Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 24, 2011

Rubio Delivers Powerful Speech at Reagan Library

Senator Marco Rubio is considered by many people to be among the brightest stars in the conservative constellation. If you want to understand why, then watch or read this speech he delivered at the Reagan Library yesterday. It is a thoughtful, honest reflection on the role of government in our lives and how we got where we are.

According to Senator Rubio:

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Senator Marco Rubio is considered by many people to be among the brightest stars in the conservative constellation. If you want to understand why, then watch or read this speech he delivered at the Reagan Library yesterday. It is a thoughtful, honest reflection on the role of government in our lives and how we got where we are.

According to Senator Rubio:

Program after program was crafted without any thought as to how they will be funded in future years or the impact it would have on future Americans. They were done with the best of intentions, but because it weakened our people and didn’t take account the simple math of not being able to spend more money than you have, it was destined to fail and brought us to the point at which we are at today.

It is a startling place to be, because the 20th century was not a time of decline for America, it was the American century. Americans in the 20th century built here — we built here — the richest, most prosperous nation in the history of the world. And yet today we have built for ourselves a government that not even the richest and most prosperous nation in the face of the Earth can fund or afford to pay for. An extraordinary tragic accomplishment, if you can call it that.

In sketching out the challenges ahead, Rubio said this:

My generation must fully accept, the sooner the better, that if we want there to be a Social Security and a Medicare when we retire, and if we want America as we know it to continue when we retire, then we must accept and begin to make changes to those programs now, for us.

These changes will not be easy. Speeches are easy. Actually going out and doing them will be difficult. It’s never easy to go to people and say what you’ve always known we have to change. It isn’t. It will be hard. It will actually really call upon a specific generation of Americans, those of us, like myself, decades away from retirement, to assume certain realities — that we will continue to pay into and fund for a system that we will never fully access — that we are prepared to do whatever it takes in our lives and in our generation so that our parents and grandparents can enjoy the fruits of their labor and so that our children and our grandchildren can inherit the fullness of America’s promise.

The Florida senator’s speech also included a moving tribute to President Reagan and America.

It is a curious fact that the most compelling and persuasive voices within conservatism — Rubio, Representative Paul Ryan, and Governors Mitch Daniels and Jeb Bush — are not, for  various reasons, running for president this time around. Their impact on the public debate, and in shaping the course of the country, is far less than it would be if they ran and won the GOP nomination. But life is complicated, and a person who wants to run for president has to be driven to do so. Other people can’t want it more than they do.

If I were a betting man, though, I’d place a fair amount on the chances Marco Rubio will be on the ticket in 2012. And his odds are higher today than they were earlier this week, in the aftermath of his powerful address at the Reagan Library.

 

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Retired Officers Risk Reputations

General James L. Jones has had a stellar career, serving as commander of U.S. European Command, commandant of the Marine Corps, and most recently capped by a stint as President Barack Obama’s National Security Advisor.

Since his retirement, however, General Jones has, like many others, sought to transform his name into business and speaking success. New York Times contributor Elizabeth Rubin (no relation) recently included General Jones among a group of luminaries who have reportedly lent their endorsement to the Mujahedin al-Khalq, a somewhat wacky cult which has murdered Americans in the past and is considered by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist group. General Jones reportedly has also been among a group of visitors to Iraqi Kurdistan who have discussed the region’s booming oil industry.

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General James L. Jones has had a stellar career, serving as commander of U.S. European Command, commandant of the Marine Corps, and most recently capped by a stint as President Barack Obama’s National Security Advisor.

Since his retirement, however, General Jones has, like many others, sought to transform his name into business and speaking success. New York Times contributor Elizabeth Rubin (no relation) recently included General Jones among a group of luminaries who have reportedly lent their endorsement to the Mujahedin al-Khalq, a somewhat wacky cult which has murdered Americans in the past and is considered by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist group. General Jones reportedly has also been among a group of visitors to Iraqi Kurdistan who have discussed the region’s booming oil industry.

General Jones spent a career in service to the United States, often as a public face of the United States military. He may consider himself an ordinary private citizen now, but reputation matters.

It does America’s image a disservice when retired generals and, for that matter, senior diplomats, seek to transform their past service into the highest level speaking fees. I once substituted for a prominent retired general at a World Affairs Council meeting after organizers – many themselves retired flag officers – were shocked and insulted by that retired officer’s high five-figure honorarium demands.

Jones deservedly is a sought-after commodity because of his service. He has broken no laws, but those outside the United States may not appreciate such nuance. Let us hope Jones does not seek to leapfrog his reputation into interests in Iraq’s oil for, if he does so, he will provide ammunition for all those who wrongly see America’s actions in Iraq through the lens of oil interests rather than important principles of freedom, liberty, and security–for which General Jones once fought. Likewise, there are many organizations which might be more deserving of the good general’s imprimatur than one like the Mujahedin, which at best is anathema to anyone seeking freedom in Iran, and at worst is unrepentant about its past murders of American servicemen.

Reputation matters. It is a shame when a reputation of service is eroded in retirement by poor choices and associations.

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Obama in ’08: Bush’s debt “unpatriotic”

We recently learned that during the Obama presidency — which hasn’t even reached its third year — America has increased its debt by $4 trillion. That is to say, Obama has achieved in two-and-a-half years what it took George W. Bush two full terms in office to achieve. All of which makes this clip particularly delicious.

On July 3, 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama said this:

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We recently learned that during the Obama presidency — which hasn’t even reached its third year — America has increased its debt by $4 trillion. That is to say, Obama has achieved in two-and-a-half years what it took George W. Bush two full terms in office to achieve. All of which makes this clip particularly delicious.

On July 3, 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama said this:

The problem is, is that the way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the Bank of China in the name of our children, driving up our national debt from $5 trillion for the first 42 presidents — #43 added $4 trillion by his lonesome, so that we now have over $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back — $30,000 for every man, woman and child. That’s irresponsible. It’s unpatriotic.

How typical of Obama. He couldn’t simply express his policy disagreements with President Bush; he had to add his characteristic slander (Bush’s actions were “unpatriotic.”) Back in those days, before Obama carried the burdens of governing, it all seemed so simple. And now, two-and-a-half years into his presidency, Obama has made virtually everything he has touched worse. He turns out to be a man of uncommon incompetence.

I would add among the many differences between Bush and Obama is the former made a very serious run at entitlement reform (Social Security) while the latter put us on an unprecedented spending spree, including a hugely expensive (and injurious) entitlement program, the Affordable Care Act.

As Ed Morrissey puts it, “if Obama can use the increase in the national debt to question Bush’s patriotism, doesn’t it follow that increasing deficit spending by 152 percent per month makes Obama 152 percent more  ‘unpatriotic’ than Bush?”

I guess it does.

 

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Gallup’s Implications for Bachmann and Palin

One key takeaway from the new Gallup poll is Michele Bachmann’s momentum may have officially run out. After peaking at 13 percent in July, she’s now back down at 10 percent. This follows yesterday’s Iowa poll, which also showed her losing steam. Even Ron Paul is edging her out at 13 percent; he, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry were the only three candidates who gained support during the last month.

The poll also found Sarah Palin wouldn’t significantly shake up the race if she entered. In a race that includes both Palin and Rudy Giuliani, the former vice presidential candidate would tie Ron Paul at third place with 11 percent. Perry would still lead with 25 percent, followed by Romney with 14 percent.

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One key takeaway from the new Gallup poll is Michele Bachmann’s momentum may have officially run out. After peaking at 13 percent in July, she’s now back down at 10 percent. This follows yesterday’s Iowa poll, which also showed her losing steam. Even Ron Paul is edging her out at 13 percent; he, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry were the only three candidates who gained support during the last month.

The poll also found Sarah Palin wouldn’t significantly shake up the race if she entered. In a race that includes both Palin and Rudy Giuliani, the former vice presidential candidate would tie Ron Paul at third place with 11 percent. Perry would still lead with 25 percent, followed by Romney with 14 percent.

At RedState, Erick Erickson writes that Palin’s dithering has probably already damaged her standing:

First, I think we are coming to the end of the line for Sarah Palin’s ability to string the Republican primary voters along. They are trying to settle on a candidate now, they’ve held out hope of her entry, and are now ready for her to put up or shut up. Many of them have already moved on.

Second, I think Palin could get back a number of voters should she get into the race — people who gave up on her running and moved on to someone else. But, I do not think it would put her in a strong enough position to get into first or second place.

That seems to be supported by the poll. It’s possible Palin’s numbers are so low right now because her supporters don’t expect her to run. But if she enters and her numbers remain low it could undermine her reputation as one of the top leaders in the conservative movement. That’s the risk she’ll have to weigh if she’s still considering a campaign.

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It’s Official: Perry Is the Frontrunner

The poll we’ve all been patiently waiting for has arrived. Gallup’s first poll of the Republican field since Rick Perry entered the race has the Texas governor up 12 points on Mitt Romney, 29-17.

The poll breakdown shows why: Romney’s key constituency–self-described moderate and liberal Republicans–can no longer be taken for granted by the former Massachusetts governor. Romney has always had his work cut out for him with conservative Republicans, but if this trend continues it could be disastrous for his campaign:

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The poll we’ve all been patiently waiting for has arrived. Gallup’s first poll of the Republican field since Rick Perry entered the race has the Texas governor up 12 points on Mitt Romney, 29-17.

The poll breakdown shows why: Romney’s key constituency–self-described moderate and liberal Republicans–can no longer be taken for granted by the former Massachusetts governor. Romney has always had his work cut out for him with conservative Republicans, but if this trend continues it could be disastrous for his campaign:

Perry is a strong contender among key Republican subgroups. Older Republicans and those living in the South show especially strong support for him, at or near 40 percent. Conservative Republicans strongly favor Perry over Romney, but liberal and moderate Republicans support the two about equally. Perry’s support is also above average among religious Republicans.

Perry is locking in his natural base and has begun chipping away at Romney’s; it’s as simple as that. But the other implication of this poll is Romney’s status as the moderate candidate is by no means assured, either. When Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani are included in the poll, Palin seems to take some of Perry’s support, while Giuliani takes some of Romney’s, leaving Perry’s lead over Romney about the same. But what if Giuliani got in but Palin didn’t? Another moderate with strong name recognition may indeed be a threat to Romney. Jon Huntsman has been unable to play that role, but this poll suggests there is still an opportunity for Romney to bleed moderate support.

The poll was taken after Perry’s controversial comments about Ben Bernanke, and in the middle of the debate touched off by his statements on evolution and climate change, so none of those issues seems to have hurt him among GOP primary voters. (This is obviously bad news for Huntsman, who garners 1 percent in this poll.)

Gallup concludes with a bit of a warning to Perry’s camp not to get complacent:

Still, he, like Romney before him, rates as a weaker front-runner than those in prior GOP nomination contests.

But it is very good news for Perry. It will be interesting to see if Romney still avoids attacking Perry, now that their standings in the polls have switched, and Perry is officially the frontrunner.

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Obama’s Iraq?

It hasn’t yet entered our political debate, but Barack Obama is on course to become the president who lost Iraq. This could be a sleeper issue that does great damage to his bid for reelection, as the man whose case for leadership rested on opposition to the war may become the man who engineered a tragic and devastating “end” to it.

Signs of Iraq’s unraveling are everywhere. The increasing and unchallenged influence of Iran has led Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to give parliamentary space to Iranian proxies and to offer robust support for Tehran-backed Bashar al-Assad in Syria. In northern Iraq, even America’s closest, most democratically minded allies, the Kurds, are turning despotic and sidling up to Iran. Across the country, suicide bombing is rising, and partisan ill will threatens to pull the body politic apart.

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It hasn’t yet entered our political debate, but Barack Obama is on course to become the president who lost Iraq. This could be a sleeper issue that does great damage to his bid for reelection, as the man whose case for leadership rested on opposition to the war may become the man who engineered a tragic and devastating “end” to it.

Signs of Iraq’s unraveling are everywhere. The increasing and unchallenged influence of Iran has led Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to give parliamentary space to Iranian proxies and to offer robust support for Tehran-backed Bashar al-Assad in Syria. In northern Iraq, even America’s closest, most democratically minded allies, the Kurds, are turning despotic and sidling up to Iran. Across the country, suicide bombing is rising, and partisan ill will threatens to pull the body politic apart.

This is the natural result of nearly three years of an American policy focused on abandoning rather than securing—disowning rather than building on—our hard-won gains.  Even by the antiwar president’s own reckoning he had inherited a success in Iraq. “From getting rid of Saddam, to reducing violence, to stabilizing the country, to facilitating elections,” Obama told American troops stationed in Iraq in May, 2009, “you have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country. That is an extraordinary achievement.”

Since then, he has failed to keep that achievement on track. In March 2010, when parliamentary gridlock effectively froze Iraqi politics, Washington barely lifted a finger to ensure progress and guide the country toward a favorable outcome. All those Democrats on Capitol Hill who were once triumphantly obsessed with Iraq’s inability to meet political “benchmarks” had nothing to say as the Iraqi stalemate sent the country into a debilitating political reversal. What emerged from nearly a year of cynical horse-trading were an authoritarian Maliki and a markedly increased leadership role for extremist Shiites. Moreover, the ill-conceived governing coalitions could barely agree enough to enforce parking laws. All the while, Washington refused to exercise any leverage through conditionality of aid and support. Such absenteeism is the defining characteristic of Obama’s “responsible exit.” Among Iraqis, distrust, stagnation, and tribalism began to reappear. The result has been increasingly, and predictably, deadly.

As things stand, the U.S. is supposed to remove all American forces from Iraq at the end of this year. This will not only open the door to increased chaos, but deprive us of critical leverage in a still-salvageable Muslim democracy next door to Iran. There are negotiations afoot to keep a reduced number of American troops in Iraq after the hard drawdown date. But as with virtually every Obama maneuver pertaining to foreign policy, holding out hope of a meaningful step in the direction of American strength seems foolish. If an ineffectual compromise leaves behind a small number of hamstrung American advisors, things will likely continue to deteriorate. Headlines about a failing Iraq will be inescapable.

In other words, Obama will suffer on the front that marked the first feather in his cap: his opposition to the Iraq war. With his own words of presidential praise for Iraq to play back to him, his pledges to drawdown responsibly, his subsequent trail of indifference, and an American public growing more suspicious of his every instinct, he will be made to answer for letting the most hard-won achievement in recent American history backslide on his watch. If he looks toward lingering anti-Iraq sentiment to pull him out of trouble, he’ll be burned. Iraq, after all, had become a surprising bright spot on the American horizon. And the last few presidential and midterm elections reflect an American voting public that has elevated fickleness to a kind of determinative patriotism. Not that they’re wrong. The state of the country shows that we’ve been failed by both parties. There will be no room in voters’ broken hearts to let the president slide on a case of national defeat.

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If the PA Can’t Hold an Election, Is It Ready for a State?

Mahmoud Abbas – currently in the 80th month of his 48-month term, president of a Palestinian Authority that has repeatedly cancelled even local elections, even in its own half of its putative state – has postponed local elections again. Since the PA has no functioning legislature, Abbas did so by decree — cancelling elections “until better conditions are available” and dispensing with the formality of setting a new date. It was the latest in a series of demonstrations that the PA is not only unready for a state; it is not even ready to hold a local election.

The cancelled elections were not the long-overdue ones for president or parliament; those are impossible due to the unfortunate fact a terrorist organization rules half the putative state, and the “reconciliation” necessary to hold such elections (previously announced for sometime “next year”) is not likely to be implemented until shortly after General Franco’s recovery. The newly-cancelled elections were for city and village councils in the West Bank, which the PA nominally controls.

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Mahmoud Abbas – currently in the 80th month of his 48-month term, president of a Palestinian Authority that has repeatedly cancelled even local elections, even in its own half of its putative state – has postponed local elections again. Since the PA has no functioning legislature, Abbas did so by decree — cancelling elections “until better conditions are available” and dispensing with the formality of setting a new date. It was the latest in a series of demonstrations that the PA is not only unready for a state; it is not even ready to hold a local election.

The cancelled elections were not the long-overdue ones for president or parliament; those are impossible due to the unfortunate fact a terrorist organization rules half the putative state, and the “reconciliation” necessary to hold such elections (previously announced for sometime “next year”) is not likely to be implemented until shortly after General Franco’s recovery. The newly-cancelled elections were for city and village councils in the West Bank, which the PA nominally controls.

The PA has now cancelled local elections four times. They were supposed to be held in January 2009 but weren’t. Then they were supposed to be held in July 2010 but were cancelled after Fatah “encountered difficulties” producing a list of its candidates. The PA said the cancellation was “for the sake of public interest.” In February, the elections were scheduled for July 2011 and then were cancelled “until better conditions are available” and rescheduled for October. Now they have been cancelled again. The Palestinian “High Court” ruled last year the cancellation was illegal, but has no means to enforce its order — a demonstration the PA has no effective judicial system either.

When you have an unelected “president” who rules by decree; when your “High Court” is a Potemkin one; when your president repeatedly cancels even local elections; when a terrorist group allied with Iran holds half your putative state; when you are trying to “reconcile” with the group you previously promised to dismantle; when you have been offered a state three times in the last decade, refused each offer, and won’t come to the negotiating table to receive a fourth… you just might not be ready for a state.

Yesterday was the J Street “Day of Action” to rally its members to contact Congress to support a two-state solution. About 100 people showed up at a midtown rally in Manhattan to hear Peter Beinart blame Israel. The Los Angeles rally was held at Leo Baeck Temple last night and drew 25 people. Perhaps J Street will one day send letters urging “two states for two peoples” and an “end of claims” to the independent newspapers in the West Bank or Gaza supporting that solution. Oh, wait a minute….

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The Illogic of American Arms Sales

I was disappointed to read the Obama administration has, reportedly due to Chinese pressure, declined Taiwan’s request to purchase 66 new F-16C/D fighter aircraft for a reported price tag of $4.2 billion. China may be resurgent, and the worst message the United States can send to our regional allies is that Washington will defer their national security concerns to those in Beijing. No Chinese strategist is seriously concerned about a Taiwanese invasion of mainland China. The opposite is, of course, not true. Projection of weakness seldom provides a firm foundation for regional defense.

Against this backdrop, I return to the proposed sale of our latest generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Turkey. While Turkey has reportedly scaled back its order from 120 to six of the stealth fighters, all it takes is one in the wrong hands to provide a windfall to our adversaries (and, increasingly, Turkey’s allies) in countries like Iran and China. Unlike Taiwan, Turkey fears no imminent invasion of its territory from any neighbor.

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I was disappointed to read the Obama administration has, reportedly due to Chinese pressure, declined Taiwan’s request to purchase 66 new F-16C/D fighter aircraft for a reported price tag of $4.2 billion. China may be resurgent, and the worst message the United States can send to our regional allies is that Washington will defer their national security concerns to those in Beijing. No Chinese strategist is seriously concerned about a Taiwanese invasion of mainland China. The opposite is, of course, not true. Projection of weakness seldom provides a firm foundation for regional defense.

Against this backdrop, I return to the proposed sale of our latest generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Turkey. While Turkey has reportedly scaled back its order from 120 to six of the stealth fighters, all it takes is one in the wrong hands to provide a windfall to our adversaries (and, increasingly, Turkey’s allies) in countries like Iran and China. Unlike Taiwan, Turkey fears no imminent invasion of its territory from any neighbor.

There is something very wrong in Washington when the basis of foreign policy becomes dismissing allies for the sake of ingratiating ourselves to adversaries.

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CBO: Unemployment Will Stay Above 8 Percent for Years

No president since FDR has been reelected with an unemployment rate above 8 percent. But then again, before Obama, no president had been elected with “Community Organizer” as one of the top jobs on his resume. So, crazier things have happened.

CBO Director Doug Elmendorf blogs:

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No president since FDR has been reelected with an unemployment rate above 8 percent. But then again, before Obama, no president had been elected with “Community Organizer” as one of the top jobs on his resume. So, crazier things have happened.

CBO Director Doug Elmendorf blogs:

With modest economic growth anticipated for the next few years, CBO expects employment to expand slowly. The unemployment rate is projected to fall to 8.9 percent in the fourth quarter of this year and to 8.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 and then to remain above 8 percent until 2014 (see figure below).

Back in 2009, Obama’s advisors Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein predicted unemployment wouldn’t crack 8 percent if the stimulus plan passed. Guess they were a little off there (and it only cost us $1 trillion!).

But the unemployment rate may not need to fall below 8 percent for the public to start feeling more optimistic about the economic recovery. If unemployment decreases steadily at the rate predicted by the CBO, Obama can make the case his policies are slowly but surely mending the economy, and that electing a Republican will set us back to our 2008 status. That means creating the perception of steady improvements, even if they’re not significant.

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Hispanic Voter Disapproval May Cost Obama Florida

There’s already been plenty of coverage of this bombshell Magellan Strategies poll out of Florida today, showing Obama’s re-election numbers tanking in the state. But the survey’s most ominous finding is that Hispanic voters are abandoning the president in droves (sort of like the way Obama abandoned his campaign promise to tackle immigration reform during his first year in office).

In 2008, Obama won 57 percent of the state’s Hispanic vote, which has historically leaned Republican. Now, 72 percent of Florida Hispanic voters say Obama doesn’t deserve re-election, according to the Magellan poll. And the numbers don’t change when Obama is matched up with Republican candidates:

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There’s already been plenty of coverage of this bombshell Magellan Strategies poll out of Florida today, showing Obama’s re-election numbers tanking in the state. But the survey’s most ominous finding is that Hispanic voters are abandoning the president in droves (sort of like the way Obama abandoned his campaign promise to tackle immigration reform during his first year in office).

In 2008, Obama won 57 percent of the state’s Hispanic vote, which has historically leaned Republican. Now, 72 percent of Florida Hispanic voters say Obama doesn’t deserve re-election, according to the Magellan poll. And the numbers don’t change when Obama is matched up with Republican candidates:

What is striking is how poorly Barack Obama is doing among Hispanic and Latino voters in Florida. The ballot test between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney finds the president trailing Mitt Romney by 39 points, with 62 percent of Hispanic voters supporting Mitt Romney and only 23 percent supporting Barack Obama. The Perry‐Obama ballot test among Hispanic voters finds 56 percent supporting Rick Perry and 25 percent supporting the president. The Bachmann‐Obama ballot test among Hispanic voters finds Michele Bachmann with 51 percent support and 30 percent for Barack Obama.

The problem for Obama is his last victory in Florida was largely attributed to Hispanic voters. According to a 2008 study by liberal think tank NDN, Obama’s Hispanic support accounted for 7.9 percent of the Florida electorate, while he only won the state by 2 percent. This demographic will be even more crucial in the next election. By 2012, the growing Hispanic community in Florida is expected to be 34 percent larger than it was in 2008.

So, if Obama loses the Hispanic vote by a significant margin – which seems like a distinct possibility, based on this poll – he’ll need to make up those numbers from another demographic. The thing is, who can he go to? As the survey shows, his numbers are sliding with everyone – even 27 percent of Democrats say he doesn’t deserve reelection. Does anyone imagine he’ll be able to convince people who didn’t support him in 2008 to vote for him in 2012?

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Is Romney’s Campaign Really Too Timid?

Mitt Romney has been at least a de facto winner of the last two Republican presidential debates by focusing on the economy and President Obama, and avoiding tangling with the other candidates. His campaign has been built around such restraint, which helped him solidify his now-tenuous frontrunner status.

But the Hill is reporting that some Republicans think the strategy backfired and opened up space for Rick Perry to jump into the race. But not only does the story not deliver on its thesis, the sources used for it actually help make the opposite point.

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Mitt Romney has been at least a de facto winner of the last two Republican presidential debates by focusing on the economy and President Obama, and avoiding tangling with the other candidates. His campaign has been built around such restraint, which helped him solidify his now-tenuous frontrunner status.

But the Hill is reporting that some Republicans think the strategy backfired and opened up space for Rick Perry to jump into the race. But not only does the story not deliver on its thesis, the sources used for it actually help make the opposite point.

First up is a statement from Mark McKinnon:

“Maybe it will work, but I’ve never thought you win the presidency by being cautious,” said veteran GOP strategist Mark McKinnon. “Given all the challenges we face today, people today want bold leadership more than ever. Playing prevent defense may keep the opponents from scoring much, but it doesn’t do much to excite the crowd.”

While it’s true McKinnon is a “veteran” campaign strategist, the piece neglects to mention he was most recently a veteran of the John McCain campaign, which enjoyed a bitter rivalry with Romney in 2008–and which lost the election. Perhaps McKinnon doesn’t share too much of the blame for that, since he left the general election campaign because he didn’t want to run against Obama. Not the best example of the “bold leadership” McKinnon advocates.

Additionally, McKinnon’s judgment may not be flawless; he praised Jon Huntsman’s “political instincts” and proclaimed of Huntsman: “Move over, Tim Pawlenty. Here comes the new No. 2.”

The next voice to criticize Romney is South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson, who just says Romney hasn’t made much effort in South Carolina. But that doesn’t really fault the campaign for its style or substance; it’s simply a representative who would like the GOP presidential candidates to visit his state more often. It’s entirely understandable, and it doesn’t really fit the narrative of the story. It’s also worth noting that Wilson was a supporter of Tim Pawlenty, who saw Romney as his main adversary (until Pawlenty’s dormant rivalry with Michele Bachmann was reignited).

The piece then includes some praise for Romney’s strategy. All in all, Romney’s strategists probably read the piece as vindication for their decisions. It certainly doesn’t make a case against them.

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What If Huntsman Ends Up Running as a Third-Party Candidate?

Republicans are hoping that 2012 recapitulates the model of three elections in which challengers took the presidency. In 1968, the incumbent vice-president failed to win after the president decided not to run for a second full term rather than face defeat. In 1980, the incumbent lost in a landslide. In 1992, the incumbent garnered only 38 percent.

One striking aspect of all these elections was the existence of a serious third-party candidate—George Wallace in 1968, John Anderson in 1980, and Ross Perot in 1992. Wallace got 13 percent and won five states. Perot scored 19 percent, second only in American history to Theodore Roosevelt’s third-party 27 percent in 1912. In these cases, the presence of the third-party candidate threw off every conventional electoral calculation and without question contributed significantly to the defeat of Humphrey in ’68 and the elder Bush in ’92. Indeed, there is a strong political-science argument that Perot’s vote cost Bush the election. In 1980, the liberal Republican third partier, John Anderson, was a media darling and won a substantial 7 percent, but given that Reagan beat Carter by almost 11 points, did not affect the overall race materially.

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Republicans are hoping that 2012 recapitulates the model of three elections in which challengers took the presidency. In 1968, the incumbent vice-president failed to win after the president decided not to run for a second full term rather than face defeat. In 1980, the incumbent lost in a landslide. In 1992, the incumbent garnered only 38 percent.

One striking aspect of all these elections was the existence of a serious third-party candidate—George Wallace in 1968, John Anderson in 1980, and Ross Perot in 1992. Wallace got 13 percent and won five states. Perot scored 19 percent, second only in American history to Theodore Roosevelt’s third-party 27 percent in 1912. In these cases, the presence of the third-party candidate threw off every conventional electoral calculation and without question contributed significantly to the defeat of Humphrey in ’68 and the elder Bush in ’92. Indeed, there is a strong political-science argument that Perot’s vote cost Bush the election. In 1980, the liberal Republican third partier, John Anderson, was a media darling and won a substantial 7 percent, but given that Reagan beat Carter by almost 11 points, did not affect the overall race materially.

I haven’t even mentioned the most meaningful third-party challenger, Ralph Nader, whose 3 percent cost Al Gore the election in 2000—but that was for an open seat. Still, it’s valuable to note that in all these cases, the threat posed by the third-party challenger was not to the opposition candidate but to the incumbent. Always to the incumbent. That was even true in 1948, when Henry Wallace (from the left) and Strom Thurmond (from the racists) both ate away at the Democratic base and sliced into Harry Truman’s vote—though not fatally, as it turned out. Of course, in 1948 registered Democratic voters outnumbered registered Republicans by an enormous margin. That is no longer the case; the parties are close to parity now.

There is talk these days that Jon Huntsman, the former Republican governor of Utah who served as Obama’s ambassador to China, might be setting himself up to run as a third-party candidate with his attacks on the GOP’s attitudes toward science and the like. Perhaps, but if so, he is more likely to fill the role of John Anderson, taking votes away from moderates and liberals looking for someone to vote for other than the incumbent, than he is to play a Perot-like spoiler. Indeed, given the astoundingly fawning treatment Huntsman receives in the pages of Vogue this month from Slate.com’s Jacob Weisberg, the embodiment of mainstream liberal media views, Huntsman is well on his way to being the new John Anderson if he wants to be.

It’s hard to conjure up a scenario in which a third-party challenge doesn’t harm Obama and help Republicans.

 

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When Did it Become Controversial for a Republican to Support Creationism?

Jon Huntsman is still milking the Perry “evolution” controversy, and so far he’s been rewarded with a hearty endorsement from Howard Dean. But Perry’s comments are also getting a critical reception from conservative pundits. At Politico yesterday, Charles Krauthammer took a jab at the Texas governor:

 “I would hope that whoever the Republican candidate is, he or she will not tell us that creationism or intelligent design is the equivalent of evolution — just another theory about the origins of the biological man,” said the syndicated Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, who declined to weigh in on specific candidates, though Perry was recently recorded telling a young boy on a rope line that Texas schools teach both theories. “To put intelligent design on that level is like offering grade-school children a choice between astronomy and astrology,” he said.

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Jon Huntsman is still milking the Perry “evolution” controversy, and so far he’s been rewarded with a hearty endorsement from Howard Dean. But Perry’s comments are also getting a critical reception from conservative pundits. At Politico yesterday, Charles Krauthammer took a jab at the Texas governor:

 “I would hope that whoever the Republican candidate is, he or she will not tell us that creationism or intelligent design is the equivalent of evolution — just another theory about the origins of the biological man,” said the syndicated Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, who declined to weigh in on specific candidates, though Perry was recently recorded telling a young boy on a rope line that Texas schools teach both theories. “To put intelligent design on that level is like offering grade-school children a choice between astronomy and astrology,” he said.

Why is it all of a sudden controversial for a candidate to take this stance on creationism? Most Republican candidates in recent years have supported creationism or its close relative, intelligent design, including John McCain (though he said it should not be taught as science). The same goes for the majority of the GOP — a 2010 Gallup poll found that 52 percent of Republicans subscribe to creationism.

Here’s Ronald Reagan talking about evolution on the campaign trail in an Aug. 22, 1980 AP article, and sounding remarkably like Perry:

On another point, Reagan said he had serious doubts about the theory of evolution, and said that if it were taught in schools, then students should also learn about the biblical theory of creation.

“I have a great many questions about it,” Reagan said of the theory of evolution. “I think that recent discoveries down through the years have pointed up great flaws…(it) is not believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was believed.”

Reagan was wrong on the science. And his comments prompted a fair amount of criticism at the time. But his opinion on the issue had no bearing on the qualities that made him a great president: his judgment, leadership, wisdom and character. Plus, when will the president’s personal opinion on evolution have any impact on policy? Is there a pending fight over mandatory federal creationism programs in the public schools that I’m unaware of? There are plenty of legitimate reasons to criticize Perry, but discounting him based on his remarks on evolution would be short-sighted.

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Will Bachmann Leave Congress Next Year?

Even before Rick Perry stole a chunk of Michele Bachmann’s polling thunder, the Minnesota congresswoman must have been at least considering what she’ll do if she doesn’t win the Republican nomination. Though she suspended her House reelection campaign (House members are in perpetual campaign mode) to run for president, she didn’t give any strong signals she wouldn’t resume the campaign if she didn’t win.

But on the other hand, she hasn’t exactly reassured the state Republican party, as Minnesota Public Radio reports today:

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Even before Rick Perry stole a chunk of Michele Bachmann’s polling thunder, the Minnesota congresswoman must have been at least considering what she’ll do if she doesn’t win the Republican nomination. Though she suspended her House reelection campaign (House members are in perpetual campaign mode) to run for president, she didn’t give any strong signals she wouldn’t resume the campaign if she didn’t win.

But on the other hand, she hasn’t exactly reassured the state Republican party, as Minnesota Public Radio reports today:

Bachmann’s campaign spokeswoman did not respond to questions about whether she will run for Congress again.

David Fitzsimmons, chairman of the 6th District’s Republican Party, said Bachmann’s run for the White House left some people wondering whether the district will see a race for an open seat.

“It makes it a little more difficult than it usually is,” he said. “Usually we just have to sit back and have Congresswoman Bachmann do her magic and she wins reelection.”

Fitzsimmons, who is volunteering for Bachmann’s presidential campaign, has encouraged Bachmann to run for re-election if she doesn’t win the GOP nomination. He believes Bachmann would consider another run for Congress.

The fact the GOP chair of Bachmann’s district, who is also working on her campaign, can only say he thinks Bachmann would “consider” running for reelection means she is being as quiet about her intentions as possible. Meanwhile, several Minnesota Republicans are putting their names out there just in case.

This raises a challenge for the state GOP, though, because if Bachmann chooses not to run, she probably won’t make that announcement until March, or even April, 2012. Is that enough time for the party to field a candidate and for that candidate to put together a serious campaign and raise the necessary money? It’s possible, but it clearly opens the door for the Democrats. Speaking of whom, the state’s Democrats are more anxious about Bachmann’s decision than her own party:

“It’s frankly unfair what she’s doing by keeping both feet in both camps at this point,” state DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said. “If she’s serious about the presidency, she should end her campaign for Congress and allow the Republican Party to find a candidate and allow the Democratic Party to find a candidate.”

That statement shows just how much the Democrats fear Bachmann, and how tough it is to field an opponent who can compete with her fundraising prowess and name recognition.

Beyond the seat itself, however, there are more interesting questions about Bachmann’s future if she doesn’t run for reelection and she doesn’t win the nomination. Will she take a page out of Sarah Palin’s book and leave government in order to raise her national profile even more? Is she interested in punditry and political action committees? Does she have designs on a national party job like RNC chair? The possibilities are all there. And the speculation–which will serve as a trial balloon of sorts for any of these options–will probably only help her by attracting more buzz to her campaign and keeping both parties on the edge of their seats.

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Complete Annotated Guide to 9/11 Novels

It took 14 years after the death camp’s liberation for Auschwitz to appear in American fiction (in Meyer Levin’s 1959 novel Eva), but 9/11 began to influence literature straight away. Roland Merullo was probably the first American writer to allude to the terrorist attacks. In a 2002 novel-as-memoir of growing up in the Sixties, Merullo observed in passing that “people did not bomb airplanes in those days, or fly them into buildings.” The first 9/11 novels, neither so unassuming nor so objective, started issuing from publishers within another year or two.

With the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks looming near, the time may be right to assay what has been done so far, and to ask whether there are any 9/11 novels that might be read in commemoration. The Belgian scholar Kristiaan Versluys, who wrote a study of 9/11 fiction, assigns the collapse of the Twin Towers to the category of the “unsayable,” and English-language novelists have shown a marked reluctance to dramatize the events of that day directly. The usual approach has been to write about people who experienced 9/11 the same way the novelists did: in Julia Glass’s words, “touched by it, scared by it, but not having lost anyone directly.”

More than 30 novels have been published with the 9/11 attacks at their backs, where the characters always hear them. (H/t: Mark Athitakis and Erika Dreifus for additions to the original list.) The books fall into two main groupings — those in which men and women must live in the aftermath, and those in which the 9/11 attacks are mere episodes in a larger environment of terror, where politics are more telling than moral experience. Only two novels take place on the day in question:

• Claire Messud, The Emperor’s Children (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006). The best novel to emerge from September 11, and perhaps the only real 9/11 novel on the list. A New York intellectual is caught in a lie and stranded in his adulterous lover’s apartment by the attacks, which change nothing for him and everything for her.

• Hugh Nissenson, Days of Awe (Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebooks, 2005). The author of the minor masterpiece My Own Ground transgresses the limits of imagination, putting into words what it might have been like to jump from the 102nd floor of the north tower.

Living in the Aftermath
• Shirley Abbott, The Future of Love (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2008). Five New Yorkers struggle with the problem of love, mostly extramarital, in the days after September 11.

• Don DeLillo. Falling Man (New York: Scribner, 2007). How does a lawyer who worked in the World Trade Center react to the terrorist attacks? Short answer: Not well.

• Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005). A nine year old searches all over New York for the key to his father, who died on September 11.

• William Gibson, Pattern Recognition (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2003). The first 9/11 novel and the first novel by the celebrated sci-fi writer to be set in the present. 9/11 yanks an opening into a future of frightening radical uncertainty.

• Julia Glass, The Whole World Over (New York: Pantheon, 2006). A pastry chef and her friends sort out their lives after 9/11, looking for safety in interpersonal closeness over the course of 500 pages (see Shirley Abbott, above).

• Allegra Goodman, The Cookbook Collector (New York: Dial Press, 2010). The American novelist, whose first published story appeared in COMMENTARY, rewrites Sense and Sensibility in the years between the dotcom bubble and 9/11.

• Ken Kalfus, A Disorder Peculiar to the Country (New York: Ecco, 2006). A wife assumes, not unhappily, that her husband has died in the Twin Towers. When she discovers that he has not, their marriage must resume — in bleakly comedic fashion.

• Jay McInerney, The Good Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006). Two Manhattanites, each married to someone else, volunteer at a soup kitchen near Ground Zero in the days immediately following the 9/11 attacks. Searching for a renewed meaning to their lives, they fall in love.

• Martha McPhee, L’America (Orlando: Harcourt, 2006). The international love story of a rich Italian and a New York girl who dies in the Twin Towers. The story unfolds in the shadow of how it is to end.

• Sue Miller, Lake Shore Limited (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010). A playwright decides to move out on her boyfriend. Before she can, though, his plane hits one of the towers. Later, her play opens.

• H. M. Naqvi, Home Boy (New York: Crown, 2009). The Muslims in New York, after the World Trade Center was attacked, had “become Japs, Jews, Niggers,” according to the first sentence of this first novel about their lives and the suspicion and discrimination against them in the aftermath.

• Joseph O’Neill, Netherland (New York: Pantheon, 2008). A family of three — Dutch-born market analyst, British wife, two-year-old son — are living in a Tribeca loft when the World Trade Center attacks oblige them to find living quarters uptown, where their marriage gradually pulls apart.

• Jacob Paul, Sarah/Sara (Ig Publishing, 2010). A young American woman who makes aliyah to Israel after 9/11 — her father survived the attack on the North Tower — is afflicted and disfigured by Palestinian terrorism. She relives the events on a journey to the Arctic. The author is himself a 9/11 survivor.

• Reynolds Price, The Good Priest’s Son (New York: Scribner, 2005). When a 53-year-old art conservator cannot return to Manhattan on 9/11, he goes home to North Carolina and reconciles with his father, an Episcopal priest.

• Francine Prose, Bullyville (New York: Harper Teen, 2007). In this well-written young adult novel, the son of a father killed in the Twin Towers is awarded a full scholarship to the Baileyville Academy, better known as Bullyville.

• Nicholas Rinaldi, Between Two Rivers (New York: Harper Collins, 2004). In the style of Aharon Appelfeld’s Badenheim 1939, a beautifully written novel set among the residents of a Manhattan apartment building who are unaware of the coming destruction.

• Helen Schulman, A Day at the Beach (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007). A marriage tries to recover from 9/11, without much success (see Ken Kalfus, above — without the humor).

• Lynne Sharon Schwartz, The Writing on the Wall (New York: Counterpoint, 2005). A librarian inherits a baby after her boyfriend’s assistant dies in the World Trade Center. She is a surviving twin, whose sister died when they were teenagers. Wall-to-wall survivor guilt.

• Art Spiegelman, In the Shadow of No Towers (New York: Pantheon, 2004). In no sense of the word a novel, Spiegelman’s graphic memoir describes the trauma of witnessing the Twin Towers’ destruction. Complete with a monograph on the Sunday comics and comparisons to the Holocaust in just 42 pages.

• Claire Tristram, After (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004). One year after her husband has died at the hands of Muslim extremists, a young widow decides to take a Muslim lover to mark the anniversary.

• Amy Waldman, The Submission (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011). In the latest 9/11 novel, by a former New York Times reporter, an American Muslim wins the blind-judged contest to design the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero, causing the predictable furor.

• Jess Walter, The Zero (New York: Regan, 2006). The main character, who accidentally shot himself in the head on 9/11, now gives tours of Ground Zero to VIP’s, and also suffers memory “gaps.” Absurdity ensues, along with plenty of political commentary of a monolingual kind.

The Global War on Terror
• Pearl Abraham, American Taliban (New York: Random House, 2010). The American novelist who began her career by turning the world of the Hasidim inside out tries to do the same for a young man suspiciously like John Walker Lindh.

• Andre Dubus III, The Garden of Last Days (New York: W. W. Norton, 2009). This “prequel” to 9/11 is about a young Arab Muslim who is living in Florida, learning to fly jetliners and haunting a strip club. A study of a terrorist’s mind (see John Updike, below).

• David Goodwillie, American Subversive (New York: Scribner, 2010). A good-looking girl with a figure “stolen from a teenage fantasy” becomes a domestic terrorist after her brother is killed in Iraq. Should a “relationships columnist” for the New York Times bed her or turn her in?

• Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (London: Hamish Hamilton, 2007). A young Pakistani returns home to Lahore after 9/11 to find that the global war on terror may be transforming him, against his will, into an Islamic fundamentalist.

• Heidi Julavits, The Effect of Living Backwards (New York: Putnam, 2003). A passenger jet headed to Morocco is highjacked, or maybe one of two American sisters on board only thinks it has been hijacked. Hints about 9/11, “The Big Terrible,” suggest that she may be fantasizing. Or hallucinating.

• Ward Just, Forgetfulness (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006). After 9/11, an American expatriate painter must confront the global war on terror when his wife is murdered by Moroccan terrorists.

• Ian McEwan, Saturday (London: Jonathan Cape, 2005). A London neurosurgeon begins his day by watching a plane on fire — a bomb on board, he assumes — and navigates around an anti-Iraq War protest to encounter terrorism in his own home.

• Carolyn See, There Will Never Be Another You (New York: Random House, 2006). A prophetic look into the near future: beginning on 9/11, a group of characters in Los Angeles must learn to live with bioterrorism, while the U.S. fights an unnamed war.

• John Updike, Terrorist (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006). A half-Egyptian New Jersey high school boy is introduced to a jihadi terrorist cell by a Yemeni iman.

So Which Are Any Good?
Very few. And every recommendation leads to a “but. . . .” The Emperor’s Children is probably the best novel to come out of September 11, but Claire Messud gives up on the narrative dilemma that she creates for her characters. She is more interested in the drama of a romantic breakup, which she dramatizes very well, than in the trauma of 9/11. Similarly, Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland is more absorbed with cricket than terrorism, but because the novel does not try to do too much, it is a pleasant little thing.

Nicholas Rinaldi’s Between Two Rivers deserves a larger audience, but too much of it is padding. Ian McEwan’s Saturday suggests provocative connections between political terrorism and violent crime, but its implausible ending ties them up unconvincingly. John Updike’s Terrorist is the only 9/11 novel I’ve read that seeks to penetrate the mind of a terrorist, but it suffers from the same defects as Updike’s weakest books — a sighing preciousness that trivializes its serious subject.

The sad hard truth is that the best novels about terrorism remain Joseph Conrad’s Secret Agent and Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. The 9/11 books add little that cannot be learned, and more memorably, from them.

It took 14 years after the death camp’s liberation for Auschwitz to appear in American fiction (in Meyer Levin’s 1959 novel Eva), but 9/11 began to influence literature straight away. Roland Merullo was probably the first American writer to allude to the terrorist attacks. In a 2002 novel-as-memoir of growing up in the Sixties, Merullo observed in passing that “people did not bomb airplanes in those days, or fly them into buildings.” The first 9/11 novels, neither so unassuming nor so objective, started issuing from publishers within another year or two.

With the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks looming near, the time may be right to assay what has been done so far, and to ask whether there are any 9/11 novels that might be read in commemoration. The Belgian scholar Kristiaan Versluys, who wrote a study of 9/11 fiction, assigns the collapse of the Twin Towers to the category of the “unsayable,” and English-language novelists have shown a marked reluctance to dramatize the events of that day directly. The usual approach has been to write about people who experienced 9/11 the same way the novelists did: in Julia Glass’s words, “touched by it, scared by it, but not having lost anyone directly.”

More than 30 novels have been published with the 9/11 attacks at their backs, where the characters always hear them. (H/t: Mark Athitakis and Erika Dreifus for additions to the original list.) The books fall into two main groupings — those in which men and women must live in the aftermath, and those in which the 9/11 attacks are mere episodes in a larger environment of terror, where politics are more telling than moral experience. Only two novels take place on the day in question:

• Claire Messud, The Emperor’s Children (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006). The best novel to emerge from September 11, and perhaps the only real 9/11 novel on the list. A New York intellectual is caught in a lie and stranded in his adulterous lover’s apartment by the attacks, which change nothing for him and everything for her.

• Hugh Nissenson, Days of Awe (Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebooks, 2005). The author of the minor masterpiece My Own Ground transgresses the limits of imagination, putting into words what it might have been like to jump from the 102nd floor of the north tower.

Living in the Aftermath
• Shirley Abbott, The Future of Love (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2008). Five New Yorkers struggle with the problem of love, mostly extramarital, in the days after September 11.

• Don DeLillo. Falling Man (New York: Scribner, 2007). How does a lawyer who worked in the World Trade Center react to the terrorist attacks? Short answer: Not well.

• Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005). A nine year old searches all over New York for the key to his father, who died on September 11.

• William Gibson, Pattern Recognition (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2003). The first 9/11 novel and the first novel by the celebrated sci-fi writer to be set in the present. 9/11 yanks an opening into a future of frightening radical uncertainty.

• Julia Glass, The Whole World Over (New York: Pantheon, 2006). A pastry chef and her friends sort out their lives after 9/11, looking for safety in interpersonal closeness over the course of 500 pages (see Shirley Abbott, above).

• Allegra Goodman, The Cookbook Collector (New York: Dial Press, 2010). The American novelist, whose first published story appeared in COMMENTARY, rewrites Sense and Sensibility in the years between the dotcom bubble and 9/11.

• Ken Kalfus, A Disorder Peculiar to the Country (New York: Ecco, 2006). A wife assumes, not unhappily, that her husband has died in the Twin Towers. When she discovers that he has not, their marriage must resume — in bleakly comedic fashion.

• Jay McInerney, The Good Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006). Two Manhattanites, each married to someone else, volunteer at a soup kitchen near Ground Zero in the days immediately following the 9/11 attacks. Searching for a renewed meaning to their lives, they fall in love.

• Martha McPhee, L’America (Orlando: Harcourt, 2006). The international love story of a rich Italian and a New York girl who dies in the Twin Towers. The story unfolds in the shadow of how it is to end.

• Sue Miller, Lake Shore Limited (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010). A playwright decides to move out on her boyfriend. Before she can, though, his plane hits one of the towers. Later, her play opens.

• H. M. Naqvi, Home Boy (New York: Crown, 2009). The Muslims in New York, after the World Trade Center was attacked, had “become Japs, Jews, Niggers,” according to the first sentence of this first novel about their lives and the suspicion and discrimination against them in the aftermath.

• Joseph O’Neill, Netherland (New York: Pantheon, 2008). A family of three — Dutch-born market analyst, British wife, two-year-old son — are living in a Tribeca loft when the World Trade Center attacks oblige them to find living quarters uptown, where their marriage gradually pulls apart.

• Jacob Paul, Sarah/Sara (Ig Publishing, 2010). A young American woman who makes aliyah to Israel after 9/11 — her father survived the attack on the North Tower — is afflicted and disfigured by Palestinian terrorism. She relives the events on a journey to the Arctic. The author is himself a 9/11 survivor.

• Reynolds Price, The Good Priest’s Son (New York: Scribner, 2005). When a 53-year-old art conservator cannot return to Manhattan on 9/11, he goes home to North Carolina and reconciles with his father, an Episcopal priest.

• Francine Prose, Bullyville (New York: Harper Teen, 2007). In this well-written young adult novel, the son of a father killed in the Twin Towers is awarded a full scholarship to the Baileyville Academy, better known as Bullyville.

• Nicholas Rinaldi, Between Two Rivers (New York: Harper Collins, 2004). In the style of Aharon Appelfeld’s Badenheim 1939, a beautifully written novel set among the residents of a Manhattan apartment building who are unaware of the coming destruction.

• Helen Schulman, A Day at the Beach (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007). A marriage tries to recover from 9/11, without much success (see Ken Kalfus, above — without the humor).

• Lynne Sharon Schwartz, The Writing on the Wall (New York: Counterpoint, 2005). A librarian inherits a baby after her boyfriend’s assistant dies in the World Trade Center. She is a surviving twin, whose sister died when they were teenagers. Wall-to-wall survivor guilt.

• Art Spiegelman, In the Shadow of No Towers (New York: Pantheon, 2004). In no sense of the word a novel, Spiegelman’s graphic memoir describes the trauma of witnessing the Twin Towers’ destruction. Complete with a monograph on the Sunday comics and comparisons to the Holocaust in just 42 pages.

• Claire Tristram, After (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004). One year after her husband has died at the hands of Muslim extremists, a young widow decides to take a Muslim lover to mark the anniversary.

• Amy Waldman, The Submission (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011). In the latest 9/11 novel, by a former New York Times reporter, an American Muslim wins the blind-judged contest to design the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero, causing the predictable furor.

• Jess Walter, The Zero (New York: Regan, 2006). The main character, who accidentally shot himself in the head on 9/11, now gives tours of Ground Zero to VIP’s, and also suffers memory “gaps.” Absurdity ensues, along with plenty of political commentary of a monolingual kind.

The Global War on Terror
• Pearl Abraham, American Taliban (New York: Random House, 2010). The American novelist who began her career by turning the world of the Hasidim inside out tries to do the same for a young man suspiciously like John Walker Lindh.

• Andre Dubus III, The Garden of Last Days (New York: W. W. Norton, 2009). This “prequel” to 9/11 is about a young Arab Muslim who is living in Florida, learning to fly jetliners and haunting a strip club. A study of a terrorist’s mind (see John Updike, below).

• David Goodwillie, American Subversive (New York: Scribner, 2010). A good-looking girl with a figure “stolen from a teenage fantasy” becomes a domestic terrorist after her brother is killed in Iraq. Should a “relationships columnist” for the New York Times bed her or turn her in?

• Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (London: Hamish Hamilton, 2007). A young Pakistani returns home to Lahore after 9/11 to find that the global war on terror may be transforming him, against his will, into an Islamic fundamentalist.

• Heidi Julavits, The Effect of Living Backwards (New York: Putnam, 2003). A passenger jet headed to Morocco is highjacked, or maybe one of two American sisters on board only thinks it has been hijacked. Hints about 9/11, “The Big Terrible,” suggest that she may be fantasizing. Or hallucinating.

• Ward Just, Forgetfulness (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006). After 9/11, an American expatriate painter must confront the global war on terror when his wife is murdered by Moroccan terrorists.

• Ian McEwan, Saturday (London: Jonathan Cape, 2005). A London neurosurgeon begins his day by watching a plane on fire — a bomb on board, he assumes — and navigates around an anti-Iraq War protest to encounter terrorism in his own home.

• Carolyn See, There Will Never Be Another You (New York: Random House, 2006). A prophetic look into the near future: beginning on 9/11, a group of characters in Los Angeles must learn to live with bioterrorism, while the U.S. fights an unnamed war.

• John Updike, Terrorist (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006). A half-Egyptian New Jersey high school boy is introduced to a jihadi terrorist cell by a Yemeni iman.

So Which Are Any Good?
Very few. And every recommendation leads to a “but. . . .” The Emperor’s Children is probably the best novel to come out of September 11, but Claire Messud gives up on the narrative dilemma that she creates for her characters. She is more interested in the drama of a romantic breakup, which she dramatizes very well, than in the trauma of 9/11. Similarly, Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland is more absorbed with cricket than terrorism, but because the novel does not try to do too much, it is a pleasant little thing.

Nicholas Rinaldi’s Between Two Rivers deserves a larger audience, but too much of it is padding. Ian McEwan’s Saturday suggests provocative connections between political terrorism and violent crime, but its implausible ending ties them up unconvincingly. John Updike’s Terrorist is the only 9/11 novel I’ve read that seeks to penetrate the mind of a terrorist, but it suffers from the same defects as Updike’s weakest books — a sighing preciousness that trivializes its serious subject.

The sad hard truth is that the best novels about terrorism remain Joseph Conrad’s Secret Agent and Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. The 9/11 books add little that cannot be learned, and more memorably, from them.

Read Less




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