Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 20, 2012

Pinkwashing? Gay Rights Shows the Difference Between Israel and Palestinians

Some people don’t want to talk about gay rights in the Middle East. The left calls it “pinkwashing” and treats it as irrelevant to any analysis of the region. But it remains a fascinating window into two societies. As the Times of Israel reports, gay Palestinian Arabs are flocking to supposedly repressive Israel. In the West Bank and Gaza, they face persecution and death. In Israel, they find freedom.

Palestinian gays not only can’t come out at home. If they want to meet as a group, the only place they can go is Tel Aviv, where as the Times of Israel notes, a monthly gathering called the Palestinian Queer Party convenes. That’s because the repressive Muslim culture that predominates in the territories considers gays to be anathemas while Israel is a liberal democracy where, despite deep differences between various elements of society, people can live and do as they please. Though the “Israel is apartheid” crowd is at pains to stifle discussion of the gay angle to the Middle East conflict, it actually tells you all you need to know about the difference between the two societies and why hopes for peace need to wait until Palestinians embrace freedom for their own people as well as coexistence with Jews.

Read More

Some people don’t want to talk about gay rights in the Middle East. The left calls it “pinkwashing” and treats it as irrelevant to any analysis of the region. But it remains a fascinating window into two societies. As the Times of Israel reports, gay Palestinian Arabs are flocking to supposedly repressive Israel. In the West Bank and Gaza, they face persecution and death. In Israel, they find freedom.

Palestinian gays not only can’t come out at home. If they want to meet as a group, the only place they can go is Tel Aviv, where as the Times of Israel notes, a monthly gathering called the Palestinian Queer Party convenes. That’s because the repressive Muslim culture that predominates in the territories considers gays to be anathemas while Israel is a liberal democracy where, despite deep differences between various elements of society, people can live and do as they please. Though the “Israel is apartheid” crowd is at pains to stifle discussion of the gay angle to the Middle East conflict, it actually tells you all you need to know about the difference between the two societies and why hopes for peace need to wait until Palestinians embrace freedom for their own people as well as coexistence with Jews.

The stories in the Times of Israel piece don’t speak to the national conflict between Arabs and Jews. But they do speak volumes about one of the main points Israel’s defenders harp on: the fact that it is the region’s only true democracy. What the Palestinians have created for themselves in their independent state in all but name in Gaza and their autonomous government in the West Bank are two more places on the globe where human rights are not respected and violence rules.

The connection between the violence the ruling Palestinian groups use on their own people is not unrelated to the violence they attempt to inflict on the Israelis. The absence of political freedom makes peace with Israel a difficult proposition under the best of circumstances. But the influence of radical Islamist ideology, even in the West Bank that is supposedly more liberal than Hamas-ruled Gaza, makes it even more unlikely. That’s why the ability of the Islamist clerics and their supporters to terrorize gays is an indicator of a lack of desire for peace.

Israel is a free country, something you wouldn’t know if your only view of the Jewish state was delivered to you by mainstream media coverage. The anti-Israel crowd can call mentions of gay rights “pinkwashing.” But all that means is that they don’t wish to acknowledge the difference between Israeli and Palestinian cultures.

Read Less

Hamas: We’ll Never Recognize Israel

For those optimists who continue to believe peace with the Palestinians is possible, the focus in the Middle East continues to be on Israel. The fact that even the supposedly hard-line government of Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to a two-state solution and proposed peace talks without preconditions is ignored. Instead, the world focuses on the wayward behavior of a single Israeli officer who assaulted protesters in the country to demand its destruction. That officer’s actions were wrong, but they were not, as the New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier incorrectly claimed, a reflection of Netanyahu’s “contempt” for world opinion. Rather, they were an individual’s response, albeit wrong-headed, to the contempt that those who hate Israel have for it. However, today brings a reminder that those who view Middle East peace as something that only is about Israeli decision-making are looking at the situation through the wrong end of the telescope.

The Forward’s Larry Cohler-Esses snagged an interview with Mussa Abu Marzook, the second-highest ranking official in Hamas, and what he found out was something that caused him, as the journalist later told Haaretz, to view the situation with less optimism. Though apologists for Hamas claim the group is moving toward peace with Israel, Abu Marzook made it plain that the best that could be hoped for is “hudna,” or truce, rather than a peace that would end the conflict. He also defended Hamas’s right to continue attacks on Jewish civilians.

Read More

For those optimists who continue to believe peace with the Palestinians is possible, the focus in the Middle East continues to be on Israel. The fact that even the supposedly hard-line government of Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to a two-state solution and proposed peace talks without preconditions is ignored. Instead, the world focuses on the wayward behavior of a single Israeli officer who assaulted protesters in the country to demand its destruction. That officer’s actions were wrong, but they were not, as the New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier incorrectly claimed, a reflection of Netanyahu’s “contempt” for world opinion. Rather, they were an individual’s response, albeit wrong-headed, to the contempt that those who hate Israel have for it. However, today brings a reminder that those who view Middle East peace as something that only is about Israeli decision-making are looking at the situation through the wrong end of the telescope.

The Forward’s Larry Cohler-Esses snagged an interview with Mussa Abu Marzook, the second-highest ranking official in Hamas, and what he found out was something that caused him, as the journalist later told Haaretz, to view the situation with less optimism. Though apologists for Hamas claim the group is moving toward peace with Israel, Abu Marzook made it plain that the best that could be hoped for is “hudna,” or truce, rather than a peace that would end the conflict. He also defended Hamas’s right to continue attacks on Jewish civilians.

Pressed by Cohler-Esses to define what even a hudna, rather than peace would mean, Abu Marzook said it would be similar to Israel’s relationship with Syria and Lebanon. Both countries remain in a state of war with Israel.

Some optimists will claim the mere fact that the interview took place at all and that a man like Abu Marzook is talking about a truce is positive and a sign the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement is moving the Palestinians toward peace. But it is far more likely that what this shows is how Hamas will use its new influence over the Palestinian Authority to render any hopes for peace ephemeral.

In particular, Abu Marzook took issue with the idea that Hamas is dropping its legacy of violence to take up Gandhi-like non-violence. The Hamas leader stands by his group’s charter that, as Cohler-Esses points out, contains blatantly anti-Semitic material including “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and passages of the Koran that call for the death of the Jews.

Whatever changes may be happening inside Hamas, as Abu Marzook jockeys with his rivals for the leadership of the group, it remains an Islamist terrorist group committed to Israel’s destruction. If the Fatah-Hamas agreement is finalized and men like Abu Marzook assume power in the West Bank while continuing their tyrannical rule over Gaza, it will mean the end of any hopes for a Western-style Palestinian government dedicated to cooperation with Israel and economic development. With the Muslim Brotherhood–the group that inspired the creation of Hamas–on the brink of assuming power in Egypt, the “new” Hamas may sound a bit more presentable to Western audiences but, as a close reading of Abu Marzook’s interview with the Forward shows, its substance is unchanged.

Read Less

Dems May Force Obama to Make Keystone XL Decision

Byron York reports on the status of the Keystone XL debate. Democratic lawmakers are facing more pressure to support the pipeline with the election looming, and some in the Senate are confident they’ll be able to peel away enough Democrats to break Harry Reid’s filibuster. Which means that the bill for approval could land on President Obama’s desk in the not-too-distant future:

When the House voted on the pipeline in July of last year, 47 Democrats broke with the president. Now that it’s an election year and the number is up to 69, look for Republicans to hold more pipeline votes before November. GOP leaders expect even more Democrats to join them.

Then there is the Senate. Democrats are using the filibuster to stop the pipeline, which means 60 votes are required to pass it. (Some Democrats who bitterly opposed the filibuster when Republicans used it against Obama initiatives are notably silent these days.) In a vote last month, 11 Senate Democrats stood up against Obama to vote in favor of the pipeline. Add those 11 to the Republicans’ 47 votes, and the pro-pipeline forces are just a couple of votes away from breaking Harry Reid’s filibuster.

Read More

Byron York reports on the status of the Keystone XL debate. Democratic lawmakers are facing more pressure to support the pipeline with the election looming, and some in the Senate are confident they’ll be able to peel away enough Democrats to break Harry Reid’s filibuster. Which means that the bill for approval could land on President Obama’s desk in the not-too-distant future:

When the House voted on the pipeline in July of last year, 47 Democrats broke with the president. Now that it’s an election year and the number is up to 69, look for Republicans to hold more pipeline votes before November. GOP leaders expect even more Democrats to join them.

Then there is the Senate. Democrats are using the filibuster to stop the pipeline, which means 60 votes are required to pass it. (Some Democrats who bitterly opposed the filibuster when Republicans used it against Obama initiatives are notably silent these days.) In a vote last month, 11 Senate Democrats stood up against Obama to vote in favor of the pipeline. Add those 11 to the Republicans’ 47 votes, and the pro-pipeline forces are just a couple of votes away from breaking Harry Reid’s filibuster.

At that point, Obama has no choice but to take a side. Up until now he’s been able to shift some blame onto “safety concerns” and the State Department review process. He’ll have a much harder time doing this if even the Democrat-controlled Senate starts calling his bluff.

Vetoing the bill will be too politically risky. It’s more likely that Obama will sign it after digging up some justification for the flip-flop. The new route proposed by TransCanada, which circumvents some of the areas in Nebraska that green groups say are environmentally-sensitive, will provide the president with a passable excuse. At HotAir, Ed Morrissey predicts:

Expect him to pounce on the new route application as a catalyst for preliminary approval — and then to stall the final approvals needed within the bureaucracy, where he can act without too much observation.

Yup. And Obama may not even have to work very hard to ensure a drawn-out approval process. According to reports, officials say the process will likely run seven to nine months – which would take us just beyond the November election.

Read Less

Obama’s Recovery About to Disappear

For the last several months, liberal journalists have been plugging the idea that the United States is enjoying an economic recovery after the slow down of the past few years and that President Obama deserved the credit for rescuing the nation from its troubles. Evidence for that upswing was slight but, to be fair, Americans could be forgiven for viewing the debate about the state of the country from a “been down so long looks like up to me,” perspective. But one of the leading exponents of this thesis may be about to give up on their crusade to persuade us that everything is just fine and getting better every day. The New York Times published a front-page story intended to let its readers down gently as they confront a worsening economic picture in 2012.

The piece, titled “Rising Fears That Recovery May Once More Be Faltering,” is something of a cold shower to Times readers who have been fed a steady diet of features this year intended to prove that the recession is over and the country is on the rebound after a long spell of miseries that could be blamed on George W. Bush. As the Times reports:

Some of the same spoilers that interrupted the recovery in 2010 and 2011 have emerged again, raising fears that the winter’s economic strength might dissipate in the spring.

In recent weeks, European bond yields have started climbing. In the United States and elsewhere, high oil prices have sapped spending power. American employers remain skittish about hiring new workers, and new claims for unemployment insurance have risen. And stocks have declined.

Read More

For the last several months, liberal journalists have been plugging the idea that the United States is enjoying an economic recovery after the slow down of the past few years and that President Obama deserved the credit for rescuing the nation from its troubles. Evidence for that upswing was slight but, to be fair, Americans could be forgiven for viewing the debate about the state of the country from a “been down so long looks like up to me,” perspective. But one of the leading exponents of this thesis may be about to give up on their crusade to persuade us that everything is just fine and getting better every day. The New York Times published a front-page story intended to let its readers down gently as they confront a worsening economic picture in 2012.

The piece, titled “Rising Fears That Recovery May Once More Be Faltering,” is something of a cold shower to Times readers who have been fed a steady diet of features this year intended to prove that the recession is over and the country is on the rebound after a long spell of miseries that could be blamed on George W. Bush. As the Times reports:

Some of the same spoilers that interrupted the recovery in 2010 and 2011 have emerged again, raising fears that the winter’s economic strength might dissipate in the spring.

In recent weeks, European bond yields have started climbing. In the United States and elsewhere, high oil prices have sapped spending power. American employers remain skittish about hiring new workers, and new claims for unemployment insurance have risen. And stocks have declined.

While the newspaper maintains the recovery will persist and the negative factors are a mere “blip,” considering they admit that the same circumstances led to downturns before, this is a difficult argument to sustain. Even more to the point, the consequences of going into the fall with, at best, an anemic recovery is sobering news for their faithful audience of fellow Obama worshippers. If even the Times is prepared to admit that the recovery is collapsing, that is a sure sign the country should brace itself for far worse during the course of the year.

For all of the optimism emanating from Democrats lately as they surveyed the bloody wreckage caused by a bitter Republican nomination fight, the prospect of a declining economy is the sort of thing that overwhelms all other factors in evaluating the outcome in November. Romney’s flaws and an all-out Democratic campaign to convince the public the GOP is waging a mythical “war on women” will mean nothing if the president is forced to go to the people this year as the man who gave them, as the Times put it, “a third straight year of economic disappointment.”

With European instability, sluggish growth, a still high rate of unemployment and the prospect of higher gas prices this summer (that will go even higher if President Obama sticks to his word and doesn’t back off on sanctions intended to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons), there is little room for optimism about the economy even among the president’s liberal mainstream media cheering section.

But far from this unhappy news causing the Democrats to rethink their approach to the presidential campaign, this will, if anything, cause them to double down on their efforts to demonize Romney and to make the election a referendum on the Republicans instead of Obama. After years of economic failure, unpopular policies and minimal accomplishments, Barack Obama can’t run on his record. The real question to be answered now is whether the Democratic attack machine is powerful enough to overcome an economic situation that would sink any other incumbent.

Read Less

Rubio’s Risky Immigration Plan

Sen. Marco Rubio is rolling out an immigration reform plan to compete with the DREAM Act, though his proposal won’t offer children of illegal immigrants full citizenship. Instead, there will be a path to permanent status, starting with non-immigrant visas. This adds an interesting dynamic to the veepstakes, since Romney staked out such a tough anti-illegal immigration position during the primary. And anti-illegal immigration activists are already denouncing the proposal:

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the anti-immigration group Federation for American Immigration Reform, said Rubio’s plan amounts to a “two-step process of amnesty.”

Much of the plan’s details are still in concept form — such as which children could apply for the non-immigrant visas — and it stops well short of the Democratic DREAM Act’s call for full citizenship rights for undocumented children who seek higher education or military service.

The move could bolster Rubio’s appeal to be Romney’s running mate at a time when the presumptive nominee is struggling mightily with Hispanic voters. Or it could lead to a divisive internal debate within the GOP and wound the rising star’s standing on the right.

Romney has a difficult needle to thread here. First, he’s leading Obama in the polls on immigration policy based on his positions during the primary, and he could end up losing support if he backs Rubio’s plan. But Romney also needs to increase his support among Hispanic voters, a crucial demographic next November.

Read More

Sen. Marco Rubio is rolling out an immigration reform plan to compete with the DREAM Act, though his proposal won’t offer children of illegal immigrants full citizenship. Instead, there will be a path to permanent status, starting with non-immigrant visas. This adds an interesting dynamic to the veepstakes, since Romney staked out such a tough anti-illegal immigration position during the primary. And anti-illegal immigration activists are already denouncing the proposal:

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the anti-immigration group Federation for American Immigration Reform, said Rubio’s plan amounts to a “two-step process of amnesty.”

Much of the plan’s details are still in concept form — such as which children could apply for the non-immigrant visas — and it stops well short of the Democratic DREAM Act’s call for full citizenship rights for undocumented children who seek higher education or military service.

The move could bolster Rubio’s appeal to be Romney’s running mate at a time when the presumptive nominee is struggling mightily with Hispanic voters. Or it could lead to a divisive internal debate within the GOP and wound the rising star’s standing on the right.

Romney has a difficult needle to thread here. First, he’s leading Obama in the polls on immigration policy based on his positions during the primary, and he could end up losing support if he backs Rubio’s plan. But Romney also needs to increase his support among Hispanic voters, a crucial demographic next November.

The idea that the Hispanic community votes mainly on the basis of immigration issues is nonsense, but Romney does carry the risk of alienating these voters if he’s seen as too extreme on the issue. Democrats will certainly use the opportunity to play identity politics and try to paint Romney as a xenophobe, and networks like Ultravision will help push the narrative along. So Romney needs to somehow smooth out his hard-line illegal immigration stance, while dodging the inevitable etch-a-sketch allegations that would greet even the slightest shift. A plan like Rubio’s, which focuses on the less controversial issue of illegal immigrant children and doesn’t go as far as the DREAM Act, may be a potential compromise.

Then again, it’s hard to predict how Rubio’s plan will be received. This sort of compromise is intended to satisfy moderates on both sides, but there’s always the risk that it will do just the opposite. The worst case is that Romney supports the plan, and it ends up being attacked vigorously and losing him support on both sides.

Read Less

Does Christie Help Romney the Most?

Even after the dust has settled in a presidential election it’s hard to discern the impact of a vice presidential nominee on the outcome. Even those veep nominees who are generally seen as hurting more than helping are unlikely to have decided the contest. So the preliminary polling done to discover which of the potential running mates for Mitt Romney will provide the most help or at least do the least damage to the Republican ticket should be taken with a shovelful of salt. But the numbers provided by Public Policy Polling do provide good news for fans of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

PPP’s latest poll shows President Obama leading Romney by three points in a head-to-head matchup. This is not far off other polls that show the race to be a close affair with neither party holding a decisive advantage. They also show the likely GOP nominee’s favorability ratings starting to climb now that the bloody Republican contest is all but over. But the most interesting findings in the survey concern the impact of the veep possibilities. Pairing Christie with Romney would turn a three-point deficit into a dead heat while other vice presidential picks would not fare as well.

Read More

Even after the dust has settled in a presidential election it’s hard to discern the impact of a vice presidential nominee on the outcome. Even those veep nominees who are generally seen as hurting more than helping are unlikely to have decided the contest. So the preliminary polling done to discover which of the potential running mates for Mitt Romney will provide the most help or at least do the least damage to the Republican ticket should be taken with a shovelful of salt. But the numbers provided by Public Policy Polling do provide good news for fans of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

PPP’s latest poll shows President Obama leading Romney by three points in a head-to-head matchup. This is not far off other polls that show the race to be a close affair with neither party holding a decisive advantage. They also show the likely GOP nominee’s favorability ratings starting to climb now that the bloody Republican contest is all but over. But the most interesting findings in the survey concern the impact of the veep possibilities. Pairing Christie with Romney would turn a three-point deficit into a dead heat while other vice presidential picks would not fare as well.

Of the others polled, Jeb Bush comes closest to Christie with a result that would be only a one-point edge for Obama. Both Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee would produce a two-point win for Obama.

All of the others polled would increase the GOP’s problems. Ron Paul is shown as creating a four-point loss. Paul Ryan would make it five, Marco Rubio six and Sarah Palin comes in last with a seven-point disadvantage.

Given the fact that some of these people are better known than others, one shouldn’t give any of these figures too much weight. Common sense dictates that a lightening rod like Santorum would wind up being a much bigger problem for Romney than a less controversial pick. And an outlier like Ron Paul could single-handedly generate a Democratic landslide in November. That is why Romney would never consider him or Santorum. And the less said about a rerun of a Sarah Palin candidacy the better.

Ryan and Rubio each have strengths that would only register once they are better known. And it should be noted that one man who is all but certain to be on Romney’s short list of nominees — Ohio Senator Rob Portman — wasn’t even included in the survey.

Nevertheless, the numbers pointing to an edge for a Romney-Christie ticket will not go unread in Republican councils. The New Jersey governor remains a hot commodity in political circles, and while it is unlikely that even he could help flip the Garden State to the Republicans this fall, his dynamism is a factor that could give some much needed oomph to the GOP ticket.

That said, Republicans would be well-advised to concentrate their attention on building up the top of ticket rather than worrying about the bottom. No vice presidential nominee has ever won a presidential election, and this year’s contest isn’t likely to be the first.

Read Less

GOP Pessimism? Everybody Calm Down

Nobody likes being told to relax, but it’s good advice for many Republican Party politicians and insiders who are telling political news outlets they doubt Mitt Romney’s general election chances. Today’s Politico article is along those same lines–that “under the table, there is pervasive pessimism among Republicans about Romney’s prospects this fall. It’s apparent in rampant discussions about which Republicans will run in 2016 — talk that obviously presupposes a loss in November — and it’s downright glaring in private conversations with GOP officials on Capitol Hill and in consulting shops across Washington.”

Alana tried yesterday to offer Republicans a political chill pill by noting that Romney’s favorability ratings aren’t in doomsday territory yet–indeed aren’t far off from Bill Clinton’s at this point in his election campaign. But the polling also doesn’t back up the sandwich-board wearing wielders of the GOP’s own Mayan calendar. Gallup’s daily tracking poll has Romney in the lead (and improving). And as Ed Morrissey wrote yesterday, not only did the latest CBS/New York Times poll put the race in a dead heat, but Romney also has more room to improve, as a lesser-known challenger, than President Obama.

Read More

Nobody likes being told to relax, but it’s good advice for many Republican Party politicians and insiders who are telling political news outlets they doubt Mitt Romney’s general election chances. Today’s Politico article is along those same lines–that “under the table, there is pervasive pessimism among Republicans about Romney’s prospects this fall. It’s apparent in rampant discussions about which Republicans will run in 2016 — talk that obviously presupposes a loss in November — and it’s downright glaring in private conversations with GOP officials on Capitol Hill and in consulting shops across Washington.”

Alana tried yesterday to offer Republicans a political chill pill by noting that Romney’s favorability ratings aren’t in doomsday territory yet–indeed aren’t far off from Bill Clinton’s at this point in his election campaign. But the polling also doesn’t back up the sandwich-board wearing wielders of the GOP’s own Mayan calendar. Gallup’s daily tracking poll has Romney in the lead (and improving). And as Ed Morrissey wrote yesterday, not only did the latest CBS/New York Times poll put the race in a dead heat, but Romney also has more room to improve, as a lesser-known challenger, than President Obama.

This is not to ignore the other polls that show Obama ahead–the Wall Street Journal poll, for example, or Public Policy Polling’s. And it’s certainly not to ignore Romney’s weaknesses or Obama’s strengths, not least of which is the power of the incumbency for a Democratic president practically worshiped by much of the press.

But it’s early. In that Politico story, William Kristol and Grover Norquist provide some perspective for the nervous right. “You go through two cycles when incumbents win and people will talk themselves into thinking it’s historically inevitable,” Kristol said.

“We’re electing a coach of a team that knows the plays,” Norquist added, trying to remind his fellow grassroots conservatives that that they have much more influence in the direction of the national conservative movement today than in the past.

I think both comments get at an important aspect of the gloomy GOPers. This is the first time in the modern age of social media, alternative media, and a wide array of 24-hour cable news networks that Republicans have challenged a sitting president. So it’s not all that puzzling that Bob Dole’s name has come up so often this election season. But it’s a very different political and media landscape, and it is not one that would support a sense of helplessness among conservatives.

Read Less

An Unfair Attack on the Administration

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, writing about the prostitution scandal in Colombia, where reports are that as many as 21 Secret Service agents and military personnel paid for sex before President Obama’s arrival at the Summit of the Americas on Friday, said this:

When the White House says its job is to “conduct [itself] with the utmost dignity and probity,” it seems somewhat contradictory to the culture of permissiveness this administration has created here at home. When you relentlessly attack moral principles, as this White House has done over the course of three years, it becomes increasingly difficult for the administration to call these actions wrong. …

The United States, under this administration, is a country that increasingly celebrates sexual indulgence. Is it any wonder this country is suffering from an ethical identity crisis? This is what comes of an administration that systematically destroys the moral foundations of our military, government service, and public schools. On one hand, the administration has tried to force our military to embrace homosexuality by making unnatural and immoral sex legal–and on the other, it’s outraged that its military is engaging in another form of legal but immoral sex. (Prostitution is permissible in Colombia’s “tolerated zones.”) Both behaviors are inappropriate, unhealthy, and destructive. Yet only one seems to incense government officials.

If this seems a bit muddled, that’s because it is. But this culture of moral confusion is inevitable when American leaders push a radical social policy that arbitrarily gives sexual license to some and condemns it from others.

Read More

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, writing about the prostitution scandal in Colombia, where reports are that as many as 21 Secret Service agents and military personnel paid for sex before President Obama’s arrival at the Summit of the Americas on Friday, said this:

When the White House says its job is to “conduct [itself] with the utmost dignity and probity,” it seems somewhat contradictory to the culture of permissiveness this administration has created here at home. When you relentlessly attack moral principles, as this White House has done over the course of three years, it becomes increasingly difficult for the administration to call these actions wrong. …

The United States, under this administration, is a country that increasingly celebrates sexual indulgence. Is it any wonder this country is suffering from an ethical identity crisis? This is what comes of an administration that systematically destroys the moral foundations of our military, government service, and public schools. On one hand, the administration has tried to force our military to embrace homosexuality by making unnatural and immoral sex legal–and on the other, it’s outraged that its military is engaging in another form of legal but immoral sex. (Prostitution is permissible in Colombia’s “tolerated zones.”) Both behaviors are inappropriate, unhealthy, and destructive. Yet only one seems to incense government officials.

If this seems a bit muddled, that’s because it is. But this culture of moral confusion is inevitable when American leaders push a radical social policy that arbitrarily gives sexual license to some and condemns it from others.

Let’s examine Perkins’s arguments in turn.

The notion that the Obama administration is “systematically destroy[ing] the moral foundation of our military” strikes me as intemperate and unfair. Most (though not all) senior members of the military, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and General David Petraeus, believed that the time had come to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). So did then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Are they part of the systematic effort to destroy the moral foundation of the military as well?

The core of this debate is whether unit morale would suffer if gays were open about their sexual orientation. There is evidence that because of shifting sexual mores, including attitudes towards gays, unit morale would not suffer. (The Department of Defense’s Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” indicates that there was low risk of service disruptions because of repeal of the ban.) It’s important to note that other countries that allow openly gay people to serve in the military (like Israel) haven’t experienced combat readiness, unit cohesion or morale problems. In reviewing the many countries that permit gays and lesbians to serve openly in their military, the Defense Department’s report found that, “Uniformly, these nations reported that they were aware of no units that had a degradation of cohesion or combat effectiveness, and that the presence of gay men and lesbians in combat units had not been raised as an issue by any of their units deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.” (Page 89 of the Defense Department report shows that at the time it was issued, 35 nations permitted gays and lesbians to serve openly in their military vs. six nations that excluded gay men and lesbians from serving or serving openly in the military.) We’ll of course be able to make an informed judgment of the effects of repealing DADA soon enough, since we’re now testing the proposition.

Then there’s the argument that the Obama administration is giving “sexual license” and promoting an “ideology of unrestraint.” The logic goes like this: overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” leads to a brothel in Cartagena.

This argument is, I think, quite weak. For one thing, most of those caught up in the prostitution scandal are Secret Service agents, not members of the military. And it’s hard to believe that if “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” hadn’t been overturned all of seven months ago, then the Secret Service and the military personnel who reportedly solicited prostitution would instead have stayed on the straight and narrow. There’s a reason prostitution is referred to as the world’s oldest profession. What Perkins is engaging in is the logical fallacy known as post hoc ergo propter hoc (“after this, therefore because of this”). President Obama overturned DADT. Secret Service agents and members of the military were caught up in a prostitution scandal in Cartagena. QED.

Nor does DADT have much to do with “celebrating sexual indulgence.” Military standards of conduct already prohibit fraternization and unprofessional relationships. They also address various forms of harassment and unprofessional behavior, prescribe appropriate dress and appearance, and provide guidelines on public displays of affection. Repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell doesn’t change any of that; it simply means that for the first time in America’s military history, service members would be allowed to publicly reveal their sexual orientation without fear of reprisal.

As for the “culture of permissiveness,” here Perkins is (inadvertently) making the case of same-sex advocates, who argue that gays should be allowed to marry in order to place them within an institution (marriage) that encourages fidelity. The argument is that same-sex marriage would weaken the “culture of permissiveness” since marriage discourages it. Same-sex marriage would, according to its proponents, be a profoundly traditionalizing act. Again, we shall see (a handful of states now recognize same-sex unions and more will soon follow).

There are certainly grounds on which to criticize the Obama administration, including on social policy (see the Obama administration’s decision to require Catholic hospitals, charities and universities to provide insurance coverage that includes contraceptives and abortifacients, in violation of their conscience and creed). And intelligent and honest people will disagree on issues like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and legalizing gay marriage. But the idea that the prostitution scandal in Colombia points to “the significant erosion of ethical standards in the Obama administration” is simply wrong. Everybody’s interests, including the interests of social conservatives, would be better served by engaging these issues in a serious, sober, and empirically rigorous manner.

Read Less

Here We Go Again: Romney’s New Slogan is “Racist”

Last time, the complaint was that Mitt Romney’s slogan was formerly used by the Ku Klux Klan – a claim that turned out to be complete fiction. Now Romney’s latest slogan is being criticized for supposedly promoting racial stereotypes. The phrase? “Obama Isn’t Working.” How anyone sees racism in that is beyond me, but Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher somehow managed:

When I first saw the banner this afternoon, the multiple meanings were clear: President Obama‘s policies aren’t working, the Obama presidency isn’t working, President Obama…isn’t working, as in, doing any work. That’s not a nice thing to say about any president, but like it or not, it becomes a more loaded accusation when leveled at our first black president.

Just to be sure it wasn’t just me, though, I asked several friends about the banner, and four out of four pointed out, unprompted, the stereotype of the “lazy,” “shiftless” black man. One of the people I called was cable news fixture Goldie Taylor, who, upon hearing my description of the banner, said “Are you kidding me? You have got to be kidding me.”

Read More

Last time, the complaint was that Mitt Romney’s slogan was formerly used by the Ku Klux Klan – a claim that turned out to be complete fiction. Now Romney’s latest slogan is being criticized for supposedly promoting racial stereotypes. The phrase? “Obama Isn’t Working.” How anyone sees racism in that is beyond me, but Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher somehow managed:

When I first saw the banner this afternoon, the multiple meanings were clear: President Obama‘s policies aren’t working, the Obama presidency isn’t working, President Obama…isn’t working, as in, doing any work. That’s not a nice thing to say about any president, but like it or not, it becomes a more loaded accusation when leveled at our first black president.

Just to be sure it wasn’t just me, though, I asked several friends about the banner, and four out of four pointed out, unprompted, the stereotype of the “lazy,” “shiftless” black man. One of the people I called was cable news fixture Goldie Taylor, who, upon hearing my description of the banner, said “Are you kidding me? You have got to be kidding me.”

Christopher backs up his thesis by talking to four friends who agree with him, for whatever that’s worth. I had sort of hoped we were past all these fallacious and unprovable hidden racism allegations, but obviously some people are anxious to revisit the lunacy of 2008 (remember McCain’s “Celebrity” ad, which was deemed racist because it featured pictures of Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Obama – supposedly with some hidden message about interracial relationships? Every hack who called McCain a racist for that ad should be ashamed).

If there’s been any bigotry so far this election cycle, it’s been directed at Mitt Romney’s religion. But for whatever reason, liberal pundits seem far less concerned about real anti-Mormonism than they are about imagined racism.

Read Less

First Democrat Assault on Romney’s Faith

The White House has said it would treat Mitt Romney’s religion as off-limits for attacks, but apparently that message hasn’t filtered down to everyone in the Democratic Party. In an article published in the Daily Beast Thursday night, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer was quoted letting loose with a slam at Romney’s Mormon origins while answering a question about GOP outreach to Hispanics:

While discussing swing states, Schweitzer said Romney would have a “tall order to position Hispanics to vote for him,” and I replied that was mildly ironic since Mitt’s father was born in Mexico, giving the clan a nominal claim to being Hispanic. Schweitzer replied that it is “kinda ironic given that his family came from a polygamy commune in Mexico, but then he’d have to talk about his family coming from a polygamy commune in Mexico, given the gender discrepancy.” Women, he said, are “not great fans of polygamy, 86 percent were not great fans of polygamy. I am not alleging by any stretch that Romney is a polygamist and approves of [the] polygamy lifestyle, but his father was born into [a] polygamy commune in Mexico.”

As the Beast pointed out, both Romney’s parents and grandparents were monogamous, so tying him to the polygamous practices of his great-grandparents is a nasty piece of business and no more relevant to the 2012 campaign than an investigation into the marital practices of President Obama’s ancestors in Kenya. Though Democrats will downplay Schweitzer as a nobody who ought not to be linked to Obama, imagine if a Republican governor of an equally obscure state were to make comments about Obama’s family tree. The furor would be tremendous, and the incident would be treated in the mainstream media as emblematic of GOP racism. Any effort to downplay rather than to vigorously condemn Schweitzer’s remarks are a sure sign that Democrats hope to profit from such slurs. So while you won’t hear any slurs against Mormons from the president or even his top attack dog Vice President Biden, there will be plenty of Democratic surrogates who will be working overtime this year to foul the political waters with slurs against Mormons.

Read More

The White House has said it would treat Mitt Romney’s religion as off-limits for attacks, but apparently that message hasn’t filtered down to everyone in the Democratic Party. In an article published in the Daily Beast Thursday night, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer was quoted letting loose with a slam at Romney’s Mormon origins while answering a question about GOP outreach to Hispanics:

While discussing swing states, Schweitzer said Romney would have a “tall order to position Hispanics to vote for him,” and I replied that was mildly ironic since Mitt’s father was born in Mexico, giving the clan a nominal claim to being Hispanic. Schweitzer replied that it is “kinda ironic given that his family came from a polygamy commune in Mexico, but then he’d have to talk about his family coming from a polygamy commune in Mexico, given the gender discrepancy.” Women, he said, are “not great fans of polygamy, 86 percent were not great fans of polygamy. I am not alleging by any stretch that Romney is a polygamist and approves of [the] polygamy lifestyle, but his father was born into [a] polygamy commune in Mexico.”

As the Beast pointed out, both Romney’s parents and grandparents were monogamous, so tying him to the polygamous practices of his great-grandparents is a nasty piece of business and no more relevant to the 2012 campaign than an investigation into the marital practices of President Obama’s ancestors in Kenya. Though Democrats will downplay Schweitzer as a nobody who ought not to be linked to Obama, imagine if a Republican governor of an equally obscure state were to make comments about Obama’s family tree. The furor would be tremendous, and the incident would be treated in the mainstream media as emblematic of GOP racism. Any effort to downplay rather than to vigorously condemn Schweitzer’s remarks are a sure sign that Democrats hope to profit from such slurs. So while you won’t hear any slurs against Mormons from the president or even his top attack dog Vice President Biden, there will be plenty of Democratic surrogates who will be working overtime this year to foul the political waters with slurs against Mormons.

The truth is, most Americans know little about Romney’s faith, so it is possible that many actually do associate the mainstream Church Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to which he belongs with popular culture attacks on his faith that often center on the tiny minority of those who do practice polygamy as in the HBO show “Big Love” or reality shows that also feature such marginal practices. The LDS Church forbade polygamy 122 years ago.

While it’s not clear just how much success these off-line attempts to delegitimize Romney will have, there’s little question that a strategy to brand Romney as “weird” has been a talking point inside some high Democratic circles since last summer. The trick will be to allow President Obama, whose supporters treated all efforts to vet his associations with radical figures as racism four years ago, to stay above the fray while others throw mud at Romney.

However, the Schweitzer comment ought to be the moment when decent people on both sides of the aisle come forward to demand that the Democrats cease trying to incite prejudice against Mormons. Religious freedom is the foundation of American democracy. The incitement of religious prejudice, no matter how coyly phrased, must be treated as sternly and with as much heat as any effort to stir up racial hatred. It is vital that this be stopped now before it takes hold and becomes integral to the discussion about the election. If it does, all Americans will be diminished.

Read Less

Afghans Question Karzai’s Loyalty

While Americans continue to self-flagellate for our own self-inflicted wounds in Afghanistan, be they Quran burnings, shootings of civilians, or grisly trophy photographs—the conversation among Afghans remains sharply different. In the wake of the well-coordinated Taliban attacks inside Kabul, Afghan anger is riding high at President Hamid Karzai, who had referred to the Taliban as “our brothers.”

Social media is important, and the following image has gone viral in Afghanistan, transferred from cell phone to cell phone, and across Afghans’ Facebook pages. On the left, it shows a member of the Taliban captured in women’s clothes. The caption in Dari above reads “Karzai’s brother.”  On the right is an image of an Afghan soldier wounded in the leg defending the city. The caption above reads, “Our brother.”

Read More

While Americans continue to self-flagellate for our own self-inflicted wounds in Afghanistan, be they Quran burnings, shootings of civilians, or grisly trophy photographs—the conversation among Afghans remains sharply different. In the wake of the well-coordinated Taliban attacks inside Kabul, Afghan anger is riding high at President Hamid Karzai, who had referred to the Taliban as “our brothers.”

Social media is important, and the following image has gone viral in Afghanistan, transferred from cell phone to cell phone, and across Afghans’ Facebook pages. On the left, it shows a member of the Taliban captured in women’s clothes. The caption in Dari above reads “Karzai’s brother.”  On the right is an image of an Afghan soldier wounded in the leg defending the city. The caption above reads, “Our brother.”

I disagree with Max Boot that the attacks on Kabul are a sign of weakness (would the reverse logic, a lack of attacks on Kabul then be a sign of Taliban strength?), Boot is absolutely correct to highlight how well the Afghan security forces have availed themselves in defending the city and repulsing the attacks. Unfortunately, the Afghans are up against not only the Taliban, but also the Obama’s administration’s self-defeating timelines and an Afghan president who, believing American staying power to be a mirage, is actively becoming an impediment to victory rather than the hope for the future.

Read Less

Your Summer Reading List

April may be the cruelest month because it blooms with dreams of summer. Already the pleas for summer reading recommendations are filling up my inbox. The best novels of 2011 — Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot, William Giraldi’s Busy Monsters, Roland Merullo’s The Talk-Funny Girl, and Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia — are all being released in paperback this coming summer. But if you insist upon a new book, because the indolence of sunny days requires the toughening grip of literary obligation or something, here are some titles you might consider, starting next month and running through early September.

• M. H. Abrams, The Fourth Dimension of a Poem and Other Essays (Norton, September). One hundred years old in July, Abrams sees his ninth book of criticism into print — essays on Kant, Keats, Hazlitt, and reading poems aloud (their “fourth dimension”).

• Martin Amis, Lionel Asbo: State of England (Knopf, August). A bookish young man finds his natural inclinations thwarted by his uncle Lionel Asbo (self-named for Anti-Social Behaviour Orders), who is determined to teach him the joys of pit bulls, internet porn, and serious criminality.

• Kurt Andersen, True Believers (Random House, July). The author of Heyday, winner of the Langum Prize for the best historical novel of 2007, returns with a novel about contemporary politics, Supreme Court appointments, the Occupy Movement, and the secrets of ex-Sixties radicals.

• Gina Apostol, Gun Dealers’ Daughter (Norton, July). The first American publication by the award-winning Philippine novelist tells the story of a Manila girl, a Communist terrorist while in college, who keeps reliving her radical past now that she is a wealthy woman living in Manhattan.

• Dorothy Baker, Young Man with a Horn (NYRB Classics, August). Baker’s superb 1938 jazz novel based on the life of cornetist Bix Beiderbecke is being reprinted for the first time in three-and-a-half decades.

• Deni Y. Béchard, Cures for Hunger (Milkweed, May). Once his mother tells him that his father was a bankrobber, there is no stopping young Deni Béchard — he hitchhikes to Memphis, steals a motorcycle, beats up classmates, kisses girls. A memoir of growing up by the author of Vandal Love.

• Christopher R. Beha, What Happened to Sophie Wilder (Tin House, June). In his debut novel, the author of the charming memoir The Whole Five Feet: What the Great Books Taught Me About Life, Death, and Pretty Much Everthing Else tells the story of a young writer who is sucked into the mystery of an old flame, who resurfaces after ten years.

• Gordon Bowker, James Joyce: A New Biography (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, June). In the first new life of the Irish novelist in thirty years, the biographer of Malcolm Lowry and Lawrence Durrell draws upon newly discovered material to tell the story of Joyce’s “flight into exile.”

• Christopher Buckley, They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? (Twelve, May). In Buckley’s latest political satire, Washington lobbyist “Bird” McIntyre joins forces with a leggy blonde telegenic conservative named Ann Coulter — I mean, Angel Templeton — to turn American public opinion against the Chinese by spreading the rumor that they want to assassinate the Dalai Lama.

• Peter Carey, The Chemistry of Tears (Knopf, May). The Australian novelist, a perennial favorite for the Nobel Prize, tells the story of a 200-year-old automaton which is rediscovered and restored by an unmarried museum conservator who has been looking for love in all the wrong places.

• Stephen L. Carter, The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln (Knopf, July). The Yale law professor, better known for nonfiction books like Integrity and Civility, imagines an alternate history in which Lincoln is not assassinated but merely impeached for abuse of power during the Civil War.

• Lisa Cohen, All We Know: Three Lives (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, July). Three brief lives of three unusual and forgotten women — a dazzling New York intellectual who never finished the books she was contracted to write, an obscure friend to famous actresses and dancers who established her own identity in a collection of memorabilia, and the fashion editor of British Vogue who stood invisibly at the center of culture.

• Richard Ford, Canada (Ecco, May). Love him or hate him (I hated him), Frank Bascombe has been left behind. Ford’s narrative style is now more straightforward, and though leisurely, it is effective for telling the story of two children — twins, Air Force brats — whose parents are unprofessional bankrobbers.

• Joseph Frank, Responses to Modernity: Essays in the Politics of Culture (Fordham University Press, June). The great scholar of Dostoevsky collects essays on French and German writers — Valéry, Camus, Malraux, Ernst Juenger, Gottfried Benn — and problems in literary criticism.

• Michael Frayn, Skios (Metropolitan, June). The unique British novelist, who likes to write philosophical farces, is back with his 11th novel: Dr. Norman Wilfred, an eminent authority on the scientific organization of science, is held hostage on a private Greek resort island while his impersonator enthralls conference attendees there.

• Michael Gorra, Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece (Liveright, August). The critic and travel writer knits together biography, literary interpretation, and travelogue in reconstructing the fascinating background of The Portrait of a Lady, James’s first masterpiece.

• Kate Grenville, Sarah Thornhill (Grove, June). The Australian novelist rounds off the trilogy she began with the 2006 Commonwealth Prize-winning The Secret River, the saga of an ex-convict’s family whose wealth has been heaped up by expropriating Aboriginals. William Thornhill’s youngest daughter is on the road to marriage and contentment when the family secret is revealed.

• Frank Turner Hollon, Austin and Emily (MacAdam/Cage, June). Two star-crossed lovers, a 347-pound man and the woman he met at a Tampa strip club, set out for Los Angeles with a car full of cats to seek eternal bliss along the Hollywood Walk-of-Fame. A comic novel by a Southern writer better known for his legal thrillers.

• Joshua Henkin, The World Without You (Pantheon, June). An American Jewish family gathers at its summer home in the Berkshires to mourn the youngest of the four children, a journalist killed while on assignment in Iraq. Henkin excels at characterization, and he outdoes himself here in a novel that might have been called Six Characters in Search of Family Happiness.

• Danilo Kiš, Psalm 44 and The Lute and the Scars (Dalkey Archive, August). Two new translations by John K. Cox of the great Serbian novelist and story writer (died 1989). Psalm 44, written when Kiš was only 25, is his only novel about Auschwitz, where his father died. The Lute and the Scars was his last collection of stories, left in manuscript at his death and published posthumously. The Attic, his previously translated first novel, is being released at the same time by the indispensable Dalkey Archive.

• Don Lee, The Collective (Norton, July). Old college friends — a writer and an artist — band together to create the Asian American Artists Collective (the 3AC, as it is more familiarly known), although it does nothing to shield them from misery. The second novel by the director of the creative writing program at Temple University.

• Peter Levine, The Appearance of a Hero: The Tom Mahoney Stories (St. Martin’s, August). The titular hero of these connected stories is blurbed as a “21st-century Gatsby,” and who can resist that? As he enters the middle of his life, a good-looking and popular businessman realizes that something is missing, and begins to disappear from the lives of those who know him.

• Claire McMillan, Gilded Age (Simon & Schuster, June). It is hard to resist Elle magazine’s description of this first novel about a young divorcée who returns to upper class Cleveland society after a stint in rehab: “a beach read with a touch of literary pedigree.”

• Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies (Holt, May). Britain’s gifted historical novelist follows up Wolf Hall, her 2009 Booker Prize-winning novel about Thomas Cromwell, with a sequel on the fall of Anne Boleyn.

• Missy Marston, The Love Monster (Vehicule, September). Margaret H. Atwood has psoriasis, a boring job, a cheating ex-husband, and her pants don’t fit. When she meets a love-sick alien speaking in the voice of Donald Sutherland, she begins to hope again. A comic first novel by an irreverent Canadian.

• D. T. Max, Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace (Viking, September). In one of those coincidences which prove God loves literature, a staff writer for the New Yorker issues the first biography of the tormented master of postmodern metafiction the same year The Pale King, the novel Wallace left unfinished when he hanged himself in 2008, was snubbed by the Pulitzer Prize. A life as involving and grueling as the fiction.

• Daniel Mendelsohn, Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays on the Classics and Pop Culture (New York Review Books, August). Honored by the National Book Critics Circle for his reviewing, Mendelsohn is perhaps best known for The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million. In his latest collection of essays, his interests range from pop culture (Avatar, Mad Men) to bestsellers and phony memoirs.

• Toni Morrison, Home (Knopf, May). The Nobel winner’s fourth novel since taking home the Prize: a Korean War veteran, at loose ends in Seattle, returns home to Georgia to rescue his sister, the victim of a sinister white doctor who has been performing medical experiments upon her.

• Reynolds Price, Midstream: An Unfinished Memoir (Scribner, May). The Southern novelist, who passed away in January 2011 at the age of 77, left this memoir unfinished at his death. It covers the last few years of his aimless twenties as he was suspended between unpublished youth and literary adulthood, upon which he ventured with the publication of his first novel, A Long and Happy Life, in 1962.

• Sarah Terez Rosenblum, Herself When She’s Missing (Soft Skull, June). In the spirit if not the style of A Visit from the Goon Squad and Stone Arabia, first novelist Sarah Terez Rosenblum narrates the cross-country love story of two rock groupies. Told in lists, 3 x 5 cards, and even a screenplay, the book is a postmodern lesbian romance.

• Richard Russo, Interventions (Down East, June). Designed as a tribute to the printed book in an age of electronic texts, Russo offers the title novella and three other stories in a unique format — four individually bound volumes gathered in a slipcase and accompanied by four full-color prints of paintings by Kate Russo, the writer’s daughter. (Russo’s memoir Elsewhere will be published by Knopf in November.)

• Francesca Segal, The Innocents (Voice, June). A “reboot of Wharton’s The Age of Innocence in a London Jewish enclave.” — Mark Athitakis. The Ellen Olenska character, named Ellie Schneider here, brings uncompromising American independence back home to London after several years in New York. Can’t wait for this one.

• Colm Tóibín, New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families (Scribner, June). The author of The Master examines how writers’ unhappy family relationships — Jane Austen and her aunts, Tennessee Williams and his mentally ill sister, W. B. Yeats and his father, Thomas Mann and his children, John Cheever and everyone he ever lived with — work their way into fiction.

• Pauls Toutonghi, Evel Knievel Days (Crown, July). The second novel of immigration by the author of Red Weather is about a half-Egyptian boy growing up in Butte, Montana — the scene of another great immigrant novel — and dreaming of daredevil stunts.

• Mario Vargas Llosa, The Dream of the Celt (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, June). In his first novel since winning the Nobel Prize, the Peruvian novelist tells the story of Roger Casement, the Irish revolutionary and diplomat who campaigned against slave labor in Africa and South America.

• Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins (Harper, June). Not quite two months before its scheduled publication date, and already the latest from the author of The Zero, a celebrated 9/11 novel, has 28 mostly enthusiastic customer reviews at Amazon.com. What began as flirtation on the Italian coast in 1962 flowers into a love affair fifty years later in Hollywood.

Read up, because new novels from Tom Wolfe, Louise Erdrich, A. M. Homes, Mark Helprin, and Michael Chabon are coming in the fall.

April may be the cruelest month because it blooms with dreams of summer. Already the pleas for summer reading recommendations are filling up my inbox. The best novels of 2011 — Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot, William Giraldi’s Busy Monsters, Roland Merullo’s The Talk-Funny Girl, and Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia — are all being released in paperback this coming summer. But if you insist upon a new book, because the indolence of sunny days requires the toughening grip of literary obligation or something, here are some titles you might consider, starting next month and running through early September.

• M. H. Abrams, The Fourth Dimension of a Poem and Other Essays (Norton, September). One hundred years old in July, Abrams sees his ninth book of criticism into print — essays on Kant, Keats, Hazlitt, and reading poems aloud (their “fourth dimension”).

• Martin Amis, Lionel Asbo: State of England (Knopf, August). A bookish young man finds his natural inclinations thwarted by his uncle Lionel Asbo (self-named for Anti-Social Behaviour Orders), who is determined to teach him the joys of pit bulls, internet porn, and serious criminality.

• Kurt Andersen, True Believers (Random House, July). The author of Heyday, winner of the Langum Prize for the best historical novel of 2007, returns with a novel about contemporary politics, Supreme Court appointments, the Occupy Movement, and the secrets of ex-Sixties radicals.

• Gina Apostol, Gun Dealers’ Daughter (Norton, July). The first American publication by the award-winning Philippine novelist tells the story of a Manila girl, a Communist terrorist while in college, who keeps reliving her radical past now that she is a wealthy woman living in Manhattan.

• Dorothy Baker, Young Man with a Horn (NYRB Classics, August). Baker’s superb 1938 jazz novel based on the life of cornetist Bix Beiderbecke is being reprinted for the first time in three-and-a-half decades.

• Deni Y. Béchard, Cures for Hunger (Milkweed, May). Once his mother tells him that his father was a bankrobber, there is no stopping young Deni Béchard — he hitchhikes to Memphis, steals a motorcycle, beats up classmates, kisses girls. A memoir of growing up by the author of Vandal Love.

• Christopher R. Beha, What Happened to Sophie Wilder (Tin House, June). In his debut novel, the author of the charming memoir The Whole Five Feet: What the Great Books Taught Me About Life, Death, and Pretty Much Everthing Else tells the story of a young writer who is sucked into the mystery of an old flame, who resurfaces after ten years.

• Gordon Bowker, James Joyce: A New Biography (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, June). In the first new life of the Irish novelist in thirty years, the biographer of Malcolm Lowry and Lawrence Durrell draws upon newly discovered material to tell the story of Joyce’s “flight into exile.”

• Christopher Buckley, They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? (Twelve, May). In Buckley’s latest political satire, Washington lobbyist “Bird” McIntyre joins forces with a leggy blonde telegenic conservative named Ann Coulter — I mean, Angel Templeton — to turn American public opinion against the Chinese by spreading the rumor that they want to assassinate the Dalai Lama.

• Peter Carey, The Chemistry of Tears (Knopf, May). The Australian novelist, a perennial favorite for the Nobel Prize, tells the story of a 200-year-old automaton which is rediscovered and restored by an unmarried museum conservator who has been looking for love in all the wrong places.

• Stephen L. Carter, The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln (Knopf, July). The Yale law professor, better known for nonfiction books like Integrity and Civility, imagines an alternate history in which Lincoln is not assassinated but merely impeached for abuse of power during the Civil War.

• Lisa Cohen, All We Know: Three Lives (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, July). Three brief lives of three unusual and forgotten women — a dazzling New York intellectual who never finished the books she was contracted to write, an obscure friend to famous actresses and dancers who established her own identity in a collection of memorabilia, and the fashion editor of British Vogue who stood invisibly at the center of culture.

• Richard Ford, Canada (Ecco, May). Love him or hate him (I hated him), Frank Bascombe has been left behind. Ford’s narrative style is now more straightforward, and though leisurely, it is effective for telling the story of two children — twins, Air Force brats — whose parents are unprofessional bankrobbers.

• Joseph Frank, Responses to Modernity: Essays in the Politics of Culture (Fordham University Press, June). The great scholar of Dostoevsky collects essays on French and German writers — Valéry, Camus, Malraux, Ernst Juenger, Gottfried Benn — and problems in literary criticism.

• Michael Frayn, Skios (Metropolitan, June). The unique British novelist, who likes to write philosophical farces, is back with his 11th novel: Dr. Norman Wilfred, an eminent authority on the scientific organization of science, is held hostage on a private Greek resort island while his impersonator enthralls conference attendees there.

• Michael Gorra, Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece (Liveright, August). The critic and travel writer knits together biography, literary interpretation, and travelogue in reconstructing the fascinating background of The Portrait of a Lady, James’s first masterpiece.

• Kate Grenville, Sarah Thornhill (Grove, June). The Australian novelist rounds off the trilogy she began with the 2006 Commonwealth Prize-winning The Secret River, the saga of an ex-convict’s family whose wealth has been heaped up by expropriating Aboriginals. William Thornhill’s youngest daughter is on the road to marriage and contentment when the family secret is revealed.

• Frank Turner Hollon, Austin and Emily (MacAdam/Cage, June). Two star-crossed lovers, a 347-pound man and the woman he met at a Tampa strip club, set out for Los Angeles with a car full of cats to seek eternal bliss along the Hollywood Walk-of-Fame. A comic novel by a Southern writer better known for his legal thrillers.

• Joshua Henkin, The World Without You (Pantheon, June). An American Jewish family gathers at its summer home in the Berkshires to mourn the youngest of the four children, a journalist killed while on assignment in Iraq. Henkin excels at characterization, and he outdoes himself here in a novel that might have been called Six Characters in Search of Family Happiness.

• Danilo Kiš, Psalm 44 and The Lute and the Scars (Dalkey Archive, August). Two new translations by John K. Cox of the great Serbian novelist and story writer (died 1989). Psalm 44, written when Kiš was only 25, is his only novel about Auschwitz, where his father died. The Lute and the Scars was his last collection of stories, left in manuscript at his death and published posthumously. The Attic, his previously translated first novel, is being released at the same time by the indispensable Dalkey Archive.

• Don Lee, The Collective (Norton, July). Old college friends — a writer and an artist — band together to create the Asian American Artists Collective (the 3AC, as it is more familiarly known), although it does nothing to shield them from misery. The second novel by the director of the creative writing program at Temple University.

• Peter Levine, The Appearance of a Hero: The Tom Mahoney Stories (St. Martin’s, August). The titular hero of these connected stories is blurbed as a “21st-century Gatsby,” and who can resist that? As he enters the middle of his life, a good-looking and popular businessman realizes that something is missing, and begins to disappear from the lives of those who know him.

• Claire McMillan, Gilded Age (Simon & Schuster, June). It is hard to resist Elle magazine’s description of this first novel about a young divorcée who returns to upper class Cleveland society after a stint in rehab: “a beach read with a touch of literary pedigree.”

• Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies (Holt, May). Britain’s gifted historical novelist follows up Wolf Hall, her 2009 Booker Prize-winning novel about Thomas Cromwell, with a sequel on the fall of Anne Boleyn.

• Missy Marston, The Love Monster (Vehicule, September). Margaret H. Atwood has psoriasis, a boring job, a cheating ex-husband, and her pants don’t fit. When she meets a love-sick alien speaking in the voice of Donald Sutherland, she begins to hope again. A comic first novel by an irreverent Canadian.

• D. T. Max, Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace (Viking, September). In one of those coincidences which prove God loves literature, a staff writer for the New Yorker issues the first biography of the tormented master of postmodern metafiction the same year The Pale King, the novel Wallace left unfinished when he hanged himself in 2008, was snubbed by the Pulitzer Prize. A life as involving and grueling as the fiction.

• Daniel Mendelsohn, Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays on the Classics and Pop Culture (New York Review Books, August). Honored by the National Book Critics Circle for his reviewing, Mendelsohn is perhaps best known for The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million. In his latest collection of essays, his interests range from pop culture (Avatar, Mad Men) to bestsellers and phony memoirs.

• Toni Morrison, Home (Knopf, May). The Nobel winner’s fourth novel since taking home the Prize: a Korean War veteran, at loose ends in Seattle, returns home to Georgia to rescue his sister, the victim of a sinister white doctor who has been performing medical experiments upon her.

• Reynolds Price, Midstream: An Unfinished Memoir (Scribner, May). The Southern novelist, who passed away in January 2011 at the age of 77, left this memoir unfinished at his death. It covers the last few years of his aimless twenties as he was suspended between unpublished youth and literary adulthood, upon which he ventured with the publication of his first novel, A Long and Happy Life, in 1962.

• Sarah Terez Rosenblum, Herself When She’s Missing (Soft Skull, June). In the spirit if not the style of A Visit from the Goon Squad and Stone Arabia, first novelist Sarah Terez Rosenblum narrates the cross-country love story of two rock groupies. Told in lists, 3 x 5 cards, and even a screenplay, the book is a postmodern lesbian romance.

• Richard Russo, Interventions (Down East, June). Designed as a tribute to the printed book in an age of electronic texts, Russo offers the title novella and three other stories in a unique format — four individually bound volumes gathered in a slipcase and accompanied by four full-color prints of paintings by Kate Russo, the writer’s daughter. (Russo’s memoir Elsewhere will be published by Knopf in November.)

• Francesca Segal, The Innocents (Voice, June). A “reboot of Wharton’s The Age of Innocence in a London Jewish enclave.” — Mark Athitakis. The Ellen Olenska character, named Ellie Schneider here, brings uncompromising American independence back home to London after several years in New York. Can’t wait for this one.

• Colm Tóibín, New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families (Scribner, June). The author of The Master examines how writers’ unhappy family relationships — Jane Austen and her aunts, Tennessee Williams and his mentally ill sister, W. B. Yeats and his father, Thomas Mann and his children, John Cheever and everyone he ever lived with — work their way into fiction.

• Pauls Toutonghi, Evel Knievel Days (Crown, July). The second novel of immigration by the author of Red Weather is about a half-Egyptian boy growing up in Butte, Montana — the scene of another great immigrant novel — and dreaming of daredevil stunts.

• Mario Vargas Llosa, The Dream of the Celt (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, June). In his first novel since winning the Nobel Prize, the Peruvian novelist tells the story of Roger Casement, the Irish revolutionary and diplomat who campaigned against slave labor in Africa and South America.

• Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins (Harper, June). Not quite two months before its scheduled publication date, and already the latest from the author of The Zero, a celebrated 9/11 novel, has 28 mostly enthusiastic customer reviews at Amazon.com. What began as flirtation on the Italian coast in 1962 flowers into a love affair fifty years later in Hollywood.

Read up, because new novels from Tom Wolfe, Louise Erdrich, A. M. Homes, Mark Helprin, and Michael Chabon are coming in the fall.

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.