TIME Israel

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Disgrace in Victory

Israel's Prime Minister won a tragic election by vilifying Arabs and defacing Israel’s history 

A few years ago, I drove from Jerusalem to the West Bank, to the city of Bethlehem, to have dinner with TIME’s Palestinian stringer, the late Jamil Hamad. He was a gentle and sophisticated man, soft-spoken, and levelheaded when it came to politics. After dinner, I drove back to Jerusalem and had to pass through the bleak, forbidding security wall. An Israeli soldier asked for my papers; I gave her my passport. “You’re American!” she said, not very officially. “I love America. Where are you from?” New York, I said. “Wow,” she said, with a big smile. And then she turned serious. “What were you doing in there,” she asked, nodding toward the Palestinian side, “with those animals?”

And that, of course, is why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “won” the Israeli election. That is how he won the election even though there was a strong economic case against him, and people were tired of his ways, and about 200 former Israeli military and intelligence leaders publicly opposed his dangerously bellicose foreign policy. He won because he ran as a bigot. This is a sad reality: a great many Jews have come to regard Arabs as the rest of the world traditionally regarded Jews. They have had cause. There have been wars, indiscriminate rockets and brutal terrorist attacks. There has been overpowering anti-Jewish bigotry on the Arab side, plus loathsome genocidal statements from the Iranians and others. But there has been a tragic sense of superiority and destiny on the Israeli side as well.

This has been true from the start. Read Ari Shavit’s brilliant conundrum of a book, My Promised Land, and you will get chapter and verse about the massacres perpetrated by Jews in 1948 to secure their homeland. It may be argued that the massacres were necessary, that Israel could not have been created without them, but they were massacres nonetheless. Women and children were murdered. It was the sort of behavior that is only possible when an enemy has been dehumanized. That history haunted Netanyahu’s rhetoric in the days before the election, when he scared Jews into voting for him because, he said, the Arabs were coming to polls in buses, in droves, fueled by foreign money.

It should be noted that those Arabs represent about 20% of the population of Israel. About 160,000 of them are Christian, and some of them are descendants of the first followers of Jesus. Almost all of them speak Hebrew. Every last one is a citizen—and it has been part of Israel’s democratic conceit that they are equal citizens. The public ratification of Netanyahu’s bigotry put the lie to that.

Another conceit has been that the Israeli populace favors a two-state solution. That may still be true, but the surge of voters to the Likud party in the days after Netanyahu denied Palestinian statehood sends the message that a critical mass of Israeli Jews supports the idea of Greater Israel, including Judea and Samaria on the West Bank. This puts Israeli democracy in peril. The alternative to a two-state solution is a one-state solution. That state can only be Jewish, in the long run, if West Bank Arabs are denied the right to vote.

There will be many—in the Muslim world, in Europe—who will say that the results are no surprise, that Israel has become a harsh, bigoted tyrant state. It has certainly acted that way at times, but usually with excellent provocation. It is an appalling irony that the Israeli vote brought joy to American neoconservatives and European anti-Semites alike.

When I was a little boy, my grandmother would sing me to sleep with the Israeli national anthem. It still brings tears to my eyes. My near annual visits to Israel have always been memorable. About a decade ago, I was at a welcoming ceremony for new immigrants—­thousands of them, Russians and Iranians and Ethiopians. And I thought, if Ethiopians and Russians could join that way, why not, eventually, Semites and Semites, Jews and Arabs?

That was the dream—that somehow Jews and Arabs could make it work, could eventually, together, create vibrant societies that would transcend bigotry and exist side by side. The dream was that the unifying force of common humanity and ethnicity would, for once, trump religious exceptionalism. It was always a long shot. It seems impossible now. For the sake of his own future, Benjamin Netanyahu has made dreadful Jewish history: he is the man who made anti-Arab bigotry an overt factor in Israeli political life. This is beyond tragic. It is shameful and embarrassing.

Read next: What Netanyahu’s Victory in Israel Means for the World

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TIME politics

The Art of the Deal

Joe Klein is TIME's political columnist and author of six books, most recently Politics Lost. His weekly TIME column, "In the Arena," covers national and international affairs.

Benjamin Netanyahu offers stark warnings (and perhaps an assist) on a pact with Iran

Is there anybody here from Texas?” the Prime Minister of Israel asked the 16,000 assembled for the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference. Of course there were. Whoops and cheers erupted. It is one of Benjamin Netanyahu’s conceits that he knows how to do American politics, how to both present himself in a user-friendly way to the American public and play the back alleys of power in Washington. He has had some success with this, but not always. His attempt to intervene in the 2012 presidential campaign on Mitt Romney’s behalf was disastrous. His strong speech on March 3 to members of Congress, assailing the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran, may be better received, both in America and, more to the point, in Israel, where he faces a difficult re-election campaign. “People are tired of Bibi. I’m tired of Bibi,” said an Israeli attending the AIPAC meeting. “But I have two sons in the military, and I have confidence that Netanyahu will make decisions that will keep them as safe as possible. I don’t feel the same about any of the opposition leaders.” Certainly no other potential Israeli leader could have made so powerful an appeal to Congress.

And despite the cheesy political context of the moment, there are aspects of Netanyahu’s speech that should be cheered even by those of us who believe that President Obama is pursuing the right course in seeking a nuclear deal with Iran. Netanyahu’s bluster and bombing threats have been invaluable to the negotiating process. He’s been a great scary-tough cop to President Obama’s sorta-tough constable. And Obama has needed all the help he can get. “The Persians believe that the time to get really tough is just before a deal is cut,” an Israeli intelligence expert who favors the deal told me in December. “So tell me why your President is sending nice personal letters to the Supreme Leader at exactly the wrong time?”

On the very day that Netanyahu spoke, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif “rejected” the 10-year restrictions on Iran’s nuclear-energy program that he’d spent the past few months negotiating. If the haggle were taking place in the bazaar in Tehran, this would be the time for the U.S. to “call their bluff,” as Netanyahu said, and perhaps even counter with a 15-year deal. There would be danger in hanging tough; the Iranians could easily walk away, even though this is a deal they desperately need. The Iranian people, not just the Ayatullah’s regime, are extremely sensitive to perceived humiliation by the West; a certain, often justified, paranoia is part of the Persian DNA. “They think they invented bargaining,” a South Asian diplomat told me. “They push it too far.”

So Netanyahu’s speech was, at least, a useful reminder about the art of the deal in the Middle East. It was also a useful reminder that Iran’s extremist Shi’ite leaders are no picnic, though nowhere near the threat to American security that Sunni radicals like ISIS are. It is easy, in the midst of the current near embrace, to overstate the case for Iran. It is the most middle-class, best-educated country in the region, aside from Israel and Turkey, with the best-educated and most professional women; it also has a cheerily pro-American populace. But it is, along with Cuba, the greatest mismatch between a people and a government of any country in the world. The regime’s support for Hizballah, the Houthis in Yemen and other Shi’ite militant organizations is indefensible. A nuclear deal with Iran might grease the way for the diminution, through democracy, of the Supreme Leader’s regime–or it might further empower the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, which controls at least 20% of the economy and would be enriched by the lifting of sanctions.

But here is what Netanyahu cannot argue: that his position represents a step forward. Indeed, it is in fact the exact opposite. Right now, under the interim agreement negotiated by the U.N. and U.S., Iran has stopped–in fact, it has reversed–the enrichment of highly enriched (20%) uranium. It has allowed extensive inspections of all its facilities. It has agreed to stop plans for a plutonium reactor. There is a good chance, if the deal is made, that it will continue in this mode, in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Netanyahu’s rhetoric that a deal would “pave” the way toward an Iranian bomb is a ridiculous overstatement; his “plan” would guarantee an Iranian rush to arms.

Revolutions grow old. It is difficult to sustain fanaticism. The Iranian people are tired of their global isolation. It may be that their semi-democratically elected leaders, as opposed to the theocratic military regime, are ready to rejoin the world. There is nothing to lose by testing that proposition–if the Iranians stop playing around and make the deal.

TO READ JOE’S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/swampland


This appears in the March 16, 2015 issue of TIME.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

Jeb Bush’s Sense and Sensibility

Joe Klein is TIME's political columnist and author of six books, most recently Politics Lost. His weekly TIME column, "In the Arena," covers national and international affairs.

The candidate’s grown-up tone is a breath of fresh air amid so many strident conservative voices

In a week during which Rudolph Giuliani went crusader-ballistic questioning President Obama’s patriotism–indeed, questioning his upbringing–Jeb Bush gave a speech about foreign affairs, the third serious policy speech he’s given this winter. Giuliani got all the headlines, of course. That’s how you do it now: say something heinous and the world will beat a path to your door. And Bush’s speech wasn’t exactly a barn burner. His delivery was rushed and unconvincing, though he was more at ease during the question period. He was criticized for a lack of specificity. But Bush offered something far more important than specificity. He offered a sense of his political style and temperament, which in itself presents a grownup and civil alternative to the Giuliani-style pestilence that has plagued the Republic for the past 25 years.

It has been the same in each of Bush’s three big speeches. He is a political conservative with a moderate disposition. And after giving his speeches a close read, I find Bush’s disposition far more important than his position on any given issue. In fact, it’s a breath of fresh air. I disagree with his hard line toward Cuba and the Iran nuclear negotiations, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say about reforming Obamacare. His arguments so far merit consideration, even when one disagrees with them.

There is none of John McCain’s chesty bellicosity. Bush makes no false, egregious claims, on issues foreign or domestic. He resists the partisan hyperbole that has coarsened our politics. He even, at one point in his foreign policy speech, praised Obama for the position he has taken on–get a map!–the Baltic states. He proposes a return to the bipartisan foreign policy that was operational when this nation was at its strongest. And he criticizes Obama for the right things: his sloppy rhetoric, his lack of strategy. You don’t say “Assad must go” and then let him stay. You don’t announce a “pivot” toward Asia–what are you pivoting away from? You don’t put human rights above national security, as Obama has done in his arm’s-length relationship with Egypt, which is actually fighting ISIS on the ground and in the air.

Bush’s economic vision is traditionally Republican. He believes the economy is more likely to grow with lower taxes than with government stimulus. He doesn’t bash the rich, but he doesn’t offer supply-side voodoo, either. The American “promise is not broken when someone is wealthy,” he told the Detroit Economic Club. “It is broken when achieving success is far beyond our imagination.” He is worried about middle-class economic stagnation, about the inability of the working poor to rise–his PAC is called Right to Rise. His solution is providing more opportunity rather than income redistribution. We’ll see, over time, what he means by that. And he favors reforming the public sector, especially the education and regulatory systems, as a way to create new economic energy. “It’s time to challenge every aspect of how government works,” he told a national meeting of auto dealers in San Francisco.

This would be a good argument to have in 2016. It is a fundamental challenge to what the Democrats have allowed themselves to become: the party of government workers rather than a defender of the working-, middle-class majority. Bush has already drawn fire for his record as an education reformer, with his support for charter schools and educational standards. But his argument goes beyond that to a more fundamental critique of government. He has praised the work of Philip K. Howard, whose book, The Rule of Nobody, is a road map for de-lawyering and rethinking the regulatory system.

Again, the way Bush talks about governmental sclerosis is the important thing. It’s no surprise he’s in favor of the Keystone pipeline and hydraulic fracking–he’s invested in fracking–but listen to this: “Washington shouldn’t try to regulate hydraulic fracking out of business,” he told the auto dealers. “It should be done reasonably and thoughtfully to protect the natural environment.” There is no call to blow up the Environmental Protection Agency or ignore science. But there is awareness of a radical truth: that there is no creative destruction in government. The civil service laws written in the 19th century, the regulations written before the information age, are ancient, slow-motion processes that have corroded the government’s ability to operate effectively.

Bush’s fate will tell us a lot about the Republican Party. He does not seem to be an angry man, and the need to screech has been the great Republican vulnerability in recent presidential campaigns. His candidacy takes crazy off the table–no nutso talk about vaccinations or evolution or the President’s patriotism. Even if you disagree with him, his civility demands respect.

TO READ JOE’S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/swampland


This appears in the March 09, 2015 issue of TIME.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME

Clay Hunt’s Legacy for Veterans

President Barack Obama is about to sign the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act today. I never met Clay, but I’ve spent part of the past three years living with his memory, talking to his parents and friends, for a book about the Post-9/11 generation that will be published in October.

Clay was integral to some of the best veterans organizations out there. He was one of the first members of Team Rubicon, the disaster relief organization co-founded by his best friend, Jake Wood. His work for Team Rubicon was subsidized by a six-month fellowship from The Mission Continues, a brilliant organization that encourages veterans to heal themselves through public service. He was also a spokesman for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

It was IAVA and, especially, its great leader Paul Reickhoff, who led the charge to get this necessary bill funded. It is cause for celebration, I suppose. I wish Clay were here to celebrate…but he does leave a legacy beyond this bill, a spiritual legacy that includes a mission for all of us. He left it in writing. His mom, Susan Selke, passed it along to me–and I’m sure if Clay were here today, this is what he would say:

If I had one thing to say to my fellow veterans, it would be this: Continue to serve, even though we have taken off our uniforms. No matter how great or small your service is, it is desired and needed by the world we live in today. Volunteer to mow your elderly neighbor’s lawn for them. Spend a day at a soup kitchen helping feed the homeless, many of whom are veterans themselves. Work on a trail maintenance project. Start a service organization. It doesn’t matter what it is, it only matters that you are continuing to put others before yourself, just like you did when you were in the military. Actions like that are the only sure ways to bring about the positive social change that our country and our world need so badly these days.

–Clay Hunt

 

TIME politics

With Friends Like These

Joe Klein is TIME's political columnist and author of six books, most recently Politics Lost. His weekly TIME column, "In the Arena," covers national and international affairs.

It’s time for an honest conversation about Saudi Arabia and the roots of Islamist terror

“We … see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge–or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon,” President Barack Obama recently told the National Prayer Breakfast. “We have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it. We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism.” A pretty strong statement, one would think. But it went largely unnoticed because of what the President said next: that Christians should be humble, because terrible acts–the Crusades, the Inquisition–had been committed in the name of Christ. Undoubtedly true too. My family was chased from Spain by the Christians in 1492, after Jews had lived there for centuries peacefully–if not totally free–under Muslim rule.

Assorted historical ignorami rose to challenge the President on the Crusades, including, sadly, former governor of Virginia Jim Gilmore, who accused the President of not believing “in America and the values we share.” But I’m not going to waste a column shooting ducks in a barrel. I’m more interested in another question. Why is the President willing to say all that stuff about ISIS terrorists and not call them what they actually are: Islamic radicals?

At first glance, this might seem a classic case of political correctness–which can be defined as avoiding hard truths in order to salve soft sensibilities. It’s certainly true that it is unfair to indict a global faith followed by more than 1.6 billion people, the overwhelming majority of whom consider ISIS an insane distortion of the Prophet’s teachings. “ISIS is a political movement,” says Vali Nasr, dean of the School of Advanced International Studies and a former Obama Administration official. “It is an anticolonial movement, an attempt to separate whites from browns … Why should we be coronating ISIS and giving it the credibility it craves by calling it an ‘Islamic’ movement?”

But ISIS is, most definitely, a twisted extrapolation of a religious-political trend that gained traction in the region about a hundred years ago, after the egregious European gobbling, slicing and dicing of the Middle East. When you look at all the straight-line borders in that part of the world, you can be sure the locals didn’t draw them. Anger over the European usurpation is one thing Shi’ites and Sunnis have in common. The Iranian revolution of 1979, which imposed a brand-new form of political Shi’ism on a freewheeling country, was a reaction to the Western-imposed government of the Shah. On the Sunni side, the radical Salafist movement began in the late 19th century, also as a reaction to Western imperialism and ideas. It has become a powerful strand of thought in the Arab world.

“We have a serious internal debate in one of the world’s three great monotheisms,” says Michael Hayden, the former CIA director. “It has to be faced head on.” It is fine to call the ISIS adherents thugs and gangsters, but they are also Muslims. “Of course this is an Islamic issue,” Hayden continues. “It’s not about all Muslims or even the vast majority,” but reactionary Islamic radicalism–militant Salafism–is the source of the ongoing violence.

And the wellspring of Salafism is Saudi Arabia’s extreme, expansionist Wahhabi Islamic sect. Part of the reason Obama can’t utter the words Islamic radicals is that we have not been able to have an honest conversation about our Arabian ally. The Saudi royal family is a source of stability in the region, and under the late King Abdullah, it was a mild force for reform, especially in education. But the Saudi elites have funded not just al-Qaeda but also radical madrasahs throughout the Islamic world. They do it cleverly, privately, through “charitable” institutions. The impact has been enormous. In the 1990s, I asked Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan how her country had changed in the previous 25 years. “I used to be able to go out on the street wearing jeans” and without a headscarf, she said. I asked her why she couldn’t do that now. “The Saudis,” she replied, immediately–a reference to the Saudi-funded madrasahs that were rapidly replacing the ineffective public schools in her country. The Taliban came out of those madrasahs, just as a great many of the ISIS criminals do now.

This is not just an Obama problem. Both presidents Bush were way too close to the royal family. There is a secret section of a report by congressional intelligence committees that may relate to the Saudi role in the attacks. That section should be made public now, as an ongoing suit by the families of 9/11 victims has demanded. If we are going to continue to donate American lives to the fight–and sadly, we must, to protect our country from terrorist attacks–we need to be clear about exactly who the enemy is.

TO READ JOE’S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/swampland


This appears in the February 23, 2015 issue of TIME.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME

Accept Brian Williams’s Apology

The judgments about whether the NBC anchor should be fired, from pundits who never saw the inside of a chinook helicopter, are self-righteous and gagging

In 1978, Rolling Stone magazine gave me my first overseas assignment–in Lebanon, covering the first Israeli military incursion. I got press credentials from the Palestine Liberation Organization in Beirut, then jumped into a taxi with three other journalists and headed for the front. It was a wild drive that culminated at the Litani River, where we were stopped at a PLO checkpoint and asked for our credentials.

Two teenagers guarded the checkpoint and they were a sight to behold: They were wearing platform shoes, love beads, U.S. college t-shirts–one was Texas Tech; I don’t recall the other–and brandishing Kalashnikovs. One brandished his Kalashnikov right on through the open window and into my chest and started screaming something. “He wants your credentials,” the taxi driver said.

Ohh-kay.

I fished out the credentials, handed them to the kid, who read them intently, then showed them to his friend, nudging him in the ribs. “You mean like,” he said to me and the two of them began to sing, “My papa was a rollin’ stone…”

Great story. And that’s how I remember it. But is it true? Yes, I’d swear it…but maybe not on my life. Did the kid jam that Kalashnikov in my chest or did he just point it at me? Did the two kids begin to sing? I’d love to think so.

I do remember being scared witless. And it may–or may not–be that I’ve exaggerated those aspects of the story as an ego gratifying thing or, maybe, to convey the terror and relief I felt at the time. Or maybe not. It may just be true.

All of which is to say: I understand Brian Williams’ predicament. Our memories are not very reliable, especially in life-and-death situations. Part of it is, yes, our need to aggrandize the risks we take; part of it is our minds’ reaction to fear. Part of it is that journalism involves story-telling and sometimes the story gets carried away with itself. Mistakes are made. My story may be minor compared to the one Brian Williams told–but that one story should not imperil his distinguished career. His apology was not elegant, but it should be accepted.

In the end, I find the phenomenon of the schadenfreude circus that has erupted–yet again–to be overwrought and unnecessarily brutal. And the sudden reports, from unnamed NBC staffers, that nobody ever liked Williams anyway, to be too convenient to be credible. And the judgments about whether Williams should be fired, from pundits who never saw the inside of a chinook helicopter, self-righteous and gagging.

The next time Williams finds himself in a war or storm zone, I’ll be watching with appreciation, with the absolute conviction that, after this sad moment, his reporting will be impeccable.

TIME State of the Union 2015

Barack Obama Is Ready to Rejoin the Battle

In the story of a Minnesota couple, an embattled President rediscovers his voice and his purpose

America, meet Rebekah Erler. She was the one sitting between Michelle Obama and Jill Biden because she wrote a letter to the President, which provided the strongest line of Obama’s State of the Union speech: “We are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.” He repeated it four times, the last iteration a grand reference to the American “family.” Indeed, we learned a lot about the Erler family during Obama’s speech. She waited tables. Her husband Ben’s construction business dried up after the 2008 crash, and he traveled long distances to do odd jobs. She went to community college and became an accountant. They had two sons. The rising economy brought a happy end to the story: Ben’s remodeling business was growing again.

MORE: How 7 ideas in the State of the Union would affect you

Obviously, the President thought the Erlers were a good metaphor for the arc of his presidency. But they were more than that: they represent ground zero in American politics, the white working families who used to form the solid base of the Democratic party, then began to slip away to the Republicans in the late 1960s—especially the men. (Ben wasn’t in the first lady’s box with his wife, touching off a tweetnado). And they were a perfect frame for Obama’s speech, which was written to appeal to the Erlers of America.

There were twin sources of the white flight from the Democratic party. One was the sense that Democrats were only interested in taking money from people like the Erlers and giving it to deadbeats, or feeding the government bureaucracy, personified by the post office stereotype: slow-moving, sullen, entitled. The other was a matter of values: the Democrats were the counterculture party, an argument that is evaporating as the culture has moved on, accepting homosexuality, premarital sex and, soon, marijuana. The first argument remains strong, though. It was what propelled the Republican victory in 2014. Obamacare was perceived as classic “liberalism”—it took money from hard-working Americans and gave it to unhealthy deadbeats. Only it didn’t: it gave subsidies to the working poor; the indigent were already covered by Medicaid.

The striking thing about Obama’s latest round of proposals is how targeted they are: the centerpiece tax reforms take money from the wealthy and give it to middle-class taxpayers, people like the Erlers. You have to actually pay taxes to benefit from tax credits (except for the child care deduction, which becomes a stipend for those who don’t). Even his free community college proposal might have been a boon to Rebekah, as she struggled to learn accounting. This is quite the opposite of offering health insurance to a country that was already 85% covered. It is middle-class populism: money is taken from the wealthy and given to a broad swath of the population whose incomes have been stagnating for 30 years.

The Republicans will oppose this, but I suspect they may have a tough argument this time. Big money is about as popular in this country as big government, and the sense that the rich don¹t pay their fair share (Exhibit A: Mitt Romney) is as strong as the sense that government wastes a lot of money. “Lowering tax bills for the middle class is a perfectly fine idea,” says James Pethokoukis of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “I would probably raise the money in a different way. [Obama] wants to increase the capital gains tax, which should be as low as possible. But we’re only talking about $210 billion over ten years, which is little more than a rounding error, given the size of the budget.” There are other, more ambitious income redistribution plans afoot. Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) has proposed a .01% tax on stock transactions that would not only provide a $1000 middle class tax credit, but also put a damper on the high-speed Wall Street casino trading that helped lead to the last crash. This is a public argument worth having. It will be at the center of the 2016 presidential campaign, if we’re lucky.

MORE: Obama made history by using this word during the State of the Union

“If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments,” the President said, “But let’s make them arguments worthy of this body and this country,” another statement that may have struck home in Erler-world, where the latter day bleat of American politics has come to seem sordid and silly. Obama’s personal transformation over the past six months has been stunning. He almost seemed defeated and uncaring last summer, playing golf instead of honoring an American journalist who had been beheaded. He was rejected by his own party, and then the country, in the fall. He has been on the defensive through most of his second term. But he has resurrected himself through action‹on immigration, on Cuba—and the still-iffy buoyancy of the economy. Like the Erlers, he has been struck and stunned, but he seems ready, finally, to rejoin the battle.

TIME

Why Mitt Romney Won’t Win (Again)

Will this iteration of the two-time presidential candidate come equipped with a backbone?

It is always wonderful to see a twice-failed politician suck it up and sort of announce he’s going to be running for President again. Mitt Romney’s allies say he will be different this time. There is talk of a new personal style that was really his old personal style—as seen in the Netflix documentary Mitt—but was brutally suppressed by his … political consultants, most of whom seem back on board. There is talk of Romney emphasizing the eradication of poverty as one of his three campaign pillars. There is talk about his being less gaffe-prone this time. (Translation of last two sentences: he will try to act like a rich guy who cares for the 47%.) He will “position” himself just to the right of Jeb Bush.

These are the things politicians and horse-race reporters talk about.

What they don’t talk about is whether this iteration of Romney will come equipped with a backbone. The last two certainly didn’t, to the point of embarrassment. In neither campaign did Romney take a position that was even vaguely controversial with his party’s rabid base. He was disgraceful on immigration, “self-deporting” himself to Dantean circles of chicanery. He was craven on fiscal sanity, opposing in one debate—along with all his fellow candidates—a budget proposal that would include 90% cuts and 10% revenue increases. Worst of all, he self-lobotomized on the subject of health care, dumbing himself down egregiously, denying that his (successful) universal-health-coverage program in Massachusetts was the exact same thing as Barack Obama’s (increasingly successful) national version. He never expressed a real emotion—not anger, not sadness, not unscripted laughter. His manner was as slick as his hair.

That was why he lost. Not because of gaffes or because he wasn’t conservative enough (as extreme conservatives claim) or because he was just too rich. He lost because he seemed computer-animated. There was nothing real to him. He was “positioned.” And so he was deemed untrustworthy by the crucial sliver of attention-paying voters in the middle of the spectrum who decide most elections.

So now he’s back and will be successful this time—his backers say—because he’ll be even slicker. No more gaffes. He’ll also be more personal—although it has yet to be determined whether he’ll be an actual person (many market tests to come before such a crucial decision is made). He will try to compete in the moderate primary along with Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, and perhaps a few others. This will be difficult. His only competition to the left of Attila the Hun last time was Jon Huntsman, who spoke Chinese in one of the debates—not a wise choice in a party of xenophobes—and presented a credible plan for the “too big to fail” Wall Street banks to be dismantled … in the party of bankers.

Bush is immediately more credible than Romney. He opposed his party’s positions on immigration and educational testing. He is also bilingual—Spanish!—and seems a man who has actually existed in the America of the past quarter-century, suffering family problems along with the rest of us. We still don’t know all that much about him. He was a very good governor. I’ve found him to be a smart and bold policy wonk when we’ve spoken one-on-one. (Tragically, I felt the same way about Romney—in the days before his advisers prohibited one-on-ones.) The biggest question about Bush in my mind is whether he returns to his father’s brilliantly sophisticated foreign policy or to his brother’s disastrous Cheney-dominated first term in office, or to George W.’s more reasonable second term, marked by realistic aides like National Security Adviser Steve Hadley and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Does he think strategically or tactically?

As for Christie, who may be left behind in the high-powered race to come, his greatest appeal is that he is the exact opposite of Mitt Romney. No political consultant could make him up. As a human being from the greater New York metropolitan area, I will enjoy every moment of his campaign if he doesn’t try to Romnify himself.

Does this mean Mitt is pretoasted? I wouldn’t say that. He could surprise us all and come out in favor of breaking up the big banks—ending “moral hazard”—and for reforms that would take the tax advantages away from the financial sector (including his own self). In fact, I suspect that if he had done that in 2012, he might be President today. But think of the speech he could give …

 

TIME Middle East

The Path to Peace

vanAgtmael_11.JPG
Peter van Agtmael—Magnum Photos A Palestinian man prays in a Gaza neighborhood destroyed during the war last year between Hamas and Israel

Chaos in the Middle East is sowing the seeds for an unlikely alliance between Israel and the Arab states

On May 26, 2014, an unprecedented public conversation took place in Brussels. Two former high-ranking spymasters of Israel and Saudi Arabia–Amos Yadlin and Prince Turki al-Faisal–sat together for more than an hour, talking regional politics in a conversation moderated by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius. They disagreed on some things, like the exact nature of an Israel-Palestine peace settlement, and agreed on others: the severity of the Iranian nuclear threat, the need to support the new military government in Egypt, the demand for concerted international action in Syria. The most striking statement came from Prince Turki. He said the Arabs had “crossed the Rubicon” and “don’t want to fight Israel anymore.”

The Turki-Yadlin dialogue was not “official,” but it sent a clear message. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah had personally approved the meeting, intending it as an olive branch to the Israelis. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided not to reciprocate–at least not openly. It was too dangerous politically. Crucial components of Netanyahu’s coalition, especially his supporters among right-wing Jewish settlers in the West Bank, oppose any deal with Palestinians.

And yet, in the months after he decided against a public gesture to the Saudis, Netanyahu was suggesting at private meals with editors and influential figures at the U.N. General Assembly meetings last September that an alliance with the Arabs was not only possible but perhaps the best way to resolve the Palestinian problem.

Other odd things have been happening recently in the gridlocked Middle East. On New Year’s Day, Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi made an interesting speech, challenging Islamic radicalism and calling for a Muslim reformation. “It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred,” he said, “should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!” The sentiments were not unexpected, since al-Sisi had come to power by overthrowing the country’s democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood leaders in 2013. (Al-Sisi won a largely uncontested presidential election last year.) But these are not sentiments that have often been uttered publicly by Arab leaders before.

And then, the very next day, the Times of Israel reported that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and exiled Palestinian leader Mohammed Dahlan had met privately in Paris. Dahlan has made no secret of his desire to replace Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas; Lieberman is a conservative who has fallen out with Netanyahu and wants to be part of a coalition to replace him. So what on earth were Dahlan and Lieberman talking about?

All of this may add up to nothing. But there seems to be a growing impatience with the perpetual status quo in the region. There is a new generation of leaders pushing for power in Israel and Palestine. There are dangerous new threats like ISIS. There is concern about the U.S.–the possibility of a nuclear deal with Iran, the waning need for Middle East oil. There is the memory of the Arab Spring, which ultimately produced chaos instead of democracy.

The established powers in the region, like Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have found in recent years that they have increasingly aligned foreign policy interests. The Israelis and Saudis have been sharing intelligence for the past few years, according to regional sources. The Israelis and Egyptians are cooperating on security efforts in Sinai and in Gaza, where Hamas–the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood–is a common enemy. There are private talks going on between Israeli and Saudi Arabian officials. “It might be called mushroom diplomacy,” an Israeli told me. “It can only grow in the dark.”

Most Israeli and Arab officials I spoke with during a December tour of the region acknowledge the mushrooms and hope that the burgeoning relationships–especially the acceptance of Israel as a de facto ally–can be brought to light in time. There are, of course, all the usual roadblocks, including the eternal one: nothing can happen publicly without an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. The Saudis and the Arab League promised to recognize Israel in 2002 if such a deal were made, but the Arab terms–a return to 1967 borders, with Palestinians’ right of return to their former lands in Israel–were unacceptable to the Israelis. Now those terms may be changing. Prince Turki described the proposal as a “framework,” which implies room to maneuver.

Is it possible that the Middle East has become so unstable that an Arab-Israeli peace is no longer unthinkable?

The ISIS Effect

As 2015 begins, the Middle East seems to be a greater mess than it ever was–especially when it comes to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The deterioration began with Israel’s 50-day war in Gaza last summer, which increased the popularity of Hamas in the West Bank and has led Abbas to take a series of steps toward the unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. In recent weeks, the Palestinian Authority applied for membership in the International Criminal Court–a red flag to the Israelis because the Palestinians would presumably use membership to bring war-crimes charges against Israel. In return, the Israelis have cut off the monthly payment of taxes they collect for the PA, which represent almost 80% of the government’s $160 million monthly budget. It is possible that the Palestinians could retaliate by suspending government operations in the West Bank–schools, health care and, especially, security. Chaos would be the likely result.

In the rest of the region, the sectarian split between Sunni and Shi’ite has become more dangerous, even as it has become more confusing. The Sunni Arab nations–which include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states–have worried for a decade that the U.S. demolition of Saddam Hussein’s ugly but stable dictatorship in Iraq has created a power vacuum in a broad swath of the region that the Iranians are exploiting. They call it the “Shi’ite crescent,” a sphere of influence stretching from Hizballah-controlled southern Lebanon and President Bashar Assad’s Alawite regime in Syria, to Iraq and Iran, right up to the border of the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia, a majority-Shi’ite area where most of the country’s oil is produced.

But the old Sunni-Shi’ite conflict has been complicated by a new threat in the region: ISIS, a Sunni radical military force vastly more competent and frightening than al-Qaeda. ISIS began in Iraq but made its mark in the rebellion against Assad’s government in Syria. Assad isn’t well liked by his Sunni neighbors–and some of them, like Qatar and perhaps private sources in Saudi Arabia, gave surreptitious support to ISIS and other Sunni militias in the early days of the rebellion.

The lightning march ISIS made through Iraq last year changed the equation. An ISIS-controlled Iraq would be a threat not only to Iran but also to some of the Sunni royal families in the region, as well as Egypt. The Jordanians–already overwhelmed by refugees from Iraq, Syria and Palestine–are vulnerable. The Saudis, governed by an increasingly feeble gerontocracy–the 90-year-old Abdullah was hospitalized with pneumonia at the start of the new year–are worried too. The Egyptians are fighting ISIS-style terrorists in Sinai and are threatened by Libyan militias, which may also be loosely affiliated with ISIS.

In response, a heterodox alliance has gathered to make war with ISIS. Iranian-backed militias, like Hizballah, are the most ardent fighters in this war, along with the Kurds. But they are now joined by U.S. airpower–as well as pilots from Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Another potentially major change in the region: the Israelis, Iranians, Saudis and Egyptians are increasingly concerned about Turkey, which sees the ISIS threat somewhat differently from its neighbors. Turkey has allegedly allowed thousands of militants to cross its border and join ISIS because the group is fighting Assad and militant Kurdish groups like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the Turks see as a permanent threat in the south and east of their country. (Turkey has acknowledged that its border with Syria is porous but has denied accusations that it purposefully allows militants to cross.) “Why aren’t you Americans making more of a fuss about Turkey’s support for ISIS?” a prominent Egyptian official asked me. “I read a lot more about our humanitarian problems in the American press than I do about the Turks who are allowing terrorists to cross their border and behead Americans.”

Of course, the “humanitarian problems” in Egypt are very real, as al-Sisi’s forces have led a brutal suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood. But the Egyptians have become sensitive to the point of paranoia about the changing U.S. role in the region. I had dinner in Cairo with a group of prominent leaders. One of them, a banker, asked seriously, “Is it true that there is a secret alliance between Obama and the Muslim Brotherhood to destabilize the existing Sunni governments in the region?”

I started to laugh, but none of the Egyptians at the table were smiling. They didn’t buy the banker’s conspiracy theory, but they laid out an array of charges, ranging from the (pre-Obama) Iraq invasion to the President’s support for the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak to the Administration’s recent slow walk of military supplies, especially spare parts, to the al-Sisi government. “Doesn’t he want us to be fighting ISIS in Sinai?” asked the banker.

The Obama Administration maintains that all al-Sisi has to do is free some political prisoners–especially those who are American and three jailed journalists from al-Jazeera who were accused, implausibly, of joining a terrorist group and broadcasting “false news”–and the military support will flow again. The Administration argues that its overall policy–steering clear of neocolonial adventurism like the 2003 invasion of Iraq and working to bring Iran back into the international community–has been more effective than George W. Bush’s neoconservatism. Obama aides also point out that there are two U.S. naval fleets in the region, plus U.S. bases in Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Djibouti. “Does that sound like disengagement?” one of them asked me. “We’re not going anywhere.”

From Washington, the region seems a jigsaw puzzle ruled by anarchic moving pieces–a disproportionate source of concern that leaches attention from growing problems in Russia and East Asia. From Cairo and Riyadh and Jerusalem, though, the U.S. seems a fickle ally that can’t decide whether its policy is to support stability or the naive hope for democracy in a region that isn’t ready for it.

The modern Middle East was stabilized, in a toxic but effective way, by the Cold War, when partnership with superpowers provided security and economic aid. In the 21st century, the USSR is gone and the U.S. no longer has the incentive, or the money, to lavish vast aid packages on local clients. But the nations of the Middle East have been unable to wean themselves from their dependency on outside forces. “Whenever we’re in trouble we dial 911,” an Arab diplomat told me. “But it is illogical to think the U.S. was created to protect the Sunnis.”

With few other options, the Arabs have returned to an old idea, which was mostly bluster in the past–that they must unite to protect themselves. And any serious conversation about security and economic development has to include the one nation in the region that has succeeded at both: Israel. There is no love for the Israelis, but there is respect. And so there is a hope–a conversation that is occurring across the Arab states–that perhaps the only alternative is to bank on the regional forces of stability to create a security alliance against the extremist threat of both Shi’ite and Sunni militias. Even if that means partnering with Israel.

Strange Bedfellows

Is such an alliance even vaguely possible? History says no, vehemently. But in the days before Netanyahu’s government collapsed in December, Israeli intelligence sources–usually the most skeptical people in the country–were allowing tiny shreds of hope to creep into their calculations. The common security interests with the Arabs were compelling, several of them told me, and might lead to new arrangements in the region. It was not impossible that the Arabs could help broker a peace deal with the Palestinians. The Egyptians could help provide security; the Saudis and Gulf states could provide funds for Palestinian economic development.

For that to happen, though, Israel would need to make changes of its own. “These governments can’t be seen to be cooperating with Israel as long as there isn’t a deal with the Palestinians,” said one intelligence expert, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “ISIS can turn the Arab street, especially their young people, against them. It’s bad enough that [the U.S.] is dropping bombs on Sunnis in Iraq and Syria. That strengthens [ISIS] on the street as well.”

At the heart of this conundrum stands Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli Prime Minister may have been selling an alliance with the Arabs in New York, but he’s been selling intransigence back home. That includes a new law that would make Israel a “Jewish” state–with the implication of second-class citizenship for its 1.7 million Arab citizens. His insistence on pushing that law resulted in the collapse of his government, as moderate parties led by Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid refused to support the legislation.

Netanyahu is no longer very popular in Israel, but no one is betting against him in the March election. Given his political skills, the absence of a charismatic mainstream challenger and the steady tattoo of terrorist incidents–stabbings, shootings, cars running over pedestrians–most observers assume that Netanyahu will prevail somehow, though he might even struggle to maintain control of his Likud Party. The rising tide seems to be with the settler-movement leader Naftali Bennett, whose party might well outpoll Likud in March. It is also possible that the moderate-liberal coalition of the Labor Party and the splinter party of Livni’s supporters will challenge Likud for first place in the March election and the right to attempt to form a government of its own.

The real negotiations begin after the election. Netanyahu will try again to cobble together a centrist coalition. The big question is whether he will have to include Bennett in a government; if so, there will be no hope of Israel’s negotiating a deal with the Palestinians–and no hope of closer public ties with its Sunni Arab neighbors.

But there are other possibilities as well. If Labor-Livni polls strongly and is joined by Lapid’s centrist party, they may find a partner in Avigdor Lieberman. The Foreign Minister and leader of the Israel Beitenu party ran a crass, anti-Arab campaign last time. “But Lieberman plays a different game inside the government than he does outside,” says Shai Feldman, director of Brandeis University’s Crown Center for Middle East Studies. “As Foreign Minister, he’s had to deal with the leaders of other countries. He’s more of a realist now.” But he’s also less of a political force, as recent polls show support for his party waning dramatically because of renewed corruption charges against Lieberman. “It is absolutely impossible to predict how this election is going to turn out,” Feldman says.

The New Generation

Netanyahu has been at the center of Israeli politics for nearly 25 years. Abbas has been a force in Palestinian politics even longer. But a new generation of leaders is rising, which is why the Lieberman-Dahlan meeting in Paris was noteworthy, at the very least. One thing the two men have in common, despite their wildly divergent politics, is that both believe the Netanyahu-Abbas era is coming to a close.

Dahlan is perhaps the most skilled of the next generation of Palestinian leaders, although he developed a well-deserved reputation as a thug when he led the Palestinian security services in Gaza. He is a young-looking 53, a protégé of Yasser Arafat’s and a native Gazan. He’s also the sworn enemy of Abbas, who accused Dahlan of corruption and convicted him in a show trial; Dahlan has been living in Abu Dhabi since 2011. He has already announced that he will run for President of the PA against Abbas–who is supremely unpopular–should Abbas ever call the Palestinian election that has been long delayed. But Dahlan’s strategy is more expansive than a one-on-one fight with Abbas. His hope is to create a new coalition that would appeal to people across the Palestinian political spectrum, from Hamas to Fatah.

How could he manage that? By forming an alliance with a Palestinian leader currently sitting in an Israeli prison. Marwan Barghouti, 55, is considered a folk hero by both Hamas and Fatah. He was a prominent leader of the first and second intifadehs before he was arrested by the Israelis in 2002 and sentenced to five continuous life terms for murder. Barghouti’s wife has already announced her support for a movement to draft him for President. Dahlan’s vision is that Barghouti would be the titular head of the PA from inside prison and Dahlan himself would be the hands-on guy, running the show from Ramallah, while former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, widely considered Palestine’s most effective bureaucrat, would administer the West Bank.

Netanyahu has long lamented the fact that he doesn’t have a “strong” partner on the Palestinian side. Abbas has never had the support among his people to cut a deal, and his predecessor Arafat had little desire to do so. But a government led by Barghouti or Dahlan could hardly be considered weak, and a Barghouti-Dahlan coalition would be formidable. The question of what to do with Barghouti–whether to release him or not–has been discussed by Netanyahu’s inner circle. At this point, Barghouti’s political views are a mystery; he has been described as “Mandela-esque” and utterly unrepentant.

Dahlan has been meeting with Arab leaders across the region. He is close to Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and also to Egypt’s al-Sisi. His aspirations parallel Netanyahu’s: that the Arab states could be brought into the talks as intermediaries. Dahlan hopes the Arabs will nudge the Israelis to make concessions; Netanyahu hopes that the Arabs will nudge the Palestinians to make concessions. But the bottom line is the same: visions of commercial cooperation that transforms ports in Gaza and Haifa into Middle Eastern Singapores; visions of a security alliance strong enough to fend off Islamic radicalism, both Shi’ite and Sunni.

The only thing preventing all this is what usually gets in the way in the Middle East–reality. Here is what might also happen in 2015: Israel might elect a right-wing government that wants nothing to do with the Arabs. The West Bank may fall into chaos as the PA struggles without the funds necessary to keep its security forces in operation. The U.S. might make a nuclear deal with Iran, with unforeseen consequences for the region. The U.S. might not make a nuclear deal with Iran, with unforeseen consequences for the region. King Abdullah might pass away in Saudi Arabia. The moderate Jordanian government might be overwhelmed by the tide of Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. Bashar Assad might fall, or survive, with consequences for the Kurds, the Turks and the Lebanese. Libyan militias might find common cause with ISIS. The rickety new government in Iraq might collapse.

Any of these events is more likely to occur than a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians, brokered by the Arabs. But the fact that the conversation is taking place–between Prince Turki and Amos Yadlin, between Mohammed Dahlan and Avigdor Lieberman, secretly at the U.N. and in capitals across the region–means that peace, the most unlikely Middle East result, is no longer off the table.


This appears in the January 19, 2015 issue of TIME.
TIME Mario Cuomo

Remembering Mario Cuomo

Andrew Cuomo once told me that I had “sort of a father and son relationship” with his father, Mario, who died Thursday at the age of 82. I’m not sure what he meant by that. Cuomo and I argued a lot, at length–but it was sportive arguing, a kind of dance. We once watched at entire New York Knicks game together on television—with the governor on the phone in Albany, me on the phone in New York. We spent the first half arguing politics; the second half talking sports. He favored a new rule: a five-point shot from half court or deeper.

Andrew also told me that the difference between him and his father was that Mario—and Andrew always called him Mario—focused on what should be done and Andrew focused on how to do it. Once, on the phone, Mario asked me why I hadn’t given him credit for increasing education funding by—he claimed—90%. I replied, “You did that? Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?” He asked, bristling.

“Because the schools still [stink],” I replied. He was, of course, furious. He trusted me enough to get angry at me. He knew our conversations were private; he knew that I valued them too much to ever use them against him.

We disagreed about a lot of things, but I loved the fact that when it came to policy his first instinct was compassion. (Politics was another matter. He could be brutal toward his enemies.) One of those enemies once told me that Cuomo was “a Queens ward-heeler with the voice of Abraham Lincoln.” But that was unfair; Cuomo’s rhetorical brilliance was rooted in personal experience. His heart was always—always—with the workers “whose fingers are too thick to work a computer keyboard.” He was, indeed, old school outer-borough New York, my New York. He once asked me if I wanted to go to Japan with him on a trade mission and I said no. “Why not?” He asked, shocked. I told him that I knew exactly what he would do when he got there. He would go to his hotel room and spend six hours on the phone back to New York, go to a couple of trade meetings with Japanese officials, have a ceremonial dinner where he’d feel uncomfortable, get back on the plane and go home. “When I go to Japan,” I said. “I want to go to Japan.” He agreed that I had a point. I asked him why he was like that. “I grew up over the store,” he said. “I get nervous when I’m not close to the store.”

Which was why, I think, he never ran for President. He was afraid he’d get to Iowa and do something New York stupid, like mistake corn for wheat. He also, I suspect, felt that way about the Supreme Court, a position he was offered by Bill Clinton: he would have to compete with another smart Italian, Antonin Scalia, and might not be up to the job. He didn’t understand that his big heart, his basic instincts, his athletic cleverness, was exactly the moral challenge that Scalia needed.

Father and son? Well, we did have conversations of a personal quality that I’ve never had with a politician before or since. Just after Michael Dukakis lost the presidential campaign of 1988, I told Mario what an old Boston politician had once told me, “Dukakis was never like us”—he meant a working-class ethnic sort—”he was never ashamed of his father.”

I said it as a provocation. Cuomo had worked hard for Dukakis. But he didn’t flash back at me. He was silent for a while; I could feel his brain cranking. And then, finally, he said, “I used to hate going to parents’ night in school. My father couldn’t speak English. I was so embarrassed. I would try to keep him away from my friends.” He called me back three days later, having polled his inner circle—Fabian Palomino, Sandy Frucher, others—about whether they’d been ashamed of their fathers. “You sure hit a nerve with that one,” Frucher told me.

But I remember Mario best on the stump in the 1982 gubernatorial primary, running against Ed Koch—who was, like, 30 or so points ahead at the beginning of the race. Koch was hammering away on the death penalty. The polls said the people were for it, overwhelmingly. Koch was for it. Cuomo was against it.

And Cuomo made it the central issue of his campaign. We went from town to town in upstate New York, just a few of us—all the press and smart money were with Koch at that point. Mario would hold town meetings, knowing viscerally that he could only win their votes if they knew what kind of man he was. And he needed the death penalty for that. If they didn’t ask him about it, he’d ask them, “Doesn’t anyone want to ask me about the death penalty?”

He would tell them whether they wanted to hear it or not. He would tell the story of how one of his daughters was accosted by a thug on the street in Queens who burned her breast with a cigarette. “Did I want to murder that guy? Absolutely. My son Andrew got into the car with a baseball bat, looking for the guy. I would have torn him apart with my bare hands if I’d ever found him … But would have that been the right thing? No. It would have been the barbaric thing to do. That’s what we have government for—to protect us from the barbaric side of human nature.” The state, as an exemplar of moral rectitude, had to abide by the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”

People would come up to him after the meetings and say, “I’m still not sure I agree with you on the death penalty, but I certainly respect your position.” In the end, they decided to vote for him. They voted for him because Mario Cuomo was a man to respect, a man who respected them well enough to tell them what they didn’t want to hear.

Read next: Pro-Choice Mario Cuomo Was Still A Catholic Politician

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