Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 22, 2008

Carter, Rejected

Today, Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, and Graca Machel announced that Zimbabwe had refused the trio, members of The Elders group, visas for a humanitarian visit.  “I supported Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle and I oppose suffering and misery,” the former American president said in Johannesburg.  “But I am very sorry that we are unable to visit Zimbabwe.”  Carter noted this was the first time he had been denied permission to enter a country.

And let that be a lesson to you, Mr. Carter.  It is wonderful to say we should engage dictators, thugs, and assorted other criminals holding high office, but sometimes we need to step back and look at the effect of our actions.  Often top-level discussions legitimize despicable leaders, like Robert Mugabe, or buy them time.  Instead of talking with Zimbabwe’s president, we should be bringing him to justice, either in the courts of his own country or before an international tribunal.

Yet as awful as Mugabe is, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that he has at least performed an invaluable public service by giving Carter a lesson on the limits of engagement.

No doubt Mugabe’s tutorial will be lost on the always self-righteous Carter.  But at least the rest of us can learn something valuable from this snub.

Today, Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, and Graca Machel announced that Zimbabwe had refused the trio, members of The Elders group, visas for a humanitarian visit.  “I supported Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle and I oppose suffering and misery,” the former American president said in Johannesburg.  “But I am very sorry that we are unable to visit Zimbabwe.”  Carter noted this was the first time he had been denied permission to enter a country.

And let that be a lesson to you, Mr. Carter.  It is wonderful to say we should engage dictators, thugs, and assorted other criminals holding high office, but sometimes we need to step back and look at the effect of our actions.  Often top-level discussions legitimize despicable leaders, like Robert Mugabe, or buy them time.  Instead of talking with Zimbabwe’s president, we should be bringing him to justice, either in the courts of his own country or before an international tribunal.

Yet as awful as Mugabe is, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that he has at least performed an invaluable public service by giving Carter a lesson on the limits of engagement.

No doubt Mugabe’s tutorial will be lost on the always self-righteous Carter.  But at least the rest of us can learn something valuable from this snub.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The best way to avoid joining “the vast, heaving O-phoria now sweeping the coastal haut-bourgeoisie” is to avoid writing columns which mimic “the vast, heaving O-phoria now sweeping the coastal haut-bourgeoisie.” Better yet, ask some interesting questions! (Why would the President-elect would select someone as ethically challenged as Eric Holder? Why do we have an HHS nominee before a Treasury Secretary pick?). And be bold — step out of the echo chamber!

Others share my amusement at the infatuation with academic credentials. What ever happened to: “I would rather be governed by the first hundred names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty”?

File this away for the vote on the bill to ban secret ballot union elections: “Rep. Louise Slaughter, New York Democrat, earlier in the week expressed relief her vote in the Dingell-Waxman conflict would not be public. ‘It’s a secret ballot, thank the Lord,’ she told Congressional Quarterly.”

One endeavor by the the President-elect every American can get behind — the 2016 Olympics in Chicago. And Mitt Romney could run it! (After he fixes the car companies.)

Gary Bauer methodically eviscerates  Mike Huckabee and ends jauntily: “After he is finished attacking all those who he thinks denied him the GOP nomination, I look forward to working with him to reform the GOP and revitalize the conservative movement.”

Jeffrey Goldberg is counting on Hillary Clinton to pull off a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal. Conservatives are banking on her being smart enough to realize there is no deal remotely possible right now. We’ll find out who’s right soon enough.

“An influential psychiatrist who was the host of the popular NPR program ‘The Infinite Mind’ earned at least $1.3 million from 2000 to 2007 giving marketing lectures for drugmakers, income not mentioned on the program.” Now that’s a conflict of interest not even the Obama transition team could spin.

The light goes on in Detroit: “Members of General Motors Corp.’s board of directors are willing to consider ‘all options’ for the ailing auto maker, including an eventual filing for bankruptcy protection, a stance that puts them in rare disagreement with Chairman and Chief Executive Rick Wagoner. . .” Hmm, do you think it might have something to do with bankruptcy courts’ predilection for firing management?

General James L. Jones at NSC? Sure — if you don’t think artificial deadlines in Iraq were/are a good idea. I’m getting the feeling the Obama national security picks might be as good as John McCain’s. Well, close at least — and certainly more easily confirmed.

Here’s a political lesson: Bill “Judas” Richardson, who through his support to candidate Barack Obama after serving for years with the Clintons, is heading for Commerce, while Hillary Clinton gets the plum job at Foggy Bottom. After all is said and done, “loyalty” counts for very little– it is what can you do for me (or to me) that carries the day. It might have a tiny bit to do with competence as well.

The best way to avoid joining “the vast, heaving O-phoria now sweeping the coastal haut-bourgeoisie” is to avoid writing columns which mimic “the vast, heaving O-phoria now sweeping the coastal haut-bourgeoisie.” Better yet, ask some interesting questions! (Why would the President-elect would select someone as ethically challenged as Eric Holder? Why do we have an HHS nominee before a Treasury Secretary pick?). And be bold — step out of the echo chamber!

Others share my amusement at the infatuation with academic credentials. What ever happened to: “I would rather be governed by the first hundred names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty”?

File this away for the vote on the bill to ban secret ballot union elections: “Rep. Louise Slaughter, New York Democrat, earlier in the week expressed relief her vote in the Dingell-Waxman conflict would not be public. ‘It’s a secret ballot, thank the Lord,’ she told Congressional Quarterly.”

One endeavor by the the President-elect every American can get behind — the 2016 Olympics in Chicago. And Mitt Romney could run it! (After he fixes the car companies.)

Gary Bauer methodically eviscerates  Mike Huckabee and ends jauntily: “After he is finished attacking all those who he thinks denied him the GOP nomination, I look forward to working with him to reform the GOP and revitalize the conservative movement.”

Jeffrey Goldberg is counting on Hillary Clinton to pull off a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal. Conservatives are banking on her being smart enough to realize there is no deal remotely possible right now. We’ll find out who’s right soon enough.

“An influential psychiatrist who was the host of the popular NPR program ‘The Infinite Mind’ earned at least $1.3 million from 2000 to 2007 giving marketing lectures for drugmakers, income not mentioned on the program.” Now that’s a conflict of interest not even the Obama transition team could spin.

The light goes on in Detroit: “Members of General Motors Corp.’s board of directors are willing to consider ‘all options’ for the ailing auto maker, including an eventual filing for bankruptcy protection, a stance that puts them in rare disagreement with Chairman and Chief Executive Rick Wagoner. . .” Hmm, do you think it might have something to do with bankruptcy courts’ predilection for firing management?

General James L. Jones at NSC? Sure — if you don’t think artificial deadlines in Iraq were/are a good idea. I’m getting the feeling the Obama national security picks might be as good as John McCain’s. Well, close at least — and certainly more easily confirmed.

Here’s a political lesson: Bill “Judas” Richardson, who through his support to candidate Barack Obama after serving for years with the Clintons, is heading for Commerce, while Hillary Clinton gets the plum job at Foggy Bottom. After all is said and done, “loyalty” counts for very little– it is what can you do for me (or to me) that carries the day. It might have a tiny bit to do with competence as well.

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Bad Arguments

There are many reasoned arguments to be made in favor of the states recognizing gay marriage.

For example: expanding the definition in no way dilutes or degrades or in any other way harms existing marriages, or threatens heterosexual marriage.
Or: expanding the scope of marriage means there is a significant chance that the institution itself — currently in decline — will be strengthened.

Or: it would help society in general by encouraging more couples to form pair bonds and stable, solid relationships and family units.

Or: it would help bring gay and straight people closer together. Or many, many more arguments, too numerous to mention here.

There are also many irrational arguments to be made in favor of gay marriage. And just as many irrational arguers trying to make their case in the worst way possible.

Such as this tactic.

Or this one.

Or this potential federal offense.

Or these, uh, eminently reasonably people.

There’s an old saying: you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. . . 

There are many reasoned arguments to be made in favor of the states recognizing gay marriage.

For example: expanding the definition in no way dilutes or degrades or in any other way harms existing marriages, or threatens heterosexual marriage.
Or: expanding the scope of marriage means there is a significant chance that the institution itself — currently in decline — will be strengthened.

Or: it would help society in general by encouraging more couples to form pair bonds and stable, solid relationships and family units.

Or: it would help bring gay and straight people closer together. Or many, many more arguments, too numerous to mention here.

There are also many irrational arguments to be made in favor of gay marriage. And just as many irrational arguers trying to make their case in the worst way possible.

Such as this tactic.

Or this one.

Or this potential federal offense.

Or these, uh, eminently reasonably people.

There’s an old saying: you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. . . 

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Treasury Pick

Word that President-elect Barack Obama has finally selected a Treasury Secretary, New York Federal Reserve President Tim Geithner, sent the stock market climbing on Friday. The Wall Street Journal editors’ reaction? It’s about time. They wrote:

We take the market’s reaction as a strong sign of the price that was being paid in uncertainty over this choice and the direction of the incoming Administration’s economic policy. There could hardly be a clearer signal that addressing the immediate panic in the credit markets and its impact on the real economy is priority No. 1 for the new President and that all involved want to get the Obama show on the road.

.    .    .

Amid the brief market euphoria, it is hard not to notice the leaks and air of disorganization coming from the Obama transition team on these important appointment decisions. The new President may come to appreciate George W. Bush’s experience with lower-tier political players who put their own compulsions above his desire to govern.

The delay of nearly three weeks after the election in announcing his economic team has confused and befuddled observers, and contributed unneeded instability in the markets at the worse possible time. The reason for this peculiar roll out of cabinet positions (HSS before Treasury?) is unknown.

What of the choice itself? We know he is a trained technocrat, in the best sense of the word. He knows how to navigate in a crisis and he has in fact been front and center in this one. He understands financial instruments and the inner working of the Fed. But so did Hank Paulson, so that provides not as much comfort as it might have before the current meltdown. As for tax, trade, and spending policy, we know virtually nothing. He has virtually no private sector experience. All of that seems to please financial gurus and rattle some of the President-elect’s supporters.

Will the same Democrats who railed at Hank Paulson for his unexplained about-faces on bailout policy take out their wrath on the nominee who workled hand-in-glove with Paulson? Oh, please — this is Obama’s choice. But both sides should explore his views on fiscal, tax, and trade policy. We really don’t have much of an idea what the President-elect’s views are so this will be our first big clue.

We can only hope that the new Treasury Secretary brings to crisis management some qualities which Paulson did not — the ability to communicate with the public and Congress, a sense of restraint and modesty about government’s ability to figure this out, and a healthy respect for the law of unintended consequences. If so, and if he is bold enough to inform the President-elect that much of his campaign rhetoric (e.g. protectionism, tax hikes) is better left behind, he will be a very good selection indeed.

Word that President-elect Barack Obama has finally selected a Treasury Secretary, New York Federal Reserve President Tim Geithner, sent the stock market climbing on Friday. The Wall Street Journal editors’ reaction? It’s about time. They wrote:

We take the market’s reaction as a strong sign of the price that was being paid in uncertainty over this choice and the direction of the incoming Administration’s economic policy. There could hardly be a clearer signal that addressing the immediate panic in the credit markets and its impact on the real economy is priority No. 1 for the new President and that all involved want to get the Obama show on the road.

.    .    .

Amid the brief market euphoria, it is hard not to notice the leaks and air of disorganization coming from the Obama transition team on these important appointment decisions. The new President may come to appreciate George W. Bush’s experience with lower-tier political players who put their own compulsions above his desire to govern.

The delay of nearly three weeks after the election in announcing his economic team has confused and befuddled observers, and contributed unneeded instability in the markets at the worse possible time. The reason for this peculiar roll out of cabinet positions (HSS before Treasury?) is unknown.

What of the choice itself? We know he is a trained technocrat, in the best sense of the word. He knows how to navigate in a crisis and he has in fact been front and center in this one. He understands financial instruments and the inner working of the Fed. But so did Hank Paulson, so that provides not as much comfort as it might have before the current meltdown. As for tax, trade, and spending policy, we know virtually nothing. He has virtually no private sector experience. All of that seems to please financial gurus and rattle some of the President-elect’s supporters.

Will the same Democrats who railed at Hank Paulson for his unexplained about-faces on bailout policy take out their wrath on the nominee who workled hand-in-glove with Paulson? Oh, please — this is Obama’s choice. But both sides should explore his views on fiscal, tax, and trade policy. We really don’t have much of an idea what the President-elect’s views are so this will be our first big clue.

We can only hope that the new Treasury Secretary brings to crisis management some qualities which Paulson did not — the ability to communicate with the public and Congress, a sense of restraint and modesty about government’s ability to figure this out, and a healthy respect for the law of unintended consequences. If so, and if he is bold enough to inform the President-elect that much of his campaign rhetoric (e.g. protectionism, tax hikes) is better left behind, he will be a very good selection indeed.

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Up To Him

A timely pair of questions:

Are conservatives supposed to suddenly like Obama? Or at least give him the benefit of the doubt? As far as I can tell, precisely none of the liberals urging this on conservatives obeyed their dicta when George Bush was supposed to be the object of their affections.

As to the first, not “suddenly,” and not without reason. Conservatives don’t “like” Obama because they disagree with his vision of America and his domestic and national security positions (at least the old ones). But if he changes either or both, they will like him more. If he abandons measures like card check, agrees to offshore drilling, drops his income and payroll tax ideas, and turns off the bailout money spigot they will like him very much.

As to the second, I think the reaction will be varied. Many conservatives who recoiled against the “Bush lied, people died” mantra are loathe to go down the road of impugning the motives of the President. Others will have no such reservations. But I think conservatives will be more skeptical and harsh than virtually all of the MSM, which has not quite abandoned its “What can we do for ‘ya, Barack?” outlook. To quote Ronald Reagan, “Trust but verify.”

If all of this sounds reactive, it is. Virtually every lever of power rests with the President-elect and his party. If they run left or react with partisan venom toward legitimate political opposition, it won’t be a garden party. But if Obama continues to disappoint and infuriate the Left by appointing middle-of-the-roaders to high office, and follows up with policy moves with wide popularity (e.g. middle class tax cuts, finishing the job in Iraq, effective education reform), he’ll find a warm reception on the Right. It really is up to him.

How likely is it that he will continue to displease the Left and intrigue the Right? It is unknown, just as much about the President-elect is unknown. He is a work in progress and as a result, so is the conservative reaction to him.

A timely pair of questions:

Are conservatives supposed to suddenly like Obama? Or at least give him the benefit of the doubt? As far as I can tell, precisely none of the liberals urging this on conservatives obeyed their dicta when George Bush was supposed to be the object of their affections.

As to the first, not “suddenly,” and not without reason. Conservatives don’t “like” Obama because they disagree with his vision of America and his domestic and national security positions (at least the old ones). But if he changes either or both, they will like him more. If he abandons measures like card check, agrees to offshore drilling, drops his income and payroll tax ideas, and turns off the bailout money spigot they will like him very much.

As to the second, I think the reaction will be varied. Many conservatives who recoiled against the “Bush lied, people died” mantra are loathe to go down the road of impugning the motives of the President. Others will have no such reservations. But I think conservatives will be more skeptical and harsh than virtually all of the MSM, which has not quite abandoned its “What can we do for ‘ya, Barack?” outlook. To quote Ronald Reagan, “Trust but verify.”

If all of this sounds reactive, it is. Virtually every lever of power rests with the President-elect and his party. If they run left or react with partisan venom toward legitimate political opposition, it won’t be a garden party. But if Obama continues to disappoint and infuriate the Left by appointing middle-of-the-roaders to high office, and follows up with policy moves with wide popularity (e.g. middle class tax cuts, finishing the job in Iraq, effective education reform), he’ll find a warm reception on the Right. It really is up to him.

How likely is it that he will continue to displease the Left and intrigue the Right? It is unknown, just as much about the President-elect is unknown. He is a work in progress and as a result, so is the conservative reaction to him.

Read Less




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