There’s a scene in the comedy film “High Anxiety” in which a driver meets Mel Brooks at the airport and offers to pick up his cumbersome trunk. “I got it, I got it, I got it,” the driver insists as he struggles to lift the luggage before gasping, “I ain’t got it!” It lands with a thud.
The sequence came to mind recently as I thought about why I’m so skeptical of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential prospects — and it doesn’t concern the scandal surrounding the George Washington Bridge lane closures.
Having observed Christie on the national scene for a number of years now, I’ve been left with the impression that he isn’t aware of what he doesn’t know. He’s in love with his image as a tough-talking pragmatic governor and thinks he can go before just about any audience and rock em’ and sock em’ with his New Jersey humor and war stories about budget battles. I imagine that he goes before new audiences thinking to himself, “I’ve got this,” without doing the homework necessary to really understand the nuances of national or international politics.
This struck me for the first time when I saw Christie speak at the annual dinner of the Cato Institute in May 2012, in which he rattled the libertarian audience at the outset by referring to them as “a small group of committed conservatives.”
Anybody who has a basic understanding of the intellectual traditions of the limited-government movement would know that libertarians take great pains to differentiate themselves ideologically from conservatives. Referring to a Cato Institute audience as “committed conservatives” is kind of like speaking at a jazz conference and mixing up John Coltrane and Kenny G.
I was reminded of this incident when controversy ensued following Christie’s appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition conference in Las Vegas in late March. After failing to mention Israel at all during his opening remarks, he was asked to offer his reflections on his 2012 visit there.
“I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand the military risk that Israel faces every day,” Christie said during his remarks.
Christie’s overall intention, of course, was to tell the pro-Israel audience that he’s with them in steadfastly supporting the traditional U.S. ally. And yet he sloppily used the terminology “occupied territories.” Not only is the term inaccurate (as even the internationally accepted definition of occupation requires that the area in dispute is part of another sovereign nation), but the term endorses the Palestinian narrative that says any Jewish presence in the area is illegitimate.
According to a source who works within the pro-Israel community, Christie has repeatedly declined offers from those friendly to the idea of his candidacy to receive more advice and briefing on the issue. So it’s no surprise that the savvier RJC audience members were left with the impression that whatever his sympathies, he had little understanding of the dynamics of the Middle East.
To be clear, neither of these dustups are likely to be remembered much by the time the 2016 Republican primaries heat up. I’m not predicting a series of attack ads centered around his “occupied territories” remark. But Christie’s candidacy will be killed in its crib if he thinks he can rely on razzmatazz to impress Republican audiences — especially ones who are already suspicious of him.
His ego may have been inflated by the rousing reception he would receive when campaigning for Mitt Romney in Iowa, New Hampshire and other key states. But there’s a huge difference between being the warm-up act and undergoing the scrutiny of a candidate himself, where every slip-up gets magnified.
If he continues to take his “everything I need to know I learned in New Jersey” approach to national politics, Christie’s presidential candidacy is likely to end with a thud.
By: Philip Klein, Columnist, The Washington Times, April 10, 2014
It was clarifying indeed to watch the rush by Chris Christie over the weekend to make up for the sin of using the term “occupied territories” in his speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas, where Christie and three other 2016 contenders had assembled to court billionaire casino magnate and profligate political donor Sheldon Adelson. Never mind that Christie’s comments were couched in a strongly pro-Israel riff, or that the term “occupied territories” has been used, at various points, by the U.S. government, then-Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and the Israeli Supreme Court. No, Christie was harshly scolded for his language and issued an apology for his transgression to Adelson.
What made Christie’s penitence especially striking, though, is that not that long ago, he had been willing to stand up to the Adelson camp. In 2011, he spoke out vehemently against conservatives criticizing his nomination of a Muslim Indian-American for a Superior Court judgeship in New Jersey on the grounds that the nominee, Sohail Mohammed, would prioritize shariah law over the laws of New Jersey and the United States. In remarks that went viral on YouTube, Christie decried the “ignorance” behind the criticism. “Shariah law has nothing to do with this at all. It’s crazy,” Christie said. “The guy’s an American citizen who has been an admitted lawyer to practice in New Jersey, swearing an oath to uphold the law of New Jersey, the constitution of New Jersey and the constitution of the United States of America….This sharia law business is crap. It’s just crazy, and I’m tired of dealing with the crazies. It’s unnecessary to be accusing this guy of things just because of his religious background…There’s nothing to any of this stuff. I’m not going to talk about sharia law because sharia law has nothing to do with Sohail Mohammed…I’m happy he’s willing to serve after all this baloney.”
Sheldon Adelson did not weigh in on the nomination of a judge for a Passaic County judgeship. But he has been credibly linked to an outfit that has for some years now been busy fanning the flames of Western paranoia about Muslim encroachment, the Clarion Fund, the distributor for an incendiary 2005 film called “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.” Haaretz reported in 2007 that Adelson had personally distributed copies of the documentary to participants in the Taglit-Birthright Israel project, which allows young American Jews to visit Israel and to which Adelson has pledged $60 million. The New York Times reported, in a 2012 article about another anti-Muslim film distributed by Clarion Group, “The Third Jihad,” that the first film had “attracted support” from Adelson, but did not elaborate on whether that support went beyond his distribution of the film to Birthright participants to include actual financial backing. (“Obsession” had considerable financial heft behind it, given that it was distributed to millions of Americans before the 2008 election as an insert in swing-state newspapers.)
The bottom line is that just a few years ago, Chris Christie was willing to ruffle feathers of the likes of Sheldon Adelson when he stood up, in typically pugnacious fashion, on behalf of a Muslim-American lawyer who had defended fellow Muslims picked up in the overbroad FBI sweeps following the September 11 attacks. Yet here he was in Vegas hurrying to make up for his dread mistake of using the “o” word. There are two ways of looking at this. One is that we’re simply seeing the inevitable tension that would arise as a relatively moderate, independent-minded Republican tried to conform to the strictures of pleasing various funders and interest groups thought necessary for a presidential run. (Leave aside the irony that Adelson’s purported goal for 2016 is to find an electable Republican to back, regardless of whether he checks all the ideological boxes, only to have coverage of his big Vegas summit dominated by a candidate’s apology for deviating from orthodoxy.)
But the other way of looking at it is that what we are witnessing is more fallout from the scandal over the politically motivated lane closures at the George Washington Bridge. Had Christie still been riding high following his big re-election victory and solidifying his standing as the GOP establishment favorite in the run-up to 2016, he might’ve felt less need to plead forgiveness over a single reality-based utterance in the presence of Sheldon Adelson. But he is not riding high, and may have decided that he cannot afford forthrightness as much as he could have just a short while ago. Which again raises the question some of us have been asking since Bridgegate broke: without his famous forthrightness, what, exactly, does Chris Christie have to offer?
By: Alec MacGinnis, The New Republic, March 31, 2014
“The Line To Kiss Sheldon Adelson’s Boots”: Why Talk Directly To Voters When You Can Get A Billionaire To Help Manipulate Them
It’s hard to imagine a political spectacle more loathsome than the parade of Republican presidential candidates who spent the last few days bowing and scraping before the mighty bank account of the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. One by one, they stood at a microphone in Mr. Adelson’s Venetian hotel in Las Vegas and spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition (also a wholly owned subsidiary of Mr. Adelson), hoping to sound sufficiently pro-Israel and pro-interventionist and philo-Semitic to win a portion of Mr. Adelson’s billions for their campaigns.
Gov. John Kasich of Ohio made an unusually bold venture into foreign policy by calling for greater sanctions on Iran and Russia, and by announcing that the United States should not pressure Israel into a peace process. (Wild applause.) “Hey, listen, Sheldon, thanks for inviting me,” he said. “God bless you for what you do.”
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin brought up his father’s trip to Israel, and said he puts “a menorah candle” next to his Christmas tree. The name of his son, Matthew, actually comes from Hebrew, he pointed out.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey also described his trip to Israel, but then did something unthinkable. He referred to the West Bank as the “occupied territories.” A shocked whisper went through the crowd. How dare Mr. Christie implicitly acknowledge that Israel’s presence in the West Bank might be anything less than welcome to the Palestinians? Even before Mr. Christie left the stage, leaders of the group told him he had stumbled, badly.
And sure enough, a few hours later, Mr. Christie apologized directly to Mr. Adelson for his brief attack of truthfulness.
It would be one thing if these attempts at pandering were the usual ethnic bromides of candidates looking for votes in New York or Florida, a familiar ritual. But the people gathered in Las Vegas were not there as voters — they were there as donors, led by one of the biggest of them all, Mr. Adelson, who dispensed nearly $100 million to his favored candidates in 2012. He singlehandedly kept Newt Gingrich’s candidacy alive with $20 million in checks, and this year he is looking for a more mainstream candidate he can send to the White House on a tide of cash.
“He doesn’t want a crazy extremist to be the nominee,” Victor Chaltiel, a friend and colleague of Mr. Adelson, told the Washington Post. Well, that’s a relief.
But not much of one. The ability of one man and his money to engender so much bootlicking among serious candidates, which ought to be frightening, has now become commonplace. Why talk directly to voters when you can get a billionaire to help you manipulate them with a barrage of false television ads, as the Koch brothers are doing with Republican Senate candidates around the country.
It’s a cynical calculation that is turning people away from political involvement. Mr. Adelson thinks that’s not only terrific, but hilarious. Politico reported that at a party on Saturday night for the Republican Jewish Coalition, Mr. Adelson said he couldn’t give the group the $50 million it requested because its director didn’t have change for $1 billion.
The event was closed to the press, but it’s not hard to hear the fawning laughter and applause from here.
By: David Firestone, The Opinion Pages, The New York Times, March 31, 2014
America’s right believes that Israel can do no wrong when it’s building settlements in the occupied territories or trying to prevent a nuclear deal with Iran. But when it comes to social policies, fundamentalists ignore that Israel is far more progressive than the United States.
A new governmental panel is suggesting that the Jewish state pay for all abortions for women aged 20-33. Currently, abortions for medical reasons and for girls under the age of 18 are subsidized by the government.
“Unlike in the United States, abortion has never figured in the country’s political campaigns,” The Times of Israel’s Lamar Berman notes. “In fact, Israel does not even have an active anti-abortion movement.”
The Hyde Amendment makes it illegal for Medicaid to fund any abortions, except in the cases of rape, incest or a threat to the life of the mother. Several Republican state legislatures have passed laws that will require women to purchase an additional waiver to cover abortion.
Israel has a single-payer health care system, which helps keep costs low, as Mitt Romney noted during his visit to the country in 2012.
Christians like to play up their connection to the religious traditions of the Holy Land. But abortion is an issue where beliefs diverge.
“That Jewish law does not consider the fetus to be a legal person goes to the heart of why so-called ‘personhood’ amendments—laws that would declare a fertilized egg to be a person with rights—and other attempts by lawmakers and activists to afford fetuses equal protection rights have a constitutional problem,” Sarah Posner notes. “They reflect a particular religious view, one that is not, as Christian-right activists like to say about their beliefs on reproduction, a ‘Judeo-Christian’ one.”
As the far right has moved even further to the right on abortion — passing more restrictions in the last three years than in the decade before — it also has intensified its embrace of the Jewish state. Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev pointed out in 2011 that if President Obama treated Israel the way Ronald Reagan — who placed an embargo on arms sales to the state — did, he would be impeached.
The growing influence of the Christian Coalition following Pat Robertson’s galvanizing 1988 presidential campaign has shifted power to the evangelicals of the Republican Party and given rise to policies based on Christian Dispensationalism, which argues the Jews must return to Israel for the second coming of Jesus Christ to occur. Some Christians go further and argue that the conversion of the “chosen people” is necessary to bring about the rapture. George W. Bush recently raised funds for a group that is actively engaged in converting Jews.
The drastic dissonance between American fundamentalists and Israeli health experts — who would prefer to fund all abortions for all women but didn’t propose this for budgetary reasons — suggests that the right is willing to ignore differences of opinion on reproductive rights… when they’re focused on bringing about the end of the world.
By: Jason Sattler, Featured Post, The National Memo, January 2, 2014
Some of the initial pushback to the Iranian nuclear deal has faded, but for much of the right, the outrage lingers. A few too many conservatives – in Congress, in the media – seriously want Americans to see a good deal as tantamount to Nazi appeasement.
Indeed, for much of the right, the players have been cast in their proper historical roles: Obama is Chamberlain; Iranians are Nazis; and Netanyahu is both Churchill and Abraham Lincoln. (Don’t think about this too much; conservative historical analogies are deeply odd.)
But Peter Beinart raises a good point this morning: the tirades sound rather familiar.
Over the past quarter-century, there’s hardly an American or Israeli leader the Kristol-Netanyahu crowd hasn’t compared to Chamberlain. In 1985, Newt Gingrich called Reagan’s first meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich.” When Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, hawks took out newspaper ads declaring that “Appeasement is as unwise in 1988 as in 1938.”
Then, when Israel moved to thaw its own cold war with the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yitzhak Rabin assumed the Chamberlain role…. Then it was Bill Clinton. “The word that best describes Clinton administration [foreign] policy is appeasement,” explained Robert Kagan and Kristol in 1999. Then, of course, it was the opponents of war with Iraq. “The establishment fights most bitterly and dishonestly when it feels cornered and thinks it’s about to lose. Churchill was attacked more viciously in 1938 and 1939 than earlier in the decade,” wrote Kristol in a 2002 editorial, “The Axis of Appeasement.”
The Munich comparison is offensive on a variety of levels, but Beinart raises an important criticism: those pushing the analogy are also lazy.
For much of the right, there are simple, shorthand responses to almost every question that are intended to end debates in their favor. Can we bring health care security to millions of American families? “No, because it’s socialism.” Can we talk about income inequality and the concentration of wealth at the very top? “No, because it’s class warfare.” Can we talk about expanding investments in education and infrastructure? “No, because it’s big government.”
Can we reduce the nuclear threat – for us and the world – by engaging Iran in constructive diplomacy? “No, because it’s Munich.”
These are knee-jerk responses intended to circumvent thought. But they’ve also become tired and predictable, so much so that when it comes to diplomacy and national security, conservatives keep reading from the same script, making up new Hitlers, new Chamberlains, and new Munichs. The only thing that stays the same is the role of Churchill – a role they hold for themselves.
No one, least of all President Obama, should take the rhetoric seriously, though he can at least take comfort in knowing he’s in good company.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 27, 2013