Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Big Day for Democrats

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

The final votes hadn’t even been counted last night when CNN’s GOP media consultant Alex Castellanos was already attempting to throw cold water on Democrat Mark Critz’s victory in Pennsylvania’s 12th District.

The win means very little, Castellanos argued, given that Critz campaigned against Obama’s health care bill.

Talk about some desperate spin.

First off, Critz isn’t exactly anti-health care reform. While he says there are shortcomings in the recently-passed bill, he wants to fix them, rather than repeal the bill and start over. Much to the consternation of Republicans. Read more here.

The election to replace Democratic icon John Murtha in Pennsylvania was the only head-to-head race yesterday. It’s a district that McCain carried over Obama. As the Washington Post notes, it’s the archetypical swing district, a “must win” for Republicans hoping to win back the House in the fall:

The [National Republican Congressional Committee] has spent $958,897 — one tenth of their cash on hand — and nine (9) shady outside groups have spent more than $445,000 to defeat Democrat Mark Critz. Republican Committee Chairman Michael Steele guaranteed victory for Republican Tim Burns.

PA-12 is the only district in the country that Senator Kerry won and President Obama lost. According to non-partisan political independent analysts, PA-12 is exactly the type of district that House Republicans need to win this cycle.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s independent analyst Charlie Cook:

Republicans have no excuse to lose this race. The fundamentals of this district, including voters’ attitudes towards Obama and Pelosi, are awful for Democrats.

And here’s National Journal’s Amy Walters:

If [Republicans] can’t win the only district in the country that voted for both John Kerry and John McCain, what does it say about their ability to win other GOP-tilting seats this fall?

Republicans predicting a GOP tidal wave in the midterm elections have in fact now lost the last two special Congressional elections, in Pennsylvania and Upstate New York.

Critz won, as the LA Times reports, not just by presenting himself as an outsider, but by focusing on creating jobs, jobs, jobs, and on stopping the out-sourcing of American jobs. His opponent, Republican Tim Burns, lost because he tried to nationalize the election — to make it an anti-Pelosi vote — instead of focusing on the district’s woes. (Read more from Politico, which asks this morning: “Where’s the wave?”)

Meanwhile, also in Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak outflanked Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter from the left. Sestak, a consistently reliable liberal who among other things favors gun control (Specter tried to make an issue of Sestak’s support for an assault weapons ban), won, as E.J. Dionne notes this morning, by knitting together an impressive left-right coalition.

To get a sense of Sestak’s sweep, consider that he carried all but three of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. He carried Obama strongholds – he got 63 percent in Lancaster County, for example – but also swept through smaller counties in the central and western parts of the state that had supported Clinton.

My cousin Nate, who works for the Sestak campaign, believed Sestak could upend Specter, a three-decade titan of the Senate, back when Sestak was down 20-points in the polls. “We’re gonna do it!” Nate texted me yesterday, as he worked in and around Philadelphia to get out the vote. Kudos to Nate — and all those who worked hard to elect Sestak.

There is much hard work ahead for Democrats, who surely have uphill battles across the country with unemployment hovering near 10 percent. But let’s also learn something from Pennsylvania 12, and from Nate’s commitment and irreducible optimism: we can win, in the fall, even in places where our opponents guarantee we can’t; our message and values still resonate.

There’s only one thing left now to do. In the immortal words of Philadelphia heroine Adrian Balboa: Win.

Why I Mistrust Criticism of Obama on Israel

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

A good friend of mine in Israel sent me an article this morning from Y-Net, Israel’s largest and most popular news site. Headline: “U.S. ‘disappointed’ with Israel, Palestinians.”

My first thought: Oy. This is not the way to improve relations with the Jewish state, and earn back the trust of the Jewish community.

The subdeck went from bad to worse: “National Security Advisor James Jones says peace could prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, but adds ‘it must be made by the parties and cannot be imposed from the outside.’ ”

Double oy, I thought. Peace preventing Iran from getting the bomb? It sounds foolishly naive: Obama, exactly as he is portrayed by his fiercest critics.

I read the article, an account of Jones’ remarks yesterday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Curiously, nowhere in the article was Jones quoted expressing disappointment with Israel. And nowhere was he quoted saying anything close to to what the subdeck asserted, vis-a-vis Iran and nuclear weapons.

So I went to the transcript. Jones doesn’t say he’s disappointed with Israel. (He does say: “we are disappointed that the parties have not begun direct negotiations.” But presumably, so is Bibi Netanyahu, who has repeatedly stated his desire to open direct negotiations toward peace.) And Jones doesn’t say peace between Israel and the Palestinians will prevent Iran from getting nukes. (He does say: “Advancing this peace would also help prevent Iran from cynically shifting attention away from its failures to meet its obligations.” This isn’t warm and fuzzy hope; it’s shrewd Realpolitik that, whether you agree with it or not, highlights Iran’s corrupt core.)

For those who haven’t read it, you should; Jones’ talk is a virtual love note to Israel. You can read it here.

Jones was absolutely steadfast on the need to stop Iran from getting a bomb, asserting that if Iran continues on its current path, it “will face ever deepening isolation.”

Iran’s government must face real consequences for its continued defiance of the international community.  We hope that Iran will make the right choice and acts to restore the confidence of the international community in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program. However, should Iran’s leaders fail to make that choice, President Obama has been very clear, and I want to repeat it here: the United States is determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. 

He goes on to say there has been “a lot of distortion and misrepresentation” of U.S. policy regarding Israel. Though the two have had differences, he said, “we will always resolve them as allies.” Not once, but twice he referred to the absolute imperative for Israel to be a “secure, Jewish state.” Note the emphasis: Jewish.

As President Obama declared in Cairo, “America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known.  This bond is unbreakable.”  They are the bonds of history—two nations that earned our independence through the sacrifice of patriots.  They are the bonds of two people, bound together by shared values of freedom and individual opportunity.  They are the bonds of two democracies, where power resides in the people.  They are the bonds of pioneers in science, technology and so many fields where we cooperate every day.  They are the bonds of friendship, including the ties of so many families and friends.

 This week marked the 62nd anniversary of Israeli independence—a nation and a people who have survived in the face of overwhelming odds.  But even now, six decades since its founding, Israel continues to reside in a hostile neighborhood with adversaries who cling to the false hope that denying Israel’s legitimacy will ultimately make it disappear.  But those adversaries are wrong. 

 He goes on to criticize the Palestinians for refusing to recognize Israel’s legitimacy. “America’s commitment to Israel will endure,” the National Security Advisor said:

And everyone must know that there is no space—no space—between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security.  Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable.  It is as strong as ever.  This President and this Administration understands very well the environment—regionally and internationally—in which Israel and the United States must operate.  We understand very well that for peace and stability in the Middle East, Israel must be secure. 

 The United States will never waiver in defense of Israel’s security. 

The United States will never waiver in defense of Israel’s security.

That’s why, he explained, the U.S. spends billions of dollars annually in security assistance to Israel; consults with Israel to ensure its “qualitative military edge”; and undertakes joint military exercises, including one that involved more than 1,000 U.S. soldiers.

I can also say from long experience that our security relationship with Israel is important for America. Our military benefits from Israeli innovations in technology, from shared intelligence, from exercises that help our readiness and joint training that enhances our capabilities and from lessons learned in Israel’s own battles against terrorism and asymmetric threats. 

Over the years, and like so many Americans—like so many of you here tonight—I’ve spent a great deal of time with my Israeli partners, including my friends in the IDF.  These partnerships are deep and abiding.  They are personal relationships and friendships based on mutual trust and respect.  Every day, across the whole range of our bilateral relationship, we are working together for our shared security and prosperity.  And our partnership will only be strengthened in the months and years to come.

And yet Y-Net, the most popular news site in Israel, chooses to run with: “U.S. ‘disappointed’ with Israel, Palestinians”?

What bothers me most about this, is not only that it’s inaccurate, but destructive. And whether this particular headline was intentional or not, it fits a false narrative — purveyed by too many in the Jewish community — that goes back to before the election: Obama is a Muslim; he has anti-Israel advisors; he removed “Next year in Jerusalem” from the White House Passover seder; his State Department is denying visas to Israeli nuclear scientists; he snubbed Bibi Netanyahu; he “hates” Netanyahu; he hates Israel.

False. False. False. False. False. False. And false.

It’s dishonest. And it’s a big reason that, while I have specific concerns about how Obama’s handled Israel and the peace process, some of which I’ve blogged about, at the end of the day, my money’s on him.

Concrete versus Sand

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Richard Cohen has an important column in the Washington Post this week (“Obama, don’t forget Jerusalem.”)

There are some nuggets in the piece that should reassure the Jewish community vis-a-vis the recent dust-up between the U.S. and Israel.

For starters, Obama did not snub Netanyahu by interrupting a meeting with the prime minister so he could have dinner with his family. “There was no snub, say the most informed of informed sources,” Cohen writes.

Moreover, in some important arenas, U.S.-Israeli cooperation is actually greater than it’s ever been.

In fact, Israelis and others say that when it comes to military aid and intelligence operations, the two countries have never been closer. As an example, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz tell us that three American-made Hercules transport aircraft are in the pipeline to Israel. …

… Most Israelis still like Obama and approve his approach; they, too, want a two-state solution.

The problem, Cohen argues, is one primarily of perception.

[Obama] gives every appearance of not “getting” Israel; not appreciating its fears or its history. Israel is not half of the equation, as if both sides are right. It is a democracy with American values that has tried, over and over again, to make peace with a recalcitrant and unforgiving enemy.

Israelis would give up the West Bank and East Jerusalem for peace — but they fear, and with good reason, that more concessions won’t work, and will leave Israel more exposed. Many believe Hamas would quickly over-run a weak Palestinian Authority, and Israel would be suddenly faced with not one but two terrorist mini-states breathing down its neck. (Hamas was elected, after all, in Gaza; what’s to prevent that from happening in East Jerusalem?)

Obama “needs to address Israelis’ fears,” the Israeli philosopher Carlo Strenger wrote recently in Haaretz. So far, Obama has done just the opposite, even going to Cairo to assure the Palestinians and the greater Arab world that he appreciates their plight without assuring Israelis that he appreciates theirs. His coolness toward Netanyahu, earned or not, has chilled the Israeli public and encouraged Palestinian defiance. He is on the cusp of an enormous diplomatic blunder.

Cohen concludes by saying that Obama has the “right policy,” but needs to go to Jerusalem to address Israeli fears. (I’ve repeatedly advocated the same thing with this blog, as early as this post, from July 9, 2009: “The Time is Right for Obama to Visit Israel.“)

There’s another way Obama can start changing perceptions. When his administration pressures Israel, he asks for concrete concessions (freeze settlements, open checkpoints, declare support for a two-state solution, etc.) When pressure is exerted on the Palestinian Authority, it’s much less concrete. Just this week, for example, Hillary Clinton called on the PA to “redouble its efforts to put an end to incitement and violence, crack down on corruption, and ingrain a culture of peace and tolerance among Palestinians.”

We’ve heard that trifecta before.

But what does a crackdown on corruption look like? How should the Jewish community measure PA efforts to ingrain a culture of tolerance? Can you show us any hard steps the PA has taken to end incitement? From our vantage point — when we see, for instance, Fatah naming a square in el-Bireh after a Palestinian terrorist — it seems like just the opposite is occurring.

With the Israelis, so far, this administration is asking for concrete. With the Palestinians, it seems to be asking for sand.

Until Obama demands painful concessions from the Palestinian side — let’s see the Palestinian police arrest Hamas leaders, or others inciting violence against Israel, for example — trust is going to be in short supply.

Is Middle East Peace Really ‘Vital’?

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

I’d like to test an assumption.

For the longest time, I’ve held that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is not only in Israel’s long-term interest — it’s in America’s, as well.

A dramatic news analysis in the Times today — “Obama Speech Signals U.S. Shift on Middle East” — makes clear that this assumption is propelling Obama’s approach to the conflict. And it might mean that Obama will offer his own peace plan, and try to impose it from the top down — instead of waiting for the parties to negotiate a solution themselves.

Resolving the Israel-Palestinian dispute, Obama said, is a “vital national security interest of the United States.”

The article goes on to explain why … sort of.

Mr. Obama said conflicts like the one in the Middle East ended up “costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure” — drawing an explicit link between the Israeli-Palestinian strife and the safety of American soldiers as they battle Islamic extremism and terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

It goes on to cite Gen. David Petraeus’s recent Congressional testimony, in which he argued that, as the Times writes, “the lack of progress in the Middle East created a hostile environment for the United States.”

The impasse in negotiations “does create an environment,” [Obama] said Tuesday in a speech in Washington. “It does contribute, if you will, to the overall environment within which we operate.”

Condoleeza Rice made similar comments three years ago, arguing that resolving the conflict is a U.S. “strategic interest,” in part because “The prolonged experience of deprivation and humiliation can radicalize even normal people.”

Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, now at Brookings, argues that the issue is central because we have thousands of troops fighting in the Middle East.

“Will resolving the Palestinian issue solve everything?” Mr. Indyk said. “No. But will it help us get there? Yes.”

I guess my question is: how?

The assumption — which has always been my assumption — is that peace between Israel and the Palestinians will remove a major radicalizing element across the Middle East. But that’s a hypothesis that’s hard to test. Do we really believe that if peace broke out tomorrow, Al Qaeda and Hezbollah and all of the anti-Western clerics would suddenly cease their anti-American rhetoric and find common cause with their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank?

Isn’t it more likely that they would find another convenient propoganda tool to agitate followers? Might they not continue to rail against a shrunken state of Israel, or point to injustices in Gaza, or cite American troops in Afghanistan as a rallying cry?

Do American military commanders really believe Muslim radicals will suddenly lay down their arms and sing kumbaya?

“I don’t think that anybody believes American lives are endangered or materially affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Mr. [Robert] Wexler, [a former Democratic congressman] who has close ties to administration officials. “That’s an oversimplification. However, you’d have to have blinders on not to recognize that there are issues in one arena that affect other arenas.”

This argument seems a bit mushy to me. What other arenas would it affect? And how, specifically? What evidence do we have, anecdotal or otherwise?

Thomas Friedman made this argument in a recent column:

America [has gone] from having only a small symbolic number of soldiers in the Middle East to running two wars there — in Iraq and Afghanistan — as well as a global struggle against violent Muslim extremists. With U.S. soldiers literally walking the Arab street — and, therefore, more in need than ever of Muslim good will to protect themselves and defeat Muslim extremists — Israeli-Palestinian peace has gone from being a post-cold-war hobby of U.S. diplomats to being a necessity.

He points out that both Biden and Petraeus have recently made this case, arguing that “the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict foments anti-U.S. sentiments, because of the perception that America usually sides with Israel, and these sentiments are exploited by Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran to generate anti-Americanism that complicates life for our soldiers in the region.”

“I wouldn’t exaggerate this,” Friedman writes, “but I would not dismiss it either.”

This seems like a sensible place to land. Which raises the question: Is Obama, by calling this a “vital national security interest,” exaggerating it?

I think it will be critical, in the coming weeks and months — particularly if Obama continues to pressure Israel — for the administration to make its case, in concrete terms.

If we could wave a magic wand and have a peace deal tomorrow, how much less complicated would life be for our soldiers in the Middle East? How much Muslim good will would really be generated, and how enduring would it be? Will it really help us snuff out Islamic radicalism, or will the goalposts simply shift? How can we be sure?

With Israel’s security at stake, this is no time for mushy thinking or wishful strategizing. The answers to these questions are vital.

Breaking the Heart of Hope

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Gary Wills, professor emeritus of history at Northwestern, reviews David Remnick’s new book about Obama in the New York Times today. Here are his final four lines:

Continuity easily turns into inertia, as we found when Obama wasted the first year of his term, the optimum time for getting things done. He may have drunk his own Kool-Aid — believing that his election could of itself usher in a post-racial, post-partisan, post-red-state and blue-state era. That is a change no one should ever have believed in. The price of winningness can be losing; and that, in this scary time, is enough to break the heart of hope.

This summation feels way too pat to me — especially for a history professor. Inertia? All Obama tried to do in his first term was to pass a politically-unpopular stimulus bill because it was the best thing to do to right the faltered economy, and then pass a health care bill, to insure 30 million un-insured. (And why are these times more scary than others? 1980? 1967? 1963? 1947? 1939-1944? 1917 … 1861-1865? …)

Obama still believes he can work across party lines. Maybe Wills would call this naive.

I’d call it something else.

The most insightful lines in the book review come near the beginning. Obama, Wills writes:

is a bit of a chameleon or shape-shifter, but he does not come across as insincere — that is the importance of his famous “cool.” He does not have the hot eagerness of the con man.

That is — he’s authentic. I’d argue that for Obama, the price of winningness is sincerity. I think voters see that. Even voters who don’t like him.

Over time, authenticity in politics carries the day.

Hypocrisy on Hitler

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

Remember five years back, when Moveon.org had a contest, inviting people to submit 30-second ads critical of the Bush administration? There were some 1,500 submissions — 2 of which compared Bush to Adolf Hitler.

Republican condemnation was swift and furious — and rightly so. The Republican National Committee called on all nine Democratic candidates to condemn the ads. RNC chair Ed Gillespie called the ads “the worst and most vile form of political hate speech.”

Jewish groups along with the mainstream media — from CNN to USA Today — added their voices to the powerful chorus of critique. Moveon quickly removed the offending ads from its web site.

Some, though, saw the incident as a condemnation not only of Moveon, but more broadly — as a black mark on Democrats or liberals in general. Here’s Chris Matthews on Hardball:

John Fund, how are the Democrats going to hide this sort of crazy lady in the attic now they’ve got, this Hitler ad?

Byron York, writing in the National Review on Jan. 7, 2004, had this to say:

Referring to President Bush as a Nazi, or comparing the president to Hitler, are nothing new in the world of MoveOn. They are, in fact, a common mode of expression of some of the people associated with the website and its brand of political activism.

Well, flashforward to today. In protests across the country, we see critics of Obama’s health care plan, comparing Obama to Hitler. (For a sampling of photo evidence, see “Jonah Goldberg Goes in Search of Swastikas,” from mediamatters.) Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina has compared America under Obama to Germany in the 1930s. Rush Limbaugh, with a 15 million listenership, has spoken about ”similarities between the Democrat Party of today and the Nazi Party in Germany.” He said the other day that “Obama’s got a health care logo that’s right out of Adolf Hitler’s playbook.”

Yesterday, the AP reported that a swastika was painted outside Rep. David Scott’s district office in Georgia.

Some Democrats, in response, have likened the protesters’ tactics to those of the Nazi army — which clearly oversteps the line. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dangerously oversimplified when she implied that protesters at these anti-health reform rallies are themselves identifying as Nazis.

But where is the storm of media outrage — about comparisons between Obama and Hitler — that greeted Moveon in 2004? Where is the swift and total Republican denunciation?

Glenn Grenwald, at Salon, has compiled a partial list of those who denounced Moveon in 2004 (the above examples are culled from his post), and has sent all of them emails, asking for their response to Limbaugh’s recent comments. Some of them — including the National Review — have responded , harshly criticizing Rush. But it registers as barely a peep — nothing like the firestorm that rained down on Moveon.

As Grenwald writes:

Compare (a) the way that a single anonymous person’s comparison of Bush and Hitler swamped our political discourse and forever altered the image of MoveOn with (b) what the (non)-reaction will be to the identical comparison coming from the leader of the Republican Party who spouts his hate-mongering to an audience of 15 million people.  Within that comparison one finds many central truths about how our political debates and media discussions function.

Columnist Michael Gerson gives us a good reminder  this week of why any comparison to Naziism — by Republicans or Democrats; Moveon or anyone else — should be roundly condemned:

Nazism was the ”beard game,” in which the beards and sidelocks of Jews were pulled off or set a fire before audiences of cheering soldiers. It was the practice of making elderly Jews dance around a fire of burning Torah scrolls. It was whole orphanages deported to death camps, and pits full of corpses, and ancient communities erased from human memory, and death factories issuing a thick smoke of souls, and a mother trading her gold ring for a glass of water to give her dying child.

Many who study these events think silence the only appropriate response. ”There is nothing,” says scholar Lawrence Langer, ”to be learned from a baby torn in two or a woman buried live.”

I was upset when, in Akron’s recent recall election, Democratic mayor Don Plusquellic compared his opponent to Hitler. Specious comparisons, Gerson writes, trivialize the Holocaust. He concludes:

For the survivors of Nazism, memory is a kind of sacred duty.

Trivializing the Holocaust: “desacralizes those memories — shrinking them to the size of our political agendas and robbing them of their power to shock and teach. The history of those times should be approached with fear and trembling, not mocked with metaphor.”

And, certainly, they should not be mocked with hypocrisy.

 

Gergen: ‘If John Bolton Had His Way, These Two Women Would Still be in Prison’

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

All day today, washingtonpost.com ran its lead story — news that Bill Clinton had secured the release of two American prisoners in North Korea — along with an op-ed by John Bolton: ‘Clinton’s Unwise North Korea Trip.’

Which made me wonder, after I cleared my head and put my glasses back on: Is there anything the Democrats or the Obama administration could do that wouldn’t earn immediate public scorn from the GOP?

The women, both journalists, had been sentenced in sham trials to 12 years of hard labor in North Korean prison camps. Clinton, in a visit of less than 24 hours, secured pardons and releases for both women. It was billed as an unofficial visit, but according to reports, Obama’s State Department was very active behind the scenes, working to make this happen. As I write this, the women are flying back to the United States, with Clinton, in his plane.

The gist of Bolton’s argument seems to be that Clinton’s visit to North Korea somehow rewards state-sponsored terrorism.

Despite decades of bipartisan U.S. rhetoric about not negotiating with terrorists for the release of hostages, it seems that the Obama administration not only chose to negotiate, but to send a former president to do so.

While the United States is properly concerned whenever its citizens are abused or held hostage, efforts to protect them should not create potentially greater risks for other Americans in the future.

Bolton, in case you’ve forgotten, was George Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations — the one who was opposed to the United Nations. (He famously said: “There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining superpower, which is the United States,” also noting that the U.N. building in New York “has 38 stories. If you lost ten stories today, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”) Among his lifetime achievements are the derailing of the 2001 biological weapons conference in Geneva, and his support for military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power — during the Clinton administration.

“In Pyongyang’s view,” Bolton writes in the Post op-ed, “the two reporters are pawns in the larger game of enhancing the regime’s legitimacy and gaining direct access to important U.S. figures.”

On CNN moments ago, political consultant David Gergen — who served in the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan administrations, and was an advisor to Clinton — was asked directly about Bolton’s views. Gergen did not mince words:

“I think that’s nonsense and heartless … I just sharply disagree here. Listen, the United States gave nothing away. Bill Clinton went as he is a private citizen … and beyond that, if John Bolton had his way, these two women would still be in prison.

“And finally, I must say we ought to take a moment here to say how exemplary Bill Clinton’s behavior has been since his wife became secretary of state. A lot of people thought he’d be a loose cannon. He has been totally supportive, he’s been quiet, and on this occasion he did something good for the country. I think people ought to have a higher level of respect for him, after this trip, and thank him for doing what he did.”

Quite honestly, I couldn’t have said it better, myself.