many shortcomings. The president doesn’t need to win the votes of the majority of the House or the Senate, just one third plus one, the amount to sustain a veto of what might be a strong “no” vote in both bodies. Getting 34 members of the Senate to back a terrible deal whose final form may wind up even weaker than we thought it would be won’t be easy. But so long as a critical mass of liberal Jews are willing to stick with him, it will be easier.

The other is to soften up domestic opposition to a policy shift on Israel in which the president will effectively abandon Israel at the United Nations. Obama’s antipathy for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has only increased in the last few months. Netanyahu’s campaign against the Iran deal and his re-election that led to the creation on an even more right-wing government has deepened the president’s resolve to increase pressure on the Jewish state to make concessions to the Palestinians. That leaves open the possibility that the administration will stop vetoing Palestinian efforts to gain recognition for their independence at the UN without first having to make peace with Israel.

But the president’s message to the Jews today was that they shouldn’t regard any of this as a sign of his lack of regard for them or Israel.

The argument for accepting this point of view was rehearsed often enough during the 2012 presidential election. We were told then, as we were today, that Obama likes Israel and won’t let anything bad happen to it. But what was different about today’s speech is that the Iran deal and the open scorn that administration officials have directed at Israel in the last year (chickensh*t) while wrongly blaming Netanyahu for the latest collapse of the peace process gives the lie to many of his re-election promises. Nor is it easy to sell a liberal Jewry that was promised in 2012 that Obama would insist that any Iran deal made them give up their nuclear program on the idea that an agreement that treats allows them to keep that program is kosher.

So to justify this open hostility and policies that seem clearly aimed at downgrading the alliance as he embraces Iran, the president was forced to explain his ideas about the nature of friendship with Israel. Obama sees himself as a critical friend who prefers the Israel of the early years of the country when it was widely lauded as an example of how ideas of social justice could blend with nationalism to the complex reality of the current day:

I came to know Israel as a young man through these incredible images of kibbutzim, and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir, and Israel overcoming incredible odds in the ’67 war.  The notion of pioneers who set out not only to safeguard a nation, but to remake the world.  Not only to make the desert bloom, but to allow their values to flourish; to ensure that the best of Judaism would thrive.  And those values in many ways came to be my own values.  They believed the story of their people gave them a unique perspective among the nations of the world, a unique moral authority and responsibility that comes from having once been a stranger yourself.

That is the sort of sentiment that many liberal Jews would echo. They liked the Israel that was run by the Labor Party of previous generations because it didn’t seem too right-wing or religious and acted as if peace were always just around the corner. A lot of Israelis may share that idea but the problem here is that the real life Israel of 2015 is different. More to the point, Israel changed for a reason. If support there for the peace process collapsed, it was because the Palestinians never accepted Israel’s peace offers and responded instead with terrorism.

Obama’s says he is as judgmental of Israel as he is of the United States, and perhaps that is true. But that judgmental attitude is rooted in the notion that he knows better than both Israel’s government and its people what is good for its security or its survival. And he thinks it’s good for the relationship for these differences to be fully aired.

But if there is anything we have learned in the last six-plus years, it is that the daylight between Washington and Jerusalem that Obama came into office seeking has not advanced the cause of peace one bit. To the contrary, his open arguments with Israel’s government have only made it even less likely that the Palestinians will ever accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. That has enhanced the chances of violence and conflict in a region where Islamist terror has grown on Obama’s watch. His embrace of an entente with an Iran is just as dangerous.

The point here is not just that his Iran deal is a sham or that his refusal to hold the Palestinians accountable for their refusal to make peace is wrongheaded. It is that Obama’s conception of the relationship with Israel is such that he thinks it empowers him to pressure it to adopt policies that are clearly detrimental to its security despite all the lip service for that concept. He not only thinks Netanyahu is wrong, he thinks his delusional nostalgia for the Israel of the past gives him the right to be a scourge to the Israel of the present; even if that means cutting off arms supplies during war (as he did last summer during the conflict with Hamas), isolating it at the UN or allowing Iran to become, at the very least, a threshold nuclear power.

That’s the sort of friendship that is insufferable to a country that is still beset by enemies that are fueled by the rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world that Obama acknowledged. But in its willingness to excuse or reward the behavior of Israel’s open foes, it downgrades the alliance to a conditional relationship rather than a genuine alliance.

Like any democracy, Israel isn’t perfect, but its government and people need no lessons from Barack Obama about values or which policies best serve its long-term interests. Israel doesn’t need to be saved from itself, and anyone who thinks it should be has no respect for the Israeli people. American Jews who warmly applauded Obama’s speech need to understand that friendship on those terms is not only not much of a friendship but also, if he follows through on his threats, tiptoes perilously toward open hostility.

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Rand’s Sad Tale of Two Filibusters

It’s hard to recapture the magic the second time around. As Senator Rand Paul is realizing this week, that’s cliché applies as much to politics as it does for romance. As James Kirchick explains in a major piece for the magazine called “The Dangerous Unseriousness of Rand Paul,” a 2013 filibuster about drone policy transformed the Kentucky libertarian from cranky extremist Ron Paul’s son to a serious contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. But with his candidacy failing to get much of a boost from his formal announcement and finding himself stuck in the middle of the pack in the large GOP field, Paul tried the filibuster trick again. It was, just like the first one, an impressive performance. But it’s unlikely to have the same effect. In 2013, even Republicans like Marco Rubio who basically disagreed with him on the policy question felt compelled to offer him some support. This time his biggest cheerleader was the editorial page of the New York Times. That not only demonstrated Paul’s basic affinity with the left on foreign policy but also showed that his moment had passed. Where his first filibuster showed he had transcended his father’s base, this one illustrated the fact that he has been forced to fall back on it in order to revive his flagging candidacy.

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It’s hard to recapture the magic the second time around. As Senator Rand Paul is realizing this week, that’s cliché applies as much to politics as it does for romance. As James Kirchick explains in a major piece for the magazine called “The Dangerous Unseriousness of Rand Paul,” a 2013 filibuster about drone policy transformed the Kentucky libertarian from cranky extremist Ron Paul’s son to a serious contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. But with his candidacy failing to get much of a boost from his formal announcement and finding himself stuck in the middle of the pack in the large GOP field, Paul tried the filibuster trick again. It was, just like the first one, an impressive performance. But it’s unlikely to have the same effect. In 2013, even Republicans like Marco Rubio who basically disagreed with him on the policy question felt compelled to offer him some support. This time his biggest cheerleader was the editorial page of the New York Times. That not only demonstrated Paul’s basic affinity with the left on foreign policy but also showed that his moment had passed. Where his first filibuster showed he had transcended his father’s base, this one illustrated the fact that he has been forced to fall back on it in order to revive his flagging candidacy.

Let’s give due credit to Paul for a bravura performance on the floor of the Senate as he sought to rally opposition to renewal of the Patriot Act. Just as he was in his first filibuster, he was articulate, passionate and principled. So why can’t it rally conservatives to his side the same way they did before?

The first and most obvious reason is that this is a different moment in time. In 2013, even many on the right though President Obama was right when he spoke of al-Qaeda and Islamist terror as having been licked. Today, Americans know that not only are the Islamists as dangerous as ever, but ISIS now controls much of Iraq and Syria and is expanding elsewhere. The idea that the terror threat is overstated or doesn’t require the country to empower its security apparatus some leeway for spying doesn’t have the same appeal today as it did two years ago.

It is true that many on the right are cynical about government, and it’s hard to disagree with Paul when he says that if you give it power, abuse is sure to follow. That’s an argument that is easy to make with a president who is prepared to act outside the law on so many issues as Barack Obama has done. But if you’re seeking the nomination of a party whose core foreign policy beliefs are rooted in intense Ronald Reagan-style patriotism and belief in a strong defense, ranting against the National Security Agency isn’t necessarily the formula for success. That is especially true at a time when the terrorists they are tasked with fighting are burning and beheading people and taking over countries.

This is not just because his attacks on the NSA and the Patriot Act are wrongheaded. The NSA has not acted improperly nor is the Act unconstitutional. But it goes deeper than that.

Rand’s problem is that the libertarian surge of 2013 has ebbed. That’s not because conservatives no longer care about personal liberty or think the government can always be trusted. But it hasn’t been lost on most Republicans that his stands on foreign policy are much closer to those of Bernie Sanders and the left wing of the Democratic Party than they are to those of the rest of his party. Like the left, his basic instincts are to suspect American power rather than to think of it as a force for good. Like the left, he believes the U.S. should shy away from confronting forces of evil rather than standing up to them.

Yet the most discouraging thing about the filibuster for Paul’s supporters is that it showed that he has failed to meet the basic assumption that most of us had about him two years ago. Back then, even those of us who were critical about him assumed that he was about to break through to mainstream support and expand beyond the libertarian base he inherited from his father. But as the polls show, it hasn’t happened. Indeed, given the stiff competition for Tea Party and even libertarian-oriented voters, he can’t even count on doing as well as Ron Paul did in 2012. Just as ominous for his chances is the fact that many of those Paulbots are unhappy with Rand’s attempt to shift to the center away from hardcore libertarian positions on foreign policy issues as he maneuvered for the presidential race. The filibuster was an attempt to rally that base.

That may well work, and if it does it might give him a fighting chance in a crowded field where none of the contenders can claim to have more than a fraction of the GOP electorate. But even if it does, it still leaves him far short of the support he needs to ultimately win the nomination. Rather than recapturing the magic, the filibuster confirmed it is gone. If he were really on track to be a potential nominee he would have transcended stunts like filibusters. All it proved was that Paul is still only a factional leader rather than someone with the potential to unite his party, let alone lead it to victory against the Democrats.

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The Press Leaps to Protect Obama, Hillary From Abusive Anonymous Twitter Users

A strikingly candid New York Times dispatch published on Friday has apparently spooked Hillary Clinton’s cadre of supine acolytes. The arch-conservatives at the Times noted accurately that Clinton only reluctantly broke her 28-day streak of ignoring inquiries from the press after Fox News Channel White House correspondent Ed Henry aggressively prodded her. The Times dispatch from journalist Jason Horowitz observed truthfully that the media has only barely been able to conceal their “annoyance” with the former first lady’s stonewalling.

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A strikingly candid New York Times dispatch published on Friday has apparently spooked Hillary Clinton’s cadre of supine acolytes. The arch-conservatives at the Times noted accurately that Clinton only reluctantly broke her 28-day streak of ignoring inquiries from the press after Fox News Channel White House correspondent Ed Henry aggressively prodded her. The Times dispatch from journalist Jason Horowitz observed truthfully that the media has only barely been able to conceal their “annoyance” with the former first lady’s stonewalling.

“In Iowa, Queen Hillary and the Everyday Americans of the Round Table distribute alms to the clamoring press,” Horowitz later tweeted. This editorializing inspired a backlash from the coterie of palace guards at Media Matters for America, but it was also perfectly justified. If you haven’t had the opportunity to review Clinton’s response to Henry’s question, and I highly recommend you do, her unconcealed disdain for the Fox reporter’s impertinence is best described as similar to that of a sovereign.

“Maybe when I finish talking to the people here,” Clinton said response to Henry’s query. Adopting a wry smile while surrounded by a group of Iowans handpicked by her campaign to represent a random sample, the likely Democratic presidential nominee added, “How’s that?”

“You’ll come over?” Henry probed.

“I might,” Clinton replied, chin pointed toward the heavens. “I have to ponder it, but I will put it on my list for due consideration.”

All that was missing was a reference to herself in the first person plural.

Clinton earned and received some due mockery for this display of airs both within and outside the journalistic establishment. But that is itself a problem for some in the world of political reporting. Some in the media have begun to concern themselves with the problematic nature of those insolent Americans who have the temerity to mock and even insult both the president and his heir apparent.

It seems that both the Times and Politico discovered this week the existence of the microblogging site Twitter, and the fact that anonymous users on that site can be, gasp, mean to public figures in positions of authority.

This week, Politico published a bizarre dispatch focused entirely on the “trolls,” or social media users who behave in an intentionally provocative fashion, that hound Clinton’s online presence.

“Some call her names like ‘witch,’ ‘dictator,’ ‘monster,’ and even ‘Hitlary,’” the report read, “all reminders of how polarizing Clinton can be — a feminist hero and glass-ceiling cracker to supporters; an untrustworthy, pandering operative to the haters.”

Politico noted that Clinton’s Twitter presence is followed by more people than the entire Republican 2016 field combined, “But that formidable footprint comes with a price.”

[S]he also trumps her opponents in terms of her legions of trolls, who sometimes overwhelm the conversations she generates, picking at the scabs and scars Clinton has accumulated over nearly four decades in public life.

When Clinton recently tweeted “Healthy women ? healthy communities. Sign up if you agree with Hillary,” one quick response to that relatively anodyne message was, “On average how much does Bill spend on hookers each week?”

Indeed, even Clinton’s “physical appearance is not considered out of bounds” for those anonymous cads who dare speak above their station. Apparently, one unnamed micro-blogger who saw the former secretary of state walking down a street near her Brooklyn headquarters as “a human pear.” How vulgar.

The Times, too, lashed out on Friday at the uncivilized elements on social media who hurl slurs at their betters. In a 1,113-word dispatch, the Times noted that Twitter is full of coarse barbarians who have a penchant for slinging repulsively racist insults at the president.

This week, President Barack Obama revealed that he would use Twitter when he leaves office and unveiled the account handle from which he will send out 140 character messages. This revelation yielded a slew of racially insensitive comments that would surely sap anyone’s faith in their fellow man.

“The posts reflected the racial hostility toward the nation’s first black president that has long been expressed in stark terms on the Internet, where conspiracy theories thrive and prejudices find ready outlets,” the Times reported. “But the racist Twitter posts are different because now that Mr. Obama has his own account, the slurs are addressed directly to him, for all to see.”

But there was one measure of a specific slur. According to analytics compiled by Topsy, a research company that collects and analyzes what is shared on Twitter, the number of postings that included Mr. Obama’s name and one particular racial epithet jumped substantially on Monday, the day of the president’s first posting, to 150.

One Twitter user who did not use that specific racial slur responded to the president with just two words: “Black monkey,” a comparison that was not uncommon. “Get back in your cage monkey,” another person wrote.

This is repulsive, unalloyed racism, and it should not be excused. Indeed, no one of merit is excusing it. But only the anonymous or those utterly unconcerned with their livelihoods would dare issue such slurs in a public forum. It’s not much of a secret that the Internet is populated with jerks. Hopefully, the New York Times is fully stocked up on smelling salts in the event the Gray Lady’s editors ever discover YouTube’s comments sections.

A White House reporter even determined that the abuse the president suffered on social media was a worthy line of inquiry during the daily press briefing. Press Sec. Josh Earnest had the unfortunate duty of disabusing this reporter of the rosy notion that the web is a safe space when he noted that uncivil discourse is “all too common on the Internet.”

Those media outlets feigning shock over the abuse dealt out to public figures are being more than a little dishonest. Reporters should not be surprised to learn that George W. Bush was not spared the belligerence of anonymous commenters over the course of his presidency. Though they did not have Twitter to vent their rage, it was not difficult to find anti-Bush “trolls” who did not shy away from attacking the former president’s character, his relations, and his heritage. This condition did not result in handwringing pieces in the Times about the left’s incivility or the nation’s lingering antipathy toward representatives of Southern states.

People are mean on the Internet, but that is not a story. In order to scold a nation that includes citizens who are rude to Clinton and Obama on the web, these outlets had to pretend as though this was a unique and new phenomenon. While the worst of the comments that the president and the former secretary of state have had to endure are certainly condemnable, it’s perhaps as offensive that these journalistic institutions leapt at the chance to morally preen and posture in order to deflect criticism, however unhinged, from these leading Democrats.

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Obama Blames Iraqis for America’s Failure

There is a lot of interesting material in President Obama’s interview with Jeff Goldberg of The Atlantic beginning with the president’s claim: “No, I don’t think we’re losing, and I just talked to our CENTCOM commanders and the folks on the ground.” I can’t help remembering that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush said some variation of that statement regularly between 2003 to 2006 even as we were manifestly losing. Earth to Oval Office: Just because military commanders tell you that they’re not losing doesn’t mean that they’re right!

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There is a lot of interesting material in President Obama’s interview with Jeff Goldberg of The Atlantic beginning with the president’s claim: “No, I don’t think we’re losing, and I just talked to our CENTCOM commanders and the folks on the ground.” I can’t help remembering that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush said some variation of that statement regularly between 2003 to 2006 even as we were manifestly losing. Earth to Oval Office: Just because military commanders tell you that they’re not losing doesn’t mean that they’re right!

The US military is the finest fighting force in the world, but its officers are prone to over-optimistic assessments—the flip side of their “can do” ethos. It’s striking that this president who so routinely ignores military advice (by, for example, imposing a time limit on the surge in Afghanistan and by forbidding US advisers in Iraq from leaving their bases) now embraces military thinking when it’s so deeply flawed, yet convenient for him. Like the assessments of progress that emanated from the Pentagon and the White House during 2003-2006, this one is not going to be believed by many people.

But that’s not what I want to focus on here. What I want to focus on is this statement from the president: “If the Iraqis themselves are not willing or capable to arrive at the political accommodations necessary to govern, if they are not willing to fight for the security of their country, we cannot do that for them.” That’s a statement that’s likely to have wider resonance even among Republicans. Indeed, it was a common trope during debates over whether to send more forces to Iraq in 2006-2007. Many on both the left and the right wondered why the US should be helping Iraqis when Iraqis appeared not to be willing to help themselves.

This misses the point on several levels.

First and foremost, we’re not in Iraq now, any more than we were during the 2003-2011 period, to help the Iraqis. We’re there to help ourselves because we perceive threats to our national security. Before those threats came from Al Qaeda in Iraq and from Iranian-backed Shiite militias; today from ISIS and Iranian-backed Shiite militias. We need to work with Iraqis to advance our interests, but if we feel that there is insufficient effort on the part of the Iraqis, we can’t simply throw up our hands in despair and walk out—that would be a serious blow to American interests in the region. Instead, we need to figure out how to better motivate the Iraqis to fight hard.

Obama’s broad-brush indictment of Iraqis misses the all-critical circumstances in which Iraqis find themselves. Imagine that a vicious street gang were terrorizing a neighborhood of Detroit or South Central Los Angeles. Would we blame the residents for not being willing to confront the gang on their own and thereby conclude that the residents were not worth saving? Of course not. Because we would recognize that a small number of heavily armed toughs can terrorize a neighborhood—and if sufficiently vicious they can even cow the local police force. That doesn’t mean that the residents want to live under the domination of the street gang, any more than Iraqis today want to live under the domination of ISIS or the Quds Force. The problem is that they don’t feel strong enough at the moment to rise up against those terrorist organizations.

Plenty of Iraqis have shown themselves more than willing to fight for their country—just recall how the Iraqi armed forces and the Sons of Iraq, in cooperation with US forces, routed Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2007 and then later took on the Mahdist Army. The reason that today we consistently see small ISIS formations scattering much larger Iraqi units is that the Iraqi units have been undermined from within by corruption and sectarianism. Iraqi soldiers today are badly trained, badly led, badly supplied, badly motivated. But that’s not the fault of rank and file troops. The blame goes to the Shite sectarians who have dominated Baghdad since the American pullout in 2011. If Iraq forces have better leadership and training and supplies, as they did in 2007-2008, they will fight far more effectively.

It’s in America’s interest to increase the quality of Iraqi forces but that won’t happen unless we make more of a commitment ourselves, not only sending more American troops but also loosening restrictions that currently prevent our advisers from operating side by side with Iraqi units—the only way to significantly enhance Iraqi combat performance.

President Obama’s comments have a whiff of “blame the victim” about them, because ordinary Iraqis are the main victims of the vicious sectarian extremists who currently dominate their country. Most Iraqis would love a more moderate government of the kind they enjoyed until the US pullout in 2011, and it’s in our interest to help them achieve that goal. But don’t blame Iraqis for not being willing to stand up to the cut-throats of ISIS or the Quds Force on their own. Both organizations have substantial outside backing and to roll back their advance will require substantial support for more moderate forces—especially Sunni tribes—from the US and its allies.

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Arthur Herman: COMMENTARY Is the Point of the Conservative Spear

In 1975 the Economist said of COMMENTARY: “The world’s best magazine?” Take away the question mark and that statement still stands, thirty-eight years later. It’s still the magazine America’s liberals dread most, and the one America’s enemies can’t afford to ignore. It’s the point of the conservative spear in the never-ending fight against the insanity of the left, whether it’s in foreign policy or economic policy, social and cultural issues, or the arts–and no one does a better job standing up for Western culture and America’s interests and those of its allies, including Israel. In fact, surviving the next three years–the Obama administration home stretch–and building the foundations for an American resurgence afterward will be impossible without reading COMMENTARY in print and online. Please click below to give.
2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

In 1975 the Economist said of COMMENTARY: “The world’s best magazine?” Take away the question mark and that statement still stands, thirty-eight years later. It’s still the magazine America’s liberals dread most, and the one America’s enemies can’t afford to ignore. It’s the point of the conservative spear in the never-ending fight against the insanity of the left, whether it’s in foreign policy or economic policy, social and cultural issues, or the arts–and no one does a better job standing up for Western culture and America’s interests and those of its allies, including Israel. In fact, surviving the next three years–the Obama administration home stretch–and building the foundations for an American resurgence afterward will be impossible without reading COMMENTARY in print and online. Please click below to give.
2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

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The Tipping Point Between Israel’s Image and the Right to Security

The news earlier this week that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had canceled a plan put forward by Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon to ban Palestinians from certain West Bank bus routes that serve settlements landed like a lead balloon in the international media. The scheme was never implemented but was, as Israeli President Ruben Rivlin put it, something that that has “no place being heard or said.” Indeed, even the official shelving of the idea set off a round of attacks on the Jewish state echoing the same “apartheid state” canards that the country’s representatives and friends have been working so hard to expose as lies. Yet while Israel’s supporters might well ask where Yaalon had parked his brains when treating the notion seriously, it would behoove both friends and critics to understand why such a noxious proposal would even be considered. The ever-present threat of terrorism didn’t justify or excuse anything that would essentially enshrine segregation. But it does explain how such a thing could even be discussed.

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The news earlier this week that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had canceled a plan put forward by Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon to ban Palestinians from certain West Bank bus routes that serve settlements landed like a lead balloon in the international media. The scheme was never implemented but was, as Israeli President Ruben Rivlin put it, something that that has “no place being heard or said.” Indeed, even the official shelving of the idea set off a round of attacks on the Jewish state echoing the same “apartheid state” canards that the country’s representatives and friends have been working so hard to expose as lies. Yet while Israel’s supporters might well ask where Yaalon had parked his brains when treating the notion seriously, it would behoove both friends and critics to understand why such a noxious proposal would even be considered. The ever-present threat of terrorism didn’t justify or excuse anything that would essentially enshrine segregation. But it does explain how such a thing could even be discussed.

After Netanyahu nixed his dumb idea, Yaalon attempted to defend it by claiming it wasn’t technically segregation on the basis of origin. But that excuse doesn’t fly. The plan would require West Bank Palestinians with permits to work inside Israel to use a few designated checkpoints in order to board buses. That would mean they wouldn’t ride on routes that served the settlements thus ensuring that only Jews or Israeli Arabs heading to Jewish communities over the green line in the heart of the West Bank would be on those buses.

But even if it shouldn’t have gotten as close to implementation as it apparently did, the impetus for it wasn’t a function so much of prejudice as fear. The settlements that exist in the middle of the West Bank, as opposed to the majority of them in blocs that are close to the 1967 lines are more or less under constant siege. While random terror attacks on Jewish targets in Jerusalem are a constant, the instances of rock throwing, firebombs, sniping or stabbings in which Jews are targets of Arab violence are a daily affair. Just as many on the left believe the only way for the two communities to live in peace is complete separation, so, too, does the settler community believe the only way to ensure their security is to keep Arabs away from them.

As Yaalon said the following to the Knesset in defense of the plan last fall:

“I have not prohibited Arabs in Judea and Samaria from traveling on public transportation and have no intention to do so,” Yaalon told parliament at the time, but added that “you don’t have to be a security expert to realize that when you have 20 Arabs in a bus driven by a Jew, and maybe two or three other [Jewish] passengers and a soldier carrying a weapon, you are guaranteed a terror attack.”

He might be right about that. But as much as Israelis, even those living in the settlements, are entitled to do whatever is possible to ensure their safety, they need to mindful of where the tipping point between security and damage to the country’s international image lies. Suffice it to say that anything that smacks of discrimination in this manner does grievous damage to the state’s image abroad and undermines its just claim to being the only democracy in the Middle East.

Despite the lies that the Palestinians broadcast and which are picked up by anti-Semites and Israel-haters elsewhere, the Jewish state has no official segregation. Inside Israel, Arabs vote, serve in the Knesset and in every possible government post. Though relations between the communities are soured by the war on Israel’s existence that the Arab and Muslim worlds have been waging on it since its inception, Israeli Arabs enjoy full rights and freedom.

West Bank Palestinian Arabs are in a different position, but it is one largely of their own choosing. They could have accepted independence and peace at any time in the last 15 years since Israel has repeatedly offered them a state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. If they had, the current argument about buses would be moot. But they have refused each time because their leaders lack the will or the ability to make peace. Even today, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, lauded as an advocate of peace by President Obama and other world leaders, refuses to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Even if one advocates for withdrawal of some of the outlying settlements that would not be included in Israel in the event of a peace deal, the idea that the residents of these communities should be subjected to murder and terror with impunity is abhorrent.

That is something that should be taken into account by those who rightly criticize Yaalon’s idea. But even more than that, they need to remember that such an idea only became thinkable because of many years of Palestinian violence whose only purpose is to kill Jews and destroy Israel, not to adjust its borders or to merely deny them their right to live in the heart of their ancient homeland. Those comparing the plight of Palestinians to that of African-Americans in the segregated South are forgetting the fact that American blacks were not trying to destroy America, just claim their equal rights as citizens. Those who sought to keep blacks separated from whites were not defending their existence as Israelis must nor were they subjected to the kind of terror that Jews have been.

We should condemn any scheme, even one born out of self-defense, that smacks of legal segregation. But those who do so should always remember that this situation was created by and perpetuated by an unceasing Palestinian war of terror that must end if peace is ever to be possible.

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Iran Gives Obama a Lesson in Negotiating

President Obama may not be terribly realistic about his negotiating partners in Iran, but he has a firm grip on political reality in the United States. If he wants to get Congress to approve his pending nuclear deal with Iran he knows that demonstrating his concern for Israel’s survival is just as if not more important than explaining away the glaring weakness in the agreement. He tried to do just that in a friendly interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg though he was tripped up, as our Noah Rothman noted, by an utterly unconvincing dismissal of the importance of the anti-Semitic nature of the Iranian regime. But the most curious thing about the interview was the way Goldberg took the as yet unwritten terms of the deal as a given rather than very much up in the air until they are put on paper. What we really need to know is not just how badly Obama wants to pretend that he cares about Israel but whether the agreement he is supposed to present to Congress sometime this summer will resemble the already admittedly weak one he spoke of when the framework deal was announced last month. And it is in the struggle for those final terms that Obama is once again being taken to the cleaners by an Iranian leadership that may or many not be rational, but is certainly more skillful at negotiation than the president.

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President Obama may not be terribly realistic about his negotiating partners in Iran, but he has a firm grip on political reality in the United States. If he wants to get Congress to approve his pending nuclear deal with Iran he knows that demonstrating his concern for Israel’s survival is just as if not more important than explaining away the glaring weakness in the agreement. He tried to do just that in a friendly interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg though he was tripped up, as our Noah Rothman noted, by an utterly unconvincing dismissal of the importance of the anti-Semitic nature of the Iranian regime. But the most curious thing about the interview was the way Goldberg took the as yet unwritten terms of the deal as a given rather than very much up in the air until they are put on paper. What we really need to know is not just how badly Obama wants to pretend that he cares about Israel but whether the agreement he is supposed to present to Congress sometime this summer will resemble the already admittedly weak one he spoke of when the framework deal was announced last month. And it is in the struggle for those final terms that Obama is once again being taken to the cleaners by an Iranian leadership that may or many not be rational, but is certainly more skillful at negotiation than the president.

As I noted yesterday, Iran’s Supreme Leader made it clear yesterday that the rigorous inspections of their nuclear facilities that President Obama has promised will never happen. Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promised that inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency aren’t going to be allowed into their facilities or to talk to their scientists. The terms enunciated by the administration are bad enough because they give the Iranians two paths to a bomb: one by cheating on its easily evaded terms and the other by abiding by them and just waiting patiently for it to expire while they continue nuclear research without interference from the West. But if Khamenei’s interpretation of the deal is correct, it will be a sham.

That leaves us wondering whether the president is prepared to risk his long sought after deal in order to obtain the terms that he has said make it viable. With only weeks to go before the self-imposed deadline of June 30 to get the pact on paper, the question would seem to be which of the two Khamenei or Obama will blink. But the answer is not so clear-cut as that. The Iranians are clearly baiting Obama but are also sending out signals they will accept a “compromise.”

That’s the upshot of an Associated Press report about comments from French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius about the Iran deal. Fabius said the Iranians are currently offering the West a deal on inspections that would allow the UN to visit a site of a suspected violation of the deal’s terms but only after a 24-day notice being given. Needless to say, such a waiting period is almost as bad as no inspections at all. Indeed, even if the Iranians go down a bit from 24 to a lower number, anything other than the right to rigorous surprise inspections is a lock-solid guarantee of cheating by the Islamist regime. But by publicly staking such an absurd stand on the issue, the Grand Ayatollah has set up Obama for a compromise that will undermine the entire foundation of the agreement.

So while Obama is defending his partners in a new Middle East entente as being rational anti-Semites, his Iranian counterpart is demonstrating a degree of diplomatic skill far above that of the president. Having spent the last two years undressing the president in public as his demands for an end to their nuclear program has given way to an agreement that at best, enshrines Tehran as a threshold nuclear power, Khamenei is now pushing Obama to the brink knowing full well that the president will never give up his legacy-making agreement if Iran doesn’t agree to his terms. Obama told Goldberg that he knows that if Iran gets a bomb, it will have his name on it even if it is 20 years from now. Sadly, that inscription is being written in the final weeks of talks as the Iranians give Obama one last lesson in how to negotiate.

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Obama: Just Because Iran Is Anti-Semitic Doesn’t Make It Irrational

At the bedrock of American nuclear doctrine is the concept of mutual deterrence. It is a principle that rests on the assumption that the actor you are attempting to deter has a rational interest in self-preservation. A subject that is suicidal or has a romantic attachment to the poetically redemptive aspects of self-immolation cannot be deterred. Quite the opposite, in fact; those irrational actors might be tempted to provoke their adversaries to engage in violence. There is no debate as to whether or not Iran should be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon for the very reason that the Islamic Republic is universally understood to be an irrational international actor. Both proponents and opponents of the framework nuclear accord with Iran share this fundamental assumption. This fact renders President Barack Obama’s most recent comments about the regime in Tehran not only uniquely insulting but also utterly perplexing.

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At the bedrock of American nuclear doctrine is the concept of mutual deterrence. It is a principle that rests on the assumption that the actor you are attempting to deter has a rational interest in self-preservation. A subject that is suicidal or has a romantic attachment to the poetically redemptive aspects of self-immolation cannot be deterred. Quite the opposite, in fact; those irrational actors might be tempted to provoke their adversaries to engage in violence. There is no debate as to whether or not Iran should be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon for the very reason that the Islamic Republic is universally understood to be an irrational international actor. Both proponents and opponents of the framework nuclear accord with Iran share this fundamental assumption. This fact renders President Barack Obama’s most recent comments about the regime in Tehran not only uniquely insulting but also utterly perplexing.

In a recent interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, an interlocutor so highly regarded by this administration that he manages to coax incendiary quotes out of White House officials with near metronomic regularity, Obama appeared to let his guard down a bit. On the subject of Iran and its nuclear ambitions, Goldberg noted that the president has in the past argued, “quite eloquently in fact,” that the Islamic Republic officially subscribes to a particularly virulent strain of anti-Semitism. The destruction of the state of Israel is official Iranian policy. That is an end that Tehran works arduously toward as a state sponsor of terrorism, and it is a goal that it might achieve should it develop one or more fissionable devices.

“You have argued,” Goldberg queried, “that people who subscribe to an anti-Semitic worldview, who explain the world through the prism of anti-Semitic ideology, are not rational, are not built for success, are not grounded in a reality that you and I might understand. And yet, you’ve also argued that the regime in Tehran—a regime you’ve described as anti-Semitic, among other problems that they have—is practical, and is responsive to incentive, and shows signs of rationality.”

The president’s amiable interrogator noted politely that he could not square these two entirely antithetical concepts. Goldberg then asked, with all due deference, if the president might help him to reconcile this contradiction. Obama’s unconvincing response demonstrated clearly that, if any party in this conversation suffered from some cognitive shortcomings, it was not Goldberg.

Well the fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival. It doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn’t preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the supreme leader is anti-Semitic doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations. You know, if you look at the history of anti-Semitism, Jeff, there were a whole lot of European leaders—and there were deep strains of anti-Semitism in this country—

They may make irrational decisions with respect to discrimination, with respect to trying to use anti-Semitic rhetoric as an organizing tool. At the margins, where the costs are low, they may pursue policies based on hatred as opposed to self-interest. But the costs here are not low, and what we’ve been very clear [about] to the Iranian regime over the past six years is that we will continue to ratchet up the costs, not simply for their anti-Semitism, but also for whatever expansionist ambitions they may have. That’s what the sanctions represent. That’s what the military option I’ve made clear I preserve represents. And so I think it is not at all contradictory to say that there are deep strains of anti-Semitism in the core regime, but that they also are interested in maintaining power, having some semblance of legitimacy inside their own country, which requires that they get themselves out of what is a deep economic rut that we’ve put them in, and on that basis they are then willing and prepared potentially to strike an agreement on their nuclear program.

How callous.

First, and it’s not out of bounds to make note of this, but strict adherence to a prejudicial belief system like anti-Semitism or any form of bigotry is, at root, irrational. It is a weltanschauung that is unprincipled, unthinking, brutish, and serves as the basis for the contention that Iran’s messianic approach to geopolitics renders them an irresponsible international actor. The White House has in the past dismissed Iran’s anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism as propaganda products packaged for purely domestic consumption. This is classic projection bias; the president imagines that the anti-Semitic agitation of Iran’s ruling class is mere political positioning because he so often makes assertions he doesn’t truly believe.

Secondly, irrationality is not synonymous with insanity. Because the Islamic Republic’s leaders are effective governors of a state with a return address and they can engage in effete diplomatic courtesies with their Western counterparts in Lausanne does not mean that Tehran is incapable of making calculations that outside observers would find reckless. Irrationality is subjective. What Tehran might see the reasonable pressing of a perceived advantage the West might consider dangerous brinkmanship.

There is nothing illogical, for example, for the Islamic Republic’s leaders to believe that a preemptive terrorist attack on Israeli targets with weapons of mass destruction would consolidate their grip on power. Moreover, Tehran might see some upside in the inevitable defusing of the tensions between the region’s Sunni and Shiite powers in the wake of an Israeli retaliatory response. It would be irrational, it would spark a regional war characterized by weapons of horrible destructive power, but it is a misunderstanding of rationality to suggest this strategic approach is totally unhinged.

Barack Obama is most likely to get himself into trouble when he indulges his inner professor and waxes longwinded on subjects better suited to the classroom than the Oval Office. This self-indulgent intellectual exercise might have a place in an introductory international relations theory course, but it is terrifying to hear uttered from the commander of America’s armed forces. If the president’s strategic approach to Iran is founded on the fallacious assumption that they are just like him insofar as they don’t really mean what they say in public, the last 18 months of this administration are going to be particularly perilous.

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Mad Men, the Prequel

“Mad Men” is off the air. Personally, I bailed out in the second season and never looked back, no matter how many people told me to pick it up again (of the various things I should be doing more, watching television just isn’t on the list). But never mind me. For those of you who did watch the show (as opposed to the larger number of Americans who tuned in to a colorized “I Love Lucy” rerun on Sunday) this Throwback Thursday selection may help with the mourning process. In The Study of Man: Social Science on Madison Avenue, from the April 1957 issue of COMMENTARY, Walter Goodman looked at how the McCann-Erickson agency employed social science to create the perfect pitchman. As ever, enjoy.

The same psychology-flavored techniques which have enlivened the prune, revitalized Ry-Krisp, and broadened the appeal of Sanka coffee are presently being applied to a human being. He is William Lundigan, announcer for Climax! and Shower of Stars, two TV shows sponsored by the Chrysler Corporation.

Click here to the read the whole thing.

“Mad Men” is off the air. Personally, I bailed out in the second season and never looked back, no matter how many people told me to pick it up again (of the various things I should be doing more, watching television just isn’t on the list). But never mind me. For those of you who did watch the show (as opposed to the larger number of Americans who tuned in to a colorized “I Love Lucy” rerun on Sunday) this Throwback Thursday selection may help with the mourning process. In The Study of Man: Social Science on Madison Avenue, from the April 1957 issue of COMMENTARY, Walter Goodman looked at how the McCann-Erickson agency employed social science to create the perfect pitchman. As ever, enjoy.

The same psychology-flavored techniques which have enlivened the prune, revitalized Ry-Krisp, and broadened the appeal of Sanka coffee are presently being applied to a human being. He is William Lundigan, announcer for Climax! and Shower of Stars, two TV shows sponsored by the Chrysler Corporation.

Click here to the read the whole thing.

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Andrew Roberts: COMMENTARY Is a Strong Voice of Sanity and Courage

Just as one begins to despair of hearing the strong voice of sanity and courage, leavened with charm and good humor, in our modern polity, COMMENTARY arrives, and once a month one can be reminded that there are indeed some clear-sighted and articulate people who seem actively to enjoy the battle for truth. Please click below to donate.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

Just as one begins to despair of hearing the strong voice of sanity and courage, leavened with charm and good humor, in our modern polity, COMMENTARY arrives, and once a month one can be reminded that there are indeed some clear-sighted and articulate people who seem actively to enjoy the battle for truth. Please click below to donate.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

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Debate Cut Will Make for a Long, Hot GOP Candidate Summer

It turns out Fox News and CNN agree on something. The two cable news networks announced the rules for the Republican presidential debates they will be sponsoring respectively in August and September, and each will employ the same rule for determining who will be on the stage. Both have decided that the huge field of GOP candidates must be winnowed down to ten and that the criteria for determining their identity will be the average results of national opinion polls of the race. With the field expected to grow to as many as 19 candidates, those who don’t make the cut will be relegated to a debate of their own. Such a choice was inevitable since having them all on together would be a television nightmare as well as too unwieldy to let any of them have much of an impact. But in a race where the debates will likely be crucial to determining the course of the campaign, this will place a premium on activity during a period when most presidential candidates often lay low. That means that for those following the Republicans, it’s going to be a long and probably extremely hot and contentious summer.

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It turns out Fox News and CNN agree on something. The two cable news networks announced the rules for the Republican presidential debates they will be sponsoring respectively in August and September, and each will employ the same rule for determining who will be on the stage. Both have decided that the huge field of GOP candidates must be winnowed down to ten and that the criteria for determining their identity will be the average results of national opinion polls of the race. With the field expected to grow to as many as 19 candidates, those who don’t make the cut will be relegated to a debate of their own. Such a choice was inevitable since having them all on together would be a television nightmare as well as too unwieldy to let any of them have much of an impact. But in a race where the debates will likely be crucial to determining the course of the campaign, this will place a premium on activity during a period when most presidential candidates often lay low. That means that for those following the Republicans, it’s going to be a long and probably extremely hot and contentious summer.

As I wrote earlier this month, in a primary race with so many credible candidates the debates will be as important as they were during the 2012 cycle. Though the Republicans have cut them down from a mind-numbing 20 to a more manageable 11, the volume of candidates is going to make it harder for any of them to expand their appeal beyond core constituencies. That means scoring points in the debates will be just about the only way for them to make headway.

With not quite so many debates happening one after another as they did in the fall of 2011, the series probably won’t have the feel of a reality show series that it had last year. But the impact may be similar. Those who stand out, as Newt Gingrich and, on occasion, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum did last time, will see their standing rise. Those that fail on stage, as Tim Pawlenty, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann (who got a boost from the debates but then faded amid her goofy claims about vaccines) did, will see their candidacies crash and burn.

But in order to make your mark, you’ll have to get onto the main stage, giving new meaning to the term “first tier” to distinguish the real contenders from the also-rans. Not getting into the first debates will be an effective death sentence for those in the second tier show. That will be the result not just of the smaller audience for the b-list candidates but because the loser label affixed to those who don’t make the cut will be difficult if not impossible to shake off.

What’s interesting about this is that if the debates were held now, the average of polls according to RealClearPolitics.com would leave relatively big names like Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham and John Kasich on the outside looking in. Rick Santorum is currently in the crucial tenth spot with 2.3 percent support while Kasich at 2 percent, Fiorina, Jindal and Graham all at 1.3 percent.

Those standings may not hold up as candidates jump in or opt out (as Kasich might). This could create a rather odd dynamic that will alter the usual way candidates behave. Rather than spending the summer of 2015 raising money and laying low, all of the candidates, including those like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker who have been mislabeled as frontrunners, are going to need to do everything in the power to boost their poll ratings. Rather than campaign activity starting slowly and then building in intensity, we may see a surge at the very start as candidates vie to get into the first tier debate.

This should be nerve-wracking for the candidates and exciting for the press and political junkies. But it should also provoke some anxiety among Republican leaders. There are candidates that may not have much chance to win but who are viewed as essential elements in building the Republican brand that may get left out. Fiorina is a classic example of such a candidate. The last thing the GOP wants is to have a top debate for the right to run against Hillary Clinton to be deprived of the one female Republican candidate, especially since Fiorina has specialized in torching the former First Lady. But unless Fiorina can somehow elevate her game in the next couple of months, she is a prime candidate for the b-list.

This also ought to deter some candidates with slim chances who are still dithering about running. Starting late used to mean not declaring until the end of the year before the presidential election. Now with a premium put on winning in early polls, it may be that anyone who hasn’t gotten in yet has simply waited too long.

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The Slow, Painful Death of the Iowa Straw Poll

The Iowa Straw Poll, sometimes referred to as the Ames Straw Poll in reference to its former host city, has been teetering on the brink of demise for years. It had been dealt a hundred cuts over the decades; many of them self-inflicted, but others meted out by allies and adversaries alike. Perhaps the most serious wound now threatening the future of the Iowa Straw Poll was delivered this week by an unlikely source, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. It is a blow from which the event that marks the informal start to the presidential campaign season may not recover.

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The Iowa Straw Poll, sometimes referred to as the Ames Straw Poll in reference to its former host city, has been teetering on the brink of demise for years. It had been dealt a hundred cuts over the decades; many of them self-inflicted, but others meted out by allies and adversaries alike. Perhaps the most serious wound now threatening the future of the Iowa Straw Poll was delivered this week by an unlikely source, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. It is a blow from which the event that marks the informal start to the presidential campaign season may not recover.

In an op-ed for the Des Moines Register, the winner of the 2008 Hawkeye State caucuses revealed that he would not compete in the quadrennial straw poll. Huckabee insisted that to do so would only distract him from his focus on courting the votes that count.

“In 2008, I competed and finished second in the Iowa straw poll — our first big break on our way to winning the Iowa caucuses and receiving the most votes ever cast for a Republican in the history of the Iowa caucuses,” Huckabee wrote. “But to win in 2016, it’s important to learn from the mistakes of the last few election cycles, in which conservatives were divided and opened a path for a more moderate establishment candidate to ultimately win the nomination, only to lose to Obama.”

Displaying perhaps more candor on the matter, Huckabee went on to note accurately that the winner of the Straw Poll rarely goes on to win either the caucuses or the party’s nomination. And he’s correct. The last politician to win the Straw Poll, the caucuses, and the nomination was George W. Bush in 1999-2000. In fact, Bush remains the only politician to have earned that title in the Straw Poll’s six-election cycle history (Bob Dole won the caucuses and the nomination in 1996, but he shared his Straw Poll victory in 1995 with Sen. Phil Graham).

In an appearance on Fox & Friends on Thursday explaining his decision, Huckabee candidly confessed that competing for the top spot in the Straw Poll might be more trouble than it’s worth. “It’s not a good indicator, but it can be an eliminator,” the former governor said of the pyrrhic effect of a Straw Poll victory.

Huckabee is only the latest Republican presidential aspirant to forego competing for a Straw Poll victory. Citing a scheduling conflict, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has already indicated that will not compete for the approval of Straw Poll participants. Huckabee is the first, however, to contend that the early contest is a waste of campaign resources. Moreover, he is the first candidate to bow out of the Iowa Straw Poll that had a decent chance of winning it, or at least of finishing with a strong showing.

Huckabee’s contention that the cost of competing in the Straw Poll is not worth the reward also has merit. Candidates who compete effectively in the Straw Poll are those that have the funding and organization required to bus supporters in from all around Iowa, incurring both the costs associated with that transportation and attendance at the event. It’s prohibitive for most candidates, even those like Huckabee with national name recognition and a strong base of support in Iowa.

Huckabee’s may be the unkindest cut of all, but the Straw Poll has been dying a slow death for decades. It may only be mourned by its organizers when it is finally retired.

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The Real Victims of the War on Police

From last summer’s disturbances in Ferguson, Missouri to the more recent riots in Baltimore, the country has been engaged in a debate about police violence that has hinged on accusations of systematic racism. Regardless of the findings about the shooting in Ferguson or the racial identity of the Baltimore officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, a narrative about police racism has become entrenched in our popular culture that has remained impervious to reason or the facts. One of the consequences of this war on police that has been encouraged by statements coming from the very top of our government, including the president and the attorney general, have been incidents of violence against police. When officers go down that generates some attention, yet less discussed is the way the lives of people in poverty-stricken minority neighborhoods are affected by this attempt to blame the nation’s ills on white racism. But as the Wall Street Journal reports today, it is precisely they who are suffering as arrests have gone down in Baltimore in the last month while violent crime has increased dramatically.

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From last summer’s disturbances in Ferguson, Missouri to the more recent riots in Baltimore, the country has been engaged in a debate about police violence that has hinged on accusations of systematic racism. Regardless of the findings about the shooting in Ferguson or the racial identity of the Baltimore officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, a narrative about police racism has become entrenched in our popular culture that has remained impervious to reason or the facts. One of the consequences of this war on police that has been encouraged by statements coming from the very top of our government, including the president and the attorney general, have been incidents of violence against police. When officers go down that generates some attention, yet less discussed is the way the lives of people in poverty-stricken minority neighborhoods are affected by this attempt to blame the nation’s ills on white racism. But as the Wall Street Journal reports today, it is precisely they who are suffering as arrests have gone down in Baltimore in the last month while violent crime has increased dramatically.

In the weeks after Gray’s death as scrutiny and criticism of the Baltimore police has intensified, arrests have gone down by a rate of 40 percent when compared to the same period of time in 2013 and 2014. What makes this figure so startling is that it includes the hundreds that were arrested during the riots that rocked portions of the city. At the same time, violence in the Western district of the city where the riots occurred has gone up in a way far outpacing the increase in the rest of the city.

What’s happened here is obvious. Nothing can or should excuse alleged police misbehavior and if the six officers — three white and three African-Americans — are convicted of responsibility for Gray’s death while in their custody, they will deserve to be harshly punished. But the willingness of so many people, both on the streets and on the airwaves, to take it as a given that the cops are alien invaders who must be resisted has made it difficult if not impossible for them to do their jobs.

It is understandable that the opprobrium directed at the police would affect their morale. But it goes further than that. As the Journal notes, it is now routine for police answering calls to be surrounded by hostile crowds with cameras. In some cases, this impedes their ability to carry out effective police work. In others it simply intimidates the cops who are often coming to the conclusion that it is far safer to simply do nothing than to intervene in situations and risk being accused of criminal or racist behavior regardless of their motivations.

Such a choice runs contrary to their duty to safeguard the public but given the stakes involved, it’s hard to blame officers for not risking their careers and freedom. But the real victims of a city with a police force that is reluctant to act are members of the public, not the cops. Those who will suffer the most are the residents of these same high crime minority neighborhoods. It is they who are most at risk at losing their property and injury and/or loss of life. Those areas of cities where public safety disappears are the same places where employment disappears.

The irony here is that the riots in Baltimore have prompted a lot of discussion about how best to deal with endemic poverty in minority neighborhoods with much finger-pointing at institutions like the police. That the example that prompted this outcry is a city that has been governed by liberals for more than half a century whose political establishment is dominated by blacks and has an integrated police force (as the list of those accused in Gray’s death testifies) makes it hard to take some of this discussion seriously. But no amount of racial sensitivity or liberal big government policies can undo the damage done by unchecked violent crime. In such an atmosphere no one can get ahead or indeed maintain any kind of standard of living.

The real consequence of the war on police that has been waged in the media and on the streets of America’s cities is a set of circumstances that may well doom another generation of minority kids to poverty and heightened chance of being a victim of violent crime. Those who have done the most to intimidate the police and to transform an unfortunate incident into a national effort to interfere with law enforcement activity may think they have won because they have changed the national conversation about race and the police. But they should weigh this illusory victory against the terrible damage their efforts have done to the people they claim to want to help.

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Matthew Continetti: Why COMMENTARY Matters

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Why does COMMENTARY matter? Since 1945, no other monthly magazine has so consistently published serious, provocative argument and analysis. No other monthly magazine has viewed America and the world through such a wide angle, encompassing economics, politics, society, culture, religion, and diplomacy. No other monthly magazine has published such a celebrated and wide-ranging list of editors and contributors. Cerebral, critical, and committed, the point of view found in its pages is as unique as it is formidable. And in a world of Iranian nukes, rising anti-Semitism, radical Islam, American disarmament, bipartisan neo-isolationism, and disintegrating institutions, reading COMMENTARY is more than a pleasure. It is a necessity. Please click below to give.
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Do You Deserve to Be President After Jeopardizing National Security?

Taking a page from the well-worn Clinton playbook, a digest compiled almost entirely before the dawn of the digital age, Hillary Clinton has responded to the deluge of scandalous revelations regarding her conduct at the State Department by clamming up. But the proliferation of citizen journalists, commendably dogged reporters, and a seemingly endless digital trail to follow has undermined this tactic. New details about Clinton’s improprieties continue to mount. As the fabrications pile up and Clinton’s character is called into question, it seems clear that the former secretary of state did casually imperil American national security in the effort to preserve the “convenience” to which she had become accustomed as a U.S. Senator. But can she make the case that she will serve as a competent commander-in-chief after such a revelation? It is a question the press has been hounding Republicans with for the better part of two weeks.

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Taking a page from the well-worn Clinton playbook, a digest compiled almost entirely before the dawn of the digital age, Hillary Clinton has responded to the deluge of scandalous revelations regarding her conduct at the State Department by clamming up. But the proliferation of citizen journalists, commendably dogged reporters, and a seemingly endless digital trail to follow has undermined this tactic. New details about Clinton’s improprieties continue to mount. As the fabrications pile up and Clinton’s character is called into question, it seems clear that the former secretary of state did casually imperil American national security in the effort to preserve the “convenience” to which she had become accustomed as a U.S. Senator. But can she make the case that she will serve as a competent commander-in-chief after such a revelation? It is a question the press has been hounding Republicans with for the better part of two weeks.

Clinton’s transparent aim is to allow the sting of these myriad controversies to be acutely felt early, and only to address them when she can legitimately dub them “old news” and thereby scold those reporters who myopically dwell on ancient history. That strategy is only effective, however, when the revelations dry up. But the scandalous details of her behavior exposed in the press continue to emerge, one by one, drip by drip, gradually eroding away Clinton’s presidential prospects.

The latest report to expose Clinton’s mendacity comes from the New York Times, which revealed that the former secretary did send sensitive government information over her private email account:

Clinton’s Personal Email Account Contained Sensitive Information

Mrs. Clinton’s emails show that she had a special type of government information known as “sensitive but unclassified,” or “SBU,” in her account. That information included the whereabouts and travel plans of American officials in Libya as security there deteriorated during the uprising against the leadership of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011. Nearly a year and a half before the attacks in Benghazi, Mr. Stevens, then an American envoy to the rebels, considered leaving Benghazi citing deteriorating security, according to an email to Mrs. Clinton marked “SBU.”

That report also detailed the communications sent to Clinton via her longtime ally and political hit man Sidney Blumenthal in the wake of the Benghazi attack. It noted that Blumenthal informed Clinton on September 13, 2001 that the deadly event was not the result of a spontaneous demonstration but rather a coordinated terrorist act conducted by Ansar al-Shariah. This disclosure casts into doubt the administration’s claim that it was unaware of the precise nature of that attack until September 16, 2012.

Clinton defenders will note that “sensitive” information is not “classified” information, and the former secretary’s contention that she never sent or received classified documents via her email account remains, for now, intact. But any information security expert will attest that just because “sensitive” documents are not classified does not render them useless to America’s adversaries, as the details in this Times report attest.

This is just the latest misstatement from Clinton’s disastrous March press conference to be called into question. Standing before a lectern at the United Nations, Clinton claimed that she only used one mobile device in service to her sense of entitlement while at State. We now know there were at least two devices she used to conduct State business. Clinton insisted that her system was never “breached,” but information security experts now believe that her “homebrew” server was vulnerable to infiltration and was possibly compromised by foreign intelligence services. Clinton insisted that she only deleted those emails that were personal in nature; a trove of communications that amounted to the majority of the emails she sent as Secretary of State. One of the recipients of private email communications, she averred, was her husband, former President Bill Clinton. Wrong, the 42nd President’s office contended. He only sent two emails in his life, according to Bill Clinton spokesperson Matt McKenna, and both of those were composed and transmitted while he served as president.

This all paints a picture not only of a political figure utterly unconcerned with accountability, the public trust, and national security, but of a person with a pathological aversion to truth.

This also should lead observers to an inescapable conclusion: Clinton carelessly jeopardized national security while she served as America’s chief diplomat. Does this erode Clinton’s claim to be able to serve as America’s next commander-in-chief? It should, and the press seems to be aware of that. Why else have they been hounding 2016 Republican presidential aspirants to account for the last GOP chief executive’s decision to invade Iraq?

Old habits die hard, it seems, as the left and their allies in the press have been busily engaged in a process of forced collectivization over the last week. But instead of plots of arable land, we are collectivizing guilt – namely, Republican guilt for the decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein. The underlying assumption in the media’s dogged pursuit of Republican admissions that the war was a mistake is that George W. Bush carelessly and callously endangered American national security in pursuit of the parochial goal of ridding the world of a particularly unpleasant regime. In this way, not only does the press absolve Barack Obama for sloppily surrendering the West’s hard-won gains in that turbulent country, but it also liberates all Democratic figures – Clinton included – from having to account for the present state of affairs.

If we are to believe that Bush was thoughtless in his approach to safeguarding American national security, Clinton deserves a similar reproach. If Republicans are collectively to blame for the disaster in Iraq, even those who held only minor office in 2003, why then are Democrats not collectively responsible for Clinton’s serial lies and her hard-hearted indifference to the behavior associated with a Cabinet official entrusted with protecting America’s information security? Is there a logically satisfactory explanation for this double standard?

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We Can’t Afford to Take Free Speech for Granted

A bit over a year ago, I wrote here about Greg Lukianoff’s Unlearning Liberty, an expose and study of campus censorship. Lukianoff is, of course, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a group that defends free speech on campus without regard to the politics of the speaker. It is a crucial mission as free speech should not be an à la carte privilege. Alas, too often on campus these days, the temptation to censor and repress trumps the willingness or ability to defend shaky, controversial premises.

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A bit over a year ago, I wrote here about Greg Lukianoff’s Unlearning Liberty, an expose and study of campus censorship. Lukianoff is, of course, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a group that defends free speech on campus without regard to the politics of the speaker. It is a crucial mission as free speech should not be an à la carte privilege. Alas, too often on campus these days, the temptation to censor and repress trumps the willingness or ability to defend shaky, controversial premises.

Lukianoff has written a brilliant new essay entitled “Freedom from Speech,” released as part of the Encounter Broadside series, short and accessible booklets that tackle key contemporary issues. Lukianoff begins by chronicling events in academic year 2013-2014, an annus horribilis for free speech. Media personalities lost their jobs for saying something controversial; a basketball team owner lost his franchise for stupid, racist remarks; and a Silicon Valley CEO was forced to resign after it emerged he gave $1,000 to a charity seeking to ban same-sex marriage.

Lukianoff addresses several issues head-on. For example, he clarifies the difference between the First Amendment and free speech, an important distinction as those prone to punishing speech often argue that free speech binds the government, and not private employers. Here’s what he has to say:

Though often used interchangeably, the concept of freedom of speech and the First Amendment are not the same thing. While the First Amendment protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press as they relate to duties of the state and state power, freedom of speech is a far broader idea that includes additional cultural values. These values incorporate healthy intellectual habits, such as giving the other side a fair hearing, reserving judgment, tolerating opinions that offend or anger us, believing that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, and recognizing that even people whose points of view we find repugnant might be (at least partially) right.

In addressing the current situation, Lukianoff harkens back to Unlearning Liberty when he observed how “Administrators [on campus] have been able to convince well-meaning students to accept outright censorship by creating the impression that freedom of speech is somehow the enemy of social progress.” Such attitudes have increasingly permeated society as a generation of intellectually coddled and protected students react to offense or challenge with an authoritarian impulse.

The scariest thing about the free speech crisis is how it has snowballed. It has become a slow motion train wreck: Any honest observer can see how Orwellian universities are becoming, and the silliness that results. Lukianoff looks to Europe where the assault on free speech has progressed further and deeper. He cites how a British parliamentarian was arrested in April 2014 for “religious/racial harassment” for quoting from a book by Winston Churchill, and how the Europeans have embraced a ‘right to be forgotten’ which essentially allows them to control what is written and said about them and their actions.

But Lukianoff argues that universities alone are not to blame. “The ‘It’s all academia’s fault’ argument cannot explain…why higher education, which is an institution that relies on being a ‘marketplace of ideas,’ would turn against free speech in the first place.” Rather, he suggests that the cultural roots of such censorship go deeper. “People all over the globe are coming to expect emotional and intellectual comfort as though it were a right,” he argues. “Eventually, they stop demanding freedom of speech and start demanding freedom from speech.”

Lukianoff continues to examine why the desire for comfort will lead the threats to freedom of speech to get worse, the “right not to be offended” and the “expectation of confirmation,” and the phenomenon of trigger warnings (which I wrote about here).

While a depressing read—only because it shows the reality of the problem—Lukianoff is not willing to throw up his arms and throw in the towel. He writes:

I am constantly on the lookout for potential cures for this problem. Litigation plays an important role in the fight, as does having students engage in proper Oxford-style debates (like we see today in the Intelligence Squared series). Comedians and satirists may also join the pushback against the infinite care ethic; after all, it is blazingly clear that politically correct censorship and comedy are natural enemies. And, of course, nothing can replace teaching students at every level of education that old-fashion intellectual habits of epistemic humility, giving others benefit of the doubt, and actually listening to opposing opinions.

Sometime during my freshmen year at Yale University, I took “Introduction to Psychology” (taught by Peter Salovey, now president of the university). Salovey was an excellent teacher, although he sometimes seemed to sacrifice rigor for popularity. Still, he assigned a short but extremely valuable booklet that has made me far more critical of what I read to this day. It was “How to Lie with Statistics,” which, as of today, is still the #1 bestseller in statistics on Amazon more than 60 years after it was first published. No student could go wrong with that book on their list. It would be just as valuable it incoming freshmen not only read that booklet, but also added “Freedom from Speech” to their summer reading. Universities could do much worse than encourage incoming students to keep an open mind from day one.

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Does Congress Deserve a Raise? Really?

If there is one thing a sane member of Congress who must run for re-election in a competitive district will never demand, it’s a raise. Even back in the era when Frank Capra was making Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, most Americans thought most politicians (though not necessarily their own representative or senator) were crooks. The idea of paying them more than what already seems like a very generous salary of $174,000 per year for spending the taxpayers’ money like drunken sailors is not the sort of thing swing voters like to hear. So it’s understandable that the only members of Congress quoted in a Roll Call story that generated cable news coverage yesterday — Representatives Alcee Hastings and Steny Hoyer — were men who faced largely token opposition last year in safe seats. Nor is it likely than even their complacent constituents will be all that sympathetic to laments about the high cost of housing in Washington. But is there any substance to their argument that low pay will lead to a situation where only the rich can serve?

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If there is one thing a sane member of Congress who must run for re-election in a competitive district will never demand, it’s a raise. Even back in the era when Frank Capra was making Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, most Americans thought most politicians (though not necessarily their own representative or senator) were crooks. The idea of paying them more than what already seems like a very generous salary of $174,000 per year for spending the taxpayers’ money like drunken sailors is not the sort of thing swing voters like to hear. So it’s understandable that the only members of Congress quoted in a Roll Call story that generated cable news coverage yesterday — Representatives Alcee Hastings and Steny Hoyer — were men who faced largely token opposition last year in safe seats. Nor is it likely than even their complacent constituents will be all that sympathetic to laments about the high cost of housing in Washington. But is there any substance to their argument that low pay will lead to a situation where only the rich can serve?

The reasons why Hastings and Hoyer’s idea doesn’t have much traction aren’t any secret. Let’s start with the fact that the 174,000 per annum salary is far more than the vast majority of Americans will ever make. Add to that the fact that Congress is filled with self-serving hyper-ambitious people who are profligate spenders of other people’s money at a rate that exceeds the ability of the Treasury to pay for all their promises. With the national debt at a record high and getting higher every second, what right do already well-paid members of Congress have to ask for more? Throw in the fact that polls consistently show that Americans disapprove of Congress by margins of 50-60 percent and it’s hard to say that they have earned a merit-based pay hike.

To that, advocates of higher pay say that if you want to get quality people you have to pay them something approximating what they might earn in the private sector. Compared to what they could make as lawyers or in other professions, most members of Congress could make a lot more. But it’s always been understood that if you want the honor of public service, you can’t expect to get rich. Or at least, you should hope to do so by honest means.

Moreover, as this chart shows, today’s Congressional pay is, if you account for inflation over the course of the history of the republic, pretty much in line with or more than what their predecessors earned in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Representatives and senators have always received a respectable salary that put them on an even basis with the upper middle class and that’s true today as well.

That said there is one big difference between the Congresses of the past and that of today. In the first decades of the country’s history, Congress only sat for a few months out of every year. Members went to live in the capital on a temporary basis and then went home. Once the Congress began to meet on a more or less full time basis, members simply moved to Washington and stayed there other than holiday visits home or during campaigns. That genteel era ended a long time ago. Nowadays representatives and senators are expected to come to meet with constituents every weekend. That means those who don’t live within commuting distance of the Capitol are forced to have a second residence. And that’s where the cost of housing comes in.

Even then, that creates a situation where members and especially those with families are faced with a daunting financial dilemma. Given the high cost of housing, this reduces members to the sort of measures that don’t jive with a middle class lifestyle for adults. Without personal wealth at their disposal, members have been forced to share apartments or even bunk in their offices. So when Hastings says that Congress is becoming a place where only the wealthy may serve, he isn’t merely seeking to expand the power of big government or soak the taxpayers even more than he and his fellow liberal Democrats do on a regular basis.

It should be remembered that one of the great electoral reforms of 19th century Britain was the idea of paying members of parliament. Until then only the wealthy or those in the pocket of a patron could serve. Those who advocate campaign finance reform already claim that today. But while their efforts to limit or eliminate political speech are primarily aimed at silencing voices outside of the party establishments or the mainstream media, it is increasingly the case that Congressional service involves personal sacrifices that reduce the quality and the independence of Congress.

A Congressional pay raise or even cost of living increases factored into their pay (which were not implemented in recent years) is a political nonstarter and rightly so. But perhaps its time to consider a housing allowance for members that would allow more of them to live in a more befitting the dignity of their office. We don’t want or need to treat members as if they were high-flying CEO’s but neither should we punish or beggar them merely for the sake of making a point about their profligate ways. Ambition and hunger for power ensures a never-ending supply of candidates for Congress no matter what their pay. But helping to reduce the ranks of the wealthy in Congress is an idea that should appeal to conservatives who worry about whether their representatives understand how taxes hurt growth and the pocketbooks of their constituents as much as it does to liberals. The relative pittance it might take to help get them off their office couches might have a beneficial impact on their work and the quality of recruits.

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