As I noted on Friday, the GOP could use some unifiers who can fuse the Tea Party’s enthusiasm and small-government devotion with the mature street smarts of conservative stalwarts who possess bipartisan appeal. It is not an easy task. The media envision (and egg on) a competition for the soul of the GOP, and the battle for the 2012 nomination — Sarah Palin vs. everyone else. That sort of standoff may play out, but it’s not a useful paradigm if the Republicans hope to capture the White House.
The midterm results illustrate this vividly. Sarah Palin’s Tea Party favorites Joe Miller, Sharron Angle, and Christine O’Donnell all went down to defeat, as did independent Tom Tancredo, whom she backed in the Colorado gubernatorial race. Her critics cite this as evidence that while potent within the conservative movement, she lacks the appeal and political judgment required for the GOP to win in 2012. Her defenders will remind us that she also backed Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Nikki Haley, who all won. The argument for Rubio is not all that persuasive, of course; Rubio didn’t need Palin to win. The concern remains among conservatives: in a presidential race, you need to win not just deep Red States but also ones that are in play in competitive years.
There is another model. If Palin has reinforced doubts about her electability, Haley Barbour has some crowing to do. As head of the hugely successful Republican Governors’ Association, he can claim fundraising prowess and a role in the remarkable sweep in gubernatorial races from Maine to Florida to Wisconsin to New Mexico. The number of e-mails sent out touting his fundraising totals and electoral successes strongly suggests that he is getting his resume in order for a presidential run. But Barbour himself may not be the man to meld the two halves of the party. The image of an older, white Southern male with a successful lobbying career risks alienating the Tea Party contingent, whose enthusiasm and ideological zest led to many of those victories.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, who on paper might seem well-suited to the times (businessman, successful governor), is hobbled, maybe fatally, by his authorship of a health-care plan that bears a striking resemblance to the one which both Republican insiders and Tea Party activists are determined to obliterate. This is no small handicap.
So what’s the formula for success? Republicans supported and emerged victorious with serious-minded conservative candidates – Rob Portman in Ohio, Dan Coats in Indiana, and John Boozman in Arkansas – while finding new faces (Rubio, Ron Johnson) who avoided the hot-button rhetoric that derailed a number of the Tea Party candidates. Although ideologically not all that different from the Tea Party–preferred candidates, the GOP victors demonstrated how to meld fiscal conservatism with a more accessible brand of populism. They hardly disappointed the Tea Party crowd; but neither did they alienate independent voters.
Are there GOP hopefuls in 2012 who can fuse Tea Party populism with sober conservative governance? Many in the conservative intelligentsia pine for Gov. Chris Christie, who has become a rock star on YouTube; he won in a Blue State and now is battling against the Trenton insiders. And he’s doing it with showmanship that only Palin can top. But he joked that apparently only “suicide” would convince us that he wasn’t interested. I’m thinking he might be serious about not running.
Then there is Rep. Paul Ryan, soon to take over the chair of the Budget Committee. He excites many conservatives in and outside the Beltway. He’s brainy and articulate, with a shake-up-the-status-quo approach to entitlement and budget reform. He already matched up well against Obama, arguably winning a TKO in the health-care summit. And he will be front and center in the key legislative battles, in some ways the face of the GOP House majority, for the next two years. While he’s said he’s not interested in a 2012 run, he’s not been Christie-esque in his denials. As for the “rule” that House members can’t make viable presidential candidates, I think the rulebook was shredded in the last few years.
Of course, there is Marco Rubio, the party’s genuine superstar (with an immigrant story and deep belief in American exceptionalism), who proved to be an especially effective messenger of conservative principles. However, both he and his most fervent supporters seem to agree: it’s too soon.
So the search goes on. The good news for the GOP is that they have a slew of new governors (e.g., John Kasich) and senators and some retiring ones (Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels) who understand how to forge the center-right coalition needed to get elected. A few faces familiar to political junkies (Mike Pence, John Thune) are also considering a run, which will test whether a Washington insider can nevertheless take on the mantle of reformer/outsider. Can any from this group of Republicans — who frankly lack magnetic personalities — also engage Tea Partiers? We will see.
So conservatives keep looking and trying to persuade the reluctant pols to throw their hats into the ring. Those who imagine they can win back the White House without full engagement of the 2010 winning formula (Tea Partiers plus traditionalists) should think again. A plan by half of the Republican alliance to overpower the other half is a formula for a second Obama term.
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Must-Reads from Magazine
The long march through institutions.
In June, I reviewed the superb essay collection, Anti-Zionism on Campus. In it, Andrew Pessin and Doron Ben-Atar collect testimonies and reflections from faculty and students who have found themselves denounced, ostracized, and sometimes under investigation because they’ve opposed anti-Israel activity on their campuses.
As Ben-Atar, professor of history at Fordham University, says, anti-Israel radicals “have taken to threats and intimidation in their battle to establish anti-Zionism as the doctrinal orthodoxy.” Few on campus have sharp ideas about Zionism, much less consider Zionism the source of all evil, as the radicals do. But when administrators are pliant and when faculty members don’t stand up to scholar-zealots, the 32 essays in this collection show that a few people can do great damage.
In discussing this disheartening material, though, I didn’t have a chance to mention a heartening and excellent essay by Jeffrey Kopstein, “Loud and Fast versus Slow and Quiet: Responses to Anti-Israel Activism on Campus.” Kopstein is no stranger to anti-Israel politics. As Director of the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto, Kopstein witnessed the “dreary annual ritual of Israel apartheid week.”
Also a fixture on numerous American campuses, Israeli apartheid week is a designated period during which anti-Israel activists put on events and demonstrations with the single purpose of persuading anyone who will listen that Israel is at least as bad, maybe worse, than apartheid-era South Africa. Today, Kopstein is chair and professor of political science at the arguably much more toxic University of California, Irvine, where repeated disruptions of pro-Israel events have compelled administrators to put its chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine on probation for two years.
Thinking the atmosphere at Irvine had cooled down, Kopstein became involved in a program that brought three Israeli Supreme Court justices to visit Irvine in the 2015-16 academic year. The first visitor, former president of the Court Aharon Barak, drew protesters. As such, Kopstein chose to cut his presentation short before the planned question and answer session.
The second, former Justice Dalia Dorner, gave a successful talk to 190 students in one of Kopstein’s introductory courses. But Kopstein announced in advance only that a guest speaker was coming; he hid the speaker’s identity to avoid the kind of trouble Barak had encountered.
Salim Joubran, then an active justice, canceled. He explained that “he had to be extraordinarily careful, as a sitting Supreme Court justice, not to be seen as engaging in politics, something that the campus climate [at Irvine] would not permit.”
But I did say that Kopstein’s essay was heartening. The heartening part concerns Kopstein’s experience at Toronto where he thinks the tide was successfully turned against anti-Israel activism, not by counter-propaganda but by a lot of teaching. Kopstein and his colleagues did the “slow, quiet, thoughtful, and unglamorous work of teaching thousands of students in a range of disciplines.” Eventually, the University of Toronto had “a huge group of students on campus who actually knew something about Israel and understood the true complexity of the situation.” By “cultivating connections with Israeli institutions and by teaching dozens and dozens of courses,” one can put “the vast majority of students and faculty” in a position to recognize anti-Israel propaganda for what it is. I trust that Kopstein is working along the same lines at Irvine.
Kopstein observes that it is “surprising how few universities offer courses on the history of Israel, courses in the social sciences of modern Israel politics and culture, or even courses in the intellectual history and philosophy of Zionism.” Students who take such courses, taught with no particular tilt, “will not necessarily become Zionists.” But “their presence influences the broader campus in ways that the screaming matches of campus activism do not.” The Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, through its Summer Institute, does excellent work to prepare interested faculty to teach such courses.
There is no question that a rapid response to the boycott efforts that take place every year on our campuses is important. Students who do the difficult work of defending Israel against slander need and deserve support. But the kind of slow and quiet work Kopstein praises is more likely to transform campuses in the long term. It is also work suitable for those professors who don’t care to mix academic and political work. Even those who can’t teach an Israel Studies course can contribute to an atmosphere in which students and faculty scorn the kinds of gross simplifications and distortions that propagandists, whether they are peddling anti-Zionism or another brand of poison, rely on.
In such an atmosphere, anti-Zionism wouldn’t disappear. But it won’t thrive either.
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Is America going off the rails? Sure feels like it this week. We break it down and end at a summer camp in Ontario. Give a listen.
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Government is the problem.
An enormous cultural tragedy unfolded Sunday night when Brazil’s National Museum in Rio de Janeiro was gutted by fire and largely destroyed. Its priceless collections ranged from paintings and ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian artifacts, to anthropological collections and mineral specimens. The gallery housed one of the oldest skeletons ever found in the Americas. It was also home to a 470,000-volume scientific library, one of the largest in Brazil. Much of it was lost.
Happily, no one was injured. It is, however, thought that no more than 10 percent of the 20 million items in the collection were spared. Fortunately, one of them is the Bendegó meteorite, a nearly six-ton iron meteorite that was found in 1784.
What could have caused this catastrophe? The answer, simply, is borderline criminal neglect by the government. To be sure, Brazil has been engulfed now for several years in both recession and a financial corruption scandal that makes Tea Pot Dome look like penny-ante. One president has been impeached and removed; another is in jail. The museum budget has been cut time and again until there was not enough to even maintain the building, which featured peeling paint, exposed electrical wiring, and plumbing leaks. But the maintenance budget of the museum was only 520,000 reals, not even a rounding error in a total federal budget that is well north of a trillion reals.
There was no fire suppression (i.e., sprinkler) system in place, nor, apparently, smoke alarms. Only four guards were on duty in the vast building. When the fire department arrived, the two nearest hydrants had no water, and it had to be trucked in from a nearby lake.
Just further proof, as if any were needed, that governments should not be allowed to run anything they do not absolutely have to run.
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A missed opportunity.
Following a punchy 15-minute talk about the ravages of online bullying on Monday, Monica Lewinsky took her place alongside star Israeli news anchor, Yonit Levy, for a chat about the issues she has turned into a life mission. The Jerusalem convention hall was packed with A-list political and media types on hand for Ms. Levy’s whopper of an opener.
“Do you still expect a personal apology from President Clinton?”
Lewinsky abruptly rose, politely stating: “Sorry. I can’t do this.” And left the stage.
The Jerusalem-Tel Aviv corridor has been buzzing about this very American reality/ambush moment, speculating as to what really happened. Nothing, it seems, is ever as it, well, seems.
Viral video of the encounter shows Lewinsky very calmly putting down her microphone, leaving her fireside chat chair, and striding confidently offstage. Levy did her best to feign casualness and followed, very awkwardly. It made for cringe-worthy watching.
A few hours after the mishap, Lewinsky said that Levy had personally misled her alleging that they had agreed in advance on very clear parameters that were acceptable for discussion. “In fact, ” stated Lewinsky on Twitter,” the exact question the interviewer asked first, she had put to me when we met the day prior. I said that was off limits.”
She said, she said.
On behalf of Levy, Israel News Company, the conference organizer, is standing firm. In a statement, they claimed that all agreements with Lewinsky were honored and that the offending question was squarely within the scope negotiated for her appearance.
Lewinsky was thanked by Israel News Company for her insightful talk, respected for her sensitivities, and wished all the best.
Keeping up her end of public politesse, Lewinsky apologized to the audience for the unfortunate manner in which the talk ended.
“I left,” Lewinsky explained on Twitter, “because it is more important than ever for women to stand up for themselves and not allow others to control their narrative.”
Fair enough. I would have thought, however, that Lewinsky could have more than held her own in the duel with Levy. They are both strong, intelligent women. It would have had far more impact if Lewinsky cleverly and boldly exposed the chicanery to which she alleged she had been subjected.
“Yonit,” she might have asserted, “I came here to speak about and discuss internet bullying. Our written and verbal agreements are very clear that you are not to ask questions on this topic and I refuse to answer them. I’m happy to proceed with this interview on the agreed upon terms. Otherwise, I will have no choice but to cut this exchange short.”
Levy would have been loath to engage in a pedantic exchange parsing the details of legal and verbal agreements, and I expect the producer coaching in her earpiece would have instructed her to shift gears. In a flash, Lewinsky would not only have continued to control her “narrative,” but she would have demonstrated the authority, finesse and confidence that, regrettably, is required to do so.
Exactly what transpired between Lewinsky and Levy is unclear and, in many ways, irrelevant. Much more significant is the commendable work that Lewinsky has done in educating the public about the extreme perils of cyberbullying and shaming. For those who haven’t yet watched her superb Ted talk on cyber-bullying, do so.
As a veteran of decades of misogynist battles and sexual harassment in the professional and media milieux, I also urge Lewinsky to invest in some reinforced armor if she wants to ensure that her message and insights are heard and continue to influence the public discourse on these very critical issues.
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Labour needs more than a makeover.
On Tuesday, Britain’s Labour party adopted the working definition of anti-Semitism that prevails across the civilized world. But don’t break out the champagne and party blowers quite yet. A formal declaration of the kind won’t wash the stain of Jew-hatred left by leader Jeremy Corbyn and his triumphant entourage of keffiyeh-clad cranks and unreconstructed Stalinists.
At issue was the definition of anti-Semitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, or IHRA, and specifically the 11 examples that help clarify that definition: “Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.” “Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.” “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” And so on.
Apparently these propositions are a source of great agony on the British left. The Guardian newspaper said the debate inside the party’s National Executive Committee “overran by several hours.” After two hours, “the meeting broke for tea.” You know things are tense when Britons have to break for tea mid-meeting.
In the end, the committee voted to adopt the definition and all 11 examples, but not before adding its own little addendum: “This does not in any way undermine the freedom of expression on Israel and the rights of Palestinians.” That freedom-of-expression caveat is especially hilarious in Britain, where nothing can quite boost a literary or celebrity career like bashing Israel. Just ask Roger Waters. Or Coldplay. Or Tariq Ali. Or Tilda Swinton…
Still, by the British media’s lights, the final document was an improvement over what Corbyn had in mind. He wanted to add an amendment to the effect that “it should not be considered anti-Semitic to describe Israel, its policies, or the circumstances around its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact.” That, of course, would have run afoul of one of the 11 IHRA examples: “Contemporary examples of anti-Semitism … include … claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
It’s tempting to cheer Corbyn’s procedural defeat here. And no doubt sighs of relief went out from among the dwindling ranks of British Jews who can still bring themselves to vote for Labour. But the more pertinent and astonishing fact is this: Jeremy Corbyn thinks it is not anti-Semitic to view Israel’s founding as racist. He, the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, would deny the right to self-determination to none but the Jewish people.
Who seriously imagines that, having adopted the IHRA definition, the Labour party will now cease to reflect Corbyn’s ideological preferences? This is the same Labour, after all, whose supporters fantasize about “rid[ding] the Jews who are cancer on us all,” whose local councilors use epithets such as “Jew boy,” according to a leaked dossier obtained by the LBC radio station and published the same day as the vote on the IHRA definition.
Some may be tempted to think that the anti-anti-Semitic vote in the executive committee means that body can check the Cobynite fanatics. Except, no. The Daily Mail reported:
The candidate who won the most votes for the Labour party’s ruling National Executive Committee celebrated the Iranian revolution when hardline Ayatollahs took over the country, repressing freedom and human rights…
Yasmine Dar, who was elected top with 88,176 votes, has given speeches at an Islamist celebration of the Iranian revolution in Manchester for three years in a row.
In the most recent, in 2017, she said: ‘We are here for a celebration, a happy time. Thirty-years of the Iranian Islamic revolution. So I’m absolutely happy, it’s the third year I’ve been coming.’
The rot seeps from top to bottom. It’s structural. No self-respecting Briton, Jewish or otherwise, should support this party.