Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 25, 2010

The World Cup and American Exceptionalism

Jonathan, it took me a while to read your response to my response to your response — I am watching football!

Far from me the thought that a game of football is anything more than a game of football.

For those who like football, the World Cup is the most epic tournament of all — the concentration of talent on the pitch and intensity of the emotions around the pitch is unprecedented. You either like it or not, of course, but to question the wisdom of club team versus national team is besides the point. It’s been like that since 1930, and nobody wants to change it, because it is simply an exciting spectacle that hundreds of millions of people around the world wait for and watch religiously every four years.

America has not been privy to this extravagance for a long time — but look at the U.S. team. Before the World Cup came to the United States, the U.S. only moonlighted with semi-professional teams that would suffer basketball-score defeats. Since then, the American team has been steadily rising. It now plays in the big league. It is a remarkable accomplishment.

Are there political implications to the game? There should be none, whatsoever — although there was a war once because of a match. But the fans — and their passions — attest to a deep-seated sentiment of national pride, which in turn explains the popularity of the World Cup contest. The way that victory and defeat is taken is another testament to the power of nationalist feelings and patriotic pride — and all the better that it is expressed through peaceful enthusiasm and playful banter against adversaries, especially the old ones.

The interesting point is another one, and has little to do with the use of the flag by governments. If tyrannies ever tried to exploit the game for their own aggrandizement, they did not accomplish much. In recent decades, the only country I can think of that won a World Cup and was a dictatorship was Argentina in 1978 (Maggie Thatcher took care of them, eventually). And Communism never produced a winner — ideology always stands in the way of complex game strategies, bouts of individual creativeness, and the need to adjust quickly.

The interesting point is that it is often in those enlightened societies that reject patriotism as outdated and pernicious on philosophical grounds — Western Europe being a primary location, the newsroom of NPR a secondary one — that the World Cup unleashes patriotism in a way that no other sport competition in the world ever does, not even the Olympics. This raises an interesting question, first and foremost for those left-wing promoters of flower power who think nationalism is both pernicious and on the wane. The World Cup awakens the sentiment where leftists think there is none left (or there should not be, i.e., even in their own newsroom). And that, to me, is a good thing — it highlights the fallacy of the post-national, postmodern worldview, especially because all it takes is 22 men in shorts chasing a football to demonstrate this fine point of political philosophy.

As for the U.S., my point is even less ambitious. To see it join the big league as a serious contender to me is refreshing not because a victory for the United States (unlikely this time, by the way) would bring pride and prestige to democracy, or because of what it may or may not demonstrate about American nationalism or America’s sudden abandonment of its exceptionalism. In fact, I think it proves American exceptionalism. Given how late America comes to football and how quickly it rises from obscurity to success, it would be yet another sign of certain characteristics that make America so unique. It would prove how fast and successful America is in mastering all things foreign and seamlessly integrating them in its own unique national fabric; it would offer yet another proof of immigrants becoming the standard bearers of American patriotism — just look at who plays for the national team and you’ll see my point; and of sport being a ticket for them into the pantheon of all American heroes.

All in all a good thing — and one that a club-team international competition with the LA Galaxy beating the Muloudia Club d’Alger is not likely to engender.

Jonathan, it took me a while to read your response to my response to your response — I am watching football!

Far from me the thought that a game of football is anything more than a game of football.

For those who like football, the World Cup is the most epic tournament of all — the concentration of talent on the pitch and intensity of the emotions around the pitch is unprecedented. You either like it or not, of course, but to question the wisdom of club team versus national team is besides the point. It’s been like that since 1930, and nobody wants to change it, because it is simply an exciting spectacle that hundreds of millions of people around the world wait for and watch religiously every four years.

America has not been privy to this extravagance for a long time — but look at the U.S. team. Before the World Cup came to the United States, the U.S. only moonlighted with semi-professional teams that would suffer basketball-score defeats. Since then, the American team has been steadily rising. It now plays in the big league. It is a remarkable accomplishment.

Are there political implications to the game? There should be none, whatsoever — although there was a war once because of a match. But the fans — and their passions — attest to a deep-seated sentiment of national pride, which in turn explains the popularity of the World Cup contest. The way that victory and defeat is taken is another testament to the power of nationalist feelings and patriotic pride — and all the better that it is expressed through peaceful enthusiasm and playful banter against adversaries, especially the old ones.

The interesting point is another one, and has little to do with the use of the flag by governments. If tyrannies ever tried to exploit the game for their own aggrandizement, they did not accomplish much. In recent decades, the only country I can think of that won a World Cup and was a dictatorship was Argentina in 1978 (Maggie Thatcher took care of them, eventually). And Communism never produced a winner — ideology always stands in the way of complex game strategies, bouts of individual creativeness, and the need to adjust quickly.

The interesting point is that it is often in those enlightened societies that reject patriotism as outdated and pernicious on philosophical grounds — Western Europe being a primary location, the newsroom of NPR a secondary one — that the World Cup unleashes patriotism in a way that no other sport competition in the world ever does, not even the Olympics. This raises an interesting question, first and foremost for those left-wing promoters of flower power who think nationalism is both pernicious and on the wane. The World Cup awakens the sentiment where leftists think there is none left (or there should not be, i.e., even in their own newsroom). And that, to me, is a good thing — it highlights the fallacy of the post-national, postmodern worldview, especially because all it takes is 22 men in shorts chasing a football to demonstrate this fine point of political philosophy.

As for the U.S., my point is even less ambitious. To see it join the big league as a serious contender to me is refreshing not because a victory for the United States (unlikely this time, by the way) would bring pride and prestige to democracy, or because of what it may or may not demonstrate about American nationalism or America’s sudden abandonment of its exceptionalism. In fact, I think it proves American exceptionalism. Given how late America comes to football and how quickly it rises from obscurity to success, it would be yet another sign of certain characteristics that make America so unique. It would prove how fast and successful America is in mastering all things foreign and seamlessly integrating them in its own unique national fabric; it would offer yet another proof of immigrants becoming the standard bearers of American patriotism — just look at who plays for the national team and you’ll see my point; and of sport being a ticket for them into the pantheon of all American heroes.

All in all a good thing — and one that a club-team international competition with the LA Galaxy beating the Muloudia Club d’Alger is not likely to engender.

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RE: Soccer, Nationalism, and America

And then there is one of the supreme mysteries of soccer — or perhaps just an example of why there will always be an England — the adoption by the Liverpool Football Club of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel as its anthem.

Somewhere, Rodgers and Hammerstein are bemused.

And then there is one of the supreme mysteries of soccer — or perhaps just an example of why there will always be an England — the adoption by the Liverpool Football Club of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel as its anthem.

Somewhere, Rodgers and Hammerstein are bemused.

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Fallout from the Obama Age

Jen, building on what you wrote about self-identified conservatives now outnumbering liberals by more than 2-to-1, it’s worth recalling another Gallup Poll from a couple of weeks ago that reported:

In the past two years, Americans have become increasingly likely to describe the Democratic Party’s views as “too liberal” (49%), and less likely to say its views are “about right” (38%)… The recent increase in perceptions of the Democratic Party as too liberal could be a response to the expansion in government spending since President Barack Obama took office, most notably regarding the economic stimulus and healthcare legislation. The 49% of Americans who now believe the Democratic Party’s views are too liberal is one percentage point below the 50% Gallup measured after the 1994 elections, the all-time high in the trend question first asked in 1992.

What’s happening, in other words, is that an increasing number of Americans are becoming more conservative, and they view the Democratic Party as becoming too liberal. This is more fallout from the Age of Obama. Mr. Obama is, for the GOP, the gift that keeps on giving. For the nation, though, it’s an entirely different matter.

Jen, building on what you wrote about self-identified conservatives now outnumbering liberals by more than 2-to-1, it’s worth recalling another Gallup Poll from a couple of weeks ago that reported:

In the past two years, Americans have become increasingly likely to describe the Democratic Party’s views as “too liberal” (49%), and less likely to say its views are “about right” (38%)… The recent increase in perceptions of the Democratic Party as too liberal could be a response to the expansion in government spending since President Barack Obama took office, most notably regarding the economic stimulus and healthcare legislation. The 49% of Americans who now believe the Democratic Party’s views are too liberal is one percentage point below the 50% Gallup measured after the 1994 elections, the all-time high in the trend question first asked in 1992.

What’s happening, in other words, is that an increasing number of Americans are becoming more conservative, and they view the Democratic Party as becoming too liberal. This is more fallout from the Age of Obama. Mr. Obama is, for the GOP, the gift that keeps on giving. For the nation, though, it’s an entirely different matter.

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Soccer, Nationalism, and America

The debate today has sparked two thoughts in particular about soccer and the American left. One is that, for the rest of the world, soccer is absolutely about nationalism. People have their favorite individual teams within their countries, and many fans root for professional teams across borders, especially in Europe. But there is a robust body of nationalist chants chorused by fans when teams meet for cross-border play. Cheering on the team from one’s own country is only half the fun; equally necessary is denigrating the other team or poking fun at its nation’s history. Popular chants for English fans include this one (to the tune of “Camptown Races”), when playing a German team:

Two World Wars and one World Cup
Doo dah, doo dah
Two World Wars and one World Cup
Doo dah, doo dah day

This one is chanted at French fans:

If it wasn’t for the English you’d be Krauts
If it wasn’t for the English you’d be Krauts
If it wasn’t for the English
Wasn’t for the English
If it wasn’t for the English you’d be Krauts!

These are the more printable chants. Often the French and English keep it simpler and merely yell “Hastings!” and “Agincourt!” at each other. That causes American internationalists to swoon with delight, but it wouldn’t translate to the American condition at all. Yanks would feel like fools going down to Mexico and shouting “Veracruz!” at the fans there, and like imperialist heels hollering “Anzio!” or “Bulge!” — or perhaps, monstrously, “Dresden!” — at Europeans.

National and ethnic taunts are endemic to soccer fandom; see here, here, and here for a sampling. This survey leads to my second point: that the soccer phenomenon fails to resonate culturally with Americans precisely because of the exceptionalist character the left wants us to shed. Much of what drives our culture of exceptionalism is pure geography. Our continental expanse, our few and friendly neighbors, the great oceans on our flanks; these factors fostering exceptionalism are also opposite to the ones that encourage soccer to thrive. The left can’t do much about them. But while we may not have the limiting geography of Brazil, Germany, Italy, or England, the left would like us to act as if we did.

The truth, however, is that it would be uniquely offensive for Americans to roam the world’s soccer stadiums taunting other nations’ fans with our past political victories and their defeats. It would hurt because it would matter. That, ultimately, is what the American left finds distasteful. A flip side of that coin is that we don’t have nearly as much of a psychological need to channel nationalist yearnings and ethnic triumphalism into team sports.

Except, apparently, for the employees of NPR. I understand Emanuele Ottolenghi’s sentiment — that it’s good to see leftists letting their inner nationalist come out — but the problem is that the form of nationalism they approve of has a poor record of actually doing what the nation-state is good for: defending political liberty. I’ll take our American nationalism — and the goofy, sometimes autarchic sports exceptionalism that comes with it.

The debate today has sparked two thoughts in particular about soccer and the American left. One is that, for the rest of the world, soccer is absolutely about nationalism. People have their favorite individual teams within their countries, and many fans root for professional teams across borders, especially in Europe. But there is a robust body of nationalist chants chorused by fans when teams meet for cross-border play. Cheering on the team from one’s own country is only half the fun; equally necessary is denigrating the other team or poking fun at its nation’s history. Popular chants for English fans include this one (to the tune of “Camptown Races”), when playing a German team:

Two World Wars and one World Cup
Doo dah, doo dah
Two World Wars and one World Cup
Doo dah, doo dah day

This one is chanted at French fans:

If it wasn’t for the English you’d be Krauts
If it wasn’t for the English you’d be Krauts
If it wasn’t for the English
Wasn’t for the English
If it wasn’t for the English you’d be Krauts!

These are the more printable chants. Often the French and English keep it simpler and merely yell “Hastings!” and “Agincourt!” at each other. That causes American internationalists to swoon with delight, but it wouldn’t translate to the American condition at all. Yanks would feel like fools going down to Mexico and shouting “Veracruz!” at the fans there, and like imperialist heels hollering “Anzio!” or “Bulge!” — or perhaps, monstrously, “Dresden!” — at Europeans.

National and ethnic taunts are endemic to soccer fandom; see here, here, and here for a sampling. This survey leads to my second point: that the soccer phenomenon fails to resonate culturally with Americans precisely because of the exceptionalist character the left wants us to shed. Much of what drives our culture of exceptionalism is pure geography. Our continental expanse, our few and friendly neighbors, the great oceans on our flanks; these factors fostering exceptionalism are also opposite to the ones that encourage soccer to thrive. The left can’t do much about them. But while we may not have the limiting geography of Brazil, Germany, Italy, or England, the left would like us to act as if we did.

The truth, however, is that it would be uniquely offensive for Americans to roam the world’s soccer stadiums taunting other nations’ fans with our past political victories and their defeats. It would hurt because it would matter. That, ultimately, is what the American left finds distasteful. A flip side of that coin is that we don’t have nearly as much of a psychological need to channel nationalist yearnings and ethnic triumphalism into team sports.

Except, apparently, for the employees of NPR. I understand Emanuele Ottolenghi’s sentiment — that it’s good to see leftists letting their inner nationalist come out — but the problem is that the form of nationalism they approve of has a poor record of actually doing what the nation-state is good for: defending political liberty. I’ll take our American nationalism — and the goofy, sometimes autarchic sports exceptionalism that comes with it.

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RE: Missing George Bush

Pete, there are many reasons to miss George Bush. There is no greater and more tragic contrast between Obama and his predecessor than in the human-rights field. This eloquent piece should be read in full, but Bush’s moral clarity on the subject and his determination to name names bear repeating:

People living in tyranny need to know they are not forgotten. North Koreans live in a closed society where dissent is brutally suppressed, and they are cut off from their brothers and sisters to the south. The Iranians are a great people who deserve to chart their own future, but they are denied their liberty by a handful of extremists whose pursuit of nuclear weapons prevents their country from taking its rightful place amongst the thriving. The Cubans are desperate for freedom — and as that nation enters a period of transition, we must insist on free elections and free speech and free assembly. (Applause.) And in Sudan, freedom is denied and basic human rights are violated by a government that pursues genocide against its own citizens. My message to all those who suffer under tyranny is this: We will never excuse your oppressors. We will always stand for your freedom. (Applause.)

It’s not just many Americans who miss him, but Coptic Christians, the Green Movement, ravaged masses in Darfur, brutalized women of the Middle East, Egyptian democracy protesters, and scores of others who no longer have a forceful voice in the White House or an American foreign policy which considers them a high priority.

Pete, there are many reasons to miss George Bush. There is no greater and more tragic contrast between Obama and his predecessor than in the human-rights field. This eloquent piece should be read in full, but Bush’s moral clarity on the subject and his determination to name names bear repeating:

People living in tyranny need to know they are not forgotten. North Koreans live in a closed society where dissent is brutally suppressed, and they are cut off from their brothers and sisters to the south. The Iranians are a great people who deserve to chart their own future, but they are denied their liberty by a handful of extremists whose pursuit of nuclear weapons prevents their country from taking its rightful place amongst the thriving. The Cubans are desperate for freedom — and as that nation enters a period of transition, we must insist on free elections and free speech and free assembly. (Applause.) And in Sudan, freedom is denied and basic human rights are violated by a government that pursues genocide against its own citizens. My message to all those who suffer under tyranny is this: We will never excuse your oppressors. We will always stand for your freedom. (Applause.)

It’s not just many Americans who miss him, but Coptic Christians, the Green Movement, ravaged masses in Darfur, brutalized women of the Middle East, Egyptian democracy protesters, and scores of others who no longer have a forceful voice in the White House or an American foreign policy which considers them a high priority.

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Conservatism Revived

Gallup reports:

Conservatives have maintained their leading position among U.S. ideological groups in the first half of 2010. Gallup finds 42% of Americans describing themselves as either very conservative or conservative. This is up slightly from the 40% seen for all of 2009 and contrasts with the 20% calling themselves liberal or very liberal. … The 42% identifying as conservative represents a continuation of the slight but statistically significant edge conservatives achieved over moderates in 2009. Should that figure hold for all of 2010, it would represent the highest annual percentage identifying as conservative in Gallup’s history of measuring ideology with this wording, dating to 1992.

And independents, whom Obama was able to draw into the Democratic camp in 2008, are also leaning right: “Independents today are slightly more likely to say they are moderate than conservative, with fewer than 20% identifying as liberal. While this is similar to 2009, it represents an increase in conservatism among this group since 2008.”

It is hard to imagine that this would have been possible without the leftist overreach by Obama and his congressional allies. Presenting Americans with a vivid picture of liberal statism, the Democrats have dismayed and alarmed the electorate. It now recalls why limited government, low taxes, and a robust foreign policy are desirable. In November voters will have the chance to elect lawmakers more in tune with their growing appreciation for conservatism.

Gallup reports:

Conservatives have maintained their leading position among U.S. ideological groups in the first half of 2010. Gallup finds 42% of Americans describing themselves as either very conservative or conservative. This is up slightly from the 40% seen for all of 2009 and contrasts with the 20% calling themselves liberal or very liberal. … The 42% identifying as conservative represents a continuation of the slight but statistically significant edge conservatives achieved over moderates in 2009. Should that figure hold for all of 2010, it would represent the highest annual percentage identifying as conservative in Gallup’s history of measuring ideology with this wording, dating to 1992.

And independents, whom Obama was able to draw into the Democratic camp in 2008, are also leaning right: “Independents today are slightly more likely to say they are moderate than conservative, with fewer than 20% identifying as liberal. While this is similar to 2009, it represents an increase in conservatism among this group since 2008.”

It is hard to imagine that this would have been possible without the leftist overreach by Obama and his congressional allies. Presenting Americans with a vivid picture of liberal statism, the Democrats have dismayed and alarmed the electorate. It now recalls why limited government, low taxes, and a robust foreign policy are desirable. In November voters will have the chance to elect lawmakers more in tune with their growing appreciation for conservatism.

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Murders of Journalists Continue in the Philippines

The most deadly country for journalists last year was not Somalia or Iraq or Afghanistan, or even China or Russia. It was the Philippines — a democracy — where a severely lacking criminal-justice system, paired with government corruption and inefficiency, has contributed to a “culture of impunity.” Since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, 140 journalists have been killed. This month the trend continues as three more journalists have been murdered.

On June 14, radio broadcaster Desiderio “Jessie” Camangyan, 52, was hosting a local singing competition. A gunman approached him from behind and shot him. His wife and six-year-old son were in the audience to watch the bullet rip from the right side of his ear through his eyes and nose. Camangyan was known for his reporting on the illegal logging industry.

Scarcely a day later, broadcaster Joselito Agustin, 37, was riding his motorcycle with his nephew. He was shot four times and died the next morning in a local hospital. His nephew survived after taking a bullet in the leg. Agustin’s on-air commentaries often centered on corruption and lawlessness.

And on June 19, Nestor Dedolido, 50, a newspaper reporter, was murdered, shot six times while buying a pack of cigarettes. Like Camangyan and Agustin, Dedolido had criticized local politics and corruption.

To comprehend the risks Filipino journalists take, it’s worthwhile to see the scope of the violence from last year’s Maguindanao massacre. On November 23, 2009, at least 31 journalists, many of them women, were raped, brutalized, and murdered, allegedly by a militia run by a powerful political clan. A photo album here depicts some of the gruesome details, but much more nauseating coverage can be found elsewhere online.

Therefore, it is also worth mentioning the June 14 killing of Suwaib Upham, a witness to the Maguindanao massacre. Upham sought government protection, but it was never granted to him. Likewise, other witnesses to the massacre have had their homes burnt by unidentified arsonists.

Benigno Aquino, elected president in May, derives his popularity in part from the legacy of his mother, dissident-turned-president Cory Aquino, who opposed the Marcos regime and who has been considered the mother of democracy in the Philippines. Benigno Aquino could further his mother’s legacy by prosecuting those who kill journalists and stepping up efforts to prevent the murders. On the other hand, ignoring it threatens the fabric of the country’s democracy.

But the United States could also help by calling the Philippines to task. The U.S. embassy in Manila has condemned the murder of Upham. But it’s a shame that no statement can be found on its website about the Maguindanao massacre or about the recent murders of journalists. In President Obama’s next exchange with Aquino, this is one human-rights issue that should not be ignored.

The most deadly country for journalists last year was not Somalia or Iraq or Afghanistan, or even China or Russia. It was the Philippines — a democracy — where a severely lacking criminal-justice system, paired with government corruption and inefficiency, has contributed to a “culture of impunity.” Since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, 140 journalists have been killed. This month the trend continues as three more journalists have been murdered.

On June 14, radio broadcaster Desiderio “Jessie” Camangyan, 52, was hosting a local singing competition. A gunman approached him from behind and shot him. His wife and six-year-old son were in the audience to watch the bullet rip from the right side of his ear through his eyes and nose. Camangyan was known for his reporting on the illegal logging industry.

Scarcely a day later, broadcaster Joselito Agustin, 37, was riding his motorcycle with his nephew. He was shot four times and died the next morning in a local hospital. His nephew survived after taking a bullet in the leg. Agustin’s on-air commentaries often centered on corruption and lawlessness.

And on June 19, Nestor Dedolido, 50, a newspaper reporter, was murdered, shot six times while buying a pack of cigarettes. Like Camangyan and Agustin, Dedolido had criticized local politics and corruption.

To comprehend the risks Filipino journalists take, it’s worthwhile to see the scope of the violence from last year’s Maguindanao massacre. On November 23, 2009, at least 31 journalists, many of them women, were raped, brutalized, and murdered, allegedly by a militia run by a powerful political clan. A photo album here depicts some of the gruesome details, but much more nauseating coverage can be found elsewhere online.

Therefore, it is also worth mentioning the June 14 killing of Suwaib Upham, a witness to the Maguindanao massacre. Upham sought government protection, but it was never granted to him. Likewise, other witnesses to the massacre have had their homes burnt by unidentified arsonists.

Benigno Aquino, elected president in May, derives his popularity in part from the legacy of his mother, dissident-turned-president Cory Aquino, who opposed the Marcos regime and who has been considered the mother of democracy in the Philippines. Benigno Aquino could further his mother’s legacy by prosecuting those who kill journalists and stepping up efforts to prevent the murders. On the other hand, ignoring it threatens the fabric of the country’s democracy.

But the United States could also help by calling the Philippines to task. The U.S. embassy in Manila has condemned the murder of Upham. But it’s a shame that no statement can be found on its website about the Maguindanao massacre or about the recent murders of journalists. In President Obama’s next exchange with Aquino, this is one human-rights issue that should not be ignored.

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Congressional Hypocrisy Watch

Speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives in support of the bill Congressional Democrats are putting forward to get around the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold free-speech rights in the Citizens United case, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) pushes the limits of not only partisan demagoguery but also hypocrisy.

Johnson claims that a failure to pass this flimsy bill will mean that “we will see more Republicans getting elected.” That should help build a bi-partisan coalition for the bill.

Even worse, he claims that the failure of campaign-finance “reform” schemes, such as the provisions of the McCain-Feingold bill — that were rightly deemed unconstitutional by the high court — will allow “big business” to dominate American politics and thus benefit the GOP. The two examples of bad big businesses that he cites are the villainous BP and Goldman Sachs. But in doing so, he fails to mention that the head of his party, President Barack Obama, and not a Republican, got the most money of any politician from BP. As Politico reported back in May just after the Gulf oil spill began to gush, “During his time in the Senate and while running for president, Obama received a total of $77,051 from the oil giant and is the top recipient of BP PAC and individual money over the past 20 years, according to financial disclosure records.”

As for Goldman Sachs, it ranked second on the list of organizations or companies that bundled the most money for Obama in 2008. Its PACs and its individual employees donated a stunning $994,795 to the Democratic candidate.

But while Rep. Johnson and his colleagues attempt to revive restrictions on free speech in the name of electoral “reform,” there remain no laws on the books about Congressional hypocrisy.

Speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives in support of the bill Congressional Democrats are putting forward to get around the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold free-speech rights in the Citizens United case, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) pushes the limits of not only partisan demagoguery but also hypocrisy.

Johnson claims that a failure to pass this flimsy bill will mean that “we will see more Republicans getting elected.” That should help build a bi-partisan coalition for the bill.

Even worse, he claims that the failure of campaign-finance “reform” schemes, such as the provisions of the McCain-Feingold bill — that were rightly deemed unconstitutional by the high court — will allow “big business” to dominate American politics and thus benefit the GOP. The two examples of bad big businesses that he cites are the villainous BP and Goldman Sachs. But in doing so, he fails to mention that the head of his party, President Barack Obama, and not a Republican, got the most money of any politician from BP. As Politico reported back in May just after the Gulf oil spill began to gush, “During his time in the Senate and while running for president, Obama received a total of $77,051 from the oil giant and is the top recipient of BP PAC and individual money over the past 20 years, according to financial disclosure records.”

As for Goldman Sachs, it ranked second on the list of organizations or companies that bundled the most money for Obama in 2008. Its PACs and its individual employees donated a stunning $994,795 to the Democratic candidate.

But while Rep. Johnson and his colleagues attempt to revive restrictions on free speech in the name of electoral “reform,” there remain no laws on the books about Congressional hypocrisy.

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Missing George W. Bush

Both Charles Krauthammer and Rich Lowry have columns that argue that what Barack Obama needs is to be more like his predecessor George W. Bush. In Rich’s words, Obama needs to find his inner cowboy.

Their argument is that the self-imposed deadline by Obama to begin withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan next summer has caused a great deal of harm. It both encourages the Taliban and discourages the Afghan government, and for the same reasons: we look unreliable.

The one thing I’ll add to the excellent commentary by Krauthammer and Lowry is that Bush was under far greater pressure to withdraw troops from Iraq than Obama is facing with Afghanistan. At the time, Iraq was dominating the political conversation and was perceived as doing great harm to the GOP. The nation was bone-weary of the war, Democrats were in open rebellion (unlike Republicans with Obama on Afghanistan), and GOP leaders were unnerved. At the time — late 2006 and early 2007, when I was serving in the White House — it seemed as if you could fit the supporters of the surge in a phone booth.

But Bush didn’t care. He made the right and wise decision – and he had the guts and the nerve to stick with it. It was not only his finest hour; it was one of the most impressive and consequential presidential decisions in modern times. Bush and Petraeus are the two individuals most responsible for keeping Iraq from descending into chaos and civil war. They turned the war around.

We can only hope that Petraeus finds in this commander-in-chief some of the same courage we saw with Bush. If he does, the war in Afghanistan, like the war in Iraq, can have a positive outcome.

Both Charles Krauthammer and Rich Lowry have columns that argue that what Barack Obama needs is to be more like his predecessor George W. Bush. In Rich’s words, Obama needs to find his inner cowboy.

Their argument is that the self-imposed deadline by Obama to begin withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan next summer has caused a great deal of harm. It both encourages the Taliban and discourages the Afghan government, and for the same reasons: we look unreliable.

The one thing I’ll add to the excellent commentary by Krauthammer and Lowry is that Bush was under far greater pressure to withdraw troops from Iraq than Obama is facing with Afghanistan. At the time, Iraq was dominating the political conversation and was perceived as doing great harm to the GOP. The nation was bone-weary of the war, Democrats were in open rebellion (unlike Republicans with Obama on Afghanistan), and GOP leaders were unnerved. At the time — late 2006 and early 2007, when I was serving in the White House — it seemed as if you could fit the supporters of the surge in a phone booth.

But Bush didn’t care. He made the right and wise decision – and he had the guts and the nerve to stick with it. It was not only his finest hour; it was one of the most impressive and consequential presidential decisions in modern times. Bush and Petraeus are the two individuals most responsible for keeping Iraq from descending into chaos and civil war. They turned the war around.

We can only hope that Petraeus finds in this commander-in-chief some of the same courage we saw with Bush. If he does, the war in Afghanistan, like the war in Iraq, can have a positive outcome.

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RE: RE: RE: Leftist Soccer Agony: U.S. Victory Equals Jingoism

Although as a kid I preferred soccer to any other sport, it was because sports were mandatory, and I could see a soccer ball without wearing my glasses. Frankly, I hated all sports as a child because, as my brother put it, with more accuracy than filial devotion, I have “the hand-eye coordination of a blind snake.” I don’t think I have watched an hour of soccer (or, as my friend James Taranto calls it, “metric football”) since. Still, like the denizens of NPR, I instinctively rejoiced when the U.S. defeated Algeria. Why? Because, like them, I am an American.

Emanuele Ottolenghi writes, “Since I am sane, I can only explain their outburst of national pride as evidence that their false conscience is their commitment to internationalism — a silly ideological pose whose fallacy just a game of soccer (football) can expose.”

I think their problem is their failure to understand human nature and its pervasive, ineradicable influence over human affairs. The left, lusting to social-engineer a better world, conveniently dismisses human nature as merely an artifact of the society in which people live. Change society, argued Marx and his heirs, and you change human nature; perfect society, and you perfect humankind. In other words, humans are mere tabula rasas to be written on by the all-wise liberal elite.

But that just isn’t so. Human nature, like gravity, is always in operation. No one would walk off a cliff without expecting to die, but liberals argue that aspects of human nature can be merely waved aside. Then a soccer player half a world away puts a ball into a net, and liberals give the lie to their own argument by cheering wildly — an instinctive display of the tribal loyalty they feel but refuse to recognize for ideological reasons.

War is an aspect not only of human nature but, as Reuters reported the other day, anthropoid nature, as well. The instinct to aggrandize at the expense of our neighbors lies very deep in our bones, indeed. The young of all species that play instinctively play in ways that will make them more successful as adults. (Ever see a kitten sneak up and pounce on a litter mate? He’s honing skills needed to hunt.) With human children, especially boys (pace, Title 9), that means we play war games. It’s just that today we call them team sports.

War has become far less common than it was in the days of hunting and gathering. (It is still endemic in the world’s few remaining hunting-and-gathering societies, such as in the highlands of New Guinea.) But we have sublimated the instinct into a vast new industry called professional sports. American football is probably the most obviously warlike of all sports, involving the conquest of territory, strategy, tactics, surprise, intense teamwork, etc. But all team sports — and games like chess — are basically war by other means, an outlet for the instinct to beat up our neighbors, which is far more positive (and wealth-producing) in the modern world than war itself. It’s a beautiful example — if one that developed without conscious thought — of what Sir Francis Bacon meant when he wrote that “to be commanded, nature must first be obeyed.”

We are the end product of 3.5 billion years of evolution, and that evolution has produced one of the most intensely social animals on the planet. We thus not only feel an instinctive loyalty to ourselves and our families (especially our lineal descendants and ancestors) but to our social unit as well. Nearly 10, 000 years ago, that was a small tribe of probably no more than 50. Today, the tribe of Americans numbers 300 million. But the instinct to tribal loyalty remains quite unchanged. The NPR employees just proved it.

Although as a kid I preferred soccer to any other sport, it was because sports were mandatory, and I could see a soccer ball without wearing my glasses. Frankly, I hated all sports as a child because, as my brother put it, with more accuracy than filial devotion, I have “the hand-eye coordination of a blind snake.” I don’t think I have watched an hour of soccer (or, as my friend James Taranto calls it, “metric football”) since. Still, like the denizens of NPR, I instinctively rejoiced when the U.S. defeated Algeria. Why? Because, like them, I am an American.

Emanuele Ottolenghi writes, “Since I am sane, I can only explain their outburst of national pride as evidence that their false conscience is their commitment to internationalism — a silly ideological pose whose fallacy just a game of soccer (football) can expose.”

I think their problem is their failure to understand human nature and its pervasive, ineradicable influence over human affairs. The left, lusting to social-engineer a better world, conveniently dismisses human nature as merely an artifact of the society in which people live. Change society, argued Marx and his heirs, and you change human nature; perfect society, and you perfect humankind. In other words, humans are mere tabula rasas to be written on by the all-wise liberal elite.

But that just isn’t so. Human nature, like gravity, is always in operation. No one would walk off a cliff without expecting to die, but liberals argue that aspects of human nature can be merely waved aside. Then a soccer player half a world away puts a ball into a net, and liberals give the lie to their own argument by cheering wildly — an instinctive display of the tribal loyalty they feel but refuse to recognize for ideological reasons.

War is an aspect not only of human nature but, as Reuters reported the other day, anthropoid nature, as well. The instinct to aggrandize at the expense of our neighbors lies very deep in our bones, indeed. The young of all species that play instinctively play in ways that will make them more successful as adults. (Ever see a kitten sneak up and pounce on a litter mate? He’s honing skills needed to hunt.) With human children, especially boys (pace, Title 9), that means we play war games. It’s just that today we call them team sports.

War has become far less common than it was in the days of hunting and gathering. (It is still endemic in the world’s few remaining hunting-and-gathering societies, such as in the highlands of New Guinea.) But we have sublimated the instinct into a vast new industry called professional sports. American football is probably the most obviously warlike of all sports, involving the conquest of territory, strategy, tactics, surprise, intense teamwork, etc. But all team sports — and games like chess — are basically war by other means, an outlet for the instinct to beat up our neighbors, which is far more positive (and wealth-producing) in the modern world than war itself. It’s a beautiful example — if one that developed without conscious thought — of what Sir Francis Bacon meant when he wrote that “to be commanded, nature must first be obeyed.”

We are the end product of 3.5 billion years of evolution, and that evolution has produced one of the most intensely social animals on the planet. We thus not only feel an instinctive loyalty to ourselves and our families (especially our lineal descendants and ancestors) but to our social unit as well. Nearly 10, 000 years ago, that was a small tribe of probably no more than 50. Today, the tribe of Americans numbers 300 million. But the instinct to tribal loyalty remains quite unchanged. The NPR employees just proved it.

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RE: RE: Leftist Soccer Agony: U.S. Victory Equals Jingoism

Emanuele, I understand your enthusiasm for the sport the rest of the world calls football, but I’m a little confused by your argument that the World Cup is good because it allows liberal NPR-types who run down their own countries the rest of the year to engage in a little meaningless nationalist chest-beating. That may provide us with an interesting irony, but it can’t be considered commendable. Confusing sports with politics is bad regardless of whether it is done by totalitarians or democrats, and that is why I insist that wrapping national sports teams in the flag is sheer humbug. While Americans are, unfortunately, as vulnerable to the appeal of sports globaloney, such as the Olympics, as anyone else, for the most part, we much prefer our own team sports to international competitions, and that is all the better. Keeping those flags and nationalist sentiments, which are so easily and wrongly manipulated by tyrannies, out of the realm of sport is much to be preferred.

If, as you suggest, the success of the U.S. team in the World Cup will discourage those who root for American decline in the world, then so much the better. Let the foes of the United States tremble, whether the reason be substantial or not. But the notion you advance, that the possibility of future American dominance in soccer (a sport in which it has lagged behind principally because most Americans don’t care much about it) will illustrate the greatness of the American character, is, while flattering to our vanity, just as much of a humbug as the idea that Eastern-bloc dominance in other sports during the Cold War illustrated the superiority of communism.

Indeed, the best example of this was the “miracle on ice,” when an underdog bunch of American college ice-hockey players defeated the mighty professionals of the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics. As an American hockey fan, I was thrilled by it. But the widely believed notion that it was an illustration of American greatness or, heaven help us, that it helped win the Cold War, is sheer hyperbole. It was an amazing upset — but just a hockey game. The players on the Soviet hockey team were just athletes in red uniforms, not off-duty Gulag prison guards or KGB agents being bested by all-American G.I. Joes. The outcome had nothing to do with the triumph of American values any more than the numerous defeats inflicted on American squads at other times by that magnificent Soviet team portrayed the preeminence of the totalitarian ideology of their masters in the Kremlin.

While I wish the American team well in the subsequent rounds of the World Cup and encourage our friends around the world — who care more about this game than most of us here do — to root for them if they like, let us not make the mistake of confusing sports with politics or national character. Love of country has many admirable as well as distasteful manifestations. But good or bad, it has nothing to do with soccer or any other sport.

Emanuele, I understand your enthusiasm for the sport the rest of the world calls football, but I’m a little confused by your argument that the World Cup is good because it allows liberal NPR-types who run down their own countries the rest of the year to engage in a little meaningless nationalist chest-beating. That may provide us with an interesting irony, but it can’t be considered commendable. Confusing sports with politics is bad regardless of whether it is done by totalitarians or democrats, and that is why I insist that wrapping national sports teams in the flag is sheer humbug. While Americans are, unfortunately, as vulnerable to the appeal of sports globaloney, such as the Olympics, as anyone else, for the most part, we much prefer our own team sports to international competitions, and that is all the better. Keeping those flags and nationalist sentiments, which are so easily and wrongly manipulated by tyrannies, out of the realm of sport is much to be preferred.

If, as you suggest, the success of the U.S. team in the World Cup will discourage those who root for American decline in the world, then so much the better. Let the foes of the United States tremble, whether the reason be substantial or not. But the notion you advance, that the possibility of future American dominance in soccer (a sport in which it has lagged behind principally because most Americans don’t care much about it) will illustrate the greatness of the American character, is, while flattering to our vanity, just as much of a humbug as the idea that Eastern-bloc dominance in other sports during the Cold War illustrated the superiority of communism.

Indeed, the best example of this was the “miracle on ice,” when an underdog bunch of American college ice-hockey players defeated the mighty professionals of the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics. As an American hockey fan, I was thrilled by it. But the widely believed notion that it was an illustration of American greatness or, heaven help us, that it helped win the Cold War, is sheer hyperbole. It was an amazing upset — but just a hockey game. The players on the Soviet hockey team were just athletes in red uniforms, not off-duty Gulag prison guards or KGB agents being bested by all-American G.I. Joes. The outcome had nothing to do with the triumph of American values any more than the numerous defeats inflicted on American squads at other times by that magnificent Soviet team portrayed the preeminence of the totalitarian ideology of their masters in the Kremlin.

While I wish the American team well in the subsequent rounds of the World Cup and encourage our friends around the world — who care more about this game than most of us here do — to root for them if they like, let us not make the mistake of confusing sports with politics or national character. Love of country has many admirable as well as distasteful manifestations. But good or bad, it has nothing to do with soccer or any other sport.

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The J Street Test

The House of Representatives passed the Iran sanctions bill by a 408-8 vote. Who are the eight? Well, there is an interesting overlap with J Street’s favorite lawmakers. Tammy Baldwin, Earl Blumenauer, and John Conyers all voted no, and all were endorsed by J Street. Rep. Brian Baird, who also voted no, was one of the 54 signatories on the break-the-blockade letter inspired by J Street and part of its entourage to Gaza. Rep. Pete Stark was also a no vote and a signatory on the Gaza letter. (The others were dependable Israel-bashers — Reps. Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, and Jeff Flake.)

It’s been apparent for some time now, but the sanctions vote makes it quite obvious: the best guide to determine whether a lawmaker is reflexively anti-Israel is whether he or she runs with the J Street crowd. J Street’s 2010 endorsement list is here. Take a look. Those who’ve gotten the J Street stamp of approval have a lot to explain.

The House of Representatives passed the Iran sanctions bill by a 408-8 vote. Who are the eight? Well, there is an interesting overlap with J Street’s favorite lawmakers. Tammy Baldwin, Earl Blumenauer, and John Conyers all voted no, and all were endorsed by J Street. Rep. Brian Baird, who also voted no, was one of the 54 signatories on the break-the-blockade letter inspired by J Street and part of its entourage to Gaza. Rep. Pete Stark was also a no vote and a signatory on the Gaza letter. (The others were dependable Israel-bashers — Reps. Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, and Jeff Flake.)

It’s been apparent for some time now, but the sanctions vote makes it quite obvious: the best guide to determine whether a lawmaker is reflexively anti-Israel is whether he or she runs with the J Street crowd. J Street’s 2010 endorsement list is here. Take a look. Those who’ve gotten the J Street stamp of approval have a lot to explain.

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Al-Qaeda Lawyer to Fill Top Justice Department Post

The Senate blocked the nomination of Dawn Johnsen, who holds extreme views on everything from abortion to detainee policy, to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. OLC is a key office that renders opinions on key constitutional issues for Justice and the entire government. Now word comes that an attorney who formerly represented al-Qaeda terrorists will fill the spot. The New York Times reports:

David J. Barron, the acting head of the Justice Department’s powerful Office of Legal Counsel, will step down next month and be replaced by one of his current deputies, Jonathan G. Cedarbaum, the department said Thursday. …

Much of the work of the Office of Legal Counsel is confidential, but over the past 18 months Mr. Barron has handled a variety of issues including wartime questions like how much involvement with Al Qaeda is necessary to make a terrorism suspect subject to detention without trial and domestic matters like whether stalking and domestic violence laws apply to same-sex couples. . .Mr. Barron’s replacement, Mr. Cedarbaum, came to public attention earlier this year after Fox News named him as one of several Justice Department lawyers who had previously advocated for detainees.

As I’ve previously reported, there are serious concerns regarding conflicts of interest for those who previously represented detainees when they “switch sides”:

The limited information the Justice Department has so far released raises real concerns as to whether former advocates for detainees were properly recused from matters involving Guantánamo detainees and policy decisions that would inevitably involve their former clients. Did they violate obligations to former clients by construing their recusal obligations too narrowly? Did they damage their current client, the United States, by shading their advice for the sake of consistency with their prior representation?

Professor Richard Painter, an ethics expert from the University of Minnesota, wrote to Holder in April raising such issues. He noted, “There are legitimate concerns about client conflicts for lawyers who previously represented detainees and now work for the Department.” The “simplest” approach he advised would be to have them recused from all detainee matters. … Painter explained that there are multiple risks for these attorneys. “One danger is that you give an issue to the detainee who is convicted. Another is that you actually disclose information [you obtained] from a former client. A third is that the lawyer in an effort to avoid one and two bends over backwards by underrepresenting” the United States. Clients (even the government) have a right to be fully represented.

If he is appointed to fill the spot on a permanent basis, the Senate should not confirm Cedarbaum until he reveals which cases he has and will recuse himself from. That he would even be nominated for this position tells us volumes about the Obama-Holder mindset. Their preference for appointing to sensitive positions those attorneys whose sympathies and efforts were devoted to terrorists should concern us all.

The Senate blocked the nomination of Dawn Johnsen, who holds extreme views on everything from abortion to detainee policy, to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. OLC is a key office that renders opinions on key constitutional issues for Justice and the entire government. Now word comes that an attorney who formerly represented al-Qaeda terrorists will fill the spot. The New York Times reports:

David J. Barron, the acting head of the Justice Department’s powerful Office of Legal Counsel, will step down next month and be replaced by one of his current deputies, Jonathan G. Cedarbaum, the department said Thursday. …

Much of the work of the Office of Legal Counsel is confidential, but over the past 18 months Mr. Barron has handled a variety of issues including wartime questions like how much involvement with Al Qaeda is necessary to make a terrorism suspect subject to detention without trial and domestic matters like whether stalking and domestic violence laws apply to same-sex couples. . .Mr. Barron’s replacement, Mr. Cedarbaum, came to public attention earlier this year after Fox News named him as one of several Justice Department lawyers who had previously advocated for detainees.

As I’ve previously reported, there are serious concerns regarding conflicts of interest for those who previously represented detainees when they “switch sides”:

The limited information the Justice Department has so far released raises real concerns as to whether former advocates for detainees were properly recused from matters involving Guantánamo detainees and policy decisions that would inevitably involve their former clients. Did they violate obligations to former clients by construing their recusal obligations too narrowly? Did they damage their current client, the United States, by shading their advice for the sake of consistency with their prior representation?

Professor Richard Painter, an ethics expert from the University of Minnesota, wrote to Holder in April raising such issues. He noted, “There are legitimate concerns about client conflicts for lawyers who previously represented detainees and now work for the Department.” The “simplest” approach he advised would be to have them recused from all detainee matters. … Painter explained that there are multiple risks for these attorneys. “One danger is that you give an issue to the detainee who is convicted. Another is that you actually disclose information [you obtained] from a former client. A third is that the lawyer in an effort to avoid one and two bends over backwards by underrepresenting” the United States. Clients (even the government) have a right to be fully represented.

If he is appointed to fill the spot on a permanent basis, the Senate should not confirm Cedarbaum until he reveals which cases he has and will recuse himself from. That he would even be nominated for this position tells us volumes about the Obama-Holder mindset. Their preference for appointing to sensitive positions those attorneys whose sympathies and efforts were devoted to terrorists should concern us all.

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Pakistan Eyes Afghanistan as Obama’s Deadline Looms

All you need to know about the corrosive impact of President Obama’s deadline for withdrawal from Afghanistan can be found buried deep in this page-one New York Times story:

[T]he Pakistanis say they have chosen this juncture to open talks with Mr. Karzai because, even before the controversy over General McChrystal, they sensed uncertainty — “a lack of fire in the belly,” said one Pakistani — within the Obama administration over the Afghan fight.

“The American timetable for getting out makes it easier for Pakistan to play a more visible role,” said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the spokesman for the Pakistani Army. He was referring to the July 2011 date set by Mr. Obama for the start of the withdrawal of some American combat troops.

The Pakistani role here is not positive; they are trying to get the Karzai government to strike a deal with the Haqqani network, one of the most murderous factions of the Taliban. Such a deal may make sense in the long run but only after the Haqqanis feel defeated; at the moment, they are feeling anything but. And Obama’s deadline, as much as anything else, is giving them confidence that they can prevail.

All you need to know about the corrosive impact of President Obama’s deadline for withdrawal from Afghanistan can be found buried deep in this page-one New York Times story:

[T]he Pakistanis say they have chosen this juncture to open talks with Mr. Karzai because, even before the controversy over General McChrystal, they sensed uncertainty — “a lack of fire in the belly,” said one Pakistani — within the Obama administration over the Afghan fight.

“The American timetable for getting out makes it easier for Pakistan to play a more visible role,” said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the spokesman for the Pakistani Army. He was referring to the July 2011 date set by Mr. Obama for the start of the withdrawal of some American combat troops.

The Pakistani role here is not positive; they are trying to get the Karzai government to strike a deal with the Haqqani network, one of the most murderous factions of the Taliban. Such a deal may make sense in the long run but only after the Haqqanis feel defeated; at the moment, they are feeling anything but. And Obama’s deadline, as much as anything else, is giving them confidence that they can prevail.

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RE: Leftist Soccer Agony: U.S. Victory Equals Jingoism

For once, I need to strike a discordant note with my colleague Jonathan Tobin about soccer (or, as most of us call it, football). The real irony of the entire NPR newsroom bursting in enthusiastic cheers as the U.S. team scores is not about US exceptionalism vs. Third Worldism and a UN-driven mentality. This is what the World Cup is about: it is the triumph of primordial nationalist allegiances over the internationalist blah-blah of the NPR newsroom (and all their traveling companions across the enlightened liberal world). If I were a Marxist, I’d attribute their enthusiasm to false conscience; since I am sane, I can only explain their outburst of national pride as evidence that their false conscience is their commitment to internationalism — a silly ideological pose whose fallacy just a game of soccer (football) can expose.

Just think about it — the first World Cup tournament took place in 1930 — the height of nationalistic jingoism in world history. Until the tournament had to be suspended because of a world war, the World Cup saw three tournaments — one in South America (not the beacon of democracy at the time) and two in Europe — in Italy and in France. Benito Mussolini took enormous satisfaction at the sight of his team winning twice in a row. Since then, the biggest soccer (football) event in the world is the World Cup — a competition between national teams that brings out the wildest and most primitive form of national allegiance one can imagine, especially among all those feckless UN fans, liberal internationalists, postmodern “let’s make love not war” crowds who scorn nationalism every single day of the four years in between one cup and the next as the root of all evils. And then, as if by magic, they dump their self-righteous moral indignation against the flag and all it stands for to wrap themselves in it with pride, joy, and not uncommonly with silly paints on their faces and all matters of bizarre and fashion-challenged clothing. Just to say they stand during the month of the World Cup for everything they loathe the rest of the time.

Just think about it — the French national team leaves in shame after it implodes due to ferocious disagreements with the coach and an abysmal performance on the pitch. France’s lead player is immediately received by the president of the republic, Nicholas Sarkozy, while the coach and the team are crucified in the press. Not by the president of the national football federation — by the president of the republic! Winners are bestowed medals, titles, national recognition, and, in cases like Pele (Brazil), Roger Milla (Cameroon), Platini (France), Beckenbauer (Germany), and Paolo Rossi (Italy,) they reach iconic status as national heroes.

All this is the quintessential expression of nationalism — that spent force Europe has turned its back to, the Third World has rhetorically fought against as the ultimate manifestation of imperialist aggression, and the NPR newsroom presumably blames for most global ills — starting, no doubt, with Israel (special dispensation to Palestinian nationalism notwithstanding).

Whether national team sport, as opposed to club sport, is “sheer humbug” is of course a matter of taste. But there is no escaping the fact that most international competitions in all sports (with the few possible exceptions of cycling, skiing, tennis, and the martial arts, which are very individualistic disciplines) attract far more attention and excitement than club sports. And that the U.S. has never sat alone and apart, isolated and removed by its exceptionalism, in such disparate disciplines as basketball, volleyball, water polo, and the likes, not to mention athletics, where in all tournaments that count, it is the national flag that matters, and not some local team or training gym.

Watching the US team join the big ones in soccer (football) should mean something else altogether (and should disturb all the useful idiots that root for American decline in the world); it means that even in a sport where America always lagged behind and ranked far below, we may see a time where American DOMINANCE takes over the world of soccer (football) as well. For this is one aspect of the exceptionalism of America — the ability to lead, excel, and triumph against the odds, to master foreign things, perfect them, and make them its own, without jingoism, chauvinism, or the cultural baggage that nationalism can have elsewhere. Three cheers for the U.S. team then — and a prayer that, before long, America’s players will conquer the heights of what once was a quintessentially European form of proud expression of national prowess.

For once, I need to strike a discordant note with my colleague Jonathan Tobin about soccer (or, as most of us call it, football). The real irony of the entire NPR newsroom bursting in enthusiastic cheers as the U.S. team scores is not about US exceptionalism vs. Third Worldism and a UN-driven mentality. This is what the World Cup is about: it is the triumph of primordial nationalist allegiances over the internationalist blah-blah of the NPR newsroom (and all their traveling companions across the enlightened liberal world). If I were a Marxist, I’d attribute their enthusiasm to false conscience; since I am sane, I can only explain their outburst of national pride as evidence that their false conscience is their commitment to internationalism — a silly ideological pose whose fallacy just a game of soccer (football) can expose.

Just think about it — the first World Cup tournament took place in 1930 — the height of nationalistic jingoism in world history. Until the tournament had to be suspended because of a world war, the World Cup saw three tournaments — one in South America (not the beacon of democracy at the time) and two in Europe — in Italy and in France. Benito Mussolini took enormous satisfaction at the sight of his team winning twice in a row. Since then, the biggest soccer (football) event in the world is the World Cup — a competition between national teams that brings out the wildest and most primitive form of national allegiance one can imagine, especially among all those feckless UN fans, liberal internationalists, postmodern “let’s make love not war” crowds who scorn nationalism every single day of the four years in between one cup and the next as the root of all evils. And then, as if by magic, they dump their self-righteous moral indignation against the flag and all it stands for to wrap themselves in it with pride, joy, and not uncommonly with silly paints on their faces and all matters of bizarre and fashion-challenged clothing. Just to say they stand during the month of the World Cup for everything they loathe the rest of the time.

Just think about it — the French national team leaves in shame after it implodes due to ferocious disagreements with the coach and an abysmal performance on the pitch. France’s lead player is immediately received by the president of the republic, Nicholas Sarkozy, while the coach and the team are crucified in the press. Not by the president of the national football federation — by the president of the republic! Winners are bestowed medals, titles, national recognition, and, in cases like Pele (Brazil), Roger Milla (Cameroon), Platini (France), Beckenbauer (Germany), and Paolo Rossi (Italy,) they reach iconic status as national heroes.

All this is the quintessential expression of nationalism — that spent force Europe has turned its back to, the Third World has rhetorically fought against as the ultimate manifestation of imperialist aggression, and the NPR newsroom presumably blames for most global ills — starting, no doubt, with Israel (special dispensation to Palestinian nationalism notwithstanding).

Whether national team sport, as opposed to club sport, is “sheer humbug” is of course a matter of taste. But there is no escaping the fact that most international competitions in all sports (with the few possible exceptions of cycling, skiing, tennis, and the martial arts, which are very individualistic disciplines) attract far more attention and excitement than club sports. And that the U.S. has never sat alone and apart, isolated and removed by its exceptionalism, in such disparate disciplines as basketball, volleyball, water polo, and the likes, not to mention athletics, where in all tournaments that count, it is the national flag that matters, and not some local team or training gym.

Watching the US team join the big ones in soccer (football) should mean something else altogether (and should disturb all the useful idiots that root for American decline in the world); it means that even in a sport where America always lagged behind and ranked far below, we may see a time where American DOMINANCE takes over the world of soccer (football) as well. For this is one aspect of the exceptionalism of America — the ability to lead, excel, and triumph against the odds, to master foreign things, perfect them, and make them its own, without jingoism, chauvinism, or the cultural baggage that nationalism can have elsewhere. Three cheers for the U.S. team then — and a prayer that, before long, America’s players will conquer the heights of what once was a quintessentially European form of proud expression of national prowess.

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What if Sanctions Don’t Work?

The Senate passed its toughest sanctions to date by a 99-0 vote. Sen. Joe Lieberman had praise for the measure:

This bill represents the most powerful and comprehensive package of Iran sanctions ever passed by Congress. I am grateful to the leadership of Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Howard Berman for guiding the development of this complex and critically important legislation, as well as the leadership of Senator Reid and Senator McConnell in ensuring its swift passage by the Senate.

I hope and believe that the House will now act swiftly to pass this vital legislation, and that President Obama will sign it into law. Just as importantly, it is critical that these provisions are forcefully and proactively implemented once they become law.

The measures imposed by this legislation—together with sanctions adopted at the UN and, even more importantly, by like-minded nations around the world—offer our last, best hope of peacefully preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. Time is of the essence.

But Lieberman made clear that sanctions are not an end in themselves. And in contrast to the president’s que sera, sera attitude, Lieberman was emphatic that if the sanctions don’t work (and more about that below), we must use other options, including force:

While we hope that our combined sanctions will change the calculus of the Iranian regime, we must also recognize that every day that passes brings Iran closer to the point of nuclear no return. Ultimately, we must do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability—through peaceful and diplomatic means if we possibly can, but through military force if we absolutely must.

This is precisely what the president and his advisers have refused to say, and indeed have intimated is not in the cards.

But there is another problem. We aren’t likely to know whether sanctions are “working,” and the Iranians are quite likely to exploit the additional time to stave off other measures. How are we to know if work stops on the mullahs’ nuclear programs? And if the Iranians declare that they will return to the bargaining table, what is to prevent them, as they did last year, from practicing the same game of delay as they continue with their plans? The problem, it seems, is not merely the absence of effective tools to force a change in the Iranians’ conduct but also the will and determination to use those tools in a meaningful way.

Obama set the pattern last year — withholding support for the Green movement, muting the reaction to the Qom revelation, and allowing deadline after deadline to pass. From all this the mullahs have learned that very little is required to hold the U.S. at bay and that we are overeager to avoid confrontation. At every turn, they have bested Obama and the “international community” and bought themselves breathing room.

The sanctions, therefore, are not the solution to the Iranian threat. Rather than congratulating the administration for passing sanctions after nearly a year and a half, Congress and pro-Israel groups must make clear that “containment” is not an option and that we will use military force and provide Israel with unconditional support if necessary. “Passed useless sanctions and allowed Iran to go nuclear” is not a result from which the president, lawmakers, or American Jewry will recover. And it is not an outcome Israelis can tolerate.

The Senate passed its toughest sanctions to date by a 99-0 vote. Sen. Joe Lieberman had praise for the measure:

This bill represents the most powerful and comprehensive package of Iran sanctions ever passed by Congress. I am grateful to the leadership of Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Howard Berman for guiding the development of this complex and critically important legislation, as well as the leadership of Senator Reid and Senator McConnell in ensuring its swift passage by the Senate.

I hope and believe that the House will now act swiftly to pass this vital legislation, and that President Obama will sign it into law. Just as importantly, it is critical that these provisions are forcefully and proactively implemented once they become law.

The measures imposed by this legislation—together with sanctions adopted at the UN and, even more importantly, by like-minded nations around the world—offer our last, best hope of peacefully preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. Time is of the essence.

But Lieberman made clear that sanctions are not an end in themselves. And in contrast to the president’s que sera, sera attitude, Lieberman was emphatic that if the sanctions don’t work (and more about that below), we must use other options, including force:

While we hope that our combined sanctions will change the calculus of the Iranian regime, we must also recognize that every day that passes brings Iran closer to the point of nuclear no return. Ultimately, we must do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability—through peaceful and diplomatic means if we possibly can, but through military force if we absolutely must.

This is precisely what the president and his advisers have refused to say, and indeed have intimated is not in the cards.

But there is another problem. We aren’t likely to know whether sanctions are “working,” and the Iranians are quite likely to exploit the additional time to stave off other measures. How are we to know if work stops on the mullahs’ nuclear programs? And if the Iranians declare that they will return to the bargaining table, what is to prevent them, as they did last year, from practicing the same game of delay as they continue with their plans? The problem, it seems, is not merely the absence of effective tools to force a change in the Iranians’ conduct but also the will and determination to use those tools in a meaningful way.

Obama set the pattern last year — withholding support for the Green movement, muting the reaction to the Qom revelation, and allowing deadline after deadline to pass. From all this the mullahs have learned that very little is required to hold the U.S. at bay and that we are overeager to avoid confrontation. At every turn, they have bested Obama and the “international community” and bought themselves breathing room.

The sanctions, therefore, are not the solution to the Iranian threat. Rather than congratulating the administration for passing sanctions after nearly a year and a half, Congress and pro-Israel groups must make clear that “containment” is not an option and that we will use military force and provide Israel with unconditional support if necessary. “Passed useless sanctions and allowed Iran to go nuclear” is not a result from which the president, lawmakers, or American Jewry will recover. And it is not an outcome Israelis can tolerate.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

We finally have the perfect (and poetic) telling of the Tipper and Al saga.

Obama finally tries to undo some of the damage wrought by his troop-pullout deadline: “We did not say, starting in July 2011, suddenly there will be no troops from the United States or allied countries in Afghanistan. … We didn’t say we’d be switching off the lights and closing the door behind us. … We said we’d begin a transition phase that would allow the Afghan government to take more and more responsibility.” Now he just needs an affirmative statement that we’re going to do whatever it takes to win.

The voters finally get to grade Obama and the Democrats in November. They won’t be getting a B+: “This year’s low approval ratings for Congress are a potentially ominous sign for President Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress. Gallup has found greater party seat change in Congress in midterm elections when Congress has had low approval ratings.” Congress has a 20 percent approval rating; in 1994, Democrats scored 23 percent and lost 53 seats.

Congress should finally defund this position: “Rashad Hussain, America’s special envoy to the Organization for the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Saudi-based body formed in 1969 to ‘protect’ Jerusalem from the Israelis, announced a new title this week for President Barack Obama. According to Hussain, Obama is America’s ‘Educator-in-Chief on Islam.’” Unfortunately, until we have a new president, there’s nothing to be done — other than object loudly to this: “Hussain has now divulged that the U.S. will support the OIC in the latter’s United Nations effort to criminalize ‘defamation of religion’ — widely perceived as a measure to suppress criticism of Muslim practices that violate human rights.”

Will the Washington Post finally admit that the paper was snookered into hiring David Weigel as an authentic conservative voice? The latest: he apologizes to readers — for comments made on the lefty Journolist. Ahh … doesn’t that meant that … ? Even the Post should be able to figure that out now.

Will Democrats (and the rest of the country) finally be rid of Harry Reid? “The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Nevada shows [Sharon] Angle earning 48% support, while Reid, the state’s longtime Democratic senator, picks up 41% of the vote.”

Jonathan Chait finally stumbles onto the truth. On Rand Paul’s obfuscation regarding the BP fund: “He’s intellectually honest enough that he doesn’t want to lie about his views. But he’s not quite intellectually honest enough to actually say what his views are. So he just keeps talking about issues related to the question without answering it.”

We finally have the perfect (and poetic) telling of the Tipper and Al saga.

Obama finally tries to undo some of the damage wrought by his troop-pullout deadline: “We did not say, starting in July 2011, suddenly there will be no troops from the United States or allied countries in Afghanistan. … We didn’t say we’d be switching off the lights and closing the door behind us. … We said we’d begin a transition phase that would allow the Afghan government to take more and more responsibility.” Now he just needs an affirmative statement that we’re going to do whatever it takes to win.

The voters finally get to grade Obama and the Democrats in November. They won’t be getting a B+: “This year’s low approval ratings for Congress are a potentially ominous sign for President Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress. Gallup has found greater party seat change in Congress in midterm elections when Congress has had low approval ratings.” Congress has a 20 percent approval rating; in 1994, Democrats scored 23 percent and lost 53 seats.

Congress should finally defund this position: “Rashad Hussain, America’s special envoy to the Organization for the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Saudi-based body formed in 1969 to ‘protect’ Jerusalem from the Israelis, announced a new title this week for President Barack Obama. According to Hussain, Obama is America’s ‘Educator-in-Chief on Islam.’” Unfortunately, until we have a new president, there’s nothing to be done — other than object loudly to this: “Hussain has now divulged that the U.S. will support the OIC in the latter’s United Nations effort to criminalize ‘defamation of religion’ — widely perceived as a measure to suppress criticism of Muslim practices that violate human rights.”

Will the Washington Post finally admit that the paper was snookered into hiring David Weigel as an authentic conservative voice? The latest: he apologizes to readers — for comments made on the lefty Journolist. Ahh … doesn’t that meant that … ? Even the Post should be able to figure that out now.

Will Democrats (and the rest of the country) finally be rid of Harry Reid? “The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Nevada shows [Sharon] Angle earning 48% support, while Reid, the state’s longtime Democratic senator, picks up 41% of the vote.”

Jonathan Chait finally stumbles onto the truth. On Rand Paul’s obfuscation regarding the BP fund: “He’s intellectually honest enough that he doesn’t want to lie about his views. But he’s not quite intellectually honest enough to actually say what his views are. So he just keeps talking about issues related to the question without answering it.”

Read Less