Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 6, 2013

Wrong on Paul? Christie Showed Leadership

Rand Paul is the quintessential outsider of American politics. Like his ally Ted Cruz, his disdain for the sensibilities of the Washington establishment is matched only by his refusal to play its rules. But the willingness of some members of the conservative establishment to come to Paul’s defense after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took him to task is a disturbing sign of the crackup of a generations-old Republican consensus on foreign and defense policy. George Will’s brush back of Christie wasn’t surprising, as he has always been a critic of post-9/11 American foreign and defense policy. But Peggy Noonan’s attack on Christie in the Wall Street Journal removes all doubt that some of veteran members of the GOP’s chattering class are headed off the reservation.

The timing of this attack, like Paul ally Rep. Justin Amash’s claim that NSA leaker Edward Snowden is a courageous “whistleblower” and not a traitor, is unfortunate. While Noonan characterizes Christie’s attempt to refocus Americans on the reality of a war still being waged on the United States by Islamist terrorists as “manipulative” and as “an appeal to emotion, not to logic,” it is she who is ignoring the larger context of the debate Paul has launched. While all government power deserves scrutiny, her allusion to a “national security” state—the old line of the hard left that has now been appropriated by some on the right—and Orwell’s Winston Smith is disturbing because it bespeaks not the natural skepticism of the conservative but the knee-jerk isolationism of a libertarian movement that has never cared much for America’s global responsibilities or the need to engage with the world and face our enemies. The isolationist impulse that Paul and Amash are seeking to promote is not a case of “conservatives acting like conservatives,” as Noonan put it, but a disturbing retreat that could, as Christie pointed out, produce awful consequences.

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Rand Paul is the quintessential outsider of American politics. Like his ally Ted Cruz, his disdain for the sensibilities of the Washington establishment is matched only by his refusal to play its rules. But the willingness of some members of the conservative establishment to come to Paul’s defense after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took him to task is a disturbing sign of the crackup of a generations-old Republican consensus on foreign and defense policy. George Will’s brush back of Christie wasn’t surprising, as he has always been a critic of post-9/11 American foreign and defense policy. But Peggy Noonan’s attack on Christie in the Wall Street Journal removes all doubt that some of veteran members of the GOP’s chattering class are headed off the reservation.

The timing of this attack, like Paul ally Rep. Justin Amash’s claim that NSA leaker Edward Snowden is a courageous “whistleblower” and not a traitor, is unfortunate. While Noonan characterizes Christie’s attempt to refocus Americans on the reality of a war still being waged on the United States by Islamist terrorists as “manipulative” and as “an appeal to emotion, not to logic,” it is she who is ignoring the larger context of the debate Paul has launched. While all government power deserves scrutiny, her allusion to a “national security” state—the old line of the hard left that has now been appropriated by some on the right—and Orwell’s Winston Smith is disturbing because it bespeaks not the natural skepticism of the conservative but the knee-jerk isolationism of a libertarian movement that has never cared much for America’s global responsibilities or the need to engage with the world and face our enemies. The isolationist impulse that Paul and Amash are seeking to promote is not a case of “conservatives acting like conservatives,” as Noonan put it, but a disturbing retreat that could, as Christie pointed out, produce awful consequences.

Noonan takes particular issue with Christie’s characterization of the libertarian critique of the NSA as well as drone attacks as “esoteric.” But she’s wrong that in doing so he’s ignoring the concerns that some Americans have with government abuse of power or particular instances in which the NSA may have misbehaved. To the contrary, it is Paul, Amash, and now Noonan who are behaving as if homeland security is an abstract concept that has little relevance to the lives of Americans. What he was trying to do was to refocus the party faithful on a fact that Noonan doesn’t see as particularly relevant. This is, after all, about the measures being employed by the government to defend the United States against an enemy that is, contrary to Barack Obama’s boasting and the complacence of the libertarians, very much still alive and determined to kill as many Americans as they can.

Rather than Christie seeking to manipulate our emotions by references to the families of 9/11 victims, it is Paul and others who have stoked paranoia about “Big Brother” government by posing theoretical arguments about drones killing citizens sitting in Starbucks or misleading Americans into thinking that the spooks are reading all of their emails or listening to all of their calls. Noonan plays the same game herself by trying to unnerve us by alluding to articles about the theoretical ability of super spies to use high-tech software to activate microphones on our phones and record our utterances.

No doubt there are people laboring away at the CIA and the NSA coming up with gadgets that James Bond would envy. But, like the guns that municipalities give police that could, if employed by rogues who run amok, be used to kill innocents, we understand that our security services are primarily focused on dealing with the bad guys. While no system is foolproof, if we cannot trust the existing structure of court jurisdiction and congressional oversight, then it is impossible to construct a rationale for any counter-terror operations or efforts to monitor our enemies.

There are dangers from new technologies and there is always a tension between civil liberties and security in a democracy. But the spirit of resistance to government action that Paul represents is far more lacking in balance than Christie’s apt if impatient dismissal of libertarian efforts to obstruct necessary measures to deal with al-Qaeda.

Noonan is right that polls show a growing number of Americans expressing concerns about the NSA and virtually any expression of government power. Given Obama’s overreach on virtually every issue and his inability to take responsibility for disasters like Benghazi, that is understandable. But what Paul is trying to do is to exploit this natural cynicism to fundamentally alter America’s foreign and defense policy. Noonan tries to spin this as an argument between the grass roots and the elites and the “moneymen” who hang out at the Aspen Institute where Christie spoke. That’s a nasty piece of invective that does little to enlighten the debate. That said, it is possible that a libertarian-fueled paranoia on national security efforts will dominate the GOP’s 2016 presidential race. Yet what the New Jersey governor was exhibiting was a quality that Noonan tends to praise in other circumstances: leadership.

What Republicans need right now is someone who isn’t afraid of confronting Paul and his crowd before they hijack a party that has been a bastion of support for a strong America since the Second World War. Jonah Goldberg is right when he noted today in the Los Angeles Times that the assumption that isolationism is a conservative tradition is incorrect. Isolationism has, as he points out, always been as much, if not more, at home on the left as it has ever been on the right. I, for one, didn’t expect Chris Christie to be one of the few Republicans who would have the guts to call out Paul and the libertarians and attempt to arrest the libertarian tide before it allows the Democrats to become the party with a natural edge on foreign and defense policy. Having done so, he deserves a lot better from those who pose as the conservative movement’s elders than he is currently getting.

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Marco Rubio’s Folly

I’ve praised Senator Marco Rubio on many occasions. He is, in fact, one of the lawmakers I most like and admire. By all accounts he’s a person of some depth. All of which makes his arguments about shutting down the federal government unless the president agrees to defund the Affordable Care Act rather puzzling. 

In an interview earlier this week, Senator Rubio made several arguments, including this one:

Look, I’m not attacking anyone directly. All I’m saying is that you cannot say you are against Obamacare if you are willing to vote for a law that funds it. If you’re willing to fund this thing, you can’t possibly say you’re against it.

So is that the new Rubio Standard? Are we to believe he supported every item funded in every budget bill he voted for while serving in the Florida legislature? Or that in the future he’ll support every program of every budget he votes for in the United States Senate?

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I’ve praised Senator Marco Rubio on many occasions. He is, in fact, one of the lawmakers I most like and admire. By all accounts he’s a person of some depth. All of which makes his arguments about shutting down the federal government unless the president agrees to defund the Affordable Care Act rather puzzling. 

In an interview earlier this week, Senator Rubio made several arguments, including this one:

Look, I’m not attacking anyone directly. All I’m saying is that you cannot say you are against Obamacare if you are willing to vote for a law that funds it. If you’re willing to fund this thing, you can’t possibly say you’re against it.

So is that the new Rubio Standard? Are we to believe he supported every item funded in every budget bill he voted for while serving in the Florida legislature? Or that in the future he’ll support every program of every budget he votes for in the United States Senate?

Here’s a thought experiment: Assume that Rubio had a chance to vote for legislation that cuts the size of the federal budget by a quarter, that it does so by eliminating scores of liberal programs, but that it also maintains some federal dollars for planned Planned Parenthood. Does that mean Rubio, if he voted for the budget, would be “pro-choice”? Of course not. But that is precisely where his logic would place him. Of course Rubio’s real (and quite reasonable) position is, like all legislators, that no perfect budget exists and to vote in favor of a budget doesn’t mean you support every line item in it.

And based on the Rubio argument, why doesn’t he demand the House of Representatives pass an amendment to the continuing resolution that (just for starters) nationalizes school choice and shifts Medicare to a premium support plan–and then say that if President Obama and Senate Democrats don’t sign the GOP wish list into law, Republicans are willing to shut down the federal government until they do? Why not threaten to shut down the federal government unless Obama agrees to the Ryan budget? Or does the Florida senator not have the courage of his conservative convictions? 

Senator Rubio also made this claim:

[The Affordable Care Act] is the issue where we draw the line. I mean, we understand about all the other things but there’s an issue where you’ve got to draw a line in the sand and say this is it, I mean, on this issue we’re willing to fight no matter what the consequences, politically or otherwise. 

Now think about that statement: “on this issue we’re willing to fight no matter what the consequences, politically or otherwise.” Really, now? Conservatives should engage in a fight regardless of what the consequences are? Even if the consequences prove to be a set back in the efforts against the Affordable Care Act and, more broadly, the conservative cause? Even if in the real-world ObamaCare can’t be defunded and, in an effort to indulge that particular fantasy, significant political damage would be incurred by the failure? That hardly sounds like a conservative disposition to me. 

Remember: The Affordable Care Act won’t be defunded unless and until the president and the Senate agree to it. If both sides dig in, if there’s a showdown and the federal government is closed down, the Affordable Care Act will not be defunded. Shutting down the government is within the power of the House of Representatives–but defunding the ACA would require the House, the Senate, and the president to sign new legislation into law. So the Rubio & Co. strategy hinges on an obvious fiction–that Barack Obama and the Senate will agree to pull the plug on his signature (and historic) domestic achievement. Short of that, ObamaCare lives on. 

Marco Rubio is trying to frame the debate this way: You agree with him and Senators Lee, Cruz, and Paul–or you don’t really and truly want to unwind the Affordable Care Act. Which means people like Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Tom Coburn are, at their core, ObamaCare supporters because they disagree with Senator Rubio’s approach. Or so saith Marco Rubio.

This is silly and a bit too self-congratulatory. The argument isn’t who finds the Affordable Care Act more detestable; it’s who is pursuing the more reasonable tactical approach to advance the conservative cause. I would argue it’s Ryan and Coburn and the vast majority of Coburn’s conservative colleagues.

It’s up to Mr. Rubio if he wants to be part of the Suicide Caucus. But he shouldn’t blame others who decline to join him.

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Boehner’s Recess Gambit May Backfire

Because of the current division of power in Washington, the one group that goes mostly ignored in coverage of legislative fights is the House Democratic caucus. Republicans are in the minority in the Senate, but have enough seats to force bipartisan compromise for anything to pass. The GOP controls the House, which doesn’t have to ask the minority for permission to do much of anything–and besides, House Speaker John Boehner has consistently preferred the Senate go first on legislation.

This state of affairs is especially true on immigration, where we have heard endlessly about both parties’ Senate strategies and the House GOP’s competing approaches. But in fact the House Democrats seem to want immigration reform to pass, and the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent reports on their latest strategic maneuvers to force a vote either on the Senate bill or a near-identical piece of legislation:

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Because of the current division of power in Washington, the one group that goes mostly ignored in coverage of legislative fights is the House Democratic caucus. Republicans are in the minority in the Senate, but have enough seats to force bipartisan compromise for anything to pass. The GOP controls the House, which doesn’t have to ask the minority for permission to do much of anything–and besides, House Speaker John Boehner has consistently preferred the Senate go first on legislation.

This state of affairs is especially true on immigration, where we have heard endlessly about both parties’ Senate strategies and the House GOP’s competing approaches. But in fact the House Democrats seem to want immigration reform to pass, and the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent reports on their latest strategic maneuvers to force a vote either on the Senate bill or a near-identical piece of legislation:

At the center of the internal debate is Nancy Pelosi and the question of whether Democrats will file a so-called “discharge petition” for the Senate immigration bill. If a discharge petition were signed by a majority in the House, the measure would get a full floor vote….

A House Democratic leadership aide tells me no decision has been made on whether to proceed with the petition. According to people familiar with the situation, it’s provoking opposition among some Dems on the House “gang of seven,” who fear it could give Republicans in the “gang” an excuse to walk away from an emerging compromise that may be the best hope for anything approaching a comprehensive bill in the House. Some Dems in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and some Dems in border districts also are cool to the idea, because they object to the Senate bill’s huge border security buildup. They would prefer to stake their chances on the possibility of a bipartisan House bill or on conference negotiations designed to reconcile the Senate bill with whatever the House passes.

The latter group of Democrats faces long odds, I would think. It will be a heavy lift for the House GOP leadership to get the Senate (or an identical) bill through, but the only chance of passing something like that out of the House is by placating conservatives’ desire to prioritize border security. Democrats who want to pass a version of the Senate bill without the border security measures are deluding themselves.

Additionally, there is no strategy that would be less of a surprise than the attempt to pass something out of the House and then reconcile the bills in conference. Conservatives expect that option to be on the table the whole time, which is why many are opposed to passing any large piece of legislation that could come out of conference negotiations having been pulled significantly to the left.

The truth is that the great hope for comprehensive immigration reform in the House that would include a path to citizenship for those already here has more to do with a later post from Sargent, in which he writes of the apparent lack of anti-“amnesty” outrage, thus far, at GOP town halls. I wrote about this last week, noting that the congressional recess period is going to give representatives a chance to take the temperature of their districts’ attitudes toward immigration reform. Much of this, however, comes down to interpretation. What if the recess goes quietly? At the Washington Examiner, Byron York and Conn Carroll give dueling analyses. Here’s York:

If August goes quietly on the immigration front, some Republican lawmakers may return to Washington with the sense that voters back home don’t really mind that immigration reform goes forward. And then it will.

Will it? Here’s Carroll:

If Republican town halls go smoothly this summer and Republicans do not feel any heat from their constituents on the issue, amnesty is all but guaranteed to die a slow death by irrelevance this fall.

This is a good example of why there’s so much concentration on reading tealeaves. Boehner’s strategy is predicated on the notion that an outpouring of public opposition in Republicans’ home districts over the summer recess will not only doom immigration reform but make Republicans look furiously anti-immigrant in the process. (This is exactly what happened last time, in 2006-2007.) So he has decided not to craft a bill, thinking that this will deprive opponents of a target.

He’s right about that. But the plan may be too clever by half: there is no real way to test public opinion without an actual bill. That means Republican members of the House may come back from recess having no idea what many of their constituents actually think about a piece of legislation that, after all, doesn’t exist yet. Those Republicans may be inclined to leave well enough alone, in which case Boehner’s attempt to save immigration reform will backfire.

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Media’s Self-Infatuation on Steroids

The sale of the Washington Post is big news in the media world. The acquisition of the paper by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos could have an impact on its political orientation as well as the way it reports the news, but that is something we’ll learn more about in the months to come as the purchase is finalized and the new owner installs a new management team or keeps the existing crew in place. But the main conclusion we can draw from the coverage of this event has less to do with the decline in readership that made the sale necessary than with the self-infatuation of the staff of this once-iconic daily.

Our John Podhoretz summed up the situation nicely when he noted today in the New York Post that the shift in ownership showed how the mighty are fallen. The Washington Post once lorded it over the media world of the capital with a sneering liberal prejudice that was emblematic of the bias that characterized the mainstream press of the pre-Internet era. But like every other daily that stopped being a cash cow when classified and other forms of print advertising began to dry up, the Post is just another remnant of what Rush Limbaugh aptly termed the “dead tree” media. Yet instead of soul searching about how such publications must change or die, what we have gotten instead today is a non-stop orgy of praise for a paper and a management team that have obviously failed to keep up with a changing environment. While we don’t doubt that publisher Donald Graham has his fans, the notion that he is the second coming of Sister Teresa—the official story we’ve been getting from the Post’s editors and columnists as they troop to MSNBC to sing his praises—is a bit much to take. Even more egregious was Post superstar Bob Woodward who sought to console his fellow staffers by saying that Bezos wasn’t another Rupert Murdoch. The Post should be so lucky.

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The sale of the Washington Post is big news in the media world. The acquisition of the paper by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos could have an impact on its political orientation as well as the way it reports the news, but that is something we’ll learn more about in the months to come as the purchase is finalized and the new owner installs a new management team or keeps the existing crew in place. But the main conclusion we can draw from the coverage of this event has less to do with the decline in readership that made the sale necessary than with the self-infatuation of the staff of this once-iconic daily.

Our John Podhoretz summed up the situation nicely when he noted today in the New York Post that the shift in ownership showed how the mighty are fallen. The Washington Post once lorded it over the media world of the capital with a sneering liberal prejudice that was emblematic of the bias that characterized the mainstream press of the pre-Internet era. But like every other daily that stopped being a cash cow when classified and other forms of print advertising began to dry up, the Post is just another remnant of what Rush Limbaugh aptly termed the “dead tree” media. Yet instead of soul searching about how such publications must change or die, what we have gotten instead today is a non-stop orgy of praise for a paper and a management team that have obviously failed to keep up with a changing environment. While we don’t doubt that publisher Donald Graham has his fans, the notion that he is the second coming of Sister Teresa—the official story we’ve been getting from the Post’s editors and columnists as they troop to MSNBC to sing his praises—is a bit much to take. Even more egregious was Post superstar Bob Woodward who sought to console his fellow staffers by saying that Bezos wasn’t another Rupert Murdoch. The Post should be so lucky.

After all, unlike the family that owned the Post, Murdoch has generally gone from success to success in the media business and even those of his properties that are not financial powerhouses have been kept going in the name of providing alternate viewpoints to mainstream liberal echo chambers.

The willingness to take a shot at this outsider even at a moment when one of the flagships of the liberal establishment is changing hands tells us everything we need to know about the self-infatuation of the Post’s inner circle.

Instead of spending this day celebrating themselves for journalistic achievements of the past, as the WaPo and its fans are doing today, they might do better to ponder why they have been surpassed by a number of websites that provide stronger reporting on the government and politics than they have done in decades.

Anyone who wants to memorialize the Post’s golden age can just watch All the President’s Men again. Let’s hope Bezos does help revive the WaPo. But that will likely require him to think more like Murdoch than the Grahams. He should also tell the people that now work for him to stop praising themselves and start thinking about how to compete for  readers.

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The Hazards of Hillary Hagiography

As Mitt Romney secured the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, bringing to a close the competition to lead the GOP effort to unseat President Obama, there were all sorts of reactions from conservative voters. But the one complaint no one ever seemed to lodge was that there weren’t enough debates. No one had any reason to want to prolong the misery of that series of events. Grassroots conservatives watched in horror as the debates elevated Romney and Newt Gingrich while wrecking the candidacies of Rick Perry and Tim Pawlenty.

Liberals may have enjoyed what they thought was a clown show, but the debates went on long enough to eliminate any actual clowns from contention. (Say what you will about Romney as a candidate, but he isn’t a circus act.) The one exception to this rule might be the television networks that broadcast and moderated the debates, attracting viewers and giving liberal moderators numerous opportunities for what they actually show up to the debates to do: talk about contraception and occasionally call someone a racist.

So I am sympathetic to the idea that fewer debates next time around–especially fewer debates run by the moderators’ class of 2012, which included media personalities who threw themselves in front of Obama to shield him from any accusation unfit for royal consumption–might be worth a try. I wonder, however, if this is the way to go about it:

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As Mitt Romney secured the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, bringing to a close the competition to lead the GOP effort to unseat President Obama, there were all sorts of reactions from conservative voters. But the one complaint no one ever seemed to lodge was that there weren’t enough debates. No one had any reason to want to prolong the misery of that series of events. Grassroots conservatives watched in horror as the debates elevated Romney and Newt Gingrich while wrecking the candidacies of Rick Perry and Tim Pawlenty.

Liberals may have enjoyed what they thought was a clown show, but the debates went on long enough to eliminate any actual clowns from contention. (Say what you will about Romney as a candidate, but he isn’t a circus act.) The one exception to this rule might be the television networks that broadcast and moderated the debates, attracting viewers and giving liberal moderators numerous opportunities for what they actually show up to the debates to do: talk about contraception and occasionally call someone a racist.

So I am sympathetic to the idea that fewer debates next time around–especially fewer debates run by the moderators’ class of 2012, which included media personalities who threw themselves in front of Obama to shield him from any accusation unfit for royal consumption–might be worth a try. I wonder, however, if this is the way to go about it:

The chairman of the Republican National Committee says NBC and CNN are in the bag for Hillary Clinton, and he’s pledging to block the networks from sponsoring 2016 GOP primary debates unless they scratch their respective TV projects about the former secretary of state.

Reince Priebus accused the networks of promoting Clinton “ahead of her likely Democratic nomination for president in 2016” by airing the productions.

NBC is planning a miniseries about Clinton staring Diane Lane, and CNN has a documentary in the works about Clinton’s professional and personal life, expected to air in theaters before running on the cable network. In a letter to program executives, Priebus asserts that the networks’ plans will tip the scale toward Clinton in the next presidential election, providing unfair treatment not only to Republicans but also to other Democrats vying for the nomination. He called the networks “campaign operatives” for Clinton, and noted that Democrats protested when Citizens United tried to air a pay-per-view film about her before the 2008 election.

It’s possible this is just an easy way for Priebus and the RNC to reduce the number of debates, a prospect that was always easier said than done because the events brought revenue to local parties and gave candidates extra time in the spotlight. The debates were useful, without question, because the race was wide open and because it was important for Republican candidates–who won’t have the networks airing hagiographic propaganda on their behalf, unlike their opponents–need to be able to debate effectively. That was important in 2012 because although Obama isn’t a very good debater, the moderators intervened when they thought he was in trouble. It will be more important against Hillary Clinton, who is a far superior debater.

But 20 debates is excessive, and with few exceptions the last round of moderators didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory. It should also be noted that while the debates may have played a central role in derailing Perry’s candidacy, the later revelations about his health problems at the time suggests he might not have made it to the finish line even with fewer debates.

There is also the matter of the content of the CNN and NBC documentaries on Hillary Clinton. I doubt anyone thinks the network once derided as the “Clinton News Network” and the network that hired Clinton’s daughter will take a terribly critical view of the former first lady. But it’s worth keeping in mind that this is not how the Clintons will interpret the movies. Their standards for unadulterated worship are high. When Hillary Clinton spoke at the Saban Forum in late 2012 she permitted her event to be on the record–which included a film about Clinton preceding her speech whose tone was, wrote the New Yorker’s David Remnick, “so reverential that it resembled the sort of film that the Central Committee of the Communist Party might have produced for Leonid Brezhnev’s retirement party if Leonid Brezhnev would only have retired and the Soviets had been in possession of advanced video technology.”

Anything less will likely result in the expression of the typical Clinton suspicion that borders on paranoia (Clinton did, after all, introduce us to the “vast right-wing conspiracy”) and manifests in vicious public counter-attacks and character assassination. The networks are playing with fire: even the mere presumption of balance will set the Clintons fuming, and a replay of the Saban Forum’s Brezhnevite pomp will be a laughingstock.

Priebus is right to want to cut back on the debates and exert more discernment in choosing moderators and networks. He is also right to object to the hero-worship filmography of “news” networks covering the election. But the networks are probably asking for trouble, and Priebus and the RNC might end up enjoying not the films themselves, but the spectacle that follows.

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Don’t Make Excuses for A-Rod

It is hard to work up much sympathy for Alex Rodriguez, one of the highest-paid athletes on the planet (his 10-year contract with the Yankees is worth $275 million), who is now contesting a suspension because of charges that he engaged in doping to boost his performance. There is really no excuse for a baseball player this gifted breaking the rules to gain an edge he didn’t really need.

But somehow New York Times columnist George Vecsey manages to provide an excuse in the fact that A-Rod’s father abandoned the family when the little slugger was just nine years old. Vecsey quotes an old interview in which A-Rod lamented his father’s departure: “After a while, I lied to myself,” Rodriguez said. “I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter, that I didn’t care. But times I was alone, I often cried. Where was my father? To this day, I still can’t get close to people.”

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It is hard to work up much sympathy for Alex Rodriguez, one of the highest-paid athletes on the planet (his 10-year contract with the Yankees is worth $275 million), who is now contesting a suspension because of charges that he engaged in doping to boost his performance. There is really no excuse for a baseball player this gifted breaking the rules to gain an edge he didn’t really need.

But somehow New York Times columnist George Vecsey manages to provide an excuse in the fact that A-Rod’s father abandoned the family when the little slugger was just nine years old. Vecsey quotes an old interview in which A-Rod lamented his father’s departure: “After a while, I lied to myself,” Rodriguez said. “I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter, that I didn’t care. But times I was alone, I often cried. Where was my father? To this day, I still can’t get close to people.”

A-Rod’s abandonment is then contrasted with Derek Jeter, the Yankees’ most beloved player, who “has a father, Charles, who was a drug counselor, and a mother, Dorothy, who was an accountant, as well as a sister. The family seems to have sent him a message: Derek, whatever you do, don’t be a jerk. Which he never has been.”

Granted, it is better for any youngster to grow up with a father than without one. The literature on this subject is copious. But it is quite a stretch to suggest that a fatherless lad is destined to become a wrongdoer of some kind.

A-Rod himself disproves this fallacy: Throughout his life he has shown almost superhuman drive to become the best baseball player in the game. It is unthinkable that anyone without copious quantities of discipline could wrack up achievements like his–as Wikipedia notes: “He is the youngest player ever to hit 500 home runs, breaking the record Jimmie Foxx set in 1939, and the youngest to hit 600, besting Babe Ruth’s record by over a year. Rodriguez has 14 100-RBI seasons in his career, more than any other player in history”–without monumental discipline and hard work, doping or no doping.

For further proof of what fatherless men can accomplish, look at our current president, whose father left his mother shortly after his birth and met him only once. Barack Obama didn’t turn out too badly. Or see a preceding president–Bill Clinton–whose father died before he was born and whose stepfather was a violent alcoholic and gambler. Or look back a little further at Ronald Reagan whose father was an irresponsible alcoholic. One could even make the case that having father-abandonment issues has driven these men to stratospheric achievement.

Perhaps it was different with A-Rod. Perhaps his rule breaking really does stem from the loss of his father, undoubtedly a traumatic moment. But that was a long time ago and he has been shaped by many experiences in the intervening decades. It is a cop-out–almost a parody, in fact, of America’s therapeutic culture–to ascribe this superstar’s transgressions to the lack of a father figure in his life. For most of his life A-Rod did just fine fatherless. Now he must take responsibility for what he has done wrong, assuming, as the bulk of the evidence indicates, that he is guilty as charged.

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Detroit, Chicago, and Public Debt

When the city of Detroit finally imploded last month, liberal pundits and politicians told us that it was an anomaly. Rather than address an approach to governance in which overspending driven by liberal ideology and powerful municipal unions created an unsustainable equation, they urged us to put aside the notion that what happened there would be repeated elsewhere. They said the specific conditions that led to the Motor City’s bankruptcy were more a function of the decline of the auto industry and the peculiar dysfunction of local politics.

But while Detroit’s problems were undoubtedly exacerbated by those circumstances, the same math that sunk that city is at work throughout the country as similar municipal financial obligations are piling up in spite of the dwindling resources available to meet them. As today’s front-page story in the New York Times makes clear, even prosperous cities that have little in common with the devastated urban wasteland that Detroit has become may soon face the same dilemma. If a booming metropolis like Chicago is sinking under the weight of underfunded public worker pensions, how could we possibly expect Detroit or hundreds of other municipalities to survive?

The pension fund for retired Chicago teachers stands at risk of collapse. The city’s four funds for other retired city workers are short by $19.5 billion. At least one of the funds is in peril of running out of money in less than a decade. And starting in 2015, the city will be required by the state to make far larger contributions to the funds, which could leave it hundreds of millions of dollars in the red — as much as it would cost to pay 4,300 police officers to patrol the streets for a year.

It is true that Chicago’s fiscal woes are at present nowhere near the catastrophic level of those of Detroit. But what the Times (whose editorial page has been a consistent advocate of the “what me, worry?” liberal school of fiscal irresponsibility) rightly terms the “overwhelming pension liabilities” of cities like prosperous towns like Chicago, San Jose, and even a reviving Philadelphia are putting their futures at risk. The question is, are local politicians prepared to bite the bullet and face down their erstwhile union allies and deal with the source of the problem?

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When the city of Detroit finally imploded last month, liberal pundits and politicians told us that it was an anomaly. Rather than address an approach to governance in which overspending driven by liberal ideology and powerful municipal unions created an unsustainable equation, they urged us to put aside the notion that what happened there would be repeated elsewhere. They said the specific conditions that led to the Motor City’s bankruptcy were more a function of the decline of the auto industry and the peculiar dysfunction of local politics.

But while Detroit’s problems were undoubtedly exacerbated by those circumstances, the same math that sunk that city is at work throughout the country as similar municipal financial obligations are piling up in spite of the dwindling resources available to meet them. As today’s front-page story in the New York Times makes clear, even prosperous cities that have little in common with the devastated urban wasteland that Detroit has become may soon face the same dilemma. If a booming metropolis like Chicago is sinking under the weight of underfunded public worker pensions, how could we possibly expect Detroit or hundreds of other municipalities to survive?

The pension fund for retired Chicago teachers stands at risk of collapse. The city’s four funds for other retired city workers are short by $19.5 billion. At least one of the funds is in peril of running out of money in less than a decade. And starting in 2015, the city will be required by the state to make far larger contributions to the funds, which could leave it hundreds of millions of dollars in the red — as much as it would cost to pay 4,300 police officers to patrol the streets for a year.

It is true that Chicago’s fiscal woes are at present nowhere near the catastrophic level of those of Detroit. But what the Times (whose editorial page has been a consistent advocate of the “what me, worry?” liberal school of fiscal irresponsibility) rightly terms the “overwhelming pension liabilities” of cities like prosperous towns like Chicago, San Jose, and even a reviving Philadelphia are putting their futures at risk. The question is, are local politicians prepared to bite the bullet and face down their erstwhile union allies and deal with the source of the problem?

Some three years ago, Jeff Jacoby presciently wrote in COMMENTARY about the looming meltdown that threatened the nation. In his “What Public-Sector Unions Have Wrought,” Jacoby rightly pinned the problem on the unprecedented growth of government workers throughout the 20th century and their ability to force states, cities, and other local authorities to grant them generous benefits and pensions via collective bargaining negotiations in which the unions held all the cards. Their ability to blackmail governments via strikes that effectively shut down vital services combined with the political and financial clout they exercised to, in effect, elect their own bosses, the unions were able to rig the game “in favor of a privileged government elite and against the private taxpayers who pay its bills.” The result was the creation of a “multi-trillion dollar avalanche” of debt that no city, no matter how well off it might be, could possibly afford.

The only answer to this problem is to reform the collective bargaining process and to institute a series of changes that will end the guarantee of a lavish pension to current and future public workers. As Jacoby wrote:

Without depriving employees of any benefits they have earned to date, governments have to be able to amend the terms on which future benefits are earned. Tens of millions of Americans working in the private sector—including many belonging to labor unions—know from first-hand experience that the terms and conditions of future employment can be changed. That is how real life works, and a government job should not confer immunity from real life.

That still makes sense, but instead of confronting the reality of the meltdown, as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker did with his controversial reforms that led to a union mob storming the state capitol in Madison and an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to force him from office, most states and cities are just looking for more ways to raise money from already overburdened average taxpayers who aren’t likely to be able to enjoy the same kind of benefits from their own jobs. To his credit, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has confronted this issue and enraged unions that think they should get their benefits even if no one can pay for them.

But what must be understood is that this drama isn’t limited to Detroit or Chicago. Liberals have spent the last century believing that paying for government spending is an insignificant detail. That has created a debt crisis that will soon have to be faced virtually everywhere in the country. It’s high time for liberals to face up to this fact and admit that the era of unfunded big government spending and public-sector union power must end now.

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