Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 23, 2008

The World’s Smallest Violin

Sarah Jane Olson (aka Kathleen Soliah) was brought back to prison Saturday after an “administrative error” led to her release on parole earlier last week. Olson, a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army radical terrorist group in the 1970′s, was involved in the 1975 robbery of the Crocker National Bank in Carmichael, California, in which a bank customer was killed. (Soliah kicked a pregnant bank teller in the abdomen, leading to the woman’s miscarriage.) Later that year, she placed bombs under police cars in order to exact revenge for the deaths of some of her compatriots who had died in an earlier standoff with the LAPD.

Olson managed to live underground until 1999, when, after being profiled on America’s Most Wanted, she was arrested. She pled guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a lighter sentence of what ought to have been 14 years, rather than the 12 that the parole board apparently believed was her punishment. Because of lax parole guidelines in California, she need only serve half her time, thanks to deductions for prison work, good behavior etc.

But: “It’s like they make up all new rules when it comes to her,” Olson’s lawyer, Shawn Chapman Holley complained. “It’s like we are in some kind of fascist state.”

Ah, that old chestnut “fascist!” The lingo of 70′s left-wing terror sounds rather dated. And I confess to having trouble shedding a tear about the fate of Ms. Olson.

Sarah Jane Olson (aka Kathleen Soliah) was brought back to prison Saturday after an “administrative error” led to her release on parole earlier last week. Olson, a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army radical terrorist group in the 1970′s, was involved in the 1975 robbery of the Crocker National Bank in Carmichael, California, in which a bank customer was killed. (Soliah kicked a pregnant bank teller in the abdomen, leading to the woman’s miscarriage.) Later that year, she placed bombs under police cars in order to exact revenge for the deaths of some of her compatriots who had died in an earlier standoff with the LAPD.

Olson managed to live underground until 1999, when, after being profiled on America’s Most Wanted, she was arrested. She pled guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a lighter sentence of what ought to have been 14 years, rather than the 12 that the parole board apparently believed was her punishment. Because of lax parole guidelines in California, she need only serve half her time, thanks to deductions for prison work, good behavior etc.

But: “It’s like they make up all new rules when it comes to her,” Olson’s lawyer, Shawn Chapman Holley complained. “It’s like we are in some kind of fascist state.”

Ah, that old chestnut “fascist!” The lingo of 70′s left-wing terror sounds rather dated. And I confess to having trouble shedding a tear about the fate of Ms. Olson.

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He Saw Black People

Andrew Sullivan has taken up the odious cause of defending Jeremiah Wright against conservative criticism. Now, if you want to defend Wright, you could argue that Obama shouldn’t abandon his pastor, out of loyalty, or that Obama turning his back on Wright would amount to his disowning an important segment of the American black population. But to downplay the poison of Wright’s 9/11 rant speaks to a pathological level of denial. Sullivan offers the familiar speech in its full context, and writes, “I still do not find it appropriate, and still do not agree with it. But it is not what Hannity and Ingraham and the other talk show thugs of the far right have been saying.”

He’s right. It’s worse. Try out this bit:

I saw pictures of the incredible. People jumping from the 110th floor; people jumping from the roof because the stairwells and elevators above the 89th floor were gone–no more. Black people, jumping to a certain death; people holding hands jumping; people on fire jumping.

Black people?

I suspect I speak for most Americans who saw footage of WTC jumpers in saying a) the race of these individuals was not decipherable; b) if it was, it would have been, at that time, beyond my ability to notice, because c) who cared? When the World Trade Center went down, the issue of race in America was as atomized as those two buildings. But not for Obama’s pastor, who seemed to think it was important enough to assure his congregation that black people had perished. In some sense, this is the most offensive (and telling) thing I’ve heard from Wright. It reveals a commitment to divisiveness so deep as to prohibit the simple registering of human (forget national) tragedy.

And Sullivan is worried about Sean Hannity.

Andrew Sullivan has taken up the odious cause of defending Jeremiah Wright against conservative criticism. Now, if you want to defend Wright, you could argue that Obama shouldn’t abandon his pastor, out of loyalty, or that Obama turning his back on Wright would amount to his disowning an important segment of the American black population. But to downplay the poison of Wright’s 9/11 rant speaks to a pathological level of denial. Sullivan offers the familiar speech in its full context, and writes, “I still do not find it appropriate, and still do not agree with it. But it is not what Hannity and Ingraham and the other talk show thugs of the far right have been saying.”

He’s right. It’s worse. Try out this bit:

I saw pictures of the incredible. People jumping from the 110th floor; people jumping from the roof because the stairwells and elevators above the 89th floor were gone–no more. Black people, jumping to a certain death; people holding hands jumping; people on fire jumping.

Black people?

I suspect I speak for most Americans who saw footage of WTC jumpers in saying a) the race of these individuals was not decipherable; b) if it was, it would have been, at that time, beyond my ability to notice, because c) who cared? When the World Trade Center went down, the issue of race in America was as atomized as those two buildings. But not for Obama’s pastor, who seemed to think it was important enough to assure his congregation that black people had perished. In some sense, this is the most offensive (and telling) thing I’ve heard from Wright. It reveals a commitment to divisiveness so deep as to prohibit the simple registering of human (forget national) tragedy.

And Sullivan is worried about Sean Hannity.

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James Cooper Gets It Wrong

The premise of this New York Times article is that there is a contradiction at the heart of John McCain’s trip to the Middle East and Europe. As the second paragraph has it, the trip

offered him the chance to test his hope that he could repair America’s tattered reputation by shifting course on some of the policies that have alienated its allies, in areas like global warming and torture. But he is making his foray even as he embraces what much of the world sees as the most hated remnant of the Bush presidency: the war in Iraq.

In the way that supposedly non-opinionated reporters do, the author, James Cooper, quotes a few experts, including my Council on Foreign Relations colleague James M. Goldgeier, in support of his thesis.

There is a major problem with his argument, however. Yes, it’s true that America’s invasion of Iraq has cost us a lot of popular support among our allies. But it doesn’t therefore follow that a precipitous withdrawal of the kind advocated by Clinton and Obama would restore our standing. It might actually exacerbate our loss of esteem. An American pullout anytime soon would result in greater chaos that would most likely spill over across Iraq’s borders. The cry would go up around the world: Why did the Americans abdicate their responsibility to stabilize Iraq? Why, after having gone in so recklessly, did they compound their errors by leaving recklessly too?

That is, in fact, what leaders in the Middle East and Europe privately worry about. As I’ve heard from them in my travels–and as McCain (whose campaign I advise on foreign policy) no doubt also has–our allies may not have supported our initial foray into Iraq, but now that we’re there, they want us to see it through to an acceptable conclusion. If Obama and Clinton think they can make Uncle Sam revered by simply leaving Iraq in the lurch, they are deeply mistaken. That’s the kind of simplistic thinking that is only persuasive to the New York Times.

The premise of this New York Times article is that there is a contradiction at the heart of John McCain’s trip to the Middle East and Europe. As the second paragraph has it, the trip

offered him the chance to test his hope that he could repair America’s tattered reputation by shifting course on some of the policies that have alienated its allies, in areas like global warming and torture. But he is making his foray even as he embraces what much of the world sees as the most hated remnant of the Bush presidency: the war in Iraq.

In the way that supposedly non-opinionated reporters do, the author, James Cooper, quotes a few experts, including my Council on Foreign Relations colleague James M. Goldgeier, in support of his thesis.

There is a major problem with his argument, however. Yes, it’s true that America’s invasion of Iraq has cost us a lot of popular support among our allies. But it doesn’t therefore follow that a precipitous withdrawal of the kind advocated by Clinton and Obama would restore our standing. It might actually exacerbate our loss of esteem. An American pullout anytime soon would result in greater chaos that would most likely spill over across Iraq’s borders. The cry would go up around the world: Why did the Americans abdicate their responsibility to stabilize Iraq? Why, after having gone in so recklessly, did they compound their errors by leaving recklessly too?

That is, in fact, what leaders in the Middle East and Europe privately worry about. As I’ve heard from them in my travels–and as McCain (whose campaign I advise on foreign policy) no doubt also has–our allies may not have supported our initial foray into Iraq, but now that we’re there, they want us to see it through to an acceptable conclusion. If Obama and Clinton think they can make Uncle Sam revered by simply leaving Iraq in the lurch, they are deeply mistaken. That’s the kind of simplistic thinking that is only persuasive to the New York Times.

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Alan Johnson on Primo Levi

Alan Johnson, editor of Democratiya, has written a must-read piece on Primo Levi. He observes:

Our 21st century dilemma is that we want to promote non-violent cultures and a wider global human security whilst retaining the ability to become warlike when challenged by the new totalitarians. That’s some task.

It is. And Johnson knows that to protect freedom and culture, sometimes our societies must resort to violent means. Intellectual elites on my side of the Atlantic postulate that eliminating our warlike impulses is what will save us from losing the paradise we have managed to erect in much of Europe. And that the totalitarians who clamor at our gates are nothing but the consequence of our warlike actions. But they are wrong. The totalitarian mindset exists independently of Western mistakes.

The challenge Johnson and others like him face in Europe is that our societies have forgotten that our readiness to fight is what saved us, and our willingness to appease is what damned us, in the past. Instead, today many live under the illusion that “a non-violent culture and wider global security” can be both promoted, spread, and consolidated without firing one shot. Not so.

Alan Johnson, editor of Democratiya, has written a must-read piece on Primo Levi. He observes:

Our 21st century dilemma is that we want to promote non-violent cultures and a wider global human security whilst retaining the ability to become warlike when challenged by the new totalitarians. That’s some task.

It is. And Johnson knows that to protect freedom and culture, sometimes our societies must resort to violent means. Intellectual elites on my side of the Atlantic postulate that eliminating our warlike impulses is what will save us from losing the paradise we have managed to erect in much of Europe. And that the totalitarians who clamor at our gates are nothing but the consequence of our warlike actions. But they are wrong. The totalitarian mindset exists independently of Western mistakes.

The challenge Johnson and others like him face in Europe is that our societies have forgotten that our readiness to fight is what saved us, and our willingness to appease is what damned us, in the past. Instead, today many live under the illusion that “a non-violent culture and wider global security” can be both promoted, spread, and consolidated without firing one shot. Not so.

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If Maureen Dowd Can Figure It Out . . .

Maureen Dowd is the canary in the liberal coal mine. If she begins to gasp for air, you know there is an impending shortage of political oxygen for the Democrats, and specifically for the media’s favorite candidate. In Sunday’s column, she (like a nervous poker player) drops her game face now and then to reveal that, beneath her bubbling and enduring contempt for Republicans and the Clintons, there lurks the realization that the liberal media’s new knight in shining armor is not so shining. She allows that Obama’ s tossing his “typical white person” Grandma under the bus was a bad idea:

Pressed about race on a Philly radio sports show, where he wanted to talk basketball, he called his grandmother “a typical white person, who, if she sees somebody on the street that she doesn’t know, well there’s a reaction that’s in our experiences that won’t go away and can sometimes come out in the wrong way.” Obama might be right, but he should stay away from the phrase “typical white person” because typically white people don’t like to be reminded of their prejudices. It also undermines Obama’s feel-good appeal in which whites are allowed to transcend race because the candidate himself has transcended race.

So even if Dowd cannot quite admit the intellectual and moral shortcomings of a man who equates the woman who raised him with a hate-mongering preacher, she nevertheless allows that it was politically clumsy of him to bring it up. Well, that’s something.

Then she tip-toes up to an equally troubling issue for Obama:

Even swaddled in flags, Obama is vulnerable on the issue of patriotism. He’s right that you don’t have to wear a flag pin to be patriotic, and that Republicans have coarsely exploited patriotism for ideological ends while failing to do truly patriotic things, like giving our troops the right armor and the proper care at Walter Reed. But Republicans are salivating over Reverend Wright’s “God damn America” imprecation and his post-9/11 “America’s chickens coming home to roost” crack, combined with Michelle Obama’s aggrieved line about belatedly feeling really proud of her country.

While Dowd cannot resist a cheap dig at Republicans (or, apparently, distinguish between administrative ineptitude and lack of patriotism), she gets it, somehow: Obama has a patriotism problem, which will  only become worse in the general election. (There is a reason why John McCain continues to remind voters of his biography.)

So if the doyenne of Obama’s media fan club can figure all this out, I’d imagine that  voters and a few hundred superdelegates (who may actually talk to and understand the views of people outside of Manhattan) can too. Whether they have the time and the will to do something about it remains to be seen.

Maureen Dowd is the canary in the liberal coal mine. If she begins to gasp for air, you know there is an impending shortage of political oxygen for the Democrats, and specifically for the media’s favorite candidate. In Sunday’s column, she (like a nervous poker player) drops her game face now and then to reveal that, beneath her bubbling and enduring contempt for Republicans and the Clintons, there lurks the realization that the liberal media’s new knight in shining armor is not so shining. She allows that Obama’ s tossing his “typical white person” Grandma under the bus was a bad idea:

Pressed about race on a Philly radio sports show, where he wanted to talk basketball, he called his grandmother “a typical white person, who, if she sees somebody on the street that she doesn’t know, well there’s a reaction that’s in our experiences that won’t go away and can sometimes come out in the wrong way.” Obama might be right, but he should stay away from the phrase “typical white person” because typically white people don’t like to be reminded of their prejudices. It also undermines Obama’s feel-good appeal in which whites are allowed to transcend race because the candidate himself has transcended race.

So even if Dowd cannot quite admit the intellectual and moral shortcomings of a man who equates the woman who raised him with a hate-mongering preacher, she nevertheless allows that it was politically clumsy of him to bring it up. Well, that’s something.

Then she tip-toes up to an equally troubling issue for Obama:

Even swaddled in flags, Obama is vulnerable on the issue of patriotism. He’s right that you don’t have to wear a flag pin to be patriotic, and that Republicans have coarsely exploited patriotism for ideological ends while failing to do truly patriotic things, like giving our troops the right armor and the proper care at Walter Reed. But Republicans are salivating over Reverend Wright’s “God damn America” imprecation and his post-9/11 “America’s chickens coming home to roost” crack, combined with Michelle Obama’s aggrieved line about belatedly feeling really proud of her country.

While Dowd cannot resist a cheap dig at Republicans (or, apparently, distinguish between administrative ineptitude and lack of patriotism), she gets it, somehow: Obama has a patriotism problem, which will  only become worse in the general election. (There is a reason why John McCain continues to remind voters of his biography.)

So if the doyenne of Obama’s media fan club can figure all this out, I’d imagine that  voters and a few hundred superdelegates (who may actually talk to and understand the views of people outside of Manhattan) can too. Whether they have the time and the will to do something about it remains to be seen.

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