Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 21, 2012

When Man Puts God in the Dock

In response to a piece I wrote on Nietzsche and intrinsic human worth, I heard from a college student, who wrote me this:

We read Nietzsche in philosophy last semester, so it was fun to hear him strongly taken to task. However, while this is a terrific argument about why atheism/agnosticism is an unsustainable world view, my problem with it is that I’ve heard it used too often … as a rebuttal to the Problem of Evil, despite the fact that this doesn’t really do anything to defend our worldview from the Problem of Evil. As a believer, one of the hardest philosophical questions for me to overcome is how can God be perfectly benevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent and allow for evil in the world. So, I guess my question is: how do you deal with this problem philosophically as a believer?

That is a very important, difficult, and age-old question, and one I’m planning to respond to in short order. Suffice to say the matter of theodicy is among the more challenging ones for people of faith to grapple with. I should add that as someone whose own pilgrimage of faith has often been marked by intellectual struggles and even, from time to time, doubt, I have great sympathy with the question posed by this student. (C.S. Lewis once referred to the “incurable intellectualism of my approach,” which he meant as no compliment.)

My own view has been to never discourage honest inquiries from anyone, either believers or those who have no religious faith at all. The words of the Lord found in the book of Isaiah — “Come now, let us reason together” — have been something of a touchstone for me. And the examples of anti-intellectualism, and even obscurantism, that one finds within some strands of Christianity have long troubled me.

But over time I have come to some preliminary (and thoroughly unoriginal) conclusions, one of which is that faith, while certainly not at odds with reason, goes well beyond reason. Faith is, after all, “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see,” in the words of the author of Hebrews. Jesus put it blunter still: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

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In response to a piece I wrote on Nietzsche and intrinsic human worth, I heard from a college student, who wrote me this:

We read Nietzsche in philosophy last semester, so it was fun to hear him strongly taken to task. However, while this is a terrific argument about why atheism/agnosticism is an unsustainable world view, my problem with it is that I’ve heard it used too often … as a rebuttal to the Problem of Evil, despite the fact that this doesn’t really do anything to defend our worldview from the Problem of Evil. As a believer, one of the hardest philosophical questions for me to overcome is how can God be perfectly benevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent and allow for evil in the world. So, I guess my question is: how do you deal with this problem philosophically as a believer?

That is a very important, difficult, and age-old question, and one I’m planning to respond to in short order. Suffice to say the matter of theodicy is among the more challenging ones for people of faith to grapple with. I should add that as someone whose own pilgrimage of faith has often been marked by intellectual struggles and even, from time to time, doubt, I have great sympathy with the question posed by this student. (C.S. Lewis once referred to the “incurable intellectualism of my approach,” which he meant as no compliment.)

My own view has been to never discourage honest inquiries from anyone, either believers or those who have no religious faith at all. The words of the Lord found in the book of Isaiah — “Come now, let us reason together” — have been something of a touchstone for me. And the examples of anti-intellectualism, and even obscurantism, that one finds within some strands of Christianity have long troubled me.

But over time I have come to some preliminary (and thoroughly unoriginal) conclusions, one of which is that faith, while certainly not at odds with reason, goes well beyond reason. Faith is, after all, “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see,” in the words of the author of Hebrews. Jesus put it blunter still: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

There is, in other words, something about the nature of faith that requires a leap of faith. One can believe Judaism and Christianity are historical faiths, for example, while also acknowledging that they cannot be proven to be true in an indisputable, scientific, empirical way. That will never happen – and it was never meant to happen.

The second insight into the matter of faith and doubt was underscored to me once again while re-reading Lewis. In one of his essays, when asked to write about the difficulties that people must face in trying to present their faith to modern unbelievers, Lewis said this:

The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man, the roles are quite reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge; if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the bench and God is in the dock.

Lewis, perhaps the greatest apologist for the Christian faith in the 20th century, would have been the last person in the world to denigrate a person for asking tough questions about the nature of God. (Lewis, in fact, helped found The Oxford Socratic Club, whose guiding principle came from Socrates, who exhorted men to “follow the argument wherever it led them.” The purpose of the Club was to apply that principle to one particular subject matter – the pros and cons of the Christian religion.)

Still, Lewis was making an important point, which is that questions about faith are one thing; calling into question the fundamental character of God, or acting in arrogant judgment of Him, is something else again.

These are not easy matters to sort through. After all, if one believes some of the actions of God are unjust – for example, God calling for the complete destruction of the Canaanites, including children — that will, for some people, reflect on how they perceive the character of God. Lewis himself, besieged by grief after the death of his wife, gave voice to his own fears. “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not, ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but, ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’”

Some theologians I know found Lewis’s book, and his struggles, to be troubling. I never have and, in fact, I appreciate his candor and honesty. I also took some comfort in the fact that even Lewis was not immune to doubt and to struggles. We shouldn’t pretend these things are virtues; but neither should we deny that they are fully understandable, and in some respects entirely predictable. There is no shame in wrestling with doubt.

In the end, Lewis regained his faith. At the conclusion of A Grief Observed, Lewis quotes his dying wife Joy as telling a chaplain, “I am at peace with God.” She then smiled, but not at Lewis, who ends his book with these words: Poi si torno all eterna Fontana (the words come from Dante and translated mean, “Then unto the eternal fountain she turned.”)

Man was no longer on the bench, and God was no longer in the dock.

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Israel Haters Rally to Charles Barron

Yes, fine — it’s not really fair to attack New York congressional candidate Charles Barron directly for this, because as far as we know, he didn’t solicit David Duke’s endorsement. But it’s still worth mentioning because of a) The PR disaster this is going to unleash all over the closely watched Barron campaign, and the impact it has on the race; and b) The confounding mystery about how a former KKK Grand Wizard and vocal southern white supremacist could ever bring himself to endorse a pro-Black Panther, pro-reparations black man from New York City (Spoiler alert: it involves the Jews).

Former KKK Grand Wizard and member of the Louisiana Legislature David Duke released a video yesterday endorsing Charles Barron in his race for Brooklyn’s 8th congressional district against Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries. Mr. Barron, a member of the City Council and former member of the Black Panther Party who, over the years, has made a series of controversial statements against Israel and in support of African dictator Muammar Qaddafi. He would seem to be an odd choice for a self-described “white nationalist” like Mr. Duke, but in the video, Mr. Duke explains that he thinks Mr. Jeffries has “sold his soul to the international Zio-bankers” while Mr. Barron’s strong past criticisms of Israel outweigh their other differences.

“In a race for Congress between an anti-Zionist black activist and a black activist who is a bought and paid for Zionist Uncle Tom, I’ll take the anti-Zionist any day,” Mr. Duke says in the video. “In this election of limited choices, I believe that Charles Barron is the best choice. Why? Because I think there’s no greater danger facing the United States of America and facing the world than the unbridled power of Zionist globalism. … Charles Barron stands against that power. If I lived in New York City, I would certainly vote for Charles Barron.”

Mr. Duke begins his video by noting that Mr. Barron has been labeled the “David Duke of New York City” by his political opponents.

As unhinged as David Duke is, you would think he’d still realize that his endorsements do the exact opposite of what endorsements are typically intended to do. Hakeem Jeffries, Barron’s opponent, is already out front denouncing Duke’s cartoonish rant about Zionist treason, Jewish-controlled media, etc.

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Yes, fine — it’s not really fair to attack New York congressional candidate Charles Barron directly for this, because as far as we know, he didn’t solicit David Duke’s endorsement. But it’s still worth mentioning because of a) The PR disaster this is going to unleash all over the closely watched Barron campaign, and the impact it has on the race; and b) The confounding mystery about how a former KKK Grand Wizard and vocal southern white supremacist could ever bring himself to endorse a pro-Black Panther, pro-reparations black man from New York City (Spoiler alert: it involves the Jews).

Former KKK Grand Wizard and member of the Louisiana Legislature David Duke released a video yesterday endorsing Charles Barron in his race for Brooklyn’s 8th congressional district against Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries. Mr. Barron, a member of the City Council and former member of the Black Panther Party who, over the years, has made a series of controversial statements against Israel and in support of African dictator Muammar Qaddafi. He would seem to be an odd choice for a self-described “white nationalist” like Mr. Duke, but in the video, Mr. Duke explains that he thinks Mr. Jeffries has “sold his soul to the international Zio-bankers” while Mr. Barron’s strong past criticisms of Israel outweigh their other differences.

“In a race for Congress between an anti-Zionist black activist and a black activist who is a bought and paid for Zionist Uncle Tom, I’ll take the anti-Zionist any day,” Mr. Duke says in the video. “In this election of limited choices, I believe that Charles Barron is the best choice. Why? Because I think there’s no greater danger facing the United States of America and facing the world than the unbridled power of Zionist globalism. … Charles Barron stands against that power. If I lived in New York City, I would certainly vote for Charles Barron.”

Mr. Duke begins his video by noting that Mr. Barron has been labeled the “David Duke of New York City” by his political opponents.

As unhinged as David Duke is, you would think he’d still realize that his endorsements do the exact opposite of what endorsements are typically intended to do. Hakeem Jeffries, Barron’s opponent, is already out front denouncing Duke’s cartoonish rant about Zionist treason, Jewish-controlled media, etc.

Notably, Barron has not repudiated Duke’s comments, probably because of the awkward fact that he’s been captured on film saying a lot of similar things. And Barron’s problems don’t end with Duke. He appears to be winning over other hatemongers, including fringe anti-Israel author Norman Finkelstein, who published an approving blog post about him recently.

This is hardly surprising, considering Barron’s history of support for a string of reprehensible figures, from Qaddafi to Mugabe to Malik Zulu Shabazz. The New York Observer, which has covered Barron’s antics as a city council member for years, published a scathing editorial yesterday warning New Yorkers about what they’re going to face if he makes it to Capitol Hill:

The prospect of Charles Barron on Capitol Hill ought to send a shiver down the spine of every decent New Yorker. The man is a hater and a bigot whose only redeeming quality is his candor: The man makes no attempt to hide his loathing of white people, Israel, his colleagues and anybody else who doesn’t share his demented views. …

If Mr. Barron wins, he will have a national forum for his hate-filled rants. To be sure, he will be incapable of turning his views into legislation, but still—he will have greater access to the media and a bigger audience for his insulting rhetoric. And here’s the worst part: He’ll be identified as a Democrat from New York.

Is that what Democrats want? Is that what New York deserves?

The real loser of this is the Democratic Party, which will have to face many more of these embarrassments if Barron actually pulls off a victory. It makes you wonder why President Obama — who seems to have significant clout in the district — still hasn’t intervened to try to forestall this debacle.

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Public Spats With Israel Matter

At Real Clear World’s Compass blog Greg Scoblete joins in the general hilarity prevailing among some foreign policy observers about Mitt Romney’s criticisms of President Obama’s policy toward Israel. He’s right that there is more than a touch of hyperbole in Romney’s claim he would do “the opposite” of everything the president has done. Obviously, since despite three years of constantly picking fights with Israel and doing his best to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians, the U.S.-Israel tie still exists. The president has been slow to match any action with his tough rhetoric about Iran’s nuclear program. But even though he has made it fairly clear that he is far more worried about stopping an Israel attack than in halting Iran’s progress toward a weapon, Romney would not reverse the sanctions that were belatedly imposed on Tehran. So score a point for Romney’s critics on that one.

But Scoblete finds Romney’s promise not to conduct disagreements with Israel in public even more absurd. To his way of thinking, Romney’s pledge to do the opposite of Obama in that respect is not so much silly campaign rhetoric but represents a view of the American people as children. He believes disputes between the two allies should be carried on in the open much the same way the president’s argument with Canada about the Keystone pipeline has been handled. But in making this p0int, it is Scoblete who is making a mistake, not Romney. The pivotal audience for the administration’s spats with Israel is not the American people, though many if not most of them are distressed by the president’s propensity for demonstrating his animus toward Jerusalem. It is the Palestinians who have drawn the wrong conclusions from Obama’s determination, as was often expressed at the beginning of his administration, to change everything George W. Bush did, especially his closeness with Israel. And it is the Arabs’ misinterpretation of the perception of a shift in U.S. policy that has effectively killed the peace process on Obama’s watch.

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At Real Clear World’s Compass blog Greg Scoblete joins in the general hilarity prevailing among some foreign policy observers about Mitt Romney’s criticisms of President Obama’s policy toward Israel. He’s right that there is more than a touch of hyperbole in Romney’s claim he would do “the opposite” of everything the president has done. Obviously, since despite three years of constantly picking fights with Israel and doing his best to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians, the U.S.-Israel tie still exists. The president has been slow to match any action with his tough rhetoric about Iran’s nuclear program. But even though he has made it fairly clear that he is far more worried about stopping an Israel attack than in halting Iran’s progress toward a weapon, Romney would not reverse the sanctions that were belatedly imposed on Tehran. So score a point for Romney’s critics on that one.

But Scoblete finds Romney’s promise not to conduct disagreements with Israel in public even more absurd. To his way of thinking, Romney’s pledge to do the opposite of Obama in that respect is not so much silly campaign rhetoric but represents a view of the American people as children. He believes disputes between the two allies should be carried on in the open much the same way the president’s argument with Canada about the Keystone pipeline has been handled. But in making this p0int, it is Scoblete who is making a mistake, not Romney. The pivotal audience for the administration’s spats with Israel is not the American people, though many if not most of them are distressed by the president’s propensity for demonstrating his animus toward Jerusalem. It is the Palestinians who have drawn the wrong conclusions from Obama’s determination, as was often expressed at the beginning of his administration, to change everything George W. Bush did, especially his closeness with Israel. And it is the Arabs’ misinterpretation of the perception of a shift in U.S. policy that has effectively killed the peace process on Obama’s watch.

What Scoblete forgets is that any daylight between Israel and its own real ally has always served to incite the Palestinians to dig in their heels, as has been the case during the last four years as the Palestinian Authority has refused even to talk with Israel’s government.

For decades, Palestinians have dreamed of the United States someday abandoning Israel. They have been encouraged in this belief by many of their foreign supporters, and this foolish notion has drawn strength from any credibility given to the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis that sees the United States being manipulated by a crafty pro-Israel cabal. Peace will be impossible until a sea change occurs with the political culture of the Palestinians that will make it possible for their leaders to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. But one of the necessary preconditions to that sea change is recognition on the part of the Arab and Muslim world that Israel is a permanent fixture in the region and will never be betrayed by its superpower ally.

That is why administrations that publicly reinforce the Arab myth that the alliance between the U.S. and Israel will eventually be dissolved do a disservice to peace as well as to the stability of the region.

Unlike Canada, which needs fear no repercussions from being snubbed by President Obama, Israel remains besieged and beset by hostile regimes and terrorists (who just this week used the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza to attack the Jewish state with dozens of missiles). Israel will survive even another four years of an Obama administration that would have the “flexibility” to resume the public disputes that were the rule in its relations with Israel before it was forced by the president’s re-election campaign to start the Jewish charm offensive it has been conducting for the past several months. And it is unlikely that a Romney administration would go four years without a policy difference with the Israelis. But if all Romney does differently is to conduct those arguments quietly and thereby avoid the ambushes, staged fights and attempts to humiliate Israel’s government that the president has preferred, his administration would be a marked improvement.

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Romney’s DREAM Act Pivot

The biggest news coming out of Mitt Romney’s speech to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference today is that he appeared to soften his stance on illegal immigration (as expected after the primary) and even endorsed a key portion of the DREAM Act that provides a path to citizenship. The Hill reports:

He also reversed course on a key part of the DREAM Act, pledging to provide permanent residency for illegal immigrants who came to the United States and children and graduate from college. This is a major shift from Romney’s message in the GOP primaries, when he only pledged to provide that path for illegal immigrants who serve in the military.

Will this be enough to convince Hispanic voters, after the tougher tone Romney took during the primaries? Maybe not, but one possible saving grace for Romney is that his opponent has also been far from perfect on these issues. Immigration reform advocates had placed enormous hope in Obama after his repeated promises in 2008, and he never came through. It’s not lost on them that the president waited until mere months before his next election to issue some quick-bandaid deportation guidelines — and only when he was backed into a wall by the possibility that Sen. Marco Rubio could co-opt the issue.

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The biggest news coming out of Mitt Romney’s speech to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference today is that he appeared to soften his stance on illegal immigration (as expected after the primary) and even endorsed a key portion of the DREAM Act that provides a path to citizenship. The Hill reports:

He also reversed course on a key part of the DREAM Act, pledging to provide permanent residency for illegal immigrants who came to the United States and children and graduate from college. This is a major shift from Romney’s message in the GOP primaries, when he only pledged to provide that path for illegal immigrants who serve in the military.

Will this be enough to convince Hispanic voters, after the tougher tone Romney took during the primaries? Maybe not, but one possible saving grace for Romney is that his opponent has also been far from perfect on these issues. Immigration reform advocates had placed enormous hope in Obama after his repeated promises in 2008, and he never came through. It’s not lost on them that the president waited until mere months before his next election to issue some quick-bandaid deportation guidelines — and only when he was backed into a wall by the possibility that Sen. Marco Rubio could co-opt the issue.

Romney highlighted Obama’s broken promises, playing into a concern that many Hispanic leaders have held for awhile. Namely, that politicians talk a good game to them during election seasons, but don’t follow through and never expect any electoral consequences:

“Tomorrow, President Obama will speak here, for the first time since his last campaign. He may admit that he hasn’t kept every promise. And he’ll probably say that, even though you aren’t better off today than you were four years ago, things could be worse,” Romney said.

“He’ll imply that you really don’t have an alternative. He’s taking your vote for granted,” Romney continued. “I’ve come here today with a simple message: You do have an alternative. Your vote should be respected. And your voice is more important now than ever before.”

This is probably the strongest case Romney can make to Hispanic voters, as long as he couples it with serious proposals on immigration reform and keeps the emphasis on the economy and unemployment. He’s obviously never going to win the Hispanic vote, and he probably won’t even come close. But if he can convince people that he’s not an anti-immigration zealot, and that there should be consequences for Obama’s broken promises, then maybe he can make a dent in the huge wave of Hispanic support the Obama campaign is counting on.

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Barack Obama’s Awful June Just Got Worse

President Obama was already suffering one of the worst imaginable months for an incumbent president in an election year – including a dismal jobs report and declining factory orders, falling approval ratings (including in swing states), the overwhelming victory of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, the president’s widely ridiculed claim the private sector is “doing fine,” Bill Clinton’s various apostasies, the realization that Obama might be outspent in this election by Mitt Romney, and a major speech in Ohio that was panned even by sympathetic liberals. (Jim Geraghty provides a nice summary and analysis here.)

But it may be that the first half of June was a walk in the park compared to the latter part of the month. Because two events – one which just happened and one that will happen next week – may turn out to be powerful, and even crippling, body blows to the president.

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President Obama was already suffering one of the worst imaginable months for an incumbent president in an election year – including a dismal jobs report and declining factory orders, falling approval ratings (including in swing states), the overwhelming victory of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, the president’s widely ridiculed claim the private sector is “doing fine,” Bill Clinton’s various apostasies, the realization that Obama might be outspent in this election by Mitt Romney, and a major speech in Ohio that was panned even by sympathetic liberals. (Jim Geraghty provides a nice summary and analysis here.)

But it may be that the first half of June was a walk in the park compared to the latter part of the month. Because two events – one which just happened and one that will happen next week – may turn out to be powerful, and even crippling, body blows to the president.

The first one is the burgeoning “Fast and Furious” scandal, which has now been elevated from a secondary story to a major one. The president’s assertion of executive privilege is without foundation–a transparent effort to protect his attorney general, and possibly himself, from a legitimate congressional inquiry about a scandalous policy failure. The more this story unwinds, the more obvious this will become.

The man who promised us a “new standard of openness” and the “most transparent and accountable administration in history,” who said his administration would create “an unprecedented level of openness in government” and would “work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration” is now engaged in what could reasonably be construed to be a cover up. (If you’d like your belly laugh for the day, you might take a look at this document, Open Government 2.0 (!), put out by the Department of Justice – which claims, “The Department of Justice is committed to achieving the president’s goal of making this the most transparent administration in history.”)

This is Obama’s first bona fide, full-scale scandal. The president, with his assertion of executive privilege, has now placed himself at the center of the storm. And he’s done so with less than 140 days before the election. One can only imagine what the administration has to hide in order for Obama to have done what he did.

In addition, next week, the Supreme Court will in all likelihood announce its decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. If the Court overturns the ACA, in whole or in part, it will be devastating to the president. After all, his signature domestic achievement — one which dominated American politics for much of Obama’s first term — will not only have been judged to be unconstitutional; it will also have proven to be a colossal waste of the country’s time and energy. And even if the Court doesn’t overturn the Affordable Care Act, it will thrust to the fore what presidential scholar George C. Edwards III calls “perhaps the least popular major domestic policy passed in the last century” (which helps explain why the president rarely speaks about this “achievement” in the run-up to the election).

Elections are rarely decided in June, and this one won’t be, either. But history may look back at this as the month when the president fell behind Romney and never fully recovered.

We’ll know soon enough.

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Dip in Anti-Mormon Bias a Plus for Romney

One of the unpleasant aspects of analysis of the 2012 election is the fact that religious prejudice is likely to play a not insignificant role in determining the outcome. That’s confirmed once again by a Gallup Poll that reaffirms the persistence of anti-Mormon bias among the voting public. As previous surveys have shown, more Americans are still willing to say they won’t vote for a Mormon for president than those who refuse to support a Catholic or a Jew. And whereas the numbers of those expressing such prejudice against Catholics and Jews have declined during the last half-century, resistance to a Mormon commander-in-chief remains more or less constant during the same period. This makes it a possibility that to some degree Mitt Romney’s chances of being elected president will be diminished by lingering anti-Mormon attitudes.

However, the good news for Romney is that the number of those saying they will not vote for a Mormon has actually declined in the last year from 22 to 18 percent. Of course, that means the number is pretty much the same as it was in 1967, a sobering realization for those who might think religious prejudice is a thing of the past. But the decline may have more to do with support for the Republican candidate than anything else. Because there has probably been more Mormon-bashing in the mainstream media and popular culture in the last 12 months than in recent memory, for there to be a drop in anti-Mormon prejudice means rather than feeding bias, the Romney candidacy has put a dent in it. That bodes well for the GOP in the fall.

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One of the unpleasant aspects of analysis of the 2012 election is the fact that religious prejudice is likely to play a not insignificant role in determining the outcome. That’s confirmed once again by a Gallup Poll that reaffirms the persistence of anti-Mormon bias among the voting public. As previous surveys have shown, more Americans are still willing to say they won’t vote for a Mormon for president than those who refuse to support a Catholic or a Jew. And whereas the numbers of those expressing such prejudice against Catholics and Jews have declined during the last half-century, resistance to a Mormon commander-in-chief remains more or less constant during the same period. This makes it a possibility that to some degree Mitt Romney’s chances of being elected president will be diminished by lingering anti-Mormon attitudes.

However, the good news for Romney is that the number of those saying they will not vote for a Mormon has actually declined in the last year from 22 to 18 percent. Of course, that means the number is pretty much the same as it was in 1967, a sobering realization for those who might think religious prejudice is a thing of the past. But the decline may have more to do with support for the Republican candidate than anything else. Because there has probably been more Mormon-bashing in the mainstream media and popular culture in the last 12 months than in recent memory, for there to be a drop in anti-Mormon prejudice means rather than feeding bias, the Romney candidacy has put a dent in it. That bodes well for the GOP in the fall.

As Gallup notes in its analysis, John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960 despite the fact that a quarter of Americans said they couldn’t vote for a Catholic. But as bad as anti-Catholic attitudes were at the time, the spate of openly prejudiced pieces against Mormons in this year may stand out even more in the current context in which the expression of such sentiments are considered beyond the pale in a secular American culture where religious divisions are generally treated as irrelevant if not antediluvian. Given the hysteria in the media that anyone might think President Obama has any connection to the Muslim faith in which his father was raised, the willingness to mock Mormons in the op-ed pages of the New York Times and on Broadway makes it appear that this prejudice is one of the last socially acceptable forms of bias among the chattering classes though Catholics could rightly complain that the scorn directed at their beliefs puts them in a similar position.

If the number of those willing to chime in with the contempt of a Maureen Dowd or a hit Broadway play is going down, it may be a barometer of Romney’s personal appeal more than anything else. That may be especially true with evangelicals who don’t think Mormons are Christians but regard the defeat of President Obama as a higher priority. The president has many advantages in the coming race, including the power of incumbency, the historic nature of his presidency and the lapdog quality of much of the mainstream media’s coverage of his administration. But though prejudice against Mormons is still considerable, it is no guarantee of Romney’s defeat.

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McConnell Defends Record Consistency

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a defiant message for liberal critics who’ve been blasting his stance on political spending and free speech: “They can [attack me] as long as they want to,” the senator told me in an interview this morning. “It actually makes my day.”

Since McConnell’s impassioned defense of the First Amendment at the American Enterprise Institute last Friday, liberal pundits and reporters have jumped on supposed inconsistencies in his record, dredged up 25-year-old statements, and accused him of selling out to various corporate interests.

One popular argument that’s made the rounds–from Norm Ornstein’s columns to Democratic Rep. Van Hollen’s talking points–is that McConnell was in favor of donor disclosure before he was against it. McConnell’s critics cite his 2010 interview with NBC’s Tim Russert, in which the senator said the following:

“We need to have real disclosure. And so what we ought to do is broaden the disclosure to include at least labor unions and tax-exempt business associations and trial lawyers so that you include the major political players in America. Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?”

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a defiant message for liberal critics who’ve been blasting his stance on political spending and free speech: “They can [attack me] as long as they want to,” the senator told me in an interview this morning. “It actually makes my day.”

Since McConnell’s impassioned defense of the First Amendment at the American Enterprise Institute last Friday, liberal pundits and reporters have jumped on supposed inconsistencies in his record, dredged up 25-year-old statements, and accused him of selling out to various corporate interests.

One popular argument that’s made the rounds–from Norm Ornstein’s columns to Democratic Rep. Van Hollen’s talking points–is that McConnell was in favor of donor disclosure before he was against it. McConnell’s critics cite his 2010 interview with NBC’s Tim Russert, in which the senator said the following:

“We need to have real disclosure. And so what we ought to do is broaden the disclosure to include at least labor unions and tax-exempt business associations and trial lawyers so that you include the major political players in America. Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?”

McConnell said the quote has been distorted by his critics, and his actual point was that the Democrat-supported campaign finance bill unfairly targeted Republican donors.

“I didn’t say I was in favor of [disclosure in that category]. I said if you’re going to go down that path, you can’t exempt everybody who favors Democrats and only cover those who tend to favor Republicans,” he told me. “That’s a misconstruction, a deliberate attempt to cloud what I was saying.”

McConnell added that it’s not necessarily disclosure that Democrats are seeking, but rules that would infringe on Republican supporters while carving out exceptions for Democratic allies.

“The so-called DISCLOSE Act conveniently carves out people most likely to be aligned with the left and only leaves covered those most likely to be aligned with the right,” he said. “Leading you to conclude, I think, that they really want to intimidate one side and leave the other side free to speak.”

And you can tell how critical this fight is to both sides by the number of crossbows aimed at McConnell this week. The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus dug back to 1987 — two years into McConnell’s first Senate term and the same year a new cartoon called The Simpsons fist appeared on the Tracy Ullman show — to uncover a quote from McConnell supporting limits on independent expenditures:

As it happens, 25 years ago this week a senator from Kentucky well versed in campaign-finance issues proposed a constitutional amendment to allow limits on independent expenditures.

“These are constitutional problems,” the senator said, “demanding constitutional answers.”

That was Republican Mitch McConnell, arch foe of campaign-finance regulation — or, as he would put it, staunch defender of the First Amendment.

The senator brushes this off as a quarter-century-old mistake, and maintains that his record been consistent for decades.

“I confess I made an error, but I corrected it in pretty short order, within six months of that mistake,” said McConnell. “But I think 25 years of being entirely consistent probably would rank me better than a lot of people I know in this line of work.”

McConnell also didn’t seem surprised by the pains some critics are going through to raise questions about his motives.

“All the Post was left with was trying to destroy my credibility, and it’s noteworthy that they had to go back a quarter of a century to find anything that’s been remotely inconsistent on this issue,” he said.

These political boxing matches obviously aren’t new for McConnell, and in a way, he seems to relish them.

“Look, I’ve been called Darth Vader. I’ve got a whole wall in my office full of cartoons attacking me on this issue,” he told me. “They’d love to shut me up, but I’m more used to their criticism than regular American citizens.”

McConnell said it’s these attacks on private American citizens that has driven him to fight against the DISCLOSE Act and similar legislation.

“They try to be involved in the political process and all of sudden they find themselves being chased by the IRS,” he said. “Or what happened in the case of this one fellow who contributed to Mitt Romney’s super PAC, having his divorce records gone through by somebody from the Obama campaign.”

“I mean, normal citizens are not used to this kind of behavior,” McConnell added. “I kind of have grown accustomed to it. I don’t particularly like it, but that’s the price of being in my line of work.”

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Dead-End Talks with Iran a Success?

The talks with Iran have now concluded, at least for the time being, after meetings in Istanbul, Baghdad and, most recently, Moscow that failed to make any substantive progress. The Iranians showed no willingness to give up their nuclear weapons program or even to admit its existence. This might cause some observers to write off the talks as a failure. Au contraire. They were a major success, if you assume (as I do, cynically) that their major goal was not to stop the Iranian nuclear program but to stop (or at least delay beyond November) an Israeli strike on Iran.

Only a few months ago talk was reaching fever-pitch about the likelihood of an Israeli strike this summer, calculated to occur at a time when President Obama would be forced to back Israel if only to avoid losing pro-Israel votes in the election. Now the conventional wisdom is that, as the Wall Street Journal puts it,  “Israel is unlikely to launch a strike on Iran as long as sanctions on Tehran intensify and diplomatic efforts continue, despite the failure of international talks in Moscow this week.” The article quotes an unnamed Israeli official on the talks: “As long as the international community is willing to continue, Israel won’t say, ‘Stop.’ That’s unthinkable. If the negotiations don’t bring Iran to concessions, at least there will be a clear-cut case showing that Iran does not want to cooperate.”

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The talks with Iran have now concluded, at least for the time being, after meetings in Istanbul, Baghdad and, most recently, Moscow that failed to make any substantive progress. The Iranians showed no willingness to give up their nuclear weapons program or even to admit its existence. This might cause some observers to write off the talks as a failure. Au contraire. They were a major success, if you assume (as I do, cynically) that their major goal was not to stop the Iranian nuclear program but to stop (or at least delay beyond November) an Israeli strike on Iran.

Only a few months ago talk was reaching fever-pitch about the likelihood of an Israeli strike this summer, calculated to occur at a time when President Obama would be forced to back Israel if only to avoid losing pro-Israel votes in the election. Now the conventional wisdom is that, as the Wall Street Journal puts it,  “Israel is unlikely to launch a strike on Iran as long as sanctions on Tehran intensify and diplomatic efforts continue, despite the failure of international talks in Moscow this week.” The article quotes an unnamed Israeli official on the talks: “As long as the international community is willing to continue, Israel won’t say, ‘Stop.’ That’s unthinkable. If the negotiations don’t bring Iran to concessions, at least there will be a clear-cut case showing that Iran does not want to cooperate.”

I have no way of reading President Obama’s mind and have no connections to him (I’m a Romney defense adviser). But that, I bet, is exactly what the president had in mind. He is seeking reelection, after all, as the commander-in-chief who not only killed Osama bin Laden but also “ended” the war in Iraq and is in the process of “ending” the war in Afghanistan. It would be mighty inconvenient for his narrative if, prior to the voting, the U.S. were to become embroiled in another war. That helps to explain why he is so reluctant to intervene in Syria–and why he is so eager to keep Israel from bombing Iran, which could well involve the U.S. in hostilities in the Persian Gulf.

So from the president’s perspective, pushing the Iranian problem down the road makes sense. (In fairness, his much more hawkish predecessor, George W. Bush, took much the same approach if for a different reason–having gotten the U.S. embroiled in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he could not afford politically to have come off as the warmonger-in-chief by starting another war in Iran.) But if one ignores the politics and focuses solely on the underlying substance, the reality is that Iran is moving ever-closer to acquiring nuclear weapons and these dead-end talks have abetted the mullahs’ goals.

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The “Good Vibrations” Continue

In today’s Washington Post, George Will wrote an interesting appreciation of The Beach Boys, who are still touring the country to applause 50 years after they topped the charts with “Good Vibrations.” As Will notes, the sweet sound of that pop band epitomized a moment in our cultural history as the ethos of Southern California provided a soundtrack for a new surge in individualism.

To back up his assertion, Will quotes at length from a classic COMMENTARY article by James Q. Wilson, “A Guide to Reagan Country: The Political Culture of Southern California,” that explored the way trends in that region exemplified a new way of thinking about politics and culture. As Will noted, given its “dystopian present,” it’s hard to recall the way America felt about “California Dreamin” in those days, but for those who like to revisit it, we have made Wilson’s timeless piece available here.

In today’s Washington Post, George Will wrote an interesting appreciation of The Beach Boys, who are still touring the country to applause 50 years after they topped the charts with “Good Vibrations.” As Will notes, the sweet sound of that pop band epitomized a moment in our cultural history as the ethos of Southern California provided a soundtrack for a new surge in individualism.

To back up his assertion, Will quotes at length from a classic COMMENTARY article by James Q. Wilson, “A Guide to Reagan Country: The Political Culture of Southern California,” that explored the way trends in that region exemplified a new way of thinking about politics and culture. As Will noted, given its “dystopian present,” it’s hard to recall the way America felt about “California Dreamin” in those days, but for those who like to revisit it, we have made Wilson’s timeless piece available here.

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Liberal Prejudice Against the Orthodox Crosses a Line

Last week’s release of a new demographic study of Jewish life in Greater New York created an understandable stir, as it revealed that the Orthodox are forming an increasingly large percentage of the population. Assimilation, intermarriage and negative population growth are reducing the number of liberal and secular Jews while the Orthodox, and in particular the Haredim, are experiencing exponential growth. Though the implications of this trend will potentially alter virtually everything about Jewish life in the region, given that Orthodox Jews tend to be far more conservative than the rest of the community, the political implications of this pattern are inescapable. In a city like New York where 74 percent of all Jewish school-age children are Orthodox, there is little question the traditional dominance of secular and liberal Jews is not likely to persist in the long run.

That this would upset liberals is understandable. But that ought not to excuse the willingness of the editorial page of the Forward when discussing the Orthodox community to engage in the sort of language it would never excuse were such words directed at non-Jews. The impending dominance of non-liberals has caused the newspaper that began its life in 1897 as an advocate for socialism to vent its spleen in such a manner as to label many Orthodox Jews as the “undeserving poor,” whose inappropriate life choices ought perhaps to render them ineligible for government assistance if not the aid of the rest of the Jewish community. While the decision of the Forward’s editorial board to belatedly join a decades-long discussion about the merits of the welfare state is welcome, the piece makes it abundantly clear this shift is motivated more by open distaste for the Haredim than any misgivings about liberal ideology.

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Last week’s release of a new demographic study of Jewish life in Greater New York created an understandable stir, as it revealed that the Orthodox are forming an increasingly large percentage of the population. Assimilation, intermarriage and negative population growth are reducing the number of liberal and secular Jews while the Orthodox, and in particular the Haredim, are experiencing exponential growth. Though the implications of this trend will potentially alter virtually everything about Jewish life in the region, given that Orthodox Jews tend to be far more conservative than the rest of the community, the political implications of this pattern are inescapable. In a city like New York where 74 percent of all Jewish school-age children are Orthodox, there is little question the traditional dominance of secular and liberal Jews is not likely to persist in the long run.

That this would upset liberals is understandable. But that ought not to excuse the willingness of the editorial page of the Forward when discussing the Orthodox community to engage in the sort of language it would never excuse were such words directed at non-Jews. The impending dominance of non-liberals has caused the newspaper that began its life in 1897 as an advocate for socialism to vent its spleen in such a manner as to label many Orthodox Jews as the “undeserving poor,” whose inappropriate life choices ought perhaps to render them ineligible for government assistance if not the aid of the rest of the Jewish community. While the decision of the Forward’s editorial board to belatedly join a decades-long discussion about the merits of the welfare state is welcome, the piece makes it abundantly clear this shift is motivated more by open distaste for the Haredim than any misgivings about liberal ideology.

The conceit of the piece is that the Orthodox growth is being fueled in large measures by that community’s belief in the value of large families. The Forward, speaking in a voice that drips with upper and middle class condescension for the poor as well as contempt for the Orthodox often heard in liberal Jewish circles but rarely published, implies that most of these children probably shouldn’t be conceived, because their religious parents may not always have the material resources the Forward’s editors think they should possess before adding another soul to the community’s numbers. To their way of thinking, if some of these Orthodox families are not entirely “self-sufficient,” their voluntary choice to reproduce should push them to the back of the line when Jewish agencies are doling out aid to the poor and also calls into question the wisdom of so much government aid being given to them.

The problem for the Forward is not just that the Orthodox are having more children than liberal Jews and this rejection of middle class “materialism” that values Torah study over economics is religiously motivated. What really bugs them is that the majority of the Orthodox seems to have little sympathy with liberal political positions even though some of them are recipients of government assistance. Like Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas? which vented liberal impatience with Midwestern conservatives who vote their values rather than what the author believes is their economic interests, the Forward thinks it’s downright hypocritical the Orthodox don’t all vote for the Democrats.

A close examination of Haredi voting patterns may not exactly bear this out, as the Hasidic sects who vote as a bloc do tend to barter their votes in elections in return for government largesse in a manner that perhaps the Forward thinks is rational or at least consistent. But there is little doubt that most Orthodox Jews, including the vast majority who do not get any government aid, don’t share the paper’s affection for liberalism. And that is what has apparently goaded the Forward into publishing a rant whose only real purpose is to stigmatize Orthodox Jews as an expanding horde of lazy welfare cheats who ought to be denied assistance as they out-reproduce more responsible liberal Jews.

Suffice it to say the Haredi community has more than its share of problems. The growth of Jewish poverty is troubling, as is any sign that Americans are starting to copy the unfortunate pattern of Israeli Haredim in which employment, not to mention national service, is regarded by many as beneath the dignity of the male population.

But while it is one thing to express concerns about the future of that community, it is quite another to write in a manner that speaks of the rising Orthodox birth rate as if we would all be better off if those children were never born. That is a shocking argument that would be quickly labeled as racist by the righteous liberals at the Forward were it aimed at inner-city blacks or Hispanics. A desire to comfort liberals about their impending political decline is no excuse for launching a kulturkampf against the Orthodox.

We believe the principles of economic freedom ought to apply to everyone. The unfortunate consequences of government dependency know no religious barrier and can devastate Jews as well as non-Jews, Israelis as well as Americans. But when a critique of the welfare state crosses over into prejudice against specific groups or language that resonates with bias that sounds more like eugenics than political analysis, a line has been crossed. That the Forward has done so is an indictment of their judgment and of their commitment to the value of all Jewish lives.

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Egypt’s Uprising Has Lessons for Everyone

One characteristic of a deeply complex geopolitical event is the tension between the lessons we choose to learn from past experiences and those we forget, or dismiss. But the role of history looms large, and this is no different with the Arab Spring. Is it like 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down and Eastern European states began to throw off the yoke of the Soviet Union? Or is it more like 1848, when teetering historic European powers fell one after another in popular uprisings? It turned out that this was far too wide a scope. Each of the world’s endangered autocrats has instead watched how the last domino fell in order to avoid being the next. And no single domino dominates the world’s imagination more than Egypt.

So now that Egypt’s revolution seems to have been hijacked (the word “coup” has been bandied about) by the military and the old guard (though the government may have an Islamist figurehead), what has everyone learned? Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has learned he can retain power by slaughtering his people and not giving in. Russia’s Vladimir Putin has learned if he is to survive he ought to make sure the domino in front of him doesn’t fall first. Assad is that domino, and he also happens to be both an enemy and neighbor of Israel. So in the Washington Post’s long interview with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Syria was unsurprisingly the subject of a good portion of it, and the most interesting exchange:

[WP:] Going back to Syria, do you think the West should arm the opposition?

[Barak:] I think many steps should be taken. Russia has invested a lot of political capital and money in the [Assad] regime. They should have a certain role if we want to succeed. The whole structure of the Syrian state should not be blamed — it is a family and certain individuals [who are responsible]. I believe that if America and Russia talk[ed] together about who can use what leverage, that could be extremely effective. And of course Turkey, the most important neighbor of Syria. What can we do in order to remove this family from power without destroying Syria as a state? Not repeat the mistakes that were made in Iraq, where everything from the Baath Party to the military was dismantled. There’s no need to do that [and increase] the chances that they will end up with a chaotic civil war, where the bad guys will be more prominent. It’s time for the world to dictate to Mr. Assad to move out of power or else. But the “or else” can be convincing only if America and Russia will join hands.

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One characteristic of a deeply complex geopolitical event is the tension between the lessons we choose to learn from past experiences and those we forget, or dismiss. But the role of history looms large, and this is no different with the Arab Spring. Is it like 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down and Eastern European states began to throw off the yoke of the Soviet Union? Or is it more like 1848, when teetering historic European powers fell one after another in popular uprisings? It turned out that this was far too wide a scope. Each of the world’s endangered autocrats has instead watched how the last domino fell in order to avoid being the next. And no single domino dominates the world’s imagination more than Egypt.

So now that Egypt’s revolution seems to have been hijacked (the word “coup” has been bandied about) by the military and the old guard (though the government may have an Islamist figurehead), what has everyone learned? Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has learned he can retain power by slaughtering his people and not giving in. Russia’s Vladimir Putin has learned if he is to survive he ought to make sure the domino in front of him doesn’t fall first. Assad is that domino, and he also happens to be both an enemy and neighbor of Israel. So in the Washington Post’s long interview with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Syria was unsurprisingly the subject of a good portion of it, and the most interesting exchange:

[WP:] Going back to Syria, do you think the West should arm the opposition?

[Barak:] I think many steps should be taken. Russia has invested a lot of political capital and money in the [Assad] regime. They should have a certain role if we want to succeed. The whole structure of the Syrian state should not be blamed — it is a family and certain individuals [who are responsible]. I believe that if America and Russia talk[ed] together about who can use what leverage, that could be extremely effective. And of course Turkey, the most important neighbor of Syria. What can we do in order to remove this family from power without destroying Syria as a state? Not repeat the mistakes that were made in Iraq, where everything from the Baath Party to the military was dismantled. There’s no need to do that [and increase] the chances that they will end up with a chaotic civil war, where the bad guys will be more prominent. It’s time for the world to dictate to Mr. Assad to move out of power or else. But the “or else” can be convincing only if America and Russia will join hands.

This is something of a counterintuitive assessment, to say the least. First of all, Syria is already involved in a chaotic (and bloody) civil war. Second, the “bad guys” are already prominent in that civil war–the Syrian regime’s military, at the command and control of Assad. And third, there is no indication the Syrian opposition would accept a transition in which only a handful of top officials cede power to the existing establishment. Thus, it would likely not end the civil war.

What’s happening here is the result of the tension between lessons learned and lessons lost. Assad, watching Egypt, is learning he must set the military upon the people if he is to survive, and the military is learning from Egypt it need not respect the wishes of the protesters.

The West is learning two lessons from Egypt: a rushed transition controlled by the military will likely lead to a continued military dictatorship, and the stability of autocratic regimes is a myth. That Barak is still holding on to this myth has much to do with the neighborhood in which Israel resides. The political movements with any coherent sense of mission and stable political networks in the Middle East are Islamist groups, most notably among them the Muslim Brotherhood. It has become the only serious opposition in Egypt, and it surely doesn’t help that Hamas is an offshoot of the Brotherhood.

Barak’s concerns are understandable, but his proposed solution is a lesson lost. It is precisely the “stability” of autocrats like Hosni Mubarak that suffocated any liberal momentum among the populace, depriving it of experience and organization that could compete, perhaps, with that of the Brotherhood. As one of the two men most responsible for the defense and survival of the Jewish state in this environment, Barak is not in an enviable position at this moment. But history doesn’t dole out sympathy, just lessons.

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The State of Post-American Freedom

The New York Times reports CIA operatives are playing at least an indirect role in getting arms to the Syrian opposition. It has become customary among the thoughtful American opposition to pat President Barack Obama on the back for doing the right thing half-heartedly and very late. So, congratulations Mr. President. (See how fair-minded we are!)

Is this the first step in an American effort to get rid of the bloodthirsty dictator—and Iran’s ally—Bashar al-Assad?  Let’s hope so, because it’s become all too clear how thoroughly miserable homegrown liberation efforts are without American involvement. Indeed, one of the most pressing geopolitical questions of our time has become: what do we do about destabilizing freedom movements in the age of American indifference?

The results of Obama’s hands-off doctrine are inarguable.

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The New York Times reports CIA operatives are playing at least an indirect role in getting arms to the Syrian opposition. It has become customary among the thoughtful American opposition to pat President Barack Obama on the back for doing the right thing half-heartedly and very late. So, congratulations Mr. President. (See how fair-minded we are!)

Is this the first step in an American effort to get rid of the bloodthirsty dictator—and Iran’s ally—Bashar al-Assad?  Let’s hope so, because it’s become all too clear how thoroughly miserable homegrown liberation efforts are without American involvement. Indeed, one of the most pressing geopolitical questions of our time has become: what do we do about destabilizing freedom movements in the age of American indifference?

The results of Obama’s hands-off doctrine are inarguable.

Iran’s Green Movement? Stopped in its tracks by the theocratic thugs Washington’s been courting for three-plus years. Torture, arrest, assassination—Iranian democrats faced the full arsenal of fear while the United States pursued an impossible accommodation with Tehran.

In Tunisia, revolt paved the way for Islamist rule. And that’s the success story of the Arab Spring.

Egypt’s Tahrir Square protest turned out to be a military coup d’état in liberal disguise. The only thing threatening the Egyptian army now is the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Without American involvement Egypt has become a war of the horribles, and the public square is a no-man’s land for liberals.

Muammar Qaddafi was poised to slaughter tens of thousands of unorganized rebels and still America resisted involvement. It took Nicolas Sarkozy to lead the free world into halting a mass atrocity. And after reluctant American air power stopped Qaddafi, American reticence saw Libya unravel into a lawless revenge state, while the fighting and weapons reconstituted as a terrorist war in northern Mali.

In Syria, Bashar Assad has gone ahead with the kind of killing the Obama administration congratulated itself on stopping in Libya. The United States has elected illiberal Russia—whose own protesters we’ve ignored—to liberate the Syrian people through diplomacy. It was a move akin to throwing water on a grease fire. Vladimir Putin wasted no time in arming Assad for an escalated civil war.

Let’s put this kaleidoscope of evil up against the conventional wisdom of today’s foreign policy elite. Peter Beinart looked upon the early fruits of the Arab Spring and declared, “The lesson is that even in a post-American world, democracy has legs.” Thomas Friedman looked upon the same and offered a droll warning of his own: “Let’s root for it, without being in the middle of it.” And Fareed Zakaria, the real-time historian of the post-American world, saw that “for the first time in perhaps a millennium, the Arab people are taking charge of their own affairs,” and praised the Libya operation as “a new model in that it involved an America that insisted on legitimacy and burden sharing, that allowed the locals to own their revolution.”

All these claims were very fashionable in their anti-Bush sentiment, but time has exposed them as weak and unsuited to reality. A post-American world is taking shape, but it’s a much nastier place than the American world that birthed it. Locals are indeed owning their own revolutions—revolutions that flail and die out while America “roots” for democracy on the sidelines.

There is a debate to be had about both the moral and strategic consequences of American intervention. There is a much stickier debate to be had about the shape and extent of such intervention. But let us not flatter ourselves that America has been doing the right and good thing by ignoring this tectonic upheaval and showing indifference to the few liberal friends we have in the lands of autocracy and fanaticism.

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F&F Victims’ Families Deserve Answers

The White House claims Republicans are playing politics by investigating the botched Fast and Furious gunrunner program. Attorney General Eric Holder thinks it’s all a bunch of “political theater.” Rep. Nancy Pelosi insists it’s time for everyone to move on. But the families of U.S. Border Agent Brian Terry and ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapate, who were killed by guns connected to the Fast and Furious, can’t move on. They don’t have that luxury.

In a statement yesterday, Terry’s family blasted Obama for “compound[ing] this tragedy” by obstructing the investigation:

Terry family Attorney Pat McGroder on Wednesday released the following statement from Terry’s parents Josephine Terry and Kent Terry Sr.: “Attorney General Eric Holder’s refusal to fully disclose the documents associated with Operation Fast and Furious and President Obama’s assertion of executive privilege serves to compound this tragedy. It denies the Terry family and the American people the truth.”

The Terrys said that their son “was killed by members of a Mexican drug cartel armed with weapons from this failed Justice Department gun trafficking investigation. For more than 18 months we have been asking our federal government for justice and accountability. The documents sought by the House Oversight Committee and associated with Operation Fast and Furious should be produced and turned over to the committee. Our son lost his life protecting this nation, and it is very disappointing that we are now faced with an administration that seems more concerned with protecting themselves rather than revealing the truth behind Operation Fast and Furious.”

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The White House claims Republicans are playing politics by investigating the botched Fast and Furious gunrunner program. Attorney General Eric Holder thinks it’s all a bunch of “political theater.” Rep. Nancy Pelosi insists it’s time for everyone to move on. But the families of U.S. Border Agent Brian Terry and ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapate, who were killed by guns connected to the Fast and Furious, can’t move on. They don’t have that luxury.

In a statement yesterday, Terry’s family blasted Obama for “compound[ing] this tragedy” by obstructing the investigation:

Terry family Attorney Pat McGroder on Wednesday released the following statement from Terry’s parents Josephine Terry and Kent Terry Sr.: “Attorney General Eric Holder’s refusal to fully disclose the documents associated with Operation Fast and Furious and President Obama’s assertion of executive privilege serves to compound this tragedy. It denies the Terry family and the American people the truth.”

The Terrys said that their son “was killed by members of a Mexican drug cartel armed with weapons from this failed Justice Department gun trafficking investigation. For more than 18 months we have been asking our federal government for justice and accountability. The documents sought by the House Oversight Committee and associated with Operation Fast and Furious should be produced and turned over to the committee. Our son lost his life protecting this nation, and it is very disappointing that we are now faced with an administration that seems more concerned with protecting themselves rather than revealing the truth behind Operation Fast and Furious.”

Meanwhile, Zapata’s family filed a wrongful death claim against the Department of Justice and other agencies yesterday.

Democrats argue the investigation is a political witch hunt, while Republicans insist it’s about accountability. Whichever is true, few can deny that the Terry and Zapata families deserve answers and are entitled to justice. By shielding the DOJ from further investigation, President Obama is preventing these families from pursuing the true circumstances of their sons’ deaths — these two men who gave their lives in service to the public. And that is the real tragedy.

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Our Government Jobs Addiction

The debate about the nation’s declining economy took an interesting turn this past week as liberals have begun arguing that cuts in public sector jobs are sinking any hopes of a recovery. That was the conceit of yesterday’s front-page story in the New York Times that claimed public worker layoffs are hurting the economy. This is an assertion that seems to contradict the focus of most public policy discussions in the past two years — especially during the debt ceiling crisis in 2011 — when most Democrats and Republicans agreed that government expenditures had to be cut and only differed over how much the size of the public payroll needed to be reduced. But with the Republican presidential candidate getting some traction by speaking out on the need to continue cutting back on the size of government, some liberals are pushing back and speaking not only about the cost to the public of cuts in services but also about the role of public sector jobs in inflating the country’s economic balloon.

In a limited sense, they are right, as the wages of government employees are part of the economy and when they disappear, it creates some unemployment as well as a decline in economic activity, not to mention pain for the families involved. But laments about these job cuts should not confuse us about the role the public sector plays in expanding the economy. Genuine growth, the sort of wealth creation that makes all the boats rise, comes from the private sector jobs, not government sinecures. Moreover, if the public schools and other government services are now to be merely seen as jobs programs, then the problems of our education system go a lot deeper than budget shortfalls.

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The debate about the nation’s declining economy took an interesting turn this past week as liberals have begun arguing that cuts in public sector jobs are sinking any hopes of a recovery. That was the conceit of yesterday’s front-page story in the New York Times that claimed public worker layoffs are hurting the economy. This is an assertion that seems to contradict the focus of most public policy discussions in the past two years — especially during the debt ceiling crisis in 2011 — when most Democrats and Republicans agreed that government expenditures had to be cut and only differed over how much the size of the public payroll needed to be reduced. But with the Republican presidential candidate getting some traction by speaking out on the need to continue cutting back on the size of government, some liberals are pushing back and speaking not only about the cost to the public of cuts in services but also about the role of public sector jobs in inflating the country’s economic balloon.

In a limited sense, they are right, as the wages of government employees are part of the economy and when they disappear, it creates some unemployment as well as a decline in economic activity, not to mention pain for the families involved. But laments about these job cuts should not confuse us about the role the public sector plays in expanding the economy. Genuine growth, the sort of wealth creation that makes all the boats rise, comes from the private sector jobs, not government sinecures. Moreover, if the public schools and other government services are now to be merely seen as jobs programs, then the problems of our education system go a lot deeper than budget shortfalls.

The argument about how much role government spending plays in keeping the economy afloat dates back to the Depression and the heyday of Keynesianism. However, the idea that the creation of such public sector jobs creates permanent or sustainable growth is the sort of belief system that sustains bankrupt banana republics, not the United States.

We can reasonably debate just how big government needs to be, and there are cogent arguments to be made that assert the necessity of public services and the problems created when they are axed. But to speak of the schools or other departments as entitlements or as places to shift the unemployed is to take us down a road in which the government is assuming an outsized role in both our lives and the economy and where the private sector is bound to be negatively affected. A society that depends on the government not to just provide for vital services but for employing an increasingly large percentage of adults is one unlikely to be capable of ever digging itself out of an economic hole.

Just as important, dependence on government employment growth means an ever expanding budget deficit that sinks the nation in debt and makes the investment and savings that generate private sector growth and wealth creation less likely. That statist pattern is what we expect to see in Third World countries, where corrupt elites keep unemployment artificially low with vast government jobs programs that are a dual purpose form of stimulus/corruption. Such thinking is not only bad economics it degrades the entire idea of government and ensures that public services will be badly implemented. We are currently a long way from that, but the day our leaders start looking to public sector jobs as a way of solving our unemployment problems, we will have taken the first step toward an addiction to a form of spending that is difficult to break.

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