Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 21, 2009

When ACTA Speaks . . .

I hope that everyone listens, though there’s not much chance of that. On Wednesday, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni released a new study—”What Will They Learn?”accompanied by a very spiffy site of the same name. The study, timed to hit the market as the annual U.S. News and World Report rankings appear, grades colleges and universities not by easily manipulated and subjective criteria but by doing what is most damaging to academia: taking it at its word.

ACTA presents the “mission statement” of each institution it grades and assesses whether it has strong general-education requirements. This is not the same, it is careful to note, as having distribution requirements: almost every institution has those, but they are usually so broad as to require no common core of knowledge. The results, for anyone who has followed higher education, are depressingly predictable: lots of Fs, especially for the nation’s liberal-arts colleges and elite universities.

My own undergraduate institution, Grinnell College in Iowa, gets a well-deserved straight F for requiring nothing whatsoever. Frankly, that was one big reason I went there, which only goes to show that most 19-year-olds are entirely unqualified to assess the merits of the argument for a core curriculum. But I did enjoy ACTA’s quote from Grinnell, that “the heterogeneity of good critical thinking and the free exchange of ideas militate against any single answer” to the question “What should the liberally educated person know?” Read More

I hope that everyone listens, though there’s not much chance of that. On Wednesday, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni released a new study—”What Will They Learn?”accompanied by a very spiffy site of the same name. The study, timed to hit the market as the annual U.S. News and World Report rankings appear, grades colleges and universities not by easily manipulated and subjective criteria but by doing what is most damaging to academia: taking it at its word.

ACTA presents the “mission statement” of each institution it grades and assesses whether it has strong general-education requirements. This is not the same, it is careful to note, as having distribution requirements: almost every institution has those, but they are usually so broad as to require no common core of knowledge. The results, for anyone who has followed higher education, are depressingly predictable: lots of Fs, especially for the nation’s liberal-arts colleges and elite universities.

My own undergraduate institution, Grinnell College in Iowa, gets a well-deserved straight F for requiring nothing whatsoever. Frankly, that was one big reason I went there, which only goes to show that most 19-year-olds are entirely unqualified to assess the merits of the argument for a core curriculum. But I did enjoy ACTA’s quote from Grinnell, that “the heterogeneity of good critical thinking and the free exchange of ideas militate against any single answer” to the question “What should the liberally educated person know?”

Yes indeed, critical thinking, which one might think would lead to defensible conclusions about what is and is not of value, and the free exchange of ideas, which in higher education is based on a not entirely free model of classroom instruction and grades, means that no one can say what anyone should know. Makes me wonder why Grinnell requires that its instructors have Ph.D.’s, a degree rooted in the claim that disciplines have models of inquiry that do generate teachable knowledge. The answer, maybe, is that Ph.D.’s are used to advertise the institution’s elitism and that “the heterogeneity of critical thinking” is really a synonym for the faded radical appeal of deconstructionism’s demolition of the concept of knowledge.

My other institution, Yale, also gets a big fat F, though not quite as emphatically as Grinnell. I’m not surprised, though I was delighted to see that a recent Yale graduate and friend of mine, Michael Pomeranz, was one of ACTA’s featured and most incisive speakers. As Mr. Pomeranz points out, “Most students are no more likely to choose a general education in a cafeteria-style curriculum than we are to choose only leafy greens in our actual cafeterias.” My own experience at Grinnell and at Yale testifies to the truth of that analogy.

It’s sometimes claimed by institutions that lack a core curriculum that they compensate by a careful system of academic advising. What a laugh. I advised for six years at Yale. Here’s how it works: An hour before you meet your freshmen for the first time, you get their folders and some quick advice from the dean. You have a few minutes to memorize a fact or two about each student—hopefully, that includes their nameand then you go off and have a stilted conversation with four students who don’t know you from a hole in the wall, who have no interest in your subject, and can’t imagine why they should care what you saywhich is sensible, because you don’t know much about them and can’t offer any useful advice on their wildly disparate interests. A few weeks later, they materialize in your office with a form to sign. You check that it meets Yale’s immensely unconstraining distribution requirements, sign, and they disappear. They materialize again in January with another form to sign, and that is usually the last you ever see of them. Frankly, advising doesn’t work, and anyone who says it does is ignorant.

The trickier question is why it’s done this wayand “by this way” I mean not just advising but the whole curricular system. One answer is that after the 1960s and their aftermath got done demolishing the idea of knowledge and objective inquiry, it was all that was left. That’s undoubtedly part of itmaybe even the main part of it. But day to day, I tend to think it’s mostly about making life easy for the faculty; they are the ones who hire their own colleagues (the Ph.D. is, in the end, really a union card that’s useful for excluding outsiders), set their own schedules (which, if you’re tenured, increasingly doesn’t involve teaching on Monday or Friday), and pick their own classes (which for a lot of faculty involves dodging the intro courses).

The basic problem with a core curriculum is that someone would have to teach itand because it would be core, there would be a lot of teaching to be done. That’s not what faculty at elite universities are really there for, which is why the top schools do so poorly in ACTA’s rating and why only seven schools in the entire study got an A. To an extent, this problem can be met by hiring adjuncts, which is what most faculties, in another great stab in the back to the rising generation, have already done. But if you took the model of English 101 at most universities and applied it across all the general-education subjects, you would need a lot of adjuncts indeed. Better, maybe, not to make the effort at all, or so the faculty appears to have concluded. I’m all in favor of ACTA’s efforts, but they do nothing to calm my reluctant sense that, as long as the faculty are running thingsnot that most of the other candidates would be any betterthere is not the slightest chance that the core curriculum will make a comeback.

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Survey Shows Obama’s Base Is Eroding

Ron Brownstein, one of the best analysts of polling numbers and political trends in the business (and quite knowledgeable about baseball trivia, I might add), reports this:

Pew found Obama’s numbers are weakest among groups that were skeptical of him last year, but appeared to be kicking the tires on him during the honeymoon stage of his presidency. Now those groups—particularly white men without a college education—are retreating rapidly amid the ideologically polarizing debates over health care, the stimulus and his administration’s overall trajectory.

But Pew’s new survey also records perceptible, if still generally modest, erosion among groups that were central to Obama’s coalition last year—including young people, college-educated white women and even partisan Democrats. That is more worrisome for Obama, especially amid signs that the bruising combat over his health care plan is inflaming the conservative base. If conservatives are energized at the same time that Obama’s core supporters are wavering, Democrats could face a withering differential in turnout during next year’s election, many party strategists fear. . . .

As the prospects for bipartisan agreement in the Senate fade, the need for Obama to unify Democrats will increase. Right now, though, he is losing Democrats from both wings of the party, even as independents soften and conservatives mobilize. Obama’s ratings in the Pew survey declined slightly from July to August among moderate Democrats (down two percentage points) and sharply among liberal Democrats (down nine percentage points).

These poll numbers suggest that health care is becoming the classic issue that wounds a president: one that unites his opponents and divides his own side. Obama probably has little hope of changing the first half of that equation; when Congress returns he’ll probably need to focus more on improving the second.

There is no question that health care is badly wounding the president. And the divisions on the Democratic side are widening, stretching from a gap into a gulf. Obama right now is being whipsawed by people like Kent Conrad in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House. Howard Dean is unhappy. And Paul Krugman, a key figure on the Left, declared that Obama’s “progressive” base is in “revolt.” These are troubled times in Obamaland. And because time and scrutiny have been the enemies of ObamaCare, I suspect things will get worse before they get better.

Ron Brownstein, one of the best analysts of polling numbers and political trends in the business (and quite knowledgeable about baseball trivia, I might add), reports this:

Pew found Obama’s numbers are weakest among groups that were skeptical of him last year, but appeared to be kicking the tires on him during the honeymoon stage of his presidency. Now those groups—particularly white men without a college education—are retreating rapidly amid the ideologically polarizing debates over health care, the stimulus and his administration’s overall trajectory.

But Pew’s new survey also records perceptible, if still generally modest, erosion among groups that were central to Obama’s coalition last year—including young people, college-educated white women and even partisan Democrats. That is more worrisome for Obama, especially amid signs that the bruising combat over his health care plan is inflaming the conservative base. If conservatives are energized at the same time that Obama’s core supporters are wavering, Democrats could face a withering differential in turnout during next year’s election, many party strategists fear. . . .

As the prospects for bipartisan agreement in the Senate fade, the need for Obama to unify Democrats will increase. Right now, though, he is losing Democrats from both wings of the party, even as independents soften and conservatives mobilize. Obama’s ratings in the Pew survey declined slightly from July to August among moderate Democrats (down two percentage points) and sharply among liberal Democrats (down nine percentage points).

These poll numbers suggest that health care is becoming the classic issue that wounds a president: one that unites his opponents and divides his own side. Obama probably has little hope of changing the first half of that equation; when Congress returns he’ll probably need to focus more on improving the second.

There is no question that health care is badly wounding the president. And the divisions on the Democratic side are widening, stretching from a gap into a gulf. Obama right now is being whipsawed by people like Kent Conrad in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House. Howard Dean is unhappy. And Paul Krugman, a key figure on the Left, declared that Obama’s “progressive” base is in “revolt.” These are troubled times in Obamaland. And because time and scrutiny have been the enemies of ObamaCare, I suspect things will get worse before they get better.

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U.S. Special Ops in Philippines Leaves Small but Necessary Footprint

Bob Gates is right to leave a Joint Special Operations Task Force in place in the Philippines. My colleague Rick Bennet and I visited with JSOTF-P in 2008; you can read about the visit in this Weekly Standard article.

What we found is that this Special Operations Task Force is doing important work in helping the Philippine government and military beat back the threat from Islamic terrorists, some of whom have links to al-Qaeda. Their work is not kinetic; they are not allowed to fire weapons except in self-defense. Their main concern is the softer side of counterinsurgency—for example, doing reconstruction projects and strategic communications. They also train Philippine soldiers and marines to hunt down the bad guys while providing them some intelligence assistance in that task.

This is a small-footprint operation that doesn’t cause resentment of the United States and doesn’t get a lot of soldiers killedbut that does a lot of good. It is a model operation in the global war on terror, with first-rate leadership by Colonel Bill Coultrup, a veteran special-operations officer with a long list of classified achievements, whose affability and intelligence make him an ideal diplomat in uniform.

Nevertheless, there has been a push on for some time within certain sectors of the military to call it a dayto declare that the special operators have done as much as they can and to pull them out to more urgent assignments. It is precisely such a short-term mindset that could allow Abu Sayyaf and related terrorist groups to stage a resurgence.

Kudos to Gates for realizing that we cannot be successful without making a long-term commitment in places like the Philippines.

Bob Gates is right to leave a Joint Special Operations Task Force in place in the Philippines. My colleague Rick Bennet and I visited with JSOTF-P in 2008; you can read about the visit in this Weekly Standard article.

What we found is that this Special Operations Task Force is doing important work in helping the Philippine government and military beat back the threat from Islamic terrorists, some of whom have links to al-Qaeda. Their work is not kinetic; they are not allowed to fire weapons except in self-defense. Their main concern is the softer side of counterinsurgency—for example, doing reconstruction projects and strategic communications. They also train Philippine soldiers and marines to hunt down the bad guys while providing them some intelligence assistance in that task.

This is a small-footprint operation that doesn’t cause resentment of the United States and doesn’t get a lot of soldiers killedbut that does a lot of good. It is a model operation in the global war on terror, with first-rate leadership by Colonel Bill Coultrup, a veteran special-operations officer with a long list of classified achievements, whose affability and intelligence make him an ideal diplomat in uniform.

Nevertheless, there has been a push on for some time within certain sectors of the military to call it a dayto declare that the special operators have done as much as they can and to pull them out to more urgent assignments. It is precisely such a short-term mindset that could allow Abu Sayyaf and related terrorist groups to stage a resurgence.

Kudos to Gates for realizing that we cannot be successful without making a long-term commitment in places like the Philippines.

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How Far Is Way Way Way Too Far?

What is there to say, really?

U.S. President Barack Obama has started reaching out to some of Pakistan’s most fervent Islamist and anti-American parties, including one that helped give rise to the Taliban, trying to improve Washington’s image in the nuclear-armed state.

[…]

At one of this week’s sessions, Liaqat Baloch, a top member of the religious, right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party, told Holbrooke he welcomed the new administration’s public change in tone towards Muslims around the world.

For a little context, consider that Liaqat Baloch blames the attacks of 9/11 on Israel.

Bret Stephens recently wrote that in the U.S. we do not recognize the rights or negotiating status of bullying crime syndicates, because “to do otherwise is to import the law of the jungle into civil society.” Welcome to the jungle.

What is there to say, really?

U.S. President Barack Obama has started reaching out to some of Pakistan’s most fervent Islamist and anti-American parties, including one that helped give rise to the Taliban, trying to improve Washington’s image in the nuclear-armed state.

[…]

At one of this week’s sessions, Liaqat Baloch, a top member of the religious, right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party, told Holbrooke he welcomed the new administration’s public change in tone towards Muslims around the world.

For a little context, consider that Liaqat Baloch blames the attacks of 9/11 on Israel.

Bret Stephens recently wrote that in the U.S. we do not recognize the rights or negotiating status of bullying crime syndicates, because “to do otherwise is to import the law of the jungle into civil society.” Welcome to the jungle.

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A Week in the Life of the International Community

It was a banner week for the brave and principled international community. Sweden, which currently holds the EU presidency, chose to send a full ambassador to the swearing-in ceremony of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran on Wednesday. In contrast, the other European countries sent low-level representatives as a protest. Anders Jorle, the spokesman for the Swedish Foreign Ministry, said, “It is important that the EU Presidency holds a channel of diplomatic communications open with the Iranian government.”

The Swedish government will go out of its way to offend Israel by defending a blood-libel in one of its newspapers, but displays the most delicate of sensitivities when it comes to the terrorist regime in Tehran. Sweden is quickly becoming the Human Rights Watch of nations.

Then there is Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the UN. He congratulated Ahmadinejad for his “victory” but is refusing to release the text of his message, as is customary. A cowardice twofer: sucking up to a dictator and then shielding himself for criticism for having done so.

And finally there is the IAEA, an organization that is being transformed into the antithesis of itself under the leadership of Mohamed ElBaradei. As Haaretz reports:

The world’s nuclear weapons watchdog is hiding data on Iran’s drive to obtain nuclear arms, senior Western diplomats and Israeli officials told Haaretz.

The officials and diplomats said that the International Atomic Energy Agency under Director General Mohamed ElBaradei was refraining from publishing evidence obtained by its inspectors over the past few months that indicate Iran was pursuing information about weaponization efforts and a military nuclear program.

ElBaradei, who will soon vacate his post, has said that the agency does not have any evidence that suggests Iran is developing a nuclear weapon.

But the sources told Haaretz that the new evidence was submitted to the IAEA in a classified annex written by its inspectors in the Islamic Republic. The report was said to have been signed by the head of the IAEA team in Iran.

The classified report, according to the sources, was not incorporated into the agency’s published reports. The details, they said, were censored by senior officials of the IAEA in the organization’s Vienna headquarters.

It was a banner week for the brave and principled international community. Sweden, which currently holds the EU presidency, chose to send a full ambassador to the swearing-in ceremony of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran on Wednesday. In contrast, the other European countries sent low-level representatives as a protest. Anders Jorle, the spokesman for the Swedish Foreign Ministry, said, “It is important that the EU Presidency holds a channel of diplomatic communications open with the Iranian government.”

The Swedish government will go out of its way to offend Israel by defending a blood-libel in one of its newspapers, but displays the most delicate of sensitivities when it comes to the terrorist regime in Tehran. Sweden is quickly becoming the Human Rights Watch of nations.

Then there is Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the UN. He congratulated Ahmadinejad for his “victory” but is refusing to release the text of his message, as is customary. A cowardice twofer: sucking up to a dictator and then shielding himself for criticism for having done so.

And finally there is the IAEA, an organization that is being transformed into the antithesis of itself under the leadership of Mohamed ElBaradei. As Haaretz reports:

The world’s nuclear weapons watchdog is hiding data on Iran’s drive to obtain nuclear arms, senior Western diplomats and Israeli officials told Haaretz.

The officials and diplomats said that the International Atomic Energy Agency under Director General Mohamed ElBaradei was refraining from publishing evidence obtained by its inspectors over the past few months that indicate Iran was pursuing information about weaponization efforts and a military nuclear program.

ElBaradei, who will soon vacate his post, has said that the agency does not have any evidence that suggests Iran is developing a nuclear weapon.

But the sources told Haaretz that the new evidence was submitted to the IAEA in a classified annex written by its inspectors in the Islamic Republic. The report was said to have been signed by the head of the IAEA team in Iran.

The classified report, according to the sources, was not incorporated into the agency’s published reports. The details, they said, were censored by senior officials of the IAEA in the organization’s Vienna headquarters.

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The NY Times Draws a Map for al-Qaeda

The New York Times today continues its jihad against operations designed to fight our mortal enemies. On Wednesday, the Times revealed that the CIA had engaged Blackwater to assist in a possible project to eliminate al-Qaeda operatives apparently through the use of human hit teams rather than unmanned drones. Today comes another revelation: Blackwater employees are maintaining the CIA drones that are killing so many al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan.

The security of this operation has already been compromised by Senator Dianne Feinstein, who blurted out that the drones flew out of a secret base in Pakistan, thus embarrassing a vital American ally. The Times adds another detail, revealing that a base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, is also being used to carry out these CIA-run operations. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why the news value of this revelation outweighs the obvious security risk that al-Qaeda and its ilk will target the base in question.

I also can’t figure out the tone of outrage that runs not so deeply beneath the surface of the Times articles. Their coverage makes it seem as if the CIA were planning to assassinate antiwar parliamentarians in Europe instead of some of the world’s most deadly terrorists. I realize that Blackwater is controversial, and rightly so, because of the conduct of its employees in Iraq, but there is no evidence—at least none presented here—that it has done anything wrong with regard to the CIA program to eliminate al-Qaeda leaders. Instead, it seems to be assisting a vital program that is enhancing our security.

Where, I wonder, is the scandal? Is the scandal from the Times‘s viewpoint that our government is killing terrorists rather than reading them their Miranda rights? If so, the editors should come out and admit it, instead of doing these drive-by shootings that can only impede ongoing operations.

 

The New York Times today continues its jihad against operations designed to fight our mortal enemies. On Wednesday, the Times revealed that the CIA had engaged Blackwater to assist in a possible project to eliminate al-Qaeda operatives apparently through the use of human hit teams rather than unmanned drones. Today comes another revelation: Blackwater employees are maintaining the CIA drones that are killing so many al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan.

The security of this operation has already been compromised by Senator Dianne Feinstein, who blurted out that the drones flew out of a secret base in Pakistan, thus embarrassing a vital American ally. The Times adds another detail, revealing that a base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, is also being used to carry out these CIA-run operations. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why the news value of this revelation outweighs the obvious security risk that al-Qaeda and its ilk will target the base in question.

I also can’t figure out the tone of outrage that runs not so deeply beneath the surface of the Times articles. Their coverage makes it seem as if the CIA were planning to assassinate antiwar parliamentarians in Europe instead of some of the world’s most deadly terrorists. I realize that Blackwater is controversial, and rightly so, because of the conduct of its employees in Iraq, but there is no evidence—at least none presented here—that it has done anything wrong with regard to the CIA program to eliminate al-Qaeda leaders. Instead, it seems to be assisting a vital program that is enhancing our security.

Where, I wonder, is the scandal? Is the scandal from the Times‘s viewpoint that our government is killing terrorists rather than reading them their Miranda rights? If so, the editors should come out and admit it, instead of doing these drive-by shootings that can only impede ongoing operations.

 

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Obama and God’s Imprimatur

In the past, Barack Obama has shown a fairly sophisticated understanding of the role of faith and politics. In his June 26, 2006, Call to Renewal speech, for example, Obama argued that Democrats should both support separation of church and state and be more welcoming of the proper role of faith in the public square. Obama also referred to his opponent in his 2004 Senate race, Alan Keyes. Toward the end of that campaign, Keyes had declared that “Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama.” In his 2006 speech, Obama argued:

 Now, I was urged by some of my liberal supporters not to take this statement seriously, to essentially ignore it . . . what they didn’t understand, however, was that I had to take Mr. Keyes seriously, for he claimed to speak for my religion, and my God. He claimed knowledge of certain truths. Mr. Obama says he’s a Christian, he was saying, and yet he supports a lifestyle that the Bible calls an abomination. Mr. Obama says he’s a Christian, but supports the destruction of innocent and sacred life. And so what would my supporters have me say? How should I respond? . . . I answered with what has come to be the typically liberal response in such debates—namely, I said that we live in a pluralistic society, that I can’t impose my own religious views on another, that I was running to be the U.S. Senator of Illinois and not the Minister of Illinois. But Mr. Keyes’s implicit accusation that I was not a true Christian nagged at me.

Obama concluded his speech by telling of a thoughtful letter he had received from a pro-life doctor who objected to some incendiary language that was posted on Obama’s website, but which Obama, to his credit, had removed. Obama, saying he felt a “pang of shame,” concluded his speech by saying that that night, he said a prayer of his own—”a prayer that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me.”

 I point out all this because of what Obama said in a call to religious leaders to generate support for ObamaCare. Obama accused his critics of “bearing false witness.” Obama went on to say: “These are all fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation: that is that we look out for one another, that I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper. In the wealthiest nation on earth right now, we are neglecting to live up to that call.”

In a different phone call, with 1,000 rabbis, Obama is quoted as saying, “I am going to need your help in accomplishing necessary reform. . . . We are God’s partners in matters of life and death.”

 There are two issues to untangle in all this. The first is that, in accusing his critics of “bearing false witness,” Obama draws attention to his own hypocrisy. The president has repeatedly made false statements about his health-care plan—about what it would cost, what its consequences would be, the Medicare cuts it would entail, and the commitments and endorsements he has received. The president has every right to insist that his opponents are accurate when making criticisms of his plans, and some of them haven’t been. But Obama, who occupies the most powerful office in the world, has an obligation to tell the truth as well—and Obama’s record on this matter is disquieting and even alarming.

The second issue has to do with Obama’s attempt to use religious language to advance a political end—in this case, the nationalization of American health care. I welcome politicians making moral arguments informed by their religious faith, though these arguments should be based on reason, subject to scrutiny, and accessible to those who don’t share one’s faith. Lincoln on slavery is a model of this.

Where Obama is getting into dangerous territory is when he takes a biblical injunction—we have a moral obligation to care for one another—and strongly implies that his health-care plan has God’s imprimatur. It is one thing to think theologically about public matters; it is quite another to describe what the right “Christian position” is. The temptation for people of faith who are in politics is to enunciate a principle—justice, compassion, peace, the rights and dignity of the individual, stewardship of the earth—and simplistically connect the dots, as if the principle itself easily translates into an obvious policy. It rarely does. And those who play this game create all sorts of confusion.

The purpose of Obama’s call to religious leaders was to create an implicit syllogism: if you love God and your neighbor, you will support ObamaCare. If Obama does not believe this, he has a responsibility to say so. Because as it now stands, based on the context of his comments (which was to urge those leaders to work on behalf of his health-care plan), this is a reasonable inference.

Some of us have criticized the Religious Right for making precisely this error—for portraying complex policy questions as ones for which there is only one obvious and “godly” answer; for denying that people of goodwill can disagree on which policies advance the common good; and for portraying those who hold differing views as cartoon figures driven by questionable or corrupt motives. This mindset is what Senator Obama warned against—but something that President Obama seems eager to embrace.

Engaged in a fierce public debate, with support for his health-care plans plummeting, Obama is jettisoning the subtlety and careful parameters about which he once spoke. He denies to others the presumption of good faith he once sought. One can only hope he feels a pang of shame at what he is doing—and that he pulls back before he creates a divisive and ugly conflict among people of faith.

 

 

In the past, Barack Obama has shown a fairly sophisticated understanding of the role of faith and politics. In his June 26, 2006, Call to Renewal speech, for example, Obama argued that Democrats should both support separation of church and state and be more welcoming of the proper role of faith in the public square. Obama also referred to his opponent in his 2004 Senate race, Alan Keyes. Toward the end of that campaign, Keyes had declared that “Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama.” In his 2006 speech, Obama argued:

 Now, I was urged by some of my liberal supporters not to take this statement seriously, to essentially ignore it . . . what they didn’t understand, however, was that I had to take Mr. Keyes seriously, for he claimed to speak for my religion, and my God. He claimed knowledge of certain truths. Mr. Obama says he’s a Christian, he was saying, and yet he supports a lifestyle that the Bible calls an abomination. Mr. Obama says he’s a Christian, but supports the destruction of innocent and sacred life. And so what would my supporters have me say? How should I respond? . . . I answered with what has come to be the typically liberal response in such debates—namely, I said that we live in a pluralistic society, that I can’t impose my own religious views on another, that I was running to be the U.S. Senator of Illinois and not the Minister of Illinois. But Mr. Keyes’s implicit accusation that I was not a true Christian nagged at me.

Obama concluded his speech by telling of a thoughtful letter he had received from a pro-life doctor who objected to some incendiary language that was posted on Obama’s website, but which Obama, to his credit, had removed. Obama, saying he felt a “pang of shame,” concluded his speech by saying that that night, he said a prayer of his own—”a prayer that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me.”

 I point out all this because of what Obama said in a call to religious leaders to generate support for ObamaCare. Obama accused his critics of “bearing false witness.” Obama went on to say: “These are all fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation: that is that we look out for one another, that I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper. In the wealthiest nation on earth right now, we are neglecting to live up to that call.”

In a different phone call, with 1,000 rabbis, Obama is quoted as saying, “I am going to need your help in accomplishing necessary reform. . . . We are God’s partners in matters of life and death.”

 There are two issues to untangle in all this. The first is that, in accusing his critics of “bearing false witness,” Obama draws attention to his own hypocrisy. The president has repeatedly made false statements about his health-care plan—about what it would cost, what its consequences would be, the Medicare cuts it would entail, and the commitments and endorsements he has received. The president has every right to insist that his opponents are accurate when making criticisms of his plans, and some of them haven’t been. But Obama, who occupies the most powerful office in the world, has an obligation to tell the truth as well—and Obama’s record on this matter is disquieting and even alarming.

The second issue has to do with Obama’s attempt to use religious language to advance a political end—in this case, the nationalization of American health care. I welcome politicians making moral arguments informed by their religious faith, though these arguments should be based on reason, subject to scrutiny, and accessible to those who don’t share one’s faith. Lincoln on slavery is a model of this.

Where Obama is getting into dangerous territory is when he takes a biblical injunction—we have a moral obligation to care for one another—and strongly implies that his health-care plan has God’s imprimatur. It is one thing to think theologically about public matters; it is quite another to describe what the right “Christian position” is. The temptation for people of faith who are in politics is to enunciate a principle—justice, compassion, peace, the rights and dignity of the individual, stewardship of the earth—and simplistically connect the dots, as if the principle itself easily translates into an obvious policy. It rarely does. And those who play this game create all sorts of confusion.

The purpose of Obama’s call to religious leaders was to create an implicit syllogism: if you love God and your neighbor, you will support ObamaCare. If Obama does not believe this, he has a responsibility to say so. Because as it now stands, based on the context of his comments (which was to urge those leaders to work on behalf of his health-care plan), this is a reasonable inference.

Some of us have criticized the Religious Right for making precisely this error—for portraying complex policy questions as ones for which there is only one obvious and “godly” answer; for denying that people of goodwill can disagree on which policies advance the common good; and for portraying those who hold differing views as cartoon figures driven by questionable or corrupt motives. This mindset is what Senator Obama warned against—but something that President Obama seems eager to embrace.

Engaged in a fierce public debate, with support for his health-care plans plummeting, Obama is jettisoning the subtlety and careful parameters about which he once spoke. He denies to others the presumption of good faith he once sought. One can only hope he feels a pang of shame at what he is doing—and that he pulls back before he creates a divisive and ugly conflict among people of faith.

 

 

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Swedish Editor Is No Raoul Wallenberg

As we pointed out yesterday, the reaction to a Swedish newspaper’s publication of a blood libel against Israel is a seminal moment for those seeking to understand the comeback of European anti-Semitism. The decision of Aftonbladet to run a piece that alleged that the Israeli army was killing Palestinian boys and then harvesting their organs for sale was shocking enough; the unwillingness of much of the Swedish establishment to speak out against this outrage, however, shows just how bad things are getting there.

And for those who imagined that the paper might choose to cut its losses and slowly back away from the canards it launched against Israel, the opposite is true. A look at the blog of Jan Helin,* Aftonbladet‘s editor, reveals that he is intent on doubling down on a campaign of libel while all the while attempting to pose as a victim. Helin claims: “I’m not a racist. I’m not an anti-Semite. Aftonbladet is not an anti-Semitic newspaper. On the contrary, we openly stand against xenophobia.”

But he describes the understandable reaction of Israelis and Jews around the world to his digging up what is one of the old standbys of anti-Semites—a medieval-style blood libel that depicts Jews as blood-sucking vampires who feast on the bodies of non-Jews—as “a wave of hatred.”

Curiously, though he specifies that “Aftonbladet takes no position on the veracity of the facts,” he writes as if the notion that Jews kill Palestinians and steal their organs is not a slander but a debatable proposition and that the ball is in Israel’s court to prove that its soldiers are not guilty of such a preposterous crime.

But just as brazen as his defense of the article is his attack on his country’s ambassador to Israel for having the good sense to try and distance her nation from Aftonbladet’s anti-Semitism. Calling her statement—that she was shocked and appalled at the article—an attack on freedom of the press, Helin writes: “Have you woken up in Iran? No, it is Sweden’s Ambassador Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier in Tel Aviv, who attacks the Swedish freedom of press and freedom of expression.”

This is, of course, nonsense. Helin and Aftonbladet may have the right to publish lies, or at least they would in the United States (though they might be liable for libel charges), but it is not a violation of that right for decent persons and even government officials to denounce them for spreading hate. And in an attempt to blame the victims of his libel for having the chutzpah to denounce it, Helin invokes the more familiar language of Israel-bashers: “It’s deeply unpleasant and sad to see such a strong propaganda machine using centuries-old anti-Semitic images in an apparent attempt to get an obviously topical issue off the table.”

So, according to Helin, it is Israel, which he accuses of killing children and then cannibalizing their bodies, that is invoking anti-Semitic imagery.

Helin notes with satisfaction that Sweden’s Foreign Ministry distanced itself from Borsiin Bonnier’s condemnation of Aftonbladet. Moreover, he appears confident that it is more likely that the ambassador will, as he wishes, be punished for her conduct than it is that the Swedish government, which itself funds NGOs that routinely engage in anti-Israel propaganda, will join in any condemnation of his newspaper’s conduct.

Perhaps the most salient comment about any of this came from a reader of this blog who noted sardonically in a reference to the great Swedish hero of the Holocaust that “I guess not everyone is Raoul Wallenberg up there . . .”

I guess not.

* Nota bene: The blog was run through Google’s translator.

As we pointed out yesterday, the reaction to a Swedish newspaper’s publication of a blood libel against Israel is a seminal moment for those seeking to understand the comeback of European anti-Semitism. The decision of Aftonbladet to run a piece that alleged that the Israeli army was killing Palestinian boys and then harvesting their organs for sale was shocking enough; the unwillingness of much of the Swedish establishment to speak out against this outrage, however, shows just how bad things are getting there.

And for those who imagined that the paper might choose to cut its losses and slowly back away from the canards it launched against Israel, the opposite is true. A look at the blog of Jan Helin,* Aftonbladet‘s editor, reveals that he is intent on doubling down on a campaign of libel while all the while attempting to pose as a victim. Helin claims: “I’m not a racist. I’m not an anti-Semite. Aftonbladet is not an anti-Semitic newspaper. On the contrary, we openly stand against xenophobia.”

But he describes the understandable reaction of Israelis and Jews around the world to his digging up what is one of the old standbys of anti-Semites—a medieval-style blood libel that depicts Jews as blood-sucking vampires who feast on the bodies of non-Jews—as “a wave of hatred.”

Curiously, though he specifies that “Aftonbladet takes no position on the veracity of the facts,” he writes as if the notion that Jews kill Palestinians and steal their organs is not a slander but a debatable proposition and that the ball is in Israel’s court to prove that its soldiers are not guilty of such a preposterous crime.

But just as brazen as his defense of the article is his attack on his country’s ambassador to Israel for having the good sense to try and distance her nation from Aftonbladet’s anti-Semitism. Calling her statement—that she was shocked and appalled at the article—an attack on freedom of the press, Helin writes: “Have you woken up in Iran? No, it is Sweden’s Ambassador Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier in Tel Aviv, who attacks the Swedish freedom of press and freedom of expression.”

This is, of course, nonsense. Helin and Aftonbladet may have the right to publish lies, or at least they would in the United States (though they might be liable for libel charges), but it is not a violation of that right for decent persons and even government officials to denounce them for spreading hate. And in an attempt to blame the victims of his libel for having the chutzpah to denounce it, Helin invokes the more familiar language of Israel-bashers: “It’s deeply unpleasant and sad to see such a strong propaganda machine using centuries-old anti-Semitic images in an apparent attempt to get an obviously topical issue off the table.”

So, according to Helin, it is Israel, which he accuses of killing children and then cannibalizing their bodies, that is invoking anti-Semitic imagery.

Helin notes with satisfaction that Sweden’s Foreign Ministry distanced itself from Borsiin Bonnier’s condemnation of Aftonbladet. Moreover, he appears confident that it is more likely that the ambassador will, as he wishes, be punished for her conduct than it is that the Swedish government, which itself funds NGOs that routinely engage in anti-Israel propaganda, will join in any condemnation of his newspaper’s conduct.

Perhaps the most salient comment about any of this came from a reader of this blog who noted sardonically in a reference to the great Swedish hero of the Holocaust that “I guess not everyone is Raoul Wallenberg up there . . .”

I guess not.

* Nota bene: The blog was run through Google’s translator.

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Gotta Serve Somebody

You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance,
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Bob Dylan might have added Israel to the list if he were a follower of Arab politics, one of the more remarkable features of which is the relentless accusation between competing factions of servility to the Jews. Last weekend, Hamas gunned down the members of some al-Qaeda-style groups in the Gaza strip. Why? You guessed it:

A number of al-Qaida-affiliated groups on Thursday condemned Hamas as an apostate movement that serves the interests of Israel by cracking down on their supporters in the Gaza Strip. . . .

“Hamas’s actions serve the interest of the Jewish usurpers of Palestine and the Christians who are fighting Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Somalia,” the statement charged, urging bin Laden and Zawahiri to come out in public against Hamas.

Ho hum. Hamas accuses Fatah of serving Israeli interests more often than Walt and Mearsheimer accuse neoconservatives of the same thing. Any Palestinian who speaks of peaceful coexistence receives the treatment. During the recent Fatah confab in Bethlehem, collaboration with Israel was a popular charge for political rivals to level at one another. During the mid-1960s, Arab leaders were so aggressive in accusing each other of this grave crime that they goaded themselves into perhaps their greatest humiliation of all time—the Six-Day War.

Have these accusers ever really believed their own claims? Doubtful. But the popularity of the accusation says rather a lot about the fevered and conspiratorial nature of Arab politics, where the greatest insult one can suffer is the charge of servility to the Jews.

You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance,
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Bob Dylan might have added Israel to the list if he were a follower of Arab politics, one of the more remarkable features of which is the relentless accusation between competing factions of servility to the Jews. Last weekend, Hamas gunned down the members of some al-Qaeda-style groups in the Gaza strip. Why? You guessed it:

A number of al-Qaida-affiliated groups on Thursday condemned Hamas as an apostate movement that serves the interests of Israel by cracking down on their supporters in the Gaza Strip. . . .

“Hamas’s actions serve the interest of the Jewish usurpers of Palestine and the Christians who are fighting Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Somalia,” the statement charged, urging bin Laden and Zawahiri to come out in public against Hamas.

Ho hum. Hamas accuses Fatah of serving Israeli interests more often than Walt and Mearsheimer accuse neoconservatives of the same thing. Any Palestinian who speaks of peaceful coexistence receives the treatment. During the recent Fatah confab in Bethlehem, collaboration with Israel was a popular charge for political rivals to level at one another. During the mid-1960s, Arab leaders were so aggressive in accusing each other of this grave crime that they goaded themselves into perhaps their greatest humiliation of all time—the Six-Day War.

Have these accusers ever really believed their own claims? Doubtful. But the popularity of the accusation says rather a lot about the fevered and conspiratorial nature of Arab politics, where the greatest insult one can suffer is the charge of servility to the Jews.

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The Problem Is Qaddafi, Not Megrahi

The degree of mercy Scotland chooses to show a cancer-stricken terrorist is not the most important aspect of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi’s release from prison yesterday. While it’s maddening to see the perpetrator of the 1988 bombing attack on Pan Am flight 103 go free and die in the setting of his preference, it doesn’t affect our security or our positioning in the fight against terrorism. Here’s what does: the U.S.’s newfound interest in a friendship with Libya’s leader, Muammar Qaddafi. By revolting coincidence, that would be the same Qaddafi who sent his private jet to pick up the Lockerbie accomplice yesterday morning, ensuring his safe return to Libya and a hero’s welcome.

It’s also the same Qaddafi who hosted then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Tripoli last year, where Ms. Rice announced that “it is a very good thing that the United States and Libya are establishing a way forward” and proclaimed that “this demonstrates that the U.S. doesn’t have permanent enemies.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has picked up exactly where her predecessor left off.  Last month, she described Libya as a country that “eventually alter[ed] its behavior in exchange for the benefits of acceptance into the international community.” Simple as that.

And so Qaddafi is due in New York next month to address the United Nations. In preparation for his first-ever trip to the U.S., the arms supplier for everyone from Idi Amin to Charles Taylor has requested that he be allowed to set up his Bedouin-style tent somewhere on U.S. soil and reside in it when not at the General Assembly lectern. Whether Qaddafi ends up on Central Park’s Great Lawn or at the New York Palace, the Libyan leader, who himself is believed to have played a crucial role in the Lockerbie bombing, will be hosted in the U.S. It kind of takes the sting off the moralistic denunciations which emanated from Washington yesterday.

The American State Department and the UN are hardly alone in pretending that Qaddafi has become a reliable Western ally. He was an honored guest at last month’s G8 meeting in Italy, where he met personally with England’s prime minister, Gordon Brown. Moreover, British Petroleum is launching its biggest exploration project in oil-rich Libya. Needless to say, the Russians are also interested in Libya’s oil and natural-gas reserves, but so far Qaddafi seems partial to Western countries whose technologies hold the most promise for full production.

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton condemned  Megrahi’s release. But on what grounds can Secretary Clinton denounce the actions of Scotland’s authorities? She is on the record as a fan of Qaddafi’s “rehabilitation.” So too is President Obama. In all likelihood, the thriving, jet-setting Qaddafi played a more important role in the killing of 189 Americans in the 1988 midair bombing than did the dying Megrahi.

Not incidentally, it is Qaddafi, and not Megrahi, who presides over a government that is a human-rights abomination. A still active law passed in 1972 states that Libyans who “exercise their rights to freedom of expression and association may face the death penalty.” There are no independent human-rights NGOs in Libya, there is no asylum law, and foreign nationals are tortured and sometimes executed without recourse.

As the U.S.—the indispensable guardian of justice and human rights—continues to buddy up to individuals like Qaddafi (and Kim Jong-il and Manuel Zelaya and Gen.Than Shwe and Hosni Mubarak et al.), Americans should not be surprised if other governments ease up on similar and lesser monsters. And our statespeople will sound ever more hypocritical in their condemnations of the moral laxity and bad judgment demonstrated by our allies.

The degree of mercy Scotland chooses to show a cancer-stricken terrorist is not the most important aspect of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi’s release from prison yesterday. While it’s maddening to see the perpetrator of the 1988 bombing attack on Pan Am flight 103 go free and die in the setting of his preference, it doesn’t affect our security or our positioning in the fight against terrorism. Here’s what does: the U.S.’s newfound interest in a friendship with Libya’s leader, Muammar Qaddafi. By revolting coincidence, that would be the same Qaddafi who sent his private jet to pick up the Lockerbie accomplice yesterday morning, ensuring his safe return to Libya and a hero’s welcome.

It’s also the same Qaddafi who hosted then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Tripoli last year, where Ms. Rice announced that “it is a very good thing that the United States and Libya are establishing a way forward” and proclaimed that “this demonstrates that the U.S. doesn’t have permanent enemies.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has picked up exactly where her predecessor left off.  Last month, she described Libya as a country that “eventually alter[ed] its behavior in exchange for the benefits of acceptance into the international community.” Simple as that.

And so Qaddafi is due in New York next month to address the United Nations. In preparation for his first-ever trip to the U.S., the arms supplier for everyone from Idi Amin to Charles Taylor has requested that he be allowed to set up his Bedouin-style tent somewhere on U.S. soil and reside in it when not at the General Assembly lectern. Whether Qaddafi ends up on Central Park’s Great Lawn or at the New York Palace, the Libyan leader, who himself is believed to have played a crucial role in the Lockerbie bombing, will be hosted in the U.S. It kind of takes the sting off the moralistic denunciations which emanated from Washington yesterday.

The American State Department and the UN are hardly alone in pretending that Qaddafi has become a reliable Western ally. He was an honored guest at last month’s G8 meeting in Italy, where he met personally with England’s prime minister, Gordon Brown. Moreover, British Petroleum is launching its biggest exploration project in oil-rich Libya. Needless to say, the Russians are also interested in Libya’s oil and natural-gas reserves, but so far Qaddafi seems partial to Western countries whose technologies hold the most promise for full production.

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton condemned  Megrahi’s release. But on what grounds can Secretary Clinton denounce the actions of Scotland’s authorities? She is on the record as a fan of Qaddafi’s “rehabilitation.” So too is President Obama. In all likelihood, the thriving, jet-setting Qaddafi played a more important role in the killing of 189 Americans in the 1988 midair bombing than did the dying Megrahi.

Not incidentally, it is Qaddafi, and not Megrahi, who presides over a government that is a human-rights abomination. A still active law passed in 1972 states that Libyans who “exercise their rights to freedom of expression and association may face the death penalty.” There are no independent human-rights NGOs in Libya, there is no asylum law, and foreign nationals are tortured and sometimes executed without recourse.

As the U.S.—the indispensable guardian of justice and human rights—continues to buddy up to individuals like Qaddafi (and Kim Jong-il and Manuel Zelaya and Gen.Than Shwe and Hosni Mubarak et al.), Americans should not be surprised if other governments ease up on similar and lesser monsters. And our statespeople will sound ever more hypocritical in their condemnations of the moral laxity and bad judgment demonstrated by our allies.

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