Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 19, 2012

James Gould Cozzens at 109

James Gould Cozzens, perhaps America’s best forgotten novelist, was born 109 years ago today in Chicago. The excellence of at least three of his novels, Castaway (1934), The Just and the Unjust (1942), and especially Guard of Honor (1948), is not diminished by the fact that most contemporary readers will remember Cozzens, if at all, from Dwight Macdonald’s infamous COMMENTARY essay “By Cozzens Possessed,” the deadliest critical hit job in history. Ironically enough, COMMENTARY was also the venue in which Joseph Epstein sought, a quarter center later, to resuscitate Cozzens’s reputation:

The more impressive of Cozzens’s novels fall well outside the mainstream of modernist fiction. He does not go in for wild invention. In a mature James Gould Cozzens novel a cause has effects, effects ignite further causes, which in turn light up other effects. If you happen to believe that this is how life works—as, it happens, I do—then James Gould Cozzens may be for you. If you don’t, then perhaps you would do better to consider the problems of modern reading in the novels of Italo Calvino or set off on a tour of ancient Egypt with Norman Mailer.

Not a stirring recommendation. As Epstein himself might have said it otherwise, “One cheer for Cozzens!” The resuscitation failed.

I have a soft spot for Cozzens, because he is indirectly guilty for my own choice of a literary career. As a kid, I was mockingly called “the family lawyer,” because I would argue the case of my younger brother and sisters when they got in trouble. I must have been in the sixth grade — I hadn’t yet gone on to junior high school — when I decided that maybe my parents were right about me, after all. I wrote to the Harvard Law School for advice. In reply, I received a reading list. On it was Cozzens’s The Just and the Unjust, a novel about a murder trial that focused almost exclusively (almost exhaustively) on the lawyers. Their work, I mean — not their personalities and back stories and romances. The novel spans just three days, but it is crowded with the effort involved in prosecuting, defending, and judging a case. By the end, the main character — an assistant district attorney — is deeply tired, “not physically in a way to make him sleepy, but in the protracted drain of nervous energy.” That really was Cozzens’s subject: how men and women drain themselves with rewarding work. I could see why Harvard Law had recommended the novel: no better account of a lawyer’s day-to-day responsibilities could be imagined. But I preferred the accounting to the responsibilities.

Castaway is a puzzling and suspenseful tale of a man trapped in a deserted modern department store. Cozzens begins by quoting from Robinson Crusoe, and in similar fashion, his hero must carve out an existence on an island of commerce, which contains little to sustain a human life. Guard of Honor is Cozzens’s masterpiece. The sociologist Robert A. Nisbet once told the New York Times, when asked to name the postwar books most likely to achieve literary immortality, that Lolita and Guard of Honor both express “something distinctive and important about our age.” The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a World War II novel, but a novel about the war behind the lines. It examines the effects of integration upon the U.S. Army Air Force over just 48 hours at a base in Florida. It is not a novel of combat, but of professionalism: the USAAF officers in the novel are at work, on problems serious and trivial.

“There are two species of novelist,” as my friend William Giraldi says in this morning’s New York Times Book Review: “one writes as if the world is a known locale that requires dutiful reporting, the other as if the world has yet to be made.” Cozzens belongs to the league of the former — the meticulous realists — but he makes you realize that a “known locale” is not really known after all, because really knowing it requires a protracted drain of nervous energy.

James Gould Cozzens, perhaps America’s best forgotten novelist, was born 109 years ago today in Chicago. The excellence of at least three of his novels, Castaway (1934), The Just and the Unjust (1942), and especially Guard of Honor (1948), is not diminished by the fact that most contemporary readers will remember Cozzens, if at all, from Dwight Macdonald’s infamous COMMENTARY essay “By Cozzens Possessed,” the deadliest critical hit job in history. Ironically enough, COMMENTARY was also the venue in which Joseph Epstein sought, a quarter center later, to resuscitate Cozzens’s reputation:

The more impressive of Cozzens’s novels fall well outside the mainstream of modernist fiction. He does not go in for wild invention. In a mature James Gould Cozzens novel a cause has effects, effects ignite further causes, which in turn light up other effects. If you happen to believe that this is how life works—as, it happens, I do—then James Gould Cozzens may be for you. If you don’t, then perhaps you would do better to consider the problems of modern reading in the novels of Italo Calvino or set off on a tour of ancient Egypt with Norman Mailer.

Not a stirring recommendation. As Epstein himself might have said it otherwise, “One cheer for Cozzens!” The resuscitation failed.

I have a soft spot for Cozzens, because he is indirectly guilty for my own choice of a literary career. As a kid, I was mockingly called “the family lawyer,” because I would argue the case of my younger brother and sisters when they got in trouble. I must have been in the sixth grade — I hadn’t yet gone on to junior high school — when I decided that maybe my parents were right about me, after all. I wrote to the Harvard Law School for advice. In reply, I received a reading list. On it was Cozzens’s The Just and the Unjust, a novel about a murder trial that focused almost exclusively (almost exhaustively) on the lawyers. Their work, I mean — not their personalities and back stories and romances. The novel spans just three days, but it is crowded with the effort involved in prosecuting, defending, and judging a case. By the end, the main character — an assistant district attorney — is deeply tired, “not physically in a way to make him sleepy, but in the protracted drain of nervous energy.” That really was Cozzens’s subject: how men and women drain themselves with rewarding work. I could see why Harvard Law had recommended the novel: no better account of a lawyer’s day-to-day responsibilities could be imagined. But I preferred the accounting to the responsibilities.

Castaway is a puzzling and suspenseful tale of a man trapped in a deserted modern department store. Cozzens begins by quoting from Robinson Crusoe, and in similar fashion, his hero must carve out an existence on an island of commerce, which contains little to sustain a human life. Guard of Honor is Cozzens’s masterpiece. The sociologist Robert A. Nisbet once told the New York Times, when asked to name the postwar books most likely to achieve literary immortality, that Lolita and Guard of Honor both express “something distinctive and important about our age.” The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a World War II novel, but a novel about the war behind the lines. It examines the effects of integration upon the U.S. Army Air Force over just 48 hours at a base in Florida. It is not a novel of combat, but of professionalism: the USAAF officers in the novel are at work, on problems serious and trivial.

“There are two species of novelist,” as my friend William Giraldi says in this morning’s New York Times Book Review: “one writes as if the world is a known locale that requires dutiful reporting, the other as if the world has yet to be made.” Cozzens belongs to the league of the former — the meticulous realists — but he makes you realize that a “known locale” is not really known after all, because really knowing it requires a protracted drain of nervous energy.

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Schemers vs. Ineffective Message Crafters

Today’s New York Times Book Review features an interview with NPR’s Ira Glass, who was asked, “What’s the one book you wish someone else would write?” He gave the following answer:

“Could someone please write a book explaining why the Democratic Party and its allies are so much less effective at crafting a message and having a vision than their Republican counterparts? … I remember reading in The Times that as soon as Obama won, the Republicans were scheming about how they’d turn it around for the next election, and came up with the plan that won them the House, and wondered, did the House Dems even hold a similar meeting?”

You have to admire the scheme the Republicans crafted as soon as Obama won. Faced with a new president with a 65 percent approval rating and complete control of Congress, the Republicans held a meeting and came up with a brilliant plan:

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Today’s New York Times Book Review features an interview with NPR’s Ira Glass, who was asked, “What’s the one book you wish someone else would write?” He gave the following answer:

“Could someone please write a book explaining why the Democratic Party and its allies are so much less effective at crafting a message and having a vision than their Republican counterparts? … I remember reading in The Times that as soon as Obama won, the Republicans were scheming about how they’d turn it around for the next election, and came up with the plan that won them the House, and wondered, did the House Dems even hold a similar meeting?”

You have to admire the scheme the Republicans crafted as soon as Obama won. Faced with a new president with a 65 percent approval rating and complete control of Congress, the Republicans held a meeting and came up with a brilliant plan:

Have the President spend nearly a trillion dollars on shovel-ready jobs that didn’t exist; use the money to benefit public-employee unions while the private sector hemorrhaged; pivot to a federal healthcare plan opposed by a majority of the public; assign oversight of the recovery effort to Joe Biden (because nobody messes with Joe); run up trillions of new public debt; propose budgets no one would vote for; ignore the presidential commission’s recommendations for solving the problem; adopt an apologetic foreign policy, intentionally putting daylight between America and its allies; trade the interests of European allies for magic reset beans; become impatient with the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” but exhibit endless patience with Iran; play a record number of rounds of golf but avoid press conferences; give himself an A- after his first year (conditioned on ramming his healthcare plan through Congress within a couple months).

And then the Republicans took advantage of the fact that, as Glass suggests, the Democrats did not even hold a similar meeting.

Although the Times has not reported it, the word is out that after the 2010 shellacking, the Republicans held another meeting, and came up with an even simpler scheme for 2012: have the President double down, explaining how in his first two years he got the policy right but didn’t tell a story to the American people; and then have him craft a one-word message to the people: Forward.

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Beware of Conventional Wisdom About Iran

As Israelis and their government continue to debate the merits of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, the contempt for American foreign policy realists for the idea the Jewish state might decide to act in its own defense is considerable. Contempt for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak seems to be the primary motivation for the latest missive for James Traub, one of the realists leading writers, that appeared in Foreign Policy on Friday. Rather the focus on the “zone of immunity” that many Israelis and others worried about the nuclear threat believe Iran may be entering as its stockpiles get larger and are stored in invulnerable bunkers, Traub is more interested in what he calls, as the title of the piece puts it, the “zone of insanity.” As far as he is concerned Netanyahu and Barak are nuts to even think about acting without the permission of the United States.

But the answer to Traub’s points comes in his own column. Even the Obama administration now understands diplomacy and sanctions have failed. The only possible diplomatic solution is to agree to a compromise lauded by Traub that would leave Iran’s nuclear project intact. Under these circumstances, it is fair to ask who’s insane: The foreign policy realists who have been wrong about just about everything about the Middle East for decades and who now expect Israel to wait patiently for Iran to go nuclear or Netanyahu, who understands all too well that the Israel-hating ayatollahs mean what they say about eliminating Israel. If these purveyors of conventional wisdom are now counseling further inaction or more feckless diplomacy, that’s good reason for Israelis to think hard and long about attacking Iran soon.

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As Israelis and their government continue to debate the merits of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, the contempt for American foreign policy realists for the idea the Jewish state might decide to act in its own defense is considerable. Contempt for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak seems to be the primary motivation for the latest missive for James Traub, one of the realists leading writers, that appeared in Foreign Policy on Friday. Rather the focus on the “zone of immunity” that many Israelis and others worried about the nuclear threat believe Iran may be entering as its stockpiles get larger and are stored in invulnerable bunkers, Traub is more interested in what he calls, as the title of the piece puts it, the “zone of insanity.” As far as he is concerned Netanyahu and Barak are nuts to even think about acting without the permission of the United States.

But the answer to Traub’s points comes in his own column. Even the Obama administration now understands diplomacy and sanctions have failed. The only possible diplomatic solution is to agree to a compromise lauded by Traub that would leave Iran’s nuclear project intact. Under these circumstances, it is fair to ask who’s insane: The foreign policy realists who have been wrong about just about everything about the Middle East for decades and who now expect Israel to wait patiently for Iran to go nuclear or Netanyahu, who understands all too well that the Israel-hating ayatollahs mean what they say about eliminating Israel. If these purveyors of conventional wisdom are now counseling further inaction or more feckless diplomacy, that’s good reason for Israelis to think hard and long about attacking Iran soon.

Traub believes, not without reason, that the recent flurry of leaks and open talk of an Israeli attack are motivated by a desire in Jerusalem to force the hand of the Obama administration. The president’s current strategy about Iran is to kick the can down the road until after the November election. If re-elected, he may then have the “flexibility” to back down from his pledges not to accept or “contain” a nuclear Iran. Netanyahu may hope the threat of an Israeli attack may motivate the president to obligate the United States to use force sooner rather than later as attempts to talk Iran off the ledge continue to fail.

Realists oppose such red lines. They also dispute the veracity of recent reports of a new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate revising previous erroneous rulings about Iran giving up the quest for nuclear weapons. But if they claim supporters of a tougher policy on Iran endorse such a conclusion because they want to raise the pressure on Tehran, those who oppose action are arguing the new NIE is non-existent because that suits their pre-existing notions about what should be done. But even Jeffrey Lewis, another realist, wrote in Foreign Policy two days earlier specifically to cast doubt about the intelligence about Iran, concedes that there is no doubt the Iranians have already done work towards nuclear weaponization but claims it’s merely old news and nothing to get excited about.

Traub, almost in passing, also mocks those who have written about the depth of the anti-Semitism of the Iranian regime and chortles about Netanyahu’s endorsement of such columns. But the day Traub’s piece was published, Iran held its annual Al Quds day in which millions were turned out to chant “death to Israel” and the country’s leaders competed with each other as to who would make the most extreme statements about the elimination of the Jewish state. Iran’s government, media and religious institutions (all of which are under the thrall of the ayatollahs) are drenched in Jew-hatred and routinely spew hateful rhetoric. Iran also is the major sponsor of terror groups that kill Jews and Israelis whenever they can. Yet realists seem to think talk about such topics is irrelevant to the question of allowing Iran to go nuclear or the urgency of acting before it is too late.

The dangers that an attack on Iran would present to Israel and the world are real. But having been as wrong about the Palestinians’ desire for peace as they are about Iran’s willingness to back away from the nuclear abyss, the realists have no credibility to bring into this argument. Israelis do well to worry about the implications of acting on their own but Traub’s efforts to minimize the risks of doing nothing ring hollow in the ears of those tasked with defending the existence of the Jewish state.

If they are serious about persuading Israel to stand down, realists like Traub would do better to pressure President Obama to start acting like he means business about Iran rather than obviously signaling that he doesn’t. Neither the Iranians nor the Israelis believe the president wants to do anything but avoid making a decision on this most dangerous foreign policy dilemma.  But until their minds are changed, Traub’s jibes at Netanyahu will continue to ring hollow.

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Assange Tests the Limits to Leftist Paranoia

Nice try, Julian. The creepy Julian Assange, mastermind of the WikiLeaks site, would love to pretend he is a victim of an American “witch hunt.” Indeed that was the very term he used in his address today from the Ecuador Embassy in London where he has holed up. He also referred to Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier who was said to have leaked confidential State Department cables to WikiLeaks, as a “political prisoner” and compared himself to Pussy Riot, the Russian band sentenced to prison for mocking Vladimir Putin.

Problem is, Assange isn’t being stalked by legions of CIA assassins a la Jason Bourne. Nor even by CIA Predators a la Al Qaeda. He is facing extradition to Sweden to face charges that he committed sex crimes against two women. His legal appeals exhausted in the UK, Assange forfeited the substantial bail ($376,000) raised by radical chic supporters such as Michael Moore and hightailed it to the Ecuador Embassy—so desperate is Assange to avoid a trial in a defendant-friendly jurisdiction such as Sweden. The only wonder is that he has any friends left at this point.

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Nice try, Julian. The creepy Julian Assange, mastermind of the WikiLeaks site, would love to pretend he is a victim of an American “witch hunt.” Indeed that was the very term he used in his address today from the Ecuador Embassy in London where he has holed up. He also referred to Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier who was said to have leaked confidential State Department cables to WikiLeaks, as a “political prisoner” and compared himself to Pussy Riot, the Russian band sentenced to prison for mocking Vladimir Putin.

Problem is, Assange isn’t being stalked by legions of CIA assassins a la Jason Bourne. Nor even by CIA Predators a la Al Qaeda. He is facing extradition to Sweden to face charges that he committed sex crimes against two women. His legal appeals exhausted in the UK, Assange forfeited the substantial bail ($376,000) raised by radical chic supporters such as Michael Moore and hightailed it to the Ecuador Embassy—so desperate is Assange to avoid a trial in a defendant-friendly jurisdiction such as Sweden. The only wonder is that he has any friends left at this point.


But there will always be corners of “progressive” opinion that will cheer anyone who is ant-American no matter what else he is. I can’t help thinking, however, that if the same accusations had been made against a conservative, rather than a leftist, icon, Assange would get labeled as “anti-woman.”

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Eco-Luddites New Target: Air Conditioning

The leftist critique of capitalism and all the improvements in the quality of life that it has brought remains what it has always been: the desire of intellectuals to dictate to the rest of humanity how they may live. Or even more to the point, how many of them may live at all. Thus, the latest New York Times feature about the evils of air conditioning and how the increasing demand for it in the Third World is unsustainable tells us a lot more about the left and its mindset than it does about the future of society.

The piece in the Sunday Review by Elisabeth Rosenthal at least is honest about why more air conditioning is needed. It is a major factor in productivity around the world. The economic boom in places like Singapore and other warm-weather cities was made possible in no small measure by air conditioning. As population growth and economic activity rises in other Third World cities, more AC will be needed. But for the Times, this spells environmental doom since they tell us the energy used to run the units and the emissions from the coolants will create more global warming. The answer from the left to this conundrum is typical of the sort of eco-Luddite argument we’ve been hearing for decades. People will have to learn to live without air conditioning in the same way they are told to live without the freedom that automobiles give them. Sweat more and shut up about it seems to be the mantra. But the problem with this sort of thinking is not just the arrogance of western liberals telling people to do without modern conveniences; it is that it reflects a lack of understanding of human potential.

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The leftist critique of capitalism and all the improvements in the quality of life that it has brought remains what it has always been: the desire of intellectuals to dictate to the rest of humanity how they may live. Or even more to the point, how many of them may live at all. Thus, the latest New York Times feature about the evils of air conditioning and how the increasing demand for it in the Third World is unsustainable tells us a lot more about the left and its mindset than it does about the future of society.

The piece in the Sunday Review by Elisabeth Rosenthal at least is honest about why more air conditioning is needed. It is a major factor in productivity around the world. The economic boom in places like Singapore and other warm-weather cities was made possible in no small measure by air conditioning. As population growth and economic activity rises in other Third World cities, more AC will be needed. But for the Times, this spells environmental doom since they tell us the energy used to run the units and the emissions from the coolants will create more global warming. The answer from the left to this conundrum is typical of the sort of eco-Luddite argument we’ve been hearing for decades. People will have to learn to live without air conditioning in the same way they are told to live without the freedom that automobiles give them. Sweat more and shut up about it seems to be the mantra. But the problem with this sort of thinking is not just the arrogance of western liberals telling people to do without modern conveniences; it is that it reflects a lack of understanding of human potential.

There is something slightly disingenuous about this entire discussion since it is the use of heat in winter rather than air conditioning in summer that may have the bigger carbon footprint. But, as George Will wrote Friday in the Washington Post, forty years after the Club of Rome’s seminal work about “The Limits of Growth” that spawned a generation of environmental hysteria, there is a reason why what he calls “apocalypse fatigue — boredom from being repeatedly told the end is nigh” has set in. The idea that “intractable scarcities” in virtually all commodities would be created by continued population growth” has effectively been debunked by virtually every technological development since then. But don’t tell the environmental extremists.

Those plagued by Malthusian pessimism about the future of humanity have always underestimated human innovation. Instead of humanity being reduced in the decades after the first “Earth Day” to a “Soylent Green” nightmare of shortages and poverty in which scarcity of limited resources as swamped by a surplus of people, we have seen prosperity grow. To the surprise and dismay of the doomsayers, this has happened not only in the West but also in developing nations whose citizens believe they have the same right to comfort as the residents of the Upper West Side.

As both Abe and John Steele Gordon noted on Friday, just as nobody among the environmental hysterics foresaw the decline of CO2 emissions because of the way the free market mandated changes in the way we produce energy, so, too, are they unable to imagine that humanity is capable of solving other problems. And one need only read the hundreds of comments by the liberal readership of the Times in response to the article about air conditioning to see that many of them are still focused on the thesis that underlined that original fallacious Club of Rome report about scarcity: there are too many people on the planet and laws must be passed to limit procreation.

That is the inevitable conclusion of any such argument against capitalism. The default position of the left is to always fall back on the idea that there too many people and that those who are allowed to live in the future must heed the instruction of the intellectuals and accept restrictions on their freedom if they are to be permitted to remain.

The eco-Luddites may sweat in the summer if they like and preach to the masses about the benefits of fans and tell us why sleeping (naked) in rooms where the temperature is 84 degrees is really comfortable as Ms. Rosenthal suggests. The rest of us will rely on the free market to do what it has always done: provide cost-effective solutions to humanity’s problems and keep our air conditioners humming when it is hot. The only answer to the problem the Times references is more growth, more wealth and more innovation. Which is to say more capitalism and more individual freedom.

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U.S. Errors Boosted Iran’s Meddling in Iraq

The front-page New York Times story today on the role that Iraqi financial instituions are playing in helping Iran to evade sanctions may well be taken by opponents of the decision to invade Iraq as vindication of one of their core arguments: namely, that Saddam Hussein was a vital bulwark against Iranian power and that toppling him would only increase Iranian influence in Iraq.

How much of a bulwark Saddam actually was is debatable: The Iranian Revolution spread its influence for decades to Lebanon and Syria, among other places, all the while Saddam was still in power. That Iran has managed to increase its influence in Iraq since 2003 is incontestable, however. To some extent, Iranian influence in a neighboring state is inevitable. The situation has gotten worse, however, because of a series of bad policy choices made in Washington.

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The front-page New York Times story today on the role that Iraqi financial instituions are playing in helping Iran to evade sanctions may well be taken by opponents of the decision to invade Iraq as vindication of one of their core arguments: namely, that Saddam Hussein was a vital bulwark against Iranian power and that toppling him would only increase Iranian influence in Iraq.

How much of a bulwark Saddam actually was is debatable: The Iranian Revolution spread its influence for decades to Lebanon and Syria, among other places, all the while Saddam was still in power. That Iran has managed to increase its influence in Iraq since 2003 is incontestable, however. To some extent, Iranian influence in a neighboring state is inevitable. The situation has gotten worse, however, because of a series of bad policy choices made in Washington.

First and foremost was President George W. Bush’s failure to establish a modicum of stability in Iraq after 2003; the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force was able to fill some of the resulting vacuum by funding a host of Shiite politicians and militias (and even some Sunnis). But Bush, to his credit, made up, at least to a large extent, for his initial blunders with the success of the surge in 2007-2008–which not only curbed the power of sectarian terrorist groups such as Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdist Army but also of Sadr’s Iranian backers. Indeed, under the leadership of General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the U.S. mounted a sophisticated campaign to expose and curb the influence of the Quds Force.

A great deal of that success has been undone, alas, by two bad decisions made by President Obama: First the decision to back a coalition headed by Nouri al Maliki in forming a government even after Maliki finished second in the 2010 election. If the U.S. had gone all out to support the winning slate, led by Ayad Allawi, the result might well have been a government in Baghdad far less amenable to Iranian influence than the current one.

This initial mistake was made much worse by Obama’s failure to negotiate an accord to allow U.S. troops to remain in Iraq past 2011. With the U.S. military presence gone, and our intelligence and diplomatic presence much reduced, our ability to track and counter Iranian machinations has declined alarmingly. Thus Iraq is now becoming aligned with Iran on a host of issues, helping the Iranians not only to defy sanctions but also to support the Assad regime in Damascus.

This is not to say that Iraq is a puppet of Iran; even Iraqi Shiites maintain a healthy distrust of their Persian neighbors. But it does mean that Iran will exercise substantial influence–more than it would if the U.S. were still maintaining a robust presence in Iraq that could serve as a hedge against Iranian meddling.

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Campaign to Demonize Ryan Won’t Work

The Democratic effort to change Paul Ryan’s image from one of a choirboy intellectual to a monster threatening the rights of women is in full swing. As Politico reports, liberals are concentrating their fire not so much on the Republican vice presidential candidate’s plan to reform entitlements as on his part in the faux Republican “war on women” that they launched earlier this year. Instead of Ryan pushing granny off the cliff as part of the Mediscare smear, we’re likely to hear a lot more in the coming weeks about Ryan’s stand on abortion and efforts to depict his budget proposal as hurting women. But the question liberals need to be asking themselves today is not just if these sort of attacks will work but whether they might backfire with a crucial constituency the Democrats need desperately if President Obama is to be re-elected.

The primary obstacle to the Ryan demonization campaign is that it is difficult to whip up hatred for someone who is basically likeable. Ryan’s thought-provoking proposals are controversial because he isn’t afraid to take on hard issues and prescribe bold solutions to seemingly intractable problems. But politics is about personalities and the idea that a person like Ryan, whom has always been described even by his political foes as reasonable, cordial and respectful, can be transformed into a sinister figure is a stretch. It’s certainly not going to be accomplished by hysterical appeals from the left-wing groups or snarky columns by the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd who today wrote of the GOP veep candidate as a Catholic version of arch villain Dick Cheney. The utility of this sort of cheap bile may be to rile up the liberal base. Yet the more Democrats go down this road, the danger is that they will not so much rally women to their cause as they will alienate working class Catholics, a demographic group that Democrats need to win elections.

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The Democratic effort to change Paul Ryan’s image from one of a choirboy intellectual to a monster threatening the rights of women is in full swing. As Politico reports, liberals are concentrating their fire not so much on the Republican vice presidential candidate’s plan to reform entitlements as on his part in the faux Republican “war on women” that they launched earlier this year. Instead of Ryan pushing granny off the cliff as part of the Mediscare smear, we’re likely to hear a lot more in the coming weeks about Ryan’s stand on abortion and efforts to depict his budget proposal as hurting women. But the question liberals need to be asking themselves today is not just if these sort of attacks will work but whether they might backfire with a crucial constituency the Democrats need desperately if President Obama is to be re-elected.

The primary obstacle to the Ryan demonization campaign is that it is difficult to whip up hatred for someone who is basically likeable. Ryan’s thought-provoking proposals are controversial because he isn’t afraid to take on hard issues and prescribe bold solutions to seemingly intractable problems. But politics is about personalities and the idea that a person like Ryan, whom has always been described even by his political foes as reasonable, cordial and respectful, can be transformed into a sinister figure is a stretch. It’s certainly not going to be accomplished by hysterical appeals from the left-wing groups or snarky columns by the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd who today wrote of the GOP veep candidate as a Catholic version of arch villain Dick Cheney. The utility of this sort of cheap bile may be to rile up the liberal base. Yet the more Democrats go down this road, the danger is that they will not so much rally women to their cause as they will alienate working class Catholics, a demographic group that Democrats need to win elections.

Liberals always think waving the bloody shirt of the culture war works to their advantage. That’s because everyone in the circles in which they move view Americans who share Ryan’s views in the same way that candidate Barack Obama did in 2008 when he candidly dismissed them as proles “clinging to guns and their religion.” But just as President Obama is smart enough to understand that advocating restrictions on gun ownership is a political death wish in which in which the vast majority oppose such proposals, his media cheerleaders should not deceive themselves into thinking that the electorate will turn on a politician merely because he is a social conservative.

The attacks on Ryan are politically tone deaf because it is not enough to merely target a man’s views to get voters to put them down as an extremist. Those attacks must be linked to something in the candidate’s personality, demeanor or record that strikes the public as disqualifying. But in Ryan, Democrats are confronted by a person with a positive vision, intellectual depth and integrity and a nice personal touch that has been able to transcend partisan differences both in Congress and in his Wisconsin Congressional district where he has consistently won the support of Democrats and independents. Negative ads can be useful but in Ryan, Democrats may be confronting a target that is just too smart and too appealing to besmirch with impunity. Nor can they be sure that by doing so they are not hurting their party with Catholics who might otherwise be enticed to back Obama in November.

The Paul Ryan who toured Florida this week with his 78-year-old Medicare recipient mother is not one that will be so easily trashed as a threat to old people. Expecting female voters to fall in lockstep with Obama merely by screaming about abortion may be equally futile.

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Wave of Anti-Putin Protests Hits the U.S.

I agree with Max’s post below. While Friday’s sentencing in Russia of three members of a punk rock protest outfit was a travesty of justice–the girls were each give two-year prison terms–it also exposed the Putin regime’s thuggish tactics to a broader audience, making it more difficult for apologists to gloss over the government’s oppression. As Seth noted, Pussy Riot’s treatment is being condemned by celebrities, who may be politically clueless but can still bring a lot of much-needed attention to the issue.

The regime’s response to protesters after the sentencing has only invited more global outrage. Human Rights Foundation chairman Garry Kasparov, a prominent chess champion and activist, was reportedly beaten severely by Russian police outside the courthouse where the sentencing took place today.

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I agree with Max’s post below. While Friday’s sentencing in Russia of three members of a punk rock protest outfit was a travesty of justice–the girls were each give two-year prison terms–it also exposed the Putin regime’s thuggish tactics to a broader audience, making it more difficult for apologists to gloss over the government’s oppression. As Seth noted, Pussy Riot’s treatment is being condemned by celebrities, who may be politically clueless but can still bring a lot of much-needed attention to the issue.

The regime’s response to protesters after the sentencing has only invited more global outrage. Human Rights Foundation chairman Garry Kasparov, a prominent chess champion and activist, was reportedly beaten severely by Russian police outside the courthouse where the sentencing took place today.

“If anyone had any doubts about the despotic nature of Russia’s regime, the arrest and violence used against someone simply standing outside a courthouse perfectly illustrates the dire situation in that country today,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation, in an public statement.

The sentencing sparked protests at Russian embassies from NYC to London. In Washington, D.C., there were demonstrations in front of the embassy and the Russian ambassador’s residence.

At one protest in D.C., organized by the Center for American Freedom (which runs the Washington Free Beacon), demonstrators carried signs decrying Putin and calling for the prisoners to be released. “How’s the oppression going?” CAF’s chairman Michael Goldfarb yelled at people entering the residence, while a group of protesters — including someone in a gorilla suit and a woman in a Putin mask — waved signs nearby. According to Goldfarb, this was CAF’s first direct action demonstration. He said he wanted to send a message to Putin that “there’s still a few people who care.”

If today’s global protests are any indication, it’s far more than just a few. Whether that gets through to the “Reset” enthusiasts in the Obama administration — which issued a fairly mild statement saying it was “concerned” about the “disproportionate sentencing” — remains to be seen.

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RE: The Free Market is Crushing CO2 Emissions

As an addendum to Abe’s excellent post, it would be interesting  to see a poll that asked people where American CO2 emissions are today relative to where they were when Bill Clinton was elected president. I’m confident that most people would think they are higher or much higher, when in fact they are about the same, thanks to a steep fall beginning in 2007. Good environmental news, especially if it’s due to the free market instead of bureaucrats, just doesn’t fit the narrative. The New York Times, for instance, did not see fit to print this story.

But as John Hinderaker over at Powerline points out,  at least as big a problem is lousy data and the dishonest used of it by climateers and politicians.  Governor Jerry Brown of California recently said that, “Global warming’s impact on Lake Tahoe is well documented.” But it turns out that the data supporting that claim comes from just one weather station, which has measured an increase beginning about 1980. No other weather station in the area shows any increase in average temperatures, so why does this one? Because a local janitor was for years burning refuse in a barrel located only a few feet from the station and a tennis court was built not much further away in about 1980. The tennis court, of course, absorbs heat all day long and then slowly emits it all night. You can find pictures and charts here.

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As an addendum to Abe’s excellent post, it would be interesting  to see a poll that asked people where American CO2 emissions are today relative to where they were when Bill Clinton was elected president. I’m confident that most people would think they are higher or much higher, when in fact they are about the same, thanks to a steep fall beginning in 2007. Good environmental news, especially if it’s due to the free market instead of bureaucrats, just doesn’t fit the narrative. The New York Times, for instance, did not see fit to print this story.

But as John Hinderaker over at Powerline points out,  at least as big a problem is lousy data and the dishonest used of it by climateers and politicians.  Governor Jerry Brown of California recently said that, “Global warming’s impact on Lake Tahoe is well documented.” But it turns out that the data supporting that claim comes from just one weather station, which has measured an increase beginning about 1980. No other weather station in the area shows any increase in average temperatures, so why does this one? Because a local janitor was for years burning refuse in a barrel located only a few feet from the station and a tennis court was built not much further away in about 1980. The tennis court, of course, absorbs heat all day long and then slowly emits it all night. You can find pictures and charts here.

As American cities have grown, they have often engulfed weather stations, subjecting them in the urban heat island effect in the process. What was a potato field in 1925 is today a parking lot outside a strip mall. This is not taken into account. Also, hundreds of the weather stations no longer conform to NOAA standards, such as avoiding local conditions that might affect the data they collect, such as nearby asphalt surfaces and air conditioning exhaust fans.

If the Republicans win in November, they would do the country a big favor by requiring NOAA to bring its vast network of weather stations into conformity with its own standards for collecting good data.

 

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