Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 14, 2011

Electoral College Hysteria

Some left-wing pundits are going off the deep end today because of the proposal mooted by Pennsylvania State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi that would divide the state’s electoral votes in future presidential elections by congressional districts rather than a winner-take-all system as currently exists in 48 out of the 50 states. For writers like the Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen or the Washington Post’s Jonathan Bernstein, it’s a nefarious GOP plot to steal the next election and part of a concerted effort to disenfranchise Democrats.

One needn’t be in favor of the proposal to see this reaction as an example of liberal hysteria rather than a serious critique. Though probably misguided, splitting a state’s electoral votes along those lines is not illegal. It is already the case in Maine and Nebraska, without democracy being threatened. As for its impact on the next election, though it might benefit the GOP if Pennsylvania did it without being copied by any other large states, were the practice to be applied everywhere in the country, it is far from clear either party could count on it providing an edge in a presidential election.

Read More

Some left-wing pundits are going off the deep end today because of the proposal mooted by Pennsylvania State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi that would divide the state’s electoral votes in future presidential elections by congressional districts rather than a winner-take-all system as currently exists in 48 out of the 50 states. For writers like the Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen or the Washington Post’s Jonathan Bernstein, it’s a nefarious GOP plot to steal the next election and part of a concerted effort to disenfranchise Democrats.

One needn’t be in favor of the proposal to see this reaction as an example of liberal hysteria rather than a serious critique. Though probably misguided, splitting a state’s electoral votes along those lines is not illegal. It is already the case in Maine and Nebraska, without democracy being threatened. As for its impact on the next election, though it might benefit the GOP if Pennsylvania did it without being copied by any other large states, were the practice to be applied everywhere in the country, it is far from clear either party could count on it providing an edge in a presidential election.

If votes were divided up in this manner everywhere, the Democrats would be able to steal some votes from red states like Texas (which is the big winner in the new post-2010 census alignment) as well as other Republican strongholds. It’s true such a system would chip away from the Democratic strength in California and New York, two states that are probably not going to be in play for the foreseeable future. But if the last three elections have taught us anything, it is that most states in the union are likely up for grabs, including Pennsylvania, where in 2004 John Kerry’s margin of victory was about the same as George W. Bush’s equally small — and controversial — edge in neighboring Ohio. Reshuffling the deck along district rather than state lines might, as liberals lament, create a situation where the loser of the popular vote might win the Electoral College. But didn’t that already happen under the existing system?

The virtue of applying this scheme in every state would be that it would cause both parties to try and compete throughout the country instead of writing off those where they were in a minority. That would force the GOP to spend money in New York and California, and the Democrats to do the same in Texas as well as other parts of the South and the West where Republicans dominate. If anything, it might produce a result more closely aligned with the popular vote , because states that were narrowly won by either side might now accrue to the credit of both rather than just one.

It is true if only a few states switched that might create an advantage for one party over the other. Yet that isn’t likely, because any such move would almost certainly set off a chain reaction of switches around the country.

As for the reasons not to do it, one could oppose it on grounds of tradition. It could also be pointed out that unlike the states, most congressional districts are the result of racial balkanization or partisan gerrymandering that say more about power politics than democracy. But the idea that it is part of a Republican war on voting is absurd. After all, it is the Democrats who have dug in their heels against any effort to counter voter fraud at the polls, even though we all know cheating at elections is imbedded in the parties’ DNA.

But there is a better reason than Democratic hysteria or false charges of stealing elections for Pennsylvania Republicans to forget this proposal. Barack Obama’s poll numbers there are such he would be a fool to consider it in his pocket. Which means the only loser in this dustup might be the GOP if they win Pennsylvania in November 2012–as they very well might.

Read Less

Panic, Then Rage Ahead for Democrats

According to White House spokesman Jay Carney, the results of the historic Democratic defeat in NY-9 had nothing whatever to do with the president. When asked by a reporter how it could be viewed as anything other than a referendum on the president, Carney said,  “Special elections are often unique and their outcomes do not tell you very much about future regularly scheduled elections.” He added, “Oone election in what had been a Democratic seat is unique to that district, to the circumstances around what created — that caused the special election to take place. And judge it as you will, I think it’s a very specific case in a specific district in, obviously, a very low turnout election.”

Here’s the problem with that spin: it’s not true.

Read More

According to White House spokesman Jay Carney, the results of the historic Democratic defeat in NY-9 had nothing whatever to do with the president. When asked by a reporter how it could be viewed as anything other than a referendum on the president, Carney said,  “Special elections are often unique and their outcomes do not tell you very much about future regularly scheduled elections.” He added, “Oone election in what had been a Democratic seat is unique to that district, to the circumstances around what created — that caused the special election to take place. And judge it as you will, I think it’s a very specific case in a specific district in, obviously, a very low turnout election.”

Here’s the problem with that spin: it’s not true.

Representative-elect Bob Turner’s  campaign explicitly said the election was about “sending a message” to Obama over both the economy and Obama’s hostility toward Israel (the district is heavily Jewish). Prior to the election, in fact, Turner said, “It is a referendum [on Obama] in many ways.” And a Turner consultant, Steve Goldberg, said, “It was all Obama — not even a thought of anything else.”

Voters in NY-9 made the same point. Richard Krisberg, a Democrat, told reporters, “Weprin supports President Obama and his policies, and that’s why I voted against him.” Linda Goldberg put it this way: “I am a registered Democrat, I have always been a registered Democrat, I come from a family of Democrats — and I hate to say this, I voted Republican. I  need to send a message to the president that he’s not doing a very good job. Our economy is horrible. People are scared.”

Truth be told, and White House spin aside, so is the Democratic Party. Panic is spreading like a contagion; and soon panic will give rise to rage, much of it directed at the president himself.

 

Read Less

The “Vatican Option” and the Palestinians

With the United States certain to veto a resolution calling for Palestinian statehood in the United States Security Council, more attention is being given to the impact of a vote on the same issue in the General Assembly. The GA doesn’t have the power to create a sovereign state, but it can upgrade the Palestinians’ current status at the UN from a non-member “observer entity” to a non-member “observer state.” That would give the Palestinians the same status at the world body as the Vatican. That means it could become a member of a variety of UN organizations such as UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Health Organization. Some observers see this “Vatican option” as a reasonable compromise, but a comparison between the Vatican and the Palestinian Authority ought to put this initiative in perspective.

The Vatican actually is a tiny yet sovereign state that controls a small amount of territory in Rome and is allowed the courtesy of observer status because of the respect due to a venerable church and its charitable institutions. But although the origins of the Papal state were in the power politics of Italy during the medieval era, unlike the putative Palestine, the Vatican does not harbor any ambition to take over its immediate neighbor. Nor does it form part of a unity coalition with an Islamist terrorist group or honor terrorists or pay them pensions, as does the PA.

Read More

With the United States certain to veto a resolution calling for Palestinian statehood in the United States Security Council, more attention is being given to the impact of a vote on the same issue in the General Assembly. The GA doesn’t have the power to create a sovereign state, but it can upgrade the Palestinians’ current status at the UN from a non-member “observer entity” to a non-member “observer state.” That would give the Palestinians the same status at the world body as the Vatican. That means it could become a member of a variety of UN organizations such as UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Health Organization. Some observers see this “Vatican option” as a reasonable compromise, but a comparison between the Vatican and the Palestinian Authority ought to put this initiative in perspective.

The Vatican actually is a tiny yet sovereign state that controls a small amount of territory in Rome and is allowed the courtesy of observer status because of the respect due to a venerable church and its charitable institutions. But although the origins of the Papal state were in the power politics of Italy during the medieval era, unlike the putative Palestine, the Vatican does not harbor any ambition to take over its immediate neighbor. Nor does it form part of a unity coalition with an Islamist terrorist group or honor terrorists or pay them pensions, as does the PA.

Many nations will vote for the resolution because they believe the Palestinian people are deserving of freedom and representation at the UN. But despite the drumbeat of lies emanating from both the Arab lobby and the mainstream media, the main obstacle to their freedom remains their leadership that even now will not return to negotiations to create an independent state. Nor are they prepared to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state that exists next door no matter where its borders are drawn. Were the conflict over the question of Palestinian independence, it would have been settled in 2000 when Israel first offered them a state in most of the West Bank, part of Jerusalem and all of Gaza. Yasir Arafat said no to that offer and another the next year. Mahmoud Abbas said no to an even more generous proposal in 2008. Neither he nor his predecessor was prepared to end the conflict.

The essence of the drive for Palestinian independence is rooted in their war against Zionism and the existence of Israel. The goal of Palestinian participation in world bodies alongside the Vatican will be to continue that war and to seek to isolate Israel. The true face of Palestinian independence can be found in the already independent territory of Gaza, where a terrorist state already sits on Israel’s doorstep and where killers are free to plot the murder of Jews behind the protection of an international frontier. Anyone who wonders at Israel’s reluctance to allow the same situation to develop in the West Bank or even parts of Jerusalem need only consider the reality of Hamasistan. To compare a Palestinian movement with that purpose to the Vatican is an insult to the Catholic Church and an insult to common sense.

Read Less

Columbia U. Threatened With Lawsuit Over Ahmadinejad Visit; UPDATE: Columbia Responds, No Visit

See update below from Columbia University spokesperson, who says the school never “planned or considered” hosting a dinner for Iranian President Ahmadinejad.

Columbia University has hosted Iranian President Ahmadinejad in years past, but the upcoming banquet it’s reportedly planning for the universally-loathed leader might not go as smoothly this time around.

An Israeli law center is vowing to hit Columbia University with massive lawsuits if it goes ahead with the banquet, according to a letter the legal group sent to university president Lee Bollinger and obtained by COMMENTARY:

Read More

See update below from Columbia University spokesperson, who says the school never “planned or considered” hosting a dinner for Iranian President Ahmadinejad.

Columbia University has hosted Iranian President Ahmadinejad in years past, but the upcoming banquet it’s reportedly planning for the universally-loathed leader might not go as smoothly this time around.

An Israeli law center is vowing to hit Columbia University with massive lawsuits if it goes ahead with the banquet, according to a letter the legal group sent to university president Lee Bollinger and obtained by COMMENTARY:

Hosting Ahmadinejad at a banquet is not merely morally repulsive: it is illegal and will expose Columbia University and its officers to both criminal prosecution and civil liability to American citizens and others victimized by Iranian-sponsored terrorism.

Iran is officially designated under U.S. law as a state-sponsor of terrorism, as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and as a perpetrator of human rights abuses. Ahmadinejad is Iran’s chief executive and personally directs Iran’s terrorist and nuclear proliferation activities and human rights abuse. …

The planned Columbia University event for Ahmadinejad would constitute the type of seemingly innocuous material support that would render both Columbia University and you personally criminally and civilly liable notwithstanding any putative First Amendment claims.

Shurat HaDin, the Israeli law center that sent the letter, requested that Bollinger “immediately provide us confirmation” the university will take steps to cancel the event. Otherwise, the group says it will “feel a moral obligation to take all measures permitted to ensure that the laws are enforced.”

According to a recent Supreme Court case, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, even providing innocuous support to terrorists is considered unlawful. It’s not clear whether that includes state sponsors of terrorism.

Shurat HaDin is the same organization that used targeted lawsuits to block the Gaza flotilla in July, so it has a history of success with high-profile cases. I contacted Columbia University for a response and to check the status of the event, and will post an update when I hear back.

UPDATE: A spokesperson for Columbia University, Robert Hornsby, emails that an Ahmadinejad visit was never planned, and news reports to the contrary are inaccurate:

“At no time has there been any university event planned or considered involving the president of Iran and President Bollinger, nor has there ever been any plan for a dinner involving the Iranian president on campus.   Media reports to the contrary have no basis in fact and we hope they will be corrected.”

According to Hornsby, the mistaken reports were based on an article in the Columbia student newspaper. The paper reported that students in the Columbia International Relations Council and Association were planning to attend a dinner with Ahmadinejad during his visit to the UN General Assembly.

Read Less

Kudos to Diplomats Crocker and Ford

Diplomats too often get caricatured as wimps in striped pants. The reality is that a substantial number of civilian representatives have performed commendably in the face of considerable danger during the past decade—not as many as were needed perhaps, but those who volunteered to go “down range” were often a profile in courage. Two of the best diplomats to emerge out of the cauldron are Ryan Crocker and Robert Ford—two veteran Arabists who served very capably in Iraq. Crocker is now ambassador in Afghanistan, Ford in Syria, and they are showing some welcome backbone in the performance of their arduous duties.

Here is how Crocker reacted to the terrorist assault on his embassy yesterday: “If this is the best [the Taliban] can do, I find both their lack of ability and capacity and the ability of Afghan forces to respond to it actually encouraging in this whole transition process.”

Read More

Diplomats too often get caricatured as wimps in striped pants. The reality is that a substantial number of civilian representatives have performed commendably in the face of considerable danger during the past decade—not as many as were needed perhaps, but those who volunteered to go “down range” were often a profile in courage. Two of the best diplomats to emerge out of the cauldron are Ryan Crocker and Robert Ford—two veteran Arabists who served very capably in Iraq. Crocker is now ambassador in Afghanistan, Ford in Syria, and they are showing some welcome backbone in the performance of their arduous duties.

Here is how Crocker reacted to the terrorist assault on his embassy yesterday: “If this is the best [the Taliban] can do, I find both their lack of ability and capacity and the ability of Afghan forces to respond to it actually encouraging in this whole transition process.”

Meanwhile, Ford continues to bravely challenge the illegitimate Assad regime: On Sunday “he attended the funeral of a Syrian activist shortly before it was attacked by Syrian security forces.”

Kudos to both men. If only the State Department could figure out how to clone them–or at least inspire more of their colleagues to imitate their sterling example.

 

Read Less

Weprin Blames Obama for NY-9 Loss

Some Democrats are arguing that the NY-9 race doesn’t mean anything for Obama’s 2012 chances. But according to David Weprin, the Democratic candidate who lost the NY-9 race to Republican Bob Turner, Obama has “major problems” in New York.

Weprin blamed Obama’s unpopularity and Israel issues for his failed bid during an interview with Washington Jewish Week’s Adam Kredo:

Read More

Some Democrats are arguing that the NY-9 race doesn’t mean anything for Obama’s 2012 chances. But according to David Weprin, the Democratic candidate who lost the NY-9 race to Republican Bob Turner, Obama has “major problems” in New York.

Weprin blamed Obama’s unpopularity and Israel issues for his failed bid during an interview with Washington Jewish Week’s Adam Kredo:

My first question for Weprin was, “What happened?”

His reply: “The media, my opponent somewhat successfully made it a referendum on Obama. I don’t know if it was just Israel, but Israel certainly was a major part of it.”

Whether real or perceived, there’s “no question” that the president “has some major issues in New York,” Weprin said. “I certainly suffered from the effects of that.”

Voters, he continued, are frustrated “with the economy, with the way things are going” in general — not just on Israel.

It’s also worth noting Weprin actually distanced himself from Obama on Israel issues, but it wasn’t enough to help him win. In Nevada’s special election, the Democratic candidate also repudiated some of the president’s economic policies, and still ended up losing that race last night.

As I wrote earlier today, Democratic lawmakers have started to inch away from Obama’s jobs plan. But if NY-9 and Nevada are any indication, it might not do much good.

Read Less

Perry Holds Lead Despite Ponzi Potshots

The last week has been a rocky one for Rick Perry, as he became his rivals’ piñata during two Republican presidential debates. Perry showed himself to be an inexpert debater, especially when compared to the polished Mitt Romney and the passionate Michele Bachmann. After amassing huge leads in the days after his entry in the race in late August, he has spent the last few days fending off attacks for calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme. The Texas governor also been forced to play defense for his executive order mandating vaccinations of girls against cervical cancer.

But despite all of that, and dire predictions from unsympathetic observers that his perch atop the field would be short-lived, the latest poll shows his lead is undiminished. In a survey conducted from September 8-11, Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling shows him maintaining a whopping 31-18-percentage point edge over Romney. Romney’s camp may try to spin this poll as evidence Perry has stopped surging, because it merely shows him holding his ground rather than expanding his advantage. But with so many candidates still actively campaigning, it is still an astonishing feat for Perry to have gained the support of nearly a third of all Republicans. Though Perry did himself little good at the last two debates, Romney faces a steep uphill climb to even get close to the Texan because of his unpopularity with the GOP core and Tea Partiers.

Read More

The last week has been a rocky one for Rick Perry, as he became his rivals’ piñata during two Republican presidential debates. Perry showed himself to be an inexpert debater, especially when compared to the polished Mitt Romney and the passionate Michele Bachmann. After amassing huge leads in the days after his entry in the race in late August, he has spent the last few days fending off attacks for calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme. The Texas governor also been forced to play defense for his executive order mandating vaccinations of girls against cervical cancer.

But despite all of that, and dire predictions from unsympathetic observers that his perch atop the field would be short-lived, the latest poll shows his lead is undiminished. In a survey conducted from September 8-11, Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling shows him maintaining a whopping 31-18-percentage point edge over Romney. Romney’s camp may try to spin this poll as evidence Perry has stopped surging, because it merely shows him holding his ground rather than expanding his advantage. But with so many candidates still actively campaigning, it is still an astonishing feat for Perry to have gained the support of nearly a third of all Republicans. Though Perry did himself little good at the last two debates, Romney faces a steep uphill climb to even get close to the Texan because of his unpopularity with the GOP core and Tea Partiers.

PPP’s breakdown of the Tea Party vote is highly instructive about the uneven nature of the race. Though Romney does well with many GOP groups, when it comes to the 38 percent who identify with the Tea Party, he’s in bad shape. Only four percent of Tea Partiers back Romney as opposed to 33 percent for Perry and 14 percent for Michele Bachmann, who places a distant second.

If the choice is narrowed down to a two-man race between Perry and Romney, the Texan wins it 49-37. That’s down from a 16-point edge a few weeks ago, but still a large margin, especially because the only people backing other candidates who would prefer Romney to Perry are the few who back Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul.

Other interesting tidbits from the poll include the fact only one-third of Republicans agree with Perry that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. But among that group, Perry has a 40-15 advantage over Romney.

The bottom line here is despite his faltering debating style, Perry is still the candidate who appeals to the grass roots of the Republican Party. More to the point, Romney’s clear edge on the podium does not cancel out the fact conservatives neither like nor trust him. That may render his nomination ultimately impossible.

The coming weeks may provide sterner tests for Perry, and his lead may shrink in the coming months. But if Romney cannot make up some ground with conservatives and Tea Partiers, it may not matter how many debates he wins. As this poll demonstrates, the nomination is still Perry’s to lose.

Read Less

Next Election Will Determine Future of Health Care and Defense

I asked an investor in the health-care sector last night about the impact of Obamacare. He pointed out to me that it hasn’t really been implemented yet and won’t be until after the next election. He predicted that, with Republicans likely to take control of the Senate, it will never be implemented in its original form. But of course much will depend on the outcome of the next election—not only for Congress but for president. The same is true when it comes to the defense budget.

Yesterday, I testified before the House Armed Services Committee about the catastrophic consequences of “sequestration”—the process whereby Congress may whack up to $600 billion from the defense budget later this year unless an alternative can be found. This would be on top of the roughly $465 billion in cuts already announced this year. If implemented, this would make it impossible for the armed forces to maintain our current security commitments and could well cripple America’s standing as a superpower. But, as anyone who knows anything about Washington will tell you, a current budget does not dictate spending more than a year out.

Read More

I asked an investor in the health-care sector last night about the impact of Obamacare. He pointed out to me that it hasn’t really been implemented yet and won’t be until after the next election. He predicted that, with Republicans likely to take control of the Senate, it will never be implemented in its original form. But of course much will depend on the outcome of the next election—not only for Congress but for president. The same is true when it comes to the defense budget.

Yesterday, I testified before the House Armed Services Committee about the catastrophic consequences of “sequestration”—the process whereby Congress may whack up to $600 billion from the defense budget later this year unless an alternative can be found. This would be on top of the roughly $465 billion in cuts already announced this year. If implemented, this would make it impossible for the armed forces to maintain our current security commitments and could well cripple America’s standing as a superpower. But, as anyone who knows anything about Washington will tell you, a current budget does not dictate spending more than a year out.

While the current Congress and president could institute damaging budget cuts for the next two fiscal years (FY 2012, which begins next month, and FY 2013, which begins in October 2012) they cannot dictate spending levels for the next decade—the period of time when the above cuts are due to be implemented. If Republicans capture control of both houses and the White House next year, they could redirect more spending to the armed services.

Whether they would do so is an open question, because at least some Republicans are willing to sacrifice defense spending to avoid tax increases and to bring down the debt. But most Republican lawmakers appear determined to protect our national defense (the first duty of government), and there is a much greater likelihood of fully funding the defense budget under Republican control than if Democrats hold sway.

I know partisans invariably tout every election as uniquely important. Usually, that’s just hype. But in the case of 2012, it’s not. The next election really will be critical in determining the country’s future in all sorts of areas, ranging from health care to defense.

Read Less

Defeats and Victories Not Recorded in the Annals of History

If it were published today John Williams’s novel Stoner would be labeled “literary fiction.” Because it was published 46 years ago, it’s called a classic — at least by NYRB Books, which keeps it in print under the classic designation — and for many readers, that may be even worse.

Williams’s book suggests how much is lost by dismissing any novel that does not fit into a ready-made marketing niche as “fiction where not very much happens to people who aren’t very interesting.” It’s true that Stoner probably won’t appeal to readers who are looking mainly for feats of physical derring-do, intricate plot twists leading to a panting climax, or paranoid obsessions that scare them silly. It’s also true that Williams’s persons are not very important, nor do they suddenly find themselves in extremis.

Williams’s achievement is of a different order, and far more impressive. Stoner takes an outwardly nondescript life, the sort of life that many of us want to escape into fiction, and demonstrates that the real drama of human experience is in the daily refusal to escape, the uninterrupted renunciation of extreme situations, the muted decision to stay and do some good. It’s hard to make such a book sound very exciting. That Stoner is exciting — unexpectedly so, and incredibly moving — is the true measure of Williams’s achievement.

The novel is the story of William Stoner, who left his parents’ farm in central Missouri a few years before the First World War to study agriculture at the state university forty miles away, and then spent the rest of his life there after switching majors to English and becoming a literary scholar. Or, as he would prefer to say, a teacher. He himself does not discover his vocation until his undergraduate adviser, having learned that Stoner has no intention of returning to the farm, suggests that he might stay on to earn an M.A. while teaching freshman composition. The young man is dumbfounded:

     “[D]on’t you know, Mr. Stoner?” [the adviser] asked. “Don’t you understand about yourself yet? You’re going to be a teacher.”
     Suddenly [the adviser] seemed very distant, and the walls of the office receded. Stoner felt himself suspended in the wide air, and he heard his voice ask, “Are you sure?”
     “I’m sure,” [the adviser] said softly.
     “How can you tell? How can you be sure?”
     “It’s love, Mr. Stoner,” [the adviser] said cheerfully. “You are in love. It’s as simple as that.”

Stoner has fallen in love with learning. He has already taught himself enough Latin and Greek, eyes burning from lack of sleep, to read simple texts. He remains faithful to his first love, even when the United States enters the war against the Germans in 1915. His two best friends enlist, but Stoner remains at the University of Missouri to finish his PhD dissertation on “The Influence of the Classical Tradition on the Medieval Lyric.” His old undergraduate adviser, now the department chairman, supplies Stoner’s reasoning: “There are wars and defeats and victories of the human race that are not military and that are not recorded in the annals of history.”

There in one sentence is Stoner’s theme. The remainder of the novel resembles nothing so much as a military campaign, conducted behind closed doors and without benefit of publicity. To defend his love of learning (and the institution that was established to represent it), Stoner must face two determined adversaries: his wife Edith, who battles him for the affections of their daughter Grace, and a new department chairman, who does everything in his bureaucratic power to rout Stoner’s career.

The war over his daughter is heartbreaking. Because her mother suffers a nervous breakdown shortly after her birth and then takes up a frantic and nearly hysterical social existence to avoid domesticity, Grace spends most of her first eight years of life with her father, knowing only his voice and his touch and his love. In the evenings they sit together in Stoner’s study. He had “found a small desk and chair for her, so that she had a place to read and do her homework” while Stoner sits at a larger desk beside her, grading papers and writing scholarship. The portrait of a father, perfectly content in the company of his child, has never been done any better.

Stoner’s wife Edith decides abruptly that Grace is not sufficiently feminine and not sufficiently social, and she takes Grace away from her father. Eventually she is able even to take away Stoner’s study.

On campus, Stoner is thwarted too. After trying to get a student dismissed from the department’s graduate program for dishonesty and incompetence, Stoner becomes the chosen enemy of the new chairman, whose prize pupil the incompetent is. His graduate seminar is taken away from him; he is assigned four sections of freshman composition at widely spaced hours on six days of the week; he is never promoted beyond assistant professor.

Even when he finds a young woman who shares his “illicit and dangerous” love for the “mystery of the mind and heart showing themselves in the minute, strange, and unexpected combinations of letters and words, in the blackest and coldest print,” Stoner must give her up. His life, his career, is a series of soul-grinding defeats. Somehow, though, Stoner maintains his commitment to teaching, his allegiance to the university, his fidelity to learning. His devotion becomes his triumph, and Williams’s account of his triumph — Stoner’s hard-fought survival of the defeats — is wholly persuasive and oddly gripping. Even the most undramatic of lives are full of urgent drama when you realize what is at stake.

Stoner has a special significance to me, because it is based upon the life of my beloved teacher J. V. Cunningham and especially his disastrous marriage to the poet Barbara Gibbs. I also revere it, because no other novel — no other book, except perhaps for Cunningham’s own Poems — makes a better case for the life of scholarship. But even readers who care little for Cunningham and less for scholarship will love John Williams’s Stoner. It will remind you why you first started reading novels: to get inside the mystery of other people’s lives. And perhaps that is the final cause of all good fiction. Perhaps it is written to preserve the defeats and victories not recorded in the annals of history.

If it were published today John Williams’s novel Stoner would be labeled “literary fiction.” Because it was published 46 years ago, it’s called a classic — at least by NYRB Books, which keeps it in print under the classic designation — and for many readers, that may be even worse.

Williams’s book suggests how much is lost by dismissing any novel that does not fit into a ready-made marketing niche as “fiction where not very much happens to people who aren’t very interesting.” It’s true that Stoner probably won’t appeal to readers who are looking mainly for feats of physical derring-do, intricate plot twists leading to a panting climax, or paranoid obsessions that scare them silly. It’s also true that Williams’s persons are not very important, nor do they suddenly find themselves in extremis.

Williams’s achievement is of a different order, and far more impressive. Stoner takes an outwardly nondescript life, the sort of life that many of us want to escape into fiction, and demonstrates that the real drama of human experience is in the daily refusal to escape, the uninterrupted renunciation of extreme situations, the muted decision to stay and do some good. It’s hard to make such a book sound very exciting. That Stoner is exciting — unexpectedly so, and incredibly moving — is the true measure of Williams’s achievement.

The novel is the story of William Stoner, who left his parents’ farm in central Missouri a few years before the First World War to study agriculture at the state university forty miles away, and then spent the rest of his life there after switching majors to English and becoming a literary scholar. Or, as he would prefer to say, a teacher. He himself does not discover his vocation until his undergraduate adviser, having learned that Stoner has no intention of returning to the farm, suggests that he might stay on to earn an M.A. while teaching freshman composition. The young man is dumbfounded:

     “[D]on’t you know, Mr. Stoner?” [the adviser] asked. “Don’t you understand about yourself yet? You’re going to be a teacher.”
     Suddenly [the adviser] seemed very distant, and the walls of the office receded. Stoner felt himself suspended in the wide air, and he heard his voice ask, “Are you sure?”
     “I’m sure,” [the adviser] said softly.
     “How can you tell? How can you be sure?”
     “It’s love, Mr. Stoner,” [the adviser] said cheerfully. “You are in love. It’s as simple as that.”

Stoner has fallen in love with learning. He has already taught himself enough Latin and Greek, eyes burning from lack of sleep, to read simple texts. He remains faithful to his first love, even when the United States enters the war against the Germans in 1915. His two best friends enlist, but Stoner remains at the University of Missouri to finish his PhD dissertation on “The Influence of the Classical Tradition on the Medieval Lyric.” His old undergraduate adviser, now the department chairman, supplies Stoner’s reasoning: “There are wars and defeats and victories of the human race that are not military and that are not recorded in the annals of history.”

There in one sentence is Stoner’s theme. The remainder of the novel resembles nothing so much as a military campaign, conducted behind closed doors and without benefit of publicity. To defend his love of learning (and the institution that was established to represent it), Stoner must face two determined adversaries: his wife Edith, who battles him for the affections of their daughter Grace, and a new department chairman, who does everything in his bureaucratic power to rout Stoner’s career.

The war over his daughter is heartbreaking. Because her mother suffers a nervous breakdown shortly after her birth and then takes up a frantic and nearly hysterical social existence to avoid domesticity, Grace spends most of her first eight years of life with her father, knowing only his voice and his touch and his love. In the evenings they sit together in Stoner’s study. He had “found a small desk and chair for her, so that she had a place to read and do her homework” while Stoner sits at a larger desk beside her, grading papers and writing scholarship. The portrait of a father, perfectly content in the company of his child, has never been done any better.

Stoner’s wife Edith decides abruptly that Grace is not sufficiently feminine and not sufficiently social, and she takes Grace away from her father. Eventually she is able even to take away Stoner’s study.

On campus, Stoner is thwarted too. After trying to get a student dismissed from the department’s graduate program for dishonesty and incompetence, Stoner becomes the chosen enemy of the new chairman, whose prize pupil the incompetent is. His graduate seminar is taken away from him; he is assigned four sections of freshman composition at widely spaced hours on six days of the week; he is never promoted beyond assistant professor.

Even when he finds a young woman who shares his “illicit and dangerous” love for the “mystery of the mind and heart showing themselves in the minute, strange, and unexpected combinations of letters and words, in the blackest and coldest print,” Stoner must give her up. His life, his career, is a series of soul-grinding defeats. Somehow, though, Stoner maintains his commitment to teaching, his allegiance to the university, his fidelity to learning. His devotion becomes his triumph, and Williams’s account of his triumph — Stoner’s hard-fought survival of the defeats — is wholly persuasive and oddly gripping. Even the most undramatic of lives are full of urgent drama when you realize what is at stake.

Stoner has a special significance to me, because it is based upon the life of my beloved teacher J. V. Cunningham and especially his disastrous marriage to the poet Barbara Gibbs. I also revere it, because no other novel — no other book, except perhaps for Cunningham’s own Poems — makes a better case for the life of scholarship. But even readers who care little for Cunningham and less for scholarship will love John Williams’s Stoner. It will remind you why you first started reading novels: to get inside the mystery of other people’s lives. And perhaps that is the final cause of all good fiction. Perhaps it is written to preserve the defeats and victories not recorded in the annals of history.

Read Less

Should Government Fund Risky Start-Ups?

At the heart of the Solyndra debacle, there’s a fundamental question over the role of government: should taxpayer money be used to fund risky start-ups that might not necessarily have a chance otherwise? CNN reports:

Now the company’s bankruptcy has become a case study on an issue likely to gain increasing attention: Should the government be investing taxpayer dollars in promising — but risky — startup companies?

Read More

At the heart of the Solyndra debacle, there’s a fundamental question over the role of government: should taxpayer money be used to fund risky start-ups that might not necessarily have a chance otherwise? CNN reports:

Now the company’s bankruptcy has become a case study on an issue likely to gain increasing attention: Should the government be investing taxpayer dollars in promising — but risky — startup companies?

The White House thinks it should. And despite emails released today showing White House officials were closely involved in the process of securing loans for Solyndra, the administration argues there was no political element to the decision. Democrats reason that in cases like Solyndra, government funding is necessary because venture capitalists won’t gamble on these unpredictable investments:

The White House has argued that any effort to finance start-up businesses in a relatively new field like solar energy is bound to include risky ventures that could fail. They reject the notion being pushed by Republicans that Solyndra was chosen for political reasons. One of the largest private investors in the deal, Oklahoma billionaire George Kaiser, was also a prominent fundraiser for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

The White House’s argument – “if we don’t do it, nobody else will” – isn’t necessarily accurate. There are plenty of venture capital firms that specialize in clean energy, and the industry has actually seen a lot of growth in recent years, despite the economic downturn. If a clean energy company can’t secure private venture capital, than that’s a pretty serious red flag.

But even if a company is able to get private venture capital backing, like Solyndra did at one point, the government could actually end up harming the industry as a whole by investing in it. A recent Berkeley study also found that Obama administration’s current strategy could potentially hinder the clean energy market:

The current Obama administration strategy for providing enormous loan guarantees to a few chosen venture capital financed firms is misguided because it is likely to truncate the chaotic business model search that characterizes the formation of new industries. …

Massive government capital investments dwarfing anything that any private sector investor would invest in single firms or technologies will alter the competitive ecosystem –and not for the better. Such policies necessarily create non-market incentives to increase investment in lobbying for large government loans or grants diverting firms from private sector customers and market-based learning to focus upon the government as the customer.

So conservative philosophical arguments aside, the White House’s line of reasoning is faulty if the strategy is actually doing more to damage the industry than help it.

Read Less

“Difficult District”? No, Difficult Country

Rep. Debby Wasserman-Schultz, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has to get the prize for the dumbest spin of the week. She tried to explain the party’s loss in NY-9 by saying, it’s a very difficult district for Democrats.

Obama carried the district by 11 points in 2008, and it hasn’t been represented by a Republican in Congress since 1920 (although as Michael Barone points out, its shape has changed so much during the last 90 years as a result of redistricting and gerrymandering that that doesn’t really mean much).

Read More

Rep. Debby Wasserman-Schultz, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has to get the prize for the dumbest spin of the week. She tried to explain the party’s loss in NY-9 by saying, it’s a very difficult district for Democrats.

Obama carried the district by 11 points in 2008, and it hasn’t been represented by a Republican in Congress since 1920 (although as Michael Barone points out, its shape has changed so much during the last 90 years as a result of redistricting and gerrymandering that that doesn’t really mean much).

So if NY-9 is a “very difficult district for Democrats,” that can only mean the other 434 congressional districts are also very difficult districts for Democrats, at least as long as Barack Obama is in the White House.

Nate Silver of the New York Times political blog pointed out this morning that, all other things being equal, Weprin should have won by ten points, according to the “Partisan Voting Index.” He lost by eight. The Republican victor in Nevada’s 2nd district special election yesterday, according to Silver, would have been expected to win by 10. He won by 22.

Give her credit for trying, I suppose, but it’s really difficult to spin this as anything but a disaster for Democrats and for Obama’s hopes of getting his new stimulus (oops, jobs) bill through Congress.

Read Less

The Difference Between Carter and Obama

The Palestinians are rounding up the usual suspects as they prepare for their symbolic victory at the United Nations next week. Among those supporting the Palestinian Authority effort to gain recognition of independence without making peace with Israel is former President Jimmy Carter. Carter has been among the most consistent foes of Israel during his decades as the country’s most insufferable ex-president, so it is no surprise he would back a tactic whose purpose is to evade peace talks rather than promote them.

But the interesting thing about Carter’s support for this effort to destroy an already moribund peace process is he accompanied it with a stinging rebuke for the Obama administration. According to Carter, he wouldn’t be backing the PA initiative if Obama had put forward his own Middle East peace plan that would have forced Israel to make unilateral concessions. That even Obama, whose hostility to Israel’s government is highly reminiscent of Carter’s own time in the White House, refused to go down that route shows not only the difference between the two presidents but also the way the Palestinians have alienated an administration that was prepared to go a long way in their direction.

Read More

The Palestinians are rounding up the usual suspects as they prepare for their symbolic victory at the United Nations next week. Among those supporting the Palestinian Authority effort to gain recognition of independence without making peace with Israel is former President Jimmy Carter. Carter has been among the most consistent foes of Israel during his decades as the country’s most insufferable ex-president, so it is no surprise he would back a tactic whose purpose is to evade peace talks rather than promote them.

But the interesting thing about Carter’s support for this effort to destroy an already moribund peace process is he accompanied it with a stinging rebuke for the Obama administration. According to Carter, he wouldn’t be backing the PA initiative if Obama had put forward his own Middle East peace plan that would have forced Israel to make unilateral concessions. That even Obama, whose hostility to Israel’s government is highly reminiscent of Carter’s own time in the White House, refused to go down that route shows not only the difference between the two presidents but also the way the Palestinians have alienated an administration that was prepared to go a long way in their direction.

It is highly ironic Carter would blast Obama for being insufficiently supportive of the Palestinians, because the latter prioritized the peace process throughout his administration. Ignoring the evidence PA leader Mahmoud Abbas had no intention of ever signing a peace deal, Obama plunged into the negotiations picking fights with Israel and showing a clear preference for the Palestinian position. But despite Obama’s attacks on Israel’s positions on settlements and Jerusalem, Abbas refused to rejoin the negotiations. Even after the president ambushed Netanyahu in May with his proposal that the 1967 lines be the basis for talks, Abbas still wouldn’t budge.

Had Abbas been willing to make peace, he would have found Obama a useful ally who had little love for Israel. Obama did everything but present a U.S. dictat for peace in order to please the Palestinians, but Abbas never had any intention of negotiating. As the New York Times noted last weekend, the Obama-Abbas spat has been something of a lovers’ quarrel. Having been thoroughly embarrassed by the Palestinians, Obama has stayed aloof from diplomacy on the conflict in recent months.

While the administration’s attitude toward the peace process has been wrongheaded and prejudiced against Israel, it must still be said its goal was peace, even if they sought to achieve it on terms disadvantageous and unfair to the Jewish state. Carter is not interested in creating actual peace as much as he is in branding Israel as a pariah state. Like the Palestinians, he doesn’t want a negotiated settlement, but the imposition of a solution on Israel that would undercut its security as well as abrogate Jewish rights.

It speaks volumes about the Palestinians that they have so alienated a man like Obama who arrived in office hoping to support them against Israel. The president they want is someone like Carter, who would trash altogether the U.S. alliance with Israel. As bad as the Obama presidency has been for the Jewish state, Carter is living proof there are worse foes for Israel than the man living in the White House.

Read Less

Most Americans Say Stimulus Won’t Work

Another day, another crop of gloomy polls for President Obama. Reactions to his jobs plan are finally starting to trickle out, and it sounds like his speech last week may have only made things worse for him.

Obama’s approval rating has hit a new low of 45 percent, according to a Bloomberg poll released today. Not only that, he’s also hit new lows in every area of the poll that measures economic performance:

Read More

Another day, another crop of gloomy polls for President Obama. Reactions to his jobs plan are finally starting to trickle out, and it sounds like his speech last week may have only made things worse for him.

Obama’s approval rating has hit a new low of 45 percent, according to a Bloomberg poll released today. Not only that, he’s also hit new lows in every area of the poll that measures economic performance:

The poll hands Obama new lows in each of the categories that measures his performance on the economy: only 36 percent of respondents approve of his efforts to create jobs, 30 percent approve of how he’s tackled the budget deficit and 39 percent approve of his handling of health care.

That number on health care should probably be the most alarming for Democrats. ObamaCare was supposed to be the sole achievement of his presidency so far. The left was sure Americans would come to embrace it once the plan passed. And now, two years later, the public still can’t stand it.

Americans also aren’t on board with Obama’s jobs plan, which was supposed to be a last-ditch effort to rebound his sinking poll numbers:

By a margin of 51 percent to 40 percent, Americans doubt the package of tax cuts and spending proposals intended to jumpstart job creation that Obama submitted to Congress this week will bring down the 9.1 percent jobless rate. That sentiment undermines one of the core arguments the president is making on the job act’s behalf in a nationwide campaign to build public support.

Maybe Obama should just tell the public to stop playing partisan political games with his jobs plan? Because so far that seems to be the only reason he thinks anyone would oppose it.

Oddly enough, the areas where Obama was viewed favorably in the poll are on national security. Americans approve of his counterterrorism policies (which have been a continuation of Bush’s counterterrorism policies in many ways), and the way he handled the situation in Libya. But it’s not enough to save him at the moment. His approval rating among independents has fallen to just 29 percent, and his support base is also shrinking. Less than half of them say they are as enthusiastic about him as they once were, and 19 percent say he’s lost their support. It’s a pretty difficult feat to lose both independents and base supporters.

Read Less

Obama to Supporters: “Report” My Critics

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Dennis Miller responded to the Obama campaign’s obsession with race by saying: “I don’t even notice the color of his skin. I do notice the thinness of it, though.” Perhaps it is in his famous spirit of bipartisanship, but President Obama spends an awful lot of time and energy proving his critics right.

And he has done it again, with his new program designed to remind the American people they’re being monitored very carefully, AttackWatch. I don’t want to spend more time on this than it’s worth, and it’s not worth very much. But it really makes me wonder why the president–who as a candidate famously had 300 foreign policy advisers–doesn’t have a single person in the White House telling him just how disturbing this looks.

Read More

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Dennis Miller responded to the Obama campaign’s obsession with race by saying: “I don’t even notice the color of his skin. I do notice the thinness of it, though.” Perhaps it is in his famous spirit of bipartisanship, but President Obama spends an awful lot of time and energy proving his critics right.

And he has done it again, with his new program designed to remind the American people they’re being monitored very carefully, AttackWatch. I don’t want to spend more time on this than it’s worth, and it’s not worth very much. But it really makes me wonder why the president–who as a candidate famously had 300 foreign policy advisers–doesn’t have a single person in the White House telling him just how disturbing this looks.

Not surprisingly, Twitter took a mallet repeatedly to AttackWatch. Many were funny, but Iowahawk’s tweet summed it up perfectly: “Dear #AttackWatch: 2008 called. It wants its creepy mindless cult of personality back.” ABC News also made the connection:

According to the site, Obama volunteers can also help campaign headquarters keep track of attacks on the president by submitting “reports” via mailform and tweeting about them using the Twitter hashtag #attackwatch.

The initiative is a throwback to a similar online effort launched by Team Obama during the 2008 campaign, called Fight the Smears.

But that was a senator running for office. As odd as it was then, he’s now the president. Who in the administration thinks this is the appropriate way for a president to act? We’ve heard countless references–from conservatives and liberals–to the administration of Richard Nixon. But in truth, Nixon had a better grasp on politics than Obama. Most of the hubristic overreaches that got Nixon in trouble were things he tried to hide. Obama is openly promoting a program to “report” on private citizens.

He’s also doing his eventual 2012 opponent a favor. Rick Perry is running on the theme the federal government is too powerful and too meddlesome. Mitt Romney is painting Obama as unprepared, amateurish, and out of touch. AttackWatch is all of the above.

Read Less

Has Obama Learned Anything?

Imagine you’re in the Obama White House, and this is what you face. Democrats lose a special election in a congressional district they have controlled since the 1920s and which was framed as a referendum on the president. There’s a possible scandal brewing over the White House’s effort to rush federal reviewers for a decision on a nearly half-billion dollar loan to a solar-panel manufacturer, Solyndra. The most recent Census Report shows median household earnings fell for the third consecutive year, back to 1996 levels. A record number of Americans are in poverty. In Afghanistan, the Taliban mounted a fierce assault on the U.S. embassy and NATO military headquarters in Kabul. A new CNN/ORC poll shows Obama’s disapproval rating has reached a new high while the number of Americans who think he is a strong leader has dropped to a new low. And that’s just today.

On a human level, one can sympathize with what the president, his advisers, and his supporters are going through right now. But there is a cautionary tale in this as well. When Obama was running for president, he was dismissive of those who came before him. The problems we faced, at home and abroad, would be fixed by signing this executive order and passing that piece of legislation. Hope and change were on the way. “I’m LeBron, baby. I can play on this level. I got some game,” Obama is reported to have said back in 2004.

Read More

Imagine you’re in the Obama White House, and this is what you face. Democrats lose a special election in a congressional district they have controlled since the 1920s and which was framed as a referendum on the president. There’s a possible scandal brewing over the White House’s effort to rush federal reviewers for a decision on a nearly half-billion dollar loan to a solar-panel manufacturer, Solyndra. The most recent Census Report shows median household earnings fell for the third consecutive year, back to 1996 levels. A record number of Americans are in poverty. In Afghanistan, the Taliban mounted a fierce assault on the U.S. embassy and NATO military headquarters in Kabul. A new CNN/ORC poll shows Obama’s disapproval rating has reached a new high while the number of Americans who think he is a strong leader has dropped to a new low. And that’s just today.

On a human level, one can sympathize with what the president, his advisers, and his supporters are going through right now. But there is a cautionary tale in this as well. When Obama was running for president, he was dismissive of those who came before him. The problems we faced, at home and abroad, would be fixed by signing this executive order and passing that piece of legislation. Hope and change were on the way. “I’m LeBron, baby. I can play on this level. I got some game,” Obama is reported to have said back in 2004.

Being president seemed so easy before he actually was president. At the point he took the oath of office, the problems became harder to manage, more difficult, more intractable. “When I said, ‘Change we can believe in,’ I didn’t say, ‘Change we can believe in tomorrow,’ ” Obama told an audience last month. “Not, ‘Change we can believe in next week.’ We knew this was going to take time, because we’ve got this big, messy, tough democracy.”

Every person who runs for president, it’s fair to say, has a healthy ego. But Obama was different; the self-assurance, the arrogance, the sense that he viewed himself as a world-historical figure was almost palpable. “I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions,” Obama told congressional Democrats during the 2008 campaign. A convention speech wasn’t enough; Greek columns needed to be added. “Generations from now we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment,” Obama said – a moment when, among other achievements, “the rise of the oceans began to slow.” And during the campaign, while still a one-term senator, Obama decided he wanted to give a speech in Germany– and he wanted to deliver it at the Brandenburg Gate.

Yet now we see the Obama presidency coming apart, piece by piece, day by day. Democratic lawmakers are attacking the president on the record. The unhappiness in Obama’s own party toward the president might soon evolve into an open revolt. Those who supported Hillary Clinton in 2008 are saying, with some degree of self-satisfaction, “I told you so.” And the words of Solomon will be proven right again. “Pride goes before destruction,” he wrote in Proverbs, “a haughty spirit before a fall.”

If you dig beneath the rationalizations and the excuses, the field of strawmen, and the barrage of attacks on the motives of his opponents, one can only wonder: In his quiet moments, during times of self-reflection, has Obama –an educated and literate man — learned much of anything from all this?

 

Read Less

PLO Ambassador: No Jews in New Palestinian State

According to this report in USA Today, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s representative in Washington has declared there will be no place in any future Palestinian state for Jews. There are several ironies.

Turkey and perhaps European countries as well are maybe on the verge of recognizing the first state since Nazi Germany to propose a judenrein policy. There are several ironies: First, Israel, whose Arab Christian and Muslim minorities—perhaps 20 percent of the population—have full rights, but is lambasted by the cocktail set as racist. Second, when the Netanyahu government proposed recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, many diplomats—including those in the State Department—balked. But to propose a Jew-free state? That’s okay.

According to this report in USA Today, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s representative in Washington has declared there will be no place in any future Palestinian state for Jews. There are several ironies.

Turkey and perhaps European countries as well are maybe on the verge of recognizing the first state since Nazi Germany to propose a judenrein policy. There are several ironies: First, Israel, whose Arab Christian and Muslim minorities—perhaps 20 percent of the population—have full rights, but is lambasted by the cocktail set as racist. Second, when the Netanyahu government proposed recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, many diplomats—including those in the State Department—balked. But to propose a Jew-free state? That’s okay.

Read Less

Census Report: One in Six Americans Live in Poverty

According to the most recent Census report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in America, 46 million Americans (roughly one in six people) are now living in poverty, the largest on record dating back to when the census began tracking poverty in 1959 (the poverty rate in 2010 was the highest poverty rate since 1993).

Here’s what else the data show:

Read More

According to the most recent Census report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in America, 46 million Americans (roughly one in six people) are now living in poverty, the largest on record dating back to when the census began tracking poverty in 1959 (the poverty rate in 2010 was the highest poverty rate since 1993).

Here’s what else the data show:

* The overall poverty rate climbed to 15.1 percent, or 46.2 million, up from 14.3 percent in 2009. 2009—the fourth consecutive annual increase in the number of people in poverty.

* The U.S. poverty rate from 2007-2010 has now risen faster than any three-year period since the early 1980s.

* Poverty rose among all race and ethnic groups except Asians. The number of Hispanics in poverty increased from 25.3 percent to 26.6 percent; for blacks it increased from 25.8 percent to 27.4 percent, and Asians it was flat at 12.1 percent. The number of whites in poverty rose from 9.4 percent to 9.9 percent.

* Child poverty rose from 20.7 percent to 22 percent.

* Poverty among people 65 and older was statistically unchanged at 9 percent, after hitting a record low of 8.9 percent in 2009.

* The number of uninsured edged up to 49.9 million, the biggest in over two decades.

* The share of Americans without health coverage rose from 16.1 percent to 16.3 percent — or 49.9 million people, the biggest in over two decades.

* Median household income, adjusted for inflation, was lower last year than any year since in 1997.

* The number of people over 16 who did not work at least one week increased from 83.3 million in 2009 to 86.7 million last year.

The report is unremittingly bleak. And Bruce Meyer, a public policy professor at the University of Chicago, cautioned the worst may yet to come in poverty levels, citing in part continued rising demand for food stamps this year as well as “staggeringly high” numbers in those unemployed for more than 26 weeks. He noted that more than 6 million people now represent the so-called long-term unemployed, who are more likely to fall into poverty, accounting for more than two out of five currently out of work.

The Great Recession of 2008 has visited a lot of hardship and misery on millions of Americans – and as is always the case, it is the poor and the vulnerable who suffer the most.It is perhaps worth recalling, then, the words of the Psalmist: “I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.”

So should we.

 

Read Less

Obama, NY-9 and the Shifting Narrative

Less than four months ago, the Republican tide that had swept the Democrats out of the House of Representatives in 2010 had clearly ebbed. The Democratic victory in a May special election in New York’s 26th congressional district proved conclusively the House GOP majority had overreached in its first few months in office, and the next year and a half of American political life would be dominated by resurgent liberals who would end the talk of cutbacks in social spending and entitlements.

Except that it didn’t. As yesterday’s Republican wins in special elections in Nevada and New York illustrated, the shifting narrative of American politics often has more twists and turns than the pundits anticipate. The problem however, is not just that liberals were wrong about the New York-26 results being the harbinger of a national trend, though that is certainly true. They forgot an unpopular president is a far better indicator of a party’s political fortunes than a controversial budget plan. Though Democrats hoped no one would be talking about anything but Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform proposal until November 2012, President Obama’s performance remains the key to understanding the national mood.

Read More

Less than four months ago, the Republican tide that had swept the Democrats out of the House of Representatives in 2010 had clearly ebbed. The Democratic victory in a May special election in New York’s 26th congressional district proved conclusively the House GOP majority had overreached in its first few months in office, and the next year and a half of American political life would be dominated by resurgent liberals who would end the talk of cutbacks in social spending and entitlements.

Except that it didn’t. As yesterday’s Republican wins in special elections in Nevada and New York illustrated, the shifting narrative of American politics often has more twists and turns than the pundits anticipate. The problem however, is not just that liberals were wrong about the New York-26 results being the harbinger of a national trend, though that is certainly true. They forgot an unpopular president is a far better indicator of a party’s political fortunes than a controversial budget plan. Though Democrats hoped no one would be talking about anything but Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform proposal until November 2012, President Obama’s performance remains the key to understanding the national mood.

Attempting to extrapolate national trends from local results is always tricky. The New York-26 election was decided as much by the presence of a third party contender on the ballot running under a Tea Party label (even though he had previously been the Democratic nominee in the district) as Democratic attempts to demagogue on Ryan’s budget. That false flag candidate distorted the results, but there was no denying the Republican loser underperformed when compared to the last several elections. It will be similarly argued there were unique elements to the New York-9 race — such as a backlash against Democrat David Weprin’s vote in favor of gay marriage or the Jewish vote that may well have been affected by the president’s stand on Israel — that make it a poor national bellwether. It is more difficult though to do that with the Nevada election.

But whatever New York-26 showed us in May about that moment in time, there is no denying the key to understanding 2012 will be voter attitudes toward Barack Obama and not Paul Ryan. A sinking economy has overwhelmed the Democratic narrative about mean Republicans throwing Grandma over the cliff.

Democrats hoped 2012 would be a referendum on the Republican majority in the House the way the 1996 election delivered the verdict on Newt Gingrich and the GOP Congress elected in 1994. Indeed, President Obama clearly modeled his behavior during the debt ceiling standoff on Bill Clinton’s outmaneuvering of Gingrich during the 1995 government shutdown. But the difference between then and now is that in 1995 and 1996, the Democrats were led by a skillful politician who presided over a booming economy. Substitute Barack Obama for Bill Clinton and our current double dip recession for the prosperous mid-90s economy, and what you have is a recipe for Democratic disaster in 2012.

The narrative of our political life is always shifting, and it may change again before next November. But the Republican victories last night have more meaning than the New York-26 election, because the key issue was Obama. And as long as the 2012 election is a referendum on him and the economy rather than conservative views about the deficit, that is bad news for the Democrats.

Read Less

Obama, Religious Jews, and Elderly Jews

All kinds of cautions are being thrown about in the wake of the stunning upset in New York’s 9th Congressional District, the most Jewish in the country. Ben Smith points out that its large contingent of Orthodox voters are basically just Republicans. Sean Trende, RealClearPolitics’s extraordinarily impressive young number-cruncher, writes, “Jewish voters here still tend to be more conservative than the Jewish communities around Miami or in Manhattan.” Thus, he suggests, their politics may not reflect Jews as a whole outside of the district.

But. But. But. Former Mayor Ed Koch, who endorsed Obama in ’08 and promised he would be a friend of Israel and now feels betrayed, played a role in advancing the “vote for Bob Turner and send a message” case that prevailed last night. Smith writes that “Koch’s appeal, for instance, wasn’t to the Orthodox Jews, but to what State GOP Chairman Ed Cox told me last night was a still-more sizeable population of non-Orthodox Jews in old-line neighborhoods like Forest Hills.”

If true, there’s the really bad news for Obama and the Obama-ites. Those non-Orthodox Jews tend to be older, heritage-proud, and were bathed from youth forward in Zionism. They may be, in other words, a precise analogue to the Jews of South Florida—and if Obama can’t win Florida, he is in deep trouble.

Read More

All kinds of cautions are being thrown about in the wake of the stunning upset in New York’s 9th Congressional District, the most Jewish in the country. Ben Smith points out that its large contingent of Orthodox voters are basically just Republicans. Sean Trende, RealClearPolitics’s extraordinarily impressive young number-cruncher, writes, “Jewish voters here still tend to be more conservative than the Jewish communities around Miami or in Manhattan.” Thus, he suggests, their politics may not reflect Jews as a whole outside of the district.

But. But. But. Former Mayor Ed Koch, who endorsed Obama in ’08 and promised he would be a friend of Israel and now feels betrayed, played a role in advancing the “vote for Bob Turner and send a message” case that prevailed last night. Smith writes that “Koch’s appeal, for instance, wasn’t to the Orthodox Jews, but to what State GOP Chairman Ed Cox told me last night was a still-more sizeable population of non-Orthodox Jews in old-line neighborhoods like Forest Hills.”

If true, there’s the really bad news for Obama and the Obama-ites. Those non-Orthodox Jews tend to be older, heritage-proud, and were bathed from youth forward in Zionism. They may be, in other words, a precise analogue to the Jews of South Florida—and if Obama can’t win Florida, he is in deep trouble.

No one is saying a majority of such Jews are going to pull the lever for a conservative Republican like Rick Perry in 2012. But a more significant minority than usual might, and others, disgusted by Obama’s behavior toward the Jewish state, just may stay home.

Even worse, they are already sheathing their checkbooks. As Dan Senor notes in today’s Wall Street Journal, “One poll by McLaughlin & Associates found that of Jewish donors who donated to Mr. Obama in 2008, only 64% have already donated or plan to donate to his re-election campaign.”

So yes, the results in NY-9 may be a canary in the coal mine when it comes to Obama’s dependence on a significant portion of the Jewish vote—not just religious Jews, but old Jews. As of right now, the canary is gasping for air.

Read Less

Post-NY-9 Politics

Democrats have to be in panic mode after New York and Nevada last night. Any way you spin the polling, Obama’s economic policies – and in the case of NY-9, his Israel policy – had a heavy influence on these races.

Even more alarming for Democrats: Mediscaring didn’t work.

Read More

Democrats have to be in panic mode after New York and Nevada last night. Any way you spin the polling, Obama’s economic policies – and in the case of NY-9, his Israel policy – had a heavy influence on these races.

Even more alarming for Democrats: Mediscaring didn’t work.

Which is why it’s no surprise to see Dems suddenly running for the hills from Obama’s Stimulus II in Politico this morning:

“Terrible,” Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) told Politico when asked about the president’s ideas for how to pay for the $450 billion price tag. “We shouldn’t increase taxes on ordinary income. … There are other ways to get there.”

“That offset is not going to fly, and he should know that,” said Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu from the energy-producing Louisiana, referring to Obama’s elimination of oil and gas subsidies. “Maybe it’s just for his election, which I hope isn’t the case.”

“I think the best jobs bill that can be passed is a comprehensive long-term deficit-reduction plan,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), discussing proposals to slash the debt by $4 trillion by overhauling entitlement programs and raising revenue through tax reforms. “That’s better than everything else the president is talking about — combined.”

Nate Silver sees last night’s upsets as a signal that 2012 may be 2010 all over again for Democrats. Obama figured a drawn-out fight with House Republicans would be good for his reelection. But now he may have to contend with his own party as well.

Read Less