Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Party Divided Against Itself Cannot Win

According to a CBS poll, 54% of the American people do not think that Barack Obama deserves a second term.

Today, a USA Today/Gallup poll suggests that either Romney or Gingrich can beat Obama in 12 important swing states. Those are:  Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

At the same time an NBC News-Marist poll shows Obama winning hypothetical matchups against both Romney and Gingrich in both South Carolina and Florida. In Florida Obama has a commanding lead.

At the same time, a Quinnipiac poll has Obama and his Republican rivals tied in Florida.

It may be that the polls are trying to tell us not to pay too much attention to polls at this stage of the presidential race.

Still, the Obama campaign has reason for hope. The Republican Party is falling into a nasty intramural fight over the nomination.  Charges and countercharges, attacks and counterattacks, vituperation and bile cloud the picture and diminish the Republican brand.

An increasingly desperate Romney campaign has continued to attack Gingrich. The Ron Paul campaign has declared war on Newt Gingrich.

In the media world, talk show host Michael Savage is so lathered up over Gingrich that he offered the former Speaker $1,000,000 to walk away from the race. Savage reasoned that Gingrich would definitely lose to Obama and that Romney would definitely win.

How he knows, no one knows. But, all is fair in the effort to win back the White House.

Another influential talk-show host, Glenn Beck, is so agitated by Gingrich that he might even support a third-party run by Ron Paul, even if, as he surely knows, it would make Obama a two-term president.

No one expects emotional continence from Michael Savage or Glenn Beck. They have been happy to oblige. Yet, their intemperate rants are certainly not helping the Republican cause.

Given the vitriol coming from the Romney camp and its supporters, why is columnist Ross Douthat analyzing the emotional stability of Gingrich supporters? It would make more sense to analyze the emotional state of those who are so terrified about the prospect of a Gingrich candidacy that they are indulging the most intemperate emotional displays.

I did not agree with Douthat when he said that Gingrich supporters are motivated by a revenge fantasy. So I will not question whether the intemperate souls who are supporting Romney are suffering from panic attacks. It wouldn't be fair. 

Say what you will about Gingrich’s character—and it has come under constant attack—the rancor that has infested the Republican presidential primaries was instigated by the Romney campaign. For my part I do not find that to be a sign of sterling character.

Douthat might be right to see the American people wanting a reassuring president, someone who comforts David Brooks. Yet, as I suggested on Sunday, I suspect that many Americans are looking for something else in their president. They are not looking for a safe establishment figure who will make the machine of government run smoothly. They know that the system has broken down, so they seem willing to consider someone who is going to defy the conventional wisdom and bust a few heads.

Recently, Gingrich has demonstrated his strengths and weaknesses as a potential president.

As everyone knows, last week Gingrich called the Palestinians an “invented” people. By that he meant that what the elites call the Palestinian cause, the sense that Palestinians are refugees who have legitimate aspirations to their previous homeland, is really an effort to destroy the state of Israel. The Palestinians could have had a state; they do not have to live in refugee camps. Their leaders choose to allow them to do it because they want to make their plight into an argument against the state of Israel. So Newt implied.

Many people have denounced the statement. Liberals have rejected it as an effort to garner Jewish votes. Conservative Romney supporters have said that it is reckless and undiplomatic.

At the very least, Gingrich has provoked a worldwide debate that has shed a very different light on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

For many years now we have seen a political consensus form around the idea of a Middle East Peace Process. It assumes that both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict yearn for peace and comity, that they both want to live in their separate states, and that the right kind of diplomatic muscle will affect the right outcome.

Some even believe that the failure to find a solution to the Palestinian problem is causing all of the world’s Islamic terrorism. They imagine that if the Palestinian people had a state to call their own then Islamic terrorism would cease.

In this narrative, the Palestinians tend to be taken to be the aggrieved party, the people who have suffered an injury, and thus, who are entitled to recompense.

For this reason diplomatic proposals usually involve pressuring Israel to make more concessions to the poor, downtrodden Palestinians.

Since this fiction has come to be accepted as a higher truth, it took a veritable bull-in-a-china-shop to undermine it. Gingrich did just that.

In rejecting the narrative Gingrich was, Phyllis Chesler explained, acting like the little boy in the Hans Christian Anderson story who declares that the Emperor is not wearing clothes.

Gingrich was saying, and he repeated his assertions in Saturday’s debate, that there could be no peace process with a group that has consistently refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

While it is possible to negotiate disputed territories or the parameters of a Palestinian state, it is not possible for any state to negotiate itself out of existence.

If the Palestinians had really wanted a separate state, they could have had one. Bill Clinton offered them one. Arafat turned him down.

In truth the Palestinians want to take over all of Israel and to expel all the Jews. They know that they cannot do it by force of arms, so that are using negotiation to achieve their goal.

Jonathan Tobin analyzes Gingrich’s statement: “… Palestinian nationalism is, as Gingrich rightly said, a 20th century invention. It arose and flourished purely as a reaction to Zionism, a factor that has fatally complicated the quest for peace as Palestinian identity seems to be predicated more on a desire to extinguish the Jewish state and to delegitimize the Jewish presence than it is on the re-creation of an Arab political culture that is specific to this locality.”

The issue is not so much the word “invented” as it is the purpose of the invention. Those who have rallied to the Palestinian cause, Gingrich was implying, are feeding Palestinian intransigence.

Gingrich was also implying that the “right of return” should not be subject to debate or negotiation. And he was saying that a political entity that chooses terrorism over statehood cannot expect the United States to pressure Israel into making more concessions.

Previous administrations have tried to be honest brokers between the contending parties. The Obama administration, however, has acted as though the Israelis, especially Netanyahu, are the problem and that if only they would stop building settlements, then the Palestinians would happily accept an offer of statehood.

Last Saturday Gingrich was asked to clarify his idea. He said: “I feel quite confident that an amazing number of Israelis found it nice to have an American tell the truth about the war they are in the middle of, and the casualties they are taking and the people around them who say, ‘They do not have a right to exist and we want to destroy them.'" 

He continued: “Somebody ought to have the courage to tell the truth. These [Palestinian] people are terrorists. They teach terrorism in their schools. They have textbooks that say, if there are 13 Jews and nine Jews are killed, how many Jews are left? We pay for those textbooks through our aid money. It’s fundamentally time for somebody to have the guts to stand up and say, enough lying about the Middle East.”

As for the “right of return, based as it is on the claim that the Palestinians have inhabited the land from time immemorial, Gingrich said: “The fact is, the Palestinian claim to a right of return is based on a historically false story. Somebody ought to have the courage to go all the way back to the 1921 League of Nations mandate for a Jewish homeland, point out the context in which Israel came into existence, and ‘Palestinian’ did not become a common term until after 1977. This is a propaganda war in which our side refuses to engage. And we refuse to tell the truth when the other side lies. And you’re not gonna win the long run if you’re afraid to stand firm and stand for the truth.”

Writing from Jerusalem yesterday, Caroline Glick explained that the Gingrich approach is a welcome correction to Obama’s tendency to appease Palestinians and support Islamists in Egypt and North Africa.

Glick writes: “Thirty years of pre-Obama American lying about the nature of the conflict in an attempt to balance support for Israel with appeasement of the Arabs did not make the US safer or the Middle East more peaceful. A return to that policy under a new Republican president will not be sufficient to restore stability and security to the region.

“And the need for such a restoration is acute. Under Obama, the last three years of US abandonment of the truth about Israel for Palestinian lies has made the region less stable, Israel more vulnerable, the US less respected and US interests more threatened.

“Gingrich's statement of truth was not an act of irresponsible flame throwing. It was the beginning of an antidote to Obama's abandonment of truth and reason in favor of lies and appeasement. And as such, it was not a cause for anger. It was a cause for hope.”

Like it or not, Gingrich set off a serious foreign policy debate. He provoked many cries of anguish from Muslim quarters. If the goal of foreign policy is to make everyone think you are on their side, then clearly he crossed a line. If we need always to seek a compromise, then he was not being diplomatic. But if there are times when negotiation is counterproductive, then he has helped to reset the dispute in more realistic terms.

Now, Republican voters can decide whether they want someone who risks shaking things up or someone who will continue the status quo. 


Malcolm said...

Also Barry Rubin and Daniel Greenfield looked at the issue.



Anonymous said...

In the Gingrich-as-nominee scenario: Ron Paul, if he goes 3rd party, will disappear. The only people who would vote for him, Beck's blustering notwithstanding, are already loudly proclaiming their support for him. They're fully activated. There aren't any silent Paul voters waiting until Election Day to make their cases.

Normal Republican voters will either vote for Newt, or stay home (if they let the establishment and the media trick them into thinking that he'd be worse than a 2nd Obama term).

Paul's numbers would look like a rounding error. I don't think he'd influence the outcome in either direction.