Monday, March 29, 2010


So Joe Biden lands in Israel and he is shocked---SHOCKED---to learn that those crazy Jews are going to put a housing development in East Jerusalem. The area has been full of Jews for centuries, except for a period from 1948 to 1967 when it was controlled by Jordan, and nobody had ever said they were NOT going to build there, but hey, it’s a “settlement,” so Biden gets all huffy and flies away and then Hillary drills Bibi a new one over the phone and the usual outraged people are even more outrageously outraged than before.

My initial reaction to this kerfluffle was that it takes a lot of damn gall for Biden or anybody else to tell Israelis where, in the sovereign state of Israel, Jews can live or where they can build new developments. Whatever alleged interest the US may claim to have in this largely-mythical “peace process,” it can hardly excuse this sort of brow-beating.

What makes it worse is that when the US lodges an objection like this, it is acting merely as a mouthpiece for the Palestinian Authority. And what, exactly, is the nature of their objection? Is it not that these settlements are being built on land that may someday be part of a Palestinian state? They apparently want East Jerusalem to be their future capital. Well, what is it about having Jews on a particular piece of land that makes the land unsuitable for a Palestinian state? If, in some unlikely future, a Palestinian state comes into being, WHY CAN’T THERE BE A FEW JEWS IN IT?

Objections to these settlements by the PA or their surrogates in the Obama administration, or anybody else, are pure anti-Semitism. Who the hell do these people think they are that they can demand a total exclusion of Jews from a nation that doesn’t even exist yet? Israel itself has more than a million Arabs living in it, and they are represented in the Knesset. Canada has Indians. Italy has Belgians and Moroccans and Asians and Turks. America has every race and religion and ethnic group you can name, and many you never heard of. Some tolerance of other people is a minimal requirement for a modern civilized state, so what gives Palestinians the right, among all the nations of the world, to declare (even before their country exists) that it will contain no Jews?

The demand alone means that “Palestine” should NEVER be a state, at least so long as they maintain this attitude. Even apart from the immorality of sanctioning the creation of a nation borne out of such hatred, it’s simply impractical. How could the Israelis possibly consent to a new nation in their midst so utterly racist that Jews cannot reside in it?

Anyway, that was my initial reaction. It’s usually my reaction when I hear some complaint about “settlements”---that it’s absurd to tell a sovereign people where they can build houses in their own damn country. Part of the problem might be the term “settlements,” because it makes them sound like Fort Apache in the Wyoming Territory instead of apartment blocks you might see in the Bronx, but there’s still no excuse for it. It’s fine if Israelis want to argue about this, and they do, but if anybody else does it, I assume it’s because they hate Jews.

Looking beyond the obvious, however, Biden’s reaction seemed so outlandish that I began to look for another reason. Even if the Obama administration really felt the settlement issue was important, it couldn’t very well have believed that these particular settlements mattered at all. They were not in the West Bank, for one thing, and these building plans had been in place for several years. And though Israel had promised not to build in certain areas, this was not one of the areas they had promised not to build in. So what, really, was this all about?

Well, a major purpose of Biden’s visit (the most important purpose, in Israel’s point of view) was to discuss Iran and what the US might be willing to do about it. Israel, for example, wants the US to set up a naval blockade or take other rather serious and provocative steps. Obama’s idea of sanctions, on the other hand, appears to be denying Tehran a major league baseball franchise.

Thus, it was extremely convenient for the Obama administration that this dispute over settlements erupted when it did, and cut Biden’s visit short. Now, instead of dealing with the Iran question, the US can be so diplomatically outraged at Israel that the issue of what to do about Iran gets pushed aside. Biden’s rage, in other words, might have been a way to avoid putting Obama in the embarrassing position of admitting we won’t do anything about Iran.

But now, it would appear, that’s not the explanation either. I’m afraid it’s worse than that. This was never about settlements, or even about Iran.

Netanyahu has agreed to past US demands and the result is now---more demands, this time of the sort that no responsible prime minister of Israel can accept. With his non-negotiable edicts, Obama has put Netanyahu in an impossible situation politically, and has treated him personally with contempt. The message is that Netanyahu will have to accede to a Palestinian state on terms largely dictated by the Palestinian Authority, or to step down and be replaced by a different Israeli government that will do so. Iran is no longer the only threat to the existence of Israel.

And thus, the fangs are bared. Those of us who didn’t vote for Obama knew this was possible. When a man’s spiritual advisor is Jeremiah Wright and his primary advisors on the Middle East are Rashid Khalidi, Samantha Power and Robert Malley, it cannot be a surprise when we learn that the survival of Israel is not his fondest wish. I had hoped this day would not come, and that Obama would never feel powerful enough politically to act upon his beliefs. But now he does.


Friday, March 19, 2010


Now that public debate has been banished from Congress, and all legislative business is conducted in secret, trying to determine what is happening in Washington is a lot like it used to be trying to figure out who was up and who was down in the Soviet Union. I don’t know any more than you do, or Chris Matthews does, or Rush Limbaugh, or John McCain, for that matter. This has never stopped me from drawing conclusions, however.

First, Pelosi does not have the votes to pass Obamacare. If, for example, she had the votes at 7:33pm on Monday, the vote would have been held at 7:34pm on Monday. That no such vote has been called can mean only one thing.

Second, floating the idea of the “Slaughter Solution,” by which the bill is deemed to have been “passed” without actually voting on it, is a sign the Democratic leadership believes they are unlikely to get the votes needed to pass it. The deem-and-pass option cannot be anything other than a desperation tactic since, even if it succeeds, it will lead to lengthy, bitter litigation and years of political fallout. The Democrats are clearly willing to take a major hit in the mid-term elections over this, but the use of deem-and-pass could turn out to be an issue in the next several elections.


I have an observation on this process.

First, if Obamacare goes down to defeat, there will be one reason: the left’s puzzling obsession with forcing people who disapprove of abortion to pay for abortions.

Public funding for abortion has never been a popular idea with the American people. While polling numbers on abortion issues change (slowly) over the years, the majority view has long been that abortion should be generally available, with some restrictions, but should not be paid for with tax dollars. Public funding of abortions has never had the support of more than 30% of Americans.

Also, since the vast majority of abortions are elective procedures, the issue is actually tangential to healthcare concerns at the heart of Obamacare. Nevertheless, Senate Democrats insisted that this be part of their bill and, once a few legislators were purchased and a few arms twisted, sixty votes were found.

Since both houses of Congress must pass the same bill, the normal procedure would be for the differences between the House bill and the Senate bill to be compromised in committee, and then for both houses to pass the compromise measure. However, with the election of Scott Brown, the Senate cannot pass a second healthcare bill. Thus, the Democrats are stuck with the Senate bill already passed, complete with taxpayer-subsidized abortions. The House must pass that bill, or there will be no Obamacare.

Without the abortion provisions, the bill would be easily passed. Certainly, the Republicans could do nothing about it. The only problem has been that a number of Democrats are reluctant to vote for public funding of abortions.

And really, why shouldn’t they be?

This is one thing about the left I will never understand. Without the abortion feature, there would probably have been some Republicans, in both houses, voting for the damn thing. Pelosi and Reid wouldn’t even have had to break a sweat, and there would have been no need for the Louisiana Purchase or the Cornhusker Kickback or any of the other new forms of corruption that are so novel and clever that they each get cute little names. Obama would have signed the bill months ago.

So why did they do this? Why is it so important to left-wingers that citizens who disapprove of abortion, for reasons of conscience or religious conviction, MUST be forced to pay for them? I invite any of you, dear readers, to tell me. I just don’t get it.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010


When I was a kid in Philadelphia, we celebrated Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s Birthday, and we had pictures of them up on the classroom walls and we heard about the Emancipation Proclamation and the cherry tree and all, and of course, we had two days off from school. It seemed a little odd that you had two days off from school so close together, but I certainly didn’t object. And they were great presidents, so it made sense. Even though kids in the South didn’t have Lincoln’s Birthday off, they got Robert E. Lee’s Birthday (January 19) instead, so that seemed fair too.

Presidents Day is another matter. I mean, it’s just so vague and unfocused. And let’s face it, there are plenty of presidents who don’t deserve to be celebrated. What about Nixon, for example? There are still people around who will defend Nixon, and who like him, but there aren’t a lot of them, and I doubt even they would argue he was the sort of unblemished hero who deserves to have a holiday honoring him. Then there’s Woodrow Wilson, who segregated Washington D.C. and the federal civil service and then, for a sort of encore, instituted a fascist police state in America that we have never seen before or since. And, of course, there was Jimmy Carter, the man who brought us 20% mortgage rates, gave away the Panama Canal, ushered in the theocracy in Iran, almost destroyed the Olympics, and is primarily known today (in his dotage) for his unapologetic anti-Semitism.

There are some genuinely uncelebrate-able men who have been elected President of the United States. You may disagree with me on who they are, but I doubt there is much argument on this basic point. So there’s not much to like about Presidents Day.

But there is one thing. Occasionally, on Presidents Day, a discussion will break out on who our great presidents were, and who was not so hot, and who was a sociopath, and who was underrated, and who should have gone to jail, and so on. And for recent presidents, about whom “history” has not yet spoken, this can be an interesting and spirited discussion.

I had such a discussion this past Presidents Day concerning George W. Bush.

Most lefties, of course, continue to view George Bush as an amalgam incorporating the worst character traits of Forrest Gump and Vlad the Impaler, and the odd psychological phenomenon called Bush Derangement Syndrome survives unabated, at least in the minds of that dwindling number of citizens who still have no reservations whatsoever about Barack Obama and his vision for America. Since Obama himself rarely misses an opportunity to remind us that everything wrong with the world is Bush’s fault, it’s not surprising that his minions feel the same way. This, in a nutshell, was the view of the left-winger I was chatting with. She felt, as many do, that Bush had to be put in a special category of loathsomeness in the pantheon of presidents and that simply calling him “the worst president ever” was, to some extent, gilding the lily.

Stepping back a bit, however, and trying to imagine what Bush will look like in fifty or sixty or a hundred years, I think the first thing you have to do is throw the BDS hatred out the window. The next thing you do is look back into our history and try to find other presidents you can compare him to. The analysis is incomplete, of course, because while we may know what Bush did while in office, we cannot know whether certain seeds he planted will bear fruit.

Think of Thomas Jefferson, for example. When his term ended in 1809, there were plenty of folks around who still thought the Louisiana Purchase was kind of dopey. It was only with the passage of time (and it was quite a bit of time) that the sea-to-shining-sea idea really caught on and became a source of pride and even an important piece of our national identity.

More recently, when Ronald Reagan left office, no one had any clue that his efforts would be instrumental in bringing down the Soviet empire because no one knew the Soviet empire would collapse less than three years later. Those who hated Reagan denied, and still deny, he deserves any credit for winning the Cold War, but as the years go by, it seems pretty clear the Reagan-haters are losing that historical argument. For other reasons as well, Reagan’s stature continues to grow. Emotional reactions that seemed so important at the time tend to fade into the fog of history, and as a result, other events in a presidency will stand out more boldly. Only with the passage of time will the picture come into focus.

For some presidents, it doesn’t take very long. If a man leaves no great ideas and institutes no nation-changing programs, there is no real legacy to his presidency. And once the adulation (of some) and the hatred (of others) has melted away, he is revealed as no more than a caretaker.

That was Bill Clinton. The people who hated him don’t hate him as much and the people who adored him don’t adore him as much either. And once you get past the emotions, you realize there wasn’t much else. He produced no grand programs or initiatives, he didn’t win or lose any big wars, and he never even made a memorable speech. He presided over a booming economy that crashed at the end of his term, and he wasn’t really responsible for either the boom or the crash. In 2030, there is nothing that might happen where people will say, “Ah, yes---that was Bill Clinton’s idea. He started the whole thing rolling.” Our view of Clinton today probably won’t change much in fifty or a hundred years.

But George Bush? Well, he is almost impossible to evaluate, and it may be decades before we can rationally assess his place in history. It has only been fourteen months since he left office, of course, but there are presidents whose place in history is settled on the day they climb into the whirlybird and leave town. Clinton was one; Eisenhower was another. Gerry Ford was such a president also. It doesn’t mean they are bad men, or bad presidents. All it means is that they launched no canoes into the stream of world history, so we don’t have to wait around to see where those canoes eventually land.

In arriving at a verdict on George Bush now, in 2010, the best we can do is identify a range of where he might wind up in the history books. So let’s start with the minimum. What, exactly, is the Bush minimum? What, in comparison to other presidents, is the lowest level to which he may be consigned by the judgment of historians a hundred years from now?

This is the easy part. Bush was very much an accidental president. Not only did he take office with fewer popular votes than his Democratic opponent, but the only reason he became president at all was that an electoral nobody named Ralph Nader siphoned enough votes from Bush’s opponent to give Bush a narrow win in Florida and a victory in the Electoral College.

Once he had won, the very last thing he wanted or expected was that he would become a wartime president in a hideous worldwide clash of cultures that may last fifty years. He had wanted to be a “compassionate conservative,” cutting taxes and improving schools and giving free medicine to geezers. Then came 9-11-2001.

The obvious parallel is to another president who was thrust into office unexpectedly and who, five months later, had to decide whether to drop atomic bombs on Japan. Like Bush, Harry Truman had to make some difficult (and often thankless) choices, but he was the president, so he made them. And Truman, like Bush, ended his term with most of the American people glad to see him go. Truman too was a hated man at the end.

Today, Harry Truman doesn’t look nearly as bad or foolish or feckless as he did in 1952, and I expect the same grudging admiration will emerge for Bush as the years go by. At a minimum, Bush will be regarded as Truman is now---as a president who was thrust into a situation he didn’t choose, with decisions to make that would never please everybody, but who managed through the force of his will and his essential values to shepherd the country past the abyss.

But if Harry Truman is the minimum, what is the maximum? For Bush, this is the hard part.

Bush’s legacy will depend largely on what happens in the Middle East over the next twenty or forty years. The region is filled with brutal, misogynist dictatorships, but there are nascent democracy movements in every one of them, and if Iraq can survive as at least a quasi-secular democracy, the pressure will build to end the strongman regimes that dominate the political culture. The rosiest scenario is that the despots will begin to fall like dominoes once the Iranian theocracy crashes, as it certainly will.

The scent of freedom in the Middle East (and I’m not suggesting it is much more than that) would not exist if George Bush had never been president. Among other things, by ousting Saddam and removing the Taliban from power, George Bush did more for the welfare and status of women in the world than any person in history. If democratic movements grow, and succeed in bringing the Middle East into the modern world, there is no question Bush will be given credit for having the vision and the will to set the process in motion.

Of course, it is possible that Obama and future presidents will simply drop the ball and let the region slide back into the Dark Ages. It is also possible that Arab culture is still hundreds of years away from abandoning its chiefdom and tribal systems to become modern nations, and Bush was foolish to think otherwise. If that happens, all of Bush’s efforts there will have been useless.

If, however, the monsters are deposed and democratic institutions like a free press and a rule of law develop, and the veil is cast aside, Bush’s accomplishment will be viewed as even more miraculous and wonderful than Reagan’s. The Soviet Union, after all, shared many of our values. There was at least a basis for communication. For example, they responded to threats because, at some fundamental level, they valued life and wanted to live and prosper. When Reagan called them the Evil Empire, they knew what it meant and they didn’t like it. Bringing down the Soviet Union was easy compared to changing the Middle East.

It’s not impossible. Maybe it’s not likely, but it’s not impossible. And if the transformation of Arab despotism into something like freedom turns out to be Bush’s legacy, then his achievement would be celebrated for centuries. The “upside” for Bush, the potential upside for his ultimate place in history, is that he may be viewed, alongside Abraham Lincoln, as a great liberator.