Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 7, 2012

Tax Hikers Undaunted by California Defeat

In what must be seen as the last piece of bad news for liberals from Tuesday’s election results, California Governor Jerry Brown conceded late yesterday that his attempt to impose an extra $1 tax on cigarettes was turned down by the state’s voters by a narrow margin. But Brown is undaunted by the 51-49 percent defeat for the special tax. He is still planning to put even more wide-ranging tax increases on the ballot in November in an effort to force the most populous state’s citizens to dig deeper to fund the government’s growing deficit. Brown plans to force a vote on sales tax increases as well as imposing higher rates on the wealthy to get closer to balancing a state budget that is projected to be $15.7 billion in the red. He seems sure it will pass.

But given the way taxpayers balked at a hike in taxes on the despised minority that smoke as well as the way voters endorsed referenda in San Diego and ultra-liberal San Jose that cut back on municipal employee pensions, Brown’s confidence may be misplaced. The idea that voters can be blackmailed into approving confiscatory taxes in order to fund the government leviathan may be outdated. That’s something that liberal tax and spend politicians need to take into account. If even deep blue California has realized it’s time to put the brakes on the politicians’ gravy train, there should be no surprise that states like Wisconsin — where the public employee unions and their Democratic allies were prevented from throwing out Gov. Scott Walker — are embracing conservative ideas.

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In what must be seen as the last piece of bad news for liberals from Tuesday’s election results, California Governor Jerry Brown conceded late yesterday that his attempt to impose an extra $1 tax on cigarettes was turned down by the state’s voters by a narrow margin. But Brown is undaunted by the 51-49 percent defeat for the special tax. He is still planning to put even more wide-ranging tax increases on the ballot in November in an effort to force the most populous state’s citizens to dig deeper to fund the government’s growing deficit. Brown plans to force a vote on sales tax increases as well as imposing higher rates on the wealthy to get closer to balancing a state budget that is projected to be $15.7 billion in the red. He seems sure it will pass.

But given the way taxpayers balked at a hike in taxes on the despised minority that smoke as well as the way voters endorsed referenda in San Diego and ultra-liberal San Jose that cut back on municipal employee pensions, Brown’s confidence may be misplaced. The idea that voters can be blackmailed into approving confiscatory taxes in order to fund the government leviathan may be outdated. That’s something that liberal tax and spend politicians need to take into account. If even deep blue California has realized it’s time to put the brakes on the politicians’ gravy train, there should be no surprise that states like Wisconsin — where the public employee unions and their Democratic allies were prevented from throwing out Gov. Scott Walker — are embracing conservative ideas.

Advocates of the cigarette tax hike were shocked by its defeat. Its authors framed the question in such a way as to make it as much a referendum on increasing medical research as making it more expensive to buy smokes. But even that altruistic-sounding premise (backed by the endorsement of people like cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong) couldn’t outweigh the general disgust of the public with government pocketing more of the people’s money. Liberals sounded their usual sour grapes about being outspent–this time by the tobacco companies–but it could also be that cynicism about whether the taxes would really go to research may have contributed as well as revolt by some usual Democratic constituencies. After all, minorities and the poor are more likely to smoke than the affluent, making cigarette taxes among the most regressive in the government’s arsenal of levies.

There is also the possibility that even Californians are getting sick of the way the nanny state that Brown supports is not just legislating morality but attempting to impose new restrictions on individual liberty. Smoking is unpopular and rightly so as it is a noxious habit that contributes to the deaths of those who smoke as well as annoying those in the vicinity of the smoker. But the increasing resistance to using the tax code to discourage certain types of behavior and encourage others is becoming a significant force in American politics. Citizens are sick and tired of the tyranny of the taxman and the way government officials take it for granted that there is no limit on their ability to put their hands in the pockets of the taxpayers.

This week’s defeat for higher taxes in California as well as support for restrictions on union power there and elsewhere is a wake-up call for politicians to realize that the ideas of Scott Walker and not those of Jerry Brown are the wave of the future.

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Defining a “Very Slight Favorite”

Today, on his New York Times blog, Nate Silver published the first of what will be a regular series of updates on the forecast for the November election. Silver makes no secret of his liberal leanings, but his statistical work (forged in his beginnings as an outstanding baseball analyst) is straightforward and generally reliable. In his first 2012 presidential forecast, he establishes President Obama as a “very slight favorite” as of the moment. That means he gives the president roughly a 60 percent chance to win re-election but, as he notes, his current estimate of 290 electoral votes for Obama is flexible with “outcomes ranging everywhere from about 160 to 390 electoral votes are plausible, given the long lead time until the election and the amount of news that could occur between now and then.” That sounds about right as does the criteria by which he seeks to judge trends via an economic index that will decline in importance, as we get closer to election day and an average of polls taken.

The problem, as Silver notes, is that national polls have trended toward Mitt Romney while state polls tend to favor the president, which has given the incumbent something of an intrinsic edge in Electoral College projections. That edge may be offset if current negative economic trends continue and Obama’s numbers decline everywhere. But it also points out that the wisest course for both candidates, but especially Romney, is to concentrate his resources in the key swing states of Virginia, Ohio and Colorado. Those three are the states where the probability of an Obama victory is the most narrow and may therefore decide the outcome. But while Silver’s detailed breakdown of the numbers is well worth readers’ efforts, the problem with this and any forecast is that trends have a logic all their own. If the public perceives that the economy is failing, then the president’s slight edge can be thrown out the window.

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Today, on his New York Times blog, Nate Silver published the first of what will be a regular series of updates on the forecast for the November election. Silver makes no secret of his liberal leanings, but his statistical work (forged in his beginnings as an outstanding baseball analyst) is straightforward and generally reliable. In his first 2012 presidential forecast, he establishes President Obama as a “very slight favorite” as of the moment. That means he gives the president roughly a 60 percent chance to win re-election but, as he notes, his current estimate of 290 electoral votes for Obama is flexible with “outcomes ranging everywhere from about 160 to 390 electoral votes are plausible, given the long lead time until the election and the amount of news that could occur between now and then.” That sounds about right as does the criteria by which he seeks to judge trends via an economic index that will decline in importance, as we get closer to election day and an average of polls taken.

The problem, as Silver notes, is that national polls have trended toward Mitt Romney while state polls tend to favor the president, which has given the incumbent something of an intrinsic edge in Electoral College projections. That edge may be offset if current negative economic trends continue and Obama’s numbers decline everywhere. But it also points out that the wisest course for both candidates, but especially Romney, is to concentrate his resources in the key swing states of Virginia, Ohio and Colorado. Those three are the states where the probability of an Obama victory is the most narrow and may therefore decide the outcome. But while Silver’s detailed breakdown of the numbers is well worth readers’ efforts, the problem with this and any forecast is that trends have a logic all their own. If the public perceives that the economy is failing, then the president’s slight edge can be thrown out the window.

Distinguishing between short-term advantages (the “nowcast” as Silver puts it) and long-range trends, including how states have voted in the past, is vital to employing a coherent model. That means that although Democrats can certainly take some solace in their current small advantage, they need to be very worried about whether the arc of this election cycle is running against them. Romney has been gradually gaining strength, and if the economy doesn’t recover, he may be in a far stronger position at the end of the summer than he is today.

As he should, Silver sticks to the numbers, but there is more in play here than just polls and economic statistics. The president has the advantage of incumbency and the mainstream media’s liberal bias. Romney has more of the public’s confidence on the economy and that may play out as the factor that may be the difference in those tipping point states like Ohio and Virginia. So while it is certainly better to be the “very slight favorite” on June 7 than to be behind, as the last week’s terrible economic numbers and the Democrats’ Wisconsin disaster proved, the tide may be starting to turn against the president.

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Ask Obama About “Green Jobs”

What exactly is a “green job”? At a hearing yesterday, House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa tried to get to the bottom of it. And it turns out the definition is so broad that you might have one of these “green jobs” and not even realize it:

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What exactly is a “green job”? At a hearing yesterday, House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa tried to get to the bottom of it. And it turns out the definition is so broad that you might have one of these “green jobs” and not even realize it:

An antiques dealer. A clerk at a used record shop. An oil lobbyist who advocates on environmental issues. Any school bus driver.

Here is the Bureau of Labor Statistics definition of a green job, via Fox News:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states a green job is either: a business that produces goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources, or a job in which a worker’s duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.

The bureau states on its website it developed the definition of green jobs for use in data collection in two planned surveys.

Certainly such an expansive definition doesn’t help actual efforts to measure green job creation, and to understand which policies work and which don’t. But it does help provide President Obama with a tiny shred of political cover when he’s forced to explain what his $90 billion stimulus earmark for green energy efforts has actually accomplished. At least, it did before Rep. Issa started asking questions.

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Blue State Michigan Shifting to Romney?

Late last month, Public Policy Polling found President Obama with a strong 53-39 advantage against Mitt Romney in Michigan, which has been considered a fairly safe state for Democrats this election. But a new poll released today by EPIC-MRA shows the two candidates in a dead-heat, the Detroit Free Press reports (via HotAir):

The poll, released this morning to the Free Press and four TV stations, shows Romney leading Obama 46%-45%, a reversal from the last EPIC poll in April which showed Obama ahead 47%-43%.

Obama’s personal and job approval numbers also have slipped, with 46% of Michiganders saying they have a favorable opinion of the president, and 41% approving of the job he’s doing.

What changed?

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Late last month, Public Policy Polling found President Obama with a strong 53-39 advantage against Mitt Romney in Michigan, which has been considered a fairly safe state for Democrats this election. But a new poll released today by EPIC-MRA shows the two candidates in a dead-heat, the Detroit Free Press reports (via HotAir):

The poll, released this morning to the Free Press and four TV stations, shows Romney leading Obama 46%-45%, a reversal from the last EPIC poll in April which showed Obama ahead 47%-43%.

Obama’s personal and job approval numbers also have slipped, with 46% of Michiganders saying they have a favorable opinion of the president, and 41% approving of the job he’s doing.

What changed?

The Free Press suggests that a flood of pro-Romney super PAC ads may be a culprit, but it’s likely the latest jobs numbers and poor economic news have also had an influence. Another 34 percent of respondents said that Obama’s position on gay marriage made them less likely to vote for him, but some of these may have been people who were not planning to vote for him in the first place.

Also note that the EPIC-MRA poll was conducted among likely voters, while the PPP poll was with registered voters, which may account for some of the discrepancy between the two. Even if that’s the case, there is still a large gulf, and it’s hard to know whether the EPIC-MRA numbers are the sign of a trend or an outlier until additional polls are released.

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Film Review: “U.N. Me” — Everything the Left Doesn’t Want to Know About the UN

Those who view his films as compendiums of distorted propaganda may rightly despise Michael Moore, but there’s no denying that his work re-popularized the documentary as an independent art form while effectively promoting his views. Moore and others who followed in his footsteps, such as Morgan Spurlock, whose “Super Size Me” lambasted the fast food industry, created a popular template in which the filmmaker’s personal narrative, interspersed with humor and relentless attempts to expose and thereby belittle the objects of their scorn, set the standard for the genre. But the question for viewers of a newly released film that was created in the spirit of “Roger and Me, ” “Bowling for Columbine” or “Super Size Me” is whether there is an audience for this sort of work if the subject matter is not one that liberals and leftists love to hate.

In “U.N. Me,” Ami Horowitz and Matthew Grof have done just that. Horowitz, the on-screen personality and narrator, takes his audience on an international tour intended to show that the United Nations is a corrupt talking shop that has made a mockery of the ideals that it was created to promote. As “U.N. Me” makes clear, the world body has criminal peacekeepers who fail to protect the innocent, purposely-blind nuclear inspectors, thieves in charge of food programs, and has a Human Rights Council that is a forum for tyrants and murderers.

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Those who view his films as compendiums of distorted propaganda may rightly despise Michael Moore, but there’s no denying that his work re-popularized the documentary as an independent art form while effectively promoting his views. Moore and others who followed in his footsteps, such as Morgan Spurlock, whose “Super Size Me” lambasted the fast food industry, created a popular template in which the filmmaker’s personal narrative, interspersed with humor and relentless attempts to expose and thereby belittle the objects of their scorn, set the standard for the genre. But the question for viewers of a newly released film that was created in the spirit of “Roger and Me, ” “Bowling for Columbine” or “Super Size Me” is whether there is an audience for this sort of work if the subject matter is not one that liberals and leftists love to hate.

In “U.N. Me,” Ami Horowitz and Matthew Grof have done just that. Horowitz, the on-screen personality and narrator, takes his audience on an international tour intended to show that the United Nations is a corrupt talking shop that has made a mockery of the ideals that it was created to promote. As “U.N. Me” makes clear, the world body has criminal peacekeepers who fail to protect the innocent, purposely-blind nuclear inspectors, thieves in charge of food programs, and has a Human Rights Council that is a forum for tyrants and murderers.

This may be familiar territory for readers of COMMENTARY, but if the intended audience is the crowd who enjoys the politically skewed humor of Moore and Spurlock’s movies, a great many eyes will be opened. Judging their effort by the standard set by those two, “U.N. Me” must be considered a resounding success. The film combines a low-key sense of righteous indignation at the outrageous behavior it uncovers with humor and paints its subjects as hypocrites and scoundrels. Yet even as we laugh along with Horowitz’s disingenuous attempts to get UN officials to tell the truth about what they are doing, one can’t help but wonder if this is a story most lovers of indie documentaries want to hear, because its point is to debunk an institution deeply loved by liberals and President Obama.

To get past the prejudices of filmgoers predisposed to dismiss criticism of the U.N., Horowitz concentrates his fire on the causes that most appeal to liberal sensibilities, such as the genocide in Darfur. That means the number one object of U.N. perfidy — the state of Israel — is conspicuous by its absence in the film. Though so much of what is wrong about the U.N. is illustrated by the widespread anti-Semitism given a hearing in its halls and the double standard by which the democratic State of Israel is subjected to most of the resolutions adopted by the institution, the Jewish state is mentioned only in passing throughout “U.N. Me.” Though this may disappoint some viewers, it’s not a mistake. While it eliminates many of the most egregious instances of U.N. misbehavior, the tactic also allows Horowitz to make his point about its failures without miring his narrative in the rhetorical battlefield of the Middle East conflict.

But even without a discussion of the U.N.’s unfair obsession with Israel, there is more than enough scandalous material to fill several hours, let alone the 90 minutes of “U.N. Me.”

In the Ivory Coast, Horowitz delves into the scandal of “peacekeepers gone wild” where the “blue helmets” are not only pleasure-seeking thieves who don’t protect the people of that war-torn nation but have themselves committed massacres.

The direct failure of the U.N. to do anything to stop the genocide in Rwanda though it had the forces on the spot and the intelligence to do so is a heartbreaking story, and here, Horowitz goes easy on the humor. But he makes up for that with his exploration of the U.N.’s failures to deal with genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan during which a Sudanese diplomat asserts that “climate change” is the reason so many were massacred by his government, prompting Horowitz to suggest that more Priuses is the answer to the problem.

The film also goes into great depth to describe the way ordinary corruption is part of business as usual at the U.N.. The “oil for food” scandal in which Saddam Hussein skimmed more than $10 billion from the world body in exchange for millions in bribes to U.N. officials is a central part of the story. At its core is the role of former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, demonstrating that this scheme was ordinary practice and not an exception.

And though the documentary doesn’t go into the bizarre way the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) has helped perpetuate the plight of the Palestinians (the U.N. has one agency for all other refugees and one devoted to the Palestinians), it is shown as employing terrorists in Gaza and allowing their ambulances to be used as getaway vehicles.

The film, which was first shown at film festivals in 2009 but only gained a general release on June 1 of this year, suffers in one respect from the delay. During the past three years, one of the U.N. agencies that Horowitz spoofs has changed for the better. Though the International Atomic Energy Agency was rightly seen as a body that was determined to “see no evil” when inspecting Iran under its previous leader, the Egyptian diplomat Mohamad El Baradei, his successor Yukio Amano has altered its course. Whereas in the past, the IAEA aided proliferation, these days, it is a thorn in the side of the Iranians and its release of incriminating evidence about their work on military applications of nuclear power have prodded the West to step up sanctions.

It may be that what Amano did with the IAEA shows the failure of the “new” U.N. Human Rights Council and other agencies need not have happened. With the right sort of leadership and an application of the principles of the original U.N. Charter, it is theoretically possible that all of the abuses and scandals Horowitz discusses in “U.N. Me” can be corrected. Yet given the deep-seated nature of the problems that are put on display here it could be that the reform of the IAEA is the exception that proves the rule. An institution where accountability is almost always absent, where Third World politics dictates that horrible crimes must be excused if not rationalized or sanitized may be beyond redemption. As journalist Claudia Rosett notes in the film, “avoiding the truth is in the DNA of this organization.”

In one of the concluding scenes, Horowitz escalates his reportorial hijinks. Not content with interviews with Iranians, Syrians and Sudanese who expose their contempt for human rights, the narrator jumps up on the stage of the U.N. hall in Geneva and attempts to address the delegates about their hypocrisy. While this can be dismissed as nothing more than a silly stunt, the fact that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Holocaust-denying president of Iran had opened the conference on human rights that Horowitz crashed makes it all too clear that the line between satire and truth has long since been erased at the U.N.

Horowitz and Groff have produced a documentary that may at times be a little too jocose for its serious subject matter, but is nevertheless always watchable and infused with genuine wit. It remains to be seen whether their praiseworthy effort to tell this important story will get the exposure it deserves, but anyone who takes the time to watch “U.N. Me” cannot help but walk away sharing the filmmaker’s frustration and disgust with the U.N.

“U.N. Me” is available in select theaters around the country as well as via on demand cable services and iTunes.

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The Wrong People Are Doing the Right Thing

Mark Steyn, writing in COMMENTARY last November, pulled out a great quote:

In 1975, Milton Friedman said this: “I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or if they try, they will shortly be out of office.”

Perhaps that climate is upon us. Who, in political terms, is more “wrong” than the progressive whistlers inhabiting the fiscal graveyard known as California? Yet, on Tuesday, Chuck Reed, the Democratic mayor of liberal San Jose won nearly 70 percent support for a ballet initiative that will deal huge cuts to the bloated pensions of city workers. Currently, retirement costs eat up more than 20 percent of San Jose’s general fund. None other than a Democratic mayor, backed by a clear majority, intends to slam on the brakes. Tea Party not needed.

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Mark Steyn, writing in COMMENTARY last November, pulled out a great quote:

In 1975, Milton Friedman said this: “I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or if they try, they will shortly be out of office.”

Perhaps that climate is upon us. Who, in political terms, is more “wrong” than the progressive whistlers inhabiting the fiscal graveyard known as California? Yet, on Tuesday, Chuck Reed, the Democratic mayor of liberal San Jose won nearly 70 percent support for a ballet initiative that will deal huge cuts to the bloated pensions of city workers. Currently, retirement costs eat up more than 20 percent of San Jose’s general fund. None other than a Democratic mayor, backed by a clear majority, intends to slam on the brakes. Tea Party not needed.

On national security, we see similarly encouraging signs. Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein and John Kerry were among others who called for an investigation into recent Obama administration leaks about American cyberwarfare action against Iran. “Whoever is doing that is not acting in the interest of the United States of America,” said Kerry, using the kind of black-and-white tough talk he used to accuse the Bush administration of using to divisive effect.

And of course a slew of Democrats, from Feinstein to Deval Patrick to Bill Clinton, called foul on Barack Obama’s anti-private-equity reelection strategy.

The beautiful thing about living in a democracy with protected speech is that politicians aren’t solely in charge of framing the terms of debate—citizens set the political climate. In what has already passed of the Obama years, the temperature has been raised enough to make liberals sweat. Today a trickle. Tomorrow who knows? As Friedman saw it, that’s ultimately a greater conservative victory than what may transpire in November.

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Romney Outraised Obama in May

The day started out with what initially seemed like good news for the Obama campaign. It had beat its April fundraising haul, a mediocre $43 million, by bringing in $60 million in May:

President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies together hauled in more than $60 million for his re-election campaign in May, a large jump as he struggles to maintain a fundraising edge against Republican challenger Mitt Romney. …

It was also a dose of good news for Obama after a Republican victory in the closely watched Wisconsin governor recall election raised warning flags over Democratic fundraising and campaign organizing that could pose problems for the president in the November 6 general election.

After a string of flops for Obama — the failed Bain attacks, the dismal jobs numbers, and the Wisconsin loss — this finally seemed like a chance for some positive publicity. At least until the Romney campaign blasted out this email on its own May fundraising numbers:

Today, Romney for President, Romney Victory, and the Republican National Committee announced fundraising totals of over $76.8 million in May. The campaign and RNC have $107 million cash on hand.

Announcing the numbers, Romney Victory National Finance Chairman Spencer Zwick said, “We are encouraged by the financial support from a broad range of voters. To them, whether they are Republican, Democrat, Independent, a first time political donor, or a former Obama donor, this is not just a campaign; it’s an opportunity for the country. It is clear that people aren’t willing to buy into ‘hope & change’ again. Voters are making an investment because they believe that it will benefit the country.”

The biggest surprise is that Romney beat Obama’s May fundraising numbers by $17 million — and nearly doubled his $40 million April total.

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The day started out with what initially seemed like good news for the Obama campaign. It had beat its April fundraising haul, a mediocre $43 million, by bringing in $60 million in May:

President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies together hauled in more than $60 million for his re-election campaign in May, a large jump as he struggles to maintain a fundraising edge against Republican challenger Mitt Romney. …

It was also a dose of good news for Obama after a Republican victory in the closely watched Wisconsin governor recall election raised warning flags over Democratic fundraising and campaign organizing that could pose problems for the president in the November 6 general election.

After a string of flops for Obama — the failed Bain attacks, the dismal jobs numbers, and the Wisconsin loss — this finally seemed like a chance for some positive publicity. At least until the Romney campaign blasted out this email on its own May fundraising numbers:

Today, Romney for President, Romney Victory, and the Republican National Committee announced fundraising totals of over $76.8 million in May. The campaign and RNC have $107 million cash on hand.

Announcing the numbers, Romney Victory National Finance Chairman Spencer Zwick said, “We are encouraged by the financial support from a broad range of voters. To them, whether they are Republican, Democrat, Independent, a first time political donor, or a former Obama donor, this is not just a campaign; it’s an opportunity for the country. It is clear that people aren’t willing to buy into ‘hope & change’ again. Voters are making an investment because they believe that it will benefit the country.”

The biggest surprise is that Romney beat Obama’s May fundraising numbers by $17 million — and nearly doubled his $40 million April total.

That $107 million cash on hand is big news, too. The Obama and the DNC haven’t released their cash-on-hand numbers yet, but at the end of April it was $144 million, and their spending has been high lately. Romney seems to be quickly closing the gap.

Romney’s campaign has also released these details about his fundraising haul:

FAST FACTS About Romney For President, Romney Victory, and RNC Fundraising:

·         Over $76.8 Million Raised In May

·         93% Of All Donations Received In May Were $250 Or Less

·         $12 Million Raised By Donations Under $250 In May

·         297,442 Donations Received Under $250 In May

·         $107 Million Cash On Hand

·         Contributions Received From All 50 States And Washington, D.C.

The Obama campaign, which likes to tout its large number of small-money donors, reported that 98 percent of its donations were $250 or less. That’s still a higher percentage than Romney, but not by much. Democrats may be grumbling about political spending by super PACs and outside groups this week, but it looks like they already have serious competition from Romney and the RNC in terms of campaign fundraising as well.

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Why Doesn’t the Media Get Israeli Politics?

Lee Smith has an interesting take on one aspect of the administration’s calculated cyberleaks, produced obediently by the New York Times, detailing the cooperation between the U.S. and Israel in conducting cyberwarfare against the Iranian nuclear program. It’s true, Smith writes, that in one sense these articles are meant to make Obama seem tough, but they are also to pass the buck if and when things go wrong. Smith writes:

The nature of the story is given away in a quote from Vice President Joe Biden, exasperated after Stuxnet mistakenly appeared on the Web in the summer of 2010, exposing the code. Biden laid the blame at the feet of the administration’s ostensible partner. “It’s got to be the Israelis,” said Biden, according to an unnamed source. “They went too far.” In other words, the Obama White House wants it both ways—to claim credit for the successes of the cyberwarfare campaign and to shift blame on the Israelis in the event that things go wrong.

It’s telling that the administration thinks blaming Israel is a good election strategy, and Smith’s piece is worth reading in full. But a couple quotes from Israeli sources stood out to me. First Yossi Melman, the Israeli journalist, tells Smith: “Israeli officials know that it’s an election year… Israeli officials are not going to rock the boat and ruin the party.” Later in the story, an Israeli intelligence source tells Smith: “No Israeli government is going to be criticized for releasing a virus. We know we are at war, and America does not know it’s at war.”

I’m not so sure that’s the case, but it does reveal something else about the two countries: Israelis understand American politics well, and American officials and journalists don’t seem to understand Israeli politics at all.

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Lee Smith has an interesting take on one aspect of the administration’s calculated cyberleaks, produced obediently by the New York Times, detailing the cooperation between the U.S. and Israel in conducting cyberwarfare against the Iranian nuclear program. It’s true, Smith writes, that in one sense these articles are meant to make Obama seem tough, but they are also to pass the buck if and when things go wrong. Smith writes:

The nature of the story is given away in a quote from Vice President Joe Biden, exasperated after Stuxnet mistakenly appeared on the Web in the summer of 2010, exposing the code. Biden laid the blame at the feet of the administration’s ostensible partner. “It’s got to be the Israelis,” said Biden, according to an unnamed source. “They went too far.” In other words, the Obama White House wants it both ways—to claim credit for the successes of the cyberwarfare campaign and to shift blame on the Israelis in the event that things go wrong.

It’s telling that the administration thinks blaming Israel is a good election strategy, and Smith’s piece is worth reading in full. But a couple quotes from Israeli sources stood out to me. First Yossi Melman, the Israeli journalist, tells Smith: “Israeli officials know that it’s an election year… Israeli officials are not going to rock the boat and ruin the party.” Later in the story, an Israeli intelligence source tells Smith: “No Israeli government is going to be criticized for releasing a virus. We know we are at war, and America does not know it’s at war.”

I’m not so sure that’s the case, but it does reveal something else about the two countries: Israelis understand American politics well, and American officials and journalists don’t seem to understand Israeli politics at all.

The Israelis are at peace with Obama’s strategy, because they get it. It’s an election year. It’s just business. This knowledge gap partially explained Jodi Rudoren’s clumsy transition to the New York Times’s Jerusalem bureau. She made a number of missteps, and explained that she didn’t really know exactly what she was doing yet, and to give her some time to adjust. Fair enough I suppose, but it was telling.

And a perfect example comes from Vanity Fair, which dispatched David Margolick to write a long profile on Benjamin Netanyahu for the magazine’s July issue. It’s now online, and it is truly something to behold. Margolick writes that most of Netanyahu’s decisions can be attributed to the inordinate influence the following people have on his opinions: his wife, Sara; his late father, Benzion; his late brother, Yoni; Ehud Barak; and the last person Netanyahu has spoken to, regardless of who it was.

There may be more in the article, but I stopped reading two pages in when Margolick explicitly compared Bibi to a warmongering Soviet dictator with a split personality. Margolick wasn’t writing that all those people have some influence on Netanyahu; he was making the case that each one has unique control over him. In other words, the article constantly contradicts its own thesis. It is essentially a cry for help. But why? What makes Israeli politics so incomprehensible to the press?

I’m not sure what the answer is, but there are a few possibilities. One is that the left doesn’t understand coalition politics as well as the right, which has to deal with making peace among its various factions. Another is that the liberal media’s echo chamber keeps them in a pack mentality, following the biases of papers like the New York Times. There is of course the left’s anti-Russian-immigrant hysteria, which they direct at Avigdor Lieberman even though he agrees with many of their priorities. It’s also hard to miss the media’s noxious treatment of Orthodox Jews who, much to the left’s eternal chagrin, also participate in Israel’s democratic process.

Maybe it’s something as simple as the media’s deeply personal antipathy toward Netanyahu. Whatever it is, they should figure it out–and soon. These articles portraying Israel’s democratically elected, rational premier as a schizophrenic dictator are getting embarrassing.

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Compromise v. Prudence

In his book The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power, Robert Caro – in the context of the civil rights struggle – writes this:

Johnson refused to compromise. In public, in answer to a press conference question about the possibility of one, he said, “I am in favor of passing it [the bill] in the Senate exactly in its present form.” In private, talking to legislative leaders, he had a more pungent phrase. “There will be no wheels and no deals.” There was, as always, a political calculation behind his stance. “I knew,” he was to tell Doris Goodwin, “that if I didn’t get out in front on this issue, [the liberals] would get me…. I had to produce a civil rights bill that was even stronger than the one they’d have gotten if Kennedy had lived.” And there was, as always, something more than calculation. Assuring Richard Goodwin there would be “no compromises on civil rights; I’m not going to bend an inch,” he added, “In the Senate [as Leader] I did the best I could. But I had to be careful…. But I always vowed that if I ever had the power I’d make sure every Negro had the same chance as every white man. Now I have it. And I’m going to use it.”

The issue of compromise is an important one in politics, and there is much to be said on its behalf. “In the Constitutional Convention, the spirit of compromise reigned in grace and glory,” Catherine Drinker Bowen wrote in Miracle at Philadelphia. “As Washington presided, it sat on his shoulder like the dove. Men rise to speak and one sees them struggle with the bias of birthright, locality, statehood…. One sees them change their minds, fight against pride and when the moment comes, admit their error.”

Some conservatives seem instinctively hostile to comprise in principle, as if it is inherently a sign of weakness, of lack of commitment and resolve, and that it inevitably leads to bad outcomes. As a “constitutional conservative,” I dissent from this attitude.

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In his book The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power, Robert Caro – in the context of the civil rights struggle – writes this:

Johnson refused to compromise. In public, in answer to a press conference question about the possibility of one, he said, “I am in favor of passing it [the bill] in the Senate exactly in its present form.” In private, talking to legislative leaders, he had a more pungent phrase. “There will be no wheels and no deals.” There was, as always, a political calculation behind his stance. “I knew,” he was to tell Doris Goodwin, “that if I didn’t get out in front on this issue, [the liberals] would get me…. I had to produce a civil rights bill that was even stronger than the one they’d have gotten if Kennedy had lived.” And there was, as always, something more than calculation. Assuring Richard Goodwin there would be “no compromises on civil rights; I’m not going to bend an inch,” he added, “In the Senate [as Leader] I did the best I could. But I had to be careful…. But I always vowed that if I ever had the power I’d make sure every Negro had the same chance as every white man. Now I have it. And I’m going to use it.”

The issue of compromise is an important one in politics, and there is much to be said on its behalf. “In the Constitutional Convention, the spirit of compromise reigned in grace and glory,” Catherine Drinker Bowen wrote in Miracle at Philadelphia. “As Washington presided, it sat on his shoulder like the dove. Men rise to speak and one sees them struggle with the bias of birthright, locality, statehood…. One sees them change their minds, fight against pride and when the moment comes, admit their error.”

Some conservatives seem instinctively hostile to comprise in principle, as if it is inherently a sign of weakness, of lack of commitment and resolve, and that it inevitably leads to bad outcomes. As a “constitutional conservative,” I dissent from this attitude.

It’s worth noting that two of the most impressive figures in American history, James Madison and Abraham Lincoln, showed the ability to compromise at key moments. It was Lincoln, as a young man, who said, “The true rule, in determining to embrace, or reject any thing, is not whether it have any evil in it; but whether it has more of evil, than of good. There are few things wholly evil, or wholly good. Almost everything, especially of governmental policy, is an inseparable compound of the two; so that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continually demanded.” The Lincoln biographer William Lee Miller, building on this point, added, “[M]any reflective moralists, and most serious politicians, including Abraham Lincoln, perceive … that good and evil come mixed and that the moral life most of the time (not quite all of the time) consists of making discriminate judgments, judgments at the margins, discernments of less and more…”

At the same time, there are those who speak as if compromise is itself, in principle, a moral good. But that approach is also flawed and potentially dangerous. Compromise for its own sake can set back the cause of justice. In the wrong hands, in weak hands, it can produce pernicious results. The point is that compromise can’t be judged in the abstract; it can only be assessed in particular circumstances. It takes wisdom and statesmanship to discern when to hold firm (on fundamental principles) and when to give ground (on tactics and secondary issues).

Which brings me back to LBJ. Most modern-day liberals who excoriated conservatives for being “rigid” and opposing “compromise” on matters having to do with the budget and raising the debt ceiling – the pseudo-sophisticated putdown is that they are nihilists – would (rightly) celebrate President Johnson’s refusal to compromise on civil rights. Which may get us somewhat closer to the heart of the matter.

The word compromise is something of a Rorschach test. Those who hold a liberal worldview often consider conservatives who fight hard for their cause to be inflexible and unreasonable, just as those who hold a conservative worldview often consider liberals who fight hard for their cause to be inflexible and unreasonable. What determines whether we judge a politician to be a profile in courage or a profile in intransigence almost always depends on whether we’re sympathetic to the cause they are championing.

As a general matter, then, compromise is neither a moral good nor a moral evil; it’s contextual. And it’s why prudence, not compromise, is rightly considered to be among the highest of all the political virtues.

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Did Super PAC Really Swing Wisconsin?

The left’s response to the Wisconsin rout is that their ideas weren’t rejected, but they were simply outspent by a flood of corporate, special interest cash. And it’s true the anti-Walker forces were outspent — by roughly the same ratio as Barack Obama outspent John McCain in 2008 — but obviously if Gov. Scott Walker’s policies were as draconian and abhorrent as Democrats claim then no amount of money could win him the election.

Still, Democrats are bringing back all the old conservative boogeymen — the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, corporate spending, Citizens United — in an attempt to turn the Wisconsin loss into an Obama campaign fundraising ploy. The Hill reports:

In an email to supporters, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina called Tuesday’s outcome — and, more specifically, the super-PAC money spent on Walker — a “terrifying experiment.” …

Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, agreed with that sentiment, saying Democrats learned a similar lesson in 2010, when they lost a slew of seats to Republicans.

“In 2010, we did not lose the House to House Republicans,” Israel told The Hill. “We lost it to Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. In 2012, we did not lose the Wisconsin recall to Gov. Walker, we lost it to an 8-to-1 spending differential, most from out of the state.”

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The left’s response to the Wisconsin rout is that their ideas weren’t rejected, but they were simply outspent by a flood of corporate, special interest cash. And it’s true the anti-Walker forces were outspent — by roughly the same ratio as Barack Obama outspent John McCain in 2008 — but obviously if Gov. Scott Walker’s policies were as draconian and abhorrent as Democrats claim then no amount of money could win him the election.

Still, Democrats are bringing back all the old conservative boogeymen — the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, corporate spending, Citizens United — in an attempt to turn the Wisconsin loss into an Obama campaign fundraising ploy. The Hill reports:

In an email to supporters, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina called Tuesday’s outcome — and, more specifically, the super-PAC money spent on Walker — a “terrifying experiment.” …

Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, agreed with that sentiment, saying Democrats learned a similar lesson in 2010, when they lost a slew of seats to Republicans.

“In 2010, we did not lose the House to House Republicans,” Israel told The Hill. “We lost it to Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. In 2012, we did not lose the Wisconsin recall to Gov. Walker, we lost it to an 8-to-1 spending differential, most from out of the state.”

One side is almost always outspent in politics, and Democrats certainly didn’t seem concerned when Obama was outspending McCain. But was Wisconsin really different because of the Citizens United decision, as liberal pundits have claimed? At the Examiner, Conn Carroll finds zero evidence that Citizens United had an impact in the race:

But the Center for Public Integrity link…proves no such thing. Yes, [Tom] Barrett was outspent heavily. But none of the money spent on Walker’s behalf would have been illegal before Citizens United either. …

At no point in CPI’s entire article do they cite a single example of conservative spending that would have been illegal before Citizens United, but is legal now.

Read the rest of Carroll’s piece, where he shoots down the different claims about Citizens United and political spending. Citizens United is the crux of the Democratic argument about Wisconsin, but so far they’ve presented no evidence it had an effect.

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U.S. Inaction Allows Assad to Keep Killing

After more than a year of violent repression of protests that have taken the lives of thousands of people, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has figured out exactly how much he can get away with before his actions will provoke action from the West. Rather than being deterred by the prospect of an intervention to save the lives of his people, Assad now knows he can kill as many people as he likes. With reports of yet another massacre of dozens of women and children having been committed in the Homa region, the Syrian regime is demonstrating again that it will not be deterred by the condemnation of the international community from inflicting atrocities (let alone relinquish power). Indeed, rather than giving Assad pause, it may be that the latest statements of outrage issued by Secretary of State Clinton about events in Syria may just be confirming his impression that talk is all the United States and the West ever intend to do about the situation.

Clinton repeated earlier tough statements about Syria during a joint press conference with her Turkish counterpart. But as the U.S. has made it clear that no action will be taken without the consent of Syria’s Russian and Chinese allies, that is a virtual guarantee Assad has absolutely nothing to worry about. That the latest instance of mass slaughter — this time in the village of Qubeir where 78 persons are thought to have been killed, half of whom were women and children — happened while a United Nations peace plan was supposed to be implemented and U.N. personnel were in the country is just the latest evidence that Assad understands he can continue to act with impunity. If Assad is laughing at American suggestions he leave Syria, who can blame him for thinking U.S. policy is a joke?

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After more than a year of violent repression of protests that have taken the lives of thousands of people, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has figured out exactly how much he can get away with before his actions will provoke action from the West. Rather than being deterred by the prospect of an intervention to save the lives of his people, Assad now knows he can kill as many people as he likes. With reports of yet another massacre of dozens of women and children having been committed in the Homa region, the Syrian regime is demonstrating again that it will not be deterred by the condemnation of the international community from inflicting atrocities (let alone relinquish power). Indeed, rather than giving Assad pause, it may be that the latest statements of outrage issued by Secretary of State Clinton about events in Syria may just be confirming his impression that talk is all the United States and the West ever intend to do about the situation.

Clinton repeated earlier tough statements about Syria during a joint press conference with her Turkish counterpart. But as the U.S. has made it clear that no action will be taken without the consent of Syria’s Russian and Chinese allies, that is a virtual guarantee Assad has absolutely nothing to worry about. That the latest instance of mass slaughter — this time in the village of Qubeir where 78 persons are thought to have been killed, half of whom were women and children — happened while a United Nations peace plan was supposed to be implemented and U.N. personnel were in the country is just the latest evidence that Assad understands he can continue to act with impunity. If Assad is laughing at American suggestions he leave Syria, who can blame him for thinking U.S. policy is a joke?

U.N. observers were prevented from going to the site of the latest massacre by Syrian troops, but we expect the U.N. to be an impotent onlooker when mass slaughter is going on. The United States however, ought to be regarded differently. But with his trademark “lead from behind” style, President Obama seems to be emulating the behavior of the world organization he so admires.

The trouble here is not just the failure to act, though that is deeply troubling and a stain on America’s honor as well as that of the West. Rather, it is the combination of that lack of action with loud talk about Assad’s beastliness that is undermining the last shred of U.S. credibility as a force to be reckoned with in the region.

While silence about events in Syria would have been shocking, it might have made some sense if the president and the secretary of state had also made it clear the atrocities there were not America’s business. But to go on record as treating the crimes against humanity as an outrage that deeply offends Americans and then to do nothing about it is far worse. That is because the clear reluctance on the part of the administration to do something more than simply talk about Syria is not only being observed in Damascus. The real audience for this scandalous lack of backbone or a conscience on the part of the administration is in Moscow and Beijing.

More than just the people of that unhappy country will regret the consequences of America’s lack of guts and leadership on Syria. Though there are good reasons to worry about what would follow even a limited U.S. or Western intervention in Syria, the combination of talk and inaction will convince the Russians and Chinese they can dig in and back their awful Syrian client without fear of consequences. Even worse, it will convince them that President Obama is no more likely to go to the mat with Iran about its nuclear program than he is about Assad’s mass murders.

This is a real problem that is no less a matter of concern if the president sees these two cases differently, as some of his supporters insist he does. But after having demonstrated that he is a paper tiger on Syria, it is going to be very difficult to persuade the other members of the P5+1 talks with Iran that President Obama’s moral outrage is more than hot air. If Assad is allowed to go on killing people with no more than the prospect of a strongly worded statement from Hillary Clinton to deter him, the president may find out that once you lose your credibility, it takes more than a press conference to win it back.

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On Satire

Monday’s review of They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? — Christopher Buckley’s ninth political satire — raises the question of just what satire is. Trouble is, no one is really sure. The term has become a verbal shrug (“You know?”) for any kind of fiction at all with a humorous smack. As George Meredith famously said in his Essay on Comedy (1877), “If you detect the ridicule, and your kindliness is chilled by it, you are slipping into the grasp of Satire.” At its most precise, then, satire denotes humor that is mean as distinguished from humor that is nice. Peter De Vries advanced a similiar distinction in his novel Sauce for the Goose (1981):

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

If De Vries is to be believed, however (and no one understood the use of humor in fiction any better than he), the distinction belongs to satire instead of blocking it off from other types of humor. And De Vries has got to be right, because not all satirists are chilling meanies (Christopher Buckley, for example, is warm-hearted toward his prey).

The question about satire is an ancient one, and I have no intention of rehearsing history’s answers. Mainly because they have been remarkably uniform, from Diomedes Grammaticus in the 4th century B.C.E. (quoted by Dryden in the Discourse on Satire), who said that “Satire amongst the Romans but not amongst the Greeks, was a biting invective poem, made after the model of the ancient comedy, for the reprehension of vices,” all the way down to Stephen Greenblatt, who characterizes it in Critical Terms for Literary Study (1990) as the kind of literature explicitly engaged in attack. Literary history stands united. Satire is fiction that delivers a good bitch slap.

Who am I to stand athwart history? But I would like to observe that two errors result from the uniform confusion of satire with biting humor. First, fiction that is not satirical is subjected to misunderstanding. (The best example of a first-rate novelist who has suffered from the confusion is Francine Prose.) Second, the element of humor, which is not the dominant note in satire, no matter what the critics think, is overemphasized, leading to misinterpretation of a different sort.

WTF? Satire is not supposed to be funny? Only a pompous fool or a turgid academic (but I repeat myself) would arrive at such a conclusion! Don’t get me wrong: a satirist has to make his readers laugh. Otherwise there’s no reason to read him in the first place. But that’s not all he is supposed to do. That’s not even the main thing. The German romantic novelist Jean Paul (a.k.a. Johann Paul Friedrich Richter) explains:

A satire on everything is a satire on nothing; it is mere absurdity. All contempt, all disrespect, implies something respected, as a standard to which it is referred; just as every valley implies a hill.

This is why the view of satire as ridicule or biting invective or attack is upside-down. Despite outward appearances, satire is fundamentally affirmative, even if its methods are not. De Vries quoted Robert Frost in support of the notion: “If it is with outer seriousness, it must be with inner humor. If it is with outer humor, it must be with inner seriousness. Neither one alone without the other under it will do.”

Satire’s principal method is what in philosophy is called the reductio, the reduction of an idea or attitude to absurdity. But as Jean Paul points out, the satire itself cannot be an absurdity, or nothing is accomplished. (There in a sentence is the weakness of Sacha Baron Cohen’s “satire.”) The satirist reduces his puffed-up targets to absurdity, because he wants to clear the ground for a more durable standard of meaning. If he could describe it with outer seriousness, rather than mocking its competitors with outer humor, he’d probably do so. But he writes the best way he can, and avoids what is beyond his capacities. “I have recently read a couple of serious-type articles about what I am actually up to,” De Vries said, “and I can only conclude that my stuff is really over my head.”

What, then, distinguishes satire from other varieties of fiction and other types of humor? The definition in the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica is the best, because it is the cleanest: Satire is caricature joined to literary form. Other varieties of fiction depend upon characterization rather than caricature; other types of humor dispense with literary form (plot, scene, meter). Satire is a genre of serious literature which keeps its seriousness carefully concealed like a weapon of last resort. Bitch slaps are optional: they are a technique, not a genre.

Monday’s review of They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? — Christopher Buckley’s ninth political satire — raises the question of just what satire is. Trouble is, no one is really sure. The term has become a verbal shrug (“You know?”) for any kind of fiction at all with a humorous smack. As George Meredith famously said in his Essay on Comedy (1877), “If you detect the ridicule, and your kindliness is chilled by it, you are slipping into the grasp of Satire.” At its most precise, then, satire denotes humor that is mean as distinguished from humor that is nice. Peter De Vries advanced a similiar distinction in his novel Sauce for the Goose (1981):

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

If De Vries is to be believed, however (and no one understood the use of humor in fiction any better than he), the distinction belongs to satire instead of blocking it off from other types of humor. And De Vries has got to be right, because not all satirists are chilling meanies (Christopher Buckley, for example, is warm-hearted toward his prey).

The question about satire is an ancient one, and I have no intention of rehearsing history’s answers. Mainly because they have been remarkably uniform, from Diomedes Grammaticus in the 4th century B.C.E. (quoted by Dryden in the Discourse on Satire), who said that “Satire amongst the Romans but not amongst the Greeks, was a biting invective poem, made after the model of the ancient comedy, for the reprehension of vices,” all the way down to Stephen Greenblatt, who characterizes it in Critical Terms for Literary Study (1990) as the kind of literature explicitly engaged in attack. Literary history stands united. Satire is fiction that delivers a good bitch slap.

Who am I to stand athwart history? But I would like to observe that two errors result from the uniform confusion of satire with biting humor. First, fiction that is not satirical is subjected to misunderstanding. (The best example of a first-rate novelist who has suffered from the confusion is Francine Prose.) Second, the element of humor, which is not the dominant note in satire, no matter what the critics think, is overemphasized, leading to misinterpretation of a different sort.

WTF? Satire is not supposed to be funny? Only a pompous fool or a turgid academic (but I repeat myself) would arrive at such a conclusion! Don’t get me wrong: a satirist has to make his readers laugh. Otherwise there’s no reason to read him in the first place. But that’s not all he is supposed to do. That’s not even the main thing. The German romantic novelist Jean Paul (a.k.a. Johann Paul Friedrich Richter) explains:

A satire on everything is a satire on nothing; it is mere absurdity. All contempt, all disrespect, implies something respected, as a standard to which it is referred; just as every valley implies a hill.

This is why the view of satire as ridicule or biting invective or attack is upside-down. Despite outward appearances, satire is fundamentally affirmative, even if its methods are not. De Vries quoted Robert Frost in support of the notion: “If it is with outer seriousness, it must be with inner humor. If it is with outer humor, it must be with inner seriousness. Neither one alone without the other under it will do.”

Satire’s principal method is what in philosophy is called the reductio, the reduction of an idea or attitude to absurdity. But as Jean Paul points out, the satire itself cannot be an absurdity, or nothing is accomplished. (There in a sentence is the weakness of Sacha Baron Cohen’s “satire.”) The satirist reduces his puffed-up targets to absurdity, because he wants to clear the ground for a more durable standard of meaning. If he could describe it with outer seriousness, rather than mocking its competitors with outer humor, he’d probably do so. But he writes the best way he can, and avoids what is beyond his capacities. “I have recently read a couple of serious-type articles about what I am actually up to,” De Vries said, “and I can only conclude that my stuff is really over my head.”

What, then, distinguishes satire from other varieties of fiction and other types of humor? The definition in the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica is the best, because it is the cleanest: Satire is caricature joined to literary form. Other varieties of fiction depend upon characterization rather than caricature; other types of humor dispense with literary form (plot, scene, meter). Satire is a genre of serious literature which keeps its seriousness carefully concealed like a weapon of last resort. Bitch slaps are optional: they are a technique, not a genre.

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On the Third Day

Jewish Ideas Daily continues its weeklong commemoration of the Six-Day War, with a summary of June 7, 1967, the day on which Israeli forces liberated the Old City of Jerusalem from the illegal 19-year-old Jordanian occupation. It was, in the words of an official Israeli remembrance, “a fundamental moment in the history of religious tolerance, opening the city of Jerusalem to worshippers of all faiths, permitting Jews to return to the Western Wall and other holy sites, and allowing Israeli Muslims and Christians to visit those sacred places in eastern Jerusalem from which they too had been barred since 1948.”

In Moshe Dayan, the latest addition to Yale University’s series on Jewish Lives (which will be published on June 18), Mordechai Bar-On offers this description of what happened:

That morning, Dayan gave instructions for troops to enter Jerusalem’s walled Old City. … [Col. Motta] Gur broke through the Lions’ Gate, one of eight gates into the Old City, crossed the compound of mosques on the Temple Mount, and from there descended to the Western Wall. Many of the paratroopers wept. … In the afternoon, Dayan strode through the Old City with General Rabin and General Narkiss. … Dayan inserted a note in a crack of the Western Wall, with three Hebrew words: Lu yehi shalom – “May there be peace.” He also briefly addressed the soldiers and gathered journalists who printed his words in every Israeli newspaper the next day:

“We have returned to our holiest site so as never to part from it again. To our Arab neighbors, Israel stretches out its hand in peace, and the members of other religions may rest assured that all their religious rights and freedoms will be fully protected. We did not come to conquer the holy sites of others or to restrict their religious rights, but to ensure the integrity of the city and to live there with others in brotherhood.”

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Jewish Ideas Daily continues its weeklong commemoration of the Six-Day War, with a summary of June 7, 1967, the day on which Israeli forces liberated the Old City of Jerusalem from the illegal 19-year-old Jordanian occupation. It was, in the words of an official Israeli remembrance, “a fundamental moment in the history of religious tolerance, opening the city of Jerusalem to worshippers of all faiths, permitting Jews to return to the Western Wall and other holy sites, and allowing Israeli Muslims and Christians to visit those sacred places in eastern Jerusalem from which they too had been barred since 1948.”

In Moshe Dayan, the latest addition to Yale University’s series on Jewish Lives (which will be published on June 18), Mordechai Bar-On offers this description of what happened:

That morning, Dayan gave instructions for troops to enter Jerusalem’s walled Old City. … [Col. Motta] Gur broke through the Lions’ Gate, one of eight gates into the Old City, crossed the compound of mosques on the Temple Mount, and from there descended to the Western Wall. Many of the paratroopers wept. … In the afternoon, Dayan strode through the Old City with General Rabin and General Narkiss. … Dayan inserted a note in a crack of the Western Wall, with three Hebrew words: Lu yehi shalom – “May there be peace.” He also briefly addressed the soldiers and gathered journalists who printed his words in every Israeli newspaper the next day:

“We have returned to our holiest site so as never to part from it again. To our Arab neighbors, Israel stretches out its hand in peace, and the members of other religions may rest assured that all their religious rights and freedoms will be fully protected. We did not come to conquer the holy sites of others or to restrict their religious rights, but to ensure the integrity of the city and to live there with others in brotherhood.”

You can listen here to the historic live broadcast of Voice of Israel Radio that day. The following is an excerpt:

Yossi Ronen: There is still shooting from all directions; we’re advancing towards the entrance of the Old City.

[Sound of gunfire and soldiers' footsteps.]

[Yelling of commands to soldiers.]

[More soldiers' footsteps.]

The soldiers are keeping a distance of approximately 5 meters between them. It’s still dangerous to walk around here; there is still sniper shooting here and there.

[Gunfire.]

We’re all told to stop; we’re advancing towards the mountainside; on our left is the Mount of Olives; we’re now in the Old City opposite the Russian church. I’m right now lowering my head; we’re running next to the mountainside. We can see the stone walls. They’re still shooting at us. The Israeli tanks are at the entrance to the Old City, and ahead we go, through the Lion’s Gate. I’m with the first unit to break through into the Old City. There is a Jordanian bus next to me, totally burnt; it is very hot here. We’re about to enter the Old City itself. We’re standing below the Lion’s Gate, the Gate is about to come crashing down, probably because of the previous shelling. Soldiers are taking cover next to the palm trees; I’m also staying close to one of the trees. We’re getting further and further into the City.

[Gunfire.]

Colonel Motta Gur announces on the army wireless: The Temple Mount is in our hands! I repeat, the Temple Mount is in our hands!

All forces, stop firing! This is the David Operations Room. All forces, stop firing! I repeat, all forces, stop firing! Over. […]

Command on the army wireless: Search the area, make sure to enter every single house, but do not touch anything. Especially in holy places. […]

Yossi Ronen: I’m walking right now down the steps towards the Western Wall. I’m not a religious man, I never have been, but this is the Western Wall and I’m touching the stones of the Western Wall.

Soldiers: [reciting the 'Shehechianu' blessing]: Baruch ata Hashem, elokeinu melech haolam, she-hechianu ve-kiemanu ve-hegianu la-zman ha-zeh. [Translation: Blessed art Thou Lord God King of the Universe who has sustained us and kept us and has brought us to this day] […]

Rabbi Shlomo Goren: Baruch ata Hashem, menachem tsion u-voneh Yerushalayim. [Translation: Blessed are Thou, who comforts Zion and builds Jerusalem]

Soldiers: Amen!

[Soldiers sing "Hatikva" next to the Western Wall.]

Rabbi Goren: We’re now going to recite the prayer for the fallen soldiers of this war against all of the enemies of Israel […]

While the Six-Day War is remembered for its stunning brevity, it is also worth considering this observation, from “Six Days Remembered,” Anne Lieberman’s compelling day-by-day summary of the war: “By the last of the six days Israel has achieved a stunning military victory at an equally stunning price in Israeli lives. In terms of proportion of population, Israel loses more lives in six days than the U.S. would during all the years of war in Vietnam.”

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