Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 27, 2008

Those Eyes!

When I hear the name William F. Buckley, or see it in print I automatically think:”Those eyes!” Darting, piercing, dancing — with that trademark playful widening gesture, as if to say “Oh really!” I never met him, but enjoyed countless hours of his company through Firing Line and his books and columns. (Has any individual in modern history written so much, so well?) Others will recount his indisputable role in the development of the conservative movement and the Republican Party.

He was the living refutation of many of the Left’s criticisms of conservatives and the conservative movement. Repudiating the criticism (earned in some cases) that conservatives were racists, Buckley showed the John Birchers and the anti-Semites the door. Conservatives, in the cartoon version of politics, were supposed to be mean and small-minded; he was generous, gracious, and had an eclectic assortment of talents and interests. If the Left bragged that conservatism was outmoded and irrelevant, Buckley demonstrated that the most vibrant intellectual energy resided on the Right.

The example that he set, not only of intellectual rigor but of joyous friendship and respect for his intellectual opponents, is one we should all take to heart. His friendship and decades of invigorating dialogue with John Kenneth Galbraith taught us that our opponents may be our friends and our intellectual life would be poorer without them. He was never cruel and never rude, but always interesting. He left many devoted readers, friends, and inspired conservatives, but no replacement. Even he could not do that.

When I hear the name William F. Buckley, or see it in print I automatically think:”Those eyes!” Darting, piercing, dancing — with that trademark playful widening gesture, as if to say “Oh really!” I never met him, but enjoyed countless hours of his company through Firing Line and his books and columns. (Has any individual in modern history written so much, so well?) Others will recount his indisputable role in the development of the conservative movement and the Republican Party.

He was the living refutation of many of the Left’s criticisms of conservatives and the conservative movement. Repudiating the criticism (earned in some cases) that conservatives were racists, Buckley showed the John Birchers and the anti-Semites the door. Conservatives, in the cartoon version of politics, were supposed to be mean and small-minded; he was generous, gracious, and had an eclectic assortment of talents and interests. If the Left bragged that conservatism was outmoded and irrelevant, Buckley demonstrated that the most vibrant intellectual energy resided on the Right.

The example that he set, not only of intellectual rigor but of joyous friendship and respect for his intellectual opponents, is one we should all take to heart. His friendship and decades of invigorating dialogue with John Kenneth Galbraith taught us that our opponents may be our friends and our intellectual life would be poorer without them. He was never cruel and never rude, but always interesting. He left many devoted readers, friends, and inspired conservatives, but no replacement. Even he could not do that.

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Buckley and the Jews

Among his many other accomplishments, William F. Buckley Jr. made the conservative movement a far less forbidding place for Jews.

Conservatism in the early 1960’s was, fairly or not, largely defined in the Jewish mind as a downscale hothouse of paranoia, racism and resentment fronted by such figures as the Christian Crusader Rev. Billy James Hargis, the anti-Semitic columnist Westbrook Pegler and, of course, Robert Welch, whose John Birch Society was never officially racist or anti-Semitic but attracted a fair number of those who could accurately be classified as such.

By basically reading the more conspiratorial-minded organizations and polemicists out of mainstream conservatism (a story engagingly told by the liberal journalist John Judis in his 1988 biography William F. Buckley, Jr.: Patron Saint of the Conservatives), Buckley made it that much more difficult for the media to portray the right as a redoubt of angry kooks and Kleagles. His having done so no doubt smoothed the way for those liberal Jewish intellectuals who would eventually — and at first somewhat ambivalently — make their journey into the conservative camp.

A devout Catholic who wrote with remarkable frankness about the anti-Semitism of his own father, Buckley (who characterized anti-Semitism as an “awful, sinful practice”) always seemed comfortable around Jews. Indeed, several of the editors and writers who helped Buckley launch National Review were Jews; “without them,” wrote historian George Nash, “the magazine might never have gotten off the ground…”

When it came to Israel, Buckley’s support may have been a little spotty during the state’s early years — in 1958, responding to what he took to be Israel’s slow response to an American request that U.S. military aircraft be permitted to fly over Israeli territory, he snappishly wrote, “If Internal Revenue started to disallow tax exemption of gifts to the United Jewish Appeal, Israel wouldn’t be able to pay the cable-cost of sassing our State Department” — but certainly by the mid-1960’s he was a consistent champion of the Jewish state, a position he maintained for the remaining four and a half decades of his life, despite occasional differences with Israeli policy.

In 1972 Buckley famously proposed that Israel become the 51st American state, pointing out that Jerusalem is no more geographically remote from Washington than Anchorage or Honolulu.

The arrangement, Buckley argued, would forever put to rest Israeli security fears: “If Israel becomes a part of the United States, there is no further question of attacking the state of Israel–as well attack the city of Chicago.”

To expedite statehood, Buckley wrote, a “resolution should be introduced in Congress and a national debate should begin. Put me down in favor.”

A fanciful notion, to be sure, and one that most Jews and Israelis (not to mention Americans) would dismiss out of hand. What cannot be dismissed as easily is the suggestion that without William Buckley, the political right might have remained an untenable–even an unthinkable–destination for those Jews who no longer could, in good conscience, remain faithful to the political faith of their fathers.

Among his many other accomplishments, William F. Buckley Jr. made the conservative movement a far less forbidding place for Jews.

Conservatism in the early 1960’s was, fairly or not, largely defined in the Jewish mind as a downscale hothouse of paranoia, racism and resentment fronted by such figures as the Christian Crusader Rev. Billy James Hargis, the anti-Semitic columnist Westbrook Pegler and, of course, Robert Welch, whose John Birch Society was never officially racist or anti-Semitic but attracted a fair number of those who could accurately be classified as such.

By basically reading the more conspiratorial-minded organizations and polemicists out of mainstream conservatism (a story engagingly told by the liberal journalist John Judis in his 1988 biography William F. Buckley, Jr.: Patron Saint of the Conservatives), Buckley made it that much more difficult for the media to portray the right as a redoubt of angry kooks and Kleagles. His having done so no doubt smoothed the way for those liberal Jewish intellectuals who would eventually — and at first somewhat ambivalently — make their journey into the conservative camp.

A devout Catholic who wrote with remarkable frankness about the anti-Semitism of his own father, Buckley (who characterized anti-Semitism as an “awful, sinful practice”) always seemed comfortable around Jews. Indeed, several of the editors and writers who helped Buckley launch National Review were Jews; “without them,” wrote historian George Nash, “the magazine might never have gotten off the ground…”

When it came to Israel, Buckley’s support may have been a little spotty during the state’s early years — in 1958, responding to what he took to be Israel’s slow response to an American request that U.S. military aircraft be permitted to fly over Israeli territory, he snappishly wrote, “If Internal Revenue started to disallow tax exemption of gifts to the United Jewish Appeal, Israel wouldn’t be able to pay the cable-cost of sassing our State Department” — but certainly by the mid-1960’s he was a consistent champion of the Jewish state, a position he maintained for the remaining four and a half decades of his life, despite occasional differences with Israeli policy.

In 1972 Buckley famously proposed that Israel become the 51st American state, pointing out that Jerusalem is no more geographically remote from Washington than Anchorage or Honolulu.

The arrangement, Buckley argued, would forever put to rest Israeli security fears: “If Israel becomes a part of the United States, there is no further question of attacking the state of Israel–as well attack the city of Chicago.”

To expedite statehood, Buckley wrote, a “resolution should be introduced in Congress and a national debate should begin. Put me down in favor.”

A fanciful notion, to be sure, and one that most Jews and Israelis (not to mention Americans) would dismiss out of hand. What cannot be dismissed as easily is the suggestion that without William Buckley, the political right might have remained an untenable–even an unthinkable–destination for those Jews who no longer could, in good conscience, remain faithful to the political faith of their fathers.

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McCain’s Helpful Detractors

Once again, the far-Right pundits are on John McCain’s case. And this time they’re doing him a great favor: driving a wedge between the Senator and the far Right in the minds of Democratic and independent voters. Rush Limbaugh, Bill Cunningham, Laura Ingraham, etc. have yet to realize McCain no longer needs them on board to the degree he did a month ago. At this point, with McCain as the sure GOP nominee, their outrage carries more weight as currency among despairing Hillary supporters than it does as a scarlet letter on display for the Republican party.

Yesterday at a campaign event, McCain rejected and apologized for Cunningham’s undignified remarks about Barack Obama. Cunningham called Obama a “hack, a Chicago-style” politician, while pulling the ultimate hack move of repeating Obama’s middle name “Hussein” before the crowd. McCain immediately took full responsibility in a forthright way that tends to shock these days. “I did not know about these remarks, but I take responsibility for them. I repudiate them,” he said.

Cunningham has since told Fox News he’s voting for Hillary and he’s “had it with McCain.” Here’s the Guardian on more conservative fallout:

Right-wing firebrand Rush Limbaugh also questioned why McCain would apologise for Cunningham’s remarks, and asked why it’s inappropriate for Cunningham to use Obama’s middle name.
“What if McCain’s middle name was Adolf instead of Sidney?” Limbaugh asked.

Limbaugh is pushing McCain into the arms of the non-GOP electorate. Limbaugh and Co. are horrified by the fact that many Democratic voters see McCain as the “okay” Republican, but this kind of criticism only amplifies that impression.

Once again, the far-Right pundits are on John McCain’s case. And this time they’re doing him a great favor: driving a wedge between the Senator and the far Right in the minds of Democratic and independent voters. Rush Limbaugh, Bill Cunningham, Laura Ingraham, etc. have yet to realize McCain no longer needs them on board to the degree he did a month ago. At this point, with McCain as the sure GOP nominee, their outrage carries more weight as currency among despairing Hillary supporters than it does as a scarlet letter on display for the Republican party.

Yesterday at a campaign event, McCain rejected and apologized for Cunningham’s undignified remarks about Barack Obama. Cunningham called Obama a “hack, a Chicago-style” politician, while pulling the ultimate hack move of repeating Obama’s middle name “Hussein” before the crowd. McCain immediately took full responsibility in a forthright way that tends to shock these days. “I did not know about these remarks, but I take responsibility for them. I repudiate them,” he said.

Cunningham has since told Fox News he’s voting for Hillary and he’s “had it with McCain.” Here’s the Guardian on more conservative fallout:

Right-wing firebrand Rush Limbaugh also questioned why McCain would apologise for Cunningham’s remarks, and asked why it’s inappropriate for Cunningham to use Obama’s middle name.
“What if McCain’s middle name was Adolf instead of Sidney?” Limbaugh asked.

Limbaugh is pushing McCain into the arms of the non-GOP electorate. Limbaugh and Co. are horrified by the fact that many Democratic voters see McCain as the “okay” Republican, but this kind of criticism only amplifies that impression.

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“Stay Positive”

I first discovered William F. Buckley in my early teens. In an effort, I suppose, to become more serious and informed, I started regularly reading the Star Ledger—the closest thing to a real newspaper in New Jersey. On one occasion when I made my way through enough of the paper to reach the op-ed page in the back, I ran across a Buckley column, which I remember finding oddly intense and captivating. I was soon a regular reader—almost always with a dictionary in hand. It’s hard now to imagine what sense I could have made of Buckley then, but somehow he got me to think, and to laugh, and to read. And I was pleased to discover that this very strange and interesting voice found expression in more than brief columns but in books (so many books!) and on the pages of a magazine filled with other voices and views like his. He directed me to a world of ideas and good sense and good humor that I soon discovered was vast and deep. I was hooked, and have been an incurable conservative since.

I only met Buckley once, and only for a moment. I was in college, attending some sort of conservative conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. I was with three friends, and we walked up to Buckley and introduced ourselves as the only four conservatives at American University (which was only a slight exaggeration). Buckley laughed at our travails, so familiar they must have been to him, and he said just two words, through a chuckle: “stay positive.”

He always did, and that was always an important part of his power and appeal. Conservatives easily get dour and down, and the rest of humanity finds such grumpiness unattractive. Buckley offered a smiling, confident, and very appealing conservatism that was at the same time also deeply serious. His good cheer was not an act. It was the proper response to the truth that moves conservatives: that the world we have inherited is a good place, worth defending and cherishing. As Buckley always seemed to understand, that’s a good reason to smile.

Others who knew Buckley will have much deeper and more meaningful things to say about him. But like most of those deeply in his debt, I didn’t know the man personally, and can think of nothing more profound and true to say in this sad moment than two plain and simple words I would have loved to say to him in person: thank you.

I first discovered William F. Buckley in my early teens. In an effort, I suppose, to become more serious and informed, I started regularly reading the Star Ledger—the closest thing to a real newspaper in New Jersey. On one occasion when I made my way through enough of the paper to reach the op-ed page in the back, I ran across a Buckley column, which I remember finding oddly intense and captivating. I was soon a regular reader—almost always with a dictionary in hand. It’s hard now to imagine what sense I could have made of Buckley then, but somehow he got me to think, and to laugh, and to read. And I was pleased to discover that this very strange and interesting voice found expression in more than brief columns but in books (so many books!) and on the pages of a magazine filled with other voices and views like his. He directed me to a world of ideas and good sense and good humor that I soon discovered was vast and deep. I was hooked, and have been an incurable conservative since.

I only met Buckley once, and only for a moment. I was in college, attending some sort of conservative conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. I was with three friends, and we walked up to Buckley and introduced ourselves as the only four conservatives at American University (which was only a slight exaggeration). Buckley laughed at our travails, so familiar they must have been to him, and he said just two words, through a chuckle: “stay positive.”

He always did, and that was always an important part of his power and appeal. Conservatives easily get dour and down, and the rest of humanity finds such grumpiness unattractive. Buckley offered a smiling, confident, and very appealing conservatism that was at the same time also deeply serious. His good cheer was not an act. It was the proper response to the truth that moves conservatives: that the world we have inherited is a good place, worth defending and cherishing. As Buckley always seemed to understand, that’s a good reason to smile.

Others who knew Buckley will have much deeper and more meaningful things to say about him. But like most of those deeply in his debt, I didn’t know the man personally, and can think of nothing more profound and true to say in this sad moment than two plain and simple words I would have loved to say to him in person: thank you.

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Thinking About Last Night

Sometimes a debate performance’s longer term impact is at odds with viewers’ initial impressions. This was true of the 2004 debate in which John Kerry seemed to do quite well, but made the “global test” remark which gave George W. Bush the opening to suggest Kerry would hold America’s interests hostage to world opinion. There were a few moments in the debate last night which may be less vivid, but nevertheless troublesome “global test” problems for Barack Obama.

First, he will have to decide whether he will break his promise–and it was a promise–to accept public campaign financing. He tried to dance last night, but the issue won’t disappear and a more aggressive questioner would have made Obama’s appearance quite a bit less comfortable. If Obama does go back on his word, the McCain camp will have plenty of opportunity to point out that there is not much new about a politician who can’t keep his word.

Second, the issue of “re-invading” Iraq is problematic. As others have noted, al-Qaida is already there, so the notion that we would have to re-invade only if al-Qaida set up shop is sophistry. Indeed, John McCain quickly picked up on this one, declaring: “When you examine that statement, it’s pretty remarkable. I have some news. Al-Qaida is in Iraq. It’s called ‘al-Qaida in Iraq.’ ” ( It will be worth pointing out that Obama seems not to care about the views of thousands of military officers on the matter.)

Third, he escaped the Louis Farrakhan question (although just barely) but nevertheless never responded to the question on his views about Reverend Wright. Both Wright and Bill Ayers are wildly at odds with the “bringing us all together” theme of the Obama campaign. I can imagine that the “you know a person by the company he keeps” comments will be coming soon. So the Democratic debates, if no longer determinative of the Democratic nominee, may be of great interest as we head into the general election.

Sometimes a debate performance’s longer term impact is at odds with viewers’ initial impressions. This was true of the 2004 debate in which John Kerry seemed to do quite well, but made the “global test” remark which gave George W. Bush the opening to suggest Kerry would hold America’s interests hostage to world opinion. There were a few moments in the debate last night which may be less vivid, but nevertheless troublesome “global test” problems for Barack Obama.

First, he will have to decide whether he will break his promise–and it was a promise–to accept public campaign financing. He tried to dance last night, but the issue won’t disappear and a more aggressive questioner would have made Obama’s appearance quite a bit less comfortable. If Obama does go back on his word, the McCain camp will have plenty of opportunity to point out that there is not much new about a politician who can’t keep his word.

Second, the issue of “re-invading” Iraq is problematic. As others have noted, al-Qaida is already there, so the notion that we would have to re-invade only if al-Qaida set up shop is sophistry. Indeed, John McCain quickly picked up on this one, declaring: “When you examine that statement, it’s pretty remarkable. I have some news. Al-Qaida is in Iraq. It’s called ‘al-Qaida in Iraq.’ ” ( It will be worth pointing out that Obama seems not to care about the views of thousands of military officers on the matter.)

Third, he escaped the Louis Farrakhan question (although just barely) but nevertheless never responded to the question on his views about Reverend Wright. Both Wright and Bill Ayers are wildly at odds with the “bringing us all together” theme of the Obama campaign. I can imagine that the “you know a person by the company he keeps” comments will be coming soon. So the Democratic debates, if no longer determinative of the Democratic nominee, may be of great interest as we head into the general election.

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Two 20 Year-Olds, Two Bottles of Wine, and Buckley

People my age are of a generation that grew up in the twilight of the Buckley era. When I was in college, he was no longer the editor of National Review, and the last episode of Firing Line was taped before I graduated. We had to discover William F. Buckley. Jr. on our own, and for me, like so many others, the Buckley Discovery was a defining moment. In my case, it instigated a period of determined used book store expeditions, and then some rather sophomoric attempts at incorporating Buckleyisms into my verbal repartee: There’s nothing like dropping “jingoistic rodomontade” into a conversation, or accusing someone of carrying on with their “activist pornography.”

The idea struck me and a fellow Buckley fanatic that it would have to be our solemn duty to interview the man himself and thereby, we hoped, introduce the Buckley Canon to our benighted fellow partisans, who toiled largely in ignorance of their great forefather. I sent an obsequious letter to Mr. Buckley and promised not to ask stupid questions.

We arrived at the Buckley residence in Stamford and found the man at work in his converted garage office. I was in a cold sweat; Buckley sat leisurely at his computer keyboard, in the eye of a hurricane of papers, magazines, and books that engulfed his desk, chair, the floor — every horizontal surface. After a few handshakes and pleasantries, my friend and I nervously commenced the interview, during which we both sought above all to avoid giving the impression that we were complete stammering idiots. Graciously, he never once let us feel that way.

He invited us into his house for lunch (I still remember: split pea soup, chicken, and ice cream), and, two hours and two bottles of red wine later, my friend and I staggered out, thanked Mr. Buckley profusely, and went on our way. As a gift he gave me a copy of McCarthy and His Enemies, the only one of his books that had never surfaced during my book store missions.

In what was supposed to be our interview of him, Buckley probably spent more time asking my friend and me questions than we did him — about school, our interests, our opinions on the world. During that short afternoon, I realized that all the things people had written about Buckley’s kindness, generosity, and gift for friendship were not just the kind of perfunctory tributes to great men that people often pay, but were among the most genuine and truthful things ever said about him.

People my age are of a generation that grew up in the twilight of the Buckley era. When I was in college, he was no longer the editor of National Review, and the last episode of Firing Line was taped before I graduated. We had to discover William F. Buckley. Jr. on our own, and for me, like so many others, the Buckley Discovery was a defining moment. In my case, it instigated a period of determined used book store expeditions, and then some rather sophomoric attempts at incorporating Buckleyisms into my verbal repartee: There’s nothing like dropping “jingoistic rodomontade” into a conversation, or accusing someone of carrying on with their “activist pornography.”

The idea struck me and a fellow Buckley fanatic that it would have to be our solemn duty to interview the man himself and thereby, we hoped, introduce the Buckley Canon to our benighted fellow partisans, who toiled largely in ignorance of their great forefather. I sent an obsequious letter to Mr. Buckley and promised not to ask stupid questions.

We arrived at the Buckley residence in Stamford and found the man at work in his converted garage office. I was in a cold sweat; Buckley sat leisurely at his computer keyboard, in the eye of a hurricane of papers, magazines, and books that engulfed his desk, chair, the floor — every horizontal surface. After a few handshakes and pleasantries, my friend and I nervously commenced the interview, during which we both sought above all to avoid giving the impression that we were complete stammering idiots. Graciously, he never once let us feel that way.

He invited us into his house for lunch (I still remember: split pea soup, chicken, and ice cream), and, two hours and two bottles of red wine later, my friend and I staggered out, thanked Mr. Buckley profusely, and went on our way. As a gift he gave me a copy of McCarthy and His Enemies, the only one of his books that had never surfaced during my book store missions.

In what was supposed to be our interview of him, Buckley probably spent more time asking my friend and me questions than we did him — about school, our interests, our opinions on the world. During that short afternoon, I realized that all the things people had written about Buckley’s kindness, generosity, and gift for friendship were not just the kind of perfunctory tributes to great men that people often pay, but were among the most genuine and truthful things ever said about him.

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Thoughts From a Fellow Yalie

For what it’s worth, here’s my brief remembrance.

I first met William F. Buckley, Jr., as a freshman at Yale University. It was at the 125th anniversary celebration of the Yale Daily News (which Buckley had edited, stirring all manner of controversy) and I was sitting in a large hall listening to a panel of former Newsies riff on their college days. Buckley and his son, Christopher, sat next to me by sheer chance.

After the panel, I introduced myself to Buckley and we chatted briefly on the state of politics on campus. He gave me his email address and requested that we stay in touch (we would keep up a very informal and infrequent correspondence). Later that evening, I bumped into Buckley at the News building, where he was inspecting old black-and-white photos of previous editorial boards, including his own. He mentioned that his wife was unable to attend the celebratory banquet that evening and that he had an extra ticket for a seat at his table. Would I care to join him? As Joseph Lieberman–a former editor of the News himself–said today in remarks on the Senate floor, Buckley took a “warm, brotherly interest” in those working for the paper, but I never expected this sort of gratifying and flattering attention. Sadly, I was in a theatrical performance, and there was no understudy. But, I assured myself, there would be other such occasions in the future.

Sadly, there weren’t.  But a different sort of opportunity to become acquainted with Buckley arrived my sophomore year, in the form of a position as a research assistant to Sam Tanenhaus, the New York Times editor who is working on what will be the definitive biography of the godfather of American conservatism. Buckley had deposited hundreds upon hundreds of boxes of personal correspondence, press clippings, and his own written work at the library of his alma mater, a collection that he updated on a continual basis. My job was to research his 1965 run for mayor of New York City, one of the most entertaining political bouts in recent American history and the subject of this 2005 Times Magazine essay by Tanenhaus.

Through that experience, it became clear that Buckley was what most of us writing for political magazines hope to be: a change agent. While it’s wrong to suggest that the conservative movement would not have existed without him, it surely, without his influence, would not have been the force–judged by both intellectual and political heft–it eventually became. It might seem paradoxical that the most influential conservative writer of the 20th century (standing athwart history yelling “Stop”) would be a “change agent.” But that’s what he was.

For what it’s worth, here’s my brief remembrance.

I first met William F. Buckley, Jr., as a freshman at Yale University. It was at the 125th anniversary celebration of the Yale Daily News (which Buckley had edited, stirring all manner of controversy) and I was sitting in a large hall listening to a panel of former Newsies riff on their college days. Buckley and his son, Christopher, sat next to me by sheer chance.

After the panel, I introduced myself to Buckley and we chatted briefly on the state of politics on campus. He gave me his email address and requested that we stay in touch (we would keep up a very informal and infrequent correspondence). Later that evening, I bumped into Buckley at the News building, where he was inspecting old black-and-white photos of previous editorial boards, including his own. He mentioned that his wife was unable to attend the celebratory banquet that evening and that he had an extra ticket for a seat at his table. Would I care to join him? As Joseph Lieberman–a former editor of the News himself–said today in remarks on the Senate floor, Buckley took a “warm, brotherly interest” in those working for the paper, but I never expected this sort of gratifying and flattering attention. Sadly, I was in a theatrical performance, and there was no understudy. But, I assured myself, there would be other such occasions in the future.

Sadly, there weren’t.  But a different sort of opportunity to become acquainted with Buckley arrived my sophomore year, in the form of a position as a research assistant to Sam Tanenhaus, the New York Times editor who is working on what will be the definitive biography of the godfather of American conservatism. Buckley had deposited hundreds upon hundreds of boxes of personal correspondence, press clippings, and his own written work at the library of his alma mater, a collection that he updated on a continual basis. My job was to research his 1965 run for mayor of New York City, one of the most entertaining political bouts in recent American history and the subject of this 2005 Times Magazine essay by Tanenhaus.

Through that experience, it became clear that Buckley was what most of us writing for political magazines hope to be: a change agent. While it’s wrong to suggest that the conservative movement would not have existed without him, it surely, without his influence, would not have been the force–judged by both intellectual and political heft–it eventually became. It might seem paradoxical that the most influential conservative writer of the 20th century (standing athwart history yelling “Stop”) would be a “change agent.” But that’s what he was.

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More on Buckley

cross-posted at About Last Night 

Bill Buckley died this morning. In public life he was a witty, devastatingly effective spokesman for conservatism and the founder of National Review, one of the most influential political magazines of the twentieth century. In private life he was considerate beyond compare, a charismatic host with a magical gift for putting his guests at ease and a passionate amateur pianist who played Bach with fair skill and much love.

I had known him since 1981, when he published the first magazine piece I ever wrote, a review of a book about A.J. Liebling. A year later he wrote a syndicated column about another piece of mine, at a time in my life when I was still trying to find myself as a writer, and my path was smoothed by his generous words. On countless other occasions he helped me in ways I knew I would never be able to repay, though I made a token effort by dedicating my Mencken biography to him.

Bill was devastated when Pat, his wife, died last April. They had been the closest of companions, and no one who knew him at all well expected him to survive her for very long. Nor did he: Bill outlived Pat by less than a year. Now the obituarists will write of his place in the history of postwar American political thought, and they will have much to tell, for he was a very important man and an exceedingly good writer. At some point I will sit down and reread Cruising Speed: A Documentary, my favorite of his five dozen books and the one that best conveys his personality. But not yet: right now I want to think of him not as the great public figure he was but as the charming, funny man who once upon a time was unstintingly kind to an unknown young writer.

I thought the world of him, and I cannot imagine the world without him.

cross-posted at About Last Night 

Bill Buckley died this morning. In public life he was a witty, devastatingly effective spokesman for conservatism and the founder of National Review, one of the most influential political magazines of the twentieth century. In private life he was considerate beyond compare, a charismatic host with a magical gift for putting his guests at ease and a passionate amateur pianist who played Bach with fair skill and much love.

I had known him since 1981, when he published the first magazine piece I ever wrote, a review of a book about A.J. Liebling. A year later he wrote a syndicated column about another piece of mine, at a time in my life when I was still trying to find myself as a writer, and my path was smoothed by his generous words. On countless other occasions he helped me in ways I knew I would never be able to repay, though I made a token effort by dedicating my Mencken biography to him.

Bill was devastated when Pat, his wife, died last April. They had been the closest of companions, and no one who knew him at all well expected him to survive her for very long. Nor did he: Bill outlived Pat by less than a year. Now the obituarists will write of his place in the history of postwar American political thought, and they will have much to tell, for he was a very important man and an exceedingly good writer. At some point I will sit down and reread Cruising Speed: A Documentary, my favorite of his five dozen books and the one that best conveys his personality. But not yet: right now I want to think of him not as the great public figure he was but as the charming, funny man who once upon a time was unstintingly kind to an unknown young writer.

I thought the world of him, and I cannot imagine the world without him.

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In Memoriam WFB

Although I barely knew him, I am, like many others, stunned and saddened by the news of William F. Buckley Jr.’s demise. A great deal will no doubt be written in the hours and days ahead about his colossal achievements: He practically invented the modern conservative movement, he founded a magazine that still endures as one of the most influential beacons of the Right, he nurtured many generations of talent, and he produced too many books and articles to count. On top of it all, he managed to live a whale of a life, whether skiing in Gstaad or sailing across the Atlantic. He was also, in my encounters with him, an unfailingly kind, generous, and gracious soul. Not even his most rabid political opponents could deny his innate decency, any more than they could deny his rapier wit.

One trait of his was, I believe, especially responsible for his success. It is hard to put into words, or perhaps my vocabulary is simply inadequate to the task—something that is particularly galling since I am speaking of the master of the mot juste. The best I can do is to say that he was “balanced.” That’s not quite right. But what, after all, is the opposite of “unbalanced?” That is the danger that anyone who devotes himself to an ideological pursuit, as Buckley did, runs. It is all too easy to go off the rails, to become fanatical in your convictions, and to leave good sense and moderation behind. That is a danger that has befallen countless conservatives from Joe Sobran to Jude Wanniski.

The most successful conservative editors, such as Bob Bartley, Norman Podhoretz, and, more recently, Bill Kristol, have not succumbed to the temptation of extremism. Neither did Bill Buckley. In fact, he managed on a number of occasions to keep the conservative movement as a whole from lurching into loony-land.

COMMENTARY is running an article by him that recalls the important role he played in the early 1960’s in repudiating the John Birch Society. This was one of the most important services he performed for conservatism, though it was hardly the last time that he would break with fellow-travelers (such as Sobran) who had simply gone too far. His common sense, his equipoise if you will, stood not only him but the entire conservative movement in good stead for many decades.

This is an important part of his remarkable legacy, and one that deserves to be honored and remembered—and emulated.

Although I barely knew him, I am, like many others, stunned and saddened by the news of William F. Buckley Jr.’s demise. A great deal will no doubt be written in the hours and days ahead about his colossal achievements: He practically invented the modern conservative movement, he founded a magazine that still endures as one of the most influential beacons of the Right, he nurtured many generations of talent, and he produced too many books and articles to count. On top of it all, he managed to live a whale of a life, whether skiing in Gstaad or sailing across the Atlantic. He was also, in my encounters with him, an unfailingly kind, generous, and gracious soul. Not even his most rabid political opponents could deny his innate decency, any more than they could deny his rapier wit.

One trait of his was, I believe, especially responsible for his success. It is hard to put into words, or perhaps my vocabulary is simply inadequate to the task—something that is particularly galling since I am speaking of the master of the mot juste. The best I can do is to say that he was “balanced.” That’s not quite right. But what, after all, is the opposite of “unbalanced?” That is the danger that anyone who devotes himself to an ideological pursuit, as Buckley did, runs. It is all too easy to go off the rails, to become fanatical in your convictions, and to leave good sense and moderation behind. That is a danger that has befallen countless conservatives from Joe Sobran to Jude Wanniski.

The most successful conservative editors, such as Bob Bartley, Norman Podhoretz, and, more recently, Bill Kristol, have not succumbed to the temptation of extremism. Neither did Bill Buckley. In fact, he managed on a number of occasions to keep the conservative movement as a whole from lurching into loony-land.

COMMENTARY is running an article by him that recalls the important role he played in the early 1960’s in repudiating the John Birch Society. This was one of the most important services he performed for conservatism, though it was hardly the last time that he would break with fellow-travelers (such as Sobran) who had simply gone too far. His common sense, his equipoise if you will, stood not only him but the entire conservative movement in good stead for many decades.

This is an important part of his remarkable legacy, and one that deserves to be honored and remembered—and emulated.

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Muslim Survey “Challenges” West

A new Gallup poll is being touted as a “challenge” to western misperceptions of Islam. The survey was done on three continents and took six years to complete, and as the French news agency AFP reports, we’ve all been a little alarmist over here: “About 93 percent of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims are moderates and only seven percent are politically radical, according to the poll, based on more than 50,000 interviews.”

Seven percent of 1.3 billion leaves us with . . . 91 million radical Islamists. And to think we were concerned! That piddling handful is nothing that can’t be taken care of with a little dialogue, a few billion in American aid, and some proper education. I’m feeling audaciously hopeful.

But, wait, what’s this? “The radicals are better educated, have better jobs, and are more hopeful with regard to the future than mainstream Muslims,” said John Esposito, who authored the book Who Speaks for Islam.

Oh well.

One shouldn’t cherry-pick facts to fit an agenda. The study does say that radicals “believe in democracy even more than many of the mainstream moderates do.” But does anyone really think we’re operating with a consistent definition of democracy here? The Muslim Brotherhood, for example, makes claims to be democratic, yet its leaders-for-life are not elected, the organization boasts a doctrine of female subordination, and it calls for the death of apostates. Kind of a big-government democracy, I suppose.

Dalia Mogahed, Esposito’s co-author, says, “A billion Muslims should be the ones that we look to, to understand what they believe, rather than a vocal minority.” How right she is. We need to find out from one billion rational human beings why they largely refuse to stand up for humanity and dignity instead of cowering in the face of fascist thugs. They’re the only Westerners this study challenges.

A new Gallup poll is being touted as a “challenge” to western misperceptions of Islam. The survey was done on three continents and took six years to complete, and as the French news agency AFP reports, we’ve all been a little alarmist over here: “About 93 percent of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims are moderates and only seven percent are politically radical, according to the poll, based on more than 50,000 interviews.”

Seven percent of 1.3 billion leaves us with . . . 91 million radical Islamists. And to think we were concerned! That piddling handful is nothing that can’t be taken care of with a little dialogue, a few billion in American aid, and some proper education. I’m feeling audaciously hopeful.

But, wait, what’s this? “The radicals are better educated, have better jobs, and are more hopeful with regard to the future than mainstream Muslims,” said John Esposito, who authored the book Who Speaks for Islam.

Oh well.

One shouldn’t cherry-pick facts to fit an agenda. The study does say that radicals “believe in democracy even more than many of the mainstream moderates do.” But does anyone really think we’re operating with a consistent definition of democracy here? The Muslim Brotherhood, for example, makes claims to be democratic, yet its leaders-for-life are not elected, the organization boasts a doctrine of female subordination, and it calls for the death of apostates. Kind of a big-government democracy, I suppose.

Dalia Mogahed, Esposito’s co-author, says, “A billion Muslims should be the ones that we look to, to understand what they believe, rather than a vocal minority.” How right she is. We need to find out from one billion rational human beings why they largely refuse to stand up for humanity and dignity instead of cowering in the face of fascist thugs. They’re the only Westerners this study challenges.

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Buckley’s Achievement

He was the model of the modern American intellectual. He published a small magazine of ideas whose influence and centrality to the country in which he lived vastly outdistanced publications with 100 times its readership. He wrote a newspaper column for a half-century, twice or three times a week, at which he grew so expert that he could dash one off in the time it took his driver to navigate the length of the Bruckner Expressway, and with a quality of prose that made other newspaper scribes seem as simple-minded as the anonymous authors of Dick and Jane. He ran for office once, a fool’s errand that led to the publication of one of the best books ever written about politics, The Unmaking of a Mayor. He was one of the first writer-thinkers to find a home on television with his show Firing Line, and his wit made him a superb talk-show guest. For all these reasons, he transcended his roots and became a pop-culture icon, the only writer to have appeared as a caricatured figure in a Disney movie (when the genie in Aladdin, voiced by Robin Williams, converts himself into Buckley, complete with his patented lean-back in a chair, as he details the “three-wish” rule). From the first to the last, however, he had an intellectually transcendent purpose from which he never deviated: The explication of, defense of, and advancement of, traditional mores and traditional beliefs, and a concomitant commitment to the notion that social experiments are very dangerous things indeed. He was, ever and always, a serious man in an increasingly unserious time.

He was the model of the modern American intellectual. He published a small magazine of ideas whose influence and centrality to the country in which he lived vastly outdistanced publications with 100 times its readership. He wrote a newspaper column for a half-century, twice or three times a week, at which he grew so expert that he could dash one off in the time it took his driver to navigate the length of the Bruckner Expressway, and with a quality of prose that made other newspaper scribes seem as simple-minded as the anonymous authors of Dick and Jane. He ran for office once, a fool’s errand that led to the publication of one of the best books ever written about politics, The Unmaking of a Mayor. He was one of the first writer-thinkers to find a home on television with his show Firing Line, and his wit made him a superb talk-show guest. For all these reasons, he transcended his roots and became a pop-culture icon, the only writer to have appeared as a caricatured figure in a Disney movie (when the genie in Aladdin, voiced by Robin Williams, converts himself into Buckley, complete with his patented lean-back in a chair, as he details the “three-wish” rule). From the first to the last, however, he had an intellectually transcendent purpose from which he never deviated: The explication of, defense of, and advancement of, traditional mores and traditional beliefs, and a concomitant commitment to the notion that social experiments are very dangerous things indeed. He was, ever and always, a serious man in an increasingly unserious time.

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UN: Palestinian Terrorism “Inevitable”

According to the Associated Press, a new UN report deems Palestinian terrorism the “inevitable consequence” of Israeli occupation. One has to ask: was terrorism the “inevitable” result of handing over Gaza to the Palestinians, as well? Because after more than two years Kassam rockets continue to land somewhat inevitably in Israel after being launched somewhat inevitably from non-occupied Palestinian territory. Here’s the report’s author, John Dugard:

[C]ommon sense . . . dictates that a distinction must be drawn between acts of mindless terror, such as acts committed by al-Qaida, and acts committed in the course of a war of national liberation against colonialism, apartheid or military occupation.

What about deadly acts carried out against a state that wants nothing more than to exchange land for peace? Dugard writes about this as if unaware that al-Qaida justifies the use of, say, the mentally deficient as bombs (something the Palestinians beat them to, by the way) with claims of national liberation and war against occupation.

Palestinian terrorism is in fact identical to the al-Qaida variety with respect to methodology, ideology, and public relations. Both groups target innocents as a matter of course, both are sworn to the complete annihilation of another group of people, both invoke Qur’anic principles when defending human slaughter, and both make lofty claims about liberation to certain credulous western audiences. The only thing inevitable about Islamist terror is the litany of justifications and apologies furnished by dangerous characters such as John Dugard.

According to the Associated Press, a new UN report deems Palestinian terrorism the “inevitable consequence” of Israeli occupation. One has to ask: was terrorism the “inevitable” result of handing over Gaza to the Palestinians, as well? Because after more than two years Kassam rockets continue to land somewhat inevitably in Israel after being launched somewhat inevitably from non-occupied Palestinian territory. Here’s the report’s author, John Dugard:

[C]ommon sense . . . dictates that a distinction must be drawn between acts of mindless terror, such as acts committed by al-Qaida, and acts committed in the course of a war of national liberation against colonialism, apartheid or military occupation.

What about deadly acts carried out against a state that wants nothing more than to exchange land for peace? Dugard writes about this as if unaware that al-Qaida justifies the use of, say, the mentally deficient as bombs (something the Palestinians beat them to, by the way) with claims of national liberation and war against occupation.

Palestinian terrorism is in fact identical to the al-Qaida variety with respect to methodology, ideology, and public relations. Both groups target innocents as a matter of course, both are sworn to the complete annihilation of another group of people, both invoke Qur’anic principles when defending human slaughter, and both make lofty claims about liberation to certain credulous western audiences. The only thing inevitable about Islamist terror is the litany of justifications and apologies furnished by dangerous characters such as John Dugard.

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William F. Buckley, Jr.

Bill Buckley has died at the age of 82. This American original probably did more to transform the American ideological landscape in the second half of the twentieth century than any other writer or editor, and he did so with surpassing grace. We’ll have far more to say about this on CONTENTIONS as the day and week unfold.

Bill Buckley has died at the age of 82. This American original probably did more to transform the American ideological landscape in the second half of the twentieth century than any other writer or editor, and he did so with surpassing grace. We’ll have far more to say about this on CONTENTIONS as the day and week unfold.

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Fascinating, What Does it Portend?

AFP reports that

A top Iranian cleric made a rare criticism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s verbal attacks on Israel on Wednesday, saying a foreign policy of “coarse slogans” was not in the national interest.

Hassan Rowhani, a former top nuclear negotiator who still holds several influential positions, said that Iran needed to show more flexibility and desire for dialogue in its dealings with the international community.

“Does foreign policy mean expressing coarse slogans and grandstanding?” Rowhani asked in a speech to a foreign policy conference in Tehran.

“This is not a foreign policy. We need to find an accommodating way to decrease the threats and assure the interests of the country.”

His comments came a week after the latest verbal attack on Israel by Ahmadinejad, who described the Jewish state as a “dirty microbe” and “savage animal” in a speech to a public rally….

Rowhani warned starkly: “If the international community thinks that a country wants to play troublemaker and eliminate others, it will not let the country do this and will confront it.

Clearly, at least some officials in Iran are becoming increasingly wary of an Israeli or an American strike on their nuclear facilities. But what does this really mean? Do these officials want to stop the nuclear program or merely tone down the rhetoric while they forge ahead?

Critical to understanding these issues is an exceptionally revealing speech given by Rowhani on September 30, 2005. Rowhani’s words have  been subjected to a close analysis by the Israeli analyst, Chen Kane, formerly an Israeli atomic energy officia and now of CSIS in Washington. Kane’s conclusions are chilling:

Rowhani suggested that Iran use the technical progress Iran had achieved by the time [his own] speech was delivered to create a nuclear fait accompli. He recommended accelerating Iran’s efforts on the technical front: “If one day we are able to complete the fuel cycle and the world sees that it has no choice, that we do possess the technology, then the situation will be different.”

Rowhani also advise[d] his audience, however, that this objective should be pursued while keeping the avenue for negotiation open, so as to allow Iran to improve its technical capabilities while postponing referral to the Security Council for as long as possible. Warning that Iran should avoid what in fact was to occur after Iran ended its suspension of enrichment activities, Rowhani cautioned, “I think we should not be in a great rush to deal with this issue. We should be patient and find the most suitable time to do away with the suspension. . . . we must move very carefully, in a very calculated manner.”
 

 

AFP reports that

A top Iranian cleric made a rare criticism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s verbal attacks on Israel on Wednesday, saying a foreign policy of “coarse slogans” was not in the national interest.

Hassan Rowhani, a former top nuclear negotiator who still holds several influential positions, said that Iran needed to show more flexibility and desire for dialogue in its dealings with the international community.

“Does foreign policy mean expressing coarse slogans and grandstanding?” Rowhani asked in a speech to a foreign policy conference in Tehran.

“This is not a foreign policy. We need to find an accommodating way to decrease the threats and assure the interests of the country.”

His comments came a week after the latest verbal attack on Israel by Ahmadinejad, who described the Jewish state as a “dirty microbe” and “savage animal” in a speech to a public rally….

Rowhani warned starkly: “If the international community thinks that a country wants to play troublemaker and eliminate others, it will not let the country do this and will confront it.

Clearly, at least some officials in Iran are becoming increasingly wary of an Israeli or an American strike on their nuclear facilities. But what does this really mean? Do these officials want to stop the nuclear program or merely tone down the rhetoric while they forge ahead?

Critical to understanding these issues is an exceptionally revealing speech given by Rowhani on September 30, 2005. Rowhani’s words have  been subjected to a close analysis by the Israeli analyst, Chen Kane, formerly an Israeli atomic energy officia and now of CSIS in Washington. Kane’s conclusions are chilling:

Rowhani suggested that Iran use the technical progress Iran had achieved by the time [his own] speech was delivered to create a nuclear fait accompli. He recommended accelerating Iran’s efforts on the technical front: “If one day we are able to complete the fuel cycle and the world sees that it has no choice, that we do possess the technology, then the situation will be different.”

Rowhani also advise[d] his audience, however, that this objective should be pursued while keeping the avenue for negotiation open, so as to allow Iran to improve its technical capabilities while postponing referral to the Security Council for as long as possible. Warning that Iran should avoid what in fact was to occur after Iran ended its suspension of enrichment activities, Rowhani cautioned, “I think we should not be in a great rush to deal with this issue. We should be patient and find the most suitable time to do away with the suspension. . . . we must move very carefully, in a very calculated manner.”
 

 

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Lots Of Blame To Go Around

This, in the latest of the “what went wrong?” stories, is a helpful guide to the many errors and faults of Clinton campaign guru Mark Penn, famed for perfecting the art of micro-trending (i.e. slicing and dicing the electorate to cobble together a winning coalition of support). Was it that we all “misunderstood” her (i.e., she really did care about big ideas) or that the media was too harsh? That’s Penn’s take. More realistically, the Clinton team utterly missed the biggest “trend” of all: this was a “change” election. And with a candidate who never connected with voters (“Being human is overrated,” Penn joked) they went from inevitable to desperate in less than a year.

But there is a bigger point here than just confirmation of Penn’s ineptitude. (And, yes, the incompetence of Harold Ickes and others who failed to organize and compete in caucus and Red states is equally to blame.) Hillary Clinton has never overseen a large operation successfully. For all of her talk that she would be “ready on day one,” the only instances of her managerial efforts–the health care task force and her own campaign–indicate she is neither a good judge of talent or a savvy strategist. In that regard, her claim to greater “experience” seems weak indeed.

This, in the latest of the “what went wrong?” stories, is a helpful guide to the many errors and faults of Clinton campaign guru Mark Penn, famed for perfecting the art of micro-trending (i.e. slicing and dicing the electorate to cobble together a winning coalition of support). Was it that we all “misunderstood” her (i.e., she really did care about big ideas) or that the media was too harsh? That’s Penn’s take. More realistically, the Clinton team utterly missed the biggest “trend” of all: this was a “change” election. And with a candidate who never connected with voters (“Being human is overrated,” Penn joked) they went from inevitable to desperate in less than a year.

But there is a bigger point here than just confirmation of Penn’s ineptitude. (And, yes, the incompetence of Harold Ickes and others who failed to organize and compete in caucus and Red states is equally to blame.) Hillary Clinton has never overseen a large operation successfully. For all of her talk that she would be “ready on day one,” the only instances of her managerial efforts–the health care task force and her own campaign–indicate she is neither a good judge of talent or a savvy strategist. In that regard, her claim to greater “experience” seems weak indeed.

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Love Lost for the Palestinians

It took me a while, but I’ve finally come around on David Hazony’s argument that Gaza has become Egypt’s problem. Beyond the strategic implications of this development, Egypt’s newfound responsibility for containing Gaza—and all the security risks it entails—has serious implications for the way Egyptians will view the Palestinian issue.

Consider the sudden shift in public debate at the American University in Cairo. Although AUC has long been a hotbed of anti-Israel activism, students are exhibiting a staggering decline in their enthusiasm for the Palestinian cause, with a rift developing between a small cadre of pro-Palestinian activists—most of whom are Palestinian—and the rest of the student body. Last week, the pro-Palestinian Al-Quds Club organized the “End the Siege on Gaza” sit-in—an effort that was heavily promoted on campus and via Facebook. During the demonstration, protesters held posters accusing Israel of terrorism and ominously vowing, “Palestine, we die so we can live!” Meanwhile, student speakers compared Gaza to a cage—all in all, typical rhetoric that the AUC student body had long embraced as doctrine.

Yet the student body—which is roughly 80% Egyptian—was hardly impressed. According to The Caravan, turnout was far less than expected, with students noticeably uninterested in the sit-in. But the true insult to pro-Palestinian activism came in The Caravan’s weekly “Q & A,” which asked students what the Egyptian government should do about the Gaza border. Without exception, students’ responses sounded shockingly Lou Dobbsian:

“The government has an obligation to protect its border and its people.”

“This is not one nation’s problem, Egypt should join forces with other countries to find satisfactory solutions.”

“They should close it. Only medical conditions should be admitted.”

In short, AUC students are indicating that, with Hamas now firing at Egyptian workers, the Palestinian cause is just a bit less compelling.

It took me a while, but I’ve finally come around on David Hazony’s argument that Gaza has become Egypt’s problem. Beyond the strategic implications of this development, Egypt’s newfound responsibility for containing Gaza—and all the security risks it entails—has serious implications for the way Egyptians will view the Palestinian issue.

Consider the sudden shift in public debate at the American University in Cairo. Although AUC has long been a hotbed of anti-Israel activism, students are exhibiting a staggering decline in their enthusiasm for the Palestinian cause, with a rift developing between a small cadre of pro-Palestinian activists—most of whom are Palestinian—and the rest of the student body. Last week, the pro-Palestinian Al-Quds Club organized the “End the Siege on Gaza” sit-in—an effort that was heavily promoted on campus and via Facebook. During the demonstration, protesters held posters accusing Israel of terrorism and ominously vowing, “Palestine, we die so we can live!” Meanwhile, student speakers compared Gaza to a cage—all in all, typical rhetoric that the AUC student body had long embraced as doctrine.

Yet the student body—which is roughly 80% Egyptian—was hardly impressed. According to The Caravan, turnout was far less than expected, with students noticeably uninterested in the sit-in. But the true insult to pro-Palestinian activism came in The Caravan’s weekly “Q & A,” which asked students what the Egyptian government should do about the Gaza border. Without exception, students’ responses sounded shockingly Lou Dobbsian:

“The government has an obligation to protect its border and its people.”

“This is not one nation’s problem, Egypt should join forces with other countries to find satisfactory solutions.”

“They should close it. Only medical conditions should be admitted.”

In short, AUC students are indicating that, with Hamas now firing at Egyptian workers, the Palestinian cause is just a bit less compelling.

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What If It Were John McCain…

As Hillary Clinton’s chances for the nomination seemed to slowly evaporate with each passing minute of the debate last night, one could  imagine John McCain on that stage and how the confrontation might have differed. Clearly, McCain (who actually does have a health care plan) will need to become more proficient and show interest in health care reform, what is one of the top issues for non-GOP primary viewers (i.e, the people he did not reach and convince to vote for him in the primaries). Second, he will have to make the case for free trade and explain why it is Luddite-thinking to revert to a protectionist regime that will benefit neither ourselves nor those friends around the world Barack Obama speaks so affectionately about. He then will have to make the tougher argument that on the issue of Iraq voters should reward him for helping, in Obama’s words, to get us out of the ditch. He will point out that other than counseling in favor of retreat, Obama has contributed nothing to the effort to achieve military and political progress, and this bespeaks a lack of realism in his overall approach to foreign policy issues. (And McCain will want to know the answer to the inverse of Tim Russert’s question from last night: What do you do if Iraqis plead with us to stay and prevent genocide?)

And so it will go. There will be real contrasts, on real issues. Obama will not have the benefit of arguing that we have had enough Clinton for a lifetime or that his opponent is responsible for a hyper-partisan style of politics. (Indeed, McCain may turn the tables and argue he, not Obama, has been the one reaching across the aisle while Obama was stuck on the far Left of his party.) He will, however, have the benefit of youth, vigor, intelligence, and good humor. This will be one fun race.

As Hillary Clinton’s chances for the nomination seemed to slowly evaporate with each passing minute of the debate last night, one could  imagine John McCain on that stage and how the confrontation might have differed. Clearly, McCain (who actually does have a health care plan) will need to become more proficient and show interest in health care reform, what is one of the top issues for non-GOP primary viewers (i.e, the people he did not reach and convince to vote for him in the primaries). Second, he will have to make the case for free trade and explain why it is Luddite-thinking to revert to a protectionist regime that will benefit neither ourselves nor those friends around the world Barack Obama speaks so affectionately about. He then will have to make the tougher argument that on the issue of Iraq voters should reward him for helping, in Obama’s words, to get us out of the ditch. He will point out that other than counseling in favor of retreat, Obama has contributed nothing to the effort to achieve military and political progress, and this bespeaks a lack of realism in his overall approach to foreign policy issues. (And McCain will want to know the answer to the inverse of Tim Russert’s question from last night: What do you do if Iraqis plead with us to stay and prevent genocide?)

And so it will go. There will be real contrasts, on real issues. Obama will not have the benefit of arguing that we have had enough Clinton for a lifetime or that his opponent is responsible for a hyper-partisan style of politics. (Indeed, McCain may turn the tables and argue he, not Obama, has been the one reaching across the aisle while Obama was stuck on the far Left of his party.) He will, however, have the benefit of youth, vigor, intelligence, and good humor. This will be one fun race.

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