Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 16, 2007

Wall Street Populism

Can Democrats be the party of both economic populism and Wall Street? Can they recreate the kind of big tent that allowed Lyndon Johnson to trounce Barry Goldwater in 1964? The answer appears, at the moment, to be yes. The Democrats, more and more, are being funded by those in the financial sector who have benefited the most from globalization, without losing the support of blue-collar workers fearful of globalization’s effects. If the Democrats can hold this broad coalition together, they may be in a position to win a 1964-like victory in 2008.

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Can Democrats be the party of both economic populism and Wall Street? Can they recreate the kind of big tent that allowed Lyndon Johnson to trounce Barry Goldwater in 1964? The answer appears, at the moment, to be yes. The Democrats, more and more, are being funded by those in the financial sector who have benefited the most from globalization, without losing the support of blue-collar workers fearful of globalization’s effects. If the Democrats can hold this broad coalition together, they may be in a position to win a 1964-like victory in 2008.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are calling for higher taxes on the wealthy and tougher tax treatment for private equity firms, like the Blackstone Group, which have become the symbol of growing economic inequality. But this hasn’t hurt the party at all when it comes to fundraising. Perhaps because social issues, not social class, have come increasingly to define what it means to be a Democrat or Republican.

This shift from economic to cultural issues over the last 40 years has scrambled the political landscape. In the 1980′s, 70 percent of the upper quintile of American income earners voted for the GOP. But in the 2006 Congressional elections, the Democrats ran nearly even with Republicans among voters who earned more than $100,000 per year. And among the very wealthy, notes the Financial Times, the “balance of power” has shifted in favor of the Democrats. Young hedge fund tyros and other well-to-do professionals have given the Democrats a substantial fund-raising lead over the Republicans. Barack Obama, who has become increasingly critical of free trade and demands higher taxes on the wealthy, has widespread support in the world of finance, including the hedge fund managers George Soros, Eric Mindich, Paul Tudor Jones, and Daniel Loeb. In the second quarter of 2007, Democratic presidential candidates raised $80 million to their GOP counterparts’ $50 million. Obama alone raised almost $33 million, nearly twice the amount raised by Rudy Giuliani, the leading Republican.

Can a party with such close ties to Wall Street effectively court blue-collar workers? It can, if those workers are fearful of free trade. The unprecedented growth of international trade in recent years has been a boon for the overall economy. But it has also constrained wage growth and induced considerable working-class anxiety. In Ohio’s 2006 mid-term Senate election, Sherrod Brown, running largely on the trade issue, unseated Senator Mike DeWine. Democrats see that race as a potential model for 2008.

The other large arrows in the Democrat’s populist quiver are the public’s hostility to both the energy and pharmaceutical industries, as well as growing worries about the cost of health care. And while there may be tension between those in the risk-loving financial sector and increasingly risk-averse workers, in the short run it can be eased with the promise of higher taxes on the wealthy, to fund (among other things) more health care coverage for the middle class.

Taken together with trade fears, these arrows form a formidable arsenal, one that might well allow Democrats to create a version of their 1964 coalition, in which big business and New Deal liberals marched side-by-side. There are sizable fault lines inherent in such a coalition: just imagine the potential conflicts between green CEO’s driving hybrid limos and workers displaced by environmental over-regulation. But it’s unlikely that a conventional Republican campaign can exploit those weaknesses. As it now stands, on these issues the GOP is marching toward a precipice. (Perhaps it can take solace in the fact that the grand coalition of ’64 quickly fell apart.)

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Psychiatric Reparations?

It is a well-known fact that children of Holocaust survivors often suffer from a variety of psychiatric problems, ranging on the diagnostic spectrum from anxiety to severe and chronic depression. Who should pay for their treatment?

“A group representing thousands of children of Holocaust survivors filed a class-action lawsuit against the German government Monday,” reported Time today. It is “demanding that Germany pay for their psychiatric care.”

The suit calls for the German government to pay for biweekly therapy sessions for 15,000 to 20,000 people at a cost of $10 million over three years. Gideon Fisher, the attorney who filed the action in a Tel Aviv court, says this is “the very first time that the German government will be asked to take responsibility and to care for those of the second generation in Israel and indeed, worldwide.”

What are we to make of this?

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It is a well-known fact that children of Holocaust survivors often suffer from a variety of psychiatric problems, ranging on the diagnostic spectrum from anxiety to severe and chronic depression. Who should pay for their treatment?

“A group representing thousands of children of Holocaust survivors filed a class-action lawsuit against the German government Monday,” reported Time today. It is “demanding that Germany pay for their psychiatric care.”

The suit calls for the German government to pay for biweekly therapy sessions for 15,000 to 20,000 people at a cost of $10 million over three years. Gideon Fisher, the attorney who filed the action in a Tel Aviv court, says this is “the very first time that the German government will be asked to take responsibility and to care for those of the second generation in Israel and indeed, worldwide.”

What are we to make of this?

Along with the 53 million lives lost in World War II, an immense amount of material damage took place; everywhere the Nazis turned, they not only killed but plundered. Since the close of the war, Germany has tried, by a variety of means, to atone for its past. Financial compensation has been a significant part of the effort.

Mixing the pursuit of material compensation with historical justice was bound to fertilize a poisonous breeding ground of anti-Semitism. Yet as ugly as the issue has sometimes become, there was more than a measure of justice in many of the victims’ claims. To its credit, Germany recognized this justice and since 1951 has paid out approximately $60 billion in reparations to the survivors of Nazi concentration camps and others who suffered losses—material, physical, and also psychological—during the war.

To be sure, Germany doled out some of this money only grudgingly. Moreover, some of it was extracted from the German government by unseemly means. But the fact remains that in attempting to atone at all, Germany has done something perhaps unprecedented in the history of war.

Should the children of the survivors, however, be similarly entitled to compensation for the cost of treatment to relieve their own psychic suffering, as the lawsuit demands? And if the children, why not the grandchildren, and so on unto the fourth or fifth generation?

My own view is that the claim is preposterous. Germany will never be able to undo the immense crimes it committed in the years 1939 to 1945. But a right to compensation cannot be handed down from generation to generation. To hold otherwise is to invite ridicule and to stoke resentment. There is only one thing in this lawsuit that is incontestable: those who filed it are in need of biweekly moral as well as psychological therapy.

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Breakdown in Pakistan

At first blush, recent events in Pakistan would seem to underscore the case for continuing to support General Pervez Musharraf, the country’s military dictator. Last week Musharrraf ordered the army to storm the Red Mosque in Islamabad, which had been seized by radicals. Army commandos succeeded in their task, albeit at the cost of some 87 lives. Islamist radicals retaliated with a series of bombings over the weekend. Now comes word that the accord reached between the central government and tribal elders in North Waziristan last year has broken down. This was the treaty by which the government of Pakistan essentially ended all efforts to police this tribal area, in return for toothless promises on the part of the tribes to restrain the Taliban.

From Washington’s perspective, all this could be read as evidence that Musharraf remains the indispensable bulwark against Islamist extremism in this nuclear-armed nation. In reality, recent events demonstrate the disastrous consequences of decisions made over the years by Musharraf and other army commanders to reach a modus vivendi with Islamic radicals. The army, and its agency for Inter-Services Intelligence, have been using the radicals to stage attacks into Kashmir and Afghanistan. In return, they have looked the other way as these militants have expanded their influence in Pakistan proper. To be sure, this has been a relationship fraught with tensions—radicals have tried to assassinate Musharraf and he has sometimes cracked down on their activities. But Musharraf has never done as much as he keeps promising Washington he will do to suppress the Islamists—or as much as the majority of secular Pakistanis would like.

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At first blush, recent events in Pakistan would seem to underscore the case for continuing to support General Pervez Musharraf, the country’s military dictator. Last week Musharrraf ordered the army to storm the Red Mosque in Islamabad, which had been seized by radicals. Army commandos succeeded in their task, albeit at the cost of some 87 lives. Islamist radicals retaliated with a series of bombings over the weekend. Now comes word that the accord reached between the central government and tribal elders in North Waziristan last year has broken down. This was the treaty by which the government of Pakistan essentially ended all efforts to police this tribal area, in return for toothless promises on the part of the tribes to restrain the Taliban.

From Washington’s perspective, all this could be read as evidence that Musharraf remains the indispensable bulwark against Islamist extremism in this nuclear-armed nation. In reality, recent events demonstrate the disastrous consequences of decisions made over the years by Musharraf and other army commanders to reach a modus vivendi with Islamic radicals. The army, and its agency for Inter-Services Intelligence, have been using the radicals to stage attacks into Kashmir and Afghanistan. In return, they have looked the other way as these militants have expanded their influence in Pakistan proper. To be sure, this has been a relationship fraught with tensions—radicals have tried to assassinate Musharraf and he has sometimes cracked down on their activities. But Musharraf has never done as much as he keeps promising Washington he will do to suppress the Islamists—or as much as the majority of secular Pakistanis would like.

What’s interesting, if hardly surprising, about the Red Mosque attack is how much support the government has received from opposition parties, not to mention the middle class in general. As noted by David Rohde in the New York Times,

A nightmare seemed to be unfolding last week when commandos stormed a hardline Islamic mosque in Pakistan’s capital. With at least 87 dead, it looked as if the clash could set off an Islamic uprising in the world’s only nuclear-armed Muslim nation.

Instead, few people attended protests organized by religious parties on Friday. What the battle at the mosque seemed to reveal was how complex Pakistani politics is, and how far Islamist radicals are from gaining widespread popular support, Pakistani and American analysts said.

“There was no uprising because the society is not radical and is more opposed to extremism than most commentators think,” said Frederic Grare, a Pakistan analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “The clash demonstrates that the majority of the people will back a policy aimed at reducing radicals’ influence.”

In short, Washington need not be unduly afraid of Pakistani democracy. The administration should live up to its own rhetoric and push Musharraf to abide by the constitution, which forbids him from continuing as both president and army chief of staff past this fall. If free elections—in which exiled opposition leaders can compete—are held, there is no reason to think that fundamentalist Islamic parties would win more than a small minority of the vote. This is yet another case where our democratic ideals are congruent with our strategic interests in suppressing Islamist terrorism.

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Too Much Too Soon

With Gaza lost to Hamas and Arafat’s discredited legacy increasingly becoming a burden, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has been having a difficult time keeping his political credibility intact. Much of the burden of helping him sell himself as a statesman has fallen, as usual, on Israel. But, given Israel’s past experiences, caution would be well-advised.

It strikes me as precipitous that, on the eve of a routine meeting between Ehud Olmert and Abbas, Israel has agreed not only to release Palestinian prisoners, but also to grant immunity to 178 Palestinian fugitives. Israel has also given permission to Nawaf Hawatmeh, of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), to attend a PLO meeting in Ramallah. Hawatmeh, you may remember, ordered the slaughter of 22 Israeli schoolchildren in the town of Maalot in 1974.

Perhaps Abbas’s predicament and Israel’s concomitant problems are even worse than they seem. But no matter how desperate the times, a measure this desperate—a grant of amnesty to terrorists still at large—is excessive.

With Gaza lost to Hamas and Arafat’s discredited legacy increasingly becoming a burden, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has been having a difficult time keeping his political credibility intact. Much of the burden of helping him sell himself as a statesman has fallen, as usual, on Israel. But, given Israel’s past experiences, caution would be well-advised.

It strikes me as precipitous that, on the eve of a routine meeting between Ehud Olmert and Abbas, Israel has agreed not only to release Palestinian prisoners, but also to grant immunity to 178 Palestinian fugitives. Israel has also given permission to Nawaf Hawatmeh, of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), to attend a PLO meeting in Ramallah. Hawatmeh, you may remember, ordered the slaughter of 22 Israeli schoolchildren in the town of Maalot in 1974.

Perhaps Abbas’s predicament and Israel’s concomitant problems are even worse than they seem. But no matter how desperate the times, a measure this desperate—a grant of amnesty to terrorists still at large—is excessive.

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No Room to Maneuver

Today, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that North Korea shut down its reactor in Yongbyon on Saturday, pursuant to the first stage of the February 13 deal to freeze Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. The North took this step after South Korea delivered part of a first installment of heavy fuel oil, one of the conditions mandated by the agreement. The shutdown came three months to the day after the deadline for shuttering the North’s Soviet-era reactor.

But the closure of Yongbyon, which had been widely expected, is the easy part. The second stage of the February 13 arrangement demands that the North Koreans disable all their nuclear facilities and disclose all nuclear programs. The United States will be meeting with North Korea and four other parties at Beijing-sponsored talks on the 18th of this month to discuss implementation of Pyongyang’s promise. At issue: whether Kim Jong Il’s militant state will publicly come clean about its covert uranium nuclear weapons program.

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Today, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that North Korea shut down its reactor in Yongbyon on Saturday, pursuant to the first stage of the February 13 deal to freeze Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. The North took this step after South Korea delivered part of a first installment of heavy fuel oil, one of the conditions mandated by the agreement. The shutdown came three months to the day after the deadline for shuttering the North’s Soviet-era reactor.

But the closure of Yongbyon, which had been widely expected, is the easy part. The second stage of the February 13 arrangement demands that the North Koreans disable all their nuclear facilities and disclose all nuclear programs. The United States will be meeting with North Korea and four other parties at Beijing-sponsored talks on the 18th of this month to discuss implementation of Pyongyang’s promise. At issue: whether Kim Jong Il’s militant state will publicly come clean about its covert uranium nuclear weapons program.

One significant danger is that the State Department’s chief North Korea negotiator, Christopher Hill, who championed the February 13 agreement, will accept an incomplete disclosure from North Korea just to keep relations on track. Pyongyang has spent the last five months pushing Washington around on this issue, and the prospect of a complete accounting is not good.

Since September 2005, when the Bush administration switched tactics and accepted a Chinese-brokered framework for disarming North Korea, Washington has made one concession after another (including the unsatisfactory February 13 agreement itself). Now is a critical moment in the process of disarming Pyongyang, and there is no room for America to compromise or flinch yet again.

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Heil, Hamas

Before the movement came to power there was a period of extraordinary dissolution, political chaos, economic dislocation, corruption, and brutal criminality. Unemployment was staggeringly high. Shortages of basic staples were a commonplace. Rival factions vied for power not stopping short of bloodshed. Who was to blame? Was it neighboring foreign powers and their “peace” settlement? Was it the Jews?

Then, suddenly, it came to an end. One faction was victorious. Distinctive uniforms were visible on the streets and distinctive flags became ubiquitous. Order was imposed. It was not a lawful order, but for many it was preferable to the previous derangement. What is more, the party bringing order had a clear plan for reconstruction, and even redemption. Of course, many people were uneasy, but even the uneasy welcomed it; the disorder and violence were in the past and there was hope of remarkable progress toward a better future.

No, this is not Gaza but the end of the Weimar Republic with Hitler’s ascension to chancellor in 1933. And the streets were not adorned with the green flags of Hamas but the red and black of the Nazis.

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Before the movement came to power there was a period of extraordinary dissolution, political chaos, economic dislocation, corruption, and brutal criminality. Unemployment was staggeringly high. Shortages of basic staples were a commonplace. Rival factions vied for power not stopping short of bloodshed. Who was to blame? Was it neighboring foreign powers and their “peace” settlement? Was it the Jews?

Then, suddenly, it came to an end. One faction was victorious. Distinctive uniforms were visible on the streets and distinctive flags became ubiquitous. Order was imposed. It was not a lawful order, but for many it was preferable to the previous derangement. What is more, the party bringing order had a clear plan for reconstruction, and even redemption. Of course, many people were uneasy, but even the uneasy welcomed it; the disorder and violence were in the past and there was hope of remarkable progress toward a better future.

No, this is not Gaza but the end of the Weimar Republic with Hitler’s ascension to chancellor in 1933. And the streets were not adorned with the green flags of Hamas but the red and black of the Nazis.

Many Western observers were reluctant to criticize then, as they are now. Some were fawning then, as some are now.

A remarkable specimen of the latter is Steven Erlanger’s portrait of the Hamas terrorist Khaled Abu Hilal in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, singled out by Scott Johnson of powerline as “passing strange.”

Erlanger holds out hope that “the military victory of Hamas may also bring a welcome measure of quiet and security to the 1.5 million people of Gaza, nearly 70 percent of them refugees, who have been living a nightmare of criminal gangs, street-corner vendettas, clan warfare, absent police, corrupt officials, religious incitement and unremitting poverty.”

What can be said about liberals who embrace order, no matter what the price, and no matter the genocidal ambitions of those imposing it?

Passing strange is right. But perhaps they are not liberals at all, or perhaps liberalism, once the creed of tolerance, has itself become something else, something self-destructive: tolerant of everything, including the most lethal forms of intolerance.

But even that seems an inadequate explanation for Erlanger’s impulse—and he is not alone in harboring it—to hail the triumph of a violent and fanatical Islamic terrorist movement that has murdered hundreds of Israelis—men, women, and children alike—and readily tosses fellow Palestinians from buildings after shooting them in the knees.

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Bookshelf

• Eight years ago, Wendy Shalit published A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue and became the Nice Girl Aging Feminists Love to Loathe. Then she got married, became a mother and launched a Web site, ModestyZone.net, that allows young women who feel ill at ease with the postmodern regime of casual sex to meet in cyberspace, put their hair up and blog about their discontents. Now she’s back in bookstores with a sequel to A Return to Modesty, and I have little doubt that Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It’s Not Bad to Be Good (Random House, 352 pp., $25.95) will make at least as many people as mad as did its predecessor.

The puzzling thing about this anger is that Shalit sounds nothing like the baby Savonarola of her critics’ nightmares. Not only is her style even-tempered, sweetly reasonable, and full of pleasing glints of dry wit, but she is no zealot, at least not in the usual sense of the word. Nowhere in her writings, for instance, does she suggest that sexually active teenagers should be arrested, or strapped into electroshock units and zapped until they agree to stop sleeping around. So why did Katha Pollitt feel moved to propose that the good-humored author of A Return to Modesty be put in charge of designing “new spandex chadors for female olympians?”

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• Eight years ago, Wendy Shalit published A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue and became the Nice Girl Aging Feminists Love to Loathe. Then she got married, became a mother and launched a Web site, ModestyZone.net, that allows young women who feel ill at ease with the postmodern regime of casual sex to meet in cyberspace, put their hair up and blog about their discontents. Now she’s back in bookstores with a sequel to A Return to Modesty, and I have little doubt that Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It’s Not Bad to Be Good (Random House, 352 pp., $25.95) will make at least as many people as mad as did its predecessor.

The puzzling thing about this anger is that Shalit sounds nothing like the baby Savonarola of her critics’ nightmares. Not only is her style even-tempered, sweetly reasonable, and full of pleasing glints of dry wit, but she is no zealot, at least not in the usual sense of the word. Nowhere in her writings, for instance, does she suggest that sexually active teenagers should be arrested, or strapped into electroshock units and zapped until they agree to stop sleeping around. So why did Katha Pollitt feel moved to propose that the good-humored author of A Return to Modesty be put in charge of designing “new spandex chadors for female olympians?”

The answer, of course, is that a great many contemporary women have come to feel deeply equivocal about the fruits of the sexual revolution. Nothing scares an ideologue quite so much as heresy—especially if she’s been harboring secret doubts of her own. Shalit puts it neatly in her new book: “Although we live in a supposedly liberated age, our hysterical witch-hunting of those who question our ideal of recreational sex suggests something else: that our liberation does not extend quite as far as we imagine.”

As for Girls Gone Mild, it contains more than enough horror stories about the immodest way we live now to sew considerable additional doubt on the part of anyone not actively inclined to pedophilia:

Bratz Babyz makes a “Babyz Nite Out” doll garbed in fishnet stockings, a hot-pink micromini, and a black leather belt. To look “funkalish” (whatever that means), the baby also sports a tummy-flaunting black tank paired with a hot-pink cap. Dare one ask what is planned for “Babyz Nite Out” and what, exactly, she is carrying in her metal-studded purse? Is it pacifiers, or condoms? It might be both: “These Babyz demand to be lookin’ good on the street, at the beach, or chillin’ in the crib!” The dolls are officially for ages “four-plus,” but they are very popular among two- and three-year-old girls as well.

But Girls Gone Mild is not a Roger Kimball-style tour d’horizon of the approaching apocalypse. Instead, Shalit has drawn on the considerable body of e-mail she has received at ModestyZone.net since its launch in 1999 to write an intelligent, illuminating, and unexpectedly optimistic book about those young women who have chosen to opt out of the revolution. They are looking, she says, for “a new set of role models,” and so Girls Gone Mild also contains profiles of several young women, most of whom are black, who have publicly broken ranks with the hookup culture.

I like a good cultural horror story as much as the next Cassandra, but it is these profiles that turn out to be the most provocative part of Girls Gone Mild. Why are young black women playing such prominent roles in the abstinence movement? One of the few people willing to talk to Shalit about this fact was a “prominent sociologist” who insisted, not surprisingly, on remaining safely nameless:

The fact is, black women have paid the heaviest price from the sexual revolution in the United States. There are many socioeconomic reasons for this, but both as individuals and in their communities as a whole, they now see the value of abstinence as a way to renew family life.

A teacher at Spelman College, one of America’s best-known historically black colleges, put it more bluntly—and on the record:

African American women are the largest racial group of single mothers in America. Add the STD [sexually transmitted disease] and HIV/AIDS epidemics and it just makes sense. Marriage in the African American community is at an all-time low.

All good to know, though the question begs itself: is Wendy Shalit describing a counter-revolution in the making, or merely indulging in anecdote-driven wishful thinking? It happens that I know quite a few under-40 single women, most of whom are unwilling to curtail their premarital philandering even though they admit that the sexual revolution gave men the upper hand.

On the other hand, I don’t know any teenagers of either sex, and it surprised me to read in Girls Gone Mild that “the rate of virginity among teenagers has risen for the tenth straight year,” and that “a number of high school kids . . . haven’t had sex (estimates are typically around half).” Might it be that a significant number of teenage girls, unlike their older sisters, have changed their minds about the advantages of becoming, in the current euphemism, “friends with benefits”?

Shalit herself makes no exaggerated claims about the size or reach of the abstinence movement. Her properly modest purpose in writing Girls Gone Mild was simply “to expand the range of options for young people, who I believe are suffering because of the limited range of choices available to them.” But the point of view from which she writes has changed not at all since 1999:

History has taught us a surprising lesson: Intimacy flourishes where there is also restraint. Having sex for its own sake, without waiting to integrate our deepest emotions and hopes, at best becomes boring, fast. At worst, men and women end up competing over how cruelly they can use one another. And in between, there is much confusion.

To “the ancien régime of the 1960′s” (Shalit’s phrase) those are fighting words. It will be interesting to see whether their grandchildren feel the same way.

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