Commentary Magazine


Topic: Democratic Party

An Heir But No Spare

The slow drip of scandal surrounding the Clintons continues apace.

Yesterday, a federal judge ordered the State Department to release the 55,000 emails that Hillary Clinton turned over as being concerned with official business on a monthly basis, all of them by next January, before the first primary. The 300 emails that the State Department released late on Friday afternoon last week (just before a three-day weekend, a classic ploy to minimize attention) proved more than newsworthy, so one can only wonder what is in the remaining 54,700.

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The slow drip of scandal surrounding the Clintons continues apace.

Yesterday, a federal judge ordered the State Department to release the 55,000 emails that Hillary Clinton turned over as being concerned with official business on a monthly basis, all of them by next January, before the first primary. The 300 emails that the State Department released late on Friday afternoon last week (just before a three-day weekend, a classic ploy to minimize attention) proved more than newsworthy, so one can only wonder what is in the remaining 54,700.

It has also come out that Bill Clinton formed a shell company in Delaware as a pass-through to receive income. Even more interesting is the fact that it was formed on December 3rd, 2008, two days after President-elect Obama named Hillary as his secretary of state.

And yesterday as Swiss authorities were rounding the upper echelons of FIFA, which governs professional soccer, for decades of corruption, it turns out that one of the major donors to the Clinton Foundation (between $250,000 and $500,000) is (wait for it!) FIFA. As Paul Mirengoff of Power Line puts it, “where’s there’s corruption, there’s the Clinton Foundation.”

Candidates can suddenly become non-viable. In 2002, Senator Bob Torricelli of New Jersey was running for re-election when it came out that David Chang, who had ties to North Korea, had made illegal campaign contributions to him. He had no choice but to withdraw and be replaced on the Democratic line by former Senator Frank Lautenberg.

Could it happen to Hillary? You bet. There is an ever-growing legion of reporters, sniffing blood, looking into the Clintons’ tangled affairs. The slow drip could turn into a torrent and Hillary might have no choice but to decide to spend more time with her grandchildren.

So it seems to me that the Democratic Party should follow the traditional plan of royalty and have both an heir and a spare.

But who could the spare be? Joe Biden? He would dearly love the job, but he’ll turn 74 in November, 2016, far older than any previous president’s first election, and he’s generally regarded as a bit of a joke. Elizabeth Warren? She’s no spring chicken herself at 65, and she’s so far to the left that she’d be George McGovern in a pants suit. Bernie Sanders? He’s announced, but he’ll be 75 on Election Day and he’s an avowed socialist who advocates a 90 percent tax rate for high earners. Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland? Well, at least he’s not receiving Social Security (he’s 52).  But his own lieutenant governor couldn’t carry this deep blue state in last year’s election, despite O’Malley’s energetic campaigning for him. Jim Webb, former senator from Virginia? He’s a centrist, which means the Democratic base would go ballistic (not to mention stay home on Election Day).

Who else is there? I really can’t think of anyone.

The Democrats, in their own self-interest, had better start looking for a spare, in case the heir implodes.

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Does Hillary Clinton Think Bill Clinton’s Presidency Was a Disaster?

If and when journalists get the chance to sit down across from Hillary Clinton, they will have a bear of a time picking and choosing the subjects on which to grill her. From her private email server, to her family foundation’s myriad improprieties, to the increasingly deteriorating global security situation that began its backwards slide under her watch as America’s chief diplomat; reporters have an embarrassment of riches in the form of issues on which to press Clinton. But the Steve Krofts of the world like to take a 30,000-foot perspective in the gauzy profile packages to which American television audiences will be privy, and the granular details above might seem to Clinton’s interlocutors minutia that won’t capture the viewer’s attention. In order to sate the press’s desire to both make news and to ensure the viewing audience doesn’t tune out, I’d submit the following question: Does Hillary Clinton believe her husband’s presidency set the Democratic Party back?

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If and when journalists get the chance to sit down across from Hillary Clinton, they will have a bear of a time picking and choosing the subjects on which to grill her. From her private email server, to her family foundation’s myriad improprieties, to the increasingly deteriorating global security situation that began its backwards slide under her watch as America’s chief diplomat; reporters have an embarrassment of riches in the form of issues on which to press Clinton. But the Steve Krofts of the world like to take a 30,000-foot perspective in the gauzy profile packages to which American television audiences will be privy, and the granular details above might seem to Clinton’s interlocutors minutia that won’t capture the viewer’s attention. In order to sate the press’s desire to both make news and to ensure the viewing audience doesn’t tune out, I’d submit the following question: Does Hillary Clinton believe her husband’s presidency set the Democratic Party back?

Of course, Clinton’s reflexive answer would be an emphatic “no.” She might also posture indignantly for effect, a road-worn tactic that nevertheless retains its inexplicable ability to spook reporters into apologetic retreat. But there is precious little evidence that Clinton really does believe her husband’s presidency was a success. In fact, there are many indications that would lead a neutral observer to conclude that Bill Clinton’s presidency is anathema to modern Democrats.

Bill Clinton was elected to office as a Southern Democratic centrist with the aid of the Democratic Leadership Council, a policy shop designed to help rehabilitate a party brand that was at the time still reeling from the Jimmy Carter-era perception that it had become too liberal to represent the nation. Political observers had every reason to believe that, despite his 370 Electoral College vote victory, Clinton’s election was no mandate for Democrats but rather a rejection of George H. W. Bush. Clinton won merely 43 percent of the popular vote in a three-way race, and only won his party’s nomination after a come from behind victory over the more doctrinaire liberals seeking the nomination. If Clinton had a mandate, it was to govern from the center. With the exception of his pursuit of a significant tax hike in 1993, that’s precisely what he did.

Fast-forward to today, and Hillary Clinton has been compelled on a variety of occasions to renounce her husband’s greatest achievements. In the wake of the unrest in Baltimore last month, Clinton delivered a speech in which she advocated for an end to “mass incarceration” in America. Inherent in that address was her contention, one shared by her husband, that the landmark 1994 crime bill was discriminatory.

During his tenure, Bill Clinton signed into law measures that expanded the death penalty, promoted longer prison terms, funded the construction of new prisons, eliminated inmate amenities, barred felons from living in public housing, and discouraged judicial discretion. “We went too far,” Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin lamented on May 1 when reflecting on the Clinton presidency’s approach to crime and justice. “I think that the results,” Hillary Clinton said of the justice reforms that she lobbied for strongly in 1994, “have been an unacceptable increase in incarceration across the board.”

Surely, only a handful of Democrats lamented the demise of the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law just weeks before Bill Clinton was easily reelected. In 2013, former President Clinton expressed regrets for signing that law, but not for running campaign advertisements on Christian radio stations in 1996 bragging about that achievement. Moreover, Clinton’s decision to sign into law federal restrictions on allowing HIV-positive travelers to enter the United States, a ban only lifted in 2009 by Barack Obama’s administration, has long been regarded by the gay and lesbian community as a betrayal.

In a contentious interview with NPR host Terry Gross last year, Clinton lashed out when she was asked why she only came out in support of same-sex marriage after both Barack Obama and Joe Biden. In that argumentative interview, Clinton insisted that DOMA was designed to prohibit the Congress from enacting sexually discriminatory laws by kicking the issue down to the states. As The Atlantic’s Connor Friedersdorf noted, however, Clinton had “distorted” the history of DOMA. “I have long opposed governmental recognition of same-gender marriages,” Bill Clinton said in 1996, “and this legislation is consistent with that position.”

And what of the signature welfare reform bill that Bill Clinton deftly negotiated with a newly GOP-dominated Congress? That measure was presaged when the 42nd President declared in his 1996 State of the Union address that the “era of big government is over,” and, a decade later, was responsible for a marked decline in poverty rates. So what does Hillary Clinton have to say about this landmark reform? No comment. “A Clinton aide declined to answer whether Clinton still supports her husband’s welfare reform law,” Vox’s Jonathan Allen reported after noting that minority Democrats were and remain suspicious of that package of reform laws. A simple “yes” would have sufficed if that is what she believed. Apparently, the answer Clinton would like to give is more complex than that.

Don’t even ask about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). That controversial free trade agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico has only grown more controversial for those on the left as progressives condemn President Barack Obama and his pursuit of a similar arrangement with a variety of Asian nations. Clinton once vocally supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but she has since moderated her position on the issue by insisting she doesn’t have one.

But what of Hillary Clinton’s preferred approach to foreign crises? Bill Clinton’s approach to containing Saddam Hussein’s post-Gulf War Iraq was to launch attacks on government targets in 1993, 1996, and 1998. Hillary Clinton now insists it was a mistake to topple that vile regime, and she regrets voting to provide George W. Bush with that authority even if the world is better off without Hussein.

Clinton’s husband pursued a policy of rapprochement with Iran by compensating the Islamic Republic for the deaths of over 250 Iranians who died after an American naval vessel in 1988 shot down their plane and by essentially apologizing for the 1953 CIA-assisted coup that overthrew former Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddiq. Today, Hillary Clinton ostensibly supports Barack Obama’s efforts to seal a mutually beneficial nuclear deal with Iran, she is “skeptical that the Iranians will follow through and deliver.” Don’t sweat the cognitive dissonance.

Formerly a vocal supporter of the once vogue academic notion of America’s “responsibility to protect” civilian life (R2P), Clinton justified intervention in the Libyan civil war by noting America has a moral imperative to protect noncombatants when and where it can. This was logic similar to that which her husband applied before committing to multinational foreign intervention in the former Yugoslavia in 1995 and 1998. Clearly, that formerly preferred praxis went out of style the moment Bashar al-Assad began deploying chemical weapons against his own civilian population. While Hillary Clinton has insisted that she would have vetted and armed moderate Syrian rebels faster than the Obama administration, she opposed to introducing American boots into the Syrian conflict as recently as last autumn.

While it takes a fair bit of inference to identify Clinton’s stances on these issues, seeing as she is fond of maintaining vague and amorphous policy positions, it’s clear that Hillary Clinton does not regard her husband’s presidency as one replete with successes. That’s not a personal conviction, of course; you would be hard pressed to identify any sincerely held and necessarily constricting values espoused by the former secretary of state. Her disparagements of her husband’s legacy are solely designed to appeal to an influential subset in the Democratic Party that has veered wildly leftward in the interim 15 years. If Hillary Clinton is to win the White House, it seems that her fellow Democrats will make sure that she is compelled to renounce all her husband’s works in the process.

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Senate Dems Talking Out of Both Sides of Their Mouths on Iran

Liberals have spent much of the last few years lamenting the death of bipartisanship and placing all of the blame for this problem on House Republicans. But with Congress preparing to take up the issue of President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal when it returns from its spring recess next week, it is Senate Democrats who are giving us an example of partisan politics at its absolute worst. As Politico reports, the overwhelming bipartisan majority that has existed on behalf of both Iran sanctions and the right of Congress to perform its constitutional duty to advise and consent on treaties is being splintered by Democrats who are determined to do the president’s bidding. Some Democrats who are sponsors of the Corker-Menendez bill mandating a congressional vote on the Iran deal want to water it down with amendments that will turn the effort to hold the administration accountable into a farce.

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Liberals have spent much of the last few years lamenting the death of bipartisanship and placing all of the blame for this problem on House Republicans. But with Congress preparing to take up the issue of President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal when it returns from its spring recess next week, it is Senate Democrats who are giving us an example of partisan politics at its absolute worst. As Politico reports, the overwhelming bipartisan majority that has existed on behalf of both Iran sanctions and the right of Congress to perform its constitutional duty to advise and consent on treaties is being splintered by Democrats who are determined to do the president’s bidding. Some Democrats who are sponsors of the Corker-Menendez bill mandating a congressional vote on the Iran deal want to water it down with amendments that will turn the effort to hold the administration accountable into a farce.

Heading into the expected battle over the bill next week, supporters of Corker-Menendez believe they have 66 votes in their pockets with all 54 Republicans and 12 Democrats on record as supporting the legislation. That’s just one vote short of a veto-proof majority that would ensure that Congress would be able to vote on the Iran deal rather than let the president adopt it unilaterally. Unlike the Kirk-Menendez bill proposing increased sanctions on Iran in the event of the failure of the diplomatic process, which has lost momentum as a series of American concessions led to an agreement, Corker-Menendez has always had near across-the-board backing. Not many congressional Democrats were inclined to speak up against a measure that merely asserts the legislative branch’s right to exercise its constitutional responsibilities on foreign treaties. Nor are many of the 12 Democratic co-sponsors backing down on that point. But they also appear to be wiling to gut the bill in order to stay on good terms with the White House.

As I noted earlier this week, Democratic Senate leader-in-waiting Chuck Schumer is walking a fine line between his obligation to do the president’s dirty work and his reputation as a supporter of Israel. He appears to have resolved that conflict for the moment by choosing to stick to his principles rather than the president and reaffirmed his support for Corker-Menendez. But given the delicate maneuvering going on in the Democratic caucus right now, it’s reasonable to think that he might be encouraging others to refuse to back the measure or, even worse, those among his co-sponsors who want to water it down to the point where it would be an exercise in futility.

The White House has indicated that it could live with a purely symbolic vote on the deal. Of course it would. But accepting only a non-binding vote on the most significant foreign agreement struck by the United States in more than a generation is a bit much even for many Democrats. Nor is Republican Bob Corker, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair who is clearly less than enthusiastic about confronting the president, prepared to see his handiwork reduced to a joke. So instead some Democrats are preparing amendments that would do the same thing.

Delaware Senator Chris Coons has filed an amendment that would strip the bill of its provision requiring the administration to certify that Iran isn’t directly involved in terror attacks against the United States. Connecticut’s Chris Murphy has also filed an amendment to allow the president to lift existing sanctions on Iran without an enabling vote by Congress in order to get Iran to agree to a final written version of the deal.

These two Democrats are claiming that they are still supporting the bill and the principle of legislative review of the deal, but the substance of their proposals would help strip it of any meaning. Do Americans really want their government to stop caring if the world’s leading state sponsor of terror is plotting against Americans? Do they want to give the president the power to act on his own to give an economic bonanza to a tyrannical and aggressive Islamist regime? These measures not only give Obama dictatorial powers on Iran but also would enable the administration to downgrade efforts to hold the entire process accountable. They may be helped immeasurably in this scheme by the replacement of embattled Senator Bob Menendez—a fierce opponent of Obama’s push for détente with Iran—by Ben Cardin—a dependable administration loyalist—as the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

They’re being aided in this effort by the fact that the new GOP majority in the Senate is determined to play fair in a way that their Democratic counterparts did not during their time in control of the upper body. Corker has vowed to have an open amendment process in committee and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has similarly promised to follow his Democratic predecessor Harry Reid’s practice of preventing the minority from proposing amendments on the floor once the bill gets out of committee. That will mean that Corker-Menendez could be crippled by amendments from both open opponents and those, like Coons and Murphy, who purport to be its supporters.

The bottom line here is that with each passing day, the odds of a clean bill emerging with the 67 votes needed to ensure that it will become law may be decreasing. If that is the case the fault lies entirely with senators who are talking out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to the Iran nuclear threat and the Constitution. The only hope of providing some accountability to a diplomatic process that has achieved success only by a procession of humiliating retreats by the president is the passage of a bill that will force a real debate and vote on the deal. Though liberals have been telling us that the country is sick of crooked congressional maneuvers, it is the Senate Democrats who giving us a lesson in how low they can sink in order to please the head of their party.

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What Is Schumer Really Up to on Iran Vote?

Yesterday Senator Chuck Schumer fired a shot over the bow of the White House when he reaffirmed his support for giving Congress a say in the Iran nuclear deal. At a time when President Obama is going all-out to convince the country—and especially wavering Senate Democrats—that he should be trusted to strike a nuclear bargain with the Islamist regime without congressional interference, Schumer’s defection is a blow to the administration. Or is it? Keen political observers need to judge Schumer’s conduct not so much on his own vote but by whether he helps persuade other Democrats to join him. If in the end, the Corker-Menendez bill that would mandate a Senate vote on any agreement with Iran falls short of a veto-proof majority, there will be reasonable suspicions as to whether Democrats played a vote-trading game that will allow senators with strong pro-Israel constituencies to vote against the White House while others provide Obama with the margin he needs.

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Yesterday Senator Chuck Schumer fired a shot over the bow of the White House when he reaffirmed his support for giving Congress a say in the Iran nuclear deal. At a time when President Obama is going all-out to convince the country—and especially wavering Senate Democrats—that he should be trusted to strike a nuclear bargain with the Islamist regime without congressional interference, Schumer’s defection is a blow to the administration. Or is it? Keen political observers need to judge Schumer’s conduct not so much on his own vote but by whether he helps persuade other Democrats to join him. If in the end, the Corker-Menendez bill that would mandate a Senate vote on any agreement with Iran falls short of a veto-proof majority, there will be reasonable suspicions as to whether Democrats played a vote-trading game that will allow senators with strong pro-Israel constituencies to vote against the White House while others provide Obama with the margin he needs.

As I wrote last week, Schumer is in a very difficult position on the Iran debate because of his status as the Senate Democratic leader-in-waiting. Having secured the support of his caucus 21 months in advance of current Minority Leader Harry Reid’s retirement, Schumer is preparing to assume a role that brings with it the responsibility of backing the president in confrontations with Republicans. While on most issues that will be no problem for a reliable liberal such as Schumer, with respect to Israel it is increasingly impossible for any Democrat to remain loyal to the president and to their principles about backing the Jewish state.

Contrary to the White House talking points in which tension between Israel and the United States is blamed on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s supposed tilt toward the Republicans, the fault for this situation is almost completely the work of President Obama. It is he who has sought to split the formerly bipartisan consensus on Israel and Iran sanctions by seeking to persuade Democrats to stick with him on a course of appeasement because of party loyalty. Though some, like currently embattled Senator Bob Menendez, have stood up to Obama, many others have backed away from their previous stands. Others, like Schumer, have tried to plot a middle course in which he seeks to keep good relations with the White House while taking an independent position.

But while it is one thing for members of the Senate who are not part of the leadership to challenge Obama, it is far more difficult for someone like Schumer. Seen in that light, his announcement about support for Corker-Menendez is quite significant. Indeed, it is possible that Schumer’s statement could give cover to other Democrats to follow suit. Given that a dozen are already on record as backing the bill, if all of them vote for it along with a unanimous Republican caucus, that would leave the measure just one vote short of a veto-proof majority.

Getting one more vote for something that he cares deeply about ought to be no trouble for a legislator of Schumer’s acumen. But getting to 67 votes for the bill as currently constituted may be a heavier lift than it looks. There are two distinct possibilities that may derail the effort.

One is if some of the dozen Democrats currently co-sponsoring Corker-Menendez are persuaded by the White House to agree to watering it down. The White House has said it is prepared to live with a version of the bill that would allow a purely symbolic vote on an Iran deal. That could satisfy some Democrats who want to be able to tell their constituents and pro-Israel donors that they had voted for accountability on the deal while at the same time they were actually doing the bidding of the president. Schumer has rightly said that Congress deserves an up-or-down vote on the deal itself rather than a meaningless symbolic ballot on it. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker has said that he also can’t accept that, even if he is someone who appears to want to do business with the administration and may not be counted on to hold the line on opposing a dangerously weak Iran deal. But it is possible that some of the Democratic co-sponsors like Kirsten Gillibrand or Joe Manchin may insist on symbolism rather than the Senate exercising its constitutional obligation to vote on what may be among the most significant foreign treaties agreed to by the United States in the last generation.

But assuming that Corker and Schumer stand up for a real vote, another possibility may prevent a veto-proof majority that seems easily within reach. With the White House ruthlessly lobbying Democrats to vote against the bill in order to defend the president’s prerogatives, it won’t be easy getting to 67. At that point, Schumer and other leading Democrats may engage in one of the age-old traditions of Congress in which votes are traded.

If Schumer is not truly serious about passing Corker-Menendez, what will follow will be a series of bargains struck between various senators and the White House that would allow just enough Democrats to vote for the bill without allowing it to get to 67. In that case, senators like Schumer and Gillibrand might be freed up to vote against the president just as long as they are sure that enough Democrats will vote with him in order to ensure the margin of victory falls short of the two-thirds mark that would make it veto-proof.

If that happens, then the blame will fall not just on the Democrats who allow the president to veto the bill with impunity but on those who helped negotiate the deals that enabled this to happen. And Chuck Schumer, the master-manipulator seeking to serve both the White House and the pro-Israel community, will stand accused as the chief architect of the outcome. Schumer may vote for Corker-Menendez but if it fails to get to 67, you may be sure that he had a hand in that coming to pass. If so, his protestations of sorrow about the failure may convince some of his supporters, but those with a better grasp of how the Senate works will know better.

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GOP Doesn’t Play Fair. They Back Israel.

New York Times coverage of Republicans tends to be biased and judgmental. Conservatives are generally portrayed as either conniving and cynical big money manipulators of simple-minded voters (the standard trope about establishment Republicans) or as racist fire-eaters (i.e. Tea Partiers). But occasionally even the Grey Lady gets something right in its political coverage. That’s the case with the piece published today in which they note in their headline that, “For GOP, Support for Israel Becomes a Litmus Test.” They’re right about that and the contrast with Democrats, especially in the wake of the tirades against Israel’s government emanating from the White House in recent weeks, couldn’t be greater. While, as I noted yesterday, Democrats are claiming that the GOP is trying to turn Israel into a partisan wedge, what is really happening is that one of our two major parties has become a bastion of support for the Jewish state while the other is drifting away from it.

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New York Times coverage of Republicans tends to be biased and judgmental. Conservatives are generally portrayed as either conniving and cynical big money manipulators of simple-minded voters (the standard trope about establishment Republicans) or as racist fire-eaters (i.e. Tea Partiers). But occasionally even the Grey Lady gets something right in its political coverage. That’s the case with the piece published today in which they note in their headline that, “For GOP, Support for Israel Becomes a Litmus Test.” They’re right about that and the contrast with Democrats, especially in the wake of the tirades against Israel’s government emanating from the White House in recent weeks, couldn’t be greater. While, as I noted yesterday, Democrats are claiming that the GOP is trying to turn Israel into a partisan wedge, what is really happening is that one of our two major parties has become a bastion of support for the Jewish state while the other is drifting away from it.

As the Times points out, it used to be the Democrats who were the pro-Israel party and Republicans were the ones who were divided on the issue. That changed in the last quarter of the 20th century as GOP leaders like Ronald Reagan (who, despite clashes with Prime Minister Menachem Begin early in his tenure, was rightly seen as a warm supporter of Israel) and the influence of evangelical voters made life difficult for Republicans who were opposed or even merely unenthusiastic about the Jewish state. By the time of George W. Bush, whose closeness to Israel was something Obama set out on his first day in office to change, the GOP was unified behind the Jewish state. Even an outlier on foreign policy like Senator Rand Paul, whose father was hostile to it, has made a concerted effort to at least appear to be pro-Israel as he attempts to make a serious bid for the party’s presidential nomination.

What the Times leaves out of their story is that the opposite trend has been happening among Democrats as polls have consistently shown lower support for Israel among them for more than 20 years.

To some on the left, like J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami, strong support for Israel and opposition to efforts to pressure it to make suicidal concessions to its foes is a sign of growing radicalism among Republicans. But, unsurprisingly, he has that backwards. By embracing Israel, Republicans have moved into the mainstream on a key foreign policy issue since most Americans feel a tremendous sense of kinship with it for a variety of reasons, including religious motivations as well as its status as America’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East.

The change among Republicans distresses the J Street crowd and those even farther on the left who eschew mere pressure tactics on the Israelis and prefer to isolate it or support the efforts of those who wish to destroy it.

Other more mainstream Democrats think there’s something fishy about it since it puts them in the position of having to compete with a rival party where backing for Israel is universal while they are forced to admit that many Democrats, including the president of the United States, are not exactly fans of the Jewish state and its democratically-elected government. But their claims that Republicans are making Israel a partisan issue are false. It is the Obama administration that has sought to break up the bipartisan consensus in Congress in favor of more sanctions against Iran or support for the Netanyahu government by appealing to the partisan loyalties of Democrats.

Whereas the president is seeking to convince Democrats to be less supportive of Israel and its security, Republicans understand that putting yourself on the wrong side of the issue is politically dangerous. That’s why Jeb Bush was quick to disassociate himself from James Baker’s attacks on Israel in front of J Street, in spite of the fact that the former secretary is a faithful Bush family retainer.

This doesn’t mean that there still aren’t Democrats who back Israel though they have been awfully quiet about the way the president has been bashing Netanyahu and the Israeli electorate in the last week. But what it does mean is that there is no use pretending that the bulk of the two parties are united on the issue. As the Times reports, there’s no longer much room in the GOP for opponents of Israel. At the same time, President Obama has transformed the Democrats from a bastion of pro-Israel sentiment to the home of most of its most vicious critics. Supporters of Israel, no matter their partisan affiliation, should be delighted about the former and deeply worried abou the latter. If voters are noticing the difference it isn’t because the GOP is acting unfairly. It’s because some of the most important Democrats in the country have abandoned Israel.

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Who Turned Israel Into a Political Football?

In the last week, the Obama administration has talked about “reconsidering” its policy in the Middle East, a statement widely and accurately interpreted as a threat to abandon Israel at the United Nations and/or to cut military aid to the Jewish state. After six years of sniping at and blaming Israel for the lack of progress in the peace process while absolving the Palestinians for refusing to negotiate in good faith, President Obama’s pique at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reelection is such that the alliance between the two democracies is in crisis. At the same time, the administration has not hesitated as it recklessly pursued détente with Iran in nuclear talks that appear on track to allow the Islamist regime to become a threshold nuclear power and perhaps to get a bomb either by cheating or even by abiding by a perilously weak deal. But according to Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, the problem between the two countries is solely the work of mischievous Republicans seeking to turn Israel into a political football for their advantage. Can anyone with sense believe such a deceptive argument?

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In the last week, the Obama administration has talked about “reconsidering” its policy in the Middle East, a statement widely and accurately interpreted as a threat to abandon Israel at the United Nations and/or to cut military aid to the Jewish state. After six years of sniping at and blaming Israel for the lack of progress in the peace process while absolving the Palestinians for refusing to negotiate in good faith, President Obama’s pique at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reelection is such that the alliance between the two democracies is in crisis. At the same time, the administration has not hesitated as it recklessly pursued détente with Iran in nuclear talks that appear on track to allow the Islamist regime to become a threshold nuclear power and perhaps to get a bomb either by cheating or even by abiding by a perilously weak deal. But according to Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, the problem between the two countries is solely the work of mischievous Republicans seeking to turn Israel into a political football for their advantage. Can anyone with sense believe such a deceptive argument?

Rep. Israel is a member of the Democrats’ House leadership team and a fervent partisan so it is to be expected that his instincts always seek to put the president and his party in the best possible light. But what he is doing here is more than just following White House talking points. This is a diversionary effort intended to distract otherwise pro-Israel Democrats from the fact that their party has been hijacked by an administration that has, from its first moments in office, sought to distance the U.S. from its Israeli ally.

In our COMMENTARY editorial on the crisis in U.S.-Israel relations that President Obama has precipitated we discuss at length the history of the administration’s behavior toward the Jewish state. Suffice it to say the quarrel between the two governments didn’t begin when Netanyahu decided to accept an invitation to address Congress on the nuclear threat form Iran. The prime minister’s choice to give an address criticizing the administration’s pursuit of détente with Iran gave the White House a chance to divert attention from their indefensible policy. For weeks, the issue because Netanyahu’s alleged breach of protocol and not a decision by the president to offer Iran a deal that will enable it to keep its nuclear program, breaking his 2012 reelection campaign promise.

The purpose of this tactic was not so much to encourage Democrats to boycott Netanyahu’s speech (something only a few dozen of them wound up doing) but to persuade some of them to abandon their support for increased sanctions on Iran. Up until this January, backing for more Iran sanctions that are intended to strengthen Obama’s hand in the nuclear talks was overwhelming and bipartisan in nature. But the president sought to use party loyalty as leverage to get Democrats to break up that bipartisan consensus and oppose a strong stand on Iran.

If that was not bad enough, Netanyahu’s win last week set off an administration temper tantrum that seemed aimed at downgrading the alliance with America’s only democratic ally in the Middle East.

Yet the response from congressional Democrats was, with few exceptions, silence.

In his Politico article, Rep. Israel rightly cites instances in the past when Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush took stands that were opposed by the pro-Israel community. But what happened in response to those lamentable events puts the current position of most Democrats in a very unflattering light. At those times, pro-Israel Republicans did not hesitate to publicly criticize the head of their party. In the case of the elder Bush, his clash with AIPAC over loan guarantees to the state of Israel prompted a crisis among Jewish Republicans, causing them to abandon him in the 1992 presidential election as he received the lowest vote total for a GOP candidate since Barry Goldwater.

But, with a few notable exceptions, Democrats have reacted to Obama’s verbal assaults and whitewashing of Palestinian intransigence (the true obstacle to peace in the Middle East) by either keeping quiet or actually taking sides with the administration against the pro-Israel community. When faced with the demands of partisanship or their principles, most Democrats have done as Rep. Israel did and stood with Obama even as he fecklessly pursued a weak and dangerous nuclear deal with Iran and engaged in a personal vendetta against the democratically elected government of the Jewish state.

Rep. Israel’s response to this discouraging spectacle is not some much needed introspection about the failure of his party to stand up to the president but an attempt to blame it all on Republicans. To his way of thinking, the problem isn’t that a Democratic president is abandoning Israel and embracing Iran, but that some Republicans have noticed that many rank and file Democrats don’t seem to have a problem with any of this.

The congressman is right that no one ought to question his personal love for the Jewish state with which he shares a name. Nor should anyone on the right jump to the conclusion that all Democrats no longer care about Israel. Though polls have shown far greater levels of support for Israel among Republicans than Democrats for the last two decades (a trend that long predated the Obama-Netanyahu feud), a clear majority of those who identify with the party of Jefferson and Jackson still back the Jewish state.

The problem here is partisanship, but not one caused by the Republicans. The unwillingness of most Democrats to tell the president that they won’t tolerate his attacks and threats being aimed at Israel may mark a turning point in the history of their party. Faced with a choice between an Obama administration that has gone off the tracks on Israel and Iran, Democrats are not speaking up, as they should. When partisans like Rep. Israel demand that loyal Democrats back the president on Iran and the peace process, he is the one that is turning the Jewish state into a political football, not his Republican opponents who haven’t hesitated to oppose the administration. If he wants to prove his pro-Israel bona fides, Rep. Israel needs to start criticizing the president, not the GOP.

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Will Democrats Challenge Obama on Israel?

During the weeks leading up to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress on Iran, the White House orchestrated a media campaign to persuade Democrats that the speech was an effort to inject partisanship into the U.S.-Israel relationship. Though Netanyahu was foolish to walk into that trap, the charge was somewhat misleading since it was President Obama who used this as a wedge to break up an otherwise solid bipartisan consensus in favor of more sanctions on Iran. But now that the administration is threatening to isolate Israel in the wake of Netanyahu’s re-election victory, the question arises whether the president’s efforts to rally Democrats behind him on Iran will stop them from criticizing his decision to increase tensions with the Jewish state. The answer to that question will tell us whether the Democrats, once a wall-to-wall stronghold of pro-Israel sentiment, have been sufficiently influenced by the president’s stands to the point where he needn’t worry about any significant pushback about his threats from within his party or its likely next presidential candidate.

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During the weeks leading up to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress on Iran, the White House orchestrated a media campaign to persuade Democrats that the speech was an effort to inject partisanship into the U.S.-Israel relationship. Though Netanyahu was foolish to walk into that trap, the charge was somewhat misleading since it was President Obama who used this as a wedge to break up an otherwise solid bipartisan consensus in favor of more sanctions on Iran. But now that the administration is threatening to isolate Israel in the wake of Netanyahu’s re-election victory, the question arises whether the president’s efforts to rally Democrats behind him on Iran will stop them from criticizing his decision to increase tensions with the Jewish state. The answer to that question will tell us whether the Democrats, once a wall-to-wall stronghold of pro-Israel sentiment, have been sufficiently influenced by the president’s stands to the point where he needn’t worry about any significant pushback about his threats from within his party or its likely next presidential candidate.

In the past few days, the White House temper tantrum about its least favorite foreign leader’s stunning election victory has escalated from mere petulance at the setback to threats about acquiescing or supporting resolutions at the United Nations Security Council. That changes the dynamic about the debate over Israel in a fundamental way.

Throughout the first six years of the Obama presidency it was possible for Democrats to claim with varying success that the administration had not undermined the alliance with Israel. But in the last two years, the president has become increasingly belligerent toward America’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East. He wrongly blamed Netanyahu for the collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative even though it had been the Palestinians who blew up the talks by making an end run around the negotiations to the United Nations and by signing a unity pact with Hamas. The White House not only unfairly criticized Israel for its measures of self-defense during last year’s war against Hamas but also cut off the resupply of ammunition to the Israel Defense Forces during the fighting.

Yet that was just a foretaste of the bitterness that would come as the president violated his campaign pledges and began an effort to appease Iran that would allow it to keep its nuclear program. If Netanyahu’s Iran speech was the last straw for Obama, the president’s anger about the prime minister’s re-election sent him over the edge. Using Netanyahu’s statements about his unwillingness to create a Palestinian state under the current circumstances, the White House is now openly threatening to “re-evaluate” its approach to the peace process. But by that they don’t mean re-thinking Obama’s obsessive blaming of Israel and absolving the Palestinians of all responsibility for their decisions that have made peace impossible. Instead, they seem to be indicating that in the final two years of the Obama presidency with no need to bow to political pressures, the president will finally be able to vent his hostility to Netanyahu and begin a process of brutal pressure designed to thwart the will of the Israeli electorate and force the country into dangerous concessions even as he barters its security in order to create a new détente with Iran.

At this point it would seem incumbent on leaders of the Democratic Party to speak up to restrain the president from carrying out these threats. Though many of them don’t like Netanyahu and also resent the obvious closeness between the prime minister and some Republican leaders, their complaints about partisanship infecting the U.S.-Israel relationship have become self-fulfilling prophecies. With polls showing a distinct split between the parties in which Republicans are clearly more likely to be strongly supportive of Israel than the Democrats, the Obama-Netanyahu spat has become the wedge by which elements of the anti-Israel left have been able to assert with some justice that they are making inroads against the heretofore bi-partisan pro-Israel consensus.

Particular focus will fall on Hillary Clinton as she prepares for her coronation as the Democrats’ 2016 presidential campaign. In the past she has veered between strident criticism of Israel (a point that was emphasized during her four years as Obama’s secretary of state) and returning to the sort of standard pro-Israel rhetoric that was part of her persona as a senator from New York from 2000 to 2008. Clinton would like to continue to claim that she is strong supporter of Israel without the distraction of having to take a stand on Obama’s actions. But the statements from the White House may have made that impossible.

The bottom line is that neither Clinton nor any other leading Democrat can pretend that their backing for Israel cannot be questioned if they stay silent about Obama’s threats. Even worse, were they to equivocate or back the president as he isolates Israel at the United Nations or cuts back on military aid — a stance that is sure to tempt Hamas or Iran’s ally Hezbollah to resume rocket attacks and other forms of terrorism — it would place them outside the pro-Israel consensus that they have long claimed to uphold.

It’s one thing for them to blame Netanyahu for supposedly being too close to Republicans. It is quite another for Democrats to assert that they can be neutral about an administration that is seeking to isolate Israel while simultaneously embracing a vicious anti-Semitic Iranian regime that continues to threaten the Jewish state with annihilation.

Though there is a growing constituency on the left that is hoping to legitimize anti-Israel stands, including support for boycotts and divestment as well as pressure on the Jewish state to bow to Palestinian demands that have been rejected by the Israeli people at the ballot box, Clinton is making a mistake if she thinks she can avoid having to choose between the pro-Israel community and Obama’s stands. The same applies to other Democrats. If Obama doesn’t step back from the brink, Democrats must decide whether they wish to truly abandon support for Israel to the Republicans or if they are prepared to openly fight a president who appears on the brink of trashing an alliance still supported by the majority of Americans.

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Democrats Are Ready for Hillary and Stuck with Her

There was good news and bad news for Democrats yesterday. The good news was that after a week of ominous and politically damaging silence, Hillary Clinton emerged to answer questions from the press about her emails and demonstrated that she had no intention of letting this story deflect her from her goal of winning the presidency. The bad news was that barely-suppressed rage about having to answer those questions and arrogant “trust me” attitude not only failed to defuse this controversy, it also raised serious questions as to whether she had the temperament to run a successful campaign for the presidency. Taken together, it is more or less a perfect storm for a party seeking to hold onto the White House next year without having Barack Obama on the top of the ticket. It’s not just that there are unanswered questions about her conduct and judgment that will linger. It’s that the woman who stood up in front of the press at the United Nations yesterday made Mitt Romney look like a great retail politician.

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There was good news and bad news for Democrats yesterday. The good news was that after a week of ominous and politically damaging silence, Hillary Clinton emerged to answer questions from the press about her emails and demonstrated that she had no intention of letting this story deflect her from her goal of winning the presidency. The bad news was that barely-suppressed rage about having to answer those questions and arrogant “trust me” attitude not only failed to defuse this controversy, it also raised serious questions as to whether she had the temperament to run a successful campaign for the presidency. Taken together, it is more or less a perfect storm for a party seeking to hold onto the White House next year without having Barack Obama on the top of the ticket. It’s not just that there are unanswered questions about her conduct and judgment that will linger. It’s that the woman who stood up in front of the press at the United Nations yesterday made Mitt Romney look like a great retail politician.

An intrepid band of Clinton apologists and rationalizers are out in force throughout the media today telling us to move along because there’s nothing to see here and that any questions you might have about all this has been planted in your brain by the vast right-wing conspiracy that hates the Clintons. But if all Clinton can do is to say that we should trust her, all the spin in the world can’t make this go away.

That a person serving in an administration pledging transparency would think it more “convenient” to merge her work and personal emails together on a home server certainly raises questions about the former secretary of state’s judgment. As Politico reports today, cyber-security experts are having a field day picking apart the notion that her choice was in the best interests of the United States. She may admit now that it would have been smarter to do what everyone else in the government does and use an official email for work. Doing so would have been in keeping with both the letter and the spirit of the regulations that she keeps insisting she didn’t violate.

But it bears repeating that allowing her to decide which emails were private or public is not, despite her assertions, what all government employees must do. To the contrary, she appears to be the only person so empowered. That she then deleted those emails she considers personal is not only troubling; it is inexplicable. As our John Podhoretz writes today in the New York Post, those emails about Chelsea’s wedding are precisely the kind that most people keep. It’s junk that ordinary email users delete, not those concerning important personal events. And blaming it, as she did, on the fact that her husband shared the use of the server won’t wash because he keeps telling us that he doesn’t use email.

You don’t have to be a conspiracy monger or a Clinton hater to realize that this is all very fishy. Even if wrongdoing is not being covered by her absurd decisions, the story makes her appear foolish if not downright stupid.

But, for the moment, let’s leave the question of what’s in those emails that weren’t handed over to the State Department to Rep. Trey Gowdy, the chair of the special House committee investigating the Benghazi attack. Instead, let’s just focus on the former first lady’s performance yesterday.

You’d have to be a devout Clinton loyalist to view her stiff, angry, and arrogant demeanor as anything but off-putting. The sense of entitlement and the resentment at having to explain herself, the basic job of every politician, was palpable. Contempt for the press, even those seeking to fawn on her, is one thing. But what came through most was that she really doesn’t think the public is entitled to answers other than her canned responses about trusting her. And the longer the presser went on, the worse she came across.

It wasn’t merely a bad show. It was a neon sign telling Democrats that they are stuck with a candidate without the kind of appeal needed to win tough elections. But the really bad part of this for her party is that rather than having mellowed or improved in the eight years since Barack Obama snatched the 2008 Democratic Party nomination from her grasp, Clinton’s political skills have actually deteriorated.

As her disastrous book tour last year proved, being in the State Department rather than the Senate seems to have damaged Clinton’s never particularly deft grasp of retail politics. She does well enough when isolated from questions or the public but when put in the cross hairs of a press corps that smells blood, she reveals herself to be a fragile, even brittle personality that has no natural flair for the profession she has chosen. By comparison to the Hillary we saw yesterday, even a stiff like Mitt Romney looks easygoing and natural.

This ought to be an open invitation to other Democrats to jump into the 2016 race against such a weak candidate. But given the strength of the Clinton machine and the poll numbers that illustrate that all possible Democratic alternatives other than Elizabeth Warren are ciphers, there’s no reason to think that she is any less likely to win the nomination. That means that Democrats are not only ready for Hillary. They’re stuck with her. Given their many advantages in any presidential election (a docile media being just the most prominent), they shouldn’t despair of victory especially with a candidate who is seeking to make history. But winning with such a poor candidate is going to be tough sledding, especially if the Republicans put up a plausible alternative.

Rather than putting the email story to rest, yesterday’s press conference wound up illustrating just how hard it’s going to be to elect Hillary Clinton president.

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Democrats and the Hillary Train Wreck

How can something that is such a sure thing seem so shaky? That’s the question that many supporters of Hillary Clinton are wondering this week as reports about her exclusive use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state prove to be the latest indication of her bad political judgment. Though many Democrats insist that there’s nothing to this story, others speaking off the record to journalist are less sanguine and admit that this just the latest evidence that shows that her apparent coronation as Democratic presidential nominee is only partially obscuring her genuine shortcomings as a candidate. Though Clinton’s loyalists are bravely, if somewhat inadequately, defending her, the email story looks to have legs. The real question many in the part are asking today is whether the former First Lady’s current troubles will be enough to tempt Senator Elizabeth Warren to jump into the 2016 presidential race.

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How can something that is such a sure thing seem so shaky? That’s the question that many supporters of Hillary Clinton are wondering this week as reports about her exclusive use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state prove to be the latest indication of her bad political judgment. Though many Democrats insist that there’s nothing to this story, others speaking off the record to journalist are less sanguine and admit that this just the latest evidence that shows that her apparent coronation as Democratic presidential nominee is only partially obscuring her genuine shortcomings as a candidate. Though Clinton’s loyalists are bravely, if somewhat inadequately, defending her, the email story looks to have legs. The real question many in the part are asking today is whether the former First Lady’s current troubles will be enough to tempt Senator Elizabeth Warren to jump into the 2016 presidential race.

There are some reasons for the Clinton camp to be confident that nothing in the story about her emails will stop Democrats from nominating her for president. The Clintons have always operated under different rules than lesser political mortals and they and their fans probably think there’s nothing to this issue that should cause Democrats to treat them differently than in the past. But the willingness of the New York Times, the flagship of the liberal mainstream media establishment to run with this story rather than treating it as just another minor sidebar generated by Republicans investigating the Benghazi attacks was an indication that Hillary could not count on getting a pass.

Nor did the story die after a day as Clinton’s camp hoped it would because there was more to it. The revelation that Clinton not only refrained from using a government (and therefore relatively secure) email address but used one whose server was located in her home is even more egregious than one would have thought. That raises questions about whether she violated government regulations instituted in 2009. Though much correspondence was subsequently handed over to the government, the decision as to what was public and what private was made by Clinton’s staff leaving open the possibility that anything that might prove embarrassing or troubling — such as Clinton’s knowledge or encouragement for efforts by her husband to raise money from foreign governments for their family foundation — was either erased or held back from archivists or the State Department.

Some Democrats are claiming that conservative critics complaining about Clinton’s emails are hypocrites because various Republican governors have been hounded about some of their own emails. That’s a fair point but only to a point. Anyone running for president is going to have to be transparent about their official conduct, an issue that Jeb Bush got in front of when he released his emails from his time as governor of Florida. But none of those Republicans were in charge of U.S. foreign policy while their spouse was shaking down foreigners for contributions to their family foundation.

Even more to the point, it is important to play the substitution game. Imagine the reaction from Democrats if highly placed figures in a Republican administration were accused of doing far less than what Clinton has done when it comes to emails. Substitute the words Dick Cheney for Hillary Clinton and just imagine the same liberals telling us there’s nothing to see and that this is mere Republican lunacy about Benghazi as their heads explode.

But actually we don’t have to use our imaginations. We can just find the video of Hillary Clinton speaking in June 2007 about accusations about Republicans like Karl Rove using private email accounts some of the time while working in the White House. Rove wasn’t violating any federal regulations as Clinton did but that didn’t stop the then junior senator from New York from decrying those in her sights of “shredding the Constitution” and engaging in corrupt activities.

Nor will this story go away. There’s plenty of exposure for everyone involved here who didn’t follow the rules. But with news organizations like the Associated Press that have already filed Freedom of Information lawsuits to find out what Clinton has been up to now discovering that there is a lot of data it wanted that the government doesn’t have, the fate of those emails that were not given to the State Department could haunt Clinton.

But none of this bothers Democrats as much as the perception that Clinton and her staff were unprepared for this latest land mine in her path and have no clue about defusing it. Though the Clinton political machine is a formidable entity, she currently lacks the kind of staff with the ability to respond immediately to problems. Instead, they bumble around for days doing little to make things better for their candidate. Clinton’s own public statements have also been entirely inadequate. Merely saying that she wants the public to have access to her emails does little to reassure since she didn’t promise to take any steps that would ensure that these communications will be brought forward or that the process by which private emails will be sorted from the official ones will be supervised by anyone but her personal minions.

As with her gaffe-ridden book tour last year, Clinton has done nothing to make it appear that she has acquired the political skills needed to weather a competitive presidential campaign. With no serious Democratic opposition in sight that means she will head into the general election next year with full coffers but unready to mix it up with what might be a strong GOP opponent. At this point the fact that she has no opposition worth the name inside her party starts to look less like a huge advantage and more like a liability.

Will this tempt Warren to run against her? If she has any interest in running for president — a question to which we don’t know the answer — it ought to. At worst, the email story is the sort of thing that will feed cynicism about Clinton among ordinary voters as well as the imaginations of conspiracy theorists. At best, it shows she has poor political judgment ad lacks the ability to comprehend and deal with problems. Either way, this train wreck makes for a poor presidential candidate and an even worse president. The former should scare Democrats who want to win in 2016. The latter should scare all Americans.

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Who’s Shutting Down DHS? Democrats!

With only hours to go before the deadline for a Department of Homeland Security shutdown expired, a last minute compromise attempt to continue the funding failed late Friday afternoon. After the Senate passed a temporary spending bill to fund DHS, the House took up a measure that would keep the money flowing for three weeks until a more permanent solution can be found. But though the White House and the rest of the Democratic Party have been citing Republican efforts to stop funding those parts of the DHS budget that enable President Obama’s executive orders granting amnesty to up to five million illegal aliens as the cause of the shutdown, when push came to shove it was the Democrats who voted overwhelming against the compromise that could have ended the standoff. Though efforts to try again may continue through the evening and the weekend, the House vote showed that the Democratic talking points about the GOP being the party of obstruction that has been endlessly repeated by the president’s liberal mainstream media cheering section is a transparent lie.

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With only hours to go before the deadline for a Department of Homeland Security shutdown expired, a last minute compromise attempt to continue the funding failed late Friday afternoon. After the Senate passed a temporary spending bill to fund DHS, the House took up a measure that would keep the money flowing for three weeks until a more permanent solution can be found. But though the White House and the rest of the Democratic Party have been citing Republican efforts to stop funding those parts of the DHS budget that enable President Obama’s executive orders granting amnesty to up to five million illegal aliens as the cause of the shutdown, when push came to shove it was the Democrats who voted overwhelming against the compromise that could have ended the standoff. Though efforts to try again may continue through the evening and the weekend, the House vote showed that the Democratic talking points about the GOP being the party of obstruction that has been endlessly repeated by the president’s liberal mainstream media cheering section is a transparent lie.

The vote on the compromise plan was a narrow defeat for the proposal put forward by House Speaker John Boehner. But while there were significant Republican defections from their leadership’s proposal, the reason the measure failed was due to the Democrats. Republicans supported the funding by a margin of 192 to 50. But Democrats opposed it by a 172-12 vote.

Why did the Democrats who have been accusing Republicans of playing politics with funding for DHS at a time when the terrorist threat from ISIS and its sympathizers is so great vote no? The answer is simple. They were playing politics.

Rather than accept a compromise that would have kept the department funded, they chose to grandstand in favor of a bill that would have extended throughout the fiscal year. That’s their privilege but if the goal here was to ensure that DHS is funded while the leaders decide on a permanent solution to a problem created by the president’s extralegal end run around Congress on illegal immigration, then their stunt failed miserably.

The point here isn’t to say that Republicans were not doing their own grandstanding as 50 GOP members also voted no because they want no funding of DHS so long as the executive orders stand. But with almost all the Democratic caucus decided to play “chicken” with the majority and thus run the risk of defunding DHS when a compromise was there to be passed, the mainstream media’s favorite theme about Republican obstructionism just became obsolete.

Neither side is without blame in this standoff. The notion that the Republicans who are standing on principle as they seek to use their power of the purse to defund the amnesty program are the extremists while the Democrats are the adults in the room has always been pure partisan bunk. By refusing to compromise on his executive orders, the president is just as guilty of pushing the nation to the brink over DHS funding as the Republicans.

But by torpedoing a measure that would have kept the money flowing to DHS — the thing that Democrats have been telling us is the only thing that matters — the president’s party revealed themselves to be just as cynical and mindlessly partisan as anyone on the other side of the aisle. If anything, they are far worse because they are hypocrites for decrying obstructionism while acting as the prime force behind today’s gridlock spectacle. If Republicans can be smeared as “terrorists” for holding the budget hostage to make their political points, what do we call Democrats who do the same thing?

This may not stop liberals from using the same tired meme about Congressional Republicans in the future. But if they do, honest observers will remember the DHS shutdown that illustrated just how specious Democratic claims of innocence truly are.

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RE: The GOP has an Image Problem with the Middle Class

I totally agree with Pete that the GOP has an image problem, as revealed by the Pew polling data:

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I totally agree with Pete that the GOP has an image problem, as revealed by the Pew polling data:

About these findings, I’d say several things, the first of which is that Republicans would be foolish to ignore the findings or respond defensively to them. Many Republicans will of course feel these impressions are unfair, the product of biased media coverage and so forth. But they need to understand how voters see the GOP, since accepting there’s a problem is the first step toward correcting it.

As I wrote recently, Republicans should most definitely not be defensive in dealing with the mainstream media and its unrelenting bias. As Glenn Reynolds says, “Punch back twice as hard.” Be in their face, treat them contemptuously when they deserve contempt and challenge them to be fair and balanced (to coin a phrase). But do it, like Ronald Reagan, with a smile. That little rueful nod of the head Reagan perfected, (along with the immortal, “well, there you go again” that so gently, but thoroughly, eviscerated Jimmy Carter at their only debate) would go a long way towards punching back without being either nasty or angry.

Republican politicians need to always keep in mind that 1) Republicans are now the majority party, 2) their ideas are newer and far more in sync with the world of today than are the ideas of the Democrats (and the MSM) that hark back to the glory days of FDR and LBJ, 3) they are the party of the individual and the American dream, while the Democrats are more and more the party of the superrich, ever-expanding government (and thus taxes) and government dependency, 4) Republicans are the party of reform and renewal, the Democrats are the party of the status quo, Republicans are the party of tomorrow, the Democrats the party of yesterday.

But not just individual Republicans should act on these principles, so should the party as a whole. A program, starting soon, of image advertising, would do much to change the party’s image with the voters. Corporations have effectively used image advertising, not to sell a particular product but the corporation itself, for decades. So should the Republican Party.

As a neat little dividend, it would drive the MSM absolutely around the bend to have to run such ads in the midst of the evening news programs and Sunday talk shows. It might even make them clean up their acts a bit.

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Another Unforced Error for Netanyahu

What was Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu thinking when he rejected an invitation from Senate Democrats to speak to a private meeting of their caucus? Netanyahu’s rationale is that he only wants to speak to bipartisan groups rather than to meet with either Democrats or Republicans and thereby be drawn into America’s partisan disputes. But by publicly rejecting what seems like an olive branch from Democrats, he is doing just the opposite. Rather than uphold the bipartisan nature of the pro-Israel coalition in Washington, the prime minister’s refusal is being interpreted as another snub to President Obama’s party after his decision to accept an invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress from House Speaker John Boehner without consulting with the White House. Just when you thought this story couldn’t get any worse for Netanyahu—at least as far as the way it is perceived in the United States—the Israeli leader dug himself and his country a slightly deeper hole in yet another unforced error.

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What was Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu thinking when he rejected an invitation from Senate Democrats to speak to a private meeting of their caucus? Netanyahu’s rationale is that he only wants to speak to bipartisan groups rather than to meet with either Democrats or Republicans and thereby be drawn into America’s partisan disputes. But by publicly rejecting what seems like an olive branch from Democrats, he is doing just the opposite. Rather than uphold the bipartisan nature of the pro-Israel coalition in Washington, the prime minister’s refusal is being interpreted as another snub to President Obama’s party after his decision to accept an invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress from House Speaker John Boehner without consulting with the White House. Just when you thought this story couldn’t get any worse for Netanyahu—at least as far as the way it is perceived in the United States—the Israeli leader dug himself and his country a slightly deeper hole in yet another unforced error.

As his official response indicates, it is likely that the prime minister’s office saw the invitation as a trap rather than an opportunity to counter the White House spin of his speech as the Israeli government taking sides with Republicans against the White House on the question of Iran sanctions. Since he rightly believes that speaking to Congress about the dangers from Iran’s nuclear program and the need for increased sanctions is an issue that transcends partisan loyalties, Netanyahu may have thought that accepting the invite from the Democrats would have been a tacit admission that he had erred in cooking up the speech with Boehner.

He may have been right about that. But, once again, the prime minister and his advisors—people who have a better grasp of Washington culture than most Israelis—have gotten so deep into the issue that they’ve lost sight of political reality. Rightly or wrongly, the speech to Congress is widely seen as a Netanyahu attack on Obama that is resented even by Democrats who agree with the prime minister and disagree with the president on Iran sanctions and the direction of the negotiations with Tehran. Rather than viewing the invitation from the Senate Democrats negatively, he should have taken it as an opportunity to prove that he had no interest in playing one party against another. If there were a problem with the perception of him meeting with one group of senators—something that is far from unprecedented—it wouldn’t have been too hard to persuade Republicans to meet with him too.

Instead, by stubbornly sticking to his narrative about the speech to Congress and ignoring the need to acknowledge that the story has gotten away from him, Netanyahu has done more damage to his reputation and, once again, assisted the administration’s efforts to brand him as a disruptive force within the alliance. Just at the moment when it seemed the discussion was shifting from one about the prime minister’s chutzpah to the latest dangerous round of concessions being offered to Iran by the president, we get another news cycle in which the focus is on Netanyahu’s incompetent management of relations with people who should be his allies in Congress.

Acknowledging this latest blunder doesn’t mean that Netanyahu’s position on Iran isn’t correct. The administration’s reported offer of a ten-year freeze with Tehran that would grant Western approval not only for Iran’s nuclear infrastructure but its eventual acquisition of a weapon is a betrayal of the president’s 2008 and 2012 campaign pledges on the issue. Though some were accusing Israel of making up stories about the talks in order to discredit the diplomatic process, it now appears that the worst fears about Obama’s push for détente with Iran are coming true. Rather than stopping Iran, the administration’s priority is making common cause with it to the detriment of the security of both America’s moderate Arab allies and the Jewish state.

This is the moment when the bipartisan pro-Israel community in this country should be uniting behind a push for more sanctions on Iran and opposition to appeasement of its nuclear ambitions. But by walking right into Obama’s trap, Netanyahu has reduced the chances of passing sanctions by a veto-proof majority. And by doubling down on this by refusing to meet with Senate Democrats, he has ensured that his speech will continue to be interpreted through a partisan lens rather than as a necessary cry of alarm that should be taken up by both parties.

It’s possible that, as I wrote yesterday, the duel with the White House may actually be helping Netanyahu in his reelection fight at home since it puts Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog in the unenviable position of being the Israeli ally of a president that is rightly viewed with suspicion by most voters in the Jewish state. But you don’t have to sympathize with either Obama or Herzog to understand that Netanyahu’s blunders are deepening the divide between Republicans and Democrats on Israel just at the moment when he should be redoubling his efforts to bridge them.

In the first six years of this administration, Netanyahu was roundly abused in the American press for his arguments with the president. But on the whole he conducted himself with dignity and strength and was rarely outmaneuvered. But in the last two months, Netanyahu has not been able to get out of his own way when it comes to managing relations with Congress or the White House. It may be too late for him to step back from the speech. But it isn’t too late to try and rectify the harm he is doing by rethinking his rejection of the Democrats’ invitation.

I don’t know exactly who is advising him to make these unforced errors but whoever it is, they should be fired or ignored in the future. Whether or not Netanyahu is reelected next month, the next prime minister of Israel is going to need both Republicans and Democrats in the years to come to maintain the alliance and to manage the growing threat from Iran that Obama is encouraging rather than stopping. Much to my surprise and others who thought him a brilliant political operator, Netanyahu seems to have forgotten that.

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GOP Must Find a Way Out of Obama’s DHS De-Funding Trap

With only days to go before a deadline for funding the Department of Homeland Security, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is desperately seeking a way to sell Republicans in both houses of Congress on a plan to get themselves out of the trap that President Obama set for them. His conservative critics aren’t wrong when they say this is nothing more than a GOP surrender that gives up any hope of taking a stand against the president’s extralegal executive orders granting wholesale amnesty to up to five million illegal immigrants. But unless McConnell can persuade House Republicans to go along with him, the understandable desire to defund those parts of the government that will carry out the president’s orders will cause the party to embark on another suicide charge that might prove to be even more disastrous than the 2013 government shutdown.

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With only days to go before a deadline for funding the Department of Homeland Security, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is desperately seeking a way to sell Republicans in both houses of Congress on a plan to get themselves out of the trap that President Obama set for them. His conservative critics aren’t wrong when they say this is nothing more than a GOP surrender that gives up any hope of taking a stand against the president’s extralegal executive orders granting wholesale amnesty to up to five million illegal immigrants. But unless McConnell can persuade House Republicans to go along with him, the understandable desire to defund those parts of the government that will carry out the president’s orders will cause the party to embark on another suicide charge that might prove to be even more disastrous than the 2013 government shutdown.

Let’s specify that Tea Partiers and other GOP stalwarts are right to be outraged about the president’s end-run around the Constitution. The notion that a president has the right to legislate on his own simply because he says he gave Congress time to do what he wanted it to do and must now act since they failed to is absurd as well as reflecting contempt for the rule of law. Regardless of one’s views about the need for immigration reform, the president’s actions constitute an ominous precedent that presage a constitutional crisis as the executive branch runs roughshod over the normal order of government. Indeed, even many Democrats said as much last fall prior to the orders, especially those up for reelection.

But simply because something is wrong and should be stopped doesn’t necessarily mean there is a way to do it that is politically palatable. The orders were given in a way that there is no option for halting their implementation other than defunding the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which now falls under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security. The courts may rule in favor of the 26 states that have sued to halt Obama’s orders. The decision of one federal judge in Texas in favor of that suit has, at least temporarily, stopped Obama in his tracks. But unless that track works—and it is likely that it won’t—the only alternative is defunding DHS.

It is true that Republicans are attempting to keep the rest of Homeland Security operating while preventing INS from doing the president’s will with respect to amnesty. But with Democrats in the Senate filibustering that effort and the president ready to veto that measure even if the Upper Chamber’s minority doesn’t hold on, taking a stand on illegal immigration will shut down the entire department.

While most Americans don’t like the idea of government shutdowns under any circumstances, furloughs for DHS employees right now is about the worst political idea anyone in Washington could come up with. The GOP could probably get away with shutting down the Department of Education or Housing or Health, Education, and Welfare or any number of other federal bureaucracies and not be hurt by it. But defunding DHS at a time of rising concern about terrorism is a political loser as well as arguably very bad policy. It not only creates another liberal narrative about Republican obstructionists trying to stop the government from operating. It also allows the president to change the subject from his lack of a coherent strategy to defeat ISIS to the old tried-and-true meme about Republicans blowing up the government.

Conservatives are right that this isn’t fair. A principled stand by the GOP against Obama’s executive orders isn’t anymore extremist than the Democrats’ refusal to compromise or step back from amnesty. The assumption that Republicans should be blamed for a shutdown is based on biased media reporting that reflects Democratic talking points. Unfortunately, the public seems to have bought it, in no small measure because the GOP’s small-government philosophy seems to make it more likely to act as if the government does deserve to be blown up.

But fair or unfair, it is a matter of political reality. As even Senator Marco Rubio noted today, shutting down DHS is simply unthinkable right now. Thus, the GOP should swallow hard and follow McConnell’s plan by passing a “clean” funding bill for DHS and then having a separate vote on a measure to stop the executive orders that will inevitably fail. If the House balks, it won’t matter that President Obama and the Democrats deserve the lion’s share of the blame for starting the fight with the orders and then filibustering a GOP bill to fund DHS.

Such an outcome is frustrating for party activists that turned out and elected a Republican Senate as well as a GOP-run House. But as infuriating as it may be, they need to realize that the only way to rescind those orders is going to mean electing a Republican president of the United States. And that is a prospect that will be less likely if they wind up shutting down DHS and further damaging their brand as a party at time when they should be gaining ground at the Democrats’ expense on foreign policy.

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Don’t Blame Bibi for Decline in Democrats’ Support for Israel

Both Israeli and American pundits have spent the last month abusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his decision to accept an invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress next month about the Iranian nuclear threat. The White House’s effort to spin the speech as a breach of protocol and an unwarranted interference in a U.S. debate about Iran has largely succeeded in rallying a significant number of congressional Democrats to back away from support of the sanctions bill co-sponsored by Senators Mark Kirk and Bob Menendez, as well as getting some to threaten to boycott Netanyahu’s speech. But while the speech is a blunder that has hurt the sanctions bill, the charge that Netanyahu has undermined bipartisan support for Israel is both unfair and untrue. As a new Gallup poll reveals, there is nothing new about Democrats being less likely to support Israel than Republicans.

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Both Israeli and American pundits have spent the last month abusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his decision to accept an invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress next month about the Iranian nuclear threat. The White House’s effort to spin the speech as a breach of protocol and an unwarranted interference in a U.S. debate about Iran has largely succeeded in rallying a significant number of congressional Democrats to back away from support of the sanctions bill co-sponsored by Senators Mark Kirk and Bob Menendez, as well as getting some to threaten to boycott Netanyahu’s speech. But while the speech is a blunder that has hurt the sanctions bill, the charge that Netanyahu has undermined bipartisan support for Israel is both unfair and untrue. As a new Gallup poll reveals, there is nothing new about Democrats being less likely to support Israel than Republicans.

The poll, which was taken from February 8-11, just as the furor over the Netanyahu speech was gaining steam, should reassure Israelis and their American friends that the doom-and-gloom scenarios about the collapse of U.S. support for the Jewish state in what is proving to be a very difficult second presidential term for Barack Obama are, at best, overstated. The poll showed that even after the shellacking it took in the press last summer during the Gaza war and the opprobrium that has been directed at Netanyahu personally in the last month, a whopping 70 percent of Americans still view Israel favorably or mostly favorably. Considering that 72 percent gave the same answer in February 2014, it’s clear that strong public support for Israel has hardly budged in spite of a very difficult year. By contrast, only 17 percent of Americans view the Palestinians favorably or mostly favorably, a number that has declined two percent in the last year.

When the question is asked slightly differently, in terms of which side one sympathizes with–the Israelis or the Palestinians–the results aren’t much different. Since the Palestinians’ plight naturally evokes sympathy irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the conflict, you’d think the numbers would swing toward them. But that isn’t the case. The results show that 62 percent of Americans sympathize with the Israelis and 16 percent with the Palestinians. A year ago that result was 62-18 percent.

But the bad news for friends of Israel is the fact that the overwhelming backing for the Jewish state isn’t entirely bipartisan. Though both congressional parties are largely united in their approval for Israel, there is a marked difference when it comes to members of the public who identity with either the Republicans or the Democrats.

Republicans support Israel by an enormous margin with fully 83 percent of them aligning themselves with the Jewish state. By contrast, only 48 percent of Democrats are pro-Israel with independents at 59 percent.

It is true that Democratic support has dipped considerably in the last year. In 2014, 78 percent of Republicans were pro-Israel while 55 percent of Democrats viewed in favorably. That five-percent boost for the GOP and seven-percent dip for the Democrats might be attributed to the actions of Obama and Netanyahu. But before you jump to those conclusions, it’s important to put these numbers in the context of a decades-long trend that has showed a steady increase in GOP backing for Israel while Democrats have been consistently less enthusiastic about it.

In 1988, long before the current debates about Iran, disrespect for Obama, or Netanyahu’s chutzpah, only 42 percent of Democrats viewed Israel favorably while 47 percent of Republicans did so. Since then, the numbers have varied at times. But since 2001, Republican support has moved steadily upward to its current position above the 80 percent mark. At the same time, the figures for the Democrats have always lagged far behind. Though the Obama-Netanyahu dustup may have alienated some Democrats, put in the perspective of the last 25 years, it is barely a blip on the radar screen.

What causes more liberal voters who call themselves Democrats to think less well of Israel than conservatives and Republicans? That is a complex question to which there are no easy answers. Perhaps some buy in to the canard that Israel is a vestige of imperialism, rather than the expression of a national liberation movement for the Jews. It’s possible the views of Democrats are influenced more by the anti-Israel bias of the mainstream media than Republicans, who largely ignore the tilt of the press on most issues.

But whatever the reason, the lack of sympathy for Israel on the part of many Democrats is no secret. The appalling spectacle at their 2012 national convention when a clear majority of those on the floor expressed opposition to pro-Israel resolutions were being pushed through is just a tangible example of the hostility that many on the left have for Zionism. With intellectual elites in academia and the mainline Protestant churches embracing economic warfare against Israel in the form of BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—resolutions, it is little surprise that the party such groups have more influence over would see Israel in a bad light.

These numbers don’t negate the fact that a plurality of Democrats back Israel and that some of their stalwarts in the House and the Senate are its most able advocates. Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, who personally stood up to President Obama to object to his slanders against pro-Israel members of Congress, is just one example.

But however you want to spin it, there’s no getting around the fact that Republicans are far more likely to be pro-Israel than Democrats and that this long predates any squabbles about the Netanyahu speech. If pro-Israel Democrats don’t like the notion that the Israelis seem to be more in sync with Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner than with the president, the fault lies with their party, not the Jewish state.

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Must Netanyahu Give That Speech?

With every passing day, more Democrats are claiming they will boycott Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s scheduled speech on Iran sanctions to a joint session of Congress next month. This is, as I wrote earlier, largely the result of a partisan campaign by the president and his blind partisan supporters and not because what Netanyahu is planning to do is some sort of outrageous or unprecedented stunt. But unfair or not, there is no getting around the fact that Netanyahu’s hope that he could replicate his triumphant 2011 appearance before Congress is not realistic. In response, the prime minister and his backers are saying that this is beside the point and insist that he has a duty to come to Washington to tell the truth about Iran to a Congress and an American people that are in desperate need of that message. That sounds quite noble and is, to a certain extent, true, as Americans have been getting a lot of misinformation about the issue in recent weeks. But it is also beside the point. The painful truth is that although he is in the right on the issue and Obama quite wrong, the prime minister is helping to derail the debate on Iran and will continue to do so as long as he persists in his determination to give the speech.

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With every passing day, more Democrats are claiming they will boycott Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s scheduled speech on Iran sanctions to a joint session of Congress next month. This is, as I wrote earlier, largely the result of a partisan campaign by the president and his blind partisan supporters and not because what Netanyahu is planning to do is some sort of outrageous or unprecedented stunt. But unfair or not, there is no getting around the fact that Netanyahu’s hope that he could replicate his triumphant 2011 appearance before Congress is not realistic. In response, the prime minister and his backers are saying that this is beside the point and insist that he has a duty to come to Washington to tell the truth about Iran to a Congress and an American people that are in desperate need of that message. That sounds quite noble and is, to a certain extent, true, as Americans have been getting a lot of misinformation about the issue in recent weeks. But it is also beside the point. The painful truth is that although he is in the right on the issue and Obama quite wrong, the prime minister is helping to derail the debate on Iran and will continue to do so as long as he persists in his determination to give the speech.

Let’s specify again, lest there be any confusion as to the rights and wrongs of the issue, that President Obama’s opposition to the bipartisan bill sponsored by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Robert Menendez is utterly illogical if his goal is to actually pressure Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. If, however, as seems more than evident, the president’s objective is détente with Iran, then his opposition to Kirk-Menendez makes perfect sense. And that is why the bipartisan majority that already existed within both houses of Congress for sanctions should persist in their plans to pass a bill and, if necessary, override Obama’s threatened veto.

But the idea that the factor that will ensure such a vote is a speech by Netanyahu is farcical.

Though he and his supporters speak as if members of Congress need to hear a speech from him in order to understand the issue, this is an issue that Congress has been debating for years. Interested members have gotten regular briefings and know very well Israel’s cogent argument in favor of more pressure on the Iranians. The only difference between last year when large majorities backed an earlier version of Kirk-Menendez and now is that Harry Reid is no longer in a position to prevent a vote on it in the Senate.

Despite the talk of a Netanyahu speech as indispensable, the chances of amassing a veto-proof majority were actually better before the announcement of House Speaker Boehner’s invitation than now. Weeks ago, the administration was resigned to a veto fight that they knew they stood a good chance of losing. But thanks to Netanyahu’s foolish decision to walk into the trap that Obama laid for him, they seem confident that they can, at worst, sustain the veto.

Netanyahu provided Obama and his allies with the perfect distraction from his Iran policy and the president has made the most of it. Democrats speak of the invitation as an underhanded plot even if we now know that the White House was informed of the plan before Netanyahu accepted the invite. And many of them have bought the White House’s argument that his trip is an insult to the first African-American president. They have deftly exploited partisan tensions between the parties on the Hill and even played the race card in a despicable effort to get the Congressional Black Caucus to give momentum to the boycott of Netanyahu.

This is terrible, but it is now a political fact that Netanyahu and his backers must acknowledge. The longer Washington is discussing whether the prime minister should come to Congress, the lower the chances of passing sanctions.

It’s time for Netanyahu to come to grips with the question of what his real goal is here. If it’s to help the Republicans and Democrats who are working hard to pass this bill, he should know it’s time for him to find an excuse to back down and not give the speech. His is a powerful and eloquent voice, but what Congress needs to hear now is the sound of Democrats like Menendez and his colleagues making the case for sanctions, not a foreign leader, albeit from a country that most members of the House and the Senate regard with affection. It is only when he removes himself as a distraction from this debate that sanctions advocates will have a chance to get the focus back on Obama’s indefensible policies rather than Netanyahu’s supposed chutzpah.

I know admitting this goes against the grain for many in the pro-Israel community who want the satisfaction of seeing Netanyahu openly challenge Obama. But their emotional gratification from having the prime minister proudly stand up for his country’s interests again on the big stage of Capitol Hill is nothing beside the damage this discussion is doing to the chances for passage of Kirk-Menendez.

On the other hand, if Netanyahu’s agenda here is more about providing a compelling visual in the weeks before Israeli voters go to the polls to elect a new Knesset, he’s not only undermining the cause he says he values, he’s also rolling the dice with the Israeli voters. It may be that they will like the imagery of Netanyahu speaking truth to Congress. After all, Obama has alienated Israelis for years with his decisions and, as polls continue to show, they don’t trust him. But Israelis may also note the absence of many Democrats and draw some negative conclusions.

In 2011, members of both parties gave him dozens of standing ovations while he spoke to Congress. The demonstration was not only reminiscent of a previous Congress’ embrace of Winston Churchill, it was also a direct rebuke of Obama for seeking to ambush Netanyahu and to tilt the diplomatic playing field against Israel. Though the White House hasn’t played fair, there will be no such triumph this time. More to the point, no matter how well he speaks, his message will be obscured by the controversy over his invitation. He may say it is his duty to give the speech, but if his objective is to help pass Kirk-Menendez, there is a better argument to be made that it is his duty not to give it.

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Can Bibi Play Chicken with the Democrats?

The last week has been a good one for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Polls testing opinion prior to Israel’s March Knesset elections showed that he had not only made up the 2-3 seat advantage that his Labor Party rivals held a couple of weeks ago but that his Likud Party was now firmly in the lead by the same margin. But while Netanyahu’s chances for reelection to a third term are looking up, his stock in Washington remains down. With Democrats threatening to boycott the speech, it’s clear that what is going on now is game of chicken in which the stakes are getting higher than Netanyahu or his nation can afford to play with. While it is possible that members of Obama’s party are bluffing about having the prime minister speak to a half-empty chamber filled only with Republicans, the question now facing Israel’s government is whether winning this point is worth the damage that the controversy is doing to the U.S.-Israel alliance.

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The last week has been a good one for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Polls testing opinion prior to Israel’s March Knesset elections showed that he had not only made up the 2-3 seat advantage that his Labor Party rivals held a couple of weeks ago but that his Likud Party was now firmly in the lead by the same margin. But while Netanyahu’s chances for reelection to a third term are looking up, his stock in Washington remains down. With Democrats threatening to boycott the speech, it’s clear that what is going on now is game of chicken in which the stakes are getting higher than Netanyahu or his nation can afford to play with. While it is possible that members of Obama’s party are bluffing about having the prime minister speak to a half-empty chamber filled only with Republicans, the question now facing Israel’s government is whether winning this point is worth the damage that the controversy is doing to the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Netanyahu sent Ambassador Ron Dermer and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to the Hill yesterday to make peace with prominent Democrats upset about the prime minister’s acceptance of an invitation from House Speaker John Boehner to address a joint session of Congress on Iran sanctions. But apparently, members of President Obama’s party were not buying what Dermer was selling and Politico described the exchange as having not only failed to resolve the dispute but also perhaps even made it worse. Some Democrats described Dermer’s surprise at the political furor the Boehner invitation caused as insincere. That’s a bit unfair, since had the ambassador understood what would happen it’s doubtful the plan would have proceeded. But their willingness to attack him in this manner demonstrates just how wrongheaded the scheme was since it has turned Iran from an issue on which there was a bipartisan consensus in Congress into a partisan football.

Let’s specify that this is far more the fault of the administration than that of Israel. The White House has deftly used the issue of Netanyahu’s speech as a wedge by which it sought to force Democrats to take sides in a feud they wanted no part of. But the Israelis must also be judged guilty of misjudging the way Netanyahu’s intervention on sanctions would be perceived. Had he come either before or after the resolution of a debate on which he is arrayed against the president, Netanyahu would have been cheered to the echo as he was in May 2011 after Obama had ambushed him with a peace proposal that tilted the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians. But with the White House threatening to have Vice President Biden boycott the speech and with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (who was inexplicably snubbed when invitations were sent out for a meeting between Edelstein and House leaders) also making noises about members staying away, it’s time for Netanyahu to stop pretending he can brazen this affair out.

There are voices within the pro-Israel community that are still calling on the prime minister to show up in Washington and to unleash his rhetorical genius on Congress in an effort to rally Americans behind the common cause of resisting Iran. Netanyahu has an excellent case to make on this issue and President Obama’s opposition to more sanctions is not only wrongheaded, it is indefensible since he is seeking to thwart perhaps the one thing that might force Iran to yield to his demands. But for Netanyahu to play chicken with Democrats in this manner is as shortsighted as it is reckless. Even if Biden, Pelosi, and the rest of the Democrats show up for the speech, it will be no triumph for Netanyahu as he will not be applauded as he has been in the past. If they don’t, he will blamed for having turned Israel into a partisan issue even if many (though not all) in the Democratic Party’s left wing drifted away from Israel long before this dustup.

Let’s also remember that as important as the issue of Iran may be, the current sanctions bill should not be considered a matter of life or death. As I pointed out last week, the bill put forward by Senators Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez already contains a poison pill that undermines its purpose. Since it allows the president to waive enforcement of the new sanctions if he wishes, that is a virtual guarantee that President Obama will not only go on negotiating indefinitely with Iran as he vainly seeks détente with the Islamist regime, but will also continue to thwart any effort to pressure it.

If he is reelected Netanyahu will have some hard decisions to make about whether to simply stand by and let Obama allow Iran to become a nuclear threshold state. It may be that the chance to use force against Iran was lost a few years ago or perhaps Israel still has a military option. But either way, the vote over this sanctions bill will not decide the issue. At this point, Netanyahu has not much to gain and much to lose by stubbornly sticking with his plan. He may fear that backing down will hurt his image at home on the eve of the elections, but I imagine most Israelis are smart enough to recognize that such a decision would be the better part of valor.

Playing chicken with a congressional caucus that has many ardent friends of Israel is a foolish business that needs to stop now. It is long past time for the debate about the wisdom of his original plan to conclude. Netanyahu has long excelled at playing the long game in terms of the strategic interests of his nation. With his reelection looking more secure, he needs to start planning for life after Obama with either a Republican or a Democrat in the White House. It’s time for him to remember that and find a way to back out of a speech that is no longer worth the trouble that it is causing him and the U.S.-Israel alliance.

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Want to Reach Out to Minorities? GOP Must Prioritize School Choice.

Republicans continue to beat themselves up about their need to do better among minorities. But unfortunately for the GOP, most of the outreach that’s been tried seems to rest primarily on pandering, whether on immigration to Hispanics or thinking that merely showing up at a hostile venue, as Rand Paul has done, will be enough to win the votes of people who believe Republicans are inveterately hostile to their interests. But there is an issue of paramount importance to minorities, especially the poor, that is just waiting for Republicans to seize in the next election: school choice. With Democrats effectively chained to the teachers’ unions because of their financial support for their campaigns, the cause of giving parents the ability to take their children out of failing public schools is the true civil-rights issue of the 21st century.

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Republicans continue to beat themselves up about their need to do better among minorities. But unfortunately for the GOP, most of the outreach that’s been tried seems to rest primarily on pandering, whether on immigration to Hispanics or thinking that merely showing up at a hostile venue, as Rand Paul has done, will be enough to win the votes of people who believe Republicans are inveterately hostile to their interests. But there is an issue of paramount importance to minorities, especially the poor, that is just waiting for Republicans to seize in the next election: school choice. With Democrats effectively chained to the teachers’ unions because of their financial support for their campaigns, the cause of giving parents the ability to take their children out of failing public schools is the true civil-rights issue of the 21st century.

A discussion of school choice as a civil-rights issue is something you aren’t likely to hear much about in the mainstream media. Indeed, outside of Fox News, you probably haven’t heard much about the issue, even in the week designated as “School Choice Week” by advocates. They got something of a boost from House Speaker John Boehner, a longtime supporter of the cause, who hosted an event on Capitol Hill that got almost no national coverage. But while racial hucksters like Al Sharpton and his enablers in the Obama administration seek to exploit violent tragedies to promote division, they pay little or no attention to the priorities of struggling families whose most urgent need is to provide a decent education for their children.

Indeed, it is a scandal that one of the most ambitious experiments in school choice—a vouchers program in the nation’s capital that gave underprivileged kids chances to go to good private schools such as the one that the First Family’s kids attend—was sunk by President Obama and a Democrat-controlled Congress in his first term. Around the country, families line up to take part in lotteries for chances for a place in charter schools and other alternatives to their local public institutions and face odds that generally range from one out of 300 or worse.

But long after it became apparent that competition and increased parental involvement made other choices—whether charter schools or private alternatives—give kids more of a chance to succeed, the teachers’ unions continue to obstruct or sink efforts to promote school choice. Wherever their Democratic Party allies prevail—whether in the White House or in places like New York City where Mayor Bill de Blasio has made good on his campaign promises to the unions and has worked to diminish school choice—children remain trapped and the nation suffers.

Without a good education, minority and poor kids have a dim future. Demonstrations against law enforcement and demonizing the police are a poor substitute for real hope, but that is exactly the bargain that the president and the rest of his party have been offering some of their most loyal voters.

GOP candidates who want to really reach out to minorities to need start and end with education reform that isn’t held hostage to unions that care more about tenure and avoiding holding poor teachers accountable for their performance. Democrats are chained to those unions. That is an opening Republicans should exploit.

Rather than paying lip service to the goal of outreach, conservatives need to realize that this issue is their best, perhaps their only, opportunity to break through to minority voters. Instead of letting it be a throwaway line in speeches with no follow up, they need to start prioritizing school choice from now until November 2016.

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The Party of the American Dream

The American left intellectually froze solid about the time of the end of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency in January 1969, almost 46 years ago. There has not been a single new policy idea since then although the world politically, economically, and technologically has changed profoundly.

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The American left intellectually froze solid about the time of the end of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency in January 1969, almost 46 years ago. There has not been a single new policy idea since then although the world politically, economically, and technologically has changed profoundly.

Most policy nostrums of the left date to the 1930s, when FDR noted—correctly—in his great Second Inaugural, that “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.” But the nation that FDR saw and which Walker Evans so hauntingly depicted in his photographs is as dead and gone as FDR and Walker Evans. We still have poor people, of course, but that’s because poverty is a relative term. The United States has the richest poor people in the world, poor people with smart phones, flat-screen TVs, air conditioning, and indoor plumbing (and a myriad of assistance programs). If today’s poor are ill-nourished, the problem is more one of caloric surplus than deficit.

And the left’s view of the political landscape is equally out-of-date. The Democrats’ self-image is as the party of the working stiff while the Republicans are the party of the country club. About the same time as Walker Evans was taking his photographs, Peter Arno published one of his most famous cartoons. It showed a group of people in evening dresses and dinner jackets saying to a friend, “Come on. We’re going down to the Trans Lux to hiss Roosevelt.” But that upper class is dead and gone too.

While Harry Reid spent endless time this year claiming (but only from the floor of the Senate, where he is immune to slander suits) that the Koch brothers are using their billions to buy the country, in fact the super rich are overwhelmingly Democratic. The Washington Examiner is reporting that the top ten individual donors to political organizations in 2014 gave a total of $128 million. Of that, $91 million (71 percent) went to Democratic organizations. Of those who gave more than $1 million, 60 percent went to Democrats. Of super PAC spending this year, $195.7 million was spent either for Democrats or against Republicans. Republican-leaning super PAC buys amounted to $137.9 million.

The fact of the matter is that the Democrats have become the party of the government-dependent, such as those receiving assistance, government workers, the academy, the media, and the very rich. Republicans are now the party of the hard-working, aspiring middle. The Democrats used to be the party of the American dream. Today it is the Republicans who are.

It’s a profound change, and both parties would do themselves (and the country) a favor by noticing the fact. The Republicans have done a fair job of doing so. The Democrats, living in a perpetual 1969, have not.

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Israel’s Critics Shouldn’t Count on Hillary or the Palestinians

In today’s New York Times Magazine, we are invited to pity “liberal Zionists.” These Jews claim to love Israel but hate its government and the conflict with the Palestinians. They long for an American president to save the Jewish state from itself but are always disappointed because those pesky pro-Israel Jews who aren’t as pure of heart as the critics but seem to be better connected with Israel’s voters and American politicians. Which means as they look ahead to 2016, these hard-core Democrats who are often identified with the J Street lobby are hoping a President Hillary Clinton will do what they want and finally hammer the recalcitrant Israelis into shape. But there are two problems with this scenario. The first is that they have no idea what Hillary will do in office. The second is much more serious. It’s that the Palestinians have no intention of making peace no matter what concessions “liberal Zionists,” Washington or the Israeli government offer them.

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In today’s New York Times Magazine, we are invited to pity “liberal Zionists.” These Jews claim to love Israel but hate its government and the conflict with the Palestinians. They long for an American president to save the Jewish state from itself but are always disappointed because those pesky pro-Israel Jews who aren’t as pure of heart as the critics but seem to be better connected with Israel’s voters and American politicians. Which means as they look ahead to 2016, these hard-core Democrats who are often identified with the J Street lobby are hoping a President Hillary Clinton will do what they want and finally hammer the recalcitrant Israelis into shape. But there are two problems with this scenario. The first is that they have no idea what Hillary will do in office. The second is much more serious. It’s that the Palestinians have no intention of making peace no matter what concessions “liberal Zionists,” Washington or the Israeli government offer them.

The Hillary problem is one that every liberal interest group shares with the Jewish critics of Israel. The former secretary of state is a political chameleon who assumes whatever political positions are necessary to advance her agenda. Though a favorite of Wall Street types and someone who is believed to have more moderate and realistic views on foreign policy than President Obama, there are clear signs she will run to the left in the next year in order to steal some of Elizabeth Warren’s thunder and to forestall the liberal favorite from thinking about an insurgent run for the presidency. Though big money contributors will hope that her fake populism (“corporations don’t create jobs”) is just an act, and a poor one at that, they don’t know for sure what will happen if she ever wins the White House. The same is true of the J Street crowd.

As the Times Magazine article notes, Clinton has given them some reason for hope in the past. There was her famous embrace of Suha Arafat after the terrorist’s wife had just accused Israel of poisoning Palestinian children. Hillary also played a key role in some of the nastiest fights with Israel that Obama picked during his first term over issues like settlements and Jerusalem. But they also remember that Clinton ran for the Senate in 2000 as if she was a member of one of Likud’s right wing factions and stuck to that line throughout her time in Congress. And, as the Times points out, Clinton understands that there are a lot more votes to be won and cash to be raised by supporting the Jewish state than by bashing it with the J Streeters even in a Democratic Party with a growing anti-Israel faction.

Which is the true Hillary? Their guess is as good as yours. Privately, Hillary may be a J Street fan at heart. But it’s hard to imagine her or her husband/consigliere going to war with AIPAC, which despite the misleading slanders about it is peopled with a huge contingent of ardent pro-Israel Democrats as well as Republicans,

A more astute observation would be to point out that there is no real Hillary position on any issue, only momentary political advantages to be won so context-free predictions about her behavior if she is elected president are a waste of time.

But the real dilemma facing these “liberal Zionists” has nothing to do with American political calculations.

The reason why their views are so out of touch with most Israeli voters in the past few elections is that the latter have been paying attention to the decisions and actions of the Palestinians during the last 20 years of the peace process while the “liberal Zionists” have been studiously ignoring them. Israelis know they have repeatedly offered the Palestinians peace and have been turned down every time. They may not like the settlements or even Prime Minister Netanyahu but outside of the far-left, few think the Palestinians will make peace in the foreseeable future because they haven’t given up their anti-Zionist ideology in which their national identity is inextricably tied to the war on Israel’s existence.

That’s why most American politicians, Democrats as well as Republicans, are sympathetic to Israel and want no part of J Street plots to pressure it into making concessions that would endanger the Jewish state’s security while not bringing peace any closer.

Though they lament Israel’s turn to the right, their real problem is with a Palestinian political culture and a Palestinian people that won’t play the role assigned them in the liberal morality play in which the Jewish state can make peace happen by themselves. In other words, their focus on getting Obama or Clinton or somebody else to hammer Israel is pointless since even if the ticket of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni defeat Netanyahu in March, there’s no reason to think the Palestinians will be any more likely to make peace than with the current government.

Just as discouraging for J Street supporters is the fact that they are losing ground among Jewish leftists to less agonized critics of Israel such as Jewish Voices for Peace. JVP has little sympathy for Zionism and enamored the BDS — boycott, divest and sanction — movement that seeks to promote economic warfare against Israel. JVP scorns Israel as a colonial apartheid state. That position has more appeal to some segments of the left where Jewish identity and particularism is also viewed with hostility. Instead of supplanting AIPAC as the voice of the pro-Israel community as they hoped when Obama was elected president, J Street finds itself lacking the clout and support of the mainstream group while being squeezed from the left by open Israel-haters.

In other words, Hillary would be a fool to throw in with a group that is divorced from the political realities of the United States, Israel or the American Jewish community. Though the group and its “liberal Zionist” backers grow more out of touch with the facts on the ground in the Middle East as well as within the Democratic Party they will have to comfort themselves with sympathetic coverage in the Times.

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Torture Focus Is Poison Pill for Democrats

Liberal Democrats and their media allies are having a field day. The release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of torture has allowed the political left to go back to its favorite pastime: bashing the Bush administration and their pet demon Vice President Dick Cheney. But as good as this feels to them, Democrats should be worried about the possibility that this issue will not only carry over into the new year but become part of the left’s standard foreign-policy talking points as we head into the 2016 presidential election cycle. Though anything that allows them to relive their glory days when hatred for all things Bush was their excuse for a political platform seems enticing, it’s actually a trap. The more the torture issue is allowed to play out as a partisan fight, the more trouble it will be for Democrats in the long run.

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Liberal Democrats and their media allies are having a field day. The release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of torture has allowed the political left to go back to its favorite pastime: bashing the Bush administration and their pet demon Vice President Dick Cheney. But as good as this feels to them, Democrats should be worried about the possibility that this issue will not only carry over into the new year but become part of the left’s standard foreign-policy talking points as we head into the 2016 presidential election cycle. Though anything that allows them to relive their glory days when hatred for all things Bush was their excuse for a political platform seems enticing, it’s actually a trap. The more the torture issue is allowed to play out as a partisan fight, the more trouble it will be for Democrats in the long run.

It’s true that reigniting a debate about the use of torture on al-Qaeda prisoners enables liberals to go back to that happy time when they could concentrate all their energy attacking Bush and Cheney as lying, torturing warmongers. It also allows them to channel their 2006 and 2008 outrage about the GOP without having to acknowledge that the man they elected to reverse everything done by the 43rd president has, without the exception of enhanced interrogation, largely kept in place the policies they thought made the last GOP president and his team liable for either prosecution as unconstitutional law breakers or even war criminals.

But, like some isolationists on the right who might be deceived into thinking the discussion about torture will help undermine support within the Republican Party for an aggressive fight against Islamist terrorism, so, too, are Democrats wrong to think talking about this will do much to enhance their prospects in 2016. To the contrary, the more the left helps focus the country on the renewed war against a brutal Islamist foe, not only are they not playing to their party’s strength, but they are also failing to understand that the national mood is very different today from where it was when Bush and Cheney were popular piñatas for the left.

It needs to be understood that the reason why the Obama administration has undertaken the half-hearted offensive it launched against ISIS was that the terror group’s atrocities reminded Americans why they were pretty comfortable with the Bush-Cheney policies before the Iraq War soured. When they were rightly afraid of another 9/11, most people weren’t terribly interested in asking questions about how the intelligence community was acting to avert another atrocity. ISIS’s beheadings of American captives revived those fears and even if that group is currently more intent on asserting control of territory than in launching spectacular terror operations, the possibility that it or another group might strike Western targets is a possibility that can’t be safely discounted.

That’s why President Obama is trying to thread the political needle by disassociating himself from both the use of torture as well as attacks on the CIA and the calls for prosecution of Bush administration officials from his party’s political base. Though he has continued much of what Bush and Cheney started, the dependence on signal rather than human intelligence combined with an emphasis on assassinating terrorists rather than capturing them and getting them to talk has undermined confidence in the ability of the security apparatus to know what the enemy is thinking or planning.

All too many on the left approach these issues as if it is always September 10, 2001. So long as terror and a Middle East made more dangerous by Obama’s retreats from Iraq and Afghanistan are not issues, they can indulge in Bush-bashing to their heart’s content. But miring themselves in the politics of the Bush administration hurts the ability of Democrats to put themselves forward as a serious foreign-policy party at a time when terror is back on the national radar and likely to remain there for the next two years. It will also hamstring Hillary Clinton’s attempt to position herself again as a more responsible foreign-policy leader than Obama. The torture debate will bring to the fore exactly those figures in the Democratic Party who are most likely to make centrist voters think they shouldn’t be trusted with the country’s security. That’s good news for MSNBC and its dwindling band of viewers but bad for a party that needs to spend more time trying to appeal to white middle and working class independent voters rather than its left-wing core.

Just as important, Democrats gang tackling Republicans who are part of the nation’s past will mean less time spent trying to demonize the GOP figures they should be afraid of among the large field of credible presidential candidates. Those on the left that think that’s smart politics are setting their party up for a long, comfortable stay in opposition rather than winning in 2016.

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