Commentary Magazine


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Exactly Why Are These People Running?

Four years ago I greeted Rick Santorum’s entry into the 2012 Republican presidential race by comparing him to his favorite baseball team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Just as those perennial cellar-dwellers could be in first place on Opening Day of the baseball season, so, too, I joked, could Santorum claim to have a legitimate shot at the presidency only on the day he declared his candidacy. But the following winter Santorum made me (and just about everybody else) eat crow as he came out of nowhere to win 11 primaries and caucuses to be the runner-up to Mitt Romney (and, yes, in the intervening years, the Pirates have become a playoff team too just to make my prediction completely ridiculous). The memory of that inspiring effort has impelled Santorum and a few other candidates who must be considered long shots at best to try in 2016. In a much larger field without any real frontrunner like Romney, perhaps it’s not entirely unreasonable for Santorum and the likes of Lindsey Graham and George Pataki to think they too can come from out of nowhere next year and make a splash. But nevertheless, you have to wonder exactly what any of these characters are smoking to make them think that they aren’t wasting their time.

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Four years ago I greeted Rick Santorum’s entry into the 2012 Republican presidential race by comparing him to his favorite baseball team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Just as those perennial cellar-dwellers could be in first place on Opening Day of the baseball season, so, too, I joked, could Santorum claim to have a legitimate shot at the presidency only on the day he declared his candidacy. But the following winter Santorum made me (and just about everybody else) eat crow as he came out of nowhere to win 11 primaries and caucuses to be the runner-up to Mitt Romney (and, yes, in the intervening years, the Pirates have become a playoff team too just to make my prediction completely ridiculous). The memory of that inspiring effort has impelled Santorum and a few other candidates who must be considered long shots at best to try in 2016. In a much larger field without any real frontrunner like Romney, perhaps it’s not entirely unreasonable for Santorum and the likes of Lindsey Graham and George Pataki to think they too can come from out of nowhere next year and make a splash. But nevertheless, you have to wonder exactly what any of these characters are smoking to make them think that they aren’t wasting their time.

Santorum’s 2016 effort is noteworthy because it is likely to put to bed forever the notion that the runner up in a GOP presidential race automatically becomes a front runner the second time around. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole and John McCain all succeeded in winning the nomination after prior losing efforts. But Santorum’s chances of following in their footsteps must be evaluated as being slim and none. While he wound up having the social conservative vote to himself in 2012, the competition for a demographic that can be decisive, especially in the Iowa Caucus, is much stiffer this time with Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee (another candidate hoping to recapture past glories in Iowa), Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry all claiming the same mantle

The field is deeper this time with a bevy of serious candidates as well as interesting outsiders. Though neither Carly Fiorina nor Ben Carson are likely to win, they may provide some energy that some of the less likely 2012 candidates lacked. Rand Paul may not now be in as strong a position as he thought he would be, but he’s still taken more seriously than his father Ron was in 2012. More mainstream candidates like Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush all have their weaknesses but all will have enough money to run competitive campaigns.

Nevertheless, Santorum does bring to the table a coherent approach to the race. He’s betting not only on retaining social conservatives but being able to position himself as the champion of working class Americans. The former Pennsylvania senator rightly chided the GOP for appealing only to business in 2012 and forgetting those at the base of the economic pyramid. But the problem there is that he isn’t running only against a plutocrat like Romney or even Bush, but against men like Walker, Rubio or Cruz whose origins are as humble as his own.

Thus, while Santorum may think he earned the right for another shot with his strong showing last time, it’s not clear that there is anything like a path to victory or even contention for him.

But however scant his chances will be, he looks like a favorite when compared to Pataki. The three-time New York governor has a resume of winning tough races (he’s the one who retired the late Mario Cuomo in 1994) but he left his party in ruins when he left office in 2006 and since then the New York GOP has been a joke. Though his record in office looks good compared to some of his successors, he was no model of conservative governance. Since then, he’s been out of both politics and the public eye. He has neither an ideological raison d’être nor a compelling life story or personality. The only thing his candidacy indicates is that it’s sometimes very hard for some politicians to accept the fact that their moment in the sun is truly over.

Graham is another candidate without a path to the nomination. Though a respected voice on defense issues, he is disliked by the party base for his stand on immigration. He mainly seems to be there to debate Rand Paul about foreign policy. But since it seems highly unlikely that he can break into the top ten in poll ratings, he probably won’t even get that chance because of the debate rules intended to avoid having 20 people on the stage.

All of these candidates have candidates have every right to take their chances and run if they like. And if donors are foolish enough to give them money, they can keep running until they flop in the early primaries and leave the podium to the ones with more credible chances of winning.

What makes them do it? Call it ego or the lure of the big stage. Perhaps some are delusional enough to think they can win. But though I’m taking the chance of making the same mistake with them that I made with Santorum, what I said about him in 2011 applies to him and a number of his fellow hopefuls: the high point of their candidacies is likely to be to their announcements.

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Confirmation Bias and the Limits of Human Knowledge

You could choose from among a seemingly infinite number of issues, but let’s mention just two that have been in the news recently: The unrest and violence in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland. Liberals and conservatives both argue that they reveal structural problems in our nation. But that’s where the agreement ends and the real arguments begin.

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You could choose from among a seemingly infinite number of issues, but let’s mention just two that have been in the news recently: The unrest and violence in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland. Liberals and conservatives both argue that they reveal structural problems in our nation. But that’s where the agreement ends and the real arguments begin.

In each instance, those in opposing ideological camps have drawn completely different lessons from what occurred. For liberals, the two incidents highlight racial divisions, problems with law enforcement and lack of spending. For conservatives, they underscore anti-police bias, liberal failures and the harmful effects of broken and never-formed families.

In the case of Ferguson, both sides saw what they wanted to see. Conservatives pointed to the fact that Officer Darren Wilson was justified in shooting Michael Brown and that the “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative was false. Liberals pointed to a Department of Justice report showing that in nearly every aspect of Ferguson’s law enforcement system, African Americans are impacted in a negative and unfair way. The result is that both sides talk past each other.

These are but two examples of an endless, recurring dance in American politics, in which event after event is used to confirm what we already believe. Time and again incidents merely justify our pre-existing views. I’ve seen this happen to people whose views I disagreed with; to people whose views I share; and to me. You may even have experienced it happening to you.

What cognitive scientists call confirmation bias is an unavoidable feature of political life. It often plays out in the almost instantaneous reaction most of us have when our views are challenged. We go in search of data and arguments not to learn so much as to confirm. Sure we already possess the truth, we’re not interested in processing inconvenient facts; we want to refute them.

Implicitly, the thinking process goes something like this: “I don’t want my opponents’ claim to be true. It therefore can’t be true. Now let me find evidence to prove it’s untrue.” If we heard ourselves or others say such a thing, we would be appalled. But here’s the dirty little secret: Everyone acts this way some of the time, even if we don’t publicly admit it.

Under the influence of this cast of mind, politics takes on a zero-sum quality. Once someone settles on a point of view, all the arguments of those with whom they disagree must be discredited. So if you’re in favor of tighter gun control, every argument the NRA makes must be wrong and every study that shows gun control laws doesn’t reduce crime must be dismissed. And if you believe anthropogenic global warming is a hoax, every claim by the world’s major science academies needs to be challenged and explained away as evidence of pervasive corruption. To make it so, you’ll believe arguments so thin you’d never take them seriously on most subjects, and you’ll desperately search for any hole, however small, in the arguments of an opponent so that you don’t have to face the core of his case.

Confirmation bias is something we can easily identify in others but find very difficult to detect in ourselves. (If you finish this piece thinking only of the blindness of those who disagree with you, you are proving my point.) And while some people are far more prone to it than others, it’s something none of us is fully free of. We all hold certain philosophical assumptions, whether we’re fully aware of them or not, and they create a prism through which we interpret events. Often those assumptions are not arrived at through empiricism; they are grounded in moral intuitions. And moral intuitions, while not sub-rational, are shaped by things other than facts and figures. “The heart has its reasons which reason itself does not know,” Pascal wrote. And often the heart is right.

Without such core intuitions, we could not hope to make sense of the world. But these intuitions do not stay broad and implicit: we use them to make concrete judgments in life. The consequences of those judgments offer real-world tests of our assumptions, and if we refuse to learn from the results then we have no hope of improving our judgments in the future.

Politics isn’t (and shouldn’t be) some kind of technical exercise. It is properly also an arena of moral judgment and philosophical disagreement. But it is an arena in which our views are tested in practice, and so we have to allow it to be a venue for learning from experience. For that to happen, we need to leave our intellectual cul-de-sacs from time to time, and to allow at least a few unlike-minded people to have standing in our lives and, when necessary, challenge our interpretation of things. “If you bring people together who disagree,” Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, has said, “and they have a sense of friendship, family, having something in common, having an institution to preserve, they can challenge each other’s reason.”

Acknowledging the existence of confirmation bias is not enough. In fact, that alone can lead us to become only more cynical and closed-minded. Seeing the limits of our knowledge would, in a perfect world, make us humble, not arrogant. We have to see that the existence of such bias doesn’t mean that no one’s arguments are ever true; it only means that no one’s—not even yours or mine—are always true. The truth exists, but none of us fully apprehends it. At best, we see only parts of the whole, which is why our politics will always be properly partisan.

But the fact of that partisanship—that politics consists of groups locked in debate, each possessed of part of the truth—makes it even harder to overcome our biases. The desire to defend our “team” is often an even more powerful inducement to ignore contrary arguments than the desire to confirm our own personal assumptions.

This fact is surely an obstacle to a rational democratic politics. And if confirmation bias has always been with us, it appears to be more prevalent today than in the past. According to the Pew Research Center, “Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in the last two decades.” Anecdotal evidence by lawmakers, who report unprecedented levels of polarization, reinforces this finding.

But the solution is not to despair of self-government. In fact, the answer is less cynicism, not more: We should not conclude that no one makes rational arguments in our politics, but rather than even people we disagree with make rational arguments, and so perhaps we should hold our views a little more lightly than we do and try to be less sure and to listen.

This isn’t an argument for being perennially uncertain; nor does it mean that all of us share the same amount of wisdom or that we’re all equidistant from the truth. Some people are a good deal closer to it than others. We should, however, be more willing to hold up our views to refinement, and to acknowledge the ubiquity of human limitations. We should go into arguments believing we have something to learn.

This really should be easier for us – for me — than it tends to be. And the reason it’s so hard should also make us humbler. The fact is that we are frequently not interested enough in deepening our understanding of things. We enter politics like lawyers looking to win a case for our clients no matter what, rather than like citizens looking to improve our common lot—or like seekers after wisdom looking to better understand the world. That has a lot to do with why our politics so often become personal, polarized, and heated.

To close off the possibility of change, self-reflection, and self-criticism is to elevate ideology over truth and to disfigure reality in the service of dogmatism. There is quite enough of that going on already.

But in the end, we must remember that precisely because no one knows the whole truth, even a more honest, wisdom-seeking democratic politics will always be partisan. Our dynamic, diverse country will always be full of people who disagree with you, and you will always worry about what might happen if they win the next election. That’s why fully recognizing the ubiquity of confirmation bias should ultimately leave us grateful, including for a system of government that tries not to give any person, party, or institution too much power all at once. And grateful for a constitution built upon a deeper recognition that most of us ever possess of the limits of human knowledge and the depths of human imperfection.

 

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Bret Stephens: COMMENTARY Lights the Way

COMMENTARY is America’s most important monthly journal of ideas, period. For nearly seven decades it has published the best and most exciting writing from the most important thinkers: Saul Bellow and Lionel Trilling; Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeane Kirkpatrick; Paul Johnson and Ruth Wisse; Cynthia Ozick and–of course–Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter. Is there anything remotely like it? No. It is the lamp by which America, and Israel, and the Jewish people, may find their way to safety. I’m proud to be published in its pages. Please click below to donate.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

COMMENTARY is America’s most important monthly journal of ideas, period. For nearly seven decades it has published the best and most exciting writing from the most important thinkers: Saul Bellow and Lionel Trilling; Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeane Kirkpatrick; Paul Johnson and Ruth Wisse; Cynthia Ozick and–of course–Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter. Is there anything remotely like it? No. It is the lamp by which America, and Israel, and the Jewish people, may find their way to safety. I’m proud to be published in its pages. Please click below to donate.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

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The White House Treats a Foreign Policy Disaster Like a Political Crisis

Nearly one year after the ISIS hordes charged screaming over the Syrian border and sacked Mosul, they’ve repeated the feat in Ramadi – the capital of the restive Anbar province, and a city located just 70 miles from Baghdad. Simultaneously, ISIS forces launched an offensive to the north and captured the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. In the face of this humiliation more than nine months after the start of renewed coalition bombing missions over Iraq, the White House dubiously continued to insist that everything was going according to plan. Except, there never was any plan.

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Nearly one year after the ISIS hordes charged screaming over the Syrian border and sacked Mosul, they’ve repeated the feat in Ramadi – the capital of the restive Anbar province, and a city located just 70 miles from Baghdad. Simultaneously, ISIS forces launched an offensive to the north and captured the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. In the face of this humiliation more than nine months after the start of renewed coalition bombing missions over Iraq, the White House dubiously continued to insist that everything was going according to plan. Except, there never was any plan.

“Look, there were several things that surprised us about ISIL,” outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told PBS reporter Martin Smith in a recent exit interview. “The degree to which they were able to form their own coalition, both inside of Syria — and inside of northwestern Iraq; the military capability that they exhibited — the collapse of the Iraq Security Forces. Yeah, in those initial days, there were a few surprises.”

The concession that the fall of Mosul was a source of astonishment for American military planners prompted former senior Iraq CIA officer John Maguire to demand Dempsey resign. While the Pentagon surely deserves some censure for the current state of affairs in the Middle East, it’s perhaps unwise to scapegoat Gen. Dempsey when it is the administration’s shortsightedness that merits criticism.

The New York Times revealed this week that the administration has steadfastly refused to shift tactics in response to ISIS’s shocking gains. The coalition air campaign over Iraq manages to conduct an average of 15 sorties per day; an embarrassingly small number of airstrikes compared to prior engagements that leaves the observer thinking that this war is being conducted in a perfunctory and halfhearted fashion. “The administration’s commitment or lack thereof sends a loud and clear signal to Iraqis: the US has little willingness to fight ISIS,” Max Boot noted. “And that message in turn undermines the fighting spirit of the Iraqis.”

By contrast, ISIS’s strategic approach to its war of conquest has been strikingly dynamic. “Islamic State commanders evaded surveillance and airstrikes to bring reinforcements to its front lines in western Iraq,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “The group displayed a high degree of operational security by silencing its social media and propaganda teams during the Ramadi surge.” The report added that the ISIS forces are converting captured American armored vehicles into “megabombs,” each with the destructive force equivalent to one of the devices used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

What’s more, ISIS forces operate with virtual impunity outside the frontlines. Beyond the occasional special forces operation — admittedly inspiring feats of derring-do by American servicemen that yield tangible benefits — ISIS operatives apparently have little to fear from U.S.-led coalition airpower.

“[T]he sorties flown so far have been minimal, and damage inflicted still less, even as ISIS held a parade in broad daylight in Rutba, Iraq, last week,” former CIA case officer Kevin Carroll revealed in a recent Journal op-ed outlining some of the tactical shifts the U.S. needs to contemplate. “That is the kind of target our aviators dream of. Rules of engagement need to be loosened, U.S. air controllers sent to the front to call in strikes, and more combat aircraft put into the fight.”

In a lamentably predictable display of political spinning from this administration when faced with adversity, the White House’s response to ISIS’s victories in Iraq and Syria has been utterly incoherent. In response to the fall of Ramadi, the president contended that he does not believe “we’re losing” the fight. Though dispiriting — “not losing” is a far cry from winning — this was perhaps an attempt by the president to raise ebbing morale. Days later, however, a variety of administration officials shifted blame for the collapse of the anti-ISIS effort back onto Iraqis which, some contended, lacked the will to resist ISIS’s advance.

Finally, after a considerable amount of blame shifting and reluctance to address suboptimal realities, the White House has conceded that it needs to consider a shift in tactics. On Wednesday, White House Communications Director Jennifer Psaki conceded that they do need to “adapt our strategy” to contend with the ISIS threat. It is, however, possible that this was merely Psaki veering wildly off message. She did, after all, note that that tactical shift would consist primarily of arming, training, and equipping Iraqi forces that she maintained in the next breath have neither the will nor the competence to successfully beat back ISIS. Still, this modest moment of self-critical awareness is worthy of praise, even more so if it presages some concrete policy adaptations from this administration.

In the meanwhile, ISIS has begun the familiar process of cementing its hold over its newly acquired territories by first executing the irreplaceable Iraqis who cooperated with the government in Baghdad. At least 500 were killed, and another 25,000 displaced in the immediate wake of the fall of Ramadi – the new tide of refugees all swarming on the increasingly beleaguered capital. And still the administration treats this grave security threat as though it were a domestic political issue that would disappear if only the White House could settle on the right messaging.

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The Economics of Birth Control Drugs

The Hill is reporting that Colorado Senator Cory Gardner is introducing a bill that would require drug companies that produce birth control drugs to apply to the FDA to have them be sold over the counter. These drugs have been on the market now for decades with few if any side-effects, and most such drugs go over the counter quite soon. Senator Gardner has six Republican co-sponsors.

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The Hill is reporting that Colorado Senator Cory Gardner is introducing a bill that would require drug companies that produce birth control drugs to apply to the FDA to have them be sold over the counter. These drugs have been on the market now for decades with few if any side-effects, and most such drugs go over the counter quite soon. Senator Gardner has six Republican co-sponsors.

It’s only common sense to make safe drugs with no abuse potential as easily available as possible, right? But guess who opposes the measure. Planned Parenthood, among other liberal organizations. They have one stated objection and one unstated. The latter is that if a woman can just walk into a drug store and buy birth control pills, she won’t need to go to Planned Parenthood first to get a prescription. Planned Parenthood would become, in effect, the world’s largest abortion clinic.

But their stated objection is that if birth control is OTC, then insurance companies might stop paying for it, just as they don’t pay for aspirin, cold medicines, and Tums.

Of course, insurance companies shouldn’t be paying for it even if it’s a prescription drug.

Insurance is meant to protect people and organizations from large expenses that cannot be predicted, such as a house fire or an automobile accident. Everyone who sends a premium to an insurance company hopes that he won’t have to make a claim. What insurance does not and should not cover are routine, predictable expenses, such as, with automobiles, oil changes. Equally, health insurance should cover large, unpredictable expenses, such as serious illness. They should not cover routine, predictable expenses such as birth control. But Obamacare forces them to, at great expense to the women who take birth control pills.

Here’s the economics-101 reason:  Covering such expenses is not insurance at all, it’s a prepayment plan and a very expensive one.

Because insurance companies don’t cover oil changes, the car owner drops by the garage four times a year, gets his oil changed, pays the garage $25 and drives off, for an annual expense of $100. But if the federal government in its infinite wisdom were to decide to force automobile insurance companies to pay for oil changes, the garage owner would bill the insurance company instead. But because that requires clerical effort and he has to wait for his money, the garage owner won’t charge $25, he’ll charge, say, $30. When the insurance company gets the claim, it will run it through its own clerical process and, eventually, cut a check and send it to the garage.

But that overhead has to covered by the premium as well, as does the company’s need to make a profit. So the insurance company will jack up the premium by, say $10 per oil change. So now, instead of the four annual oil changes costing $100, they cost $160 in increased insurance premiums.

And liberals think that birth control, thanks to Obamacare, is now “free.”  Milton Friedman, call your office.

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Why Hillary’s Listening Tour Is a Mistake

Not everything is going as planned in Hillary Clinton’s world. The putative Democratic presidential nominee’s listening tour is intended to ease her transition into the race providing her with maximum visibility and minimal exposure to press scrutiny. However, the controversies over her emails, the Clinton Cash scandal, and her Sidney Blumenthal connection and questions about the former First Family’s ethics have overshadowed her campaign appearances. Her refusal to grant even occasional press availabilities also turned into a story. Just as problematic is the fact that the dog-and-pony shows that were set up for her have a phony feel to them that has done little to shake off her political rust or to convince voters she really cares about them. But there are a couple of other serious problems to ponder here as she sits and listens to people recruited to talk to her. One has to do with the listening tour idea itself, and the other is how it is affecting her campaign.

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Not everything is going as planned in Hillary Clinton’s world. The putative Democratic presidential nominee’s listening tour is intended to ease her transition into the race providing her with maximum visibility and minimal exposure to press scrutiny. However, the controversies over her emails, the Clinton Cash scandal, and her Sidney Blumenthal connection and questions about the former First Family’s ethics have overshadowed her campaign appearances. Her refusal to grant even occasional press availabilities also turned into a story. Just as problematic is the fact that the dog-and-pony shows that were set up for her have a phony feel to them that has done little to shake off her political rust or to convince voters she really cares about them. But there are a couple of other serious problems to ponder here as she sits and listens to people recruited to talk to her. One has to do with the listening tour idea itself, and the other is how it is affecting her campaign.

Let’s start by granting that there is something appealing about a powerful person deigning to listen to the concerns of the people. Americans like their politicians to at least pretend that they care about them. Some, like Hillary’s husband Bill, turned it into an art form. But unlike her spouse, Hillary isn’t very good at the show of “feeling the pain” of others. Though she asks questions and listens intently, these photo ops have the feel of an audience with a queen rather than a politician humbly asking for support.

More to the point, instead of Democrat central casting providing peasants and villagers as props for Clinton, the notion of a candidate who only listens or pretends to do so, is counter-intuitive to the presidential election process. What citizens in a democracy need from our candidates is not so much the opportunity to tell a monarch our problems as to know what they think and want to do if we give them the power they are asking us for.

This is especially true for Clinton who has never seemed as comfortable in her own skin as better politicians like her husband or Barack Obama, the man who beat her in 2008, the last time her party was about to hand her their nomination on a silver platter. Is Hillary the tough centrist that ran eight years ago? Or is she a rebooted Elizabeth Warren clone who can rally the left wing of a party that thinks of her being as too close to Wall Street donors for their comfort?

We don’t know the answers to those questions and we’re not likely to get any so long as she is posing as the nation’s listening post.

But while a listening tour was a reasonable tactic during a period of the campaign in which she would do best to merely tread water, Clinton’s response to the people she meets is accentuating the authenticity problem.

As the New York Times reports, Clinton is bombarding her policy shop headquartered back in Brooklyn with ideas that come up as a result of her encounters in Iowa. One day, she’s fascinated with helping small businesses in what appears to be a case of her adopting the Republicans “you built that” theme from their 2012 national convention. The next, she’s back to talking about student loan debt. Then it’s back to health care, her first national political disaster.

These are all things we want our candidates to know about, but one gets the impression that Hillary is using these audiences with her public in a way that isn’t entirely healthy for her campaign. It’s not just that her campaign is short on concrete ideas and proposals. It’s that her lack of core beliefs and willingness to say whatever people want helps create an incoherent narrative that undermines any sense that she has a coherent vision of what her presidency would stand for.

Perhaps Clinton is so well-known a political brand that, unlike other candidates, she doesn’t have to convince people to identify her with a particular set of beliefs or stands on the issues. But what comes through in her listening tour is the idea that she’s taking notes on what worries voters, and she’ll get back to us later on how to incorporate those concerns in her rhetoric. The Clinton candidacy isn’t so much listening, as it is a marketing firm for a product conducting focus groups in order to mold their commodity into something people would buy.

For a candidate whose greatest flaw is a lack of authenticity, this is the worst possible strategy that can be imagined. Clinton can’t feel our pain with sincerity any more than she can tell us why she is running for president other than to give us our first woman commander-in-chief. That’s not an unworthy goal, and might be enough to win her the presidency if the Republicans field a weak candidate to oppose her. But at a stage of the election cycle when she should be establishing her identity, all she seems to be doing is reminding us that she’s still working on creating one.

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Rand Paul is Running for the Wrong Party’s Nomination

After reflecting on Sen. Rand Paul’s reprise of his marathon 2013 Senate speech in opposition to the National Security Agency’s information collection and retention programs last week, Jonathan Tobin observed that the Kentucky senator now appears to be a largely spent force. Paul retains the unfailing support of his cadre of libertarian acolytes, of course, and his foreign and domestic policy prescriptions retain their appeal among a set of soft Republicans. But the Paul who spoke for 11 hours last week in opposition to the NSA’s programs looked less like a figure that could unite a major American political party and more like someone desperately trying to retain the support of those libertarians disappointed in him for deviating from the dogma to which his father adhered.

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After reflecting on Sen. Rand Paul’s reprise of his marathon 2013 Senate speech in opposition to the National Security Agency’s information collection and retention programs last week, Jonathan Tobin observed that the Kentucky senator now appears to be a largely spent force. Paul retains the unfailing support of his cadre of libertarian acolytes, of course, and his foreign and domestic policy prescriptions retain their appeal among a set of soft Republicans. But the Paul who spoke for 11 hours last week in opposition to the NSA’s programs looked less like a figure that could unite a major American political party and more like someone desperately trying to retain the support of those libertarians disappointed in him for deviating from the dogma to which his father adhered.

The most stalwart libertarian supporters of the Paul clan grew disenchanted with the prodigal son when it became apparent that he was vying to actually win his party’s presidential nomination, and was thus compelled to appeal to the broadest base of Republicans possible by adopting more moderate stances on matters relating to foreign affairs.  For a moment, it appeared as though Paul might prove an attractive candidate for a majority of war-weary conservatives leery of the intrusive security state. But the wave of anti-government sentiment among conservatives that crested in 2013 was dashed against the rocks of renewed fears about Islamist terrorism, the rise of ISIS, and revanchism evidenced by state actors like Russia, China, and Iran. Today, rather than broadening his base, Paul clings as desperately as he can to that meager coalition that inspired nearly 11 percent of GOP primary voters to cast their ballots for former Rep. Ron Paul in 2012.

In an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Wednesday, Paul channeled his father when he was asked whether the present incarnation of ISIS, the successor organization to the defanged and exiled al-Qaeda in Iraq, would have arisen had the United States aggressively contained the Syrian Civil War in Syria in 2012-2013. “[Sen. Lindsey] Graham would say ISIS exists because of people like Rand Paul who said, ‘Let’s not go into Syria,’” Scarborough noted. “What do you say to Lindsey?”

“I would say it’s exactly the opposite,” Paul replied. “ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately, and most of those arms were snatched up by ISIS.”

“These hawks also wanted to bomb Assad, which would have made ISIS’s job even easier,” he added. “They created these people.”

This is a rather juvenile and unconvincing effort to square a predetermined conclusion with contradictory evidence. The responsibility the West shirked in Syria was the maintenance of the prohibition on the battlefield use of chemical weapons, not in combating terrorism. President Barack Obama declined to mete out the consequences he promised Bashar al-Assad should the Syrian dictator continue to use chemical weapons, and instead relied on Russia to broker an arrangement that preserved their client in Damascus and helped Obama to save face. Nearly two years later, chemical weapons are regularly deployed in Syria, and the world is a more dangerous place as global actors test the parameters of America’s commitment to its word. Apparently, Rand Paul thinks that this is sound form of statecraft.

Paul’s instinctual aversion to interventionism may be principled if not wrongheaded, but it is a losing approach to the Republican presidential primaries.

“Nearly three-quarter of Republicans now favor sending ground troops into combat against the Islamic State, according to a CBS News poll last week,” a February report in the New York Times read. “And in Iowa and South Carolina, two early nominating states, Republicans said military action against the group was, alongside economic matters, the most important issue in the 2016 election, according to an NBC survey released last week.”

“When Pew asked respondents to choose between ‘using overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism around the world’ and ‘relying too much on military force to defeat terrorism creates hatred that leads to more terrorism,’ last October 57 percent of Republicans chose the overwhelming military force option; that number is now 74 percent,” the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman noted in that same month.

Regardless of what you think of Paul’s approach to governance, his is not a strategy aimed at winning the support of even a plurality of Republican primary voters. It is increasingly unclear, however, if Paul is even interested in securing the GOP nod. The junior Kentucky senator seems to find himself more at home in liberal enclaves than he does in the Republican Party’s geographic heartland. A recent Times dispatch noted that Paul recently found himself warmly received in a manner not often reserved for Republicans in the liberal bastion of Manhattan. “Paul played to the crowd,” the report read, noting that his speech “had echoes of the messages of his father.” The Bluegrass State senator is equally eager to reach out to atypical Republican voters in places like the Bay Area. Paul’s decision to open an office near San Francisco in order to appeal to libertarians in the Silicon Valley last year was framed as an outreach effort when, in reality, it’s more likely constituency maintenance.

Rand Paul is no longer waging a broad-based campaign to win the Republican nomination. His candidacy looks more and more like a factional effort to compel the Republican Party to embrace the libertarian foreign policy prescriptions of retrenchment and disengagement; policies already espoused by the present occupant of the Oval Office and which must be defended by his party’s chosen successor, Hillary Clinton.

The promise of Rand Paul’s campaign was that it would build his father’s political base into a mainstream force that would shift the GOP in a libertarian direction. While Paul’s adherence to his principles, as dangerous as they are, is laudable, they render him as niche a candidate as his father ever was.

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Damned Lies and Fact-Checkers

If Mark Twain were around he would have to modify his famous aphorism about “lies, damned lies, and statistics” to add another category of lies–reporter’s attempts at fact-checking politicians. This practice has become prevalent in recent decades, but more often than not it is simply a way for reporters to sneak dubious editorializing into the guise of an ostensibly straight news story — to try to put forward their own spin and bias in opposition to the politicians’ spin and bias.

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If Mark Twain were around he would have to modify his famous aphorism about “lies, damned lies, and statistics” to add another category of lies–reporter’s attempts at fact-checking politicians. This practice has become prevalent in recent decades, but more often than not it is simply a way for reporters to sneak dubious editorializing into the guise of an ostensibly straight news story — to try to put forward their own spin and bias in opposition to the politicians’ spin and bias.

Case in point is this article from the Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler awarding Jeb Bush “four Pinocchios” for his alleged lack of truthfulness. What is it that Bush said that is so wrong? Did he claim that Obama was a secret Muslim? That one of his GOP rivals was a Ku Kluxer? That Hillary Clinton had ordered the death of the US ambassador in Benghazi?

Not quite. Here is the statement from Jeb that so offended Glenn Kessler:

“ISIS didn’t exist when my brother was president. Al Qaeda in Iraq was wiped out when my brother was president.”

Kessler claims this is a lie because “to a large extent, the Islamic State of today is simply an outgrowth of al-Qaeda of Iraq,” and AQI came into being while George W. Bush was president. AQI even proclaimed an Islamic State in Iraq in 2006 after the death of its founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

It’s certainly true that ISIS is an outgrowth of AQI, but what Bush said was right, not wrong. While the chaotic conditions of Iraq after the U.S. invasion in 2003 allowed AQI to flourish, it was largely defeated during the surge in 2007-2008. Kessler cites a 2009 US intelligence assessment that AQI “is likely to retain a residual capacity to undertake terrorist operations for years to come.” But the rest of the report, which Kessler, to his credit, also cites, goes on to note:  “AQI, although still dangerous, has experienced the defection of members, lost key mobilization areas, suffered disruption of support infrastructure and funding, and been forced to change targeting priorities.”

I would go further and say that by the time the U.S. troops left Iraq in 2011, AQI, while still in existence, was no longer a significant strategic threat to the well-being of the Iraqi state. It had, in a word, been defeated.

What happened next? A civil war broke out in Syria, the US did little to stop it, and the chaotic conditions which then prevailed in Syria allowed AQI to get a fresh lease on life. Soon it had metamorphosed into the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq, and using Syria as its base, it expanded back into Iraq. In 2014 it proclaimed a caliphate stretching across Syria and Iraq–a new Islamic State that never previously existed.

What Jeb Bush said, then, is certainly true: the Islamic State did not exist when George W. Bush was president, and al-Qaeda in Iraq was essentially defeated during his administration. It emerged stronger than ever in no small part because of Obama’s neglect of the region.

You can criticize Jeb for failing to note that it was his brother’s policies — specifically the failure to establish security in Iraq in 2003-2006 — that made AQI a threat in the first place, but what he said was truthful if not necessarily complete. To argue otherwise is tendentious — akin to calling a politician a liar for saying that the Republican Party was founded in 1854 because its predecessor, the Whig Party, had been founded in 1833.

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America Deals A Heavy Blow to FIFA

Doubtless, there will be some soccer fans who, this morning, are grimacing at the news that fourteen top officials of FIFA, the sport’s world governing body, have been indicted on corruption charges brought against them by, of all countries, the United States. I am not one of them.

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Doubtless, there will be some soccer fans who, this morning, are grimacing at the news that fourteen top officials of FIFA, the sport’s world governing body, have been indicted on corruption charges brought against them by, of all countries, the United States. I am not one of them.

Americans are widely mocked for referring to the game that everyone else calls football as “sawker.” But that cultural anomaly aside, it is thanks to American efforts that soccer, dogged for years by allegations of corruption and bribery, just may be on the cusp of recovering its integrity.

A mere two days before FIFA is due to begin its 2015 Congress in Switzerland, plainclothes Swiss police swooped upon the five star Baur au Lac hotel near Zurich, where they arrested seven of the fourteen indictees, who will now be extradited to the United States on federal corruption charges. A few hours after those arrests were carried out, the Swiss authorities seized computers and electronic data from FIFA’s headquarters.

American involvement in stamping out corruption in FIFA’s corridors stems from the 350-page report compiled by Michael J. Garcia, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which exposed astonishing levels of corruption in the bidding process that resulted in Russia and Qatar winning the hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups respectively. Garcia spent almost two years on the investigation, but the publication of his conclusions was suppressed by FIFA in October last year. It’s safe to assume that Garcia – who, by all accounts, has no interest in soccer as a sport – is having the last laugh today.

Garcia’s report pointed out that many of the bribery transactions were allegedly carried out on American soil, thereby enabling U.S. jurisdiction over the case. According to a statement released by the Swiss Office of Justice, “these crimes were agreed and prepared in the U.S., and payments were carried out via U.S. banks.” Among the seven officials who will stand trial in an American courtroom is the former FIFA Vice-President Jack Warner, a particularly nasty anti-Semite who put the blame on “Zionism” when he was compelled to resign from his post in 2011, shortly before Garcia began his investigation.

Indeed, until today’s news broke, “Zionism” was poised to become the main item on the FIFA Congress agenda, due to the attempt by Jibril Rajoub, a convicted Fatah terrorist who heads the Palestine Football Association, to have Israel suspended from FIFA. As the Israeli legal NGO Shurat HaDin pointed out in a letter to FIFA, among Rajoub’s many inflammatory statements was his declaration that if the Palestinians “had nuclear weapons, we’d be using them” against Israel.

Rajoub’s initiative – formally predicated on the accusation that Israel has prevented Palestinian soccer players from participating in international matches on security grounds – is more properly understood as an element of the wider Palestinian strategy to isolate Israel in international bodies ranging from the UN to FIFA. As my colleague, Aiden Pink, observes in an article for The Tower magazine, Rajoub’s gambit,

 …is another facet of the Palestinian Authority’s escalating efforts to isolate and delegitimize Israel in bodies like the UN Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court—politicizing organizations that could theoretically serve a noble purpose if they weren’t so consumed with anti-Israel animus. One of FIFA’s only saving graces over the past few years has been that it has done a decent job at staying neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while successfully working to develop soccer in both countries: In the last two years, FIFA has invested $4.5 million in infrastructure and stadium upgrades in the West Bank, and selected Israel to host the Men’s Under-21 and Women’s Under-19 European Championships. Approving the Palestinian proposal would mean that, like a brilliant goal-scoring run called offside, it was all a lot of effort with nothing to show for it.

While there was always doubt over whether Rajoub would succeed in his quest, today’s arrests at FIFA, coupled with the news that UEFA, the powerful European section of FIFA, will oppose the Palestinian proposal, should hopefully mean that Israel is in the clear. I say “hopefully” because one should always be careful when it comes to predictions over FIFA’s behavior, but the portents for Israel now look much more positive than they did earlier this week.

The aim now should be to demand that FIFA revoke both Russia’s and Qatar’s hosting rights for the next two World Cups. FIFA has already stated rather weakly that it has ruled out such an outcome, but the organization’s President Sepp Blatter – a dictatorial figure currently seeking a fifth term at FIFA’s helm – is likely to face unprecedented pressure to revise that decision.

For all its talk of “respect” and “equality,” soccer, and sport more generally, has never been wary of cozying up to the world’s most repugnant regimes. The Nazis hosted the Olympics in Berlin in 1936, and the Soviet Union and China were given the same honor in 1980 and 2008. In 1978, the World Cup was hosted by Argentina when that country was in the grip of a horrendous military dictatorship. Awarding Vladimir Putin the World Cup despite his invasion of Ukraine, and extending the same privilege to Qatar, which uses slave labor to build soccer stadiums, is therefore simply more of the same. But because of the tenacious efforts of American law enforcement officials, the writing is, at long last, on the wall.

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Mark Steyn: COMMENTARY’s Piercing Clarity on Matters Large and Small

COMMENTARY is an indispensable read on the Arab Spring, the Afghan war, the future of American conservatism, and all the other crazy stuff out there. But you already knew that. What I really love about it is that it’s a full-service operation, and its back-of-the-book guys–the fellows who write about music, literature, and all the things that make life worth living as the world goes to hell–are the best in the business. There is an observation in a Terry Teachout piece on the wonderful singer Nancy LaMott about “Moon River” that has stayed with me for almost two decades. I fished it out from the back of my mind to impress a gal at a Goldwater Institute reception only the other day, and it worked a treat. So thank you, COMMENTARY!

Likewise, my differences with the arts’n’culture crew unsettle me far more than the geopolitical ones: reasonable people can disagree on how large a nuclear arsenal those wacky mullahs should be permitted to own, but I’m still agog at the great Andrew Ferguson’s mystifying praise for the New York Times obituaries page some issues back. That’s COMMENTARY for you–provocative to the end, on matters large and small. In these turbulent and dismaying times, we can all use a huckleberry friend waiting round the bend, in the mailbox each month and on the computer screen every morning. For any journal of opinion, as “Moon River” teaches us, there’s such a lot of world to see. COMMENTARY sees most of it with piercing clarity: it can’t know all the answers, but it asks all the right questions, and with great farsightedness. It deserves your wholehearted support.

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COMMENTARY is an indispensable read on the Arab Spring, the Afghan war, the future of American conservatism, and all the other crazy stuff out there. But you already knew that. What I really love about it is that it’s a full-service operation, and its back-of-the-book guys–the fellows who write about music, literature, and all the things that make life worth living as the world goes to hell–are the best in the business. There is an observation in a Terry Teachout piece on the wonderful singer Nancy LaMott about “Moon River” that has stayed with me for almost two decades. I fished it out from the back of my mind to impress a gal at a Goldwater Institute reception only the other day, and it worked a treat. So thank you, COMMENTARY!

Likewise, my differences with the arts’n’culture crew unsettle me far more than the geopolitical ones: reasonable people can disagree on how large a nuclear arsenal those wacky mullahs should be permitted to own, but I’m still agog at the great Andrew Ferguson’s mystifying praise for the New York Times obituaries page some issues back. That’s COMMENTARY for you–provocative to the end, on matters large and small. In these turbulent and dismaying times, we can all use a huckleberry friend waiting round the bend, in the mailbox each month and on the computer screen every morning. For any journal of opinion, as “Moon River” teaches us, there’s such a lot of world to see. COMMENTARY sees most of it with piercing clarity: it can’t know all the answers, but it asks all the right questions, and with great farsightedness. It deserves your wholehearted support.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

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Israelis Try Realism; Obama and the Palestinians Don’t Like It.

For all of the talk we’ve been hearing for the last week about how Israel’s new government can’t possibly function, Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to be catching a lot more flack about the likelihood that his appointees will implement changes than about their supposed inability to act. The latest item to provoke international outrage is the appointment of Dore Gold, a respected scholar and veteran diplomat to the post of director general of the foreign ministry. The problem with Gold, according to left-wing critics and the Palestinians is that he has an annoying tendency to see the situation as it is and not through the rose-colored glasses of some of the inveterate peace processors that preceded him in the post. As with Netanyahu’s re-election, the losers in that contest that are warning Israelis the country will pay a heavy price for not doing as Washington orders. But what both the prime minister and his long-time adviser bring to the table is a much-needed sense of realism to the task of representing Israel to the world that their opponents lack.

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For all of the talk we’ve been hearing for the last week about how Israel’s new government can’t possibly function, Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to be catching a lot more flack about the likelihood that his appointees will implement changes than about their supposed inability to act. The latest item to provoke international outrage is the appointment of Dore Gold, a respected scholar and veteran diplomat to the post of director general of the foreign ministry. The problem with Gold, according to left-wing critics and the Palestinians is that he has an annoying tendency to see the situation as it is and not through the rose-colored glasses of some of the inveterate peace processors that preceded him in the post. As with Netanyahu’s re-election, the losers in that contest that are warning Israelis the country will pay a heavy price for not doing as Washington orders. But what both the prime minister and his long-time adviser bring to the table is a much-needed sense of realism to the task of representing Israel to the world that their opponents lack.

There is no question that the divvying up of the political spoils in the new coalition is not an edifying spectacle even by the debased standards of Israeli politics. As the Times of Israel’s Haviv Retting Gur points out, the motivation for many of the ministerial appointments has to do with Netanyahu’s efforts to sideline potential opponents. But while those who predict that this scheme can’t possibly last will eventually be right, Netanyahu has outlasted a generation of would-be successors and counting on his streak ending seems a foolish bet. It’s not clear how much, if anything, this government will accomplish in domestic politics since its slim 61-59 majority will always be in question. But on diplomacy, Netanyahu has the opportunity to change things up, and it is a shift that is long overdue.

Gold replaces a Nissim Ben-Shitrit, a diplomatic veteran with a half-century’s worth of experience. Some who believe an honored professional has been pushed out in favor of a prime ministerial crony sees this as outrageous. But the problem here is the assumption that the foreign ministry knows what it’s been doing. As I pointed out last week when writing about new deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely’s attempt to get the ministry to answer Palestinian arguments rooted in rights rather than merely talking about security and a belief in peace, too many of those charged with representing Israel are locked into an outdated and unrealistic Oslo mindset about the peace process. The result is that even though the country has clearly moved on from a policy that failed disastrously, much of the foreign affairs bureaucracy acts as if it has not.

For those who remember the classic British television shows, Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, permanent civil servants working in Israel have often played the same game with underqualified and outmatched politicians assigned to supervise them. But by putting Dore Gold, a man who can match anyone in the ministry for knowledge of the situation and who has the confidence of the prime minister, in charge there, that bureaucracy can now be mobilized to help the government rather than ensuring that it will fail.

Nor is it unprecedented for a new government to attempt to clean house in the foreign ministry when a new minister takes office. Left-wingers like Shimon Peres and Tzipi Livni, ensured no opposition by appointing someone they trusted. Netanyahu, who retains the foreign minister portfolio for the time being, is doing the same but to even better effect because his man actually has a clear head about Palestinian intentions rather than illusions about a peace deal the other side has no interest in as Peres and Livni did.

The problem with much of Israeli diplomacy during the last 20 years has not been due to a lack of effort given to promoting the peace process. Rather, Israel’s diplomats have often been so heavily invested in the notion of peace that they failed to treat the conflict as one in which both sides, and not just the Palestinians, had rights. This has been a particular problem for Likud governments, which has often handed the foreign ministry over to coalition allies or saddled with leaders like Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s former partner and now rival who was clearly unsuited to the task and wound up doing little to change the culture of the ministry.

Contrary to the criticisms of left-wing politicians quoted in the New York Times who want Netanyahu to surround himself with people who agree with Obama about the Middle East, the prime minister did well to name a sober thinker like Gold who doesn’t try to imagine the Middle East as he’d like it to be but instead sees it as it really is.

Instead of cravenly bowing to U.S. dictates, Netanyahu wants his diplomats to stand up for its country and to speak truth to an American government whose view of the region is distorted by their fantasies about both the Palestinians and their new Iranian negotiating partners. Israel must continue to thread the needle between the need to be open to the possibility of peace, however unlikely, and avoiding being sucked down the rabbit hole into talks that are set up to fail and for which it will always be blamed for the failure no matter what the Palestinians do. Rather than seeking to demonize Gold, Netanyahu’s critics should give him credit for seeking to align his country’s diplomatic corps with a strategy based in the reality of Palestinian intransigence. In the long run, truth is always a better foundation for foreign policy than fiction.

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The Left’s Shaming of Scott Walker

For those on the left, there is a crisis in America: A crisis of judgmentalism. Among the class of liberal activists, it seems as though no offense to sensibilities is as unpleasant as the articulation of one’s disapproval of socially objectionable behavior.

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For those on the left, there is a crisis in America: A crisis of judgmentalism. Among the class of liberal activists, it seems as though no offense to sensibilities is as unpleasant as the articulation of one’s disapproval of socially objectionable behavior.

Liberals are aware of the acute health emergency posed by obesity and are foursquare behind taxpayer-funded efforts to regulate and monitor the public’s calorie intake, but don’t you dare “fat-shame.” Similarly, most liberals would concede that the transmission of STDs and profligate pregnancy outside wedlock are nothing to be proud of, but “slut-shaming” is the height of hypercritical disparagement. It’s certainly not advisable to imbibe to a point where you might become unaware of your surroundings and endanger yourself and others, but only a despicable scold would indulge in “drunk-shaming.” Competition is key to success and students should be encouraged to perform their best, but posting a class’s test grades for all to see is a gross example of “grade-shaming.” And don’t you dare question the validity of the shaming above lest you be accused of “shame-shaming.”

“If it feels good, do it” has been appended to include the addendum, “with impunity.” Freedom from consequence has become the paramount goal, even if the actions in question are deleterious to society. The ironic twist to all this is that the left’s antipathy toward those deemed overly judgmental is, in fact, being judgmental. I know, I know; consistency, hobgoblins, small minds, and all that.

There are, however, some examples of shaming that the left continues to find noble. It is no accident that the targets of their censure are exclusively conservative, the ultimate offense meriting a scolding. The latest target of the left’s lofty discrimination is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. According to a prominent Hillary Clinton donor, Walker’s failure to graduate college with a degree renders him intellectually incapable of occupying the Oval Office.

In an interview with The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff, Clinton donor and Florida-based attorney John Morgan unloaded on Walker and the fundamental trait that should disqualify him from holding office higher than the chief executive of a state.

Warning: Salty language to follow:

“Walker would be the first president with a GED,” Morgan said, alluding to the fact that the Wisconsin governor doesn’t have a college degree. “We just cannot have a dumb shit as president. Total dumb shit.”

Walker’s team didn’t comment on the “dumb shit” characterization.

Morgan went on to call former Hewlett-Packard CEO “Cruella de Vil,” substantiating the cliché that doctrinaire liberals are compelled to caricature their Republican opponents as either evil or stupid.

But this refreshingly unguarded comment exposes even more structural problems with which the present incarnation of the Democratic Party is coping. Long ago lost is the coalition of voters that sent Roosevelt, Kennedy, Carter, and even Clinton to the White House. In a recent mea culpa for National Journal, Emerging Democratic Majority co-author John Judis acknowledged that the Republican Party has emerged as the preferred party for those without a college degree. The 2014 midterm results indicate that the GOP is making substantial inroads with those who have only a four-year degree, while those who have a post-graduate degree or higher remain stalwart Democratic supporters. That is, however, a small pool from which to draw unflinching supporters.

At a time when millions of American families are struggling to send their children to four-year institutions, and with still more millions of Americans rediscovering the value of vocational education and blue-collar career paths, it is perhaps ill-advised to be insulting those who decline to attend college. That is doubly true for Scott Walker, who only failed to graduate with a degree because he left his university a few credits shy when he received a lucrative job offer in the middle of his senior year. And as for those liberals who would object to suggesting that the comments of one donor are indicative of the party’s thinking on this issue, they would be advised to turn to Charles and David Koch for comment.

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Getting Away With Amnesty Not as Easy as Obama Thought

When President Obama issued his executive orders implementing amnesty for up to five million illegal immigrants after the midterm elections, the assumption among most of his supporters and the bulk of his opponents was that there was very little anyone could do to stop him. But due to a successful legal counterattack the plan has yet to be implanted. The latest setback to the administration came in the 5th Circuit court of Appeals where a 2-1 majority voted to deny a stay of an injunction that a lower court put on the amnesty project. That means the president now has the choice of either waiting for a different panel of that circuit to rule on the merits of Texas v. United States in which the state seeks to demonstrate that amnesty will hurt its citizens or wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the stay. Either way, the case drags on. While the odds are still with the administration on the Texas case, which hinges on a technicality rather than whether the president has the power to act to change immigration policy without Congress, these setbacks leave open the possibility that the unthinkable may happen and the entire idea could actually be struck down.

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When President Obama issued his executive orders implementing amnesty for up to five million illegal immigrants after the midterm elections, the assumption among most of his supporters and the bulk of his opponents was that there was very little anyone could do to stop him. But due to a successful legal counterattack the plan has yet to be implanted. The latest setback to the administration came in the 5th Circuit court of Appeals where a 2-1 majority voted to deny a stay of an injunction that a lower court put on the amnesty project. That means the president now has the choice of either waiting for a different panel of that circuit to rule on the merits of Texas v. United States in which the state seeks to demonstrate that amnesty will hurt its citizens or wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the stay. Either way, the case drags on. While the odds are still with the administration on the Texas case, which hinges on a technicality rather than whether the president has the power to act to change immigration policy without Congress, these setbacks leave open the possibility that the unthinkable may happen and the entire idea could actually be struck down.

The executive orders are, almost by definition, extra-legal because the president spent his first six years in office explaining his refusal to act in this matter by saying that he lacked the legal authority to amend a law on his own rather than waiting for Congress to do so. But most observers saw the executive orders as being largely impervious to protests since the president’s power to implement rules challenges or merely to order authorities not to enforce the law gave him free rein to do as he liked.

But the efforts of one activist conservative judge in Texas have thrown a monkey wrench into the president’s plans. Judge Andrew Hanen’s finding that the president had broken the law came days after the president issued the orders, and the business has been stuck there since then. Though Hanen’s injunction was widely derided at the time as a case of conservative legal guerilla warfare, the appeals ruling grants his decision a touch of legitimacy that most observers denied it at the time. If indeed, the courts rule that Obama had the obligation to go through the normal rules-making procedures that the president ignored when he issued his orders.

Moreover it also opens up the possibility that the state of Texas may have a legal leg to stand on when it claims that amnesty puts its citizens on the hook for the costs associated with amnesty that would be granted to more than half a million people in the Lone Star State alone. Can this opinion prevail on the merits all the way through the judicial system. The answer is probably not since states could sue the federal government for a host of unfunded mandates on many issues. As the dissenting judge in the appeals ruling observed, this case is blatantly political. A total of 26 states support Texas in the lawsuit.

But that’s what happens when a president attempts to rule on his own. Even if you agree with the president that a solution must be found for the illegals, that doesn’t involve deportation. The longer this drags on, the clearer it is that the proper venue for changing the immigration laws isn’t in the courts but in Congress, to which the Constitution has given the power to legislate. While the president does have the right to decide who should be deported, by effectively annulling the laws of the land without benefit of Congress or any sort of legal process undermines the rule of law. No matter who eventually prevails in this case, the attempt to make an end run around the Constitution, and have the president decide such issues on his own because he is tired of watching Congress fail to obey his orders, has done real damage to respect for the law.

Just as important, he has made it even more difficult for Congress to ever consider liberalizing the laws since arguments for reform have been hurt by the president’s refusal to abide by legal norms. The president may wind up getting away with executive amnesty, but it isn’t as easy or as clean as he thought it would be. And the close we get to 2016, the more likely it will be that immigration reform is not only finished until the next Congress but perhaps also for the foreseeable future.

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Where They Burn People

Where they burn books, the maxim goes, they will ultimately burn people. This prescient quotation predated the rise of the German National Socialists by over a century, but Heinrich Heine did not need a Nazi foil to identify where the authoritarian mindset that outright prohibits objectionable thought ultimately leads. Today, the international community’s cowed reaction to Russian aggression both on the foreign and domestic fronts seems to have reduced the axiomatic admonition “never again” to “well, maybe once in a while.” One of history’s greatest insanities threatens to repeat itself, and we dare not address the warning signs in the stark terms they deserve lest we acknowledge the gravity of the threat to our comfortable existences.

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Where they burn books, the maxim goes, they will ultimately burn people. This prescient quotation predated the rise of the German National Socialists by over a century, but Heinrich Heine did not need a Nazi foil to identify where the authoritarian mindset that outright prohibits objectionable thought ultimately leads. Today, the international community’s cowed reaction to Russian aggression both on the foreign and domestic fronts seems to have reduced the axiomatic admonition “never again” to “well, maybe once in a while.” One of history’s greatest insanities threatens to repeat itself, and we dare not address the warning signs in the stark terms they deserve lest we acknowledge the gravity of the threat to our comfortable existences.

The government of the Russian Federation long ago committed to a policy that embraced the revisionist reconstruction of recent history and the remaking of Russian culture in the mold of an idealized past. For years, it was understood that journalists critical of the conduct of the Russian government were gambling with their lives. It seems likely that the next target of the Kremlin’s campaign to dismantle the reforms of the Gorbachev era will be the nation’s artists and visionaries.

The Russian government has already gone about the process of reintroducing Soviet-style bans on undesirable artistic content. For filmmakers, novelists, bloggers, and playwrights, to write provocative content with explicit language is to risk being charged a substantial fine. Moscow has also begun to censor evocative imagery. The graphic novelist Art Spiegelman was dismayed to discover last month that the Russian Federation has banned his Pulitzer Prize-winning series of books about the Holocaust, Maus, which ran afoul of the nation’s ban on the publication of the Swastika.

Calling it a “harbinger of a dangerous thing,” Spiegelman warned that Russia is attempting to sanitize the horrors of that period. At least, those that do not relate to the Soviet Union’s victory over the Nazi menace. “We don’t want cultures to erase memory,” he added.

The Russian government’s crackdown on dissent has been so thorough that few dare to challenge it. “[A]lmost a quarter-century on, only remnants are left of that golden media era, and the few outlets still publishing bold, independent work are under constant threat,” The Committee to Protect Journalist’s Ann Cooper wrote of the demise of the Glasnost reforms. “Vladimir Putin, now in his 15th year as Russian leader, has systematically dismantled independent media and rolled up press freedoms within his own country.”

Having figuratively burned books, the Russian Federation now literally burns bodies.

To hide the evidence of the illegal war Russia is waging and supporting in neighboring Ukraine following the invasion and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, American lawmakers allege that Moscow is using mobile crematoriums to destroy the evidence of their involvement in the fighting.

“The Russians are trying to hide their casualties by taking mobile crematoriums with them,” Rep. William “Mac” Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin. “They are trying to hide not only from the world but from the Russian people their involvement.”

The U.S. and NATO have long maintained that thousands of Russian troops are fighting alongside separatists inside eastern Ukraine, and that the Russian government is obscuring not only the presence but also the deaths of its soldiers there. In March, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow told a conference, “Russian leaders are less and less able to conceal the fact that Russian soldiers are fighting — and dying — in large numbers in eastern Ukraine.”

Thornberry said he had seen evidence of the crematoriums from both U.S. and Ukrainian sources. He said he could not disclose details of classified information, but insisted that he believed the reports. “What we have heard from the Ukrainians, they are largely supported by U.S. intelligence and others,” he said.

This is not the only grotesquely familiar anecdote to emerge from the devolving Russian Federation within the last 24 hours. According to reports, the Kremlin is seriously investigating the use of prison labor to help prepare the nation for its showpiece World Cup games.  Though that labor would not be entirely uncompensated, the use of prisoners to construct the facilities that will house members of the international soccer community is eerily reminiscent.

If this sounds alarmist, it should. There is no shortage of observers who will scoff at those who warn that Russia is going down a very dark road and opening a Pandora’s Box in the process. There is not much risk and even less virtue by adopting this outlook in regards to a still nascent crisis. And while the 21st Century’s scolds jealously preserve and enjoy the benefits of their pleasant and secure lives, the echoes of the 20th Century reverberate relentlessly, growing louder by the day.  We dismiss them at our peril.

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David Brooks: COMMENTARY Is an Unmissable Intellectual Landmark

COMMENTARY has long been an unmissable landmark on the American intellectual landscape. These days it shapes debate, propels argument, and explains society with renewed vigor and force. It is one of the small group of essential reads for anybody engaged in politics, Judaism, foreign policy, national manners, and morals. Please click below to give.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

COMMENTARY has long been an unmissable landmark on the American intellectual landscape. These days it shapes debate, propels argument, and explains society with renewed vigor and force. It is one of the small group of essential reads for anybody engaged in politics, Judaism, foreign policy, national manners, and morals. Please click below to give.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

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On NIAC’s (and Christiane Amanpour’s) Selective Outrage

On May 22, Sen. Lindsay Graham apparently spoke disparagingly about Iranians and truthfulness. While Graham was criticizing the Iranian negotiating record—and the Islamic Republic’s decided lack of truthfulness—he phrased himself poorly and appeared to castigate all Iranians. Culture matters, but racism is wrong. If Graham meant to suggest that all Iranians are liars, then he should be condemned. What is ironic, however, is that the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a lobby group which tends to promote the foreign policy platform of the Islamic Republic and vehemently oppose sanctions on the Iranian regime, has demanded an apology:

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On May 22, Sen. Lindsay Graham apparently spoke disparagingly about Iranians and truthfulness. While Graham was criticizing the Iranian negotiating record—and the Islamic Republic’s decided lack of truthfulness—he phrased himself poorly and appeared to castigate all Iranians. Culture matters, but racism is wrong. If Graham meant to suggest that all Iranians are liars, then he should be condemned. What is ironic, however, is that the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a lobby group which tends to promote the foreign policy platform of the Islamic Republic and vehemently oppose sanctions on the Iranian regime, has demanded an apology:

“The Senator’s repulsive remarks are racist, period,” NIAC President Trita Parsi said. “This type of discourse should have no place in American politics.”

This is ironic, as Parsi and NIAC often engage in far worse discourse including crudely anti-Semitic generalizations and insinuations of Jewish dual loyalty. Back in January, for example, they suggested that Congress was following Israel’s orders rather than acting as the representatives of the United States. Indeed, they targeted Graham in their solicitation by taking out-of-context a statement alleging that he told Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that “We will follow your lead.” That was a slander which NIAC adopted after notorious racist David Duke and the Ron Paul Institute picked it up, stripped away context, and suggested dual loyalty.

Here is the actual Lindsay Graham quote with its full context:

I would love nothing better than a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear ambitions. I support the Administration’s effort to try to bring this to a peaceful conclusion. But you, above all others, have said that sanctions are what got Iran to the table, and it will be the only thing that brings them to a deal that we can all live with. I’m here to tell you, Mr. Prime Minister, that the Congress will follow your lead. In January of next year, there will be a vote on the Kirk-Menendez bill, bipartisan sanction legislation that says, if Iran walks away from the table, sanctions will be re-imposed; if Iran cheats regarding any deal that we enter to the Iranians, sanctions will be re-imposed. It is important to let the Iranians know that from an American point of view, sanctions are alive and well.

Then again, such willingness to push conspiracy and quote selectively should not surprise.

That CNN anchorwoman Christiane Amanpour tweeted the NIAC press release, however, does raise eyebrows, first because most CNN anchors would probably want to avoid endorsing partisan lobbies on issues they cover, and second because of the juxtaposition with her silence regarding NIAC’s repeated promulgation of the dual loyalty calumny. Then again, perhaps Amanpour’s hypocrisy should not surprise after all.

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On ObamaCare, Stupid Defense May Not Work for Administration or the GOP

We are only weeks away from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that will decide the fate of ObamaCare. If the high court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, it could bring down the entire edifice constructed by the architects of the Affordable Care Act. The case of King v. Burwell hinges on the fact that the law enacted by Congress says that federal subsidies for consumers could only be available where exchanges were “established by the state.” Since only 16 states and the District of Columbia have such exchanges, the money spent by the government to subsidize ObamaCare insurance elsewhere is technically in violation of the 900-page law. That has left Democrats crying foul over the fact that a mere technicality or as a front-page feature in the New York Times has it, “four words” could toss the president’s domestic legacy into history’s dust pile. Their excuse is that it was all a big mistake, but while it’s possible that Chief Justice John Roberts will find a reason to save the law again, the stupid defense doesn’t usually work in court. But while the prospect of winning the case excites Republicans, they need to remember that the same principle sometimes applies in politics. If ObamaCare comes crashing down, the same sort of stupid defense won’t help them if they aren’t ready with an alternative to deal with those who will be hurt by the chaos caused by the law’s demise.

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We are only weeks away from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that will decide the fate of ObamaCare. If the high court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, it could bring down the entire edifice constructed by the architects of the Affordable Care Act. The case of King v. Burwell hinges on the fact that the law enacted by Congress says that federal subsidies for consumers could only be available where exchanges were “established by the state.” Since only 16 states and the District of Columbia have such exchanges, the money spent by the government to subsidize ObamaCare insurance elsewhere is technically in violation of the 900-page law. That has left Democrats crying foul over the fact that a mere technicality or as a front-page feature in the New York Times has it, “four words” could toss the president’s domestic legacy into history’s dust pile. Their excuse is that it was all a big mistake, but while it’s possible that Chief Justice John Roberts will find a reason to save the law again, the stupid defense doesn’t usually work in court. But while the prospect of winning the case excites Republicans, they need to remember that the same principle sometimes applies in politics. If ObamaCare comes crashing down, the same sort of stupid defense won’t help them if they aren’t ready with an alternative to deal with those who will be hurt by the chaos caused by the law’s demise.

The Times’ deep dive into the legislative history of the ACA is a fascinating study in minutiae that largely misses the point. We all know that the people who wanted the federal government to largely take over the portion of the American economy intended it to do so throughout the country, so identifying which staffers screwed up is interesting but not particularly significant. Since, as a general rule, courts enforce laws as they are written rather than as some people want them to be read, it doesn’t matter who made the typo. The only thing that matters is that it was made and never corrected. More important than which staffers drafted the bad language is the fact that Democrats passed the bill in this incoherent form because Scott Brown’s election in 2010 deprived them of their cloture-proof 60-seat majority. That meant they would, in then Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s memorable phrase, “have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it.”

Nor are Democrats in a position to complain about losing ObamaCare on a technicality since it got Constitutional approval from this same court on just as hazy a point when Chief Justice Roberts ruled it a tax despite the government’s insistence that it was not.

Yet if Roberts decides that, as he did in 2012, he didn’t want the responsibility for toppling the president’s signature health care legislation even if it was blatantly unconstitutional, he may decide the stupid excuse is enough to give the law a pass even if its text clearly forbids the government from subsidizing insurance in states where there is no exchange.

But the same stupid label will apply to Republicans if they are not prepared if Roberts decides this time to decide a case on law rather than politics. As Politico notes, there are a number of GOP plans circulating for how to deal with the aftermath of King v. Burwell if the plaintiffs prevail.

Some Republicans, especially many in the House, believe that any stopgap measure passed to ease the pain of those who would lose their federal insurance subsidies would be a mistake. Their argument is that no matter how it is done, such an effort would more or less leave ObamaCare in place and make it much harder to repeal even if a Republican is elected president in 2016 and comes into office with a GOP Congress pledged to do that.

They’re right about that. But the problem is that a collapse of the law will result in many millions of Americans being deprived of health insurance and hand the Democrats an effective cudgel with which they can beat the GOP in 2016. Just as the existence of millions of Americans who are net losers because of the law’s passage has fueled its persistent unpopularity, the law’s chaotic collapse will make those who have helped destroy it look not only heartless but also stupid.

That’s why the party needs to get behind one of the major proposals being floated in Congress for picking up the pieces after King v. Burwell. Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson has a compromise measure that would restore the subsidies but only at the cost of the president agreeing to the end of the individual and employer mandates which make it so oppressive. That’s much too moderate for many House Republicans. Ways and Means Chair Rep. Paul Ryan and some of his colleagues who have came up with a well considered “exit ramp” for the law for states that would minimize problems for consumers while ending this ruinous experiment in national health care.

That might also be too much for those who simply want to repeal the mess Pelosi passed. But the GOP needs to get its act together, and soon, and attempt to pass one of these proposals even if President Obama isn’t likely to buy into even the most generous of compromises.

It’s true that ultimate responsibility for the collapse of ObamaCare belongs to the president and the idiots who passed a badly drafted bill without understanding its implications. But if Republicans don’t prepare an alternative soon, they will also be judged as having failed the stupid test with consequences that will be felt in November 2016.

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The Predictably Shoddy Results of America’s Halfhearted War Against ISIS

When I heard over the weekend that Defense Secretary Ash Carter had said that there was “no will to fight” ISIS, I was ready to applaud him for speaking an unfashionable truth, as his predecessor Bob Gates had done. But it seems that Carter was not indicting the Obama administration’s lack of will—he was talking about the Iraqis.

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When I heard over the weekend that Defense Secretary Ash Carter had said that there was “no will to fight” ISIS, I was ready to applaud him for speaking an unfashionable truth, as his predecessor Bob Gates had done. But it seems that Carter was not indicting the Obama administration’s lack of will—he was talking about the Iraqis.

If Carter were intent on being honest—rather than attempting to blame the administration’s shortcomings on our allies—he would talk about the lack of will exposed in the administration’s inadequate response to the growing threat of ISIS. As the New York Times today notes: “The air campaign has averaged a combined total of about 15 strikes a day in Iraq and Syria. In contrast, the NATO air war against Libya in 2011 carried out about 50 strikes a day in its first two months. The campaign in Afghanistan in 2001 averaged 85 daily airstrikes, and the Iraq War in 2003 about 800 a day.”

The Times article also includes amazing quotes from an A-10 pilot who complains: “In most cases, unless a general officer can look at a video picture from a U.A.V., over a satellite link, I cannot get authority to engage. It’s not uncommon to wait several hours overhead a suspected target for someone to make a decision to engage or not.”

Senior military leaders justify such tight restrictions on the grounds that they want to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties. That is a real concern, but US aircraft would be able to drop a lot more bombs with a lot more precision if American forward-air-controllers were allowed to embed with Iraqi units on the front lines. That, however, is forbidden by this administration which has sent just 3,000 advisers to Iraq and imposed such tight restrictions on them that they are functionally forbidden from leaving their bases. Amazingly Canadian special operations forces operate with more freedom in Iraq than their American counterparts.

The administration’s commitment or lack thereof sends a loud and clear signal to Iraqis: the US has little willingness to fight ISIS. And that message in turn undermines the fighting spirit of the Iraqis.

Recall that the 2007 Anbar Awakening only happened once Iraqis saw that President Bush wasn’t going to cut and run; his surge catalyzed the Sunnis’ turn away from al-Qaeda in Iraq, predecessor of ISIS. As one tribal sheikh told the author Bing West, the Sunnis were willing to fight with the Americans once they concluded the Marines were the “strongest tribe.”

No one looking at Iraq today would conclude the Americans are the strongest force on the ground. Our commitment is dwarfed by that of ISIS and the Iranian-backed Shiite militias. Not surprisingly, then, Sunnis are not willing to stick their necks out to fight against ISIS when they know Americans don’t have their back and they are afraid that by vanquishing ISIS they will only subjugate themselves to sectarian Shiite domination.

The Shite militias, directed and armed by Iran, have, to be sure, shown more fighting spirit—but that is largely to keep ISIS and other Sunni groups out of the Shiite heartland. They have little desire to waste their resources conquering the Sunni heartland. In fact Iran is largely satisfied with ISIS continuing to hold domain over large parts of Iraq and Syria—this provides a convenient excuse for the Iranians to exert their domination over the Shiite/Alawite parts of those countries.

Most Iraqis, like most Middle Easterners (indeed most people around the world), will make an accommodation with whichever force appears to be strongest in their neighborhood rather than fight to the death against hopeless odds. Only if the US helps to tilt the odds against ISIS—and gives Sunnis a reasonable assurance that they will be able to defeat ISIS if they rise up, rather than be slaughtered as has happened so often in the past—will we see Iraqis showing more will to fight. But to achieve that will require President Obama to show a lot more will to fight than he has so far exhibited.

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Carly Fiorina’s Choice

Carly Fiorina is about to become the Democratic Party’s favorite Republican.

The honor of being the Republican held in high regard by the left is reserved primarily for the members of that political party who have either lost a high-profile race, died, or both. The former CEO of Hewlett-Packard might, however, earn Democratic esteem by virtue of being excluded from the group of top-tier GOP debate participants when the 2016 presidential primary race begins in earnest.

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Carly Fiorina is about to become the Democratic Party’s favorite Republican.

The honor of being the Republican held in high regard by the left is reserved primarily for the members of that political party who have either lost a high-profile race, died, or both. The former CEO of Hewlett-Packard might, however, earn Democratic esteem by virtue of being excluded from the group of top-tier GOP debate participants when the 2016 presidential primary race begins in earnest.

Jonathan Tobin noted how Fox News Channel and CNN’s plans to either cut underperforming candidates off or to establish a two-tiered system in which floundering candidates will compete in their own separate but equal debate will make for a long, hot summer for the GOP. No fewer than five prospective Republican presidential candidates are polling so poorly that they may not meet the required threshold of support in the average of recent surveys to join the top tier candidates on the debate stage. Only one of those candidates, however, has captured the media’s attention, and it is no secret as to why.

If the debates were held tomorrow, a variety of qualified candidates would be excluded or relegated to the also-ran stage. Many are perfectly well qualified, and their exclusion should inspire some introspection among Republicans. Likely candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich is the chief executive of a must-win state in which the party will hold its nominating convention. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry governed one of the largest states in the Union, a border state and one in which the most influential mass of GOP voters reside, for three terms. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was the last candidate standing in 2012 before Mitt Romney secured the delegates required to win the nomination, and he only conceded his loss after carrying 11 states. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is the youngest Republican candidate in the field, the Indian-American son of immigrant parents, and the candidate perhaps best positioned to represent the GOP’s evangelical base. But only Fiorina’s exclusion will inspire hand-wringing thought pieces and fiery cable news panel segments, and that has everything to do with Hillary Clinton’s gender-centric presidential campaign.

It is not preordained that Fiorina will be unable to generate enough support in the coming months to secure a coveted spot on the GOP debate stage. The former candidate for U.S. Senate in California is a skilled communicator, a deft campaigner, has been positioning herself as uniquely able to neutralize Clinton’s advantages, and has chosen to fundraise rather than whine in the face of the adversity presented by her modest support in the polls. If, however, the debates were held tomorrow, Fiorina would be relegated to the kids’ table.

Predictably, the left and their allies in the press will frame this as a snub. Both the Republican Party brass and the base of GOP primary voters have rejected their only female candidate, they’ll note. By inference, the media will imply that Republican voters’ rejection of Fiorina is as unthinking as will be their rejection of Clinton in November, 2016. With varying degrees of subtlety, the implication will be made that the obstacles Fiorina’s campaign encountered are due to the brutish bias of those to whom she was attempting to appeal.

When Fox News revealed that its criteria would exclude some highly qualified candidates from the debates, a series of headlines made note of the suboptimal optics associated with the likely exclusion the GOP field’s only female candidate. It is perhaps unsurprising that this instinct merely reflected the thinking inside Democratic circles. “At this point the Republican clown car isn’t big enough for the only girl clown, and that shows you why Hillary Clinton will be the next president,” an unnamed Democratic operative told the Daily Mail.

If Fiorina fails to make the cut ahead of the Fox and CNN debates, the former CEO will find herself at the center of a media melee. It will certainly be tempting for the unloved presidential candidate to bask in the newfound attention, generate some publicity and much-needed name recognition ahead of the primaries, and perhaps entertain the notion that her inability to appeal to the Republican voting base has its roots in something other than reason. If she took this approach, Fiorina would do her candidacy, her party, and her country a great disservice. Fiorina is, however, likely to take a much more productive approach to contending with this hardship.

In the media, Fiorina’s attacks on Clinton’s qualifications for the presidency have apparently grown quite irksome. Former GOP strategist Nicolle Wallace recently advised Fiorina to back off what she saw as increasingly “personal” attacks on the former secretary of state. Yahoo’s Katie Couric, too, questioned whether Fiorina’s “unkind words” for Clinton, including critiquing her accomplishments, was ill advised. Fiorina smartly replied that her qualifications for the presidency are based in merit rather than her title or her gender. If she is excluded from the debate stage, Fiorina should maintain that this is the result of a meritocratic process based on objective polling data.

If Fiorina declines to wallow in self-pity amid inevitable prodding of reporters in that direction, she will sacrifice her position as media darling and the spike in name recognition that accompanies this condition. To do so would, however, be the nobler course of action. It would also demonstrate why Fiorina deserved to be on that stage in the first place.

Carly Fiorina may soon have to make that choice, and it won’t be an easy one. But if her past actions are any indication of future performance, she can be expected to make the right call.

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Charles Krauthammer: COMMENTARY Is “Fearless, Informative, Indispensable”

For decades, COMMENTARY has opened its pages to the most serious uncompromising defense of the American creed–exemplar of ordered liberty at home, pillar of the free world abroad–in an era when it has been most under attack. From the exceptionally influential manifestoes of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeane Kirkpatrick to today’s counterattack against the empowered advocates of the entitlement state and of American decline, COMMENTARY remains what it has been for more than a generation: fearless, informative, indispensable.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

For decades, COMMENTARY has opened its pages to the most serious uncompromising defense of the American creed–exemplar of ordered liberty at home, pillar of the free world abroad–in an era when it has been most under attack. From the exceptionally influential manifestoes of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeane Kirkpatrick to today’s counterattack against the empowered advocates of the entitlement state and of American decline, COMMENTARY remains what it has been for more than a generation: fearless, informative, indispensable.

2015 Pledge Drive_green_thin

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