Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 23, 2013

Obama Turns Graduates Into Suckers

President Obama’s approval ratings haven’t been north of the 50-percent mark since March of this year, according to the Real Clear Politics’ average. A solid base of support for the president since the early days of his campaign in 2008 has been voters 30 years of age and under: the youth vote. Obama T-shirts, posters, and stickers have been ubiquitous on college campuses since his first election. It’s not surprising that the president has chosen to promote policy changes close to the hearts of college students and young voters in an attempt to win back hearts and minds recently jaded by the president’s failure to adhere to sufficiently liberal policy positions on the NSA and privacy. 

As Richard Vedder explained in Bloomberg today, some of the president’s proposals are good in principal, and some are very bad. Vedder outlines the negative aspects of the president’s plans:

Read More

President Obama’s approval ratings haven’t been north of the 50-percent mark since March of this year, according to the Real Clear Politics’ average. A solid base of support for the president since the early days of his campaign in 2008 has been voters 30 years of age and under: the youth vote. Obama T-shirts, posters, and stickers have been ubiquitous on college campuses since his first election. It’s not surprising that the president has chosen to promote policy changes close to the hearts of college students and young voters in an attempt to win back hearts and minds recently jaded by the president’s failure to adhere to sufficiently liberal policy positions on the NSA and privacy. 

As Richard Vedder explained in Bloomberg today, some of the president’s proposals are good in principal, and some are very bad. Vedder outlines the negative aspects of the president’s plans:

The president’s proposal has one very bad idea: a forgiveness boon for those paying off loans right now. The proposal, limiting loan payments to 10 percent of income, potentially relieves millions of students from repaying part of their obligation. So why not major in fields the economy values least — anthropology or drama instead of engineering or math — if you don’t have to worry about earning enough to pay off your student loans over a certain period?

The idea simply raises incentives for future students to borrow more money, if they know their obligation to pay it back is capped. That, in turn, allows colleges to keep raising costs.

Obama proposes to ignore or worsen the root cause of much of the explosion in student costs: the federal financial assistance programs that encourage schools to raise costs and that haven’t achieved their goals of providing college access to low-income Americans.

President Obama chose an interesting audience to outline these proposals: SUNY Buffalo. The school, a member of the State University of New York system, is an affordable option for New York State residents who pay a fraction of what their (somewhat) nearby neighbors at Ithaca College pay. Without counting room and board, SUNY Buffalo students owe less than $8,500 a year, versus over $38,000 two and a half hours down the road at Ithaca College. For students on the hook for the majority or all of their college costs, SUNY Buffalo is clearly the logical choice. One would imagine that many of the students who chose to enroll at SUNY Buffalo made some tough, but wise, decisions while deciding on where to pursue a college education. The city of Buffalo may not be the most exciting place to spend four years, but at the end of their college career, students walk away with a valuable diploma for $120,000 less than if they had chosen to attend Ithaca. 

How would a SUNY Buffalo student, who perhaps turned down an offer of admission at a more expensive school due to financial considerations, feel about this forgiveness policy? Speaking as a graduate of a state school, it’s likely that most of the audience would have felt cheated out of a more preferable college experience due to their making a financially responsible choice. If President Obama’s plan goes into effect graduates of Ithaca College and SUNY Buffalo would be paying the same amount–ten percent of their income post-graduation–regardless of the cost of their education. Such a plan would incentivize reckless spending, furthering the rise of skyrocketing college costs. Even if the plan only extends to graduates currently, one would expect that students making enrollment decisions could anticipate loan forgiveness plans of their own one day. 

For an administration that has done nothing but limit the choices of students, most notably inner-city residents of Washington D.C. who benefit from the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which makes private schools affordable for students who would otherwise be trapped in failing schools, it’s a fascinating and illogical position. Until they graduate high school, the Obama administration would like students to be forced to attend a school based solely on their location, not based on their (or their parents’) needs or desires regarding their education. Upon graduation, these students could then choose from any college or university in the country, ignoring sticker prices.

This would, in turn, drive students who can meet admission standards to attend private schools with state-of-the-art dorms and gyms over more modestly priced and modestly equipped public schools. With this loan forgiveness program, President Obama, champion of public education, would eliminate the biggest incentive for students choosing public universities around the country, and with it, any sense of financial responsibility a teenager might have once possessed. 

Read Less

Faith, Liberty, and the “Price of Citizenship”

In 2007, a boardwalk pavilion in Ocean Grove, New Jersey lost its tax-exempt status after its owners, a Methodist organization, declined to allow same-sex couples to reserve the space for their weddings on religious grounds. The tax exemption was granted as part of a program to encourage owners of private property, such as the Ocean Grove beachfront space, to open their land to public use. The rest of the Methodist organization’s land retained its tax-exempt status.

It wasn’t equivalent to a church losing its exemption for denying its chapel for use in a same-sex wedding ceremony, but it was nonetheless concerning for defenders of religious liberty and the separation of church and state. It was sure to be only the beginning of such challenges, especially as acceptance of same-sex marriage increased. And now another domino has fallen. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the New Mexico Supreme Court “ruled Thursday that the owners of an Albuquerque wedding photography company violated state law when they turned away a lesbian couple who wanted to hire them to take pictures of their ceremony…. They rejected the argument of the devout Christian owners of Elane Photography who claimed they had a free speech and religious right not to shoot the ceremony.”

Read More

In 2007, a boardwalk pavilion in Ocean Grove, New Jersey lost its tax-exempt status after its owners, a Methodist organization, declined to allow same-sex couples to reserve the space for their weddings on religious grounds. The tax exemption was granted as part of a program to encourage owners of private property, such as the Ocean Grove beachfront space, to open their land to public use. The rest of the Methodist organization’s land retained its tax-exempt status.

It wasn’t equivalent to a church losing its exemption for denying its chapel for use in a same-sex wedding ceremony, but it was nonetheless concerning for defenders of religious liberty and the separation of church and state. It was sure to be only the beginning of such challenges, especially as acceptance of same-sex marriage increased. And now another domino has fallen. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the New Mexico Supreme Court “ruled Thursday that the owners of an Albuquerque wedding photography company violated state law when they turned away a lesbian couple who wanted to hire them to take pictures of their ceremony…. They rejected the argument of the devout Christian owners of Elane Photography who claimed they had a free speech and religious right not to shoot the ceremony.”

The Methodist owners of the boardwalk pavilion were participating in a government program, and were told they had violated the public nature of that program. In the case of Elane Photography the court found, as Sterling Beard points out, that the photographers’ policy violates the state’s human-rights law that “prohibits a public accommodation from refusing to offer its services to a person based on that person’s sexual orientation.”

Challenging the ruling doesn’t necessitate a belief that private businesses are not subject to anti-discrimination laws. But the ruling suggests that the owners of Elane Photography’s Christian beliefs are now classified as discriminatory under the state’s human-rights laws, threatening to put church and state in open–and open-ended–conflict. The part of the court’s decision that has received the most attention is this:

At its heart, this case teaches that at some point in our lives all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting values of others. A multicultural, pluralistic society, one of our nation’s strengths, demands no less. The Huguenins are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish; they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives wherever they lead. The Constitution protects the Huguenins in that respect and much more. But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life.

In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people. That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world. In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship.

The Huguenins are told by the courts that documenting and commemorating in pictures and words a ceremony that violates their religious beliefs is, though private enterprise, a public accommodation. And they are further told that their compulsion in this practice is “the price of citizenship”–in other words, the court thinks the Huguenins’ beliefs are not only technically discriminatory, but anti-American.

The truth is, the Huguenins challenged on free speech as well as free exercise grounds, and they attracted the support of legal scholars who support same-sex marriage but also value free speech. Eugene Volokh, Dale Carpenter, and the Cato Institute filed an amicus brief on the Huguenins’ behalf, arguing that photography is clearly protected under the First Amendment as creative expression:

Of course, when a photographer tells a couple that she does not want to photograph their commitment ceremony, the couple may be offended by the photographer’s disapproval. But the First Amendment does not treat avoiding offense as a sufficient interest to justify restricting or compelling speech. See, e.g., Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989).

The fact that people have a constitutional right to engage in writing, singing, photography, and the like also responds to the argument that people who do not want to photograph same-sex commitment ceremonies should just stop photographing weddings. Creating expressive works such as photographs (unlike delivering food, driving limousines, or renting out ballrooms) is a constitutional right. People who want to preserve their First Amendment rights to be free from compelled artistic expression cannot be required to surrender their First Amendment rights to engage in artistic expression in the first place.

Additionally, the court’s decision is a pertinent reminder that those making such decisions on American law and practice will often be ignorant of the religious doctrine they are dismissing, and that this ignorance will be a factor in rulings that impact religious Americans. The New Mexico court, for example, decided it had precedent to infringe on religious practice in the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws. The New Mexico court quotes the trial judge in Virginia justifying a ban on interracial marriage by saying that God created the different races of man and put them on different continents, and that the “fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

The New Mexico court follows up with this comment:

Whatever opinion one might have of the trial judge’s religious views, which mirrored those of millions of Americans of the time, no one questioned his sincerity either or his religious conviction. In affirming the Lovings’ convictions, Virginia’s highest court observed the religious, cultural, historical and moral roots that justified miscegenation laws.

That is a gross distortion of Christian belief by ignoring the difference between a Virginia judge assuming the intent of God and the wedding photographers following doctrinal text. One doesn’t have to share the Huguenins’ faith to see the flimsiness of the connection or worry about the effects of setting judicial precedent by relying on such a fundamentally dishonest rendering of the subject–to say nothing of how insulting it is to Christians to make such a comparison in the first place.

Nor should anyone underestimate the damage that can be done by judicial rulings on religious freedom that are propelled by hostility and ignorance to both religious practice and constitutional law.

Read Less

Why Al Gore’s Warming Fibs Matter

Al Gore has done it again. Having been repeatedly lambasted for making exaggerated claims and telling outright lies in order to promote his environmentalist agenda, he’s now committed another gaffe that will further undermine his credibility and that of his cause. As Politico reports, in an interview with the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein while once again claiming that global warming was the cause of an increase in storms and hurricanes, Gore made the following assertion:

In the interview, published Wednesday, Gore said that “the fingerprint of man-made global warming is all over” storms like hurricanes and other extreme weather events.

“The extreme events are more extreme. The hurricane scale used to be 1-5 and now they’re adding a 6,” he said, according to a transcript of the interview.

But, as Politico noted, other experts and the Post’s own environmental reporters were quick to point out that this isn’t true. The National Weather Service itself admitted that no such plan existed.

Though this was the most egregious element of the interview, as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto pointed out, it wasn’t the only one. Just as dishonest was his claim that the temporary flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy in lower Manhattan justified Gore’s claim in his Oscar-winning movie, An Inconvenient Truth, that the area would soon be permanently underwater. But, as New Yorkers are well aware, the 9/11 memorial is currently dry. Gore’s alarmist predictions are just as daft today as they were when the film first came out.

This is certainly fodder for Gore’s critics and will, in turn, elicit more impassioned defenses of him from his fans. More significantly, it will also generate comments from slightly more sober advocates of the global warming agenda, to the effect that such fibs don’t really matter because their purpose is to raise awareness of a genuine threat to humanity, albeit one not quite so imminent or terrible as the nightmare scenarios spun by the former vice president. But, as Taranto also pointed out, Gore’s mendacity is significant, not just because a lot of people believe him, but because they cast doubt on the entire enterprise he’s seeking to promote. If, as believers in global warming continually tell us, skeptics are undermining faith in facts and science, there is no greater contributor to such cynicism than Al Gore.

Read More

Al Gore has done it again. Having been repeatedly lambasted for making exaggerated claims and telling outright lies in order to promote his environmentalist agenda, he’s now committed another gaffe that will further undermine his credibility and that of his cause. As Politico reports, in an interview with the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein while once again claiming that global warming was the cause of an increase in storms and hurricanes, Gore made the following assertion:

In the interview, published Wednesday, Gore said that “the fingerprint of man-made global warming is all over” storms like hurricanes and other extreme weather events.

“The extreme events are more extreme. The hurricane scale used to be 1-5 and now they’re adding a 6,” he said, according to a transcript of the interview.

But, as Politico noted, other experts and the Post’s own environmental reporters were quick to point out that this isn’t true. The National Weather Service itself admitted that no such plan existed.

Though this was the most egregious element of the interview, as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto pointed out, it wasn’t the only one. Just as dishonest was his claim that the temporary flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy in lower Manhattan justified Gore’s claim in his Oscar-winning movie, An Inconvenient Truth, that the area would soon be permanently underwater. But, as New Yorkers are well aware, the 9/11 memorial is currently dry. Gore’s alarmist predictions are just as daft today as they were when the film first came out.

This is certainly fodder for Gore’s critics and will, in turn, elicit more impassioned defenses of him from his fans. More significantly, it will also generate comments from slightly more sober advocates of the global warming agenda, to the effect that such fibs don’t really matter because their purpose is to raise awareness of a genuine threat to humanity, albeit one not quite so imminent or terrible as the nightmare scenarios spun by the former vice president. But, as Taranto also pointed out, Gore’s mendacity is significant, not just because a lot of people believe him, but because they cast doubt on the entire enterprise he’s seeking to promote. If, as believers in global warming continually tell us, skeptics are undermining faith in facts and science, there is no greater contributor to such cynicism than Al Gore.

At stake here is not Gore’s reputation. In his post-political existence, he has proven himself impervious to shame or to criticism. Having enriched himself on government-subsidized “green” investments and profiteered from the creation of a failed cable channel that wound up netting him a cool $100 million from its sale to the Qatari owners of Al Jazeera, Gore can thumb his nose at fact-checkers and critics alike and laugh all the way to the bank.

Gore is no stranger to challenges to the credibility of the assertions to his movie. Though there are a number of websites that point to numerous, significant errors in the movie, a British court ruled that it should be viewed as a polemic rather than fact when a critic sued to prevent it from being shown in schools as an authoritative view of the subject of global warming.

We need not rehearse the contentious debate about global warming to understand just how insidious Gore’s willingness to play fast and loose with the facts on global warming is for the maintenance of a civil discussion on the subject. But if those who believe the U.S. must take drastic action to halt global warming continue to insist that the facts lie all on one side of the argument, it is incumbent on them to stick to the facts and not make exaggerated claims.

Gore has never been able to do that. Thus, he has done more to both fuel the most alarmist and unrealistic scenarios about the possible impact of global warming and to inspire skepticism about this belief. Wherever the truth may lie on this subject, and there are strong cases to be made on both sides, surely there should be no tolerance for a man who routinely lies about it.

Yet no matter how often his falsehoods are uncovered, the environmental community rarely if ever takes Gore to task. He has reaped all sorts of applause and honor for his lies from an Oscar to a Nobel Prize. Indeed, the more his assertions are debunked, the less his fans seem to care. But they should. No one has done more to sink the discussion about global warming into the realm of sci-fi fantasy alarmism or to invite more skepticism than Gore. It’s clear that the more his lips move, the less likely it is that we’ll hear the truth. Those who advocate concern about climate change and who want to mobilize Americans to support the measures they believe will save for the planet should be pleading him for him to shut up, lest doubters about the environmental faith in warming be further undermined. 

Read Less

Americans Rejoin the World

There exists a bedeviling paradox for foreign-policy realists: When America determines to mind its own business it invites the kind of atrocities Americans find hard to ignore. And so Barack Obama’s flight from global stewardship comes to ground with an apparent nerve-gas massacre of innocents outside Damascus. The Bush-weary intelligentsia that twice voted for the man who promised disengagement from troubled regions is now disturbed. “[T]he United States and other major powers will almost certainly have to respond much more aggressively than they have so far,” reads a New York Times editorial from Thursday. And American reproach goes beyond events in Syria. The Kremlin’s anti-gay crackdown has inspired activist Americans to focus their energies on bringing change to a foreign land. The “who are we to say?” outrage at Bush-style interventionism is giving way to “how can we just stand here?” frustration over Obama-style aloofness. 

If it’s taken five years of George W. Bush’s being out of the spotlight for Americans to recover a sense of global do-goodism, that’s unjust to the 43rd president, but the return of clarity is welcome all the same. “There is no question that the image the United States holds of itself must affect its role in foreign affairs,” wrote Nathan Glazer in a July 1976 COMMENTARY essay. “If it sees itself as a good country and a strong country—the way I would say the overwhelming majority of Americans did between 1945 and 1965—and if it is seen by others in the same way, it will feel confident in playing a large role in the world. If it sees itself as a good though weak country (one present-day image of ourselves), or as wicked and strong (another), or as wicked and weak, there will be a tendency to retrench and withdraw.”

Read More

There exists a bedeviling paradox for foreign-policy realists: When America determines to mind its own business it invites the kind of atrocities Americans find hard to ignore. And so Barack Obama’s flight from global stewardship comes to ground with an apparent nerve-gas massacre of innocents outside Damascus. The Bush-weary intelligentsia that twice voted for the man who promised disengagement from troubled regions is now disturbed. “[T]he United States and other major powers will almost certainly have to respond much more aggressively than they have so far,” reads a New York Times editorial from Thursday. And American reproach goes beyond events in Syria. The Kremlin’s anti-gay crackdown has inspired activist Americans to focus their energies on bringing change to a foreign land. The “who are we to say?” outrage at Bush-style interventionism is giving way to “how can we just stand here?” frustration over Obama-style aloofness. 

If it’s taken five years of George W. Bush’s being out of the spotlight for Americans to recover a sense of global do-goodism, that’s unjust to the 43rd president, but the return of clarity is welcome all the same. “There is no question that the image the United States holds of itself must affect its role in foreign affairs,” wrote Nathan Glazer in a July 1976 COMMENTARY essay. “If it sees itself as a good country and a strong country—the way I would say the overwhelming majority of Americans did between 1945 and 1965—and if it is seen by others in the same way, it will feel confident in playing a large role in the world. If it sees itself as a good though weak country (one present-day image of ourselves), or as wicked and strong (another), or as wicked and weak, there will be a tendency to retrench and withdraw.”

Today, many Americans see themselves as having done something good in electing and reelecting Barack Obama (whatever the merits of the case may be). And if anything, the popular fear is that we’ve become too strong militarily (again, putting aside the validity of the argument). So we seem to have shifted into some version of the good-and-strong precondition to “playing a large role in world affairs.” That the president whose election facilitated this shift doesn’t see it that way is an unfortunate irony, but hardly a long-term hindrance to the exercise of American power in service of American ideals.

You should not underestimate the effect of popular opinion in U.S. foreign policy. Civil advocacy, as on behalf of gays in Russia today, has a long history of shaping events for the better beyond our borders. Immigrant lobbies, missionary groups, and trade organizations have all spoken up, acted, and changed the course of history in other countries. The American urge to actively do good in the world is not a matter of party or ideology, but a reflection of our national ethos. The understandable wish to recoil from the world is usually a short-lived response to great trauma abroad. Such was the case after both World Wars, the Vietnam War, and the Iraq War.

Boycotting vodka and calling for action against the perpetrator of mass murder are, of course, a very long way from launching popular wars for freedom. Nor is any lone voice calling for such wars. In fact, questions regarding how to do good—in Syria, Egypt, Russia, and beyond—are more fraught than they used to be. Bad guys are everywhere and allies are in short supply; this is largely a function of our five-year break from global affairs. But it is becoming evident that Americans are at once growing increasingly uncomfortable with the state of the world and more comfortable in their right (their obligation) to do something about it. 

Read Less

The Descent From the March to Voter ID

This weekend the nation is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. The event is supposed to coincide with the completion of the memorial on the National Mall to Martin Luther King Jr. But what is left of the once great civil-rights movement has spent the summer preparing for the occasion by attempting to recapture the fervor of those bygone days of struggle by hyping new issues of concern. To listen to the racial hucksters that rail at us from their perches at MSNBC and other outposts of the liberal mainstream media, the difference between the America of 2013 and that of 1963 is merely superficial. They tell us that a country that could allow George Zimmerman to walk free in the killing of Trayvon Martin or that might ask citizens to produce a photo ID when voting is as racist as the racially segregated place that King and others denounced in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial five decades ago.

Demonstrating the utter falsity of this charge doesn’t require much effort. We can merely point to the fact that the America we live in has a black man as its president as well as its attorney general. Though it is not perfect or completely free of a variety of prejudices that still lurk in the hearts of some of us, it is a nation that has for the most part transcended its past. The basic rights demanded at the march have been granted. The south has changed, as has the north. Segregation is outlawed and blacks now freely vote in numbers that sometimes outpace that of whites. So it is a sign both of the enormous progress we have made in the last five decades as well as the bankruptcy of the groups that cling to the label of civil rights that the evidence of American racism is today reduced to arguments about a confusing case involving a Hispanic man claiming the right of self-defense and a voter integrity measure that is actually supported by most African-Americans. While it is fitting that the country should pause this week and remember the march as well as the heroism of those who struggled for civil rights, we do the memory of that effort no honor by confusing the genuine grievances it sought to redress with the trumped-up issues now put forward as evidence of official racism.

Read More

This weekend the nation is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. The event is supposed to coincide with the completion of the memorial on the National Mall to Martin Luther King Jr. But what is left of the once great civil-rights movement has spent the summer preparing for the occasion by attempting to recapture the fervor of those bygone days of struggle by hyping new issues of concern. To listen to the racial hucksters that rail at us from their perches at MSNBC and other outposts of the liberal mainstream media, the difference between the America of 2013 and that of 1963 is merely superficial. They tell us that a country that could allow George Zimmerman to walk free in the killing of Trayvon Martin or that might ask citizens to produce a photo ID when voting is as racist as the racially segregated place that King and others denounced in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial five decades ago.

Demonstrating the utter falsity of this charge doesn’t require much effort. We can merely point to the fact that the America we live in has a black man as its president as well as its attorney general. Though it is not perfect or completely free of a variety of prejudices that still lurk in the hearts of some of us, it is a nation that has for the most part transcended its past. The basic rights demanded at the march have been granted. The south has changed, as has the north. Segregation is outlawed and blacks now freely vote in numbers that sometimes outpace that of whites. So it is a sign both of the enormous progress we have made in the last five decades as well as the bankruptcy of the groups that cling to the label of civil rights that the evidence of American racism is today reduced to arguments about a confusing case involving a Hispanic man claiming the right of self-defense and a voter integrity measure that is actually supported by most African-Americans. While it is fitting that the country should pause this week and remember the march as well as the heroism of those who struggled for civil rights, we do the memory of that effort no honor by confusing the genuine grievances it sought to redress with the trumped-up issues now put forward as evidence of official racism.

It should be specified that the plight of a significant portion of the contemporary African-American community is such that we might well wonder how much progress has been made since King memorably dreamed of an America where his children would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” But the severe challenges of poverty, family breakdown, gangs, and a pervasive culture of violence that is part of the creation of a near-permanent underclass is largely the result of the social pathologies that grew out of the welfare state that arose in the aftermath of the march, not white racism. That these problems were the unintentional result of good intentions gone awry rather than prejudice is ironic but it is one that is largely lost on the race hucksters.

Martin’s death was the result of a confusing and violent struggle between two members of minority groups. It was taken out of context and is now routinely characterized by pop icons like Oprah Winfrey as a modern Emmitt Till case. That Martin’s death is not remotely comparable to Till’s murder was obvious to anyone who watched any of Zimmerman’s televised trial during which not a scintilla of proof was produced about Zimmerman’s racism.

But that is just as true of the attempts by the Department of Justice to treat voter ID laws as a rerun of Jim Crow. The vast majority of African-Americans, like every other segment of American society, thinks there’s nothing wrong with asking people to be able to identify themselves when they vote. Common sense voter integrity measures seem reasonable to people that know that, unlike in 1963, nowadays one needs a photo ID to bank, buy cold medicine, or travel, let alone make any transaction with the government. Only those afflicted by the bigotry of low expectations think blacks are more incapable than other Americans of obtaining a free government ID if they don’t have a driver’s license or a passport.

The myth propagated by the left, and echoed by the Obama administration, that voter ID laws are racist is an attempt to racialize an issue that has nothing to do with prejudice against African-Americans. Whereas once civil rights meant an effort to prevent white racists from stealing elections via laws that literally stopped all members of some groups from voting, now it seems to mean preventing any effort to protect the integrity of the votes of all citizens.

The inappropriate rhetoric employed by Obama, Attorney General Holder and those charlatans like Al Sharpton who purport now to speak in the name of the cause of civil rights have debased the coinage of the rhetoric of freedom that was so nobly advanced by King and others at the march. The descent of the civil rights movement from outrage at genuine discrimination to false flag issues like Martin or voter ID shows have far this nation has come. But it also illustrates the irrelevance of that movement to the genuine problems that are faced today by African-Americans.

Read Less

Obama’s Team of Bystanders

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power’s credibility is taking a bit of a hit this week. Power is a voluble proponent of the doctrine of R2P–responsibility to protect, which advocates military intervention for humanitarian purposes. Thus, when evidence mounted that the Syrian forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad were committing massacres with chemical weapons, proponents of Syria intervention expected more than a tweet from Power. They didn’t get it–not yet, at least.

In early afternoon on Wednesday, Power wrote: “Reports devastating: 100s dead in streets, including kids killed by chem weapons. UN must get there fast & if true, perps must face justice.” The responses were predictable, typified by Irish journalist Philip Boucher-Hayes, who tweeted back: “When she was a journo and an academic @AmbassadorPower was pretty clear about genocidal acts like yesterday’s in Syria. Not so much now.”

In fact, more than just being “pretty clear” about such atrocities, Power was more than happy to name and shame Americans she thought insufficiently active in propelling the U.S. government to action. Her 2001 Atlantic essay “Bystanders to Genocide,” on the Clinton administration’s dawdling during the Rwandan genocide, makes for chilling and uncomfortable reading. Her eloquence and honesty on such matters were thought by some to be reason enough to celebrate her nomination to serve as President Obama’s ambassador to the UN–a Cabinet-level post in this administration.

Yet what Power may be realizing, and what the public should have understood long ago, is that Obama’s “team of rivals” is really a team of fig leaves. Hillary Clinton was not hired as secretary of state because Obama had suddenly come around to the advisability of liberal interventionism. She was hired because Obama wanted her out of the Senate where she could challenge his agenda. Instead, she was to be tied so closely to the president’s agenda so as to make it virtually impossible for her to undermine him.

Read More

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power’s credibility is taking a bit of a hit this week. Power is a voluble proponent of the doctrine of R2P–responsibility to protect, which advocates military intervention for humanitarian purposes. Thus, when evidence mounted that the Syrian forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad were committing massacres with chemical weapons, proponents of Syria intervention expected more than a tweet from Power. They didn’t get it–not yet, at least.

In early afternoon on Wednesday, Power wrote: “Reports devastating: 100s dead in streets, including kids killed by chem weapons. UN must get there fast & if true, perps must face justice.” The responses were predictable, typified by Irish journalist Philip Boucher-Hayes, who tweeted back: “When she was a journo and an academic @AmbassadorPower was pretty clear about genocidal acts like yesterday’s in Syria. Not so much now.”

In fact, more than just being “pretty clear” about such atrocities, Power was more than happy to name and shame Americans she thought insufficiently active in propelling the U.S. government to action. Her 2001 Atlantic essay “Bystanders to Genocide,” on the Clinton administration’s dawdling during the Rwandan genocide, makes for chilling and uncomfortable reading. Her eloquence and honesty on such matters were thought by some to be reason enough to celebrate her nomination to serve as President Obama’s ambassador to the UN–a Cabinet-level post in this administration.

Yet what Power may be realizing, and what the public should have understood long ago, is that Obama’s “team of rivals” is really a team of fig leaves. Hillary Clinton was not hired as secretary of state because Obama had suddenly come around to the advisability of liberal interventionism. She was hired because Obama wanted her out of the Senate where she could challenge his agenda. Instead, she was to be tied so closely to the president’s agenda so as to make it virtually impossible for her to undermine him.

One of the targets of Power’s Atlantic piece was Susan Rice, who is portrayed as being nearly as cynical as her then-boss, President Bill Clinton. According to Power, Rice was more concerned about midterm elections than victims of the ongoing genocide. But Power quotes Rice declaring she learned her lesson: “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.” As the bodies pile up in Syria, there are certainly flames–but Rice is floating high above them from her perch as Obama’s national security advisor.

It is ironic to some degree that Rice’s promotion to national security advisor cleared the way for Power to take Rice’s old job. But the two shouldn’t be compared: when Rice was at the UN, she was so impolitic that her Russian and Chinese counterparts complained about her. She wasn’t the craven diplomat that the West nowadays deploys. She called a spade a spade–and called a thug a thug.

When the UN called an emergency meeting this week on the chemical weapons reports, Power was unavailable. Yet some perspective is in order: Power has given no indication that she has Rice’s innate toughness or reflex to defend Western values and interests. As Hillary Clinton might say, had Power been at her post when the meeting was called, what difference would it have made?

And the reason for that goes beyond the issue of hypocrisy. Yes, it’s bad form for Power to make a career out of shaming her countrymen for doing what she’s doing now. It has to do with why Rice has also been generally ineffective at getting the administration to take action. Rice promised her inaction on Rwanda would forever guide her perspective on future conflicts. That made it essential for Obama to bring her into the administration–not to allow her to pursue her objectives but to co-opt her and silence her by ensuring she couldn’t criticize the administration from the outside.

The same is probably true of Power. Obama knows that Samantha Power would love nothing more than to pick up her pen and take shots at his administration for his constantly moving “red line.” But as a representative of the administration who answers to the president, all she can do is tweet from undisclosed locations while her subordinates fill in for her at the UN.

Obama prefers to centralize decision-making as much as possible. This can be most dangerous on foreign policy, where his experience, interest, and frame of reference are weakest. It’s also true that the president is petty and thin-skinned, and does not handle criticism well. Hiring his critics to shut them up was thus a tactically brilliant maneuver, all the more so because the media inexplicably believed, and happily circulated, the ruse.

Read Less

Obama’s Long List of Broken Promises

In his column yesterday, Daniel Henninger–in writing about President Obama’s summer trips and series of speeches on the economy–asks, “Is anyone listening to these speeches? Do they matter?”

The answer to both questions is, I think, no. And it raises a deeper issue: Has any previous president devalued his words quite so much, in quite so many ways? Perhaps, but I rather doubt it. 

In order to support my claim, it’s worth taking a stroll down memory lane, to compare what Mr. Obama has said with what he has done. The sheer bandwidth of his broken promises and empty claims is quite extraordinary.

For example, there was his promise not to allow lobbyists to work in his administration. (They have.) His commitment to slash earmarks. (He didn’t.) To be the most transparent presidency in history. (It’s not.) To put an end to “phony accounting.” (It started almost on day one and continues.) And to restore trust in government. (Trust in government is at near-historic lows.) Think, too, about his pledge to seek public financing in the general election. (He didn’t.) And to treat super-PACs as a “threat to democracy.” (He embraced them.)

Read More

In his column yesterday, Daniel Henninger–in writing about President Obama’s summer trips and series of speeches on the economy–asks, “Is anyone listening to these speeches? Do they matter?”

The answer to both questions is, I think, no. And it raises a deeper issue: Has any previous president devalued his words quite so much, in quite so many ways? Perhaps, but I rather doubt it. 

In order to support my claim, it’s worth taking a stroll down memory lane, to compare what Mr. Obama has said with what he has done. The sheer bandwidth of his broken promises and empty claims is quite extraordinary.

For example, there was his promise not to allow lobbyists to work in his administration. (They have.) His commitment to slash earmarks. (He didn’t.) To be the most transparent presidency in history. (It’s not.) To put an end to “phony accounting.” (It started almost on day one and continues.) And to restore trust in government. (Trust in government is at near-historic lows.) Think, too, about his pledge to seek public financing in the general election. (He didn’t.) And to treat super-PACs as a “threat to democracy.” (He embraced them.)

Then there was his administration’s pledge to keep unemployment from rising above 8 percent. (It remained above 8 percent for the longest stretch since the Great Depression.) To create five million new energy jobs alone. (The total number of jobs created in Obama’s first term was roughly one-tenth that figure.) To identify all those “shovel-ready” jobs. (Mr. Obama later chuckled that his much-hyped “shovel-ready projects” were “not as shovel-ready as we expected.”) And to lift two million Americans from poverty. (A record 46 million Americans are living in poverty during the Obama era.)

Let’s not forget the president’s promise to bring down health care premiums by $2,500 for the typical family (they went up) … allow Americans to keep the health care coverage they currently have (many can’t) … refuse to fund abortion via the Affordable Care Act (it did) … to respect religious liberties (he has violated them) … and the insistence that a mandate to buy insurance, enforced by financial penalties, was not a tax (it is).

There was also Mr. Obama’s pledge to stop the rise of the oceans. (It hasn’t.) To “remake the world” and to “heal the planet.” (Hardly.) To usher in a “new beginning” based on “mutual respect” with the Arab and Islamic world and “help answer the call for a new dawn in the Middle East.” (Come again?) To punish Syria if it crossed the “red line” of using chemical weapons. (The “red line” was crossed earlier this year–and nothing of consequence happened.) That as president “I don’t bluff.” (See the previous sentence on Syria.) And of course the much-ballyhooed Russian reset. (Tensions between Russia and the United States are increasing and examples of Russia undermining U.S. interests are multiplying.)

And let’s not forget Mr. Obama’s promise to bring us together. (He is the most polarizing president in the history of Gallup polling.) Or his assurance to us that he would put an end to the type of politics that “breeds division and conflict and cynicism.” (All three have increased during the Obama presidency.) And his counsel to us to “resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.” (Remind me again whose campaign allies accused Mitt Romney of being responsible for the cancer death of a steelworker’s wife.)

I’m sure people could add to this list, but there’s enough here to establish a pattern. Even if you stipulate that politicians often make claims they can’t keep–that some are the product of cynical deception and others the product of unforeseen circumstances–Mr. Obama is in a category all his own.

Does it matter? I think so, in part because I don’t believe it’s good to have as president someone for whom words have no objective meaning and who believes he can construct his own narrative to fit his own needs. But I also think we’re seeing an accretion occur. It’s happening later than I would have hoped, but the public does seem to be tuning out the president. The latest pivot to the economy–has that pivot occurred a half-dozen or a dozen times before?–is meaningless. Nothing has happened before; why should anything happen now?

Mr. Obama talks, and he talks, and he talks. My how he loves to talk. But his words don’t translate into anything real. And eventually that does take a toll.

In the 2008 campaign, while criticizing his opponents, Mr. Obama said in a somewhat exasperated tone, “I mean, words mean something.” For most of us they do. But not, it appears, for the president of the United States.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.