Sunday, May 29, 2011

Much ado about Bibi and Barack

by Jeff Jacoby

WHEN ALL WAS SAID AND DONE, much more was said than done during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's high-profile visit to Washington. But once all the words were spoken, what was left behind?

For the better part of a week, Netanyahu and President Barack Obama engaged in a fraught pas de deux, beginning with the president's speech on Middle East policy at the State Department the day before Netanyahu arrived and culminating in the prime minister's address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday. It was indisputably a riveting encounter, but there was no consensus on what it meant.

By the time Netanyahu's visit ended, he was being variously blamed (by Eliot Spitzer in Slate) for having picked "a useless, counterproductive fight with the president" and hailed (by Edward Morrissey in The Week) for having established himself "as the real statesman in the conflict." No one could deny the rapturous enthusiasm with which Congress received Netanyahu -- senators and representatives gave him more than two dozen standing ovations -- but did such pro-Israel passion risk "undermining America's long-term interests in the region" (as Michael A. Cohen charged in Foreign Policy)? Or did it signal the creation of "a significant new political dynamic in the United States" (as former UN Ambassador John Bolton wrote for Fox News)?

But such analyses strain too hard to assign a consequence to Netanyahu's trip to Washington. The interplay among Obama, Netanyahu, and Congress made for an interesting show, but it changed nothing important on the ground. The US-Israeli relationship was and is strong. The Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" was and is fruitless. Those realities are no different today than they were last month.

If anything, Netanyahu's visit and its attendant fireworks served mostly as a reminder of two political axioms: (1) It takes more than Congress to change a president's foreign policy. But (2) it takes more than a president to change a fundamental US relationship.

For better or for worse, presidential attitudes shape US foreign policy, and it is clear that the current president, unlike his two predecessors, feels little instinctive warmth for Israel. In his address last week to AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, Obama described America's commitment to Israel as "unwavering," "ironclad," "unbreakable," "profound," and several other synonyms for "strong" -- which it is. He also described himself as a friend of Israel, which is not so clear. Between picking fights over housing starts in Jerusalem or insinuating that Israeli policy in Gaza endangers US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the president seems at times to go out of his way to telegraph an aloof coolness toward the Jewish state.

That was why Obama's talk of an Israeli retrenchment to the pre-1967 lines, even with "mutually agreed swaps," provoked such a strong reaction. It reinforced what many see as Obama's lack of empathy for Israel's security predicament, and suggested that he is more interested in getting Israel to change its shape than in getting the Palestinians to change their behavior. Obama later backtracked, and his apologists have been arguing that his words were misconstrued. But the president knew those words would spark a firestorm, and he insisted on saying them anyway. Clearly he intended to intensify the pressure on Israel.

Yet even the president of the United States is limited in the amount of pressure he can put on an ally with which the American people feel such a powerful affinity.

There are many illustrations of American exceptionalism, but surely one of the most striking is the solidarity with Israel that is such an abiding feature of US opinion. That solidarity is deep-rooted and durable; it cuts across age and sex and party line; and it is mirrored in the views of America's elected officials.

The thunderous reception Prime Minister Netanyahu received on Capitol Hill last week was as heartfelt as anything in American politics can be. It reflected the kinship of common values that links the greatest liberal democracy in the world with one of the smallest -- and that has done so since Harry Truman recognized the embattled state of Israel within minutes of its birth 63 years ago this month.

Israel is still embattled, and its enemies hate Americans as much as they hate Jews. That too helps explain the bond that Americans feel for Israel.

"Israel has no better friend than America," Netanyahu rightly told Congress, "and America has no better friend than Israel." The truth of those words is something most Americans know intuitively. No wonder Congress cheered.



The GOP's New York Spanking

Republicans need to go on offense against Mediscare

We hope Republicans don't believe their own spin that their candidate lost Tuesday's special House election mainly because of a third party candidate or because New York state is hostile territory. They lost because Democrats ran a Mediscare campaign, and the GOP candidate lacked an adequate response.

Democrat Kathy Hochul, the Erie County clerk, won 47% of the vote in a district that was one of only four in New York that John McCain won in 2008. She ran a one-issue campaign against Paul Ryan's Medicare reform, and she had the advantage of not having voted for ObamaCare's $500 billion in Medicare cuts. Ms. Hochul also caught a big, late assist from Newt Gingrich and his own-goal attack on Mr. Ryan's plan.

Republican Jane Corwin, a state legislator, won 43% after saying she would have voted for the Ryan plan but then devoted most of her time to deploring Mediscare tactics rather than fighting back. Ms. Corwin admitted Monday that she let the attacks go unanswered until the last minute, and the House GOP campaign committee was remarkably unprepared for what everyone knew was coming.

An imposter on the tea party line received 9%, but the most important political story is that Ms. Corwin lost the economically downscale voters who swung to the GOP in 2010. Those voters are susceptible to unrebutted claims that they might lose health-care coverage in retirement.

The GOP consultant class is already taking the media's lead and urging the GOP to flee Mr. Ryan's plan and abandon any serious entitlement reform. But a GOP panic will only compound the losses. All but four House Republicans have already voted for the plan, and they will see Mediscare ads from here to November 2012 no matter what they say. They need a better explanation for the Ryan plan, but more than that they need a strategy to go on offense.

One place to start is by attacking the Democratic plan to cut Medicare via political rationing. Mr. Ryan's budget had the virtue of embarrassing President Obama's spend-more initial budget, and the White House responded by proposing to increase the power of the new Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) to decide what, and how much, Medicare will pay for. The ObamaCare bill goes to great lengths to shelter this 15-member, unelected board from Congressional review, with the goal of letting these bureaucrats throw granny over the cliff if Medicare isn't reformed. Yet few Americans know anything about IPAB or its rationing intentions.

More broadly, reformers can't let Democrats separate Medicare from the larger issue of exploding debt and economic prosperity. Republicans will lose an entitlement debate every time if it's only about austerity. They need to link Medicare reform, and spending cuts generally, to faster growth and rising incomes. The greatest threat to Medicare and Social Security is a debt-laden, slow-growth economy like the current 1.8% recovery.

The biggest failing of House and Senate Republicans this year has been their emphasis on budget accounting more than growth economics. This is understandable given the tea party's 2010 electoral influence, the magnitude of the deficits, and Mr. Obama's fiscal abdication. But it has too often made the GOP come across as bookkeepers.

Assuming they get some spending cuts and budget reform as part of the debt-limit talks, Republicans would be wise to focus most of their legislative attention on raising growth to 4% or 5% of GDP. This is the least the U.S. should be growing after the deep recession of 2007-2009, and the failure to do so is Mr. Obama's biggest political vulnerability.

The tragedy of the modern entitlement state is that it has become too big to afford but also too entrenched to easily reform. (See Greece, riots in the streets.) Republicans can't give up the cause, but New York is a warning that they need to pursue it as part of a larger agenda that restores the American middle-class's economic hope.



Tax orgy planned -- by Guess Who?

A 62% Top Tax Rate? Democrats have said they only intend to restore the tax rates that existed during the Clinton years. In reality they're proposing rates like those under President Carter

Media reports in recent weeks say that Senate Democrats are considering a 3% surtax on income over $1 million to raise federal revenues. This would come on top of the higher income tax rates that President Obama has already proposed through the cancellation of the Bush era tax-rate reductions.

If the Democrats' millionaire surtax were to happen—and were added to other tax increases already enacted last year and other leading tax hike ideas on the table this year—this could leave the U.S. with a combined federal and state top tax rate on earnings of 62%. That's more than double the highest federal marginal rate of 28% when President Reagan left office in 1989. Welcome back to the 1970s....

Taxes on investment income are also headed way up. Suspending the Bush tax cuts, which is favored by nearly every congressional Democrat, plus a 3.8% investment tax in the ObamaCare bill (which starts in 2014) brings the capital gains tax rate to 23.8% from 15%. The dividend tax would potentially climb to 45% from the current rate of 15%.

Much more HERE


A strange picture of Broke Britain

See EYE ON BRITAIN for the true picture

Last week David Brooks, the faux-conservative columnist at the New York Times penned a column extolling the British national political system. The piece, written to coincide with President Obama’s visit to Europe, praised Britain for moving to social democracy in the early Twentieth Century. He concedes that overt socialism nearly wrecked the British system during the 1960s and 70s, but maintains, quite sensibly, that the estimable Margaret Thatcher tackled Britain’s problems (although the New York Times roundly chastised her) and that subsequent governments, both Conservative and Labor, consolidated those gains. Brooks waxes rhapsodic about the end result: A Britain that has moved "from a centralized, industrial era state to a networked, postindustrial one" whatever that means.

In praising the British system and the politicos who work the levers Brooks inadvertently reveals a number of biases of his own and reveals weaknesses as a theorist of reputedly conservative leanings. Brooks lavishes praise on the British system as "a picture of how politics should work." He doesn’t bother with the fact that many Britons do not work; he only claims that British politics function. In this broad claim he misses the point that political life is not synonymous with a national culture.

Britain today suffers from most of the same ills plaguing America, often to a greater extent. British illegitimacy rates have soared to 70%, their welfare dependency rate exceeds ours, and Britons seem to accept 15% unemployment rates as the new normal. Certainly, Britain suffers from unchecked third-world immigration, and the Islamic terror threat is a daily reality, as anyone who has passed through Heathrow Airport in the last six years can attest (your humble TH columnist was instructed to arrive at Heathrow at 3:15 AM for an 8:00 AM flight during the summer of 2006). Still David Brooks tells his readers that Britain works, and Mr. Brooks is an honorable man.

After singing the praises of the British system, David Brooks cannot help himself but to take potshots at the American scene. He mentions, "…Britain is also blessed with a functioning political culture. It is dominated by people who live in London and who have often known each other since prep school." Are we so different? American national politics are dominated by people who live in Washington and have known each other since they were elected. Never mind that they are the same people who got us into this mess in the first place.

Mr. Brooks goes on to state, "…the big newspapers still set the agenda here, not cable TV, or talk radio." He clearly tips his hand here, showing his frustration that the public no longer pays attention to the NYT anymore and prefers Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. One wonders if Brooks and his fellow center-right Anglophiles favor the heavy-handed Britons efforts to squelch popular conservatism such as declaring the American radio personality Michael Savage a “purveyor of hate” and refusing him entry to Britain?

The next target on Brooks' little list is American politics and, of course, politicians. He claims, "…the quintessential American pol is standing in his sandbox screaming affirmations to members of his own tribe, the quintessential British pol is standing across a table arguing face-to-face with his opponents." Brooks apparently doesn't care for representative democracy, if one takes his comments seriously. He goes on to state, "…British leaders and pundits know their counterparts better. They are less likely to get away with distortions and factual howlers. They are less likely to believe the other Party is homogeneously evil." Oh, really? This would come as news to Dame Margaret Thatcher, who endured abuse, slander, libel, and relentless character assassination during her storied tenure as Prime Minister.

After establishing the superiority of the British chattering class, he briefly touches on a number of subthemes such as a British tendency to eschew moralism and dogmatism in politics and the overall superiority of British public life. He finishes with a flourish: "as President Barack Obama visits London, we will get a glimpse of the British political culture. We Americans have no reason to feel smug or superior." One gets the distinct impression that Mr. Brooks wishes that he could import some of the civilized nature of British conservatism to America and that he feels much more at home with the British Tories instead of the yahoos who populate conservative circles in America, people who write columns for Townhall, and even worse, the people who read those columns.

The reader might be grudgingly tempted to agree with David Brooks that a little bit of English virtue might be helpful today. The old British stiff upper lip in the face of personal adversity would constitute a definite improvement over the new American cultural ideal of pouring one's deepest troubles while sitting on a couch next to a tearful Oprah Winfrey. Likewise, a dollop of Edwardian-era certitude concerning culture, duty, honor and moral clarity would be welcome today. Unfortunately, David Brooks will have none of it. His writings have resonated with great admiration for the British cradle to grave welfare state and his "conservatism" exists primarily as a sort of altruistic Disraeli-Beaconsfield attitude of noblesse oblige, leading the masses where they need to be taken.

An alternate reading of British history should serve as a warning to Americans and jolt us out of an anglophile fog. Many British commentators like Paul Johnson and Auberon Waugh have noted that the building of a welfare state in Britain paralleled, almost precisely, the decline of Britain as a world power. This began in 1906 and picked up speed after World War I. The British governments appeased the working class with cheap beer and the dole. They financed these extravagances by cutting the defense budgets, leaving themselves dangerously vulnerable to German and Japanese aggression. Britain staved off defeat and disaster with Russian and American help. They then washed their hands of empire and international leadership. Today the Tory Party leader David Cameron is the Prime Minister of a third-rate power.



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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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