75 Trump Aphorisms

An explanation. The following aphorisms or statements are not ones Trump Two-Two would or could make. Nevertheless, they are intended to represent what he thinks even though he is incapable of articulating any one of them. As his surrogate,Kayleigh McEnamy, said after the first presidential debate that Trump Two-Two had with Hillary, his reactions are all visceral rather than reflective. I have tried to be empathetic and make his beliefs conceptually clear. Of course, if Donald ever talked that way, he would lose at least half of his supporters.

75 Trump Aphorisms

by

Howard Adelman

An aphorism is a terse summary of a maxim used as a guide to life and purportedly representing what is held to be generally true or acutely observed by those who repeat the sentiment. “Saying what is on your mind is easy, especially when you are mindless and cannot see what is in front of your nose,” is an example of an aphorism in the form of an insult. Short statements also represent positions taken. Since I do not consider Trump Two-Two capable of expressing a principle or a considered policy – he is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sort of guy who speaks in simple and too widely held beliefs, all too frequently uttered twice – I thought I would give him the benefit of the doubt and act presumptuously as his speech writer. I have written a few beliefs, many in the form of aphorisms, that Trump Two-Two can be presumed to hold, in part to show that I do believe that I can get inside his head and demonstrate that I do not write from a bias. I do hope you get the irony of some of them.

On Facts, Truth, Reason and the Self

1. Some say there must be common sense if we are to have a sense of the commons. A common touch is better than common sense.
2. When reason, used to unravel the riddles of the universe, is also used to make the universe a riddle, unreason takes the stage to unravel common sense.
3. Hyperbole is a white lie designed to bring out a deeper truth than common sense.
4. If truth is not absolute, all thought is subjective; any idea is as good as any other.
5. An idea is only valid if it can be sold, not in the market place of ideas, but in the economic market.
6. Autonomous thoughts, loudly and repeatedly expressed, are as valid as any conclusions of the chattering class.
7. Disregarding logic and evidence is not nonsense but pretense.
8. When philosophers dance on the dais of doubt, anxiety spreads to provide an opening for the fabricator who promises deliverance.
9. Fabulism is the freedom to forge new realities; realism is obsessed with facts and enslaved to what is rather than what can be.
10. When there is no given truth, fabulism deserves equal time with realism in the name of fairness so that the possible can be as plentiful as the actual.
11. Reason not seasoned by common sense needs to be spiced-up by a dose of the blasphemous and the banal.
12. Physical blindness means we cannot see; mindblindness means we cannot know.
13. Do not overrate intellect and underrate imagination. It takes imagination not intellect to appreciate the pleasures of a $500 lunch.
14. Self-consciousness, like the penguin, is overrated.
15. Sturdy individuals are always to be preferred to the studious and the supersensible.

Politics

1. Politics should not be a program of implementing prevailing strategies, but an exercise in demonstrating how nimble you are.
2. The politics of grievance based in resentment energizes both the politics of illusion and the overthrow of the establishment.
3. America is a sea and air power; it need not be a land power. Our army is surplus to our needs. That means that we are free to use our armed forces to expand our wants lest we lend its use to the needs of others.
4. When an ordinary bloke like me can know more about dealing with our enemies than our generals, know more about dealing with our rivals than our diplomats, then we are better off entrusting defence and diplomacy to an artful dodger and a double-dealer. Would you rather have a leader who is tasteless and insipid or one who is openly unsavory?
5. Instead of gab-fests from experts who talk down to you while they ask you to donate blood, instead of an international meeting offering a smorgasbord of non-options, instead of meetings that suck the energy out of you leaving you impotent, attend one of my rallies.
6. Politics should be generous, not uptight. Politics should reach out rather than be hermetic. Politics should be self-regarding rather than being drowned in a concern for others. Politics should be fun and not a Methodist burden.
7. An international meeting is not a place for high mass or for Kol Nidre. It is a squash court rather than a restaurant mistaken for a church.
8. As the refugees in Kakuma Camp must be returned to Sudan, as the refugees in Dadaab must be returned to Mogadishu, as the refugees running rampant in Europe must be returned to the Middle East and Africa, so must the Hispanic illegals in America be returned to the other side of our southern border. The territory of a nation is a refuge for its citizens and not stressed-out strangers.
9. Drop cement reef balls in the sea to allow marine life to flourish instead of placing a moratorium on fishing and expanding the class of enforcers who are such a burden on the lives of ordinary citizens.
10. Instead of treating natural pride as if it were an allergy and acting akin to forbidding peanut butter in lunch boxes, allow all infants to be exposed to peanuts so they can develop their own immune systems and enlarge their national pride.
11. National pride is not a shameful expression but a shameless exercise in exuberance.
12. Tell Senator Elizabeth Warren or Pocahontas that the option is not denial of past crimes towards the indigenous people of America; the option is not exposition and atonement; the option is not redress. Offering members of indigenous people opportunities to participate in an economically expanding nation is the only option.
13. Unpredictability is as virtuous in playing at international politics as in playing poker or making a real estate deal.
14. Would you rather have a leader trained for thirty years to play in the women’s softball league or a man who has played hardball in the major league of international finance?
15. If you have been disenfranchised, I am uninterested in you; if you feel disenfranchised, vote for me.

On Society and America

1. A society’s strength is not founded on guilt and shame, but on guts and shining a light to illuminate success.
2. Lateral inclusion in the name of vertical inclusion sabotages the latter; lateral exclusion ensures vertical exclusion and the “best” will rise to the top.
3. Sound bites and snap shots are necessary to prick the balloons of the bloated pretentions of the high and mighty.
4. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour is a dictum for allowing a stranger to become your neighbour.
5. When the measure is neither man nor God and the belief grows that there is no measure, mischief-makers prosper.
6. I like Jews; they pretend to be waiting for the messiah while they get on with the business of life by treating life as a business.
7. Branding is a virtue as a self-regarding short hand signal to expand the self.
8. In this new age, a leader must be the origin of perception for a whole society to once again allow the spirit of a nation to live in our backyards and driveways.
9. America does not stand for equality; it stands for upward mobility – for the “best” of us. The best is defined by my example – climbing upward while giving anyone who wants to follow me a kick-start.
10. If we are to be immersed in who we are and who we can be, amelioration is insufficient.
11. We need a foundational faith in an America that was once great and can be great again based on being born again, but through self-transcendence rather than grace.
12. A country willing to send troops abroad to participate in a pretend peace instead of willing to fight to the death for victory is a country neither to be admired nor respected.
13. America is a country in crisis; I am the coach that can supply the steroids.
14. America is in freefall towards political obscurity; a superman is needed to swoop down and save it from crashing down to earth.
15. America is at a crossroads. Either it proceeds burdened by carrying a cross or it becomes cross and gets rid of the unfair burdens it carries.

On Doctrine, Values and Lifestyle

1. Sidhartha Mitter characterized my doctrine as “a prosperity gospel for white grievance.” Lauren Collins characterized my doctrine as “the prosperity gospel for male grievances.” White grievances and male grievances are genuine, justifiable and mutually reinforcing.
2. We are at the end of our modern Axial Age. The vision of Yahweh when He proclaimed that, “My house will be a house of prayer for all the peoples,” is dead. Universalism based on care and compassion for all will finally be buried. On the mound of its ashes, I will erect a very tall flagpole recognizing me, my followers and the renewed greatness of America.
3. Meat eater or grass cutter, that is the choice.
4. Ezra cast out foreign wives and children. Follow his guidance, otherwise the assimilation of strangers, who include enemies among us, will threaten our survival.
5. The claim that individuals have responsibilities as well as rights justifies denying the latter in order to impose the former.
6. In the age of sound bites rather than sound arguments, victory goes to he who speaks most and says the least rather than to the one who speaks best.
7. Don’t sabotage yourself in search of perfection; serve yourself to avoid abjection and dejection.
8. Have a good time rather than a good conscience.
9. Aspiration is not hope; aspiration is a promise followed by performance.
10. Be in the moment rather than in bondage to bureaucracy. spontaneity trumps preparation every time.
11. Nostalgia is only valuable when it helps pay the bills.
12. Gut instinct is superior to gut wrenching; the latter leads to torturing yourself while the former allows you to torture others.
13. It is better to trust a crook who you know is a crook than one who is a crook but denies it.
14. Mendacity is a virtue in the hands of a spinner of tales.
15. A man beholden to none is responsible to no one.

On My Persona

1. I am not the messiah. He will be anointed by God. I have anointed myself and ask voters to join me in the ritual.
2. Being boastful and bombastic is a cover for really being pontifical and portentous.
3. Would you prefer the vernacular or the effete?
4. I know what it is to seduce naïve wannabees and the nouveau riche with crispy tongues of sea urchins under yuzu sorbet instead of an excellent hamburger.
5. At Mar-a-Logo, we do not offer detailed descriptions of every dish, thus interfering with conversation; we do not offer fact checks to interrupt your pleasure; we do offer intermissions to enhance your joy.
6. I am affable. I am gracious. I am not an ass-licker; I prefer my pleasures to come from the other side.
7. There may be a difference between pomposity and pretension, but I see none.
8. I would rather offer ostentation than pretension.
9. I attract ambition. I attract talent. I expand my palette to offer everyone a chance to move up – as long as I am at the top.
10. I want my broads to be delicious. I want my food to be delicious. I want my politics to be delicious. Life is not a monastery for monks forced to take part in a public world.
11. I inspire rather than trying to make an impression.
12. I refuse to cater to technique at the expense of terrain; technique must be tamed to secure and expand terrain.
13. Hillary and Barack still live in an analog world; I belong to the digital age.
14. Testosterone may make you a bull in a china shop, but that is infinitely better than estrogen used in selling that china.
15. My ambition in life has always been riches and bitches; since politics is a bitch, seduction is required, especially if the latter enhances the pursuit of the former.

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Canadian Jewish Voting and Israel.04/04/13

Canadian Jewish Voting and Israel 04.04.13

by

Howard Adelman

Frank Dimant, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada and a newly minted writer for the Huffington Post, published his first opinion piece on 4 April in the form of a question: "Will the Jewish Community Choose Trudeau Over Harper?" It is not a real question for a number of reasons, but primarily because the Jewish community is not a voting monolith. It never has been. When I attended Harbord Collegiate years ago, in my row of seats there was my politically unaligned self in the first seat (my name began with an A) and a communist sitting behind me. Behind him sat a supporter of the CCF and behind that a Liberal Party and then a Conservative Party supporter. We were all Jewish. This high school during the 1950s was 95% Jewish. All those behind me went on to become practicing physicians. Their political ideologies and voting patterns probably also started to converge.

By the end of the twentieth century, the pattern of a wide diversity among the Jewish electorate had dissipated and the largest majority of Jews in Canada voted for the Liberal Party, although fracture lines had begun to show in both the Pierre Trudeau government and the Jean Chretien government from 1993 to 2003 that succeeded the Conservative interregnum government of Brian Mulroney. However, Joe Clark in 1979-80 with his stumbled initiative on moving the Canadian embassy to Jerusalem and Brian Mulroney in spite of his very strong support for Israel were never able to take advantage of those cracks to develop a significant opening for Tories to broaden their support from Jews. The Tory party under Mulroney was still too much of a mismatched collection of prairie traditional conservatives, Ontario Red and Big Business Tories and soft Quebec nationalists. Chretien’s Liberal government had supported a two-state solution and Israel’s right to exist within secure borders but opposed expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza as well as the building of the security fence on West Bank territory and in East Jerusalem. The Liberals always condemned Palestinian terrorism but then offset this by criticizing Israeli retaliation as disproportionate or excessive. Further, at the UN, when Howard’s government in Australia (and the USA) backed Israel, Canada either abstained or voted for UN resolutions critical of Israel.

The crack then became an actual gap as Jewish voters began to slip away and no longer voted for Liberals at rates 20% higher than the average other minority group; the rate, though still overwhelming in its support for the Liberal Party, had slipped to just 10% above as Frank Dimant well understands for he co-edited the 2001 volume with Ruth Klein, From Immigration to Integration, The Canadian Jewish Experience: A Millennium Edition in which David Goldberg initially pointed to this slight shift in his essay, "The Post-Statehood Relationship: A Growing Friendship". Ezra Levant had already asked in 2000, "Is the Jewish love affair with the Liberals over?" in the National Post (13 October).

Canada had just voted on 7 October 2000 to condemn Israel at the United Nations by using its seat on the UN Security Council to endorse Resolution 1322 that condemned Israel’s "excessive use of force" against Palestinians; there was not even a balancing criticism of Palestinian terrorism. This was just the pinnacle of 10 out of 12 resolutions that Canada supported and the USA and Israel opposed to maintain Canada’s ostensible role as a "neutral" party, including resolutions that condemned Israel for violating the rights of the Palestinian people, condemning the settlements in the Golan, Gaza, the West Bank and even East Jerusalem as illegal, endorsing Palestinian refugee rights to their property and income without any balancing statement about Jewish refugees from Arab lands. To still the Jewish backlash, Chretien wrote a letter to the Jewish community that regretted the consternation caused by the UN vote but not the vote itself. Further, he did not suggest any change in policy direction. This is strong evidence suggesting that Frank is wrong in claiming that the Liberal establishment did everything it could to maintain its Jewish adherents. In the Jewish rally in Montreal in support of Israel, Irwin Cotler, a former president of the Canadian Jewish Congress and Justice Minister, had to vocally criticize the members of his own government. In Toronto, Elinor Caplan did not show her face and the large rally loudly booed the Liberals. The opening for the Tories was clear.

As everywhere else in the west, the propensity to vote centre-left became strained as the delegitimization campaign against Israel heated up in the twenty-first century, as the second intifada and wars in Lebanon and Gaza took place in which many civilians were killed, and as conservatives in Canada, the United States and Europe demonstrated stronger support for Israel. The Jewish community voting pattern began to demonstratively shift as conservative parties increasingly attracted more votes, especially from members of the organized Jewish community for whom Israel ranks extremely high in their self-identification. Stockwell Day began to make inroads as head of the Canadian Alliance Party as Frank Dimant acted to promote links between evangelical Christian supporters of Israel and Jewish groups. These challenges were recognized. (Dennis Stairs (2003) "Challenges and opportunities for Canadian foreign policy in the Paul Martin era," International Journal LVIII:4, Autumn, 481-506) The Martin government had regrouped and voted against rather than abstaining on UNGA resolutions condemning Israel for violence and its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and began a pattern of openly opposing one-sided resolutions that hampered the peace process.

Once the Conservative government was elected in 2006 in spite of a movement by the Liberal Party away from the Chretien bias that had shifted against Israel, the Stephen Harper government began to attract more Jewish supporters. Harper expressed the strongest support for Israel even among conservative parties in the west. Everything else being equal, the Harper government should have pulled the most Jewish voters to become supporters of the Conservative party of Canada if Israel had been the only defining issue. Initially, the movement of Jewish voters to the right continued at a very slow pace even after Canada took a number of very prominent positions on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that favoured Israel — beginning with suspending aid to the Palestinian Authority (Canada was the first country in the West to do so) when Hamas obtained a majority in March of 2006 and unequivocally defending Israel’s reprisals in Lebanon when Harper was in Europe for the G-8 and Israel attacked Lebanon after Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in July of 2006. Even though the Israeli 34 day massive attack that killed more than a thousand Lebanese and displaced a million, and even though 50,000 Canadian citizens were in Lebanon that Canada had to evacuate, and even though eight members of a Montreal Canadian-Lebanese family were among the casualties, Harper defended Israeli military actions as "measured".

The shift, though still relatively lethargic, had become noticeable as prominent Jewish Liberals announced that they had torn up their Liberal Party cards and joined the conservatives – the film producer, Robert Lantos, was a prominent example. At the same time, in August 2006, Heather Reisman, Gerald Schwartz, and other Jewish Liberal plutocrats published an open letter praising Harper for his brave stand. Heather Reisman subsequently cancelled her membership in the Liberal Party and joined the Conservatives. Michael Ignatieff made the biggest political gaffe of his short political life and his many other gaffes by accusing Israel of war crimes.

When Harper was re-elected with another minority government, Canada was the first country to withdraw from Durban II in January of 2008. On 8 May 2008, Stephen Harper insisted on Canada’s unshakable support of Israel; those who threaten the Jewish state were also threatening Canada. Ezra Levant with his acerbic pen on 23 November 2009 mocked the small group of non-notable notable Liberals who criticized Harper for practicing divisive policies over Israel. At the beginning of 2009, Steven Harper’s government publicly supported Israel’s military response to the rocket attacks from Gaza and was the lone dissenter on the UN Human Rights Committee’s criticisms of Israel’s actions. In the same year, the Harper government withdrew its financial support for Kairos presumably but not ostensibly because of its political bias against Israel. Peter Kent, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs on the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in February of 2010, reiterated Harper’s stated alignment with Israel and said as much directly to Riad Malki, the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Minister, on a visit to Ramallah in September of that same year, much to the consternation of the Palestinian Authority. Probably as a result of this stand, the next month Canada lost its bid for a seat on the Security Council even though Canada had received assurances that 135 countries would back the Canadian bid. (Cf. Paul C. Merkley (2012) "Reversing the Poles: How the Pro-Israeli Policy of Canada’s Conservative Government May Be Moving Jewish Voters from Left to Right," Jewish Political Studies Review 23:1-2, 13 April; see also Donald Barry (2010) "Canada and the Middle East Today: Electoral Politics and Foreign Policy," Arab Studies Quarterly, October, 191)

The cracks were widening. The indications could not be missed. In the September 2007 by-election, Jewish support for the Liberal Party in Montreal’s Outremont riding collapsed. In March 2008, in Vancouver Quadra with a small but significant Jewish constituency, the Liberal candidate barely won and Jewish Liberals openly said that they had switched their voting pattern. In the 2008 elections, the Conservative outreach to various ethnic urban ridings the Conservatives won 18 of 80 ridings. On 2 May 2011, the Tories leapfrogged ahead. The Harper government got its majority. The government had attracted significant support from ethnic groups. For the first time ever, a majority of Jews (52%) voted for the Conservatives. Irwin Cotler who was first elected in Montreal with 92% support was barely re-elected. A tectonic shift had taken place. (Cf. Jeffrey Simpson (2011) "How the political shift among Jewish voters plays in Canada," The Globe and Mail, 28 September 2011 who agrees that, "Mr. Harper’s position is driven by profound personal conviction rather than political calculation.") However, it is incorrect to say that, "In the past two years, Jewish public opinion has rallied heavily behind the Conservative Party." There has indeed been a tectonic shift in Canadian politics but Jews voted for the Tories by a bare majority.

Frank Dimant’s article presumed a monolithic Jewish community while contradicting that assumption in the body of the essay. The article did not probe voting pattern shifts and their explanation. Jews, like other voters, share the same concerns with the state of the economy, social policy or a perception (incorrect) of rampant crime. Instead, Frank focused only on political appeals in terms of Israel, but rather than suggesting that they were opportunistically motivated, he insisted, correctly in my mind, that they were principled. But he also claimed that the elites in the Jewish community were in bed with the Liberal Party of Canada when, in fact, the plutocrats had begun to desert the Liberal Party in 2006. The opinion piece insists that a shift took place from the Liberals to the Tories because of a grass roots revolt. The reality is that, by his own admission, the shift was advocated by Frank Dimant much earlier and predicted by Ezra Levant even earlier. Further, Frank cannot be exactly characterized as grass roots however convenient a posture in serving as a contrarian to the historic dominant propensity of the Jewish community.

However, Frank was correct on another matter. The beginning of the realignment of some of the elites and others in the Jewish community took place because, under the leadership of Stockwell Day of the Alliance Party, then a small opposition party separate from the Tories, had a record of the strongest pro-Israel support though its own supporters came from rural and small town voters in Ontario and the West where there were very few Jewish voters to be garnered. Initially the shift built slowly. It accelerated when the Jewish voters became convinced that the Tory positions on Israel were sincere and deeply felt and not just politically opportune appeals. The fact that this shift was accompanied by serious errors from the other side certainly helped overcome old voting habits.

Frank insists that the mandate of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) that replaced the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Canadian Zionist Federation, the United Israel Appeal and the Federations – a mandate never publicly professed – was to keep Jews voting Liberal. It is hard to criticize a mandate that was never expressed let alone give credibility to its existence, or even the larger even more conspiratorial claim (one that was certainly not expressed) that the mandate included a policy of discouraging any dissent within the Jewish community. Significant elite shifts of the financiers of CIJA – which B’Nai Brith stayed away from – to the Tories belies Frank’s claims and suggests another possible spur behind Dimant’s blatant animosity and conspiracy theories. One of the ironies in reading Frank is one is surprised to find that he shares with strong supporters of the Palestinian cause that the Jews are led by an elite cabal with an inordinate political and financial influence. (See the various writings of Kristin Szremski who is the director of media and communications for the American Muslims for Palestine.)

Frank insists that "Jewish public opinion has rallied heavily behind the Conservative Party". Although the shift was tectonic in terms of Canadian politics, it was still just a bare majority. Harper attracted the strongly identified and socially conservative Jews but the urban secular Jews had shifted to the New Democrats in significant numbers. Frank claims that this shift will be counteracted by a concentrated effort to realign the Jewish agenda with the Liberal Party, not Liberal Party policy with the organized Jewish community agenda, by focusing on other issues than Israel. The purpose of these set of claims is not offered to raise the consciousness within the Jewish community that their elite leadership is leading them astray as one might suspect, but a warning tothe Conservative Party not to take Jewish community support for granted and to understand the dynamics at play within the heavily-politicized atmosphere that prevails in the Jewish community. Before the Conservative Party accepts his advice, I advise the members to critically examine Frank’s claims.

Frank is right that he and B’nai Brith Canada led an open campaign to shift Jews from voting Liberal to voting Conservative. Second, as I tried to demonstrate, there has been a shift in voting patterns among Jews and it has been significant. Most Jews in the nineties voted for the Liberal Party and did so disproportionally to their share of the population and, as in the United States, contrary to what might be expected given their incomes. Further, even when Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister and was a strong supporter of Israel, the majority of Jews voted Liberal. The shift took place in the twenty-first century, proceded gradually as Frank Dimant wrote and in the 2011 election became a rout. But as stated above, in the 2011 elections, the Ipsos Reid poll claimed that for the first time, a majority of Jews (52%) voted for Stephen Harper; 24% voted Liberal and 16% supported the NDP. (The enormous data set from that poll has been donated tothe Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.)

Why did it happen? Not because, as Frank Dimant would lead one to believe, a Jewish elite is trying persistently to lead the Jewish community to a Liberal Madagascar rather than the promised land of a Likud-led Israel, but because of persistent and internally divisive Liberal policies while the Harper Tories have been clear and consistent and sincere strong supporters of Israel even before it was to their political advantage. Further, the Tories have abandoned their white rural base as their exclusive foundation and have successfully infiltrated most of the ethnic communities. In the case of their appeal to mainstream Jews, it is not clear that it is to their political advantage since there are now three times as many Muslims in Canada as Jews and Tories did worst in garnering Muslim votes than the Liberals. Only 12% of Muslims voted Conservative; 46% voted Liberal and 38% NDP.

At the meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association in June of 2012, Patrick Kelly and Professor Livianna Tossutti presented a paper that asked "How the Liberal Party of Canada Lost its Electoral Dominance in Canada’s Immigrant Communities?" Harper in discussions with Tom Flanagan had stated at the beginning of the twenty-first century that Conservatives could not get a majority unless they attracted significant numbers of immigrant voters. TheTory vote was rooted in older men and women, traditional occupations and the Protestant churches and could also be correlated with higher income groups with some notable exceptions. However, at the turn of this century, half of the constituencies had at least 10% of its electorate who were immigrants. In one-third, 20% were immigrants. In one-fifth, 30% were immigrants. The Liberals had successfully branded themselves as the party of diversity and multiculturalism. Harper set out deliberately to challenge that branding. Stockwell Day had not succeeded because he was too closely identified with traditional community conservatives of an evangelical Christian persuasion. Harper bracketed that sort of appeal to stress economic conservatism plus more generally shared conservative values promoted by family-centred policies – child care allowances and support for traditional marriage, the latter receding as time went on and gay marriage established itself as family-centred. Nevertheless, if you have a non-traditional living arrangement, are secular, work in the arts or a helping profession, are young and female and an environmental activist, you will almost certainly not vote Tory and most likely vote NDP.

Interesting, the initial beneficiary of the shift in ethnic voting patterns was the NDP which picked up the vast majority of the 23 point drop in Liberal support in 2004 with the sponsorship scandal haunting the Liberals. But by 2008, it was the Tories who benefited from the 10 point further drop in ethnic Liberal support. The outreach to the immigrant communities was clearly paying off. (Cf. F. Ellis and P. Woolstencroft (2009) "Stephen Harper and the Conservatives campaign on their record," in Jon H. Pammett and Christopher Doran (eds.) The Canadian Federal Election of 2008, 16-62, 37-8) The Tories picked up ethnic voters who continued to identify with their ethnic communities in a strong way and who regularly attended their place of worship but did not appeal to those who opted for integration and adopting an un-hyphenated identity. This increased significantly in 2011 and Jews were part of that trend, though perhaps in increased proportions because they were more established and because Harper went out of his way to express his strident support of Israel. Conservatives garnered almost 40% of the overall vote and even more of the immigrant voters who had been in Canada more than ten years (43%). With some communities, the percentage was much higher because Conservatives did not make significant inroads with visible minorities, including Asians, Hispanics and Blacks born outside Canada. The Tories had won the votes of immigrants who had established themselves economically as middle class Canadians.

Laura Rosen Cohen in the National Post (30 July 2012) asked, "Will American Jews follow the example of their neighbours to the north?" There is no indication that the Republicans have a leader as politically astute and with the deep convictions as Stephen Harper or a Democratic leadership as accident prone as the Liberal leaders with the exception of Bob Rae have been. Further, whereas Stephen Harper kept his evangelical community conservatives in check, the Tea Party took control of the steering wheel of the Republican Party in the USA. In contrast, Barack Obama is the most Zionist president in American history. Further, as Irwin Cotler has pointed out, Canadian Jewry consists predominantly of much more recent immigrants for whom the memory of the Holocaust is personal and more intense, are affiliated in much higher proportions with Orthodox Judaism, live in a country much more dedicated to hyphenated integration than a melting post assimilation and 74%, twice the ratio of Americans, have visited Israel.

I believe that as long as Harper remains in power, his leading role as an advocate for Israel will remain intact. He will undoubtedly consolidate support for the Tories by strongly affiliated Jews. Since politics in the west, especially in Canada and the USA, has devolved from brokerage parties that paste together coalitions of regional interests and appeals to national unity into left-right parties divided by values and economic interests (in Canada, the NDP supporters are merely the hip side of the American democratic party but have similar values to the Liberal Party of Canada), given the divisions on the left in Canada, there is no reason the Conservatives cannot enjoy not only long term majority support from Jews, but a long stay in power in this century, especially if they increase their support from Catholic voters who represent 40% of Canadians.

Canadian.Jewish.Community.Frank Dimant.doc

Israeli Security Cabinet

The Israeli Security Cabinet 28.03.13

by

Howard Adelman

As I wrote in my last blog (Israel Government and Cabinet), Benjamin Netenyahu seemed to best Yair Lapid in terms of the percentage of posts allocated in both the cabinet and the government. Whether this was because Lapid’s party, Yesh Atid, was a) inexperienced; b) feared going the way of Tzipi Livni and the risk of being left out of government; c) were convinced by Netanyahu that he needed more experienced ministers in cabinet; d) Lapid, in pushing for a reduced cabinet size, for leaving the religious parties outside of government and for specific cabinet posts, sacrificed his political capital represented by the Yesh Atid proportionate share of posts in relationship to his strength in the Knesset; is difficult to say. In any case, the role played by parties and individuals is not determined solely by ratios but by positions occupied and who occupies them.

The two most important committees of cabinet are the security and the finance committees of cabinet. The security cabinet, formally the ministerial committee for national security, includes, in addition to the Prime Minister, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni head of HaTnuah, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett head of HaBayit HaYehudi, Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan and Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch. As I will argue in today’s blog, the Security Cabinet is predominantly right wing. Further, one of the main issues for the Finance Committee will also be security, namely the settlements, and I will suggest that there are clear problems for peace on that front.

In today’s blog I will examine the track records of enough key ministers to indicate that there is virtually no chance of re-launching meaningful peace negotiations. The Palestinians will already have undertaken this analysis. Beginning in reverse order, Yitzhak Aharonovitch is a policeman’s policeman. He served in the IDF from 1968 to 1971 and rose to become a Lieutenant Colonel at the age of only twenty-one. He joined the Israeli Border Police (Mishmar HaGvul or Magav) responsible for both internal security as well as security along the borders and in the West Bank and Jerusalem, He rose quickly earning a degree in history from Haifa University on the way. In the 1980s, he headed the northern command and then became Commander of the Israel Police Force from 1993-1995. He then took up a diplomatic post and served as Israel Police Attaché to the Americas from 1995-1997. He was the Israeli Police Representative on the National Security Council from 1997-1998 and then became Commander of the Judea Samaria District from 1998-2000 and Commander of the Southern District from 2000-2002. He became Deputy Commissioner from 2002 to 2004, but at the time of the Gaza disengagement in 2005, he had left the public sector for the private sector and became Director General of the Dan Bus Company. In 2006, he was elected to the Knesset on Yisrael Beytenu’s list.

In March 2007, he was appointed Minister of Tourism until 2008 when his party left the coalition. In the 2009 elections, he was fourth on the party’s list and became Minster of Public Security with the formation of the Netanyahu government on 31 March 2009. He has always maintained close ties with minorities in Israel, especially the Druzim and the Circassions who have such a strong presence in the Israeli Border Police. He was part of a committee with Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman, and Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin that recommended at the end of 2010 strong efforts to integrate Israeli Arabs to reduce tendencies to radicalism among Israeli Arabs. In addition to internal security issues that became especially acute during hostilities in Gaza, given the recent shooting of the mayor of Acre, Aharonovitch also has to oversee the issue of organized crime in Israel and enhancing the morale of the police force charged with being ridden with corruption. The police are especially susceptible since they probably suffered disproportionately from cuts during economic hard times. With inadequate finances, the police have had to cope with emergencies when rockets land internally and with internal protests by Israeli Arabs.

In the first Obama administration foray into the Palestinian conflict, Aharonovitch was perceived by the American administration as undermining the peace negotiations in 2010 by maintaining the policy of demolishing the homes of families in East Jerusalem of Palestinians arrested on security charges. When, as Public Security Minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch insisted that Israel would still demolish Arab homes in East Jerusalem, the United States warned Israel against steps that would incite the conflict and undermine the efforts for peace. More recently this past month, Aharonovitch remarked on the recent ominous and dramatic increase in stone throwing not only in Judea and Samaria aimed at both civilians and the IDF, but in Jaffa, the Negev and on the streets of Netanya. There has also been an increase in the number of robberies on the road. (The Algemeiner, 13 March 2013)Aharanovitch, conscious of that danger, has expressed his support for the renewal of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority but is sceptical of any success. "I want to believe that there will be peace, but we must be realistic…To say that we can reach an agreement in one year? I’ve got a problem with that, because it’s impossible to solve a 60-year conflict in one year."

Aharanovitch also has on his desk the scandal over Prisoner X, the Australian-Israeli Mossad agent Ben Zygier who had been held incognito in an Israeli prison and hanged himself. Aharonovith has vowed that no other prisoners are being held in Israeli prisons incognito. He has also made his objections well known on the misuse of administrative detention – the practice of arresting and holding persons without trial or laying any charges – as a substitute for undertaking proper criminal or intelligence investigations. In that regard, he still has the problem of the spread of Palestinian hunger strikers in the prisons as an urgent issue to be resolved.

The scandals, however, are not restricted to military security issues but to the conduct of the police. In 2006, a 21-year old woman, Inbal Amram, was abducted from the parking lot outside her Petah Tikva home when she came upon a 20-yearold Palestinian from Kalkilya, Muhammad Jaidi, trying to steal a car. Jaidi forced Amram into the stolen car, drove her to an open area, and repeatedly stabbed her and left her for dead. She died the next morning from her wounds a few hours before police found the car and her body. Jaidi was sentenced to life plus fifteen years.

Amram’s family sued the police for negligence because they refused to investigate the report the evening before that she was missing and would not respond to the family’s plea to initiate a search. In 2011, Judge Hila Gerstl of the Central District Court approved an out-of-court settlement. In August 2010, she had already ruled that there had been a causal connection between the girl’s death and the conduct of the police and that the police had been negligent in Amram’s death for the family had been able to prove that the girl was still alive at 6:30 a.m. Aharonovitch commented that, "The court presents the matter in a harsh and truthful manner. It is certainly unacceptable for the police to treat citizens in this way," and added that, "These types of incidents will not become the norm; the police will kick these people out."

On the domestic front, Aharonovitch comes across as a law and order man who is sensitive to inclusion of minorities in spite of a whiff of scandal when he inappropriately reprimanded a soldier for looking like a scruffy Arab. He is also an excellent organizer as evident in how he managed dealing with the huge Carmel fire in December 2010 that took 42 victims. Nor did he forget those victims. In a story published in the Canadian Jewish News on 4 December 2012 ("Aharonovitch: Carmel fire victims dies in line of duty") on the second anniversary of the fire, he called for recognition of the victims as having the same status as military who die in the line of duty. On security more generally, he has advocated strong military attacks on Gaza and an effective zero tolerance for rocket attacks. (Israel Frontline, 3 August 2011) At the same time, he has defended reduced roadblocks and security checks in the West Bank. "Removing the roadblocks in Judea and Samaria was not a mistake; we cannot change our policy because of one or two incidents."

So while a hardliner when dealing with actual threats, he upholds the law and prefers preventive pre-emptive considerate policies, but there still remains a significant gap between his ostensible beliefs and actual Israeli police practices. On Land Day last year, he ensured that there were plenty of police conspicuously but not provocatively placed, 1200 in the north alone, equipped with non-lethal means to disperse crowds near mosques, especially at the Temple Mount where prayers that day were limited to males over 40 with residency permits. Aharonovitch announced wide and clear that the marches and rallies were legal and would be allowed “to proceed undisturbed," but if breaches of the law occurred, they would be dealt with “determinedly and with strength.” He negotiated with Palestinian leaders in advance in both Israel and the West Bank to prevent any descent into violence and had been reassured to that effect.

Although there were a few sporadic small clashes on the Temple Mount, at the Damascus Gate, in Bethlehem and at the Rachel Checkpoint outside Bethlehem, the only significant incident that took place was near north Jerusalem’s Kalandiya checkpoint where thousands of Palestinian protesters had gathered and started burning tires, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails; troops had to use stun grenades, tear gas, sound weapons and foul-smelling water to disperse Palestinian youths who were demanding "the right of return" and insisting that, "non-Jewish holy sites are at risk and the city itself is being ethnically cleansed." There were no incidents in the north where 10 people had been killed in clashes in 2011.

Gilad Erdan, previously the Environmental Protection Minister, a Likud political pro and apparatchik, is the minister in charge of Home Front Security and Communications responsible both for the Israel Broadcast Agency and the Government Publications Bureau. He will be in the security cabinet even though the responsibility for the strategic relationship with the United States was snatched away from him at the last moment and handed to Dr. Yuval Steinitz who will not be in the Security Cabinet but is the heir apparent as Foreign Minister if Liberman is convicted of his fraud and breach of trust charges. Steinitz will have the responsibility for meeting most foreign VIPs. Erdan, however, retains the seat in the Security Cabinet.

Erdan places high in the Likud lists because he was head of Likud Youth and cultivates his ties with the Likud membership. He made a name for himself as a student Likud activist and led protests against Oslo. Since the Oslo Interim Agreement of 1995, the Joint Water Committee allocates water to the Palestinians and manages the treatment of West Bank sewage. That means to get water and manage their waste, Palestinians have to submit extensive detailed plans to the Joint Water Commission. The Palestinian Water Minister, Dr. Shaddad Attilli, claims they rarely get approval even when just asking to rehabilitate a village spring. Problems stem from the inequality between the parties – effectively the PA makes requests and Israel approves or rejects – most commonly the latter. Israel does supply more than the 10% water needs obliged in Oslo – 51.8 cu. meters vs the required 31 cu. meters – but Israel has rejected requests for a desalination plant for brackish water in Ein Freshkah and only recently approved a Palestinian wastewater treatment plant on the Palestinian side of the Alexander River. Recently, Erdan and Attilli agreed to dialogue more to enhance true cooperation.

As Environmental Minister Erdan saw to it that the charcoal making sites (making charcoal by burning citrus wood branches covered with hay for 21 days) in Area C in the West Bank were shut down but was not able to do the same in area B and asked the Cabinet to redefine making charcoal as a security issue because of the threat to the health of Arabs and Jews. The customers for the charcoal are all in Israel and the sale and purchase of that charcoal could be banned in Israel. In another case in May 2012, Erdan proposed cutting off the supply of power to Gaza even though he is fully aware that Israel is obligated by both treaty and international law to continuing the electricity supply. The Israeli Supreme Court has already ruled on the matter. The reality is that limiting the electrical supply already impedes the work of Gaza hospitals, the Gaza sewage system, local agriculture and industry not counting the disruption of the lives of ordinary Gazans dealing with daily blackouts. In accordance with Oslo, Israel is obligated to sell Gaza 120 megawatts of electricity, but since the bombing of Gaza’s power station in 2006, this has been insufficient and, with the blockade, Gaza has been unable to import the equipment necessary to repair the damage.

Vatican

In contrast to Erdan, Moshe Ya’alon is by far the most experienced member of the security cabinet as former IDF chief of staff (2002-2005), deputy chief of staff, head of Army Intelligence and GOC of Central Command. Further, he and Benny Gantz, current IDF Chief of Staff, see eye-to-eye; Gantz served under Ya’alon when he was GOC Northern Command. Yaalon led the Israeli commandos in 1988 in the assassination of PLO’s Abu Jihad in Tunis. Ya’alon left the army over disagreements with Shaul Mofaz over the disengagement plan for Gaza. Ya’alon began on the left as a member of HaNoar HaOved VeHaLomed. Originally his surname was Smilansky, but he changed it to Ya’alon after the Nahal group he joined. He became a member of Kibbutz Grofit near Eilat.

Ya’alon is a moderate on Iran even though in January 2008 when I was in Australia I recalled reading his insistence that, "We have to confront the Iranian revolution immediately. There is no way to stabilize the Middle East today without defeating the Iranian regime. The Iranian nuclear program must be stopped." (The Sydney Morning Herald) I thought he was a radical hawk then, but on further reading of his views, he is a hawk on confronting Iran before Iran gets a bomb but supports diplomacy before resorting to military means and, more currently, but only recently, is behind Barack Obama’s approach to the Iranian crisis and believes the USA will launch a military attack against Iran if Iran’s headlong thrust towards nuclear arms is not stopped. He clearly believes Iran is the most important security threat Israel faces. After that, he ranks the threat from the north and the new threats on the Syrian border, then Gaza and, at the bottom, the West Bank.

On Syria, Ya’alon does not expect Assad to use his chemical stockpiles against Israel and was, surprising to me, optimistic about a more moderate regime succeeding Assad, but that was a year ago. (Haaretz 5 February 2012) I was unable to find out if his views have changed since then since I expect Syria to implode and become a failed decentralized state. On the other hand, Ya’alon, though originally a supporter of Oslo, he has become a hawk on settlements and the West Bank, has visited illegal settlements, insisted that Jews should be able to live in all parts of Samaria and Judea and attended the right-wing Likud party faction opposed to dismantling settlements. At the same time, he supports peace negotiations but is opposed to the generous terms offered by Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert. Like Aharonovitch, he would enter talks without any expectations of a peace agreement.

Given that Netanyahu, Ya’alon and Aharonovitch will dominate the Security Cabinet with right wing pushes from Erdan and Bennett, do not expect progress on peace talks with the Palestinians even though Tzipi Livni has that portfolio. Aharonovitch has said that, "Netanyahu wants to make peace, he’s trying to get it started. He is sincere and is at peace with this direction." What he did not add is that he, Netanyahu and Ya’alon want peace on their terms, terms which are unacceptable to the Palestinians. Progress on peace with the Palestinians will have to be in terms of tactics and practices which increase and enhance Palestinian self-determination without compromising Israel’s security concerns and fears of re-creating another Gaza on the east to complement the danger of Hezbollah on the north and of Gaza in the south-west.

[Tags: Israel,
Aharonovitch, Erdan, Ya'alon, peace talks, Palestinians, Iran, Syria]

Israeli.Security.Cabinet.28.03.13.doc

The New Israeli Government

The Israeli Government 25.03.13

by

Howard Adelman

First of all, Happy Easter or Hag Sameah, and have a great Passover seder if you are having one. My youngest son surprised us and returned from kayaking in Belize for Passover. Hence, my silence of the last few days! I was going to give the blog a rest for Passover but I find my mind is in too much agitation. My next few blogs will deal with the Israeli government and cabinet, Obama’s speech in Ramallah, the Netanyahu apology to Erdogan and how Obama’s plan to focus on tactics is beginning to work out.

THE ISRAELI GOVERNMENT

The Size and Balance in the Cabinet

The Israeli government consists of the following members:

Likud:

  • Benjamin Netanyahu – Prime Minister (+ interim Foreign Minister)
  • Moshe Ya’alon – Defense Minister
  • Yisrael Katz – Transport, Infrastructure and Road Safety Minister
  • Yuval Steinitz – Int’l Relations, Intelligence, and Strategic Threats Minister
  • Silvan Shalom – Energy, Water, and Negev and Galilee Development Minister
  • Gilad Erdan – Home Front Defense and Communications Minister
  • Gideon Sa’ar– Interior Minister
  • Limor Livnat – Culture and Sports Minister
  • Zeev Elkin – Deputy Foreign minister
  • Danny Danon– Deputy Defense minister
  • Ofir Akunis* – Deputy Minister – liaison between government and the Knesset
  • Tzipi Hotovely– Deputy Transport Minister
  • Haim Katz – Chairman, Knesset Labor and Welfare Committee
  • Tzachi Hanegbi* – Chairman, Knesset House Committee
  • Miri Regev – Chair, Knesset Interior Committee
  • Yariv Levin – Coalition Chair
  • Yuli Edelstein – Knesset Speaker
  • Moshe Feiglin – Deputy Knesset Speaker

*After 18 months, Akunis switches with Hangbi and Hanegbi switches with Ofer Akunis)

Yisrael Beytenu:

– (Foreign Minster-in-Waiting)

  • Yitzhak Aharonovich – Public Security Minister
  • Yair Shamir – Agriculture Minister
  • Sofa Landver – Absorption Minister
  • Uzi Landau – Tourism Minister
  • Faina Kirshenbaum – Deputy Interior Minister
  • David Regev – Chairman, Knesset Law Committee
  • Orly Levy-Abekasis – Chair, Knesset Committee on Children’s Rights

Yesh Atid:

  • Yair Lapid – Finance Minister
  • Shai Piron – Education Minister
  • Yael German – Health Minister
  • Meir Cohen – Welfare Minister
  • Yaakov Peri – Science and Technology Minister
  • Micky Levy — Deputy Welfare Minister
  • Yoel Rozbozov – Chairman, Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee
  • Aliza Lavie – Chair, Knesset Committee on the Advancement of Women

HaBayit HaYehudi:

  • (Religious Affairs portfolio, and responsible for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs)

Uri Ariel – Housing Minister

Uri Orbach – Senior Citizens Minister

Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan – Deputy Religious Affairs Minister

Avi Wortzman – Deputy Education Minister

Nissan Slomiansky – Head of the Knesset Finance Committee

Hatnua:

  • Tzipi Livni – Justice Minister
  • Amir Peretz – Environmental Protection Minister
  • Amram Mitzna – Chairman, Knesset Education Committee

Of the five political parties in the government backed by 68 members of the Knesset, 43 are in the government. In addition to the Prime Minister, 21 are currently cabinet ministers. If Liberman wins in court and is restored to cabinet, there will be a total of 23.members in cabinet.

Parties Knesset #s Members

Cabinet

Ratio of Cabinet Government Posts Ratio of Government
Prime Minister 1

%

Actual Entitle Actual Entitle
Likud 20 29.4% 8 6 36.4% 18 13 41.9%
Yisrael Beytenu 11 16.1% 4 + 1 3 18.2%

(21.7%)

8 7 18.6%
Yesh Atid 19 27.9% 5 5 22.7% 8 12 18.6%
HaBayit HaYehudi 12 17.6% 3 3 13.6% 6 7 14.0%
Hatnua 6 8.8% 2 2 9.1% 3 4 7.0%
Total 68 98.8% 22 19 100% 43 43 100.1%

Excluding the Prime Minister, the entitlement column indicates how the posts should have been divided up if they were split roughly in accordance with Knesset seats won in the election and still giving the slight edge to the party that won the most seats. In other words, when Bibi pushed Lapid to get a cabinet of 21 instead of the 18 in addition to the Prime Minister, the figure Lapid had originally insisted upon – though they agreed upon 20 and somehow got 21 – Likud and Yisrael Baytenu got all 3 of the extra cabinet posts. Even more telling, if almost two-thirds of the members of the Knesset receive government posts, Likud received by far more of its share; Yisrael Beytenu also received more of its share. When Liberman enters the cabinet – assuming he does – Yisrael Beytenu will do even better. Netanyahu was able to give most of his 20 Knesset members posts in the government.

Naftali Bennet was about 1 post down and Tzipi Livni did ok. In contrast, Lapid’s Yesh Atid did the worst by far. Instead of at least 11 or 12 government posts, Yesh Atid only got 8. And Yesh Atid should have had at least one more of the cabinet posts.

Without even getting into the quality of the ministerial posts allocated, I read this as having the following significance:

1. Netanyahu and his Likud colleagues did a brilliant job in getting and keeping a disproportionate share of cabinet and government portfolios in Likud and Yisrael Beytenu hands.

2. This will mean that Likud should be able to keep its caucus in line, especially since the dissidents within Likud over the peace process and over the alliance with Yisrael Beytenu did not get re-elected since Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Michael Eitan already had lost out within the party to hardliners like Danny Danon, Miri Regev and Moshe Feiglin.

3. Avigdor Liberman, who did very well in negotiating the running list with Likud by first getting a ratio of 1 member of his party for every 2 Likud members, then securing 2 of the top 4 slots in the election list (Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Liberman, Gideon Sa’ar and Yair Shamir) and 15 instead of 13 or 14 of the top 40 candidates, got his full share of cabinet and government posts.

4. If you look at who did not get posts from the Likud/Yisrael Beytenu list, they include Reuben Rivlin, a very prominent Likudnik who has probably had his last hurrah as a politician and may be slotted to replace Peres as president when Peres leaves office. A former speaker and believer in a one state solution, he defended Balad MK Haneen Zoabi (he participated in the Gaza flotilla) from being kicked out of the Knesset and has made equality for Arab Israeli citizens a principle goal. However, at 73 he is unlikely to lead a revolt against Netanyahu but can be expected to remain very outspoken as he was when Sharon withdrew from Gaza.

5. The highest ranked Yisrael Beytenu member who did not get a post was David Rotem, a settler in Efrat and a former member of Mafdal who got his first seat in the Knesset as a replacement for Yuri Stern in 2007; I do not see him as a threat to Liberman’s leadership. Neither is Hamad Amar, a Druze member of Liberman’s party, but not quite high enough in the list to make it into government. So neither Netanyahu or Liberman can expect trouble from their respective caucuses.

6. Lapid and his Yesh Atid Party did very poorly in the negotiations to protect their interests, their relative strength in the cabinet and in ensuring the involvement and confidence of their backbenchers.

7. One might expect Lapid to be facing a very restless caucus, but I somewhat doubt it in the short term. Ofer Shelah was high up on the Yesh Atid list (#6) but did not make it into the government never mind the cabinet. Since on the surface he has written extensively on security issues as a journalist, lost one eye fighting for as a paratrooper in Lebanon in 1983 and is a personal friend of Lapid’s, one is initially surprised and puzzled. In an interview with Haaretz just before deciding to run on the Yesh Atid list, he was quoted as saying: "Therefore, when he decides to do something, then I, as a friend, am with him. He consults me frequently, because I’m his friend. And when there’s a concrete offer, then I’ll decide yes or no." As a columnist for Ma’ariv, when Ehud Olmert was trying to form a coalition in 2006 and there was a problem with the negotiations between Kadima and Labour over Shaul Mofaz who wanted the Finance Ministry that Labour coveted, Shelah had written an article on 28 April 2006 entitled "Coalition Talks Offer Few Slots for Old Soldiers", ironically in light of the current predicament in getting a place in government. The year before he had written a piece called, "Bitter Divisions Could Split Likud Party" (2 September 2005). Shelah has a record of being very sensitive to splits in parties over posts and is not inclined to be an obstacle. My surprise is that he did not push for a strong place on a security committee or as Tzipi Livni’s deputy on the peace negotiations since he has been so sceptical about Netanyahu’s willingness to press this issue and had predicted that nothing would happen unless Obama forced Netanyahu to the table and squeezed compromise from him. However, I believe Shelah is a loyal friend, and, in any case, is a widower with two children. Between his loyalty, his family responsibilities, his sensitivity to schisms, and his continuing need to earn income from his sports journalism, one can expect quiet on that front.

8. Another source of potential activist schism within Yesh Atid could come from Adi Kol, a young (37 years) and very attractive legal scholar (PhD in law from Columbia University) and activist – founder of the University of the People that organizes Tel Aviv University students to offer free university education. Given that the ones who did get posts were either much more prominent (Rabbi Shai Piron, director of the Movement for the Advancement of Education in Israel) or seasoned local politicians (Yael German, the mayor of Herzliya, Meir Cohen, the Dimona mayor and Yoel Razvozov, a Netanya city council member) or very experienced in security (Yaakov Peri, former head of Shin Bet 1988-1994 whom you saw in The Gatekeepers) and Aliza Lavie, like Adi Kol, an Orthodox but fifteen years older, feminist, scholar – a senior lecturer in communications and multiculturalism at Bar Ilan University – and public intellectual who wrote the best-selling National Jewish Book Award volume, A Jewish Woman’s Prayer Book, one should not expect Kol to pose a problem for Lapid.

Given stable caucuses in each of the parties, the stability of the government will depend on the wisdom of its leadership. Lapid’s party makes up 28% of the very enlightened centrist representation along with Hatnua’s 9%, but they are immersed in an otherwise overwhelmingly right wing government. The next real question is to look at the sub-cabinet structure and the occupants of each of the ministries.

I will save that for my next blog.

Israeli Government.2013.doc

Obama3. Obama as One of the Greats 31.01.13

Obama’s harshest critics continuously and mindlessly repeat that Obama is one of the worst presidents in American history – comparable to Jimmy Carter. Under Cater, there was virtually no economic growth while interest rates rose to 19%. Under Carter, the mullahs took over Iran and created a base for anti-Americanism for the next four decades. Carter gave away the Panama Canal and failed to prevent the Russians from invading Afghanistan. Merrill Matthews who advertises himself as exploring exposing liberal nonsense wrote a piece for Forbes (14 September, 2012) “Obama’s Jimmy Carter Redux On Economic and Foreign Policy”. “Carter inherited a bad economy, just like Obama, and then promptly proceeded to make it worse by adopting Keynesian spending policies. In four long years of the Carter presidency, the economy floundered.” As Robert Schlesinger scribbled in U.S. News and World Report, “Carter was a bad president, Obama is an awful president.” (12 September 2012)

Linking Obama to Carter carries a message well beyond the assessment of Obama. First, Bill Clinton, who remains highly popular, is bracketed. Second, the characterization allows Republican George W. Bush, who has the reputation as one of America’s worst presidents, to escape notice so one can conveniently forget that his ratings fell precipitously from the highest ever given an American president after 9/11 to one of the lowest by the end of his presidency. Third, the characterization allows Ronald Reagan, another Republican and initiator of supply-side Reaganomics, to be ranked among America’s greatest, thereby reinforcing the mantra of the economic right in support of tax “relief” to produce greater government revenue.

What ensues is the war of the Dung beetles, a war between the conservatives and the liberals in American politics. The evening before last I listened to an episode on CBC’s As It Happens (also heard on Public Radio in the USA). The host was interviewing Eric Warrant, an Australian zoology professor and researcher at Sweden’s University of Lund. His research focuses on dung beetles at the edge of the Kalahari Desert. In an ingenious experiment that involved putting dark visors on one set of dung beetles and see-through visors on another group, his team made the amazing discovery that dung beetles, after first dancing on their dung balls to get the lay of the land and establish a direction, then use the milky way to guide themslves. This allows them to roll their dung balls across the desert floor in a straight line to ensure that the results of their hard work are not stolen by lazy predatory competitors. Dung beetles that could not see the milky way ended up rolling their dung balls endlessly in a circle. Are you a blinded dung beetle who cannot see the milky way and end up circling the wagons endlessly, or are you clear sighted enough to be guided by the stars to move forward in a straight line? Which is the party of mythos and which the party of logos?

From the outside, the war over labelling who is the best and who is the worst president is a war between policy nerds playing with dung. But that is the appearance. Underneath is a war about which set of players has the advantage of celestial guidance so that a clear goal can be set and followed more or less in a straight line based on stamina, strength, persistence and determination to preserve what has been gathered through hard work and ingenuity. These are the measures of a successful president. Can the president lead a team that can roll the shit he encounters into dung balls and get those orbs of dung as far away in as fast a time to ensure that the lives of beetles can be sustained and improved?

Before we look at the record of Obama’s first term and the account of his cheerleaders that praise him as a heaven-sent leader, it is helpful if we first measure his task against the shit left behind by his predecessor. Whether one ranks George W. Bush with James Buchanan, Zachary Taylor, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Pierce — or whomever you choose as America’s worst president — there is a wide consensus among historians, though not among his defenders, that George W. Bush, unlike his father, was a bottom feeder. Ignore the one-off failures, such as his inept response to Hurricane Katrina. Do not overlook Bush’s successes – the provision of prescription drugs for the elderly and the prevention of any other attack after 9/11 by al-Qaeda terrorists on American soil. His intentions on educational reform in the No Child Left Behind program were widely applauded, though leaving its implementation totally in the hands of states was questioned. Bush Jr. tried to get immigration reform through Congress but failed. He was a free trader unable to get Doha supported. He even initiated a successful large six trillion dollar stimulus package when the economy got into trouble soon after he was elected. These successes are often overlooked and even buried because many of the other goals were viewed as misguided and the failures were so outstanding and egregious.

Though Bush won office on a program as a domestic policy president, and he initially instituted tax cuts, including large tax cuts for the rich, the general consensus is that Bush’s worst error was to take America into Iraq on the ostensible grounds that Iraq was building nuclear weapons and was in cahoots with the terrorists. Even if one accepts the argument that Bush sincerely believed Saddam Hussein had a program of producing weapons of mass destruction, Bush clearly spun some of the evidence. He also avoided taking the relatively small amount of extra time needed to test and falsify his beliefs.

His second largest error was in implementation. His administration dismissed both the Iraq civil service and the army, creating legions of well-trained enemies and reducing Iraq to anarchy and a horrific civil war. The third charge was that he mismanaged the economy, piled up deficit after deficit and failed to reign in runaway stock brokers and bankers. Then he went into Afghanistan, all the time authorizing torture techniques, including waterboarding (enhanced interrogation), and failed to prosecute these alleged terrorists in accordance with American law and principles of human and legal rights. Bush did very little about the almost two million refugees and IDPs in and from Iraq and failed to protect what was once a population of two million Christians now reduced to less than 100,000. (Obama has continued that neglect – Richard Russell “Obama Ignores the Fears of Middle Eastern Christians,” Crisis Magazine, 28 January 2013.) Iraq continues to be unstable as is Afghanistan.

Bush can be fairly charged with putting politics before sound policy processes and to have fumbled as badly on Iraq and terrorists as Buchanan did in the Dred Scott Case that denied rights to Blacks. Bush’s indecisiveness and procrastination over years and failure to fire Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of War perhaps was not at the level of Buchanan’s indecisiveness and inaction on slavery and secession, but it came close. Bush went into Afghanistan which Obama characterized as a war of necessity in contrast to Iraq as a war of choice and a wrong one. It is difficult to know whether the failures in foreign policy can be considered greater than the economic mess he left behind.

By the time Obama was inaugurated, the US was in a downward economic spiral. The deregulation introduced under a democratic president, Bill Clinton, morphed into a financial wild west show under George W. Bush. So Obama entered office in a year in which the numbers of unemployed grew by two and a half million. The unemployment rate reached 10%. (It has since receded to 7.8%.) GDP shrunk. Instead of hovering around the average growth rate of GDP of just over 3%, by the last quarter of 2008, GDP went down by 8.9%. The housing market collapsed. Home values shrunk dramatically. Banks fell. Brokerages closed.

Instead of lauding the legislation that saved the auto industry and that launched the largest ever infrastructure program since the post WWII period under the Republican Eisenhower administration, Conrad Black bemoaned that a $10-trillion of national debt accumulated from 1776 to 2008 became a $16-trillion debt, ignoring that this is less as a percentage of GDP than the debt incurred during WWII and without acknowledging that the debt was an investment (admittedly a risky one) to save the nation from past follies to allow the country to grow in the future. Black left out the fact that $1.6 trillion of that debt was largely due to lower revenue because of the Bush tax cuts. $1.4 trillion of the debt was due to the higher interest charges because of the growth in the debt. Almost $3 trillion was the consequence of the costs of Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without requiring the American taxpayers of the time to pay for those wars. Obama included those expenditures in the budget instead of expending those amounts as supplemental appropriations. The major changes in how indebtedness was recorded, not just the costs of war but future medicare liabilities and other obligations, alone accounted for a $2.7 trillion increase in the cost of the debt. The Obama stimulus was responsible for less than a trillion of that debt.

Further, Black failed to note that former Democratic Party presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson (even with the Vietnam War and the Great Society Program), Carter and Clinton all reduced the public debt, while the two Bushes, Reagan and Ford all increased it. At the end of the George W, Bush administration, David Stockman, a stalwart Republican who had served as Director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Reagan administration, opined that the ideological tax cutters were to blame for the deficit. (“Four Deformations of the Apocalypse,” The New York Times, 31.07.2007) The extra funds bailed out the financial sector, rescued the auto industry, invested in infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.) in a way not seen since the Republican Eisenhower post-WWII administration, and invested as well in education and in clean energy. Obama appears at least to have led America back from the brink of a second great depression. But it is difficult to prove a harm that never took place or, to put it more positively, an unseen benefit. But like Black Matter, the evidence for its existence can be indirect.

So the economic war was a domestic one. On one side were the Democrats rooted in Keynesian counter-cyclical economic theory who voted for The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. On the other side were Republicans who under George W. Bush’s first administration supported a stimulus to spur job creation and growth – that also worked -but were now wedded absolutely and strictly to trickle-down economics, tax cuts characterized as tax “relief”, reliance solely on the private sector to spur economic growth and, with the exception of the defence budget, offer dramatic cuts in the government sector. They promised that the debt would come down through extra tax revenues. It never did.

What were the results? Obama’s champions claimed his stimulus worked magnificently. It would have even worked better if it had not been shortchanged. In compromising with magic fears and protestations of the Republicans, the Democrats eliminated more funds for the Head Start and more investment in infrastructure, specifically high speed rail transportation (support was only $10 billion) that would have created even more jobs and allowed the economy to recover more robustly. The high-speed rail program nevertheless remained moribund until 2012 because of the resistance of Republican state governors. Instead of 13 high-speed rail corridors in 31 states, Americans will only have two – in California and in the Boston-Washington corridor. But if the Republicans were going to vote with ideological solidarity, and if Republican state politicians were going to ally with their Washington colleagues, why did the President not go for broke and push through a $1.2 trillion stimulus package?

As depicted in detail in Michael Grunwald’s 2012 volume The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Economic Era (New York: Simon & Schuster), Obama’s champions lauded the stimulus package for its outstanding accomplishments in saving the financial industry, rescuing the auto industry, and creating 2.5 million private-sector jobs. The Obama Administration revamped the Student Loan Program and saved $62 billion while, at the same time, making the loans cheaper for students and making provision for repayment based on future earnings, a proposal we made as a University of Toronto student council before the Bladen Commission in 1960. According to Grunwald, the long term economic transformation was broad, deep and of unprecedented historical proportions both in relation to the past but, more importantly, as a new foundation for the future. According to Grunwald, the stimulus provided the: “biggest and most transformative energy bill in history”; “biggest and most transformative education reform bill since the Great Society”; “biggest foray into industrial policy since FDR”; “biggest expansion of antipoverty initiatives since Lyndon Johnson”; “biggest middle-class tax cut since Reagan”, and, of course, the greatest revolution in health care policy in America since WWII, an innovation that had been defeated so many times before. Obama managed to pass The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but that Act did not even make provision for a single payer system as in Canada even as a test case. Support for new infrastructure was huge as it was for new green initiatives.

Of course the program greatly increased the economic power of the government in direct counterpoint to Republican ideology. But, according to the Republicans, economic growth was only a “meagre” 2.2% in contrast to growth which Obama’s critics claim was at double that rate under Republican presidents and even the Clinton administration. In fact, the growth rate under Reagan was almost the same as that under Jimmy Carter – 3.4% compared to 3.3% – while the growth rate under Bush Sr. was 2.2% and under Bush Jr. was 2.0%. (See the data quoted from the Bureau of Economic Analysis in the right-wing Liberty Bulletin “The Reagan Years: A Sobriety Test,” 26 January, 2012.) Unemployment rolls dropped by a million, though it still hovers at 7.8%, but Republicans complain that the real rate of unemployment is much higher as indicated by the drop in the labour force participation rate from just over 66% in the beginning of 2008 to 63.6% at the end of 2012. In any case, Obama had promised a maximum unemployment rate of 9% and it reached 10% for one month in October of 2009 and averaged 9.6% in 2010. In 2011 it hovered for most months at 9%, finally dropping to 8.5% in December. After that, the decline proceeded steadily. (U.S. Labour Board Statistics, US Department of Labour) Conrad Black could have contrasted the 50 million on food stamps with the 18 million before he took office. For in the process, the USA has become a much deeper and wider welfare state — but without the European tax revenues to support it.

So the Republicans agree that Obama has expanded government programs but Republicans characterize these as creating a more powerful, larger and more intrusive federal government that compromises the individual’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Though it is difficult to argue from what did not happen, the Great Recession did not become the Great Depression which lasted longer with almost four years of steady decline compared to the 18 month decline in this recession (recall that the 1973-5 and 1981-2 recessions each lasted 16 months). In the Great Depression, GDP fell an unbelievable 27% compared to only a 5% decline in the Great Recession. Unemployment rose to 27% in the Great Depression and not the one month maximum of 10% of the work force in the Great Recession.

According to his cheerleaders, Obama has emerged as one of America’s greatest presidents whatever else he does in a second term facing an intransigent Republican controlled House of Representatives. He is great, not because he introduced more rather than less regulation that Black favours. He introduced regulation reform where it was needed: pay discrimination to protect women and unemployment benefits that did not discriminate against gay couples; regulation of automobile credit cards and tobacco advertising. Obama updated hate crime regulation to bring real criminal activity more in line with the way Canada treats (or used to treat) criminals. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 tightened capital requirements on banks and restricted predatory lending to prevent the abuses that were the catalyst of the 2008 crash in the housing market. One of the most forceful and pithy defences of Obama’s record can be seen and heard in a replay of Rachel Maddow’s rave on MSNBC on the eve before the election. See also the editors’ Comment in The New Yorker of 29 October 2012. Obama has certainly had many articulate champions.

If the economic stimulus was so successful and so revolutionary, if the defence was so clearly made, why did it not gain greater support, especially since the election campaign ignored the advice of James Carville and Stanley Greenberg not to run on his economic record but only on his economic promises for the future? (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/19/james-carville-stanley-greenberg-obama-economy_n_1990403.html) Why did Obama’s approval just simply correlate with the votes he received unlike the situation of any other president on inauguration? If Obama had convinced voters to support him, including many as I will show tomorrow who did not agree with his economic package, why has his approval rating not improved?

Tomorrow: The Reluctant Obama Supporter

[Tags Obama, President, USA, Great]

Obama2. His Cultural Conservative Critics.30.01.13

I vividly recall in the summer of 1987 when Michael Marrus brought up to our cottage Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind. I read the book and offered Michael what I thought was a devastating critique. Though the book was a surprising best seller, little did I anticipate that it would become the cultural bible for social conservatives whom I would be analyzing 25 years later. Cultural conservatives are radically different than economic conservatives. Cultural conservatives believe strongly in using the state for social engineering, not to facilitate greater equality or even greater equality of opportunity but to facilitate the reinforcement of a set of social values. Economic conservatives are adamantly opposed to the engineering state.

 

David Frum, as an economic conservative, has been highly critical of the cultural conservative attempt to take control of the Republican Party agenda and claims that, because of them claims, “The Republican Party is becoming increasingly isolated and estranged from modern America.” (“How the GOP Got Stuck in the Past,” Newsweek, 11 November 2012) Unlike his friend and fellow economic conservative, Conrad Black, Frum opined that, “When eco­nom­ic conditions are as bad as they were in 2012 and the incumbent wins anyway, that’s not ‘close’.”  Frum is inclined to blame Romney’s election loss to Obama on the cultural conservatives (otherwise known as the combative conservatives) and the reason why “the GOP is becoming the party off yesterday’s America.” Instead of Romney running as a strong fiscal conservative with a track record as a competent manager with a pragmatic disposition, Romney was forced by the cultural conservatives into a corner in order to win the nomination to refashion himself and come across as a contradictory weak-kneed amorphous persona. My interest is to analyze the nature of that opposition and to try to understand the extent to which that opposition demonizes Obama and is responsible for the chasm between Obama’s public image and the reality of his policies and actions. Frum wanted the cultural conservatives to be reborn as social conservatives and become religious and secular activists for the needy independent of a nanny state. However, Rick Santorum was the only Republican candidate who recognized that the middle class had become economic losers.

 

This recognition is not what drives the vast majority of cultural conservatives. William Bennett, needless to say no relation to Naftali Bennett leader of the Habayit Hayehudi pro-settler party in Israel that I wrote about last week, was the Secretary of Education in the George Bush Sr. administration from 1985 to 1988.  In a CNN piece “Republicans lost the culture war” dated 14 November 2012, Bennett drew attention to the claim that the Republicans were involved in a culture war more than a war over economic doctrine. (http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/14/…/bennett-gop…/index.html – United States) Cultural conservatives are a different breed than economic conservatives. They cite Plato and his dictum that the future depends on who teaches and what they teach. For cultural conservatives, the Lefties who preach multiculturalism rather than a one-size fits all American identity, who praise socialism and disparage capitalism, who teach relativism rather than certain moral precepts, who celebrate diversity at the cost of faith in American exceptionalism, who sew class divisions with special privileges, including preferential university admissions for minorities, need to be displaced and cultural conservatives with their moral foundations in family, faith, freedom, community country and moral conduct restored to supremacy. The universities and colleges have to be retaken or America is lost. Their battle is not an intellectual exchange but an institutional takeover.

 

Though William Bennett and Naftali Bennett are not blood relatives, they share a number of common traits. Both are paired with economic conservatives to pull the conservative polity further towards what is represented as the right. In the Israeli election, Naftali Bennett was the one to make Netanyahu more extreme, yuktzan Netanyahu, in contrast to Yair Lapid who was elected to make Netanyahu more moderate, yemurkaz Netanyahu. The cultural right in America also works to pull the Republican Party more towards the right.

 

Samuel Goldman in The American Conservative offered an analysis of “Naftali Bennett and the Continuing Appeal of Religious Nationalism” (14 January 2013) just before the elections in the wildly mistaken expectation that Naftali Bennett would possess the second largest cluster of seats in the Knesset. The legacy of the religious Zionists under Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook and his son Rabbi Yehuda Kook was revived with the settler movement to re-establish religion as the foundation of the new Israel by becoming the settlers on the new frontier of Samaria and Judea and officers in the IDF. Religious settlers would displace socialist kibbutzniks as the icon of Israel reborn. Instead of the religious playing a role of keeping religion alive simply by partnering with the secular leading Zionists, or feeding off the trough of the state as religious welfare bums, the religious would soar into a leading role through their sacrifice and messianic leadership.

 

What are the ideological similarities of both groups? Naftali Bennett proposed annexing 62% of the West Bank and turning the remainder into a self-governing Bantustans. Imperialism married to exceptional state leadership inspired by religious precepts was alive as an ideology. The cultural right in America and Habayit Hayehudi both represent religious nationalist sentiments, to return the core of the respective nations to their true home, the heartland of America and Judea and Samaria respectively. If the West Bank settlers want to occupy Israel (see Ari Shavit’s piece in Haaretz on 3 January 2013), the cultural right want to retake America. They do it with a pincer movement by effectively establishing their own party, The Tea Party in America, and by taking control of a mainstream party by driving out the more moderate members, Meridor and Begin in the Likud in Israel and Colin Powell and the Rockefeller heirs in the Republican Party in America.

 

Though cultural and religious conservatives can be distinguished, unlike the link with economic conservativism which is only opportunistic, religious and cultural conservatives overlap considerably, though only the religious conservatives openly oppose the separation of religion and state and want to revive the influence of religion on politics. Both cultural and religious conservatives want to advance their goals through political participation in party politics. Both politicize religion. Basically they believe that a nation is held together by common bonds drawn from religious or classical sources. Their enemies are relativism and diversity when it comes to the national core values. Instead of multiculturalism, they espouse a more authentic version of identity. In Israel, the foundation stones of authentic life are the land of Israel (Eretz Israel), the Torah and Am Israel (the people of Israel). In America, the foundation stones are the American heartland, the American constitution interpreted as the genesis code for a great nation, and the people of American, an identity projected in the ideal image of small town America.

 

Rogers Brubaker, a colleague consulted when we undertook our study of genocide in Rwanda, wrote an article called “Religion and Nationalism” that was published in the journal Nations and Nationalism in 2011. Instead of regarding religion and nationalism as analogous phenomena or explaining nationalism through religious motifs as Sanford Levinson did in his book on Constitutional Faith (Princeton University Press) whereby a set of beliefs that had been secularized provided a sense of coherence to the American identity by being embodied in the Constitution, or adopting a third option and demonstrating how politics and religion were intertwined by politicians such as George W. Bush or Jimmy Carter, the cultural right propagate a distinctively religious or quasi-religious form of nationalism.

 

Nationalism itself aspires to a congruity between the nation and the state. That is why separatists in Quebec and Scotland, though they currently come from the left and oppose religious nationalism, seek to secede. The state has the job of protecting the nation. Further, they espouse a fundamental ground for authority in the spirit of the nation whence the values that bind the nation arise. Those values provide the basic legitimacy for the activities of the state. The nationalism that became predominant in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries was secular and defined in opposition to and rivalry with religion. It espoused that individuals operated not only in two autonomous realms of religion and state but in a multitude of autonomous realms, the universities, the economy, the polity, civil society. The new religious nationalism said that if these realms were allowed to remain autonomous, the nation would disintegrate and wither away. The greatest danger to the nation came from the universities for they taught students that relativism and secularism were the norm. Instead of making claims for the nation that conjoined with religious claims, as Bush Jr, and Jimmy Carter had, religion was seen as providing authenticity to the nation. Instead of politicians just using religious symbols to advance their political programs, in religious nationalism, God spoke to his people; his people received their inspiration from religion which was both the foundation for the nation and the state, and the guarantor of the integrity of both.   

 

As Roger Friedland argued in an older 2001 article, (“Religious Nationalism and the Problem of Collective Representation (Annual Review of Sociology 27, 125-152), collective solidarity is located “in religious faith shared by embodied families”. The family is the backbone of the nation. Politics cannot be dependent on inclusiveness and diversity

So why do the cultural conservatives hate Obama even more than the economic conservatives? After all, Obama is a very strong family man. He is not only a Christian but claims in his writing to have been born again, not in the sense that he suddenly received the light and the spirit of Jesus took over his very being, but in the sense that he was brought up without faith in Christianity and returned to embrace that faith of his mother’s parents as an adult. He has confessed his sins and made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as his saviour “I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life.” As Joel Hunter (former president of the Christian Coalition started by Pat Robertson and author of A New Kind of Conservative as well as a Methodist and spiritual adviser to Obama) has testified, “There is simply no question about it: Barack Obama is a born again man who has trusted in Jesus Christ with his whole heart.” But Obama is a liberal. As he said in a 2006 speech, “secularists shouldn’t bar believers from the public square, but neither should people of faith expect America to be one vast amen corner.”

 

Most community conservatives decry these claims as a fraud and a ruse. Because Obama’s Christianity harks back to the social gospel, to social service and taking care of those in need and not to conservatism. Obama is a strong family man and a Christian who is a twentieth-century liberal. In 2008, when presented with a choice between someone who was not born again, McCain, and Obama, many actually voted for Obama. Those numbers declined in 2012, but still an estimated six million evangelicals supported Obama, particularly if they were young. Why? Because they too were Christian liberals and supported healthcare, support for education and a fairer allocation of taxation relative to income.  (http://www.christianpost.com/news/young-born-again-christians-lose-interest-in-obama-barna-group-says-84496/#2M6aplFRqYIGEz9g.99)

 

The strident opposition comes from evangelical Christians who are social conservatives for whom Obama’s family and Christian values give them apoplexy. A secular liberal is one thing but a Christian and a strong family man who is a liberal is another. The fight over alternative worlds versus alternative economic ideologies is much more heartfelt and vicious. Since it is about the moral quality of the person, it is doubly disconcerting to see the leader of your country as apparently upholding your religious and family values so if one is a community conservative, it is imperative that the ostensible believer be revealed as a fake and a dissembler. Denigration and demonization become central to the cause of discrediting Obama.   

 

So we have two groups, one adamantly and the other doubly opposed to Obama and eager to blacken his name and portray him as not only opposed to what they believe but as a failure. Is that sufficient to explain the alignment of his electoral support with his approval rating? After all, many a politician who one would not vote for is seen as a success even if one disagrees with his or her political agenda. To try to probe deeper I will examine first Obama`s cheerleaders and then his equivocal supporters.

[tags Obama, USA, President, politics, community conservatives]

Obama: Appearance and Reality – 1. His Conservative Economic Critics

Why is Obama portrayed as a failed president as he starts his second term in office? One explanation is the frequent, articulate and very numerous criticisms by conservative economic voices among the chattering classes. They paint a picture of Obama as converting America into a welfare regulatory state and inaugurating a social democratic program if not outright socialism. From the perspective of their economic ideology, they try to do anything to undermine his democratic legitimacy and weaken his political capital. The portrayal is unrelenting and unforgiving. Does it bear any resemblance to reality? 

 

Conrad Black in The National Post wept verbal tears after Barack Obama’s second historic victory as America’s first ever African-American president, even more than he wept over his own believed unjust incarceration under what he calls a terrorist regime of a fascistic prosecution. (Conrad Black: The Obama Disaster: Part II, 12 November 2012) Black wrote that, “Historically, when America has needed leadership, its greatest leaders have come forward. Not this year.”

 

Black implied that that Obama was elected with only a marginal mandate. As Black opined, Obama only managed to eke out a second victory because George Romney was such a weak and not very credible candidate for the Republicans. But the historical record suggests otherwise. Ignoring the electoral college, in which Obama won an overwhelming victory, and focusing only on the popular vote, Obama did not eke out a victory; he repeated the precedent of winning with 51.06% of the vote compared with the last democratic candidate who won a majority of voters, Jimmy Carter (50.08%). Bill Clinton won with only 43% of the popular vote in 1992. In 1996 when Bill Clinton won an overwhelming 379 Electoral College votes, he still only won 49.24% of the popular vote. Obama even beat George Bush’s 50.73% in 2004. In recent memory, until Reagan’s re-election, few presidential candidates won with over 50%. George Bush Sr. did with 53.37%, repeating what Franklin Roosevelt accomplished during WWII with 53.39%. In 1980, Ronald Reagan only won his first election with 50.75% of the vote, less than Obama’s share, but won the historic and unprecedented landslide in modern times in 1984 with 58.8%.

 

If we restrict Black’s interpretation of Obama’s victory as very marginal to only presidents running for re-election, the issue is not so much the margin of the popular vote but the discrepancy between that vote and his approval rate on inauguration day. The economic conservatives’ position on Obama’s approval rating is not so hyperbolic. Obama had an approval rating of 52% for the week of January 21-27 (http://www.gallup.com/poll/116479/barack-obama-presidential-job-approval.aspx) George F. Will declared that Barack Obama had the lowest approval rating of any re-elected president when inaugurated since WWII. (George F. Will “The President’s Contradictory Agenda,” The National Post, 28 January 2013, A12) Though Obama tied George W. Bush with the same approval rating at the beginning of his second term – just 52% – nevertheless both Bush Jr. and Obama really did enjoy the lowest approval rating of any re-elected president since WWII. In contrast, Bill Clinton’s was 59%, Ronald Reagan’s was 60%, Richard Nixon, who would not long after be forced to resign, had an approval rating of 65%. Dwight Eisenhower had an approval rating of 72%. 

 

Though the conservative right uses such statistics to weaken Obama’s legitimacy, I want to ask another question – why the discrepancy between Obama’s historic success at the ballot box but his historic failure to win the nation’s approval by a significant margin? If re-elected presidents generally have a significantly higher approval rate on their inauguration than their votes 2 1/2 months earlier on election day, why was Obama’s approval rate on the date of his inauguration virtually the same as his percentage of the popular vote?  

 

One reason offered is that right wing commentators keep harping on Obama as a failed president, particularly in economic matters. Economic growth continues to be sluggish. Although the unemployment rate is dropping, historically high percentages of Americans are out of work. As George F. Will put it, if the same percent of persons of working age were employed, there would be 14 more million people in the work force. Black lamented that, “The wealthiest country in history is bankrupt, with 50 million citizens in poverty and the entire middle class on an economic knife-edge.” Black bemoans that a $10-trillion of national debt, accumulated from 1776 to 2008, became a $16-trillion debt.

 

The assertions are correct but they ignore context and comparisons. The debt is less as a percentage of GDP than the debt incurred during WWII. They fail to acknowledge that the debt was an investment (admittedly a risky one) to save the nation from past follies to allow the country to grow in the future. The extra funds bailed out the financial sector, rescued the auto industry, invested in infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.) in a way not seen since the Republic Eisenhower post WWII administration, and invested as well in education and in clean energy. Obama appears at least to have led America back from the brink of a great depression. Why is this not, at the very least, acknowledged even if one disagrees with the claim?

 

Peter Ferrara epitomized right wing critics of the Obama presidency with his article in Forbes on January 11, “President Obama Offers A Repeat Of His Same Failed Policies.” The refrain was similar to many others. Tax rate cuts are inherently pro-growth and expansionary. Government regulation depresses economic initiative. There is no distinction between taxes needed to build infrastructure and enhance education as crucial elements in economic growth and tax revenues spent on otherwise frivolous items. Nor is there any recognition of those regulations that enhance growth because they enlarge the field of economic opportunity. Instead we get a mantra of homogenization and lack of distinction, a mantra that refuses to take account of evidence that might falsify the claim that Obama is a failed president.

 

Do lower capital gains taxes produce greater revenues for the state? Then why did 2012 yield $38 billion less in capital gains taxes than in 2007? Did cutting the tax rate increase employment? If so, why is Obama blamed for the huge increase in unemployed Americans during his first term even though he agreed to continue the Bush capital gains tax cuts?  Len Burman of Syracuse University studied of the relationship between capital gains tax rates and economic growth between 1950 and 2011. His study showed no correlation between the two. Nor is the correlation negative. The rate cuts also did not affect the downturn in the economy. There is just no 1:1 correlation between capital gain tax cuts and economic growth in either direcion. (See Burman’s opening chart in his article in Forbes on 15 March 2012: “Capital Gains Tax Rates and Economic Growth (or not).”) The correlation was not even statistically significant. So capital gains cuts likely played no significant part in either economic growth or the series of economic downturns, including the overwhelming one that came after the end of the Bush presidency. This finding was confirmed by the independent Congressional Research Service (CRS) in its report, subsequently withdrawn under pressure of the Senate Republicans, Taxes and the Economy: An Economic Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945 and another report, Small Business and the Expiration of the 2001 Tax Rate Reductions: Economic Issues.

 

Jennifer Rubin, another right wing economic pundit in her op-ed, “Obama’s challenge: Why give a failed president another chance?” (The Washington Post, 3 September 2012) repeated the effort to blacken Obama’s economic record and challenged Obama for falling back on failed policies of raising taxes on the upper income group, expanding investments in teachers and education and enhancing infrastructure investments. Ashe Schow in The Foundry on 18 October 2012 in his article, “President Obama’s Taxpayer-Backed Green Energy Failures,” zeroed in on all the eco-companies that failed in their initiatives even though they received large federal government grants – Geothermal ($98.55m), Babcock and Brown ($178m), Ener1 ($118.5m) (Ner1 was sold to a Russian businessman). Johnson Controls ($299m). Others actually filed for bankruptcy – Abound Solar ($400m) (the company actually only received $68m when the government cut its loan off) and A123 Systems ($279m) (the Chinese conglomerate, Wanxiang Group, bought A123 for 1% of its share value at its peak evaluation), Solyndra ($535m).

 

The message is simple. Venture capitalists, not governments, should be the only ones entrusted to pick winners and losers. As Charles Krauthammer summed it up, Obama, who began his program of enlarging the state with medicare in his first term, reaffirmed his commitment to healing the planet in his second inaugural address by promising “a state-created green energy sector, massively subsidized (even as the state’s regulatory apparatus systematically squeezes fossil fuels, killing coal today, shale gas tomorrow).” (Charles Krauthammer: Obama Unbound – Our President Wants to Undo Everything Reagan Ever Did,” FoxNews, 24 January 2013.)

 

The charge that Obama invested in eco-company losers, let alone his cronies, is also distorted. One only has to choose enough winners to outpace losses from losers over the long term. For venture capitalist investments in green energy, it is too early to tell, though Jesse Jenkins, Devon Swezey, and Alex Trembath in their article, “Solyndra’s Failure Is No Reason To Abandon Federal Energy Innovation Policy” in Forbes on 2 September 2011 concluded that “when judged by its entire diverse portfolio of investments, the LGP has performed remarkably well.” They argue that, “with a capitalization of just $4 billion, DOE has committed or closed $37.8 billion in loan guarantees for 36 innovative clean energy projects. The Solyndra case represents less than 2% of total loan commitments made by DOE, and will be easily covered by a capitalization of eight to ten times larger than any ultimate losses expected following the bankruptcy proceedings.” Even if one does not accept those positive assessments, the reality is that when private government investments in green energy are compared to government investments, government investments were slightly more successful even though the private sector chose less risky and more senior tranches. (World Economic Forum http://www.weforum.org/content/closing-green-investment-gap) I myself was very surprised by this result.

 

If Americans went through the greatest downturn since the Great Depression, Obama did not put them there. Bush did under a program of tax cuts, expensive and apparently never-ending foreign wars, and transferring the costs to future generations. Instead of lauding the legislation that saved the auto industry and that launched the largest ever infrastructure program since the post WWII period under the Republican Eisenhower administration, the economic conservatives harp repeatedly on Obama’s alleged poor economic record and other sins such as the fact that the number of people with criminal records in the USA is heading towards 50 million. The economic conservatives do not go on to add that this is the case largely because of obsolete marihuana laws that are beginning to be dismantled under democratic state legislatures; finally, we are witnessing the reversal of the trend and continuing demands for incarceration as a primary policy for dealing with crime even by Republicans.

 

Black, although he granted that Obama has at least “avoided the open-ended adventurism of his predecessor,” did not credit him with much more. The right wing economic critics of Obama’s various economic strategies work by repetition of stock phrases, are selective in their citations, and ignore analyses that might falsify their beliefs. It is possible that their position could be right to some degree. However, they create a caricature. The evidence when weighed does not demonstrate that the economic conservatives are right. Instead the evidence suggests that ideological conviction rather than comparative detailed analyses yield their conclusions.

 

However, I am not so interested in determining whether the criticisms are correct or not. I am more interested in their methods of homogenizing and repeating negative colourings and conclusions based on selected writings, pithy refrains and repetition to blacken Obama’s image. Why are they so outrageously unfair? Are they responsible for Obama’s stalled approval rate staying at the same level as his popular vote on election day? Surely community conservatives must share at least part of the blame (tomorrow’s Blog), if the blame is to be placed on the repeated deformations of the right. 

[tags economics, neo-cons, USA, President]