The conventional wisdom in recent years is that relations between the United States and Israel are at an all-time low, but I've generally been skeptical of the assumptions.
In the Reagan era, for example, Israel vehemently opposed the sale of American weapons to Saudi Arabia, but Reagan did it anyway. Gene Healy over the summer noted that Reagan also "backed a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights."
Haaretz's Chemi Shalev put it this way, "[I]f Obama treated Israel like Reagan did, he'd be impeached."
But reading Jeffrey Goldberg's new piece on the "crisis in U.S.-Israel relations," I'm starting to think the conventional wisdom might be correct after all. The article begins with a senior Obama administration official blasting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as "a chickens**t."
This comment is representative of the gloves-off manner in which American and Israeli officials now talk about each other behind closed doors, and is yet another sign that relations between the Obama and Netanyahu governments have moved toward a full-blown crisis. The relationship between these two administrations -- dual guarantors of the putatively "unbreakable" bond between the U.S. and Israel -- is now the worst it's ever been, and it stands to get significantly worse after the November midterm elections. By next year, the Obama administration may actually withdraw diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations, but even before that, both sides are expecting a showdown over Iran, should an agreement be reached about the future of its nuclear program.
The fault for this breakdown in relations can be assigned in good part to the junior partner in the relationship, Netanyahu, and in particular, to the behavior of his cabinet.
"The good thing about Netanyahu is that he's scared to launch wars," the U.S. official told Goldberg. "The bad thing about him is that he won't do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he's interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He's not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he's not [Ariel] Sharon, he's certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He's got no guts."
This doesn't exactly come as a shock, of course -- Netanyahu's reputation as a petty political operator exists for a reason -- but the vigor of the U.S. officials' comments reinforce just how much damage Netanyahu has done. If the prime minister's goal was to alienate the White House, he's succeeded brilliantly.
Back in 2007, when the Bush/Cheney administration was eager to give Hans von Spakovsky a six-year term on the Federal Elections Commission, Dahlia Lithwick offered some advice to the Senate: "Do not vote for this guy."
Lithwick's piece was a rather brutal takedown, making the case that von Spakovsky "was one of the generals in a years-long campaign to use what we now know to be bogus claims of runaway 'vote fraud' in America to suppress minority votes." She added, "[E]ven a brief poke at his resume shows a man who has dedicated his professional career to a single objective: turning a partisan myth about voters who cast multiple ballots under fake names (always for Democrats!) into a national snipe hunt for vote fraud." Hans von Spakovsky, Lithwick concluded, "symbolizes contempt for what it means to cast a vote."
Alas, the Republican's persistence has not waned. This week, the Wall Street Journal published a piece from von Spakovsky under the headline, "Here Comes the 2014 Voter Fraud."
What is the likelihood that your vote won't count? That your vote will, in effect, be canceled or stolen as a consequence of mistakes by election officials or fraudulent votes cast by campaign workers or ineligible voters like felons and noncitizens?
Unfortunately, we can't know. But one thing is almost certain: Voter fraud will occur.
Actually, we can know, and what's certain is that the scourge of voter fraud is largely imaginary.
As we discussed in August, the most comprehensive investigation to date into every "specific, credible allegation that someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls, in any way that an ID law could fix" -- research that included "general, primary, special, and municipal elections" -- identified 31 different fraud incidents out of more than 1 billion ballots cast. That's a fraud rate of about 0.00002%.
Hans von Spakovsky, however, says he has a study, too.
A couple of days ago, as Kaci Hickox was on her way home to Maine, Fox News' Greta Van Susteren had the same reaction to the nurse's ordeal that many Americans probably had. Van Susteren said on Twitter that Hickox "is not a terrorist, she's a nurse." Instead of being thanked for helping treat Ebola patients, the host added, Hickox "was treated like a criminal."
Van Susteren concluded, "I blame President Obama."
It seemed like an odd conclusion. In fact, I initially thought it might be a typo. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), ignoring guidance from scientists and public-health professionals, forced Hickox into mandatory quarantine, detaining the nurse in a tent with no heat or running water, despite the fact that Hickox was asymptomatic. It was the Obama White House that urged Christie administration officials to change course, and fortunately for the detained nurse, the governor soon after agreed to release her.
So why blame Obama? Van Susteren discussed U.S. policy in addressing the public health threat with former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) -- no, really -- and elaborated on the argument.
"I don't even know if this is politics. I think it's more "asleep at the wheel." In some ways, I don't blame the governors for trying to just do something about it because, look, last March, the World Health Organization warned about Ebola. They did it again in August. And, you know, it does require leadership to set some sort of standard. This is the problem."
In other words, Van Susteren was outraged by Christie's treatment of Hickox, which is Obama's fault because the White House didn't tell Christie not to mistreat people -- or at least establish guidelines to prevent Christie from mistreating people.
This seems to come up periodically, and I think the effects on public perceptions is real. When Republicans killed background checks for gun purchases after the Sandy Hook massacre, many in the media, including Maureen Dowd, blamed Obama. When Republicans killed comprehensive immigration reform, despite broad public support, many in the media, including Ron Fournier, blamed Obama. And when Chris Christie forces a healthy nurse into a tent, this apparently is the president's fault, too.
No wonder Republicans are poised to have a good year despite a track record of failure -- the more they're responsible for wrongdoing, the less accountability they face. Indeed, it creates an awkward political dynamic in which Republicans can act irresponsibly, confident in the knowledge that the president will be blamed for the GOP's conduct.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) seems to understand he can't run from his record on women's issues, so he might as well try to carefully run on his record. Of course, that's easier said than done.
Earlier this month, for example, the Republican incumbent ran an ad touting his support for legislation to "increase safety and to provide more information for a woman considering her options." Walker carefully avoided the details: the Wisconsin governor supports imposing regulations that close women's health clinics while forcing women to undergo medically unnecessary ultrasounds.
This week, with the campaign nearly over, Team Walker is shifting its attention to pay equity. Laura Bassett reported yesterday:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) released an ad on Tuesday in which his female lieutenant governor applauds his support for equal pay for women -- just two years after the governor signed a bill repealing the state's equal pay law.
"Under Scott Walker, workplace discrimination will always be illegal for any reason," Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch says in the ad. "Mary Burke wants to create more opportunities to sue. We want to create more opportunities for women to succeed."
This is one of those cases in which the message and the messenger are both badly flawed.
When the Walker campaign complains about "creating more opportunities to sue," they're effectively blasting a legal recourse for women who've faced discrimination in the workplace.
Indeed, the point of an ad like this is to paper over the governor's controversial history on the issue Team Walker should probably avoid bringing up.
A variety of adjectives come to mind when describing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), but "undisciplined" isn't one of them. It's why it came as something of a surprise last week when the longtime incumbent, unprompted, reminded voters of his support for George W. Bush's plan to privatize Social Security out of existence.
Ironically, the Kentucky Republican was looking for an example of his bipartisan outreach, and the first thing that came to mind was his effort to find Democrats willing to replace the Social Security system with private accounts.
Alison Lundergan Grimes and her allies were only too pleased to take advantage -- if McConnell wants to spend the final week of the campaign talking about his work trying to kill Social Security, Democrats don't mind at all. Indeed, the Senate Majority PAC launched this hard-hitting ad in Kentucky late last week.
Greg Sargent reported yesterday that McConnell's campaign team has pushed local stations not to run the commercial. The Republican push isn't going well.
The McConnell campaign is trying to get TV stations to stop running the ad. I've checked in with Kentucky stations, and most declined to reveal their plans for the spot, though an official at one -- Fox affiliate WDRB -- told me: "We reinstated the spot, finding the assertions factual." A spokesman for Senate Majority PAC told me the ad is still airing "on every station we bought on."
The dust-up shows that Democrats are pushing hard to make Social Security privatization a sleeper issue in the last days of the Kentucky Senate race.
It does, indeed. And by fighting to kill the ad, the GOP campaign only helps draw attention to the spot McConnell doesn't want voters to see.
Making matters slightly worse, when Kentucky Joe Sonka asked McConnell whether voters should expect the senator to push Social Security privatization after the midterms, McConnell replied, "I'm not announcing what the agenda would be in advance," suggesting the senator is confused about the point of a political campaign.
Yesterday, the 30-year incumbent found changing the subject isn't as easy as he'd like.
We've kept a close eye on developments in Georgia, home to very competitive U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races, where civil-rights groups believe state officials are slow-walking tens of thousands of voter-registration forms. A lawsuit was filed on Friday, Oct. 10, with voting-rights advocates looking for a court order on processing pending forms.
As the Associated Press reported, with time running out, state officials appear to have prevailed.
Days before the midterm elections, a state judge declined Tuesday to act in a dispute over 56,000 voter registration applications in one of the nation's most politically charged states. [...]
Fulton County Judge Christopher Brasher ruled Tuesday that the plaintiffs failed to prove that election authorities haven't followed the law, even if the would-be voters have yet to show up on the state's official list of eligible electors.
Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp and authorities in several majority Democratic counties say they are still processing the applications. And they've argued that any citizen can cast a provisional ballot, a contention the plaintiffs mock as insufficient.
The civil-rights groups responsible for the case are, not surprisingly, considering an appeal, though with Election Day now just six days away, time is obviously limited.
For those who haven't followed the controversy, voter-suppression efforts have been problematic in Georgia. Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R), Georgia’s top elections official, was recorded over the summer expressing concern, for example, about Democrats “registering all these minority voters that are out there.” Kemp also subpoenaed the New Georgia Project, which happens to be the driving force behind the state’s largest voter-registration campaign, for reasons that appear quite dubious.
But it’s these voter-registration materials that may ultimately matter most.
Rachel Maddow shares her bewilderment with viewers as she becomes acquainted with a mall where cars are barred but buses and police vehicles still pass through, making it something between a street and a pedestrian mall. watch
Gen. Irv Halter (ret.) talks with Rachel Maddow about why he is a former Republican running for Congress as a conservative Democrat against incumbent Republican congressman, Koch-supported Doug Lamborn. watch
Senator Mark Udall talks with Rachel Maddow about what distinguishes him from his opponent, Cory Gardner, and what political considerations he made while Colorado decided to change its marijuana laws. watch
Lynn Bartels, reporter for The Washington Post, talks with Rachel Maddow about how something as simple as smiling can change voter perception of candidates regardless of the candidates' political positions. watch