Dear Reader (and any of my “love children” out there),
What’s Love Got to Do (Got to Do) with It??
Actually, I don’t like the phrase “love child.” I think it’s hypocritical. We’re not supposed to use “bastard” anymore because it’s unfair and judgmental (See Nancy French’s item in the Corner on the rise and fall of the “B-word”). And I think that’s right and good. It’s not the kid’s fault his mom had too many fuzzy navels at the office Christmas party and Bob from accounting was looking so rakish in his corduroy jacket and flannel shirt.
When you think about it, pro-lifers in particular should oppose the term “bastard,” if for no other reason than they’re trying to coax women into keeping their babies. Telling women that the kid will have the mark of Cain on him or her forever isn’t great marketing.
But the term “love child” goes too far in the other direction, and, as I said, it’s hypocritical. As I understand it, the “love” in this usage has to do with the congress of the parents and not the love the parents may – or may not! – have for the child (if it has to do with the Congress in Washington then I am hopelessly confused). Well, if “bastard” is too harsh on the child, then “love” is too generous for the parents. Did Arnold Schwarzenegger really love his housekeeper? If DSK had gotten the Sofitel maid pregnant, would it be right to call the maid’s child a “love child”?
What we need is a term that isn’t cruel to the child but still shames the parents, at least a bit. “Fringe benefit to excessive Cinco De Mayo party” is too specific. “The only good thing to come with a bottle of tequila,” is closer but still not quite right.
Anyway, you think about it.
Did Obama Mean to Do That?
So I watched Obama’s big speech yesterday, in part because I knew I would be talking about it on the Special Report panel. (I’m sufficiently busy these days trying to get this [expletive deleted] book done that I have to be somewhat selective in my overall news intake. Watching a speech by Obama rather than just following the coverage and reading the transcript is a big investment of time that could be used for writing. The fact that it was on and I couldn’t find the remote helped too.)
Anyway, up until he got to Israel, I thought it was pretty good. Like a lot of people, I joked on Twitter how I thought the original Bush version was better. But except for his very odd insinuation that he had anything to do with the Arab Spring or the claim that his administration has been on the side of democracy from the get-go, I thought it showed real growth.
By the way, he should be very, very careful about taking credit for the Arab Spring. I mean, talk about taking credit for a love child that may end up being a real bastard.
For the record, the first two years of his administration had little to nothing to do with democracy promotion. His policy was “liberal realism,” where he tried to engage with tyrants out of a childish and dangerous “if Bush was for it, I’m against” petulance. See Josh Muravchik in the Corner. During the most important Middle East moment in years – the failed Iranian revolution of 2009 – he buried his head in the sand until it was too late.
But as folks on both sides of the aisle should always remember, it’s better to have the president hypocritically join your side than consistently oppose it. Which brings us to . . .
1967 and All That
The main event of the speech was the section on Israel. Frankly, when I watched the speech, I didn’t think it was that bad. In fact, I thought – and still think – that this was the most pro-Israel speech Obama has ever given (or ever dreamed he’d give). Now, that may be faint praise à la “the prettiest Helen Thomas has ever looked” or “the most loyal cat on earth” or “the funniest Carrot Top routine I’ve ever seen” (“or the most pointless G-File ever?” – the Couch). But it’s something. Frankly, I simply missed what has caused all of the controversy. The only thing I will say in my defense is that a lot of folks who are more invested in the Israel issue than I am — Jeffrey Goldberg (no relation), various colleagues at AEI (no relation), and several of my go-to Israel guys – more or less seemed to have missed it at first too. After all, that Israel should return to the 1967 borders (i.e. the 1949 armistice lines) with mutually agreed upon swaps of land is not a new view. What’s new is the idea that Obama thinks that the negotiations should start there, rather than end there. It’s actually a big difference.
Basically, in 1997 and, more important, in 2004, the U.S. government assured the Israelis that if they made tangible concessions – leaving Hebron and Gaza – then the United States would commit to ensuring that Israel had “defensible borders” at the end of the “peace process.” “Defensible borders” is the term of art because it recognizes the fact that Israel cannot defend the borders as they were in 1967, when it was only about eight miles wide in the middle. (After recently visiting Israel and touring the relevant topography, I have something of a new appreciation for how serious the concern for defensible borders really is.) By insisting that the negotiations start with 1967 borders as the baseline, pro-Israel critics say, Obama put Israel in a very bad spot.
Remember these assurances weren’t made simply by the Clinton and Bush administration, but by the U.S. government. Since Israel can’t negotiate with the hapless Palestinians, it made a deal with the Americans. Critics insist the Obama administration has reneged on that deal. It’s true that Hillary Clinton has refused on more than one occasion to say that the White House considers itself bound by the 2004 assurances. (For a detailed tick-tock, see this December 2009 Rick Richman piece.)
It’s kind of amazing how the New York Times crowd desperately wants this to be big news and so does the conservative talk radio crowd. One side says, “Yay! Obama is throwing Israel under the bus!” The other side says, “How dare Obama throw Israel under the bus!?”
I’m still not so sure either side is really grasping the key dynamic here. The Obama administration’s position certainly isn’t news, even by the critics’ standard, since even they concede this has been Obama’s stance since 2009. And his talk of swaps echoes what Bush and Clinton before had proposed or discussed. If this were really the existential attack on Israel some are making it out to be, I’d at least expect folks like Jeffrey Goldberg to be madder and folks like, er, the Palestinians to be happier.
That said, I think I am persuaded that what Obama is proposing is bad news for Israel. I hate to admit it, but after Charles Krauthammer (we chatted after the show and he good-naturedly accused me of going soft on Israel) and Elliott Abrams, the person who’s made the most persuasive case is . . . Alan Dershowitz. I have never been a fan of Dershowitz. I believe on more than one occasion I have written that if he took Viagra he’d get taller. But he can be very good on Israel.
Less Evil More Stupid – Or Partisan
Now I could be completely wrong on this, but I don’t think Obama thought he was giving an anti-Israel speech (See John Podhoretz on this.). I think he thought he was placating Israel and pandering to pro-Israel Jews in the U.S. I think he thought he was kicking the can down the road because he knows that nothing will be done on the Israel-Palestine issue until at least 2013 (and more likely 2023). I think he saw his AIPAC speech coming up and heard the complaints from Jewish donors and choked, figuring he could deliver a “bold” speech that called for “bold” action but was dead on arrival the second it left his mouth. He’s flip-flopping on nearly every other important issue he can in order to get reelected; I sincerely doubt he cares more about either Middle East peace or shafting Israel than he does about getting reelected. I think he thinks this a prudent retreat.
And – bam! – it blew up in his face. It’s a bit like Newt Gingrich’s Meet the Press fiasco. Newt was trying to reinvent himself as kinder and gentler than the Newt we all grew up with. It was like he was calmly picking flower petals as he walked through a beautiful field, walking hand in hand with David Gregory. La dee dah, I’m for the individual mandate. Zippity-doo-dah, Paul Ryan’s budget is too radical. Hoh hum aren’t I huggable? Tee hee haven’t I grownnnnzzzzzipp pow splat. He walked right into the tail rotor of a metaphorical helicopter! Cue Tony Montana voice: “Look at you now!”
Anyway, my only point is that I think Obama is simply way out of his depth on a lot of these issues. It’s entirely possible he believes all of the nonsense in his speech about being responsible for the Arab Spring and standing up for our values. But the pro- or anti- view that this was all part of an elaborate Middle East chess game by some [insert your adjective] genius strikes me as entirely implausible.
In Other News
I’m on Special Report again on Monday. Judging from the feedback from last night’s performance, my haircut was a welcome development. I’m trying to figure out what exciting new grooming improvements I can come up with by Monday to keep the excitement going.
Here is my column on DSK and the gratuitous self-congratulation of a lot of Americans.