Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 13, 2008

Jindal v. Palin

Greta van Susteren interviewed Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal yesterday–here’s the link. If you compare Jindal’s interview with Governor Sarah Palin, it’s quite a contrast, particularly when it comes to command of the issues and the ability to articulate their case and the conservative cause. Governor Jindal comes across, I think, very well, which doesn’t surprise those of us who were colleagues of his.

Sarah Palin is another matter. While I think she was treated unfairly — and at times viciously — by some during the campaign, and the post-election trashing of her by unnamed McCain aides was ugly and stupid, one of the first tasks of the GOP is to become what Daniel Patrick Moynihan labeled it in 1980: the party of ideas.

Having watched Governor Palin interviewed several times now, including several times since the election, I think it’s fair to say that whatever talent she has — and she possesses some real political talent and the capacity to strongly connect with Republican voters — her capacity to articulate conservatism and the specifics of policy is not among them. At least not now. At least in my estimation.

That doesn’t mean she should be ridiculed or marginalized or dismissed. She is, after all, the most popular governor in America. But because she is hated by some on the Left doesn’t mean she’s the answer to what ails the conservative movement.

A week and two days after the election, my sense is the GOP needs what Bobby Jindal and a few others possess: a first-rate mind, a command of the issues, and the capacity to present them in a confident and appealing manner.

No one, of course, is going to anoint the next leader of the GOP. That will be determined over time, based on performance and appeal, and eventually, on votes. But one thing is for sure. If the Republican party is going to become politically dominant again, it needs to extend its reach to those who have left the fold. I’m not at all confident Sarah Palin can do that. But time will tell, and I may yet be proven wrong.

Greta van Susteren interviewed Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal yesterday–here’s the link. If you compare Jindal’s interview with Governor Sarah Palin, it’s quite a contrast, particularly when it comes to command of the issues and the ability to articulate their case and the conservative cause. Governor Jindal comes across, I think, very well, which doesn’t surprise those of us who were colleagues of his.

Sarah Palin is another matter. While I think she was treated unfairly — and at times viciously — by some during the campaign, and the post-election trashing of her by unnamed McCain aides was ugly and stupid, one of the first tasks of the GOP is to become what Daniel Patrick Moynihan labeled it in 1980: the party of ideas.

Having watched Governor Palin interviewed several times now, including several times since the election, I think it’s fair to say that whatever talent she has — and she possesses some real political talent and the capacity to strongly connect with Republican voters — her capacity to articulate conservatism and the specifics of policy is not among them. At least not now. At least in my estimation.

That doesn’t mean she should be ridiculed or marginalized or dismissed. She is, after all, the most popular governor in America. But because she is hated by some on the Left doesn’t mean she’s the answer to what ails the conservative movement.

A week and two days after the election, my sense is the GOP needs what Bobby Jindal and a few others possess: a first-rate mind, a command of the issues, and the capacity to present them in a confident and appealing manner.

No one, of course, is going to anoint the next leader of the GOP. That will be determined over time, based on performance and appeal, and eventually, on votes. But one thing is for sure. If the Republican party is going to become politically dominant again, it needs to extend its reach to those who have left the fold. I’m not at all confident Sarah Palin can do that. But time will tell, and I may yet be proven wrong.

Read Less

The Heroism of von Hildebrand

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a reception in honor of the unjustly neglected Dietrich von Hildebrand. Not only was he one of the leading Catholic philosophers of the twentieth century, I learned, he was also a great moral figure. The German thinker was among the first to warn publicly of the dangers of Nazism and the wickedness of its anti-Semitism, and as early as the 1920′s was calling Hitler “evil.” Such morally courageous outspokenness led to his financial ruin and threats upon his life. Upon Hitler’s becoming dictator in 1933, van Hildebrand fled to Vienna, where he founded and edited the anti-Nazi weekly paper Der Christliche Ständestaat. (Meaning “The Christian Corporate State,” the title was not his choice.) Ultimately, he would have to flee from Austria, eventually making it to New York, where he spent the rest of his life as a professor at Fordham University.

One of the special treats of the evening, which was organized by the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project, was hearing von Hildebrand’s widow, Alice, speak about the man she memorialized in Soul of a Lion, her biography of him. A formidable philosopher in her own right, the sharp-as-a-razor 85-year-old told a number of revealing stories of her husband. In one, he had to fill out a form to continue teaching at the University of Munich. Forced to check one of two boxes—”Aryan” or “Not Aryan”—he wrote in, as a demonstration of his solidarity with Jews, “Not Aryan,” and was subsequently dismissed from the school.

In many ways, Dietrich von Hildebrand was the anti-Heidegger. Both were preeminent German philosophers who had studied under and were strongly influenced by Edmund Husserl, the (Jewish) founder of phenomenology. The diametrical opposite of von Hildebrand, Heidegger turned from Catholicism to Nietzschean atheism, and became an unrepentant Nazi who advocated National Socialism in his philosophy. Under the Third Reich, he even removed from his magnum opus Being and Time the dedication to Husserl. The philosopher Karl Popper said of Heidegger, “This man was a devil. I mean, he behaved like a devil to his beloved teacher [Husserl], and he has a devilish influence on Germany.”

Von Hildebrand, by contrast, strove to be an angel in the midst of darkness.

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a reception in honor of the unjustly neglected Dietrich von Hildebrand. Not only was he one of the leading Catholic philosophers of the twentieth century, I learned, he was also a great moral figure. The German thinker was among the first to warn publicly of the dangers of Nazism and the wickedness of its anti-Semitism, and as early as the 1920′s was calling Hitler “evil.” Such morally courageous outspokenness led to his financial ruin and threats upon his life. Upon Hitler’s becoming dictator in 1933, van Hildebrand fled to Vienna, where he founded and edited the anti-Nazi weekly paper Der Christliche Ständestaat. (Meaning “The Christian Corporate State,” the title was not his choice.) Ultimately, he would have to flee from Austria, eventually making it to New York, where he spent the rest of his life as a professor at Fordham University.

One of the special treats of the evening, which was organized by the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project, was hearing von Hildebrand’s widow, Alice, speak about the man she memorialized in Soul of a Lion, her biography of him. A formidable philosopher in her own right, the sharp-as-a-razor 85-year-old told a number of revealing stories of her husband. In one, he had to fill out a form to continue teaching at the University of Munich. Forced to check one of two boxes—”Aryan” or “Not Aryan”—he wrote in, as a demonstration of his solidarity with Jews, “Not Aryan,” and was subsequently dismissed from the school.

In many ways, Dietrich von Hildebrand was the anti-Heidegger. Both were preeminent German philosophers who had studied under and were strongly influenced by Edmund Husserl, the (Jewish) founder of phenomenology. The diametrical opposite of von Hildebrand, Heidegger turned from Catholicism to Nietzschean atheism, and became an unrepentant Nazi who advocated National Socialism in his philosophy. Under the Third Reich, he even removed from his magnum opus Being and Time the dedication to Husserl. The philosopher Karl Popper said of Heidegger, “This man was a devil. I mean, he behaved like a devil to his beloved teacher [Husserl], and he has a devilish influence on Germany.”

Von Hildebrand, by contrast, strove to be an angel in the midst of darkness.

Read Less

Well Done

Don’t miss this:

We can all sit around and come up with doomsday scenarios that are more catastrophic than global warming. Nevertheless, we should make rational investment decisions on the likelihood of each catastrophe, how much it would cost to prevent it, and whether it’s worth attempting it. Seeing as I’m more concerned with nuclear warming rather than global warming, I say we focus on what’s going on in Tehran more than anything else, but that’s me.

Don’t miss this:

We can all sit around and come up with doomsday scenarios that are more catastrophic than global warming. Nevertheless, we should make rational investment decisions on the likelihood of each catastrophe, how much it would cost to prevent it, and whether it’s worth attempting it. Seeing as I’m more concerned with nuclear warming rather than global warming, I say we focus on what’s going on in Tehran more than anything else, but that’s me.

Read Less

Does Not Compute

Barack Obama’s miscommunication of plans to move ahead with an American missile defense project in Poland, and his subsequent contradiction of Polish President Lech Kaczynski’s statement, are bigger problems than most are readily admitting. John Bolton, characteristically, calls it like he sees it. In the Wall Street Journal, Bolton writes that Russia’s recent vow to place missile assets in Poland was an act of aggression aimed at Obama and at Kaczynski. Obama’s mistake and disavowal leaves a Polish-American partnership looking very foolish, because Obama “should have understood that foreign leaders, both friends and adversaries, are in a state of high tension.”

But what if Obama doesn’t understand “a state of high tension”? For all the talk of his presidential temperament, there was something eerie about Obama’s cool that was never brought up. Is it presidential not to get worked up over anything? When John McCain pressed Obama hard in the last debate, it is true Obama did not get rattled. But something noticeable came into his face. It wasn’t annoyance so much as the flash of an error message. As if he simply didn’t have the software necessary for expressing anger.

What other software is missing? The national guessing game underway right now is a function of the fact that Obama has never unequivocally held an important position. His declarations are four parts wiggle-room, one-part resolve. Either that or they face certain reversal. Missile defense, off-shore drilling, guns, partial-birth abortion, troop withdrawal–there are truly too many examples of lingering haziness to list. Is it presidential to elevate indecision to a kind of intellectual philosophy?

True, these feel like campaign issues, part of all the depressing baggage that should be discarded after the merciless race. But they are also post-campaign issues, as the Kaczynski mishap demonstrates. Obama was either unaware of the geostrategic fragility of the moment, or unable to overcome his ambivalence on missile defense — or both. As a result “the incoming U.S. president,” in John Bolton’s words, looks “disturbingly weak.” If this is a software problem, someone in his pool of advisors needs to do an upload and get the President-elect to focus on more than popularity and composure. Hopefully, Obama can turn his superficial fluidity into useful responsiveness. If, however, it is a hardware issue, then we are in for one long state of extremely high tension.

Barack Obama’s miscommunication of plans to move ahead with an American missile defense project in Poland, and his subsequent contradiction of Polish President Lech Kaczynski’s statement, are bigger problems than most are readily admitting. John Bolton, characteristically, calls it like he sees it. In the Wall Street Journal, Bolton writes that Russia’s recent vow to place missile assets in Poland was an act of aggression aimed at Obama and at Kaczynski. Obama’s mistake and disavowal leaves a Polish-American partnership looking very foolish, because Obama “should have understood that foreign leaders, both friends and adversaries, are in a state of high tension.”

But what if Obama doesn’t understand “a state of high tension”? For all the talk of his presidential temperament, there was something eerie about Obama’s cool that was never brought up. Is it presidential not to get worked up over anything? When John McCain pressed Obama hard in the last debate, it is true Obama did not get rattled. But something noticeable came into his face. It wasn’t annoyance so much as the flash of an error message. As if he simply didn’t have the software necessary for expressing anger.

What other software is missing? The national guessing game underway right now is a function of the fact that Obama has never unequivocally held an important position. His declarations are four parts wiggle-room, one-part resolve. Either that or they face certain reversal. Missile defense, off-shore drilling, guns, partial-birth abortion, troop withdrawal–there are truly too many examples of lingering haziness to list. Is it presidential to elevate indecision to a kind of intellectual philosophy?

True, these feel like campaign issues, part of all the depressing baggage that should be discarded after the merciless race. But they are also post-campaign issues, as the Kaczynski mishap demonstrates. Obama was either unaware of the geostrategic fragility of the moment, or unable to overcome his ambivalence on missile defense — or both. As a result “the incoming U.S. president,” in John Bolton’s words, looks “disturbingly weak.” If this is a software problem, someone in his pool of advisors needs to do an upload and get the President-elect to focus on more than popularity and composure. Hopefully, Obama can turn his superficial fluidity into useful responsiveness. If, however, it is a hardware issue, then we are in for one long state of extremely high tension.

Read Less

Commentary of the Day

Steven, on Jennifer Rubin:

It’s a travesty that we let Circuit City and Linens’N’Things go into bankruptcy. Cheap consumer electronics and housewares are the backbone of this country!

Steven, on Jennifer Rubin:

It’s a travesty that we let Circuit City and Linens’N’Things go into bankruptcy. Cheap consumer electronics and housewares are the backbone of this country!

Read Less

Performance Time

The outpouring of support and emotion in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s victory last week has been at times moving, especially among African Americans. Among some others, though, it has also been a bit embarrassing. I have in mind, for example, The New Yorker’s David Remnick, who on The Charlie Rose show last week acted like a besotted adolescent. Perhaps sensing how bathetic he came across, Remnick said, “And can I point out journalistically, Charlie, I think it is–we’ll climb out of the tank soon.”

I’m not so sure. In any event, we will be turning from the historic nature of this moment to the future. And whether Obama will be another FDR, as many of his supporters believe, is, to say the least, an open question.

Such a thing is possible, of course, but it all depends on the quality of the decision he makes and how the country performs under his watch. If things go well, Obama and Democrats will be very difficult to dislodge. They own the show; if they manage it well, they will be rewarded. But if not, everything will change. In fact, the things many people now look at as Obama’s strengths will be viewed as weaknesses. His calm demeanor will be characterized as detachment; his cool intelligence will be cited as an example of his lack of passion. His ability to grasp different sides of different issues will be evidence of a man who is indecisive, better suited to be a college professor than a president. His efforts to portray himself as anti-ideological and pragmatic will be interpreted as lacking core convictions.

Such things have happened before, even to our greatest Presidents. When unemployment was 10.8 percent in December 1982, Ronald Reagan’s approval ratings were in the mid-30s and his party suffered badly in his first mid-term election, losing 27 House seats and giving Democrats a powerful majority (269 v. 166). Reagan’s sunny disposition and optimism, which is now celebrated even by liberals, were said to be evidence of a man out of touch with the problems and concerns of the country. His philosophical commitments were said to be evidence of rigid ideology. His strength of purpose were taken as a sign of a lack of pragmatism. Words now etched in granite, like referring to the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” were criticized at the time as provocative, undiplomatic, the utterings of a trigger-happy cowboy. But the economy began to turn around in 1983 and took off like a rocket in 1984; as a result, Reagan massacred Walter Mondale, carrying 49 states.

When things were going poorly for the North during the Civil War–which happened for much of the Civil War–Abraham Lincoln was mocked, ridiculed, and even hated. In December 1861, Congressional Republicans were “in a tirade,” according to the Lincoln biographer Stephen Oates. A new watchdog committee–the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War– confronted Lincoln about his lack of action. Senator Ben Wade, a Republican, implored Lincoln to take charge, but he had doubts it would happen. Lincoln was a wise and excellent man, Bates wrote in his diary, “but he lacks will and purpose.” Lincoln’s entire Administration was adrift, it was said.

After the loss of Fredericksburg, Lincoln fell into a severe depression. According to Oates, Lincoln was on the receiving end of a “fusillade of criticism” from both friends and foes, who blamed him and his “weak and timorous” Cabinet for what had unfolded. “Disgust with our present government is certainly universal,” it was written at the time. “Even Lincoln himself has gone down at last. Nobody believes in him any more.” But eventually Lincoln replaced McClellan and turned to Grant, Sherman took Atlanta and began his march to the sea, and Lincoln won re-election.

I recount this history to make a simple point: the acid test for a President is always performance. And there’s no reliable way to judge in advance how an individual will perform as President. Part of it depends on whether or not the person rises to the occasion, and part of it depends on the circumstances he faces.

President-elect Obama will inherit a slew of challenges, both domestic and international. He deserves, and will be given, a honeymoon period for a time. And people won’t judge him harshly for not immediately reversing, say, the financial/credit crisis we’re in. But sooner than he might imagine, and certainly sooner than he might wish, the responsibility for how America is performing will fall to him and his Democratic colleagues in the House and the Senate. A year from now, it won’t be enough to blame the problems on others. He and other Democrats ran and won on the promise that they would turn things around, and do so quickly. Those promises can’t be reeled back. Obama in particular has set a very high bar. Indeed, the expectations for “change”–in policies, in performance, even in the way we conduct our politics–is as high as I can recall. According to Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, “Americans have exceptionally high hopes for President-elect Barack Obama. More than one fourth of Americans think he’ll be a great president. . . .”

The capacity to engineer constructive change may be less than Obama thought, and he will find the world will not be as malleable as hot wax. Things don’t have to be perfect, but there needs to be a sense that the trajectory is improving and that his proposals are working. If Barack Obama governs as President as he voted as a state senator and a U.S. Senator–which is to say, from the left–then today’s high hopes will come crashing down around him. It’s possible, of course, that Obama breaks with his past ideology as easily as he broke with Jeremiah Wright. For the sake of the country, I hope he does.

For understandable reasons, many people are being swept up in this remarkable American moment. But reality will intrude soon enough, and Barack Obama will face the same standards that every other President has faced. Incantations of “hope” and “change” can work in a campaign. They are virtually useless when it comes to governing. Barack Obama is about to enter the crucible. We’ll see how he performs.

The outpouring of support and emotion in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s victory last week has been at times moving, especially among African Americans. Among some others, though, it has also been a bit embarrassing. I have in mind, for example, The New Yorker’s David Remnick, who on The Charlie Rose show last week acted like a besotted adolescent. Perhaps sensing how bathetic he came across, Remnick said, “And can I point out journalistically, Charlie, I think it is–we’ll climb out of the tank soon.”

I’m not so sure. In any event, we will be turning from the historic nature of this moment to the future. And whether Obama will be another FDR, as many of his supporters believe, is, to say the least, an open question.

Such a thing is possible, of course, but it all depends on the quality of the decision he makes and how the country performs under his watch. If things go well, Obama and Democrats will be very difficult to dislodge. They own the show; if they manage it well, they will be rewarded. But if not, everything will change. In fact, the things many people now look at as Obama’s strengths will be viewed as weaknesses. His calm demeanor will be characterized as detachment; his cool intelligence will be cited as an example of his lack of passion. His ability to grasp different sides of different issues will be evidence of a man who is indecisive, better suited to be a college professor than a president. His efforts to portray himself as anti-ideological and pragmatic will be interpreted as lacking core convictions.

Such things have happened before, even to our greatest Presidents. When unemployment was 10.8 percent in December 1982, Ronald Reagan’s approval ratings were in the mid-30s and his party suffered badly in his first mid-term election, losing 27 House seats and giving Democrats a powerful majority (269 v. 166). Reagan’s sunny disposition and optimism, which is now celebrated even by liberals, were said to be evidence of a man out of touch with the problems and concerns of the country. His philosophical commitments were said to be evidence of rigid ideology. His strength of purpose were taken as a sign of a lack of pragmatism. Words now etched in granite, like referring to the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” were criticized at the time as provocative, undiplomatic, the utterings of a trigger-happy cowboy. But the economy began to turn around in 1983 and took off like a rocket in 1984; as a result, Reagan massacred Walter Mondale, carrying 49 states.

When things were going poorly for the North during the Civil War–which happened for much of the Civil War–Abraham Lincoln was mocked, ridiculed, and even hated. In December 1861, Congressional Republicans were “in a tirade,” according to the Lincoln biographer Stephen Oates. A new watchdog committee–the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War– confronted Lincoln about his lack of action. Senator Ben Wade, a Republican, implored Lincoln to take charge, but he had doubts it would happen. Lincoln was a wise and excellent man, Bates wrote in his diary, “but he lacks will and purpose.” Lincoln’s entire Administration was adrift, it was said.

After the loss of Fredericksburg, Lincoln fell into a severe depression. According to Oates, Lincoln was on the receiving end of a “fusillade of criticism” from both friends and foes, who blamed him and his “weak and timorous” Cabinet for what had unfolded. “Disgust with our present government is certainly universal,” it was written at the time. “Even Lincoln himself has gone down at last. Nobody believes in him any more.” But eventually Lincoln replaced McClellan and turned to Grant, Sherman took Atlanta and began his march to the sea, and Lincoln won re-election.

I recount this history to make a simple point: the acid test for a President is always performance. And there’s no reliable way to judge in advance how an individual will perform as President. Part of it depends on whether or not the person rises to the occasion, and part of it depends on the circumstances he faces.

President-elect Obama will inherit a slew of challenges, both domestic and international. He deserves, and will be given, a honeymoon period for a time. And people won’t judge him harshly for not immediately reversing, say, the financial/credit crisis we’re in. But sooner than he might imagine, and certainly sooner than he might wish, the responsibility for how America is performing will fall to him and his Democratic colleagues in the House and the Senate. A year from now, it won’t be enough to blame the problems on others. He and other Democrats ran and won on the promise that they would turn things around, and do so quickly. Those promises can’t be reeled back. Obama in particular has set a very high bar. Indeed, the expectations for “change”–in policies, in performance, even in the way we conduct our politics–is as high as I can recall. According to Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, “Americans have exceptionally high hopes for President-elect Barack Obama. More than one fourth of Americans think he’ll be a great president. . . .”

The capacity to engineer constructive change may be less than Obama thought, and he will find the world will not be as malleable as hot wax. Things don’t have to be perfect, but there needs to be a sense that the trajectory is improving and that his proposals are working. If Barack Obama governs as President as he voted as a state senator and a U.S. Senator–which is to say, from the left–then today’s high hopes will come crashing down around him. It’s possible, of course, that Obama breaks with his past ideology as easily as he broke with Jeremiah Wright. For the sake of the country, I hope he does.

For understandable reasons, many people are being swept up in this remarkable American moment. But reality will intrude soon enough, and Barack Obama will face the same standards that every other President has faced. Incantations of “hope” and “change” can work in a campaign. They are virtually useless when it comes to governing. Barack Obama is about to enter the crucible. We’ll see how he performs.

Read Less

Questions on the Bailout

House Minority Leader John Boehner asks some good questions:

Spending billions of additional federal tax dollars with no promises to reform the root causes crippling automakers’ competitiveness around the world is neither fair to taxpayers nor sound fiscal policy.

Earlier this fall, the Democrats in charge of Congress approved a $25 billion loan package for America’s ailing automakers. Why are Democratic leaders in Congress discussing an additional taxpayer-funded bailout on top of that $25 billion package instead of ensuring these loans are made available to the automakers as quickly as possible? Why have the Democratic leaders of Congress been willing to provide this money without insisting that the companies receiving these federal dollars demonstrate to Congress and to taxpayers that they have a credible plan to strengthen their financial health? And what assurances will Democrats give taxpayers about their chances of getting their auto bailout money back?”

It is not clear who has the votes here, but the Republicans would do well to make the case that this is the worse sort of corporate welfare. Is there any doubt that, had the Republicans proposed this, every liberal interest group and environmental activist would be screaming bloody murder?

House Minority Leader John Boehner asks some good questions:

Spending billions of additional federal tax dollars with no promises to reform the root causes crippling automakers’ competitiveness around the world is neither fair to taxpayers nor sound fiscal policy.

Earlier this fall, the Democrats in charge of Congress approved a $25 billion loan package for America’s ailing automakers. Why are Democratic leaders in Congress discussing an additional taxpayer-funded bailout on top of that $25 billion package instead of ensuring these loans are made available to the automakers as quickly as possible? Why have the Democratic leaders of Congress been willing to provide this money without insisting that the companies receiving these federal dollars demonstrate to Congress and to taxpayers that they have a credible plan to strengthen their financial health? And what assurances will Democrats give taxpayers about their chances of getting their auto bailout money back?”

It is not clear who has the votes here, but the Republicans would do well to make the case that this is the worse sort of corporate welfare. Is there any doubt that, had the Republicans proposed this, every liberal interest group and environmental activist would be screaming bloody murder?

Read Less

We’re Sick, Alright

A new study shows that Americans with chronic medical conditions complain more about healthcare than do their international counterparts:

The researchers questioned 7,500 adults in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Britain and the United States. Each had at least one of seven chronic conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and depression.

Dutch patients had the fewest complaints, while the Americans had plenty, according to the study by the Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based health policy research group.

Meanwhile, the Journal of Clinical Oncology reports that 20% of England’s curable lung cancer patients become incurable while waiting for treatment. The British journal Lancet Oncology found that Americans have a higher survival rate than Europeans for 13 of the 16 most prominent cancers. 10% of the Canadian population is stuck on a waiting list without a primary care doctor, and another 800,000 are on another waiting list for procedures.

All this study shows is that Americans complain more than other people. But that’s not really news.

We remain the surest bet in a world of crumbling economies, and American journalists write gleefully about the end of American financial preeminence. We hold the most free and transparent elections on the planet, and “patriotic” liberals threaten civil war should the wrong candidate win. We give more international aid and seek out more international cooperation than any country on earth, and Americans say they’re ashamed to travel abroad. Our military fights cleaner than any armed force in history, and domestic movements are underway to put President Bush in jail for war crimes. Bush endured more public dissent and protest than any president in U.S. history, and Americans say he’s shredded the constitution. We’ve cut our CO2 emissions by a greater percentage than countries that actually signed the Kyoto Protocol, and still Americans self-flagellate for not adopting international environmental standards. We ceased being colonial overlords decades before other Western countries, and Americans still decry their county’s imperialism.

When a country finds itself on an irreversible path downward, it is in decline. When people believe their country in on this path, the belief is called declinism. Declinism can lead to decline in no time. If America isn’t really in decline, but Americans think it is — and so it will be. Because once citizens feel that way, they have no reason to defend or contribute to a dying state. Why enlist in the army of a fading power? Why sacrifice anything to contribute to a lost cause? In fact, why not try to get the most out of the state before the state croaks? More subsidies, more assistance, more healthcare. We are nowhere near real decline, yet we’re perilously close to virtual decline. My greatest hope for the Obama years is that Americans claiming to once again be proud of their country mean it. We’ll have to wait and see what happens in areas such as military enlistment, birthrate, entrepreneurship, and ingenuity. My greatest fear is that people are just proud of themselves for voting for him.

A new study shows that Americans with chronic medical conditions complain more about healthcare than do their international counterparts:

The researchers questioned 7,500 adults in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Britain and the United States. Each had at least one of seven chronic conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and depression.

Dutch patients had the fewest complaints, while the Americans had plenty, according to the study by the Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based health policy research group.

Meanwhile, the Journal of Clinical Oncology reports that 20% of England’s curable lung cancer patients become incurable while waiting for treatment. The British journal Lancet Oncology found that Americans have a higher survival rate than Europeans for 13 of the 16 most prominent cancers. 10% of the Canadian population is stuck on a waiting list without a primary care doctor, and another 800,000 are on another waiting list for procedures.

All this study shows is that Americans complain more than other people. But that’s not really news.

We remain the surest bet in a world of crumbling economies, and American journalists write gleefully about the end of American financial preeminence. We hold the most free and transparent elections on the planet, and “patriotic” liberals threaten civil war should the wrong candidate win. We give more international aid and seek out more international cooperation than any country on earth, and Americans say they’re ashamed to travel abroad. Our military fights cleaner than any armed force in history, and domestic movements are underway to put President Bush in jail for war crimes. Bush endured more public dissent and protest than any president in U.S. history, and Americans say he’s shredded the constitution. We’ve cut our CO2 emissions by a greater percentage than countries that actually signed the Kyoto Protocol, and still Americans self-flagellate for not adopting international environmental standards. We ceased being colonial overlords decades before other Western countries, and Americans still decry their county’s imperialism.

When a country finds itself on an irreversible path downward, it is in decline. When people believe their country in on this path, the belief is called declinism. Declinism can lead to decline in no time. If America isn’t really in decline, but Americans think it is — and so it will be. Because once citizens feel that way, they have no reason to defend or contribute to a dying state. Why enlist in the army of a fading power? Why sacrifice anything to contribute to a lost cause? In fact, why not try to get the most out of the state before the state croaks? More subsidies, more assistance, more healthcare. We are nowhere near real decline, yet we’re perilously close to virtual decline. My greatest hope for the Obama years is that Americans claiming to once again be proud of their country mean it. We’ll have to wait and see what happens in areas such as military enlistment, birthrate, entrepreneurship, and ingenuity. My greatest fear is that people are just proud of themselves for voting for him.

Read Less

Green Alchemy

Is Björk, the elfin Icelandic pop star, positioning herself as the Bono of environmentalism? Arguing that her native country needs to devote itself to eco-friendly industry, she recently spoke at a (serious) climate conference in Brussels. Her less famous fellow panelists included the former Prime Minister of Norway and the erstwhile president of Ireland. All were advocating something called “climate justice.” (Bring the rain down to Africa? Reunite Gondwanaland?)

One of Björk’s biggest concerns is that aluminum production is replacing fishing as one of Iceland’s main employers. She especially opposes building new geo-thermal-powered aluminum smelting plants, because doing so

would damage pristine wilderness, hot springs and lava fields . . . To take this much energy from geothermal fields is not even sustainable as it might cool down the fields in only two decades.

If you’re not permitted to make productive use of a lava field, where else are you supposed to build? Would Björk oppose a glass factory being built in the Sahara, since it would despoil the virgin desert?

Incidentally, seeing this innovative musician oppose metal production is an amusing, er, irony for popular music fans. But for the steel factories of Birmingham, England, the history of heavy metal—music typified by a massive, ponderous sound—might have been drastically different. One of the most formative and influential bands of the genre, Black Sabbath, started in that leaden town, and their distinctive sound originated out of an industrial accident at one of its many steel mills. While working at his day job at a sheet metal factory, lead guitarist Tommy Iommi had the tips of two fingers cut off from his left hand. In order to keep playing the guitar comfortably, he reduced the tension of the strings, de-tuning the instrument downward from E to C#—thereby giving birth to the fat, ominous sound that became their trademark. (Such de-tuning is now common practice in heavy metal.) Having emerged stronger despite the permanent wound, Iommi would later compose that anthem to ferric hardness, “Iron Man.”

Is Björk, the elfin Icelandic pop star, positioning herself as the Bono of environmentalism? Arguing that her native country needs to devote itself to eco-friendly industry, she recently spoke at a (serious) climate conference in Brussels. Her less famous fellow panelists included the former Prime Minister of Norway and the erstwhile president of Ireland. All were advocating something called “climate justice.” (Bring the rain down to Africa? Reunite Gondwanaland?)

One of Björk’s biggest concerns is that aluminum production is replacing fishing as one of Iceland’s main employers. She especially opposes building new geo-thermal-powered aluminum smelting plants, because doing so

would damage pristine wilderness, hot springs and lava fields . . . To take this much energy from geothermal fields is not even sustainable as it might cool down the fields in only two decades.

If you’re not permitted to make productive use of a lava field, where else are you supposed to build? Would Björk oppose a glass factory being built in the Sahara, since it would despoil the virgin desert?

Incidentally, seeing this innovative musician oppose metal production is an amusing, er, irony for popular music fans. But for the steel factories of Birmingham, England, the history of heavy metal—music typified by a massive, ponderous sound—might have been drastically different. One of the most formative and influential bands of the genre, Black Sabbath, started in that leaden town, and their distinctive sound originated out of an industrial accident at one of its many steel mills. While working at his day job at a sheet metal factory, lead guitarist Tommy Iommi had the tips of two fingers cut off from his left hand. In order to keep playing the guitar comfortably, he reduced the tension of the strings, de-tuning the instrument downward from E to C#—thereby giving birth to the fat, ominous sound that became their trademark. (Such de-tuning is now common practice in heavy metal.) Having emerged stronger despite the permanent wound, Iommi would later compose that anthem to ferric hardness, “Iron Man.”

Read Less

Israel’s Left Realigns

Israeli media is apoplectically busy with the possible emergence of a new lefty political front. The Meretz Party is reportedly discussing the establishment of such a thing with two prospective groups of candidates. One is active Labor defectors, like former General and MK Ami Ayalon and former Minister MK Ophir Pines. The other is former Labor leaders, like ex-Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami, ex-Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, and others. Novelists Amos Oz and David Grossman are also expected to support the party, but will not be candidates for the Knesset. (Apparently, some people still believe that endorsements from renowned novelists can add to the political clout of a party.)

This reshuffling of the Israeli left can be looked at in many different ways. First and foremost, it is a vote of no confidence in Labor leader Ehud Barak, who long ago ceased to exist as a real leader of the Israeli left wing. If this scheme is to be successful–and time is running out, as Sunday will be the last day in which names of prospective candidates should be submitted to the election committee–Barak will not only face a deadly challenge from the center (Kadima and Tzipi Livni), but also one from the Left (Meretz on steroids).

However, political maneuvering is only one half of the story, and not even the most interesting half. What this new front on the Left is counting on is the existence of a pool of voters who’d like to see a more dovish Israeli government, but have nowhere else to go. They think that if only the right people would join the ticket, Israelis would suddenly see the light and decide to trust policies they’ve rejected long ago. In that respect, what the Left is trying to do here is to gamble on the superficiality of its own voters. They believe that liberal, sophisticated, educated, knowledgeable, articulate voters are no less prone to being swayed by celebrity than less-sophisticated voters.

Will this work? We will have to wait for polls (and election results) before we know the answer. But it didn’t quite work in 2002, when two political “stars”–Yossi Beilin and Yael Dayan– joined Meretz, winning with the party a meager 6 seats. In 2006, it was down to 5. Meretz is still fairly unpopular. As late as 2007 it was looking for solutions. “Unlike its fellow opposition parties,” wrote Yossi Verter in Haaretz, “Meretz has not flourished. It had hoped that the election of Barak–with his hard-edged, right-wing image–as Labor chairman would help. Nor has Labor’s participation in the government brought Meretz more votes.”

And an alleged solution has been found: more “stars.” Recent polls show that Meretz has a better chance now of increasing its number of Knesset members. But that is not because of the new people. It’s because the Labor Party is getting weaker by the day. The Likud Party is leading in the polls, and that’s why so many new recruits are pouring in. Meretz shows some signs of life, and suddenly former Ministers are asking to join.

In short, it is not that the stars help the voters decide. The voters make the stars want to join the better-positioned ticket.

Israeli media is apoplectically busy with the possible emergence of a new lefty political front. The Meretz Party is reportedly discussing the establishment of such a thing with two prospective groups of candidates. One is active Labor defectors, like former General and MK Ami Ayalon and former Minister MK Ophir Pines. The other is former Labor leaders, like ex-Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami, ex-Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, and others. Novelists Amos Oz and David Grossman are also expected to support the party, but will not be candidates for the Knesset. (Apparently, some people still believe that endorsements from renowned novelists can add to the political clout of a party.)

This reshuffling of the Israeli left can be looked at in many different ways. First and foremost, it is a vote of no confidence in Labor leader Ehud Barak, who long ago ceased to exist as a real leader of the Israeli left wing. If this scheme is to be successful–and time is running out, as Sunday will be the last day in which names of prospective candidates should be submitted to the election committee–Barak will not only face a deadly challenge from the center (Kadima and Tzipi Livni), but also one from the Left (Meretz on steroids).

However, political maneuvering is only one half of the story, and not even the most interesting half. What this new front on the Left is counting on is the existence of a pool of voters who’d like to see a more dovish Israeli government, but have nowhere else to go. They think that if only the right people would join the ticket, Israelis would suddenly see the light and decide to trust policies they’ve rejected long ago. In that respect, what the Left is trying to do here is to gamble on the superficiality of its own voters. They believe that liberal, sophisticated, educated, knowledgeable, articulate voters are no less prone to being swayed by celebrity than less-sophisticated voters.

Will this work? We will have to wait for polls (and election results) before we know the answer. But it didn’t quite work in 2002, when two political “stars”–Yossi Beilin and Yael Dayan– joined Meretz, winning with the party a meager 6 seats. In 2006, it was down to 5. Meretz is still fairly unpopular. As late as 2007 it was looking for solutions. “Unlike its fellow opposition parties,” wrote Yossi Verter in Haaretz, “Meretz has not flourished. It had hoped that the election of Barak–with his hard-edged, right-wing image–as Labor chairman would help. Nor has Labor’s participation in the government brought Meretz more votes.”

And an alleged solution has been found: more “stars.” Recent polls show that Meretz has a better chance now of increasing its number of Knesset members. But that is not because of the new people. It’s because the Labor Party is getting weaker by the day. The Likud Party is leading in the polls, and that’s why so many new recruits are pouring in. Meretz shows some signs of life, and suddenly former Ministers are asking to join.

In short, it is not that the stars help the voters decide. The voters make the stars want to join the better-positioned ticket.

Read Less

To Say What?

“Williams Ayers breaks his silence in an exclusive interview with Chris Cuomo on Friday’s ‘Good Morning America.’”

It was Obama’s silence on Bill Ayers that was at issue.

“Williams Ayers breaks his silence in an exclusive interview with Chris Cuomo on Friday’s ‘Good Morning America.’”

It was Obama’s silence on Bill Ayers that was at issue.

Read Less

Bailout or Bankruptcy?

Professor Douglas Baird of the University of Chicago Law School has some sober words of advice for GM. The entire interview is worth listening to, but the bottom line is simple: GM can’t pay its bills, and it is making a product no one wants. So, a bailout just puts off the inevitable. Oh, and there’s no guarantee that bankruptcy will help, either. As Baird puts it, if a restaurant makes bad food, bankruptcy won’t help it recover.

At least with bankruptcy, however, taxpayers dollars aren’t at stake. Moreover, unlike the vision portrayed by allies of the car companies, bankruptcy won’t mean that GM stops operating–only that its shareholders get wiped out, its creditors “get a haircut,” and that new management likely will be brought in. (Remember United Airlines?)

There is little doubt that neither management (which doesn’t want to get booted) nor the UAW (which wants to keep its rich benefit and wage structure) likes the bankruptcy option. And both groups have a lot of political muscle. On the other side are the taxpayers, businesses who have just as much claim to public dollars (and a better track record), and people warning against the never-ending parade of petitioners an open-ended bailout policy will invite.

It will be an interesting test for the President-Elect. Can he stand up to Big Labor? Does he see through the emotional cant (“The auto industry is the backbone of our economy!”)? Can he perceive the systemic danger of perpetual government rescues? Stay tuned . . .

Professor Douglas Baird of the University of Chicago Law School has some sober words of advice for GM. The entire interview is worth listening to, but the bottom line is simple: GM can’t pay its bills, and it is making a product no one wants. So, a bailout just puts off the inevitable. Oh, and there’s no guarantee that bankruptcy will help, either. As Baird puts it, if a restaurant makes bad food, bankruptcy won’t help it recover.

At least with bankruptcy, however, taxpayers dollars aren’t at stake. Moreover, unlike the vision portrayed by allies of the car companies, bankruptcy won’t mean that GM stops operating–only that its shareholders get wiped out, its creditors “get a haircut,” and that new management likely will be brought in. (Remember United Airlines?)

There is little doubt that neither management (which doesn’t want to get booted) nor the UAW (which wants to keep its rich benefit and wage structure) likes the bankruptcy option. And both groups have a lot of political muscle. On the other side are the taxpayers, businesses who have just as much claim to public dollars (and a better track record), and people warning against the never-ending parade of petitioners an open-ended bailout policy will invite.

It will be an interesting test for the President-Elect. Can he stand up to Big Labor? Does he see through the emotional cant (“The auto industry is the backbone of our economy!”)? Can he perceive the systemic danger of perpetual government rescues? Stay tuned . . .

Read Less

Obama’s Triumph, the GOP’s Calamity

An ocean of ink, India and printer’s and virtual, has been spilled in celebration of a black man’s ascension to the presidency of the United States. We have read, and read again, about the historic nature of Barack Obama’s triumph, the new voters he helped bring to the polls, the young people he has inspired, and the participation on November 4 of the largest number of voters in American history. We have been told that, owing to the decisive nature of Obama’s victory and the enhanced power of his party in both houses of Congress, a new political era has dawned. What happened was more than an election: it was, to quote the Democratic lawyer Lanny Davis in the Wall Street Journal, “the Obama realignment,” only the sixth such moment in American history (the others being the elections of 1800, 1828, 1860, 1932, and 1980).

That November 4 marked the emphatic end to one period in American political history and the no less emphatic beginning of another is a proposition no one seems to doubt. Obama is indeed the first Democrat to win an outright majority since Jimmy Carter in 1976, and will be working with a Democratic Congress that has only grown in strength thanks in part to the size of his victory. Given the emotions generated by election day and the understandable exhilaration of the winning side, it might seem churlish to doubt that a wholesale partisan and ideological shift has occurred. And yet one cannot but note that the mighty ocean of celebratory ink evaporates into a puddle when it comes to describing just what this new era might actually be.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY web exclusive.

An ocean of ink, India and printer’s and virtual, has been spilled in celebration of a black man’s ascension to the presidency of the United States. We have read, and read again, about the historic nature of Barack Obama’s triumph, the new voters he helped bring to the polls, the young people he has inspired, and the participation on November 4 of the largest number of voters in American history. We have been told that, owing to the decisive nature of Obama’s victory and the enhanced power of his party in both houses of Congress, a new political era has dawned. What happened was more than an election: it was, to quote the Democratic lawyer Lanny Davis in the Wall Street Journal, “the Obama realignment,” only the sixth such moment in American history (the others being the elections of 1800, 1828, 1860, 1932, and 1980).

That November 4 marked the emphatic end to one period in American political history and the no less emphatic beginning of another is a proposition no one seems to doubt. Obama is indeed the first Democrat to win an outright majority since Jimmy Carter in 1976, and will be working with a Democratic Congress that has only grown in strength thanks in part to the size of his victory. Given the emotions generated by election day and the understandable exhilaration of the winning side, it might seem churlish to doubt that a wholesale partisan and ideological shift has occurred. And yet one cannot but note that the mighty ocean of celebratory ink evaporates into a puddle when it comes to describing just what this new era might actually be.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY web exclusive.

Read Less

Reforming the Educators

Lamenting the condition of American public schools, Nicholas Kristof offers some suggested reforms:

A study by the Hamilton Project, a public policy group at the Brookings Institution, outlines several steps to boost weak schools: end rigid requirements for teacher certification that impede hiring, make tenure more difficult to get so that ineffective teachers can be weeded out after three years on the job and award hefty bonuses to good teachers willing to teach in low-income areas.

It’s heartening to see Kristof supporting the sorts of common-sense education reforms that COMMENTARY contributor Chester Finn has been championing for at least 25 years. Kristof, however, does not venture to mention the obvious opponent to these reforms: immensely powerful teachers unions. It is simply not in the interests of their members to face competition from uncertified teachers, to have less job security, and to be paid for performance.

And, needless to say, Kristof also does not indicate which political party (I’ll give you a hint: its name starts with a “D”) has long been beholden to those unions. There are signs of hope, however, that Democrats are beginning to put the interests of children ahead of teachers trying to protect the their labor monopoly. Obama himself was booed last July at a meeting of the National Education Association. Why? He dared to say that he saw promise in “performance pay” for teachers.

Lamenting the condition of American public schools, Nicholas Kristof offers some suggested reforms:

A study by the Hamilton Project, a public policy group at the Brookings Institution, outlines several steps to boost weak schools: end rigid requirements for teacher certification that impede hiring, make tenure more difficult to get so that ineffective teachers can be weeded out after three years on the job and award hefty bonuses to good teachers willing to teach in low-income areas.

It’s heartening to see Kristof supporting the sorts of common-sense education reforms that COMMENTARY contributor Chester Finn has been championing for at least 25 years. Kristof, however, does not venture to mention the obvious opponent to these reforms: immensely powerful teachers unions. It is simply not in the interests of their members to face competition from uncertified teachers, to have less job security, and to be paid for performance.

And, needless to say, Kristof also does not indicate which political party (I’ll give you a hint: its name starts with a “D”) has long been beholden to those unions. There are signs of hope, however, that Democrats are beginning to put the interests of children ahead of teachers trying to protect the their labor monopoly. Obama himself was booed last July at a meeting of the National Education Association. Why? He dared to say that he saw promise in “performance pay” for teachers.

Read Less

Getting Clear on Iran

Law professor Orde F. Kittrie suggests that, if Barack Obama can convince Europe to stop selling gasoline to Iran, the U.S. will finally have an advantage in dealing with Tehran:

Tehran has an economic Achilles’ heel — its extraordinarily heavy dependence on imported gasoline. This dependence could be used by the United States to peacefully create decisive leverage over the Islamic Republic.

Iranian oil wells produce far more petroleum (crude oil) than Iran needs. Yet, remarkably for a country investing so much in nuclear power, Iran has not developed sufficient capacity to refine that crude oil into gasoline and diesel fuel. As a result, it must import some 40% of the gasoline it needs for internal consumption.

Kittrie is exactly right. If his suggestion is heeded, it will give Americans much-needed clarity on three fronts. First: What kind of leader is Barack Obama? Moving to ratchet up international pressure on Iran, and asking European industrialists to risk taking a hit for what is widely seen as an American/Israeli problem, would be a bold out-of-the-gates move for a young first-term president who ran on a platform of parity among nations. Is Obama willing to spare, in the service of furthering U.S. interests, some of the global affection that up until now has served merely to advance his political popularity?

Second, does the world’s adoration for Barack Obama translate into strategic reality? Will European gas companies be more willing to cut off a portion of their clientèle because the persuader speaks a more international language than his predecessor? Or will considerations of profit and stability prevail as they have in the past? The EU has failed to act in accordance with the weaker Iranian sanctions they’ve already agreed to uphold. European exports to Iran, in fact, rose by 17.8 percent in the first few months after the supposedly stiffer sanction regime was put in place. Will Barack Obama be able to tap into hitherto unseen reserves of European sacrifice and fortitude?

Third, is there really a way to derail Iran, short of the military option? Will this sweeping ban bring the mullahs to the table to discuss the possibility of abandoning their nuclear program, or will they forge ahead with enrichment and missile construction, and stir up further anti-Americanism among their people by blaming gas shortages on the cruel, hypocritical Americans? Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently said, “Negotiations with the United States would have no benefit for us, and we do not need them.” Mehdi Kalhor, Iranian Vice President for Media Affairs, said that that “as long as U.S. forces have not left the Middle East region and continues its support for the Zionist regime, talks between Iran and U.S. is off the agenda.” Will a regime founded on the idea of bringing down America and her allies, a regime that thought nothing of using its citizens in waves as human mine-detectors in the Iran-Iraq War, be persuaded to see things America’s way simply because its subjects will go without sufficient gas supplies?

Kittrie’s suggestion is an excellent one. Americans need a fuller understanding of our leader, our allies, and our enemy. Only then can the domestic conflict and hysteria over attacking Iran subside, and make way for informed and reasoned debate. Time was short a year ago, so it’s even shorter now. This should be President Obama’s first foreign policy priority.

Law professor Orde F. Kittrie suggests that, if Barack Obama can convince Europe to stop selling gasoline to Iran, the U.S. will finally have an advantage in dealing with Tehran:

Tehran has an economic Achilles’ heel — its extraordinarily heavy dependence on imported gasoline. This dependence could be used by the United States to peacefully create decisive leverage over the Islamic Republic.

Iranian oil wells produce far more petroleum (crude oil) than Iran needs. Yet, remarkably for a country investing so much in nuclear power, Iran has not developed sufficient capacity to refine that crude oil into gasoline and diesel fuel. As a result, it must import some 40% of the gasoline it needs for internal consumption.

Kittrie is exactly right. If his suggestion is heeded, it will give Americans much-needed clarity on three fronts. First: What kind of leader is Barack Obama? Moving to ratchet up international pressure on Iran, and asking European industrialists to risk taking a hit for what is widely seen as an American/Israeli problem, would be a bold out-of-the-gates move for a young first-term president who ran on a platform of parity among nations. Is Obama willing to spare, in the service of furthering U.S. interests, some of the global affection that up until now has served merely to advance his political popularity?

Second, does the world’s adoration for Barack Obama translate into strategic reality? Will European gas companies be more willing to cut off a portion of their clientèle because the persuader speaks a more international language than his predecessor? Or will considerations of profit and stability prevail as they have in the past? The EU has failed to act in accordance with the weaker Iranian sanctions they’ve already agreed to uphold. European exports to Iran, in fact, rose by 17.8 percent in the first few months after the supposedly stiffer sanction regime was put in place. Will Barack Obama be able to tap into hitherto unseen reserves of European sacrifice and fortitude?

Third, is there really a way to derail Iran, short of the military option? Will this sweeping ban bring the mullahs to the table to discuss the possibility of abandoning their nuclear program, or will they forge ahead with enrichment and missile construction, and stir up further anti-Americanism among their people by blaming gas shortages on the cruel, hypocritical Americans? Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently said, “Negotiations with the United States would have no benefit for us, and we do not need them.” Mehdi Kalhor, Iranian Vice President for Media Affairs, said that that “as long as U.S. forces have not left the Middle East region and continues its support for the Zionist regime, talks between Iran and U.S. is off the agenda.” Will a regime founded on the idea of bringing down America and her allies, a regime that thought nothing of using its citizens in waves as human mine-detectors in the Iran-Iraq War, be persuaded to see things America’s way simply because its subjects will go without sufficient gas supplies?

Kittrie’s suggestion is an excellent one. Americans need a fuller understanding of our leader, our allies, and our enemy. Only then can the domestic conflict and hysteria over attacking Iran subside, and make way for informed and reasoned debate. Time was short a year ago, so it’s even shorter now. This should be President Obama’s first foreign policy priority.

Read Less

Killing 401(k)’s?

It’s still more than two months before the Obama administration takes office, and we are already seeing signs of just how the Democrats intend to govern.

One proposal being floated by Congressional Democrats aims to abolish the tax incentives for individual 401(k) retirement plans. With the recent financial meltdown having hit a lot of people’s funds heavily, those lawmakers think that the time would be ripe to end the private system and fold it into an expansion of Social Security.

The current plan, crafted by Professor Teresa Ghilarducci of the New School of Social Research in New York City, would eliminate tax breaks for these retirement plans. This would be coupled to an increase in Social Security taxes to fund an expanded retirement plan for workers.

The appeal of this plan is very, very shallow. Yes, the financial meltdown has seriously wounded many retirement funds. But over the long term, the stock market is always a good investment. Further, the financial markets are already in serious trouble. If the government eliminates the tax breaks for 401(k) plans and increases the Social Security tax, then the net result will be the diversion of literally billions of dollars out of the financial market and straight into the government’s coffers. That would be another critical blow to the already-shaky financial infrastructure of our nation.

At the same time, the heads of the big three automakers and their unions have been holding meetings with Congressional leadership about a possible bailout for their industry. The auto makers are in critical condition, and are looking for a cash infusion (like the one the financial market got) to keep them from going under.

The problem there is that a simple pile of money (no matter how tall that pile might be) won’t help the automakers fix their real problems. They are being crushed by commitments they made in healthier times–commitments to their retirees, to their workers, and their dealers especially. More money will only buy them time–not address their real problems. To fix those, they need to restructure their contracts with those three groups–and that kind of freedom most readily comes through the bankruptcy courts.

In both cases, the crises are being addressed not with actual solutions, but quick fixes that are aimed more at making people feel better than resolving the fundamental problems. And in both cases, the solution shares a common theme: The government is the only one who can help.

On the 401(k) issue, the message is “You can’t trust yourself and private industry to take care of you when you retire. You need the government to take care of everything.” And if, in the process, the government should suddenly find itself flush with cash (your cash)–all the better! After all, it will be far more likely to spend that money responsibly than you or your agents will.

Spend it, say, in keeping the auto indsutry going a little bit longer. Long enough to keep high-paying union jobs (and consequent union campaign donations and other assistance) going a bit longer, too.

Ronald Reagan said, on numerous occasions, that “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” Those words now to be appear to be heading towards official policy.

It’s still more than two months before the Obama administration takes office, and we are already seeing signs of just how the Democrats intend to govern.

One proposal being floated by Congressional Democrats aims to abolish the tax incentives for individual 401(k) retirement plans. With the recent financial meltdown having hit a lot of people’s funds heavily, those lawmakers think that the time would be ripe to end the private system and fold it into an expansion of Social Security.

The current plan, crafted by Professor Teresa Ghilarducci of the New School of Social Research in New York City, would eliminate tax breaks for these retirement plans. This would be coupled to an increase in Social Security taxes to fund an expanded retirement plan for workers.

The appeal of this plan is very, very shallow. Yes, the financial meltdown has seriously wounded many retirement funds. But over the long term, the stock market is always a good investment. Further, the financial markets are already in serious trouble. If the government eliminates the tax breaks for 401(k) plans and increases the Social Security tax, then the net result will be the diversion of literally billions of dollars out of the financial market and straight into the government’s coffers. That would be another critical blow to the already-shaky financial infrastructure of our nation.

At the same time, the heads of the big three automakers and their unions have been holding meetings with Congressional leadership about a possible bailout for their industry. The auto makers are in critical condition, and are looking for a cash infusion (like the one the financial market got) to keep them from going under.

The problem there is that a simple pile of money (no matter how tall that pile might be) won’t help the automakers fix their real problems. They are being crushed by commitments they made in healthier times–commitments to their retirees, to their workers, and their dealers especially. More money will only buy them time–not address their real problems. To fix those, they need to restructure their contracts with those three groups–and that kind of freedom most readily comes through the bankruptcy courts.

In both cases, the crises are being addressed not with actual solutions, but quick fixes that are aimed more at making people feel better than resolving the fundamental problems. And in both cases, the solution shares a common theme: The government is the only one who can help.

On the 401(k) issue, the message is “You can’t trust yourself and private industry to take care of you when you retire. You need the government to take care of everything.” And if, in the process, the government should suddenly find itself flush with cash (your cash)–all the better! After all, it will be far more likely to spend that money responsibly than you or your agents will.

Spend it, say, in keeping the auto indsutry going a little bit longer. Long enough to keep high-paying union jobs (and consequent union campaign donations and other assistance) going a bit longer, too.

Ronald Reagan said, on numerous occasions, that “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” Those words now to be appear to be heading towards official policy.

Read Less

The Real Race: Who Messes Up First

Karl Rove looks at the 2008 numbers and concludes:

History will favor Republicans in 2010. Since World War II, the out-party has gained an average of 23 seats in the U.S. House and two in the U.S. Senate in a new president’s first midterm election. Other than FDR and George W. Bush, no president has gained seats in his first midterm election in both chambers.

Since 1966, the incumbent party has lost an average of 63 state senate and 262 state house seats, and six governorships, in a president’s first midterm election. That 2010 is likely to see Republicans begin rebounding just before redistricting is one silver lining in an otherwise dismal year for the GOP.

In politics, good years follow bad years. Republicans and Democrats have experienced both during the past 15 years. A GOP comeback, while certainly possible, won’t be self-executing and automatic. It will require Republicans to be skillful at both defense (opposing Mr. Obama on some issues) and offense (creating a compelling agenda that resonates with voters). And it will require leaders to emerge who give the right public face to the GOP. None of this will be easy. All of this will be necessary.

Clearly the two biggest dangers for the Democrats are overreach (i.e., pursuit of a far left agenda not embraced by the majority of voters), and that the economy doesn’t improve, or indeed worsens. So let’s suppose the Democrats push through a tax increase, another round of massive bailouts, some protectionist trade measures, and abolition of secret ballots in union elections. The markets worsen, independent voters recoil, and the Republicans–with some minimal improvement in messaging and improved candidate recruitment–pick up a batch of House and Senate seats. It’s not inconceivable that the Democrats might go that route, since each of the items above is on their wish list.

The dangers for the Republicans: the same tired leadership remains, their tone worsens, they lack a compelling message other than “no,” and they harp on issues which turn off segments of the electorate. That’s also not inconceivable, since it is roughly what they did in 2008.

So the race is on: who will mess up first and most? If it’s the Democrats, then all the talk of an electorate-shifting race and a new age in American politics will be for naught. And if there is any doubt about the hubris of over-interpreting one or two elections, Karl Rove can remind us all of the Republican permanent majority that never was.

Karl Rove looks at the 2008 numbers and concludes:

History will favor Republicans in 2010. Since World War II, the out-party has gained an average of 23 seats in the U.S. House and two in the U.S. Senate in a new president’s first midterm election. Other than FDR and George W. Bush, no president has gained seats in his first midterm election in both chambers.

Since 1966, the incumbent party has lost an average of 63 state senate and 262 state house seats, and six governorships, in a president’s first midterm election. That 2010 is likely to see Republicans begin rebounding just before redistricting is one silver lining in an otherwise dismal year for the GOP.

In politics, good years follow bad years. Republicans and Democrats have experienced both during the past 15 years. A GOP comeback, while certainly possible, won’t be self-executing and automatic. It will require Republicans to be skillful at both defense (opposing Mr. Obama on some issues) and offense (creating a compelling agenda that resonates with voters). And it will require leaders to emerge who give the right public face to the GOP. None of this will be easy. All of this will be necessary.

Clearly the two biggest dangers for the Democrats are overreach (i.e., pursuit of a far left agenda not embraced by the majority of voters), and that the economy doesn’t improve, or indeed worsens. So let’s suppose the Democrats push through a tax increase, another round of massive bailouts, some protectionist trade measures, and abolition of secret ballots in union elections. The markets worsen, independent voters recoil, and the Republicans–with some minimal improvement in messaging and improved candidate recruitment–pick up a batch of House and Senate seats. It’s not inconceivable that the Democrats might go that route, since each of the items above is on their wish list.

The dangers for the Republicans: the same tired leadership remains, their tone worsens, they lack a compelling message other than “no,” and they harp on issues which turn off segments of the electorate. That’s also not inconceivable, since it is roughly what they did in 2008.

So the race is on: who will mess up first and most? If it’s the Democrats, then all the talk of an electorate-shifting race and a new age in American politics will be for naught. And if there is any doubt about the hubris of over-interpreting one or two elections, Karl Rove can remind us all of the Republican permanent majority that never was.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

That whole idea about buying “toxic” assets? Never mind. Who knows what they are worth? And, if this gives you the queasy feeling that the government doesn’t know what it’s doing, you are right. No one knows — this stuff has never been tried before.

Time to fish or cut bait for Chris Matthews in his Senate race. Never would Arlen Specter be so beloved by conservatives.

I think she’s right: “I’m going to bet that Obama will keep Guantanamo open. Don’t worry, he’ll break it to us comfortably, with the most cushiony possible rhetoric. And all you Bush haters will be just fine with it.” If you thought the Left wasn’t much bothered by problems of intellectual inconsistency or reality before, wait until the excuses start pouring forth on behalf of the new administration.

I honestly don’t know whether to be concerned about the Minnesota Senate recount. But I think we’ve had enough conspiracy theories for a while, so I will watch from afar, hesitant to scream foul unless there is some real proof of fraud. That said, having a bunch of ballots in the car of a Democratic election official does not inspire confidence.

Meanwhile, Ted Stevens’s lead has also disappeared.

Megan McArdle on the car bailout: “But let’s say it was all management’s fault.  What’s the argument for bailing them out then?  Does someone have tens of thousands of auto engineers, marketers, and senior management buried under a rock somewhere, waiting to replace the incompetent managers?  Because it seems to me that we’re just pouring money into the same deep hole that will periodically reward our efforts by coughing up the Pontiac G6.” Really, isn’t it better to give the money to Toyota or Honda to build more plants in the U.S., employ more workers and make cars people want to buy?

Larry Kudlow adds: “Total compensation per hour for the big-three carmakers is $73.20. That’s a 52 percent differential from Toyota’s (Detroit South) $48 compensation (wages + health and retirement benefits). In fact, the oversized UAW-driven pay package for Detroit is 132 percent higher than that of the entire manufacturing sector of the U.S., which comes in at $31.59. I don’t care how much money Congress throws at GM. With that kind of oversized comp-package they are not gonna be competitive. It’s throwin’ bad money after a bad cause. What a way to start the new Obama era.”

Byron York  wisely counsels Republicans to get a likable candidate next time.

Lots of inside scoop on the RNC Chair race. The winner, I suspect, will not be a brand new face brimming with ideas and technological sophistication.

Former UN Ambassador John Bolton is already nervous about the President-Elect, following his conversation with Poland’s President: “But on balance, his conversation with Mr. Kaczynski points toward a weakening of the U.S. defense posture, indifference to allies under duress, and the need to satisfy his natural constituency within the Democratic Party.”

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is making a lot of sense. If he keeps it up, a faction of pundits will no doubt rise up to attack him. Isn’t that how we know who is making progress as a GOP leader?

I’m not sure why conservative pundits are peeved at McCain for not defending Palin. I thought they didn’t really like him or respect his opinion anyway.

The governorships are where the action will be — and luckily for Republicans, their candidates are articulate, young, and accomplished.

This isn’t being covered by the MSM: “No President-elect in the postwar era has been greeted with a more audible hiss from Wall Street. The Dow has lost 1,342 points, or about 14%, since the election, with the S&P 500 and Nasdaq hitting similar skids. The Dow fell another 4.7% yesterday. Much of this is due to hedge fund deleveraging, as well as dreadful corporate earnings reports and pessimism that the recession will be deeper than many had hoped. We also don’t want to read too much into short-term market moves. But there’s little doubt that uncertainty, and some fear, over Barack Obama’s economic agenda is also contributing to the downdraft.” It wouldn’t kill him to name his Treasury Secretary – soon.

That whole idea about buying “toxic” assets? Never mind. Who knows what they are worth? And, if this gives you the queasy feeling that the government doesn’t know what it’s doing, you are right. No one knows — this stuff has never been tried before.

Time to fish or cut bait for Chris Matthews in his Senate race. Never would Arlen Specter be so beloved by conservatives.

I think she’s right: “I’m going to bet that Obama will keep Guantanamo open. Don’t worry, he’ll break it to us comfortably, with the most cushiony possible rhetoric. And all you Bush haters will be just fine with it.” If you thought the Left wasn’t much bothered by problems of intellectual inconsistency or reality before, wait until the excuses start pouring forth on behalf of the new administration.

I honestly don’t know whether to be concerned about the Minnesota Senate recount. But I think we’ve had enough conspiracy theories for a while, so I will watch from afar, hesitant to scream foul unless there is some real proof of fraud. That said, having a bunch of ballots in the car of a Democratic election official does not inspire confidence.

Meanwhile, Ted Stevens’s lead has also disappeared.

Megan McArdle on the car bailout: “But let’s say it was all management’s fault.  What’s the argument for bailing them out then?  Does someone have tens of thousands of auto engineers, marketers, and senior management buried under a rock somewhere, waiting to replace the incompetent managers?  Because it seems to me that we’re just pouring money into the same deep hole that will periodically reward our efforts by coughing up the Pontiac G6.” Really, isn’t it better to give the money to Toyota or Honda to build more plants in the U.S., employ more workers and make cars people want to buy?

Larry Kudlow adds: “Total compensation per hour for the big-three carmakers is $73.20. That’s a 52 percent differential from Toyota’s (Detroit South) $48 compensation (wages + health and retirement benefits). In fact, the oversized UAW-driven pay package for Detroit is 132 percent higher than that of the entire manufacturing sector of the U.S., which comes in at $31.59. I don’t care how much money Congress throws at GM. With that kind of oversized comp-package they are not gonna be competitive. It’s throwin’ bad money after a bad cause. What a way to start the new Obama era.”

Byron York  wisely counsels Republicans to get a likable candidate next time.

Lots of inside scoop on the RNC Chair race. The winner, I suspect, will not be a brand new face brimming with ideas and technological sophistication.

Former UN Ambassador John Bolton is already nervous about the President-Elect, following his conversation with Poland’s President: “But on balance, his conversation with Mr. Kaczynski points toward a weakening of the U.S. defense posture, indifference to allies under duress, and the need to satisfy his natural constituency within the Democratic Party.”

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is making a lot of sense. If he keeps it up, a faction of pundits will no doubt rise up to attack him. Isn’t that how we know who is making progress as a GOP leader?

I’m not sure why conservative pundits are peeved at McCain for not defending Palin. I thought they didn’t really like him or respect his opinion anyway.

The governorships are where the action will be — and luckily for Republicans, their candidates are articulate, young, and accomplished.

This isn’t being covered by the MSM: “No President-elect in the postwar era has been greeted with a more audible hiss from Wall Street. The Dow has lost 1,342 points, or about 14%, since the election, with the S&P 500 and Nasdaq hitting similar skids. The Dow fell another 4.7% yesterday. Much of this is due to hedge fund deleveraging, as well as dreadful corporate earnings reports and pessimism that the recession will be deeper than many had hoped. We also don’t want to read too much into short-term market moves. But there’s little doubt that uncertainty, and some fear, over Barack Obama’s economic agenda is also contributing to the downdraft.” It wouldn’t kill him to name his Treasury Secretary – soon.

Read Less

Which Obama?

Amity Shlaes recommends the President-Elect study the Great Depression:

With one hand the New Dealers gave, spending to stimulate the economy. In fact, they put through the same kinds of infrastructure projects that Obama and congressional Democrats are considering today.

With the other hand the New Dealers took away, by raising tax rates — just as the new president and Congress are likely to do in 2009. Especially damaging to the prospects of recovery were the heavy levies of the second half of the 1930s, which, as [Paul] Krugman points out, were key in ‘precipitating an economic relapse that drove unemployment back into the double digits.”’

She recommends some capital gains tax relief and concludes:

What about the hoped-for recovery of 2009? The planned tax increases would diminish the effect of those billions for infrastructure, just as tax increases undermined the Public Works Administration or the Works Project Administration in the 1930s.  . . .[T]he Democratic Party will now have to decide which is more important: its eagerness to trash the Bush-Reagan tax legacy, or its eagerness for recovery.

Gazing at Messrs. Paul Volcker, Robert Rubin, Tim Geithner, Austan Goolsbee et al. –- the talented Obama economic team -– you can’t preclude that the new administration will, in the end, scuttle some of its destructive tax increases. The rest of us just have to help them figure out a graceful way to do so.

But, like so many other issues involving Barack Obama, it comes down to who he really is. Is he a wealth-redistributing ideologue, or a moderate seeking to build a Democratic majority? In national security, is he the sort of pragmatist who would keep Defense Secretary Robert Gates and secure the gains in Iraq, or the netroots’ hero who doesn’t much care about facts on the ground? Does he really mean to eradicate all state and federal restrictions on abortion, or is he looking to capture permanently a segment of values voters?  No one is quite certain, maybe not even him.

But unlike the campaign, where he could wait for events to spin to his advantage, the President-Elect now must choose. The fact that he hasn’t yet come up with a Treasury Secretary isn’t encouraging — it suggests that choosing, and choosing promptly, aren’t his strongest skills.

Amity Shlaes recommends the President-Elect study the Great Depression:

With one hand the New Dealers gave, spending to stimulate the economy. In fact, they put through the same kinds of infrastructure projects that Obama and congressional Democrats are considering today.

With the other hand the New Dealers took away, by raising tax rates — just as the new president and Congress are likely to do in 2009. Especially damaging to the prospects of recovery were the heavy levies of the second half of the 1930s, which, as [Paul] Krugman points out, were key in ‘precipitating an economic relapse that drove unemployment back into the double digits.”’

She recommends some capital gains tax relief and concludes:

What about the hoped-for recovery of 2009? The planned tax increases would diminish the effect of those billions for infrastructure, just as tax increases undermined the Public Works Administration or the Works Project Administration in the 1930s.  . . .[T]he Democratic Party will now have to decide which is more important: its eagerness to trash the Bush-Reagan tax legacy, or its eagerness for recovery.

Gazing at Messrs. Paul Volcker, Robert Rubin, Tim Geithner, Austan Goolsbee et al. –- the talented Obama economic team -– you can’t preclude that the new administration will, in the end, scuttle some of its destructive tax increases. The rest of us just have to help them figure out a graceful way to do so.

But, like so many other issues involving Barack Obama, it comes down to who he really is. Is he a wealth-redistributing ideologue, or a moderate seeking to build a Democratic majority? In national security, is he the sort of pragmatist who would keep Defense Secretary Robert Gates and secure the gains in Iraq, or the netroots’ hero who doesn’t much care about facts on the ground? Does he really mean to eradicate all state and federal restrictions on abortion, or is he looking to capture permanently a segment of values voters?  No one is quite certain, maybe not even him.

But unlike the campaign, where he could wait for events to spin to his advantage, the President-Elect now must choose. The fact that he hasn’t yet come up with a Treasury Secretary isn’t encouraging — it suggests that choosing, and choosing promptly, aren’t his strongest skills.

Read Less

Get Used To It

David Broder writes the sort of fawning description of the President-Elect’s latest activities that will represent the tone of much of the MSM coverage for the foreseeable future. He gushes:

The first week of Barack Obama’s transition to the presidency has gone about as well as anyone could imagine. His few public appearances have been gaffe-free and the initial decisions in setting up his administration have been strongly reassuring.

Well, there was that Nancy Reagan crack. And, yes, he did get into an uncomfortable minor spat with the President of Poland. And, oh, the stock market is down 14% since his election, roiled in part on the uncertainty surrounding his yet-to-be-named Treasury Secretary and the yet-to-be-determined tax policy of his administration.

It is not that things have gone badly, or that there haven’t been positive developments. But it certainly is not the case that we can’t imagine a better start. (What about not picking a fight over missile defense with an ally, while Russia continues its bluff-and-bluster routine?)  Critical analysis and balance are verboten. We are in full rooting mode.

It is not going to “better” — that is, more emotionally disengaged–for a long, long time. If ever.

David Broder writes the sort of fawning description of the President-Elect’s latest activities that will represent the tone of much of the MSM coverage for the foreseeable future. He gushes:

The first week of Barack Obama’s transition to the presidency has gone about as well as anyone could imagine. His few public appearances have been gaffe-free and the initial decisions in setting up his administration have been strongly reassuring.

Well, there was that Nancy Reagan crack. And, yes, he did get into an uncomfortable minor spat with the President of Poland. And, oh, the stock market is down 14% since his election, roiled in part on the uncertainty surrounding his yet-to-be-named Treasury Secretary and the yet-to-be-determined tax policy of his administration.

It is not that things have gone badly, or that there haven’t been positive developments. But it certainly is not the case that we can’t imagine a better start. (What about not picking a fight over missile defense with an ally, while Russia continues its bluff-and-bluster routine?)  Critical analysis and balance are verboten. We are in full rooting mode.

It is not going to “better” — that is, more emotionally disengaged–for a long, long time. If ever.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.