Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 19, 2011

In Defense of Gridlock

Ronald Reagan made enormous contributions to his country during his presidency – and appointing Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court ranks very high among them.

I say that not simply because of the votes Justice Scalia has cast over the last quarter-century, but because of his enormous intellectual contributions to our understanding of law, legal philosophy, and the Constitution. I was reminded of this watching Justice Scalia during a recent hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which also featured Justice Stephen Breyer.

Read More

Ronald Reagan made enormous contributions to his country during his presidency – and appointing Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court ranks very high among them.

I say that not simply because of the votes Justice Scalia has cast over the last quarter-century, but because of his enormous intellectual contributions to our understanding of law, legal philosophy, and the Constitution. I was reminded of this watching Justice Scalia during a recent hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which also featured Justice Stephen Breyer.

Scalia made several insightful points, including this one: the key to the distinctiveness of America is not the Bill of Rights, which “every banana republic in the world” has, but our structure of government – which involves the separation of powers, something that is quite rare in the world.

“The Europeans look at this system and they say ‘Well, it passes one house, it doesn’t pass the other house, sometimes the other house is in the control of a different party. It passes both, and then this president, who has a veto power, vetoes it” — and they look at this and they say, ‘Ach, it is gridlock,’” according to Scalia. “And I hear Americans saying this nowadays, and there’s a lot of it going around. They talk about a dysfunctional government because there’s disagreement — and the Framers would have said, ‘Yes! That’s exactly the way we set it up. We wanted this to be power contradicting power because the main ill that beset us, as Hamilton said in The Federalist, when he talked about a separate Senate, he said, ‘Yes, it seems inconvenient, but inasmuch as the main ill that besets us is an excess of legislation, it won’t be so bad.’ This is 1787; he didn’t know what an excess of legislation was.”

Scalia went on to say this:

Unless Americans can appreciate that and learn to love the separation of powers, which means learning to love the gridlock which the Framers believed would be the main protection of minorities, the main protection. If a bill is about to pass that really comes down hard on some minority [and] they think it’s terribly unfair, it doesn’t take much to throw a monkey wrench into this complex system. So Americans should appreciate that, and they should learn to love the gridlock. It’s there for a reason, so the legislation that does get out is good legislation.

This is an ancient truth that’s worth recalling in every season – but perhaps now more than most. We’ve seen a rise in the number of influential liberals who embrace troubling reforms based on their frustration with gridlock. For example, Peter Orszag, who was President Obama’s OMB director, wrote an article in The New Republic in which he says, “radical as it sounds, we need to counter the gridlock of our political institutions by making them a bit less democratic.” And in case that wasn’t clear enough, Orszag concludes his article this way: “As we are seeing, certain aspects of representative government can end up posing serious problems. And so, we might be a healthier democracy if we were a slightly less democratic one.”

Readers of Tom Friedman of the New York Times know he has a special fondness for the People’s Republic of China’s political system, which he considers to be far more efficient than ours (Friedman’s lamentation is a familiar one: America remains a “deeply politically polarized country”). CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, in turn, argues that a parliamentary system is more efficient because “there is no contest for national legitimacy and power.” The kind of “squabbling” and “holding the country hostage” that is happening in this nation, Zakaria argues, doesn’t occur in Great Britain. Other nations are acting quickly and with foresight; America, on the other hand, is “paralyzed.”

On the matter of “gridlock” and “paralysis,” this needs to be said: during the first two years of the Obama administration the president was more successful in pushing through his agenda — the stimulus bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank legislation regulating Wall Street, credit card price controls, an extension of jobless benefits, cash for clunkers, and more — than arguably any president since Lyndon Johnson (see here for more). The 2010 midterm election was the public’s way of slamming the brakes on the president’s agenda.

But there’s a deeper point worth exploring, which is the lack of faith we see among many modern liberals when it comes to our system of checks and balances. So it’s worth restating the theoretical foundation for American self-government, of which the best exponent was James Madison, whose study and mastery of ancient and modern governments was unparalleled. (It’s been said that the “literary cargo” of books on history, politics, and commerce sent by Jefferson provided Madison with information about nearly every experiment in republican or federal government of which there was any historical record. He was, by most accounts, the best prepared person at the Constitutional Convention.) In the words of Professor Ralph Ketcham, “As he saw repeatedly how concentration of power inclined toward tyranny or the triumph of selfish interest, his devotion to checks and balances and the doctrine of separation of powers increased.”

Yet many of today’s progressives seem wholly unconcerned about these matters. They are, in fact, relentless advocates for the concentration of power. They tend to view the separation of powers as an inconvenience and an obstacle. And when their agenda
is slowed down or stopped due to our system of checks and balances, they are ready to jettison our core constitutional principles (and in the case of North Carolina Governor Bev Purdue, suspend elections).

This is shortsighted, rash, and imprudent. As between Messrs. Orszag, Friedman, and Zakaria on the one hand and Madison, his fellow framers, and Scalia on the other, the choice is (to borrow from the words found in the preamble of the Declaration) self-evident.

 

Read Less

Perry Bets on Flat Tax to Revive Campaign

Rick Perry thought he could revive his candidacy by getting under Mitt Romney’s skin at last night’s debate. But though the jury is still out on whether the new nastier Perry has erased memories of the old sleepwalking Perry of the previous debates, the Texas governor is apparently determined to stay on top of the news cycle with an even bolder gambit: endorsing a flat tax system that could replace the entire Internal Revenue Service code.

The decision to try this route may put some energy and interest back in a Perry campaign that seemed dead in the water prior to last night. But the flat tax, like the very different tax plan of Herman Cain, is also the sort of idea that could open up its sponsor to the same criticism as the pizza magnate’s 9-9-9 scheme. And that could spell trouble in future debates for Perry, who has problems articulating complex ideas on the political stage.

Read More

Rick Perry thought he could revive his candidacy by getting under Mitt Romney’s skin at last night’s debate. But though the jury is still out on whether the new nastier Perry has erased memories of the old sleepwalking Perry of the previous debates, the Texas governor is apparently determined to stay on top of the news cycle with an even bolder gambit: endorsing a flat tax system that could replace the entire Internal Revenue Service code.

The decision to try this route may put some energy and interest back in a Perry campaign that seemed dead in the water prior to last night. But the flat tax, like the very different tax plan of Herman Cain, is also the sort of idea that could open up its sponsor to the same criticism as the pizza magnate’s 9-9-9 scheme. And that could spell trouble in future debates for Perry, who has problems articulating complex ideas on the political stage.

The flat tax concept was the centerpiece of Steve Forbes’ quixotic quests for the White House in 1996 and 2000 and has long held an attraction for some conservatives and libertarians. This is due in no small measure to the fact it holds out the possibility of either eliminating or reducing the scope of the IRS. But as popular as the idea of simplifying the tax code may be, especially for Republicans, the devil will be in the details. While most Republicans won’t necessarily be offended by getting rid of progressive taxation, Perry will still need to explain how he will preserve traditional tax breaks for families and charities that most conservatives support. That could open up a world of trouble for a candidate who has difficulty explaining far less complex ideas than a new tax code.

Despite the pitfalls that may await, Perry’s decision to go down this road is still smart politics. What he really needed this week was not only proof he could stay awake for two hours during a debate but also a cause around which his backers could rally. Up until now, the only idea that seemed to animate Perry was his support for energy independence. But as much as his stands on that and related oil issues were sound, it also reminded voters his main source of financial support was the Texas oil industry. That made him look more like a regional favorite son candidate than the national conservative he aspired to be.

The flat tax may have its drawbacks, and Perry may not be the best man to defend it, but it will give Perry, his supporters and his critics something to talk about besides his debating style. While it is no guarantee of victory, it may be just the thing to keep him in the race.

Read Less

Biden Pitches Class Warfare to 4th Graders

Earlier this week, Obama suggested that opposition to his jobs plan is coming from people who “just couldn’t understand the whole thing at once.” Fortunately for those idiots, VP Biden was deployed to a 4th grade classroom in Pennsylvania to describe the plan in a slow and patronizing voice. Here’s the tape, via the York Daily Record:

Read More

Earlier this week, Obama suggested that opposition to his jobs plan is coming from people who “just couldn’t understand the whole thing at once.” Fortunately for those idiots, VP Biden was deployed to a 4th grade classroom in Pennsylvania to describe the plan in a slow and patronizing voice. Here’s the tape, via the York Daily Record:

And the key parts of the transcript:

What the president and I are trying to do and the reason I’m here today is we have an idea. We think that all the teachers who got what they call “laid off” and don’t have a job because there’s not enough money in the cities and the towns and the states to hire them — we think the federal government in Washington, D.C. should say to the cities and the states “look, we’re gonna give you some money, so you can hire back all those people.”

He forgot to mention the part where the teachers’ unions rebuffed negotiations with local governments, preferring to take the layoffs rather than stomach cuts to benefits. Sending an extra influx of federal money to school districts is like taking painkillers and expecting them to heal a broken arm. The arm might stop hurting for awhile, but once the medicine runs out it’s still going to be broken. Any teachers rehired because of Obama’s stimulus have a good chance of finding themselves out of a job a few years later unless local governments are able to fix deep-seated problems with unions and budget mismanagement.

But while the benefits of the stimulus are temporary, the mechanism the government would use to fund it aren’t:

And the way we’re gonna do it is we’re going to ask people who have a lot of money, who are in good shape, who are doing very well, to pay just a little bit more in taxes. So for example, we’re going to say to people who make a million dollars, and there’s not a lot of those people, we’re going to say, you pay $500 a year more in taxes. And if everybody making a million dollars, or those people who make more than a million dollars like billionaires, if they pay a little bit more in taxes they can pay for all the teachers and all the firefighters and all the police officers who lost their jobs to come back and help the community. And that’s what we’re here today talking about.

Either Biden is horrible at math (it’s forgivable), or he’s deliberately being misleading here. Under Obama’s 5 percent surtax proposal, a millionaire wouldn’t pay $500 extra a year – he’d pay $50,000 extra a year. We can argue about whether or not that’s fair, but to claim it’s just an additional $500 is just flat-out false.

Read Less

Obama’s Double Standard on OWS

During one of the GOP presidential debates, two or three people in an audience of more than 5,000 booed a question posed by a gay soldier, not the gay soldier himself. As one might expect, though, many journalists, as well as the president, decided to make a big deal of this. It was held up as an example of Republican bigotry. President Civility, Barack Obama, decided to put his own interpretation on things:

“We  don’t believe in the kind of smallness that says it’s OK for a stage full of political leaders — one of whom could end up being the president of the United States — being silent when an American soldier is booed,” Obama said at a Human Rights Campaign dinner.

Read More

During one of the GOP presidential debates, two or three people in an audience of more than 5,000 booed a question posed by a gay soldier, not the gay soldier himself. As one might expect, though, many journalists, as well as the president, decided to make a big deal of this. It was held up as an example of Republican bigotry. President Civility, Barack Obama, decided to put his own interpretation on things:

“We  don’t believe in the kind of smallness that says it’s OK for a stage full of political leaders — one of whom could end up being the president of the United States — being silent when an American soldier is booed,” Obama said at a Human Rights Campaign dinner.

To repeat: the soldier was not booed; his question was. But no matter; Obama had political points to score and a base to energize. Yet with the precedent Obama is setting in place, I do wonder: The Occupy Wall Street movement is rife with anti-Semitism. The statements we’re hearing from the protesters are vile, ugly and seemingly endless. And yet this is a movement Obama, Vice President Biden, Minority Leader Pelosi, and DNC chairwoman Wasserman Schultz have all warmly embraced. Revealingly, they have yet to denounce the unvarnished anti-Semitism they must be aware of by now.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe in the kind of smallness that says it’s OK for a president and Democratic leaders – including one who could end up being re-elected as president of the United States – being silent when a movement they have praised and are provoking is spewing forth anti-Semitic bile on a daily basis. It would be nice, and exceedingly rare, for the president to show even a spark of moral leadership.

If he’s not careful, one might begin to (reasonably) conclude the president isn’t terribly bothered by anti-Semitism. Because if he were, he would actually speak out against it. Even once.

 

Read Less

Shalit Deal is No Harbinger of Peace

The debate about Israel’s decision to pay an exorbitant ransom to secure the release of kidnapped solider Gilad Shalit continues to rage, with many still lamenting the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian terrorists. But the real danger from this deal is not, as some have stated, that it will encourage terrorism, because Hamas needs no encouragement on that point. Rather, it is the false narrative promoted in some quarters that the deal legitimizes Hamas as a peace partner, and Israel should be pushed to open talks with the terrorist group.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said yesterday he thought the Shalit deal ought to inspire hope for the moribund peace process. The theme was taken up in earnest by Israeli left-winger Uri Dromi in today’s International Herald Tribune in which he argues that not only does the exchange prove Israel can and will deal with Hamas (despite its identity as a bloodthirsty terrorist group), but it may prove to be a harbinger of a new round of negotiations in which Hamas will take its place among the peacemakers. Nothing could be further from the truth, both in terms of Israeli intentions and that of the Palestinians.

Read More

The debate about Israel’s decision to pay an exorbitant ransom to secure the release of kidnapped solider Gilad Shalit continues to rage, with many still lamenting the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian terrorists. But the real danger from this deal is not, as some have stated, that it will encourage terrorism, because Hamas needs no encouragement on that point. Rather, it is the false narrative promoted in some quarters that the deal legitimizes Hamas as a peace partner, and Israel should be pushed to open talks with the terrorist group.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said yesterday he thought the Shalit deal ought to inspire hope for the moribund peace process. The theme was taken up in earnest by Israeli left-winger Uri Dromi in today’s International Herald Tribune in which he argues that not only does the exchange prove Israel can and will deal with Hamas (despite its identity as a bloodthirsty terrorist group), but it may prove to be a harbinger of a new round of negotiations in which Hamas will take its place among the peacemakers. Nothing could be further from the truth, both in terms of Israeli intentions and that of the Palestinians.

It should be admitted the Shalit deal meant Israel was dealing with Hamas, albeit indirectly via Egyptian and German mediators. But there is nothing new about this. Israel has always needed to have contacts with the enemies on its borders. The Shalit deal is in this respect no different from the cease-fires negotiated with Hamas since it seized control of Gaza in 2006 or with the indirect talks conducted with various enemies throughout Israel’s history on procedural issues or prisoner exchanges.

But none of this means Israel has any interest in negotiating with Hamas on substantial issues. In terms of crafting peace, there is, after all, nothing worth discussing with Hamas, as its avowed purpose is Israel’s destruction and the slaughter of its Jewish citizens. It has proven impossible for even the supposed “moderates” of the more secular Fatah and the Palestinian Authority to agree to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. How then could Hamas, which opposes Israel on religious grounds and does not even pretend to want peace when addressing English-speaking audiences (as is the practice of some Fatah officials), ever accept a two-state solution?

The idea, as Dromi proposes, that Israel would make tangible concessions to the Palestinians, in exchange not for the impossible hope of peace, but for Hamas’ agreement to a 10-year cease-fire, is not only an act of hopeless naïveté but deal-making that makes the lopsided Shalit deal look like a bargain for Israel.

The optimism voiced by Sarkozy and Dromi can only be sustained if you ignore the way Palestinians have lionized released terrorists who committed acts of unspeakable murder and cruelty. The internal Jewish debate about the price of Shalit’s ransom has, unfortunately, tended to overshadow the more important story of how a Palestinian culture in which the shedding of Jewish blood is a prerequisite for both heroism and political credibility has been reaffirmed by the week’s events. The promise of some of the released killers that they will return to terrorism was no empty boast.

The Palestinian celebration of murder has made it all too apparent for most Israelis that peace is an unreachable goal in the foreseeable future. Moreover, the strengthening of Hamas by their “achievement” in successfully reaping the benefits of kidnapping has further strengthened the appeal of violence for the Palestinians.

The Shalit exchange ought to make clear any effort expended on pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians for the sake of peace is counterproductive. Those who encourage such myths are doing neither Israel nor the cause of peace any favors.

Read Less

Liberalism’s Treatment of Israel

Leon Wieseltier absolutely eviscerates Patricia Storace’s dreadful essay in the New York Review of Books on David Grossman’s most recent novel. Storace gets the translations wrong, the history wrong, the facts wrong. Wieseltier was hoping for the usual NYRB essay: just plain bad. What he found was astounding ignorance as well. (He is also incredulous that the NYRB would deem David Grossman of all people a racist attempting to whitewash Israeli history.)

But Wieseltier gets to the crux of the tension for the remaining pro-Israel leftists, and how the conversation has turned against Israel in a much sharper and more personal manner among the liberal cultural elite:

Read More

Leon Wieseltier absolutely eviscerates Patricia Storace’s dreadful essay in the New York Review of Books on David Grossman’s most recent novel. Storace gets the translations wrong, the history wrong, the facts wrong. Wieseltier was hoping for the usual NYRB essay: just plain bad. What he found was astounding ignorance as well. (He is also incredulous that the NYRB would deem David Grossman of all people a racist attempting to whitewash Israeli history.)

But Wieseltier gets to the crux of the tension for the remaining pro-Israel leftists, and how the conversation has turned against Israel in a much sharper and more personal manner among the liberal cultural elite:

What really bothers Storace about Grossman’s novel is that it is so damned Israeli, and that its attention wanders from the Palestinians, who are of course all you need to know about Israel. Her intolerant piece is yet another example of the new heartlessness toward Israel. A whole country and a whole people have been expelled from the realm of imaginative sympathy. I have long believed that the settlements are madness, and the notion of Benjamin Netanyahu as a thwarted peacemaker strikes me as risible—but no more risible than the notion of Mahmoud Abbas as a thwarted peacemaker. There are no heroes in this absent peace. But there is a poison in the air.

One of the defenses of the anti-Semitism that has appeared throughout the Occupy Wall Street movement is that it is fringe and certainly not endorsed by the “mainstream,” whichever part of the protest movement that is. That’s fine as far as it goes, but what people should pay more attention to is not the political opposition to Israel on the left that is so fashionable these days, but rather the cultural opposition to Israel. For example, one of the many leaked email exchanges among Occupy Wall Street organizers and participants that mentioned Israel had a peculiar exclusivity to it that is still somewhat under the radar.

The conversation was about how a representative of Israel’s recent protest movement, the “J14” tent protesters, came to speak to a gathering at Occupy Wall Street. This should have been a shidduch made in heaven, but instead it actually upset the Occupiers greatly. Here is how one of them named Andy Pollack put it in an e-mail that was published by Andrew Breitbart:

I was shocked to hear that the first speaker after the introduction would be an activist from the Israeli “tent protests,” the racist movement which was fighting for cheaper rents and mortgages for stolen homes on stolen land. OWS has responded to criticisms of inadequate leadership and participation and addressing of issues by and regarding people of color by fostering discussion and restructuring. The racist “tent protest” movement responded to equivalent challenges from Palestinians by telling them, “shut up, leave us alone, don’t divide the movement.”

I waited to hear what the speaker (Ezra something) had to say, and it was as bad as I feared. It was all about the technical issues of outreach and democracy, and not one word about outreach to Palestinians or inclusion of their issues.

When he finished I got the floor (even though there hadn’t been discussion time planned for that agenda point) and made some of the above points. Almost as soon as I began speaking murmurs of disagreement and calls of “this isn’t the time” and downward “twinkling” hand motions began. One of the facilitators asked the speaker to respond, and he said, “It’s a question of outreach. I did outreach to Palestinians in Israel who were leery of joining the movement. You’ll have to do the same in The Bronx. The issue of Palestinians in the movement won’t be settled here.”

Well, yes, Mr. Zionist, it will be settled here. There is a huge Palestinian exile community in the U.S., with that in NY being one of the biggest components. They want their land back, they want their homes back, and they want the right to return. They have no interest in a movement which haggles over the rent paid by Jews to Jews for stolen property. They can’t even return to visit because of exclusionary laws passed by your racist state.

This is what has become of the left’s opposition to Israel: you cannot even mention Israel–even Israeli leftists like David Grossman or the J14 protesters–unless you begin by admitting the entire state of Israel is occupied territory and that Israel has no right to exist as it does or as a Jewish state.

There is something quaint and almost admirable (almost!) about Jewish pro-Israel leftists. It’s not that there is an inherent contradiction; you can be both liberal and pro-Israel, certainly. It’s that they are so viscerally unwanted by their peers, who are desperately and depravedly stripping people like Wieseltier and Grossman of their identities because Wieseltier and Grossman stubbornly refuse to renounce it themselves.

Of course it troubles me to see protesters rant about “Jewish bankers.” But it is no less troublesome to see the so-called reasonable and mainstream protesters insist Jews check their support not just for Israel, but for Israel’s existence, at the door in order to be part of their “99%” club. This extravagant cultural falsification is the real scandal of today’s liberalism. And yet it goes mostly unchallenged from within.

Read Less

Do 59% of Americans Really Support “Occupy” Protests?

With no way to see the actual survey questions or partisan breakdown from this stunning United Technologies/National Journal poll, put me down as skeptical on this one:

A new survey shows that Americans overwhelmingly support the self-styled Occupy Wall Street protests that not only have disrupted life in Lower Manhattan but also in Washington and cities and towns across the U.S. and in other nations. Some 59 percent of adults either completely agree or mostly agree with the protesters, while 31 percent mostly disagree or completely disagree; 10 percent of those surveyed didn’t know or refused to answer.

Read More

With no way to see the actual survey questions or partisan breakdown from this stunning United Technologies/National Journal poll, put me down as skeptical on this one:

A new survey shows that Americans overwhelmingly support the self-styled Occupy Wall Street protests that not only have disrupted life in Lower Manhattan but also in Washington and cities and towns across the U.S. and in other nations. Some 59 percent of adults either completely agree or mostly agree with the protesters, while 31 percent mostly disagree or completely disagree; 10 percent of those surveyed didn’t know or refused to answer.

What’s more, many people are paying attention to the rallies. Almost two-thirds of respondents—65 percent—said they’ve heard “a lot” or “some” about the rallies, while 35 percent have said they’ve heard or seen “not too much” or “nothing at all” about the demonstrations.

With other recent polls showing public support for the Occupy Wall Streeters is dancing around the 25 percent range, a sudden spike to 59 percent seems unbelievable. The difference may be that Gallup asked respondents whether they “supported” or “opposed” the movement, while UT/NJ asked whether respondents “agreed” with the movement.

That’s much more subjective, and could depend on how UT/NJ characterized the beliefs of OWS. If they asked respondents whether they agreed with OWS’s claim that Wall Street is corrupt, then that would obviously elicit a different response than if they asked about OWS’s preference for higher taxes and entitlement expansion. Until (unless?) some basic information is released here, it’s hard to take this seriously.

Read Less

The Times Endorses Religious Prejudice Against Mormons

It was somewhat disappointing that except for Mitt Romney, none of the Republican candidates who were asked to comment at last night’s GOP presidential debate on the recent attack on Mormonism by a Rick Perry supporter chose to give a straightforward defense of religious liberty. Of course, since Romney was the candidate whom Pastor Robert Jeffress thought evangelicals should oppose because of his faith, that didn’t do much to clear the air about this nasty episode. But those inclined to blame Perry or any other Republican for condoning, or at least not vigorously opposing this attempt to inject religious bias into politics, could read the New York Times this morning and see prejudice is alive and well in the sacred precincts of the liberal establishment’s paper of record.

Columnist Maureen Dowd chose to dip her dainty toe in the muddy waters of religious bias in a column titled, “Anne Frank, a Mormon?” The point of the piece was not to belatedly slam Jeffress’s statement but to support it, albeit in a backhand way. Her goal was to mock the Mormon faith and its practices in a manner she wouldn’t dare do if she were discussing Judaism or Islam. In highlighting Mormon religious beliefs and practices in a deprecating manner, Dowd was signaling that it was okay for the Times’ readers to harbor prejudice against Mormons, especially strong adherents of the faith like Mitt Romney, while still thinking of themselves as decent liberals.

Read More

It was somewhat disappointing that except for Mitt Romney, none of the Republican candidates who were asked to comment at last night’s GOP presidential debate on the recent attack on Mormonism by a Rick Perry supporter chose to give a straightforward defense of religious liberty. Of course, since Romney was the candidate whom Pastor Robert Jeffress thought evangelicals should oppose because of his faith, that didn’t do much to clear the air about this nasty episode. But those inclined to blame Perry or any other Republican for condoning, or at least not vigorously opposing this attempt to inject religious bias into politics, could read the New York Times this morning and see prejudice is alive and well in the sacred precincts of the liberal establishment’s paper of record.

Columnist Maureen Dowd chose to dip her dainty toe in the muddy waters of religious bias in a column titled, “Anne Frank, a Mormon?” The point of the piece was not to belatedly slam Jeffress’s statement but to support it, albeit in a backhand way. Her goal was to mock the Mormon faith and its practices in a manner she wouldn’t dare do if she were discussing Judaism or Islam. In highlighting Mormon religious beliefs and practices in a deprecating manner, Dowd was signaling that it was okay for the Times’ readers to harbor prejudice against Mormons, especially strong adherents of the faith like Mitt Romney, while still thinking of themselves as decent liberals.

Of course, as she admitted, it’s easy to mock any faith, and the columnist is well-known for having a negative opinion about the Catholic faith in which she was raised. But would the Times let her get away with poking fun at the skullcaps or items of clothing associated with religious Jews such as the fringed garment many Orthodox Jews wear? Would she have mocked Muslims for their burqas or head coverings? But in an era where a satire about Mormons is a Broadway hit and many liberals worry about Romney’s ability to beat President Obama next fall, right now it’s open season in the Grey Lady on Latter Day Saints.

It should be specified the Mormon practice of seeking out every name of everyone who ever lived — even the victims of the Holocaust — and posthumously baptizing them into their faith was deeply offensive to non-Mormons. To its credit, the official LDS Church finally gave it up in the 1990s, but the ill will that this ritual created still lingers.

But Dowd’s only purpose in dredging that story up now is to pour some fuel on the always-simmering fires of religious prejudice. The columnist concluded by saying that “Republicans are the ones who have made faith part of the presidential test. Now we’ll see if Mitt can pass it.” But rather than debunking Jeffress’s statement, which preached that evangelicals should reject candidates of non-Christian faiths (among which he listed Mormons, who do consider themselves Christian), the liberal Dowd doubled down on it in a piece in which she strived to back up the pastor’s claim the Mormon church is a cult.

One needn’t agree with Mormons on theology to understand their church poses no threat to other Americans. Nor do you have to be a Mormon to comprehend what Dowd is up to here is an attempt to delegitimize not only a faith but also a specific presidential candidate. It is one thing to laugh at Mormons or the eccentricities of any faith in the confines of a Broadway theatre. It is quite another to highlight the religion of a politician in such a way as to question his fitness for office.

The absence of a religious test for public office is one of the foundations of this republic. But that hasn’t stopped the Times from allowing one of their columnists to use their pages to re-light the fires of religious prejudice. That the editors of the paper consider Dowd’s anti-Mormon screed worthy of publication is nothing short of a disgrace.

Read Less

RNC Condemns OWS Anti-Semitism

The Republican National Committee is calling on top Democratic leaders to denounce the displays of anti-Semitism at the Occupy Wall Street protests:

Where’s the outrage? While protestors are seen spewing hate against Jewish Americans, President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz have declared their support for the demonstrations. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Steve Israel even circulated a petition saying he’s “standing with” Occupy Wall Street. …

Read More

The Republican National Committee is calling on top Democratic leaders to denounce the displays of anti-Semitism at the Occupy Wall Street protests:

Where’s the outrage? While protestors are seen spewing hate against Jewish Americans, President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz have declared their support for the demonstrations. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Steve Israel even circulated a petition saying he’s “standing with” Occupy Wall Street. …

Democrats were quick to single out any instances of perceived extremism among Tea Party supporters, but with Occupy Wall Street, they turn a blind eye. President Obama claimed last weekend that Martin Luther King Jr. would support the demonstrations. But surely Dr. King would have called out these ugly displays of bigotry.

The issue here isn’t that the Occupy Wall Street movement is inherently anti-Semitic. Jew-bashers at the protests are a very small, very fringe – though still troubling – element of the movement. The main issue, which the RNC touches on in its statement, is the hypocrisy of Democrats, who smeared the entire Tea Party movement as racist based on a couple of its fanatical outliers.

What may hurt OWS more than the occasional anti-Semitic outburst are the violence, mass arrests, and overall crime at the protests. One of the latest incidents even involves a reported rape. The movement is attractive to anarchists and petty criminals, and those are the people Democrats should be most worried about aligning themselves with politically.

Read Less

Some Thoughts on Last Night’s GOP Debate

1. This was the most lively, entertaining and personally contentious debate we’ve seen. Just about everyone was bloodied a bit. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was a target for much of the night, and he once again proved to be the best debater
in the field, not only in his command of the issues (and the record of his opponents) but the best on his feet as well. He stood his ground without losing his cool. And while he absorbed blows from several of the other candidates, some of which were effective, Romney proved to have a powerful counterpunch. He got much the better of the exchanges with Texas Governor Rick Perry on immigration, Herman Cain on 9-9-9, and Newt Gingrich on the individual mandate. And among the highlights of the evening was Romney’s defense of legal immigration and his response on the role of religion in American politics, which was sophisticated and true to the spirit of the founders.

My greatest concern regarding Governor Romney is that he did not mention reforming Medicare a single time in nearly two hours, including in the five points he listed when it came to cutting the budget. This is worrisome; any individual who fails to tackle the reform of Medicare cannot claim to be in favor of limited government and fiscal responsibility. None of the other candidates mentioned Medicare reform either, even as they cheerfully went after foreign aid (some of which is effective and, in any event, the entire foreign aid budget comprises only a tiny fraction of federal spending). It’s hard to imagine any of the candidates would, if they were elected president, put their shoulder to the wheel on Medicare reform if they never make the case for reform as candidates. There’s still time for this to happen, but the early indications are not encouraging. It’s in the area of health-care entitlement where Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and Representative Paul Ryan are most missed.

Read More

1. This was the most lively, entertaining and personally contentious debate we’ve seen. Just about everyone was bloodied a bit. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was a target for much of the night, and he once again proved to be the best debater
in the field, not only in his command of the issues (and the record of his opponents) but the best on his feet as well. He stood his ground without losing his cool. And while he absorbed blows from several of the other candidates, some of which were effective, Romney proved to have a powerful counterpunch. He got much the better of the exchanges with Texas Governor Rick Perry on immigration, Herman Cain on 9-9-9, and Newt Gingrich on the individual mandate. And among the highlights of the evening was Romney’s defense of legal immigration and his response on the role of religion in American politics, which was sophisticated and true to the spirit of the founders.

My greatest concern regarding Governor Romney is that he did not mention reforming Medicare a single time in nearly two hours, including in the five points he listed when it came to cutting the budget. This is worrisome; any individual who fails to tackle the reform of Medicare cannot claim to be in favor of limited government and fiscal responsibility. None of the other candidates mentioned Medicare reform either, even as they cheerfully went after foreign aid (some of which is effective and, in any event, the entire foreign aid budget comprises only a tiny fraction of federal spending). It’s hard to imagine any of the candidates would, if they were elected president, put their shoulder to the wheel on Medicare reform if they never make the case for reform as candidates. There’s still time for this to happen, but the early indications are not encouraging. It’s in the area of health-care entitlement where Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and Representative Paul Ryan are most missed.

2. Governor Perry was more energetic than in past debates. Yet he remains stiff and unsure of himself, prone to recite stale talking points (many of which are distant or disconnected from the question), and at times came across as petty and just plain mean. His attack on Governor Romney over an illegal immigrant who worked for a firm hired by Romney years ago was a sign of desperation. Time magazine’s Mark Halperin, a smart political observer, wrote that the debate allowed Perry to “show off some natural Texas charm.” We must have different interpretations of what charm is. My guess is that more people came away from the debate disliking Perry than ever before. He continues to strike me, on substance, as the shallowest of all the people on the stage.

3. Herman Cain had some good moments in this debate and he remains a likeable figure. But his defense of his centerpiece program, the so-called 9-9-9 tax plan, was vague and weak even as the criticisms of it were specific and effective. If Cain is able to explain in any depth the merits of his plan, he has yet to show it. I’ve said before I doubted Cain’s tax plan will withstand scrutiny; I’m more confident of that prediction than ever.

Cain also denied comments he made to Wolf Blitzer earlier in the day regarding hypothetically trading Guantanamo Bay prisoners for hostages taken by al-Qaeda. In the afternoon Cain told Blitzer, when asked if he would free all the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay in exchange for one American hostage, “I could see myself authorizing that kind of transfer. I would make sure that I got all of the information, I got all of the input, considered all of the options. … I could make that call if I had to.” That evening, during the debate, in response to a critical comment by Michele Bachmann, Cain said, “No. I said that I believe in the philosophy of we don’t negotiate with terrorists. I think — I’ve been saying — I would never agree to letting hostages in Guantanamo Bay go.” This was yet another awkward walk-back by Cain.

4. Newt Gingrich helped himself more than any other candidate, and his standing in the polls will rise. He was for the most part strong and self-assured, especially in his answer on national defense. He scored some good points against Romney on health care and against Cain on 9-9-9. And he avoided getting roped into the most acrimonious exchanges. Still, he came across as peevish when Romney reminded him of his past support for an individual health care mandate. His complaints about the media/debate moderators are becoming predictable and tiresome. And probably more than most of the people on the stage, Gingrich needs to be careful about being too emphatic when emphasizing religion, morality, and one’s prayer life.

5. Former Senator Rick Santorum was substantively strong; he’s clearly a knowledgeable and principled person. But he hurt himself by sounding petulant and aggrieved at times, especially in insisting to Governor Romney “you’re out of time” during their exchange on health care (one of the reasons time ran out on Romney was Santorum kept interrupting him). The effect of this is Santorum’s personal bearing detracted from his grasp of the issues. And Santorum was simply wrong to defend Ronald Reagan on the matter of selling arms for hostages.

A few other thoughts: the attacks on the TARP program are simplistic and exaggerated. While certainly imperfect, TARP achieved its primary purpose, helping to stabilize our financial system when it was on the edge of collapse. And the vast majority of the TARP money has been repaid. It ended up costing the federal government very little, yet it’s somehow become a symbol of failure. Even the candidates who supported TARP at the time are afraid to speak out in defense of it.

This is the kind of debate which people like CNN’s David Gergen hate because of the “bickering” and intense back-and-forth we saw. And there was an unscripted and slightly ragged element to the debate. But these are the kind of debates which will make the eventual GOP nominee stronger.

I’m probably in a minority when it comes to conservatives, but I thought Anderson Cooper did a fine job moderating the debate. And the fact that Jon Huntsman didn’t grace us with his presence last night made the evening that much better.

 

Read Less

The Question Cain Needs to Answer

One aspect of the Republican presidential debates you can always count on is watching the moderator attempt to form a question out of a lingering perception about a certain candidate. So despite Herman Cain’s lead in several state polls, and even a Rasmussen poll that had him edging President Obama in a general election, no one seems to be taking him seriously as a candidate. Anderson Cooper wanted Cain to tell him why that is.

There is no inoffensive way to phrase such a question, and Cooper gave it his best effort. This is what he came up with, according to the transcript:

Read More

One aspect of the Republican presidential debates you can always count on is watching the moderator attempt to form a question out of a lingering perception about a certain candidate. So despite Herman Cain’s lead in several state polls, and even a Rasmussen poll that had him edging President Obama in a general election, no one seems to be taking him seriously as a candidate. Anderson Cooper wanted Cain to tell him why that is.

There is no inoffensive way to phrase such a question, and Cooper gave it his best effort. This is what he came up with, according to the transcript:

Herman Cain, you’re — Herman Cain, you’re tied with Governor Romney in some of the polls for the top leadership position right now. Is a — are they the ones — are either Governor Perry or Governor Romney, are they the ones who should be president?

Swing and a miss, Anderson. Of course, there are a host of reasons Cain has yet to make a convincing case for himself. The two best known are the left-right united opposition to his “9-9-9” plan, and his atrocious record on answering foreign policy questions. But Cooper should have asked Cain why he thinks he hasn’t been effective at reassuring voters he is ready to be president, and what he will do to better make his case.

Cooper was simply repeating the perceptions about Cain in relation to the other candidates. And in that, Cooper was right: the perception seems to be that Cain’s lead in the polls is Perry’s if he wants it back, and that Mitt Romney is the strongest general election candidate. It may or may not be too late for Perry; the race has been fluid enough that a second round of momentum is not out of the question. And Romney continues to appear as though his support has a ceiling.

This was the last question of the night, and this was the last debate for several weeks. If Cooper had asked the question correctly, it would have given Cain a real opportunity. It was easy for Cain to answer the question: should someone besides you be president? (Cain’s answer: “No, I should be president.”) And we can’t expect Cooper to ask: “Why do people act like your candidacy is a joke?”

But that latter question is the one Cain needs to answer, even if he isn’t asked. The perception that he is bookmarking the Not Romney vote without solidifying it is following his campaign like a shadow. For now, he’s deflecting some of the attention from Romney and letting Perry up off the mat.

Read Less

Romney Falls to Earth

Rick Perry’s attack on Mitt Romney for allegedly hiring illegal aliens was pretty weak – nothing new, just stale oppo research published by the Boston Globe years ago. Romney already adequately responded to it way back in ’07. But while the thin substance of Perry’s attack will fade, the image of Romney losing his cool on stage might not.

Before last night, Romney seemed to float above his competitors during debates, never getting his hands dirty. And the favor was often returned – for whatever reason, the other candidates rarely went after Romney hard.

Read More

Rick Perry’s attack on Mitt Romney for allegedly hiring illegal aliens was pretty weak – nothing new, just stale oppo research published by the Boston Globe years ago. Romney already adequately responded to it way back in ’07. But while the thin substance of Perry’s attack will fade, the image of Romney losing his cool on stage might not.

Before last night, Romney seemed to float above his competitors during debates, never getting his hands dirty. And the favor was often returned – for whatever reason, the other candidates rarely went after Romney hard.

But that changed when Romney got angry – and even a bit nasty – after Perry challenged him on stage last night at the GOP debate in Las Vegas. As Allahpundit writes at HotAir: “The unflappable nice guy in the field is both flappable and, when pushed far enough, not so nice.”

Perry’s attack also pushed Romney into making this potentially problematic statement, which Josh Marshall highlighted at TPM last night:

“So we went to the company and we said, look, you can’t have any illegals working on our property. I’m running for office, for pete’s sake, we can’t have illegals. Turns out that once again they hired someone who had falsified their documents and therefore we fired them.”

A skilled debater would have challenged Romney on that comment right on stage. Perry is about as far from a skilled debater as you can get, but he does have other other tools at his disposal: tons of money to burn and 23-year-old video prodigy Lucas Baiano on staff. Perry may have missed his opportunity last night, but that quote from Romney is an attack ad writer’s dream.

Read Less

Was That the Start of a Perry Comeback?

It came a week later than expected and didn’t produce all the results he wanted, but Rick Perry’s wake-up call at last night’s Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas showed there were some signs of life in a candidate who appeared to be dead in the water. Perry, who seemed half-asleep at previous debates, was a different man in Vegas. He came out firing on all cylinders determined to show from the first moment that he was the “authentic conservative” in the race and not one of “convenience,” which is to say, Mitt Romney. In the next two hours, he snarled, interrupted, brawled and even tried to smear Romney. But he also reverted to form every now and then with confused and garbled comments that left observers scratching their heads.

Though Perry has to be feeling a bit better about himself the morning after the debate, it’s far from clear all of his huffing and puffing has changed the dynamic of the race. The real question is not whether he has damaged Romney but if his more spirited performance will enable him to seize back the title of the leading conservative in the race from Herman Cain.

Read More

It came a week later than expected and didn’t produce all the results he wanted, but Rick Perry’s wake-up call at last night’s Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas showed there were some signs of life in a candidate who appeared to be dead in the water. Perry, who seemed half-asleep at previous debates, was a different man in Vegas. He came out firing on all cylinders determined to show from the first moment that he was the “authentic conservative” in the race and not one of “convenience,” which is to say, Mitt Romney. In the next two hours, he snarled, interrupted, brawled and even tried to smear Romney. But he also reverted to form every now and then with confused and garbled comments that left observers scratching their heads.

Though Perry has to be feeling a bit better about himself the morning after the debate, it’s far from clear all of his huffing and puffing has changed the dynamic of the race. The real question is not whether he has damaged Romney but if his more spirited performance will enable him to seize back the title of the leading conservative in the race from Herman Cain.

Going into the Las Vegas tangle, Cain had leaped over Perry in the polls and seemed poised to be the second man in what might have turned into a two-man race with Romney. Perry’s mission was to stop his free fall and get back into contention. Yet other than joining in the gang tackle in which the entire field jumped on Cain’s 9-9-9-tax plan, Perry ignored Cain and zeroed in on Romney.

Having allowed himself to be outflanked on the right on immigration in previous debates, Perry went for the jugular in an attempt to turn the tables on Romney, resurrecting an old charge that a lawn care company that worked on the former Massachusetts governor’s home employed illegal immigrants. But Perry overreached and said Romney had personally hired illegals, something that was untrue, and he wouldn’t back down on the attack even when Romney explained the truth. It was a nasty moment that didn’t help either candidate, especially Perry, who illustrated the perils of trying to overcompensate for appearing passive in past debates. Perry’s constant interruptions angered Romney and, for once, made him look as if he was losing his cool. But it also made Perry appear pointlessly belligerent rather than in charge.

Perry showed signs of his old confusion and inability to articulate points even when it appeared he knew what he wanted to say. Perry’s response to questions about a supporter’s attack on Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith was convoluted and did little to undo the damage that kerfuffle caused. Later, while attempting to make a cogent point about defunding the United Nations in the aftermath of the Palestinian Authority’s end run around the peace process, Perry again ran out of words. He knew what he wanted to say but just couldn’t manage to put together a coherent sentence.

For all of the flaws in his performance, had Perry done as well in earlier debates as he did last night, he might still be in the lead. This may be the start of a comeback, but it will take more than a middling though animated showing to undo all the damage done by his sleepwalking act in the previous four debates.

In Perry’s favor are three factors that should not be discounted.

The first is the fact that though Romney remains the frontrunner and the likely nominee, he still hasn’t sold most conservatives. Until the last conservative concedes, there will always be plenty of room to Romney’s right for a candidate who can better appeal to Tea Partiers and social conservatives.

The second factor is the weakness of the other conservatives in the race. Cain may be affable and unflappable, but the way the other candidates vivisected his tax plan at the start of the debate last night showed he is not ready for prime time. Cain is a crowd-pleaser, but only his most devoted fans can imagine him as president.

Third is the fact that Perry has enough money and the ability to raise more from the oil industry to keep fighting no matter what the polls say. Considering that Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich may all run out of cash before the first votes are counted, Perry’s campaign finance advantage should not be discounted.

But though Perry may have snarled his way back into the conversation, his inability to articulate his positions in a consistent and capable manner is still a crippling fault. Perry’s wake-up call came too late to correct the impression most Americans now have of him as a belligerent bumbler who will never be president.

Read Less

A Useful List of Useful Idiots

In Bend Sinister, Nabokov’s 1947 novel about political tyranny, the philosopher Adam Krug is asked to sign an oath of loyalty to the régime. “Legal documents excepted, and not all of them at that,” he says, “I never have signed, nor ever shall sign, anything not written by myself.”

This simple confession of faith in individual expression ought to be on the desk of every working writer. A lot of contemporary American writers, however, believe in something a lot more important. As of this morning, nearly a thousand of them have eagerly signed the latest oath:

We, the undersigned writers and all who will join us, support Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement around the world.

(Here is a slightly older list of signatories if the main site is down.) The list of writers reads like a social register of the current literary elite. A list of the major American writers who refused to sign the oath would be much smaller — not only because there aren’t too many major American writers now working, but also because no one seems to consider a Nabokov-like statement of refusal worth making. (At least I can’t find any on the web.)

Only a few writers on the list take the trouble to explain their signatures. Perhaps the most embarrassing is Francine Prose. She “burst into tears,” she explains, when she saw the camp at Occupy Wall Street. It wasn’t the anti-Semitism on display there that caused her to break down. No, she was “moved” by the “variety of people” who were talking to one another with “openness and sympathy.” You know, “grannies talking to goths,” and the like. Makes me want to cry too.

Prose was “struck” by the “clarity” of the movement: “clarity of purpose, clarity of intention, clarity of method, clarity of understanding of the most basic social and economic realities.” She must not have talked to the same people New York magazine talked to. Apparently, though, the “purpose” and “intention” of the protests are so clear that she needn’t bother with clarifying them any further. It’s enough, for her, to say that “we” are “being lied to and robbed on a daily basis.” Ah, the convenience of the passive voice, which excuses the writer from having to say who is lying and what is being robbed.

I may have to resign my office as president of the Francine Prose Fan Club. The truth about the “Occupy Movement” is that, far from representing the “99 percent” of Americans (as it claims), it is a fringe movement of radical leftist ideologues who are “dangerously out of touch with the broad mass of the American people.” Those words belong to Douglas Schoen, who reported in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal on the results of polling among the protestors at Occupy Wall Street. What unifies the “Occupy Movement,” Schoen’s polling revealed, is “opposition to free-market capitalism and support for radical redistribution of wealth, intense regulation of the private sector, and protectionist policies to keep American jobs from going overseas.”

No one who reads very much contemporary literature will be surprised to learn that many prominent writers share those same ideals. The current literary elite is also a faction of radical leftist ideologues who are out of touch with the American people. As Laura Miller wrote in Salon when the five obscure and politicized finalists for this year’s National Book Award in fiction were announced:

[T]he National Book Award in fiction, more than any other American literary prize, illustrates the ever-broadening cultural gap between the literary community and the reading public. The former believes that everyone reads as much as they do and that they still have the authority to shape readers’ tastes, while the latter increasingly suspects that it’s being served the literary equivalent of spinach.

Then Miller went ahead and signed the oath in support of the “Occupy Movement.” It’s bad enough, I suppose, that contemporary writers are bent upon estranging the broad mass of the American reading public. What is worse is their betrayal of their profession. As Dennis Prager observes in a brilliant essay at National Review Online, the political left (which now includes the bulk of American writers) is unified, from its violent and extremist fringe to its democratic center, by a single ideal:

Being on the left means that you divide the world between rich and poor much more than you divide it between good and evil. For the leftist, the existence of rich and poor — inequality — is what constitutes evil. More than tyranny, inequality disturbs the Left, including the non-Communist Left.

The profession of the writer, by contrast, depends upon freedom, and especially upon a fanatical absolutist commitment to freedom of expression. As Nabokov said in a 1964 interview with Playboy,

[S]ince my youth — I was nineteen when I left Russia — my political creed has remained as bleak and changeless as an old gray rock. It is classical to the point of triteness. Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of art. The social or economic structure of the ideal state is of little concern to me.

Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of art: there is the only political creed which can unite all writers into a political party. Many prominent American writers have lost interest in freedom, however, and have become obsessed with a world that is divided between rich and poor. Small wonder, then, that more and more readers are losing interest in them.

The murderous political tyrant in Nabokov’s Bend Sinister upholds the doctrine of Ekwilism. (Say it aloud.) When Adam Krug begs, “Leave me alone,” the Ekwilists reply, “Alone is the vilest word in the lnaguage. Nobody is alone. When a cell in an organism says ‘leave me alone,’ the result is cancer.” They insist that Krug, an exceptional man, swear allegiance to a political régime founded upon hostility to the exceptional. They demand he submit to a political system dedicated to “a remolding of human individuals in conformity with a well-balanced pattern.”

Almost a thousand of the best contemporary writers have now joined the Ekwilist party, eagerly supporting the goals of radical leftist tyranny. It’s good, at least, to have them listed in one place.

In Bend Sinister, Nabokov’s 1947 novel about political tyranny, the philosopher Adam Krug is asked to sign an oath of loyalty to the régime. “Legal documents excepted, and not all of them at that,” he says, “I never have signed, nor ever shall sign, anything not written by myself.”

This simple confession of faith in individual expression ought to be on the desk of every working writer. A lot of contemporary American writers, however, believe in something a lot more important. As of this morning, nearly a thousand of them have eagerly signed the latest oath:

We, the undersigned writers and all who will join us, support Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement around the world.

(Here is a slightly older list of signatories if the main site is down.) The list of writers reads like a social register of the current literary elite. A list of the major American writers who refused to sign the oath would be much smaller — not only because there aren’t too many major American writers now working, but also because no one seems to consider a Nabokov-like statement of refusal worth making. (At least I can’t find any on the web.)

Only a few writers on the list take the trouble to explain their signatures. Perhaps the most embarrassing is Francine Prose. She “burst into tears,” she explains, when she saw the camp at Occupy Wall Street. It wasn’t the anti-Semitism on display there that caused her to break down. No, she was “moved” by the “variety of people” who were talking to one another with “openness and sympathy.” You know, “grannies talking to goths,” and the like. Makes me want to cry too.

Prose was “struck” by the “clarity” of the movement: “clarity of purpose, clarity of intention, clarity of method, clarity of understanding of the most basic social and economic realities.” She must not have talked to the same people New York magazine talked to. Apparently, though, the “purpose” and “intention” of the protests are so clear that she needn’t bother with clarifying them any further. It’s enough, for her, to say that “we” are “being lied to and robbed on a daily basis.” Ah, the convenience of the passive voice, which excuses the writer from having to say who is lying and what is being robbed.

I may have to resign my office as president of the Francine Prose Fan Club. The truth about the “Occupy Movement” is that, far from representing the “99 percent” of Americans (as it claims), it is a fringe movement of radical leftist ideologues who are “dangerously out of touch with the broad mass of the American people.” Those words belong to Douglas Schoen, who reported in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal on the results of polling among the protestors at Occupy Wall Street. What unifies the “Occupy Movement,” Schoen’s polling revealed, is “opposition to free-market capitalism and support for radical redistribution of wealth, intense regulation of the private sector, and protectionist policies to keep American jobs from going overseas.”

No one who reads very much contemporary literature will be surprised to learn that many prominent writers share those same ideals. The current literary elite is also a faction of radical leftist ideologues who are out of touch with the American people. As Laura Miller wrote in Salon when the five obscure and politicized finalists for this year’s National Book Award in fiction were announced:

[T]he National Book Award in fiction, more than any other American literary prize, illustrates the ever-broadening cultural gap between the literary community and the reading public. The former believes that everyone reads as much as they do and that they still have the authority to shape readers’ tastes, while the latter increasingly suspects that it’s being served the literary equivalent of spinach.

Then Miller went ahead and signed the oath in support of the “Occupy Movement.” It’s bad enough, I suppose, that contemporary writers are bent upon estranging the broad mass of the American reading public. What is worse is their betrayal of their profession. As Dennis Prager observes in a brilliant essay at National Review Online, the political left (which now includes the bulk of American writers) is unified, from its violent and extremist fringe to its democratic center, by a single ideal:

Being on the left means that you divide the world between rich and poor much more than you divide it between good and evil. For the leftist, the existence of rich and poor — inequality — is what constitutes evil. More than tyranny, inequality disturbs the Left, including the non-Communist Left.

The profession of the writer, by contrast, depends upon freedom, and especially upon a fanatical absolutist commitment to freedom of expression. As Nabokov said in a 1964 interview with Playboy,

[S]ince my youth — I was nineteen when I left Russia — my political creed has remained as bleak and changeless as an old gray rock. It is classical to the point of triteness. Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of art. The social or economic structure of the ideal state is of little concern to me.

Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of art: there is the only political creed which can unite all writers into a political party. Many prominent American writers have lost interest in freedom, however, and have become obsessed with a world that is divided between rich and poor. Small wonder, then, that more and more readers are losing interest in them.

The murderous political tyrant in Nabokov’s Bend Sinister upholds the doctrine of Ekwilism. (Say it aloud.) When Adam Krug begs, “Leave me alone,” the Ekwilists reply, “Alone is the vilest word in the lnaguage. Nobody is alone. When a cell in an organism says ‘leave me alone,’ the result is cancer.” They insist that Krug, an exceptional man, swear allegiance to a political régime founded upon hostility to the exceptional. They demand he submit to a political system dedicated to “a remolding of human individuals in conformity with a well-balanced pattern.”

Almost a thousand of the best contemporary writers have now joined the Ekwilist party, eagerly supporting the goals of radical leftist tyranny. It’s good, at least, to have them listed in one place.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.