Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 26, 2011

Obama Living in a Dream World, Again

In a speech today, President Obama said, “The only way we can put hundreds of thousands of people, millions of people back to work is if Congress is willing to cooperate with the executive branch and we are able to do some bold action. Like passing the jobs bill. That’s what we need. And that’s why I’m going to keep forcing these senators to vote on common sense, paid for jobs proposals, and I’m going to need you to help send them the message.”

The president seems to believe forcing Republicans to vote on Stimulus II is a threat. It is, in fact, something of a gift to them – the chance to put Republicans on record, yet again, against Obama and Obamaism. You’ll recall that it was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who weeks ago attempted to force a vote on the president’s jobs bill – and Majority Leader Harry Reid who put a stop to it. The reason is Reid wants to keep his title, and he realizes the best way for that to occur is to keep Democratic senators from having to vote for legislation being championed by the leader of their party.

Read More

In a speech today, President Obama said, “The only way we can put hundreds of thousands of people, millions of people back to work is if Congress is willing to cooperate with the executive branch and we are able to do some bold action. Like passing the jobs bill. That’s what we need. And that’s why I’m going to keep forcing these senators to vote on common sense, paid for jobs proposals, and I’m going to need you to help send them the message.”

The president seems to believe forcing Republicans to vote on Stimulus II is a threat. It is, in fact, something of a gift to them – the chance to put Republicans on record, yet again, against Obama and Obamaism. You’ll recall that it was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who weeks ago attempted to force a vote on the president’s jobs bill – and Majority Leader Harry Reid who put a stop to it. The reason is Reid wants to keep his title, and he realizes the best way for that to occur is to keep Democratic senators from having to vote for legislation being championed by the leader of their party.

What we’re seeing in politics today is that Democrats, not Republicans, are fleeing Obama, including members of Congress representing traditionally blue states like Pennsylvania and Michigan. The president, meanwhile, continues to live in his own cocoon, isolated from the real world, still under the impression that opposing him comes at a political cost.

In this instance, as in so many other instances, the relationship between what Obama says and reality is strained to the breaking point. The president is living in a world that doesn’t exist.

 

Read Less

Forum With Israeli Scientists “Offends Muslims”

It’s come to this:

University of Sydney scholars set to exchange ideas with visiting Israeli experts on neuroscience, tissue regeneration and other cutting-edge research areas are being warned the event will offend potential Muslim undergraduates.

Read More

It’s come to this:

University of Sydney scholars set to exchange ideas with visiting Israeli experts on neuroscience, tissue regeneration and other cutting-edge research areas are being warned the event will offend potential Muslim undergraduates.

Associate Professor Jake Lynch, director of the university’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, has urged his colleagues to withdraw from the research gathering, and the university administration to cancel it. Dr. Lynch has been a strong supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign designed to isolate Israel. He says he has been asked to intervene by the Campaign for Justice and Peace in Palestine….

He says most Muslim students live in the west and feel “a sense of resentment and alienation resulting from the predominance of pro-Israeli voices in Australia’s political and media discourses.”

The poor dears. They feel “resentment and alienation” from “political and media discourses,” and because of that doctors aren’t allowed to make progress on curing brain diseases. Really, there’s nothing like having the director of a “Peace and Conflict Studies” program explain why the mere presence of Israelis at a scientific conference aimed at human betterment is an affront to Muslims. And to think, some people have suggested that anti-Israel viciousness in the Ivory Tower has allowed hatred to cloud clear thinking.

Australia has managed to nurture a fairly active – albeit still very fringe – anti-Israel boycott movement. The insanity has touched the country’s mainstream parties, but it remains a broad embarrassment to normal Australians and to mainstream Australian politicians. Australian media has been complicit in fomenting anti-Israel bias – taking articles about how Israel wants genuine, not indirect peace talks and headlining them, “Israel to reject new peace talks” – but even they couldn’t stomach [former Australian Prime Minister] Rudd’s hysterical overreaction to the use of Australian passports in the al-Mabhouh hit, which included abandoning Israel to the UN’s Goldstone lynch mob.

All of which is to say, don’t expect Lynch’s call to become anything but the passing disgrace that it is. His instinctive rhetorical appeal to multicultural victimhood – nonetheless – is deeply revelatory personally and institutionally. Pathetic appeals to Muslim resentment, marshaled as pretexts for halting scientific research and medical progress. Perfect.

Read Less

Rep. Ryan Foremost Intellectual Defender of American Conservatism

Representative Paul Ryan’s speech to the Heritage Foundation earlier today once again demonstrated that he is, among elected public officials, the foremost intellectual defender of American conservatism.

In this particular case, Ryan offered a thorough rebuttal to President Obama’s (relentless) effort to stoke class division in America. Ryan said what needed to be said, which is that “the president has opted for divisive rhetoric and the broken politics of the past. He is going from town to town, impugning the motives of Republicans, setting up straw men and scapegoats, and engaging in intellectually lazy arguments, as he tries to build support for punitive tax hikes on job creators.” Ryan also sets the record straight on Obama’s efforts to misappropriate Ronald Reagan and has a word or two to say about Warren Buffett and his secretary.

Read More

Representative Paul Ryan’s speech to the Heritage Foundation earlier today once again demonstrated that he is, among elected public officials, the foremost intellectual defender of American conservatism.

In this particular case, Ryan offered a thorough rebuttal to President Obama’s (relentless) effort to stoke class division in America. Ryan said what needed to be said, which is that “the president has opted for divisive rhetoric and the broken politics of the past. He is going from town to town, impugning the motives of Republicans, setting up straw men and scapegoats, and engaging in intellectually lazy arguments, as he tries to build support for punitive tax hikes on job creators.” Ryan also sets the record straight on Obama’s efforts to misappropriate Ronald Reagan and has a word or two to say about Warren Buffett and his secretary.

But Ryan went beyond simply that, pointing out that the House budget, passed in April, was full of proposals to get rid of corporate welfare and crony capitalism and spur economic growth. He made the case for why equality of outcome is itself a form of inequality (it creates a system based on political influence and bureaucratic favoritism). He made a moral defense of capitalism, pointing out that it has done far more to help the poor than any other economic system ever devised. And he made the (Lincolnian) case for upward mobility, for the idea that all citizens have the right to rise.

Ryan is doing what Ronald Reagan did better than any politician in my lifetime, which is to provide a philosophical framework and intellectual justification for conservatism; to anchor our ideas in history, human anthropology, and to the way the world works. There is an admirable seriousness of purpose in this effort, an understanding that in the end what is ennobling about politics isn’t power per se but the ideas and ideals that animate politics. It strikes me that we could use much more of this from public officials at every level, including those who are now running for president.

 

Read Less

Flat Tax Helps, But Perry’s Still Far Behind

As Alana noted earlier, some leading conservative groups have been praising Rick Perry’s flat tax plan while sounding distinctly unenthusiastic about Herman Cain’s much-ballyhooed 9-9-9 proposal. This is amplified by a new Washington Post/ABC News poll showing that not only do most Americans prefer the flat tax but also that this is especially true of conservatives.

That ought to encourage Perry in his struggle to win back the hearts and minds of Tea Partiers and social conservatives who abandoned him in droves last month after his awful debate performances. But other surveys published today show just how far he has to go in order to once again be considered a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination. A series of CNN/Time/ORC International polls measuring opinion in the four early battleground states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida show Mitt Romney either ahead or tied for the lead in all four states. Perry trails badly in all of them, coming in at fourth place in three states while sinking to sixth in New Hampshire. In none of them does he poll higher than 11 percent.

Read More

As Alana noted earlier, some leading conservative groups have been praising Rick Perry’s flat tax plan while sounding distinctly unenthusiastic about Herman Cain’s much-ballyhooed 9-9-9 proposal. This is amplified by a new Washington Post/ABC News poll showing that not only do most Americans prefer the flat tax but also that this is especially true of conservatives.

That ought to encourage Perry in his struggle to win back the hearts and minds of Tea Partiers and social conservatives who abandoned him in droves last month after his awful debate performances. But other surveys published today show just how far he has to go in order to once again be considered a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination. A series of CNN/Time/ORC International polls measuring opinion in the four early battleground states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida show Mitt Romney either ahead or tied for the lead in all four states. Perry trails badly in all of them, coming in at fourth place in three states while sinking to sixth in New Hampshire. In none of them does he poll higher than 11 percent.

Given he still has more than two months and plenty of money to spend, Perry need not completely despair of victory. But these results illustrate that he has a tough fight ahead if he wishes to emerge from the early states as the leading “not-Romney” conservative.

His first task will be to try to pass Cain who, despite recent fumbles on a host of issues, retains a hold on approximately a fifth of Republicans, according to the national polls. Cain either tied with Romney or within striking distance in every early state except for New Hampshire. But the flat tax and Cain’s inability to articulate a consistent pro-life message will help Perry chip away at Cain’s lead. So will the fact that Cain doesn’t appear to have prioritized a “ground game” local effort in any of the states that will be crucial to getting out the vote.

As for Romney, as yesterday’s Ohio kerfuffle illustrated, conservative distrust for him is not going away anytime soon. Though Romney, who may well have been caught in a local GOP spat, has now backtracked again and endorsed the union reform referendum, the bad impression his waffle on the issue left can’t be undone by a belated correction.

Yet in spite of all that, Romney has to be encouraged by the state-by-state numbers, especially with the double digit leads he holds in not only New Hampshire, where he has always been the favorite, but in Florida. However, the most important finding was his narrow 24-21 percent lead over Cain in Iowa. It’s not likely that Romney will be able to improve much on that figure, but with Cain, Perry and the lesser Republicans conducting a bitter fight over the conservative vote, it may be all he needs to win that caucus and the nomination. A Romney win in Iowa, even one gained by a bare plurality, combined with his expected victory in New Hampshire could prove to be a knockout blow and would send most undecided Republicans scurrying into his camp.

While Romney is no fan of the flat tax, if the scheme brings Perry back into the first tier, siphoning more votes away from Cain in Iowa, it might actually be his golden ticket to the nomination.

Read Less

COMMENTARY Turns On Blog Comments

By popular demand, COMMENTARY has reenabled comments on our blog. We’re looking forward to building a community of readers who engage not only with our writers, but also with each other.

Tell us your thoughts and ask your questions on what we post. Begin a discussion and engage with your fellow COMMENTARY fans.

In order to comment, click “read more” and scroll to the bottom of the blog post. You have the ability through our commenting software to login to comment through your WordPress, Twitter, Facebook or Intense Debate accounts. Click the icon of the platform you would like to login through and allow our software to access your account. Your comments will appear with your name as it is registered on that site.

We ask that our readers treat both our contributors and each other with the utmost respect. That means no personal attacks and no foul language. We will moderate users’ first comments, but after that, they will automatically be posted. These pages will be closely monitored, but we’re counting on our readers to let us know when you think a post is offensive or over the line. If comments do not adhere to these guidelines they will be deleted, and if they continue, the user will be banned. We want our site to be a place where discussion, not ad hominem attacks, takes place.

Once again, we look forward to hearing from you.

By popular demand, COMMENTARY has reenabled comments on our blog. We’re looking forward to building a community of readers who engage not only with our writers, but also with each other.

Tell us your thoughts and ask your questions on what we post. Begin a discussion and engage with your fellow COMMENTARY fans.

In order to comment, click “read more” and scroll to the bottom of the blog post. You have the ability through our commenting software to login to comment through your WordPress, Twitter, Facebook or Intense Debate accounts. Click the icon of the platform you would like to login through and allow our software to access your account. Your comments will appear with your name as it is registered on that site.

We ask that our readers treat both our contributors and each other with the utmost respect. That means no personal attacks and no foul language. We will moderate users’ first comments, but after that, they will automatically be posted. These pages will be closely monitored, but we’re counting on our readers to let us know when you think a post is offensive or over the line. If comments do not adhere to these guidelines they will be deleted, and if they continue, the user will be banned. We want our site to be a place where discussion, not ad hominem attacks, takes place.

Once again, we look forward to hearing from you.

Read Less

Dems’ Anti-Super PAC Message Backfires

Now that Democrats have set up their own Super PACs to raise unlimited funds for candidates, they’re no longer making an issue over Republican “outside spending” like they did in 2010. But Democratic donors aren’t forgetting the attacks as easily. Politico reports that Super PACs that support Democrats are having trouble raising money, partially because they were turned off by the 2010 criticisms:

Initial fundraising pitches have been met with skepticism, even occasional hostility, from some of the party’s most reliable wealthy backers. Some donors worry about a repeat of 2004, when massive outside spending failed to unseat then-President George W. Bush. Others were discouraged by President Barack Obama’s early attacks on outside money. Then there are more philosophical concerns about unlimited money in politics or the possibility that the new groups might help candidates donors deemed too moderate, like Blue Dogs. …

Read More

Now that Democrats have set up their own Super PACs to raise unlimited funds for candidates, they’re no longer making an issue over Republican “outside spending” like they did in 2010. But Democratic donors aren’t forgetting the attacks as easily. Politico reports that Super PACs that support Democrats are having trouble raising money, partially because they were turned off by the 2010 criticisms:

Initial fundraising pitches have been met with skepticism, even occasional hostility, from some of the party’s most reliable wealthy backers. Some donors worry about a repeat of 2004, when massive outside spending failed to unseat then-President George W. Bush. Others were discouraged by President Barack Obama’s early attacks on outside money. Then there are more philosophical concerns about unlimited money in politics or the possibility that the new groups might help candidates donors deemed too moderate, like Blue Dogs. …

“Sure we’re fighting fire with fire this cycle, but a lot of us don’t like the fact that Super PACs came along after Citizens United. Over time, this has got to stop,” [Democratic donor Leo Hindery] said. “I think it’s a nightmare for this country. I very much believe that we’ve got to get campaign finance reform that’s meaningful, either legislatively or by way of a different Supreme Court.”

There’s enormous hypocrisy in Democrats trying to profit off of the same type of Super PAC spending for which they blasted Republicans. The Obama administration argued that this “outside spending” undermined the political process. Now it’s blatantly obvious they only feel this way when the money is benefiting their opponents.

Democrats shouldn’t worry. They’re sure to raise plenty of funds through their usual channels, even if the Super PACs don’t pull in as much money as expected. It’s just funny to watch this transparently phony midterm attack come back to haunt them so soon.

Read Less

Liberty and Security: Ten Years of the Patriot Act

Exactly ten years ago today, President Bush signed into law one of the most controversial yet effective pieces of legislation of the last generation. Leftists as well as some conservatives have reviled the Patriot Act for much of this last decade, but the most remarkable thing about this anniversary is the complacence with which most Americans continue to regard the law.

Despite the furious charges heard from liberals that Bush and his Republican-controlled Congress had effectively put a stake through the heart of American liberty, the vast majority of Americans understand that the law has provided vital assistance to law enforcement agencies as they have successfully prevented a repeat of 9/11. Just as important, they are cognizant of the fact that despite the worries about the growing power of the intelligence establishment, their freedom is basically undiminished.

Read More

Exactly ten years ago today, President Bush signed into law one of the most controversial yet effective pieces of legislation of the last generation. Leftists as well as some conservatives have reviled the Patriot Act for much of this last decade, but the most remarkable thing about this anniversary is the complacence with which most Americans continue to regard the law.

Despite the furious charges heard from liberals that Bush and his Republican-controlled Congress had effectively put a stake through the heart of American liberty, the vast majority of Americans understand that the law has provided vital assistance to law enforcement agencies as they have successfully prevented a repeat of 9/11. Just as important, they are cognizant of the fact that despite the worries about the growing power of the intelligence establishment, their freedom is basically undiminished.

That this is so would have been a surprise to anyone who listened to the increasingly shrill attacks on both Bush and the Patriot Act during his second term in office. By 2008, one of the standard themes of the liberal critique of his administration was that the War on Terror had fundamentally eroded American liberty. The use of wiretapping by the National Security Agency, the existence of the Guantanamo Bay prison and the question of torture were all essential elements of a narrative that saw Bush and Vice President Cheney using the Patriot Act to subvert democracy.

One of the main reasons why the relentless drumbeat of attacks along these lines on American security policy has ceased in the last three years is that Barack Obama has embraced the Patriot Act as well as many of the counter-terror strategies championed by Bush and Cheney. Just last May, Obama signed a bill extending three provisions of the act — roving wiretaps, court-ordered searches of business records and surveillance of non-American “lone wolf” suspects without confirmed ties to terrorist groups — for four years. The ACLU and a minority of liberals may have been appalled, but most Americans yawned.

The post 9/11 world has created some institutions and practices that do intrude into the lives of many Americans such as the TSA pat downs and heightened airport security that many conservatives despise. Yet despite this, only extremists would contest the fact that the over-the-top rhetoric heard from the left about the destructive impact of the Patriot Act on the American way of life has proven false. American democracy continues to flourish. And the government’s ability to foil more than two dozen al-Qaeda plots — some with the help of “enhanced interrogation” techniques — has left most citizens confident that, despite annoyances at the airport, their government is exercising its prime responsibility to protect the homeland in a manner consistent with both the nature of the Islamist threat and respect for the Constitution.

The Patriot Act has shown that under both Republican and Democratic administrations it is possible for the federal government to take action against terror without compromising the freedoms Americans rightly consider their birthright. The mere fact this date has gone without much comment proves the tenth anniversary of the Patriot Act is on the whole a happy one indeed.

Read Less

Obama’s Failure in Iraq

I want to underline a point made by Pete Wehner in a recent post about the breakdown of talks with Iraq: “The administration’s diplomacy was so inept, in fact, that one can reasonably conclude the White House half wanted this whole effort to fail so Obama could simply wash his hands of a war he never supported in the first place.” Pete, as usual, gets at the core of the issue, which has been obfuscated by so many other commentators who want to put the onus on the Iraqis for the imminent withdrawal of all American troops.

In fact Iraqi political leaders—including the leaders of every major bloc except the Sadrists—had publicly and courageously taken a stand in favor of allowing a substantial American troops stay in a training mission. At the same time they also said that they would not grant immunity to those troops. The issue of legal immunity has long been a contentious one in Iraq; it certainly was in 2008 when the last Status of Forces Agreement was negotiated. In fact it was much more pressing at the time since there were roughly 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq then, compared with 50,000 now and–even if an agreement were reached–fewer than 20,000 in the future. Yet the Bush administration was committed to getting an agreement done, so an agreement got done.
Read More

I want to underline a point made by Pete Wehner in a recent post about the breakdown of talks with Iraq: “The administration’s diplomacy was so inept, in fact, that one can reasonably conclude the White House half wanted this whole effort to fail so Obama could simply wash his hands of a war he never supported in the first place.” Pete, as usual, gets at the core of the issue, which has been obfuscated by so many other commentators who want to put the onus on the Iraqis for the imminent withdrawal of all American troops.

In fact Iraqi political leaders—including the leaders of every major bloc except the Sadrists—had publicly and courageously taken a stand in favor of allowing a substantial American troops stay in a training mission. At the same time they also said that they would not grant immunity to those troops. The issue of legal immunity has long been a contentious one in Iraq; it certainly was in 2008 when the last Status of Forces Agreement was negotiated. In fact it was much more pressing at the time since there were roughly 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq then, compared with 50,000 now and–even if an agreement were reached–fewer than 20,000 in the future. Yet the Bush administration was committed to getting an agreement done, so an agreement got done.

The Obama administration, by contrast, has consistently been ambivalent about whether it even wanted to remain in Iraq. The administration did not enter into negotiations until very late in the game, with only a few months to go before all U.S. troops would have to leave, and then the administration undercut its own negotiators by leaking word that we would agree to keep only 3,000 to 5,000 troops in Iraq–well below what our own military commanders judged to be necessary. This suggested that the administration was far from committed to Iraq, which no doubt caused Iraqi leaders to ask themselves why they should run political risks for a relationship that the U.S. was not serious about continuing.

If the administration had been whole-heartedly determined to keep a presence post-2011, it would have lobbied much harder and would not have given up on the talks over the issue of immunity. Something surely could have been finessed, especially if Pentagon and State Department lawyers had dropped their counterproductive demand that the Iraqi parliament approve any immunity deal. But, like Pete, I sense that the administration was more interested in finding an excuse not to make a deal than to make one.

One revealing piece of evidence is this McClatchey Newspapers article which reports: “Throughout the summer and autumn, as talks on a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq foundered, President Barack Obama and his point man on Iraq, Vice President Joe Biden, remained aloof from the process, not even phoning top Iraqi officials to help reach a deal, according to logs released by the U.S. Embassy here.” Those logs reveal “that Obama had no direct contact with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki between Feb. 13, when he telephoned the prime minister, until Friday, when he called al-Maliki to tell him U.S. troops would be withdrawn by Dec. 31,” and that “Biden telephoned al-Maliki on Dec. 21, the day al-Maliki formed a new government, and visited here Jan. 18, but had no direct contact after that date.”

That is almost criminal high-level neglect of such an important relationship–one that President Bush nurtured in weekly video teleconferences with Maliki. But something more than neglect was going on here, I suspect. Another suggestive–if not conclusive–piece of evidence is this article from the Atlantic’s website recounting a conversation that occurred in early August between Vice President Biden (the administration point man on Iraq) and Rep. Barney Frank:

Here’s Frank’s description of the exchange (remember, “today” is Monday):

One other big story from [the caucus meeting] today, Biden was at the caucus, and I said I was upset about Afghanistan and Iraq. So Jack Lew says, “Well, we’re winding them down.” I said, “What do you mean, you’re winding them down? I read Panetta saying that he’s begging the Iraqis to ask us to stay.” At which point Biden asserted himself and said — there’s clearly been a dispute between them within the administration — “Wait a minute, I’m in charge of that negotiation, not Panetta, and we have given the Iraqis a deadline to ask us, and it is tomorrow, and they can’t possibly meet it because of all these things they would have to do. So we are definitely pulling out of Iraq at the end of the year.” That was very good news for me. That’s a big deal. I said, “Yeah, but what if they ask you for an extension?” He said, “We are getting out. Tomorrow, it’s over.

Biden’s self-fulfilling prediction has come true. It is indeed over—if by “over” one refers to the U.S. military presence in Iraq. But I have grave doubts about whether by this withdrawal the U.S. will in fact “end the war”—as President Obama promised. Iraq may be fine in any case, but the loss of American support makes another war far more likely in this fragile, strategically important country. Obama’s decision not to press harder in negotiations is a tragedy for Iraq—and for the United States whose military, diplomatic and intelligence personnel worked so hard and sacrificed so much to get Iraq this far.

Read Less

Obama’s Student Loan Plan Won’t Do Much to Help Economy or Students

So this is one of Obama’s fabulous job-creation proposals that the do-nothing Republican Congress just refuses to pass out of sheer partisan self-interest? A job creation executive order that will hand students the grand, economy-boosting sum of $4 to $8 extra per month, according to The Atlantic’s Daniel Indiviglio:

Using these values as the high and low bounds of average student debt over the last ten years, the monthly savings for the average student loan borrower would be between $4.50 and $7.75 per month. Clearly, this isn’t going to save the economy. While borrowers with bigger balances would save more, this is the average. And even someone with $100,000 in loans would only cut their monthly payments by $28.50.

This isn’t a job-creation proposal, and it’s not even something that will end up helping the students its trying to reach.

Read More

So this is one of Obama’s fabulous job-creation proposals that the do-nothing Republican Congress just refuses to pass out of sheer partisan self-interest? A job creation executive order that will hand students the grand, economy-boosting sum of $4 to $8 extra per month, according to The Atlantic’s Daniel Indiviglio:

Using these values as the high and low bounds of average student debt over the last ten years, the monthly savings for the average student loan borrower would be between $4.50 and $7.75 per month. Clearly, this isn’t going to save the economy. While borrowers with bigger balances would save more, this is the average. And even someone with $100,000 in loans would only cut their monthly payments by $28.50.

This isn’t a job-creation proposal, and it’s not even something that will end up helping the students its trying to reach.

You can argue that putting money back in students’ pockets will ensure that they consume more. But an additional $4 to $8 per month certainly isn’t going to inspire any spending sprees – and it’s definitely not going to make their debt burden easier to manage. This is basically nothing more than a purchased talking point for Obama, so that he can declare on the campaign trail that he took action to relieve student debt.

And as Ed Morrissey points out, the new repayment plan won’t even be accessible to most students, at least not if they took out federally-guaranteed private sector loans:

The problem here is that Obama can only relax repayment schedules for direct loans, where the federal government loaned the money directly to students. Until last year, most loans came from the private sector, guaranteed by the federal government but still managed by the private lenders.  Obama and a Democratic Congress eliminated the guarantees in their “reform” of the student-loan industry, a reform that wipes out the “industry” entirely and forces students to deal directly with government instead. Without getting Congress involved, Obama can’t do anything about the private sector loans.

While students won’t feel much of an impact from Obama’s plan, taxpayers certainly will down the road. Obama has shortened the time period that students must pay the loans before they’re forgiven to 20 years, down from 25. Which means less of the debt will be paid off by the loan recipients, placing an additional burden on taxpayers.

Read Less

Romney Waffle on Union Reform Will Hurt

Though national polls continue to portray the Republican presidential race as a toss-up, the consensus is that the division of the conservative vote means it is still Mitt Romney’s to lose. That has led the frontrunner to sometimes act as if he is already running against Barack Obama rather than Rick Perry, Herman Cain and the rest of the GOP field. But while it makes sense for Romney to avoid tilting too far to the right, there is such a thing as playing it too safe. Romney’s statement yesterday about a union reform referendum in Ohio is exactly that sort of a mistake and may come back to haunt him.

While campaigning in Ohio yesterday, Romney stopped by a Republican phone bank where calls were being made to boost support for Governor John Kasich’s referendum that would institute a series of fundamental reforms for government worker unions. But when asked whether he supported the plan, Romney refused to state his position on the matter. That’s a problem not only because civil service reform has become an essential issue for Republicans this year, but also because Romney actually endorsed the measure back in June. So not only does Romney come across sounding like a RINO here, it also brings up the old flip-flop charge that is continually thrown in his face.

Read More

Though national polls continue to portray the Republican presidential race as a toss-up, the consensus is that the division of the conservative vote means it is still Mitt Romney’s to lose. That has led the frontrunner to sometimes act as if he is already running against Barack Obama rather than Rick Perry, Herman Cain and the rest of the GOP field. But while it makes sense for Romney to avoid tilting too far to the right, there is such a thing as playing it too safe. Romney’s statement yesterday about a union reform referendum in Ohio is exactly that sort of a mistake and may come back to haunt him.

While campaigning in Ohio yesterday, Romney stopped by a Republican phone bank where calls were being made to boost support for Governor John Kasich’s referendum that would institute a series of fundamental reforms for government worker unions. But when asked whether he supported the plan, Romney refused to state his position on the matter. That’s a problem not only because civil service reform has become an essential issue for Republicans this year, but also because Romney actually endorsed the measure back in June. So not only does Romney come across sounding like a RINO here, it also brings up the old flip-flop charge that is continually thrown in his face.

Kasich’s referendum is exactly the sort of thing reform-minded GOP governors — including Romney supporter Chris Christie — have been fighting for all over the country. It would ban government unions from bargaining over health insurance, require that all union members pay at least 10 percent of their wages toward their pensions, end seniority rights as the sole factor in layoffs, replace seniority pay raises with merit pay raises, ban these unions from striking, and make union dues voluntary. But it does not abrogate all rights of collective bargaining, as civil service unions would still be able to bargain about many issues including pay and working conditions.

Given these are all now mainstream Republican ideas which are essential to dealing with the impending financial catastrophe that bloated state worker contracts have created, it was hard to know what caused Romney to back off now. Opposing, or at least failing to back Kasich’s plan, would align the candidate with the Democrats in the great struggles over the issue in Wisconsin, New Jersey and other states. Though he subsequently issued a statement declaring that he does back Kasich, this not only gave an opening to Romney’s GOP rivals, it reinforced his image as someone whom conservatives can’t trust. If he wasn’t prepared to back union reform in Ohio now without having to be pushed into it, it’s fair to ask why he should be counted on to fight these battles on the federal level once he’s in the White House.

It’s understandable that the incompetence and incoherence of his main challengers has led Romney to think ahead to the general election. But he has to recognize he is still in a tough fight for the nomination that is far from over. More to the point, he needs to remember that in order to win next November, he needs a united Republican Party and an enthusiastic GOP activist core. More missteps like yesterday’s waffle in Ohio will make his general election strategy a moot point.

Read Less

New Palestinian Precondition Is Shameless

Yesterday, Seth covered the substance of the newest entry on the Palestinian list of preconditions. They’ve now added “freeing mass murderers” to their two other demands that Israel halt settlement construction and start talks from the 1967 armistice lines. Those issues used to be topics for negotiation rather than preconditions, but the Obama administration’s Smart Power forced Abbas’s hand, and so they became pretexts for rejecting talks despite Netanyahu’s readiness to engage.

Now the Palestinians have found a new poison pill, although this time – in a poignant metaphor – they freelanced rather than follow America’s lead. The imprisoned Marwan Barghouti is a remorseless mass murderer and Ahmad Sa’adat is a sociopathic killer, even if international media outlets and foreign policy magazines label the former a “dissident” and coo over the latter as a gray-haired grandfather. There’s no appetite in Israel for letting them out.

Read More

Yesterday, Seth covered the substance of the newest entry on the Palestinian list of preconditions. They’ve now added “freeing mass murderers” to their two other demands that Israel halt settlement construction and start talks from the 1967 armistice lines. Those issues used to be topics for negotiation rather than preconditions, but the Obama administration’s Smart Power forced Abbas’s hand, and so they became pretexts for rejecting talks despite Netanyahu’s readiness to engage.

Now the Palestinians have found a new poison pill, although this time – in a poignant metaphor – they freelanced rather than follow America’s lead. The imprisoned Marwan Barghouti is a remorseless mass murderer and Ahmad Sa’adat is a sociopathic killer, even if international media outlets and foreign policy magazines label the former a “dissident” and coo over the latter as a gray-haired grandfather. There’s no appetite in Israel for letting them out.

On the other hand, this is a remarkably shameless poison pill, even by the Palestinians’ usual standards. The situation before was one where Abbas was demanding, in advance, concessions that were supposed to be subjects of negotiations. The “free mass murderers” precondition is one qualitative step bolder. It’s a concession that the Palestinians were supposed to get for negotiating as such, which they’re now holding hostage to restarting talks. It was supposed to bolster the negotiations that Abbas is refusing to have.

There’s an old Chris Rock routine about men who expect sex from their divorced wives, because that’s how it used to be when they were married. This is like that, except foreign policy analysts and mainstream journalists will soon be explaining why it’s a perfectly reasonable Palestinian expectation.

Apparently, the issue stretches back three years. At the time, Olmert verbally promised Abbas that, should Gilad Shalit ever be swapped for Hamas prisoners, Israel would also release some prisoners at Fatah’s behest. The rationale was that Olmert would want to boost Fatah versus Hamas, because Fatah was Israel’s Oslo negotiating partner while Hamas was a genocidal Iranian proxy.

Unfortunately, in the meantime, Abbas and his Fatah party have ceased to be Israel’s Oslo partners (though in fairness, Hamas has indeed continued to be a genocidal Iranian proxy).

The Palestinian Authority abrogated the Oslo Accords by seeking unilateral statehood in the United Nations. Abbas’s speech at the UN was built around the premise that Israel’s very existence was fundamentally illegitimate. He has indulged in vulgar anti-Israel incitement, including a feverish rant about Zionist death pigs. A Fatah official called for ethnically cleansing Jews from the West Bank. Even if none of that was true – even if Abbas and Fatah hadn’t de facto abandoned the Oslo Accords by going unilateral and engaging in incitement – Abbas is also seeking to de jure change the agreements.

Now the Palestinians’ combination of self-righteousness, self-pity, and self-entitlement has reached self-parody. Abbas is demanding a prisoner release, which was supposed to bolster Fatah while it was negotiating with Israel, as a precondition for Fatah negotiating with Israel. Only the Palestinians would think of making that kind of demand, secure in the knowledge that their international apologists will blame Israel for refusing to humor them.

Read Less

20-20 vs. 9-9-9

Rick Perry definitely made some blunders rolling out his flat tax plan (dubbed “20-20” by some commentators). But the actual substance of the plan seems to be helping him with his greatest challenge: framing himself as the most serious non-Romney candidate. While Herman Cain is a grassroots favorite, fiscal conservative leaders haven’t been sold on him. And now some of them are praising Perry’s “20-20” over Cain’s 9-9-9:

[Grover] Norquist rates Perry’s plan his favorite among the candidates’ thus far for two reasons: it has a stated goal of shrinking government spending to 18 percent of GDP–“This is what I couldn’t get the Bush people to do in 2005 rather than have imaginary conversations with imaginary Democrats who wouldn’t consider reforming Social Security,” Norquist laments– and “there’s not a theme” to Romney’s vague plan. (Norquist discounts Cain’s 9-9-9 plan outright as a tax increase.)

Read More

Rick Perry definitely made some blunders rolling out his flat tax plan (dubbed “20-20” by some commentators). But the actual substance of the plan seems to be helping him with his greatest challenge: framing himself as the most serious non-Romney candidate. While Herman Cain is a grassroots favorite, fiscal conservative leaders haven’t been sold on him. And now some of them are praising Perry’s “20-20” over Cain’s 9-9-9:

[Grover] Norquist rates Perry’s plan his favorite among the candidates’ thus far for two reasons: it has a stated goal of shrinking government spending to 18 percent of GDP–“This is what I couldn’t get the Bush people to do in 2005 rather than have imaginary conversations with imaginary Democrats who wouldn’t consider reforming Social Security,” Norquist laments– and “there’s not a theme” to Romney’s vague plan. (Norquist discounts Cain’s 9-9-9 plan outright as a tax increase.)

Club for Growth, which previously commended Cain’s plan, says Perry’s is actually a step up from 9-9-9:

In a statement released Tuesday morning, the Club for Growth called Perry’s flat tax proposal “massively pro-growth.” According to Chocola, Perry’s plan is preferable even to former pizza mogul Herman Cain’s “9-9-9” plan, which the group had earlier praised.

Perry’s plan fills a void that Cain’s and Romney’s plans haven’t. While some conservatives see Romney’s tax stance as too close to the status quo, they also see Cain’s as too simplistic. That’s not to say Perry’s plan is flawless – far from it. But it may have given him the opportunity he needs to reinvigorate his campaign.

Read Less

Advantage: Islamism

Fewer than six months after Osama Bin Laden’s death, the United States is closer than ever to losing a fundamental battle in the war on terror. Winning that war is not ultimately about killing this mastermind, that cleric, or a whole parade of al-Qaeda No. 3s. It is not synonymous with drone strikes, Navy Seal operations, or airport pat-downs—although those all help. In the end, victory means thwarting the dream harbored by the terrorists who committed 9/11. Their dream was to overthrow the Middle East’s autocracies and replace them with Islamist regimes. After a decade of American gains, that dream is suddenly nearing partial realization.

Libyan transitional government leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil has announced that “Islamic shariah law” would be “the basis of legislation” in post-Qaddafi Libya. In Egypt, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood is all but destined to sweep into power via parliamentary elections scheduled for late November. And regarding Tunisia’s celebrated “free and fair” elections, democrats can only hope that the Islamists of the winning Ennahda party will rule as moderately as they now profess. Elections can be hijacked as easily as airplanes, and the martyr-minded bin Laden would have died a thousand times for this kind of progress.

Read More

Fewer than six months after Osama Bin Laden’s death, the United States is closer than ever to losing a fundamental battle in the war on terror. Winning that war is not ultimately about killing this mastermind, that cleric, or a whole parade of al-Qaeda No. 3s. It is not synonymous with drone strikes, Navy Seal operations, or airport pat-downs—although those all help. In the end, victory means thwarting the dream harbored by the terrorists who committed 9/11. Their dream was to overthrow the Middle East’s autocracies and replace them with Islamist regimes. After a decade of American gains, that dream is suddenly nearing partial realization.

Libyan transitional government leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil has announced that “Islamic shariah law” would be “the basis of legislation” in post-Qaddafi Libya. In Egypt, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood is all but destined to sweep into power via parliamentary elections scheduled for late November. And regarding Tunisia’s celebrated “free and fair” elections, democrats can only hope that the Islamists of the winning Ennahda party will rule as moderately as they now profess. Elections can be hijacked as easily as airplanes, and the martyr-minded bin Laden would have died a thousand times for this kind of progress.

Rounding out this landscape are some non-ballot-related developments. A week after releasing the details of an alleged Iranian plot to kill ambassadors and bystanders in Washington, the Obama administration announced the complete withdrawal of American forces from Iraq by the end of 2011. For Tehran’s theocrats this is an invitation to further meddle in their neighbor’s political affairs and chip away at a fragile Iraqi democracy. For al-Qaeda and affiliates it’s a signal to step up the violence. In Afghanistan, the American-installed Hamid Karzai has announced his prophylactic alliance with terrorist-infested Islamabad in the event of an America-Pakistan conflict. A year from now, the United States will pull 30,000 troops out of Afghanistan, leaving Karzai to develop the “on” part of his off-and-on friendship with the Taliban.

What brought us to this pass? Critics of the war on terror often ask, “How can you wage war on an idea?” But they tend not to stay around for the answer. Here it is: You deploy a superior idea, disseminate it more broadly and forcefully than your enemy can handle, and defend your gains with everything you have—including the physical materials of actual warfare. That is how the United States advanced the cause of freedom in the Middle East for 10 years after 9/11. It was done imperfectly, for sure, but that period saw a significant drop in worldwide Muslim support for jihad and a corresponding uptick in democratic sentiment.

When Barack Obama took office, the U.S. pulled back on the defense of freedom abroad and re-invested energies in the notion of indigenous authenticity. This posited that the only political change that is both valid and virtuous must come wholly from within a given country. That stance has the appearance of nobleness except for this: history. Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade-long authoritarian rule was an authentic and indigenous Egyptian development, the presidential coup of Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was a genuinely Tunisian affair, and the preposterous 42-year reign of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi sprang up from within Libya. To make homegrown change the gold standard is to annul the case for removing today’s homegrown tyrants (to say nothing of the nationalist monsters of the past). Much worse, doing so has intentionally tied America’s hands as Islamists have sought to exploit power vacuums left by departing dictators.

Today’s popular uprisings in the Middle East were not motivated by radical Islam. They are manifestations of a widespread desire for freedom. But even glorious ideas need defending, especially in the Middle East. And democrats needed American protection and support at the very moment that the United States got out of the democracy-defense game.  Instead of making early allies of the democratic trailblazers who rose up in Iran in June 2009, President Obama continued his diplomatic courtship with the oppressive theocratic regime—a mistake he would cut-and-paste all over the region. When Egypt ignited, the White House and State Department spent weeks mulling continued support for Mubarak. As Syrians were killed in confronting the regime of Bashar Assad, Hillary Clinton took to Sunday morning television to describe him as a “reformer.” Instead of making aid to the countries of the so-called Arab Spring contingent upon democratic reform, Washington stood on the sidelines. And instead of using overt and covert means to put roadblocks in Islamists’ way, the administration released bland statements describing the future of this or that country as being decided by its people.

The war on terror is an actual, not metaphorical, war. And to shrink from defending our ideas is to cede ground to the enemy. Our leaving Iraq (and then Afghanistan) is a continuation of the retreat that began with the thinking of the Obama administration.  As proponents of the 2007 troop surge often noted, that change in strategy marked a surge in necessary troops and innovative ideas. Both are now leaving the region.

The perpetrators of 9/11 wanted an Islamist political order in the Middle East not only for its own sake, but also as a means of advancing their interests globally. The celebrants of American retreat would do well to recall that those men, too, were authentic and indigenous manifestations of their region. As were the attacks they carried out.

Read Less

More Jewish Unity Pledges For You To Sign

Jonathan Tobin already covered the basic incoherence of the “Unity Pledge” being pushed by the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, but the sheer gall of the move is still striking.

Having shilled for Obama during the crucial months when coverage of his radical anti-Israel mentors might place doubt on his pro-Israel intonations – the ADL specifically declared in 2007 that there was no evidence of any anti-Semitism from Jeremiah Wright, before discovering otherwise a year later – they now don’t want anybody to talk about it. If the classic definition of chutzpah is the kid who kills his parents and then asks the judge for sympathy because he’s an orphan, a close second has to be the Jewish organization who helps Obama get into office and then asks the Jewish community not to talk about it because unity is important.

Read More

Jonathan Tobin already covered the basic incoherence of the “Unity Pledge” being pushed by the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, but the sheer gall of the move is still striking.

Having shilled for Obama during the crucial months when coverage of his radical anti-Israel mentors might place doubt on his pro-Israel intonations – the ADL specifically declared in 2007 that there was no evidence of any anti-Semitism from Jeremiah Wright, before discovering otherwise a year later – they now don’t want anybody to talk about it. If the classic definition of chutzpah is the kid who kills his parents and then asks the judge for sympathy because he’s an orphan, a close second has to be the Jewish organization who helps Obama get into office and then asks the Jewish community not to talk about it because unity is important.

But why be negative when one can be positive? Why divide when one can unify? Instead, let’s have pledges for everyone. No more politics or deliberation or disagreement. It could work.

For instance, somebody forward this one to J Street:

We will – and we will encourage national organizations, elected officials, religious leaders, community groups and individuals to also – rally around bipartisan support for Israel while preventing the Emergency Coalition for Israel from becoming a wedge issue in the upcoming campaign season. Join me in taking the “National Pledge for Unity on the Genuinely Funny Ads Of The Emergency Coalition for Israel” — and sign our pledge.

And here’s one for the National Jewish Democratic Coalition which, like the ADL, went out of its way to suppress public debate over Obama’s anti-Israel associates and advisers:

We will – and we will encourage national organizations, elected officials, religious leaders, community groups and individuals to also – rally around bipartisan support for Israel while preventing Republican criticism of Obama from becoming a wedge issue in the upcoming campaign season. Join me in taking the “National Pledge for Unity on the Consensus That Obama Is Trying To Detonate the U.S.-Israel Alliance” — and sign our pledge.

And here’s one especially for the ADL, which can’t seem to help itself in attacking Evangelical Zionists who just happen to be conservatives. It’s a veritable obsession with them:

We will – and we will encourage national organizations, elected officials, religious leaders, community groups and individuals to – rally around bipartisan support for Israel while preventing evangelical support for Israel from becoming a wedge issue in the upcoming campaign season. Join me in taking the “National Pledge for Unity on the Need For and Moral Clarity of Christian Support” — and sign our pledge.

Hopefully, the relevant organizations will sign these pledges–for the sake of unity.

Read Less

Answers for the Riddle of Existence

I am writing about Jeffrey Eugenides’s magical novel The Marriage Plot at greater length elsewhere, but a remarkable coincidence — an instant of serendipity in literary history — struck me upon reading it.

After he returns from India, where he briefly volunteered in Mother Teresa’s Home for Dying Destitutes, Mitchell Grammaticus begins to attend Quaker meeting back in America. Obviously modeled upon his author (four-syllable Greek surname, Brown University graduate), Mitchell had been receiving instruction in the Church of Rome before leaving American shores. His religious awakening was surprisingly academic. In an undergraduate course “called Religion and Alienation in 20th Century Culture,” a course described by its professor as a “rigorous, comprehensive, analytical course in twentieth-century religious thought” (O, what professors could get away with a generation ago!), Mitchell wrote a final examination paper that was a kind of breakthrough for him:

While he wrote, he felt, for the first time, as though he weren’t in school anymore. He wasn’t answering questions to get a grade on a test. He was trying to diagnose the predicament he felt himself to be in. And not just his predicament, either, but that of everyone he knew. . . . Everyone he knew was convinced that religion was a sham and God a fiction. But his friends’ replacements for religion didn’t look too impressive. No one had an answer for the riddle of existence. It was like that Talking Heads song, “And you may ask yourself, ‘How did I get here?’ . . . And you may tell yourself, ‘This is not my beautiful house.’ And you may tell yourself, ‘This is not my beautiful wife.’ ”

That song, “Once in a Lifetime” (1984), provides Eugenides with his epigraph. And the revelatory moment when it overflows into Mitchell’s mind is the defining moment in The Marriage Plot. (That’s partly what makes it so amazing. When was the last time you read a novel, ostensibly a love story, about the “riddle of existence”?)

His professor is bowled over by Mitchell’s exam paper. “I’ve taught at this college for twenty-two years,” he tells Mitchell. “In all of that time, only once have I received a paper that displays the depth of insight and philosophical acumen that yours does.” He offers to secure Mitchell a full scholarship to divinity school. “I want you to know that I think you have the potential to do significant work in contemporary Christian theological studies,” he says. And with that, Mitchell’s future is assured. He heads for India.

Mitchell never does find an answer that can be summarized while standing on one foot. In large measure, his attendance at Quaker meeting, where the congregants sit in silence until moved to speak by the “inner light,” is a fitting symbol of Mitchell’s recognition that a neat and tidy answer is not forthcoming. At the end of the novel, he decides not to attend divinity school after all; and Eugenides implies that the search for an answer took a different form from then on — namely, the form of book-length fiction.

But it is the attendance at Quaker meeting that struck me. Because the main character in Roland Merullo’s lovely Talk-Funny Girl ends up doing exactly the same. After saving herself from decades of abuse at the hands of her violent parents — parents deranged and justified by a violent ersatz of charismatic Christianity — Marjorie Richards inches back to God by attending Quaker meeting.

The coincidence is remarkable. And telling. Two of the best American novelists now writing go out of their way to affirm religion as a meaningful replacement for the unimpressive replacements of postmodern life, but it is as if they are afraid to go too far. They curb their affirmative steps. I don’t mean to fault Quakerism at all, but even Eugenides is amusing on the fashionable opinions of its contemporary adherents (“the bulletin board outside [the meeting house] bore a flyer for an antinuke march, a plea to petition the government on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” and the bumper stickers on the cars in the parking lot “pictured Planet Earth next to the slogan SAVE YOUR MOTHER, or simply, PEACE”).

And you can imagine the difference in dramatic effect if Mitchell Grammaticus or Marjorie Richards had joined an Evangelical church or became strictly orthodox in any way. As I wrote here three weeks ago, “In a literary age that is impatient with religion, perhaps any treatment of the theme, any suggestion that a good life is a worthy goal, runs the risk of being dismissed as dogmatic.” Quakerism, for them and their authors, is frankly a compromise with the very things about postmodern life that leave them feeling incomplete and sting them into a search for answers.

Merullo is candid about the compromise:

Each of us forms an explanation for the existence of failure and pain, and every explanation is a mini-religion all its own. My religion, I suppose, the belief system I’ve made for myself to render the events of my life meaningful, is this: In a mysterious fashion not completely understandable to us, everything moves the individual soul toward humility.

While this is beautiful in its embrace of subjectivity (or what Marilynne Robinson, a more openly religious novelist, calls “the testimony of mind”), it comes dangerously close to confusing subjectivity with relativism. If your answer to the riddle of existence is yours, and my answer is that yours is a sham, what is there left to say? When every religion is a “mini-religion,” and every novel is then a mini-novel (no matter how many pages it accumulates), the triumphalist march of an age that scoffs that God is a fiction and fiction is a relic will not be slowed or diverted, but only quietly, reluctantly joined.

I am writing about Jeffrey Eugenides’s magical novel The Marriage Plot at greater length elsewhere, but a remarkable coincidence — an instant of serendipity in literary history — struck me upon reading it.

After he returns from India, where he briefly volunteered in Mother Teresa’s Home for Dying Destitutes, Mitchell Grammaticus begins to attend Quaker meeting back in America. Obviously modeled upon his author (four-syllable Greek surname, Brown University graduate), Mitchell had been receiving instruction in the Church of Rome before leaving American shores. His religious awakening was surprisingly academic. In an undergraduate course “called Religion and Alienation in 20th Century Culture,” a course described by its professor as a “rigorous, comprehensive, analytical course in twentieth-century religious thought” (O, what professors could get away with a generation ago!), Mitchell wrote a final examination paper that was a kind of breakthrough for him:

While he wrote, he felt, for the first time, as though he weren’t in school anymore. He wasn’t answering questions to get a grade on a test. He was trying to diagnose the predicament he felt himself to be in. And not just his predicament, either, but that of everyone he knew. . . . Everyone he knew was convinced that religion was a sham and God a fiction. But his friends’ replacements for religion didn’t look too impressive. No one had an answer for the riddle of existence. It was like that Talking Heads song, “And you may ask yourself, ‘How did I get here?’ . . . And you may tell yourself, ‘This is not my beautiful house.’ And you may tell yourself, ‘This is not my beautiful wife.’ ”

That song, “Once in a Lifetime” (1984), provides Eugenides with his epigraph. And the revelatory moment when it overflows into Mitchell’s mind is the defining moment in The Marriage Plot. (That’s partly what makes it so amazing. When was the last time you read a novel, ostensibly a love story, about the “riddle of existence”?)

His professor is bowled over by Mitchell’s exam paper. “I’ve taught at this college for twenty-two years,” he tells Mitchell. “In all of that time, only once have I received a paper that displays the depth of insight and philosophical acumen that yours does.” He offers to secure Mitchell a full scholarship to divinity school. “I want you to know that I think you have the potential to do significant work in contemporary Christian theological studies,” he says. And with that, Mitchell’s future is assured. He heads for India.

Mitchell never does find an answer that can be summarized while standing on one foot. In large measure, his attendance at Quaker meeting, where the congregants sit in silence until moved to speak by the “inner light,” is a fitting symbol of Mitchell’s recognition that a neat and tidy answer is not forthcoming. At the end of the novel, he decides not to attend divinity school after all; and Eugenides implies that the search for an answer took a different form from then on — namely, the form of book-length fiction.

But it is the attendance at Quaker meeting that struck me. Because the main character in Roland Merullo’s lovely Talk-Funny Girl ends up doing exactly the same. After saving herself from decades of abuse at the hands of her violent parents — parents deranged and justified by a violent ersatz of charismatic Christianity — Marjorie Richards inches back to God by attending Quaker meeting.

The coincidence is remarkable. And telling. Two of the best American novelists now writing go out of their way to affirm religion as a meaningful replacement for the unimpressive replacements of postmodern life, but it is as if they are afraid to go too far. They curb their affirmative steps. I don’t mean to fault Quakerism at all, but even Eugenides is amusing on the fashionable opinions of its contemporary adherents (“the bulletin board outside [the meeting house] bore a flyer for an antinuke march, a plea to petition the government on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” and the bumper stickers on the cars in the parking lot “pictured Planet Earth next to the slogan SAVE YOUR MOTHER, or simply, PEACE”).

And you can imagine the difference in dramatic effect if Mitchell Grammaticus or Marjorie Richards had joined an Evangelical church or became strictly orthodox in any way. As I wrote here three weeks ago, “In a literary age that is impatient with religion, perhaps any treatment of the theme, any suggestion that a good life is a worthy goal, runs the risk of being dismissed as dogmatic.” Quakerism, for them and their authors, is frankly a compromise with the very things about postmodern life that leave them feeling incomplete and sting them into a search for answers.

Merullo is candid about the compromise:

Each of us forms an explanation for the existence of failure and pain, and every explanation is a mini-religion all its own. My religion, I suppose, the belief system I’ve made for myself to render the events of my life meaningful, is this: In a mysterious fashion not completely understandable to us, everything moves the individual soul toward humility.

While this is beautiful in its embrace of subjectivity (or what Marilynne Robinson, a more openly religious novelist, calls “the testimony of mind”), it comes dangerously close to confusing subjectivity with relativism. If your answer to the riddle of existence is yours, and my answer is that yours is a sham, what is there left to say? When every religion is a “mini-religion,” and every novel is then a mini-novel (no matter how many pages it accumulates), the triumphalist march of an age that scoffs that God is a fiction and fiction is a relic will not be slowed or diverted, but only quietly, reluctantly joined.

Read Less

Obama’s Persona Is Increasingly Negative

In his New York Times column, David Brooks makes two important points. The first is that at a time when only 15 percent of Americans when asked said they trust the federal government to do the right thing most of the time, it is politically suicidal for President Obama to run as the champion of the party of big government. Yet that is
exactly what Obama is doing.

The second point is this one:

Read More

In his New York Times column, David Brooks makes two important points. The first is that at a time when only 15 percent of Americans when asked said they trust the federal government to do the right thing most of the time, it is politically suicidal for President Obama to run as the champion of the party of big government. Yet that is
exactly what Obama is doing.

The second point is this one:

Obama, who sounded so  fresh in 2008, now sometimes sounds a bit like Al Gore and Nancy Pelosi. Obama, who inspired the country, now threatens to run a campaign that is viciously negative. Obama, who is still widely admired because he is reasonable and calm,  is in danger of squandering his best asset by pretending to be someone he is not. Obama, a natural unifier and conciliator, seems on the verge of running as a divisive populist while accusing Mitt Romney, his possible opponent, of being inauthentic.

I disagree with David on who exactly the “natural” Obama is. The record of his presidency strikes me as the opposite of conciliation and unification. But that is somewhat beside the point. What matters is the persona and approach the president has adopted; and in this case, it’s one that Brooks describes as threatening to become
“viciously negative.”

Memo to the president and to David Axelrod: If you’re losing David Brooks, a moderately conservative writer who is pre-disposed to like Obama and has bent over backwards to be supportive of him, then you’re doing something terribly wrong. The single most important political development of the last few years is the collapse of support for Obama and Democrats among independent voters (in the most recent Gallup poll, Obama’s approval rating is only 35 percent; it was 52 percent on Election Day 2008).

Obama is embracing, in substance and in tone, an approach that will continue to alienate them. The president, for reasons that are mystifying, has set himself down a path that will lead not only to defeat but also, if he’s not careful, to disgrace.

 

Read Less

Foxman Backs Down on Partisan Pledge

After only a day of criticism, the Anti-Defamation League has started the process of walking back an unfortunate attempt to shut down debate about Israel in next year’s presidential election. As we wrote on Monday and Tuesday, the “Unity Pledge” put forward by both the ADL and the American Jewish Committee combined some unexceptionable language about Jewish unity and support for the Jewish state with a highly questionable demand that Israel be taken off the table as an issue. Coming as it did on the eve of President Obama’s re-election effort, the only possible purpose for such a pledge was to stifle the growing dissent about his administration’s Middle East policies.

But according to ADL head Abe Foxman, it’s all a big misunderstanding. He now says in a press release that the purpose of the pledge is “to put Israel ahead of politics” while “avoiding harsh and personal rhetoric or tactics in the form of attacks on political opponents’ positions on Israel.” But if that was all it was about, then perhaps that’s what the pledge would have said in the first place. The controversy over the pledge was not the result of what Foxman calls “distortion” by his critics; the fact is, he was caught red-handed in a thinly veiled partisan ploy.

Read More

After only a day of criticism, the Anti-Defamation League has started the process of walking back an unfortunate attempt to shut down debate about Israel in next year’s presidential election. As we wrote on Monday and Tuesday, the “Unity Pledge” put forward by both the ADL and the American Jewish Committee combined some unexceptionable language about Jewish unity and support for the Jewish state with a highly questionable demand that Israel be taken off the table as an issue. Coming as it did on the eve of President Obama’s re-election effort, the only possible purpose for such a pledge was to stifle the growing dissent about his administration’s Middle East policies.

But according to ADL head Abe Foxman, it’s all a big misunderstanding. He now says in a press release that the purpose of the pledge is “to put Israel ahead of politics” while “avoiding harsh and personal rhetoric or tactics in the form of attacks on political opponents’ positions on Israel.” But if that was all it was about, then perhaps that’s what the pledge would have said in the first place. The controversy over the pledge was not the result of what Foxman calls “distortion” by his critics; the fact is, he was caught red-handed in a thinly veiled partisan ploy.

The problem with the “Unity Pledge” is it echoed Jewish Democratic demands we have been hearing for years about shutting down Republican efforts to point out left-wing animus for Israel as well as the Obama administration’s predilection for picking fights with Israel. Obama’s decision to distance the United States from Israel, his stand on Jerusalem and his ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in May were all factors in the Republican victory in the special election in New York’s 9th Congressional District last month. That result and polls showing a decline in Jewish support for Obama have panicked Democrats. The decision of the ADL and the AJC to issue a statement that would serve to legitimize efforts to silence debate about Israel by condemning its use as a “wedge issue” departed from not only their non-partisan status but also undermined their stance as Jewish defense organizations.

ADL’s subsequent statement in which they “strongly encourage measured and thoughtful expressions of different points of view regarding U.S. policy toward Israel” helps undo some of the damage their pledge has done. Foxman’s comments should also serve to chasten Democrats who seek to remove Obama’s record on Israel from public debate next year. As for the pledge, it should be amended to remove the line about “wedge” issues or scrapped entirely.

We can only hope the disaster the ADL and the AJC have created for themselves will serve to deter Jewish groups from ever playing politics in this manner again.

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.