Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Discovery of the Day: Indian Delegates to Congress

Today I learned an interesting historical tidbit about America's relationship with Indian tribes: In several early treaties, we offered Tribes a "delegate" to Congress. A treaty with the Delaware in 1778 offered "a representation in Congress" to a potential envisioned confederation between the Delaware and other tribes (with the Delaware presumed to be the head of that newly created state). Similarly, a 1775 treaty with the Cherokee allowed them "to send a deputy of their choice" to Congress. Both of these predate the end of the Revolutionary War, but the 1836 Treaty of New Echota between the United States and the Cherokee Nation contains similar language applicable to the modern Congress:
The Cherokee nation having already made great progress in civilization and deeming it important that every proper and laudable inducement should be offered to their people to improve their condition as well as to guard and secure in the most effectual manner the rights guarantied to them in this treaty, and with a view to illustrate the liberal and enlarged policy of the Government of the United States towards the Indians in their removal beyond the territorial limits of the States, it is stipulated that they shall be entitled to a delegate in the House of Representatives of the United States whenever Congress shall make provision for the same.
The Treaty of New Echota was the basis by which Congress justified removal of the Cherokee to present-day Oklahoma (the notorious "trail of tears"). And the delegate provision has never been implemented.

Still, it is an interesting fact of American and American Indian history that I was hitherto unaware of. The more you know!

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Two Great Tastes!

British MP George Galloway is lashing out at critics who called him anti-Semitic on twitter, demanding that they pay him £5,000 and threatening a libel suit. Galloway's targets include everyone from major media publications to random individuals with less than 100 followers.

Fortunately, the English judiciary's free speech protections in the defamation context are matched only by their sensitivity to matters of anti-Semitism. So there's nothing to worry about it.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Don't Say I Didn't Warn You

I think it is fair to say that Bibi's decision to come speak before Congress is the single most disastrous event for the state of pro-Israel sentiment in my lifetime. There's blame to go around, and one can make the case for (or rather, against) all sorts. Personally, I'm extremely skeptical of Ambassador Ron Dermer's influence given his background as a GOP political operative, but this ultimately falls on Bibi's head. Boehner, well, his job is to protect the interests of his caucus and he only cares about Israel insofar as it furthers that end, so I can't really "blame" him for playing politics.

But that's neither here nor there. I don't care who you blame, I don't care how you sequence the events -- the fact of the matter is that this seems to be the straw that broke the camels back for a lot of people, and there is no way that Bibi's speech could ever be sufficiently useful or influential regarding the Iran threat to justify that break. We should not be in a situation where a majority of Americans don't want to hear the Prime Minister speak. This is a full-blown catastrophe, and an avoidable one at that.

On that note, this Nathan Guttman article on anxieties at AIPAC is very well-taken. AIPAC, of course, was famously blind-sided by Bibi's speech decision. It announced its opposition to the address -- to no avail -- and has been on its heels ever since. It's easy to see why: AIPAC's MO from day one has been to cultivate bipartisan support for Israel without favor to either left or right. It takes positions on substantive issues, to be sure, but by far its most important priority is that Israel must not become a partisan issue.

And now? It is facing the teeth of that possibility. Because there is a significant cadre of conservative organizations that want to make it just that. And they are far more threatening to AIPAC's mission -- and the long-term security of Israel -- that left-ward critics like J Street ever could be.
A new reality of overt partisanship has now tinged the U.S.-Israel relationship.
The brawl set off by Netanyahu’s speech has also emboldened other Jewish groups to challenge AIPAC’s own longtime status as the strategic center for pro-Israel activism in Washington. As the lobby kicks off its three-day extravaganza in Washington’s Convention Center, it faces the need to now prove to members of Congress and to supporters that AIPAC is still the main voice of pro-Israel activism, despite increasing challenges coming mainly from a growing right-wing flank.

“Enough with this bipartisan nonsense,” Jeff Ballabon, an Orthodox GOP activist told members of Conservative Political Action Committee convened in Washington just days before the pro-Israel lobby’s conference. “The real base of support for Israel,” he argued, will not be found among Democrats and liberals, but rather “here, at CPAC.”

A full-page New York Times ad sponsored by Rabbi Shmuely Boteach demonstrated how fractured the pro-Israel community has become when discussing Netanyahu’s visit.

Boteach, whose 2012 congressional run was heavily supported by right-wing donor Sheldon Adelson, ran an ad accusing national security adviser Susan Rice of having a “blind spot” when it comes to genocide.
Threats to AIPAC’s hegemony in past years came mainly from the dovish end of the spectrum, particularly with the appearance of the lobby J Street. But now much stronger competition is emerging from hawkish groups, like The World, that are less interested in bipartisanship. An important funder for several of these groups is the Republican mega-donor Adelson — a former AIPAC backer, who angrily stopped giving to the lobby several years ago, when it decided to announce it supported a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
I don't want to say I told you so, but ... I did. Repeatedly. These groups were never invested in the mainstream pro-Israel consensus, and our broad communal organizations should have moved to isolate them from the "pro-Israel" community with just as much vigor as they give to isolating groups like the JVP. It's not entirely their fault -- left groups that are still pro-Israel made a major strategic error of their own in not affirmatively aligning with the center, being too committed to wrongfully portraying AIPAC as a pure tool of conservative interests.

But what's past is past. And the good news is that AIPAC, and the mainstream Jewish community generally, seems to be waking up as to where the real threat is. The objection to Bibi's speech is a good first step. The across-the-board condemnation of Boteach's ad is another good sign. Ditto the ADL speaking out against those who seek to cloak blatant Islamophobia in the guise of supporting Israel. Simply put, a world in which Americans associate "support for Israel" with "being a right-winger" is not a good world for Israel (even putting aside the fact that the manner in which right-wingers "support Israel" is ludicrously counterproductive). And, given the political proclivities of most Jews, it isn't a good world for Jews who want to retain influence over the state of pro-Israel discourse in America.

Now, I am more closely affiliated with the liberal Zionist groups than I am with AIPAC itself. And my advice to them is the same as my advice three years ago. Seize the center. Work with the more established Jewish and pro-Israel organizations, and leverage their dismay over how partisan right-wing hacks are damaging our crucial relationship. It was never the case that they were in the bag for the most irredentist wing of the Likud Party, and it's certainly and obviously not the case now. The great advantage the liberal Zionists have in America is that they really do represent the consensus Jewish position (not to mention the morally correct one). What divides them from the established organizations -- primarily matters of tone and focus -- are far less important than what they share in common. And what Ameinu and J Street share in common with AIPAC and the ADL and the AJC, and with the American people writ large, is that Israel must be preserved as a Jewish, democratic state in the context of two safe, secure, democratic states for two peoples. The right-wing critics do not share that vision, and so they do not belong in the tent.

AIPAC has been rattled by a threat that caught them unawares. Whether they should have seen it coming is now besides the point. It's time to stop cowering and to start fighting back. And the place to begin are those groups who care more about scoring a transient partisan advantage than they do about making sure that there is an Israel -- a Jewish, democratic Israel -- 30 years from now.

Don't Worry About Ted Cruz

If you're a Democrat and you're worrying about potential Republican presidential nominees, there's an interesting hydraulic relationship. Generally a moderate is both more worrying (because they're more electable) and less worrying (because they're, well, moderate). Hardliners have it in reverse -- it is terrifying to imagine them as President, but one calms down when it becomes clear they'll never be elected. The most worrisome, of course, are those who can successfully present as moderates while nonetheless actually being really conservative.

Scott Walker has concerned many Democrats for this very reason; he has managed to win several elections in a blue-tinted state even while being quite right-wing. Fortunately, there is now good evidence that Walker isn't exactly prime-time ready. Liberals were driven crazy by the media's refusal to acknowledge Paul Ryan as a creature of the far-right (and for acting as if he's handsome, when he is very clearly a White Walker). But I haven't heard a lot of buzz around Ryan this time around; maybe his moment has passed.

The current darling of the far-right is Texas Senator Ted Cruz. On the metric of "how would he do as President", he's an easy case -- the guy is a lunatic who would make for a catastrophe if placed in charge of the country. The question is whether there is anything that would make him more electable than his extremist profile would suggest. And after much thought, I've decided the answer is no.

Let's dispense with one obvious possibility: Cruz's Latino heritage. I don't think this will meaningfully help him amongst Latinos. Despite what the media might think, Latinos, like Black people, are not retarded kittens -- they vote, the same as most of us, on the basis of a judgment regarding how a given candidate matches up with their political and policy priorities. Cruz's policies (especially on immigration) don't line up with most Latinos, and they know it.

As for everyone else, here is my proposition regarding Ted Cruz, on which I welcome your input:
Ted Cruz : Presidential nomination :: Robert Bork : Supreme Court nomination.
Ted Cruz (like Robert Bork) is a very smart man. But he is also a supremely arrogant man. This distinguishes him from, say, Sarah Palin, who is supremely arrogant but also dumb as a post. But Cruz, like Bork, thinks so highly of himself that he can't even pretend to present himself as mainstream. Bork was successfully Borked mostly because he was allowed to hang himself -- Bork was so confident that his constitutional vision was correct that he presented it completely unadulterated, and Democratic Senators were happy to let him wax lyrical. The result was a nominee who was terrifying to the general public. I have no doubt Cruz will do the exact same thing. He is, I think, incapable of pivoting to the center even as a matter of image. His inflexibility on this is part of the reason why many in his own caucus hate him -- Cruz loves to get up on his grandstand and is happy to do so even when it hurts his own party. So far, it has helped him just fine, since he's in a solid red Senate seat. But when trying to appeal to voters in Virginia or Minnesota or Nevada? Yeah, best of luck.

Ted Cruz is a smart man who would make a terrible President. Fortunately, he'll make a terrible presidential candidate too.