Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 6, 2011

Re-Reading the Constitution

Alana, I may be in the minority here, but I think the reading of the superseded sections of the Constitution would have been useful. We fought a Civil War, the bloodiest in our history, to secure full rights and equal protection for all persons. Our struggle for equal rights is worth recalling — and a full reading would have made clearer the progress we have made. It seems especially important now that some Republicans have decided to ignore the plain meaning of the 14th Amendment.

Just yesterday, a group of GOP state legislators gathered in Washington to discuss introducing bills in their legislatures that would grant state citizenship only to children born in the United States who had at least one parent who was a citizen or permanent resident alien. But if the GOP lawmakers had been present for the reading of the 14th Amendment, they’d know that

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States. …

The language “subject to the jurisdiction of” exempts the children of diplomats (and, at the time of passage of the Amendment, Native Americans, who were considered citizens of sovereign nations within U.S. territory and weren’t granted U.S. citizenship until 1924) — and no one else. And there certainly should be no question of whether individual states have the right to usurp the Constitution when it comes to establishing qualifications for U.S. citizenship. Selective reading of the Constitution, alas, sometimes clouds the views of conservatives as well as liberals.

Alana, I may be in the minority here, but I think the reading of the superseded sections of the Constitution would have been useful. We fought a Civil War, the bloodiest in our history, to secure full rights and equal protection for all persons. Our struggle for equal rights is worth recalling — and a full reading would have made clearer the progress we have made. It seems especially important now that some Republicans have decided to ignore the plain meaning of the 14th Amendment.

Just yesterday, a group of GOP state legislators gathered in Washington to discuss introducing bills in their legislatures that would grant state citizenship only to children born in the United States who had at least one parent who was a citizen or permanent resident alien. But if the GOP lawmakers had been present for the reading of the 14th Amendment, they’d know that

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States. …

The language “subject to the jurisdiction of” exempts the children of diplomats (and, at the time of passage of the Amendment, Native Americans, who were considered citizens of sovereign nations within U.S. territory and weren’t granted U.S. citizenship until 1924) — and no one else. And there certainly should be no question of whether individual states have the right to usurp the Constitution when it comes to establishing qualifications for U.S. citizenship. Selective reading of the Constitution, alas, sometimes clouds the views of conservatives as well as liberals.

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Quick Question

Should Barack Obama institute a national ban on fireworks?

The birds that fell from the night sky in Arkansas on New Year’s Eve probably died from crashing into buildings and other structures after becoming disoriented and panicked, possibly by fireworks, according to examinations of the birds conducted by veterinary pathologists with the National Wildlife Health Center here in Madison. . . . About 3,000 dead birds were recovered after the incident in Beebe, Arkansas, in the central part of the state, while about 500 dead black birds were found in rural Pointe Coupee Parish, near Baton Rouge, in Louisiana.

As for the BP spill:

Damage to wildlife, too, was relatively sparse. As of November 2, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that 2,263 oil-soiled bird remains had been collected in the Gulf, far fewer than the 225,000 birds killed by the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989.

Should Barack Obama institute a national ban on fireworks?

The birds that fell from the night sky in Arkansas on New Year’s Eve probably died from crashing into buildings and other structures after becoming disoriented and panicked, possibly by fireworks, according to examinations of the birds conducted by veterinary pathologists with the National Wildlife Health Center here in Madison. . . . About 3,000 dead birds were recovered after the incident in Beebe, Arkansas, in the central part of the state, while about 500 dead black birds were found in rural Pointe Coupee Parish, near Baton Rouge, in Louisiana.

As for the BP spill:

Damage to wildlife, too, was relatively sparse. As of November 2, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that 2,263 oil-soiled bird remains had been collected in the Gulf, far fewer than the 225,000 birds killed by the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989.

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Is HSBC Doing Damage Control at State Department After Pro-Iran Ad?

It looks like HSBC may be doing a bit of damage control in Foggy Bottom after its pro-Iran ad campaign sparked criticism from the media and foreign-policy experts. The bank’s controversial advertisement was discussed at a private meeting between HSBC CEO Niall Booker and Jose Fernandez, assistant secretary for economic energy and business affairs, at the State Department on Monday, a source familiar with the conversation told me.

HSBC’s spokesperson Robert Sherman declined to comment directly on whether the recent ad flap played a part in the discussion, saying only that “We have ongoing meetings with officials, sometimes at our request. This meeting was scheduled before the Iran ad articles.”

The ad in question claimed that “Only 4% of American films are made by women. In Iran it’s 25%,” and noted that the bank finds “potential in unexpected places.” Some interpreted this to mean that HSBC was pursuing investment opportunities in Iran, but the bank denied that was the ad’s intent.

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin reported on Dec. 26 that the bank has recently “drawn the attention of various regulators” and is currently “being probed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.” Regulators at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago also reportedly “found that the bank’s compliance program was ineffective and created ‘significant potential’ for money laundering and terrorist financing. This opened HSBC to the possibility that it was conducting transactions on behalf of sanctioned entities.”

While HSBC has already pulled the offending advertisement, it makes sense that it would want to smooth things over with the State Department. The department has been a vocal critic of the Iranian regime’s oppressive treatment of women and disregard for human rights, and it’s easy to see how the ad could have ruffled some feathers there.

It looks like HSBC may be doing a bit of damage control in Foggy Bottom after its pro-Iran ad campaign sparked criticism from the media and foreign-policy experts. The bank’s controversial advertisement was discussed at a private meeting between HSBC CEO Niall Booker and Jose Fernandez, assistant secretary for economic energy and business affairs, at the State Department on Monday, a source familiar with the conversation told me.

HSBC’s spokesperson Robert Sherman declined to comment directly on whether the recent ad flap played a part in the discussion, saying only that “We have ongoing meetings with officials, sometimes at our request. This meeting was scheduled before the Iran ad articles.”

The ad in question claimed that “Only 4% of American films are made by women. In Iran it’s 25%,” and noted that the bank finds “potential in unexpected places.” Some interpreted this to mean that HSBC was pursuing investment opportunities in Iran, but the bank denied that was the ad’s intent.

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin reported on Dec. 26 that the bank has recently “drawn the attention of various regulators” and is currently “being probed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.” Regulators at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago also reportedly “found that the bank’s compliance program was ineffective and created ‘significant potential’ for money laundering and terrorist financing. This opened HSBC to the possibility that it was conducting transactions on behalf of sanctioned entities.”

While HSBC has already pulled the offending advertisement, it makes sense that it would want to smooth things over with the State Department. The department has been a vocal critic of the Iranian regime’s oppressive treatment of women and disregard for human rights, and it’s easy to see how the ad could have ruffled some feathers there.

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Thinking Deeply About Government’s Purpose, Not Just Its Size

My Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin, who is also editor of National Affairs, was interviewed by ConservativeHome’s Ryan Streeter. Yuval’s insights are typically wise and learned. I was particularly interested in his response to the question “If you could wave a wand and change one thing about the GOP, what would it be?” According to Yuval:

I would make it so that every time we are tempted to talk about the size of government we talk also (and more so) about the purpose of government. This would make us more focused on policy particulars than on vague abstractions, better able to offer an alternative to the left’s agenda rather than just slowing the pace of its implementation, and better able to speak to the aspirations of the larger public.

The out-of-control size and cost of government today are symptoms of the fact that we have lost sight of the question of what government is for. The answer to that question is not “nothing,” after all. But it is also not “everything.” A basic answer to that question, rather, is laid out pretty well in Article I, section 8 of the United States Constitution. Maybe modern life has piled some complexities and difficulties on us that require some additions to the list presented there, and of course the Constitution contains a mechanism for making such additions. But as long as we are obsessed with how much it all costs we are not able to focus on the more important question of how to make government more effective and energetic in those areas where we want it to act, and how to keep it from acting in those areas where we don’t (and where we therefore think that families, communities, and other mediating institutions should act instead).

This counsel is extremely wise. It is not as if the size of government is irrelevant; far from it. There are important fiscal and moral ramifications created by a “nanny state.” But to focus solely on the size of government rather than on its core purposes is a mistake, both philosophically and politically. God willed the state, as Edmund Burke put it; but what does He want the state to achieve? This is hardly a new question, but it is one that every serious student of politics needs to engage.

As a practical matter, take the issue of order. “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention,” John Jay wrote in Federalist Paper No. 3, “that of providing for their safety seems to be the first.” The “tranquility of order” (the phrase comes from Augustine) is the first responsibility of government; without it, we can hardly expect things like justice, prosperity, or virtue to flourish. Order, in turn, cannot be achieved without government — and among the threats to domestic order, crime surely ranks high. Read More

My Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin, who is also editor of National Affairs, was interviewed by ConservativeHome’s Ryan Streeter. Yuval’s insights are typically wise and learned. I was particularly interested in his response to the question “If you could wave a wand and change one thing about the GOP, what would it be?” According to Yuval:

I would make it so that every time we are tempted to talk about the size of government we talk also (and more so) about the purpose of government. This would make us more focused on policy particulars than on vague abstractions, better able to offer an alternative to the left’s agenda rather than just slowing the pace of its implementation, and better able to speak to the aspirations of the larger public.

The out-of-control size and cost of government today are symptoms of the fact that we have lost sight of the question of what government is for. The answer to that question is not “nothing,” after all. But it is also not “everything.” A basic answer to that question, rather, is laid out pretty well in Article I, section 8 of the United States Constitution. Maybe modern life has piled some complexities and difficulties on us that require some additions to the list presented there, and of course the Constitution contains a mechanism for making such additions. But as long as we are obsessed with how much it all costs we are not able to focus on the more important question of how to make government more effective and energetic in those areas where we want it to act, and how to keep it from acting in those areas where we don’t (and where we therefore think that families, communities, and other mediating institutions should act instead).

This counsel is extremely wise. It is not as if the size of government is irrelevant; far from it. There are important fiscal and moral ramifications created by a “nanny state.” But to focus solely on the size of government rather than on its core purposes is a mistake, both philosophically and politically. God willed the state, as Edmund Burke put it; but what does He want the state to achieve? This is hardly a new question, but it is one that every serious student of politics needs to engage.

As a practical matter, take the issue of order. “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention,” John Jay wrote in Federalist Paper No. 3, “that of providing for their safety seems to be the first.” The “tranquility of order” (the phrase comes from Augustine) is the first responsibility of government; without it, we can hardly expect things like justice, prosperity, or virtue to flourish. Order, in turn, cannot be achieved without government — and among the threats to domestic order, crime surely ranks high.

This line of reasoning inevitably leads us to law-enforcement policies ranging from incarceration to policing strategies to the “broken windows” theory. (In the 1980s, Professors James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling argued that public disorder — as evidenced by unrepaired broken windows — is evidence of a permissive moral environment, a signal that no one cares, and therefore acts as a magnet to criminals.) And in looking at some of the great success stories in lowering crime, such as New York City in the 1990s, one finds that the key to success wasn’t the size or cost of government, but its efficacy. The question Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his police chief, William Bratton, asked wasn’t “How big should the police department be?” but rather “What should the police department be doing?”

The answer to that question led to a policy revolution in law enforcement.

The point is that fundamental questions about the role and purpose of the state aren’t academic ones; a public philosophy needs to be at the center of our debates about public policy, and we need public figures who themselves are able to think clearly and deeply about these matters.

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Is Israel’s Controversial NGO Law Simply a ‘Foreign Agent Registration Act’?

Israel’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, Danny Ayalon, has written a persuasive defense of the Knesset’s new inquiry panel that will investigate whether Israeli NGOs involved in the anti-Israel delegitimization movement are funded by foreign governments. Critics of the initiative have compared it to McCarthyism and say that it unfairly targets groups for their political beliefs. But Ayalon argues that the law is no different from the U.S. Foreign Agent Registration Act:

The Knesset panel of inquiry is simply about transparency. If there are groups who receive funds from foreign nations then the Israeli public deserves the right to know. Some voices have mistakenly declared that this type of inquiry is reminiscent of undemocratic regimes. Perhaps they should take a look at America’s Foreign Agents Registration Act which is, according to the U.S. Department of Justice website, a “disclosure statute that requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.”

But while FARA laws apply equally to all individuals and organizations, regardless of political affiliation, it’s unclear whether Israel’s new law will apply only to groups involved in the delegitimization movement. Plus, FARA rules put the onus on foreign agents to register and disclose their own affiliations, while the whole concept of an investigative government panel is much more proactive. The American Jewish Committee, which normally doesn’t comment on Israeli domestic policy, issued a harsh criticism of the new initiative yesterday.

“The selective targeting of groups critical of the IDF runs counter to Israel’s legal and political tradition, and does no service to the one state that is a beacon of democracy in the Middle East,” said AJC executive director David Harris in a press release. “If there is a concern that foreign, and possibly malign, forces are funding civic or political groups in Israel, then let there be a debate on the advisability of requiring full disclosure of the revenues, and their sources, of all such groups across the political spectrum.”

I definitely applaud the idea of a FARA law for Israel, but I agree with the AJC that the policy shouldn’t be based on the politics of the organization. News reports have indicated that the law singles out left-wing delegitimization groups; but from Ayalon’s defense, I get the sense that it applies to all NGOs. Of course, the Knesset obviously doesn’t have time to investigate every NGO in Israel, and I’m sure politics will play a sizable role in which organizations ultimately get scrutinized.

Israel’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, Danny Ayalon, has written a persuasive defense of the Knesset’s new inquiry panel that will investigate whether Israeli NGOs involved in the anti-Israel delegitimization movement are funded by foreign governments. Critics of the initiative have compared it to McCarthyism and say that it unfairly targets groups for their political beliefs. But Ayalon argues that the law is no different from the U.S. Foreign Agent Registration Act:

The Knesset panel of inquiry is simply about transparency. If there are groups who receive funds from foreign nations then the Israeli public deserves the right to know. Some voices have mistakenly declared that this type of inquiry is reminiscent of undemocratic regimes. Perhaps they should take a look at America’s Foreign Agents Registration Act which is, according to the U.S. Department of Justice website, a “disclosure statute that requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.”

But while FARA laws apply equally to all individuals and organizations, regardless of political affiliation, it’s unclear whether Israel’s new law will apply only to groups involved in the delegitimization movement. Plus, FARA rules put the onus on foreign agents to register and disclose their own affiliations, while the whole concept of an investigative government panel is much more proactive. The American Jewish Committee, which normally doesn’t comment on Israeli domestic policy, issued a harsh criticism of the new initiative yesterday.

“The selective targeting of groups critical of the IDF runs counter to Israel’s legal and political tradition, and does no service to the one state that is a beacon of democracy in the Middle East,” said AJC executive director David Harris in a press release. “If there is a concern that foreign, and possibly malign, forces are funding civic or political groups in Israel, then let there be a debate on the advisability of requiring full disclosure of the revenues, and their sources, of all such groups across the political spectrum.”

I definitely applaud the idea of a FARA law for Israel, but I agree with the AJC that the policy shouldn’t be based on the politics of the organization. News reports have indicated that the law singles out left-wing delegitimization groups; but from Ayalon’s defense, I get the sense that it applies to all NGOs. Of course, the Knesset obviously doesn’t have time to investigate every NGO in Israel, and I’m sure politics will play a sizable role in which organizations ultimately get scrutinized.

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CALGreen: Regulatory Nirvana

Now and then, circumstances come along that put in perspective the level of regulatory autonomy currently enjoyed by our governments. A prominent example is the implementation in California of “CALGreen” building standards, which entered effect on January 1. Shepherded through the legislature in 2008 by Arnold Schwarzenegger, CALGreen proposes to reduce the greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions attributable to California’s newly constructed buildings — residential and nonresidential — by 3 million metric tons per year in 2020.

Much has been written by conservatives about the poor economic timing of the CALGreen implementation. But two of its other features are worth particular note. The first is that 3 million metric tons of GHG is vanishingly small compared with the globe’s total anthropogenic GHG emissions. Those global emissions were calculated at 31.3 billion metric tons in 2009. A reduction of 3 million metric tons represents .0096 percent of that global total (the actual fraction is .000096). Considering the number of state-government agencies involved in administering CALGreen, and the building industry’s estimate that it will increase construction costs 3 to 12 percent depending on the project, the cost of CALGreen is a questionable commitment in light of its projected benefits.

The other feature of note is CALGreen’s promise to relieve builders of $30,000 to $50,000 per project — by CALGreen’s estimate — in design and private inspection costs. Builders who wish to “build green” have, until now, sought the services of firms that specialize in complying with the industry standards promulgated through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Program. With some state and local governments making LEED compliance mandatory, contractors have been driven to pay private consultants for their expertise. By setting very specific state requirements, however, CALGreen’s documentation implies that it will eliminate the leeway in design and execution that creates a demand for such expert judgment. And as the CALGreen publicity material points out, state inspectors — unlike private consultants — will not represent an additional cost to the builder.

Not in the builder’s capacity as a builder, at any rate. In his capacity as a taxpayer, he will naturally be paying every bit of the cost of CALGreen regulation. And the difference between privately contracted experts and publicly funded regulators is that the latter get paid regardless of the market’s demand for their services. That reality will be a highly visible one in California’s foreseeable future: as observed by the developer interviewed by the San Fernando Valley Business Journal (link above), “There is really no one building anything right now.”

To paraphrase Blaise Pascal, regulation has its reasons which reason does not know. Average Californians want a thriving economy, accountable schools, reliable police and fire services, a functioning penal system, and fiscal responsibility from the state. Sacramento is giving them instead a new set of regulations — for a dormant industry — which will employ hundreds of public servants to keep the CALGreen promise of reducing global GHG emissions .0096 percent by 2020. Meanwhile, the public is invited to rejoice that more of the cost of green regulation will be borne by the taxpayer. I’m not sure the art of regulation for regulation’s sake can be perfected much more than this.

Now and then, circumstances come along that put in perspective the level of regulatory autonomy currently enjoyed by our governments. A prominent example is the implementation in California of “CALGreen” building standards, which entered effect on January 1. Shepherded through the legislature in 2008 by Arnold Schwarzenegger, CALGreen proposes to reduce the greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions attributable to California’s newly constructed buildings — residential and nonresidential — by 3 million metric tons per year in 2020.

Much has been written by conservatives about the poor economic timing of the CALGreen implementation. But two of its other features are worth particular note. The first is that 3 million metric tons of GHG is vanishingly small compared with the globe’s total anthropogenic GHG emissions. Those global emissions were calculated at 31.3 billion metric tons in 2009. A reduction of 3 million metric tons represents .0096 percent of that global total (the actual fraction is .000096). Considering the number of state-government agencies involved in administering CALGreen, and the building industry’s estimate that it will increase construction costs 3 to 12 percent depending on the project, the cost of CALGreen is a questionable commitment in light of its projected benefits.

The other feature of note is CALGreen’s promise to relieve builders of $30,000 to $50,000 per project — by CALGreen’s estimate — in design and private inspection costs. Builders who wish to “build green” have, until now, sought the services of firms that specialize in complying with the industry standards promulgated through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Program. With some state and local governments making LEED compliance mandatory, contractors have been driven to pay private consultants for their expertise. By setting very specific state requirements, however, CALGreen’s documentation implies that it will eliminate the leeway in design and execution that creates a demand for such expert judgment. And as the CALGreen publicity material points out, state inspectors — unlike private consultants — will not represent an additional cost to the builder.

Not in the builder’s capacity as a builder, at any rate. In his capacity as a taxpayer, he will naturally be paying every bit of the cost of CALGreen regulation. And the difference between privately contracted experts and publicly funded regulators is that the latter get paid regardless of the market’s demand for their services. That reality will be a highly visible one in California’s foreseeable future: as observed by the developer interviewed by the San Fernando Valley Business Journal (link above), “There is really no one building anything right now.”

To paraphrase Blaise Pascal, regulation has its reasons which reason does not know. Average Californians want a thriving economy, accountable schools, reliable police and fire services, a functioning penal system, and fiscal responsibility from the state. Sacramento is giving them instead a new set of regulations — for a dormant industry — which will employ hundreds of public servants to keep the CALGreen promise of reducing global GHG emissions .0096 percent by 2020. Meanwhile, the public is invited to rejoice that more of the cost of green regulation will be borne by the taxpayer. I’m not sure the art of regulation for regulation’s sake can be perfected much more than this.

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New Complaint: The GOP ‘Sanitized’ the Constitution

So the Constitution was read aloud on the House floor this morning, despite increasingly creative objections from liberals. And other than a few members of Congress stumbling over some of the passages, the act was a touching gesture that might be a nice tradition for the House to consider establishing on an annual basis.

Of course, the reading wasn’t without some initial drama. Right before it began, there was some squabbling on the floor over whether the superseded passages with references to the three-fifths compromise would be read:

Prior to the reading, which began at 11:05 a.m., Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) used a parliamentary inquiry to ask Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) which version of the Constitution would be read. The original Constitution with amendments tacked on the end? Or the Constitution with the amendments incorporated into the main text?

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) explained:

“I want to be very clear in reading this sacred document,” said Jackson, who prefers the version with amendments at the end. “Given the struggle of African Americans and the struggle of women to create a more perfect document, we want to hear those elements of the Constitution that have been didacted. They are no less serious a part of our struggle and many of us don’t want that to be lost.”

The Republicans were clear that the superseded text would not be read, prompting an outcry from liberals who claimed that they were whitewashing the original document. At Plum Line, Adam Serwer argued that the GOP was “Huck Finning the Constitution” — a reference to the new edition of the classic book that censored out racial slurs:

Republicans, intending to make a big symbolic show of their reading of the Constitution, have now taken a similarly sanitized approach to our founding document. Yesterday they announced that they will be leaving out the superceded text in their reading of the Constitution on the House floor this morning, avoiding the awkwardness of having to read aloud the “three fifths compromise,” which counted slaves as only three-fifths of a person for the purposes of taxation and apportionment.

The reason to include the superceded text is to remind us that the Constitution, while a remarkable document, was not carved out of stone tablets by a finger of light at the summit of Mount Sinai. It was written by men, and despite its promise, it possessed flaws at the moment of its creation that still reverberate today. Republicans could use the history lesson — last year they attacked Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan during her nomination process because one of her mentors, Justice Thurgood Marshall, had the audacity to suggest that the Constitution was flawed since it didn’t consider black people to be full human beings.

Serwer is seriously reaching here. The reason Congress read the Constitution wasn’t to perform an academic historical exercise. The left may not understand this, but the Constitution is actually still used on a daily basis to uphold our nation’s laws.

Moreover, I just don’t see the comparison. Huckleberry Finn is a classic piece of literature that can’t be edited with a vote. On the other hand, the Constitution is a governing document that has and can be changed. Instead of focusing on the ugly, superseded portions of the document, lawmakers would do better to concentrate on upholding the parts that are still binding today.

So the Constitution was read aloud on the House floor this morning, despite increasingly creative objections from liberals. And other than a few members of Congress stumbling over some of the passages, the act was a touching gesture that might be a nice tradition for the House to consider establishing on an annual basis.

Of course, the reading wasn’t without some initial drama. Right before it began, there was some squabbling on the floor over whether the superseded passages with references to the three-fifths compromise would be read:

Prior to the reading, which began at 11:05 a.m., Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) used a parliamentary inquiry to ask Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) which version of the Constitution would be read. The original Constitution with amendments tacked on the end? Or the Constitution with the amendments incorporated into the main text?

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) explained:

“I want to be very clear in reading this sacred document,” said Jackson, who prefers the version with amendments at the end. “Given the struggle of African Americans and the struggle of women to create a more perfect document, we want to hear those elements of the Constitution that have been didacted. They are no less serious a part of our struggle and many of us don’t want that to be lost.”

The Republicans were clear that the superseded text would not be read, prompting an outcry from liberals who claimed that they were whitewashing the original document. At Plum Line, Adam Serwer argued that the GOP was “Huck Finning the Constitution” — a reference to the new edition of the classic book that censored out racial slurs:

Republicans, intending to make a big symbolic show of their reading of the Constitution, have now taken a similarly sanitized approach to our founding document. Yesterday they announced that they will be leaving out the superceded text in their reading of the Constitution on the House floor this morning, avoiding the awkwardness of having to read aloud the “three fifths compromise,” which counted slaves as only three-fifths of a person for the purposes of taxation and apportionment.

The reason to include the superceded text is to remind us that the Constitution, while a remarkable document, was not carved out of stone tablets by a finger of light at the summit of Mount Sinai. It was written by men, and despite its promise, it possessed flaws at the moment of its creation that still reverberate today. Republicans could use the history lesson — last year they attacked Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan during her nomination process because one of her mentors, Justice Thurgood Marshall, had the audacity to suggest that the Constitution was flawed since it didn’t consider black people to be full human beings.

Serwer is seriously reaching here. The reason Congress read the Constitution wasn’t to perform an academic historical exercise. The left may not understand this, but the Constitution is actually still used on a daily basis to uphold our nation’s laws.

Moreover, I just don’t see the comparison. Huckleberry Finn is a classic piece of literature that can’t be edited with a vote. On the other hand, the Constitution is a governing document that has and can be changed. Instead of focusing on the ugly, superseded portions of the document, lawmakers would do better to concentrate on upholding the parts that are still binding today.

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RE: Why Pollard’s Release Is Unlikely Right Now

Alana, one of the reasons you suggest for the improbability of Jonathan Pollard’s release is the public nature of the campaign to free him, since such a prisoner release would typically be done with arguments behind closed doors.

But arguably, a public debate is the only way in which a Pollard release would become proper, because public discussion is necessary before such a step occurs. The whole world is watching, so to speak.

In an editorial today entitled “Netanyahu’s Plea for Pollard, the New York Sun provides a useful addition to the public debate, focusing on a “magnificent dissent” by Judge Stephen Williams in the 1992 case in which the Court of Appeals rejected Pollard’s plea for a new sentencing hearing:

It happens that we don’t think a life sentence is too long a punishment for conviction of secretly passing classified information to a foreign government, even, in serious cases, if conviction is for only one count, as it was in the case of Pollard. … But it also happens that the sentence meted out to Pollard was vastly disproportionate to sentences handed down against other spies, including some who spied not for a friend of America, which is what Pollard did, but for countries that could be expected to use the fruits of spying in actions against us, like the Soviet Union or communist China.

… [Judge Williams] was one of three judges who heard Pollard’s plea for a new sentencing hearing. The two other judges on the circuit panel, Laurence Silberman and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, sided against Pollard in a highly technical opinion. Judge Williams’s dissent accused the government of having broken both the spirit and, in one respect, even the letter of the binding agreement under which it had obtained Pollard’s guilty plea.

The Sun covers the arguments made by both sides in that case, and concludes that there was a miscarriage in the sentencing proceeding whose correction is long overdue after Pollard has served nearly 25 years. For those still seeking to make up their minds, the Sun’s review is worth reading.

Alana, one of the reasons you suggest for the improbability of Jonathan Pollard’s release is the public nature of the campaign to free him, since such a prisoner release would typically be done with arguments behind closed doors.

But arguably, a public debate is the only way in which a Pollard release would become proper, because public discussion is necessary before such a step occurs. The whole world is watching, so to speak.

In an editorial today entitled “Netanyahu’s Plea for Pollard, the New York Sun provides a useful addition to the public debate, focusing on a “magnificent dissent” by Judge Stephen Williams in the 1992 case in which the Court of Appeals rejected Pollard’s plea for a new sentencing hearing:

It happens that we don’t think a life sentence is too long a punishment for conviction of secretly passing classified information to a foreign government, even, in serious cases, if conviction is for only one count, as it was in the case of Pollard. … But it also happens that the sentence meted out to Pollard was vastly disproportionate to sentences handed down against other spies, including some who spied not for a friend of America, which is what Pollard did, but for countries that could be expected to use the fruits of spying in actions against us, like the Soviet Union or communist China.

… [Judge Williams] was one of three judges who heard Pollard’s plea for a new sentencing hearing. The two other judges on the circuit panel, Laurence Silberman and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, sided against Pollard in a highly technical opinion. Judge Williams’s dissent accused the government of having broken both the spirit and, in one respect, even the letter of the binding agreement under which it had obtained Pollard’s guilty plea.

The Sun covers the arguments made by both sides in that case, and concludes that there was a miscarriage in the sentencing proceeding whose correction is long overdue after Pollard has served nearly 25 years. For those still seeking to make up their minds, the Sun’s review is worth reading.

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Bagel Bomber False Alarm

Panic and civilian guesswork, our frontline defense in the war on terror:

A Florida professor was arrested and removed from a plane Monday after his fellow passengers alerted crew members they thought he had a suspicious package in the overhead compartment.

That “suspicious package” turned out to be keys, a bagel with cream cheese and a hat.

Ognjen Milatovic, 35, was flying from Boston to Washington D.C. on US Airways when he was escorted off the plane for disorderly conduct following the incident.

The story screams out for one of those “if we can’t eat our bagels, the terrorists have won” jokes. But all I can think of is Juan Williams and his perfectly sensible acknowledgment of what realistically puts one on edge when flying. It’s wrong to note that we live in an age of Islamist terrorism. Instead we should all be warily eyeing our fellow passengers’ breakfasts.

Panic and civilian guesswork, our frontline defense in the war on terror:

A Florida professor was arrested and removed from a plane Monday after his fellow passengers alerted crew members they thought he had a suspicious package in the overhead compartment.

That “suspicious package” turned out to be keys, a bagel with cream cheese and a hat.

Ognjen Milatovic, 35, was flying from Boston to Washington D.C. on US Airways when he was escorted off the plane for disorderly conduct following the incident.

The story screams out for one of those “if we can’t eat our bagels, the terrorists have won” jokes. But all I can think of is Juan Williams and his perfectly sensible acknowledgment of what realistically puts one on edge when flying. It’s wrong to note that we live in an age of Islamist terrorism. Instead we should all be warily eyeing our fellow passengers’ breakfasts.

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Why the Constitution — and What It Means — Matters

Having taken control of the House of Representatives, Republicans plan to begin their political journey by today reading the American Constitution word-for-word. This is simply too much for those on the left.

According to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, it’s a “gimmick.” The Constitution, you see, was written “more than 100 years ago” and is very, very hard to understand.

Mr. Klein’s Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote: “My first response was to scoff at this obvious sop to the tea party movement. One can imagine that the rule’s primary practical result will be the creation of a small new House bureaucracy responsible for churning out constitutional justifications for whatever gets introduced.” (On reconsideration, Dionne says that we “badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows” — so long as we view it as “something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus.”)

Over at Vanity Fair, the mocking continues. “House Republicans will kick-start the 112th Congress tomorrow with a spirited recitation of the Constitution, a document whose recent relevance is due largely to the ideological and sartorial interests of the Tea Party,” writes Juli Weiner.

About these responses, I have several thoughts. The first is that yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, swore in members of the 112th Congress. And this is the oath he administered:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

With members of Congress having just sworn to support and defend the Constitution, it’s not at all clear why reading its text should give rise to such ridicule. Except, of course, if you don’t take the Constitution all that seriously; and especially if you consider it to be an obstacle to your ambitions. In that case, the game is to mock and sneer at those who attempt to reconnect American government to its founding charter. Read More

Having taken control of the House of Representatives, Republicans plan to begin their political journey by today reading the American Constitution word-for-word. This is simply too much for those on the left.

According to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, it’s a “gimmick.” The Constitution, you see, was written “more than 100 years ago” and is very, very hard to understand.

Mr. Klein’s Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote: “My first response was to scoff at this obvious sop to the tea party movement. One can imagine that the rule’s primary practical result will be the creation of a small new House bureaucracy responsible for churning out constitutional justifications for whatever gets introduced.” (On reconsideration, Dionne says that we “badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows” — so long as we view it as “something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus.”)

Over at Vanity Fair, the mocking continues. “House Republicans will kick-start the 112th Congress tomorrow with a spirited recitation of the Constitution, a document whose recent relevance is due largely to the ideological and sartorial interests of the Tea Party,” writes Juli Weiner.

About these responses, I have several thoughts. The first is that yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, swore in members of the 112th Congress. And this is the oath he administered:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

With members of Congress having just sworn to support and defend the Constitution, it’s not at all clear why reading its text should give rise to such ridicule. Except, of course, if you don’t take the Constitution all that seriously; and especially if you consider it to be an obstacle to your ambitions. In that case, the game is to mock and sneer at those who attempt to reconnect American government to its founding charter.

For many modern-day liberals, the Constitution is, at best, a piece of quaint, even irrelevant, parchment. As Jonah Goldberg reminds us in his excellent column:

“Are you serious?” was Nancy Pelosi’s response to a question over the constitutionality of health care reform. Third-ranking House Democrat Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina famously declared that “there’s nothing in the Constitution that says that the federal government has anything to do with most of the stuff we do.” Rep. Phil Hare of Illinois, before he was defeated by a Tea Party–backed candidate, told a town hall meeting, “I don’t worry about the Constitution” on health care reform.

At the core of the differences between contemporary liberals and conservatives, then, is the power of the federal government in our lives. The Constitution was designed as a check on the power of government, done in order to protect individual liberties. The Founders designed a federal government with limited, delegated, and enumerated powers, a theory of government that conservatives embrace and consider paradigmatic. (How that theory works itself out in practice is, of course, not always clear.)

The progressive/liberal disposition, on the other hand, believes that this view of the Constitution is obsolete and unwise; it is constantly, even relentlessly, looking for ways to increase the powers of the federal government (witness the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010). In order to achieve this, the Constitution needs to be ignored or, better yet, re-invented as a Living Constitution, constantly evolving, morphing from age to age, interpreted in light of the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

But as Justice Antonin Scalia has written, “Perhaps the most glaring defect of Living Constitutionalism, next to its incompatibility with the whole antievolutionary purpose of a constitution, is that there is no agreement, and no chance of agreement, upon what is to be the guiding principle of the evolution. Panta rei [“all things are in flux”] is not a sufficiently informative principle of constitutional interpretation.”

When determining when and in what direction the evolution should occur, Scalia asks:

Is it the will of the majority, discerned from newspapers, radio talk shows, public opinion polls, and chats at the country club? Is it the philosophy of Hume, or of John Rawls, or of John Stuart Mill, or of Aristotle? As soon as the discussion goes beyond the issue of whether the Constitution is static, the evolutionists divide into as many camps as there are individual views of the good, the true, and the beautiful. I think that is inevitably so, which means that evolutionism is simply not a practicable constitutional philosophy.

For those on the left, the answer to Scalia’s question is: The Constitution means whatever we say it means. And in order for this subjective, ad hoc interpretation to prevail, the left must control the levers of political and judicial power.

There is an effort today to reassert the primacy of the traditional, rather than the Living, Constitution. Liberals understand this, which explains why they are reacting in the manner they are.

The controversy about members of the 112th Congress reading the Constitution is not really about that; it is about something much deeper and more significant. It has to do with how we understand and interpret our charter of government, the product of what John Adams called “the greatest single effort of national deliberations that the world has ever seen.” I suspect that this debate, which conservatives should welcome, will only intensify.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Obama’s Moment of Truth at the UN

President Obama has affirmed repeatedly that, under his leadership, America’s bond with Israel is absolute, unshakeable, and rock solid. But the Israeli public is not convinced. A Jerusalem Post poll in March 2010 found that just 9 percent of Jewish Israelis think his administration is pro-Israel, against 48 percent who think it is pro-Palestinian. J Street’s pollster, Jim Gerstein, looked for a different result, but even his survey found that 55 percent of Israelis do not believe that Obama supports Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also is not convinced that Obama is necessarily in Israel’s camp. Abbas sees rich opportunities to drive a wedge between Israel and its “most reliable” partner, particularly on what the Arabs consider settlements in Jerusalem. Abbas witnessed, from Obama’s first day, this administration’s fixation on the most divisive and vexatious issue in the U.S.-Israel relationship. He sees that Obama does not regard the Jewish presence in the parts of Jerusalem that Jordan held before 1967 to be legitimate. (One wonders: Is Obama aware that more than half the Jews in Jerusalem live in this forbidden eastern half of the capital?)

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

To make sure you never miss an issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

President Obama has affirmed repeatedly that, under his leadership, America’s bond with Israel is absolute, unshakeable, and rock solid. But the Israeli public is not convinced. A Jerusalem Post poll in March 2010 found that just 9 percent of Jewish Israelis think his administration is pro-Israel, against 48 percent who think it is pro-Palestinian. J Street’s pollster, Jim Gerstein, looked for a different result, but even his survey found that 55 percent of Israelis do not believe that Obama supports Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also is not convinced that Obama is necessarily in Israel’s camp. Abbas sees rich opportunities to drive a wedge between Israel and its “most reliable” partner, particularly on what the Arabs consider settlements in Jerusalem. Abbas witnessed, from Obama’s first day, this administration’s fixation on the most divisive and vexatious issue in the U.S.-Israel relationship. He sees that Obama does not regard the Jewish presence in the parts of Jerusalem that Jordan held before 1967 to be legitimate. (One wonders: Is Obama aware that more than half the Jews in Jerusalem live in this forbidden eastern half of the capital?)

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

To make sure you never miss an issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

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Why Pollard’s Release Is Unlikely Right Now

Over at the indispensable FrumForum, John Vecchione disagrees with my conclusion yesterday that President Obama is unlikely to grant clemency to Jonathan Pollard at this point. Obviously, anything can happen in politics, but there are three major reasons why I believe Pollard’s release is improbable:

1. The public nature of the campaign to free him. Typically, prisoner releases between allies are dealt with relatively quietly and diplomatically, letting the country releasing the prisoner save face. Would Obama really want to give the impression that he caved to foreign pressure? If it was going to happen, you can bet that Netanyahu would be making his plea to Obama behind a closed door at the White House, not televised from the floor of the Knesset.

2. There is no political incentive for Obama. Vecchione makes an interesting case that the president “could do this during the election year not only to garnish some support in specific areas but also in exchange for some visible concession from the Netanyahu government.” But I have a few questions about this prediction. First, what percentage of the U.S. population actually makes up the pro-Pollard constituency? I’m no polling expert, but I assume this isn’t an overwhelmingly large figure.

Second, how many of these people care so deeply about the issue that they would base their presidential vote on whether a candidate supports Pollard’s release? It just doesn’t seem likely that this group of voters would register very high on the president’s radar at the moment. Most of the American Jewish community would already vote for Obama regardless, and the rest of it isn’t daft enough to believe that a token gesture like this could make up for the president’s disastrous Israel policy.

I also find the idea of Obama’s granting clemency for Pollard in exchange for Israeli concessions problematic. If the guy deserves to be released from prison, then let him out. We don’t hold hostages in America, and publicly shaking down an ally like Israel over a prisoner would be catastrophic for Obama’s image.

3. Finally, releasing Pollard could have some negative political implications for Obama. I think it’s fair to say that a significant portion of the far-left in this country is anti-Israel (if not the majority). And in recent years, a particularly nasty section of the left has become a breeding ground for paranoid conspiracy theories about the U.S.’s relationship with the Jewish state. Not only would releasing Pollard draw the ire of this group; it would also damage Obama’s image with the left as an allegedly “balanced arbiter” of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Plus, it would interfere with the president’s broader goal of Muslim outreach. There is no doubt that the Islamic world would see Pollard’s release as a sign of Israel’s supposed power over the U.S. — especially in light of the public nature of the clemency campaign. Obama has tried hard to portray himself as tough on Israel, and it seems unlikely that he’d risk marring this image by releasing Pollard.

So for those three reasons I remain skeptical that this current pro-Pollard crusade will end in success. But then again, stranger things have certainly happened.

Over at the indispensable FrumForum, John Vecchione disagrees with my conclusion yesterday that President Obama is unlikely to grant clemency to Jonathan Pollard at this point. Obviously, anything can happen in politics, but there are three major reasons why I believe Pollard’s release is improbable:

1. The public nature of the campaign to free him. Typically, prisoner releases between allies are dealt with relatively quietly and diplomatically, letting the country releasing the prisoner save face. Would Obama really want to give the impression that he caved to foreign pressure? If it was going to happen, you can bet that Netanyahu would be making his plea to Obama behind a closed door at the White House, not televised from the floor of the Knesset.

2. There is no political incentive for Obama. Vecchione makes an interesting case that the president “could do this during the election year not only to garnish some support in specific areas but also in exchange for some visible concession from the Netanyahu government.” But I have a few questions about this prediction. First, what percentage of the U.S. population actually makes up the pro-Pollard constituency? I’m no polling expert, but I assume this isn’t an overwhelmingly large figure.

Second, how many of these people care so deeply about the issue that they would base their presidential vote on whether a candidate supports Pollard’s release? It just doesn’t seem likely that this group of voters would register very high on the president’s radar at the moment. Most of the American Jewish community would already vote for Obama regardless, and the rest of it isn’t daft enough to believe that a token gesture like this could make up for the president’s disastrous Israel policy.

I also find the idea of Obama’s granting clemency for Pollard in exchange for Israeli concessions problematic. If the guy deserves to be released from prison, then let him out. We don’t hold hostages in America, and publicly shaking down an ally like Israel over a prisoner would be catastrophic for Obama’s image.

3. Finally, releasing Pollard could have some negative political implications for Obama. I think it’s fair to say that a significant portion of the far-left in this country is anti-Israel (if not the majority). And in recent years, a particularly nasty section of the left has become a breeding ground for paranoid conspiracy theories about the U.S.’s relationship with the Jewish state. Not only would releasing Pollard draw the ire of this group; it would also damage Obama’s image with the left as an allegedly “balanced arbiter” of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Plus, it would interfere with the president’s broader goal of Muslim outreach. There is no doubt that the Islamic world would see Pollard’s release as a sign of Israel’s supposed power over the U.S. — especially in light of the public nature of the clemency campaign. Obama has tried hard to portray himself as tough on Israel, and it seems unlikely that he’d risk marring this image by releasing Pollard.

So for those three reasons I remain skeptical that this current pro-Pollard crusade will end in success. But then again, stranger things have certainly happened.

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Don’t Balance the Budget on the Back of Defense

I am struck by the juxtaposition of two news items. First, it is being reported that Bob Gates is proposing $100 billion in defense cuts over the next five years, including the cancellation of the Marines’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. Second it is being reported that China’s military modernization program is moving ahead faster than expected. In recent days, China has unveiled a new stealth fighter, the J-20, and a new ballistic missile that has been dubbed a “carrier killer” because it is designed to target U.S. aircraft carriers. China is also reportedly building its own aircraft carriers and taking other actions to beef up its arsenal.

Granted, China has a long way to go before it approaches parity with the U.S. — but then again, it doesn’t need parity. Much of our military spending goes to enable operations thousands of miles from home. China, by contrast, seems to lack global ambitions, at least for the moment. It is concerned with dominating its region. And that does not require that it match U.S. military capacity across the board. All it has to do is raise the cost to the U.S. of taking action to keep in check Chinese expansionism, whereas the U.S. must worry not only about the threat from China but also about North Korea, Iran, al-Qaeda, Somalia, Yemen, and myriad other concerns.

The cuts proposed by Secretary Gates do not seriously threaten America’s military position in the world. Heck, I’ve expressed my own skepticism about the utility of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. I am also not that alarmed about the cancellation of the F-22 or the pushing back of the Marine Corps’s vertical-takeoff version of the F-35; I think the Marine version of the F-35 could be canceled altogether, because the vertical takeoff and landing capability of the Harrier jump jet has so seldom been utilized in combat.

But I am concerned about talk of delaying or downsizing the overall F-35 program at a time when China and Russia are both fielding their own stealth fighters. More than that, I am worried that Gates’s cuts may be only the beginning of a drawdown that is happening even as we are still fighting a major war in Afghanistan. Already proposals are circulating — see, for instance, this Foreign Affairs article — for massive cutbacks, including the loss of hundreds of thousands of service personnel, that would eviscerate American power-projection capabilities. Alas, many in Congress, even some Republicans, appear to be open to deeper defense cuts.

I am all for addressing our runaway federal spending — but we won’t balance the budget on the back of the Defense Department. Not when defense spending is less than 20 percent of the budget and less than 5 percent of GDP. Getting our fiscal house in order requires cutting entitlement spending. Downsizing the military, by contrast, will contribute to future insecurity and turn out to be the most costly option in the long run. That is a lesson we should have learned in the past, many times over (as I argued in this op-ed).

I am struck by the juxtaposition of two news items. First, it is being reported that Bob Gates is proposing $100 billion in defense cuts over the next five years, including the cancellation of the Marines’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. Second it is being reported that China’s military modernization program is moving ahead faster than expected. In recent days, China has unveiled a new stealth fighter, the J-20, and a new ballistic missile that has been dubbed a “carrier killer” because it is designed to target U.S. aircraft carriers. China is also reportedly building its own aircraft carriers and taking other actions to beef up its arsenal.

Granted, China has a long way to go before it approaches parity with the U.S. — but then again, it doesn’t need parity. Much of our military spending goes to enable operations thousands of miles from home. China, by contrast, seems to lack global ambitions, at least for the moment. It is concerned with dominating its region. And that does not require that it match U.S. military capacity across the board. All it has to do is raise the cost to the U.S. of taking action to keep in check Chinese expansionism, whereas the U.S. must worry not only about the threat from China but also about North Korea, Iran, al-Qaeda, Somalia, Yemen, and myriad other concerns.

The cuts proposed by Secretary Gates do not seriously threaten America’s military position in the world. Heck, I’ve expressed my own skepticism about the utility of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. I am also not that alarmed about the cancellation of the F-22 or the pushing back of the Marine Corps’s vertical-takeoff version of the F-35; I think the Marine version of the F-35 could be canceled altogether, because the vertical takeoff and landing capability of the Harrier jump jet has so seldom been utilized in combat.

But I am concerned about talk of delaying or downsizing the overall F-35 program at a time when China and Russia are both fielding their own stealth fighters. More than that, I am worried that Gates’s cuts may be only the beginning of a drawdown that is happening even as we are still fighting a major war in Afghanistan. Already proposals are circulating — see, for instance, this Foreign Affairs article — for massive cutbacks, including the loss of hundreds of thousands of service personnel, that would eviscerate American power-projection capabilities. Alas, many in Congress, even some Republicans, appear to be open to deeper defense cuts.

I am all for addressing our runaway federal spending — but we won’t balance the budget on the back of the Defense Department. Not when defense spending is less than 20 percent of the budget and less than 5 percent of GDP. Getting our fiscal house in order requires cutting entitlement spending. Downsizing the military, by contrast, will contribute to future insecurity and turn out to be the most costly option in the long run. That is a lesson we should have learned in the past, many times over (as I argued in this op-ed).

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The Whole World Is Watching

Hugh Hewitt conducted an hour-long interview yesterday with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, currently in his seventh term in Congress. It is an unusually candid conversation; the transcript is worth reading in its entirety.

Ryan covered the role of the Budget Committee in the rollback of ObamaCare, the broader budget battle coming this fall, the siren song of inflation as a solution, and the relationship of all this to the next election. Here’s an example:

HH: … Jerry Brown is already figuring out how to come with a tin cup to Washington, D.C. and beg for money. What’s the message to those governors in California, Illinois, New York, where they’re broke?

PR: … Look, and no offense to Californians, but those of us from more frugal states, we’re not interested in bailing out people from reckless states. You know, the moral hazard of bailing out states who fail to get their finances under control, why would we want to do that? … States need to clean up their own messes, their own acts, in my opinion. … All we would do is just buy delay, which is painful for everybody. Plus, Washington’s out of money. I mean, 41 cents on the dollar is borrowed here. 47% of that 41 cents on the dollar comes from other countries like China and Japan. We just can’t keep going the way we are. …

HH: Are you ready for the media assault, and I use that term advisedly, when they show children without milk at school. …

PR: Yes, that’s just going to happen. And look, I’ve been around these fights before, so it’s not as if this is the first rodeo for some of us. … It’s just the entire system we have could go down in a debt crisis. You know, we really do have a fiscal disaster coming. And if we blink to these forces of status quo, then it’s over with. The worst painful thing to have occur is us not to do anything, and just go down this path, and watch this debt crisis eat us alive. …

Ryan told Hewitt why he thought Congress would not be allowed to go on “porking the place up”:

What makes me feel better this time around, Hugh, is people pay attention. People are actually paying attention to what Congress is doing. The Internet has been a great equalizer. You can no longer go to Washington and do one thing, and then go home and say you’ve done another. Your words catch up with your actions, and that is a new day in Congress that a lot of people around here just don’t recognize.

It is a critical point, made yesterday in a similar analysis of a different issue, about the changed environment in which Congress is operating. The issues are no longer played out in hallways and backrooms; they are covered by an Internet propelled by the force-multipliers of blogs, portals, and social media. It creates a revolutionary situation, reminiscent of a slogan from the 60s.

Hugh Hewitt conducted an hour-long interview yesterday with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, currently in his seventh term in Congress. It is an unusually candid conversation; the transcript is worth reading in its entirety.

Ryan covered the role of the Budget Committee in the rollback of ObamaCare, the broader budget battle coming this fall, the siren song of inflation as a solution, and the relationship of all this to the next election. Here’s an example:

HH: … Jerry Brown is already figuring out how to come with a tin cup to Washington, D.C. and beg for money. What’s the message to those governors in California, Illinois, New York, where they’re broke?

PR: … Look, and no offense to Californians, but those of us from more frugal states, we’re not interested in bailing out people from reckless states. You know, the moral hazard of bailing out states who fail to get their finances under control, why would we want to do that? … States need to clean up their own messes, their own acts, in my opinion. … All we would do is just buy delay, which is painful for everybody. Plus, Washington’s out of money. I mean, 41 cents on the dollar is borrowed here. 47% of that 41 cents on the dollar comes from other countries like China and Japan. We just can’t keep going the way we are. …

HH: Are you ready for the media assault, and I use that term advisedly, when they show children without milk at school. …

PR: Yes, that’s just going to happen. And look, I’ve been around these fights before, so it’s not as if this is the first rodeo for some of us. … It’s just the entire system we have could go down in a debt crisis. You know, we really do have a fiscal disaster coming. And if we blink to these forces of status quo, then it’s over with. The worst painful thing to have occur is us not to do anything, and just go down this path, and watch this debt crisis eat us alive. …

Ryan told Hewitt why he thought Congress would not be allowed to go on “porking the place up”:

What makes me feel better this time around, Hugh, is people pay attention. People are actually paying attention to what Congress is doing. The Internet has been a great equalizer. You can no longer go to Washington and do one thing, and then go home and say you’ve done another. Your words catch up with your actions, and that is a new day in Congress that a lot of people around here just don’t recognize.

It is a critical point, made yesterday in a similar analysis of a different issue, about the changed environment in which Congress is operating. The issues are no longer played out in hallways and backrooms; they are covered by an Internet propelled by the force-multipliers of blogs, portals, and social media. It creates a revolutionary situation, reminiscent of a slogan from the 60s.

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Morning Commentary

As the GOP prepares to read the Constitution on the floor of the House this morning — in a nod to the new Tea Party members of Congress — Seth Lipsky discusses why the reading of the founding document irks the left so much.

Robert Gibbs seems pretty excited to leave the White House for the private sector: “‘The best service I can provide this president is, for the next couple of years, outside this building,’ said Gibbs, who announced Wednesday that he would leave his press secretary job in early February. He will then hit the lucrative speaking circuit and become a paid consultant to the Obama reelection campaign.” And the search for Gibbs’s successor is on. The White House is reportedly looking past in-house candidates, like Joe Biden’s spokesman Bill Burton and Obama deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, and considering outsiders like former DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney.

Lee Smith explains the “condescending moral double standard” that allows Western intellectuals like Roger Cohen to call themselves “liberals” while ignoring, excusing, or praising the murderous actions of the Middle East’s most illiberal regimes: “[L]ike many other Western observers of the Middle East, [Cohen] uses the region as a kind of virtual reality screen on which to project a self-congratulatory vision of a world in which superior beings like himself can naturally expect to live under the sign of law, civility, and morality while lesser beings in other parts of the world are quite naturally ruled by violence.”

David Ignatius is terribly, terribly concerned that the new head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican Darrell Issa, may be the new Joe McCarthy: “It was scary, frankly, to hear Issa describe the executive branch under President Obama as ‘one of the most corrupt administrations.’…When you see the righteous gleam in Issa’s eye, recall other zealous congressional investigators who claimed to be doing the public’s business but ended up pursuing vendettas.”

As the GOP prepares to read the Constitution on the floor of the House this morning — in a nod to the new Tea Party members of Congress — Seth Lipsky discusses why the reading of the founding document irks the left so much.

Robert Gibbs seems pretty excited to leave the White House for the private sector: “‘The best service I can provide this president is, for the next couple of years, outside this building,’ said Gibbs, who announced Wednesday that he would leave his press secretary job in early February. He will then hit the lucrative speaking circuit and become a paid consultant to the Obama reelection campaign.” And the search for Gibbs’s successor is on. The White House is reportedly looking past in-house candidates, like Joe Biden’s spokesman Bill Burton and Obama deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, and considering outsiders like former DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney.

Lee Smith explains the “condescending moral double standard” that allows Western intellectuals like Roger Cohen to call themselves “liberals” while ignoring, excusing, or praising the murderous actions of the Middle East’s most illiberal regimes: “[L]ike many other Western observers of the Middle East, [Cohen] uses the region as a kind of virtual reality screen on which to project a self-congratulatory vision of a world in which superior beings like himself can naturally expect to live under the sign of law, civility, and morality while lesser beings in other parts of the world are quite naturally ruled by violence.”

David Ignatius is terribly, terribly concerned that the new head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican Darrell Issa, may be the new Joe McCarthy: “It was scary, frankly, to hear Issa describe the executive branch under President Obama as ‘one of the most corrupt administrations.’…When you see the righteous gleam in Issa’s eye, recall other zealous congressional investigators who claimed to be doing the public’s business but ended up pursuing vendettas.”

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Public’s Patience Thin with Both Parties

According to Gallup:

In 2010, 31% of Americans identified as Democrats, down five percentage points from just two years ago and tied for the lowest annual average Gallup has measured in the last 22 years. While Democrats still outnumber Republicans by two points, the percentage identifying as independents increased to 38%, on the high end of what Gallup has measured in the last two decades

The analysis goes on to say this:

While there is usually some year-to-year variation in party identification at the aggregate level, the changes are typically not large. Thus, the five-point drop in Democratic identification over the past two years, from the party’s 22-year high of 36% (tying the 1988 figure) to its 22-year low of 31%, is notable.

Perhaps equally significant is that the percentage of Americans identifying as Republicans has increased only slightly to 29% during this time, and remains on the low end of what Gallup has measured the past two decades.

Nevertheless, 2010 was a good year for Republicans, given the party’s major gains in the midterm elections. Those gains were in part driven by the party’s appeal to independents, evident in the strong support for Republican congressional candidates among independent voters.

Independents’ increasing affinity for the GOP is also evident in a separate measure of party affiliation Gallup tracks, which takes into account the party leanings of independents. In 2010, 45% of Americans identified as Democrats or said they were independent but leaned toward the Democratic Party, while 44% identified as Republicans or said they were independent but leaned Republican. The 1-point Democratic advantage is the party’s smallest since 2003, when the parties were even, and represents a sharp decline from the record 12-point Democratic advantage in 2008.

This survey shows several things occurring at once. The most important is that after two years of President Obama and four years of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Party is in a very weakened state. At the same time, the nation is far from enchanted with the GOP. When it came to winning voters in 2010, the Republican Party dominated, and that counts for a lot. But the GOP “brand” remains tarnished — and, presumably, public patience with the Republican Party is limited. In addition, the high number of voters identifying themselves as independents indicates that we are seeing something of a political de-alignment occur.

All of this can change, depending on how events unfold. For now, though, the decline of the Democratic Party in the Age of Obama (and Pelosi) is among the more notable political developments of the last half-decade.

According to Gallup:

In 2010, 31% of Americans identified as Democrats, down five percentage points from just two years ago and tied for the lowest annual average Gallup has measured in the last 22 years. While Democrats still outnumber Republicans by two points, the percentage identifying as independents increased to 38%, on the high end of what Gallup has measured in the last two decades

The analysis goes on to say this:

While there is usually some year-to-year variation in party identification at the aggregate level, the changes are typically not large. Thus, the five-point drop in Democratic identification over the past two years, from the party’s 22-year high of 36% (tying the 1988 figure) to its 22-year low of 31%, is notable.

Perhaps equally significant is that the percentage of Americans identifying as Republicans has increased only slightly to 29% during this time, and remains on the low end of what Gallup has measured the past two decades.

Nevertheless, 2010 was a good year for Republicans, given the party’s major gains in the midterm elections. Those gains were in part driven by the party’s appeal to independents, evident in the strong support for Republican congressional candidates among independent voters.

Independents’ increasing affinity for the GOP is also evident in a separate measure of party affiliation Gallup tracks, which takes into account the party leanings of independents. In 2010, 45% of Americans identified as Democrats or said they were independent but leaned toward the Democratic Party, while 44% identified as Republicans or said they were independent but leaned Republican. The 1-point Democratic advantage is the party’s smallest since 2003, when the parties were even, and represents a sharp decline from the record 12-point Democratic advantage in 2008.

This survey shows several things occurring at once. The most important is that after two years of President Obama and four years of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Party is in a very weakened state. At the same time, the nation is far from enchanted with the GOP. When it came to winning voters in 2010, the Republican Party dominated, and that counts for a lot. But the GOP “brand” remains tarnished — and, presumably, public patience with the Republican Party is limited. In addition, the high number of voters identifying themselves as independents indicates that we are seeing something of a political de-alignment occur.

All of this can change, depending on how events unfold. For now, though, the decline of the Democratic Party in the Age of Obama (and Pelosi) is among the more notable political developments of the last half-decade.

Read Less




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