Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
As Tuesday's national elections in Israel neared, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was struggling to hold on to power, appeared to become more worried about his prospects and more desperate in his pitchmanship. Dropping all pretenses, he played the race card early on Election Day, posting a Facebook video with an explicit ethnic message: "Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls." The intent was obvious—to scare the hell out of right-wing and anti-Arab voters who had not yet hit the polls. This brazen move followed another brazen sop to the right. On Monday night, Netanyahu declared that if he were elected, he would never permit the establishment of a Palestinian state. With this last-minute pander, Netanyahu reversed his previous public position—announced in a 2009 speech—that he supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
His back-flip was not much of a surprise. It's an indicator of what was widely suspected at home and abroad: Netanyahu never really believed in the two-state solution, which has the been the foundation of Mideast diplomatic initiatives for two decades. But this issue is bigger than Netanyahu. Conservatives in his Likud party and Republicans in the United States have played the same game for years: expressing support for the two-state solution without meaning it. Why would they do that? Because there is a strong international consensus in favor of the two-party path to peace. Those who don't buy it are not part of the mainstream debate; they're outside the tent. Consequently, many Israeli conservatives and their comrades in the United States—who truly don't want a Palestinian state—have figured out that if they mouth the words, they can gain entrance to the tent and piss away, or, at least, slyly obstruct.
In December, when a mentally ill Texas man convicted of murder was poised to be executed—and a number of prominent conservatives were calling to postpone the killing—Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) declined to criticize the pending execution. "I trust the criminal-justice system to operate, to protect the rights of the accused, and to administer justice to violent criminals," Cruz declared. This was not shocking. As a politician and public officeholder, he has long supported capital punishment. While running for Senate in 2012, Cruz repeatedly mentioned his win as Texas solicitor general in a case before the Supreme Court that preserved the death penalty for a Mexican citizen convicted of raping and murdering two Houston teenage girls.
Yet as a lawyer in private practice two years earlier, Cruz had argued that the criminal-justice system, in at least one instance, had gone awry and nearly killed the wrong man. This happened when Cruz was assisting the case of a Louisiana man wrongfully convicted of robbery and murder who spent 18 years in prison—14 of them on death row—before being freed. As an attorney for this man, Cruz argued that local prosecutors could not be trusted, that institutional failures in the justice system had nearly led to his client's execution, and that this fellow was owed $14 million in restitution because of these miscarriages of justice. But after his experience in this dramatic case—which included coauthoring a passionate brief presented to the Supreme Court—Cruz the politician would still offer a full-throated endorsement of the criminal-justice system and capital punishment.
This case began long before Cruz, fresh off his stint as Texas solicitor general, joined the Houston office of the high-powered Morgan Lewis law firm in 2008 to build its appellate and Supreme Court practice. Twenty-four years earlier, in 1984, a prominent New Orleans businessman was shot and killed outside his home. A month later John Thompson, a 22-year old African American father of two, and Kevin Freeman were arrested and charged with the murder. Afterward, Thompson was charged with attempted armed robbery that had occurred three weeks following the murder. (Thompson was arrested for the attempted theft after the father of the three victims showed them a photo of Thompson that had appeared in the newspaper in connection with the murder case and his children said they believed Thompson was the fellow who had tried to rob them.)
It is, unfortunately, an old and all-too familiar story. A Clinton, meaning Bill or Hillary, does something wrong (or possibly wrong). The media pounces; the Clinton antagonists of the right hit the warpath. Immediately, the Clinton camp and its supporters accuse the media and the conservative Clinton Hate Machine of trumping up a story to thwart the noble Clintons. Clinton spokespeople go into war-room mode. Resentful reporters grouse (privately and publicly) about the heavy-handed operators and obfuscators of Clintonland. And the right claims this latest fuss is a scandal that surpasses Watergate. Rinse, repeat.
The latest iteration of this Clinton-media dysfunctional spin cycle was triggered by the Hillary Clinton email kerfuffle that exploded last week. The Clinton camp's handling of the controversy was a sign that Hillary and her gang are stuck in the Whitewaterish 1990s when it comes to communications strategy, relying on always-be-combating tactics predicated on self-perceived persecution. It's bad news for anyone hoping that Hillary 2016 has learned from the miscalculations of the past.
Clinton's use of a private email account to conduct secretary of state business and, just as important, her failure to preserve her messages in real-time within the department's own record-keeping system were not, as Clintonites claimed, no biggie. Yes, Scott Walker had his own secret email scandal. And Jeb Bush, who tried to score political points by slamming Clinton, vetted his gubernatorial emails before releasing them to the public, while congratulating himself on his supposed devotion to transparency. (I've combed the Bush email archive for names and topics that ought to be there—and found obvious subjects absent.) So the Clinton defenders have a point when they gripe that the media is only obsessed with her email problem. But it is a small point. She was a Cabinet official. She had a duty to ensure that her records—which belong to the public, not her—would be controlled by the department, not by her private aides who operate her private server.
The New York Times set off a Clinton bomb when it revealed Monday night that Hillary Clinton, when she was secretary of state, used a personal email account instead of a government account for all of her official business. The newspaper reported that Clinton had turned over 55,000 pages of emails to the State Department—yet only after her aides had vetted the massive collection of emails and decided which ones to give to the agency. And it noted that the probable 2016 candidate "may have violated federal requirements that officials' correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record."
Ka-boom. Another round in the Hillary wars. Her Republican antagonists pointed to this as a sign of Clinton antipathy toward transparency. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza quickly penned a piece headlined, "Hillary Clinton's Private Email Address at State Reinforces Everything People Don't Like About Her." Clintonistas rushed to her defense. Correct the Record, a pro-Clinton outfit, zapped out talking points: She had followed State Department precedent with regard to the use of email; she knew her emails sent to State Department officials at their official accounts would be retained; she has fully cooperated with State Department requests to produce her emails; and Colin Powell used his personal email account when he was secretary of state. Some pro-Clinton observers pointed out that the federal regulation instructing government employees to "not generally use personal email accounts to conduct official agency business" was not issued until September 2013, months after Clinton had left Foggy Bottom.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress has been covered as a spectacle orchestrated (perhaps in a misguided fashion) by the conservative GOP-Likud alliance to undercut President Barack Obama's effort to reach a deal with Iran limiting that government's nuclear program. But this stunt did highlight a significant aspect of the the ongoing debate over Iran—Netanyahu's position is extreme and unworkable: Iran should yield completely, or there will be war.
The ongoing negotiations between the United States and its allies and Iran have been a tough slog. But at the heart of the issue is a simple point: Will Iran be allowed to engage in any enrichment of uranium? Iran insists it is entitled to pursue a nuclear program, if only for civilian purposes. Netanyahu contends that if Tehran retains any nuclear program, there will be a risk that it can develop nuclear weapons with which it can threaten Israel's existence. Obama's aim is to impose severe restrictions on Iran's nuclear program to limit any ability to produce a nuclear bomb—and to ensure that if there were to be an Iranian breakout from an agreement that it would still take Tehran some time to make a bomb. Obama wants to minimize greatly the risk of Iran going nuclear; Netanyahu wants to eliminate the risk.