Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 24, 2008

Hillary’s RFK Remark

When politicians err, really err, it’s often because they recite the stage directions — the part of the script that directs an actor but is supposed to be unknown to the audience. The Elder George Bush once famously read his stage directions off a card in New Hampshire in 1991. “Message: I care,” he said, forgetting for the moment that he was supposed to do something to deliver the message, not speak his handlers’ words aloud.

Hillary Clinton yesterday made the mistake that will almost surely enter her name in the annals of campaign infamy. Asked why she was staying in the race, she essentially pointed out that, hey, you never know what’s going to happen, so why not stick around? People say June is so late, but RFK was assassinated in June 1968, so….uh oh….

What came out of her mouth was something discussed in late-night sessions at her campaign headquarters, or in tete-a-tetes with Bill — even if the race appears to be sewn up, how can you know something really bad isn’t going to happen to Obama? His crony Rezko could get convicted and agree to sell him out for a lesser sentence. Video could surface of Obama ranting like Jeremiah Wright. Bob Torricelli got indicted. Spitzer got caught with a hooker. McGreevey was outed by a gay lover. Or something really bad could happen. An assassination or something.

When one speaks as frequently as Hillary Clinton, speeches all day, local interviews all night, it would almost be impossible for gaffes not to emerge from her lips. (Obama, at a shul on Thursday, referred to himself as “one who is blessed,” which was unfortunate too, even though he was only translating his first name; another example of this, though far more anodyne, obviously.) But in her position, there is no margin for error, and certainly not in even making a sideways reference to an assassination when there is a black man running for president who might be the target of some psychotic’s murderous fascination.

The reaction is overwrought, and the whole business has been skilfully manipulated by the Obama campaign to deliver a TKO of its already wounded rival. But that’s politics. No one made her open a mouth.

When politicians err, really err, it’s often because they recite the stage directions — the part of the script that directs an actor but is supposed to be unknown to the audience. The Elder George Bush once famously read his stage directions off a card in New Hampshire in 1991. “Message: I care,” he said, forgetting for the moment that he was supposed to do something to deliver the message, not speak his handlers’ words aloud.

Hillary Clinton yesterday made the mistake that will almost surely enter her name in the annals of campaign infamy. Asked why she was staying in the race, she essentially pointed out that, hey, you never know what’s going to happen, so why not stick around? People say June is so late, but RFK was assassinated in June 1968, so….uh oh….

What came out of her mouth was something discussed in late-night sessions at her campaign headquarters, or in tete-a-tetes with Bill — even if the race appears to be sewn up, how can you know something really bad isn’t going to happen to Obama? His crony Rezko could get convicted and agree to sell him out for a lesser sentence. Video could surface of Obama ranting like Jeremiah Wright. Bob Torricelli got indicted. Spitzer got caught with a hooker. McGreevey was outed by a gay lover. Or something really bad could happen. An assassination or something.

When one speaks as frequently as Hillary Clinton, speeches all day, local interviews all night, it would almost be impossible for gaffes not to emerge from her lips. (Obama, at a shul on Thursday, referred to himself as “one who is blessed,” which was unfortunate too, even though he was only translating his first name; another example of this, though far more anodyne, obviously.) But in her position, there is no margin for error, and certainly not in even making a sideways reference to an assassination when there is a black man running for president who might be the target of some psychotic’s murderous fascination.

The reaction is overwrought, and the whole business has been skilfully manipulated by the Obama campaign to deliver a TKO of its already wounded rival. But that’s politics. No one made her open a mouth.

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Bollinger Still Doesn’t Get It

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of attending my sister’s graduation from Columbia University (congrats, Rachel). As one might expect from a university of Columbia’s ilk, virtually every facet of commencement was rooted in well-established tradition. The procession opened with the ringing of the Class of 1893 Bell above St. Paul’s Chapel. The students donned Columbia blue caps and gowns (that’s powder blue for 1980s baseball fans). The Class Day speaker was a distinguished Columbia alumnus. And, as is Columbia tradition, the University president-rather than an outside figure-delivered the keynote commencement address.

Given the continuity with which Columbia imbues its graduation ceremonies, perhaps it is unsurprising that Columbia University President Lee Bollinger’s speech demonstrated that he still doesn’t get it. Indeed, nearly eight months after inviting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia, Bollinger still believes that the entire affair was a test of free speech. With the Ahmadinejad incident strongly implied, Bollinger thus used his address to warn of the “Censorship Impulse”:

It is said: A speaker will persuade people to think bad thoughts and do bad things; will offend some and make others angry and resentful; will ruin the minds of our youth; will lead others to think we approve the message or don’t care enough to oppose it; will bring instability, divert us from other more important tasks, and make it more difficult and perhaps even impossible for experts to handle the situation. We limit speakers in other ways, too, when claiming that others will be “chilled” and thereby diminish speech overall or that it will reflect badly on the rest of us.

Now, here’s the interesting point: All these arguments about the costs of openness are very often true – in the sense that they point to consequences that are real. Indeed, that’s why freedom of speech and academic freedom are continually under siege, even in a nation that says it places this value at its core, because “reasonable people” can always make freedom seem foolish and foolhardy.

Yet the “reasonable people” who protested Ahmadinejad’s invitation–myself among them–weren’t primarily concerned with what Ahmadinejad might say. After all, calls for Israel’s destruction are old news at the infamous Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC), while few expected that Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial would sway Columbia students. Rather, “reasonable people” argued that giving Ahmadinejad the pulpit at one of America’s top universities would legitimize his insidious views in the Middle East, and boost his credibility in Iran. “Reasonable people” further asked what standing Columbia University had to interfere in international politics in this deleterious manner.

One is therefore left to wonder whether the phrase “Censorship Impulse” implies that Bollinger’s recommended response to perceived censorship is to act impulsively. Indeed, Bollinger seems to believe that he strengthened the university’s role as a “forum”-”where everything under the sun can be debated and discussed,” as he said in his address-with his harsh introduction of Ahmadinejad. Of course, “reasonable people” recognize that Bollinger merely affirmed his own political immaturity with this sad spectacle. “Reasonable people” therefore resist his pompous attempts to teach us a lesson on censorship by framing the Ahmadinejad incident in the inaccurate trope of free speech.

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of attending my sister’s graduation from Columbia University (congrats, Rachel). As one might expect from a university of Columbia’s ilk, virtually every facet of commencement was rooted in well-established tradition. The procession opened with the ringing of the Class of 1893 Bell above St. Paul’s Chapel. The students donned Columbia blue caps and gowns (that’s powder blue for 1980s baseball fans). The Class Day speaker was a distinguished Columbia alumnus. And, as is Columbia tradition, the University president-rather than an outside figure-delivered the keynote commencement address.

Given the continuity with which Columbia imbues its graduation ceremonies, perhaps it is unsurprising that Columbia University President Lee Bollinger’s speech demonstrated that he still doesn’t get it. Indeed, nearly eight months after inviting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia, Bollinger still believes that the entire affair was a test of free speech. With the Ahmadinejad incident strongly implied, Bollinger thus used his address to warn of the “Censorship Impulse”:

It is said: A speaker will persuade people to think bad thoughts and do bad things; will offend some and make others angry and resentful; will ruin the minds of our youth; will lead others to think we approve the message or don’t care enough to oppose it; will bring instability, divert us from other more important tasks, and make it more difficult and perhaps even impossible for experts to handle the situation. We limit speakers in other ways, too, when claiming that others will be “chilled” and thereby diminish speech overall or that it will reflect badly on the rest of us.

Now, here’s the interesting point: All these arguments about the costs of openness are very often true – in the sense that they point to consequences that are real. Indeed, that’s why freedom of speech and academic freedom are continually under siege, even in a nation that says it places this value at its core, because “reasonable people” can always make freedom seem foolish and foolhardy.

Yet the “reasonable people” who protested Ahmadinejad’s invitation–myself among them–weren’t primarily concerned with what Ahmadinejad might say. After all, calls for Israel’s destruction are old news at the infamous Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC), while few expected that Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial would sway Columbia students. Rather, “reasonable people” argued that giving Ahmadinejad the pulpit at one of America’s top universities would legitimize his insidious views in the Middle East, and boost his credibility in Iran. “Reasonable people” further asked what standing Columbia University had to interfere in international politics in this deleterious manner.

One is therefore left to wonder whether the phrase “Censorship Impulse” implies that Bollinger’s recommended response to perceived censorship is to act impulsively. Indeed, Bollinger seems to believe that he strengthened the university’s role as a “forum”-”where everything under the sun can be debated and discussed,” as he said in his address-with his harsh introduction of Ahmadinejad. Of course, “reasonable people” recognize that Bollinger merely affirmed his own political immaturity with this sad spectacle. “Reasonable people” therefore resist his pompous attempts to teach us a lesson on censorship by framing the Ahmadinejad incident in the inaccurate trope of free speech.

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Obama’s Real McCain Smear

Talk about missing the point. Robert Pear of the New York Times writes:

Senator John McCain takes pride in his unwavering support for members of the armed forces. So when Senator Barack Obama criticized him on Thursday on the Senate floor, his response was scathing.

True enough, but while quoting McCain’s “scathing” response, Pear does not tell readers what prompted it. He writes that it was touched off by the following statement:

I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country. . . But I can’t understand why he would line up behind the president in opposition to this G.I. Bill.

That seems innocuous. Why would it prompt a “scathing” reply? Might this perhaps be evidence of the candidate’s supposedly volatile temperament? Readers of the Times might think so because Pear conveniently left off the rest of Obama’s statement. Here is what Obama actually said:

 I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country. . .but I can’t understand why he would line up behind the president in opposition to this GI bill. I can’t believe he believes it is too generous to our veterans. I could not disagree with him and the president more on this issue. There are many issues that lend themselves to partisan posturing but giving our veterans the chance to go to college should not be one of them.

The truly objectionable part of Obama’s statement is the last sentence, which the Times didn’t quote — the sentence in which he accuses McCain of “partisan posturing” at the expense of veterans. That’s a pretty rich accusation for someone who has never served in uniform to make against one of our greatest military heroes. No wonder McCain was steamed. He had every right to be. And given the Times’s distortion of this dispute, McCain should be even more aggrieved today. But then he wouldn’t expect anything different from the Newspaper of Record, which seems to have morphed into an unregistered lobbyist for the Obama campaign. (Full disclosure: I’m a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

Talk about missing the point. Robert Pear of the New York Times writes:

Senator John McCain takes pride in his unwavering support for members of the armed forces. So when Senator Barack Obama criticized him on Thursday on the Senate floor, his response was scathing.

True enough, but while quoting McCain’s “scathing” response, Pear does not tell readers what prompted it. He writes that it was touched off by the following statement:

I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country. . . But I can’t understand why he would line up behind the president in opposition to this G.I. Bill.

That seems innocuous. Why would it prompt a “scathing” reply? Might this perhaps be evidence of the candidate’s supposedly volatile temperament? Readers of the Times might think so because Pear conveniently left off the rest of Obama’s statement. Here is what Obama actually said:

 I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country. . .but I can’t understand why he would line up behind the president in opposition to this GI bill. I can’t believe he believes it is too generous to our veterans. I could not disagree with him and the president more on this issue. There are many issues that lend themselves to partisan posturing but giving our veterans the chance to go to college should not be one of them.

The truly objectionable part of Obama’s statement is the last sentence, which the Times didn’t quote — the sentence in which he accuses McCain of “partisan posturing” at the expense of veterans. That’s a pretty rich accusation for someone who has never served in uniform to make against one of our greatest military heroes. No wonder McCain was steamed. He had every right to be. And given the Times’s distortion of this dispute, McCain should be even more aggrieved today. But then he wouldn’t expect anything different from the Newspaper of Record, which seems to have morphed into an unregistered lobbyist for the Obama campaign. (Full disclosure: I’m a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

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Loose Nuclear Advisers

I have recently written here about Barack Obama’s nuclear adviser, Joseph Cirincione here on Connecting the Dots. Today I do so also in the Los Angeles Times under the title: The Failed Theology of Arms Control.

I have recently written here about Barack Obama’s nuclear adviser, Joseph Cirincione here on Connecting the Dots. Today I do so also in the Los Angeles Times under the title: The Failed Theology of Arms Control.

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