Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 27, 2008

Crimes Against Humanity

Listening to the Democrats’ rhetoric these days you get the sense they are . . . how to put this gently . . . wimps. Politics ain’t beanbag and you wonder how fragile they imagine their candidates might be that they fear a continuation of their primary process. Chris Dodd says that “we cannot go five more months with the kind of daily sniping that’s going on and have a candidate emerge in that convention.” Barack Obama likens the race to the “Bataan Death March.” Yeah, just like that. (Note to our Democratic friends: avoid analogies which compare, even in jest, the minor stresses of campaigning to war crimes; there’s a candidate out there who knows something about real wars and real suffering.)

In short, what do these people think politics is all about? Far be it from me to agree with Bill Clinton, but if these folks can’t give and take a punch you have to wonder if they have the mettle to make it through the general election. And beyond that, what do they expect the presidency to be like?

Perhaps the shock of having continued press coverage focus on their foibles rather than on the Republicans’ is a novel and overwhelming experience. Perhaps all the feigned indignation over the latest jibe from the other camp has clouded their view. Or perhaps the Obama-mania doesn’t wear well with time. For now, all they see is danger and ruin so they want the match called off and the referees (who exactly they would be is unclear) to come in and stop the game.

You think they would be enjoying all this attention. Maybe less is more.

Listening to the Democrats’ rhetoric these days you get the sense they are . . . how to put this gently . . . wimps. Politics ain’t beanbag and you wonder how fragile they imagine their candidates might be that they fear a continuation of their primary process. Chris Dodd says that “we cannot go five more months with the kind of daily sniping that’s going on and have a candidate emerge in that convention.” Barack Obama likens the race to the “Bataan Death March.” Yeah, just like that. (Note to our Democratic friends: avoid analogies which compare, even in jest, the minor stresses of campaigning to war crimes; there’s a candidate out there who knows something about real wars and real suffering.)

In short, what do these people think politics is all about? Far be it from me to agree with Bill Clinton, but if these folks can’t give and take a punch you have to wonder if they have the mettle to make it through the general election. And beyond that, what do they expect the presidency to be like?

Perhaps the shock of having continued press coverage focus on their foibles rather than on the Republicans’ is a novel and overwhelming experience. Perhaps all the feigned indignation over the latest jibe from the other camp has clouded their view. Or perhaps the Obama-mania doesn’t wear well with time. For now, all they see is danger and ruin so they want the match called off and the referees (who exactly they would be is unclear) to come in and stop the game.

You think they would be enjoying all this attention. Maybe less is more.

Read Less

First Mates

Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama seem to be in a contest over who can do the most damage to his or her spouse. Each reminds voters of the weaknesses of the respective candidates and gives their opponent’s supporters plenty of opportunities to say “Ah ha! See! Further evidence of . . .”

In the Clintons’ case, Bill is, of course, a walking, talking reminder that it is all about them. Their egos and their career ambitions take precedence over party and country. Self-discipline and restraint? Not from these two. And all those concerns about whether her experience is merely derivative are reignited every time voters hear the latest controversial or semi-controversial comment from him.

Michelle Obama has inadvertently emphasized the idea that she and her husband have lived a charmed and unappreciative life. They are “strapped,” but earn a six- or seven-figure income. Paying off college loans, which enabled them to go to an elite university and earn that massive income, is a burden almost too great to bear. Never feeling pride in a country in which she lived such a bountiful life suggests a lack of gratitude, if not of patriotism. We are left to wonder whether she, and in turn he, recognize the strengths and the greatness of the country he wants to lead.

One of the Democrats will win and face (with his/her spouse) the McCains. (In the category of little noticed advantages, McCain enjoys the support of an accomplished spouse who doesn’t do anything to embarrass him.) And while it may seem a trivial factor to consider, a spouse certainly can amplify or moderate a candidate’s shortcomings. Think Teresa Heinz Kerry– not exactly an asset for her husband as he tried to downplay his image as a Francophile snob.

The media, I have no doubt, will continue to obsess over whether gender, race or age matters more to voters. But a significant consideration–especially for those non-primary voting, apolitical “undecideds” we so feverishly study–may well be the person voters will have to imagine as First Spouse. After all, we’ll have to live with him or her for at least four years.

Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama seem to be in a contest over who can do the most damage to his or her spouse. Each reminds voters of the weaknesses of the respective candidates and gives their opponent’s supporters plenty of opportunities to say “Ah ha! See! Further evidence of . . .”

In the Clintons’ case, Bill is, of course, a walking, talking reminder that it is all about them. Their egos and their career ambitions take precedence over party and country. Self-discipline and restraint? Not from these two. And all those concerns about whether her experience is merely derivative are reignited every time voters hear the latest controversial or semi-controversial comment from him.

Michelle Obama has inadvertently emphasized the idea that she and her husband have lived a charmed and unappreciative life. They are “strapped,” but earn a six- or seven-figure income. Paying off college loans, which enabled them to go to an elite university and earn that massive income, is a burden almost too great to bear. Never feeling pride in a country in which she lived such a bountiful life suggests a lack of gratitude, if not of patriotism. We are left to wonder whether she, and in turn he, recognize the strengths and the greatness of the country he wants to lead.

One of the Democrats will win and face (with his/her spouse) the McCains. (In the category of little noticed advantages, McCain enjoys the support of an accomplished spouse who doesn’t do anything to embarrass him.) And while it may seem a trivial factor to consider, a spouse certainly can amplify or moderate a candidate’s shortcomings. Think Teresa Heinz Kerry– not exactly an asset for her husband as he tried to downplay his image as a Francophile snob.

The media, I have no doubt, will continue to obsess over whether gender, race or age matters more to voters. But a significant consideration–especially for those non-primary voting, apolitical “undecideds” we so feverishly study–may well be the person voters will have to imagine as First Spouse. After all, we’ll have to live with him or her for at least four years.

Read Less

Fitna

For those of you curious to see Fitna,  the controversial Dutch politician and filmmaker Geert Wilders’s so-called anti-Muslim movie, you can check it out below:

For those of you curious to see Fitna,  the controversial Dutch politician and filmmaker Geert Wilders’s so-called anti-Muslim movie, you can check it out below:

Read Less

Competing Chamberlains and a Churchill

“[C]ompeting Chamberlains and the hope of a Churchill.” That’s how Middle East expert Bernard Lewis described the choices on offer in America’s upcoming presidential elections. Not much need to spell out who’s who, is there?

Bernard Lewis should be able to spot Churchills and Chamberlains easily enough. At 91, he boasts a 60-plus-year-career as a political observer. (Furthermore, he was a Jewish Brit who lived through World War II.)

He made the observation last week while speaking at the University of Pennsylvania. He was, of course, comparing Britain’s confrontation with the evil of Nazi Germany to the U.S.’s current conflict with evil in the form of radical Islam. Among other choice observations, he spoke about the “pre-emptive cringe” that prohibits good Westerners from speaking candidly about the Islamist nature of the enemy. Lewis also said that, from the extremists’ standpoint, the defeat of the Soviet Union represents a Muslim victory and “There now remains the task of dealing with the pampered Americans.”

Our Chamberlains are pretty vicious towards each other, considering their inclination towards appeasement. But Lewis’ point is an invaluable one. We’re so pampered we can’t bear to choose a leader without our entertainment being the top priority. With identity, dishonesty, and nastiness as the main concerns this election season, any discussion of issues makes voters change the channel. And a long-view reminder such as Lewis’ seems, sadly, out of place (or even histrionic) to many Americans. Here’s to Churchill rising.

“[C]ompeting Chamberlains and the hope of a Churchill.” That’s how Middle East expert Bernard Lewis described the choices on offer in America’s upcoming presidential elections. Not much need to spell out who’s who, is there?

Bernard Lewis should be able to spot Churchills and Chamberlains easily enough. At 91, he boasts a 60-plus-year-career as a political observer. (Furthermore, he was a Jewish Brit who lived through World War II.)

He made the observation last week while speaking at the University of Pennsylvania. He was, of course, comparing Britain’s confrontation with the evil of Nazi Germany to the U.S.’s current conflict with evil in the form of radical Islam. Among other choice observations, he spoke about the “pre-emptive cringe” that prohibits good Westerners from speaking candidly about the Islamist nature of the enemy. Lewis also said that, from the extremists’ standpoint, the defeat of the Soviet Union represents a Muslim victory and “There now remains the task of dealing with the pampered Americans.”

Our Chamberlains are pretty vicious towards each other, considering their inclination towards appeasement. But Lewis’ point is an invaluable one. We’re so pampered we can’t bear to choose a leader without our entertainment being the top priority. With identity, dishonesty, and nastiness as the main concerns this election season, any discussion of issues makes voters change the channel. And a long-view reminder such as Lewis’ seems, sadly, out of place (or even histrionic) to many Americans. Here’s to Churchill rising.

Read Less

Iran Wants What?

In a 20-page letter dated Monday and released yesterday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki threatened legal action for losses his country sustained due to UN Security Council sanctions on its nuclear program. “The Islamic Republic of Iran and its citizens have the right to resort to legal actions to seek redress against the sponsors of these unlawful actions,” the letter, addressed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, states.

The sponsors of the sanctions, Mottaki maintains, “should, as a minimum step, admit their mistakes, apologize to the great nation of Iran, correct their behavior, and above all, compensate for all the damages they have inflicted on the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The demand for compensation is apparently directed to the United States, Britain, France, and Germany.

Secretary-General Ban did not comment on Mottaki’s letter. I suspect he did not want to dignify it with a response, but let me take this opportunity to address the fundamental point raised by the Iranian foreign minister. If the United Nations has no authority to impose sanctions or take action against Iran, as Tehran maintains, then it is up to every member of the international community to decide what to do. Iran’s proven violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and its failure to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency are justifications for the use military force. Why? Because nuclear weapons are inherently dangerous and, therefore, automatically raise the right of self-defense, which every member state of the UN retains.

So go right ahead, Mr. Mottaki: make our day by de-legitimizing the UN. I hope that the United States can peacefully convince your nation to give up its nuclear program. But, if we can’t, then we have no choice but to end it by any and all necessary means.

In a 20-page letter dated Monday and released yesterday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki threatened legal action for losses his country sustained due to UN Security Council sanctions on its nuclear program. “The Islamic Republic of Iran and its citizens have the right to resort to legal actions to seek redress against the sponsors of these unlawful actions,” the letter, addressed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, states.

The sponsors of the sanctions, Mottaki maintains, “should, as a minimum step, admit their mistakes, apologize to the great nation of Iran, correct their behavior, and above all, compensate for all the damages they have inflicted on the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The demand for compensation is apparently directed to the United States, Britain, France, and Germany.

Secretary-General Ban did not comment on Mottaki’s letter. I suspect he did not want to dignify it with a response, but let me take this opportunity to address the fundamental point raised by the Iranian foreign minister. If the United Nations has no authority to impose sanctions or take action against Iran, as Tehran maintains, then it is up to every member of the international community to decide what to do. Iran’s proven violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and its failure to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency are justifications for the use military force. Why? Because nuclear weapons are inherently dangerous and, therefore, automatically raise the right of self-defense, which every member state of the UN retains.

So go right ahead, Mr. Mottaki: make our day by de-legitimizing the UN. I hope that the United States can peacefully convince your nation to give up its nuclear program. But, if we can’t, then we have no choice but to end it by any and all necessary means.

Read Less

The Gore Option

It was not so long ago that, after a debate in Hollywood between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Democrats (and some media cheerleaders) enthused that the party would do well to have either one of them as candidates.

Well, that was then and this is now. Clinton’s favorable rating sunk to 37% in the last NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Democrats are fretting that Obama’s association with Reverend Wright and refusal to make a clean break with his “mentor” has doomed his chances with white, working class voters. John McCain now leads both Democrats in a number of key swing states including Ohio, Florida and Missouri.

What to do? Joe Klein offered up a solution: Al Gore. The superdelegates, he postulated, faced with a choice between a faltering Obama or a Clinton seeking to snatch the nomination from the pledged delegate winner instead, could turn to Gore “for the good of the party.” While Klein’s admittedly far-fetched scheme seems ripped from an Allen Drury novel, it does point to a troubling conclusion the Democrats are slowly reaching: neither one of their candidates matches up very well against John McCain.

Why would they turn to Gore? Well, he has no racial baggage, having never associated himself with a hate-mongering preacher or disparaged his opponent as another Jesse Jackson. He has actual experience in foreign and domestic policy. He has international stature as the guru of global warming. Gore even has a spouse who is not a liability. We can argue about the wisdom of his policy positions. But we’re dealing with Democrats looking for a deus ex machina.

And what does that say in turn about the most likely nominee, Obama? He is the un-Gore. Obama sports a giant potential liability in his association with Wright. He lacks any real governing expertise or track record. He has never been in any executive role. For independents he may simply seem too callow and untested to be trusted with national security. So it’s little wonder that Democrats are developing a serious case of buyer’s remorse.

It would seem then that the “Gore Option” is further proof–if any was needed–that Democrats are growing increasingly queasy about the person most likely to gain the nomination. Yet they just can’t bring themselves to accept Clinton as the alternative.

It was not so long ago that, after a debate in Hollywood between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Democrats (and some media cheerleaders) enthused that the party would do well to have either one of them as candidates.

Well, that was then and this is now. Clinton’s favorable rating sunk to 37% in the last NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Democrats are fretting that Obama’s association with Reverend Wright and refusal to make a clean break with his “mentor” has doomed his chances with white, working class voters. John McCain now leads both Democrats in a number of key swing states including Ohio, Florida and Missouri.

What to do? Joe Klein offered up a solution: Al Gore. The superdelegates, he postulated, faced with a choice between a faltering Obama or a Clinton seeking to snatch the nomination from the pledged delegate winner instead, could turn to Gore “for the good of the party.” While Klein’s admittedly far-fetched scheme seems ripped from an Allen Drury novel, it does point to a troubling conclusion the Democrats are slowly reaching: neither one of their candidates matches up very well against John McCain.

Why would they turn to Gore? Well, he has no racial baggage, having never associated himself with a hate-mongering preacher or disparaged his opponent as another Jesse Jackson. He has actual experience in foreign and domestic policy. He has international stature as the guru of global warming. Gore even has a spouse who is not a liability. We can argue about the wisdom of his policy positions. But we’re dealing with Democrats looking for a deus ex machina.

And what does that say in turn about the most likely nominee, Obama? He is the un-Gore. Obama sports a giant potential liability in his association with Wright. He lacks any real governing expertise or track record. He has never been in any executive role. For independents he may simply seem too callow and untested to be trusted with national security. So it’s little wonder that Democrats are developing a serious case of buyer’s remorse.

It would seem then that the “Gore Option” is further proof–if any was needed–that Democrats are growing increasingly queasy about the person most likely to gain the nomination. Yet they just can’t bring themselves to accept Clinton as the alternative.

Read Less

Remember “A Willing Suspension of Disbelief”?

Doubtless General David Petraeus has more pressing things on his mind this week, but one imagines he must have indulged in some gleeful reflection upon hearing about Hillary Clinton’s Bosnian adventure.

He more than most. For it was Hillary Clinton, among all her colleagues, who dared to insinuate that General Petraeus was lying in his September 11, 2007 testimony before Congress about the progress of the troop surge. After he gave an up-to-date assessment of the situation in Iraq, Hillary said that his version of the military and political dynamic required “a willing suspension of disbelief.” Who would stoop so low as to lie to the country about their experience in a war zone!

There are at least two reasons that Hillary was the only person to challenge Petraeus in such an undignified way that day, and we can see evidence for both of them in her Bosnian fantasy. The Clintons assume that every person in a position of power lies as naturally as they do. So, when the Lewinsky scandal broke it was a web of lies, when the Iraq War got tough that was because George Bush lied her into voting for it, and when Petraeus offered his inconvenient truth that too was, naturally, a lie.

The other aspect of the Clinton M.O. that links her shoddy treatment of General Petraeus to her outlandish story about Bosnia is an irresistible impulse to gild the lily. The Clintons don’t leave well enough alone. For Bill in November 2007 it wasn’t enough to tell a crowd of Iowa supporters that he opposes the Iraq War like most other Democrats these days. Here’s how far he had to take it: “Even though I approved of Afghanistan and opposed Iraq from the beginning, I still resent that I was not asked or given the opportunity to support those soldiers,” he said, and added that he “should not have gotten” the tax cuts that deprived our fighting men and women of what they needed. A threefer!

Similarly, when the question of drivers licenses for illegals came up in the Hollywood debate against Barack Obama, Hillary said she had decided to “try to support my governor despite my personal opposition[.]” Why take one position when you can take both?

So when everyone else in Congress treated General Petraeus’s report with respectful opposition, she went whole hog and called him a liar. And instead of pointing out that she, unlike Obama, had met with dignitaries in a cooling war zone, she figured what the heck and threw some bullets in to bolster her image. And once busted, she and her husband never cut bait and say, “You got me.” No: that’s when the parsing begins and the dictionaries come off the shelf.

The situation in Iraq is too serious for General Petraeus to worry much about Snipergate. But it would be nice if he had a moment to himself during which he could smile about the fabulations of the Senator who accused him of telling lies.

Doubtless General David Petraeus has more pressing things on his mind this week, but one imagines he must have indulged in some gleeful reflection upon hearing about Hillary Clinton’s Bosnian adventure.

He more than most. For it was Hillary Clinton, among all her colleagues, who dared to insinuate that General Petraeus was lying in his September 11, 2007 testimony before Congress about the progress of the troop surge. After he gave an up-to-date assessment of the situation in Iraq, Hillary said that his version of the military and political dynamic required “a willing suspension of disbelief.” Who would stoop so low as to lie to the country about their experience in a war zone!

There are at least two reasons that Hillary was the only person to challenge Petraeus in such an undignified way that day, and we can see evidence for both of them in her Bosnian fantasy. The Clintons assume that every person in a position of power lies as naturally as they do. So, when the Lewinsky scandal broke it was a web of lies, when the Iraq War got tough that was because George Bush lied her into voting for it, and when Petraeus offered his inconvenient truth that too was, naturally, a lie.

The other aspect of the Clinton M.O. that links her shoddy treatment of General Petraeus to her outlandish story about Bosnia is an irresistible impulse to gild the lily. The Clintons don’t leave well enough alone. For Bill in November 2007 it wasn’t enough to tell a crowd of Iowa supporters that he opposes the Iraq War like most other Democrats these days. Here’s how far he had to take it: “Even though I approved of Afghanistan and opposed Iraq from the beginning, I still resent that I was not asked or given the opportunity to support those soldiers,” he said, and added that he “should not have gotten” the tax cuts that deprived our fighting men and women of what they needed. A threefer!

Similarly, when the question of drivers licenses for illegals came up in the Hollywood debate against Barack Obama, Hillary said she had decided to “try to support my governor despite my personal opposition[.]” Why take one position when you can take both?

So when everyone else in Congress treated General Petraeus’s report with respectful opposition, she went whole hog and called him a liar. And instead of pointing out that she, unlike Obama, had met with dignitaries in a cooling war zone, she figured what the heck and threw some bullets in to bolster her image. And once busted, she and her husband never cut bait and say, “You got me.” No: that’s when the parsing begins and the dictionaries come off the shelf.

The situation in Iraq is too serious for General Petraeus to worry much about Snipergate. But it would be nice if he had a moment to himself during which he could smile about the fabulations of the Senator who accused him of telling lies.

Read Less

Troth Blighted in Old Blighty

In a story out of Great Britain today we read that the proportion of Britons getting married is now the lowest since records began in 1862, with the number of weddings held in 2006 the smallest since 1895, when the population was little more than half its present level.

The figures, from the Office for National Statistics, show that fewer than ten in every 1,000 single adults in England and Wales got married in 2006. Among men the rate was 22.8 in every 1,000, while among women the rate was 20.5 in every 1,000. When marriage-rates were first calculated in 1862, the level was 58.7 in every 1,000 for men and 50 in every 1,000 for women. Even during World War II, the article says, marriage rates for women never dropped below 40 in 1,000 (they fell below 30 for the first time in 1995). The general decline of marriage has been under way since 1972 when marriage rates were more than 78 in 1,000 for men and 60 in 1,000 for women. Also of note: today religious marriages in Great Britain number fewer than 80,000, compared to 157,490 civil weddings.

Read More

In a story out of Great Britain today we read that the proportion of Britons getting married is now the lowest since records began in 1862, with the number of weddings held in 2006 the smallest since 1895, when the population was little more than half its present level.

The figures, from the Office for National Statistics, show that fewer than ten in every 1,000 single adults in England and Wales got married in 2006. Among men the rate was 22.8 in every 1,000, while among women the rate was 20.5 in every 1,000. When marriage-rates were first calculated in 1862, the level was 58.7 in every 1,000 for men and 50 in every 1,000 for women. Even during World War II, the article says, marriage rates for women never dropped below 40 in 1,000 (they fell below 30 for the first time in 1995). The general decline of marriage has been under way since 1972 when marriage rates were more than 78 in 1,000 for men and 60 in 1,000 for women. Also of note: today religious marriages in Great Britain number fewer than 80,000, compared to 157,490 civil weddings.

There is, as one might imagine, a political and policy component to this story. According to the article,

[t]he evidence that marriage is withering away at an increasing pace was met with a furious response from critics of Labour’s benefits system, which disregards the status of husbands and wives and pays parents extra to stay single. Shadow Home Secretary David Davis claimed the Government had “fuelled family breakdown” and researcher Patricia Morgan, who coined the phrase “marriage lite” to describe cohabitation, said Labour had succeeded in “eradicating” marriage. “This is what they have tried to achieve and they should be congratulating themselves,” she added. “But it is a disaster for children, families and society.”

. . . [T]he tax and benefit system came under most fervent attack. Advantages for married couples have gradually been withdrawn, joint taxation-ended in the 1980s and Gordon Brown withdrew the last tax break for couples, the Married Couples Allowance, shortly after Labour came to power in 1997 . . .

. . . Labour family policy has for a decade maintained that all kinds of families are equally valuable and ministers have campaigned for all references to marriage to be removed from state documents. The Tories promised they would provide incentives for couples to get and stay together. David Davis said: “This is a sad indictment of the Government’s policies which have penalised families and fuelled family breakdown. Stable families are the best formula for bringing up children and preventing delinquency, anti-social behaviour and crime. So a failed family policy is itself a major cause of crime.” He added: “Conservative policies will support the family by shifting the tax burden away from families and giving 1.8million families an extra £2,000 a year.” Researcher and author Mrs Morgan said: “I have been reading the Children’s Plan put out by Children’s Secretary Ed Balls last year. It does not mention marriage once. This Government has removed the idea of marriage from research and public documents and from the tax and benefit system.”

These developments are part of a broad, on-going trend. In his book on marriage The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Collapse of the American Family (2001)*, Bill Bennett reminds us that in 2000, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was asked to identify the biggest change he has seen in his forty-year political career. He answered, “The biggest change, in my judgment, is that the family structure has come apart all over the North Atlantic world.” He said that this transformation had occurred in “an historical instant. Something that was not imaginable forty years ago has happened.” The distinguished historian Lawrence Stone wrote, “The scale of marital breakdown in the West since 1960 has no historical precedent and seems unique.” And the demographer Kingsley Davis added, “At no time in history, with the possible exception of Imperial Rome, has the institution of marriage been more problematic than it is today.” Scholars now speak of a trend toward a “post-marriage” society.

The causes of the collapse of marriage range from the rise in the Western world of a highly individualistic ethic, to a profound shift in moral and religious attitudes, to the sexual revolution, to the widespread use of abortion and the pill, to changes in law, among other things. The precise damage that the collapse in marriage is having on different societies is hard to measure – but we know it cannot be good. Marriage remains the best arrangement ever devised when it comes to sexual and emotional intimacy, raising children, and finding fulfillment and completeness between two people, not to mention things like financial security, better health, and longer lives. It is, as Bennett wrote, “the keystone in the arch of civilization.” It is also, for those of us who are people of faith, an honorable estate, instituted by God.

Revivifying marriage will not be an easy task, and it will depend on much more than government policies. But laws matter a great deal, as we have learned any number of times on any number of issues (among them welfare and crime) – and they surely matter when it comes to marriage. Laws, after all, reflect a society’s attitudes – the things we deem to be worthy of our support and disapprobation.

Great Britain is now experiencing the consequences of having devalued marriage in law, and the Tories are right to advocate steps to fortify traditional marriage. There are few institutions more in need of repair and few issues that are more worthy of our attention.

* Full disclosure: I assisted Bill Bennett in writing the book.

Read Less

Bookshelf

Most Americans are at one and the same time moralists and latitudinarians, and from time to time these tendencies get out of sync and cause a collective convulsion. One of the most interesting and least well remembered of these convulsions took place in 1954, when public concern over the baleful effects of comic books on the juvenile mind reached such a height as to inspire a Senate hearing at which Bill Gaines, the publisher of Crime SuspenStories, assured a roomful of skeptical politicians that his product was “a work of art.” Frederic Wertham, a psychiatrist who had just published a book called Seduction of the Innocent which claimed that violent comics turned their readers into juvenile delinquents, begged to differ: “I think Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry. They get the children much younger.”

I know about these hearings because Robert Warshow published an essay in COMMENTARY called “Paul, the Horror Comics, and Dr. Wertham” in which he described with a typically thoughtful blend of wit and moral awareness how his 11-year-old son had become a fan of Crime SuspenStories and its companion publications:

Children do need some “sinful” world of their own to which they can retreat from the demands of the adult world; as we sweep away one juvenile dung heap, they will move on to another. The point is to see that the dung heap does not swallow them up, and to hope it may be one that will bring forth blossoms. But our power is limited; it is the children who have the initiative: they will choose what they want.

Fifty-four years later, David Hajdu, a historian of popular culture, has written a book called The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America (Farrar Straus Giroux, 434 pp., $26) in which the clash between Gaines and Dr. Wertham is put in historical perspective. Hajdu’s point of view is fairly standard as these things go-he describes the 50′s as an age of “postwar paranoia” and believes that the comic books of the period deserve to be taken seriously as a species of popular art-but his discussion of the short-lived frenzy over the alleged effects of comics on their consumers is both well written and, for the most part, sensible. You don’t have to share Hajdu’s reflexive distaste for the buttoned-down cultural orthodoxies of the Eisenhower Era to read The Ten-Cent Plague with pleasure and profit.

That said, I was struck by a certain narrowness of perspective on Hajdu’s part. While he appears to know everything worth knowing about the comic books of the period, his suggestion that their critics were cultural McCarthyites fails to acknowledge that the comic-book scare cut sharply across political lines. Close readers of The Ten-Cent Plague will note that the liberal establishment of the day was no less concerned about the effects of comic books on American youth, a fact that Hajdu glosses over a bit too quickly. No less revealingly, he appears to be unaware of the existence of Warshow’s oft-cited essay on horror comics, an omission that makes one wonder what else he has overlooked in his somewhat starry-eyed attempt to portray the creators of Crime SuspenStories and its companion publications as “cultural insurgents” who “helped give birth to the popular culture of the postwar era.”

I was no less struck by the fact that The Ten-Cent Plague contains only a handful of black-and-white illustrations, none of which gives a clear sense of what the horror comics of the 50′s were like. Mere verbal descriptions cannot convey their quality, though Warshow came close:

There is a picture of a baseball game in which the ball is a man’s head with one eye dangling from its socket, the bat is a severed leg, the catcher wears a dismembered human torso as chest protector, the baselines are marked with stretched-out intestines, the bases are marked with the lungs, liver, and heart, the rosin-bag is the dead man’s stomach, and the umpire dusts off home plate with the scalp.

Hajdu tiptoes cautiously past this particular example of the genre, describing it as “a baseball game played with human body parts.” I might have been more impressed by his broad-gauge indictment of 50′s culture had he been more willing to specify the exact content of the publications whose cultural transgressiveness he lauds so passionately.

Most Americans are at one and the same time moralists and latitudinarians, and from time to time these tendencies get out of sync and cause a collective convulsion. One of the most interesting and least well remembered of these convulsions took place in 1954, when public concern over the baleful effects of comic books on the juvenile mind reached such a height as to inspire a Senate hearing at which Bill Gaines, the publisher of Crime SuspenStories, assured a roomful of skeptical politicians that his product was “a work of art.” Frederic Wertham, a psychiatrist who had just published a book called Seduction of the Innocent which claimed that violent comics turned their readers into juvenile delinquents, begged to differ: “I think Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry. They get the children much younger.”

I know about these hearings because Robert Warshow published an essay in COMMENTARY called “Paul, the Horror Comics, and Dr. Wertham” in which he described with a typically thoughtful blend of wit and moral awareness how his 11-year-old son had become a fan of Crime SuspenStories and its companion publications:

Children do need some “sinful” world of their own to which they can retreat from the demands of the adult world; as we sweep away one juvenile dung heap, they will move on to another. The point is to see that the dung heap does not swallow them up, and to hope it may be one that will bring forth blossoms. But our power is limited; it is the children who have the initiative: they will choose what they want.

Fifty-four years later, David Hajdu, a historian of popular culture, has written a book called The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America (Farrar Straus Giroux, 434 pp., $26) in which the clash between Gaines and Dr. Wertham is put in historical perspective. Hajdu’s point of view is fairly standard as these things go-he describes the 50′s as an age of “postwar paranoia” and believes that the comic books of the period deserve to be taken seriously as a species of popular art-but his discussion of the short-lived frenzy over the alleged effects of comics on their consumers is both well written and, for the most part, sensible. You don’t have to share Hajdu’s reflexive distaste for the buttoned-down cultural orthodoxies of the Eisenhower Era to read The Ten-Cent Plague with pleasure and profit.

That said, I was struck by a certain narrowness of perspective on Hajdu’s part. While he appears to know everything worth knowing about the comic books of the period, his suggestion that their critics were cultural McCarthyites fails to acknowledge that the comic-book scare cut sharply across political lines. Close readers of The Ten-Cent Plague will note that the liberal establishment of the day was no less concerned about the effects of comic books on American youth, a fact that Hajdu glosses over a bit too quickly. No less revealingly, he appears to be unaware of the existence of Warshow’s oft-cited essay on horror comics, an omission that makes one wonder what else he has overlooked in his somewhat starry-eyed attempt to portray the creators of Crime SuspenStories and its companion publications as “cultural insurgents” who “helped give birth to the popular culture of the postwar era.”

I was no less struck by the fact that The Ten-Cent Plague contains only a handful of black-and-white illustrations, none of which gives a clear sense of what the horror comics of the 50′s were like. Mere verbal descriptions cannot convey their quality, though Warshow came close:

There is a picture of a baseball game in which the ball is a man’s head with one eye dangling from its socket, the bat is a severed leg, the catcher wears a dismembered human torso as chest protector, the baselines are marked with stretched-out intestines, the bases are marked with the lungs, liver, and heart, the rosin-bag is the dead man’s stomach, and the umpire dusts off home plate with the scalp.

Hajdu tiptoes cautiously past this particular example of the genre, describing it as “a baseball game played with human body parts.” I might have been more impressed by his broad-gauge indictment of 50′s culture had he been more willing to specify the exact content of the publications whose cultural transgressiveness he lauds so passionately.

Read Less

A Curious Admission

Yesterday Barack Obama said this about the prospects for an extended primary battle: “I think giving whoever the nominee is two or three months to pivot into the general election would be extremely helpful, instead of having this drag up to the convention.” Buried in that is a germ of self-awareness that Obama (unlike McCain, as I’ve commented before) will have to do some major league scrambling back to the political center if and when he captures the nomination.

Yes, he’s selling the familiar line that the liberal vs. conservative dichotomy is outmoded. But his comment indicates some recognition that he will have significant pivots ahead. (By the way, isn’t it rather old-school politics to sell your base on one message in the primary and sell the general electorate on another? How inauthentic and Clintonian.) In fact, he will have to convince moderates and independents he is not some crazed lefty looking to usher in a socialist domestic policy and a foreign policy premised on wishful thinking.

He is loath, now, to stress that he runs to the right of Hillary Clinton on certain domestic issues (e.g. opposing a freeze on mortage rates and a healthcare insurance mandate). But he will have to stress just these points and others to assure voters that he does not believe government is the answer to all American ills.

Likewise on foreign policy. He’s going to have to do better than boasting of his devotion to healthcare for vets if he is to shed the image of a fuzzy-headed dove. He will have to explain when he is prepared to use force, what commitments he will make to enhance troop strength and why meeting with dictators doesn’t mean capitulating to them. It’s not an easy task. But he will need to talk about things he hasn’t in the primary and adjust his language and tone to convince voters he really is prepared to defend America against her enemies.

All of this becomes harder if the time between the primary fight and general election is compacted and the memory of his original rhetoric is still fresh in voters’ minds. The further he has to go politically, the longer it will take to get there. It’s one more reason for him to dread a primary battle that may continue until August.

Yesterday Barack Obama said this about the prospects for an extended primary battle: “I think giving whoever the nominee is two or three months to pivot into the general election would be extremely helpful, instead of having this drag up to the convention.” Buried in that is a germ of self-awareness that Obama (unlike McCain, as I’ve commented before) will have to do some major league scrambling back to the political center if and when he captures the nomination.

Yes, he’s selling the familiar line that the liberal vs. conservative dichotomy is outmoded. But his comment indicates some recognition that he will have significant pivots ahead. (By the way, isn’t it rather old-school politics to sell your base on one message in the primary and sell the general electorate on another? How inauthentic and Clintonian.) In fact, he will have to convince moderates and independents he is not some crazed lefty looking to usher in a socialist domestic policy and a foreign policy premised on wishful thinking.

He is loath, now, to stress that he runs to the right of Hillary Clinton on certain domestic issues (e.g. opposing a freeze on mortage rates and a healthcare insurance mandate). But he will have to stress just these points and others to assure voters that he does not believe government is the answer to all American ills.

Likewise on foreign policy. He’s going to have to do better than boasting of his devotion to healthcare for vets if he is to shed the image of a fuzzy-headed dove. He will have to explain when he is prepared to use force, what commitments he will make to enhance troop strength and why meeting with dictators doesn’t mean capitulating to them. It’s not an easy task. But he will need to talk about things he hasn’t in the primary and adjust his language and tone to convince voters he really is prepared to defend America against her enemies.

All of this becomes harder if the time between the primary fight and general election is compacted and the memory of his original rhetoric is still fresh in voters’ minds. The further he has to go politically, the longer it will take to get there. It’s one more reason for him to dread a primary battle that may continue until August.

Read Less

Three Blind Mice

The AP is reporting that Saddam Hussein’s intelligence service organized a Saddam-financed trip to Iraq for three Democratic lawmakers in October 2002. The indictment doesn’t name the lawmakers, but the dates of the trip match up with a trip to Iraq taken by Democratic Reps. Jim McDermott of Washington, David Bonior of Michigan, and Mike Thompson of California—all three anti-Iraq War.

The trip was allegedly arranged by Muthanna Al-Hanooti, a Michigan charity official who worked with Iraqi intelligence. Saddam supposedly paid Al-Hanooti 2 million barrels of Iraqi oil in exchange for getting the Democrats over to Iraq. During the trip the three lawmakers called for diplomatic approaches to handling Saddam.

The three Democrats have said that they had no idea that Saddam had sponsored their trip. I’m sure that’s true. It goes to show just how adept the Iraqi dictator had become at working American officials (and other world leaders) like puppets. But still: three anti-war U.S. Reps were flown to Iraq on Saddam’s dime in order to defend his kleptocratic regime. And the anti-war crowd dares to call those of us who supported the invasion naïve?

Just imagine if the pleas of the three were heeded. Just imagine if we didn’t, after all, invade Iraq–and then this story broke. What might the headline read if we had continued to “contain” Saddam inside his box of butchery these past five years and the tale of 2 million barrels in exchange for U.S. compliance came out?

“Blood For Oil” just about covers it, don’t you think?

The AP is reporting that Saddam Hussein’s intelligence service organized a Saddam-financed trip to Iraq for three Democratic lawmakers in October 2002. The indictment doesn’t name the lawmakers, but the dates of the trip match up with a trip to Iraq taken by Democratic Reps. Jim McDermott of Washington, David Bonior of Michigan, and Mike Thompson of California—all three anti-Iraq War.

The trip was allegedly arranged by Muthanna Al-Hanooti, a Michigan charity official who worked with Iraqi intelligence. Saddam supposedly paid Al-Hanooti 2 million barrels of Iraqi oil in exchange for getting the Democrats over to Iraq. During the trip the three lawmakers called for diplomatic approaches to handling Saddam.

The three Democrats have said that they had no idea that Saddam had sponsored their trip. I’m sure that’s true. It goes to show just how adept the Iraqi dictator had become at working American officials (and other world leaders) like puppets. But still: three anti-war U.S. Reps were flown to Iraq on Saddam’s dime in order to defend his kleptocratic regime. And the anti-war crowd dares to call those of us who supported the invasion naïve?

Just imagine if the pleas of the three were heeded. Just imagine if we didn’t, after all, invade Iraq–and then this story broke. What might the headline read if we had continued to “contain” Saddam inside his box of butchery these past five years and the tale of 2 million barrels in exchange for U.S. compliance came out?

“Blood For Oil” just about covers it, don’t you think?

Read Less

Reasons to Commit Suicide

One of my most productive confidential sources in Washington keeps what he tells me is an expanding file on his desk labeled “reasons to commit suicide.”  He occasionally sends me items that he’s added to it.

Here’s the latest, a conference starting tomorrow at Columbia University: “Fear of Flying”: Can a Feminist Classic Be an American Classic?

Thirty-five years ago, Erica Jong’s first novel, the international bestseller Fear of Flying, electrified readers around the world and sparked fierce debate. Breaking from conventional expectations of fiction by and about women, Fear of Flying freed other women writers to write intelligently and openly about sex and to debate intimate issues of importance to women. Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library acquired a large collection of Erica Jong’s archival material in 2007. Jong’s papers have become an important asset as the Columbia Libraries continue to document the history of women and feminism in contemporary American society. In an outgrowth of this interest and intent, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library will join the Columbia University Institute for Research on Women and Gender and the Center for Research on Women at Barnard College in gathering a group of distinguished writers and critics for a half-day conference, “Fear of Flying: Can a Feminist Classic be a Classic?” on Friday, March 28, 2008.

Speakers will revisit Jong’s novel and will assess the status of women’s writing and of feminism in today’s literary scene and the possibilities of subversion open to contemporary young women writers.

Here is the question of the day. What would be more painful to endure: watching Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reap the dividends of being ineffectually insulted by the president of Columbia, or attending this conference?

One of my most productive confidential sources in Washington keeps what he tells me is an expanding file on his desk labeled “reasons to commit suicide.”  He occasionally sends me items that he’s added to it.

Here’s the latest, a conference starting tomorrow at Columbia University: “Fear of Flying”: Can a Feminist Classic Be an American Classic?

Thirty-five years ago, Erica Jong’s first novel, the international bestseller Fear of Flying, electrified readers around the world and sparked fierce debate. Breaking from conventional expectations of fiction by and about women, Fear of Flying freed other women writers to write intelligently and openly about sex and to debate intimate issues of importance to women. Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library acquired a large collection of Erica Jong’s archival material in 2007. Jong’s papers have become an important asset as the Columbia Libraries continue to document the history of women and feminism in contemporary American society. In an outgrowth of this interest and intent, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library will join the Columbia University Institute for Research on Women and Gender and the Center for Research on Women at Barnard College in gathering a group of distinguished writers and critics for a half-day conference, “Fear of Flying: Can a Feminist Classic be a Classic?” on Friday, March 28, 2008.

Speakers will revisit Jong’s novel and will assess the status of women’s writing and of feminism in today’s literary scene and the possibilities of subversion open to contemporary young women writers.

Here is the question of the day. What would be more painful to endure: watching Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reap the dividends of being ineffectually insulted by the president of Columbia, or attending this conference?

Read Less

“We Desire Death”

How twisted is Hamas? Here is Fathi Hammad, a Hamas member of parliament, in a startling video that everyone should watch. In a speech, Hammad described Hamas’ attitude towards the wondrousness of human life:

[The enemies of Allah] do not know that the Palestinian people has developed its methods of death and death-seeking. For the Palestinian people, death has become an industry, at which women excel, and so do all the people living on this land. The elderly excel at this, and so do the mujahideen and the children. This is why they have formed human shields of the women, the children, the elderly, and the mujahideen, in order to challenge the Zionist bombing machine. It is as if they were saying to the Zionist enemy: “We desire death like you desire life.”

Zowie. This is not a single suicide bomber, or a crazed lunatic, but a leading politician in the leading Palestinian political party. In recent posts I have suggested that the Palestinians have some important cultural issues which may need tackling before a genuine reconciliation with the West can happen. I do not know exactly how representative Hammad is of the average Palestinian’s worldview. But his party was voted in by a majority of Palestinians; even in the West Bank, traditionally a Fatah stronghold, Hamas has recently pulled even in polls

(Hat tip: Jpost and MEMRI)

How twisted is Hamas? Here is Fathi Hammad, a Hamas member of parliament, in a startling video that everyone should watch. In a speech, Hammad described Hamas’ attitude towards the wondrousness of human life:

[The enemies of Allah] do not know that the Palestinian people has developed its methods of death and death-seeking. For the Palestinian people, death has become an industry, at which women excel, and so do all the people living on this land. The elderly excel at this, and so do the mujahideen and the children. This is why they have formed human shields of the women, the children, the elderly, and the mujahideen, in order to challenge the Zionist bombing machine. It is as if they were saying to the Zionist enemy: “We desire death like you desire life.”

Zowie. This is not a single suicide bomber, or a crazed lunatic, but a leading politician in the leading Palestinian political party. In recent posts I have suggested that the Palestinians have some important cultural issues which may need tackling before a genuine reconciliation with the West can happen. I do not know exactly how representative Hammad is of the average Palestinian’s worldview. But his party was voted in by a majority of Palestinians; even in the West Bank, traditionally a Fatah stronghold, Hamas has recently pulled even in polls

(Hat tip: Jpost and MEMRI)

Read Less

Why Hillary Supporters Might Abandon Obama

Many commentators are buzzing over a Gallup poll (and a similar NBC/Wall Street Journal one) showing that 28% of Hillary Clinton supporters would support John McCain if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee and that 19% of Obama supporters would do the same if she is the nominee. Gallup explains:

It is unknown how many Democrats would actually carry through and vote for a Republican next fall if their preferred candidate does not become the Democratic nominee. The Democratic campaign is in the heat of battle at the moment, but by November, there will have been several months of attempts to build party unity around the eventual nominee — and a focus on reasons why the Republican nominee needs to be defeated. . . Still, when almost 3 out of 10 Clinton supporters say they would vote for McCain over Obama, it suggests that divisions are running deep within the Democratic Party. If the fight for the party’s nomination were to continue until the Denver convention in late August, the Democratic Party could suffer some damage as it tries to regroup for the November general election.

If you consider who a typical Clinton voter is the poll makes quite a bit of sense: older, white, and working-class voters who place a premium on experience and may have bought her “3 a.m.” argument. Sound like potential “gets” for McCain, right? (Then, of course, there are the voters offended and scared off by the Reverend Wright affiliation, but liberal bloggers say that’s all behind us so we won’t worry about them. For now.)

In most elections you see “Republicans for [fill in the name of the Democratic nominee]” groups spring up. They usually are not terribly Republican to begin with and profess that “never before” has the Republican party offered someone so extreme, so conservative, etc. This election there may be groups, real groups, of “Democrats for McCain,” who simply conclude that Obama is too liberal or too inexperienced to be president. Even if the final number isn’t 28%, a fifth or a tenth of that figure may spell trouble for the Democrats, if he’s the eventual nominee.

How long before Clinton’s team starts making this very argument to superdelegates?

Many commentators are buzzing over a Gallup poll (and a similar NBC/Wall Street Journal one) showing that 28% of Hillary Clinton supporters would support John McCain if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee and that 19% of Obama supporters would do the same if she is the nominee. Gallup explains:

It is unknown how many Democrats would actually carry through and vote for a Republican next fall if their preferred candidate does not become the Democratic nominee. The Democratic campaign is in the heat of battle at the moment, but by November, there will have been several months of attempts to build party unity around the eventual nominee — and a focus on reasons why the Republican nominee needs to be defeated. . . Still, when almost 3 out of 10 Clinton supporters say they would vote for McCain over Obama, it suggests that divisions are running deep within the Democratic Party. If the fight for the party’s nomination were to continue until the Denver convention in late August, the Democratic Party could suffer some damage as it tries to regroup for the November general election.

If you consider who a typical Clinton voter is the poll makes quite a bit of sense: older, white, and working-class voters who place a premium on experience and may have bought her “3 a.m.” argument. Sound like potential “gets” for McCain, right? (Then, of course, there are the voters offended and scared off by the Reverend Wright affiliation, but liberal bloggers say that’s all behind us so we won’t worry about them. For now.)

In most elections you see “Republicans for [fill in the name of the Democratic nominee]” groups spring up. They usually are not terribly Republican to begin with and profess that “never before” has the Republican party offered someone so extreme, so conservative, etc. This election there may be groups, real groups, of “Democrats for McCain,” who simply conclude that Obama is too liberal or too inexperienced to be president. Even if the final number isn’t 28%, a fifth or a tenth of that figure may spell trouble for the Democrats, if he’s the eventual nominee.

How long before Clinton’s team starts making this very argument to superdelegates?

Read Less