Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 13, 2013

Vitter’s Lesson on Public Morals

He’s generally flown beneath the radar in a political environment that thrives on scandal but it looks like David Vitter may finally pay for his past sins. The Louisiana senator and advocate for abstinence education was disgraced in 2007 when his phone number was found on a list of patrons of the infamous “DC Madam” and her Washington prostitution ring. Vitter apologized for his “very serious sin” but unlike many other politicians who bowed to pressure from the public or outraged colleagues to resign, he refused to budge. Not only did his wife stand by him but also thanks to the ethically challenged culture of Louisiana that has long tolerated all sorts of misbehavior from its political class, he was even re-elected in 2010. But not everyone has forgotten about his sordid past.

Vitter has been a thorn in the side of Senate Democrats lately since he is working hard to embarrass them into agreeing to drop the federal subsidies that underwrite the health care costs of members of Congress and their staffs. To get even with the Louisianan, Politico reports Democrats are planning on resurrecting the prostitution episode in an effort to force Vitter to cease and desist his guerilla warfare on the issue that has brought the Senate to a virtual standstill in the last week. Their plan is to introduce their own amendment that would deny a subsidy to any lawmaker for whom there is “probable cause” to believe they solicited prostitutes.

This raises an interesting question about ethics. Though there is an argument to be made in favor of requiring officials to respect public morals (a point I made yesterday in discussing the failure of two scandal-plagued pols to win redemption from the public), is it ethical or even permissible to use the failings of politicians not merely to defeat them at the polls but to blackmail them to abandon political principles that are inconveniencing their opponents? If it is, then it appears to me that we have gone far beyond merely the scrapping of the old rules of the gentlemanly Senate “club.” Are Senate Democrats really prepared to answer arguments that point up the hypocrisy of politicians who want to impose substandard health insurance on the people while personally enjoying a far more generous federal benefits package by drafting legislation whose only purpose is to humiliate a senator for his past misconduct? If so, then we have replaced the old ways with something that isn’t merely hyper-partisan but representative of the kind of gutter politics that should make even the likes of Majority Leader Harry Reid blush.

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He’s generally flown beneath the radar in a political environment that thrives on scandal but it looks like David Vitter may finally pay for his past sins. The Louisiana senator and advocate for abstinence education was disgraced in 2007 when his phone number was found on a list of patrons of the infamous “DC Madam” and her Washington prostitution ring. Vitter apologized for his “very serious sin” but unlike many other politicians who bowed to pressure from the public or outraged colleagues to resign, he refused to budge. Not only did his wife stand by him but also thanks to the ethically challenged culture of Louisiana that has long tolerated all sorts of misbehavior from its political class, he was even re-elected in 2010. But not everyone has forgotten about his sordid past.

Vitter has been a thorn in the side of Senate Democrats lately since he is working hard to embarrass them into agreeing to drop the federal subsidies that underwrite the health care costs of members of Congress and their staffs. To get even with the Louisianan, Politico reports Democrats are planning on resurrecting the prostitution episode in an effort to force Vitter to cease and desist his guerilla warfare on the issue that has brought the Senate to a virtual standstill in the last week. Their plan is to introduce their own amendment that would deny a subsidy to any lawmaker for whom there is “probable cause” to believe they solicited prostitutes.

This raises an interesting question about ethics. Though there is an argument to be made in favor of requiring officials to respect public morals (a point I made yesterday in discussing the failure of two scandal-plagued pols to win redemption from the public), is it ethical or even permissible to use the failings of politicians not merely to defeat them at the polls but to blackmail them to abandon political principles that are inconveniencing their opponents? If it is, then it appears to me that we have gone far beyond merely the scrapping of the old rules of the gentlemanly Senate “club.” Are Senate Democrats really prepared to answer arguments that point up the hypocrisy of politicians who want to impose substandard health insurance on the people while personally enjoying a far more generous federal benefits package by drafting legislation whose only purpose is to humiliate a senator for his past misconduct? If so, then we have replaced the old ways with something that isn’t merely hyper-partisan but representative of the kind of gutter politics that should make even the likes of Majority Leader Harry Reid blush.

Those who are prepared to argue that Vitter is a hypocrite and has not been held accountable for misconduct that occurred while he was a member of Congress will get no argument from me. We are entitled to believe the good people of Louisiana are daft to think Vitter’s services are indispensible. But there is a difference between a justified moral outrage at a lawmaker and advocate for family values behaving in such a manner and using his past in order to advance a political agenda that is every bit as cynical as anything he has done.

Unethical behavior comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Whatever we may think of Vitter’s transgressions and the brazen manner in which he has ignored those who have rightly called him out, Senate Democrats (many of whom backed President Clinton when he was caught lying under oath about sexual misconduct and his carrying on with a White House intern in the Oval Office) are in no position to claim the moral high ground. Indeed, using this episode in order to silence Vitter can be seen as far worse than his conduct. Blackmail is not unknown in politics but it rare that it is practiced as openly as this.

Vitter’s willingness to use the rules to jam up Reid’s efforts to run the Senate is annoying his foes. But the issue he is championing is one that would require Congress to live by the same rules as everyone else, especially when they have passed a bill that will subject the country to a health care regime that will raise costs for countless Americans and cost others their jobs. In this context, bringing up the DC Madam charge in order to shut the GOP senator up isn’t advocacy for public morals; it’s shameless behavior that lowers the tone of public life far below anything that bad boys like Vitter, Anthony Weiner or Eliot Spitzer have done.

Nor will it work since if Vitter had the chutzpah to stay in the Senate with prostitution charges hanging over his head, he will not be deterred by the Democratic amendment. In fact, Reid may have done something that many thought impossible: made Vitter look sympathetic.

Though his presence in the Senate does his state no credit, ironically Vitter may be teaching the country a lesson in morality that a better man might not have been able to do. By illustrating the utter lack of an ethical compass on the part of the Senate’s Democratic leadership, he has made a case that there really are worse things than having a sexual transgressor in high office. In this case, it may be better to be a chastened sinner than a ruthless, unethical and hypocritical Majority Leader.

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Or Do We Do Pinpricks, After All?

The strike on Syria that the Obama administration has been talking about is perhaps not “unbelievably small,” as John Kerry said, but rather unbelievably unachievable. Here’s the Wall Street Journal on Syria’s Unit 450, “a branch of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center that manages the regime’s overall chemicals weapons program”:

The U.S. wants any military strikes in Syria to send a message to the heads of Unit 450 that there is a steep price for following orders to use chemical weapons, U.S. officials said.

At the same time, the U.S. doesn’t want any strike to destabilize the unit so much that it loses control of its chemical weapons, giving rebels a chance to seize the arsenal.

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The strike on Syria that the Obama administration has been talking about is perhaps not “unbelievably small,” as John Kerry said, but rather unbelievably unachievable. Here’s the Wall Street Journal on Syria’s Unit 450, “a branch of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center that manages the regime’s overall chemicals weapons program”:

The U.S. wants any military strikes in Syria to send a message to the heads of Unit 450 that there is a steep price for following orders to use chemical weapons, U.S. officials said.

At the same time, the U.S. doesn’t want any strike to destabilize the unit so much that it loses control of its chemical weapons, giving rebels a chance to seize the arsenal.

Ah, of course, a Goldilocks-zone strike on a dictator’s chemical-weapons handlers (located at as many as 50 separate sites) in the midst of a civil war. Now, why didn’t the administration just explain it that way in the first place.

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Losing the Middle East to Putin Isn’t Victory

Give Andrew Sullivan some credit. Unlike other supporters of President Obama, he isn’t trying to spin defeat as victory this week. At least he’s not doing it in the way the administration is trying to sell it to the American public. Most liberals are trying to pretend the president’s acceptance of Russia’s bogus offer to negotiate the surrender of Assad’s chemical-weapons stockpile is a sign of U.S. strength, or at least offers the possibility of a diplomatic escape from a conflict in Syria few Americans want any part of. But such transparent deceptions and spin are not for the proprietor of the Daily Dish. Instead, Sullivan believes Obama’s surrender of American influence in the Middle East is actually a good thing. Rather than pretending that Putin’s end zone dance in the New York Times yesterday was meaningless, he thinks the Russian authoritarian’s triumphant mood is good for American national interests and bad for those of Russia.

The problem with this formulation isn’t just that the United States has important national security interests in the Middle East (a point President Obama made clear in his speech this past Tuesday) and that abandoning Israel or disregarding the human-rights aspect of letting Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies win undermines them. What’s most absurd about Sullivan’s rant is his profound misunderstand of how much Russia has to gain and how little it has to lose in taking ownership of the Middle East.

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Give Andrew Sullivan some credit. Unlike other supporters of President Obama, he isn’t trying to spin defeat as victory this week. At least he’s not doing it in the way the administration is trying to sell it to the American public. Most liberals are trying to pretend the president’s acceptance of Russia’s bogus offer to negotiate the surrender of Assad’s chemical-weapons stockpile is a sign of U.S. strength, or at least offers the possibility of a diplomatic escape from a conflict in Syria few Americans want any part of. But such transparent deceptions and spin are not for the proprietor of the Daily Dish. Instead, Sullivan believes Obama’s surrender of American influence in the Middle East is actually a good thing. Rather than pretending that Putin’s end zone dance in the New York Times yesterday was meaningless, he thinks the Russian authoritarian’s triumphant mood is good for American national interests and bad for those of Russia.

The problem with this formulation isn’t just that the United States has important national security interests in the Middle East (a point President Obama made clear in his speech this past Tuesday) and that abandoning Israel or disregarding the human-rights aspect of letting Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies win undermines them. What’s most absurd about Sullivan’s rant is his profound misunderstand of how much Russia has to gain and how little it has to lose in taking ownership of the Middle East.

Sullivan says a situation that he concedes looks like “national humiliation” for the U.S. is “good” because it avoids American involvement in more wars or even having responsibility for anything that happens there. If this withdrawal from the region winds up hurting our allies in the vicinity (especially Israel, for which Sullivan has a well-known distaste), then so much the worse for them. Any concern about the human-rights situation in Syria is mere emotionalism, as Sullivan brusquely told a distraught Christiane Amanpour on CNN last night when she had the temerity to point out Obama’s retreat meant that the body count of the victims of Russia’s ally Assad would continue to grow. Any dissent from this line is, Sullivan tells us, mere neocon dreaming about U.S. hegemony.

The writer thinks the Middle East should be lost. Putin is, he says, welcome to it, something that would allow the U.S. to concentrate on Asia and “entrenching universal healthcare” at home. Given the disastrous impact of the ObamaCare rollout on the economy, it’s doubtful doing so would help the president sell an expansion of the unpopular program. Nor does Sullivan seem to have too many ideas about how the diversion to Asia would help contain the nuclear lunatics of North Korea or fend off an aggressive China. But if he really thinks Russia’s rout of the U.S. in the Middle East would not impact its ability to exercise influence elsewhere, he’s as crazy as he is callous.

The argument is that Russia’s ownership of the Syrian conflict will wind up hurting them because it is more trouble than they can handle and the chemical weapons will wind up in the hands of Islamists who will wind up using them on Putin’s people. But what Russia is after in this gambit isn’t administration of Syria; it’s ensuring that their sole ally in the region stays in power. He won’t be caught between the warring parties since the Russian diplomatic track will enable Assad (with the assistance of Iran and Hezbollah) to take care of such details. The guiding principle of Russian foreign policy is twofold: annoy, humiliate, and defeat the United States every chance they get and thereby help rebuild the lost Soviet empire whose fall Putin still mourns. Russian adventurism in Syria won’t stop there. It will extend into Asia and cause havoc and diminish American influence there and everywhere else.

This Brezhnev-style diplomacy should also inform our view of the Kremlin’s relationship with its partners in keeping Assad afloat. The assumption has always been that Russia has as much to fear from a nuclear Iran as the West. But just as the Soviets didn’t worry much about blowback from their support of Arab terrorism in the ’70s, Putin doesn’t waste much time with concern about how the U.S. retreat he has helped engineer will encourage Iran and its terrorist auxiliaries. He rightly thinks their prime target will always be the U.S. and Israel. Iran didn’t bat an eye or protest when Putin slaughtered Muslims in Chechnya in the 1990s and he doesn’t think they will cause him any trouble in the future.

Contrary to Sullivan’s invocation of Nicolo Machiavelli’s praise of deception in a ruler, Obama’s humiliation is not a façade for a strategic retreat. Influence and prestige are fungible commodities for a great power. Even if we bought Sullivan’s idiotic premise that the U.S. no longer has any interests in the Middle East, American decline along these lines cannot be contained. An America that abandons a key region to a vicious rival and stands by impotently while atrocities that could be prevented are allowed to continue will not be able to magically resurrect its influence elsewhere.

As false as the justifications offered by most other liberals for President Obama’s lack of leadership are, they are still more connected to reality than Sullivan’s formulation. Sullivan would have us believe that defeat is really victory. But the president knows that abandoning the Middle East to Putin would be a catastrophe and therefore he and his cheering section deny that this is what he is doing. As bad as Obama’s performance has been, at least he recognizes that America has interests that must be defended. He just lacks the will or the skill to defend them. Sullivan claims these defects are virtues. It’s hard to tell which position is more risible. 

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On “Decisiveness” and Obama’s Credibility

Though there were plenty of cringeworthy comments relating to foreign policy from some 2012 GOP primary candidates, Democrats got a bit too triumphal about ending the Republican Party’s polling advantage on foreign affairs. The right had plenty to figure out, of course, as any party out of power does. But it was always possible they could be helped by miscues in the Obama administration. The Republicans could gain back some of the ground they lost by staying in place if President Obama did something to lose the public’s trust.

According to the new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, the president has done just that with his Syria debacle: “Republicans are now rated higher than Democrats on handling the economy and foreign policy, and the GOP’s lead has strengthened on several other issues, including dealing with the federal deficit and ensuring a strong national defense.” That does not mean the right is out of the woods on foreign policy, but it does illustrate the extent to which Obama has hurt his administration’s credibility with its behavior on Syria.

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Though there were plenty of cringeworthy comments relating to foreign policy from some 2012 GOP primary candidates, Democrats got a bit too triumphal about ending the Republican Party’s polling advantage on foreign affairs. The right had plenty to figure out, of course, as any party out of power does. But it was always possible they could be helped by miscues in the Obama administration. The Republicans could gain back some of the ground they lost by staying in place if President Obama did something to lose the public’s trust.

According to the new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, the president has done just that with his Syria debacle: “Republicans are now rated higher than Democrats on handling the economy and foreign policy, and the GOP’s lead has strengthened on several other issues, including dealing with the federal deficit and ensuring a strong national defense.” That does not mean the right is out of the woods on foreign policy, but it does illustrate the extent to which Obama has hurt his administration’s credibility with its behavior on Syria.

A good example of why took place yesterday when White House spokesman Jay Carney tried to explain away the Syria reversal. As Roll Call reports:

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney defended his boss Thursday after a blistering few weeks of criticism in Congress and elsewhere over his handling of the Syria crisis.

Carney said the American people “appreciate a president who doesn’t celebrate decisiveness for decisiveness’ sake.” He also said Americans like that Obama is open to “new information” and adjusts his course accordingly.

This illustrates pretty clearly how difficult it is to defend the administration’s waffling on Syria, because this explanation is laughable. Sure, the president shouldn’t be decisive just for the sake of being decisive. But that’s completely irrelevant to the situation in Syria.

Let’s review. The civil war in Syria has been raging for two and a half years, with 100,000-plus casualties. President Obama wasn’t sure quite what to do about it, and didn’t think the U.S. could intervene in such a way as to bring about the desired outcome at a bearable cost. As the years went by, the president did say one thing: it may not be wise to jump into a Syrian civil war when both sides seem to be dominated (at this point, at least) by enemies of the West. However, the president said, there is a line Bashar al-Assad cannot cross: he cannot use chemical weapons.

Whatever one may think of Obama’s plan on Syria, that red line was eminently reasonable. What’s more, he had public support for it. Not only did a 2012 poll show a majority would support military intervention in Syria if Assad used chemical weapons, but an even larger majority approved of military intervention “If the Syrian government lost control of their stockpile of chemical weapons.” The president and the public agreed: the use of those chemical weapons must be prevented, and their whereabouts must be accounted for.

There was no danger of unthinking decisiveness, it seemed, as the war dragged on. The president had plenty of time think about it. Additionally, the red line was not rash or hasty either; it was perfectly logical and in keeping with international standards. The trouble started when it appeared the red line was crossed, and the administration kept a lid on those suspicions. The public could be forgiven for wondering: how red was that line?

Then came the massive gas attack the administration couldn’t ignore and for which they believed strongly that Assad’s forces were responsible. It was time for action. The red line was crossed. The president and his emissaries gave speeches likening the Assad regime to the Nazis. There was no lack of decisiveness, certainly not for its own sake.

But then the president said something strange: he didn’t need congressional approval for the strikes he said were necessary, but he was going to ask Congress for authorization anyway–and if they didn’t approve the strikes he was probably going to bomb Syria without them.

And then John Kerry opened his mouth, garbled the administration’s message, and the whole thing fell apart. The bombing campaign that Obama said would send a message and was absolutely necessary could wait. Maybe we could trust Assad, the man we were supposed to believe was aspiring to be his generation’s Hitler. And maybe we could trust Vladimir Putin, too. Maybe the world’s tyrants just needed Obama to wag his finger at them, and they would repent. ’Tis the season, after all.

The problem, in other words, is not simply indecisiveness. It’s that the president initiates decisive action and his team employs a full-court press to build a sense of urgency that would reflect the administration’s own and justify that decisive action. Then it reverses itself. The president is taking heat in the polls because if you tell the public that someone is Hitler they may believe you–once.

But now the public has reason to believe either that Obama and his advisors were being dishonest and didn’t really believe Syria is like Nazi Germany or that they do think Assad is like Hitler but they don’t think anything needs to be done about that right now. Neither option is likely to convince the public that the Democrats are serious about foreign policy, and it’s not surprising to see that sentiment start showing up in the polls.

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Too Bad ObamaCare Works as Intended

Year after year, Forbes magazine places Wegmans Food Markets high on its “100 Best Companies to Work For” list, usually in the top five in the country. The supermarkets are based in Rochester, New York, a region that has been hit hard by economic stagnation, with downsizing at several companies (like Xerox and Kodak) that were once the biggest employers in the region. Wegmans has been a refuge for many employees, drawn to its generous salaries, bonuses, and benefits package. Last year Forbes cited its low turnover rate (3.4 percent last year) as a factor in why the supermarkets are such popular places to work. Despite the critical role that the supermarket chain plays in the local economy, Wegmans became a less coveted place to work this summer when it was announced that some part-time workers’ health benefits would be cut thanks to ObamaCare, and earlier this week it was announced that Trader Joe’s would do the same.

I’ve discussed the impact of ObamaCare on businesses quite a few times on this blog: on the restaurant industry, on individual small businesses, and on young people and part-time workers. This summer two stories emerged from two supermarket chains, Wegmans and Trader Joe’s, which have been held up by many on the left as shining examples of “responsible” corporate behavior. Their workers are paid highly (liberals describe it as “fairly”) and are rewarded with coveted and expensive perks like health insurance coverage. According to the Huffington Post, a number of part-time workers interviewed at Trader Joe’s worked there just to receive the subsidized insurance. Now that the insurance will have to be purchased on the ObamaCare exchanges market, workers are understandably wary of how far their budgets will be stretched in order to maintain the coverage they had before the president swooped in to make their insurance more “affordable.”

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Year after year, Forbes magazine places Wegmans Food Markets high on its “100 Best Companies to Work For” list, usually in the top five in the country. The supermarkets are based in Rochester, New York, a region that has been hit hard by economic stagnation, with downsizing at several companies (like Xerox and Kodak) that were once the biggest employers in the region. Wegmans has been a refuge for many employees, drawn to its generous salaries, bonuses, and benefits package. Last year Forbes cited its low turnover rate (3.4 percent last year) as a factor in why the supermarkets are such popular places to work. Despite the critical role that the supermarket chain plays in the local economy, Wegmans became a less coveted place to work this summer when it was announced that some part-time workers’ health benefits would be cut thanks to ObamaCare, and earlier this week it was announced that Trader Joe’s would do the same.

I’ve discussed the impact of ObamaCare on businesses quite a few times on this blog: on the restaurant industry, on individual small businesses, and on young people and part-time workers. This summer two stories emerged from two supermarket chains, Wegmans and Trader Joe’s, which have been held up by many on the left as shining examples of “responsible” corporate behavior. Their workers are paid highly (liberals describe it as “fairly”) and are rewarded with coveted and expensive perks like health insurance coverage. According to the Huffington Post, a number of part-time workers interviewed at Trader Joe’s worked there just to receive the subsidized insurance. Now that the insurance will have to be purchased on the ObamaCare exchanges market, workers are understandably wary of how far their budgets will be stretched in order to maintain the coverage they had before the president swooped in to make their insurance more “affordable.”

The latest liberal spin from ThinkProgress posits that the fact that more people are being pushed onto ObamaCare exchanges proves that the law is working as intended. Sadly, that’s not untrue. When the president stood in front of crowds of nervous Americans, he assured them that if they liked their insurance they’d be able to keep it. Conservatives expressed doubt. Conservatives knew then, as we know now, that it was a baldfaced lie. It was never the intention of the law to keep Americans on their own privately obtained health insurance plans. The few people who read the bill beforehand knew that, and human resources departments nationwide are coming to the same conclusion. It is prohibitively expensive to continue to provide the coverage mandated by the law, which is why we hear stories every day of workers being pushed to part-time status, and why many previously fortunate part-timers are losing the coverage they once enjoyed.

Full-time workers aren’t safe from ObamaCare’s grasp either. Companies and universities, big and small, have announced that they can no longer provide the generous plans they once offered to families of full-time workers either. Several large companies like the United Parcel Service have announced that the spouses of their employees that can obtain insurance elsewhere will now be required to do so. Many of these spouses, along with these part-time workers, will now find themselves without coverage or navigating the ObamaCare exchanges in the new year. The exchanges, it seems, will be far less affordable than the plans they were on, despite the promise that ObamaCare would be the “Affordable Care Act.”

Among conservatives there are a few famous, perhaps infamous, phrases that the sponsors and authors of ObamaCare uttered during their push to pass the bill into law. One of the most well-known was Nancy Pelosi’s statement that Congress would have to pass the bill in order to find out what was in it. The text of the bill has been available for several years now. As deadlines have approached Americans are seeing first-hand just how much the contents of the law will impact them and their families. It’s no wonder there has been, according to Politicoa “sharp increase” in opposition to the health-care law compared to earlier this year. 

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Marxism, Forever

I made a mistake yesterday, as people with a taste for smart-mouthery on the Internet often do, by responding too quickly to something. On Wednesday, the leftist social critic Marshall Berman died. On Thursday, the website Tablet published an appreciation of him and his life by Todd Gitlin. Gitlin is a good writer and Berman was his friend and it was a sweet piece. It was the headline that struck me. “Marxist Humanist Mensch,” the piece was called. My tweet read: “Imagine a tribute to a Nazi humanist mensch.”

The purpose of that tweet, if one must locate a purpose in a one-liner, was simple. Why, after the real-world manifestations of Marxism in the 20th century had led to (by some estimates) 60 million deaths, would it still be considered a positive thing to be described as a “Marxist”? No one on earth wishes to be described as a Nazi, because of the murderousness of that real-world political philosophy; why would this not be the same with Marxism?

This was a foolish thing to have done, because Berman had just died and my Tweet could easily be read as an effort to speak ill of the dead. It was not intended to be so, but after some minutes, I apologized for having put up the Tweet in the first place. I did not know Berman, but I certainly read him over the years, and did read his “Marxist humanist” tome, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, which is (I will say to make up for the offense I gave) a very interesting book indeed, though not necessarily for the reasons Berman himself thought.

But as to the larger point, if a 140-character one-liner can be said to have a larger point? I was surprised to find myself criticized not so much for having done something rude and thoughtless but for likening Marxism to Nazism. This was, it would seem, beyond the intellectual pale.

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I made a mistake yesterday, as people with a taste for smart-mouthery on the Internet often do, by responding too quickly to something. On Wednesday, the leftist social critic Marshall Berman died. On Thursday, the website Tablet published an appreciation of him and his life by Todd Gitlin. Gitlin is a good writer and Berman was his friend and it was a sweet piece. It was the headline that struck me. “Marxist Humanist Mensch,” the piece was called. My tweet read: “Imagine a tribute to a Nazi humanist mensch.”

The purpose of that tweet, if one must locate a purpose in a one-liner, was simple. Why, after the real-world manifestations of Marxism in the 20th century had led to (by some estimates) 60 million deaths, would it still be considered a positive thing to be described as a “Marxist”? No one on earth wishes to be described as a Nazi, because of the murderousness of that real-world political philosophy; why would this not be the same with Marxism?

This was a foolish thing to have done, because Berman had just died and my Tweet could easily be read as an effort to speak ill of the dead. It was not intended to be so, but after some minutes, I apologized for having put up the Tweet in the first place. I did not know Berman, but I certainly read him over the years, and did read his “Marxist humanist” tome, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, which is (I will say to make up for the offense I gave) a very interesting book indeed, though not necessarily for the reasons Berman himself thought.

But as to the larger point, if a 140-character one-liner can be said to have a larger point? I was surprised to find myself criticized not so much for having done something rude and thoughtless but for likening Marxism to Nazism. This was, it would seem, beyond the intellectual pale.

Marx, one person said, wrote essays he loved. Somone likened the complexity of Marxism to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in denouncing me for being so limited in my understanding of the great intellectual tradition. And so on.

The ultimate point of contention was expressed by Marc A. Tracy of the New Republic. “I think one can be a Marxist in a defensible way that one can’t be a Nazi.”

That is evidently true, given that Marxism remains a respectable school of thought in America’s universities. And that is in part due to the fact that from Marx sprang that intellectual tradition so beloved of my Twitter correspondent, while there is no comparable Nazi tradition.

But here’s a hard truth: there is no Nazi tradition, or larger Fascist intellectual school, because Nazism and Fascism were literally extirpated as the result of a world war. By contrast, Marxism-Leninism survived and thrived throughout the 20th century.

It is not that there could not have been a Nazi intellectual tradition; oh, there certainly could have been.

Martin Heidegger is considered by many the foremost philosopher of the 20th century. And he was a Nazi. As Andrew Roberts pointed out in COMMENTARY in a review of Yvonne Sherratt’s recent book Hitler’s Philosophers

With Heidegger…Hitler hoped that he might have a living German philosopher to take on all comers in the competitive global philosophy stakes.

Heidegger joined the Nazi Party in a blaze of publicity on May 1, 1933, which Sherratt somewhat tastelessly likens to the blaze of the 25,000 books written by Jews that were burned in Berlin nine days later. He immediately hailed the Third Reich as “the construction of a new intellectual and spiritual world for the German nation” and had the words to the “Horst Wessel Song” printed on the back of the program of events of his installation as rector of Freiburg University, where he gave the full Heil Hitler salute prior to his inaugural speech. Heidegger remained a member of the Nazi Party until 1945 and was never to express any public remorse or apology for his idealization of Hitler. When asked by a colleague how a man as coarse as Hitler could govern Germany, the philosopher replied, “culture is of no importance. Look at his marvelous hands!”

The book details the degree to which leading academics in Germany during the Nazi era became the regime’s apologists and handmaidens. Had Germany somehow prevailed in World War II, or had that war not been fought at all, Nazism would surely have become an intellectual tradition of its own.

My Tweet gave offense, and for that I’m sorry. But the mild controversy it provoked was instructive—and, I think, discouraging.

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