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Posts For: April 4, 2008

More on Joe Klein

In a rather stunning sentence that Ramesh Ponnuru flagged over at National Review‘s The Corner, Joe Klein, in saying that the “chronic disease among Democrats” is their tendency to talk more about what’s wrong with America than what’s right, wrote this:

This is ironic and weirdly self-defeating, since the liberal message of national improvement is profoundly more optimistic, and patriotic, than the innate conservative pessimism about the perfectibility of human nature.

As Ponnuru points out, can you imagine Klein’s outrage if the charge had been made the other way – that the conservative message of national improvement is more “patriotic” than liberalism? Actually, we don’t have to leave it to the imagination. Here is Joe Klein in “An Overdose of Invective,” one of his many angry columns from 2004:

To be sure, there is a bright line between tough and scurrilous. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth crossed it, and the Bush campaign joined them when presidential surrogates, including Bush the Elder, ratified the Swifties’ lies. (They can’t all be liars, the former President told Don Imus.) Zell Miller’s frontal attacks on Kerry’s patriotism at the Republican Convention also crossed the line-as did the President’s celebration of Miller’s speech in subsequent stump appearances. Indeed, Bush’s gleeful willingness to personally join in the mudslinging is unprecedented in modern U.S. politics. Usually Presidents leave the dirty work to others. Even Richard Nixon, an apotheosis of darkness, had Spiro Agnew do most of the heavy lifting.

Liberals have made a habit out of getting furious about having their patriotism challenged even when it’s not; in Klein’s most recent column we have an example of an explicit assertion that liberalism is more patriotic than conservatism, but without the sound and fury.

This charge, beyond its falsity, is also ignorant and shallow. For one thing, some of the best arguments on behalf of patriotism in recent years have been made by leading conservative intellectuals like Walter Berns in his book, Making Patriots; Norman Podhoretz in My Love Affair With America: The Cautionary Tale of A Cheerful Conservative; William Bennett in Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism (see in particular his chapter “Love of Country”); Yale Professor Donald Kagan’s November 4, 2001 lecture on patriotism; and Gertrude Himmelfarb’s May 1997 Commentary essay “For the Love of Country.”

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In a rather stunning sentence that Ramesh Ponnuru flagged over at National Review‘s The Corner, Joe Klein, in saying that the “chronic disease among Democrats” is their tendency to talk more about what’s wrong with America than what’s right, wrote this:

This is ironic and weirdly self-defeating, since the liberal message of national improvement is profoundly more optimistic, and patriotic, than the innate conservative pessimism about the perfectibility of human nature.

As Ponnuru points out, can you imagine Klein’s outrage if the charge had been made the other way – that the conservative message of national improvement is more “patriotic” than liberalism? Actually, we don’t have to leave it to the imagination. Here is Joe Klein in “An Overdose of Invective,” one of his many angry columns from 2004:

To be sure, there is a bright line between tough and scurrilous. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth crossed it, and the Bush campaign joined them when presidential surrogates, including Bush the Elder, ratified the Swifties’ lies. (They can’t all be liars, the former President told Don Imus.) Zell Miller’s frontal attacks on Kerry’s patriotism at the Republican Convention also crossed the line-as did the President’s celebration of Miller’s speech in subsequent stump appearances. Indeed, Bush’s gleeful willingness to personally join in the mudslinging is unprecedented in modern U.S. politics. Usually Presidents leave the dirty work to others. Even Richard Nixon, an apotheosis of darkness, had Spiro Agnew do most of the heavy lifting.

Liberals have made a habit out of getting furious about having their patriotism challenged even when it’s not; in Klein’s most recent column we have an example of an explicit assertion that liberalism is more patriotic than conservatism, but without the sound and fury.

This charge, beyond its falsity, is also ignorant and shallow. For one thing, some of the best arguments on behalf of patriotism in recent years have been made by leading conservative intellectuals like Walter Berns in his book, Making Patriots; Norman Podhoretz in My Love Affair With America: The Cautionary Tale of A Cheerful Conservative; William Bennett in Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism (see in particular his chapter “Love of Country”); Yale Professor Donald Kagan’s November 4, 2001 lecture on patriotism; and Gertrude Himmelfarb’s May 1997 Commentary essay “For the Love of Country.”

Beyond that, is Klein really prepared to argue that the aim of the institutional strongholds of contemporary liberalism – whether we are talking about the academy or Hollywood or others – is to deepen our love for America and increase our civic devotion and pride? That their efforts will make us a more perfect union? Does Klein believe that during the last several decades liberals rather than conservatives have been more likely to reject cultural relativism and radical multiculturalism? Have liberals rather than conservatives been more vocal in arguing why the United States is better in every way than its totalitarian enemies? Is Ted Kennedy really more patriotic in his “liberal message of national improvement” than Ronald Reagan was in his conservative message of national improvement?

To be sure, patriotism is a complicated matter, as it has many elements to it and tensions within it. It is certainly not the property of any one political party. It is not blind support for America, just as it is not reflexive opposition to America. But what we can say, I think, is that, as Berns points out, part of what it has traditionally meant to be an American is to believe in our most cherished creeds – most especially that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. Patriotism also demands that we hold an honest view of our nation — which, in the case of America, means we should acknowledge our injustices (past and present) even as we acknowledge that, in Allan Bloom’s words, “America tells one story: the unbroken ineluctable progress of freedom and equality.” And of course patriotism requires us to sacrifice for our country, to defend her when she is under assault, and to do what we can to help America live up to her founding ideals.

I would finally add this: Conservatives are not “pessimistic” about the perfectibility of human nature; rather, they are realistic about human nature, which is an admixture of virtues and vices. Conservatism is skeptical about grand programs to remake human nature itself, but it is risible to argue that conservatism is philosophically proscribed from making an argument for national improvement. Many of the greatest conservatives in American history have done just that. One could also argue that those who believe in the perfectibility of human nature tend to embrace the view that we are “citizens of the world” even before we are citizens of America.

Joe Klein has waded into ugly waters. Let’s hope he can make his way out of them before too long.

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Home from the Sea

cross-posted at About Last Night

Moss Hart, who grew up poor and spent a not-inconsiderable portion of his young life riding the subway from deepest Brooklyn to Times Square, swore that if he ever struck it rich, he’d take cabs everywhere, even if his destination was only a block or two away. I’ve never been poor and have yet to strike it rich, but I rode the subway often enough in my first years as a New Yorker to be glad that I can now afford to take cabs. Be that as it may, a true New Yorker who wants to get somewhere at ten on a rainy morning takes the subway, and since today’s Mass for the repose of the soul of William F. Buckley, Jr., who died five weeks ago, was scheduled to start at ten o’clock sharp at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I put on my black outfit and raincoat, descended into the bowels of Manhattan, and made my bumpy way to Rockefeller Center in the midst of a rush-hour crowd.

It’s been quite a while since I walked through Rockefeller Center, even longer since I’ve been inside St. Patrick’s, and a very long time indeed since I last attended a memorial service for a public figure. For all these reasons, I have no standard against which to measure Bill’s funeral obsequies. All I can tell you was that today’s service seemed as splendid as it could possibly have been. The cathedral was full of mourners, the choir loft full of singers, and the music was mostly appropriate to the occasion. Bill was a serious amateur musician who loved Bach above all things–he actually performed the F Minor Harpsichord Concerto in public on more than one occasion–so the organist played “Sheep May Safely Graze” and the slow movement of the Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C Major. No less suitable were the sung portions of the Mass, drawn from Victoria’s sweetly austere Missa “O magnum mysterium,” and the closing hymn, the noble tune from Gustav Holst’s The Planets to which the following words were later set: I vow to thee, my country–all earthly things above–/Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love.

The only thing that made my inner critic smile wryly was the performance during communion of the Adagio in G Minor long attributed to Albinoni but in fact woven out of whole cloth by one Remo Giazotto. It is a preposterously operatic piece of spurious yard goods, and to hear it played on the organ with all stops pulled put me in mind of something Bill wrote after attending a Virgil Fox recital many years ago:

At one point during a prelude, I am tempted to rise solemnly, commandeer a shotgun, and advise Fox, preferably in imperious German, if only I could learn German in time to consummate the fantasy, that if he does not release the goddam vox humana, which is oohing-ahing-eeing the music where Bach clearly intended something closer to a bel canto, I shall simply have to blow his head off.

That was the Bill Buckley I knew, whip-smart and impishly outrageous, the same man that David Remnick had in mind when he described Bill as having “the eyes of a child who has just displayed a horrid use for the microwave oven and the family cat.”

I wish I could say I knew him well, but I didn’t. I dined at his table a number of times but was only alone with him once, when I interviewed him about Whittaker Chambers for an anthology of Chambers’ journalism that I edited in 1989. On that occasion Bill assured me that although they had been close, Chambers never had “any direct historical or intellectual influence” on him. The reason he gave is striking:

I never embraced, in part because subjectively it’s contra naturam to me, that utter, total, objective, strategic pessimism of his. Among other things, I think it’s wrong theologically to assume that the world is doomed before God decides to doom it. So I never drank too deeply of his Weltschmerz.

Indeed he did not: Bill was the least weltschmerzy person imaginable. Henry Kissinger, who eulogized him this morning, alluded to that side of Bill’s personality when he remarked that Bill “was vouchsafed a little miracle: to enjoy so much what was compelled by inner necessity.” I couldn’t have put it better. Bill worked fearfully hard and was deadly serious about what he believed, but he extracted self-evident enjoyment from everything he did, and you couldn’t be in his presence for more than a minute or two without responding to his joie de vivre. If I’d been in charge of the music today, I would have made a point of picking something a good deal more festive–Bach’s Fugue à la gigue, say, or one of the harpsichord sonatas in which Scarlatti turns the instrument Bill loved best into a giant guitar.

Christopher Buckley, Bill’s son, followed Henry Kissinger, and gave just the sort of eulogy I’d expected from him, funny and light-fingered, putting much-needed smiles on our faces. Only at the end did he sound a darker note, quoting the lines from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Requiem” that he chose as the epitaph for a man who loved sailing as much as he loved Bach: Here he lies where he long’d to be;/Home is the sailor, home from the sea,/And the hunter home from the hill. Then we all sang “I Vow to Thee, My Country,” pushed our way past the waiting photographers, and returned to the gray, misty day.

I passed up a lunch invitation and went home by myself, preferring to be alone with my thoughts. I was thinking of an evening in the fall of 1985, not long after I moved to New York from the Midwest. I’d been writing for National Review, Bill’s magazine, since 1981, but I’d never met my first great patron face to face, so he invited me to an editorial dinner at his Park Avenue apartment. Back then I was working for Harper’s, whose offices were in Greenwich Village, and the thought of meeting Bill for the first time was so exciting that I walked all the way from Astor Place up to 73 E. 73rd Street (where Bill invariably entertained at 7:30).

It was, of course, a symbolic gesture: I was taking possession of the streets of the city to which I had moved and in which I hoped someday to make a name for myself. At the end of my journey I knocked on the door of Bill’s maisonette, and a few moments later he clasped my hand and said, “Hey, buddy!” It was, I would learn, his standard greeting, always uttered with a warmth that remained disarming no matter how many times you heard it.

Ever since then I have associated Bill Buckley with New York, whose doors he flung wide to me, just as he opened the pages of the magazine he edited. Now New York is my home–but Bill is gone, buried in Connecticut, home at last from the sea. Somehow you never imagine outliving the people who show you through the doors that lead to the rest of your life.

cross-posted at About Last Night

Moss Hart, who grew up poor and spent a not-inconsiderable portion of his young life riding the subway from deepest Brooklyn to Times Square, swore that if he ever struck it rich, he’d take cabs everywhere, even if his destination was only a block or two away. I’ve never been poor and have yet to strike it rich, but I rode the subway often enough in my first years as a New Yorker to be glad that I can now afford to take cabs. Be that as it may, a true New Yorker who wants to get somewhere at ten on a rainy morning takes the subway, and since today’s Mass for the repose of the soul of William F. Buckley, Jr., who died five weeks ago, was scheduled to start at ten o’clock sharp at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I put on my black outfit and raincoat, descended into the bowels of Manhattan, and made my bumpy way to Rockefeller Center in the midst of a rush-hour crowd.

It’s been quite a while since I walked through Rockefeller Center, even longer since I’ve been inside St. Patrick’s, and a very long time indeed since I last attended a memorial service for a public figure. For all these reasons, I have no standard against which to measure Bill’s funeral obsequies. All I can tell you was that today’s service seemed as splendid as it could possibly have been. The cathedral was full of mourners, the choir loft full of singers, and the music was mostly appropriate to the occasion. Bill was a serious amateur musician who loved Bach above all things–he actually performed the F Minor Harpsichord Concerto in public on more than one occasion–so the organist played “Sheep May Safely Graze” and the slow movement of the Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C Major. No less suitable were the sung portions of the Mass, drawn from Victoria’s sweetly austere Missa “O magnum mysterium,” and the closing hymn, the noble tune from Gustav Holst’s The Planets to which the following words were later set: I vow to thee, my country–all earthly things above–/Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love.

The only thing that made my inner critic smile wryly was the performance during communion of the Adagio in G Minor long attributed to Albinoni but in fact woven out of whole cloth by one Remo Giazotto. It is a preposterously operatic piece of spurious yard goods, and to hear it played on the organ with all stops pulled put me in mind of something Bill wrote after attending a Virgil Fox recital many years ago:

At one point during a prelude, I am tempted to rise solemnly, commandeer a shotgun, and advise Fox, preferably in imperious German, if only I could learn German in time to consummate the fantasy, that if he does not release the goddam vox humana, which is oohing-ahing-eeing the music where Bach clearly intended something closer to a bel canto, I shall simply have to blow his head off.

That was the Bill Buckley I knew, whip-smart and impishly outrageous, the same man that David Remnick had in mind when he described Bill as having “the eyes of a child who has just displayed a horrid use for the microwave oven and the family cat.”

I wish I could say I knew him well, but I didn’t. I dined at his table a number of times but was only alone with him once, when I interviewed him about Whittaker Chambers for an anthology of Chambers’ journalism that I edited in 1989. On that occasion Bill assured me that although they had been close, Chambers never had “any direct historical or intellectual influence” on him. The reason he gave is striking:

I never embraced, in part because subjectively it’s contra naturam to me, that utter, total, objective, strategic pessimism of his. Among other things, I think it’s wrong theologically to assume that the world is doomed before God decides to doom it. So I never drank too deeply of his Weltschmerz.

Indeed he did not: Bill was the least weltschmerzy person imaginable. Henry Kissinger, who eulogized him this morning, alluded to that side of Bill’s personality when he remarked that Bill “was vouchsafed a little miracle: to enjoy so much what was compelled by inner necessity.” I couldn’t have put it better. Bill worked fearfully hard and was deadly serious about what he believed, but he extracted self-evident enjoyment from everything he did, and you couldn’t be in his presence for more than a minute or two without responding to his joie de vivre. If I’d been in charge of the music today, I would have made a point of picking something a good deal more festive–Bach’s Fugue à la gigue, say, or one of the harpsichord sonatas in which Scarlatti turns the instrument Bill loved best into a giant guitar.

Christopher Buckley, Bill’s son, followed Henry Kissinger, and gave just the sort of eulogy I’d expected from him, funny and light-fingered, putting much-needed smiles on our faces. Only at the end did he sound a darker note, quoting the lines from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Requiem” that he chose as the epitaph for a man who loved sailing as much as he loved Bach: Here he lies where he long’d to be;/Home is the sailor, home from the sea,/And the hunter home from the hill. Then we all sang “I Vow to Thee, My Country,” pushed our way past the waiting photographers, and returned to the gray, misty day.

I passed up a lunch invitation and went home by myself, preferring to be alone with my thoughts. I was thinking of an evening in the fall of 1985, not long after I moved to New York from the Midwest. I’d been writing for National Review, Bill’s magazine, since 1981, but I’d never met my first great patron face to face, so he invited me to an editorial dinner at his Park Avenue apartment. Back then I was working for Harper’s, whose offices were in Greenwich Village, and the thought of meeting Bill for the first time was so exciting that I walked all the way from Astor Place up to 73 E. 73rd Street (where Bill invariably entertained at 7:30).

It was, of course, a symbolic gesture: I was taking possession of the streets of the city to which I had moved and in which I hoped someday to make a name for myself. At the end of my journey I knocked on the door of Bill’s maisonette, and a few moments later he clasped my hand and said, “Hey, buddy!” It was, I would learn, his standard greeting, always uttered with a warmth that remained disarming no matter how many times you heard it.

Ever since then I have associated Bill Buckley with New York, whose doors he flung wide to me, just as he opened the pages of the magazine he edited. Now New York is my home–but Bill is gone, buried in Connecticut, home at last from the sea. Somehow you never imagine outliving the people who show you through the doors that lead to the rest of your life.

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Bill Clinton: EMT

There’s no reason to think the following is a fabrication. But two days ago Bill Clinton painted a pretty dramatic picture of his involvement in the aftermath of the 1968 D.C. riots brought on by Martin Luther King’s Assassination:

Then, I was in Washington at Georgetown, the city exploded into flames and I turned my car into an ambulance and I took supplies to the African Americans that were burned out of their homes and were hiding in church basements basically trying to stay alive, and surrounded by national guardsmen protecting them.

Clinton gave that account in Indianapolis on Wednesday. In reporting on Bill’s appearance in North Carolina today, the Winston-Salem Journal describes him recalling a less colorful narrative of his heroics after King was shot:

“He later joined with Red Cross volunteers to take supplies to inner-city Washington,” the paper simply reports.

Might someone have suggested Bill tone the tale down a bit after Snipergate?

There’s no reason to think the following is a fabrication. But two days ago Bill Clinton painted a pretty dramatic picture of his involvement in the aftermath of the 1968 D.C. riots brought on by Martin Luther King’s Assassination:

Then, I was in Washington at Georgetown, the city exploded into flames and I turned my car into an ambulance and I took supplies to the African Americans that were burned out of their homes and were hiding in church basements basically trying to stay alive, and surrounded by national guardsmen protecting them.

Clinton gave that account in Indianapolis on Wednesday. In reporting on Bill’s appearance in North Carolina today, the Winston-Salem Journal describes him recalling a less colorful narrative of his heroics after King was shot:

“He later joined with Red Cross volunteers to take supplies to inner-city Washington,” the paper simply reports.

Might someone have suggested Bill tone the tale down a bit after Snipergate?

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There Are Lies and Then There Are Lies

Virginia Postrel suggests that Barack Obama’s campaign has come down to this: “Provide a noble lie that tricks us into self-improvement.” Lovely. So Democrats get to choose between Hillary Clinton, the teller of ignoble lies, and Obama, the spinner of noble ones?

At bottom, though, his lies are no more noble than hers. Bonding with Rev. Wright to solidify your credentials in the black community while playing on whites’ hopes for a post-racial society is not noble, it is deceitful. Remaining sufficiently slippery to let everyone think what they want about your policies (whether on trade or Iraq) is not noble, it is political cowardice. And a recipe for disaster: as President, you have to be at all times clear and forthright with allies and opponents domestic and foreign. But what about this notion that we will all be improved by choosing him as President? How and why will this happen, exactly? What is the substance of this “improvement”?

No one has been able to answer that question satisfactorily yet. So it’s not surprising that Obama’s poll numbers are down, but that Clinton has not benefited by his slippage. It is a tough choice. If this is a contest to find the most “authentic” candidate, I can see how Democratic voters are stumped.

Virginia Postrel suggests that Barack Obama’s campaign has come down to this: “Provide a noble lie that tricks us into self-improvement.” Lovely. So Democrats get to choose between Hillary Clinton, the teller of ignoble lies, and Obama, the spinner of noble ones?

At bottom, though, his lies are no more noble than hers. Bonding with Rev. Wright to solidify your credentials in the black community while playing on whites’ hopes for a post-racial society is not noble, it is deceitful. Remaining sufficiently slippery to let everyone think what they want about your policies (whether on trade or Iraq) is not noble, it is political cowardice. And a recipe for disaster: as President, you have to be at all times clear and forthright with allies and opponents domestic and foreign. But what about this notion that we will all be improved by choosing him as President? How and why will this happen, exactly? What is the substance of this “improvement”?

No one has been able to answer that question satisfactorily yet. So it’s not surprising that Obama’s poll numbers are down, but that Clinton has not benefited by his slippage. It is a tough choice. If this is a contest to find the most “authentic” candidate, I can see how Democratic voters are stumped.

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Silence on Zimbabwe

For the past several days, the trouble in Zimbabwe has been a major international news story. This is not usually the case. Zimbabwe, like most of Africa, is often relegated to page A17–that is, if it even makes it into the paper. Yet when a democratic election turns sour, and the dictator in charge succeeds in stealing it, and the threat of violence hangs in the air, people around the world start to notice. The post-election situation in Zimbabwe has remained on the homepage of The New York Times since Sunday, though that paper’s tenacious coverage of the election aftermath will certainly be affected now that its southern Africa correspondent was arrested late Thursday evening with a group of foreign journalists. Every major news outlet–even cable news!–has devoted some time to Zimbabwe these past few days.

Everyone except, that is, the publications and blogs of the American Left. Browse through the left-wing blogs and the major left-wing magazines like The Nation or The American Prospect, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find much, if anything, on the crisis in Zimbabwe. I think there are two reasons for this. One is that many on the American Left were early supporters of Mugabe and did not really come around to condemning him until it became fashionable to do so, i.e. around 2000, when he began stealing privately-owned farms and the international media took a renewed interest in the dictator. A second reason is that America in general, and George W. Bush in particular, cannot be blamed for what’s going on in Zimbabwe. And so the very real theft of a democratic election isn’t worth writing about. Indeed, Mugabe’s rhetoric about the imperialist aggression of Tony Blair and George W. Bush must be appealing to certain segments of the left blogosphere. The rest, I guess, is silence.

For the past several days, the trouble in Zimbabwe has been a major international news story. This is not usually the case. Zimbabwe, like most of Africa, is often relegated to page A17–that is, if it even makes it into the paper. Yet when a democratic election turns sour, and the dictator in charge succeeds in stealing it, and the threat of violence hangs in the air, people around the world start to notice. The post-election situation in Zimbabwe has remained on the homepage of The New York Times since Sunday, though that paper’s tenacious coverage of the election aftermath will certainly be affected now that its southern Africa correspondent was arrested late Thursday evening with a group of foreign journalists. Every major news outlet–even cable news!–has devoted some time to Zimbabwe these past few days.

Everyone except, that is, the publications and blogs of the American Left. Browse through the left-wing blogs and the major left-wing magazines like The Nation or The American Prospect, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find much, if anything, on the crisis in Zimbabwe. I think there are two reasons for this. One is that many on the American Left were early supporters of Mugabe and did not really come around to condemning him until it became fashionable to do so, i.e. around 2000, when he began stealing privately-owned farms and the international media took a renewed interest in the dictator. A second reason is that America in general, and George W. Bush in particular, cannot be blamed for what’s going on in Zimbabwe. And so the very real theft of a democratic election isn’t worth writing about. Indeed, Mugabe’s rhetoric about the imperialist aggression of Tony Blair and George W. Bush must be appealing to certain segments of the left blogosphere. The rest, I guess, is silence.

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The Bill Buckley Memorial

I’m just back from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where a memorial mass was held for “the repose of the soul” of William F. Buckley Jr., who died last month at the age of 82. The grave majesty of the proceedings was a reminder that, as Fr. George Rutler said in his homily, Bill was, first and last, a man of deep and abiding faith, and whose faith was not his lodestar but his core and root. This was a quality often missed in the blizzard of tributes to him immediately following his passing. In the first of two eulogies, Henry Kissinger dwelled at beautifully eloquent length on the mysterious quality of Bill’s perpetual good cheer, which was twinned (especially in his final years) by a certain remoteness and remove — in all of which Kissinger, not known for a preoccupation with the divine, brilliantly discerned a state of grace. Finally, Christopher Buckley offered parting words in a portrait so supple that one hopes he will offer the portrait at full length in a memoir of what was clearly a complex and singular relationship. The words “we shall not see his like again” are often spoken in tribute to the dead, primarily to honor people whose like we will actually see again — people whose lives follow the same arc as most others. Those words were not spoken today, perhaps because they are so obvious that they are unnecessary.

I’m just back from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where a memorial mass was held for “the repose of the soul” of William F. Buckley Jr., who died last month at the age of 82. The grave majesty of the proceedings was a reminder that, as Fr. George Rutler said in his homily, Bill was, first and last, a man of deep and abiding faith, and whose faith was not his lodestar but his core and root. This was a quality often missed in the blizzard of tributes to him immediately following his passing. In the first of two eulogies, Henry Kissinger dwelled at beautifully eloquent length on the mysterious quality of Bill’s perpetual good cheer, which was twinned (especially in his final years) by a certain remoteness and remove — in all of which Kissinger, not known for a preoccupation with the divine, brilliantly discerned a state of grace. Finally, Christopher Buckley offered parting words in a portrait so supple that one hopes he will offer the portrait at full length in a memoir of what was clearly a complex and singular relationship. The words “we shall not see his like again” are often spoken in tribute to the dead, primarily to honor people whose like we will actually see again — people whose lives follow the same arc as most others. Those words were not spoken today, perhaps because they are so obvious that they are unnecessary.

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The Politics of Hardship

Hillary Clinton, in what may be a final desperate bid to reel in an endorsement from John Edwards, makes a pitch for a “Poverty Czar.”Because the one thing we know is that adding another bureaucratic structure will end poverty. Forget all that stuff about behavioral attitudes and life choices having more to do with eliminating poverty than anything else–what we need is another cabinet official.

Meanwhile, the awful jobs numbers confirm that this will be an uphill fight for John McCain. Incumbent parties tend to lose (1980 and 1992 spring to mind) when the economy is skidding downhill. So it’s not surprising that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama put out statements linking McCain to President Bush.

McCain has learned now to express concern for those who are “hurting” (a small but needed step in anticipating his opponent’s sure-to-come effort to paint the cartoon-like picture of an uncaring Republican). He also takes it to the Democrats for “anti-growth” policies. Frankly, he will need to be a lot more graphic than that. I’m not sure the average voter would have a clue what that means. This is clearer: “They are going to raise your taxes and choke off trade which is a recipe for making the depression into a Great Depression.”

Hillary Clinton, in what may be a final desperate bid to reel in an endorsement from John Edwards, makes a pitch for a “Poverty Czar.”Because the one thing we know is that adding another bureaucratic structure will end poverty. Forget all that stuff about behavioral attitudes and life choices having more to do with eliminating poverty than anything else–what we need is another cabinet official.

Meanwhile, the awful jobs numbers confirm that this will be an uphill fight for John McCain. Incumbent parties tend to lose (1980 and 1992 spring to mind) when the economy is skidding downhill. So it’s not surprising that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama put out statements linking McCain to President Bush.

McCain has learned now to express concern for those who are “hurting” (a small but needed step in anticipating his opponent’s sure-to-come effort to paint the cartoon-like picture of an uncaring Republican). He also takes it to the Democrats for “anti-growth” policies. Frankly, he will need to be a lot more graphic than that. I’m not sure the average voter would have a clue what that means. This is clearer: “They are going to raise your taxes and choke off trade which is a recipe for making the depression into a Great Depression.”

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Democrats Dismiss This NIE

When a summary of the N.I.E. on Iran’s nuclear weapons program was released in October 2007, Democrats wasted no time in citing its “findings” that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program. Prominent party members dashed in front of cameras and microphones to bolster their claims that Tehran was ripe for dialogue and the Bush administration was wrong to think otherwise:

John Edwards: “The new NIE finds that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that Iran can be dissuaded from pursuing a nuclear weapon through diplomacy.”

Harry Reid: “The Administration should begin this process by finally undertaking a diplomatic surge necessary to effectively address the challenges posed by Iran.”

Nancy Pelosi: “[T]he new Iran NIE suggests there is time for a new policy toward Iran that deters it from restarting its nuclear program while also improving relations overall.”

Chris Dodd: “Taken together these findings make a strong case for pursuing robust diplomacy to resolve our differences with Iran . . .”

And the Clinton campaign’s national security director said

The assessment of the NIE vindicates the policy Senator Clinton will pursue as President: vigorous American-led diplomacy, close international cooperation, and effective economic pressure, with the prospect of carefully calibrated incentives if Iran addresses our concerns. Neither saber rattling nor unconditional meetings with Ahmadinejad will stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Put aside the fact that the NIE buried the most worrisome indication of Iran’s continued nuclear weaponization in a footnote. And forget that, even if Iran had halted its program, one could most readily attribute this to the display of American military might in Iraq. That’s old news. The question today is: What are Democrats saying about the new classified NIE that paints an encouraging picture of progress in Iraq?

“It’s much less insightful than other, recent products and focuses narrowly on counterterrorism efforts in Iraq and the progress of the Iraqi leadership,” said Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat and chairwoman of the Homeland Security intelligence subcommittee.

There’s also suspicion about the supposedly funny timing of the NIE’s release, as General David Petraeus is scheduled to testify about Iraq before Congress next week.

“One might ask whether the timing of the release and the apparent departure from usual procedures means this is more of a political document than an intelligence document,” said Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat and member of the House Intelligence Committee. The Wall Street Journal adds, “He declined to say how the procedures were unusual.”

It’s the wrong NIE at the wrong time, as John Kerry might put it. That is, if someone could find him (or Hillary or Obama) to comment about what seems like a monumentally important document.

When a summary of the N.I.E. on Iran’s nuclear weapons program was released in October 2007, Democrats wasted no time in citing its “findings” that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program. Prominent party members dashed in front of cameras and microphones to bolster their claims that Tehran was ripe for dialogue and the Bush administration was wrong to think otherwise:

John Edwards: “The new NIE finds that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that Iran can be dissuaded from pursuing a nuclear weapon through diplomacy.”

Harry Reid: “The Administration should begin this process by finally undertaking a diplomatic surge necessary to effectively address the challenges posed by Iran.”

Nancy Pelosi: “[T]he new Iran NIE suggests there is time for a new policy toward Iran that deters it from restarting its nuclear program while also improving relations overall.”

Chris Dodd: “Taken together these findings make a strong case for pursuing robust diplomacy to resolve our differences with Iran . . .”

And the Clinton campaign’s national security director said

The assessment of the NIE vindicates the policy Senator Clinton will pursue as President: vigorous American-led diplomacy, close international cooperation, and effective economic pressure, with the prospect of carefully calibrated incentives if Iran addresses our concerns. Neither saber rattling nor unconditional meetings with Ahmadinejad will stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Put aside the fact that the NIE buried the most worrisome indication of Iran’s continued nuclear weaponization in a footnote. And forget that, even if Iran had halted its program, one could most readily attribute this to the display of American military might in Iraq. That’s old news. The question today is: What are Democrats saying about the new classified NIE that paints an encouraging picture of progress in Iraq?

“It’s much less insightful than other, recent products and focuses narrowly on counterterrorism efforts in Iraq and the progress of the Iraqi leadership,” said Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat and chairwoman of the Homeland Security intelligence subcommittee.

There’s also suspicion about the supposedly funny timing of the NIE’s release, as General David Petraeus is scheduled to testify about Iraq before Congress next week.

“One might ask whether the timing of the release and the apparent departure from usual procedures means this is more of a political document than an intelligence document,” said Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat and member of the House Intelligence Committee. The Wall Street Journal adds, “He declined to say how the procedures were unusual.”

It’s the wrong NIE at the wrong time, as John Kerry might put it. That is, if someone could find him (or Hillary or Obama) to comment about what seems like a monumentally important document.

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Good(ish) News from Iran

Gianfranco Fini, the leader of the Italian conservative party Alleanza Nazionale and an ally of Silvio Berlusconi in the upcoming April 13 Italian national elections, has offered a glimpse into Italy’s foreign policy if he and Mr Berlusconi win a majority.

According to a recent report in the Financial Times, Fini called Iran the “danger of today,” and said that

the EU should take a “very tough” stand and that Italy’s position as an important European trade partner gave it extra leverage in imposing sanctions against Tehran’s nuclear programme.

This is very good news, given that Italy is Iran’s second-largest commercial partner in Europe and that its business interests mainly contribute to strategic sectors of Iran’s economy–steel, energy, and civil engineering. But Fini’s welcome remarks should come with a caveat: turning these good intentions into good practice is a different story, even if Fini and his political allies win next week. Italy is currently the principal obstacle in efforts to expand EU sanctions to target Iran’s Bank Melli, its principal commercial bank

Melli is the main conduit for financial transactions for Italian companies operating in Iran. But it’s is also the main conduit of financing for Hezbollah in Lebanon and was instrumental in funding the terror attack against the AMIA Jewish center in Argentina in 1994. Italy’s current position is that Bank Melli–evidence of misdeeds notwithstanding–cannot be touched: too many commercial interests are at stake. Will Fini and his putative prime minister Berlusconi change course?

Gianfranco Fini, the leader of the Italian conservative party Alleanza Nazionale and an ally of Silvio Berlusconi in the upcoming April 13 Italian national elections, has offered a glimpse into Italy’s foreign policy if he and Mr Berlusconi win a majority.

According to a recent report in the Financial Times, Fini called Iran the “danger of today,” and said that

the EU should take a “very tough” stand and that Italy’s position as an important European trade partner gave it extra leverage in imposing sanctions against Tehran’s nuclear programme.

This is very good news, given that Italy is Iran’s second-largest commercial partner in Europe and that its business interests mainly contribute to strategic sectors of Iran’s economy–steel, energy, and civil engineering. But Fini’s welcome remarks should come with a caveat: turning these good intentions into good practice is a different story, even if Fini and his political allies win next week. Italy is currently the principal obstacle in efforts to expand EU sanctions to target Iran’s Bank Melli, its principal commercial bank

Melli is the main conduit for financial transactions for Italian companies operating in Iran. But it’s is also the main conduit of financing for Hezbollah in Lebanon and was instrumental in funding the terror attack against the AMIA Jewish center in Argentina in 1994. Italy’s current position is that Bank Melli–evidence of misdeeds notwithstanding–cannot be touched: too many commercial interests are at stake. Will Fini and his putative prime minister Berlusconi change course?

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The Other Sign It’s Silly Season

As John pointed out, it is not a very productive exercise to speculate about John McCain’s VP picks this far in advance. But journalists run out of things to write about and it’s an easy topic. The other easy one: finding aggrieved anti-McCain conservatives. Or ones who aren’t all that aggrieved, but who won’t say they are perfectly satisfied with McCain.

Stories like this only require a phone call to James Dobson, who is always good for some anti-McCain quotes (though he apparently is inching closer to McCain, according to another outlet), and to others, whose encouraging comments about McCain’s outreach to conservatives (“the process has begun”) are construed as somehow indicating disapproval. The relevance and king-making importance of Dobson’s opinion is never questioned, of course. Yet hasn’t the candidate he despises won the nomination?

The fact that a large number of Democrats indicate in polls they will defect to McCain if their choice doesn’t get the nomination and that McCain enjoys greater support among his party’s voters than do either of his opponents doesn’t quite jibe with the storyline. Nevermind. It would be a non-story to report that Republicans are unifying behind McCain just as they did with other nominees in prior elections. It’s newsier to find conservatives who would like McCain to do “more” for them–no matter how much this skews the picture.

As John pointed out, it is not a very productive exercise to speculate about John McCain’s VP picks this far in advance. But journalists run out of things to write about and it’s an easy topic. The other easy one: finding aggrieved anti-McCain conservatives. Or ones who aren’t all that aggrieved, but who won’t say they are perfectly satisfied with McCain.

Stories like this only require a phone call to James Dobson, who is always good for some anti-McCain quotes (though he apparently is inching closer to McCain, according to another outlet), and to others, whose encouraging comments about McCain’s outreach to conservatives (“the process has begun”) are construed as somehow indicating disapproval. The relevance and king-making importance of Dobson’s opinion is never questioned, of course. Yet hasn’t the candidate he despises won the nomination?

The fact that a large number of Democrats indicate in polls they will defect to McCain if their choice doesn’t get the nomination and that McCain enjoys greater support among his party’s voters than do either of his opponents doesn’t quite jibe with the storyline. Nevermind. It would be a non-story to report that Republicans are unifying behind McCain just as they did with other nominees in prior elections. It’s newsier to find conservatives who would like McCain to do “more” for them–no matter how much this skews the picture.

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The Gathering Storm

If Iran continues with its nuclear-weapons program, and Israel takes the decision to strike before the ayatollahs acquire an actual bomb, what would be the likely timing of an Israeli action?

We have asked that question here before, and noted that Iran was acquiring long-range, highly advanced surface-to-air missiles, the Russian SA-20, that would greatly complicate an aerial assault. Since the missiles will start becoming operational this fall, Israel would be under pressure to act before or around that time.

An additional factor in the Israeli calculation might well be the U.S. elections. The Israelis would have good reason to believe that the U.S. under George W. Bush would be more supportive of their action than either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, both of whom might have serious reservations about the use of force.

John McCain, who has said that the only thing worse than a U.S. strike on Iran would be an Iran in possession of nuclear weapons, would obviously be more sympathetic to Israel’s position. But the Israelis can hardly count on his victory in the presidential contest. Waiting until after the U.S. elections would seem to add risk to risk.

Which brings us to the news that Israel’s security cabinet yesterday authorized the distribution of gas masks to its entire population. The last such distribution came just before the U.S. attack on Iraq four years ago.

What does the decision mean?

If Iran continues with its nuclear-weapons program, and Israel takes the decision to strike before the ayatollahs acquire an actual bomb, what would be the likely timing of an Israeli action?

We have asked that question here before, and noted that Iran was acquiring long-range, highly advanced surface-to-air missiles, the Russian SA-20, that would greatly complicate an aerial assault. Since the missiles will start becoming operational this fall, Israel would be under pressure to act before or around that time.

An additional factor in the Israeli calculation might well be the U.S. elections. The Israelis would have good reason to believe that the U.S. under George W. Bush would be more supportive of their action than either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, both of whom might have serious reservations about the use of force.

John McCain, who has said that the only thing worse than a U.S. strike on Iran would be an Iran in possession of nuclear weapons, would obviously be more sympathetic to Israel’s position. But the Israelis can hardly count on his victory in the presidential contest. Waiting until after the U.S. elections would seem to add risk to risk.

Which brings us to the news that Israel’s security cabinet yesterday authorized the distribution of gas masks to its entire population. The last such distribution came just before the U.S. attack on Iraq four years ago.

What does the decision mean?

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Why We Shouldn’t Boycott the 2008 Games

Yes, there is something deeply disturbing about the summer Olympics being hosted in Beijing, capital of a country whose human rights record is–to say the least–deeply problematic. Because of the immense symbolism surrounding the Olympics, athletes and governments have been called upon to express their opposition, through boycott or other symbolic displays of protest.

In today’s Ynet, Yael Arad–who earned Israel its first-ever olympic medal when she took the silver in judo in 1992 and dedicated her medal to the memory of the Israeli athletes murdered in the 1972 Munich olympics–takes a stand against Olympic boycotts. But not out of any compassion for China:

Human rights is a very important issue, but why is everyone remembering it now? Why didn’t they cry out eight years ago, when the International Olympic Committee decided that the Olympic Games would be held in China? Then it was unchallenged, now they are trying to turn the athletes into hostages.

Heads of states can express their protest, and their protest is important. But athletes cannot be demanded to boycott the Olympic Games. Athletes, although they represent their countries, are first and foremost people with a dream and a life’s work in which they have invested their time and energy from an early age. Taking part in the Olympic Games is the peak of realization as far as they are concerned.

It’s improper to ask them to give up everything and rob them of their dream, while the human rights issue in China has been a known fact for years. None of us has stopped purchasing products made in China in protest in our private lives, or stopped doing business in China in the name of human rights.

When Jimmy Carter decided that the US would boycott the 1980 summer games in Moscow, it was the last ineffectual step in a long line of inconsequential acts against a vast empire with a human rights record as bad as China’s. All it did was to call into question the merit of the medals awarded there, and at the Los Angeles olympics four years later, which Moscow boycotted in return.

But when the U.S. participated in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, it was an opportunity to showcase the benefits of freedom, to embarrass the racist reich with the prowess of Jesse Owens. Perhaps this did little to stop the Nazi juggernaut. But at least it engaged in symbolic debate on the playing field, without snuffing out young athletes’ dreams.

 

Yes, there is something deeply disturbing about the summer Olympics being hosted in Beijing, capital of a country whose human rights record is–to say the least–deeply problematic. Because of the immense symbolism surrounding the Olympics, athletes and governments have been called upon to express their opposition, through boycott or other symbolic displays of protest.

In today’s Ynet, Yael Arad–who earned Israel its first-ever olympic medal when she took the silver in judo in 1992 and dedicated her medal to the memory of the Israeli athletes murdered in the 1972 Munich olympics–takes a stand against Olympic boycotts. But not out of any compassion for China:

Human rights is a very important issue, but why is everyone remembering it now? Why didn’t they cry out eight years ago, when the International Olympic Committee decided that the Olympic Games would be held in China? Then it was unchallenged, now they are trying to turn the athletes into hostages.

Heads of states can express their protest, and their protest is important. But athletes cannot be demanded to boycott the Olympic Games. Athletes, although they represent their countries, are first and foremost people with a dream and a life’s work in which they have invested their time and energy from an early age. Taking part in the Olympic Games is the peak of realization as far as they are concerned.

It’s improper to ask them to give up everything and rob them of their dream, while the human rights issue in China has been a known fact for years. None of us has stopped purchasing products made in China in protest in our private lives, or stopped doing business in China in the name of human rights.

When Jimmy Carter decided that the US would boycott the 1980 summer games in Moscow, it was the last ineffectual step in a long line of inconsequential acts against a vast empire with a human rights record as bad as China’s. All it did was to call into question the merit of the medals awarded there, and at the Los Angeles olympics four years later, which Moscow boycotted in return.

But when the U.S. participated in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, it was an opportunity to showcase the benefits of freedom, to embarrass the racist reich with the prowess of Jesse Owens. Perhaps this did little to stop the Nazi juggernaut. But at least it engaged in symbolic debate on the playing field, without snuffing out young athletes’ dreams.

 

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Obama’s Quandary

Margaret Carlson contends that Barack Obama has made two big errors in his campaign. One was failing to recognize the impact of Rev. Wright’s incendiary language The other was his failure at bowling. She makes a good case that, in working-class, primarily white suburbs, Obama “is having a hard time passing himself off as ordinary folk” and his 37 (a really abysmal score) just made it worse.

One might argue, as many of us here have, that his association with Wright was more than a failure to anticipate public reaction: it was a moral and intellectual failing. (Juan Williams, as he has before, explains this in today’s Wall Street Journal with searing clarity.) Yet she has a point: does Obama lack a “feel” for ordinary voters’ sensibilities?

Well, of course. His life experience is utterly unlike the average voter’s. On his journey from Hawaii to Indonesia to Hawaii to Harvard, he probably ran into a lot of critiques of American culture and not very much bowling. He hasn’t, it looks like, developed an internal compass that warns him when something may be offensive or off-putting to ordinary Americans.

So while Clinton has morphed from a former First Lady and Yale-educated feminist lawyer to a champion of working class voters (“her ‘Rocky’ doggedness has grabbed the sympathy of people so unlike her yet drawn by what looks like a hard-luck story”), Obama is still grasping for a connection to the people whose votes will be critical in November.

That is the downside of continually criticizing your country and fellow countrymen. It makes it that much harder to turn around and tell them you’re one of them.

Margaret Carlson contends that Barack Obama has made two big errors in his campaign. One was failing to recognize the impact of Rev. Wright’s incendiary language The other was his failure at bowling. She makes a good case that, in working-class, primarily white suburbs, Obama “is having a hard time passing himself off as ordinary folk” and his 37 (a really abysmal score) just made it worse.

One might argue, as many of us here have, that his association with Wright was more than a failure to anticipate public reaction: it was a moral and intellectual failing. (Juan Williams, as he has before, explains this in today’s Wall Street Journal with searing clarity.) Yet she has a point: does Obama lack a “feel” for ordinary voters’ sensibilities?

Well, of course. His life experience is utterly unlike the average voter’s. On his journey from Hawaii to Indonesia to Hawaii to Harvard, he probably ran into a lot of critiques of American culture and not very much bowling. He hasn’t, it looks like, developed an internal compass that warns him when something may be offensive or off-putting to ordinary Americans.

So while Clinton has morphed from a former First Lady and Yale-educated feminist lawyer to a champion of working class voters (“her ‘Rocky’ doggedness has grabbed the sympathy of people so unlike her yet drawn by what looks like a hard-luck story”), Obama is still grasping for a connection to the people whose votes will be critical in November.

That is the downside of continually criticizing your country and fellow countrymen. It makes it that much harder to turn around and tell them you’re one of them.

Read Less




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