Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Zionism, Jihad, and Nakba: The Rebirth of Israel and the Palestinian Catastrophe

By Michael Kaplan

The Mufti and the Führer. Haj Amin al-Husseini, leader of the Palestinian nationalist movement, with Adolf Hitler,  November 28, 1941.
Heinrich Hoffman/ Wikipedia.

The Palestinian Arab movement has been committed to the elimination of the Jews from its earliest days. Palestinian Arab nationalism was born in opposition to Zionism and remains defined by its uncompromising hostility to the idea and the reality of a Jewish state. Filastin hi arduna, Wa al-Yahud kilabuna! (“Palestine is our land and the Jews are our dogs!”) This has been the rallying cry for Palestinian Arabs ever since the Nebi Musa riots in Jerusalem in April 1920. On this point it made no difference whether Palestinians saw themselves as a distinct people or as part of the larger Arab nation. As early as 1905 the pioneer Arab nationalist Najib Azuri, a Lebanese Christian, warned that Arab nationalism and Zionism were irreconcilable. The two movements were destined to clash in a zero-sum struggle until one achieved a complete triumph over the other:
Two important phenomena, similar in nature and yet opposed to each other, which have not yet attracted the attention of anybody, are now manifesting themselves in Asiatic Turkey, namely the awakening of the Arab nation and the concealed effort of the Jews to reestablish the ancient monarchy of Israel on a grand scale. These two movements are destined to a continuous struggle, until one of the two prevails over the other. On the final outcome of this struggle between these two peoples, representing two opposing principles, will depend the destiny of the entire world.
By 1914, if not earlier, politically engaged Arab nationalists in Greater Syria agreed with Azuri that no accommodation with Zionism was possible. Any further Jewish settlement and nation-building, they concluded, would be harmful to the prospects of an Arab Muslim Palestine. One of these leaders, Haqqi Bey al-Azm, argued that “by employing means of threats and persecutions and it is this last method which we must employ by prodding the Arab population into destroying their farms and setting fire to their colonies, by forming gangs to execute these projects, the Zionists could be compelled to leave Palestine. One hundred years later this logic still shapes the strategies and tactics of Fatah, Hamas, and the Ayatollah Khamenei.

Vladimir Jabotinsky, 1935. Jabotinsky Institute.

That the Arabs were determined to oppose Jewish nation-building and preserve the Arab character of Palestine as part of the dar-al-Islam, should not have come as a surprise to the Zionists. No people have ever voluntarily consented to sharing their land with another people, even one with deep historical and religious ties to it. Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist (right-wing) Zionism, unlike the Labor (left-wing) Zionists, had no illusions about this. “Any native people,” Jabotinsky insisted, “views their country as their national home, of which they will always be the complete masters. They will not voluntarily allow, not only a new master, but even a new partner.” Jabotinsky warned that Zionism could succeed only by confronting and pushing back against the opposition of the Palestinian Arabs.
We cannot offer any adequate compensation to the Palestinian Arabs in return for Palestine. And therefore, there is no likelihood of any voluntary agreement being reached. So that all those who regard such an agreement as a condition sine qua non for Zionism may as well say “non” and withdraw from Zionism.
Jabotinsky’s assessment was confirmed by Awni Bey Abd al-Hadi, who told the Peel Commission:
There is not one nation in the world that would accept voluntarily and of its own desire that its position should be changed in a manner which will have an effect on its rights and prejudice its interests. . . . We as a nation are human beings with our own culture and civilization and we feel as any other nation would feel. It will have to be imposed on us by force.
Since the Palestinian Arabs would violently resist the Jewish return to Zion, the Zionist halutzim (pioneers) would have to respond with “an iron wall of Jewish bayonets.”

Britain’s Peel Commission, the first body to recommend a two-state solution, showed great insight when it explained the intractable nature of the conflict in words that apply just as much in 2016 as they did in 1937:
An irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country. About 1,000,000 Arabs are in strife, open or latent, with some 400,000 Jews. There is no common ground between them. The Arab community is predominantly Asiatic in character, the Jewish community predominantly European. They differ in religion and in language. Their cultural and social life, their ways of thought and conduct, are as incompatible as their national aspirations. These last are the greatest bar to peace. Arabs and Jews might possibly learn to live and work together in Palestine if they would make a genuine effort to reconcile and combine their national ideals and so build up in time a joint or dual nationality. But this they cannot do. The War and its sequel have inspired all Arabs with the hope of reviving in a free and united Arab world the traditions of the Arab golden age. The Jews similarly are inspired by their historic past. They mean to show what the Jewish nation can achieve when restored to the land of its birth. National assimilation between Arabs and Jews is thus ruled out. In the Arab picture the Jews could only occupy the place they occupied in Arab Egypt or Arab Spain. The Arabs would be as much outside the Jewish picture as the Canaanites in the old land of Israel. The National Home, as we have said before, cannot be half-national. In these circumstances to maintain that Palestinian citizenship has any moral meaning is a mischievous pretence. Neither Arab nor Jew has any sense of service to a single State.
The commissioners concluded that “this conflict was inherent in the situation from the outset.” And for both internal and external reasons – the intensification of Jewish and Arab nationalism in Palestine, the rise of Nazi Germany and the persecution of Jews in Europe – it would only get worse. “The conflict will go on, the gulf between Arabs and Jews will widen.” 

The 130-year war between Israelis and Arab Palestinians has always been a war of identity, a a war of blood and faith, an existential clash between irreconcilable national and religious aspirations.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Israel, Islam, and the Clash of Civilizations

By Michael Kaplan

Israeli female soldiers of the 33rd Caracal Battalion take part in a graduation march in the Negev desert. Female warriors are an important symbol in the clash of civilizations. The IDF is the one army that ISIS fears.  Menahem Kahana/Getty Images

The world – the Western and Islamic worlds that is – has a most unhealthy and irrational obsession with Zionism, the Jewish people, and the Jewish state. An ocean of ink has been spilled over the past hundred years – and terabytes of cyberspace filled up these days – on the existential conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs.

In fact the Israeli-Palestinian conflict claims a far larger share of the world’s attention than it deserves. Geopolitically it’s not that important; “a 20th century problem surrounded by 21st century chaos,” in the words of one diplomat. Indeed, the fate of Israel and the Palestinians is far less important to the geostrategic interests of the United States than events elsewhere in the Middle East, East Asia, and beyond. Former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer is right when he asks “can it be proven that it would make a substantive – vice emotional – difference to U.S. security if . . . every Palestinian killed every Israeli, or vice versa . . . ?” The “brutal but correct” answer says Scheuer is that it doesn’t. Ethno-religious communal conflicts, like that between Israel and the Palestinians, “evoke sympathy and stir emotion,” but none of them, “regardless of who wins, endanger U.S. interests.”

Ah, but there’s the rub. While Scheuer overstates his case – Israel, as General David Petraeus points out, does have strategic value as a stable nation with an advanced economy and a powerful military that shares American cultural and political values in a part of the world that is increasingly unstable and dysfunctional – the American people do have a considerable  historical and emotional investment in Israel.

Ever since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Americans have seen themselves as the “New Israel.” “Come, let us declare in Zion the work of the Lord our God,” proclaimed the Pilgrim leader William Bradford, quoting the prophet Jeremiah. Adherents of the Calvinist faith, and this includes Puritans and Jacksonians, gave their children Hebrew names (Abraham, Samuel, David, Jeremiah, Abigail, Rachel, Esther, Sarah, Dina, etc., etc.,) and bestowed upon the New World such biblical place names as Shiloh, Bethel, Bethlehem, Jericho, and New Canaan. Preachers and pamphleteers portrayed the American Revolution as a reenactment of the biblical Exodus: the Continental Army became the “army of Israel” under the command of the providentially chosen George Washington, the Moses who led the thirteen colonies out of bondage to “Pharaoh” George III, through the wilderness of war, to the promised land of independence. The Reverend Abiel Abbot announced in a 1799 sermon: “It has often been remarked that the people of the United States come nearer to a parallel with Ancient Israel, than any other nation upon the globe. Hence Our American Israel is a term frequently used; and common consent allows it apt and proper.”

Early Americans were among the first Zionists. In 1819 John Adams wrote to the Jewish American writer and politician Mordecai Manuel Noah: “Farther I could find it in my heart to wish that you had been at the head of a hundred thousand Israelites . . . & marching with them into Judea & making a conquest of that country & restoring your nation to the dominion of it. For I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent nation.”

Jacksonians tend to identify with Israel, ancient and modern. Nineteenth-century Jacksonians saw themselves as Israelites engaged in the holy work of winning the land from the Native American Canaanites. While fighting the Seminoles in Florida in 1818, Andrew Jackson declared that his soldiers were “like the Iseralites of old in the wilderness.Jackson believed his army acted as “the hand of heaven . . . pointed against the exciters of this war,” on a mission to scatter the enemy “over the whole face of the Earth. Present-day Jacksonians admire Israeli strength and resolve and view the Jewish state as a valuable ally in the war against radical Islam. They also see Israel as a valiant David that shares American values, surrounded by a sea of Arab Muslim Goliaths whose social, cultural, and political mores leave Jacksonians baffled, whose states and societies are in meltdown, and whose embrace of jihadist terrorism places them beyond the pale of civilization and renders them enemies of the United States.

Israel is the source of the Abrahamic faiths that claim the loyalty of at least half of mankind. Though small in number as a people the contributions of the Jews to world civilization is immense. (Though, as Yuval Noah Harari points out, Judaism as a religion has had a very minor impact on civilization, other than as the source of the ethical monotheism universalized by Christianity and Islam.) And so the historical and emotional importance of Israel and the Jews to America and the world guarantee that Israel’s actions and destiny will remain at the center of the world’s stage. (See, for example the current issue of Foreign Affairs, cover shown below.)

Of course when it comes to Israel and the Jews it’s just not possible for most observers to be fair and balanced, or engage in calm, reasoned discourse. Israel and the Jews push too many hot buttons for too many people – religious, historical, cultural, psychological, and political – for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. Friends and foes of Israel, living in alternate realities, committed with passionate intensity to uncompromising positions, engage in take-no-prisoners ideological jousts that inevitably devolve into incoherent paroxysms of righteous anger and rage. (And yes, most of the anger and rage against Israel, these days largely on the Leftis driven by anti-Semitism. Walter Russell Mead calls this new incarnation of Jew-hatred the Israel Outrage Industry. See: Helen Thomas.) There is simply too much historical and emotional baggage for all involved.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Existential Wars of Blood and Faith

By Michael Kaplan

I and my brother against my cousin. Middle Eastern tribalism: A Bedouin camp in the Transjordan in the 1890s. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The conflicts of the twenty-first century are shaping up, as strategic analyst Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters predicted, to be “wars of blood and faith.” This is true of the civil war in Syria, where an estimated 470,000 people have been killed, and similar conflicts across the developing world, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and even America’s post-9/11 war with radical Islam. Jacksonian America is after all a folk community that embodies the blood and faith element of American life (just listen to Toby Keith). These wars are driven by the existential issues of tribal and religious identity: Who am I and who is God? Is God a kind, loving, and merciful father, or is he a harsh, hate-filled, and punitive tyrant? “Will the god of love and mercy triumph over the god of battles?” Colonel Peters asks. Millions will die in the coming years trying to answer these questions.

These conflicts are made even more savage by the pressures of globalization. A recent study by Hebrew University political scientist Pazit Ben-Nun Bloom asserts that while globalization “has increased interpersonal contact between individuals from culturally diverse backgrounds,” it has not promoted greater tolerance or acceptance of difference. Nor has it promoted religious liberty and protection of minority groups. Just look at the Muslim Brotherhood’s bloody jihad against Coptic Christians in Egypt and ISIS’s even bloodier jihad against Christians, Yazidis, and all minorities in the Middle East. Instead globalization’s freewheeling cultural diversity and upheaval “induces perceived threat to a hegemonic religion, which leads to more restrictions on religious freedom.”

People really don’t like having cultural and religious differences shoved in their faces. Shadi Hamid makes the less than inspiring observation, “that the more people interact, the more they dislike each other.” This is just as true of subgroups – smaller tribal, family, and cult identities – within an ethno-religious society, as for example the intensifying conflict between ultra-Orthodox Haredim and the Israeli mainstream over issues of female sexuality and military service. Or the conflict over LGBTQ rights and transgender bathrooms in the United States. Such subcultures can live together peacefully in the same nation if they are given enough autonomy and breathing space to follow their own customs and mores and develop their own communal institutions, and eschew the urge to impose their will on the rest of the nation. Dutch political scientist Arend Lijphart wrote that “subcultures with widely divergent outlooks and interests may coexist without necessarily being in conflict. Conflict arises only when they are in contact with each other.” We need to accept that some differences, especially those of blood and faith, are simply too intractable to be bridged. Contrary to the liberal ideal of all people coming together to sing Kumbaya and celebrate their diversity, the best we can hope for in many ethnically and religiously divided societies is a sort of “voluntary apartheid” where the different groups try to keep out of each others faces.

The clash of civilizations. Charles Martel stops the Islamic invasion of Francia at the Battle of Poitiers, October 10, 732. Wikipedia.

Ben-Nun Bloom and her co-authors conclude:
that increasing awareness of diverse cultures, ideas and traditions as a result of globalization increases the perception of threat to religious, cultural and national integrity and results in a backlash that manifests itself in distrust of and even aggressive attitudes towards alien cultures and lifestyles. Globalization thus creates a threat to the sense of group integrity, which in turn leads to fears of loss of identity and the sense of a disintegrating community and generates strong resistance towards other value systems, such as other religions.
In fact globalization is provoking its opposite: a re-tribalization of much of the world. Faced with moral chaos through the overthrow of age-old customs and values by globalization, people are falling back on their primal tribal identities. Or to borrow Tom Friedman’s metaphor, people are rejecting the Lexus for the Olive Tree. Ethnic street gangs, usually linked to the drug trade, are the new tribes of urban America’s economic and spiritual wastelands. God Himself, Ralph Peters writes, is being re-tribalized. “Far from monolithic, both the Muslim and Christian faiths are splintering, with radical strains emerging that reject the globalization of God and insist that His love is narrow, specific, and highly conditional.” This is not a recipe for peaceful coexistence.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Reviling the Rabble: Bret Stephens Wants to Teach Jacksonian America a Lesson

By Michael Kaplan

Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal has long been one of my favorite columnists. He talks more sense on foreign policy issues like the threat of radical Islam or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than a whole conga line of bloviating pundits. (See, for example, here, here, here, here, and here.) This has, to Stephens’s credit, earned him the overheated hatred of the Left. (See these examples from the left-wing anti-Semitic website Mondoweiss, here, here, here.)

So I was very disappointed when Stephens launched into a tirade against Jacksonian America on a May 29 Fareed Zakaria GPS panel. (GPS transcript here.)

Stephens, usually the conservative on a GPS panel, descends here into the same liberal internationalist contempt for the people of flyover country—reviling the rabbletypical of host Fareed Zakaria:
I most certainly will not vote for Donald Trump. I will vote for the least left-wing opponent to Donald Trump and I want to make a vote that makes sure he is the biggest loser in presidential history since, I don’t know, Alf Landon or going back further.
It’s important that Donald Trump and what he represents, this kind of ethnic quote “conservatism” or populism, be so decisively rebuked that the Republican Party and Republican voters will forever learn their lesson that they cannot nominate a man so manifestly unqualified to be president in any way, shape or form.
So they have to learn a lesson in the way perhaps Democrats learned a lesson from McGovern in ’72. George Will has said let’s have him lose in 50 states. Why not Guam, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia too.
This sounds too much like the smears against Jacksonians as stupid, ignorant, racist, sexist, bigoted, homophobes, xenophobes, and Islamophobes that’s the stock-in-trade of the Left. Just read any article in Salon, the Huffington Post, or watch any episode of Real Time with Bill Maher. In calling for Trump voters to be taught a lesson they will never forget, Bret Stephens displays an elite contempt for the intelligence and interests of much of the American public. Rush Limbaugh observes that Stephens, speaking for the elites and the establishment, is telling the base, “you people are gonna have to get your minds right. You’re gonna have to learn how big a bunch of screw-ups you are.” While Matthew Continetti notes that Republicans are unsure whether they should mock and insult Trump supporters or show them some respect. I should not have been surprised. Sadly bashing the base and reviling the rabble is now a tactic of the conservative Never Trump movement too.

Stephens’s tirade makes it clear that the tension between Jacksonians and movement conservatives in the Republican Party has morphed into a very public and hostile schism. As Walter Russell Mead put it“Jacksonian voters are less dogmatic and less conservative than some of their would-be political representatives care to acknowledge. Jacksonians like Social Security and Medicare much more than most Republican intellectuals, and they like immigration and free trade much less. The Never Trump movement is driven not just by personal hostility to Donald Trump but even more by a fear and loathing of Jacksonian America as fierce as any on the Left. And Jacksonian voters in this GOP primary season have said loud and clear that they don’t want intellectual conservatives like Bret Stephens, anymore than they want liberal progressive elites, telling them what to think, how to feel, and who to vote for.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Obama-Romney Foreign Policy Debate

by Michael Kaplan

Compared to the first two presidential debates the third debate, the one on foreign policy, at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida on Monday, October 22 was something of a snooze. There were no fireworks between President Obama and Governor Romney both of whom focused on not doing any harm to themselves.

The video of the debate is posted below and here and here. You can find the transcript here and here.

Overall Romney came off quite well. He gave the impression of being a sober and thoughtful statesman, while President Obama came across as peevish and petulant. Charles Krauthammer comments that “Romney went large, Obama went very, very small, shockingly small.” Romney’s strategy in the debate was to avoid going down in the mud with Obama and appear presidential. He succeeded in that. Indeed, Romney looked more presidential than the president. I would have liked Romney to be more aggressive, especially on the Obama Administration’s cover up of the terrorist attack by Ansar al-Sharia on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Bill O’Reilly suggests that Romney did not want to appear confrontational because it would be a turn off to women voters. Perhaps that is so. Anyway, if Romney does not win the election on November 6, it will not be because of his performance in the debates.
The main point I came away with from the debate was that Romney and Obama differ more in style and optics than in substance when it comes to foreign policy. Romney would present a tougher, more Jacksonian face of America to the world, while keeping in place many of Obama’s policies—policies that Obama himself inherited from George W. Bush. This is only natural. America’s geopolitical interests have a continuity over the long term that transcends the four or eight years of any administration. Democratic and Republican presidents from Truman through Reagan pursued the Cold War strategy of containment for forty years until the Soviet Union collapsed. Robert Merry, editor of The National Interest, a leading journal of the realist school of foreign policy, observed that “the Republican candidate who presented himself to the American people on foreign-policy issues came across as measured, moderate, informed and capable of handling complex issues with nuance and balance.” On Syria, for example, Romney would not intervene directly in that nation’s bloody civil war—there will be no American boots on the ground. But he would like to provide arms and assistance to some of the rebel groups to encourage a pro-American post-Assad regime and short-circuit the growing influence of the Islamists. Romney will continue to use sanctions against Iran, though he said he would make them tougher and more effective than Obama has, and would order a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities only as a last resort. Romney also plans to carry through on Obama’s commitment to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. And of course he praised the president’s decision to send SEAL Team Six after Osama bin Laden. Romney understands that Jacksonian America will not support any further nation building in the Muslim world. The American people have spent enough blood and treasure in what has become a Sisyphean task.
Where Romney did distinguish himself from Obama was in his commitment to a Reaganesque policy of peace through strength. On how to engage with the Muslim world going forward, Romney said this:
Well, my strategy is pretty straightforward, which is to go after the bad guys, to make sure we do our very best to interrupt them, to kill them, to take them out of the picture. But my strategy is broader than that. That’s important, of course. But the key that we’re going to have to pursue is a pathway to get the Muslim world to be able to reject extremism on its own. We don't want another Iraq. We don’t want another Afghanistan. That’s not the right course for us.
The right course for us is to make sure that we go after the people who are leaders of these various anti-American groups and these jihadists, but also help the Muslim world. And how do we do that? A group of Arab scholars came together, organized by the U.N., to look at how we can help the world reject these terrorists. And the answer they came up with was this: One, more economic development. We should key our foreign aid, our direct foreign investment—and that of our friends—we should coordinate it to make sure that we push back and give them more economic development. Number two, better education. Number three, gender equality. Number four, the rule of law. We have to help these nations create civil societies.
So Romney would embrace the Arab Spring governments, including democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood governments, and promote American influence through foreign aid and investment. But Romney would make such aid conditional and use it to nudge leaders such as Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi away from Islamic supremacism and onto a path that could in time create a civil society that reconciles Islam with liberal democracy. Whether this can be done is the big unanswered question of the Arab Spring. Islamic supremacism and the advance of the Jihad may yet prevail as Andrew McCarthy and Michael J. Totten argue. But the previous “realist” policy of unconditional support for the mukhabarat (secret police) states of Hosni Mubarak and his ilk in the Arab world has reached a dead end. Indeed it was these sterile Soviet-style autocracies which suffocated the aspirations of their young people for liberty, dignity, and upward mobility that produced Al Qaeda in the first place. As former C.I.A. analyst Bruce Reidel writes, reformers in the new Arab Spring governments “are trying to build more accountable and democratic regimes that don’t repress their own people. These new governments are trying to do something the Arab world has never done before—create structures where the rule of law applies and the secret police are held accountable to elected officials.” Reidel also admits “that is a tall order, especially when terrorists are trying to create chaos.” Mitt Romney understands this and appreciates that working with the new populist Arab regimes will be more complicated than working with the old dictators. But the long-term positive transformation of repressive societies is never simple or easy.
Engagement with the Arab Spring, however, does not mean apologizing for America. Romney was at his strongest when he blasted President Obama for his apology tours in the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America. These apology tours projected weakness instead of strength and it only encouraged the bad actors of the world to treat America with contempt. “I think from the very beginning,” Romney said, “one of the challenges we’ve had with Iran is that they have looked at this administration and felt that the administration was not as strong as it needed to be. I think they saw weakness where they had expected to find American strength.” Nothing is more galling to Jacksonians than the projection of weakness. And in the high stakes world of international politics projection of strength isn’t everything, it’s the only thing (h/t Vince Lombardi). Romney went on:
And then the President began what I’ve called an apology tour of going to various nations in the Middle East and criticizing America. I think they looked at that and saw weakness. Then when there were dissidents in the streets of Tehran, a Green Revolution, holding signs saying, is America with us, the President was silent. I think they noticed that as well. And I think that when the President said he was going to create daylight between ourselves and Israel, that they noticed that as well.
President Obama was visibly annoyed by Romney’s characterization of his foreign trips. But the governor stood his ground.
Mr. President, the reason I call it an apology tour is because you went to the Middle East and you flew to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to Turkey and Iraq. And, by the way, you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region, but you went to the other nations. And, by the way, they noticed that you skipped Israel. And then in those nations, and on Arabic TV, you said that America had been dismissive and derisive. You said that on occasion America has dictated to other nations. Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators.
This was Romney’s best line of the entire debate. It showed his determination to clothe American foreign policy in the unswerving Jacksonian commitment to liberty through strength. The President of the United States never apologizes for America. He trumpets American exceptionalism to the world. He keeps the Ahmadinejads of the world off balance with the hint that he will use American might to pound them into the dust if they don’t take America’s demands in diplomatic negotiations seriously. Again the purpose of a strong military is to keep the peace by not having to use it too often. As Theodore Roosevelt understood, the Big Stick of the military is best kept in reserve to back up the softer more conciliatory voice of diplomacy. Mitt Romney also understands this. While he may continue much of the Obama foreign policy in practice, by presenting it to the world in Jacksonian colors he will project the strength needed to preserve peace and advance American interests in the world.
© 2012 Michael Kaplan

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mitt Romney Channels the Spirit of Reagan at a Campaign Stop in Ohio

by Michael Kaplan

Overhead shot of Mitt Romney speaking to an energized crowd in Lebanon, Ohio, Saturday October 13.

In my previous post I said that Mitt Romney needed to channel the spirit of Ronald Reagan if he wants to win this election. Well, Mitt did it! Move over Alicia Keys; you’re not the only one who’s on fire. Mitt Romney’s on fire now and it just might blaze a path for him to the White House.

The fired up Mitt Romney, burning with passion, was on display at a campaign stop in Lebanon, Ohio on Saturday October 13. Speaking before an estimated crowd of 10,700 outside the historic Golden Lamb Inn, Romney touched on many of the themes that resonate with Jacksonians. This is what Romney must keep on doing for the remainder of the campaign. This is a fine demonstration of how to rally Jacksonian America on the stump and keep it energized and focused on victory.
The video of the speech is posted below. You can also find it here, here, and here.

In the first half of the speech Romney listed the five points of his plan for getting the economy moving again. “Number one is energy. Number two is trade. Number three; I want to make sure people have the skills they need to be able to work in the jobs of today. . . . Number 4 for me is we’re going to cut federal spending. We are going to cap Federal spending and get us on track to a balanced budget,” Romney added as his final point that he would cut taxes on small businesses to encourage them to hire people. The crowd cheered as Romney denounced the crony capitalism of the Obama administration; how the $90 billion wasted on Solyndra and other “green” energy companies could have hired two million teachers. “He likes picking winners and losers, or as a friend said to me ‘no he just likes picking losers.’”  Romney also reminded the audience that the number of people on food stamps increased from 32 million to 47 million over the last four years. “That’s an increase of 15 million people, more than the population of Ohio.” The president, Romney quipped, would much rather focus on the fate of Big Bird than find ways to combat the poverty which now traps one in six Americans, and create jobs for young graduates, half of whom cannot find college-level work. “What I want to talk about is how I can help save the American family and get good jobs for the American people.” Romney repeated his pledges to repeal Obamacare, not raise taxes on middle-class Americans and small businesses, hold China to account for unfair trade practices, and restore the strength of the American military. And he also took a swipe at the teachers’ unions which is always popular with Jacksonian audiences. (Romney was careful to distinguish between teachers and the teachers’ unions.)

“His campaign is getting smaller and smaller,” Romney declared to the cheers of the more than 10,000 Ohioans gathered in Lebanon. “And our crowds keep getting bigger and bigger. There’s a crescendo of passion about changing Washington.” This is the look of political momentum, “the Big Mo” as George H. W. Bush famously said.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mitt Romney’s Moment of Truth: The 47 Percent and the Issue of Dependency

by Michael Kaplan

Mitt Romney delivering his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, August 30, 2012.

Free enterprise has done more to bless humanity than any other economic system not only because it is the only system that creates a prosperous middle class, but also because it is the only system where the individual enjoys the freedom to guide and build his or her own life. Free enterprise cannot only make us better off financially, it can make us better people. . . . Work builds self-esteem.It transforms minds from fantasy and fanaticism to reality and grounding. Work will not long tolerate corruption nor quietly endure the brazen theft by government of the product of hard-working men and women.

When one thinks of Mitt Romney, passion is not the first word that comes to mind. The Republican presidential candidate does not come across as a particularly passionate guy. He is in many ways a throwback to the 1950s era of Father Knows Best: a calm, old fashioned, reserved, straight-arrow patriarch, who keeps his feelings buttoned up inside his impeccably tailored business suit. Think of Mad Men’s Don Draper without the psychological baggage and compulsive womanizing. This emotional reserve, suitable perhaps for the CEO of Bain Capital, has not helped Governor Romney in his campaign, making it difficult for him, unlike President Obama, to form an emotional connection with the American electorate. Mitt Romney may be a competent business executive and technocrat, but he is uncool and dull, the very opposite of the ultra-hip and cool Barack Obama. Let’s face it: before his outstanding performance in the first presidential debate on October 3, Mitt Romney was a failure as a candidate; one who put audiences to sleep and was unable to articulate a coherent and compelling message. Mitt Romney is not Ronald Reagan.

Governor Romney is going to have to channel the spirit of Ronald Reagan, and the spirit of Andrew Jackson too, and soon, if he wants to win this election. As Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker put it, “I think you’ve gotta get off the heels and move forward. I think Americans want a fighter . . . I want to see fire in the belly.” Mitt really needs to show some passion. Can he do it? On his foreign policy trip to Britain, Israel, and Poland, in his campaign stops with Paul Ryan, in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, and in the first presidential debate, Romney gave hints that underneath his phlegmatic, buttoned-up exterior burned a passionate, poetic, dare I say Jacksonian, fire in the belly and love of country.

This passion also came through at a speech he delivered at a fundraiser in Boca Raton, Florida, on May 17; a speech which was secretly filmed and later released to the venerable progressive magazine Mother Jones, by of all people James Earl Carter IV, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. And so Mitt Romney and his campaign now face a moment of truth. It is a moment of truth in two ways: first, Romney told the truth about the economic and moral challenge facing the nation when 47 percent of its people are at risk of sinking into dependency; and second, is the Romney campaign now ready to act on that truth, to aggressively push his pro-growth oppoturnity agenda forward and do what it takes to win this election?

Mitt Romney has to stop playing small ball and go bigto use a metaphor from his beloved Boston Red Sox, he should aim to hit that ball over the Green Monster and out of Fenway Park. Mitt can do this by becoming the champion of conservativism, its happy warrior as Monica Crowley would say, asserting conservative ideas of liberty and American exceptionalism with passion and gusto. He must unrelentingly attack Barack Obama’s record in both domestic and foreign policy. He needs to show how the faltering economy and the revival of the Islamic jihadist war against the United States are the direct results of the ideological and policy failures of the Obama administration. He should paint a picture of what four more years of an Obama presidency would mean for the nation: a stagnating economy that produces fewer jobs and diminished wealth creation; an expanding and increasingly intrusive government bureaucracy; federal, state, and local governments headed toward fiscal collapse; an America that can no longer promote liberty and prosperity at home or command respect in the world. He has to make crystal clear why the twentieth-century social welfare administrative state—the blue model—cannot be sustained in the twenty-first century. And Mitt Romney needs to articulate his own pro-growth message of hope and opportunity. He must put forward a Romney alternative: specific policy proposals that are grounded in free-market capitalism and traditional American values, and make the case for how they will turn the country around and renew American exceptionalism for the twenty-first century. He started to do this in the first presidential debate. Keep it up Mitt, keep it up.

What Mitt Romney must also do is rally the Jacksonian conservative base to his cause. The former Massachusetts governor cannot defeat Barack Obama and win the White House without an energized Jacksonian America fully committed to his victory. As Judge Andrew Napolitano put it, Romney “needs to recognize that his audience for victory is not his former neighbors in Boston, but Joe Sixpack in the heartland.” This means he must engage the social and cultural issues that are so important to Jacksonian conservatives, as well as taking strong stands on foreign policy and the economy. We know for sure that Governor Romney is passionate about free enterprise. The Boca Raton speech shows that Romney is well versed in Jacksonian ideas of “producerism,” what conservatives today like to call “the makers vs. the takers.” This is important, for Jacksonians have historically defined themselves first and foremost as hard-working productive Americans, the people who make the country work.