Six seconds-UPDATED


Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Greenwald, both referring to a poll showing that Americans are divided over Israel’s Gaza action and that Democrats oppose it, ask if any other issue suffers a similar disconnect, or as Greenwald puts it:

Is there any other significant issue in American political life, besides Israel, where (a) citizens split almost evenly in their views, yet (b) the leaders of both parties adopt identical lockstep positions which leave half of the citizenry with no real voice?  More notably still, is there any other position, besides Israel, where (a) a party’s voters overwhelmingly embrace one position (Israel should not have attacked Gaza) but (b) that party’s leadership unanimously embraces the exact opposite position (Israel was absolutely right to attack Gaza and the U.S. must support Israel unequivocally)?  Does that happen with any other issue?.

It took me seconds – I’ll say six seconds, I like the alliteration – to come up with two:


-The Cuba embargo;

I’d be happy to add more, from commenters. Geez, I just remembered Al Gore’s performance on Elian Gonzalez in 2000. Please. So, six minutes, unless you want to file that under the Cuba embargo.

Also, this by no means means I’m buying into Greenwald’s thesis about support for Israel. He neglects to mention that:

*The poll shows much greater sympathy for Israel; 55 percent blame the Palestinians, while 13 percent blame Israel;

*I can’t find the breakdowns for those who are closely tracking the conflict;

*The questions may be misleading: "Should Israel have taken military action against the Palestinians or should it have tried to find a diplomatic solution?" Israel tried to extend the ceasefire.

*Greenwald’s parenthetical conflation – "(Israel should not have attacked Gaza)" is also misleading: "should have tried to find a diplomatic solution"  is not inconsistent with ultimately attacking Gaza after such a quest has failed.

My point is that, even if one were able to prove that the Democrats were ignoring their rank and file on the Israel issue, it is by no means sui generis. I’d like to see more polling for instance on where Republicans are on stem cell research; where Democrats are on the Wall Street bailout; where Republicans are on free trade, etc. etc. etc.

Hey that’s three more. Okay, six in twelve minutes. And counting.

This is a political culture in which well-organized interests get a disproportionate voice. It has been since it’s inception. This was Mark Twain’s advice to the Jews in 1898 – 1898!

In politics, organize your strength, band together, and deliver the casting vote where you can, and, where you can’t, compel as good terms as possible.

Twain was not inventing the wheel: He was recommending a practice already instilled into the American polity:

In America, as early as 1854, the ignorant Irish hod-carrier, who had a spirit of his own and a way of exposing it to the weather, made it apparent to all that he must be politically reckoned with; yet fifteen years before that we hardly knew what an Irishman looked like.

I let the kids watch Casablanca recently and explained the lines that made us (me and my wife) laugh: One of the best, of course, is Claude Rains being "shocked, shocked" to find out about gambling at Rick’s.

That’s what this smacks of; Greenwald, a civil libertarian (and G-d love him for that) spearheaded an effort to unseat Democrats and Republicans who backed the revised FISA Act; at least one poll* shows the Act had widespread support. Whaddya know – Greenwald knows all about interest politicking! But he’s "shocked" to learn it happens with Israel.

Wait- that’s seven issues! Okay, I’ll stop now.

*Yes, even at first glance, this poll’s questions seems skewed; same with the Rasmussen, as I pointed out. But if anything, the FISA poll’s numbers are even more impressive.

UPDATE: In an e-mail, Glenn Greenwald, fairly, points out that I am asserting support for gun control and opposition to the Cuba embargo without showing data proving that these positions indeed have majority support and are undermined particularly by parties acting contrary to the inidications their voters show in polls.

My point was that interest politicking is so self-evident that one could blink and come up with issues other than Israel where an interest group has greater influence than the majority’s inclinations. I imagine this is because the group is attached to its positions with an intensity that does not spur the majority to keep it out of party politics. This is not always the case: Segregationists, for instance, were once a Democratic Party interest group; by the 1960s-70s, the Democratic majority felt strongly enough about the issue that it drove the "Dixiecrats" out.

In any case, Greenwald challenged me specifically on guns, so with a little research behind me (and a reminder to myself to breeeaaaaathe next time) here it is:

This compilation of polls over the last four years shows overall majority support for stricter gun control. It also shows strong majorities in both parties (scroll to the bottom) backing an extension to the assault weapon ban. (It lapsed in 2004; Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.),  now the majority leader, voted against renewal.)

This Harris poll from 2004 shows a similar majority in favor of stricter gun control and a huge majority of Democrats (71 percent to 11 percent) favoring stricter controls.

But it’s not happening per this Politico story after the Virginia Tech shootings, quoting a number of pro-control Democrats who say the Party – and Congress – are held captive by the gun lobby.

Here’s Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.):

"We are captives, the majority here, of the NRA. To hell with the NRA! What about the society? I don’t get it."

More recently, the House Democratic leadership would not whip 85 pro-gun members, and a measure that would have added restrictions to gun ownership in DC failed.

The same is true of Republicans and the assault weapon ban; the compilation of polls above noted 72 percent backing among Republicans for extending the bans. Two bills attempted this session to revive the ban. Both remain stuck in committee; I’m not sure why, but my point is that one, HR1022, had 67 cosponsors, virtually all Democrats, another, watered-down version, HR6257, had five Republican co-sponsors, three of them Northeastern moderates. (Five co-sponsors is pathetic; 67 is barely respectable.)

Interestingly, the two conservative Republicans backing the extension are Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.); both represent strongly Jewish districts. Jews favor gun control. Perhaps, more than a century after Twain’s advice, they are making their preferences known to their elected representatives.

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