Monday, July 30, 2007

The Opinionator

August 1, 2007, 10:08 am
WSJ: Opinions Not for Sale [$]
By Chris Suellentrop
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The Wall Street Journal editorial page wants its readers to know that it won’t be changing its political perspective just because Rupert Murdoch bought Dow Jones, the company that owns The Journal:

The nastiest attacks have come from our friends on the political left. They can’t decide whose views they hate most — ours, or Mr. Murdoch’s. We’re especially amused by those who say Mr. Murdoch might tug us to the political left. Don’t count on it. More than one liberal commentator has actually rejoiced at the takeover bid, on the perverse grounds that this will ruin the Journal’s news coverage, which in turn will reduce the audience for the editorial page. Don’t count on that either.

Such an expectation overlooks that the principle of “free people and free markets” promoted in these columns has an appeal far beyond this newspaper. We fill a market niche for such commentary that is too little met by other newspapers and media outlets. But we have every confidence that if we vanished, or let our standards fall, the marketplace would find an alternative. What ultimately matters are the ideas, and their basic truth.
A letter to readers by Wall Street Journal publisher L. Gordon Crovitz, published on The Journal’s op-ed page, makes a similar claim about opinion journalism in the Murdoch era. One of the “standards modeled on the long-standing Dow Jones Code of Conduct” agreed to by News Corp. and the Bancrofts is this: “Opinions represent only the applicable publication’s own editorial philosophies centered around the core principle of ” ‘free people and free markets.’ ”

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July 31, 2007, 4:26 pm
Rudy Can’t Fail?
By Chris Suellentrop
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Rudy, Play Like a Champion Today: His Republican opponents seem not to have noticed, but Rudy Giuliani is winning the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, says The Weekly Standard’s Matthew Continetti in a cover story on the state of Giuliani’s presidential bid.

“The conventional wisdom holds that as grassroots conservatives wake up to Giuliani’s differences with them on issues like abortion, they will ditch him in favor of someone else,” Continetti writes. “That may be happening to some extent, but it hasn’t knocked Giuliani out of first place or undermined the rationale for his candidacy.”

Continetti doesn’t discount the considerable obstacles facing Giuliani on his way to the nomination. For one thing, his lead is shrinking:

Charles Franklin, a political scientist and polling expert at the University of Wisconsin, estimates that the mayor’s support has fallen around 8 percentage points nationally since March. The trend in support for Giuliani in Iowa and New Hampshire is also downward. So far, Sen. John McCain’s estimated 10 percentage point decline nationally, and the hemorrhaging of cash and staff from his campaign, has overshadowed Giuliani’s downward trend. But the trend is there.
Continetti adds, “And all of this is just the beginning. The attacks on Giuliani’s business interests, former associates, and operatic personal life will mount as 2008 approaches.”

Still, Republican primary voters see two reasons to stick with Giuliani, Continetti says. One, they want to beat Hillary Clinton, who they presume will be the Democratic nominee, and they think Giuliani is the most electable Republican in the race. Two, Republican voters seem to think Giuliani is the candidate who can win the war in Iraq. Continetti writes:

When audiences question Giuliani, they tend to ask him about the war and what he would do to prosecute it. In the day I spent following Giuliani across western Iowa, during which the mayor spoke to hundreds of people, exactly two audience members asked him questions dealing with social issues. One man wanted to know about Giuliani’s “family, faith, and politics.” One woman wanted to know the mayor’s stance on gay rights. And that was all. It may be that the audiences who go see Giuliani are self-selected–that is, those voters who would ask social-issues questions know how he differs from them, and so don’t bother to go at all. It also may be that the Republican party is undergoing a genuine realignment in priorities.
There is no doubt that “a Giuliani candidacy would alter the Republican party,” Continetti writes. “For one, it would de-link the Republican presidential nominee from opposition to Roe v. Wade for the first time in decades. And it would divorce the Republican presidential nominee from much of the conservative movement for the first time since 2000.”

Fortunately for Giuliani, “Many people, including most of his competitors for the Republican nomination, don’t seem to have thought through the consequences of Giuliani’s ascendance,” Continetti concludes. He adds, “It could be that most Republican elites assume the prospect of a Giuliani nomination to be so unlikely that they act as if he were not in the race at all.”
And they may not figure it out until it’s too late.

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July 31, 2007, 9:51 am
Department of Sidestepping
By Chris Suellentrop
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Fredo, you’re my attorney general and I love you. But don’t ever potentially commit perjury while testifying before Congress again: Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus finds herself in “an unaccustomed and unexpected position: defending Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.” Marcus thinks Gonzales chose his language carefully enough to avoid committing perjury when he misled Congress about the nature of the conversation that took place in John Ashcroft’s hospital room. But that’s about the only nice thing she has to say about him:

In his Senate testimony last week, Gonzales once again dissembled and misled. He was too clever by seven-eighths. He employed his signature brand of inartful dodging — linguistic evasion, poorly executed. The brutalizing he received from senators of both parties was abundantly deserved.

But I don’t think he actually lied about his March 2004 hospital encounter with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Although “Congress deserves better than technically correct linguistic parsing,” Marcus writes, perjury is still “a crime that demands parsing.” She writes:

The Supreme Court could have been writing about Gonzales when it ruled that “the perjury statute is not to be loosely construed, nor the statute invoked simply because a wily witness succeeds in derailing the questioner — so long as the witness speaks the literal truth” — even if the answers “were not guileless but were shrewdly calculated to evade.”

Consequently, the calls by some Democrats for a special prosecutor to consider whether Gonzales committed perjury have more than a hint of maneuvering for political advantage. What else is to be gained by engaging in endless Clintonian debates about what the meaning of “program” is?

Rather, lawmakers need to concentrate on determining what the administration did — and under what claimed legal authority — that produced the hospital room showdown. They need to satisfy themselves that the administration has since been operating within the law; to see what changes might guard against a repetition of the early, apparently unlawful activities; and to determine where the foreign intelligence wiretapping statute might need fixes.
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July 30, 2007, 4:39 pm
Free John Walker Lindh?
By Chris Suellentrop
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If it’s good enough for Scooter Libby, it’s good enough for the American Talib: The Los Angeles Times editorial page wants President Bush to commute the prison sentence of John Walker Lindh. The editorial states:

John Walker Lindh broke the law. He pleaded guilty to the one crime of which he was guilty — aiding the Taliban — and to carrying a gun and hand grenades in the service of that regime’s war against the Northern Alliance. For that, he deserved to go to prison, and he should not receive a pardon. He is a felon, and his record should never be cleared.

The issue, then, is not Lindh’s guilt but his sentence. He was ordered to spend 20 years in prison, far longer than comparably situated defendants. Maher Mofeid Hawash pleaded guilty to violating the same law, and, after he agreed to cooperate, the government recommended that he serve seven to 10 years in prison. Yaser Esam Hamdi, who fought with Lindh in the Taliban military, was released back to Saudi Arabia in 2004, having spent less than four years in custody. David Hicks, an Australian, pleaded guilty to terror charges before a military commission and was sentenced to nine months. Of all the suspects rounded up across the world in the administration’s war on terror, only shoe bomber Richard Reid, who actively attempted to destroy a plane in flight, is serving a longer sentence than Lindh.
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July 30, 2007, 12:58 pm
Surge Protectors
By Chris Suellentrop
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Time political columnist Joe Klein isn’t persuaded by the optimistic take in today’s New York Times Op-Ed by Michael E. O’Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack, in which O’Hanlon and Pollack suggest that the surge has “the potential to produce not necessarily ‘victory’ but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.”

I agree with many, but not all, of the conclusions,” Klein writes, “but you really can’t write a piece about the [war] in Iraq and devote only two sentences to the political situation, which is disastrous and, as [Gen. David] Petraeus has said, will determine the success or failure of the overall effort.” He continues:

It could be argued that what the U.S. military is now accomplishing is clearing the field of foreigners — i.e. the Al Qaeda in Iraq foreign fighters — so that the indigenous Sunnis and Shi’ites can go at each other in a full-blown civil war, complete with Srebrenica style massacres … I see absolutely no evidence that the majority Shi’ites are willing to concede anything to the minority Sunnis, and there are significant signs that Baghdad is being ethnically cleansed.
The progress made against Al Qaeda in Iraq “should not be extrapolated into anything resembling optimism,” Klein writes. The progress, “such as it is,” has been made in primarily Sunni areas, he adds. “But Iraq is primarily a Shi’ite country — and we’re not doing so well with those guys, especially the most prominent of them, Muqtada al-Sadr.”

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July 30, 2007, 10:27 am
Dangers of Early Dismissal
By Chris Suellentrop
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Don’t get cocky, Dems: History suggests that there are plenty of ways for the Democrats to lose the 2008 presidential election, says Rutgers historian David Greenberg in an essay published in The Boston Globe’s “Ideas” section. “The Republicans possess certain advantages that are too often overlooked, including a built-in edge in the electoral college, Bush’s impending exit from the political picture, and several candidates with potential across-the-board appeal,” Greenberg writes. He later adds:

The first myth to dispel is that of Democratic momentum. It’s tempting to regard the Democrats’ 2006 triumphs as rock-hard proof that a new liberal wind is blowing. But as a historical matter, the party that wins the Senate or House in an off-year election has no discernible advantage when seeking the presidency two years later.

In 1948, two years after seizing control of Congress, the Republicans not only failed to oust Democrat Harry Truman from the White House but even ceded back control of both chambers. In 1988, two years after regaining the Senate, Democrats still couldn’t capture the presidency. Indeed, not since 1920 has either party taken the presidency after winning control of Congress in the preceding midterms — a historical tidbit that, if statistically trivial, warns against making any assumptions about 2008.

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