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Posts For: November 23, 2010

Liberal Lamentations and the Book of Job

Newsweek editor Evan Thomas reached what might have been the apotheosis of hero worship of Barack Obama when he stated on MSNBC in June 2009 that “I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above — above the world, he’s sort of God.” Some 18 months later, Thomas’s affirmation of Obama as a political messiah seems more comic than anything else. But for those liberals of theological bent, explanations for the president’s repudiation by the voters in a historic midterm thumping requires more than an analysis of the unpopularity of ObamaCare. Into this breach steps Thomas’s former Newsweek colleague Jon Meacham.

In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Meacham writes in an essay whose supposed subject was a new translation and commentary on The Wisdom Books of the Bible by Robert Alter that the best explanation for the repudiation of Obama can be found in the Book of Job. To Meacham, Obama’s trials are as much a mystery as those of Job. Like Job, Obama was once favored by God only to be subjected to afflictions that have no discernible purpose other than to test his faith. While Meacham admits that incoming House Speaker John Boehner is not quite the same thing as a case of boils, he makes plain that the defeat of the Democrats is pretty much the moral equivalent of such torments. Snidely noting that God’s rejection of Job’s questioning of His decisions is “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse,” Meacham gives voice to a liberal sense of injustice at their recent losses.

As Jennifer noted, that this sort of nonsense is what passes for erudition at the once mighty Book Review is quite a commentary on the state of mind of our liberal elites and one that requires no translation by Robert Alter. But while Meacham’s ranting can be dismissed as a failed attempt at clever exegesis, it does speak to a lack of understanding on the part of the author (and, no doubt, many of his readers) as to the difference between an election and an act of God. The former is a judgment on the part of the voters about both policies and personalities. It can be disputed as a mistake, but it is not an inexplicable event. The latter is simply something that happens without apparent rhyme or reason. To a believer, the essence of the Almighty and His acts are ineffable, and we must imply accept them without explanation, since none will be forthcoming.

Barack Obama’s defeat in the midterms, like his victory two years before, was not an act of God. It was an act of democracy. By contrast, if we are looking for evidence of an event whose coming was as arbitrary as Job’s boils, we could do no better than to ponder the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the presidency of George W. Bush. While the government’s failures in the aftermath of that natural disaster were legion, the fact remains that it was George W. Bush’s bad luck that he happened to be president when New Orleans was hit with a once-in-a-century hurricane that would come to define his presidency. Bush might well wonder why this storm came during his time in office rather than that of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. A storm of Katrina’s size would have knocked down the levees even if the president had been a Democrat, though it is doubtful that the media would have blamed him for the ensuing casualties and the incompetence of local authorities the way they did Bush. Bush could not be blamed for asking God why, but as a man of faith, he probably understands that there is no answer.

Job teaches us that bad things can happen to good people and that we shouldn’t expect a Divine explanation when such injustices occur. But, contrary to Meacham, however good some of us may think Barack Obama is, explaining his troubles at the ballot box does not require an act of faith.

Newsweek editor Evan Thomas reached what might have been the apotheosis of hero worship of Barack Obama when he stated on MSNBC in June 2009 that “I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above — above the world, he’s sort of God.” Some 18 months later, Thomas’s affirmation of Obama as a political messiah seems more comic than anything else. But for those liberals of theological bent, explanations for the president’s repudiation by the voters in a historic midterm thumping requires more than an analysis of the unpopularity of ObamaCare. Into this breach steps Thomas’s former Newsweek colleague Jon Meacham.

In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Meacham writes in an essay whose supposed subject was a new translation and commentary on The Wisdom Books of the Bible by Robert Alter that the best explanation for the repudiation of Obama can be found in the Book of Job. To Meacham, Obama’s trials are as much a mystery as those of Job. Like Job, Obama was once favored by God only to be subjected to afflictions that have no discernible purpose other than to test his faith. While Meacham admits that incoming House Speaker John Boehner is not quite the same thing as a case of boils, he makes plain that the defeat of the Democrats is pretty much the moral equivalent of such torments. Snidely noting that God’s rejection of Job’s questioning of His decisions is “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse,” Meacham gives voice to a liberal sense of injustice at their recent losses.

As Jennifer noted, that this sort of nonsense is what passes for erudition at the once mighty Book Review is quite a commentary on the state of mind of our liberal elites and one that requires no translation by Robert Alter. But while Meacham’s ranting can be dismissed as a failed attempt at clever exegesis, it does speak to a lack of understanding on the part of the author (and, no doubt, many of his readers) as to the difference between an election and an act of God. The former is a judgment on the part of the voters about both policies and personalities. It can be disputed as a mistake, but it is not an inexplicable event. The latter is simply something that happens without apparent rhyme or reason. To a believer, the essence of the Almighty and His acts are ineffable, and we must imply accept them without explanation, since none will be forthcoming.

Barack Obama’s defeat in the midterms, like his victory two years before, was not an act of God. It was an act of democracy. By contrast, if we are looking for evidence of an event whose coming was as arbitrary as Job’s boils, we could do no better than to ponder the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the presidency of George W. Bush. While the government’s failures in the aftermath of that natural disaster were legion, the fact remains that it was George W. Bush’s bad luck that he happened to be president when New Orleans was hit with a once-in-a-century hurricane that would come to define his presidency. Bush might well wonder why this storm came during his time in office rather than that of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. A storm of Katrina’s size would have knocked down the levees even if the president had been a Democrat, though it is doubtful that the media would have blamed him for the ensuing casualties and the incompetence of local authorities the way they did Bush. Bush could not be blamed for asking God why, but as a man of faith, he probably understands that there is no answer.

Job teaches us that bad things can happen to good people and that we shouldn’t expect a Divine explanation when such injustices occur. But, contrary to Meacham, however good some of us may think Barack Obama is, explaining his troubles at the ballot box does not require an act of faith.

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Russian Impunity, Obama’s Indifference

Last week, Boris Nemtsov spoke to the Foreign Policy Initiative conference on the state of human rights in Russia and the need for the U.S. to step up to the plate. Now we hear:

Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov was assaulted but uninjured by a group of thugs at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport earlier today. Nemtsov was returning from a trip to the United States during which he called for U.S. congressional action imposing penalties on Russian officials responsible for corruption and human rights abuses. Speaking at the Foreign Policy Initiative’s 2010 Forum earlier this week, Mr. Nemtsov discussed Russian Prime Minister Putin’s continuing control over much of the country’s policies and specifically called for Vladislav Surkov, a top Kremlin official, to be placed on a “black list and have no chance to get [a] visa to the States.” Nemtsov said that Surkov is “responsible for censorship. He’s responsible for canceling elections. He’s responsible for [an] atmosphere of hatred.” Nemtsov called it “a pity and very sad” that Surkov is the co-chairman, with National Security Council official Michael McFaul, of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission’s Civil Society Working Group. Mr. Nemtsov called the commission, one of President Obama’s initiatives under his “reset” policy toward Russia, a “bad joke.”

There could be no better example of the impunity that despotic thugs — and their henchmen — enjoy than this incident. Nemtsov related to Eli Lake the lack of concern, or even interest, that Obama displayed when presented with a human rights report. Nemtsov and his Russian adversaries are in agreement on one thing: there really is no incentive for Russia to democratize and to improve its shabby human rights record. At least not as long as the current administration demonstrates it will do virtually anything — and turn a blind eye toward anything — to preserve “reset.” (If the Russians were cagey enough, they’d ask for 20 F-35s.)

Last week, Boris Nemtsov spoke to the Foreign Policy Initiative conference on the state of human rights in Russia and the need for the U.S. to step up to the plate. Now we hear:

Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov was assaulted but uninjured by a group of thugs at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport earlier today. Nemtsov was returning from a trip to the United States during which he called for U.S. congressional action imposing penalties on Russian officials responsible for corruption and human rights abuses. Speaking at the Foreign Policy Initiative’s 2010 Forum earlier this week, Mr. Nemtsov discussed Russian Prime Minister Putin’s continuing control over much of the country’s policies and specifically called for Vladislav Surkov, a top Kremlin official, to be placed on a “black list and have no chance to get [a] visa to the States.” Nemtsov said that Surkov is “responsible for censorship. He’s responsible for canceling elections. He’s responsible for [an] atmosphere of hatred.” Nemtsov called it “a pity and very sad” that Surkov is the co-chairman, with National Security Council official Michael McFaul, of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission’s Civil Society Working Group. Mr. Nemtsov called the commission, one of President Obama’s initiatives under his “reset” policy toward Russia, a “bad joke.”

There could be no better example of the impunity that despotic thugs — and their henchmen — enjoy than this incident. Nemtsov related to Eli Lake the lack of concern, or even interest, that Obama displayed when presented with a human rights report. Nemtsov and his Russian adversaries are in agreement on one thing: there really is no incentive for Russia to democratize and to improve its shabby human rights record. At least not as long as the current administration demonstrates it will do virtually anything — and turn a blind eye toward anything — to preserve “reset.” (If the Russians were cagey enough, they’d ask for 20 F-35s.)

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Just another charm offensive? “President Barack Obama is preparing new overtures to business that may start with a walk into the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a retreat with corporate chief executive officers, according to people familiar with his plans.” So long as he plans on keeping ObamaCare and the financial regulation bill and raises taxes, it’s hard to consider it more than atmospherics.

Just another way of spinning that the White House is getting rid of him as soon as possible. “David Axelrod’s long-anticipated departure from the White House is happening a little earlier than expected — right after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech in late January or early February — so the  senior adviser can ‘recharge his batteries,’ according to a senior administration official.”

Just another bad poll for the White House to ignore. “Just about as many Americans want Tea Party-backed members of Congress to take the lead in setting policy during the next year as choose President Obama, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds. … The survey also underscores Obama’s weakened standing. His overall job approval rating, at 42%, is 1 percentage point higher than his historic low in midsummer. His 35% approval rating on the economy is the lowest of his presidency.”

Just another prominent conservative woman on the world stage? This one –Michèle Alliot-Marie, the foreign minister of France — plays rugby. ” The 64-year-old Gaullist is more than just another passive fan of the game. The normally austere MAM, as she is known in France, revealed in a rare informal television appearance in the mid-1980s that she had nearly been kicked out of school when she was young for converting the female handball squad into a rugby team. ‘I think that I’d still be able to make a pass,’ she noted.”

Just another move by Israel that’ll drive the left around the bend. How dare the Jewish state institute such democratic rules! “The Knesset passed the National Referendum Law during a late-night session Monday, approving legislation that will fundamentally alter Israeli negotiators’ ability to offer concrete peace deals involving the Golan Heights or east Jerusalem. The law, which was approved by a vote of 65-33, will require either a Knesset super-majority or a national referendum in order to hand over any annexed territories as part of a future peace deal.”

Just another day of nagging kids to eat vegetables. But is this really a job for the First Lady?

Just another human rights abomination in the “Muslim World.” Asia Bibi, a Pakistani mother of five, has been jailed for a year and sentenced to death for blasphemy. Although she might get a presidential pardon, that’s not the end of it. “Even if Ms. Bibi is pardoned or the Lahore High Court overturns the sentence, there are concerns about her safety. Many people acquitted on blasphemy charges continue to be hounded and are forced to move, change their identity or hide, the commission says.”

Just another political miscalculation and panic attack in the White House. “As the Senate’s leading Republican on nuclear security issues, Mr. Kyl has warned the White House for months that it couldn’t get its treaty ratified without addressing his concerns on warhead modernization and missile defenses. For months, the Administration gave him mere lip service. Now that it has discovered it doesn’t have the votes, the Administration is finally getting serious about Mr. Kyl’s concerns even as it is trying to bully him over immediate ratification. Republicans are right to take their time and debate this thoroughly.”

Just another charm offensive? “President Barack Obama is preparing new overtures to business that may start with a walk into the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a retreat with corporate chief executive officers, according to people familiar with his plans.” So long as he plans on keeping ObamaCare and the financial regulation bill and raises taxes, it’s hard to consider it more than atmospherics.

Just another way of spinning that the White House is getting rid of him as soon as possible. “David Axelrod’s long-anticipated departure from the White House is happening a little earlier than expected — right after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech in late January or early February — so the  senior adviser can ‘recharge his batteries,’ according to a senior administration official.”

Just another bad poll for the White House to ignore. “Just about as many Americans want Tea Party-backed members of Congress to take the lead in setting policy during the next year as choose President Obama, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds. … The survey also underscores Obama’s weakened standing. His overall job approval rating, at 42%, is 1 percentage point higher than his historic low in midsummer. His 35% approval rating on the economy is the lowest of his presidency.”

Just another prominent conservative woman on the world stage? This one –Michèle Alliot-Marie, the foreign minister of France — plays rugby. ” The 64-year-old Gaullist is more than just another passive fan of the game. The normally austere MAM, as she is known in France, revealed in a rare informal television appearance in the mid-1980s that she had nearly been kicked out of school when she was young for converting the female handball squad into a rugby team. ‘I think that I’d still be able to make a pass,’ she noted.”

Just another move by Israel that’ll drive the left around the bend. How dare the Jewish state institute such democratic rules! “The Knesset passed the National Referendum Law during a late-night session Monday, approving legislation that will fundamentally alter Israeli negotiators’ ability to offer concrete peace deals involving the Golan Heights or east Jerusalem. The law, which was approved by a vote of 65-33, will require either a Knesset super-majority or a national referendum in order to hand over any annexed territories as part of a future peace deal.”

Just another day of nagging kids to eat vegetables. But is this really a job for the First Lady?

Just another human rights abomination in the “Muslim World.” Asia Bibi, a Pakistani mother of five, has been jailed for a year and sentenced to death for blasphemy. Although she might get a presidential pardon, that’s not the end of it. “Even if Ms. Bibi is pardoned or the Lahore High Court overturns the sentence, there are concerns about her safety. Many people acquitted on blasphemy charges continue to be hounded and are forced to move, change their identity or hide, the commission says.”

Just another political miscalculation and panic attack in the White House. “As the Senate’s leading Republican on nuclear security issues, Mr. Kyl has warned the White House for months that it couldn’t get its treaty ratified without addressing his concerns on warhead modernization and missile defenses. For months, the Administration gave him mere lip service. Now that it has discovered it doesn’t have the votes, the Administration is finally getting serious about Mr. Kyl’s concerns even as it is trying to bully him over immediate ratification. Republicans are right to take their time and debate this thoroughly.”

Read Less




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