Politicians forever redefine reality. With help from the media they rewrite political labels, platforms, identities and issues, and they keep us off balance with a deluge of misinformation. We can't make sense of the world when think outside their parameters.
Two weeks ago, Penn selected James Baker as this year's Commencement speaker. Baker's accomplishments include Secretary of the Treasury and the State, co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group and a senior partner in a 700-attorney international law firm.
Last year's speaker, Jodie Foster, was ridiculed by many for being just some actress. The same cannot be said about James Baker, whose CV is tax-code long. However, Baker has been opposed on other grounds - his record.
There's nothing wrong with Baker addressing the senior class - a Commencement speaker shouldn't have to preach to the choir. However, if Baker is going to speak, it's important to know who he is and what he has been.
In the winter and spring of 1992, Israel needed $10 billion in U.S. housing-loan guarantees to absorb Soviet immigrants. Bush Sr., with James Baker as his Secretary of State, refused to honor the guarantees until Israel ceased Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
"The choice is Israel's," Bush said. "She can determine whether she wants to take action which would permit the strong support of both the legislative and executive branches for these loan guarantees or not."
Baker was more direct, calling the settlements "no greater obstacle to peace."
That January, the U.S. voted for a U.N. resolution that "strongly condemns Israel."
In March, administration officials leaked false information reporting that Israel had illegally sold U.S. military technology. The Bush Administration alienated much of the American Jewish community and drove them to support Democratic candidate Bill Clinton.
During the period of Jewish backlash, former New York Mayor and columnist for The New York Post Ed Koch reported that when "Baker was criticized recently at a meeting of high-level White House advisers for his belligerent attitude toward Israel, he responded, 'Fuck the Jews. They didn't vote for us.'"
Koch's source was anonymous, making the comment hearsay. However, not only does it sound like a politician being candid when he thinks no one is listening, but given the political situation, the statement isn't inconceivable.
Now, in 2007, James Baker, Ronald Reagan's former Chief of Staff, is the darling of many Democrats. His Iraq report was critical of the current Bush administration, which added to the Democrats' post-election celebrations.
Meanwhile, many of Bush Jr. supporters were angry about the report. They saw it as a stab in the back by a prominent Republican, and the timing only added to the wound.
Yet Baker's relationship with Bush Jr. has been consistently strong.
In 2000, Baker led the legal team of then-governor Bush's campaign, and Baker won for him the disputed election.
Last summer, Insight Magazine, the conservative version of Newsweek, reported that "President Bush has acceded to his father's urging and has made former Secretary of State James Baker a leading adviser on Iraq."
When the Study Group Report came out, Bush said it had "thoughtful recommendations." Nonetheless he ignored them, even though it was the solicited advice he had been getting from Baker for months.
Baker was loved by conservatives and hated by liberals in the 80s and 90s, and after the 2000 election. Now he's cheered by some Democrats and moderate Republicans for the Study Group Report and booed by Bush loyalists for being a just another cut-and-run'er.
However, there are two groups who have held a consistent public opinion of James Baker. One is George Bush, his father and their interests. Baker has been and continues to be a close friend and vital ally of the Bush family.
The other group is supporters of Israel. Baker's rhetoric hasn't changed. He was and still is anti-Israel, and some Jews have been paying attention to the continuity.
Bush Jr. has claimed to support Israel ever since he was elected in 2000, yet his administration's policy is the same policy James Baker was been advocating, unabated, for twenty years. Baker and Bush Jr. continue to push for a total withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank and a gradual move toward a two-state solution.
In 1992, a two-state solution was called "anti-Israel." Today it's called "pro-Israel."
James Baker is chameleon who has never actually changed color. Ignore the media quips and political spin. Learn Baker's whole story.
Let's see if Penn has taught all you seniors how to think.
Alex Weinstein is a College senior from Bridgeport, W.Va. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Straight to Hell appears on Thursdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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