According to a new Gallup Poll, Congress’s approval rating has matched its lowest rating ever. Just 18 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, while 76 percent disapprove. This is a staggering decline for the Democratic-controlled Congress, and it has occurred in only a matter of months. President Bush’s approval rating, at 32 percent, is considerably higher. It turns out that come this fall, he may well have the stronger hand to play.
The collapse in support for Congress tells us several things. First, the American people are in a deeply anti-political mood, and public officials who plausibly can tap into that sentiment and channel it in a constructive way will benefit enormously. The public is looking for a change-agent.
Second, the Democratic Congress has passed almost nothing of consequence; in the current environment, this is ruinous.
Third, Democrats are paying a high price for their hyper-partisanship. They appear angry, zealous, and vengeful, far more interested in investigations than legislation.
Fourth, Democrats are reinforcing the worst stereotypes of the party: weak on national security, in favor of higher taxes and larger government, and beholden to fringe groups.
Fifth, Democratic Party leaders, especially Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are quite weak, both in their abilities to run the institution and as the public faces of the modern Democratic Party.
Hamas and Fatah recently accused Israel of preventing fuel supplies from reaching the Gaza Strip—a move that has deprived nearly 600,000 Palestinians of electricity for the past five days. Israel, the two parties claimed, is responsible for the power stoppage because of its “ongoing siege” of the Gaza Strip.
Sadly, many in the international media were quick to endorse the Hamas-Fatah version. Headlines in major newspapers and reports on television networks quoted Hamas and Fatah spokesmen as saying that the IDF had banned fuel supplies to the power plant in the Gaza Strip as part of its policy to “punish” the innocent Palestinian population.
But now the real story behind the electricity fiasco has surfaced. The same Hamas and Fatah spokesmen who had blamed Israel now were accusing each other. The EU, it emerged, had stopped funding the fuel supplies, after being told by Fatah leaders in Ramallah that Hamas had taken control of the electricity company in the Gaza Strip, and was planning to extort money from customers through electricity bills.
The presidents of Harvard, Yale, and Brown, conspicuously absent from the original list of signatories, have since posted assurances that they join the almost 300 American college and university presidents who signed a statement earlier this month protesting the vote of Britain’s University and College Union to impose a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. “Boycott Israeli Universities? Boycott Ours, Too!” read the American counter-declaration, composed by Columbia University’s President Lee Bollinger. “[We] do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish.”
In opera, as in life, discretion can be the better part of valor. Last month the Italian soprano Barbara Frittoli announced that she was canceling her debut as Tatiana in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, scheduled for next year. The reason? Her command of Russian isn’t good enough, as she candidly admitted: “After studying for more than a year, the language, alphabet, and pronunciation continue to elude my grasp. To hope for a ‘miracle’ can only put the production at risk.” Chicago’s Lyric Opera duly hired a native Russian singer to replace her, but will be hard-pressed to match Frittoli’s combination of warm tone, musicality, and striking good looks. These attributes can be seen on DVD’s of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater from EMI; of Puccini’s Turandot on TDK; and of Verdi’s Falstaff on Euroarts. Frittoli is not allergic to foreign languages per se. At a La Scala song recital this February, she sang some French music, but showed a clear preference for her native tongue by choosing vocal works in Italian, even rare ones written by Beethoven and Schubert.
Music fans have long grown resigned to hearing linguistic massacres like the Spanish tenor José Carreras’s singing of the all-American role of Tony in Bernstein’s West Side Story or the mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne’s mangling of the French spoken dialogue in Bizet’s Carmen. The Australian soprano Joan Sutherland, in a recently reissued set of Romantic French Arias from Deutsche Grammophon, displays stunning platinum pipes, but scant attention to linguistic niceties.
Arthur Miller is widely reputed to be the greatest American playwright of the 20th century. And it’s true that his most famous work, Death of a Salesman, is a literary, as well as dramatic, masterpiece. But the same cannot be said of much else he wrote, certainly not The Crucible, considered Miller’s second greatest theatrical achievement (it is still widely produced by schools and professional companies across the nation). The play—which proposes an analogy between the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy hearings of the 1950′s—is fatally flawed. As Peter Mullen once wrote in the London Times, “There were no witches in Salem, Mr. Miller.”