Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ann Coulter

Flotsam and Jetsam

How dumb does Obama think businessmen are? “The White House has launched a coordinated campaign to push back against the perception taking hold in corporate America and on Wall Street that President Barack Obama is promoting an anti-business agenda.” Besides, wasn’t his populist, anti–Wall Street rhetoric supposed to be the key to minimizing midterm losses?

How upset do you think the White House is that the West Virginia governor has put another Senate seat at risk? “West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw (D) cleared the way for Gov. Joe Manchin (D) to call a November 2010 special election for the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) seat. The legal opinion McGraw issued Thursday did not give a specific timeline for a special election, but suggests using the already scheduled election this November.”

How slow do you think things are in Washington if the Politico forum is about whether Sarah Palin should replace Michael Steele? Yeah, like she needs, or would ever contemplate taking, that job.

How nervous do you think this Sarah Palin ad made the 2012 GOP contenders? Whatever you think of her, the ad is really good.

How much weight do you think the neo-isolationists and paleo-conservatives have in the GOP? Not much right now if Ann Coulter and Ron Paul are the only pro–Michael Steele voices. But Republicans should be wary — there is always the temptation to pull up the drawbridge.

How angry do you think Americans will be with Obama when they realize this? (More than they already are, that is): “After nearly a decade of federal tax cuts, Americans could awaken New Year’s Day with a whopper of a hangover. Breaks covering everything from child tax credits to the death tax are set to expire that day, less than six months from now, bringing higher payments for nearly every American who pays taxes. ‘We’ve never in history seen anything quite like this, where such a major portion of the tax code is set to expire on a single date and affect so many Americans all at once,’ said Scott Hodge, president of The Tax Foundation, a Washington nonprofit that tracks tax policies.”

How much trouble do you think Obama is in when Ruth Marcus sounds like John Podhoretz?

How many GOP 2012 candidates do you think will take this smart advice on immigration reform from Charles Krauthammer?It seems to me that the Republicans ought to argue enforcement first — and then a very generous, open and humane solution for those already here.” Not enough, I fear.

How dumb does Obama think businessmen are? “The White House has launched a coordinated campaign to push back against the perception taking hold in corporate America and on Wall Street that President Barack Obama is promoting an anti-business agenda.” Besides, wasn’t his populist, anti–Wall Street rhetoric supposed to be the key to minimizing midterm losses?

How upset do you think the White House is that the West Virginia governor has put another Senate seat at risk? “West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw (D) cleared the way for Gov. Joe Manchin (D) to call a November 2010 special election for the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) seat. The legal opinion McGraw issued Thursday did not give a specific timeline for a special election, but suggests using the already scheduled election this November.”

How slow do you think things are in Washington if the Politico forum is about whether Sarah Palin should replace Michael Steele? Yeah, like she needs, or would ever contemplate taking, that job.

How nervous do you think this Sarah Palin ad made the 2012 GOP contenders? Whatever you think of her, the ad is really good.

How much weight do you think the neo-isolationists and paleo-conservatives have in the GOP? Not much right now if Ann Coulter and Ron Paul are the only pro–Michael Steele voices. But Republicans should be wary — there is always the temptation to pull up the drawbridge.

How angry do you think Americans will be with Obama when they realize this? (More than they already are, that is): “After nearly a decade of federal tax cuts, Americans could awaken New Year’s Day with a whopper of a hangover. Breaks covering everything from child tax credits to the death tax are set to expire that day, less than six months from now, bringing higher payments for nearly every American who pays taxes. ‘We’ve never in history seen anything quite like this, where such a major portion of the tax code is set to expire on a single date and affect so many Americans all at once,’ said Scott Hodge, president of The Tax Foundation, a Washington nonprofit that tracks tax policies.”

How much trouble do you think Obama is in when Ruth Marcus sounds like John Podhoretz?

How many GOP 2012 candidates do you think will take this smart advice on immigration reform from Charles Krauthammer?It seems to me that the Republicans ought to argue enforcement first — and then a very generous, open and humane solution for those already here.” Not enough, I fear.

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People . . . People Who Like Cabinet Appointments

People magazine has an interview with John and Elizabeth Edwards, who say they aren’t going to endorse anyone and will be “saving their political capital for their own causes.” Hmm. Or making certain they remain players in a Democratic administration. John does a better job of concealing his preferences: loves the enthusiasm generated by Obama, but wants more substance; is impressed with Hillary Clinton’s grit, but doesn’t like all that old politics. Elizabeth is having none of that. She rolls her eyes about the impact of nominating the first African-American (“What about the great symbolic thing about a woman . . . “) and calls Obama’s health care plan and ads “misleading.”

So who carries more weight with Democratic voters? Elizabeth became the darling of the netroots for defending her husband against Ann Coulter and ferociously attacking George Bush, and Clinton could do worse than having Elizabeth touting her health care plan. But the real news will be if John and his 26 pledged delegates get off the fence. For now, the interview is a sign of how divided and indecisive the Democratic electorate as a whole appears to be (at least before the election returns tonight).

People magazine has an interview with John and Elizabeth Edwards, who say they aren’t going to endorse anyone and will be “saving their political capital for their own causes.” Hmm. Or making certain they remain players in a Democratic administration. John does a better job of concealing his preferences: loves the enthusiasm generated by Obama, but wants more substance; is impressed with Hillary Clinton’s grit, but doesn’t like all that old politics. Elizabeth is having none of that. She rolls her eyes about the impact of nominating the first African-American (“What about the great symbolic thing about a woman . . . “) and calls Obama’s health care plan and ads “misleading.”

So who carries more weight with Democratic voters? Elizabeth became the darling of the netroots for defending her husband against Ann Coulter and ferociously attacking George Bush, and Clinton could do worse than having Elizabeth touting her health care plan. But the real news will be if John and his 26 pledged delegates get off the fence. For now, the interview is a sign of how divided and indecisive the Democratic electorate as a whole appears to be (at least before the election returns tonight).

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Romney’s Dilemma

Mitt Romney’s campaign would love nothing better than for the Republican base to follow the direction of many of the talk show hosts and conservative opinion makers who despise McCain. But not really. The trap he is in is this: the McCain haters (like Ann Coulter) say that McCain is so bad Republicans should not support him if he is the nominee. Romney can’t and won’t say that. So he winds up having to disavow his new best friends.

It happened again today. The Romney team sent around a clip of James Dobson, the leader of Focus on the Family, being interviewed by Laura Ingraham (she also has been tearing into McCain for, among other things, changing his position on embryonic stem cell research). Dobson ripped into McCain on stem cell research, the Gang of 14, and the like and concluded : “Given these and many other concerns, a spoonful of sugar does not make the medicine go down. I cannot, and I will not vote for Sen. John McCain, as a matter of conscience.” (He clarifies that he would simply not vote, rather than vote for the Democratic nominee.)

I asked Romney spokesman Kevin Madden if by sending the email around he was encouraging others to follow Dobson’s lead. Apparently not. He responded: “Gov. Romney has said he will support the Republican nominee.” So what really is the point? It is fairly plain: to scare conservatives and to ingratiate himself with his base, the angry talk show set.

And on the other Romney gaffe of the day, he apparently did try to call Bob Dole. I assume it was to apologize and not to say ” And I really meant you’re the last guy I’d want supporting me!”

Mitt Romney’s campaign would love nothing better than for the Republican base to follow the direction of many of the talk show hosts and conservative opinion makers who despise McCain. But not really. The trap he is in is this: the McCain haters (like Ann Coulter) say that McCain is so bad Republicans should not support him if he is the nominee. Romney can’t and won’t say that. So he winds up having to disavow his new best friends.

It happened again today. The Romney team sent around a clip of James Dobson, the leader of Focus on the Family, being interviewed by Laura Ingraham (she also has been tearing into McCain for, among other things, changing his position on embryonic stem cell research). Dobson ripped into McCain on stem cell research, the Gang of 14, and the like and concluded : “Given these and many other concerns, a spoonful of sugar does not make the medicine go down. I cannot, and I will not vote for Sen. John McCain, as a matter of conscience.” (He clarifies that he would simply not vote, rather than vote for the Democratic nominee.)

I asked Romney spokesman Kevin Madden if by sending the email around he was encouraging others to follow Dobson’s lead. Apparently not. He responded: “Gov. Romney has said he will support the Republican nominee.” So what really is the point? It is fairly plain: to scare conservatives and to ingratiate himself with his base, the angry talk show set.

And on the other Romney gaffe of the day, he apparently did try to call Bob Dole. I assume it was to apologize and not to say ” And I really meant you’re the last guy I’d want supporting me!”

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The Voters Will Eventually Have The Last Word

As we wrapped up the day before Super Tuesday, it was an anti-McCain-fest from the Romney camp and his supporters. Talk radio and bloggers kept up the drum beat against McCain, bashing everyone from former GOP Presidential nominee and Senator Bob Dole to respected conservative journalists. The voice of (French) reason could nevertheless still be heard/read. (And yes, there is very little pro-Romney rhetoric being voiced by the McCain foes, perhaps an indication as to why McCain has been able to build a 20 point lead in national polls. It is hard to beat someone with simply a “not him” argument, no matter how loudly one argues.)

Although his own campaign clarified last week that Romney did not support Ann Coulter’s declaration that McCain and Hillary Clinton were politically identical, Romney released his own ad asserting they really were and contending, among other things, that both Clinton and McCain opposed the appointment of conservative judges. (Justices Alito and Roberts, whom McCain vigorously supported, don’t qualify as conservative?) McCain finally hit back with a TV ad pointing out that Romney’s infatuation with Ronald Reagan is of recent vintage.

What to say? There will eventually be a winner and a general election. If McCain does prevail and win the nomination, even some of the harshest critics will reverse course and support the GOP nominee they excoriated. Others will sulk, perhaps denying needed votes in a close general election.

Mostly, the role of much of the conservative new media will be clarified. The distinction between provocative discussion and electoral influence will be laid bare. It is one thing to provide an alternate source of information for conservatives, help shape policy debates and correct imbalances in the mainstream media; it is quite another to assume that a majority of Republican voters will follow ballot box advice. Clarity is important.

As we wrapped up the day before Super Tuesday, it was an anti-McCain-fest from the Romney camp and his supporters. Talk radio and bloggers kept up the drum beat against McCain, bashing everyone from former GOP Presidential nominee and Senator Bob Dole to respected conservative journalists. The voice of (French) reason could nevertheless still be heard/read. (And yes, there is very little pro-Romney rhetoric being voiced by the McCain foes, perhaps an indication as to why McCain has been able to build a 20 point lead in national polls. It is hard to beat someone with simply a “not him” argument, no matter how loudly one argues.)

Although his own campaign clarified last week that Romney did not support Ann Coulter’s declaration that McCain and Hillary Clinton were politically identical, Romney released his own ad asserting they really were and contending, among other things, that both Clinton and McCain opposed the appointment of conservative judges. (Justices Alito and Roberts, whom McCain vigorously supported, don’t qualify as conservative?) McCain finally hit back with a TV ad pointing out that Romney’s infatuation with Ronald Reagan is of recent vintage.

What to say? There will eventually be a winner and a general election. If McCain does prevail and win the nomination, even some of the harshest critics will reverse course and support the GOP nominee they excoriated. Others will sulk, perhaps denying needed votes in a close general election.

Mostly, the role of much of the conservative new media will be clarified. The distinction between provocative discussion and electoral influence will be laid bare. It is one thing to provide an alternate source of information for conservatives, help shape policy debates and correct imbalances in the mainstream media; it is quite another to assume that a majority of Republican voters will follow ballot box advice. Clarity is important.

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Looking Ahead To Tuesday And Beyond

As goes Nevada, so goes Maine. Yes, the delegates are non-binding, but it does show that Mitt Romney’s problem was not lack of organization, money or effort.

Elsewhere, there is good polling news for John McCain. A batch of Sunday McClatchy-MSNBC polls shows him ahead in California, Missouri, Georgia and New Jersey by comfortable margins. He holds a 2 to 1 advantage over Romney in the latest national polls. He collected endorsements in Georgia and Massachusetts (a number of names were on Rudy’s list previously) on Saturday. Romney has been trying to suggest that the race will not end on Tuesday, but the delegate math and Romney’s chosen campaign locales may suggest otherwise.

If this plays out as expected on Tuesday, there will be plenty still for McCain to do. Fred Barnes ends his thoughtful column on what McCain might do after Tuesday by quoting Barry Goldwater’s advice (“Let’s grow up, conservatives”), but not everyone has finished with their temper tantrums. (Sometimes it is wise to put up one’s hand and, in effect, say “count me out” of the ranting.)

McCain took a nice step in the right direction this morning on Fox News Sunday with a sunny, poised performance. He evinced every intention of reaching out to conservatives and committed to vetoing any Democratic tax hike and to appointing judges like Justices Alito and Roberts, even though they might strike down the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. (He had an amusing interchange with Hillary Clinton as well, as they both momentarily dispensed with their primary rivals and agreed they would have a spirited campaign. I’m sure Ann Coulter would be disappointed to see both agree what stark differences they would present.)

On the Democratic side, the proportional voting system in all states will lead to less decisive results on Tuesday. There are some signs that Barack Obama is making progress. He is within two points in California. He has narrowed the gap in national polls. Clinton, as the polls indicate, has an advantage in several states with large blocks of delegates. However, if Obama can win (or come close) in California and win in Illinois(where he leads comfortably), he will stay in the hunt and move on to friendlier territory in the following week’s contests in Maryland, Virginia and D.C.

As goes Nevada, so goes Maine. Yes, the delegates are non-binding, but it does show that Mitt Romney’s problem was not lack of organization, money or effort.

Elsewhere, there is good polling news for John McCain. A batch of Sunday McClatchy-MSNBC polls shows him ahead in California, Missouri, Georgia and New Jersey by comfortable margins. He holds a 2 to 1 advantage over Romney in the latest national polls. He collected endorsements in Georgia and Massachusetts (a number of names were on Rudy’s list previously) on Saturday. Romney has been trying to suggest that the race will not end on Tuesday, but the delegate math and Romney’s chosen campaign locales may suggest otherwise.

If this plays out as expected on Tuesday, there will be plenty still for McCain to do. Fred Barnes ends his thoughtful column on what McCain might do after Tuesday by quoting Barry Goldwater’s advice (“Let’s grow up, conservatives”), but not everyone has finished with their temper tantrums. (Sometimes it is wise to put up one’s hand and, in effect, say “count me out” of the ranting.)

McCain took a nice step in the right direction this morning on Fox News Sunday with a sunny, poised performance. He evinced every intention of reaching out to conservatives and committed to vetoing any Democratic tax hike and to appointing judges like Justices Alito and Roberts, even though they might strike down the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. (He had an amusing interchange with Hillary Clinton as well, as they both momentarily dispensed with their primary rivals and agreed they would have a spirited campaign. I’m sure Ann Coulter would be disappointed to see both agree what stark differences they would present.)

On the Democratic side, the proportional voting system in all states will lead to less decisive results on Tuesday. There are some signs that Barack Obama is making progress. He is within two points in California. He has narrowed the gap in national polls. Clinton, as the polls indicate, has an advantage in several states with large blocks of delegates. However, if Obama can win (or come close) in California and win in Illinois(where he leads comfortably), he will stay in the hunt and move on to friendlier territory in the following week’s contests in Maryland, Virginia and D.C.

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Romney Better Hope Huckabee Stays In

The latest Fox poll showing John McCain at 48%, Mitt Romney at 20% and Mike Huckabee with 19% is interesting for more than just the confirmation of the frontrunner bounce McCain has received. If Huckabee were not in the race McCain would lead 62% to 29%. (Yes, 62%.) So much for the theory that Huckabee hurts Romney.

On the head-to-head match ups, McCain leads Hillary Clinton by one point and trails Barack Obama by one point. (Both, obviously, are a statistical tie.) Romney trails Clinton by 14 points and by Obama by 18 points. But Romney has Ann Coulter in his corner. (By the way, in the most delicate way possible, Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said in response to my question whether Romney agreed with Coulter’s comments that conservatives should vote for Clinton if McCain were the nominee, “She has her opinion. Mitt Romney has a different opinion.”)

The latest Fox poll showing John McCain at 48%, Mitt Romney at 20% and Mike Huckabee with 19% is interesting for more than just the confirmation of the frontrunner bounce McCain has received. If Huckabee were not in the race McCain would lead 62% to 29%. (Yes, 62%.) So much for the theory that Huckabee hurts Romney.

On the head-to-head match ups, McCain leads Hillary Clinton by one point and trails Barack Obama by one point. (Both, obviously, are a statistical tie.) Romney trails Clinton by 14 points and by Obama by 18 points. But Romney has Ann Coulter in his corner. (By the way, in the most delicate way possible, Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said in response to my question whether Romney agreed with Coulter’s comments that conservatives should vote for Clinton if McCain were the nominee, “She has her opinion. Mitt Romney has a different opinion.”)

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The (Non)Conservatives Against McCain

The rabid strain of anti-McCain sentiment among media conservatives is, in fact, a betrayal of one of the most important principles of conservatism itself: the willingness to work with the concrete facts of a situation. The great strength of a politically conservative mindset is that it’s predicated on seeing the world as it is. When Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Hugh Hewitt, and Rush Limbaugh threaten to deny McCain their vote because he’s not an ideal conservative, they come off more like quixotic Ron Paul undergrads or deluded moveon.orgers than like the realists they pride themselves on being. If it’s McCain’s lack of a consistent political philosophy that truly bothers this lot, then they can’t possibly mean it when they say they prefer Hillary. We know that the only politics she practices, and the only philosophy she abides, is that of the ferociously personal. So, what the McCain-haters are really doing is protesting the sub-Reagan Republican.

Recently, Victor Davis Hanson wrote a much needed reminder about the real Ronald Reagan. Hanson cited Reagan’s tax hikes, governmental bloat, and amnesty for illegals. The point is not that Reagan betrayed conservatives, but that his conservatism was not the pristine ideology-in-action that many now remember.

It’s liberals who are supposed to view political and cultural matters as they are not—in idealized hues. (And some describe neoconservatives as seeing the world as it could be.) But conservatives are supposed to size up a predicament for what it is, and make a non-sentimental decision. Conservatives do a cost-benefit analysis; liberals are the ones who take the ball and go home after an argument on the playground. Yet there they go: Rush, Michelle, Hugh, and Ann kicking up the dirt as they pout their way off the field.

The rabid strain of anti-McCain sentiment among media conservatives is, in fact, a betrayal of one of the most important principles of conservatism itself: the willingness to work with the concrete facts of a situation. The great strength of a politically conservative mindset is that it’s predicated on seeing the world as it is. When Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Hugh Hewitt, and Rush Limbaugh threaten to deny McCain their vote because he’s not an ideal conservative, they come off more like quixotic Ron Paul undergrads or deluded moveon.orgers than like the realists they pride themselves on being. If it’s McCain’s lack of a consistent political philosophy that truly bothers this lot, then they can’t possibly mean it when they say they prefer Hillary. We know that the only politics she practices, and the only philosophy she abides, is that of the ferociously personal. So, what the McCain-haters are really doing is protesting the sub-Reagan Republican.

Recently, Victor Davis Hanson wrote a much needed reminder about the real Ronald Reagan. Hanson cited Reagan’s tax hikes, governmental bloat, and amnesty for illegals. The point is not that Reagan betrayed conservatives, but that his conservatism was not the pristine ideology-in-action that many now remember.

It’s liberals who are supposed to view political and cultural matters as they are not—in idealized hues. (And some describe neoconservatives as seeing the world as it could be.) But conservatives are supposed to size up a predicament for what it is, and make a non-sentimental decision. Conservatives do a cost-benefit analysis; liberals are the ones who take the ball and go home after an argument on the playground. Yet there they go: Rush, Michelle, Hugh, and Ann kicking up the dirt as they pout their way off the field.

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Greenwald and Vilks

When I postulated in a short post last week that comedienne Kathy Griffin would have faced a more dire fate than being hectored by the Catholic Leauge’s Bill Donohue had she made a joke about Muhammad rather than Jesus, Salon.com blogger Glenn Greenwald succumbed to his usual hysterics, running off a thousand-plus word screed grouping me alongside “right-wing warmongers” like Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, and Mark Steyn, and calling my fears fantasies.

Not to needle the ever-excitable Greenwald, but in related news about the over-exaggerated Muslim threat that only exists in the minds of “right-wing warmongers,” the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, has called for the death of Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks for—what else?—drawing a picture of Muhammad. Demonstrating a real entrepreneurial spirit, al-Baghdadi offered a “50 per cent bonus if Mr. Vilks was ‘slaughtered like a lamb’ by having his throat cut.”

Swedish police have placed Vilks under their protection. According to the Times (London), a spokesperson for the Swedish phone company Ericsson says that it has instructed its employees “to keep a low profile in Muslim countries and to take extra care in deciding where to go or park their cars.” The feckless Swedish ambassador to Saudi Arabia met with the head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, offering his “deepest apologies for the controversy created by the publishing of the hurtful depiction.” I must have imagined this, too, right?

Fortunately, Mr. Vilks has responded to the bounty placed on his head with good humor, telling the Times, “I suppose that this makes my art project a bit more serious. It is also good to know how much one is worth.” Greenwald might want to consider emulating Lars Vilks’s sense of humor. All those tantrums have to be taxing.

When I postulated in a short post last week that comedienne Kathy Griffin would have faced a more dire fate than being hectored by the Catholic Leauge’s Bill Donohue had she made a joke about Muhammad rather than Jesus, Salon.com blogger Glenn Greenwald succumbed to his usual hysterics, running off a thousand-plus word screed grouping me alongside “right-wing warmongers” like Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, and Mark Steyn, and calling my fears fantasies.

Not to needle the ever-excitable Greenwald, but in related news about the over-exaggerated Muslim threat that only exists in the minds of “right-wing warmongers,” the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, has called for the death of Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks for—what else?—drawing a picture of Muhammad. Demonstrating a real entrepreneurial spirit, al-Baghdadi offered a “50 per cent bonus if Mr. Vilks was ‘slaughtered like a lamb’ by having his throat cut.”

Swedish police have placed Vilks under their protection. According to the Times (London), a spokesperson for the Swedish phone company Ericsson says that it has instructed its employees “to keep a low profile in Muslim countries and to take extra care in deciding where to go or park their cars.” The feckless Swedish ambassador to Saudi Arabia met with the head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, offering his “deepest apologies for the controversy created by the publishing of the hurtful depiction.” I must have imagined this, too, right?

Fortunately, Mr. Vilks has responded to the bounty placed on his head with good humor, telling the Times, “I suppose that this makes my art project a bit more serious. It is also good to know how much one is worth.” Greenwald might want to consider emulating Lars Vilks’s sense of humor. All those tantrums have to be taxing.

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Sam Tanenhaus: Arsonist

The current issue of the New Republic contains a caustic exchange between me and Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the Sunday New York Times book review.

Tanenhaus had written an article in TNR about William F. Buckley, Jr., the broader conservative movement, and today’s war on terror. In an aside, he said that COMMENTARY had called for the prosecution of the editors of the New York Times for “treason.” He also characterized the NSA terrorist surveillance program—the highly classified counterterrorism program disclosed by his newspaper in December 2005—as a “domestic surveillance program.”

I wrote a letter pointing out that in my March 2006 COMMENTARY article about the affair, I never accused the editors of the Times of treason. I did not use the T-word at all—precisely because, whatever else they did, the Times’s editors had not committed that particular crime. Nor did I say they had committed espionage. What I argued was that they had violated a U.S. statute proscribing the publication of classified information pertaining to communications intelligence.

In my letter to TNR, I further pointed out that it was inexact to call the NSA program “domestic.” In fact it was international, tapping only those conversations or intercepting those emails that had crossed borders, and in which one party was a suspected al-Qaeda operative either in the United States or abroad.

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The current issue of the New Republic contains a caustic exchange between me and Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the Sunday New York Times book review.

Tanenhaus had written an article in TNR about William F. Buckley, Jr., the broader conservative movement, and today’s war on terror. In an aside, he said that COMMENTARY had called for the prosecution of the editors of the New York Times for “treason.” He also characterized the NSA terrorist surveillance program—the highly classified counterterrorism program disclosed by his newspaper in December 2005—as a “domestic surveillance program.”

I wrote a letter pointing out that in my March 2006 COMMENTARY article about the affair, I never accused the editors of the Times of treason. I did not use the T-word at all—precisely because, whatever else they did, the Times’s editors had not committed that particular crime. Nor did I say they had committed espionage. What I argued was that they had violated a U.S. statute proscribing the publication of classified information pertaining to communications intelligence.

In my letter to TNR, I further pointed out that it was inexact to call the NSA program “domestic.” In fact it was international, tapping only those conversations or intercepting those emails that had crossed borders, and in which one party was a suspected al-Qaeda operative either in the United States or abroad.

Summing up both of my objections to Tanenhaus’s article, I wrote: “To confuse an international surveillance program with a domestic one is to be as imprecise and inflammatory as to use the word ‘treason’ in describing a much less serious violation of the law.”

“Inflammatory” was the right word. For if in his initial article Tanenhaus was tending toward the incendiary, his response to my letter, now published in TNR, is a Molotov cocktail.

First he accuses me of propagating “nonsense.” Then he pours a bit of gasoline into the bottle, saying that the “charge of espionage implies a corollary charge of treason,” and that in distinguishing between the two I was employing a “mode of clarification” that is precisely like “one used a half-century ago by Joseph McCarthy.”

But I never said, to repeat, that editors at the Times committed either treason or espionage. Section 798 of Title 18, the provision at issue, is entitled “Disclosure of classified information” and it is very easy to understand. Even analysts who disagree with me about the desirability of prosecuting the Times—Morton Halperin, for example, of George Soros’s Open Society Institute—concur that the Times did indeed break this law.

As for his calling the NSA surveillance program “domestic,” Tanenhaus justifies this with a single citation from the December 16, 2005 Washington Post in which it was called “domestic spying”—as if that settled the matter. It doesn’t. And it doesn’t add a single fact to the discussion, except that someone at the Washington Post is also confused.

I have read a lot of Tanenhaus’s writings over the years in the Times, in Vanity Fair, in Slate, and even in COMMENTARY. I have never known him to break into a sweat or even get hot under the collar. For that matter, though he writes at great length about current events, I have never seen him stake out a genuinely controversial position on anything—attacks on safe targets like Pat Buchanan or Ann Coulter clearly do not count. His past reticence on matters of importance was always something of a mystery to me, although I have had my theories. Whatever explains that past reticence, his present act of minor intellectual arson in defense of his employer, in which he does not hesitate to toss in the name of Joseph McCarthy as tinder, offers an additional clue to the puzzle—about which, once again, I have my theories.

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The Right Laugh Track

Don’t fret too much if you missed Sunday night’s debut of The 1/2 Hour News Hour. The program—Fox News Channel’s answer to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart—was awful, not a real contender against its Comedy Central rival. It wasn’t just that the jokes on the Fox spoof often failed. That’s par for the course in satire, political or otherwise. It’s that the whole atmosphere of the show was grimly, thuddingly unfunny. The question is, why?

For Alessandra Stanley, the chief TV critic of the New York Times, the problem was the show’s conservative slant—that is, its single-minded focus on targets like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and global warming. The debut completely spares Dick Cheney and President Bush, the constant foils for Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart. As Stanley complained, “The Fox News comedy only leans on the Left.” For his part, the show’s creator, Joel Surnow, one of Hollywood’s few outspokenly right-wing big wigs, is happy to admit that The 1/2 Hour News Hour is “unabashedly coming from a certain point of view. . . . We’re not looking to be balanced.”

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Don’t fret too much if you missed Sunday night’s debut of The 1/2 Hour News Hour. The program—Fox News Channel’s answer to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart—was awful, not a real contender against its Comedy Central rival. It wasn’t just that the jokes on the Fox spoof often failed. That’s par for the course in satire, political or otherwise. It’s that the whole atmosphere of the show was grimly, thuddingly unfunny. The question is, why?

For Alessandra Stanley, the chief TV critic of the New York Times, the problem was the show’s conservative slant—that is, its single-minded focus on targets like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and global warming. The debut completely spares Dick Cheney and President Bush, the constant foils for Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart. As Stanley complained, “The Fox News comedy only leans on the Left.” For his part, the show’s creator, Joel Surnow, one of Hollywood’s few outspokenly right-wing big wigs, is happy to admit that The 1/2 Hour News Hour is “unabashedly coming from a certain point of view. . . . We’re not looking to be balanced.”


But partisan bias isn’t what ruined the show’s debut. Some of the problem was simple execution. Surnow’s fame rests on the runaway success of his action show 24. But his infallible instinct for quick-cut, split-screen drama doesn’t translate into comic timing. Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter make cameo appearances to open the show, pretending to be President and VP circa 2009, and the piece could not have been more leaden. As for the faux anchors behind the news desk, they do one awkwardly scripted set piece after another, interrupted only by a maniacally fake laugh track. Almost no footage of real politicians and activists is used to vary the tempo and lend some verisimilitude to the newscast.

In fact—and here, I think, lies the show’s deeper defect—The 1/2 Hour News Hour seems much less interested in politics per se than in scoring ideological points. The most effective bits on The Daily Show often consist of little more than cleverly juxtaposing quick clips of Bush, Cheney, John Kerry, or Nancy Pelosi doing what politicians do—pontificating, evading, euphemizing. Very often, all the host has to add is a quizzical look or a sly remark.

The Fox show, by contrast, aims to advance arguments and knock down prejudices. It is just as earnest in mocking the ACLU, anti-smoking crusaders, and “angry lesbians” as those groups are in advancing their own agendas. And earnestness, Left or Right, simply isn’t funny.

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