February 20, 2011
SIX weeks after that horrific day in Tucson, America has half-forgotten its violent debate over the power of violent speech to incite violence. It’s Gabrielle Giffords’s own power of speech that rightly concerns us now. But all those arguments over political language did leave a discernible legacy. In the aftermath of President Obama’s Tucson sermon, civility has had a mini-restoration in Washington. And some of the most combative national figures in our politics have been losing altitude ever since, much as they did after Bill Clinton’s oratorical response to the inferno of Oklahoma City.
Glenn Beck’s ratings at Fox News continued their steady decline,falling to an all-time low last month. He has lost 39 percent of his viewers in a year and 48 percent of the prime 25-to-54 age demographic. His strenuous recent efforts to portray the Egyptian revolution as an apocalyptic leftist-jihadist conspiracy have inspired more laughs than adherents.
Sarah Palin’s tailspin is also pronounced. It can be seen in polls, certainly: the ABC News-Washington Post survey found that 30 percent of Americans approved of her response to the Tucson massacre and 46 percent did not. (Obama’s numbers in the same poll were 78 percent favorable, 12 percent negative.) But equally telling was the fate of a Palin speech scheduled for May at a so-called Patriots & Warriors Gala in Glendale, Colo.
Tickets to see Palin, announced at $185 on Jan. 16, eight days after Tucson, were slashed to half-price in early February. Then the speech was canceled altogether, with the organizers blaming “safety concerns resulting from an onslaught of negative feedback.” But when The Denver Post sought out the Glendale police chief, he reported there had been no threats or other causes for alarm. The real “negative feedback” may have been anemic ticket sales, particularly if they were to cover Palin’s standard $100,000 fee.
What may at long last be dawning on some Republican grandees is that a provocateur who puts her political adversaries in the cross hairs and then instructs her acolytes to “RELOAD” frightens most voters.
Even the Rupert Murdoch empire shows signs of opting for retreat over reload. Its newest right-wing book imprint had set its splashy debut for Jan. 18, with the rollout of a screed, “Death by Liberalism,” arguing that “more Americans have been killed by well-meaning liberal policies than by all the wars of the last century combined.” But that publication date was 10 days after Tucson, and clearly someone had second thoughts. You’ll look in vain for the usual hype, or mere mentions, of “Death by Liberalism” in other Murdoch media outlets (or anywhere else). Even more unexpectedly, Murdoch’s flagship newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, ran an op-ed essay last week by the reliably conservative Michael Medved trashing over-the-top Obama critiques from Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Dinesh D’Souza as “paranoid” and “destructive to the conservative cause” — the cause defined as winning national elections.
If the next step in this declension is less face time for Palin on Fox News, then we’ll have proof that pigs can fly. But a larger question remains. If the right puts its rabid Obama hatred on the down-low, what will — or can — conservatism stand for instead? The only apparent agendas are repealing “Obamacare” and slashing federal spending as long as the cuts are quarantined to the small percentage of the budget covering discretionary safety-net programs, education and Big Bird.
This shortfall of substance was showcased by last weekend’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, a premier Republican rite that doubles as a cattle call for potential presidential candidates. Palin didn’t appear — CPAC, as the event is known, doesn’t pay — and neither did her fellow Fox News personality Mike Huckabee. But all the others were there, including that great white hope of un-Palin Republicans, Mitt Romney. What they said — and didn’t say — from the CPAC podium not only shows a political opposition running on empty but also dramatizes the remarkable leadership opportunity their fecklessness has handed to the incumbent president in post-shellacking Washington…
Although the Druze tend to be overlooked, the community is likely to play a vital role in determining the outcome of Lebanon’s tribunal process.
The world has been riveted by Egypt in recent weeks, captivated by the fall of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Yet just prior to the beginning of Egypt’s revolution, events in Lebanon dominated international headlines. In mid-January, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah withdrew from Lebanon’s government, forcing the collapse of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s coalition. Hezbollah targeted Hariri for his support of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the UN investigation into the February 14, 2005, assassination of his father, former Lebanese Prime Minster Rafiq Hariri. By toppling the government, Hezbollah hoped to end Lebanon’s endorsement for the tribunal, whose indictments — to be publicly released soon — are widely expected to implicate high-level members of the organization.
At the center of the battle between Hariri and Hezbollah stands Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon’s Druze community. Once a prime supporter of Saad Hariri and the anti-Syria, anti-Hezbollah March 14 alliance formed after Rafiq Hariri’s death, Jumblatt has since abandoned the March 14 camp and joined Hezbollah’s orbit, helping it to form a new goverment led by the Lebanese billionaire Najib Mikati, Lebanon’s current prime minister. Jumblatt’s role in Lebanon’s recent turmoil serves as a palpable reminder that amidst the conventional discussions of Sunni-Shiite divides and regional proxy wars in Lebanon, the Druze tend to be overlooked. Jumblatt and his community, however, are likely to play a vital role in determining the outcome of the tribunal process.
Jumblatt’s ability to determine the direction of Lebanese politics is unique for a minority leader in the Middle East. Minorities, both religious and ethnic, exist in fair numbers across the region and often play a quiet role in the domestic politics of their respective nations (notable exceptions include the Alawites in Syria, who have ruled the country for decades, and more recently, the Kurds in northern Iraq, who enjoy political influence under Iraq’s democratic regime). The outsized influence of the Druze community in Lebanon is thus nearly unparalleled. Yet in managing his role as a kingmaker, Jumblatt is simply perpetuating the part played by the Druze community in Lebanon since time immemorial.
Comprising about five percent of Lebanon’s population, the Druze community is an Islamic sect that emerged in the eleventh century. It is often considered heretical by Sunni and Shiite Muslims, because some Druze traditions and beliefs differ from their respective interpretations of Islam. Based primarily in the strategically significant Chouf mountains of southern Lebanon, the Druze have survived by relying on a strong military tradition. At one time, they were a leading force in Lebanese politics. In the sixteenth century, for example, the Druze leader Fakhr-al-Din II played a critical role in establishing the borders of a self-governing Lebanese state. But later, in 1860, the Druze community’s military success in a war with Lebanon’s Maronite Christians facilitated the entry of Western powers — notably France — into Lebanese territory to protect the Maronites. Although its relationships with Lebanon’s Sunni, Shiite, and Maronite populations have ebbed and flowed over the last century and a half, the Druze have established their place in Lebanese political affairs.
The Jumblatt family has dominated Druze politics for hundreds of years and is known in Lebanon as the “lords of the Chouf.” Given that its reign in the Druze community enjoys substantial support, the Jumblatt leadership has few significant concerns about intra-Druze politics. This dynamic has traditionally permitted the Jumblatts to focus on areas of concern beyond their community. In modern times, they have concentrated on navigating the complex political reality of modern Lebanon by moving among their various communities as well as regional and international actors, often changing the balance of power in the country through their shifting alliances.
The role of the Druze as kingmakers in Lebanon solidified itself under the leadership of Kamal Jumblatt, Walid’s father. Propagating a program rooted in socialism and secularism, Jumblatt senior founded the Progressive Socialist Party in 1949 and sought to appeal to Lebanese beyond his Druze power base. He quickly demonstrated his ability to steer Lebanese politics as the Druze leader when the modern state of Lebanon was founded in 1943. He helped propel the resignation of Lebanon’s first president, Bechara el-Khoury, in 1952 and then Camille Chamoun in 1958 — both times due to his discomfort with what he saw as their attempts to expand the importance of the presidency in Lebanon — with the latter incident provoking U.S. military intervention to preserve Chamoun’s rule. As a powerful parliamentarian, Jumblatt (and his bloc) also served as the swing vote in 1970, enabling Suleiman Franjieh to win the presidency over the favored candidate, Elias Sarkis.
Coupled with his emphasis on pan-Arabism and support for leftist causes, the charismatic Jumblatt managed to become an influential force both within Lebanon and abroad. Yet as the Druze became embroiled in Lebanon’s civil war soon after it erupted in 1975, Jumblatt’s collaboration with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), then Syria’s enemy, epitomized his unwillingness to follow the Syrian regime’s desires — a reluctance soon to be his undoing. In the war’s first phase, Damascus supported Lebanon’s Maronite Christians as they sought to counter Palestinian forces, but the Druze hampered Syria’s plans. Assasinated in 1977, Jumblatt is commonly thought to have been killed at the behest of Syria’s leadership…
February 20, 2011
This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.