Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Republican Path Ahead. By Peter Wehner.

The Republican Path Ahead. By Peter Wehner. Commentary, March 1, 2013.

Party, Heal Thyself. By Pete Wehner. Time, March 11, 2013. Also find it here.

How to Save the Republican Party. By Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner. Commentary, March 2013.

Wehner, Party Heal Thyself:

There are, we’re told, five stages of grief. A political party, in the wake of a devastating loss, goes through something similar. Shock gives way to a (short) season of self-reflection—but what emerges on the other side varies. Sometimes people draw opposing conclusions. Such is the state of the Republican Party right now.

Republicans seem to have broken into three camps. One is composed of those who believe that concerns about the party are vastly overstated. The argument goes something like this: America remains a center-right country. Barack Obama had a once-in-a-generation appeal to the Democratic base that can't be replicated. All the GOP needs is an attractive torchbearer, better messaging, a tweak or two, and all will be right with the world once more.

A second camp argues that the problem with the GOP is insufficient purity. Those who hold this outlook believe that by nominating moderates like John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012, the Republican Party didn't offer enough of a contrast with Obama. Victory depends on dusting off the old Ronald Reagan playbook. It worked in 1980 and 1984, and it would work for the GOP today. In the process, the party needs to expel heretics from the temple—which in this case means attacking RINOs (Republicans in name only) and members of the loathsome Establishment.

A third camp, in which I place myself, believes the party is in a precarious position because it faces systemic problems and alarming demographic trends. Which means a significant recalibration is in order. This doesn’t mean jettisoning the GOP’s core commitments to limited government, economic growth and protecting unborn children. Nor does it mean the Republican Party should become more moderate. What it does mean is that the GOP has to become more modern, more reform-minded and more aggressive in repositioning itself through a series of policy innovations. This involves identifying areas of weakness and designing a set of proposals to address them. Some examples: To combat the impression that the GOP is beholden to the top 1%, Republicans should champion ending corporate welfare as we know it, breaking up the megabanks, increasing the child tax credit and encouraging upward mobility through education reform. On immigration, we should support better border security and a path to legal status and eventually citizenship for undocumented workers. The GOP, perceived as hyperindividualistic, should demonstrate its commitment to the common good by supporting civil-society groups working to expand adoption, the next stages of welfare reform, overhauling our prison system and the cultural assimilation of immigrants. Republicans also have to accept that in large parts of America, opposition to same-sex marriage is a losing battle—but that cannot keep the GOP from being consistent about the importance of marriage itself and taking steps to fortify it.

But creative policy proposals, while essential, are insufficient. Something deeper needs to occur. The party must shake off an intellectual rigidity that has set in. Some examples of this include declaring that not raising taxes is an inviolable principle rather than a reasonable policy judgment and insisting that global warming is a hoax. And a self-confident conservative movement would not bar the gay group GOProud or New Jersey Governor Chris Christie from its events, as the Conservative Political Action Conference has done. The theory of addition through subtraction doesn't work in mathematics or politics.

There is an alternative conservative tradition to draw on that seeks to accommodate timeless principles to shifting circumstances, that rejects unyielding orthodoxy and believes prudence, not purity, is the cardinal political virtue. And while it believes in limited government, it is not carelessly antigovernment. The 19th century economist Alfred Marshall elegantly described government as “the most precious of human institutions, and no care can be too great to be spent on enabling it to do its work in the best way. A chief condition to that end is that it should not be set to work for which it is not specifically qualified, under the conditions of time and place.”

Now for the good news: There is an unmistakable, if far from complete, movement in this direction since the 2012 defeat. An intellectual unfreezing is taking place. It’s actually a pretty interesting time to be a Republican. The Democratic Party found itself in a similar moment in the early 1990s. The party was open to a New Democrat—and out of this emerged William Jefferson Clinton. The GOP awaits its version of the man from Hope.

Wehner, Path Ahead:

I’d add to this several other suggestions.

First, Republicans should make front-and-center their plans to reform public institutions that were designed for the needs of the mid-20th century. Our health-care and entitlement system, tax code, schools, immigration policies and regulatory regime are outdated, breaking down, and creating substantial wreckage. If I had to boil it down to a single sentence, I’d urge the GOP to develop its reputation as the party of reform and modernization.

Second, Republican leaders at every level need to conduct themselves in a manner that not just reassures voters but appeals to them. As former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has put it, “as we ask Americans to join us on such a boldly different course, it would help if they liked us, just a bit.” This is not just a matter of style; it’s a disposition that reflects an approach to the world. And it matters.

Third, Republicans must resist the temptation of defeatism, enervation, and turning against the country. It is entirely within the power of the GOP to both remain principled and appeal to a majority of Americans. An intellectually self-confident party would, in fact, be energized by a challenge of this scale.

But it seems to me that the main reason for Republicans to be confident, and the main reason they should act quickly to revive their party, is that reactionary liberalism is exhausted. It has nothing to offer when it comes to the greatest domestic threats facing America: our massive fiscal imbalance, the impending collapse of our entitlement programs, our insanely complicated and inefficient tax code, and anemic economic growth. By the end of President Obama’s second term, the Affordable Care Act will be viewed as a monumental failure. Liberals will have had nothing useful to say about combating poverty, improving education, energy independence or stabilizing a disordered and dangerous world. The propositions of progressivism will have been tried and found wanting in almost every respect. The public will again turn to the Republican Party.

For the GOP to fully reposition itself will require the right presidential nominee to emerge. But the groundwork needs to begin–has begun–with governors, members of Congress, public intellectuals and policy entrepreneurs.

In 1980, Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan admitted, “Of a sudden, the GOP has become a party of ideas.” As it was, so shall it be again.

Republicans and Their Faulty Moral Arithmetic. By Arthur Brooks.

Republicans and Their Faulty Moral Arithmetic. By Arthur Brooks. Wall Street Journal, March 3, 2013.


In the waning days of the 1992 presidential campaign, President George H.W. Bush trailed Bill Clinton in the polls. The conventional wisdom was that Mr. Bush seemed too aloof from voters struggling economically. At a rally in New Hampshire, the exhausted president started what was probably the fourth campaign speech of the day by reading aloud what may have been handed to him as a stage direction: “Message: I care.”

How little things have changed for Republicans in 20 years. There is only one statistic needed to explain the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. An April poll—which mirrored every other poll on the subject—found that only 33% of Americans said that Mitt Romney “cares about people like me.” Only 38% said he cared about the poor.

Conservatives rightly complain that this perception was inflamed by President Obama’s class-warfare campaign theme. But perception is political reality, and over the decades many Americans have become convinced that conservatives care only about the rich and powerful.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. If Republicans and conservatives double down on the promotion of economic growth, job creation and traditional values, Americans might turn away from softheaded concerns about “caring.” Right?

Wrong. As New York University social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has shown in his research on 132,000 Americans, care for the vulnerable is a universal moral concern in the U.S. In his best-selling 2012 book “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,” Mr. Haidt demonstrated that citizens across the political spectrum place a great importance on taking care of those in need and avoiding harm to the weak. By contrast, moral values such as sexual purity and respect for authority—to which conservative politicians often give greater emphasis—resonate deeply with only a minority of the population. Raw money arguments, e.g., about the dire effects of the country’s growing entitlement spending, don’t register morally at all.

Conservatives are fighting a losing battle of moral arithmetic. They hand an argument with virtually 100% public support—care for the vulnerable—to progressives, and focus instead on materialistic concerns and minority moral viewpoints.

The irony is maddening. America’s poor people have been saddled with generations of disastrous progressive policy results, from welfare-induced dependency to failing schools that continue to trap millions of children.

Meanwhile, the record of free enterprise in improving the lives of the poor both here and abroad is spectacular. According to Columbia University economist Xavier Sala-i-Martin, the percentage of people in the world living on a dollar a day or less—a traditional poverty measure—has fallen by 80% since 1970. This is the greatest antipoverty achievement in world history. That achievement is not the result of philanthropy or foreign aid. It occurred because billions of souls have been able to pull themselves out of poverty thanks to global free trade, property rights, the rule of law and entrepreneurship.

The left talks a big game about helping the bottom half, but its policies are gradually ruining the economy, which will have catastrophic results once the safety net is no longer affordable. Labyrinthine regulations, punitive taxation and wage distortions destroy the ability to create private-sector jobs. Opportunities for Americans on the bottom to better their station in life are being erased.

Some say the solution for conservatives is either to redouble the attacks on big government per se, or give up and try to build a better welfare state. Neither path is correct. Raging against government debt and tax rates that most Americans don’t pay gets conservatives nowhere, and it will always be an exercise in futility to compete with liberals on government spending and transfers.

Instead, the answer is to make improving the lives of vulnerable people the primary focus of authentically conservative policies. For example, the core problem with out-of-control entitlements is not that they are costly—it is that the impending insolvency of Social Security and Medicare imperils the social safety net for the neediest citizens. Education innovation and school choice are not needed to fight rapacious unions and bureaucrats—too often the most prominent focus of conservative education concerns—but because poor children and their parents deserve better schools.

Defending a healthy culture of family, community and work does not mean imposing an alien “bourgeois” morality on others. It is to recognize what people need to be happy and successful—and what is most missing today in the lives of too many poor people.

By making the vulnerable a primary focus, conservatives will be better able to confront some common blind spots. Corporate cronyism should be decried as every bit as noxious as statism, because it unfairly rewards the powerful and well-connected at the expense of ordinary citizens. Entrepreneurship should not to be extolled as a path to accumulating wealth but as a celebration of everyday men and women who want to build their own lives, whether they start a business and make a lot of money or not. And conservatives should instinctively welcome the immigrants who want to earn their success in America.

With this moral touchstone, conservative leaders will be able to stand before Americans who are struggling and feel marginalized and say, “We will fight for you and your family, whether you vote for us or not”—and truly mean it. In the end that approach will win. But more important, it is the right thing to do.

Palestinian-American Comedian Jennifer Jajeh Takes Show on Identity to Beirut. By Antoun Issa.

Jennifer Jajeh, a Palestinian-American comedian, poses in a T-shirt advertising her “I Heart Hamas” show. (photo by Mareesa Stertz.)

Palestinian-American Comedian Takes Show on Identity to Beirut. By Antoun Issa. Al-Monitor, December 9, 2012.

I Heart Hamas?! By Rae Abilieah. Tikkun, July 19, 2012.

I Heart Hamas website.

“I Heart Hamas” Promo Video. Jen Jajeh, August 21, 2009. YouTube.

Ask a Palestinian. Excerpt from “I Heart Hamas.” Jen Jajeh, September 8, 2010. YouTube.

Israel Looks Inward. By Einat Wilf.

Israel Looks Inward. By Einat Wilf. Al-Monitor, February 27, 2013.


The Israeli elections were not about peace, and had very little to say on the matter. When the world was asking whether Israelis have swung to the right or the left or even the center, Israelis were thinking in very different terms. No longer right or left, but rather inward or outward — and their response was a resounding “inward.” To borrow the American term, Israelis have chosen to focus on “nation building at home.”

Many Israel-watchers were appalled by such a choice. How could Israelis choose to focus inward when the Arab world around them is going up in flames, when they continue to control the increasingly restless West Bank and when Iran shows no signs of giving up its quest for nuclear weapons capability? Some exasperated commentators have interpreted this inward focus as escapism or even callousness.

But Israelis made a rational choice. They were neither escaping reality nor being indifferent to it. Israelis took a look around them — at the Arab world, at the West Bank, at Iran — and realized that they are not likely to face any major policy choices on these fronts anytime soon. Whether analytically or instinctively, they understood that the Arab world will be overwhelmed by its own problems for years to come. The Arabs in the West Bank, while continuing to detest Israel’s control over them and oppose it, are still unable to make the difficult choices that would yield an agreement that would end this control, and the Iranian issue, while critical, depends on a wide range of factors and cannot be decided by a national vote.

The inward-looking Israeli choice explains Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unprecedented and unparalleled status as the only person that Israel is willing to accept as prime minister at this time. Having delivered four years of rare calm and stability, as revolutions were sweeping the Arab world, Israelis have chosen to “subcontract” all foreign and defense policy to Netanyahu, so as to focus on domestic issues. They realized that while Netanyahu might not deliver peace, he is also unlikely to entangle them in war. At a time of deep uncertainty, they found this prospect comforting.

Israelis were also taking a page from their own history. They reminded themselves that while the conflict with the Arab world has been raging for more than a century, it has never stopped them in the past from building their society, culture and economy. They realized that the fact that there might be no immediate solution to the conflict with the Arab world does not mean that they have to put their lives as a people and a country on hold. This is not to say that achieving peace is no longer the highest priority for Israelis, but in the absence of a realistic chance of achieving it, the rational course for a productive and dynamic people is to turn their energies elsewhere.

Morsi and the General. By Daniel Nisman.

Morsi and the General. By Daniel Nisman. Wall Street Journal, February 28, 2013.

The armed forces may be laying groundwork to return Egypt to military rule.

More on Morsi and Egypt here.


Gen. Sissi has continued to publicly deny any intentions to seize power unless he is “called upon by the people” to do so—a hazy notion which has sparked fears of a coup within the Brotherhood leadership. On Feb. 20, the Egyptian press reported that the SCAF had been holding meetings behind closed doors in the president’s absence on matters relating to security and stability. Since then, Egyptian media has been awash with rumors over a possible scheme by the president to sack Gen. Sissi as he did Field Marshal Tantawi.

While both sides strongly denied those rumors, my sources in Egypt believe they were circulated by senior Brotherhood members to test the public's reaction to idea of such a move against Gen. Sissi.

Currently, neither President Morsi nor Gen. Sissi looks to be in a position to overpower the other. But the Machiavellian discipline displayed by the general may just be enough to outlast the Islamist politician. Egypt's secular opposition remains in disarray, unable to prove its worth as a viable alternative to President Morsi’s floundering leadership. That leaves Gen. Sissi’s increasingly trusted military as the only entity with the influence and organization needed to bring Egypt back from the brink of collapse.

ObamaCare and the Sequester Ideologues. By Jonathan S. Tobin.

ObamaCare and the Sequester Ideologues. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, March 1, 2013.

How James K. Polk Created a Continental America. By Dick Morris.

How James K. Polk Created a Continental America. By Dick Morris. Video., March 2, 2013.

Syrian war is everybody’s problem. By Frida Ghitis.

Syrian war is everybody’s problem. By Frida Ghitis. CNN, March 3, 2013.

Confronting Taboos in the Egyptian Public Square. By Sara Salem.

Confronting Taboos in the Egyptian Public Square. By Sara Salem. Muftah, February 20, 2013.

Who Decides?: Western Knowledge and Arab Revolutions. By Magid Shihade.

Who Decides?: Western Knowledge and Arab Revolutions. By Magid Shihade. Muftah, February 19, 2013.