Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 14, 2011

Eisenhower, Washington, Lincoln, and Prudence

As commentators are beginning to note, Monday marks the 50th anniversary of Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, and the following Thursday marks the same anniversary for Kennedy’s inaugural, two classics of American rhetoric that could hardly be further apart and still remain in the same genre. It is a long way from Ike’s measured and noble praise of balance to Kennedy’s inspiring but unrestrained call to “pay any price.” It’s usual to say that the 1960s didn’t really began until Kennedy was assassinated, if not later, but the transition from Eisenhower’s restraint to Kennedy’s rhetorical lack of it may mark the transition more effectively than the murder in Dallas.

So far, my favorite pieces on the Eisenhower anniversary are by my friend and former colleague Will Inboden at Shadow Government and by my current colleague Jim Carafano in the Washington Examiner. I’ve got a piece myself coming out at Heritage’s Foundry on the actual anniversary that explores the rhetorical and substantial similarities between Eisenhower’s Farewell Address and its famous predecessor by George Washington. In writing that piece, I was struck by just how rarely it is that the U.S. elects a president who finds inspiration in prudence. Like Will, I’m not persuaded by Peter Feaver’s argument that Obama is meaningfully similar to Eisenhower: the attitudes of the two presidents toward federal spending, to take just one obvious and vitally important example, could hardly be more different. Read More

As commentators are beginning to note, Monday marks the 50th anniversary of Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, and the following Thursday marks the same anniversary for Kennedy’s inaugural, two classics of American rhetoric that could hardly be further apart and still remain in the same genre. It is a long way from Ike’s measured and noble praise of balance to Kennedy’s inspiring but unrestrained call to “pay any price.” It’s usual to say that the 1960s didn’t really began until Kennedy was assassinated, if not later, but the transition from Eisenhower’s restraint to Kennedy’s rhetorical lack of it may mark the transition more effectively than the murder in Dallas.

So far, my favorite pieces on the Eisenhower anniversary are by my friend and former colleague Will Inboden at Shadow Government and by my current colleague Jim Carafano in the Washington Examiner. I’ve got a piece myself coming out at Heritage’s Foundry on the actual anniversary that explores the rhetorical and substantial similarities between Eisenhower’s Farewell Address and its famous predecessor by George Washington. In writing that piece, I was struck by just how rarely it is that the U.S. elects a president who finds inspiration in prudence. Like Will, I’m not persuaded by Peter Feaver’s argument that Obama is meaningfully similar to Eisenhower: the attitudes of the two presidents toward federal spending, to take just one obvious and vitally important example, could hardly be more different.

Of course, a president doesn’t have to be prudential to be great. Still, the overlap between greatness (or near-greatness, in Eisenhower’s case) and prudentialism is striking. The only other president who has, to my knowledge, been described at length as philosophically prudential is Lincoln, by William Lee Miller in his Lincoln’s Virtues: An Ethical Biography. Miller’s style takes being casual to a new and to me slightly irritating level, but it’s a fascinating read nonetheless. As Miller puts it: “The mature Abraham Lincoln would exhibit … a combination of the moral clarity and elevation of … the prophet, with the ‘prudence’ and ‘responsibility’ of a worthy politician. … Prudence as a virtue [does not] exclude, as pragmatism tends to do, general moral ideals and larger moral patterns beyond the immediate situation. … Prudence as a moral virtue made a bridge to intellectual virtue.”

But as Eisenhower might have noted, and as Miller does note, the entire tradition of prudence has been devalued, in favor of the more desiccated concept of pragmatism. As a more recent president put it, the question is simple: “What works?” And Eisenhower’s address helps explain why. As he noted, the threat to American liberties was posed not so much by big government as such but by top-down direction of all kinds. Much of this originated in the federal government, but not all of it: there was also a risk of becoming “the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” Such an elite, with its progressive pretensions to expertise and fixing things, is inherently hostile to concepts of prudence and balance, which imply that many problems can at best be managed, not solved.

Perhaps that is why Eisenhower’s Address is now, with the exception of the oft-misunderstood passage about the dangers of the military-industrial complex, much more cited than read: it is based on a philosophy that Eisenhower — like Washington — believed provided the safest foundation for American liberties but that is so profoundly out of tune with the age on which the U.S. embarked after he left office that we can no longer understand what he was saying. If that is so, I view our national need to recover that philosophy as a problem of the first magnitude.

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Human Accomplishment

Charles Murray wrote a book called Human Accomplishment. In the next edition, he might want to add a section on sports figures — and in particular a reference to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

As this story points out, Brady — whose completion percentage is 65.9 — threw 36 touchdown passes but only four interceptions, including none since October 17. That’s a staggering run of 335 passes without an interception. Brady’s interception rate is 0.8 percent, the second lowest since 1936. That is, as Miami Dolphins Coach Tony Sparano said, a little bit mind-blowing.

When Brady wraps up his career, he will not only be in the Hall of Fame; he will, with his contemporary Peyton Manning, be counted among the top five quarterbacks of all time.

Enjoy them while we have them.

Charles Murray wrote a book called Human Accomplishment. In the next edition, he might want to add a section on sports figures — and in particular a reference to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

As this story points out, Brady — whose completion percentage is 65.9 — threw 36 touchdown passes but only four interceptions, including none since October 17. That’s a staggering run of 335 passes without an interception. Brady’s interception rate is 0.8 percent, the second lowest since 1936. That is, as Miami Dolphins Coach Tony Sparano said, a little bit mind-blowing.

When Brady wraps up his career, he will not only be in the Hall of Fame; he will, with his contemporary Peyton Manning, be counted among the top five quarterbacks of all time.

Enjoy them while we have them.

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The Liberal Mind at Work (Warning: It Isn’t Pretty)

From Paul Krugman’s column in today’s Times:

One side of American politics considers the modern welfare state — a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society’s winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net — morally superior to the capitalism red in tooth and claw we had before the New Deal. It’s only right, this side believes, for the affluent to help the less fortunate.

The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That’s what lies behind the modern right’s fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.

In others words, you are either a liberal or you’re Ebenezer Scrooge. No middle ground: there are only good guys and bad guys, white hats and black hats. If you are opposed to liberal means to provide a social safety net, then you’re opposed to a social safety net, period. Let little old ladies eat cat food, let the uninsured die in the streets, because only New Deal–style programs can stop that from happening.

Is it within the imagination of a Nobel Prize winner in economics that there might be a better way to secure people in their old age than taxing them, investing the money in low-yield government bonds, and having Congress hand out election-year goodies that make the system unsustainable? Can he even conceive of a better way to insure people for medical care than to tax them and turn the funds over to a bureaucracy that has a 45-year track record of spectacular management incompetence that no for-profit company could possibly have survived and whose books are such a mess as to be unauditable? Can the power of self-interest (the engine behind capitalism’s success) never be utilized to help provide the social safety net that most people, left and right, think necessary and proper, at lower cost and with better results?

Apparently not. For the Paul Krugmans of the body politic, made blind by a religious adherence to a creed outworn, no idea that postdates FDR can be tolerated. No fresh thinking allowed, please, we’re liberals.

From Paul Krugman’s column in today’s Times:

One side of American politics considers the modern welfare state — a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society’s winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net — morally superior to the capitalism red in tooth and claw we had before the New Deal. It’s only right, this side believes, for the affluent to help the less fortunate.

The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That’s what lies behind the modern right’s fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.

In others words, you are either a liberal or you’re Ebenezer Scrooge. No middle ground: there are only good guys and bad guys, white hats and black hats. If you are opposed to liberal means to provide a social safety net, then you’re opposed to a social safety net, period. Let little old ladies eat cat food, let the uninsured die in the streets, because only New Deal–style programs can stop that from happening.

Is it within the imagination of a Nobel Prize winner in economics that there might be a better way to secure people in their old age than taxing them, investing the money in low-yield government bonds, and having Congress hand out election-year goodies that make the system unsustainable? Can he even conceive of a better way to insure people for medical care than to tax them and turn the funds over to a bureaucracy that has a 45-year track record of spectacular management incompetence that no for-profit company could possibly have survived and whose books are such a mess as to be unauditable? Can the power of self-interest (the engine behind capitalism’s success) never be utilized to help provide the social safety net that most people, left and right, think necessary and proper, at lower cost and with better results?

Apparently not. For the Paul Krugmans of the body politic, made blind by a religious adherence to a creed outworn, no idea that postdates FDR can be tolerated. No fresh thinking allowed, please, we’re liberals.

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Rauf Stepping Down from Ground-Zero Gig

Reuters reports that Imam Feisal Rauf will no longer be heading up the Ground-Zero mosque project:

“Imam Feisal and Daisy Khan will not be speaking on behalf of Park51, nor will they be raising funds for the project,” Park51 said in a statement. Rauf will remain on the center’s board of directors, it said.

Many of the project’s supporters had hitched themselves to Rauf as a passionate moderate who would ensure that the undertaking  would be a thoughtful monument to bridge-building. It’s pointless and irresponsible to speculate on why he’s stepping down, but it will certainly reignite debate. Especially when the project’s next No. 1 comes to the public eye.

Reuters reports that Imam Feisal Rauf will no longer be heading up the Ground-Zero mosque project:

“Imam Feisal and Daisy Khan will not be speaking on behalf of Park51, nor will they be raising funds for the project,” Park51 said in a statement. Rauf will remain on the center’s board of directors, it said.

Many of the project’s supporters had hitched themselves to Rauf as a passionate moderate who would ensure that the undertaking  would be a thoughtful monument to bridge-building. It’s pointless and irresponsible to speculate on why he’s stepping down, but it will certainly reignite debate. Especially when the project’s next No. 1 comes to the public eye.

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Getting a Grip on Obama’s Real Place in History

During the 2008 campaign, the historian Garry Wills compared Barack Obama’s Philadelphia speech on race with Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union address. Now he’s back at it, though he’s raising the bar a bit higher.

As both Alana and Rick have pointed out, according to Wills, President Obama’s Tucson speech “bears comparison with two Lincoln speeches even greater than the Copper Union address” — Gettysburg and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address.

Actually, it doesn’t.

I thought the president’s speech was a very good one. But the gushing Professor Wills really does need to get a grip on himself.

We also learn in his blog that (surprise) the New York Review wanted to publish a booklet printing the Lincoln and Obama speeches together, but the Obama campaign (wisely) discouraged that idea, perhaps to avoid any suspicion that they were calling Obama a second Lincoln. “Well,” Wills informs us, in the aftermath of the Tucson speech, “I am willing to risk such opposition now.”

It should be clear by now, even to Obama’s most passionate supporters, that he’s no Lincoln (he’s closer to being another Carter). Any effort to pretend that Obama belongs anywhere in same conversation with Lincoln is really quite silly. But such is the state of mind of the New York Review of Books and its writers these days. It’s not enough to be admiring of Obama; they have to be worshipful.

Like besotted adolescents, the left is rekindling its love affair with Barack Obama after only a single speech. Be warned: queasiness to follow.

During the 2008 campaign, the historian Garry Wills compared Barack Obama’s Philadelphia speech on race with Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union address. Now he’s back at it, though he’s raising the bar a bit higher.

As both Alana and Rick have pointed out, according to Wills, President Obama’s Tucson speech “bears comparison with two Lincoln speeches even greater than the Copper Union address” — Gettysburg and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address.

Actually, it doesn’t.

I thought the president’s speech was a very good one. But the gushing Professor Wills really does need to get a grip on himself.

We also learn in his blog that (surprise) the New York Review wanted to publish a booklet printing the Lincoln and Obama speeches together, but the Obama campaign (wisely) discouraged that idea, perhaps to avoid any suspicion that they were calling Obama a second Lincoln. “Well,” Wills informs us, in the aftermath of the Tucson speech, “I am willing to risk such opposition now.”

It should be clear by now, even to Obama’s most passionate supporters, that he’s no Lincoln (he’s closer to being another Carter). Any effort to pretend that Obama belongs anywhere in same conversation with Lincoln is really quite silly. But such is the state of mind of the New York Review of Books and its writers these days. It’s not enough to be admiring of Obama; they have to be worshipful.

Like besotted adolescents, the left is rekindling its love affair with Barack Obama after only a single speech. Be warned: queasiness to follow.

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USAID, Spanish Government Supporting Anti-Israel Tourism Group?

Some Israeli bloggers have discovered that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Spanish government may be involved with a Palestinian tourism website that seems to be disseminating some troubling anti-Israel propaganda. Here’s some of the background on the story from Challah Hu Akbar:

The other day we heard how Spain was sponsoring a PA TV ad that called for the boycott of all Israeli products.

Spain denied the accusations and began an investigation, saying they were the victims.

Now it seems as though Spain is funding the website Travel to Palestine. (h/t ElderofZiyon) This website is known for its ad in the UK which said that Palestine was the area from the Mediterranean to Jordan, thus eliminating Israel. Read this for more on what they view Palestine as. …

A map on the site does not show Israel.

The Travel to Palestine website, which appears to be the official site of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, can be found here. The ministry’s website claims that Palestine “lies between the Mediterranean Coast and the Jordan River, at the crossroads between Africa and the Middle East” (which, while technically true, is still a bit misleading).

Challah Hu Akbar also notes that a map on the site does not show Israel, just a blank space where Israel should be. In addition, the information section says that the capital of Palestine — which is obviously not yet a country — is Jerusalem.

But perhaps more troubling was some of the other tourism information put out by the ministry, which includes references to Israel’s alleged “apartheid” policies and “illegal occupation.” One pamphlet for tourists on the website claims that “Jerusalem — the heart of tourism in the region — has been illegally annexed to Israel, filled with illegal settlements, besieged, surrounded by checkpoints, and encircled by the Apartheid Wall, all of which has resulted in the city’s isolation from its social and geographical surroundings.”

Another part of the pamphlet alleges that Israel “wiped Palestine off the map”:

Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. These events have created catastrophic political, economic and social facts which have deeply affected the life of the Palestinian people, most of whom became refugees. In many ways Palestine itself was simply wiped off the map, historic Palestine coming to be known as Israel. In this context tourism became a political tool in the supremacy and domination of the Israeli establishment over land and people, and an instrument for preventing the Palestinians from enjoying the benefits and the fruits of the cultural and human interaction on which tourism thrives.

A separate pamphlet on the site blames the poor tourism industry on the Israeli “Occupation” and Israel’s alleged refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate key sites:

The Occupation, with all its facets, is the biggest obstacle. The restrictions on movement and access (on both tourists and Palestinian service providers) make managing tourist flow and developing themed routes very difficult. Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate, restore and manage key sites located in Areas C, such as Sebastiya, the Jordan Valley, and the coast of the Dead Sea, hinder our abilities to develop a comprehensive tourism offer, and the overall lack of control over borders and points of entry makes managing and developing a tourism sector extremely challenging.

So obviously, it would be problematic for official Spanish or U.S. agencies to be involved with this group. But it looks like that may, in fact, be happening — the ministry’s homepage says at the bottom that “This project was made possible thanks to the support of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation” and includes a logo of the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem. Read More

Some Israeli bloggers have discovered that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Spanish government may be involved with a Palestinian tourism website that seems to be disseminating some troubling anti-Israel propaganda. Here’s some of the background on the story from Challah Hu Akbar:

The other day we heard how Spain was sponsoring a PA TV ad that called for the boycott of all Israeli products.

Spain denied the accusations and began an investigation, saying they were the victims.

Now it seems as though Spain is funding the website Travel to Palestine. (h/t ElderofZiyon) This website is known for its ad in the UK which said that Palestine was the area from the Mediterranean to Jordan, thus eliminating Israel. Read this for more on what they view Palestine as. …

A map on the site does not show Israel.

The Travel to Palestine website, which appears to be the official site of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, can be found here. The ministry’s website claims that Palestine “lies between the Mediterranean Coast and the Jordan River, at the crossroads between Africa and the Middle East” (which, while technically true, is still a bit misleading).

Challah Hu Akbar also notes that a map on the site does not show Israel, just a blank space where Israel should be. In addition, the information section says that the capital of Palestine — which is obviously not yet a country — is Jerusalem.

But perhaps more troubling was some of the other tourism information put out by the ministry, which includes references to Israel’s alleged “apartheid” policies and “illegal occupation.” One pamphlet for tourists on the website claims that “Jerusalem — the heart of tourism in the region — has been illegally annexed to Israel, filled with illegal settlements, besieged, surrounded by checkpoints, and encircled by the Apartheid Wall, all of which has resulted in the city’s isolation from its social and geographical surroundings.”

Another part of the pamphlet alleges that Israel “wiped Palestine off the map”:

Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. These events have created catastrophic political, economic and social facts which have deeply affected the life of the Palestinian people, most of whom became refugees. In many ways Palestine itself was simply wiped off the map, historic Palestine coming to be known as Israel. In this context tourism became a political tool in the supremacy and domination of the Israeli establishment over land and people, and an instrument for preventing the Palestinians from enjoying the benefits and the fruits of the cultural and human interaction on which tourism thrives.

A separate pamphlet on the site blames the poor tourism industry on the Israeli “Occupation” and Israel’s alleged refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate key sites:

The Occupation, with all its facets, is the biggest obstacle. The restrictions on movement and access (on both tourists and Palestinian service providers) make managing tourist flow and developing themed routes very difficult. Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate, restore and manage key sites located in Areas C, such as Sebastiya, the Jordan Valley, and the coast of the Dead Sea, hinder our abilities to develop a comprehensive tourism offer, and the overall lack of control over borders and points of entry makes managing and developing a tourism sector extremely challenging.

So obviously, it would be problematic for official Spanish or U.S. agencies to be involved with this group. But it looks like that may, in fact, be happening — the ministry’s homepage says at the bottom that “This project was made possible thanks to the support of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation” and includes a logo of the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem.

The involvement of USAID with the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism is more tenuous, though. Another pamphlet on the website includes the USAID logo and the ministry’s logo, implying that the project was a collaboration between the two organizations.

The ministry also claims that USAID facilitated its involvement in an international tourism conference last October. “This activity came as part of the Palestine Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities’ membership at the Adventure Travel Trade Association and part of the support provided by the Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion (EDIP) project funded by the USAID,” says the website.

USAID’s own website says that it “supported Palestinian representation at the World Religious Tourism Expo,” though it doesn’t clarify who the representation was.

I’ve called USAID for comment, but as of now, they have been unable to get in touch with officials at their West Bank office, which is closed until after the holiday weekend. We’ll update this story as soon as more information arises.

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History Made Visible

Humans are visual animals. Just as a dog, suddenly aware of the unexpected, turns his nose toward it and starts sniffing, we humans turn our eyes toward things to try to figure them out. Of course, many things are invisible because of distance, size, lack of light, or obstruction. Much of the history of technology has been about overcoming these problems, with telescopes, microscopes, infrared sensors, radar, television, etc.  Once we can see something clearly, we can usually figure it out.

But some things are just inherently not visible. Epidemics, for instance. So we humans, clever creatures that we are, have devised ways to make even them visible. When cholera broke out in London in 1854, no one had a clue as to why or how the disease was spreading. A physician named John Snow stuck a pin in a map of London to indicate the residence of everyone who had developed cholera. It was quickly evident that the cases were clustered tightly around a particular public well from which people were drawing water for household use. Close the well, said Snow, and the epidemic will end. Snow, widely considered the father of epidemiology, was right, and the epidemic quickly abated when authorities closed the well.

Statistics, too, are a way of making the inherently invisible visible because they can be converted into graphs and charts.  Add the power of computers and you can produce charts that border on the magical. Consider this one published in Business Insider. It charts the fertility rate (the number of babies born per woman) against life expectancy over the past 50 years for a large number of countries. Each country is represented by a circle, its size a function of that country’s population.

The first thing you notice is that the fertility rate has been dropping sharply in most countries, while life expectancy has been rising equally sharply. The circles migrate toward the lower right of the chart over time to show this. But one of the large circles suddenly drops off a cliff beginning about 1970 as its fertility rate drops precipitously. How come? Click on the bubble and its name comes up: China and its one-child-per-family policy. And some countries suddenly reverse course, and their life expectancy collapses, moving their circles rapidly back toward the left of the chart. What is causing that? Click on the circles and the names of the countries come up: Rwanda, Cambodia, etc.

In other words, this chart makes history itself visible. Is that cool, or what?

Humans are visual animals. Just as a dog, suddenly aware of the unexpected, turns his nose toward it and starts sniffing, we humans turn our eyes toward things to try to figure them out. Of course, many things are invisible because of distance, size, lack of light, or obstruction. Much of the history of technology has been about overcoming these problems, with telescopes, microscopes, infrared sensors, radar, television, etc.  Once we can see something clearly, we can usually figure it out.

But some things are just inherently not visible. Epidemics, for instance. So we humans, clever creatures that we are, have devised ways to make even them visible. When cholera broke out in London in 1854, no one had a clue as to why or how the disease was spreading. A physician named John Snow stuck a pin in a map of London to indicate the residence of everyone who had developed cholera. It was quickly evident that the cases were clustered tightly around a particular public well from which people were drawing water for household use. Close the well, said Snow, and the epidemic will end. Snow, widely considered the father of epidemiology, was right, and the epidemic quickly abated when authorities closed the well.

Statistics, too, are a way of making the inherently invisible visible because they can be converted into graphs and charts.  Add the power of computers and you can produce charts that border on the magical. Consider this one published in Business Insider. It charts the fertility rate (the number of babies born per woman) against life expectancy over the past 50 years for a large number of countries. Each country is represented by a circle, its size a function of that country’s population.

The first thing you notice is that the fertility rate has been dropping sharply in most countries, while life expectancy has been rising equally sharply. The circles migrate toward the lower right of the chart over time to show this. But one of the large circles suddenly drops off a cliff beginning about 1970 as its fertility rate drops precipitously. How come? Click on the bubble and its name comes up: China and its one-child-per-family policy. And some countries suddenly reverse course, and their life expectancy collapses, moving their circles rapidly back toward the left of the chart. What is causing that? Click on the circles and the names of the countries come up: Rwanda, Cambodia, etc.

In other words, this chart makes history itself visible. Is that cool, or what?

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Forget Mixed Seating. How About the President Just Mailing It In?

In the wake of President Obama’s call for more civility in the wake of the tragedy in Arizona, some in his party are seeking a symbolic effort to play down partisanship during one of the Capitol’s annual displays of partisanship: the State of the Union speech. Democratic Senator Mark Udall of Colorado has called for mixed seating during the event. The Democratic leaders like it, and Republicans, who are leery of being portrayed as insufficiently sensitive or overly partisan, are not opposing the plan.

Is there anything wrong with the idea? Not really. The tradition of having Democrats sit on one side of the Chamber and Republicans on the other is based on the way Congress operates when it is in a normal session. Congressional seating patterns, not to mention the existence of organized political parties, are nowhere to be found in the Constitution.

However, it is not clear that mixed seating will achieve the avowed purpose of those advocating this measure, which is to avoid the sophomoric displays of partisanship that have become a regular feature of State of the Union speeches. While representatives and senators from both parties stand and applaud, as they should, during the president’s entrance, once the speech starts, the two sides morph into a congressional version of a college football game, where the supporters of the two teams divide the stadium and engage in organized cheers. It doesn’t matter which party holds the White House or Congress. Every year, the president can count on raucous cheers and standing ovations from his fellow party members in the chamber while members of the other party ostentatiously stay seated and silent.

Will mixed seating prevent a recurrence of this nonsense? The answer here is probably not. When the president speaks a line that is designed to appeal to the sensibilities of his own party — for example, one urging Congress not to repeal his health-care program — most Democrats are likely to stand and cheer while Republicans will remain seated (and need to restrain themselves from muttering their disapproval, which would lead to accusations of bad manners, such as those aimed at Justice Samuel Alito, who silently voiced his disapproval at a presidential barb aimed at the Supreme Court last year). The odds are, Democrats will get up and applaud and Republicans will not at certain points in the speech. And they will do so even if they have not clumped together by party. Read More

In the wake of President Obama’s call for more civility in the wake of the tragedy in Arizona, some in his party are seeking a symbolic effort to play down partisanship during one of the Capitol’s annual displays of partisanship: the State of the Union speech. Democratic Senator Mark Udall of Colorado has called for mixed seating during the event. The Democratic leaders like it, and Republicans, who are leery of being portrayed as insufficiently sensitive or overly partisan, are not opposing the plan.

Is there anything wrong with the idea? Not really. The tradition of having Democrats sit on one side of the Chamber and Republicans on the other is based on the way Congress operates when it is in a normal session. Congressional seating patterns, not to mention the existence of organized political parties, are nowhere to be found in the Constitution.

However, it is not clear that mixed seating will achieve the avowed purpose of those advocating this measure, which is to avoid the sophomoric displays of partisanship that have become a regular feature of State of the Union speeches. While representatives and senators from both parties stand and applaud, as they should, during the president’s entrance, once the speech starts, the two sides morph into a congressional version of a college football game, where the supporters of the two teams divide the stadium and engage in organized cheers. It doesn’t matter which party holds the White House or Congress. Every year, the president can count on raucous cheers and standing ovations from his fellow party members in the chamber while members of the other party ostentatiously stay seated and silent.

Will mixed seating prevent a recurrence of this nonsense? The answer here is probably not. When the president speaks a line that is designed to appeal to the sensibilities of his own party — for example, one urging Congress not to repeal his health-care program — most Democrats are likely to stand and cheer while Republicans will remain seated (and need to restrain themselves from muttering their disapproval, which would lead to accusations of bad manners, such as those aimed at Justice Samuel Alito, who silently voiced his disapproval at a presidential barb aimed at the Supreme Court last year). The odds are, Democrats will get up and applaud and Republicans will not at certain points in the speech. And they will do so even if they have not clumped together by party.

An even better suggestion than mixed seating would be to do away with this televised extravaganza altogether. While the Constitution does mandate that the president report to the Congress annually on the state of the union, it does not say he needs to go there and speak to them in person on national TV. Until the 20th century, the practice (initiated by Thomas Jefferson, who thought the speech that his two predecessors had delivered was too reminiscent of the British monarch’s annual speech from the throne) was for the president to write his report and then have it delivered via messenger to the Congress, where the Clerk of the House publicly read it. Woodrow Wilson revived the practice of delivering it in person; and as first radio and then television entered into the question, it became a highly choreographed ritual that served as a valuable PR tool for every president.

The point is, if ending the obnoxious partisanship and pointless rituals of the occasion is the goal, the president can write and then deliver his speech from the Oval Office, something that would satisfy his constitutional obligation without forcing the nation to endure a pointless spectacle. While I am sure that no president will take up this suggestion, doing so will not only end the partisanship that nobody likes but might also encourage presidents to stick to serious policy points and avoid the smarmy feel-good touches (such as singling out praiseworthy citizens who have been invited to sit in the gallery) that have made the speech an even lengthier and more boring ordeal that it needs to be.

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The Civility Non Sequitur

A week’s worth of talk about civility is very nice. We should be more civil toward each other. There’s little more depressing in life than the incivility of much public discourse. But if you take five seconds to think about it, what happened in Tucson had nothing whatever to do with unmannerly misbehavior. Quite the opposite: the morning’s events gave ample evidence of humankind’s ability to hear the immediate call to greatness, as in Daniel Hernandez’s heroic salvation of Gabrielle Giffords’s life and how Dorwan Stoddard gave his life to shield his wife, Mavanelle, from Jared Loughner’s spray of bullet fire.

Thus, as we continue to gather more evidence of Loughner’s schizophrenia, the continuing rhetorical calls for the need for “civility” are now turning into nothing less than cover. They’re a dodge, a means by which those responsible for the slanderous accusation that somehow the Tea Party and Sarah Palin and the right were responsible for the massacre have been excused for hurling their grievously unjust charge. For, you see, they were only calling for a “new tone,” for “civility,” and who could be against those?

A week’s worth of talk about civility is very nice. We should be more civil toward each other. There’s little more depressing in life than the incivility of much public discourse. But if you take five seconds to think about it, what happened in Tucson had nothing whatever to do with unmannerly misbehavior. Quite the opposite: the morning’s events gave ample evidence of humankind’s ability to hear the immediate call to greatness, as in Daniel Hernandez’s heroic salvation of Gabrielle Giffords’s life and how Dorwan Stoddard gave his life to shield his wife, Mavanelle, from Jared Loughner’s spray of bullet fire.

Thus, as we continue to gather more evidence of Loughner’s schizophrenia, the continuing rhetorical calls for the need for “civility” are now turning into nothing less than cover. They’re a dodge, a means by which those responsible for the slanderous accusation that somehow the Tea Party and Sarah Palin and the right were responsible for the massacre have been excused for hurling their grievously unjust charge. For, you see, they were only calling for a “new tone,” for “civility,” and who could be against those?

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CAIR Urges Muslims to ‘Resist’ FBI Terror Probes

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is still treated as a mainstream civil-liberties group by much of the media. Indeed, last summer, as the controversy over the Ground Zero mosque heated up, representatives of the group were regularly trotted out as the moderate and reasonable representatives of a supposedly aggrieved community. But recent activities by some of its chapters around the country are making clear that its main agenda remains rooted in its origins as a political front for an illegal group whose purpose was to raise funds for the Hamas terrorist organization. Though spokesmen for the group have been at pains to present it as opposing terrorism (though when pressed, they will never admit that, for example, attacks on Israelis should be considered acts of terror) and promoting cooperation with law-enforcement agencies, the truth is that its goal is quite the opposite.

Terror expert Steven Emerson’s the Investigative Project on Terrorism reports that CAIR’s California chapter is sponsoring an event on Feb. 9 in Oakland whose purpose is to counsel noncompliance with federal investigations of terrorism. Indeed, the group’s website shows a poster for the gathering that features the headline: “Build a Wall of Resistance.” The artwork shows a sinister FBI agent being faced with slammed doors. The tagline reads: “Don’t Talk to the F.B.I.”

According to Emerson, this attempt to obstruct a government probe is in response to FBI efforts to uncover a network of supporters of two terror groups: the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Revolutionary Armed Force of Columbia (FARC). The FBI raided the homes of “activists” in Minneapolis and Chicago who may be tied to these two known terror groups in September. The PFLP is a radical leftist Palestinian group that is opposed to peace with Israel and that has, over the years, murdered many Israelis and Americans. FARC is the quintessential narco-terrorist organization and has sought the overthrow of the democratic government of Colombia and has specialized in kidnapping with the aid of the leftist government of Venezuela led by Hugo Chavez.

You would think that if CAIR were the upstanding group of ordinary Arab- and Muslim-Americans who just wanted fair treatment under the law, as it claims to be, the last thing it should be doing is counseling its members to refuse to talk to the authorities investigating lethal criminal enterprises such as the PFLP or FARC. Nor should it be setting up a meeting whose purpose is to generate support for the 23 “activists” who are refusing to comply with subpoenas that require them to testify before grand juries about these terror groups.

Instead, CAIR’s California chapter is treating the Obama administration’s Justice Department probes into terror groups as an effort to “repress our movements for social justice and divide our communities.” CAIR’s Chicago and Michigan chapters have also blasted the federal investigation. The statement from the Chicago chapter made it clear that its opposition to the investigation was not based on alleged questions of civil liberties but rather the group’s sympathy for both the PFLP and FARC, and termed the probe an effort to repress dissent about U.S. foreign policy, leading one to conclude that CAIR’s members believe the administration is too supportive of democratic governments trying to defend themselves against violent terror groups.

This attempt to obstruct justice once again shows that CAIR’s true purpose is not to defend ordinary Americans who happen to be Muslim but instead the defense of anti-American terror organizations.

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is still treated as a mainstream civil-liberties group by much of the media. Indeed, last summer, as the controversy over the Ground Zero mosque heated up, representatives of the group were regularly trotted out as the moderate and reasonable representatives of a supposedly aggrieved community. But recent activities by some of its chapters around the country are making clear that its main agenda remains rooted in its origins as a political front for an illegal group whose purpose was to raise funds for the Hamas terrorist organization. Though spokesmen for the group have been at pains to present it as opposing terrorism (though when pressed, they will never admit that, for example, attacks on Israelis should be considered acts of terror) and promoting cooperation with law-enforcement agencies, the truth is that its goal is quite the opposite.

Terror expert Steven Emerson’s the Investigative Project on Terrorism reports that CAIR’s California chapter is sponsoring an event on Feb. 9 in Oakland whose purpose is to counsel noncompliance with federal investigations of terrorism. Indeed, the group’s website shows a poster for the gathering that features the headline: “Build a Wall of Resistance.” The artwork shows a sinister FBI agent being faced with slammed doors. The tagline reads: “Don’t Talk to the F.B.I.”

According to Emerson, this attempt to obstruct a government probe is in response to FBI efforts to uncover a network of supporters of two terror groups: the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Revolutionary Armed Force of Columbia (FARC). The FBI raided the homes of “activists” in Minneapolis and Chicago who may be tied to these two known terror groups in September. The PFLP is a radical leftist Palestinian group that is opposed to peace with Israel and that has, over the years, murdered many Israelis and Americans. FARC is the quintessential narco-terrorist organization and has sought the overthrow of the democratic government of Colombia and has specialized in kidnapping with the aid of the leftist government of Venezuela led by Hugo Chavez.

You would think that if CAIR were the upstanding group of ordinary Arab- and Muslim-Americans who just wanted fair treatment under the law, as it claims to be, the last thing it should be doing is counseling its members to refuse to talk to the authorities investigating lethal criminal enterprises such as the PFLP or FARC. Nor should it be setting up a meeting whose purpose is to generate support for the 23 “activists” who are refusing to comply with subpoenas that require them to testify before grand juries about these terror groups.

Instead, CAIR’s California chapter is treating the Obama administration’s Justice Department probes into terror groups as an effort to “repress our movements for social justice and divide our communities.” CAIR’s Chicago and Michigan chapters have also blasted the federal investigation. The statement from the Chicago chapter made it clear that its opposition to the investigation was not based on alleged questions of civil liberties but rather the group’s sympathy for both the PFLP and FARC, and termed the probe an effort to repress dissent about U.S. foreign policy, leading one to conclude that CAIR’s members believe the administration is too supportive of democratic governments trying to defend themselves against violent terror groups.

This attempt to obstruct justice once again shows that CAIR’s true purpose is not to defend ordinary Americans who happen to be Muslim but instead the defense of anti-American terror organizations.

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Stay Tuned to Tunisia

For all its reputation as the world’s most unstable region, the Middle East has actually been extremely stable in one respect — almost all of its states are ruled by dictators who tend to rule for decades. That’s why it’s very big news that a revolution has swept Tunisia, with reports that President Ben Ali has fled the country. Based on the (scant) reporting so far, it is not clear whether any political movement is behind these events. Most of the accounts describe fairly spontaneous protests and riots after a vegetable vendor set himself on fire to protest the confiscation of his cart — his sole means of support — by the authorities.

Tunisians have long been fed up with the corrupt, illegitimate rule of Ben Ali and his hated wife, an Eva Peron figure. They and their family members have grown absurdly rich even as the rest of the country has stagnated. Many other peoples across the Arab world — in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other states — are fed up too. But they have scant chance to express their displeasure except covertly, because if there is one area in which Arab rulers excel, it is in building efficient police states. Now the police state in Tunisia has crumbled.

That is either good news or bad news. It all depends on what comes next. If Tunisia makes the transition to democratic rule, that would be an epochal development that could influence neighboring states in a positive way. If another dictator comes to the fore, that would not be so good. Even worse would be if that dictator emerges from the Islamist fringe. Stay tuned. It’s still early days, but certainly the end of Ben Ali’s long-lived and heavy-handed rule is not to be mourned, even if he was a reliable American ally.

For all its reputation as the world’s most unstable region, the Middle East has actually been extremely stable in one respect — almost all of its states are ruled by dictators who tend to rule for decades. That’s why it’s very big news that a revolution has swept Tunisia, with reports that President Ben Ali has fled the country. Based on the (scant) reporting so far, it is not clear whether any political movement is behind these events. Most of the accounts describe fairly spontaneous protests and riots after a vegetable vendor set himself on fire to protest the confiscation of his cart — his sole means of support — by the authorities.

Tunisians have long been fed up with the corrupt, illegitimate rule of Ben Ali and his hated wife, an Eva Peron figure. They and their family members have grown absurdly rich even as the rest of the country has stagnated. Many other peoples across the Arab world — in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other states — are fed up too. But they have scant chance to express their displeasure except covertly, because if there is one area in which Arab rulers excel, it is in building efficient police states. Now the police state in Tunisia has crumbled.

That is either good news or bad news. It all depends on what comes next. If Tunisia makes the transition to democratic rule, that would be an epochal development that could influence neighboring states in a positive way. If another dictator comes to the fore, that would not be so good. Even worse would be if that dictator emerges from the Islamist fringe. Stay tuned. It’s still early days, but certainly the end of Ben Ali’s long-lived and heavy-handed rule is not to be mourned, even if he was a reliable American ally.

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MSNBC’s Selective History

Courtesy of Newsbusters, MSNBC is airing a promo for President Obama’s forthcoming State of the Union. It features video from previous State of the Union speeches. The presidents you see and hear from are, in order, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.

Following the clips, you read these words: “America Always Believes in a Better Future.”

So who might be missing from this pantheon? Try Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, just for starters. Perhaps at MSNBC, those Republicans are viewed as an obstacle to a better future.

The slogan “Lean Forward” might be better understood as “Lean Left.” And in MSNBC’s case, Very Left.

Courtesy of Newsbusters, MSNBC is airing a promo for President Obama’s forthcoming State of the Union. It features video from previous State of the Union speeches. The presidents you see and hear from are, in order, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.

Following the clips, you read these words: “America Always Believes in a Better Future.”

So who might be missing from this pantheon? Try Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, just for starters. Perhaps at MSNBC, those Republicans are viewed as an obstacle to a better future.

The slogan “Lean Forward” might be better understood as “Lean Left.” And in MSNBC’s case, Very Left.

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Al-Qaeda Training New Wave of Western Terrorists

Al-Qaeda is making progress on its plan to train and unleash Islamic terrorists that it’s recruited from Western countries, Asia Times Online reports today:

With the Afghan war entering its 10th year, completely undeterred by the American drone strikes in the Pakistani tribal region, al-Qaeda is putting the final touches to plans to recruit, train and launch Western Caucasians in their countries; the aim is to spread the flames of the South Asian war theater to the West.

Al-Qaeda began planning the operation in 2002, after the fall in late 2001 of the Taliban in Afghanistan, where the group had been given sanctuary. Al-Qaeda had regrouped in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan, and used this base to developed propaganda media structures to recruit in the West.

Taliban sources told Asia Times that there are currently 12 Canadians training in North Waziristan, on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Jihadis from the U.S., Britain, and Germany can also reportedly be found in the training grounds of North Waziristan.

Not only is this a discouraging bit of news for the progress in Afghanistan; it’s also another worrisome sign that NATO countries have been unable to prevent terror recruitment on their own soil:

According to available information, the Canadians joined the Egyptian militant organization Jihad al-Islami (JAI), which then helped them reach Afghanistan. The head of the group goes by the alias of Abu Shahid. The 30-year-old, who sports a golden beard, converted to Islam in 2007 and joined the JAI, with which he works to collect funds for the organization. Shahid is responsible for all of the activities of the Canadians in North Waziristan. According to Taliban sources, the 12 will remain in the tribal belt until it is felt that they are sufficiently trained to successfully carry out terror activities in Canada. Shahid apparently is confident he can recruit more Canadians.

Al-Qaeda has become extremely creative with its recruitment methods since the Sept. 11 attacks. From Anwar al-Awlaki’s YouTube videos to Inspire magazine, it’s made extensive use of online media platforms to get its message across to impressionable young people. So far, our response to this type of radicalization has been reactive, which is only useful in cases where the terrorist is caught before the attack is carried out. Stories like this one are just further evidence that we need to increase our focus on the prevention of homegrown radicalization.

Al-Qaeda is making progress on its plan to train and unleash Islamic terrorists that it’s recruited from Western countries, Asia Times Online reports today:

With the Afghan war entering its 10th year, completely undeterred by the American drone strikes in the Pakistani tribal region, al-Qaeda is putting the final touches to plans to recruit, train and launch Western Caucasians in their countries; the aim is to spread the flames of the South Asian war theater to the West.

Al-Qaeda began planning the operation in 2002, after the fall in late 2001 of the Taliban in Afghanistan, where the group had been given sanctuary. Al-Qaeda had regrouped in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan, and used this base to developed propaganda media structures to recruit in the West.

Taliban sources told Asia Times that there are currently 12 Canadians training in North Waziristan, on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Jihadis from the U.S., Britain, and Germany can also reportedly be found in the training grounds of North Waziristan.

Not only is this a discouraging bit of news for the progress in Afghanistan; it’s also another worrisome sign that NATO countries have been unable to prevent terror recruitment on their own soil:

According to available information, the Canadians joined the Egyptian militant organization Jihad al-Islami (JAI), which then helped them reach Afghanistan. The head of the group goes by the alias of Abu Shahid. The 30-year-old, who sports a golden beard, converted to Islam in 2007 and joined the JAI, with which he works to collect funds for the organization. Shahid is responsible for all of the activities of the Canadians in North Waziristan. According to Taliban sources, the 12 will remain in the tribal belt until it is felt that they are sufficiently trained to successfully carry out terror activities in Canada. Shahid apparently is confident he can recruit more Canadians.

Al-Qaeda has become extremely creative with its recruitment methods since the Sept. 11 attacks. From Anwar al-Awlaki’s YouTube videos to Inspire magazine, it’s made extensive use of online media platforms to get its message across to impressionable young people. So far, our response to this type of radicalization has been reactive, which is only useful in cases where the terrorist is caught before the attack is carried out. Stories like this one are just further evidence that we need to increase our focus on the prevention of homegrown radicalization.

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Some Thoughts on Civility

There is a lot of talk about civility in public discourse these days. This is a matter on which Michael Gerson and I have written about before, including in COMMENTARY (see the end of this essay) and in City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (see chapter 6, “Persuasion and the Public Square”).

On this topic, then, I would make several points.

First, there are eminently practical reasons for public figures to use reasonably civil language. After all, they are engaged in efforts to persuade people, not browbeat them. Language that is reasonable, judicious, and sober tends to be preferred to language that is abrasive and abusive. People tend to be drawn to political movements and political parties whose representatives are winsome rather than enraged, who radiate a sense of self-possession and good cheer rather than what Nietzsche, in On The Genealogy of Morals, called ressentiment, or resentment.

Lincoln put it as well as anyone when he said:

When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and true maxim “that a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.” So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what you will, is the great high road to reason.

Among the gifts that political figures like Ronald Reagan and intellectual figures like Irving Kristol gave to conservatism was help in shedding its attitude of defensiveness toward the world. That is not a place to which conservatism wants to return.

In addition, treating people with civility is connected to a view of human beings and their inherent dignity. Making bad arguments obviously doesn’t make someone a bad person; and even when one is on the receiving end of ad hominem attacks (as many people in politics have been), there are still standards one ought to adhere to.

Now, I wouldn’t pretend for a moment this is easy or that I myself haven’t edged up to, or even at times crossed, the line separating spirited debate from inappropriate remarks. Readers of CONTENTIONS are free to review my exchanges with Joe Klein, Jonathan Chait, John Derbyshire, and others and decide for themselves. Suffice it to say that what St. Paul called the “fruit of the Spirit” — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control — are not in oversupply in politics. And for those of us who are engaged in politics and the philosophies and ideas behind it, the temptation to be drawn into the mud pit is a strong one. Read More

There is a lot of talk about civility in public discourse these days. This is a matter on which Michael Gerson and I have written about before, including in COMMENTARY (see the end of this essay) and in City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (see chapter 6, “Persuasion and the Public Square”).

On this topic, then, I would make several points.

First, there are eminently practical reasons for public figures to use reasonably civil language. After all, they are engaged in efforts to persuade people, not browbeat them. Language that is reasonable, judicious, and sober tends to be preferred to language that is abrasive and abusive. People tend to be drawn to political movements and political parties whose representatives are winsome rather than enraged, who radiate a sense of self-possession and good cheer rather than what Nietzsche, in On The Genealogy of Morals, called ressentiment, or resentment.

Lincoln put it as well as anyone when he said:

When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and true maxim “that a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.” So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what you will, is the great high road to reason.

Among the gifts that political figures like Ronald Reagan and intellectual figures like Irving Kristol gave to conservatism was help in shedding its attitude of defensiveness toward the world. That is not a place to which conservatism wants to return.

In addition, treating people with civility is connected to a view of human beings and their inherent dignity. Making bad arguments obviously doesn’t make someone a bad person; and even when one is on the receiving end of ad hominem attacks (as many people in politics have been), there are still standards one ought to adhere to.

Now, I wouldn’t pretend for a moment this is easy or that I myself haven’t edged up to, or even at times crossed, the line separating spirited debate from inappropriate remarks. Readers of CONTENTIONS are free to review my exchanges with Joe Klein, Jonathan Chait, John Derbyshire, and others and decide for themselves. Suffice it to say that what St. Paul called the “fruit of the Spirit” — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control — are not in oversupply in politics. And for those of us who are engaged in politics and the philosophies and ideas behind it, the temptation to be drawn into the mud pit is a strong one.

Still, it’s not self-evident, at least to me, how one should respond when on the receiving end of unfairly personal, and even slanderous, attacks. I imagine the answer lies somewhere on the continuum between silence and a seething, equally libelous rejoinder.

A few other caveats are in order. Among them is that too often, civility is itself used cynically, as a conversation stopper, as a means to end debate. For others, civility is a synonym for lack of principles, for hollowed-out convictions, for those who believe in nothing and are unwilling to fight for anything. And still others make the mistake in believing that civility is the antithesis of passionately held principles, passionately expressed.

In fact, forceful arguments (like witty ones) are often the best arguments. Rhetorical tough-mindedness is not only appropriate but welcomed. Clarity often emerges in the wake of conflicting views. Too often, those who tell us to “tone down the arguments” simply want the arguments themselves to go away. But politics is, in its deepest and best sense, a series of ongoing arguments about perennially important matters like justice. (See the debate between Thrasymachus and Socrates for more.)

There is, in the end, no neat or easy prescription on how to conduct oneself in public life at any given moment. As a general matter, though, grace and generosity of spirit are to be prized. And if we’re lucky, they can even move us several steps away from a political culture based on enmity to one based on greater understanding and even, from time to time, a measure of respect and forgiveness.

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Comeback Fever

The Wall Street Journal has some important news about that Obama comeback:

The latest poll from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows 46% of Americans approve of the job he’s doing, a two-point drop from a similar poll taken last June, while 44% disapprove. The numbers are similarly static when it comes to his handling of specific issues, from health care to Iraq to the budget deficit.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday showed a slightly bigger bounce in his approval ratings, with 48% of those polls approving of the job he’s doing, up from 44%. But the trend was still relatively flat from polls taken in the months heading up to the election.

The much-heralded lame-duck comeback was most notable for how low it set the bar for comebacks. Legislation passed. Period. Not overwhelmingly liberal legislation, mind you — just legislation. The repeal of DADT was an 80/20 issue with plenty of hawkish conservatives supporting it. Many conservatives were indifferent about New START, and those who fought against its immediate ratification were effective in getting important missile-defense and nuclear-modernization changes added before it was voted on. Extending the Bush tax cuts was among the highest priorities for conservatives. That it happened and was even defended by the administration as sound economics can hardly be counted as a liberal achievement. A real comeback will take more than a week of properly functioning government.

The Wall Street Journal has some important news about that Obama comeback:

The latest poll from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows 46% of Americans approve of the job he’s doing, a two-point drop from a similar poll taken last June, while 44% disapprove. The numbers are similarly static when it comes to his handling of specific issues, from health care to Iraq to the budget deficit.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday showed a slightly bigger bounce in his approval ratings, with 48% of those polls approving of the job he’s doing, up from 44%. But the trend was still relatively flat from polls taken in the months heading up to the election.

The much-heralded lame-duck comeback was most notable for how low it set the bar for comebacks. Legislation passed. Period. Not overwhelmingly liberal legislation, mind you — just legislation. The repeal of DADT was an 80/20 issue with plenty of hawkish conservatives supporting it. Many conservatives were indifferent about New START, and those who fought against its immediate ratification were effective in getting important missile-defense and nuclear-modernization changes added before it was voted on. Extending the Bush tax cuts was among the highest priorities for conservatives. That it happened and was even defended by the administration as sound economics can hardly be counted as a liberal achievement. A real comeback will take more than a week of properly functioning government.

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Morning Commentary

China, Russia, and the EU have reportedly snubbed Iran’s invitation to visit its nuclear facilities. The trip was intended to undermine the upcoming P5+1 talks with Tehran. However, Egypt, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria are still planning to take the Iranian government up on the offer.

The nominations for RNC chair start today, and Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus still appears to be the front-runner, with approximately 44 committee members expected to support him. In comparison, incumbent RNC chair Michael Steele can currently count on support from around 24 members, according to Politico: “On a tactical level, the race has come down to two questions: How quickly can Steele’s challengers leave him in the dust? And can anyone get a decisive edge if the chairman falters early?”

For the fifth consecutive year, Freedom House has reported a worldwide decline in freedom. The number of “free” countries dropped from 89 to 87 last year, and the overall number of electoral democracies has dropped from 123 to 115 since 2005. From the Washington Post editorial board: “When the United States does not advocate strongly for freedom, other democracies tend to retreat and autocracies feel emboldened. If the disturbing trend documented by Freedom House is to be reversed, Mr. Obama will need to make freedom a higher foreign policy priority.”

The riots in Tunisia and Algeria could make the youth populations of both countries susceptible to the forces of Islamic extremism: “This tide of furious young people, willing to die if need be, is undoubtedly a social modernization movement; due to the regimes’ self-interest, however, the Islamist dogma could overwhelm their thirst for justice and seize the upper hand over the riots.”

The House GOP is preparing for the debate on new health-care legislation next week, while congressional Democrats have decided to dub the Republican’s bill the “Patient’s Rights Repeal Act.”

China, Russia, and the EU have reportedly snubbed Iran’s invitation to visit its nuclear facilities. The trip was intended to undermine the upcoming P5+1 talks with Tehran. However, Egypt, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria are still planning to take the Iranian government up on the offer.

The nominations for RNC chair start today, and Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus still appears to be the front-runner, with approximately 44 committee members expected to support him. In comparison, incumbent RNC chair Michael Steele can currently count on support from around 24 members, according to Politico: “On a tactical level, the race has come down to two questions: How quickly can Steele’s challengers leave him in the dust? And can anyone get a decisive edge if the chairman falters early?”

For the fifth consecutive year, Freedom House has reported a worldwide decline in freedom. The number of “free” countries dropped from 89 to 87 last year, and the overall number of electoral democracies has dropped from 123 to 115 since 2005. From the Washington Post editorial board: “When the United States does not advocate strongly for freedom, other democracies tend to retreat and autocracies feel emboldened. If the disturbing trend documented by Freedom House is to be reversed, Mr. Obama will need to make freedom a higher foreign policy priority.”

The riots in Tunisia and Algeria could make the youth populations of both countries susceptible to the forces of Islamic extremism: “This tide of furious young people, willing to die if need be, is undoubtedly a social modernization movement; due to the regimes’ self-interest, however, the Islamist dogma could overwhelm their thirst for justice and seize the upper hand over the riots.”

The House GOP is preparing for the debate on new health-care legislation next week, while congressional Democrats have decided to dub the Republican’s bill the “Patient’s Rights Repeal Act.”

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Of Loughner and Philip K. Dick and Me

A few days ago, I speculated that, based on some things said about him by high-school friends, Jared Loughner was more likely to have been influenced by the world view of the brilliant but schizophrenic science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick than he would have been by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. For this observation, a writer at the Atlantic said my theory was one of the five strangest suggested about Loughner, along with David Frum’s speculation that marijuana might have had something to do with his behavior.

Well, shut my mouth. Except that, in a long Washington Post story about Loughner’s descent into fantasy, there appears this passage:

Loughner’s favorite writer was Philip K. Dick, whose science-fiction tales travel a mystical path in which omnipotent governments and businesses are the bad guys and the average man is often lost in an identity-shattering swirl of paranoia, schizophrenia and questions about whether the universe and the individual are real or part of some vast conspiracy.

The point I was making is not that readers of Philip K. Dick, of whom there are many millions, are going to go out and shoot people. It’s that people who live in a disordered reality would be especially susceptible to a portrait of the world that suggests disordered realities are real and actual realities are false. That this notion seemed less plausible to many than that Loughner was driven to a murder spree by talk radio says a great deal about the reality distortions that grabbed hold of the minds of eager liberals over the past six days.

A few days ago, I speculated that, based on some things said about him by high-school friends, Jared Loughner was more likely to have been influenced by the world view of the brilliant but schizophrenic science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick than he would have been by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. For this observation, a writer at the Atlantic said my theory was one of the five strangest suggested about Loughner, along with David Frum’s speculation that marijuana might have had something to do with his behavior.

Well, shut my mouth. Except that, in a long Washington Post story about Loughner’s descent into fantasy, there appears this passage:

Loughner’s favorite writer was Philip K. Dick, whose science-fiction tales travel a mystical path in which omnipotent governments and businesses are the bad guys and the average man is often lost in an identity-shattering swirl of paranoia, schizophrenia and questions about whether the universe and the individual are real or part of some vast conspiracy.

The point I was making is not that readers of Philip K. Dick, of whom there are many millions, are going to go out and shoot people. It’s that people who live in a disordered reality would be especially susceptible to a portrait of the world that suggests disordered realities are real and actual realities are false. That this notion seemed less plausible to many than that Loughner was driven to a murder spree by talk radio says a great deal about the reality distortions that grabbed hold of the minds of eager liberals over the past six days.

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