Marco Rubio missed an opportunity last night to do something that might have been politically stupid but nevertheless righteous. There is a malignancy eating away at the Republican Party, and Rubio passed on an opportunity to begin the work of excising it.
In an appearance on Fox News, Rubio was asked about yet another contemptible contention from Donald Trump; one that would be remarkably ignorant of American legal and cultural traditions coming from anyone other than this candidate, but which nevertheless merits parsing. Rubio was asked whether or not he thought it was appropriate for the United States to shred the First Amendment and consider shuttering mosques that are implicated in inciting hatred.
“I think we need to target radicalism,” Rubio said. “A lot of it is actually happening online, not simply in Mosques.” He attempted to launch into a defense of the religious practices in the vast majority of American mosques when Fox News Channel host Megyn Kelly repeated her question.
“It’s not about closing down mosques; it’s about closing down anyplace – whether it’s a café, a diner, an internet site — anyplace where radicals are being inspired,” the Florida senator continued. “Whatever facility is being used — it’s not just a mosque – any facility that’s being used to radicalize and inspire attacks against the United States should be a place that we look at.”
This was hardly an inappropriate response to Trump’s claim that the United States may have “no choice” but to consider closing centers of Muslim worship suspected of giving succor to radical Islam. It was, however, immediately stripped of its context and fed to journalists with the misleading headline “Rubio Open to Trump’s Plan to Close Mosques.” Those who disseminated this inaccurate headline complied on a YouTube channel stocked with opposition research on Rubio were appropriately scolded, and the headline was soon changed, but the collective response of the GOP field to this development was as clear as it was disheartening.
The effects of Trump’s remarks have not been to force most of the party’s leading candidates of the non-populist variety to recoil in horror. Instead, some have displayed undue deference toward Trump and those who think like him. This is an inadequate response to the dangerous populist sentiments to which Trump is giving voice.
The real estate mogul’s suggestion that America should at least entertain the prospect of liquidating rather than monitoring potentially radical mosques is, perhaps, dismissible if only because of its blatant unconstitutionality. Another of Trump’s contentions should, however, inspire a more forceful response because of its potential feasibility.
Again, when prompted by a reporter who asked whether it would be appropriate to keep a federal database of Muslims for tracking and monitoring purposes, Trump did not rule it out. “I would certainly implement that. Absolutely,” Trump replied. It is worth noting that Trump did not float either of these two ignominious, un-American proposals, but that he responded in the affirmative when they were suggested by both friendly and antagonistic media personalities. That is precisely why Trump is a substantial threat to the Republican Party’s image. He does not have the politicians’ instinct to measure his words and couch his responses. What his supporters like about him is exactly what makes him so dangerous. Trump keeps only his own counsel, and his instincts are ugly, radical, and appeal to our worst natures.
The horrible headlines practically wrote themselves. “Donald Trump’s Plan for a Muslim Database Draws Comparison to Nazi Germany,” NBC News reported. “Donald Trump confirms Muslim ‘register’ plan – but won’t deny comparisons to Nazi’s treatment of Jews,” The Independent blared.
To their shame, most of the GOP presidential field has not spoken out forcefully against Trump’s irresponsible comments, with the notable exception of Jeb Bush. “You talk about internment, you talk about closing mosques, you talk about registering people. That’s just wrong,” Bush said. “It’s not a question of toughness. It’s to manipulate people’s angst and their fears. That’s not strength; that’s weakness.” The speed with which Bush pounced on Trump’s comments leads one to wonder where that anti-Rubio YouTube account came from, but that’s beside the point. Bush deserves credit for taking a politically perilous stand in defense of a noble tradition of American religious tolerance. The sad thing is, for Bush, it wasn’t an especially brave stand; his unenviable position in the polls rendered this an easy decision.
Rubio’s rise in public opinion surveys has come at Jeb Bush’s expense. Perhaps Rubio feels like he cannot afford to alienate a single prospective voter, especially those who are already suspicious of him for his support of a 2013 comprehensive immigration reform plan. After all, according to University of Massachusetts survey data, he’s the “bridge” candidate that can unite the party’s populist “outsider” wing and it’s more establishmentarian voters. If he is being cautious about turning off Trump supporters, Rubio is falling prey to the trap that Bush warned of when he stated his intention to “lose the primary to win the general.”
The Republican Party entered 2015 well positioned to frame itself as the party of religious tolerance standing athwart an unattractive liberal impulse to sacrifice theological convictions upon an altar of statist mandates. The GOP was quick to remind the nation in 2014 that the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act signed by Bill Clinton, and similar state-level laws, preserve the freedom of both individuals and corporations from having the government violate their principles of faith. The Supreme Court ratified the Republican position in their decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. The Court is again set to render another verdict on whether the federal government has a right to trample on the rights of the faithful when it decides on the constitutionality of contraception mandates in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell. In both of these cases, conservatives are on the right side of the Constitution, the Founders’ belief in a blind system of justice, on religious pluralism and tolerance. Republicans would be extremely unwise to undermine their position now by framing theirs as the party of religious tolerance only so long as that religion is of Judeo-Christian origins.
Republicans can still save their party’s image from the opportunists who would destroy it. Trump is the vehicle from which they derive relevance, and it is clear now that the celebrity candidate cannot be undone by head-on attacks. Like any insurgency, it won’t be defeated without severing its supply lines. Anyone who lends credence to the notion that houses of worship should or even could be liquidated, or that those who adhere to a particular religion should be labeled and monitored, is unworthy of time or attention. Those who are even remotely interested in the health of the only party that stands in opposition to progressive statism have a duty to reject these voices. For the good of the Grand Old Party, it is time to get serious about those who would see it destroyed from within.
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The Party of Religious Freedom?
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Terror is a choice.
Ari Fuld described himself on Twitter as a marketer and social media consultant “when not defending Israel by exposing the lies and strengthening the truth.” On Sunday, a Palestinian terrorist stabbed Fuld at a shopping mall in Gush Etzion, a settlement south of Jerusalem. The Queens-born father of four died from his wounds, but not before he chased down his assailant and neutralized the threat to other civilians. Fuld thus gave the full measure of devotion to the Jewish people he loved. He was 45.
The episode is a grim reminder of the wisdom and essential justice of the Trump administration’s tough stance on the Palestinians.
Start with the Taylor Force Act. The act, named for another U.S. citizen felled by Palestinian terror, stanched the flow of American taxpayer fund to the Palestinian Authority’s civilian programs. Though it is small consolation to Fuld’s family, Americans can breathe a sigh of relief that they are no longer underwriting the PA slush fund used to pay stipends to the family members of dead, imprisoned, or injured terrorists, like the one who murdered Ari Fuld.
No principle of justice or sound statesmanship requires Washington to spend $200 million—the amount of PA aid funding slashed by the Trump administration last month—on an agency that financially induces the Palestinian people to commit acts of terror. The PA’s terrorism-incentive budget—“pay-to-slay,” as Douglas Feith called it—ranges from $50 million to $350 million annually. Footing even a fraction of that bill is tantamount to the American government subsidizing terrorism against its citizens.
If we don’t pay the Palestinians, the main line of reasoning runs, frustration will lead them to commit still more and bloodier acts of terror. But U.S. assistance to the PA dates to the PA’s founding in the Oslo Accords, and Palestinian terrorists have shed American and Israeli blood through all the years since then. What does it say about Palestinian leaders that they would unleash more terror unless we cross their palms with silver?
President Trump likewise deserves praise for booting Palestinian diplomats from U.S. soil. This past weekend, the State Department revoked a visa for Husam Zomlot, the highest-ranking Palestinian official in Washington. The State Department cited the Palestinians’ years-long refusal to sit down for peace talks with Israel. The better reason for expelling them is that the label “envoy” sits uneasily next to the names of Palestinian officials, given the links between the Palestine Liberation Organization, President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, and various armed terrorist groups.
Fatah, for example, praised the Fuld murder. As the Jerusalem Post reported, the “al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of Fatah . . . welcomed the attack, stressing the necessity of resistance ‘against settlements, Judaization of the land, and occupation crimes.’” It is up to Palestinian leaders to decide whether they want to be terrorists or statesmen. Pretending that they can be both at once was the height of Western folly, as Ari Fuld no doubt recognized.
May his memory be a blessing.
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The end of the water's edge.
It was the blatant subversion of the president’s sole authority to conduct American foreign policy, and the political class received it with fury. It was called “mutinous,” and the conspirators were deemed “traitors” to the Republic. Those who thought “sedition” went too far were still incensed over the breach of protocol and the reckless way in which the president’s mandate was undermined. Yes, times have certainly changed since 2015, when a series of Republican senators signed a letter warning Iran’s theocratic government that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (aka, the Iran nuclear deal) was built on a foundation of sand.
The outrage that was heaped upon Senate Republicans for freelancing on foreign policy in the final years of Barack Obama’s administration has not been visited upon former Secretary of State John Kerry, though he arguably deserves it. In the publicity tour for his recently published memoir, Kerry confessed to conducting meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif “three or four times” as a private citizen. When asked by Fox News Channel’s Dana Perino if Kerry had advised his Iranian interlocutor to “wait out” the Trump administration to get a better set of terms from the president’s successor, Kerry did not deny the charge. “I think everybody in the world is sitting around talking about waiting out President Trump,” he said.
Think about that. This is a former secretary of state who all but confirmed that he is actively conducting what the Boston Globe described in May as “shadow diplomacy” designed to preserve not just the Iran deal but all the associated economic relief and security guarantees it provided Tehran. The abrogation of that deal has put new pressure on the Iranians to liberalize domestically, withdraw their support for terrorism, and abandon their provocative weapons development programs—pressures that the deal’s proponents once supported.
“We’ve got Iran on the ropes now,” said former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, “and a meeting between John Kerry and the Iranian foreign minister really sends a message to them that somebody in America who’s important may be trying to revive them and let them wait and be stronger against what the administration is trying to do.” This is absolutely correct because the threat Iran poses to American national security and geopolitical stability is not limited to its nuclear program. The Iranian threat will not be neutralized until it abandons its support for terror and the repression of its people, and that will not end until the Iranian regime is no more.
While Kerry’s decision to hold a variety of meetings with a representative of a nation hostile to U.S. interests is surely careless and unhelpful, it is not uncommon. During his 1984 campaign for the presidency, Jesse Jackson visited the Soviet Union and Cuba to raise his own public profile and lend credence to Democratic claims that Ronald Reagan’s confrontational foreign policy was unproductive. House Speaker Jim Wright’s trip to Nicaragua to meet with the Sandinista government was a direct repudiation of the Reagan administration’s support for the country’s anti-Communist rebels. In 2007, as Bashar al-Assad’s government was providing material support for the insurgency in Iraq, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sojourned to Damascus to shower the genocidal dictator in good publicity. “The road to Damascus is a road to peace,” Pelosi insisted. “Unfortunately,” replied George W. Bush’s national security council spokesman, “that road is lined with the victims of Hamas and Hezbollah, the victims of terrorists who cross from Syria into Iraq.”
Honest observers must reluctantly conclude that the adage is wrong. American politics does not, in fact, stop at the water’s edge. It never has, and maybe it shouldn’t. Though it may be commonplace, American political actors who contradict the president in the conduct of their own foreign policy should be judged on the policies they are advocating. In the case of Iran, those who seek to convince the mullahs and their representatives that repressive theocracy and a terroristic foreign policy are dead-ends are advancing the interests not just of the United States but all mankind. Those who provide this hopelessly backward autocracy with the hope that America’s resolve is fleeting are, as John Kerry might say, on “the wrong side of history.”
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Podcast: The claims, their legitimacy, and the potential precedent.
We devote the entire podcast today to the allegations of teenage assault issued against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Are we ready to surrender the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty, even in a non-legal proceeding? Give a listen.
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With the demise of the filibuster for judicial nominations, the Senate has become a more partisan body. Members of the opposition party no longer have to take difficult votes to confirm presidential nominees, and so they no longer have to moderate their rhetoric to avoid the appearance of hypocrisy. Many expected, therefore, that Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings would tempt Democrats to engage in theatrics and hyperbole. Few, however, foresaw just how recklessly the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic members would behave.
The sordid performance to which Americans were privy was not the harmless kind that can be chalked up to presidential ambitions. Right from the start, Democratic committee members took a sledgehammer to the foundations of the institution in which they are privileged to serve.
Sen. Cory Booker made national headlines by declaring himself “Spartacus,” but the actions he undertook deserved closer attention than did the scenery he chewed. Booker insisted that it was his deliberate intention to violate longstanding Senate confidentiality rules supposedly in service to transparency. It turns out that the documents Booker tried to release to the public had already been exempted from confidentiality. Booker was adamant, though, that he had undermined the Senate’s integrity. You see, that, not transparency, was his true objective. It was what he believed his constituents wanted from him.
Booker wasn’t alone. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse appeared to share his colleague’s political instincts. “I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not accept the process,” he said of the committee’s vetting of Kavanaugh’s documents. “Because I do not accept its legitimacy or validity,” Whitehouse added, he did not have to abide by the rules and conventions that governed Senate conduct.
When the committee’s Democratic members were not trying to subvert the Senate’s credibility, they were attempting to impugn Judge Kavanaugh’s character via innuendo or outright fabrications.
Sen. Kamala Harris managed to secure a rare rebuke from the fact-checking institution PolitiFact, which is charitably inclined toward Democratic claims. “Kavanaugh chooses his words very carefully, and this is a dog whistle for going after birth control,” read her comments on Twitter accompanying an 11-second clip in which Kavanaugh characterized certain forms of birth control as “abortion-inducing drugs.” “Make no mistake,” Harris wrote, “this is about punishing women.” But the senator had failed to include mitigating context in that clip, which would have made it clear that Kavanaugh was simply restating the arguments made by the plaintiffs in the case in question.
Later, Harris probed Kavanaugh as to whether he believed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which has never been explicitly ruled unconstitutional, was wrongly upheld by the Supreme Court. Despite calling the decisions of this period “discriminatory,” Kavanaugh declined to elaborate on a case that could theoretically come before the Supreme Court. This, the judge’s detractors insisted, was “alarming” and perhaps evidence of latent racial hostility. In fact, it was an unremarkable example of how Supreme Court nominees tend to avoid offering “forecasts” of how they will decide cases without having heard the arguments—a routine deemed “the Ginsburg Rule” after Ruth Bader, who perfected the practice.
Over a week later, Harris had still not explained what she was getting at. But she doesn’t have to. The vagueness of her claim was designed to allow Kavanaugh’s opponents’ imaginations to run wild, leading them to draw the worst possible conclusions about this likely Supreme Court justice and to conclude that the process by which he was confirmed was a sham.
Harris may not have been alone in appealing to this shameful tactic. On Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein shocked observers when she released a cryptic statement revealing that she had “referred” to “federal investigative authorities” a letter involving Kavanaugh’s conduct. It’s human nature to arrive at the worst imaginable conclusion as to what these unstated claims might be, and that’s precisely what Kavanaugh’s opponents did. It turned out that the 35-year-old accusations involve an anonymous woman who was allegedly cornered in a bedroom by Kavanaugh and a friend during a high-school party. Kavanaugh, the letter alleged, put a hand over her mouth, but the woman removed herself from the situation before anything else occurred. All were minors at the time of this alleged episode, and Kavanaugh denies the allegations.
Some thought it was odd for Feinstein to refer these potentially serious allegations to the FBI this week and in such a public fashion when the allegations contained in a letter were known to Democrats for months. The letter was, after all, obtained by Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo in July. But it doesn’t seem confusing when considering the facts that the FBI all but dismissed the referral off-hand and reporting on the episode lacks any corroboration to substantiate the claims made by the alleged victim here. It is hard not to conclude that this is an attempt to affix an asterisk to Brett Kavanaugh’s name. Democrats will not only claim that this confirmation process was tainted but may now contend that Kavanaugh cannot be an impartial arbitrator—not with unresolved clouds of suspicion involving sexual assault hanging over his head.
Ultimately, as public polling suggests, the Democratic Party’s effort to tarnish Kavanaugh’s reputation through insinuation and theatrics has had the intended effect. Support for this nominee now falls squarely along party lines. But the collateral damage Senate Democrats have done to America’s governing institutions amid this scorched-earth campaign could have lasting and terrible consequences for the country.
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While the nation’s attention is focused on the Carolina coast, something very odd is happening across the country in Sunspot, New Mexico.
Sunspot is hardly a town at all–the nearest stores are 18 miles away. It’s actually a solar observatory 9,200 feet up in the Sacramento Mountains. It is open to the public and has a visitor’s center, but don’t visit it right now. On September 6th, the FBI moved in and evacuated all personnel using Black Hawk helicopters. Local police were told to stay away. The only explanation being given by the FBI is that an unresolved “security issue” is the cause of the evacuation.
The sun is the only astronomical body capable of doing major damage to planet earth without actually hitting us. A coronal mass ejection aimed at the earth could have a devastating impact on satellites, radio transmission, and the electrical grid, possibly causing massive power outages that could last for weeks, even months. (It would also produce spectacular auroras. During the Carrington Event of 1859, the northern lights were seen as far south as the Caribbean and people in New England could read newspapers by the light.)
So, there are very practical, not just intellectual reasons, to know what the sun is up to. But the National Solar Observatory right now is a ghost town, and no one will say why. Such a story should be catnip for journalists.