Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 2011

Christie’s “No” is Boost for Romney

The speculation about Chris Christie seriously considering a run for the presidency may be about to end if today’s reports about the New Jersey governor finally telling backers that he won’t do so are true. Given his stated reluctance, the obstacles to a late entry into the race and the plain fact Christie is clearly unprepared for either the presidency or a national campaign, this can’t be considered terribly surprising to anyone but those pundits and other kibitzers who have been relentlessly plugging this story.

But if Christie is finally going to put us all out of our misery about his desire to sit in the Oval Office, it does raise one very interesting question about the major donors and other Republican big shots who appear to have gone all out to try and change his mind. Once Christie finally removes his name from consideration, where do those who believed he could be their guy go now?

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The speculation about Chris Christie seriously considering a run for the presidency may be about to end if today’s reports about the New Jersey governor finally telling backers that he won’t do so are true. Given his stated reluctance, the obstacles to a late entry into the race and the plain fact Christie is clearly unprepared for either the presidency or a national campaign, this can’t be considered terribly surprising to anyone but those pundits and other kibitzers who have been relentlessly plugging this story.

But if Christie is finally going to put us all out of our misery about his desire to sit in the Oval Office, it does raise one very interesting question about the major donors and other Republican big shots who appear to have gone all out to try and change his mind. Once Christie finally removes his name from consideration, where do those who believed he could be their guy go now?

That’s not an easy question to answer. Many Republicans have been seeking an alternative to the man who would stand to lose the most from a Christie candidacy: Mitt Romney. Many if not most conservatives see Romney as a technocrat with no firm beliefs. It’s not just that they don’t like his contrived defense of his Massachusetts health care bill that will effectively prevent Republicans from running against Obamacare next year. It’s that they don’t trust him to do the right things even if he is elected.

Inevitably, a definitive “no” from Christie will reignite speculation about Mitch Daniels, who was the first Republican savior to bow out back in May. But that, like the effort to drag Paul Ryan into the race earlier this month, is almost certainly doomed to failure. If neither Christie, Ryan or Daniels will run, those who don’t want Romney to be the GOP candidate are either going to have sto settle on someone else or make their peace with Mitt. The days of expecting another Republican to alter the current equation are over. The GOP nominee is going to be somebody who has spent the summer wandering the countryside in search of votes, not a politician who spent it skulking in his tent.

This is good news for Romney, because Christie would have eaten into his support more than any other contender and perhaps doomed his hopes. With no moderate or centrist Republican in position to challenge him, Romney’s chances of winning the nomination have just markedly increased.

It also represents a second and perhaps last chance for Rick Perry. Though many observers have spent the last few days writing off his chances in the wake of his disastrous debate performances and defeat in the Florida straw poll, as Alana noted earlier today, Perry still can count on the support of many conservatives who view the Texas governor as the most attractive choice. But Perry cannot keep embarrassing himself at the debates and remain viable.

If Perry can recover at the Oct. 11 debate in New Hampshire, it will not only encourage his base of Tea Partiers and social conservatives to stick with him rather than a long shot like Herman Cain, Rick Santorum or the sinking Michele Bachmann. It might also persuade some leading conservatives and others who pursued Daniels, Ryan and Christie that he can beat Romney.

Granted, expecting Perry to pull out of his tailspin or at least to avoid looking foolish at the next debate may be similar to expectations the Boston Red Sox will revive from their September swoon and make a run to the World Series. But stranger things have happened.

In the meantime, Christie’s decision ought to bring a smile to Romney’s face. He may still be wearing it when those who implored Christie to run come to him with checks in hand.

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Administration Refights the Battle of Gilo

Those who believed the Obama administration’s attitude toward Israel has changed for the better got a rude wakeup call today when Washington condemned the start of a housing project in Jerusalem. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressed “disappointment” about the planned building of 1,100 homes in the Gilo section of the city. The Palestinian Authority also attacked the project as yet another “illegal settlement” built on Arab land.

While the administration’s defenders will say the comments from Foggy Bottom are nothing more than standard American criticism of settlement policy, attacks on the right of Jews to live in Gilo have a significance that may presage the outbreak of violence.

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Those who believed the Obama administration’s attitude toward Israel has changed for the better got a rude wakeup call today when Washington condemned the start of a housing project in Jerusalem. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressed “disappointment” about the planned building of 1,100 homes in the Gilo section of the city. The Palestinian Authority also attacked the project as yet another “illegal settlement” built on Arab land.

While the administration’s defenders will say the comments from Foggy Bottom are nothing more than standard American criticism of settlement policy, attacks on the right of Jews to live in Gilo have a significance that may presage the outbreak of violence.

The first thing that needs to be understood is Gilo is no settlement. Built on the southern border of the city, it was established more than 40 years ago and is the home of approximately 40,000 residents of Israel’s capital. Up until Barack Obama took office, it was not the subject of much, if any comment, by any previous administration. By seeking to force Israel to cease building houses in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Obama has legitimized Palestinian demands for not only a re-division of the city but also their desire to evict the more than 200,000 Jews who live in those parts that were illegally occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967.

But Gilo has a special importance that ought to have been remembered by the administration before they sought to make an issue of it. Gilo is more than just another place where the Palestinians wish to push the Jews out. Only a few short years ago during the second intifada, Gilo was the one section of the city that was under constant murderous sniper fire from the nearby Arab village of Beit Jala. Gilo was the laboratory where Palestinian terrorists sought to discover whether they could force Jews into abandoning their homes. They failed. Despite being subjected to murderous attacks for many months, the Jews of Gilo stood their ground and refused to be intimidated. Gilo became one of many symbols of the courage of the Israeli people and their determination to hold onto Jerusalem.

It should also be pointed out that far from being an obstacle to a putative peace deal, building in Gilo — or any other part of Jerusalem — would have no effect on the creation of a Palestinian state if a peace deal should ever be signed. It is generally understood that even according to President Obama’s idea of a border being created along the 1967 lines with land swaps that Jewish Jerusalem would remain under Israeli sovereignty. The only way homes in Gilo could be construed as an obstacle to peace is if the vision of peace being pursued is one in which every Jew is thrown out of much of the city.

Even worse, by branding Gilo as a place where Jews ought not to live and build, the State Department is doing more than just trying to appease the Palestinians. It is also illustrating that as far as the U.S. is concerned, this place where terror was decisively defeated is up for grabs. That’s a signal Palestinians may wrongly interpret as American indifference to a resumption of violence.

This latest episode is a reminder that no American leader has done more to chip away at Israel’s position on Jerusalem than Obama. Despite the hopeful signs about a rapprochement between the administration and Israel during the debate in the United Nations, the president is still holding on to dangerous misconceptions about Jerusalem and the goal of the Palestinians.

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Obama Fundraising Down this Quarter?

This might explain those passive-aggressive donor solicitation emails. The White House Dossier’s Keith Koffler catches some news buried in the New York Times write-up on Obama’s town hall yesterday. According to Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, the president is on track to pull in $55 million when the filing deadline ends Friday – which is $30 million less than he raised in the previous quarter:

President Obama will raise substantially less in the second quarter of his campaign than the first, according to the New York Times.

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This might explain those passive-aggressive donor solicitation emails. The White House Dossier’s Keith Koffler catches some news buried in the New York Times write-up on Obama’s town hall yesterday. According to Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, the president is on track to pull in $55 million when the filing deadline ends Friday – which is $30 million less than he raised in the previous quarter:

President Obama will raise substantially less in the second quarter of his campaign than the first, according to the New York Times.

The paper writes Obama campaign manager Jim Messina has told Democratic officials the president will raise about $55 million in the quarter that ends Sept. 30, about $30 million less than he raised the first quarter of his campaign – which was the second quarter of the year, ending June 30.

The news was – gosh who would have expected – buried within the Times story.

No doubt, $55 million is a lot of money. But something’s not right.

At the Green Room, Howard Portnoy crunches the numbers and finds this would be a 36 percent drop for Obama from last quarter.

The question is, does this possible $55 million include Democratic National Committee contributions? Obama’s total haul for the previous quarter was reported at $86 million, but he only raised $49 million of that for his campaign, with the other $38 million from the DNC. If the $55 million is just the Obama campaign’s fundraising, then the president may actually beat his last quarter total. But if it includes DNC contributions, that’s a major cause for alarm.

Either way, it sounds like the campaign is scrambling to push expectations way down for Friday. And there are other signs the disclosures won’t be good for Obama. Bloomberg reported this afternoon Mitt Romney has stolen at least 100 of Obama’s 2008 Wall Street donors.

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CAIR Official Denied Florida GOP Spot

The Broward County Republican Party blocked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Florida spokesperson Nezar Hamze from joining its executive board last night, a decision that some see as a sign of anti-Muslim discrimination, reports McClatchy:

Islam and Tea Party activism clashed at a raucous meeting Monday night when a group of Broward County Republicans blocked a Muslim activist as a member of the party’s executive committee.

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The Broward County Republican Party blocked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Florida spokesperson Nezar Hamze from joining its executive board last night, a decision that some see as a sign of anti-Muslim discrimination, reports McClatchy:

Islam and Tea Party activism clashed at a raucous meeting Monday night when a group of Broward County Republicans blocked a Muslim activist as a member of the party’s executive committee.

Republicans, who changed their rules to publicly vet Nezar Hamze and then vote on his application by secret ballot, said they didn’t oppose him because he was a Muslim – but because he is associated with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, whose Washington-area affiliate was an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal terrorism indictment. …

“I’m aligned with Republican values. And I want to serve the party,” said Hamze, who earlier told a reporter that any effort to block him was the result of anti-Islamic “bigotry.”

The McClatchy headline emphasizes the fact Hamze is Muslim, but the Broward GOP denies religion played a role. And based on the reports so far, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to doubt their argument.

As the face of CAIR Florida, Hamze has made a name for himself in the Broward conservative community – and not always a good one. You may remember him from this public spat he had with Rep. Alan West, which went viral a few months back (incidentally, that’s not the only clash he’s gotten into with West).

According to McClatchy, there are also questions over how long Hamze has been registered as a Republican. Party Vice Chair Collen Stolberg claims he’s only been registered since August, and had no affiliation before that, while Hamze maintains he’s been a registered Republican for the past 10 years. Whichever is accurate, it looks like Hamze’s interest in Republican Party activism started fairly recently. Earlier this month, Salon’s Justin Elliott reported Hamze had just submitted his petition to join the Broward GOP executive board in August. So there seems to be a slew of reasons the Broward GOP might be uneasy having him on the executive board, in addition to his CAIR ties.

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Erdogan Due for a Comeuppance

What to make of reports Turkey is riding high in the new Middle East? If opinion polls are to be believed, its Prime Mnister, Recep Tayyip Erodgan, is one of the most admired figures in the entire region—though obviously not in Israel. Neo-Ottomanism is the talk of the day. Is this cause for celebration or concern?

Some of each, I think. The causes for alarm are obvious to any supporter of Israel: Erdogan has trashed Turkey’s long-standing alliance with the Jewish state. Using as his excuse the Israeli response to the Turkish-organized Gaza flotilla in 2010, he has launched one over-the-top anti-Israeli tirade after another. He has stopped just short of war by threatening to send the Turkish navy to escort another aid flotilla to Hamas-controlled Gaza. Any suggestion that Israel is
equally to blame for the deteroriation of relations is ridiculous; Israeli leaders have consistently made clear how much they value the Turkish alliance. But all their entreaties have been slapped away by Erdogan who has been using anti-Israeli rhetoric and action (just like Nasser, Khomeini, Qaddafi, and other infamous predecessors) to establish his standing in the Arab world.

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What to make of reports Turkey is riding high in the new Middle East? If opinion polls are to be believed, its Prime Mnister, Recep Tayyip Erodgan, is one of the most admired figures in the entire region—though obviously not in Israel. Neo-Ottomanism is the talk of the day. Is this cause for celebration or concern?

Some of each, I think. The causes for alarm are obvious to any supporter of Israel: Erdogan has trashed Turkey’s long-standing alliance with the Jewish state. Using as his excuse the Israeli response to the Turkish-organized Gaza flotilla in 2010, he has launched one over-the-top anti-Israeli tirade after another. He has stopped just short of war by threatening to send the Turkish navy to escort another aid flotilla to Hamas-controlled Gaza. Any suggestion that Israel is
equally to blame for the deteroriation of relations is ridiculous; Israeli leaders have consistently made clear how much they value the Turkish alliance. But all their entreaties have been slapped away by Erdogan who has been using anti-Israeli rhetoric and action (just like Nasser, Khomeini, Qaddafi, and other infamous predecessors) to establish his standing in the Arab world.

Yet the Turkish role has not been entirely negative. Erdogan has emerged as a champion of the Arab Spring, turning on dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria, among others. Most significantly, he has broken once-close ties with Bashar Assad and is not only imposing sanctions on the Assad regime but also providing breathing room and support for its opponents. The Turkish role may help to topple Iran’s closest ally in the region and could inadvertently be a big favor for Israel by eliminating a major supporter of Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran is also furious with Turkey for agreeing to host a NATO radar station which is part of a burgeoning missile-defense system that includes Israel. (Erdogan has said he doesn’t want data from the Turkish station being shared with Israel, but it’s not clear if he can enforce that diktat on the U.S.)

More broadly, Turkey offers an alternative model for religious protesters around the region who might otherwise be beguiled by the theocratic Iranian state. Granted, Erdogan is an Islamist, but he is a relatively moderate Islamist, at least as compared to Ayatollah Ali Khameini and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Turkey
is rated as only “partly free” by Freedom House, but it’s a heck of a lot freer and more pro-Western than Iran. That may be faint praise, but we’re talking about the Middle East here—not Scandinavia. Adjust your expectations accordingly. It is just possible that, for all of his anti-Israel fulminations, Erdogan could be a
positive force for change in the region by offering a viable alternative to the Hezbollah/Iran model for large numbers of Islamists who would never have
embraced the kind of strict secularism created by Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state.

In conclusion, I would caution against exaggerating Turkey’s influence for good or ill. Turkey has had a difficult relationship with the Arab world since the days of the Ottoman Empire. Remember the famous Arab Revolt of World War I, the one advised by T.E. Lawrence? Who were the Arabs revolting against? The Turks, that’s who. Memories of the past run deep in a region where the Crusades feel as if they happened only yesterday. Notwithstanding grandiose talk of a new Egypt-Turkey axis dominating the Middle East, I suspect there are sharp limits on the willingness of Arabs to accept Turkish leadership. Erdogan may be riding high now, but he is due for a comeuppance.

 

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More Global Warming Baloney: Atlas Erased Greenland’s Glaciers

In an era when even the most outrageous claims about global warming are treated by the mainstream media as “established science,” it was refreshing to read in the New York Times over the weekend that at least some climate scientists aren’t ready to let false claims go unchallenged. Apparently, a number of researchers are complaining the most recent edition of Britain’s Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World contains misleading information about alleged melting of Greenland’s ice-capped shores.

A news release issued by the publishers and echoed in much of the media asserted that the atlas illustrates how Greenland has lost 15 percent of its permanent ice cover. Maps in the atlas show significant portions of the large island’s shores are ice-free. The only problem is, as scientists — who are not warming skeptics– point out, it isn’t true.

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In an era when even the most outrageous claims about global warming are treated by the mainstream media as “established science,” it was refreshing to read in the New York Times over the weekend that at least some climate scientists aren’t ready to let false claims go unchallenged. Apparently, a number of researchers are complaining the most recent edition of Britain’s Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World contains misleading information about alleged melting of Greenland’s ice-capped shores.

A news release issued by the publishers and echoed in much of the media asserted that the atlas illustrates how Greenland has lost 15 percent of its permanent ice cover. Maps in the atlas show significant portions of the large island’s shores are ice-free. The only problem is, as scientists — who are not warming skeptics– point out, it isn’t true.

The error stems from a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that has since been discredited. As the Times reports, for the claim of a 15 percent ice loss to be true that would have already raised sea levels around the world by three to five feet. In fact, Greenland has only lost one-tenth of one percent of its ice.

This latest scandal involving warming alarmists comes after we learned last year a report issued by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the group that shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore) that said glaciers in the Himalayas would melt by 2030 was erroneous.

The publishers of the atlas initially claimed they stood by their data but are now said to be studying the problem and thinking about a revision. But their effort to correct this error seems, as the article pointed out, to be as slow as the actual rate of melting in Greenland.

The problem here is not just that a publisher made an error.  There is a strong suspicion every time something like this happens it is the result of a deliberate effort to exaggerate the extent of warming so as to scare the public into backing measures that global warming activists support. That was the lesson of the Climategate e-mails. That story revealed the cynical efforts by some in the scientific community to fudge data in order to come up with results that might exploit the public’s fears about warming. Many researchers now understand the tendency by some to hype this issue with implausible and unsubstantiated claims of imminent catastrophe, such as those put forward in Al Gore’s lamentable film “An Inconvenient Truth,” do more to damage the credibility of climate science than anything else.

As Jeff Jacoby pointed out in a brilliant recent column in the Boston Globe, the debate about global warming is not being driven by skeptics questioning science, as it is by the irresponsible claims made by some activists. As Jacoby writes, many scientists are speaking out about the exaggerations and unproven theories that are routinely treated by the mainstream media as proven facts.

The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World simply erased hundreds of huge glaciers from their maps, substituting the white of the ice with the green of a mythical unfrozen shoreline. Most people were willing to accept this preposterous assertion because the public has been conditioned by the media and popular culture to believe virtually anything claimed by warming alarmists. This incident again shows rather than merely repeat such nonsense, it’s time for journalists who treat all questions about global warming orthodoxy as if they came from the Flat Earth Society to start exhibiting some healthy skepticism. The public should do the same.

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Comic Religious Novels

Ever since this morning’s post on Peter De Vries stumbled uncertainly across the internet, Patrick Kurp and I have been putting together an imaginary anthology of comic religious novels. Talk about a special subgenre of the American novel!

To stand alongside The Mackerel Plaza, Kurp suggested J. F. Powers’s Wheat That Springeth Green. I countered with Wilfrid Sheed (see his novel The Hack, for example). Space might even be found for The Ecstasy of Owen Muir by Ring Lardner Jr. Kurp and I both agreed that we needed a Jew, but the only comic novel about the Jewish religion that either of us could think of is unavailable for exasperating reasons.

Most Jewish humor is irreligious. Writing in COMMENTARY, the late Irving Kristol speculated that Jewish humor became possible only when the Jewish people were thrust into modernity, and began to lose their faith. Taking as its “frame of reference the complex structure of ghetto society, ghetto life, and Jewish tradition,” Kristol said, Jewish humor was born out of a “God-forsaken religiosity.”

Kurp asked me why Protestants and Catholics, but not Jews, seem to be able to laugh at their religion (while affirming it) in such interesting ways. I didn’t have an answer for that question either. It’s just too close to Rosh Hashanah to feel in a laughing mood.

Update: John Podhoretz can’t believe my ignorance. “What about Herbert Tarr’s Heaven Help Us?” he asks. “Or Jeremy Leven’s Satan? Or Bruce Jay Friedman’s Steambath (ok, not a novel).” Jonathan Featherstone recommends The Rabbi of Lud by my old teacher Stanley Elkin.

Or, it occurs to me, Robert Cohen’s Here and Now, in which a self-described “half-Jew” is attracted to Judaism by his attraction to a Hasidic chick.

Ever since this morning’s post on Peter De Vries stumbled uncertainly across the internet, Patrick Kurp and I have been putting together an imaginary anthology of comic religious novels. Talk about a special subgenre of the American novel!

To stand alongside The Mackerel Plaza, Kurp suggested J. F. Powers’s Wheat That Springeth Green. I countered with Wilfrid Sheed (see his novel The Hack, for example). Space might even be found for The Ecstasy of Owen Muir by Ring Lardner Jr. Kurp and I both agreed that we needed a Jew, but the only comic novel about the Jewish religion that either of us could think of is unavailable for exasperating reasons.

Most Jewish humor is irreligious. Writing in COMMENTARY, the late Irving Kristol speculated that Jewish humor became possible only when the Jewish people were thrust into modernity, and began to lose their faith. Taking as its “frame of reference the complex structure of ghetto society, ghetto life, and Jewish tradition,” Kristol said, Jewish humor was born out of a “God-forsaken religiosity.”

Kurp asked me why Protestants and Catholics, but not Jews, seem to be able to laugh at their religion (while affirming it) in such interesting ways. I didn’t have an answer for that question either. It’s just too close to Rosh Hashanah to feel in a laughing mood.

Update: John Podhoretz can’t believe my ignorance. “What about Herbert Tarr’s Heaven Help Us?” he asks. “Or Jeremy Leven’s Satan? Or Bruce Jay Friedman’s Steambath (ok, not a novel).” Jonathan Featherstone recommends The Rabbi of Lud by my old teacher Stanley Elkin.

Or, it occurs to me, Robert Cohen’s Here and Now, in which a self-described “half-Jew” is attracted to Judaism by his attraction to a Hasidic chick.

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Cut Presidential Candidates Some Slack

I’m in some sympathy with those who want New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to enter the Republican presidential race, for the same reason I was hoping Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, and Paul Ryan would. We’re facing a crucial moment, and a crucial election, in the life of our country, and we should want the pool of candidates to include the finest lawmakers and politicians the party has to offer. And then they could battle it out.

At the same time, there is a tendency among some commentators (myself included) to view those who have not entered the field as figures of extraordinary and enduring strength and skill. It often seems that way, right up to the moment when a candidate enters the race, at which point they immediately become diminished, flawed, and mortal. It’s very nearly inevitable, since candidates for president face tremendous scrutiny. Every word they have publicly (and sometimes privately) uttered and every word they have publicly (and sometimes privately) written is placed under a microscope. Past associations, from pastors to siblings, are considered fair game. Those who emerge as front-runners immediately become the object of fierce attacks by other candidates. As a result, the people who looked so impressive when they were on the sidelines are pounded, poked, prodded, dented, and clubbed. That would happen to Governor Christie if he jumped in, just as it would have happened to Messrs. Bush, Daniels, and Ryan.

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I’m in some sympathy with those who want New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to enter the Republican presidential race, for the same reason I was hoping Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, and Paul Ryan would. We’re facing a crucial moment, and a crucial election, in the life of our country, and we should want the pool of candidates to include the finest lawmakers and politicians the party has to offer. And then they could battle it out.

At the same time, there is a tendency among some commentators (myself included) to view those who have not entered the field as figures of extraordinary and enduring strength and skill. It often seems that way, right up to the moment when a candidate enters the race, at which point they immediately become diminished, flawed, and mortal. It’s very nearly inevitable, since candidates for president face tremendous scrutiny. Every word they have publicly (and sometimes privately) uttered and every word they have publicly (and sometimes privately) written is placed under a microscope. Past associations, from pastors to siblings, are considered fair game. Those who emerge as front-runners immediately become the object of fierce attacks by other candidates. As a result, the people who looked so impressive when they were on the sidelines are pounded, poked, prodded, dented, and clubbed. That would happen to Governor Christie if he jumped in, just as it would have happened to Messrs. Bush, Daniels, and Ryan.

That doesn’t mean, by the way, any of those individuals wouldn’t have acquitted themselves well. My guess is each of them would have. But the truth is we just don’t know, since it’s impossible to anticipate how well a politician, even an experienced politician, will handle the pressure of running for president. Look at how rocky of a launch Newt Gingrich experienced, despite the fact he has been a visible public figure for decades. Even candidates who run successful campaigns don’t emerge from the contest unscathed. The reason is running for president is really hard – far harder than running for governor or for Congress. And entering the race late in the day, without an operation in place, makes it triply challenging.

I’d add one final point: whatever defects the current crop of GOP candidates have (and this applies to Democrats as well), these individuals were willing to enter the arena and subject themselves to a punishing nominating process. I’m not comfortable criticizing those who have decided not to enter a presidential race and turn their lives, and the lives of their families, upside down and inside out. Sometimes it’s the right, and even the admirable, decision. But I do think the individuals who have stepped forward and placed themselves squarely in the line of fire deserve a tip of the hat – and maybe, from time to time, a measure of grace and understanding. It’s quite easy for those of us on the sidelines to critique their performances and highlight their mistakes and to pretend we’d do much better if it were only us up on the stage.

The truth is most of us wouldn’t do all that well if we were on the hot seat. We’d answer questions inartfully. We might lose focus in the midst of speaking and cite data that’s wrong or misleading. We would probably give speeches, at least now and then, that are flat. And we would undoubtedly make mistakes that are embarrassing. So from time to time, it’s worth reminding ourselves that offering advice from a safe distance, from behind a keyboard or a microphone or in front of a camera, is a lot easier than actually running for high public office.

 

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Koch Flips Again Backing Obama on Israel

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch hadn’t been getting much attention prior to his decision to use the special election in New York’s 9th congressional district to make a point about the Obama administration’s policies toward Israel. Yet now that he’s gotten a great deal of the credit for that Republican upset, Koch is doing the only thing he can to maximize his time in the spotlight: he’ll be enthusiastically backing President Obama’s re-election next year.

Politico reports after spending the summer demanding Jewish voters punish the Democrats for Obama’s brutal treatment of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and attempts to pressure the Jewish state into dangerous concessions, Koch has decided all is forgiven. But it remains to be seen whether Jewish opinion, which polls have shown is tilting decisively against the president, will follow Koch’s lead.

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Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch hadn’t been getting much attention prior to his decision to use the special election in New York’s 9th congressional district to make a point about the Obama administration’s policies toward Israel. Yet now that he’s gotten a great deal of the credit for that Republican upset, Koch is doing the only thing he can to maximize his time in the spotlight: he’ll be enthusiastically backing President Obama’s re-election next year.

Politico reports after spending the summer demanding Jewish voters punish the Democrats for Obama’s brutal treatment of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and attempts to pressure the Jewish state into dangerous concessions, Koch has decided all is forgiven. But it remains to be seen whether Jewish opinion, which polls have shown is tilting decisively against the president, will follow Koch’s lead.

Koch detailed his reasons for flipping back to join “the Obama Re-Election Express,” in an e-mail being circulated today. Citing the president’s speech to the United Nations opposing a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, Washington’s efforts during the sack of the Israeli embassy in Cairo and its release of bunker buster bombs to the Israel Defense Force, Koch has decided it is now once again safe to vote for the Democrats.

The problem is the same arguments about Obama’s support for the U.S.-Israel defense alliance Koch now cites were being made by Democrats prior to the NY-9 election. The point then wasn’t that Obama was a declared enemy of Israel, but, as Koch wrote in an op-ed published in the New York Daily News just nine days ago, “he was not as friendly to Israel as we thought he would be” and had distanced himself from Israel while making no demands on the Palestinians.

While it is true Koch had said if Obama mended his ways he would support him next year, for the mayor to claim the president’s UN speech represents the fundamental change he had previously been demanding lacks credibility. After all, there was never any doubt even at the height of the controversy about Obama’s May speech in which he called for Israel to accept the 1967 lines as the basis of future negotiations (a point on which Koch was rightly angered by the administration) the United States would be forced to veto a Palestinian attempt to get the UN to recognize their independence.

Even more to the point, and perhaps missed by Koch in his enthusiasm to rejoin his party, was that in his address to the UN last week, Obama cited that May speech as an example of how he had put forward a “new basis” for the peace talks. In doing so, the president made it clear he intended to keep pressing Israel to accept the 1967 lines as a way of bribing the Palestinians to return to peace talks. So for anyone, especially Ed Koch, to now assert the last two and a half years of administration efforts to pick fights with Israel and to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians is now over and done with is, at best, a trifle optimistic, and at worst, a serious misreading of the situation.

Koch undermined his argument about Obama’s alleged change of heart by citing in the same e-mail his delight at being invited to a gathering of UN delegates last week at which he had the opportunity to chat with the president. It was, he said, his first such invitation since the Reagan administration. While it might be unfair to say his good opinion was bought so cheaply, Koch has opened himself up to criticism by jumping back to the president’s camp so quickly and with such a weak rationale. All the arguments for supporting or opposing the president’s Israel policy three months or even just a few days ago are still there to be made today. The only difference is that Ed Koch has decided to change sides.

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Progressive Activist Begs for Tax Hikes

In case you missed this story from the LinkedIn town hall meeting yesterday, President Obama took a question from a former Google executive who begged the president to please raise his taxes. Here’s the video from the Washington Examiner, and a synopsis from Yahoo News:

Former Google brand manager Doug Edwards became an instant media sensation when he joined billionaire investor Warren Buffett in calling for those who had done well in America to do more to help the struggling masses. …

“I am unemployed by choice.” “My question is — would you please raise my taxes?” Edwards said.

Edwards later told reporters that he had never met Obama, but was invited to the town hall event by a friend who had links to the Democratic Party.

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In case you missed this story from the LinkedIn town hall meeting yesterday, President Obama took a question from a former Google executive who begged the president to please raise his taxes. Here’s the video from the Washington Examiner, and a synopsis from Yahoo News:

Former Google brand manager Doug Edwards became an instant media sensation when he joined billionaire investor Warren Buffett in calling for those who had done well in America to do more to help the struggling masses. …

“I am unemployed by choice.” “My question is — would you please raise my taxes?” Edwards said.

Edwards later told reporters that he had never met Obama, but was invited to the town hall event by a friend who had links to the Democratic Party.

Edwards may have never met Obama, but as Tim Carney reports at the Washington Examiner, he’s given $300k in political donations during the past decade – exclusively to Democrats.

He also appears to be a member of Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, a progressive activist group that has petitioned Obama and members of Congress for higher taxes. The Patriotic Millionaires have been around since the Bush tax cut fight in 2010, and recently started running ads promoting Obama’s “Buffett Rule.”

In April, Sen. Orrin Hatch informed the group they don’t have to wait for Congress to act in order to pay more in taxes. “They can write a check to the IRS and make an extra payment on their tax return to pay down the federal debt,” he wrote in a letter. “The option is right there at the bottom of their tax return.”

The Patriotic Millionaires rejected the advice. “A few of us voluntarily writing a check to the IRS will not fix the problem that Sen. Hatch and his colleagues created for our country with their fiscal irresponsibility,” the group responded. “It will take the work of all Patriotic Americans to create a strong foundation for our continued prosperity.”

So there you have it. The group isn’t particularly interested in paying higher taxes themselves. They’ll willingly do it, but they’re more concerned with forcing others to pay more. After all, if it was so “patriotic” for the wealthy to shoulder a higher tax burden, you’d think these people would be lining up to make IRS donations. Any guesses as to how many of them have actually done so?

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Labor’s Resurgence and Kadima’s Future

Recent polls had indicated if Shelly Yachimovich prevailed in the Israeli Labor party’s internal leadership elections, the party would make a strong comeback. Yachimovich did, and the polls have held steady. Haaretz gleefully proclaims the “Shelly Yachimovich Effect.” And it might be real.

The poll, however, doesn’t contain any bad news for Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud party. Netanyahu’s popularity seems to have received a boost from his eloquent, tough speech to the United Nations General Assembly late last week. And Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party is due to continue gaining seats in the Knesset, as previous polls have shown. So who loses enough seats to allow Labor to triple its Knesset representation (and allow left-wing Meretz to gain a couple)? Tzipi Livni’s Kadima:

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Recent polls had indicated if Shelly Yachimovich prevailed in the Israeli Labor party’s internal leadership elections, the party would make a strong comeback. Yachimovich did, and the polls have held steady. Haaretz gleefully proclaims the “Shelly Yachimovich Effect.” And it might be real.

The poll, however, doesn’t contain any bad news for Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud party. Netanyahu’s popularity seems to have received a boost from his eloquent, tough speech to the United Nations General Assembly late last week. And Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party is due to continue gaining seats in the Knesset, as previous polls have shown. So who loses enough seats to allow Labor to triple its Knesset representation (and allow left-wing Meretz to gain a couple)? Tzipi Livni’s Kadima:

Kadima is bleeding Knesset seats not only to Labor, but also to Meretz, which was in no way hurt by Yachimovich’s election. In fact, a survey by Haaretz shows Meretz gaining two Knesset seats after the Labor vote.

Yachimovich seems to be on her way to keeping the promise she made to voters on the night she was elected to transform Labor into a party larger than Kadima.

There are a host of predictable reasons for this. Kadima was founded by Ariel Sharon to carry out the 2005 disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. The disengagement itself went mostly as planned. But the government completely bungled the relocation of the settlers and its response to the creation of “Hamastan” and the ensuing violence.

After Sharon’s illness incapacitated him, Ehud Olmert took over. Plagued by corruption, the mismanagement of a war with Hezbollah, and a general appearance of weakness, Kadima was promptly removed from power in the next election. It is widely viewed as lacking both ideas and the ability to govern.

To make matters worse, Livni, though somewhat well-liked by the public (and the Obama administration), has offered only tetchy, self-conscious, lethargic party leadership. Unsurprisingly, Netanyahu has run circles around her. And there is another development Haaretz calls attention to:

The poll reflects a major change in the makeup of the Knesset: Instead of the usual two large parties, there will now be four medium-to-large parties with not much difference between them.

I discussed this trend, and predicted it would continue, in our July issue. The fragmentation of Israeli party politics is a phenomenon that may very well become the new normal. In such a situation, Kadima could survive, but would almost certainly be marginalized.

The lure of centrist parties is often a mirage. Voters love to tell pollsters they are “centrist,” but that is usually because most voters consider their opinions to be mainstream and reasonable. If Israelis are offered a serious center-right party (Likud), a serious center-left party (Labor), a serious secular nationalist party (Yisrael Beiteinu), and a couple of religiously or ideologically homogeneous parties (Shas, Meretz), Kadima’s appeal will be quite limited.

Livni may look back with regret on her decision to reject Netanyahu’s offer to join his government. Her career may be the first major political casualty of the Shelly Yachimovich Effect.

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Peter De Vries

Over the weekend a friend asked why Peter De Vries seems to have disappeared from America’s literary consciousness. A good question. I didn’t have an answer.

De Vries is one of the best comic novelists that America has ever produced, and comic novelists do poorly over the long run of literary history. Other than Mark Twain, Ring Lardner, and perhaps Dawn Powell, Americans have tended to discard their humorists after a generation. Josh Billings, Petroleum V. Nasby, Ambrose Bierce, George Ade, Finley Peter Dunne, Will Cuppy, James Thurber, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Wolcott Gibbs, E. B. White, Harry Golden, S. J. Perelman, H. Allen Smith, Leonard Q. Ross — these are names from a textbook, not living writers (except for a few hardened followers).

Like many of the comic writers who were well-known in their day, De Vries wrote for the New Yorker. Unlike many of them, though, he wrote novels. Lots of novels — 25 in all. “Every good novel,” he said, “must have a beginning, a muddle, and an end.” He thought of himself as a novelist, and so he kept writing and publishing novels, nearly to the end. (His last novel, Peckham’s Marbles, appeared when he was 76. He died, 18 years ago tomorrow, at the age of 83.)

De Vries also wrote a special kind of humor, filled with puns and plays on words and inversions of popular clichés and famous sayings. His literary reputation, in fact, consists mainly these days in lists of humorous quotations (here, for example, and here and here). De Vries developed a taste for verbal humor while working on a community newspaper in Chicago after leaving school. “The result,” he told an interviewer:

I truly enjoy local, homespun philosophers. Right on top of that I actually did write Pepigrams [e.g., “To turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones — pick up your feet”], for use as wall mottoes and such. I got two bucks a Pepigram, and they got stuck in my blood.

As funny as he is in his quotable throwaway lines, DeVries is not a standup comic in prose. His plots are twisting and ingenious, and he is even funnier in phrasing that twists and shapes a scene. Finding himself on a bus next to “some damn secretary-treasurer” of “something like an organization of madrigal buffs, or the Society for the Prevention of Deplorable Conditions,” the narrator of Consenting Adults; or, The Duchess Will Be Furious (1980) starts in chafing her:

     “Going far?” I said to the woman I’ll call Mrs. Fondue, striking up a “conversation.”
     “Just to Allentown.”
     “That’s a nice town. I once met somebody who lived there, and if he was typical of your element, it leaves nothing to be desired.”

When she fails to catch his meaning, he begins to deliver an impromptu lecture about Albert Tinkham Ryder, the late 19th-century painter. He goes on and on about Ryder’s personal eccentricities (“he slept huddled beneath piles of threadbare overcoats on a floor heaped a foot and a half to two feet high, authorities differ, with assorted filth”) and the “mystic quality” of his paintings. “The woman now looked as though she was definitely going to bolt out of her seat and report me to the driver,” the narrator comments. “He would make a citizen’s arrest and hustle me to headquarters, where I would be lucky to get off with any charge less than aggravated erudition.”

There was a sharpened edge to his humor, especially in his later work, that was not kindly. But De Vries was aware of what he was doing. In his anti-feminist novel Sauce for the Goose (1981), he explains:

Mrs. Dobbin had once read an article on humor in one of the magazines with smooth complexions, which analyzed satire by sorting its practitioners into two classes. Satirists were either soft-mouthed or hard-mouthed. They both brought their pray back dead, true, but some mangled it in purveyance while others did not. Retrievers — such as Frank had been hilariously imitating . . . — retrievers were soft-mouthed, so trained.

De Vries never mangled his prey, but it was sure to be dead when he brought it back. He began his career in the Forties, but did not find his rhythm until the mid-Fifties, when he began to write about suburban Connecticut. The Tunnel of Love was his fifth published book, but his first “mature” work. It is about a “third-rate artist in whom a first-rate gagman is trying to claw his way out.” Baffled in his efforts to create “serious” art, he jumps on the carousel of extramarital affairs. “Affairs are like watermelons,” the narrator remarks. “They leave more mess than they are worth.” The story was filmed in 1958 with Richard Widmark and Doris Day in the starring roles and Gene Kelly in the director’s chair.

The best of his early novels is The Mackerel Plaza (1958), the send-up of a liberal Protestant clergyman who occupies the pulpit of “the first split-level church in America.” (De Vries himself was born into the Dutch Reformed Church, and saw himself as the last of America’s Puritan writers — although he was a Puritan who could not keep a straight face.) De Vries’s pastor is uncomfortable around some of his parishioners. As he says of one: “He had one characteristic that I always find it hard to cope with, piety.” De Vries has great fun dismantling the pastor’s liberal pretensions. And in doing so, he turns out one of the greatest religious novels — one of the few truly religious novels — ever written in America. It was quickly followed by The Tents of Wickedness (1959), a masterpiece of parody in which Emily Dickinson and Dylan Thomas (to say nothing of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Proust, Dreiser, Joyce, and Kafka) get what is coming to them.

Everything changed for De Vries in September 1960 when his youngest child Emily died of acute lymphoblastic leukemia just a few days before her 11th birthday. Two years later he transmuted tragedy into desperately funny sadness. The Blood of the Lamb is like nothing that De Vries — or anyone else, for that matter — had ever written before. It has been nicely described elsewhere by Ian Wolcott.* The novel marked a change of direction, a change of tone, for De Vries. (Reissued by the University of Chicago Press, it is one of only two De Vries novels to remain in print.) The later novels are much harder on their satirical targets, although De Vries never lost a sense of charity even toward those he found ridiculous.

Four decades after her last book, Dawn Powell was honored with a two-volume edition of her novels in the Library of America. The series that exists “to preserve the nation’s cultural heritage by publishing America’s best and most significant writing in authoritative editions” also now includes the sentimental mediocrity Kurt Vonnegut Jr., De Vries’s younger contemporary and a far lesser comic writer. Surely, then, it is time to reprint Peter De Vries. He should not have to wait another two decades for enshrinement. I will gladly volunteer myself to edit a two-volume edition of De Vries’s early novels (The Tunnel of Love, The Mackerel Plaza, The Tents of Wickedness) and later novels (The Blood of the Lamb, Mrs. Wallop, Sauce for the Goose). Anything to keep one of America’s greatest comic novelists from being reduced to pearls of amusing quotations scattered across the internet.
____________________

* In an essay published in the National Review but not available online, Terry Teachout describes The Blood of the Lamb as a “furious tract about the impossibility of religious faith written by a man who wanted desperately to believe. It is also, in places, howlingly funny. This is, to put it mildly, a jolting combination of qualities. . . . [It] reads as though it had been pounded out in a frenzy of grief and rage by a comedian who, for all his horrific suffering, never lost his eye for the grotesqueries and incongruities of human existence.”

Over the weekend a friend asked why Peter De Vries seems to have disappeared from America’s literary consciousness. A good question. I didn’t have an answer.

De Vries is one of the best comic novelists that America has ever produced, and comic novelists do poorly over the long run of literary history. Other than Mark Twain, Ring Lardner, and perhaps Dawn Powell, Americans have tended to discard their humorists after a generation. Josh Billings, Petroleum V. Nasby, Ambrose Bierce, George Ade, Finley Peter Dunne, Will Cuppy, James Thurber, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Wolcott Gibbs, E. B. White, Harry Golden, S. J. Perelman, H. Allen Smith, Leonard Q. Ross — these are names from a textbook, not living writers (except for a few hardened followers).

Like many of the comic writers who were well-known in their day, De Vries wrote for the New Yorker. Unlike many of them, though, he wrote novels. Lots of novels — 25 in all. “Every good novel,” he said, “must have a beginning, a muddle, and an end.” He thought of himself as a novelist, and so he kept writing and publishing novels, nearly to the end. (His last novel, Peckham’s Marbles, appeared when he was 76. He died, 18 years ago tomorrow, at the age of 83.)

De Vries also wrote a special kind of humor, filled with puns and plays on words and inversions of popular clichés and famous sayings. His literary reputation, in fact, consists mainly these days in lists of humorous quotations (here, for example, and here and here). De Vries developed a taste for verbal humor while working on a community newspaper in Chicago after leaving school. “The result,” he told an interviewer:

I truly enjoy local, homespun philosophers. Right on top of that I actually did write Pepigrams [e.g., “To turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones — pick up your feet”], for use as wall mottoes and such. I got two bucks a Pepigram, and they got stuck in my blood.

As funny as he is in his quotable throwaway lines, DeVries is not a standup comic in prose. His plots are twisting and ingenious, and he is even funnier in phrasing that twists and shapes a scene. Finding himself on a bus next to “some damn secretary-treasurer” of “something like an organization of madrigal buffs, or the Society for the Prevention of Deplorable Conditions,” the narrator of Consenting Adults; or, The Duchess Will Be Furious (1980) starts in chafing her:

     “Going far?” I said to the woman I’ll call Mrs. Fondue, striking up a “conversation.”
     “Just to Allentown.”
     “That’s a nice town. I once met somebody who lived there, and if he was typical of your element, it leaves nothing to be desired.”

When she fails to catch his meaning, he begins to deliver an impromptu lecture about Albert Tinkham Ryder, the late 19th-century painter. He goes on and on about Ryder’s personal eccentricities (“he slept huddled beneath piles of threadbare overcoats on a floor heaped a foot and a half to two feet high, authorities differ, with assorted filth”) and the “mystic quality” of his paintings. “The woman now looked as though she was definitely going to bolt out of her seat and report me to the driver,” the narrator comments. “He would make a citizen’s arrest and hustle me to headquarters, where I would be lucky to get off with any charge less than aggravated erudition.”

There was a sharpened edge to his humor, especially in his later work, that was not kindly. But De Vries was aware of what he was doing. In his anti-feminist novel Sauce for the Goose (1981), he explains:

Mrs. Dobbin had once read an article on humor in one of the magazines with smooth complexions, which analyzed satire by sorting its practitioners into two classes. Satirists were either soft-mouthed or hard-mouthed. They both brought their pray back dead, true, but some mangled it in purveyance while others did not. Retrievers — such as Frank had been hilariously imitating . . . — retrievers were soft-mouthed, so trained.

De Vries never mangled his prey, but it was sure to be dead when he brought it back. He began his career in the Forties, but did not find his rhythm until the mid-Fifties, when he began to write about suburban Connecticut. The Tunnel of Love was his fifth published book, but his first “mature” work. It is about a “third-rate artist in whom a first-rate gagman is trying to claw his way out.” Baffled in his efforts to create “serious” art, he jumps on the carousel of extramarital affairs. “Affairs are like watermelons,” the narrator remarks. “They leave more mess than they are worth.” The story was filmed in 1958 with Richard Widmark and Doris Day in the starring roles and Gene Kelly in the director’s chair.

The best of his early novels is The Mackerel Plaza (1958), the send-up of a liberal Protestant clergyman who occupies the pulpit of “the first split-level church in America.” (De Vries himself was born into the Dutch Reformed Church, and saw himself as the last of America’s Puritan writers — although he was a Puritan who could not keep a straight face.) De Vries’s pastor is uncomfortable around some of his parishioners. As he says of one: “He had one characteristic that I always find it hard to cope with, piety.” De Vries has great fun dismantling the pastor’s liberal pretensions. And in doing so, he turns out one of the greatest religious novels — one of the few truly religious novels — ever written in America. It was quickly followed by The Tents of Wickedness (1959), a masterpiece of parody in which Emily Dickinson and Dylan Thomas (to say nothing of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Proust, Dreiser, Joyce, and Kafka) get what is coming to them.

Everything changed for De Vries in September 1960 when his youngest child Emily died of acute lymphoblastic leukemia just a few days before her 11th birthday. Two years later he transmuted tragedy into desperately funny sadness. The Blood of the Lamb is like nothing that De Vries — or anyone else, for that matter — had ever written before. It has been nicely described elsewhere by Ian Wolcott.* The novel marked a change of direction, a change of tone, for De Vries. (Reissued by the University of Chicago Press, it is one of only two De Vries novels to remain in print.) The later novels are much harder on their satirical targets, although De Vries never lost a sense of charity even toward those he found ridiculous.

Four decades after her last book, Dawn Powell was honored with a two-volume edition of her novels in the Library of America. The series that exists “to preserve the nation’s cultural heritage by publishing America’s best and most significant writing in authoritative editions” also now includes the sentimental mediocrity Kurt Vonnegut Jr., De Vries’s younger contemporary and a far lesser comic writer. Surely, then, it is time to reprint Peter De Vries. He should not have to wait another two decades for enshrinement. I will gladly volunteer myself to edit a two-volume edition of De Vries’s early novels (The Tunnel of Love, The Mackerel Plaza, The Tents of Wickedness) and later novels (The Blood of the Lamb, Mrs. Wallop, Sauce for the Goose). Anything to keep one of America’s greatest comic novelists from being reduced to pearls of amusing quotations scattered across the internet.
____________________

* In an essay published in the National Review but not available online, Terry Teachout describes The Blood of the Lamb as a “furious tract about the impossibility of religious faith written by a man who wanted desperately to believe. It is also, in places, howlingly funny. This is, to put it mildly, a jolting combination of qualities. . . . [It] reads as though it had been pounded out in a frenzy of grief and rage by a comedian who, for all his horrific suffering, never lost his eye for the grotesqueries and incongruities of human existence.”

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Barack Obama, Democratic Wrecking Ball

Here’s yet more good news for Democrats. National Journal reports:

One of the Democratic party’s leading pollsters [Stanley Greenberg] released a survey of 60 Republican-held battleground districts today, painting an ominous picture for congressional Democrats in 2012. The poll shows Democratic House candidates faring worse than they did in the 2010 midterms, being dragged down by an unpopular president who would lose to both Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.

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Here’s yet more good news for Democrats. National Journal reports:

One of the Democratic party’s leading pollsters [Stanley Greenberg] released a survey of 60 Republican-held battleground districts today, painting an ominous picture for congressional Democrats in 2012. The poll shows Democratic House candidates faring worse than they did in the 2010 midterms, being dragged down by an unpopular president who would lose to both Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.

The story goes on to say that instead of an overall anti-incumbent sentiment impacting members of both parties, voters are taking more of their anger out on Democrats. When voters were asked whether they’re supporting the Republican incumbent or a Democratic candidate, 50 percent preferred the Republican and just 41 percent backed the Democrat. And here’s the really ominous news for Democrats: Voters in these districts said they were more supportive of Republicans than they were during the 2010 midterms, when 48 percent said they backed the Republican candidate and 42 percent said they backed the Democrat. (Republicans won 55 percent of the overall vote in these 60 battleground districts, while Democrats took 43 percent.) In 2010, Republicans netted 63 House seats – their best showing since 1948.

There’s also this: President Obama’s job approval rating in the battleground districts is just 41 percent — and only 43 percent in the 30 more competitive seats that are a little more Democratic.

What this means is right now, based on the data of a respected Democratic pollster, Democrats would — if the election were held today — suffer a wipeout that makes what happened to them in 2010 look like a walk in the park. And things are likely to get worse, not better, as the months roll on.

It may be that Barack Obama will do to the Democratic Party what no one, not even Ronald Reagan, could achieve–which is to bring it to its knees.

 

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Obama’s State of Mind

At a town hall meeting in Mountain View, California, President Obama said,  “Things have gotten so ideologically driven and everybody is so focused on the next election and putting party ahead of country that we’re not able to solve our problems.”

This formulation is priceless, if only because in a single sentence Obama is advancing three falsehoods, which may be a new indoor record.

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At a town hall meeting in Mountain View, California, President Obama said,  “Things have gotten so ideologically driven and everybody is so focused on the next election and putting party ahead of country that we’re not able to solve our problems.”

This formulation is priceless, if only because in a single sentence Obama is advancing three falsehoods, which may be a new indoor record.

Myth number one is Obama is a pragmatist and centrist, a man for whom ideology is alien, a politician who cares about results rather than abstract theories. In fact, it is Obama who is setting the standard for adherence to a rigid, faith-based ideology. His economic program, for example, has been a complete and demonstrable failure — and yet he has doubled down on Stimulus II and refuses to roll back the monstrosity we call Obamacare. He also insists on raising taxes even as we’re battling the brutal effects of a terrible recession. Those are the actions of a dogmatist, a man with a deep and unshakable belief in statism.

Myth number two is Republicans are focused on the next election, and Obama is not.

In fact, every politician is focused on the next election; the question is the degree to which that focus is causing lawmakers to act irresponsibly. And by this metric, Republicans are, in general, acting in a far more admirable way than the president. The most obvious example of this is the GOP House budget, which was passed in April and championed fundamental changes to Medicare. Republicans passed the legislation even though, to a person, they knew it was politically perilous. And Obama, rather than encouraging reform to a program that may lead to the fiscal ruination of America, has demagogued the issue. And the last week, we’ve seen Obama in full-throated campaign mode, eschewing even the pretense of carrying on governing. As Charles Krauthammer put it, the governing phase of the Obama presidency is over and done.

Which leads us to myth number three: Republicans are putting party ahead of country while Obama is doing the opposite.

The truth is most politicians, in advancing the cause of their party, believe they’re advancing the cause of their country. They are members of a political party because they believe the ideas that characterize the party are the right ones for the nation. But if anyone is open to the charge of putting his self-interest above the national interest, it is Obama himself, whose decisions to withdraw American troops from both Iraq and Afghanistan only makes sense when viewed through a political, not a military, lens. America’s best-known former community organizer essentially invented his own military strategy. No military
commander could endorse, or even propose, plans as reckless as what Obama has embraced. Yet he did so anyway, conveniently tying troop withdrawals to a few months prior to the 2012 election.

If any person on earth is open to the charge of putting his party and political fortunes above those of the United States, it is the president himself. Not that he seems to care. After all, if there is one thing we know about Obama, it is he views the advancement of his interests as synonymous with the right ordering of the universe. Call it an inflated sense of self-importance and an extreme preoccupation with himself. Call it narcissism. Or call it the state of mind of America’s 44th president.

 

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No, Utilitarians Are Not Nice

The Economist reports two researchers from Columbia and Cornell have been studying the personalities of individuals who, in surveys, express a willingness to personally kill one human in the hope of saving more. Their conclusion is there is “a strong link between utilitarian answers to moral dilemmas . . . and personalities that were psychopathic.”  The Economist’s conclusion, in its usual slightly tongue-in-cheek style, is utilitarianism is a “plausible framework” for producing legislation, and the best legislators are therefore psychopathic misanthropes.

But we don’t need Ivy League researchers to conclude utilitarianism is a morally flawed framework for life as well as legislation. In her classic 1987 collection of essays on Marriage and Morals Among the Victorians, Gertrude Himmelfarb explored “Bentham’s Utopia,” or the scheme for “pauper management” the founder of utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham, set forward in 1798. The plan, in brief, was for all of England’s paupers to be housed in purpose-built facilities, specified by Bentham in elaborate detail, and run on a strongly coercive basis, with all paupers held to work until they had paid off their accounts.

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The Economist reports two researchers from Columbia and Cornell have been studying the personalities of individuals who, in surveys, express a willingness to personally kill one human in the hope of saving more. Their conclusion is there is “a strong link between utilitarian answers to moral dilemmas . . . and personalities that were psychopathic.”  The Economist’s conclusion, in its usual slightly tongue-in-cheek style, is utilitarianism is a “plausible framework” for producing legislation, and the best legislators are therefore psychopathic misanthropes.

But we don’t need Ivy League researchers to conclude utilitarianism is a morally flawed framework for life as well as legislation. In her classic 1987 collection of essays on Marriage and Morals Among the Victorians, Gertrude Himmelfarb explored “Bentham’s Utopia,” or the scheme for “pauper management” the founder of utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham, set forward in 1798. The plan, in brief, was for all of England’s paupers to be housed in purpose-built facilities, specified by Bentham in elaborate detail, and run on a strongly coercive basis, with all paupers held to work until they had paid off their accounts.

In many cases, that day would never have come, as children born in the pauper house would be held there until they had children in their turn, all of whom would be educated so as to eliminate desire – not by the normal mechanism of satiating it, but by the more cunning approach of ensuring the children were so totally ignorant of the outside world they would be happy in their prison. This was what Bentham was pleased to call his “Utopia,” and it was one from which he would personally have profited, since he proposed to serve as the owner, manager, and jailer of the entire system (“the spider in the web,” as Burke remarked when he saw the plan).

Today, Bentham’s scheme retains only an academic interest. Or perhaps not. As Himmelfarb notes in her crushing conclusion, explaining Bentham’s continued respectability in publications like the Economist “would require nothing less than an analysis of utilitarianism in the largest sense: as a philosophy that professes to be eminently rational and pragmatic. . . . How can one quarrel with such a sensible philosophy? . . . One may perhaps start by taking seriously Bentham’s own proposals for reform . . . which he regarded as the very embodiment of that philosophy.”

It is all very well to suggest legislation should seek to do more good than harm. But the problem with applying utilitarianism to legislation, in Bentham’s day or ours, is someone has to decide which ends serve the greater good, just as the Ivy League experiments require someone to decide who lives and who dies, and just as top-down legislation in the progressive tradition requires wisdom that no single person possesses. This vision presumes the goal of legislation is control and direction, not the promotion of freedom under law.

What is missing in Bentham’s plan, and in the Economist’s praise of law-making as expressing the will of the psychopath, is the point from Friedrich Hayek that Steve Hayward has been making on Power Line recently: “Central planning cannot work because it is trying to substitute an individual all-knowing intelligence for a distributed and fragmented system of localized but connected knowledge.” And that is not, today, a point of academic interest.

 

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A SCOTUS Obamacare Decision?

The Obama administration has decided against asking the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals for an en banc hearing, after a three-judge panel of the court struck down the president’s health care individual mandate last month. Since other courts have ruled in favor of the administration, the case will now likely be appealed before the Supreme Court, reports Phil Klein:

And moments ago, the Obama administration’s Department of Justice confirmed to the Examiner that it would not ask for the appeals court to hear the case en banc, or with all judges on the court present. Such a move was unlikely to change the ultimate outcome, but some speculated that the Obama administration may want to delay the case as long as possible so that it isn’t decided by the highest court during the 2012 election. …

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The Obama administration has decided against asking the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals for an en banc hearing, after a three-judge panel of the court struck down the president’s health care individual mandate last month. Since other courts have ruled in favor of the administration, the case will now likely be appealed before the Supreme Court, reports Phil Klein:

And moments ago, the Obama administration’s Department of Justice confirmed to the Examiner that it would not ask for the appeals court to hear the case en banc, or with all judges on the court present. Such a move was unlikely to change the ultimate outcome, but some speculated that the Obama administration may want to delay the case as long as possible so that it isn’t decided by the highest court during the 2012 election. …

Now, the DOJ will appeal directly to the Supreme Court, and the court is virtually garunteed to take up the case. Most legal observers believe that the suit is likely to be decided by next June.

Once petitioned by the DOJ, the Supreme Court is expected take up the case quickly. For one, it rarely turns down a government appeal. Second, a speedy decision on the individual mandate is vital, since it will have a broad impact on policy and the public.

But the decision to bypass the en banc hearing is interesting. Not that the hearing would have been likely to make a difference, but at least the administration could have delayed the inevitable Supreme Court appeal. Maybe they reasoned that Obama would have more time to recover from a SCOTUS decision the June before his election, rather than risking a potential September or October surprise?

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Netanyahu’s “Incompetent” Diplomacy Scores a Diplomatic Coup

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is often accused of diplomatic incompetence. And if you think the goal of diplomacy is to be loved, it’s hard to dispute this: Netanyahu is loathed by leaders worldwide.

But if you think the goal of diplomacy is to get other countries to adopt your country’s positions, then Netanyahu has had some surprising successes recently.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is often accused of diplomatic incompetence. And if you think the goal of diplomacy is to be loved, it’s hard to dispute this: Netanyahu is loathed by leaders worldwide.

But if you think the goal of diplomacy is to get other countries to adopt your country’s positions, then Netanyahu has had some surprising successes recently.

In July, France became the first European country to publicly adopt a position every Israeli government has deemed essential for Israeli-Palestinian peace, but which Europe consistently refused to endorse: that any agreement must result in “two nation-states,” including “the nation-state of Israel for the Jewish people.”

And last week, one of the most pro-Palestinian countries in Europe not only followed suit, but broke new ground. Addressing the UN General Assembly on Saturday, Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez first declared Spain’s “commitment” to Israel as “a homeland of the Jewish people” – a position Madrid opposed as recently as July. Then she added something that, again, all Israeli governments have deemed essential for peace, but Europe has never been willing to state openly: Any solution to the Palestinian refugee problem must “be just and agreed,” while also “allowing the preservation of Israel’s current character.” In other words, the Palestinian goal of relocating the refugees to Israel is out.

It’s hard to overstate the significance of this shift. For years, the EU has demanded a host of specific Israeli concessions on final-status issues (borders, Jerusalem, etc.) while adamantly refusing to demand any Palestinian concessions. Hence, every statement it issued reiterated a formula carefully crafted to avoid offending Palestinian sensibilities. It called for two states, Israel and Palestine, with no elaboration on the nature of the former, thus leaving open the possibility of an “Israel” transformed into a binational or Palestinian-majority state by an influx of millions of refugee descendants, as Palestinians want. And it urged “an agreed, just, fair and realistic solution” to the refugee issue, without specifying that the Palestinians’ preferred solution of resettling them all in Israel doesn’t qualify.

This enabled Palestinians to continue fantasizing that the world would keep demanding ever more concessions from Israel without ever demanding anything of them. After all, the West is more supportive of Israel than the rest of the world, so what Europe won’t demand, non-Western countries certainly won’t. Moreover, Europe is the Palestinian Authority’s main financial backer, which gives its positions special importance.

But now that one of Europe’s most pro-Palestinian countries has broken ranks, other EU states could well follow suit. That in turn could change the dynamics of the international Quartet, where the EU has traditionally sided with Russia and the UN against the U.S.

It’s no accident this U-turn happened under the “intransigent” Netanyahu rather than his more conciliatory predecessors: His “intransigence” is precisely what convinced France and Spain that progress will require accommodating Israel’s demands as well, and not only those of the Palestinians. The upshot is that two key European states have now adopted a vital Israeli position.

Not bad for an incompetent diplomat.

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The Pundit-Public Disconnect on Perry

Commentators have been pretty harsh on Rick Perry this week, though he deserves most of the flak after his three consecutive sub-par debate performances. But according to the latest CNN poll, the candidate actually hasn’t lost much ground with GOP voters. While he’s dropped a couple of points and Romney’s gained a couple of points, in the end the Texan is maintaining a comfortable lead:

According to the survey, which was released Monday, 28 percent of Republicans and independents who lean towards the GOP say they support Perry as their party’s presidential nominee, with Romney at 21 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is at ten percent, with Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who’s making his third bid for the White House, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and radio talk show host Herman Cain, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, all at seven percent. The poll indicates that Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is at four percent, with former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania at three percent and former Utah Gov. and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman at one percent. …

The poll was conducted Friday through Sunday, after last Thursday’s debate in Orlando, Florida.

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Commentators have been pretty harsh on Rick Perry this week, though he deserves most of the flak after his three consecutive sub-par debate performances. But according to the latest CNN poll, the candidate actually hasn’t lost much ground with GOP voters. While he’s dropped a couple of points and Romney’s gained a couple of points, in the end the Texan is maintaining a comfortable lead:

According to the survey, which was released Monday, 28 percent of Republicans and independents who lean towards the GOP say they support Perry as their party’s presidential nominee, with Romney at 21 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is at ten percent, with Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who’s making his third bid for the White House, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and radio talk show host Herman Cain, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, all at seven percent. The poll indicates that Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is at four percent, with former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania at three percent and former Utah Gov. and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman at one percent. …

The poll was conducted Friday through Sunday, after last Thursday’s debate in Orlando, Florida.

Of course, not all GOP voters were willing to overlook the debate. It seems likely that it played a role in Perry’s Florida straw poll stumble, and might make it more difficult for him to recover in the state. But based on this poll, it doesn’t appear as if Perry’s damage is fatal — at least not yet.

Could that mean there’s less of an opening for Chris Christie, who started to be courted much more aggressively after Perry’s performance? Obviously, a lot of conservative pundits will still be hoping for a strong candidate like Christie after Perry’s fumbles, but it may not make a difference if voters aren’t interested.

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Obama Within Spitting Distance of Carter

In the summer of 1979, Jimmy Carter’s approval rating sank to its low point, 29 percent. I’m not sure if Barack Obama will reach that particular goal, but he’s making an impressive run at it.

For the record, Obama’s approval ratings have fallen to a new low, with only 36 percent of Americans saying they approve of the way he is handling his job overall, according to a new poll from the Economist/YouGov. A majority of Americans – 56 percent – disapprove of the president’s performance. Needless to say, a 20-point gap only 13 months away from an election is a very dangerous place for the president to be. And the internals of the poll are, if anything, worse. Only 30 percent of Americans strongly or somewhat approve of the president’s handling of the issue. Fully 50 percent of Americans believe the policies of the Obama administration have hurt the economy, while 53 percent say they have hurt the middle class.

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In the summer of 1979, Jimmy Carter’s approval rating sank to its low point, 29 percent. I’m not sure if Barack Obama will reach that particular goal, but he’s making an impressive run at it.

For the record, Obama’s approval ratings have fallen to a new low, with only 36 percent of Americans saying they approve of the way he is handling his job overall, according to a new poll from the Economist/YouGov. A majority of Americans – 56 percent – disapprove of the president’s performance. Needless to say, a 20-point gap only 13 months away from an election is a very dangerous place for the president to be. And the internals of the poll are, if anything, worse. Only 30 percent of Americans strongly or somewhat approve of the president’s handling of the issue. Fully 50 percent of Americans believe the policies of the Obama administration have hurt the economy, while 53 percent say they have hurt the middle class.

Can Obama drop below 30 percent approval in his first term? It won’t be easy. On the other hand, he still has many more months left to reveal new and unexplored areas of incompetence. And things in America are likely to get worse before they get better. So, I suppose anything is possible. To quote from Obama not all that long ago, “Yes We Can.”

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DNC Attacks GOP Debate Audience

A couple of idiots in the audience at the last Florida GOP debate booed a gay soldier when he asked Rick Santorum a question about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The booing was disrespectful and immature, and definitely not representative of the larger audience, which seemed much more interested in fiscal issues than rehashing the culture wars. But the Democratic National Committee isn’t about to let a perfectly good fake controversy go to waste, so it spliced the debate scene with some ominous music for its new attack ad:

The ad titled “Not One Candidate,” references an editorial in the Concord Monitor Sunday that said, “The most disturbing aspect of the WrestleMania behavior at the debates is not that some audience members booed a soldier and many cheered death. It’s that not one Republican candidate, and there were nine on the stage on Thursday, spoke up to admonish the crowd and call for civility. Not one candidate, in situations that cried out for it, exhibited leadership.”

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A couple of idiots in the audience at the last Florida GOP debate booed a gay soldier when he asked Rick Santorum a question about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The booing was disrespectful and immature, and definitely not representative of the larger audience, which seemed much more interested in fiscal issues than rehashing the culture wars. But the Democratic National Committee isn’t about to let a perfectly good fake controversy go to waste, so it spliced the debate scene with some ominous music for its new attack ad:

The ad titled “Not One Candidate,” references an editorial in the Concord Monitor Sunday that said, “The most disturbing aspect of the WrestleMania behavior at the debates is not that some audience members booed a soldier and many cheered death. It’s that not one Republican candidate, and there were nine on the stage on Thursday, spoke up to admonish the crowd and call for civility. Not one candidate, in situations that cried out for it, exhibited leadership.”

Santorum issued a statement days ago condemning the hecklers. (He said he didn’t hear them at the time, which matches audience accounts that the boos weren’t as loud as they sound on the audio.) But if we’re going to hold politicians responsible for any obnoxiousness that takes place in their vicinity, then Obama has plenty to answer for as well. Speaking of which, the Republican candidates might want to copy-and-paste Jay Carney’s recent Jimmy Hoffa remark into any response they give on this issue:

I understand that there is a ritual in Washington that, you know, somebody says something and you link the associations and then everybody who has an association with him or her is somehow — has to avow or disavow it. …

The — Mr. Hoffa speaks for himself. He speaks for the labor movement — AFL-CIO. The president speaks for himself. I speak for the president.

And no matter how the Republicans respond to the DNC attack, it will almost certainly be better than this unforgettable DWS disaster.

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