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Posts For: May 1, 2011

The Meaning of Justice

The sense of relief and joy and accomplishment and completion we are all feeling in response to the news that American special forces finally, finally, finally got him—another dazzling achievement by American personnel fighting the war on terror, who have set a new historical standard for patriotic sacrifice and excellence—makes this one of the great days of my lifetime. Do we know what changes the killing of Osama bin Laden will effect? We can’t know. We believed that the capture of Saddam Hussein would bring the resistance in Iraq to its knees, and then, of course, the resistance not only continued but deepened. But even as the talking heads filling time awaiting the president’s speech fill time by attempting to decipher the political and spiritual and moral effects of Bin Laden’s killing, the truth is that the killing of Bin Laden is important not because of what it will do for us going forward but what it does for us looking backward. It provides this still-wounded country a rare moment of simple, pure, unambiguous justice. Evil has been met, and defeated.

The sense of relief and joy and accomplishment and completion we are all feeling in response to the news that American special forces finally, finally, finally got him—another dazzling achievement by American personnel fighting the war on terror, who have set a new historical standard for patriotic sacrifice and excellence—makes this one of the great days of my lifetime. Do we know what changes the killing of Osama bin Laden will effect? We can’t know. We believed that the capture of Saddam Hussein would bring the resistance in Iraq to its knees, and then, of course, the resistance not only continued but deepened. But even as the talking heads filling time awaiting the president’s speech fill time by attempting to decipher the political and spiritual and moral effects of Bin Laden’s killing, the truth is that the killing of Bin Laden is important not because of what it will do for us going forward but what it does for us looking backward. It provides this still-wounded country a rare moment of simple, pure, unambiguous justice. Evil has been met, and defeated.

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Re: Are Americans Royalist Saps?

Jonathan doesn’t seem to think much of the Americans who got out of bed early to watch the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on Friday morning. Well, I was one of them and I wouldn’t have missed a minute of it.

I don’t believe in the divine right of kings (and neither does anybody else, that’s a red herring of cetacean proportions). I couldn’t care less about “celebrities.” I don’t even read People Magazine while standing in line at the checkout counter. (Indeed, at my age, I often haven’t the faintest idea who the supposed celebrities on the covers of those magazines are.) I don’t want the Queen restored to the rule of those lands her great great great great grandfather lost in 1776. I am a loyal and proud citizen of the Great Republic those lands became.

But I do care about the British monarchy. I care about its long and wonderful history, so intertwined with that of the country it symbolizes as to be inseparable from it. That was not just a handsome young man getting married on Friday. That was, in a very real sense, England getting married, that sceptered isle, that green and pleasant land who saved the world in 1940 by being British, not rational.

And that, of course, is what intellectuals object to about monarchy in general and the British monarchy in particular. It’s not “rational” to vest the office of head of state in a family, and therefore, in a breathtaking leap of illogic, it shouldn’t be so vested. To be sure, no one establishing a government for Britain today would do so. But no one ever established a British government at all. Instead, it evolved over the course of a thousand years and thus is shot through with accidents of history. The most prominent of those accidents is the monarchy. And the British would have to be very irrational indeed to abolish it, which is why they won’t.

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Jonathan doesn’t seem to think much of the Americans who got out of bed early to watch the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on Friday morning. Well, I was one of them and I wouldn’t have missed a minute of it.

I don’t believe in the divine right of kings (and neither does anybody else, that’s a red herring of cetacean proportions). I couldn’t care less about “celebrities.” I don’t even read People Magazine while standing in line at the checkout counter. (Indeed, at my age, I often haven’t the faintest idea who the supposed celebrities on the covers of those magazines are.) I don’t want the Queen restored to the rule of those lands her great great great great grandfather lost in 1776. I am a loyal and proud citizen of the Great Republic those lands became.

But I do care about the British monarchy. I care about its long and wonderful history, so intertwined with that of the country it symbolizes as to be inseparable from it. That was not just a handsome young man getting married on Friday. That was, in a very real sense, England getting married, that sceptered isle, that green and pleasant land who saved the world in 1940 by being British, not rational.

And that, of course, is what intellectuals object to about monarchy in general and the British monarchy in particular. It’s not “rational” to vest the office of head of state in a family, and therefore, in a breathtaking leap of illogic, it shouldn’t be so vested. To be sure, no one establishing a government for Britain today would do so. But no one ever established a British government at all. Instead, it evolved over the course of a thousand years and thus is shot through with accidents of history. The most prominent of those accidents is the monarchy. And the British would have to be very irrational indeed to abolish it, which is why they won’t.

Democracies are almost all patterned on either the American model, in which the office of head of state is combined with the executive authority, who serves for a limited time, or the British model, in which the two offices are separated and the head of state is either a monarch or a president. Neither has any political power whatever. But while presidents in parliamentary democracies are nonentities whom no one has ever heard of (quick: who is the President of Germany? I don’t know either), Elizabeth II is known throughout the world. When she travels, people come out in the tens of thousands in hopes of catching a glimpse of her. Why? Because she’s a queen, a real queen. That gives Britain an enormous national asset at practically no cost.

This is not because of today’s celebrity culture. In 1859 when the future Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, came to the United States—the first member of the royal family to do so—his reception was something beyond ecstatic, as people rich and poor turned out to catch a glimpse of a prince. Intellectuals may not like it, but people have a deep, atavistic attraction to royalty. Instead of anathematizing it as irrational, they might consider trying to understand why that it is. “It shouldn’t be, therefore it doesn’t have to be” is an intellectual conceit that cost humankind dear in the 20th century as intellectuals tried to force people into molds they did not and would not fit.

So of course I got up early, settled down in an easy chair with a cup of coffee, and watched along with one third of the human race, as Prince William claimed his beautiful bride amid the sort of pomp-and-circumstance ceremony that only the British can pull off.

That wasn’t “monarchist flummery,” as Jonathan wrote. It was, to use Walter Bagehot’s term, magic.

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“Some Boos, Mostly Cheers”

You have to give ABC’s Christiane Amanpour props for her aggressive effort to push the media narrative that Rep. Paul Ryan is facing a “backlash” from constituents over his budget plan.

“[T]own halls across America erupt in anger over a plan to slash spending,” the host of This Week began her program on Sunday.

But the rest of the show–which had Amanpour visiting Ryan’s town hall meetings–debunked her entire premise. She went to Wisconsin and found what many others have already reported. The crowds are largely friendly, despite dishonestly-edited videos from left-wing groups that purport otherwise.

“This is the tail end of the marathon series of town halls for Ryan, who seems wholly unconcerned with the heat he’s taking these days,” said Amanpour. “Though the crowds we saw in Wisconsin were mostly friendly, some of his town meetings have been contentious.”

Later she admitted that there were, “Some boos, but mostly cheers. The crowd is largely supportive.”

Despite the reality on the ground, Amanpour resiliently stuck to her narrative. “Congressman Ryan is at the center of the storm,” she insisted. “It’s his plan, of course, that has sparked the outcries. Across the country, the anger is palpable.”

Clearly it’s not palpable enough for a crew of ABC reporters and cameramen to catch it. Or for it, you know, to make a mark on the opinion polls for Ryan’s budget plan, which have remained steady despite a forceful fear-mongering campaign from the left.

You have to give ABC’s Christiane Amanpour props for her aggressive effort to push the media narrative that Rep. Paul Ryan is facing a “backlash” from constituents over his budget plan.

“[T]own halls across America erupt in anger over a plan to slash spending,” the host of This Week began her program on Sunday.

But the rest of the show–which had Amanpour visiting Ryan’s town hall meetings–debunked her entire premise. She went to Wisconsin and found what many others have already reported. The crowds are largely friendly, despite dishonestly-edited videos from left-wing groups that purport otherwise.

“This is the tail end of the marathon series of town halls for Ryan, who seems wholly unconcerned with the heat he’s taking these days,” said Amanpour. “Though the crowds we saw in Wisconsin were mostly friendly, some of his town meetings have been contentious.”

Later she admitted that there were, “Some boos, but mostly cheers. The crowd is largely supportive.”

Despite the reality on the ground, Amanpour resiliently stuck to her narrative. “Congressman Ryan is at the center of the storm,” she insisted. “It’s his plan, of course, that has sparked the outcries. Across the country, the anger is palpable.”

Clearly it’s not palpable enough for a crew of ABC reporters and cameramen to catch it. Or for it, you know, to make a mark on the opinion polls for Ryan’s budget plan, which have remained steady despite a forceful fear-mongering campaign from the left.

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Trump Isn’t the Only One Who Can’t Take a Joke

Donald Trump is catching some heat today, after he reacted badly to being mocked by President Obama at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner last night. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the real estate mogul can’t take a joke. People who are so delusional about their own greatness usually can’t.

Which brings us to President Obama’s comedy routine. The audience seemed to have lapped it up, but once again the president showed that he’s not great at self-deprecation. Most of his act focused on the low hanging fruit—Trump, Michele Bachmann, Fox News. But here’s the president’s brief attempt at self-mockery:

Yes, I think it is fair to say that when it comes to my presidency, the honeymoon is over. (Laughter.) For example, some people now suggest that I’m too professorial. And I’d like to address that head-on, by assigning all of you some reading that will help you draw your own conclusions. (Laughter.) Others say that I’m arrogant. But I’ve found a really great self-help tool for this: my poll numbers.

Haha! Get it? He’s professorial and arrogant. Is this seriously the hardest he can be on himself? Those aren’t even new criticisms, much less the serious complaints that many Americans have about him.

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Donald Trump is catching some heat today, after he reacted badly to being mocked by President Obama at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner last night. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the real estate mogul can’t take a joke. People who are so delusional about their own greatness usually can’t.

Which brings us to President Obama’s comedy routine. The audience seemed to have lapped it up, but once again the president showed that he’s not great at self-deprecation. Most of his act focused on the low hanging fruit—Trump, Michele Bachmann, Fox News. But here’s the president’s brief attempt at self-mockery:

Yes, I think it is fair to say that when it comes to my presidency, the honeymoon is over. (Laughter.) For example, some people now suggest that I’m too professorial. And I’d like to address that head-on, by assigning all of you some reading that will help you draw your own conclusions. (Laughter.) Others say that I’m arrogant. But I’ve found a really great self-help tool for this: my poll numbers.

Haha! Get it? He’s professorial and arrogant. Is this seriously the hardest he can be on himself? Those aren’t even new criticisms, much less the serious complaints that many Americans have about him.

President George W. Bush was notorious for his self-deprecating humor at the White House Correspondents’ Dinners—his famous skit with his Saturday Night Live Doppelgänger is a prime example. To pull off this type of comedy, you need a canny perception of your public image, and a deep understanding of your flaws. You also need a thick skin. The Bush administration rarely responded to criticism, but the president’s acts during these dinners made it clear that he was fully aware of his reputation.

Obama’s avoidance of any serious self-deprecation can mean one of three things: (1.) He’s clueless about why his approval ratings are dropping. (2.) His staffers who helped draft the speech are unwilling to inform him of the serious complaints Americans have about him. (3.) He’s aware of his public image, but too thin-skinned to joke about it. Whatever the reason, it looks like Trump isn’t the only one who can’t take a joke.

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Will Administration Praise Doom Huntsman’s Presidential Bid?

David Axelrod may have been hoping to give Jon Huntsman the proverbial kiss of death when he spoke to the Washington Post of the former Utah governor’s praise for President Obama while he served as the administration’s man in Beijing the last two years. The president’s top political advisor said Huntsman “was quite complimentary of what the president was doing” while serving the administration in Beijing and was “willing to buck the tide of his own party” on a number of points.

The fact that Huntsman worked for Obama was already enough of a handicap as he competes for the votes of Republicans who largely despise the president and all his administration has done. If he is perceived as a loyal servant of Obama, it’s hard to imagine how he can win the GOP nomination.

The strategy of damning Huntsman with praise fits in neatly with the idea that the former ambassador to China is the most formidable Republican candidate in November because of his supposedly moderate stances. But that idea, like the notion that Republicans hate Huntsman because of his recently concluded diplomatic gig, is a strictly inside-the-beltway piece of conventional wisdom that may not have much to do with actual voter sentiment.

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David Axelrod may have been hoping to give Jon Huntsman the proverbial kiss of death when he spoke to the Washington Post of the former Utah governor’s praise for President Obama while he served as the administration’s man in Beijing the last two years. The president’s top political advisor said Huntsman “was quite complimentary of what the president was doing” while serving the administration in Beijing and was “willing to buck the tide of his own party” on a number of points.

The fact that Huntsman worked for Obama was already enough of a handicap as he competes for the votes of Republicans who largely despise the president and all his administration has done. If he is perceived as a loyal servant of Obama, it’s hard to imagine how he can win the GOP nomination.

The strategy of damning Huntsman with praise fits in neatly with the idea that the former ambassador to China is the most formidable Republican candidate in November because of his supposedly moderate stances. But that idea, like the notion that Republicans hate Huntsman because of his recently concluded diplomatic gig, is a strictly inside-the-beltway piece of conventional wisdom that may not have much to do with actual voter sentiment.

Even in a GOP field replete with candidates with low name recognition, Huntsman is a virtual nonentity as far as the electorate is concerned. Though he was highly regarded as a governor and earned good marks as ambassador on human rights issues even from administration critics, Huntsman was unknown to most Republicans or voters of any party until his return from China and the start of the buzz about his plans to run for president.

There’s good news and bad news in that fact for the prospective candidate. The good news is that even though he will be forced to spend a lot of time and money on introducing himself to the voters, it also means that he has the opportunity of defining himself for the voters without having the handicap of them being burdened by too much prior knowledge. The bad news is that he is going to struggle to be heard in a field where even a candidate with a low profile like Tim Pawlenty has greater name recognition.

Though having worked for Obama won’t be an asset in a Republican primary, Huntsman still has the chance to establish a political identity on his own terms. If he impresses GOP voters with what he has to say, his time in Beijing won’t be a major hindrance. After all, being an ambassador did not require Huntsman to endorse Obamacare or the stimulus, positions that really would be a kiss of death. And while Axelrod’s quotes will be thrown in Huntsman’s face if he becomes a serious contender, it will be just as easy for the candidate to dismiss them as irrelevant and to characterize his administration job as honorable and apolitical public service.

Until we see Huntsman on the stump, the preconceptions that he is either some sort of general election paragon or a man with no future as a national Republican candidate remain inventions of the Washington establishment. Until he gets out and starts mixing it up in the battleground states, these theories are mere talk.

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Are Americans Royalist Saps?

Those who lament the decline of republican values—and by that I mean the devotion to the principle of republican government, not the triumph of the Republican Party—may be dismayed by the attention paid to the wedding of the grandson of the British queen.

The celebration of monarchy in our own day has more to do with our celebrity-oriented culture than a belief in the divine right of kings. I don’t begrudge the Brits their devotion to the monarchy and acknowledge that the pomp and ceremony of the affair makes for good television. Such weddings are excellent marketing for tourism to the United Kingdom and we need to understand that when seen in that light the marriage of Will and Kate is little different than the Disney Corporation’s highlighting of the romance of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

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Those who lament the decline of republican values—and by that I mean the devotion to the principle of republican government, not the triumph of the Republican Party—may be dismayed by the attention paid to the wedding of the grandson of the British queen.

The celebration of monarchy in our own day has more to do with our celebrity-oriented culture than a belief in the divine right of kings. I don’t begrudge the Brits their devotion to the monarchy and acknowledge that the pomp and ceremony of the affair makes for good television. Such weddings are excellent marketing for tourism to the United Kingdom and we need to understand that when seen in that light the marriage of Will and Kate is little different than the Disney Corporation’s highlighting of the romance of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

In royalist fantasies, a girl only becomes a princess by attracting the romantic interest of a prince as the middle-class Kate has done—a very different scenario than the notion that any hard-working and intelligent child can grow up to be president of the United States. One needn’t be an incorrigible curmudgeon to see the devotion of so many citizens of our republic to the former rather than the latter as lamentable. After all, the election of Barack Obama, as well as that of other men who were born to humble or unlikely circumstances such as Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and Abraham Lincoln, proves that the promise of republican social mobility is more reality than myth.

Still, we shouldn’t entirely despair at the foolishness of our fellow citizens. According to the Nielson Company, nearly 23 million Americans watched the wedding on Friday. That’s a pretty good rating but it is actually far less than the number of those who watched Barack Obama’s inauguration, a ceremony that was long on republican symbolism and short on fashion and fairy tale-style carriage rides. Indeed, the number of Americans who watched Ronald Reagan’s first swearing-in in 1981 exceeded the total of viewers for the wedding of Will’s parents, Prince Charles and Lady Diana.

So while the number of Americans who are royalist saps is not inconsiderable, we can take comfort in the fact that there are still more of us who are more impressed by the less gaudy solemnities of our 235-year-old republic than monarchist flummery.

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Are More “Responsible Adults” Needed for GOP Field?

Donald Trump’s traveling circus is overshadowing the rest of the Republican presidential field, and some GOP operatives are worried. Fergus Cullen, a former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party summed up this sentiment when he told the New York Times, “The race needs more responsible adults who can actually do the job.”

If you are one of those who actually believe that Trump is the current GOP frontrunner, you may agree with Cullen. If the field is so lackluster that a buffoon like Trump can vault to the top of the polls, then maybe a whole new roster of sober presidential wannabes is needed. But though the comments in same Times story from such pundits as Charles Krauthammer (who termed the field “split and weak”) and our own Peter Wehner (who lamented the “lack of fizz” that created a vacuum that the clownish Trump is filling) cannot be disputed, there is no need for Republicans to push the panic button.

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Donald Trump’s traveling circus is overshadowing the rest of the Republican presidential field, and some GOP operatives are worried. Fergus Cullen, a former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party summed up this sentiment when he told the New York Times, “The race needs more responsible adults who can actually do the job.”

If you are one of those who actually believe that Trump is the current GOP frontrunner, you may agree with Cullen. If the field is so lackluster that a buffoon like Trump can vault to the top of the polls, then maybe a whole new roster of sober presidential wannabes is needed. But though the comments in same Times story from such pundits as Charles Krauthammer (who termed the field “split and weak”) and our own Peter Wehner (who lamented the “lack of fizz” that created a vacuum that the clownish Trump is filling) cannot be disputed, there is no need for Republicans to push the panic button.

First of all, the idea that Trump is likely to run and then triumph in next year’s primaries and caucuses is highly unlikely. One needn’t be a fan of the GOP establishment to note that the ease with which President Obama took Trump apart at last night’s White House Correspondent’s Dinner (where the Donald had neither the grace nor the presence of mind to laugh along with the jokes at his expense) is a precursor of things to come for the former bankrupt. Trump’s novelty act is already wearing thin.

Second, though the current list of declared candidates is not exactly awe-inspiring, when one adds in the names of those who are almost certain or most likely to run, there will be enough adults to choose from. Although liberal media outlets have sometimes treated the GOP race as coming down to a battle between the likes of Trump, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, even without the addition of young stars like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan (who has become the de facto ideological leader of the party whether or not he runs for president), Republicans already have plausible candidates. Candidates with experience operating as the chief executives of states such as Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry, and Mitt Romney are all men who can be said to “do the job,” although it is unlikely that Republicans will pick someone who pushed a program that bears a resemblance to Obamacare as Romney did.

There is still plenty of time for any of the candidates, whether plausible presidents or not, to catch fire. With gas prices rising and the economy stagnating, Obama’s prospective opponents will have every opportunity to demonstrate their ability to inspire a Republican electorate whose distaste for the president and his fiscal policies is already at a fever pitch.

Right now none of the likely GOP nominees is electrifying anyone, but a year from now the survivor of the nominating process will already be apparent and even political kibitzers will understand that the outcome of the election will center on the state of the economy and whether Obama has avoided foreign policy disasters—not on the Republican standard-bearer’s ability to compete with a reality TV show star’s antics. At that point, the comic celebrity of Donald Trump and worries about the lack of “adults” in the race will be mere footnotes in the history of the 2012 race.

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