If the president hopes to accomplish anything important while finally visiting a key U.S. ally, he’ll need an attitude adjustment, writes Marty Peretz.
Last week President Obama announced he will finally visit Israel. But there’s no guarantee that it will be a pleasant trip. And it certainly will not be if he lectures the Israelis yet again about what they owe the Palestinians. After all, the Arabs of Palestine could have had, like the Jews, a state pursuant to the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan (which sanctioned for the Arabs a bigger state than the Jewish one that was offered) and then again after the 1967 Six-Day War. Instead the Arab League responded to Israeli peace overtures with the Khartoum declaration of the “three nos” of the Arab Solidarity Charter: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.”
President Obama at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee convention in Washington in May 2011. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Comparisons will inevitably be drawn between Obama’s 2009 trip to Cairo and his impending one to Jerusalem. His fanciful Cairo speech—delivered with no evident recognition that each and every one of the Arab countries was at that moment on the precipice of chaos—was a shoddy and slippery job, historically so misleading on so many matters that one can hardly attribute it to innocent error. Granted, some of this had to do with the president’s own ignorant romanticization of Islam and the Arabs. Some of it was sheer invention, like his treatment of U.S. diplomacy during the late-18th- and early-19th-century Barbary Wars as a prelude to a long-term peace between Muslim principalities and America and his taking on for the American people sins against Muslims, like prohibiting the wearing of the hijab, which are actually not issues in the U.S. Largely, the speech could have been not an oration but an indictment of the United State before the International Court of Justice. Does the Internal Revenue Service really discriminate against Islamic charities, as he claimed?
It is not even four years since Obama’s counterhistoric discourse. But already two years back, with the beginning of the dreamily named Arab Spring, his version and vision of these societies had degraded into real human and social wreckage. Of course, the happy chimera still holds as a liberal canonical truth. Try raising the matter of Arab or Muslim essentialism at a Harvard Square dinner party.
The crisis isn’t both parties’ fault.
In a column on the budget, to maintain credibility with Beltway elites, I am supposed to claim the impasse is both parties’ fault. It isn’t. The conventional wisdom is that Republicans won’t support any more tax increases and Democrats won’t support any more spending cuts. That’s half right.
John Boehner, center, answers reporters' questions during a news conference about the fiscal sequestration in Washington, D.C. on February 13, 2013. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
House Democrats have proposed some sensible spending cuts: like doing away with the billions we spend subsidizing oil companies. With gas nearing $4 a gallon, does anyone really want to send taxpayers’ money to the welfare queens of ExxonMobil? House Dems would also enact the Buffett rule (I prefer “Romney rule”), ending the obscenity in the tax code that lets hedge-fund managers pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries.
Not to be outdone, Senate Democrats have proposed $110 billion in spending cuts and tax increases: again, reducing oil subsidies (though not as much as the House Dems), ending the deduction businesses take for moving jobs overseas and trimming the defense budget and farm subsidies.
While Washington plays chicken, it’s the American economy that could take the hit. John Avlon sketches the outlines of a better path forward.
At least when Nero fiddled, Romans got to hear music over the flames.
Matt McClain/The Washington Post, via Getty
But while Congress has enjoyed a midwinter vacation as the sequester deadline comes closer, the American people have been treated only to the sight of a slow-motion car crash combined with finger-pointing. Impact is scheduled for this Friday, yet the mood in Washington is resignation—an impotent shrug in the face of self-inflicted disaster.
The sequester is, as CNN’s Ali Velshi memorably said, “a stupid name for a stupid idea that could have only come from Washington.”
Environmental groups are mobilizing against Ernest Moniz, President Obama’s likely pick for Energy secretary. Miranda Green on why.
President Obama is widely expected to nominate Ernest Moniz as Energy secretary any day now, and environmental organizations are girding for a fight.
Ernest Moniz in his office at MIT. (James Leynse/Corbis )
“We’re not sure Mr. Moniz will keep his eyes where they should be: on a no-carbon future where we are relying on wind and other forms of energy,” says Mitch Jones, a program director at Food and Water Watch.
The anti-fracking organization began an effort to block Moniz’s nomination after reports surfaced that the long-haired MIT professor is the president’s likely pick. The organization lambasted Moniz for his preference for fossil fuels as an energy source and for being a fracking “cheerleader.” The group generated more than 34,000 emails that it sent to President Obama asking him to take Moniz off the Energy secretary short list.
Conservative pundits’ ideas about fixing the GOP are totally meaningless, says Michael Tomasky, until they deal with the problem of their party’s rage-driven fanaticism.
Conservative pundits and intellectuals have spent the past week or two—ever since the publication in Commentary magazine of Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson’s “How to Save the Republican Party”—talking about, well, how to save the Republican Party. They have lots of ideas—some good, some not so good, most very sober-minded policy prescriptions. I wrote a short blog post about this on Thursday. But then I reflected: This topic needs a longer treatment. The party they purport to support and care about has been engaged in burning down the house of American politics for three or four years now, and they are saying nothing about it; and until they say something about it, everything else they say is close to meaningless.
This past week, Lindsey Graham in essence demanded that cabinet nominee Chuck Hagel disprove rumors against him. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post, via Getty (FILE))
As I’ve written many times, the conventional view of what’s wrong with the GOP gets at only a portion of the truth. When The New York Times or Politico does such a story, the story inevitably focuses on policy positions. Immigration. Same-sex marriage. Climate change. Tinker with these positions, several sages are quoted as saying, and the GOP will be back in the game.
God knows, policy positions are a problem. But they are not the problem. The problem is that the party is fanatical—a machine of rage, hate, and resentment. People are free to scoff and pretend it isn’t so, but I don’t think honest people can deny that we’ve never seen anything like this in the modern history of our country. There’s a symbiosis of malevolence between the extreme parts of the GOP base and Washington lawmakers, and it is destroying the Republican Party. That’s fine with me, although I am constantly mystified as to why it’s all right with the people I’m talking about. But it’s also destroying the country and our democratic institutions and processes, which is not fine with me.
After making gay marriage dig.
Ann Coulter isn’t one for pleasantries. Presumably, anyone going to hear her speak is prepared for this. Still, the 1,400 libertarians who went to see Coulter debate Fox Business’s John Stossel at the International Students for Liberty Conference in D.C. Friday were so put off by what came out of her mouth that they could not resist booing her. The resounding heckle came after Coulter stated that gay people can, in fact, get married—“They have to marry a member of the opposite sex.” She also reportedly (it was bleeped) called libertarians pussies. It’s probably safe to say the audience didn’t appreciate that either.
Think the rich shouldn’t be allowed to buy elections? You’ve got it all wrong. Joe McLean on why the Supreme Court would be smart to lift limits on direct contributions to candidates.
This week the Supreme Court agreed to hear yet another challenge to campaign contribution limits. The folks who brought the suit think it’s unfair that rich people can’t give unlimited millions to politicians, and once again the court is anxious to oblige them. On the surface, this looks like another attack on our democracy: big plutocrats trying to buy the government. And it is.
Most Democrats and liberals will decry this blatant power grab, but not me. I’ve spent more than 30 years out on “the sharp end of the spear” running campaigns and raising political money, and I think this is a step in the right direction. Let me explain.
Previous court decisions have already opened the floodgates to torrents of anonymous contributions, or “dark money,” which now inundate the political process. Organizations with innocuous sounding names (”Freedom,” “Prosperity,” “Growth” are popular words), funded by secret donations, spend eye-popping sums to deluge voters with vitriolic attack ads, unfettered by truth, ethics, or conscience. These shadowy groups go to great lengths to mask the moneymen, often using complex shell games to hide their backers. And for good reason—their abuses are legendary.
OK, we exaggerate, but looming spending cuts won’t simply hurt Pentagon employees. Get ready for longer airport lines, food shortages, shuttered national parks, and worse.
Let’s admit it: we’ve all heard the word “sequester” being thrown around by the president and other politicians lately, and we’ve pretty much done everything in our power to ignore it.
Unfortunately, we can tune out this discussion no longer. The time has come to take our heads out of the sand and understand not only what the word sequester means, but the many ways in which, if enacted, it will totally ruin our lives.
First things first: What is the sequester, and where did it come from? Remember, after the whole fiscal-cliff showdown at the end of 2012, when everyone warned that the battle was far from over? This is what they were talking about. The sequester is the trade-off for the tax hikes the cliff deal avoided: a collection of across-the-board budget cuts adding up to about $1.2 trillion dollars over 10 years. It’s a manufactured political crisis, basically, and everyone shares some blame for it. Nonetheless, the cuts will go into effect on March 1 unless Congress can agree on another way to reduce the deficit. To be fair, it’s possible that they’ll get their act together in time. So far, no one seems willing to budge.
Sequester 101: Your idiot's guide to the nation's latest fiscal emergency.
The Florida senator further burnished his presidential cred on a visit to Israel this week. Eli Lake on how he performed with Bibi.
One can imagine at some point in 2016, presidential candidate Marco Rubio regaling a room of pro-Israel donors at a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser about his trip—way back in February 2013—to the Jewish state. L’Chaim!
Marco Rubio meets with Benjamin Netanyahu. (Office of Sen. Marco Rubio)
President Barack Obama and former pesident George W. Bush both culled similar material from their pre-presidency visits to Israel in election-year speeches to Jewish groups and other supporters. For Obama, it was his visit to a southern Israeli city that had been bombarded with Hamas rockets. For Bush, it was a helicopter tour of the Galilee.
This week, Rubio made his second visit to Israel and enjoyed a tour of an installation for the missile-defense system known as Iron Dome that shot Hamas rockets out of the sky during a brief war in November. The Florida senator saw the port city of Haifa and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem. He even made time for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The president and vice president are using Facebook and Google to bypass the mainstream press. Howard Kurtz on why the strategy is surprisingly risky.
It must have seemed the safest of forums, a Facebook town hall in which Vice President Joe Biden would field questions about gun safety.
Pete Souza/The White House
After all, what elected official wouldn’t rather talk to actual voters than pesky reporters? And the White House is increasingly using technology to connect with the masses, pointedly bypassing the mainstream media in the process.
Turns out Biden came out with both barrels. At Tuesday’s Facebook event, sponsored by Parents magazine, a reader named Kate Earnest posed this loaded question: “Do you believe that banning certain weapons and high-capacity magazines will mean that law-abiding citizens will then become more of a target to criminals, as we will have no way to sufficiently protect ourselves?”
Michelle Laxalt, a senator’s daughter, had a baby with her dad’s colleague, Pete Domenici—and kept it a secret for more than three decades. Lauren Ashburn on what Laxalt gained by holding out.
Imagine what was going through Michelle Laxalt’s head 30 years ago when a pregnancy test revealed she was going to have a baby out of wedlock—and the father was a rising star in New Mexico politics, Sen. Pete Domenici.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., embraces his wife Nancy, right, as he finishes a press conference in Albuquerque, N.M., on October 4, 2007. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)
To complicate matters further, her father was another Republican senator, Nevada’s Paul Laxalt, who worked closely with her lover.
Holy guacamole. Now that’s a scandal with a spicy twist.
Far from being a gaffe, Biden’s ‘buy a shotgun’ comment undercuts the ‘Obama wants your guns’ crowd—and is another example of the vice president’s important role in selling White House policy, says John Avlon.
In the pop-culture presidency of the Obama administration, Joe Biden plays an outsize role. He’s the goofy white uncle, loose-lipped and earnest to a fault, who recently became the subject of an Onion biography that imagines the teetotaler as a beer-guzzling Trans-Am worshipper eternally fixated on the summer of ’87.
Vice President Joe Biden listens to Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter speaks after a round table discussion on gun control last week at Girard College in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP)
But while Biden has a tendency to shoot from the lip and stray from the script, it is not without strategic political benefit. On the campaign trial, his warmth balanced Obama’s cool—there’s nothing aloof about Biden. He was dispatched to Rust Belt union halls and rallied the base, embodying Bob Shrum’s eternal “fighting for you” formulation without seeming forced. Hell, the man singlehandedly brought the word “malarkey” out of exile. If Obama is among the most self-monitoring of men, Biden is among the least.
But when it comes to policy, conventional wisdom says the headaches that come with Joe Biden outweigh the benefits. There’s no doubt that he has an overwhelming impulse to step on the message and careen in unexpected directions. But sometimes I think that the “slow Joe” stereotype and consequent face-palms obscure a Columbo-like figure who plays dumb but is really playing the crowd.
He did it again! Vice President Biden muddled the White House's gun messaging this week when he said he had advised his wife, Jill, to go out and buy a shotgun. Worse, he said it a parenting magazine's town hall forum.
It’s a bit shocking to hear one of the major players in the White House’s effort to curb gun violence encouraging his own wife to arm herself, but that’s our Joe. And, honestly, among all of the arguments for banning assault weapons, Vice President Biden’s advice to his wife, Jill, may be the most persuasive. “You don’t need an AR-15—it’s harder to aim, it’s harder to use, and in fact you don’t need 30 rounds to protect yourself.” Of course, maybe an event hosted by Parents magazine wasn't the best venue.
Biden never ceases to entertain, as well as know. Last April, 200 Turkish-American and Azerbaijani-American Obama donors learned that at a breakfast in Washington, D.C. They didn't realize that, when attending a Joe Biden fundraising event, you can't just show up and write a check—you've got to get excited! In typical Biden fashion, the ever-jovial VP teased the crowd for being subdued. "I guess what I'm trying to say without boring you too long at breakfast—and you all look dull as hell, I might add," he said. "The dullest audience I have ever spoken to. Just sitting there, staring at me. Pretend you like me!"
Earlier, the vice president was down in what he calls “Ever-Gators” giving a speech on Florida’s prized—and endangered—wetlands. In addition to flubbing the Everglades’ name, he joked with a businessman and Everglades advocate present, telling the audience that Ron Bergeron wanted Biden to wrestle alligators with him. “You see this man right here? My Service guy?” He asked Bergeron, motioning to the agent behind him. “He said that if I go, he’ll shoot you, Ronnie. I’m only kidding. That’s not true. He didn’t say he’d shoot Ronnie. He said he’d shoot the alligator if I went.”
Vice President Joe Biden arrives at the Town Hall in Exeter, N.H., Thursday, April 12, 2012. (Jim Cole / AP Photo)
The justices have agreed to hear a challenge to the federal limit on how much individuals may donate to candidates and parties. They could use the case to declare all campaign contribution limits unconstitutional—but American elections are already flooded with money, says Adam Winkler.
It’s said that villagers in remote parts of China take stones from dilapidated sections of the Great Wall to build their homes. From the villagers’ perspective, at least the stones are being put to good use, given that the wall long ago ceased being effective at keeping out invaders.
An exterior view of the U.S. Supreme Court. (Alex Wong/Getty)
Not much more useful, these days, is the edifice Congress built after the Watergate scandal to limit the influence of money in elections. Our current campaign finance regime, after years of Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United, which freed up corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums and gave rise to super PACs, is remarkable mainly for how little spending it stops. In January, the Federal Election Commission estimated that $7 billion was spent by candidates, parties, and outside groups in the 2012 elections. That’s an order of magnitude more than what was believed to be spent in the 1972 elections, which originally inspired Congress to enact systemic campaign finance laws.
And on Tuesday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that offers the justices another chance to haul off with a few more stones. The case has the official name of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission but some people are already referring to it as “Citizens United II.” The issue is the constitutionality of federal law that caps the total amount of money individuals may contribute to candidates, parties, and certain political committees over a two-year period. Shaun McCutcheon, an active political contributor to the GOP and its candidates, challenged the caps, which are currently set at $117,000, as a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech.
Eric Nordstrom, who worked at the Benghazi consulate on the day it was attacked, choked up during Wednesday's hearings. 'It matters,' he said, that the committee investigate what happened before, during, and after the siege.
Corry Booker’s the hero mayor of Newark, and, yes, he’s running for Senate. By Lloyd Grove
The president’s push for $9 an hour has the GOP on the defensive. Eleanor Clift on the strategy behind the move. But this push could take the politics out of the perennial argument.
Meet the new Treasury secretary, same as the old Treasury secretary. Lloyd Green on nominee Jack Lew.
For John Kael Weston and other men on the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan drone strikes raise many uncomfortable questions. He writes on why we need clearer policy and guidelines for these silent killers.