Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 13, 2011

Comparing the Obama and Palin Speeches

The ridiculous media reaction to the speeches made by President Obama and Sarah Palin yesterday is just a glimpse of the type of coverage we’ll see if Palin becomes the Republican nominee for 2012. Today’s theme is obviously that Obama is a post-partisan unifier/masterful orator and Palin is a divisive megalomaniac. And so far, the message has been quite extensive in its reach.

Politico picked it up this morning in a headline story. “At sunrise in the East on Wednesday, Sarah Palin demonstrated that she has little interest — or capacity — in moving beyond her brand of grievance-based politics,” wrote Jonathan Martin. “And at sundown in the West, Barack Obama reminded even his critics of his ability to rally disparate Americans around a message of reconciliation.”

The New York Times and the Washington Post also piled on. “Obama has proven to be a polarizing figure in office, but on Wednesday he sought to unify,” wrote the Post’s Dan Balz. “Palin ended up dividing. On a day of scripted messages, presumably carefully considered, Obama made the most of his. Palin did not.”

And then the “tone” — which seems to be the word of the week — of the criticism disintegrated quickly from there.

“What America has witnessed in the last 24 hours is a president of the United States who acted like a president of the United States, a Speaker of the House who acted like a Speaker of the House — and Sarah Palin, a pretender to the presidency who acted like a divisive, selfish, small-minded self-promoter,” wrote Brent Budowsky at the Hill.

Radio host Bill Press, in a column that could have been excellent satire if it wasn’t written in earnest, wrote that Obama’s speech “was one of the most powerful speeches I’ve heard any president give. Like the Gettysburg Address in its lasting message.”

“What a contrast with the sickening, self-serving video released the same day by the dropout governor of Alaska,” Press continued. “In his remarks, President Obama expressed the hope that some good will come out of the tragedy in Tucson. If we’re lucky, one good thing will be the end of the already-too-long political career of Sarah Palin. She can make plenty of money at Fox News. That’s where she belongs, not with the rest of America.”

So Sarah Palin’s “divisive” speech was so sickening that she (and Fox News) shouldn’t be allowed to belong with the rest of America. Got it. Read More

The ridiculous media reaction to the speeches made by President Obama and Sarah Palin yesterday is just a glimpse of the type of coverage we’ll see if Palin becomes the Republican nominee for 2012. Today’s theme is obviously that Obama is a post-partisan unifier/masterful orator and Palin is a divisive megalomaniac. And so far, the message has been quite extensive in its reach.

Politico picked it up this morning in a headline story. “At sunrise in the East on Wednesday, Sarah Palin demonstrated that she has little interest — or capacity — in moving beyond her brand of grievance-based politics,” wrote Jonathan Martin. “And at sundown in the West, Barack Obama reminded even his critics of his ability to rally disparate Americans around a message of reconciliation.”

The New York Times and the Washington Post also piled on. “Obama has proven to be a polarizing figure in office, but on Wednesday he sought to unify,” wrote the Post’s Dan Balz. “Palin ended up dividing. On a day of scripted messages, presumably carefully considered, Obama made the most of his. Palin did not.”

And then the “tone” — which seems to be the word of the week — of the criticism disintegrated quickly from there.

“What America has witnessed in the last 24 hours is a president of the United States who acted like a president of the United States, a Speaker of the House who acted like a Speaker of the House — and Sarah Palin, a pretender to the presidency who acted like a divisive, selfish, small-minded self-promoter,” wrote Brent Budowsky at the Hill.

Radio host Bill Press, in a column that could have been excellent satire if it wasn’t written in earnest, wrote that Obama’s speech “was one of the most powerful speeches I’ve heard any president give. Like the Gettysburg Address in its lasting message.”

“What a contrast with the sickening, self-serving video released the same day by the dropout governor of Alaska,” Press continued. “In his remarks, President Obama expressed the hope that some good will come out of the tragedy in Tucson. If we’re lucky, one good thing will be the end of the already-too-long political career of Sarah Palin. She can make plenty of money at Fox News. That’s where she belongs, not with the rest of America.”

So Sarah Palin’s “divisive” speech was so sickening that she (and Fox News) shouldn’t be allowed to belong with the rest of America. Got it.

But back to the more substantive articles. While I wouldn’t go so far as to compare Obama’s speech with the Gettysburg Address, it deserves all the praise that it’s gotten from the media. It was emotional, inspiring, and comforting. In sum, it was everything a presidential speech should be in the aftermath of such a tragedy.

Palin’s speech, in comparison, didn’t seem as presidential. And so what? She’s not the president — and moreover, she wasn’t speaking at a memorial service — so there was no reason why she should have pretended otherwise.

Abe has already pointed to Jonah Goldberg’s post at the Corner; Goldberg also makes an apt point about Palin’s lack of a presidential demeanor:

I think the president was more presidential in no small part because he is the president. Palin’s video statement was something else because she is not the president. And the criticism that she should have turned the other cheek and not defended herself at all strikes me as beyond absurd. The woman was being accused of being a willful co-conspirator in murder. It is just unfair and flatly dishonest to expect her not to address that.

I second his other point as well. It’s particularly sleazy for the media to level false charges at Palin and then scold her for having the nerve to defend herself. Moreover, she barely even made any references to the criticisms leveled at her. The address struck me as more of a defense of free speech in general, something that is much more important to a democratic society than the protection of civil “tone.”

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What Palin Gets Right

Jonah Goldberg brings up a great point about the much-discussed statement Sarah Palin delivered yesterday. It was “actually the most robust, unapologetic defense of vigorous democratic debate and the American system we’ve heard from any politician since Saturday.”

Since Saturday? Actually, what really was scary about the statement was that its robust defense of America felt practically retro. For example:

Public discourse and debate isn’t a sign of crisis, but of our enduring strength. It is part of why America is exceptional.

No one should be deterred from speaking up and speaking out in peaceful dissent, and we certainly must not be deterred by those who embrace evil and call it good. And we will not be stopped from celebrating the greatness of our country and our foundational freedoms by those who mock its greatness by being intolerant of differing opinion and seeking to muzzle dissent with shrill cries of imagined insults.

Part of the reason Palin’s faults get so much attention is because a multicultural, post-everything media considers her strengths so passé. Her conviction in American exceptionalism doesn’t even have to be proved wrong to be denounced; it merely has to be highlighted, like a fashion don’t. It’s part of her perceived yokelism.

Too bad it’s precisely what the country needs right now. Since the recession hit and national morale tanked, President Obama has doggedly tried to convince Americans of the uniquely bad times we’re in; this lowers expectations and keeps blame at bay. If this is “the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression,” how can we be impatient about recovery? But in the long term, this message is self-defeating. Potential lenders and investors hear the president go on and on about our being close to the brink and are cured of any impulse to risk capital. (On his Asia trip, he tipped his hat to the new formidable economic challenges coming from the East and cured overseas investors of the same inclination.) Promoting the meme of an overburdened, unexceptional America merely serves to prolong our woes.

Palin’s great asset, acknowledged or not, is that she not only believes in American exceptionalism; she recognizes it as the solution to our problems. Yesterday’s statement is a case in point: partisan sniping seems too vicious? Simply recall that America is nothing if not an ongoing passionate argument about the relationship between citizens and their government. Current flare-ups are dwarfed by our country’s history of animated disagreement.

If Obama would turn to American exceptionalism instead of American catastrophism, he’d attain the most important aspect of crisis leadership, which has eluded him his entire presidency: inspiration. Just imagine if he met the challenges of the recession and unemployment not by pointing out the severity of our circumstances but rather by praising America’s unique history of opportunity, innovation, and free-market principles. Americans no longer need to be reminded of the overwhelming nature of our problems. We need to be reminded of the character of our ideals and how those ideals become, in practice, defining triumphs. When Sarah Palin does this, the message gets lost in tabloid noise. If Obama did it, he might finally see that ever-elusive comeback — for the country if not himself.

Jonah Goldberg brings up a great point about the much-discussed statement Sarah Palin delivered yesterday. It was “actually the most robust, unapologetic defense of vigorous democratic debate and the American system we’ve heard from any politician since Saturday.”

Since Saturday? Actually, what really was scary about the statement was that its robust defense of America felt practically retro. For example:

Public discourse and debate isn’t a sign of crisis, but of our enduring strength. It is part of why America is exceptional.

No one should be deterred from speaking up and speaking out in peaceful dissent, and we certainly must not be deterred by those who embrace evil and call it good. And we will not be stopped from celebrating the greatness of our country and our foundational freedoms by those who mock its greatness by being intolerant of differing opinion and seeking to muzzle dissent with shrill cries of imagined insults.

Part of the reason Palin’s faults get so much attention is because a multicultural, post-everything media considers her strengths so passé. Her conviction in American exceptionalism doesn’t even have to be proved wrong to be denounced; it merely has to be highlighted, like a fashion don’t. It’s part of her perceived yokelism.

Too bad it’s precisely what the country needs right now. Since the recession hit and national morale tanked, President Obama has doggedly tried to convince Americans of the uniquely bad times we’re in; this lowers expectations and keeps blame at bay. If this is “the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression,” how can we be impatient about recovery? But in the long term, this message is self-defeating. Potential lenders and investors hear the president go on and on about our being close to the brink and are cured of any impulse to risk capital. (On his Asia trip, he tipped his hat to the new formidable economic challenges coming from the East and cured overseas investors of the same inclination.) Promoting the meme of an overburdened, unexceptional America merely serves to prolong our woes.

Palin’s great asset, acknowledged or not, is that she not only believes in American exceptionalism; she recognizes it as the solution to our problems. Yesterday’s statement is a case in point: partisan sniping seems too vicious? Simply recall that America is nothing if not an ongoing passionate argument about the relationship between citizens and their government. Current flare-ups are dwarfed by our country’s history of animated disagreement.

If Obama would turn to American exceptionalism instead of American catastrophism, he’d attain the most important aspect of crisis leadership, which has eluded him his entire presidency: inspiration. Just imagine if he met the challenges of the recession and unemployment not by pointing out the severity of our circumstances but rather by praising America’s unique history of opportunity, innovation, and free-market principles. Americans no longer need to be reminded of the overwhelming nature of our problems. We need to be reminded of the character of our ideals and how those ideals become, in practice, defining triumphs. When Sarah Palin does this, the message gets lost in tabloid noise. If Obama did it, he might finally see that ever-elusive comeback — for the country if not himself.

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Was Obama’s Speech His Finest Hour?

Obama’s Tucson speech was the best of his presidency, and his challenge to fulfill the expectations of the girl who came to meet her congresswoman on the corner will be a lasting contribution to presidential rhetoric. The suggestion by Garry Wills in “Obama’s Finest Hour” that the speech compares favorably with Lincoln’s Gettysburg and Second Inaugural Addresses strikes me as a tad excessive, but Obama gave a beautiful speech at a critical moment and lifted both the country and his own presidency. Everything a speech can do, it did.

In some sense, it was a sermon to himself, since he bears as much blame (and perhaps more) as anyone for the divisive rhetoric that has marked the first two years of his presidency. If there will be no more presidential denigration of political opponents as “enemies,” “hostage takers,” “bitter clingers,” people he has to “clean up after” who should “not do a lot of talking” and ride in the “back of the bus,” both the country and his presidency will be better for it. The clearest test of the Tucson sermon will be how well he is able to adhere to it.

At this moment, it may be worth recalling the final question at George W. Bush’s final news conference on January 12, 2009:

Q … You arrived here wanting to be a uniter, not a divider. Do you think Barack Obama can be a uniter, not a divider? Or is — with the challenges for any President and the unpopular decisions, is it impossible for any President to be uniter, not a divider?

THE PRESIDENT: I hope the tone is different for him than it has been for me. I am disappointed by the tone in Washington, D.C. I tried to do my part by not engaging in the name-calling and — and by the way, needless name-calling. I have worked to be respectful of my opponents on different issues. … It’s just the rhetoric got out of control at times –

Q Why?

THE PRESIDENT: I don’t know why. You need to ask those who — those who used the words they used. As I say, it’s not the first time it’s ever happened. … It’s happened throughout our history. And I would hope that, frankly, for the sake of the system itself, that if people disagree with President-Elect Obama, they treat him with respect. …  And so I wish him all the best. And no question he’ll be — there will be critics. And there should be. … I just hope the tone is respectful.

It would be a mistake to wish for a Kumbaya country; there are important issues that need to be debated and decided, on which the future of the country rests. But civility in debate can assist in their resolution.

And it would be an even bigger mistake to think that a speech is the solution in every situation. One of the reasons Obama’s sermon was a great speech is that a speech is what the occasion called for. In other situations, particularly in foreign affairs, an outstretched rhetorical hand has only limited efficacy; world problems are rarely resolved by declaring oneself a citizen of the world; and continually declaring that the time is now does not engender respect among the nations.

As Iran continues its efforts to change the Middle East, and with it the global balance of power, Obama’s challenge will be to summon not eloquence but resolution. His finest hour will require more than a speech.

Obama’s Tucson speech was the best of his presidency, and his challenge to fulfill the expectations of the girl who came to meet her congresswoman on the corner will be a lasting contribution to presidential rhetoric. The suggestion by Garry Wills in “Obama’s Finest Hour” that the speech compares favorably with Lincoln’s Gettysburg and Second Inaugural Addresses strikes me as a tad excessive, but Obama gave a beautiful speech at a critical moment and lifted both the country and his own presidency. Everything a speech can do, it did.

In some sense, it was a sermon to himself, since he bears as much blame (and perhaps more) as anyone for the divisive rhetoric that has marked the first two years of his presidency. If there will be no more presidential denigration of political opponents as “enemies,” “hostage takers,” “bitter clingers,” people he has to “clean up after” who should “not do a lot of talking” and ride in the “back of the bus,” both the country and his presidency will be better for it. The clearest test of the Tucson sermon will be how well he is able to adhere to it.

At this moment, it may be worth recalling the final question at George W. Bush’s final news conference on January 12, 2009:

Q … You arrived here wanting to be a uniter, not a divider. Do you think Barack Obama can be a uniter, not a divider? Or is — with the challenges for any President and the unpopular decisions, is it impossible for any President to be uniter, not a divider?

THE PRESIDENT: I hope the tone is different for him than it has been for me. I am disappointed by the tone in Washington, D.C. I tried to do my part by not engaging in the name-calling and — and by the way, needless name-calling. I have worked to be respectful of my opponents on different issues. … It’s just the rhetoric got out of control at times –

Q Why?

THE PRESIDENT: I don’t know why. You need to ask those who — those who used the words they used. As I say, it’s not the first time it’s ever happened. … It’s happened throughout our history. And I would hope that, frankly, for the sake of the system itself, that if people disagree with President-Elect Obama, they treat him with respect. …  And so I wish him all the best. And no question he’ll be — there will be critics. And there should be. … I just hope the tone is respectful.

It would be a mistake to wish for a Kumbaya country; there are important issues that need to be debated and decided, on which the future of the country rests. But civility in debate can assist in their resolution.

And it would be an even bigger mistake to think that a speech is the solution in every situation. One of the reasons Obama’s sermon was a great speech is that a speech is what the occasion called for. In other situations, particularly in foreign affairs, an outstretched rhetorical hand has only limited efficacy; world problems are rarely resolved by declaring oneself a citizen of the world; and continually declaring that the time is now does not engender respect among the nations.

As Iran continues its efforts to change the Middle East, and with it the global balance of power, Obama’s challenge will be to summon not eloquence but resolution. His finest hour will require more than a speech.

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Wild in Tucson

Much of the reaction to yesterday’s memorial service for the shooting victims in Tucson has centered on the raucous behavior of the crowd in attendance. A self-described “liberal” blogger quotes John’s New York Post piece on the peculiar atmosphere of the event — and goes on to remark on something I noticed: that President Obama appeared startled by the crowd’s noisy reaction to some of the best lines in his speech. Here is blogger Ron Replogle:

Obama was plainly taken aback by the crowd’s eruption into applause at the most inappropriate moments. He was there to deliver a eulogy. The crowd was there to participate in a democratic pageant. Applause was its way not only of honoring the victims of the Giffords shooting, but of congratulating itself for its own wholesome sentiments.

This last point could profitably be parsed in detail, but in a general sense, it captures a pattern developing in American society: one that results from deliberate inculcation as much as from the growing failure of social norms to dictate greater discrimination in our behavior. One manifestation, for example, is the invincible “self-esteem” enjoyed by low-performing American math students. Americans now spend much of childhood being encouraged, like toddlers, to clap their hands and shout “Yay!” about themselves on principle.

But it’s Obama’s reaction that got my attention. There’s a sense in which he appears to have ended up, haplessly, at the completion of a circle: he’s the one left holding the bag as the trends once urged by the 1960s-era radical left now demonstrate that they are already in force. Today, there’s no social institution called “The Man” left to rail against. The mythical figure who tried to hold us all back, lower our self-esteem, and keep us silent during eulogies has been vanquished. The crowd is in charge now — thoroughly middle class, self-consciously “diverse,” devoted to self-expression and self-congratulation — and its thing is to clap its hands and shout “Yay!” (or, alternatively, “Boo!”).

I’m reminded of a cult movie from 1968 called Wild in the Streets. Obama’s position has struck me more than once as being similar to that of the movie’s protagonist (played by Christopher Jones), a rock singer in his 20s who rides into the Oval Office on a wave of unbridled anti-establishment fervor. (The trailer portrays the movie pretty accurately.) The Jones character, in a manner reminiscent of Barack Obama, comes across as more conventional and reassuring to voters than many in his political cohort. But what he finds when he gets to the White House is that his movement has already torn down everything that made the office worth holding. There is nothing left to deconstruct or triangulate against; no throne to step down from.

The movie’s silly story line is an analogy to the Obama presidency, only in caricature. But the outlines have been visible on a number of occasions. Whenever Obama has disavowed America’s global leadership, but then expected foreign heads of state to give his policy gambits special weight, he has seemed to not understand that the one tends to cancel out the other.

My impression from yesterday’s service is that Obama was genuinely surprised by the untoward reaction of the crowd — and it may well be that he has never given real thought to the proposition that radicalism of all kinds is at odds with the order and seemliness we rely on. In that, he would be characteristic of his academic and political background. But he is a product of that background, not one of its driving forces. That it is he who must now stand before an indecorous people and try to observe decorum is not so much ironic as poignant and sad.

Much of the reaction to yesterday’s memorial service for the shooting victims in Tucson has centered on the raucous behavior of the crowd in attendance. A self-described “liberal” blogger quotes John’s New York Post piece on the peculiar atmosphere of the event — and goes on to remark on something I noticed: that President Obama appeared startled by the crowd’s noisy reaction to some of the best lines in his speech. Here is blogger Ron Replogle:

Obama was plainly taken aback by the crowd’s eruption into applause at the most inappropriate moments. He was there to deliver a eulogy. The crowd was there to participate in a democratic pageant. Applause was its way not only of honoring the victims of the Giffords shooting, but of congratulating itself for its own wholesome sentiments.

This last point could profitably be parsed in detail, but in a general sense, it captures a pattern developing in American society: one that results from deliberate inculcation as much as from the growing failure of social norms to dictate greater discrimination in our behavior. One manifestation, for example, is the invincible “self-esteem” enjoyed by low-performing American math students. Americans now spend much of childhood being encouraged, like toddlers, to clap their hands and shout “Yay!” about themselves on principle.

But it’s Obama’s reaction that got my attention. There’s a sense in which he appears to have ended up, haplessly, at the completion of a circle: he’s the one left holding the bag as the trends once urged by the 1960s-era radical left now demonstrate that they are already in force. Today, there’s no social institution called “The Man” left to rail against. The mythical figure who tried to hold us all back, lower our self-esteem, and keep us silent during eulogies has been vanquished. The crowd is in charge now — thoroughly middle class, self-consciously “diverse,” devoted to self-expression and self-congratulation — and its thing is to clap its hands and shout “Yay!” (or, alternatively, “Boo!”).

I’m reminded of a cult movie from 1968 called Wild in the Streets. Obama’s position has struck me more than once as being similar to that of the movie’s protagonist (played by Christopher Jones), a rock singer in his 20s who rides into the Oval Office on a wave of unbridled anti-establishment fervor. (The trailer portrays the movie pretty accurately.) The Jones character, in a manner reminiscent of Barack Obama, comes across as more conventional and reassuring to voters than many in his political cohort. But what he finds when he gets to the White House is that his movement has already torn down everything that made the office worth holding. There is nothing left to deconstruct or triangulate against; no throne to step down from.

The movie’s silly story line is an analogy to the Obama presidency, only in caricature. But the outlines have been visible on a number of occasions. Whenever Obama has disavowed America’s global leadership, but then expected foreign heads of state to give his policy gambits special weight, he has seemed to not understand that the one tends to cancel out the other.

My impression from yesterday’s service is that Obama was genuinely surprised by the untoward reaction of the crowd — and it may well be that he has never given real thought to the proposition that radicalism of all kinds is at odds with the order and seemliness we rely on. In that, he would be characteristic of his academic and political background. But he is a product of that background, not one of its driving forces. That it is he who must now stand before an indecorous people and try to observe decorum is not so much ironic as poignant and sad.

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Small Miracles in Tucson, Arizona

Mike Allen’s Playbook this morning has an incredibly poignant anecdote from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, about their visit with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the hospital yesterday.

While the two lawmakers sat at Giffords’s bedside, they joked about what the three of them would do once she recovered, and Giffords actually began to move in response.

“And the more we joked about what we were going to do, she started to open her eyes literally. And then you have to recognize, her eyes hadn’t opened — we didn’t know that — and so she started to struggle,” said Gillibrand.

Seeing this, Giffords’s husband, Mark, immediately jumped to her side and started urging her to keep her eyes open:

“And one of her eyes is covered with a bandage because it was damaged in the gunfire. So her eye is flickering. And Mark sees this and gets extremely excited. … And so he said, Gabby, open your eyes, open your eyes. And he’s really urging her forward. And the doctor is like perking up and everyone is coming around the bed. And she’s struggling. … And then she finally opens her eyes and you could she was like desperately trying to focus and it took enormous strength from her. And Mark could just — can’t believe it. I mean, he’s so happy. And we’re crying because we’re witnessing something that we never imagined would happen in front of us. And so Mark says, he says — he said, Gabby, if you can see me, give us the thumbs up, give us the thumbs up.”

But instead of giving a thumbs-up sign, Giffords reached out to try to embrace her husband:

“And then she reaches out and starts grabbing Mark and is touching him and starts to nearly choke him — she was clearly trying to hug him. … And we were just in tears of joy watching this and beyond ourselves, honestly. And then Mark said, you know, touch my ring, touch my ring. And she touches his ring and then she grabs his whole watch and wrist. And then the doctor was just so excited. He said, you don’t understand, this is amazing, what’s she’s doing right now, and beyond our greatest hopes.”

Imagine what a tremendous physical exertion it must have been for Giffords to simply raise an arm to touch her husband. She could have remained still, kept her eyes shut, saved the effort. But even this basic act of connecting was worth the struggle.

There has been a lot of talk in recent days about the mindset of the man who put a bullet through Giffords’s head. His friends called him a nihilist who would often ramble about the pointlessness of the world. It’s stories like this one that remind us how false that philosophy is, how even the smallest acts can be full of meaning.

Mike Allen’s Playbook this morning has an incredibly poignant anecdote from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, about their visit with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the hospital yesterday.

While the two lawmakers sat at Giffords’s bedside, they joked about what the three of them would do once she recovered, and Giffords actually began to move in response.

“And the more we joked about what we were going to do, she started to open her eyes literally. And then you have to recognize, her eyes hadn’t opened — we didn’t know that — and so she started to struggle,” said Gillibrand.

Seeing this, Giffords’s husband, Mark, immediately jumped to her side and started urging her to keep her eyes open:

“And one of her eyes is covered with a bandage because it was damaged in the gunfire. So her eye is flickering. And Mark sees this and gets extremely excited. … And so he said, Gabby, open your eyes, open your eyes. And he’s really urging her forward. And the doctor is like perking up and everyone is coming around the bed. And she’s struggling. … And then she finally opens her eyes and you could she was like desperately trying to focus and it took enormous strength from her. And Mark could just — can’t believe it. I mean, he’s so happy. And we’re crying because we’re witnessing something that we never imagined would happen in front of us. And so Mark says, he says — he said, Gabby, if you can see me, give us the thumbs up, give us the thumbs up.”

But instead of giving a thumbs-up sign, Giffords reached out to try to embrace her husband:

“And then she reaches out and starts grabbing Mark and is touching him and starts to nearly choke him — she was clearly trying to hug him. … And we were just in tears of joy watching this and beyond ourselves, honestly. And then Mark said, you know, touch my ring, touch my ring. And she touches his ring and then she grabs his whole watch and wrist. And then the doctor was just so excited. He said, you don’t understand, this is amazing, what’s she’s doing right now, and beyond our greatest hopes.”

Imagine what a tremendous physical exertion it must have been for Giffords to simply raise an arm to touch her husband. She could have remained still, kept her eyes shut, saved the effort. But even this basic act of connecting was worth the struggle.

There has been a lot of talk in recent days about the mindset of the man who put a bullet through Giffords’s head. His friends called him a nihilist who would often ramble about the pointlessness of the world. It’s stories like this one that remind us how false that philosophy is, how even the smallest acts can be full of meaning.

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From the Dept of Don’t Do Us Any Favors: Foreign Press Association Threatens to Boycott Israeli Officials

A few years ago, there was a movement afoot calling on American Muslims to boycott US Airways. Six imams — among them Truthers and Hamas supporters — had gone out of their way to act like terrorists and succeeded in getting themselves removed from a Phoenix-bound flight. They subsequently threatened the airline with what they took to be a public-relations nightmare, where the company would have to explain that radical Muslims were avoiding US Air flights because of overly stringent security measures. Typical reaction: best boycott evuh.

This might be better:

The Foreign Press Association in Israel has threatened a boycott after a reporter said she was asked to remove her bra during a security check. Al-Jazeera filed a complaint about what it called a humiliating check at an invitation-only event in Jerusalem, prompting the press association to threaten to ignore briefings by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu if security procedures aren’t changed immediately. … “In a democratic country, security services are not permitted to do as they please,” the association said in a statement. (emphasis added)

Putting aside the irony of supporting Muslim Brotherhood propagandists while lecturing Israel on democratic norms — come on now.

Al Jazeera already publishes briefings by Israeli officials only when it suits their ideology. During Cast Lead, their local reporters tried to publish a statement by Ehud Barak and were overruled by officials in Qatar. That was the last war, when they simply spiked inconvenient facts. During the war before that, Al Jazeera crews actively helped Hezbollah target Israeli civilians. So let’s tone down the outrage about how security services should be interacting with that outlet’s reporters.

As for the broader boycott by the Foreign Press Association, what are they going to do? Stop printing Israeli denials alongside feverish Palestinian claims? Is the threat that they’ll go from “Palestinian officials accused the IDF of using white phosphorous to give women nightmares and make sheep sterile, but Israel officials denied the charges” to “Palestinian officials accused the IDF of using white phosphorous to give women nightmares and make sheep sterile full stop“?

What a biased, one-sided journalistic world that would be.

A few years ago, there was a movement afoot calling on American Muslims to boycott US Airways. Six imams — among them Truthers and Hamas supporters — had gone out of their way to act like terrorists and succeeded in getting themselves removed from a Phoenix-bound flight. They subsequently threatened the airline with what they took to be a public-relations nightmare, where the company would have to explain that radical Muslims were avoiding US Air flights because of overly stringent security measures. Typical reaction: best boycott evuh.

This might be better:

The Foreign Press Association in Israel has threatened a boycott after a reporter said she was asked to remove her bra during a security check. Al-Jazeera filed a complaint about what it called a humiliating check at an invitation-only event in Jerusalem, prompting the press association to threaten to ignore briefings by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu if security procedures aren’t changed immediately. … “In a democratic country, security services are not permitted to do as they please,” the association said in a statement. (emphasis added)

Putting aside the irony of supporting Muslim Brotherhood propagandists while lecturing Israel on democratic norms — come on now.

Al Jazeera already publishes briefings by Israeli officials only when it suits their ideology. During Cast Lead, their local reporters tried to publish a statement by Ehud Barak and were overruled by officials in Qatar. That was the last war, when they simply spiked inconvenient facts. During the war before that, Al Jazeera crews actively helped Hezbollah target Israeli civilians. So let’s tone down the outrage about how security services should be interacting with that outlet’s reporters.

As for the broader boycott by the Foreign Press Association, what are they going to do? Stop printing Israeli denials alongside feverish Palestinian claims? Is the threat that they’ll go from “Palestinian officials accused the IDF of using white phosphorous to give women nightmares and make sheep sterile, but Israel officials denied the charges” to “Palestinian officials accused the IDF of using white phosphorous to give women nightmares and make sheep sterile full stop“?

What a biased, one-sided journalistic world that would be.

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No Fifth Star for Petraeus … Yet

I am a fan and admirer of Pete Hegseth and Wade Zirkle, two distinguished combat veterans who have been the driving forces behind Vets for Freedom, an important organization (on whose advisory board I once served) that has done much to buttress home-front support for the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am all the more impressed by Hegseth for his willingness to volunteer to go to Afghanistan this year as a reservist, with no obligation to do so. Needless to say, I am also a great admirer of David Petraeus — our most successful general since Matthew Ridgway. But I cannot see the imperative of giving Petraeus a fifth star as suggested by Hegseth and Zirkle in this Wall Street Journal op-ed.

As I understand it, Eisenhower, Marshall, MacArthur, and the other great World War II commanders got five stars so they would not be outranked by British field marshals. (As I recall, FDR considered creating an American rank of “field marshal” but decided to call it “general of the army” because “Marshal Marshall” would have sounded silly.) That’s not a concern today, so it’s hard to see any practical reason to elevate Petraeus and easy to see many difficulties that would arise if the U.S. commander in Afghanistan were to outrank the Central Command commander, his nominal boss, and even the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Petraeus is already primus inter pares by virtue of his success in Iraq. Formally giving him another star would only make his life more difficult when he has to deal with his four-star counterparts.

However, I do think that when Petraeus is ready for retirement — something that I hope will not happen anytime soon — Congress should consider granting him another star if by that point he has turned around the war in Afghanistan as he did in Iraq. Heck, I’d even be in favor of reviving the old British custom of giving vast estates and pots of money to winning generals, though these days the Washington Speakers Bureau achieves the same result without government subsidy. So I do not absolutely oppose the Hegseth/Zirkle proposal; I just think it is premature.

I am a fan and admirer of Pete Hegseth and Wade Zirkle, two distinguished combat veterans who have been the driving forces behind Vets for Freedom, an important organization (on whose advisory board I once served) that has done much to buttress home-front support for the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am all the more impressed by Hegseth for his willingness to volunteer to go to Afghanistan this year as a reservist, with no obligation to do so. Needless to say, I am also a great admirer of David Petraeus — our most successful general since Matthew Ridgway. But I cannot see the imperative of giving Petraeus a fifth star as suggested by Hegseth and Zirkle in this Wall Street Journal op-ed.

As I understand it, Eisenhower, Marshall, MacArthur, and the other great World War II commanders got five stars so they would not be outranked by British field marshals. (As I recall, FDR considered creating an American rank of “field marshal” but decided to call it “general of the army” because “Marshal Marshall” would have sounded silly.) That’s not a concern today, so it’s hard to see any practical reason to elevate Petraeus and easy to see many difficulties that would arise if the U.S. commander in Afghanistan were to outrank the Central Command commander, his nominal boss, and even the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Petraeus is already primus inter pares by virtue of his success in Iraq. Formally giving him another star would only make his life more difficult when he has to deal with his four-star counterparts.

However, I do think that when Petraeus is ready for retirement — something that I hope will not happen anytime soon — Congress should consider granting him another star if by that point he has turned around the war in Afghanistan as he did in Iraq. Heck, I’d even be in favor of reviving the old British custom of giving vast estates and pots of money to winning generals, though these days the Washington Speakers Bureau achieves the same result without government subsidy. So I do not absolutely oppose the Hegseth/Zirkle proposal; I just think it is premature.

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Some Thoughts on Israel’s Problematic New NGO Law

When a group like NGO Monitor — which has spent years fighting for more transparency and less bias from human rights groups — comes out against a law that will supposedly make NGOs more transparent, you know there’s a problem.

I spoke with NGO Monitor’s director, Gerald Steinberg, this morning, who elaborated more on his Jerusalem Post column from last week. The column — worth reading in full here — outlined his concerns about the Knesset’s recent creation of a committee that will investigate the funding of NGOs involved in the anti-Israel delegitimization movement.

One of Steinberg’s main issues with the law is that it politicized the very important matter of foreign NGO funding.

“What happened in the Knesset was that one party [Israel Beiteinu] chose to make this part of their partisan political agenda,” said Steinberg. “And instead of building the coalition for dealing with this issue, they basically alienated potential partners by attacking them.”

Steinberg is also concerned that the proponents of the bill used inaccurate information in an effort to push the law through. One of the bill’s supporters at the Knesset “talked about Arab government and terrorist-funded organizations. And [Avigdor] Lieberman talked about the claim that these organizations were active in supporting terror, and that claim has not been substantiated,” said Steinberg.

While it’s certainly possible that some of these groups are funded by Arab governments or terror groups, NGO Monitor hasn’t yet found evidence of this. But the group has found substantial evidence of European governments funding anti-Israel NGOs.

“If this ends up letting the European governments off the hook, then it will have been counterproductive,” said Steinberg. “What I’m concerned about is, through the focus on the investigation and the claims of McCarthyism, that these organizations that don’t want to have the transparency extended to their European funding will succeed in diverting the focus.”

And besides that, there is some reason to believe that the committee won’t even have the subpoena powers necessary to carry on any practical type of investigation. “I don’t think that a Knesset committee or investigation is the best vehicle to deal with this issue either,” said Steinberg, who believes the issue might be best left to government offices that can produce reports on NGO funding.

Steinberg is also concerned that the NGO law will make it more difficult to get more practical legislation through the Knesset. “There are a couple of other legislative processes going on in the Knesset. And the law that would require full transparency, like the FARA law — that’s a bipartisan bill that has been working its way through the Knesset,” he said. “And in many ways, this new initiative by [Danny] Ayalon potentially undermines the very narrow FARA-type legislation that does have much broader support.”

The NGO law has been extremely controversial since it passed, with critics alleging that it targets groups based on political ideology. But based on NGO Monitor’s assessment, there are even more serious reasons to oppose the plan. It would create a powerless investigative body that serves only to undermine support for useful legislation, make martyrs out of anti-Israel NGOs, and obscure the troubling reality of Europe’s financial contributions to the Israel delegitimization movement. For anyone who cares about NGO accountability, this is a lose-lose situation.

When a group like NGO Monitor — which has spent years fighting for more transparency and less bias from human rights groups — comes out against a law that will supposedly make NGOs more transparent, you know there’s a problem.

I spoke with NGO Monitor’s director, Gerald Steinberg, this morning, who elaborated more on his Jerusalem Post column from last week. The column — worth reading in full here — outlined his concerns about the Knesset’s recent creation of a committee that will investigate the funding of NGOs involved in the anti-Israel delegitimization movement.

One of Steinberg’s main issues with the law is that it politicized the very important matter of foreign NGO funding.

“What happened in the Knesset was that one party [Israel Beiteinu] chose to make this part of their partisan political agenda,” said Steinberg. “And instead of building the coalition for dealing with this issue, they basically alienated potential partners by attacking them.”

Steinberg is also concerned that the proponents of the bill used inaccurate information in an effort to push the law through. One of the bill’s supporters at the Knesset “talked about Arab government and terrorist-funded organizations. And [Avigdor] Lieberman talked about the claim that these organizations were active in supporting terror, and that claim has not been substantiated,” said Steinberg.

While it’s certainly possible that some of these groups are funded by Arab governments or terror groups, NGO Monitor hasn’t yet found evidence of this. But the group has found substantial evidence of European governments funding anti-Israel NGOs.

“If this ends up letting the European governments off the hook, then it will have been counterproductive,” said Steinberg. “What I’m concerned about is, through the focus on the investigation and the claims of McCarthyism, that these organizations that don’t want to have the transparency extended to their European funding will succeed in diverting the focus.”

And besides that, there is some reason to believe that the committee won’t even have the subpoena powers necessary to carry on any practical type of investigation. “I don’t think that a Knesset committee or investigation is the best vehicle to deal with this issue either,” said Steinberg, who believes the issue might be best left to government offices that can produce reports on NGO funding.

Steinberg is also concerned that the NGO law will make it more difficult to get more practical legislation through the Knesset. “There are a couple of other legislative processes going on in the Knesset. And the law that would require full transparency, like the FARA law — that’s a bipartisan bill that has been working its way through the Knesset,” he said. “And in many ways, this new initiative by [Danny] Ayalon potentially undermines the very narrow FARA-type legislation that does have much broader support.”

The NGO law has been extremely controversial since it passed, with critics alleging that it targets groups based on political ideology. But based on NGO Monitor’s assessment, there are even more serious reasons to oppose the plan. It would create a powerless investigative body that serves only to undermine support for useful legislation, make martyrs out of anti-Israel NGOs, and obscure the troubling reality of Europe’s financial contributions to the Israel delegitimization movement. For anyone who cares about NGO accountability, this is a lose-lose situation.

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Lebanese Must Do More to Help Themselves

So Hezbollah fears the United Nations tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. That is the obvious implication of its decision to withdraw its ministers from the Lebanese government in protest of what are said to be upcoming indictments that could link the Party of God to the murder of the most acclaimed  and successful political leader in Lebanon’s recent history. All the more reason for the U.S. and our allies to support the tribunal and the embattled prime minister of Lebanon, Rafki’s son, Saad Hariri, in their commitment to see justice done.

Not that Hariri has much of a choice. As my colleague Elliott Abrams notes on his terrific new blog: “If Hariri complies with Hizballah’s demands, he is in my view finished as a national and as a Sunni leader, having compromised his own, his family’s, and his country’s honor.” Actually, it’s not even clear that he could comply with Hezbollah’s demands, since he does not control the UN tribunal.

In any case, Lebanon is now in the midst of its umpteenth political crisis, and we have little choice but to hang tough even if there is little we can do to affect the outcome. Hezbollah is well-armed by Syria and Iran. It is undoubtedly the strongest military force in the entire country — stronger than the Lebanese armed forces. It could perhaps be defeated by a Sunni-Druze-Christian coalition with American-French-Israeli support, but the result would be to propel the country back into the throes of civil war — something no one wants.

But the desire to avert civil war can also work against Hezbollah because it constrains its ability to use force against its internal opponents. Its supporters were willing to go on a rampage in Beirut in 2008, but it is not clear how much further they will decide to go. Moreover, Hezbollah obviously feels vulnerable if it is so concerned about the rumored indictments from the UN. That can give leverage to the many Lebanese who do not want to be dominated indefinitely by this Iranian-backed terrorist organization. But to effectively resist Hezbollah will first of all require a united front from the opposition, something that has been hard to come by in Lebanon’s fractious politics, where Hezbollah has even succeeded in forging an unlikely alliance with the Christian general Michel Aoun. It is hard for outsiders to help the Lebanese unless they do more to help themselves.

So Hezbollah fears the United Nations tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. That is the obvious implication of its decision to withdraw its ministers from the Lebanese government in protest of what are said to be upcoming indictments that could link the Party of God to the murder of the most acclaimed  and successful political leader in Lebanon’s recent history. All the more reason for the U.S. and our allies to support the tribunal and the embattled prime minister of Lebanon, Rafki’s son, Saad Hariri, in their commitment to see justice done.

Not that Hariri has much of a choice. As my colleague Elliott Abrams notes on his terrific new blog: “If Hariri complies with Hizballah’s demands, he is in my view finished as a national and as a Sunni leader, having compromised his own, his family’s, and his country’s honor.” Actually, it’s not even clear that he could comply with Hezbollah’s demands, since he does not control the UN tribunal.

In any case, Lebanon is now in the midst of its umpteenth political crisis, and we have little choice but to hang tough even if there is little we can do to affect the outcome. Hezbollah is well-armed by Syria and Iran. It is undoubtedly the strongest military force in the entire country — stronger than the Lebanese armed forces. It could perhaps be defeated by a Sunni-Druze-Christian coalition with American-French-Israeli support, but the result would be to propel the country back into the throes of civil war — something no one wants.

But the desire to avert civil war can also work against Hezbollah because it constrains its ability to use force against its internal opponents. Its supporters were willing to go on a rampage in Beirut in 2008, but it is not clear how much further they will decide to go. Moreover, Hezbollah obviously feels vulnerable if it is so concerned about the rumored indictments from the UN. That can give leverage to the many Lebanese who do not want to be dominated indefinitely by this Iranian-backed terrorist organization. But to effectively resist Hezbollah will first of all require a united front from the opposition, something that has been hard to come by in Lebanon’s fractious politics, where Hezbollah has even succeeded in forging an unlikely alliance with the Christian general Michel Aoun. It is hard for outsiders to help the Lebanese unless they do more to help themselves.

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One Way to Leave Afghanistan Faster Is to Promise to Stay Forever

I don’t get to say this very often so I am happy to offer kudos to Joe Biden on what seems to have been a successful visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He delivered a clear message that the U.S. has a long-term commitment to the region that will extend beyond 2014, thus helping to undo some of the damage from his own gaffe when he claimed that we would be out of Afghanistan at that time “come hell or high water.”

Now he and his boss, the president, need to take the next step: they should negotiate a long-term agreement with President Karzai to cement a permanent American-Afghan alliance. That would help to further assure Karzai and other Afghan leaders that we will not abandon them, thus increasing their incentive to take the sort of hard steps we are asking for in the fight against corruption and other ills that plague Afghanistan.

Interestingly, while Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq is deeply reluctant to enter into any kind of long-term agreement with the U.S. that would keep U.S. troops on his soil indefinitely, President Karzai is said to be much more open to such an arrangement. He knows, after all, that he doesn’t have oil riches to support his country; Afghanistan will be much more dependent on the U.S. than Iraq will be. Senator Lindsey Graham has suggested that the U.S. establish permanent air bases in Afghanistan. The administration should follow up on his suggestion and open negotiations with Karzai. If it does, it may well be discovered that nothing will speed the end of America’s combat mission in Afghanistan faster than expressing our willingness to say forever. That may sound paradoxical, but the more commitment we signal to enemies and waverers alike, the easier our troops will find it to drive out the Taliban.

I don’t get to say this very often so I am happy to offer kudos to Joe Biden on what seems to have been a successful visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He delivered a clear message that the U.S. has a long-term commitment to the region that will extend beyond 2014, thus helping to undo some of the damage from his own gaffe when he claimed that we would be out of Afghanistan at that time “come hell or high water.”

Now he and his boss, the president, need to take the next step: they should negotiate a long-term agreement with President Karzai to cement a permanent American-Afghan alliance. That would help to further assure Karzai and other Afghan leaders that we will not abandon them, thus increasing their incentive to take the sort of hard steps we are asking for in the fight against corruption and other ills that plague Afghanistan.

Interestingly, while Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq is deeply reluctant to enter into any kind of long-term agreement with the U.S. that would keep U.S. troops on his soil indefinitely, President Karzai is said to be much more open to such an arrangement. He knows, after all, that he doesn’t have oil riches to support his country; Afghanistan will be much more dependent on the U.S. than Iraq will be. Senator Lindsey Graham has suggested that the U.S. establish permanent air bases in Afghanistan. The administration should follow up on his suggestion and open negotiations with Karzai. If it does, it may well be discovered that nothing will speed the end of America’s combat mission in Afghanistan faster than expressing our willingness to say forever. That may sound paradoxical, but the more commitment we signal to enemies and waverers alike, the easier our troops will find it to drive out the Taliban.

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What Loughner’s Mental State Will Mean for His Trial

As more information trickles out to the media about the private life of Jared Loughner, it’s become apparent how severely unhinged and divorced from reality he was. Charles Krauthammer, a certified psychiatrist, noted yesterday that Loughner fits the textbook description of a paranoid schizophrenic, and he wasn’t the first commentator to reach that conclusion.

But what exactly will Loughner’s mental state mean for his trial? And how much of a chance is there that he’ll get a reduced sentence or not-guilty verdict by reason of insanity?

After John Hinkley was acquitted of shooting President Reagan by reason of insanity, it’s become much more difficult to mount that type of defense. At the Daily Caller, Alexis Levinson sheds some light on the three-step process:

First, “you have to have a mental disease or defect—you have to qualify,” [attorney Robert Delahunt Jr.] explained. This is not as simple as it seems, he said, because someone “can be mentally ill and it’s not a disease or defect as diagnosed by experts.” Or, there could be disagreement between experts. There “can be something wrong with this guy, can have an anxiety disorder, one expert will say it is a mental defect, one expert will say it isn’t.” …

If a defendant can get past this first hurdle, the second thing is to prove that the mental defect was relevant to the action — that “it was a big deal in his decision-making; it was a significant influence; it was the predominant impulse governing his behavior, shaping his decisions,” Delahunt said, as opposed being just a “distraction.” …

[Third], it is important to note that the defense need only prove that the defendant was either unable to “conform” to societal standards, or that he or she was unable to “appreciate the wrongfulness of his or her actions.” One or the other is sufficient to raise the issue of insanity.

Attorneys Levinson spoke to noted that it’s extremely difficult to prove that a client meets all three requirements. These types of pleas are also problematic because they can imply an admission of guilt.

Of course, admitting guilt may not be a huge risk for Loughner’s defense team. Attorneys who spoke to the Washington Post said that his culpability is probably not going to be much of a question during the trial:

“Guilt is not the issue here. Everyone saw him do it; he was stopped there. There’s just no question,” said Jonathan Shapiro, a Fairfax County death penalty expert who defended Washington area sniper John Allen Muhammad. “The issue is his mental state, and the sole goal is to avoid the death penalty.”

And since the facts of the case aren’t widely disputed, it’s much more likely that Loughner’s defense team will use his mental illness in order to get a reduced sentence. Loughner’s attorney, Judy Clarke — who opposes capital punishment — is known for helping her mass-murdering clients avoid the death penalty. According to the Post, Clarke will be sure to dig into the obscure details of her client’s life in an attempt to prove he was suffering from an extensive mental illness when he opened fire on the crowded political event. So get used to hearing about Loughner’s bizarre behavior once the trial gets underway.

As more information trickles out to the media about the private life of Jared Loughner, it’s become apparent how severely unhinged and divorced from reality he was. Charles Krauthammer, a certified psychiatrist, noted yesterday that Loughner fits the textbook description of a paranoid schizophrenic, and he wasn’t the first commentator to reach that conclusion.

But what exactly will Loughner’s mental state mean for his trial? And how much of a chance is there that he’ll get a reduced sentence or not-guilty verdict by reason of insanity?

After John Hinkley was acquitted of shooting President Reagan by reason of insanity, it’s become much more difficult to mount that type of defense. At the Daily Caller, Alexis Levinson sheds some light on the three-step process:

First, “you have to have a mental disease or defect—you have to qualify,” [attorney Robert Delahunt Jr.] explained. This is not as simple as it seems, he said, because someone “can be mentally ill and it’s not a disease or defect as diagnosed by experts.” Or, there could be disagreement between experts. There “can be something wrong with this guy, can have an anxiety disorder, one expert will say it is a mental defect, one expert will say it isn’t.” …

If a defendant can get past this first hurdle, the second thing is to prove that the mental defect was relevant to the action — that “it was a big deal in his decision-making; it was a significant influence; it was the predominant impulse governing his behavior, shaping his decisions,” Delahunt said, as opposed being just a “distraction.” …

[Third], it is important to note that the defense need only prove that the defendant was either unable to “conform” to societal standards, or that he or she was unable to “appreciate the wrongfulness of his or her actions.” One or the other is sufficient to raise the issue of insanity.

Attorneys Levinson spoke to noted that it’s extremely difficult to prove that a client meets all three requirements. These types of pleas are also problematic because they can imply an admission of guilt.

Of course, admitting guilt may not be a huge risk for Loughner’s defense team. Attorneys who spoke to the Washington Post said that his culpability is probably not going to be much of a question during the trial:

“Guilt is not the issue here. Everyone saw him do it; he was stopped there. There’s just no question,” said Jonathan Shapiro, a Fairfax County death penalty expert who defended Washington area sniper John Allen Muhammad. “The issue is his mental state, and the sole goal is to avoid the death penalty.”

And since the facts of the case aren’t widely disputed, it’s much more likely that Loughner’s defense team will use his mental illness in order to get a reduced sentence. Loughner’s attorney, Judy Clarke — who opposes capital punishment — is known for helping her mass-murdering clients avoid the death penalty. According to the Post, Clarke will be sure to dig into the obscure details of her client’s life in an attempt to prove he was suffering from an extensive mental illness when he opened fire on the crowded political event. So get used to hearing about Loughner’s bizarre behavior once the trial gets underway.

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Saber-Rattling: The New Normal

Americans will have to get used to something in the coming years: we are not necessarily the main audience for foreign saber-rattling. When China unveiled its new “stealth” fighter last week, American defense experts were quick to point out that because its design is clunky and primitive, the U.S. need not be overly concerned about this minor triumph. But we would be wrong to imagine the Chinese don’t know that. From their perspective, demonstrating that they have already built a stealth aircraft is more important than impressing American analysts with its characteristics.

The reason for that is simple: an arms-and-power race has been emerging in the Eastern hemisphere — and it’s centered on Asia. The U.S. has had stealth aircraft for years. But Russia announced the prototype test of its first stealth fighter in January 2010, and Japan is pursuing an indigenously designed stealth fighter as well. The Japanese effort has accelerated with the U.S. rejection of Tokyo’s offer to buy the F-22 Raptor. (Secretary Gates reiterated his stance on that in Japan on Wednesday.) India, meanwhile, took delivery this week of its first homegrown fighter jet, billed as the world’s lightest supersonic jet.

There are too many such developments to mention in a brief post for general readers; the fielding of new fighter jets is merely one category. Beyond arms buildups, another category is defense agreements with political, balance-of-power implications, such as the pact now in prospect between South Korea and Japan, or Russia’s cooperation agreements with Vietnam. In a separate category are the territorial disputes heating up between Russia, China, and Japan. Additional factors include the predatory competition between Russia and China for fossil-fuel resources, as well as their competition for clients in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

The timing of the Chinese fighter’s first test flight, which coincided with Bob Gates’s visit, was obviously intentional. China wants to reach a U.S. audience with these signals — but not solely a U.S. audience. The theme that Chinese negotiation is backed by thoroughly modern force is intended as much for Asian consumption as for American. And regardless of the intended audience, there is no better “straight man” for that theme than the U.S. secretary of defense.

Falling behind the neighbors has historically had dreadful consequences for Asian nations; since 1945, even our enemies in the region have relied on America’s power and network of alliances to preserve stability. But the principles we have traditionally acted on in defense of that stability are increasingly in question. The Asian nations are already shifting from a posture of maneuvering around the U.S. to one of maneuvering around each other. Not everything is “about” us; American thinking needs to adjust to that emerging reality. But everything will affect us. If we are unwilling to maintain the order we have built over the past 70-odd years, we will have to learn again the ways of a world that operates without effective American leadership.

Americans will have to get used to something in the coming years: we are not necessarily the main audience for foreign saber-rattling. When China unveiled its new “stealth” fighter last week, American defense experts were quick to point out that because its design is clunky and primitive, the U.S. need not be overly concerned about this minor triumph. But we would be wrong to imagine the Chinese don’t know that. From their perspective, demonstrating that they have already built a stealth aircraft is more important than impressing American analysts with its characteristics.

The reason for that is simple: an arms-and-power race has been emerging in the Eastern hemisphere — and it’s centered on Asia. The U.S. has had stealth aircraft for years. But Russia announced the prototype test of its first stealth fighter in January 2010, and Japan is pursuing an indigenously designed stealth fighter as well. The Japanese effort has accelerated with the U.S. rejection of Tokyo’s offer to buy the F-22 Raptor. (Secretary Gates reiterated his stance on that in Japan on Wednesday.) India, meanwhile, took delivery this week of its first homegrown fighter jet, billed as the world’s lightest supersonic jet.

There are too many such developments to mention in a brief post for general readers; the fielding of new fighter jets is merely one category. Beyond arms buildups, another category is defense agreements with political, balance-of-power implications, such as the pact now in prospect between South Korea and Japan, or Russia’s cooperation agreements with Vietnam. In a separate category are the territorial disputes heating up between Russia, China, and Japan. Additional factors include the predatory competition between Russia and China for fossil-fuel resources, as well as their competition for clients in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

The timing of the Chinese fighter’s first test flight, which coincided with Bob Gates’s visit, was obviously intentional. China wants to reach a U.S. audience with these signals — but not solely a U.S. audience. The theme that Chinese negotiation is backed by thoroughly modern force is intended as much for Asian consumption as for American. And regardless of the intended audience, there is no better “straight man” for that theme than the U.S. secretary of defense.

Falling behind the neighbors has historically had dreadful consequences for Asian nations; since 1945, even our enemies in the region have relied on America’s power and network of alliances to preserve stability. But the principles we have traditionally acted on in defense of that stability are increasingly in question. The Asian nations are already shifting from a posture of maneuvering around the U.S. to one of maneuvering around each other. Not everything is “about” us; American thinking needs to adjust to that emerging reality. But everything will affect us. If we are unwilling to maintain the order we have built over the past 70-odd years, we will have to learn again the ways of a world that operates without effective American leadership.

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President of All the People

President Obama’s speech at the Tucson Memorial Service last night was among his best as president. It was right for the moment, focusing as it did — focusing as it should — on the lives of those who were killed and the acts of heroism we witnessed.

The president resisted the temptation to offer simplistic explanations for the existence of evil or how to ameliorate grief. He used language that was at times elegant and evocative, including lines like these: “Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.” His use of Scripture was appropriate and effective. And the president used the occasion to essentially close an ugly and unfortunate chapter of this debate.

Last night in Tucson, Barack Obama resurrected the best qualities from his 2008 campaign. On a difficult occasion, he showed grace and reminded us of the power of words to unify and uplift. More than at any other point in his presidency, Mr. Obama was president of all the people and spoke beautifully for them.

President Obama’s speech at the Tucson Memorial Service last night was among his best as president. It was right for the moment, focusing as it did — focusing as it should — on the lives of those who were killed and the acts of heroism we witnessed.

The president resisted the temptation to offer simplistic explanations for the existence of evil or how to ameliorate grief. He used language that was at times elegant and evocative, including lines like these: “Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.” His use of Scripture was appropriate and effective. And the president used the occasion to essentially close an ugly and unfortunate chapter of this debate.

Last night in Tucson, Barack Obama resurrected the best qualities from his 2008 campaign. On a difficult occasion, he showed grace and reminded us of the power of words to unify and uplift. More than at any other point in his presidency, Mr. Obama was president of all the people and spoke beautifully for them.

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Morning Commentary

The U.S. Department of State may drop Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism as a bargaining chip to push the Sudanese government to recognize the south’s independence: “’Should the referendum be carried out successfully and the results are recognized by the government, President Obama would indicate his intention to begin the process of removing them,’ Princeton Lyman, the lead US negotiator with Sudan, told AFP.”

Time magazine reports that Hilary Clinton had to persuade Gulf Arab leaders not to ease Iranian sanctions on Sunday, after Israel’s outgoing Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, predicted that Iran wouldn’t acquire a nuclear weapon until 2015.

Reason’s Mike Moynihan describes the origins of the term “eliminationism,” which appears to be the left’s new catchphrase after the Arizona shooting: “For a media so obsessed with the pernicious effects of radical political speech, it’s odd that no one has asked the anti-‘eliminationist’ pundits to define their terms. As I pointed out on this website last year, the word ‘eliminationism’ is a recent coinage, a word employed by writer Daniel Jonah Goldhagen to describe the particularly virulent strain of anti-Semitism that gripped Germany in the years leading up to the Holocaust.”

Newsweek wonders whether Arizona shooter Jared Loughner could have been involuntarily committed to a mental-health facility before he went on his murderous rampage last weekend. And interestingly, Arizona is apparently one of the states where it’s easiest to force someone into psychological counseling without his consent.

American Jewish groups have outlined their new legislative goals for the Republican-led Congress. One of their main focuses is on funding for Israel, which may be moved out of foreign spending in order to protect it from budget cuts: “Some leading Republicans, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the new chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, say Congress could separate funding for Israel from overall foreign spending, allowing conservatives to maintain current levels for Israel while slashing foreign spending for countries they don’t see as friendly or programs they oppose.”

Don’t tell Iran, but the Elder of Zion blog appears to have obtained some sort of booklet exposing the identities of key Mossad agents.

The U.S. Department of State may drop Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism as a bargaining chip to push the Sudanese government to recognize the south’s independence: “’Should the referendum be carried out successfully and the results are recognized by the government, President Obama would indicate his intention to begin the process of removing them,’ Princeton Lyman, the lead US negotiator with Sudan, told AFP.”

Time magazine reports that Hilary Clinton had to persuade Gulf Arab leaders not to ease Iranian sanctions on Sunday, after Israel’s outgoing Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, predicted that Iran wouldn’t acquire a nuclear weapon until 2015.

Reason’s Mike Moynihan describes the origins of the term “eliminationism,” which appears to be the left’s new catchphrase after the Arizona shooting: “For a media so obsessed with the pernicious effects of radical political speech, it’s odd that no one has asked the anti-‘eliminationist’ pundits to define their terms. As I pointed out on this website last year, the word ‘eliminationism’ is a recent coinage, a word employed by writer Daniel Jonah Goldhagen to describe the particularly virulent strain of anti-Semitism that gripped Germany in the years leading up to the Holocaust.”

Newsweek wonders whether Arizona shooter Jared Loughner could have been involuntarily committed to a mental-health facility before he went on his murderous rampage last weekend. And interestingly, Arizona is apparently one of the states where it’s easiest to force someone into psychological counseling without his consent.

American Jewish groups have outlined their new legislative goals for the Republican-led Congress. One of their main focuses is on funding for Israel, which may be moved out of foreign spending in order to protect it from budget cuts: “Some leading Republicans, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the new chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, say Congress could separate funding for Israel from overall foreign spending, allowing conservatives to maintain current levels for Israel while slashing foreign spending for countries they don’t see as friendly or programs they oppose.”

Don’t tell Iran, but the Elder of Zion blog appears to have obtained some sort of booklet exposing the identities of key Mossad agents.

Read Less

The President, the Speech, and the Crowd

The president was pitch-perfect, but the raucous and inappropriate setting and surroundings brought the evening down:

Never before in the annals of national moments of mourning have the words spoken been so wildly mismatched by the spirit in which they were received. The sentences and paragraphs of President Obama’s speech last night were beautiful and moving and powerful. But for the most part they didn’t quite transcend the wildly inappropriate setting in which he delivered them.

You can read the rest of my take here in the New York Post.

The president was pitch-perfect, but the raucous and inappropriate setting and surroundings brought the evening down:

Never before in the annals of national moments of mourning have the words spoken been so wildly mismatched by the spirit in which they were received. The sentences and paragraphs of President Obama’s speech last night were beautiful and moving and powerful. But for the most part they didn’t quite transcend the wildly inappropriate setting in which he delivered them.

You can read the rest of my take here in the New York Post.

Read Less




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