Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
SOURCE: New Deal 2.0 (11-16-10)
Whether or not right-wingers such as Fox News “entertainer and enlightener” Glenn Beck, South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, and Texas Governor Rick Perry actually uphold Ronald Reagan’s conservatism, they are clearly sustaining his practice of using and abusing the past to reshape popular memory and the politics of the present. In particular, they’re mimicking his efforts to hijack the Founding Fathers and Franklin Roosevelt. At the same time, Beck and Company have actually broken with Reagan’s perverse “historical labors” in a very significant way.
In their respective books — “Broke“, “Saving Freedom“, and “FED UP!” — Beck, DeMint, and Perry, like their late Republican hero Reagan, celebrate the Founders as freedom-loving, God-fearing, small-government and States’ Rights folk. They variably ignore or downplay not only their revolutionary sins such as slavery, but also their finest revolutionary commitments and accomplishments like the separation of church and state. However, in contrast to Reagan, who did his best (worst?) to try to lay claim to FDR to historically bolster his own political agenda, Beck and Co. portray FDR and the New Dealers as subversives who ruined American life and liberties.
Reagan, himself a former New Deal Democrat, knew how much most Americans loved FDR and continued to revere his name. So he regularly sought to appropriate Roosevelt’s words in his campaigns, even as he set about trying to undo, and suppress the memory of, what FDR and his fellow citizens achieved in the 1930s and 1940s. Examples abound. Recall that to appeal to working and middle-class Americans, Reagan — to the dismay of conservatives such as George Will — enthusiastically cited and quoted both Thomas Paine and FDR in his acceptance speech at the 1980 Republican National Convention. And recall that in July 1987 Reagan audaciously re-stated FDR’s Four Freedoms — freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear — as “the freedom to work”, “the freedom to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor”, “the freedom to own and control one’s property”, and “the freedom to participate in a free market.”...
Posted on: Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - 12:17
SOURCE: Tablet (11-16-10)
Jonathan Pollard, who is now marking his 24th year in prison, has earned the dubious record of serving the longest prison term in American history for spying for an ally. Convicted of espionage in 1987, Pollard was the suburban American Jewish dream turned nightmare: a good, middle-class, high-achieving boy turned traitor. The son of a college professor, smart enough to graduate from Stanford, patriotic enough to be hired to work in naval intelligence, he made a criminal decision to betray his country to help Israel.
And yet new petitions on his behalf have recently begun to circulate, and gain momentum, both in the U.S. Congress and the Israeli Knesset. This is, in large measure, because Pollard’s situation rests on a contradiction: He was guilty of a reprehensible crime, and yet he has been treated abominably. One of the most infamous Jewish criminals in modern times, he is also the victim of the worst act of official American anti-Semitism in our lifetimes. With his round face and shoulder-length hair, Pollard today still looks more like a perpetual grad student than an arch criminal, but he has suffered severely. He has served hard time, mostly in maximum-security prisons, spending years in lockdown 23 hours a day. Websites pleading his case detail his medical ailments, noting that he has “developed diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pre-glaucoma, and arthritis while in prison.”
From the moment he was sentenced, there were people in the Jewish community—and beyond—who believed Pollard had been unjustly punished and who fought for his release. But they were few and far between, and they often made the wrong case for him. This newest round of argument on Pollard’s behalf is different. For starters, many of his champions have been careful not to lionize him. Rather, they focus on correcting what Judge Stephen Williams, who filed a dissent in one of Pollard’s failed appeals, deemed “a fundamental miscarriage of justice.” Most surprisingly, on September 27, 2010, a former assistant secretary of Defense confirmed many people’s decades-long fears that, at some point, the case had turned personal—and poisonous. Without explaining what prompted him to break his silence, Lawrence Korb, who served in the Pentagon in Reagan’s first term, wrote President Barack Obama: “Based on my first-hand knowledge, I can say with confidence that the severity of Pollard’s sentence is a result of an almost visceral dislike of Israel and the special place it occupies in our foreign policy on the part of my boss at the time, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.”...
Posted on: Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - 12:09
SOURCE: Dissent (11-1-10)
Danny Rubinstein’s account, in his Summer 2010 Dissent article (“One State/Two States: Rethinking Israel and Palestine”), of the disdainful reaction of Sufyan Abu-Zayda, a prominent figure in the Palestinian Authority, to Benjamin Netanyahu’s “Bar-Ilan speech,” in which the right-wing prime minister of Israel formally accepted the two-state solution, is remarkable and telling. Someone who perceives this conflict as it is usually perceived—a small people struggling for national independence after decades of military occupation by a mighty regional power—would perhaps have expected something different. Admittedly, it is natural enough to avoid giving the rival side credit for any show of moderation. A moderate Palestinian spokesman might have questioned Netanyahu’s sincerity, called on the international community to hold the prime minister to his word, and insisted that the future Palestinian state be established on Palestinian terms rather than those suggested by Netanyahu. Instead, Abu-Zayda dismisses the very idea of separate Palestinian statehood: Netanyahu is not doing us any favors by agreeing to two states; we have another, more attractive option—“one state.”
It is often said that if the Palestinians are increasingly driven toward a one-state solution, this is because they have despaired of attaining a viable independent state alongside Israel—principally because of Israel’s settlement activity in the West Bank. Though Rubinstein’s article presents a much more nuanced and complicated picture of the reasons for “the decline of the Palestinian national movement,” his final conclusion is still that “the new Palestinian generation in the West Bank…would prefer to fight for equal rights in a single binational state rather than continue a struggle that seems almost hopeless [for an independent state].” But there isn’t much hopelessness in Abu-Zayda’s words. Instead, the Palestinian activist seems very confident that the future of his people is assured under any scenario. He is rightly convinced that a one-state solution (which will inevitably mean not a binational state but an Arab and Muslim state in the whole of former Mandatory Palestine—I will return to this point later) will be a complete victory for the Palestinian national cause. There may perhaps be an element of bravado here, but I think Rubinstein is right to treat what Abu-Zayda has to say seriously, as representing a widely shared Palestinian attitude. If this is how a moderate Palestinian sees things—and Abu-Zayda is certainly a moderate—then we have to ask whether the Palestinians have any reason to make the compromises necessary for a two-state solution, whatever Israel does. If they believe that they have nothing to lose, strategically, by rejecting any compromise, what are the chances of a compromise being reached? And if reached and implemented, will it be respected in the long run?...
Posted on: Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - 12:08
SOURCE: Slate (11-9-10)
Tomorrow the Supreme Court will consider whether American fathers have the same rights as American mothers to ensure that their children are citizens at birth. Under the 14th Amendment, "all persons born in the United States are ... citizens of the United States." But the status of children born to American parents beyond U.S. borders is less certain. In the case Flores-Villar v. United States, the Justice Department is defending the constitutionality of a law that treats some of these children differently depending on whether their mother or their father is a citizen. The government relies on a speculative reading of the historical record and dismisses clear evidence that such laws perpetuate centuries-old stereotypes regarding men's and women's roles as parents. The court should strike down the statute and its sorely out-of-date approach....
...Flores-Villar isn't a case about keeping out illegal immigrants. It is a case about the rights of American mothers and fathers to equal protection of the law. It is also about a child's "right to a nationality," a fundamental principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "Citizenship is not a license that expires on misbehavior," the Supreme Court forthrightly stated more than 50 years ago. Nor should one's citizenship status turn on the happenstance of whether one's citizen parent is a mother or a father. Either parent can take responsibility for raising a child. That's the modern truth the Supreme Court should embrace and that our citizenship laws should reflect.
Posted on: Monday, November 15, 2010 - 16:44
SOURCE: OneNewsNow (11-12-10)
Dr. David Aikman (Patrick Henry College)In 1976 the then-Director of National Intelligence, George H.W. Bush ("Bush 41"), authorized officials in the U.S. national defense community (who had high security clearance) to offer an alternative analysis of Soviet military capabilities and strategic intentions to that offered by the CIA's official National Intelligence Estimate of Soviet power. The resulting report took the position that "détente" -- a policy of diplomatic engagement with the Soviet Union championed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger -- was deeply flawed. First, the report said, it underestimated Soviet military capabilities; and second, it completely failed to grasp that the Soviets' strategic goal was to bring down the U.S. and secure the triumph of communism throughout the world.
The "Team B" report, as it came to be known, can certainly be criticized in some parts because of its probable exaggeration of Soviet capabilities. But in its assessment of Soviet intentions, it was certainly much closer to reality than the CIA's rose-tinted portrayal of Soviet objectives at the time. Remember, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, most of the official U.S. intelligence community was taken completely by surprise -- at least in part because President Jimmy Carter, after meeting with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in Vienna a few months earlier, had proclaimed Brezhnev to be "a man of peace." Team B's skepticism about the Soviet Union strongly influenced later Republican President Ronald and may well have fortified him in his determination to compete successfully with Soviet military power and bring down the regime.
911 terror attacksFast forward now to the current decade. Some nine years after 19 Islamic terrorists hijacked three planes and crashed two of them into New York City, killing some 3,000 people in the World Trade Center and surrounding area; and after repeated efforts by other individuals to cause murder and mayhem in the U.S. -- Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab (Christmas underwear bomber), Faisal Shahzad (Times Square bomber), Major Nidal Hasan (Fort Hood shooter), the UPS cargo plane plot -- some senior U.S. security officials seem to have a problem recognizing who our enemies are....
Posted on: Monday, November 15, 2010 - 16:38
SOURCE: CNN International (11-12-10)
There is at present a profound uncertainty about currencies. That is why the president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, created such a stir with a brief reference to an enhanced role for gold in the course of a plea for a more sustainable international exchange rate system.
The revival of interest in a golden measure of value derives from two fundamental sources. First, there is a question about our personal sense of worth. The aftermath of the economic crisis has destroyed our confidence in the reliability of conventional paper money.
We need money as a store of value, but in the course of the crisis it has also become a tool of government policy. Looser monetary policy or "quantitative easing" can help to get the economy moving again. But the purposes of money may conflict and collide. When money becomes too much of a policy tool, the function of reliably measuring value gets chipped away....
Posted on: Monday, November 15, 2010 - 16:36
SOURCE: The China Beat (Blog) (11-15-10)
[Maura Elizabeth Cunningham is contributing editor for The China Beat.]
On November 19, 2009, I posted a story here at China Beat that I titled “The Good, the Bad, and the Boring.” The article was a review of Barack Obama’s first presidential visit to China, during which he held a somewhat bland town hall meeting in Shanghai, performed the de rigueur tours of the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, and met with Hu Jintao and other Chinese leaders behind closed doors. All in all, Obama’s trip seemed to be little more than an icebreaker, a quick and innocuous introduction to one of America’s most important strategic partners. But that was last year.
Fifty-one weeks later, Obama again made a November visit to Asia, though his itinerary on this four-country trip didn’t include a stop in China. That isn’t to say, however, that China wasn’t on the president’s mind as he traveled—a fact that was quite clear at several points, never more so than during a news conference at the conclusion of the G-20 meeting in Seoul on Friday. On this occasion, Obama showed none of the restraint that characterized his trip to China last year; instead, he spoke out against Chinese undervaluation of the renminbi and criticized unnamed “countries with large surpluses” that rely on an export-oriented growth strategy. Here’s the section of Obama’s remarks that’s been getting the most attention:
I’ve been very clear and persistent since I came into office that we welcome China’s rise; we think the fact that China has grown as remarkably as it has, has lifted millions of people out of poverty, and that is ultimately good for the world and good for America—because it means that China has the opportunity to be a responsible partner. It means that China can be an enormous market for the United States, for Korea, for countries throughout Asia and around the world. And it’s just good to get people out of poverty and give them opportunity.
What I’ve also said is that precisely because of China’s success, it’s very important that it act in a responsible fashion internationally. And the issue of the RNB [sic] is one that is an irritant not just to the United States, but is an irritant to a lot of China’s trading partners and those who are competing with China to sell goods around the world. It is undervalued. And China spends enormous amounts of money intervening in the market to keep it undervalued.
(Full text of Obama’s remarks is available here.)
Obama actually spent relatively little time on the topic of China during the press conference, but his newly assertive tone regarding the renminbi has been the among most attention-getting aspects of the entire 10-day trip. Obama met with warm receptions in both India and Indonesia before traveling on to Seoul for the G-20, where tensions quickly arose over not only the renminbi but also questions such as global trade imbalances and American stimulus plans. As Louisa Lim of NPR notes, Obama’s outspokenness in the press conference contrasts with his inability to get such strong language about the currency issue into the communiqué the G-20 hammered out during the summit. In the end, Lim says, “This trip was designed to reward America’s natural allies in Asia; it’s served to highlight the limits of American power.” It also served to highlight the growing importance of Chinese strength in Asia; that’s certainly not a new development, but the looming presence of the PRC during Obama’s trip made many of his actions in both India and Indonesia appear specifically calibrated to counter Chinese influence in the region (see this report at McClatchy and “The elephant outside the room” at The Economist for more).
Despite Obama’s strong words in Seoul, the U.S. and China are clearly not going to shut each other out any time soon. This was the message of a music video circulating online last week, the “US-Sino Currency Rap Battle” produced by Taiwan’s Next Media Animation. In the words of the song’s annoyingly catchy chorus, “They’re not enemies / They’re frenemies / With co-dependent economies.” But these “frenemies” seem to be moving toward a rough patch in their relationship—one that could make Hu Jintao’s scheduled January visit to the U.S. anything but boring.
Posted on: Monday, November 15, 2010 - 13:26
SOURCE: CNN.com (11-15-10)
In professional football, teams need a good offense if they hope to win the Super Bowl....
The same can be said about politics. Being good at defense is important, but you need to play offense to win elections and shape political debate. When parties only respond to criticism and participate in the discussion that their opponents want to have, eventually their team will get tired of just being in a reactive mode and the other side will score points....
From the start of his time in the White House, President Obama has always been on the defensive. He has frequently warned the "professional left" about the difficulties that he faces in the Senate and about the need to placate conservatives. With the stimulus package in 2009, he bargained with himself by starting with a figure that was much lower than many economists thought was necessary to jumpstart the economy....
In his 1964 State of the Union address, nearly a year before his huge landslide victory over Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, Lyndon Johnson boasted that: "Let this session of Congress be known as the session which did more for civil rights than the last hundred sessions combined; as the session which enacted the most far-reaching tax cut of our time; as the session which declared all-out war on human poverty and unemployment in these United States; as the session which finally recognized the health needs of all our older citizens; as the session which reformed our tangled transportation and transit policies; as the session which achieved the most effective, efficient foreign aid program ever; and as the session which helped to build more homes, more schools, more libraries, and more hospitals than any single session in the history of our republic."
Even President Clinton learned this lesson after the 1994 midterms. While many commentators have been pointing to his shift to the right after the Republican takeover of Congress, Clinton actually rebounded when he stood up against the Republican's proposed cuts to Medicare and after the bombing in Oklahoma City where he condemned the extremist right for its harsh rhetoric about federal power.
The Democrats might want to take a page from the playbook of the Republican Party. Instead of backing down and running away from their platform, they might instead embrace what the party has stood for and make a case as to why their record is better than what Republicans have to offer. If Democrats can't do this, Republicans will shape the political dialogue in the next two years, regardless of what shifts Obama makes, and Democrats will be looking at a defeat in 2012.
Posted on: Monday, November 15, 2010 - 11:38
SOURCE: NYC NearSay (11-13-10)
The water retakes the land, pushing against how well the seawalls hold back the Rivers. So much depends on how well the city’s seawalls hold, or do not hold. Separation of land and water is the challenge in cities that have seawalls, underwater structures, standing tall and firm in sentry poses, as bulwarks against the sea and rivers.
The World Trade Center sits on water. Separation of land and water is the reality in Downtown New York at the site where there is so much construction and reconstruction. Today’s developers should not only look to the future potential of the site, they have to respect the physical realities.
Bulwarks, seawalls holding back the Hudson River, was the reality at the site, even in the past, in colonial times when engineers first created seawalls between the island and its Rivers. Holding back the River is not a struggle today, because the engineers have the know-how. But the underground seawalls still test building foundations and the land Downtown, on a less threatening scale than in colonial times. Or so we believed.
There are seawalls under the World Trade Center site. The original water line on the Hudson River of the island was Church Street. Each century, when a street was added, Greenwich, Washington, and West Streets, three centuries ago, new seawalls or River walls, were created. In the last century, more than a decade ago, when the western streets of Battery Park City were filled with a landfill, new seawalls went up underground, between the island and the River. Seawalls are not new. There were small circular seawalls four centuries ago, when the Dutch settled and built villages on the Rivers, above the villages of the Lenape Native American Indians. Today, the seawalls, Hudson River walls, protect the buildings and streets, and prevent water from the Hudson River from breaking into the city....
Posted on: Sunday, November 14, 2010 - 12:38
SOURCE: Talking Points Memo (11-12-10)
American Jewish Stalinists of the 1930s broke with Russian Communism in lurches, as their locomotive of history kept derailing. Some were jolted off the train by Stalin's unofficially but patently anti-Semitic "purge trials" of the mid-1930s. Others, who downplayed Russian Communism's unresolved "Jewish question" out of noble or hardened faith in its professed universalism, woke up only in 1939, when Stalin signed his infamous non-aggression pact with Hitler. Still others woke up only in 1956, when the USSR rolled over the Hungarian Revolution and Nikita Khrushchev acknowledged Stalin's totalitarian crimes.
By then, most American Jewish Stalinist thinking was on its way to neo-conservatism, the inevitable haven of a mindset seeking new coordinates for its unchanging, preternatural insecurities and its over-compensatory bombast. As it migrated from left-universalist socialism to right-nationalist capitalism -- each end of the spectrum "religious" and Manichaean -- the emerging neo-conservative worldview disdained most American Jews, who'd never been Stalinists and would never be neo-cons because they had the intellectual and political maturity to become civic-republican liberals in the American way....
Because neo-cons' rickety bargain with fundamentalism, militarism, and casino capitalism is as self-destroying as was Stalin's "Socialism in One Country," they're caught, like their predecessor Communist brethren, teetering back and forth between imperial overreach and, when it fails, the scapegoating of....
The rest of the sentence is, of course, the problem, just as it was in Stalin's Moscow and Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany. And the rest of that sentence has been written this morning in the New York Times' description of Glenn Beck's recent programs on Soros....
Posted on: Friday, November 12, 2010 - 21:26
SOURCE: WaPo (11-11-10)
During the darkest days of the Depression, Time magazine spied a ray of light: Congress passed the 20th Amendment, which "promised to eliminate the legislative influence of Senators & Representatives whose constituencies have already repudiated them."
This was a big deal in 1932. The new amendment culminated a decade-long Progressive campaign against lame-duck sessions, and it rapidly gained the support of three-fourths of the states.
Why, then, is the lame-duck Congress coming to Washington on Monday? Because of a dispute between the House and Senate over the text of the amendment....
Posted on: Friday, November 12, 2010 - 10:06
SOURCE: American Conservative (11-10-10)
When Glenn Beck wants to look serious he dons oversized horn-rimmed glasses and begins to lecture about Progressivism. In his telling, Progressives have contributed significantly to our latter-day political problems. He finds their ideology—combining massive bureaucracy with a command economy and certain forms of social engineering identified with eugenics—at the heart of today’s big-government liberalism. His litany of real or alleged Progressives includes Woodrow Wilson, John Dewey, Franklin Roosevelt, and occasionally Franklin’s cousin Teddy. Early feminist and birth-control advocate Margaret Sanger also sometimes appears among this unsavory group.
Beck could list many more. Self-described Progressives included President Wilson’s son-in-law and secretary of the Treasury, William McAdoo; the Wisconsin antiwar senator Robert La Follette; California governor and longtime senator (from 1917 to 1945) Hiram Johnson; Idaho senator William Borah; historian Charles Beard; sociologist Harry Elmer Barnes; and Republican president Herbert Hoover. In fact, there were so many prominent Progressives in the early 20th century that Beck would have to devote several of his talkathons to the topic to give us some idea of the broad range of personalities and positions within the movement....
Posted on: Thursday, November 11, 2010 - 15:21
SOURCE: American Interest (blog) (11-9-10)
President Obama has begun the second half of his presidential term with a planned ten-day tour of Asia. Even beneath the haze of skepticism (from critics who accused the President of fleeing the country in the aftermath of the disastrous midterm election) and the clouds of spin (from administration staffers who sought to draw the press’s attention to Obama’s efforts to promote exports and jobs), the strategic architecture and the historical importance of the trip is striking. For an administration that has been too frequently wrong-footed at home and abroad, the trip is a much-needed boost. President Obama is in the right place with the right message at the right time.
The decision to go to Asia is one that all thinking Americans can and should support regardless of either party or ideological affiliation. East and South Asia are the places where the 21st century, for better or for worse, will most likely be shaped; economic growth, environmental progress, the destiny of democracy and success against terror are all at stake here. American objectives in this region are clear. While convincing China that its best interests are not served by a rash, Kaiser Wilhelm-like dash for supremacy in the region, the US does not want either to isolate or contain China. We want a strong, rich, open and free China in an Asia that is also strong, rich, open and free. Our destiny is inextricably linked with Asia’s; Asian success will make America stronger, richer and more secure. Asia’s failures will reverberate over here, threatening our prosperity, our security and perhaps even our survival.
The world’s two most mutually hostile nuclear states, India and Pakistan, are in Asia. The two states most likely to threaten others with nukes, North Korea and aspiring rogue nuclear power Iran, are there. The two superpowers with a billion plus people are in Asia as well. This is where the world’s fastest growing economies are. It is where the worst environmental problems exist. It is the home of the world’s largest democracy, the world’s most populous Islamic country (Indonesia — which is also among the most democratic and pluralistic of Islamic countries), and the world’s most rapidly rising non-democratic power as well. Asia holds more oil resources than any other continent; the world’s most important and most threatened trade routes lie off its shores. East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia (where American and NATO forces are fighting the Taliban) and West Asia (home among others to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey and Iraq) are the theaters in the world today that most directly engage America’s vital interests and where our armed forces are most directly involved. The world’s most explosive territorial disputes are in Asia as well, with islands (and the surrounding mineral and fishery resources) bitterly disputed between countries like Russia, the two Koreas, Japan, China (both from Beijing and Taipei), and Vietnam. From the streets of Jerusalem to the beaches of Taiwan the world’s most intractable political problems are found on the Asian landmass and its surrounding seas.
Whether you view the world in terms of geopolitical security, environmental sustainability, economic growth or the march of democracy, Asia is at the center of your concerns. That is the overwhelming reality of world politics today, and that reality is what President Obama’s trip is intended to address...
Posted on: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 - 08:34
SOURCE: Jacksonville Journal-Courier (11-9-10)
...If we tune out the shouting, we might find that we American voters are not at war with each other. Tuesday’s results included several messages about national policy that most Americans agree on. Here they are:
1. Americans are concerned about the deficit. Since the year 2000, the national debt has risen from about 5.5 trillion to 13.5 trillion dollars. The two wars, exploding health care costs, and the near depression all contributed to the accelerated growth in debt. Economists do not agree about how this level of debt will affect our economy over the long term, but it seems certain that the government cannot keep spending so much more than it takes in.
2. Getting more taxes from the rich is not popular. Democrats and Republicans split very forcefully on what to do about the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. The Republican desire to maintain the tax cuts for households earning over $250,000 does not appear to have hurt them at the polls. In Washington state, where the Democrat Patty Murray won reelection for Senate, voters rejected by a 2 to 1 margin a ballot measure to impose an income tax of 5% on people who earn more than $200,000 and of 9% on those who earn more than $500,000....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - 17:22
SOURCE: CNN.com (11-8-10)
John Boehner has a huge problem on his hands. Now that the elections are over, and Republicans were victorious, he will need to tame the passions of the GOP freshmen who are coming to town determined to change everything about the way that Washington works.
If he does not, the Republicans could divide among themselves, thereby undercutting their ability to push forward legislation and giving President Obama an opportunity to challenge their competence....
Republicans have...been looking back to 1994. Many have compared 2010 to 1994. The conservative revolution is alive and well, they say, as Republicans now effectively control the legislative branch, given that 60 votes are needed to get most big bills through the Senate. Republicans anticipate that the election has offered them a base from which to attack Obama's policies and to set up for the 2012 race.
But then-Speaker Newt Gingrich discovered that huge midterm victories come at a high price. Gingrich had been working with conservative activists for years, pushing the Republican Party to move much further toward the right and to avoid replicating what, he said, were the corrupt practices of Democrats.
The freshmen Republicans elected in 1994 came to Washington prepared to do battle. They were in no mood to compromise. From the start, the strategy was to depend on the 73 freshmen as a solid voting block to counteract Clinton. Ed Gillespie, a spokesman for then-Majority Leader Richard Armey, said, "There's a strong synthesis between the freshmen and the sophomores and the House Republican leadership."...
Republicans will face similar pressure in the year ahead. Indeed, the day after the election, on CNN.com, one Tea Party activist warned the GOP: "If Republicans misread the intent of the American voter and are as fiscally reckless as they were during the Bush years, they soon will find themselves packing their bags and being replaced by a new crop of leaders who understand America will no longer tolerate reckless spending and misguided fiscal policies."
Moreover, the new Republicans will be able to exert even greater pressure than the class of 1994 because they have a more sophisticated media platform, which combines cable TV, the Internet and radio, to get their message out, instantly, with or without the approval of the leadership....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - 17:12
SOURCE: Lexington Herald-Leader (KY) (11-8-10)
Many Americans are living poor and voting rich, especially in Kentucky. They vote for politicians who serve the interests of the very rich, of corporations that ship jobs overseas, employ and exploit illegal immigrants and violate workplace rules to protect workers....
Rich-voting ordinary folks obsess about gays and guns but ignore rising inequality that is turning this country into Pakistan, where the opulent rich pay no taxes while the middle class supports inadequate public services. The disparity between the rich and the bottom half in this country has grown far worse than other developed nations. It's too complicated to learn that the share of total income going to the top one percent is about 25 percent — about where it was in 1928 before the Great Depression (forget history!)....
The worst of this, as economists are beginning to recognize, is that this inequality — besides creating an aristocracy of wealth — does not promote economic growth and reduces the quality of life for everyone. But rich-voting poor folk do get to vent their anger — mostly at the wrong targets.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - 17:07
SOURCE: TomDispatch (11-9-10)
[Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder.]
Palestine as America’s next Vietnam? Like all historical analogies, it’s far from perfect. We aren’t about to send the U.S. Army to the West Bank or Gaza to kill and die in a war that can’t be won. Where else in the world, though, is American weaponry and political power so obviously used to suppress a Viet Cong-like movement of national liberation (a bill the Taliban hardly fit)?
And what other conflict is as politically divisive as the Israeli-Palestinian one? More than the Afghan War, the struggle at the heart of the Middle East evokes the kind of powerful passions here that once marked the debate over Vietnam, pitting hawks against doves. Not that the progressive media are yet portraying it that way. They’re more likely to give us an increasingly outdated picture of an all-powerful Jewish “Israel lobby,” which supposedly has a lock on U.S. policy and dominates the rest of us.
In fact, when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, the political landscape is far more complex, fluid, and unpredictable. Yes, the election day just past saw a wave of hawkish Republicans with a penchant for loving Israel to death swept into Congress, but the hawks’ amplified voice is also likely to energize a growing alliance of doves.
Religious Hawks vs. Religious Doves
This election was not a Jewish triumph. Most of the GOP congressional hawks (if they aren’t from Florida) come from constituencies with only a sprinkling of Jews. They seem eager to make Israel a symbolic test case, as if supporting the hard-line Israeli government against Obama administration “betrayal” proves their strength in protecting America.
In the wake of November 2nd, a prominent Israeli columnist wrote that Republicans believe in “patriotism, Judeo-Christian Values, national security… and associating Arabs and Muslims with terrorism… a worldview that is usually consistent with pro-Israel sentiments.” Those are certainly “pro-Israel sentiments” as defined by the old Israel lobby that John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt analyzed so sharply. That lobby still wields plenty of power with its loud media megaphone, and it will welcome the recent success of its flag-waving, fear-mongering GOP allies.
Here’s a new reality, however: The hawkish Israel lobby is no longer the true face of the Jewish community. According to midterm exit polls, most American Jews stuck with their traditional loyalty to the Democratic Party and, far more important, they are visibly developing a new idea of what it means to be pro-Israel. Today, three-quarters of American Jews want the U.S. to lead Israelis and Palestinians toward a two-state solution; nearly two-thirds say they’d accept Obama administration pressure on Israel to reach that goal.
Republicans entering Congress will learn what I recently heard a Jewish congressman explain. Few non-Jewish legislators pay close attention to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. When it comes up, they usually turn to their Jewish colleagues for advice. Once, the Jews they consulted were likely to simply parrot the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) line. Now they’re likely to say, “Well, AIPAC says this, but J Street says that. You decide.”
J Street is the most prominent player in the dovish, newly developing coalition that already represents the views of most Jews. When Barack Obama invited top Jewish leaders to the White House in the summer of 2009, the heads of two smaller organizations, Americans for Peace Now and the Israel Policy Forum, were at the table too. These are the most visible voices for American Jews who don’t want to see their own government enabling Israeli governmental policies that they oppose.
The Christian community is split into competing lobbies as well, with hawks led by Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and doves by Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). CUFI makes more noise and gets more press attention. But CMEP is an impressive coalition of 22 national church groups, including some of the largest denominations and the nation’s largest umbrella organization of Protestants, the National Council of Churches.
Then there are doves, both Jewish and Christian, who promote direct action rather than political lobbying as the route to change. The movement to use boycotts, divestments, and sanctions to pressure Israel to change its policies on the Palestinians didn’t really take off until the Presbyterian Church endorsed the concept. More Christian groups have now joined this campaign, as has Jewish Voice for Peace, among other Jewish groups. Such direct protest also gets plenty of support from left-leaning doves not moved by any religious faith.
So far this alliance has not mounted the massive demonstrations that were a hallmark of Vietnam-era doves. The new strength of the hawks in Congress, however, might someday provoke the doves to take to the streets.
Elite Doves vs. Elite Hawks
As in the Vietnam era, today's policy debate has not been restricted to groups of outsiders. It’s reaching deep into the foreign policy establishment. Top editors of the New York Times recently visited Israel, talked with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and came home to write an editorial putting most of the blame on the Israeli leader. They urged him to renew the moratorium on expanding settlements and immediately settle on the borders of a Palestinian state.
Just two days after election day, when everyone else was still talking domestic politics, the Times gave Bill Clinton op-ed space to say that “everyone knows what a final agreement would look like” -- a coded message from the secretary of state’s husband to the Jewish state’s prime minister that it’s time to end the occupation, withdraw settlements, and share Jerusalem. Two former national security advisors, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, have publicly urged Barack Obama to “outline the basic parameters for a Palestinian state” -- a coded message to the president that it’s time for a U.S.-imposed solution in the Middle East (assumedly based on Clinton’s parameters).
Of course, the elite hawks are fighting back. Neoconservatives (whose obituaries are always premature) have created an international alliance that calls itself “The Friends of Israel Initiative.” With friends like these, the doves claim, Israel doesn’t need enemies.
The elite debate extends into U.S. military and intelligence communities which have worked closely with Israel for decades. It’s a safe bet that there are powerful hawks in those circles who don’t want to put pressure on Israel because it might jeopardize those relationships. But top military leaders have been issuing warnings in private and in public about the dangerous consequences the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could have for U.S. interests in the region, and implying that the president should be pressuring Israel to bring the conflict to an end.
Both hawks and doves have found jobs in the Obama administration. “The question of how much the United States is offering [Israel], and what it is asking for in return, is being fiercely debated within the White House and the State Department,” the New York Timesreported -- which is undoubtedly one reason that the administration has been bobbing and weaving on Israel and Palestine with no clear policy direction in sight.
Another reason is the political risk involved. Though domestic issues dominated this year’s campaign season, the Republicans still stake their claim on being the party of tough guys, and they look for every opportunity to paint the Democrats as soft on national security. If Obama wavers on Israel, the GOP is ready to pounce and he knows it.
Republicans are always eager to run against “the ‘60s,” and efforts to move Israel to the peace table have become yet another symbol of “the ‘60s” in the GOP imagination. It’s no coincidence that, just after he won the Florida Senate race, the Tea Party’s rising star Marco Rubio announced that he was packing for a trip to Israel.
On the other hand, a president stymied in the domestic sphere is always tempted to make his historical mark with major foreign policy initiatives where he has more freedom. As Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now points out, this president will be criticized for abandoning his original demands on the Israelis just as much as for pursuing them, so he might as well “double down on his Middle East peace efforts.” If he does that, the doves will have Obama’s back. And a triumph at the peace table could shift attention away from the morass of Afghanistan in just the way Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip to China overshadowed the continuing slaughter in Vietnam.
An Unpredictable Complex System
There’s one more interesting analogy between the present Middle Eastern conflict and Vietnam. Both have triggered the passions of hawks and doves who otherwise would not pay much attention to foreign affairs. Every day, a few more doves start asking why the U.S. suppresses the Palestinian urge for national liberation and self-determination.
From there, it’s just a short step to asking other questions: Why does the Obama administration echo Israel’s frightening but unproven claims about “the Iranian threat” and leave so much room for talk of war? Why does the U.S. continue to demonize Hamas, rebuffing its efforts to moderate its stand and resume a truce with Israel? Why do government and media figures so regularly reduce the endless complexities of the Middle East to a simple morality tale of good guys against bad guys? And how can that enhance the security of the American people?
Just as during the Vietnam War years, such questions about U.S. policy in one region lead to even larger questions about the American stance in the world -- and sooner or later, some of those questioners will dare call it imperialism. Any victory for the doves on the question of policy toward Israel will also be a victory in the ongoing struggle between competing visions of foreign policy, and no one can say where the growing movement of doves might lead.
In fact, no one can say anything with any degree of certainty about the future of this issue. It is now what the Vietnam debate once was: a complex, perhaps even chaotic, system, where every action provokes reaction.
Will a more Republican-leaning Congress change policy? Perhaps. But who knows exactly how? The more the hawks push, the bigger and more appealing the target they offer to the doves. As the issue only polarizes, ever more American Jews may feel pushed out of their tactful silence.
We could end up with a new media picture entirely: gentile hawks urging Israel to maintain its hard-line stance versus a Jewish community leaning toward compromise and peace. Under those circumstances, the average citizen, who figures that Jews know best about Israel, might be unlikely to sympathize with the hawks.
That’s not a prediction, just one among many possibilities in a complex system that’s inherently unstable and so unpredictable. In other words, there’s no reason for doves to feel powerless. Election Day 2010 may look like a victory for the hawks, but it could turn out to be a step toward their long-term defeat.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - 16:57
SOURCE: New Republic (11-9-10)
More than candidates are defeated in elections. So are ideas. The Democrats’ heavy losses in the midterm elections may now force a reassessment and overhaul of the Barack Obama political experiment. Whether the president has the dexterity and fortitude to navigate through the harsher Washington political environment of the next two years will determine his survival. Clearly, the hopes and dreams that propelled Obama to the White House are in disarray. The social movement politics that some of his most fervent followers ascribed to him—the idea of electing a “post-partisan” president as the leader not of a nation or even of a political party but of a personalized social movement—has failed.
The dream of the Obama presidency based on a movement model of politics was devised by Marshall Ganz, a veteran union organizer and lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School, hired as an Obama campaign official and charged with training Obama volunteers—and articulated by Ganz’s ally, Peter Dreier, also an Obama adviser, a member of Progressives for Obama, and a politics professor at Occidental College. Ganz was both the theorist and practitioner of the Obama-as-movement-leader notion while Dreier played the role of publicist, heralding the new age in articles in The Huffington Post, The American Prospect, and Dissent. Ganz’s projection of the Obama presidency gained its prestige from the hallowed memories of the civil rights and farmworker union movements, imbued with high moral as well as political purposes. He posed it against the threadbare, craven horse-trading and maneuvering of parties and all previous presidential politics, which Ganz believes were “practiced to maintain, rather than change, the status quo.” The Obama experiment, a movement that arose from the grassroots apart from the Democratic Party, would usher in a purer moral and more effective leadership to the White House. Obama would not merely alter government policy but also transform the very sum and substance of the political system....
But is the social movement model adequate to democratic governing, especially as the basis of a presidency? What Ganz does not consider is that his own theory and practice of the Obama 2008 mobilization, explicitly based on values, emotions, and feelings, disdaining any particular policies or political goals, may have been a dead end once Obama took office—and that it even helped foster an inevitable disillusionment....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - 09:46
SOURCE: Huffington Post (11-5-10)
[Barbara Leaming is the author of two New York Times bestselling biographies and three New York Times Notable Books of the Year. Her most recent book, a biography of John F. Kennedy, focused on the influence of British history and culture on the 35th president.]
By this time, everyone knows that in the moment of victory, President Obama returned the bust of Churchill. Whatever the gesture actually meant, many people took it to mean that unlike President Kennedy who had been studying Churchill's strategies since boyhood, Obama was unlikely to look to Britain's most famous Prime Minister for inspiration or advice.
But now, in the wake of the Democrats' midterm defeat, it is Churchill who has a stark and important lesson for the President. I do not mean the triumphant Churchill of the war years, but rather the Churchill who was overwhelmingly defeated in 1945. These are the years I have just written about in my new book, Churchill Defiant: Fighting On, 1945-1955.
Obama at his press conference spoke of a"shellacking." In 1945, Churchill endured a"shellacking" of his own -- a far more terrible one than the President's. Having just saved his country, Churchill was hurled from power, as Labour swept out the Conservatives. Shaken and personally devastated though Churchill was was, his response was typically Churchillian: defiance.
He refused to retire from political life, and in a matter of months the then seventy year old Churchill launched one of the most astonishing political comebacks in history. Over the course of the next six years, he not only held onto the leadership of his party (a party where there was broad sentiment that he ought to step aside), but also he fought his way back to the center of world events and then, in the General Election of 1951, back to Downing Street and the premiership.
One of the reasons Churchill was able to do this -- and this is where the lesson for the President resides -- is that he was able to make it clear to everyone what his reason for staying on was (though of course there were also strictly human reasons mixed in as well). In short, he followed his own dictum that it is essential always to have a"theme". In defeat, Churchill was quick to articulate his theme, and he stuck to it, hammering it home again and again, never wavering, until the day he left Downing Street at age eighty, at the close of his last premiership.
Churchill's theme -- and this is the brilliance of it -- was concise and easily understandable, something people could grasp and remember. It made clear exactly what his goal was and how he intended to achieve that goal. He said that his goal was to make a lasting peace, and he left no doubt that the way he planned to accomplish that was by going to the summit and negotiating with the Soviets.
Now for Obama and how this applies to him: There is broad agreement that the President is not communicating. His supporters say so, his opponents say so, and even he himself concurs. But to say that he is not communicating does not really help get to the root of the problem. You have to understand what he is not communicating. And what Obama is not communicating -- never has communicated -- and must find a way to put across soon is his theme. As Churchill would say, Obama and his administration lack a theme.
The President has never clearly defined" change." People do not know what he means when he says that he wants to bring change. Even his supporters do not really know what the change he calls for means exactly or how he intends to achieve it.
So Churchill's lesson for Obama in defeat would be this: He must find a way to explain his theme to the people. The word change is amorphous. At the moment, the President completely lacks a sharp statement of his goal and of how he plans to get there. And without that clarity, his opponents can suggest that" change" means just about anything: socialism, communism, whatever. Without that clarity, his supporters will continue losing focus and enthusiasm.
I am not suggesting that Obama needs to search for inspiration in the speeches of Churchill. The President has a very different task right now, one that has to be accomplished before it is time for big speeches. He does not need to look to how Churchill constructed his signature set-piece speeches, but rather to how he managed to be concise, to communicate a big idea in such a way that people can easily understand it. Obama needs to study Churchill's gifts of concision.
If Obama manages to articulate a theme, it would not merely be good for him -- it would be good for the country, for it is the confusion about his goals are that partly stokes the acrimony. It surely will not be easy, but I am confident that the author of Dreams from My Father is supremely capable of precisely the sort of thinking that will be required. Obama does not need to bring the Churchill bust back to the Oval Office, but he would certainly benefit from considering the lesson of the defeated Churchill.
Posted on: Monday, November 8, 2010 - 22:51
SOURCE: Dissent (11-8-10)
WHAT HAPPENED with women? One leading indicator, the number of women in Congress, isn’t bad—there was only slight change downward—but that’s only when you stick to the old assumption that more women in Congress means more Democrats. Where there was turnover, it mostly went with the Republicans. Still, the right-wing female bloggers are chortling. Why? Because the Palin effect has for the first time given Republican women some purchase in fielding candidates and appealing to a female constituency in language more sophisticated than the hoary “family values” rhetoric that shaped the right-wing women’s agenda for years.
This means they’re adopting feminist rhetoric to their own uses. Republicans in this campaign hurled charges of sexist treatment—not unjustifiably—at some Democrats and left-wing commentators for the innuendo and ridicule they threw at some of the more obnoxious high profile women—Meg Whitman, Christine O’Donnell, and Sharron Angle. Feminism, carefully parsed, is now an element of right-wing populism. For a taste, go to the FoxNews blog for an article by Kay Bailey Hutchison, “Stop Insulting Female Candidates and Start Playing Fair.” Hutchison came up in politics in the bad old days; she earned the right to protest. As for FoxNews—this is the venue that, during the 2008 Democratic primaries, featured commentary like, “[Men] won’t vote for Hillary Clinton because she reminds them of their nagging wives.”...
Posted on: Monday, November 8, 2010 - 22:42