Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 18, 2010

Bobby Thomson

As a historian, I have always been fascinated by fame and how unfairly the gods of chance bestow it. Andy Warhol said that in this media age, everyone is famous for 15 minutes. But some people, the great and the not-so-great, are famous forever, and it is not clear why they make it into the nightclub of immortality and others, apparently equally worthy, do not.

Take two brothers who lived in the 19th century. One served as a  congressman and senator from Ohio for many years, was secretary of the Treasury and secretary of State, was a major power in the Republican Party, and a perennial possibility for the presidential nomination. Yet he is completely forgotten today except by historians. His older brother, however, rode through Georgia at the head of an army in the fall of 1864 and is known to every schoolboy. To be sure, John Sherman is the eponym for the Sherman Antitrust Act (and coined the term “mending fences” in its political sense). But William Sherman gave his name to a clear refusal to seek the presidency (“If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve”), that has been known ever since as a Sherman.

Or consider Bobby Thomson, who died Monday at age 86. He was a journeyman fielder in the major leagues from 1946 to 1960. While a solid fielder and hitter, he came nowhere close to being considered for the Hall of Fame — a very restrictive club to be sure. He would, today, be completely forgotten except by keen students of baseball history. That is, he would be except for one at-bat, one hit, one incandescent moment of glory that caused his death, 59 years later, to be front-page news across the country.

It was the third game of a three-game playoff between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers to determine the National League Pennant. It was the bottom of the 9th, one out, two men on base, the Giants down 4-2. The count was 0-and-1. As radio announcer Russ Hodges described it, Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca “throws … [audible sound of bat meeting ball]. There’s a long drive … it’s gonna be, I believe …THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant and they’re goin’ crazy, they’re goin’ crazy! HEEEY-OH!!!” [10-second pause for crowd noise] I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it! I do not believe it!”

The home run was quickly dubbed, with the braggadocio so typical of baseball, the Shot Heard ‘Round the World. It will be part of any history of this strange, boring, sublime, exhilarating, and utterly American game for as long as wooden bats hit leather-clad balls.

You can see that immortal moment here (and hear Russ Hodges). But perhaps Red Smith — the Shakespeare of sportswriters — said it best when he wrote the next day, “Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”

As a historian, I have always been fascinated by fame and how unfairly the gods of chance bestow it. Andy Warhol said that in this media age, everyone is famous for 15 minutes. But some people, the great and the not-so-great, are famous forever, and it is not clear why they make it into the nightclub of immortality and others, apparently equally worthy, do not.

Take two brothers who lived in the 19th century. One served as a  congressman and senator from Ohio for many years, was secretary of the Treasury and secretary of State, was a major power in the Republican Party, and a perennial possibility for the presidential nomination. Yet he is completely forgotten today except by historians. His older brother, however, rode through Georgia at the head of an army in the fall of 1864 and is known to every schoolboy. To be sure, John Sherman is the eponym for the Sherman Antitrust Act (and coined the term “mending fences” in its political sense). But William Sherman gave his name to a clear refusal to seek the presidency (“If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve”), that has been known ever since as a Sherman.

Or consider Bobby Thomson, who died Monday at age 86. He was a journeyman fielder in the major leagues from 1946 to 1960. While a solid fielder and hitter, he came nowhere close to being considered for the Hall of Fame — a very restrictive club to be sure. He would, today, be completely forgotten except by keen students of baseball history. That is, he would be except for one at-bat, one hit, one incandescent moment of glory that caused his death, 59 years later, to be front-page news across the country.

It was the third game of a three-game playoff between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers to determine the National League Pennant. It was the bottom of the 9th, one out, two men on base, the Giants down 4-2. The count was 0-and-1. As radio announcer Russ Hodges described it, Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca “throws … [audible sound of bat meeting ball]. There’s a long drive … it’s gonna be, I believe …THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant and they’re goin’ crazy, they’re goin’ crazy! HEEEY-OH!!!” [10-second pause for crowd noise] I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it! I do not believe it!”

The home run was quickly dubbed, with the braggadocio so typical of baseball, the Shot Heard ‘Round the World. It will be part of any history of this strange, boring, sublime, exhilarating, and utterly American game for as long as wooden bats hit leather-clad balls.

You can see that immortal moment here (and hear Russ Hodges). But perhaps Red Smith — the Shakespeare of sportswriters — said it best when he wrote the next day, “Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”

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Dems Headed in Wrong Direction

According to Gallup, the president’s daily approval rating has him down to 41 percent. I rather doubt this is the floor, though; there will be more political damage still to come from the mosque/Ground Zero controversy. And the narrative of incompetence and “incoherence” is taking hold more and more each day, which can’t help Obama or Democrats running for office.

Things seem to be moving in exactly the wrong way for Democrats, who are already in a very precarious position. And there are still more than seven weeks, and two job reports, to go.

According to Gallup, the president’s daily approval rating has him down to 41 percent. I rather doubt this is the floor, though; there will be more political damage still to come from the mosque/Ground Zero controversy. And the narrative of incompetence and “incoherence” is taking hold more and more each day, which can’t help Obama or Democrats running for office.

Things seem to be moving in exactly the wrong way for Democrats, who are already in a very precarious position. And there are still more than seven weeks, and two job reports, to go.

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Western Culture and the Mosque

Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes a profound point at the Wall Street Journal today: that the Park 51 mosque controversy, although framed in most of our public discussions as a narrow question of religious tolerance, is actually a battleground in the broader “clash of civilizations” outlined by Samuel Huntington. I’ve been thinking about this a great deal. I would approach her point with the following framework: that the central question for New Yorkers, as for Americans and the West, is what religious tolerance means at the border between civilizations.

The West has had real trouble answering this question. What we are finding is that the default attitudes of the 20th century are inadequate to preserving a sustainable balance of religious and other philosophical influences in communal life. Western Christians and Jews have grown complacent about the protection of their religious freedoms in an increasingly secular culture. Indeed, our society has grown complacent about all freedom of conscience, routinely ignoring the dangers posed by the assaults of absolutist ideologies and our flirtations with creating thought crimes.

As Ali points out, however, “Our civilization is not indestructible. It needs to be actively defended.” She is right. The question for the West is how to tolerate Islam – which is culturally prescriptive and preemptive to a greater degree than either of the major Western religions – and yet retain what matters in our civilization.

I wrote last week about the differing levels of zeal for “religious rights” displayed by the New York City authorities in their approach to Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious arrangements. Their unaccommodating posture with Christians and Jews is emblematic of a steadily more reflexive prejudice in our American civic consciousness (and in the letter of our law as well). This imbalance of favor has consequences – and not just for religion but also for intellectual freedom of all kinds.

But taking the long view, we must see that addressing this problem solely with the blunt instruments of majoritarian politics and demagogic suasion is not enough.  We need to reexamine some of our modern attitudes. Certainly, we ought to elect new public officials who are wiser about respecting the competing claims of the people. But the issue is deeper than that. Sharing the public square is fundamental for Western civilization; for Islam, it is not. The reactionary political debate over the Park 51 mosque will leave us without the thing we need most of all: a way to live with Islam, one in which Islam accommodates our culture even as we seek to be respectful of Islam.

We won’t get to that solution by continuing on the path of lazy complacency about the survival of our culture. Europe shows us where that path leads: to urban neighborhoods where women aren’t safe unveiled and Jews aren’t safe at all. Muslims have demonstrated that they can live peacefully in the culture of the West, but where Islam rules the culture, the freedoms that we prize disappear. The truth is that we must privilege and defend our practices if we want to keep our freedoms. One such practice – one to which Christians and Jews have regularly been subjected, along with Wal-Mart, shopping malls, and adult video stores – is the veto of local majorities over their plans for construction and operation on specific sites.

Rights and cultural conditions don’t defend themselves:  we have to teach them to our children and be vigilant about their application and privilege. We have nothing to apologize for in doing that. And it’s essential to establish that our purpose is not to defeat or drive out Islam, but to live with it. Perhaps the outcome in the case at hand will be the Park 51 mosque. But we have been very clear that living with Christianity and Judaism does not mean that the public must accommodate everything their faithful want to do – nor does it mean driving them out of civic life. It means, rather, respect and compromise from everyone. Those are the club rules.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes a profound point at the Wall Street Journal today: that the Park 51 mosque controversy, although framed in most of our public discussions as a narrow question of religious tolerance, is actually a battleground in the broader “clash of civilizations” outlined by Samuel Huntington. I’ve been thinking about this a great deal. I would approach her point with the following framework: that the central question for New Yorkers, as for Americans and the West, is what religious tolerance means at the border between civilizations.

The West has had real trouble answering this question. What we are finding is that the default attitudes of the 20th century are inadequate to preserving a sustainable balance of religious and other philosophical influences in communal life. Western Christians and Jews have grown complacent about the protection of their religious freedoms in an increasingly secular culture. Indeed, our society has grown complacent about all freedom of conscience, routinely ignoring the dangers posed by the assaults of absolutist ideologies and our flirtations with creating thought crimes.

As Ali points out, however, “Our civilization is not indestructible. It needs to be actively defended.” She is right. The question for the West is how to tolerate Islam – which is culturally prescriptive and preemptive to a greater degree than either of the major Western religions – and yet retain what matters in our civilization.

I wrote last week about the differing levels of zeal for “religious rights” displayed by the New York City authorities in their approach to Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious arrangements. Their unaccommodating posture with Christians and Jews is emblematic of a steadily more reflexive prejudice in our American civic consciousness (and in the letter of our law as well). This imbalance of favor has consequences – and not just for religion but also for intellectual freedom of all kinds.

But taking the long view, we must see that addressing this problem solely with the blunt instruments of majoritarian politics and demagogic suasion is not enough.  We need to reexamine some of our modern attitudes. Certainly, we ought to elect new public officials who are wiser about respecting the competing claims of the people. But the issue is deeper than that. Sharing the public square is fundamental for Western civilization; for Islam, it is not. The reactionary political debate over the Park 51 mosque will leave us without the thing we need most of all: a way to live with Islam, one in which Islam accommodates our culture even as we seek to be respectful of Islam.

We won’t get to that solution by continuing on the path of lazy complacency about the survival of our culture. Europe shows us where that path leads: to urban neighborhoods where women aren’t safe unveiled and Jews aren’t safe at all. Muslims have demonstrated that they can live peacefully in the culture of the West, but where Islam rules the culture, the freedoms that we prize disappear. The truth is that we must privilege and defend our practices if we want to keep our freedoms. One such practice – one to which Christians and Jews have regularly been subjected, along with Wal-Mart, shopping malls, and adult video stores – is the veto of local majorities over their plans for construction and operation on specific sites.

Rights and cultural conditions don’t defend themselves:  we have to teach them to our children and be vigilant about their application and privilege. We have nothing to apologize for in doing that. And it’s essential to establish that our purpose is not to defeat or drive out Islam, but to live with it. Perhaps the outcome in the case at hand will be the Park 51 mosque. But we have been very clear that living with Christianity and Judaism does not mean that the public must accommodate everything their faithful want to do – nor does it mean driving them out of civic life. It means, rather, respect and compromise from everyone. Those are the club rules.

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No, Madam Speaker, We Can’t Say THAT!

It seems that a staffer told Nancy Pelosi to walk back the crazy talk:

“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a statement Wednesday addressing criticisms of her remarks yesterday calling for an investigation into the opposition of the Ground Zero mosque.

“The freedom of religion is a Constitutional right,” Pelosi said in the press release. “Where a place of worship is located is a local decision.”

She continued: “I support the statement made by the Interfaith Alliance that ‘We agree with the ADL that there is a need for transparency about who is funding the effort to build this Islamic center. At the same time, we should also ask who is funding the attacks against the construction of the center.’”

So we should investigate whether foreign, jihadist sources are behind the mosque and who’s funding Harry Reid’s opposition? But maybe there will be a clarification tomorrow of her walk-back. To be followed by a statement that she’s awfully glad to be on the opposite side of nearly two-thirds of the country. But it’s really no big deal: “When contacted by The Daily Caller, a spokesperson from Speaker Pelosi’s office said that the press release ‘speaks to her position on transparency on both sides.’ He also said that the outrage over Pelosi’s call for an investigation has been ‘overblown.'” Yeah, the Washington Post has that talking point down.

It seems that a staffer told Nancy Pelosi to walk back the crazy talk:

“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a statement Wednesday addressing criticisms of her remarks yesterday calling for an investigation into the opposition of the Ground Zero mosque.

“The freedom of religion is a Constitutional right,” Pelosi said in the press release. “Where a place of worship is located is a local decision.”

She continued: “I support the statement made by the Interfaith Alliance that ‘We agree with the ADL that there is a need for transparency about who is funding the effort to build this Islamic center. At the same time, we should also ask who is funding the attacks against the construction of the center.’”

So we should investigate whether foreign, jihadist sources are behind the mosque and who’s funding Harry Reid’s opposition? But maybe there will be a clarification tomorrow of her walk-back. To be followed by a statement that she’s awfully glad to be on the opposite side of nearly two-thirds of the country. But it’s really no big deal: “When contacted by The Daily Caller, a spokesperson from Speaker Pelosi’s office said that the press release ‘speaks to her position on transparency on both sides.’ He also said that the outrage over Pelosi’s call for an investigation has been ‘overblown.'” Yeah, the Washington Post has that talking point down.

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Just Watch It

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Obama Not Regretting His Backtracking Clarification

President Obama told reporters in Ohio today that he does not regret wading into the mosque/Ground Zero debate. Here’s Time magazine’s Mark Halperin’s take:

Really??!! Another presidential comment on this sensitive matter made on the fly in response to a press question? The political and substantive damage will continue until Obama explains his position in detail and (in a dignified and uplifting way) explains why his critics are wrong. This is a classic case of a politician losing control of his public image on a key issue — only in this instance, it has implications for the whole world.

Politics is an inherently messy profession; even the best practitioners of it slip up from time to time. But the depth of ineptitude on this issue that we’re seeing from the president and his White House, as well as the speaker of the House, is jaw-dropping. It is as if they were consciously thinking of ways to keep this story alive, to stoke the embers, and to further upset the public.

President Obama told reporters in Ohio today that he does not regret wading into the mosque/Ground Zero debate. Here’s Time magazine’s Mark Halperin’s take:

Really??!! Another presidential comment on this sensitive matter made on the fly in response to a press question? The political and substantive damage will continue until Obama explains his position in detail and (in a dignified and uplifting way) explains why his critics are wrong. This is a classic case of a politician losing control of his public image on a key issue — only in this instance, it has implications for the whole world.

Politics is an inherently messy profession; even the best practitioners of it slip up from time to time. But the depth of ineptitude on this issue that we’re seeing from the president and his White House, as well as the speaker of the House, is jaw-dropping. It is as if they were consciously thinking of ways to keep this story alive, to stoke the embers, and to further upset the public.

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Ezra Klein Doesn’t Understand the Ground Zero Controversy?

Ezra Klein is stumped. (There’s a lot of that going on at his paper.) The man who couldn’t figure out the motive for the Times Square bomber — the mortgage crisis was his best guess — can’t figure out why Republicans are “trumpeting” the Ground Zero mosque issue. You mean like giving a speech from an iftar dinner at the White House? Oh, that wasn’t the sinister GOP. But, really, he’s supposed to be some sort of political pundit, and he can’t figure this out? Well — aside from it being the right position in the eyes of conservatives — 68 percent of the country is with the GOP. The issue highlights the chasm between liberal elites and the majority of Americans, and it has the Democrats tied up in knots. It’s so obvious that even Ezra Klein knows what is going on. So why the play-dumb routine?

It’s about keeping hope alive — giving liberals comfort (albeit, false comfort) that the issue is actually a loser for the GOP. (“It loses them long-term votes that they just don’t need to lose. It paints their party as intolerant and opportunistic. And it’s unnecessary: It’s not like they’re hurting for things to talk about.”) Well, it’s true that the GOP has an embarrassment of riches — the non-recovery, ObamaCare, the unemployment numbers, Obama’s anti-Israel stance, etc. — to talk about. But that would suggest the Ground Zero mosque is an issue that ranks up there with historic high dissatisfaction with president’s’ handling of the economy.

Moreover, it is odd to lob the Ground Zero mosque and immigration reform (“And why, a week or two ago, did they start talking about the 14th amendment?”) into the pot labeled “social issues.” Ah, but if you are trying to rile up the liberal base using “social issues” and “conservatives” in the same sentence, it may be quite effective. And don’t get me wrong: I’ve made clear my opposition to mucking around in the 14th Amendment, but I can understand why they are doing it and backing the Arizona bill. (These are popular positions, to my dismay.)

This is the problem with the Post’s offering of Klein as a political pundit. He’s not engaged in any serious analysis; rather, he’s using the Post to gin up his base. He is pretending to be confused about the phenomena the Post is paying him to cover. He ends with this missive to the home team:

Is the mosque — and the social issues more generally — driven by elites? Or by rank-and-file? Does the GOP want to talk about the social issues because they prefer it to talking about the economy or because they don’t feel like they have a choice?

No one other than a Democratic flack thinks the Republicans don’t want to talk about the economy. There’s nothing wrong with opining analysis (I of all people acknowledge that) — even for a publication that pretends to be a straight-news outlet. But when it becomes the very thing that Klein’s JournoListers were criticized for (partisan politics in aid of the Obama team under the guise of “journalism”), isn’t it time for the Post to rethink its jump into the leftist blogosphere?

Ezra Klein is stumped. (There’s a lot of that going on at his paper.) The man who couldn’t figure out the motive for the Times Square bomber — the mortgage crisis was his best guess — can’t figure out why Republicans are “trumpeting” the Ground Zero mosque issue. You mean like giving a speech from an iftar dinner at the White House? Oh, that wasn’t the sinister GOP. But, really, he’s supposed to be some sort of political pundit, and he can’t figure this out? Well — aside from it being the right position in the eyes of conservatives — 68 percent of the country is with the GOP. The issue highlights the chasm between liberal elites and the majority of Americans, and it has the Democrats tied up in knots. It’s so obvious that even Ezra Klein knows what is going on. So why the play-dumb routine?

It’s about keeping hope alive — giving liberals comfort (albeit, false comfort) that the issue is actually a loser for the GOP. (“It loses them long-term votes that they just don’t need to lose. It paints their party as intolerant and opportunistic. And it’s unnecessary: It’s not like they’re hurting for things to talk about.”) Well, it’s true that the GOP has an embarrassment of riches — the non-recovery, ObamaCare, the unemployment numbers, Obama’s anti-Israel stance, etc. — to talk about. But that would suggest the Ground Zero mosque is an issue that ranks up there with historic high dissatisfaction with president’s’ handling of the economy.

Moreover, it is odd to lob the Ground Zero mosque and immigration reform (“And why, a week or two ago, did they start talking about the 14th amendment?”) into the pot labeled “social issues.” Ah, but if you are trying to rile up the liberal base using “social issues” and “conservatives” in the same sentence, it may be quite effective. And don’t get me wrong: I’ve made clear my opposition to mucking around in the 14th Amendment, but I can understand why they are doing it and backing the Arizona bill. (These are popular positions, to my dismay.)

This is the problem with the Post’s offering of Klein as a political pundit. He’s not engaged in any serious analysis; rather, he’s using the Post to gin up his base. He is pretending to be confused about the phenomena the Post is paying him to cover. He ends with this missive to the home team:

Is the mosque — and the social issues more generally — driven by elites? Or by rank-and-file? Does the GOP want to talk about the social issues because they prefer it to talking about the economy or because they don’t feel like they have a choice?

No one other than a Democratic flack thinks the Republicans don’t want to talk about the economy. There’s nothing wrong with opining analysis (I of all people acknowledge that) — even for a publication that pretends to be a straight-news outlet. But when it becomes the very thing that Klein’s JournoListers were criticized for (partisan politics in aid of the Obama team under the guise of “journalism”), isn’t it time for the Post to rethink its jump into the leftist blogosphere?

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RE: Pelosi Angry, on the Ropes

Pete, even for Nancy Pelosi this is really beyond the pale. I have just a few thoughts to add.

First, no one is pulling the strings behind a concerted opposition to the mosque, but it’s odd that she should think so (as was her accusation that ObamaCare protestors were pawns of the insurance industry). There’s not a JournoList for the 68 percent of Americans who think the mosque should go elsewhere. And I don’t think that several New York Democratic congressmen, David Aaron Miller, the ADL, and Harry Reid are being “funded” by a common mysterious source to oppose the building of a giant mosque on the ashes of their fellow Americans. But if she’s curious, Pelosi can always ask Reid or her members from New York.

Second, this is a textbook case of projection. One of the central issues concerning the mosque, of course, is whether foreign jihadist groups are funding it. Imam Rauf won’t say, and Mayor Bloomberg, in his infinite inanity, didn’t bother to find out before getting behind the project. Maybe someone said “funding” in her presence, and she thought it was a good idea to question the funding sources of the Americans who don’t agree with her.

And finally, I assume she doesn’t think the alleged ringleader of this dastardly plot is foreign. So what she is asking for — this from the gal who labeled ObamaCare opponents “un-American” — is that we investigate Americans and American organizations. Whom shall we call to the stand first — Harry Reid or Abe Foxman? This is the sort of buffoonery and Constitutional illiteracy that is alleged of conservatives.

She’s become an embarrassment to the Congress and to her party. Regardless of the election outcome, shouldn’t Democrats pick someone better to lead them?

Pete, even for Nancy Pelosi this is really beyond the pale. I have just a few thoughts to add.

First, no one is pulling the strings behind a concerted opposition to the mosque, but it’s odd that she should think so (as was her accusation that ObamaCare protestors were pawns of the insurance industry). There’s not a JournoList for the 68 percent of Americans who think the mosque should go elsewhere. And I don’t think that several New York Democratic congressmen, David Aaron Miller, the ADL, and Harry Reid are being “funded” by a common mysterious source to oppose the building of a giant mosque on the ashes of their fellow Americans. But if she’s curious, Pelosi can always ask Reid or her members from New York.

Second, this is a textbook case of projection. One of the central issues concerning the mosque, of course, is whether foreign jihadist groups are funding it. Imam Rauf won’t say, and Mayor Bloomberg, in his infinite inanity, didn’t bother to find out before getting behind the project. Maybe someone said “funding” in her presence, and she thought it was a good idea to question the funding sources of the Americans who don’t agree with her.

And finally, I assume she doesn’t think the alleged ringleader of this dastardly plot is foreign. So what she is asking for — this from the gal who labeled ObamaCare opponents “un-American” — is that we investigate Americans and American organizations. Whom shall we call to the stand first — Harry Reid or Abe Foxman? This is the sort of buffoonery and Constitutional illiteracy that is alleged of conservatives.

She’s become an embarrassment to the Congress and to her party. Regardless of the election outcome, shouldn’t Democrats pick someone better to lead them?

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Peter Beinart’s Lamentation

Peter Beinart is very unhappy — at President Obama, at Republicans, at Democrats, and at America itself. Beinart writes:

The president is furiously backtracking; Republicans are clawing over each other to demonize Muslims; Democrats are dead silent. It’s time to face reality. Whether or not the “ground zero” mosque ever gets built, the political debate is over. Decency lost.

So almost nine years after September 11, we need to confront a few painful truths. First, while the military and counterintelligence aspects of the struggle against al Qaeda will likely last long into the future, the “war of ideas” is over. America has thrown in the towel.

Beinart adds this:

Congratulations, Republicans, you’ve safeguarded ground zero against the insidious threat of religious liberty. I’ve always found going there a deeply moving experience, but for the time being, at least, I’ve lost my desire to go. Hallowed ground? After the unforgivable events of the last month, it’s become a little less hallowed for me.

Set aside (if you can) the melodramatic prose. What we are seeing is evidence of a deep and growing alienation — not just in Mr. Beinart but among many liberals. They increasingly view themselves as caught up in a world filled with anguish, with emptiness, with moral meaninglessness.

We are at the early stages of an important phenomenon. Liberals, unable to come to terms with the manifold failures of President Obama, are becoming increasingly alienated from our country and from its political system. The public overwhelmingly opposes them on everything — from building the mosque near Ground Zero to ObamaCare, from the effort to sue Arizona over its law for curbing illegal immigration to much else. In response, their rhetoric is becoming increasingly shrill. Scapegoats must be found — and they include Obama’s predecessor, the GOP, the Tea Party, our political culture, Congress, and the public itself.

We have seen this kind of alienation happen before with the rise of the New Left in the late 1960s and early 1970s. What we may be seeing today is the emergence of a New New Left.

This would be very bad for liberalism and for America.

Peter Beinart is very unhappy — at President Obama, at Republicans, at Democrats, and at America itself. Beinart writes:

The president is furiously backtracking; Republicans are clawing over each other to demonize Muslims; Democrats are dead silent. It’s time to face reality. Whether or not the “ground zero” mosque ever gets built, the political debate is over. Decency lost.

So almost nine years after September 11, we need to confront a few painful truths. First, while the military and counterintelligence aspects of the struggle against al Qaeda will likely last long into the future, the “war of ideas” is over. America has thrown in the towel.

Beinart adds this:

Congratulations, Republicans, you’ve safeguarded ground zero against the insidious threat of religious liberty. I’ve always found going there a deeply moving experience, but for the time being, at least, I’ve lost my desire to go. Hallowed ground? After the unforgivable events of the last month, it’s become a little less hallowed for me.

Set aside (if you can) the melodramatic prose. What we are seeing is evidence of a deep and growing alienation — not just in Mr. Beinart but among many liberals. They increasingly view themselves as caught up in a world filled with anguish, with emptiness, with moral meaninglessness.

We are at the early stages of an important phenomenon. Liberals, unable to come to terms with the manifold failures of President Obama, are becoming increasingly alienated from our country and from its political system. The public overwhelmingly opposes them on everything — from building the mosque near Ground Zero to ObamaCare, from the effort to sue Arizona over its law for curbing illegal immigration to much else. In response, their rhetoric is becoming increasingly shrill. Scapegoats must be found — and they include Obama’s predecessor, the GOP, the Tea Party, our political culture, Congress, and the public itself.

We have seen this kind of alienation happen before with the rise of the New Left in the late 1960s and early 1970s. What we may be seeing today is the emergence of a New New Left.

This would be very bad for liberalism and for America.

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Pelosi Angry, on the Ropes

Having just made the case that the debate about the mosque and Ground Zero needs to be conducted in a responsible, careful way by all sides, I regret to note that Speaker Nancy Pelosi now indicates that she supports an investigation into groups opposing the building of a mosque near Ground Zero. According to Politico, Pelosi told San Francisco’s KCBS radio that “there is no question there is a concerted effort to make this a political issue by some.”

“I join those who have called for looking into how is this opposition to the mosque being funded,” she said. “How is this being ginned up?”

HotAir.com’s Ed Morrissey puts it brilliantly: “What better way to defend the First Amendment freedom of religion than to have the Speaker of the House ask the federal government investigate those exercising their First Amendment right to free speech?” And, he asked, does that mean that Pelosi wants Harry Reid investigated, too?

But of course this has a serious element to it as well. The effort to criminalize policy differences is very bad stuff for our republic and our political lives, and Pelosi’s comments are deeply irresponsible and even reckless. They are also politically stupid (70 percent of the public and 58 percent of Democrats oppose building the mosque near Ground Zero). The prospect of losing the speakership is apparently bringing out Ms. Pelosi’s dark and thuggish side, which in turn will only increase the likelihood of her losing her speakership.

The Democratic Party is angry, on the ropes, and lashing out.

It’s not a pretty sight.

Having just made the case that the debate about the mosque and Ground Zero needs to be conducted in a responsible, careful way by all sides, I regret to note that Speaker Nancy Pelosi now indicates that she supports an investigation into groups opposing the building of a mosque near Ground Zero. According to Politico, Pelosi told San Francisco’s KCBS radio that “there is no question there is a concerted effort to make this a political issue by some.”

“I join those who have called for looking into how is this opposition to the mosque being funded,” she said. “How is this being ginned up?”

HotAir.com’s Ed Morrissey puts it brilliantly: “What better way to defend the First Amendment freedom of religion than to have the Speaker of the House ask the federal government investigate those exercising their First Amendment right to free speech?” And, he asked, does that mean that Pelosi wants Harry Reid investigated, too?

But of course this has a serious element to it as well. The effort to criminalize policy differences is very bad stuff for our republic and our political lives, and Pelosi’s comments are deeply irresponsible and even reckless. They are also politically stupid (70 percent of the public and 58 percent of Democrats oppose building the mosque near Ground Zero). The prospect of losing the speakership is apparently bringing out Ms. Pelosi’s dark and thuggish side, which in turn will only increase the likelihood of her losing her speakership.

The Democratic Party is angry, on the ropes, and lashing out.

It’s not a pretty sight.

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Attacking American Muslims

Some of those who favor placing Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s proposal to build a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero have used malicious rhetoric to characterize those who oppose them. They are said to be anti-Muslim, anti-Constitutional, and acting, in the words of MSNBC’s resident deep thinker Norah O’Donnell, “like the people who stole freedom from Americans, the people who attacked America and killed 3,000 people.”

This is ugly and unfortunate stuff.

At the same time, those who oppose building the mosque near Ground Zero have an obligation to be careful about the rhetoric they employ. For example, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has said: “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over.” He later added, by way of analogy, “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington.”

Let’s take these assertions in order. Regarding the first one, Saudi Arabia is not the standard Americans should use on the matter of religious freedom. As for the second argument: the analogy breaks down because Nazism was intrinsically malevolent, whereas mosques are not.

It is true, of course, that far too many Muslims in the world embrace a form of militant Islam; to deny that would be to deny reality. Those who attacked us on September 11 did so in the name of Islam. And those are not, by any means, the only attacks the world (or America) has witnessed.

At the same time, we have to be very careful not to conflate American Muslims with al-Qaeda and Wahhabism or argue, explicitly or implicitly, that mosques qua mosques are comparable to Nazism. Some mosques do fan the flames of hatred and violence; but of course many more do not.

It was a tribute to America that, in the aftermath of 9/11, it showed impressive tolerance and respect toward Muslims in this nation. President Bush went out of his way, early and often, to strike just the right tone.

“America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country,” Bush said at the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., just six days after the attacks. “Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.”

Those words apply now as they did then.

I have argued before that the effort to build the mosque near Ground Zero is terribly imprudent because it was sure to ignite a debate in this country that is divisive and dangerous. Many Americans, for completely understandable reasons, would rather have this particular mosque run by this particular imam built elsewhere in New York. To characterize that opposition as bigoted, malicious, and un-American has evoked a perfectly predictable counterreaction. “It’s about damn time that Muslims around the world and in the United States — I’m talking about this particular imam — be sensitive to American values,” is how one commentator put it.

Because the debate on the mosque near Ground Zero deals with extremely sensitive matters, it’s easy for things to spin out of control. So it’s particularly important that arguments be made with precision, with care, and even with some measure of grace and understanding.

As usual, it’s wise to look to Lincoln to guide our way. In the words of the historian William Lee Miller:

[Lincoln] led one side in a bloody war not by arousing the aggressive tribalism, the assertive collective will, that war leaders often summon and that war publics often display, but by rather reasoning and eloquence. He gave careful arguments for his position, implying that he and his followers and their adversaries – their “dissatisfied countrymen” – were all part of a universal community of human reason. … He did not demean or demonize the enemy … he did not deal in disdain or contempt for the adversary.

Neither should we.

Some of those who favor placing Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s proposal to build a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero have used malicious rhetoric to characterize those who oppose them. They are said to be anti-Muslim, anti-Constitutional, and acting, in the words of MSNBC’s resident deep thinker Norah O’Donnell, “like the people who stole freedom from Americans, the people who attacked America and killed 3,000 people.”

This is ugly and unfortunate stuff.

At the same time, those who oppose building the mosque near Ground Zero have an obligation to be careful about the rhetoric they employ. For example, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has said: “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over.” He later added, by way of analogy, “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington.”

Let’s take these assertions in order. Regarding the first one, Saudi Arabia is not the standard Americans should use on the matter of religious freedom. As for the second argument: the analogy breaks down because Nazism was intrinsically malevolent, whereas mosques are not.

It is true, of course, that far too many Muslims in the world embrace a form of militant Islam; to deny that would be to deny reality. Those who attacked us on September 11 did so in the name of Islam. And those are not, by any means, the only attacks the world (or America) has witnessed.

At the same time, we have to be very careful not to conflate American Muslims with al-Qaeda and Wahhabism or argue, explicitly or implicitly, that mosques qua mosques are comparable to Nazism. Some mosques do fan the flames of hatred and violence; but of course many more do not.

It was a tribute to America that, in the aftermath of 9/11, it showed impressive tolerance and respect toward Muslims in this nation. President Bush went out of his way, early and often, to strike just the right tone.

“America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country,” Bush said at the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., just six days after the attacks. “Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.”

Those words apply now as they did then.

I have argued before that the effort to build the mosque near Ground Zero is terribly imprudent because it was sure to ignite a debate in this country that is divisive and dangerous. Many Americans, for completely understandable reasons, would rather have this particular mosque run by this particular imam built elsewhere in New York. To characterize that opposition as bigoted, malicious, and un-American has evoked a perfectly predictable counterreaction. “It’s about damn time that Muslims around the world and in the United States — I’m talking about this particular imam — be sensitive to American values,” is how one commentator put it.

Because the debate on the mosque near Ground Zero deals with extremely sensitive matters, it’s easy for things to spin out of control. So it’s particularly important that arguments be made with precision, with care, and even with some measure of grace and understanding.

As usual, it’s wise to look to Lincoln to guide our way. In the words of the historian William Lee Miller:

[Lincoln] led one side in a bloody war not by arousing the aggressive tribalism, the assertive collective will, that war leaders often summon and that war publics often display, but by rather reasoning and eloquence. He gave careful arguments for his position, implying that he and his followers and their adversaries – their “dissatisfied countrymen” – were all part of a universal community of human reason. … He did not demean or demonize the enemy … he did not deal in disdain or contempt for the adversary.

Neither should we.

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Dowd vs. Obama

I admit it: I was looking forward to Maureen Dowd’s column today. Nothing quite gets her dander up and her claws out like a reminder that Obama is not merely a disappointment to the left but also an embarrassment. She  seethes:

When the president skittered back from his grandiose declaration at an iftar celebration at the White House Friday that Muslims enjoy freedom of religion in America and have the right to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan, he offered a Clintonesque parsing. …

Let me be perfectly clear, Mr. Perfectly Unclear President: You cannot take such a stand on a matter of first principle and then take it back the next morning when, lo and behold, Harry Reid goes craven and the Republicans attack.

Well he can and did, but she’s fit to be tied about it — so much so that’s she’s praising George W. Bush for saying nice things about Muslims, championing AIDS prevention in Africa, and making a real effort on immigration reform. (I was not pleased with his excessive genuflecting on the first, but we’ve certainly entered the Twilight Zone of politics when she throws Bush in Obama’s face. Nothing like a woman scorned.) Anyway, she’s not done with the unflattering comparisons. Bill Clinton, at least, “never presented himself as a moral guide to the country,” so it’s all the more painful when Obama “flops around” on the mosque and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Now this is Maureen Dowd — who is apparently so powerful that fact checkers and editors dare not raise their hands to caution her about lines like this: “By now you have to be willfully blind not to know that the imam in charge of the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the moderate Muslim we have allegedly been yearning for.” Uh, not really. We’re yearning for a Muslim who specifically condemns Hamas as a terrorist group and doesn’t suggest that the U.S. is responsible for 9/11. We’re yearning for a Muslim who doesn’t use “hallowed ground” — where 3,000 Americans died at the hands of Islamist extremists — to build a “a symbol of victory for militant Muslims around the world.” (That from an American Muslim whose mother was incinerated on 9/11 by those who “believed that all non-Muslims are infidels and that the duty of Muslims is to renounce them.”) We’re yearning for a Muslim who is “desperate to reform his faith” and forthright in his assessment that the placement of the mosque at Ground Zero is based on “a belief that Islamic structures are a political statement and even Ground Zero should be looked upon through the lens of political Islam and not a solely American one.” (That from a Muslim and former U.S. Navy officer.)

So while her fury at the ever-shrinking Obama may be amusing, her analysis is about what you’d expect from someone who thinks women have it pretty good in Saudi Arabia. The most important insight to be gained from her rant-athon is this: if Democrats were depressed and faced a turnout problem before this incident, watch out. There might not be a poll model in use that accurately measures the enthusiasm gap between Democratic and Republican voters, nor, as a result, the extent of the electoral damage Obama is about to wreak on his party.

I admit it: I was looking forward to Maureen Dowd’s column today. Nothing quite gets her dander up and her claws out like a reminder that Obama is not merely a disappointment to the left but also an embarrassment. She  seethes:

When the president skittered back from his grandiose declaration at an iftar celebration at the White House Friday that Muslims enjoy freedom of religion in America and have the right to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan, he offered a Clintonesque parsing. …

Let me be perfectly clear, Mr. Perfectly Unclear President: You cannot take such a stand on a matter of first principle and then take it back the next morning when, lo and behold, Harry Reid goes craven and the Republicans attack.

Well he can and did, but she’s fit to be tied about it — so much so that’s she’s praising George W. Bush for saying nice things about Muslims, championing AIDS prevention in Africa, and making a real effort on immigration reform. (I was not pleased with his excessive genuflecting on the first, but we’ve certainly entered the Twilight Zone of politics when she throws Bush in Obama’s face. Nothing like a woman scorned.) Anyway, she’s not done with the unflattering comparisons. Bill Clinton, at least, “never presented himself as a moral guide to the country,” so it’s all the more painful when Obama “flops around” on the mosque and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Now this is Maureen Dowd — who is apparently so powerful that fact checkers and editors dare not raise their hands to caution her about lines like this: “By now you have to be willfully blind not to know that the imam in charge of the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the moderate Muslim we have allegedly been yearning for.” Uh, not really. We’re yearning for a Muslim who specifically condemns Hamas as a terrorist group and doesn’t suggest that the U.S. is responsible for 9/11. We’re yearning for a Muslim who doesn’t use “hallowed ground” — where 3,000 Americans died at the hands of Islamist extremists — to build a “a symbol of victory for militant Muslims around the world.” (That from an American Muslim whose mother was incinerated on 9/11 by those who “believed that all non-Muslims are infidels and that the duty of Muslims is to renounce them.”) We’re yearning for a Muslim who is “desperate to reform his faith” and forthright in his assessment that the placement of the mosque at Ground Zero is based on “a belief that Islamic structures are a political statement and even Ground Zero should be looked upon through the lens of political Islam and not a solely American one.” (That from a Muslim and former U.S. Navy officer.)

So while her fury at the ever-shrinking Obama may be amusing, her analysis is about what you’d expect from someone who thinks women have it pretty good in Saudi Arabia. The most important insight to be gained from her rant-athon is this: if Democrats were depressed and faced a turnout problem before this incident, watch out. There might not be a poll model in use that accurately measures the enthusiasm gap between Democratic and Republican voters, nor, as a result, the extent of the electoral damage Obama is about to wreak on his party.

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Chait off the Rails, Even at the Beach

Almost all the TNR crew has leapt off the cliff with Obama on the Ground Zero mosque. But none has leapt farther than Jonathan Chait, or with less candor about his opponents’ arguments. Chait, it seems, spends much time reading our posts and writing about what we think on the topic, which is lovely for our readership stats but odd for one who finds that we’ve “descended” to new lows. (By the way, as John Podhoretz recently pointed out to a group of assembled readers, Chait’s fond memories of COMMENTARY should come as news to those who recall that the left found COMMENTARY every bit as distasteful in the 1970s and 80s as it does now.) Chait checks in from the beach to throw in his latest dose of disdain for all those (Al-Rashid too?) who object to the monument to Islam on Ground Zero.

Chait, once again, flies into a tizzy, this time about my use of the term “Muslim World.” He suggests that in saying Obama preferred the “Muslim World” to America on the mosque, I was referring to the domestic mosque builders, thereby implying that American Muslims aren’t Americans. No, I’m using Obama’s own term and in precisely the same way Obama does — to describe the audience of Muslims in the Middle East and around the globe. My point, one made more compelling by the words of Al-Rashid and other Muslims, is that Obama is acting in ways antithetical to our interests and to those of Muslims not yet caught in the grip of jihadism. He repeatedly favors grand gestures for the consumption of the Muslim World outside the U.S. at the expense of our own values and interests, and in contravention of the overwhelming sentiments of Americans. We can only speculate why he behaves in this fashion.

We have seen this profound error in judgment and strategy from Obama before. Recall that this approach was central to his decision to close Guantanamo, which he explained would make us look better in the eyes of, yes, the Muslim World. We see it in his excising of the term “Islamic fundamentalist” from our government’s vocabulary because he imagines that the Muslim World would be insulted if we point out that extremists in their ranks are responsible for much death and destruction — in Islamic countries as well, for that matter. We saw and heard it in his Cairo speech when Obama served up the Palestinians’ victimology rhetoric while avoiding an honest discussion of the human rights atrocities all too common in the Muslim World. In short, Obama not only pays excessive deference to the Muslim World (at least a certain slice of it) while denigrating his own country; he also manages to fuel Muslim resentment and undermine the voices of moderation both in the U.S. and abroad.

But really, what can Chait expect of “bigots” who ask impertinent questions like: “So, dear Jon Chait and dear Isaac Chotiner, does the Cordoba Initiative at least not give you the creeps?” And just to be clear, since Chait doesn’t always read carefully, there’s nothing bigoted in the least about that query from Chait’s editor, or in the increasingly bipartisan opposition to a mosque that a number of eloquent Muslims — American and otherwise — have voiced.

Nevertheless, it is swell to know our views still command the attention (obsession?) of the left. But some friendly advice to Chait: enjoy your vacation — and rather than blog from the beach, wait to get caught up on the story before your next assault.

Almost all the TNR crew has leapt off the cliff with Obama on the Ground Zero mosque. But none has leapt farther than Jonathan Chait, or with less candor about his opponents’ arguments. Chait, it seems, spends much time reading our posts and writing about what we think on the topic, which is lovely for our readership stats but odd for one who finds that we’ve “descended” to new lows. (By the way, as John Podhoretz recently pointed out to a group of assembled readers, Chait’s fond memories of COMMENTARY should come as news to those who recall that the left found COMMENTARY every bit as distasteful in the 1970s and 80s as it does now.) Chait checks in from the beach to throw in his latest dose of disdain for all those (Al-Rashid too?) who object to the monument to Islam on Ground Zero.

Chait, once again, flies into a tizzy, this time about my use of the term “Muslim World.” He suggests that in saying Obama preferred the “Muslim World” to America on the mosque, I was referring to the domestic mosque builders, thereby implying that American Muslims aren’t Americans. No, I’m using Obama’s own term and in precisely the same way Obama does — to describe the audience of Muslims in the Middle East and around the globe. My point, one made more compelling by the words of Al-Rashid and other Muslims, is that Obama is acting in ways antithetical to our interests and to those of Muslims not yet caught in the grip of jihadism. He repeatedly favors grand gestures for the consumption of the Muslim World outside the U.S. at the expense of our own values and interests, and in contravention of the overwhelming sentiments of Americans. We can only speculate why he behaves in this fashion.

We have seen this profound error in judgment and strategy from Obama before. Recall that this approach was central to his decision to close Guantanamo, which he explained would make us look better in the eyes of, yes, the Muslim World. We see it in his excising of the term “Islamic fundamentalist” from our government’s vocabulary because he imagines that the Muslim World would be insulted if we point out that extremists in their ranks are responsible for much death and destruction — in Islamic countries as well, for that matter. We saw and heard it in his Cairo speech when Obama served up the Palestinians’ victimology rhetoric while avoiding an honest discussion of the human rights atrocities all too common in the Muslim World. In short, Obama not only pays excessive deference to the Muslim World (at least a certain slice of it) while denigrating his own country; he also manages to fuel Muslim resentment and undermine the voices of moderation both in the U.S. and abroad.

But really, what can Chait expect of “bigots” who ask impertinent questions like: “So, dear Jon Chait and dear Isaac Chotiner, does the Cordoba Initiative at least not give you the creeps?” And just to be clear, since Chait doesn’t always read carefully, there’s nothing bigoted in the least about that query from Chait’s editor, or in the increasingly bipartisan opposition to a mosque that a number of eloquent Muslims — American and otherwise — have voiced.

Nevertheless, it is swell to know our views still command the attention (obsession?) of the left. But some friendly advice to Chait: enjoy your vacation — and rather than blog from the beach, wait to get caught up on the story before your next assault.

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In Praise (Not!) of Obama

I won’t give too much of it away, but here’s a sample of Noemie’s exquisite takedown of Obama’s “brilliance” and “bravery”:

How brave is Obama, to speak out as he did against the persecution of Muslims that is sweeping the country, and has swept it in fact since Sept. 11, 2001? Who can forget the riots that engulfed the whole country, the cross (and Star of David) burnings outside the mosques and the homes of innocent Muslims, the lynchings and hideous acts of unprovoked violence; the demands of conservatives, Tea Partiers, and Sarah Palin enthusiasts that Muslims and in fact all Arab-Americans, be confined in camps somewhere out in the country — Wasilla, for instance — as Japanese-Americans had been during the Second World War? …

And how lucky are we to have this rare president, brave enough to look at these friends and relations, spouses and children, of people who died on Sept. 11, and call them out for the bigots they are?

Just read the whole thing. A few times.

I won’t give too much of it away, but here’s a sample of Noemie’s exquisite takedown of Obama’s “brilliance” and “bravery”:

How brave is Obama, to speak out as he did against the persecution of Muslims that is sweeping the country, and has swept it in fact since Sept. 11, 2001? Who can forget the riots that engulfed the whole country, the cross (and Star of David) burnings outside the mosques and the homes of innocent Muslims, the lynchings and hideous acts of unprovoked violence; the demands of conservatives, Tea Partiers, and Sarah Palin enthusiasts that Muslims and in fact all Arab-Americans, be confined in camps somewhere out in the country — Wasilla, for instance — as Japanese-Americans had been during the Second World War? …

And how lucky are we to have this rare president, brave enough to look at these friends and relations, spouses and children, of people who died on Sept. 11, and call them out for the bigots they are?

Just read the whole thing. A few times.

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Why So Mum, Mr. President?

The Washington Post editors are properly concerned that Gen. David Petraeus is doing a job that should be done primarily by (or at least in concert with) the president:

Gen. Petraeus sought to deliver in interviews over the past few days: The mission isn’t hopeless. Another, though, was that success won’t be easy and that it won’t come in one defining battlefield victory. It will be measured in the gradual strengthening of the ability of Afghanistan’s elected government to provide security for its own people. . . This is an appropriate message for the general to deliver, but he shouldn’t have to do it alone. …

Having formed his policy and committed the U.S. troops needed to implement it, Mr. Obama needs to explain his rationale to the American people, especially to the many doubters within his own party. He needs to do so not once, not twice, but repeatedly. This isn’t Gen. Petraeus’s war, and it’s not even Mr. Obama’s war. It is America’s war — and ultimately, only the president can make that case.

And why hasn’t he? After all, he waxes lyrical on the Ground Zero mosque — well, for a day. He talks frequently about the economic recovery, even if there isn’t much of one. He really gets revved up when castigating the Republicans. Yet he avoids like the plague speaking to the American people and to our allies and enemies, who will be listening in about a critical war (he said) that we must win (he said). Is he uncomfortable exhorting his nation to victory (too much “triumphalism,” as he once sneered about the Iraq war effort)? Does he want to leave himself some wiggle room to reverse course?

It’s a mystery, but more important, it’s a shirking of the responsibility to lead and not just order troops into battle. And although it’s not “Obama’s war,” he will bear the burden of defeat should we not prevail. He should, therefore, if only out of self-interest, try really hard to win this.

The Washington Post editors are properly concerned that Gen. David Petraeus is doing a job that should be done primarily by (or at least in concert with) the president:

Gen. Petraeus sought to deliver in interviews over the past few days: The mission isn’t hopeless. Another, though, was that success won’t be easy and that it won’t come in one defining battlefield victory. It will be measured in the gradual strengthening of the ability of Afghanistan’s elected government to provide security for its own people. . . This is an appropriate message for the general to deliver, but he shouldn’t have to do it alone. …

Having formed his policy and committed the U.S. troops needed to implement it, Mr. Obama needs to explain his rationale to the American people, especially to the many doubters within his own party. He needs to do so not once, not twice, but repeatedly. This isn’t Gen. Petraeus’s war, and it’s not even Mr. Obama’s war. It is America’s war — and ultimately, only the president can make that case.

And why hasn’t he? After all, he waxes lyrical on the Ground Zero mosque — well, for a day. He talks frequently about the economic recovery, even if there isn’t much of one. He really gets revved up when castigating the Republicans. Yet he avoids like the plague speaking to the American people and to our allies and enemies, who will be listening in about a critical war (he said) that we must win (he said). Is he uncomfortable exhorting his nation to victory (too much “triumphalism,” as he once sneered about the Iraq war effort)? Does he want to leave himself some wiggle room to reverse course?

It’s a mystery, but more important, it’s a shirking of the responsibility to lead and not just order troops into battle. And although it’s not “Obama’s war,” he will bear the burden of defeat should we not prevail. He should, therefore, if only out of self-interest, try really hard to win this.

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Ummm … Let’s Say It’s a Conservative Dilemma Too!

Politico pronounces: “The debate over the proposed mosque near ground zero, which has tied Democrats in knots, turns out to be just as tricky for their adversaries on the right—particularly those in the tea party.” This is simply nonsense. In a lengthy article, little support is offered for the assertion that the Tea Party movement is tied up in knots, and absolutely none to demonstrate that it is “just as tricky” for Tea Partiers as it is for Democrats (who are engaged in what the media would refer to as a “civil war” if it were the GOP’s problem).

It seems some Tea Partiers think the Ground Zero mosque is not a Tea Party issue (since the movement generally focuses on economic issues). And some don’t. But where’s the evidence that the percentage of opponents is any lower than the voters at large (68 percent) or that a single Tea Party–backed candidate is out of step with the voters? The best the report can do is this on Rand Paul:

On Monday, a spokesman for the Kentucky Senate campaign of Rand Paul, a tea party standard bearer, issued a statement seeming to beg off the issue by invoking states’ rights. “We don’t want New York intervening in our local Kentucky issues,” read the statement from Gary Howard to a Kentucky political blog, “and we don’t look to interfere with New York’s local issues.”

But asked to clarify Paul’s stance, Howard on Tuesday sent POLITICO a statement emphasizing Paul’s personal opposition.

“While this is a local matter that should be decided by the people of New York, Dr. Paul does not support a mosque being built two blocks from ground zero,” Howard said in the statement. “In Dr. Paul’s opinion, the Muslim community would better serve the healing process by making a donation to the memorial fund for the victims of Sept. 11.”

Well, compared with the White House, this is political sophistication of the highest order. And it sure sounds like Paul is handling it better than Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, who seem to have gone into a witness protection program to avoid responding to an issue of deep concern to their electorate.

This sort of moral-equivalence reporting is nothing new for the media. Whenever the Democrats are on the rocks, their media fan club strains to concoct the argument that, oh yes, the Democrats’ great misfortune is not the Democrats’ misfortune alone. It’s the same syndrome we see at work when the media insist that the anti-Democratic sentiment sweeping the country is really anti-incumbent sentiment. If you ignore the historic lead for the GOP in congressional generic polling, Obama’s plummeting approval numbers, the enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans, and the rise in support for conservative positions, it almost makes sense.

The “conservatives are in trouble too!” reporting is one of the more transparent gambits the media engage in, and the kind of “journalism” that gives false comfort to the objects of their affection. And in the context of the Ground Zero mosque, I’d wager even the Journolist gang would recommend against it.

Politico pronounces: “The debate over the proposed mosque near ground zero, which has tied Democrats in knots, turns out to be just as tricky for their adversaries on the right—particularly those in the tea party.” This is simply nonsense. In a lengthy article, little support is offered for the assertion that the Tea Party movement is tied up in knots, and absolutely none to demonstrate that it is “just as tricky” for Tea Partiers as it is for Democrats (who are engaged in what the media would refer to as a “civil war” if it were the GOP’s problem).

It seems some Tea Partiers think the Ground Zero mosque is not a Tea Party issue (since the movement generally focuses on economic issues). And some don’t. But where’s the evidence that the percentage of opponents is any lower than the voters at large (68 percent) or that a single Tea Party–backed candidate is out of step with the voters? The best the report can do is this on Rand Paul:

On Monday, a spokesman for the Kentucky Senate campaign of Rand Paul, a tea party standard bearer, issued a statement seeming to beg off the issue by invoking states’ rights. “We don’t want New York intervening in our local Kentucky issues,” read the statement from Gary Howard to a Kentucky political blog, “and we don’t look to interfere with New York’s local issues.”

But asked to clarify Paul’s stance, Howard on Tuesday sent POLITICO a statement emphasizing Paul’s personal opposition.

“While this is a local matter that should be decided by the people of New York, Dr. Paul does not support a mosque being built two blocks from ground zero,” Howard said in the statement. “In Dr. Paul’s opinion, the Muslim community would better serve the healing process by making a donation to the memorial fund for the victims of Sept. 11.”

Well, compared with the White House, this is political sophistication of the highest order. And it sure sounds like Paul is handling it better than Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, who seem to have gone into a witness protection program to avoid responding to an issue of deep concern to their electorate.

This sort of moral-equivalence reporting is nothing new for the media. Whenever the Democrats are on the rocks, their media fan club strains to concoct the argument that, oh yes, the Democrats’ great misfortune is not the Democrats’ misfortune alone. It’s the same syndrome we see at work when the media insist that the anti-Democratic sentiment sweeping the country is really anti-incumbent sentiment. If you ignore the historic lead for the GOP in congressional generic polling, Obama’s plummeting approval numbers, the enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans, and the rise in support for conservative positions, it almost makes sense.

The “conservatives are in trouble too!” reporting is one of the more transparent gambits the media engage in, and the kind of “journalism” that gives false comfort to the objects of their affection. And in the context of the Ground Zero mosque, I’d wager even the Journolist gang would recommend against it.

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Democratic Mideast Negotiator Joins Mosque Opponents

Joining the ranks of those whom his Democratic colleague have deemed bigots, Aaron David Miller tells us that he doesn’t like the idea of the Ground Zero mosque. And he knows a thing or two about monstrously misplaced symbolism:

If there is one lesson to be learned from the controversy over the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, it is that messing with memory, particularly traumatic memory of the first order, is akin to messing with Mother Nature: It rarely ends well, no matter how good the intention.

I learned this the hard way 12 years ago, when my idea of inviting Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat to visit the Holocaust museum in Washington proved to be a disaster. There is great danger in misappropriating memory and attempting to link it to another agenda or to a tragic historical experience seared in the minds of millions.

His narration of his own experience with disastrous symbolism is refreshingly honest. (“Inviting Arafat to the museum, one of the dumbest ideas in the annals of U.S foreign policy, created a perfect storm. … How I could have believed such an invitation would head any way but south is beyond me.”) And because of this episode,  Miller — unlike the intentionally obtuse left punditocracy — grasps what the Ground Zero mosque is about:

The number of Americans killed on 9/11 was exceeded by only one day in our nation’s history: Sept. 17, 1862, during the battle of Antietam. The events of Sept. 11 are in many ways still untouchable. The risks of linking that day to anything else or confusing it with another issue are vast. However worthy the benefits of promoting interfaith dialogue and greater understanding among Christians, Muslims and Jews, the reality is that the payoff will be small. We meddle in our tragic memories and those of others at our peril.

And let’s be honest: there is no chance any interfaith “dialogue” is going to come of this. It was intended as and certainly has become a provocative act. If you don’t believe me, take the word of two Muslims:

New York currently boasts at least 30 mosques so it’s not as if there is pressing need to find space for worshippers. The fact we Muslims know the idea behind the Ground Zero mosque is meant to be a deliberate provocation to thumb our noses at the infidel. The proposal has been made in bad faith and in Islamic parlance, such an act is referred to as “Fitna,” meaning “mischief-making” that is clearly forbidden in the Koran.

The Koran commands Muslims to, “Be considerate when you debate with the People of the Book” — i.e., Jews and Christians. Building an exclusive place of worship for Muslims at the place where Muslims killed thousands of New Yorkers is not being considerate or sensitive, it is undoubtedly an act of “fitna.”

The Ground Zero mosque debacle is much worse than Miller’s gaffe, and with far more serious consequences. After all, it’s one thing for a negotiator to make hash out of an Arafat visit; it’s another for the president to reveal that he is utterly clueless about Americans’ sentiments, values, and concerns.

Who would have thought that we’d elect a president who couldn’t go to Israel or Ground Zero without risking boos and catcalls? Yes, it’s come to that.

Joining the ranks of those whom his Democratic colleague have deemed bigots, Aaron David Miller tells us that he doesn’t like the idea of the Ground Zero mosque. And he knows a thing or two about monstrously misplaced symbolism:

If there is one lesson to be learned from the controversy over the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, it is that messing with memory, particularly traumatic memory of the first order, is akin to messing with Mother Nature: It rarely ends well, no matter how good the intention.

I learned this the hard way 12 years ago, when my idea of inviting Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat to visit the Holocaust museum in Washington proved to be a disaster. There is great danger in misappropriating memory and attempting to link it to another agenda or to a tragic historical experience seared in the minds of millions.

His narration of his own experience with disastrous symbolism is refreshingly honest. (“Inviting Arafat to the museum, one of the dumbest ideas in the annals of U.S foreign policy, created a perfect storm. … How I could have believed such an invitation would head any way but south is beyond me.”) And because of this episode,  Miller — unlike the intentionally obtuse left punditocracy — grasps what the Ground Zero mosque is about:

The number of Americans killed on 9/11 was exceeded by only one day in our nation’s history: Sept. 17, 1862, during the battle of Antietam. The events of Sept. 11 are in many ways still untouchable. The risks of linking that day to anything else or confusing it with another issue are vast. However worthy the benefits of promoting interfaith dialogue and greater understanding among Christians, Muslims and Jews, the reality is that the payoff will be small. We meddle in our tragic memories and those of others at our peril.

And let’s be honest: there is no chance any interfaith “dialogue” is going to come of this. It was intended as and certainly has become a provocative act. If you don’t believe me, take the word of two Muslims:

New York currently boasts at least 30 mosques so it’s not as if there is pressing need to find space for worshippers. The fact we Muslims know the idea behind the Ground Zero mosque is meant to be a deliberate provocation to thumb our noses at the infidel. The proposal has been made in bad faith and in Islamic parlance, such an act is referred to as “Fitna,” meaning “mischief-making” that is clearly forbidden in the Koran.

The Koran commands Muslims to, “Be considerate when you debate with the People of the Book” — i.e., Jews and Christians. Building an exclusive place of worship for Muslims at the place where Muslims killed thousands of New Yorkers is not being considerate or sensitive, it is undoubtedly an act of “fitna.”

The Ground Zero mosque debacle is much worse than Miller’s gaffe, and with far more serious consequences. After all, it’s one thing for a negotiator to make hash out of an Arafat visit; it’s another for the president to reveal that he is utterly clueless about Americans’ sentiments, values, and concerns.

Who would have thought that we’d elect a president who couldn’t go to Israel or Ground Zero without risking boos and catcalls? Yes, it’s come to that.

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Nothing to See, Move Along

Howard Kurtz can’t understand what all the fuss over the Ground Zero mosque is about:

It seems to me a colossal waste of time, a huge expenditure of national energy over something that is ultimately symbolic, and which government doesn’t have the power to stop anyway (since the planners have obtained the necessary New York City approvals). It is as if the country’s agenda has been reduced to a noisy cable TV debate.

Umm, I think it’s a “teachable moment” — a crystallizing event that gives insight into or confirms our understanding of the president, elite opinion makers, the jihadist enemy we face, and what constitutes a “moderate Muslim.” Oh, and it’s become another issue dividing Democrats, undermining the president’s stature, and contributing to the election wipeout on the horizon. Yeah, not a big deal.

Maybe what Kurtz and certainly what the left punditocracy are saying is that it would be swell if the whole thing just went away. (Like the New Black Panther scandal! Which by the way has also disappeared from liberal media outlets after a brief effort at damage control for their non-coverage of another story deemed “unimportant.”) The mosque controversy is messy. It is divisive. It is uncontrollable by the mainstream media. It is downright inconvenient for those who would prefer the public not be so noisy and the conflict between the elites and the public so stark. But it sure is news, as important and possibly decisive an event as we have seen in the Obama presidency.

Howard Kurtz can’t understand what all the fuss over the Ground Zero mosque is about:

It seems to me a colossal waste of time, a huge expenditure of national energy over something that is ultimately symbolic, and which government doesn’t have the power to stop anyway (since the planners have obtained the necessary New York City approvals). It is as if the country’s agenda has been reduced to a noisy cable TV debate.

Umm, I think it’s a “teachable moment” — a crystallizing event that gives insight into or confirms our understanding of the president, elite opinion makers, the jihadist enemy we face, and what constitutes a “moderate Muslim.” Oh, and it’s become another issue dividing Democrats, undermining the president’s stature, and contributing to the election wipeout on the horizon. Yeah, not a big deal.

Maybe what Kurtz and certainly what the left punditocracy are saying is that it would be swell if the whole thing just went away. (Like the New Black Panther scandal! Which by the way has also disappeared from liberal media outlets after a brief effort at damage control for their non-coverage of another story deemed “unimportant.”) The mosque controversy is messy. It is divisive. It is uncontrollable by the mainstream media. It is downright inconvenient for those who would prefer the public not be so noisy and the conflict between the elites and the public so stark. But it sure is news, as important and possibly decisive an event as we have seen in the Obama presidency.

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Obama’s Cheerleaders Losing Steam Too

It is not only Obama who is on the skids. His biggest constituency, the mainstream media, is also in trouble. Gallup reports:

Americans continue to express near-record-low confidence in newspapers and television news — with no more than 25% of Americans saying they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in either. These views have hardly budged since falling more than 10 percentage points from 2003-2007.

You see the problem: whatever cheerleading the media are doing for Obama (granted, it was less than a year ago) isn’t doing either of them much good. The public doesn’t trust what they see or hear. And Obama no doubt mistakes liberal pundits and softball-throwing reporters for representatives of the voters at large, a delusion a less-cocooned liberal might not embrace.

We see anecdotal evidence of this as well. The Washington Post devoted its news as well as op-ed pages to defeating Bob McDonnell in the Virginia gubernatorial race. He won by 20 points.

In sum, the mainstream media are more partisan than ever, less influential then ever, and less profitable than ever. Conservative candidates and elected officials should be concerned with media bias, but they shouldn’t obsess over it. The problem, along with the number of consumers of the liberal media, will diminish over time.

It is not only Obama who is on the skids. His biggest constituency, the mainstream media, is also in trouble. Gallup reports:

Americans continue to express near-record-low confidence in newspapers and television news — with no more than 25% of Americans saying they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in either. These views have hardly budged since falling more than 10 percentage points from 2003-2007.

You see the problem: whatever cheerleading the media are doing for Obama (granted, it was less than a year ago) isn’t doing either of them much good. The public doesn’t trust what they see or hear. And Obama no doubt mistakes liberal pundits and softball-throwing reporters for representatives of the voters at large, a delusion a less-cocooned liberal might not embrace.

We see anecdotal evidence of this as well. The Washington Post devoted its news as well as op-ed pages to defeating Bob McDonnell in the Virginia gubernatorial race. He won by 20 points.

In sum, the mainstream media are more partisan than ever, less influential then ever, and less profitable than ever. Conservative candidates and elected officials should be concerned with media bias, but they shouldn’t obsess over it. The problem, along with the number of consumers of the liberal media, will diminish over time.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Patrick Fitzgerald gets beaten by Blago 23-1. Well, if the prosecution biz isn’t going so well, “[t]here’s always Armitage International, where Rich Armitage and his band of fixers ply their trade. After all, Armitage owes him one—a big one.”

Michael Kinsley gets just about everything wrong in his column with lines like this: “Some people say that tact or respect for the survivors of victims of 9/11 should dissuade these Muslims from building their center [Michael, it is a mosque] on this particular spot. This argument avoids both the constitutional question and the issue of bigotry.” No, you really can have objections that aren’t legal ones and aren’t based on prejudice (even Muslims now object to it). And it’s nice to know he favored letting the Carmelite nuns keep their spot at Auschwitz, but that’s really not a argument that’s going to gain him support, not even 29%.

The picture gets bleaker for Democrats every day: “With today’s ratings changes in 10 House districts, The Cook Political Report is now raising its House forecast from a Republican net gain of between 32 and 42 seats to a gain of between 35 and 45 seats, with the odds of an outcome larger than that range greater than the odds of a lesser outcome. A turnover of 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands.”

William Galston gets no applause from his party for honest analysis like this (registration required): “All signs point to major losses for the Democratic party in the US midterm elections this November. The recovery is slowing, while recent job figures have all but ended hopes that unemployment will fall fast enough to change voter’s minds. But for President Barack Obama it really does not matter whether his party loses its congressional majority, or merely a large number of seats. In either case, the days of single-party government in Washington will be over.” And Obama’s grip on it as well.

Steven Calabresi gets to the nub of Obama’s problem: “President Obama gets in trouble in unscripted moments because at some level he does not really know America very well nor does he thoroughly identify with it. … Unscripted moments are deadly for Obama because they reveal the vast disconnect between his world view and that of people living in the Midwest, the Plains and Rocky Mountain states, and the South.” And Manhattan too!

The White House gets a warning from Harry Reid when he’s going to embarrass Obama, but Democrats get no such courtesy from the president.

Tim Pawlenty gets in another jab at Obama: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — a likely GOP presidential candidate in 2012 — is stepping up his rhetoric against President Obama, saying the commander-in-chief is ‘clueless’ when it comes to the economy and lacks common sense on the controversial mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero. … First of all he is clueless on a number of key issues on our time, including our economy. … And then, No. 2, he doesn’t have the depth of experience to run a large complex organization particularly in a time of crisis and its getting away from him.” I’m thinking there isn’t going to be too much GOP disagreement about that.

The administration never gets the message that civilian courts are not the place to put enemy combatants: “A judge on Tuesday dismissed piracy charges against six Somali nationals accused of attacking a Navy ship off the coast of Africa, concluding the U.S. government failed to make the case their alleged actions amounted to piracy.”

It gets clearer all the time that isolationism is what binds the far right and far left. (That, and bashing Israel.) “Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) are urging lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to push the President’s Commission on Deficit Reduction for cuts in military spending, as they seek signatories to a letter circulated Tuesday.”

Patrick Fitzgerald gets beaten by Blago 23-1. Well, if the prosecution biz isn’t going so well, “[t]here’s always Armitage International, where Rich Armitage and his band of fixers ply their trade. After all, Armitage owes him one—a big one.”

Michael Kinsley gets just about everything wrong in his column with lines like this: “Some people say that tact or respect for the survivors of victims of 9/11 should dissuade these Muslims from building their center [Michael, it is a mosque] on this particular spot. This argument avoids both the constitutional question and the issue of bigotry.” No, you really can have objections that aren’t legal ones and aren’t based on prejudice (even Muslims now object to it). And it’s nice to know he favored letting the Carmelite nuns keep their spot at Auschwitz, but that’s really not a argument that’s going to gain him support, not even 29%.

The picture gets bleaker for Democrats every day: “With today’s ratings changes in 10 House districts, The Cook Political Report is now raising its House forecast from a Republican net gain of between 32 and 42 seats to a gain of between 35 and 45 seats, with the odds of an outcome larger than that range greater than the odds of a lesser outcome. A turnover of 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands.”

William Galston gets no applause from his party for honest analysis like this (registration required): “All signs point to major losses for the Democratic party in the US midterm elections this November. The recovery is slowing, while recent job figures have all but ended hopes that unemployment will fall fast enough to change voter’s minds. But for President Barack Obama it really does not matter whether his party loses its congressional majority, or merely a large number of seats. In either case, the days of single-party government in Washington will be over.” And Obama’s grip on it as well.

Steven Calabresi gets to the nub of Obama’s problem: “President Obama gets in trouble in unscripted moments because at some level he does not really know America very well nor does he thoroughly identify with it. … Unscripted moments are deadly for Obama because they reveal the vast disconnect between his world view and that of people living in the Midwest, the Plains and Rocky Mountain states, and the South.” And Manhattan too!

The White House gets a warning from Harry Reid when he’s going to embarrass Obama, but Democrats get no such courtesy from the president.

Tim Pawlenty gets in another jab at Obama: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — a likely GOP presidential candidate in 2012 — is stepping up his rhetoric against President Obama, saying the commander-in-chief is ‘clueless’ when it comes to the economy and lacks common sense on the controversial mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero. … First of all he is clueless on a number of key issues on our time, including our economy. … And then, No. 2, he doesn’t have the depth of experience to run a large complex organization particularly in a time of crisis and its getting away from him.” I’m thinking there isn’t going to be too much GOP disagreement about that.

The administration never gets the message that civilian courts are not the place to put enemy combatants: “A judge on Tuesday dismissed piracy charges against six Somali nationals accused of attacking a Navy ship off the coast of Africa, concluding the U.S. government failed to make the case their alleged actions amounted to piracy.”

It gets clearer all the time that isolationism is what binds the far right and far left. (That, and bashing Israel.) “Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) are urging lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to push the President’s Commission on Deficit Reduction for cuts in military spending, as they seek signatories to a letter circulated Tuesday.”

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