Commentary Magazine


Topic: Atlanta

Americans’ Own Experiences vs. Obama’s Rhetoric

The Obama recovery bears an uncanny resemblance to a recession. That’s the New York Times‘s take:

Less than a month before November elections, the United States is mired in a grim New Normal that could last for years. . . Call it recession or recovery, for tens of millions of Americans, there’s little difference.

Born of a record financial collapse, this recession has been more severe than any since the Great Depression and has left an enormous oversupply of houses and office buildings and crippling debt. The decision last week by leading mortgage lenders to freeze foreclosures, and calls for a national moratorium, could cast a long shadow of uncertainty over banks and the housing market. Put simply, the national economy has fallen so far that it could take years to climb back.

Or put differently, Obama’s economic policies have been entirely ineffective in addressing historically high unemployment and underemployment. The Times notes:

At the current rate of job creation, the nation would need nine more years to recapture the jobs lost during the recession. And that doesn’t even account for five million or six million jobs needed in that time to keep pace with an expanding population. Even top Obama officials concede the unemployment rate could climb higher still.

But Obama insists on a massive tax increase on the “rich” and a bevy of new regulations and mandates on employers. Certainly, nine more years of Obama-like policies aren’t going to bring unemployment down. As the Times examines the dreary economic conditions across the country, one is struck by the disconnect between the White House’s rhetoric and the economic predicament faced by Americans, as well as the equally vast disconnect between the administration’s anti-growth, anti-business policies and the economic challenges these people are facing.

In this economic climate, Obama’s hyper-partisan, desperate rhetoric seems particularly jarring. He’s talking about phony foreign donors to the Chamber of Commerce; in suburban Arizona, “subdivisions sit in the desert, some half-built and some dreamy wisps, like the emerald green putting green sitting amid acres of scrub and cacti. Signs offer discounts, distress sales and rent with the first and second month free. Discounts do not help if your income is cut in half.” Obama rails at Wall Street; in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, meanwhile, “home prices have fallen by 16 percent since 2006, and houses now take twice as long to sell as they did five years ago. That’s enough to inflict pain on homeowners who need to sell because of a job loss or drop in income. Some are being forced to get rid of their houses in short sales, asking less than they owe on a mortgage. As of last week, 10 percent of all listings in this well-tended suburb were being offered as short sales.” Obama is obsessed with George Bush and Citizens United; in Atlanta, “small banks are a particular disaster, 43 having gone under in Georgia since 2008. (Federal regulators closed 129 nationally this year, up from 25 last year.) Real estate was the beginning, the middle and the end of the troubles.”

No wonder Obama’s ratings are diving. He is talking about things that bear no relation to voters’ concerns. He insists his policies have worked, but voters’ own experiences tell them otherwise. Obama’s rhetoric against a growing list of political adversaries only reinforces the impression that he is focused on the wrong things. The analogy is not Jimmy Carter. It is Herbert Hoover by way of Richard Nixon.

The Obama recovery bears an uncanny resemblance to a recession. That’s the New York Times‘s take:

Less than a month before November elections, the United States is mired in a grim New Normal that could last for years. . . Call it recession or recovery, for tens of millions of Americans, there’s little difference.

Born of a record financial collapse, this recession has been more severe than any since the Great Depression and has left an enormous oversupply of houses and office buildings and crippling debt. The decision last week by leading mortgage lenders to freeze foreclosures, and calls for a national moratorium, could cast a long shadow of uncertainty over banks and the housing market. Put simply, the national economy has fallen so far that it could take years to climb back.

Or put differently, Obama’s economic policies have been entirely ineffective in addressing historically high unemployment and underemployment. The Times notes:

At the current rate of job creation, the nation would need nine more years to recapture the jobs lost during the recession. And that doesn’t even account for five million or six million jobs needed in that time to keep pace with an expanding population. Even top Obama officials concede the unemployment rate could climb higher still.

But Obama insists on a massive tax increase on the “rich” and a bevy of new regulations and mandates on employers. Certainly, nine more years of Obama-like policies aren’t going to bring unemployment down. As the Times examines the dreary economic conditions across the country, one is struck by the disconnect between the White House’s rhetoric and the economic predicament faced by Americans, as well as the equally vast disconnect between the administration’s anti-growth, anti-business policies and the economic challenges these people are facing.

In this economic climate, Obama’s hyper-partisan, desperate rhetoric seems particularly jarring. He’s talking about phony foreign donors to the Chamber of Commerce; in suburban Arizona, “subdivisions sit in the desert, some half-built and some dreamy wisps, like the emerald green putting green sitting amid acres of scrub and cacti. Signs offer discounts, distress sales and rent with the first and second month free. Discounts do not help if your income is cut in half.” Obama rails at Wall Street; in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, meanwhile, “home prices have fallen by 16 percent since 2006, and houses now take twice as long to sell as they did five years ago. That’s enough to inflict pain on homeowners who need to sell because of a job loss or drop in income. Some are being forced to get rid of their houses in short sales, asking less than they owe on a mortgage. As of last week, 10 percent of all listings in this well-tended suburb were being offered as short sales.” Obama is obsessed with George Bush and Citizens United; in Atlanta, “small banks are a particular disaster, 43 having gone under in Georgia since 2008. (Federal regulators closed 129 nationally this year, up from 25 last year.) Real estate was the beginning, the middle and the end of the troubles.”

No wonder Obama’s ratings are diving. He is talking about things that bear no relation to voters’ concerns. He insists his policies have worked, but voters’ own experiences tell them otherwise. Obama’s rhetoric against a growing list of political adversaries only reinforces the impression that he is focused on the wrong things. The analogy is not Jimmy Carter. It is Herbert Hoover by way of Richard Nixon.

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CNN Editor Mourns and Respects a Promoter of “Resistance” and Terror

Daniel Halper at the Weekly Standard found a doozy of a Twitter post on the Fourth of July by Octavia Nasr, CNN’s senior editor of Mideast Affairs. “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah,” she wrote. “One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

I know enough about Fadlallah, who died at the age of 74 in a Beirut hospital over the weekend, that I can interpret her Twitter post charitably. While once known as the “spiritual leader” of Hezbollah, Fadlallah later moved above and beyond the Party of God and even criticized it once in a while. He supported the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and its leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, but he also criticized Khomeini’s regime of Velayat-e faqih — rule by Islamic jurists — and declared it an inappropriate political system for Lebanon. He supported women’s rights, dismissed their unequal treatment as “backward,” and issued a fatwa condemning “honor” killings.

Most Americans don’t know this about Fadlallah, or have even heard of him. Octavia Nasr surely does, though. It’s common knowledge in Lebanon. She lives in Atlanta, but she was born in Beirut, and covers the Middle East for a living. More likely than not, some or all of the above is what she had in mind when she posted her comment on Twitter.

Still, she’s talking about a man who issued theological justifications for suicide bombings. He threw his support behind hostage-taking in Lebanon during the 1980s and the truck bombings in Beirut that killed more American servicemen than any single attack since World War II. Nasr didn’t mention any of that. It doesn’t even look like she factored it in.

Twitter has a strict limit of 140 characters per “tweet.” It’s hardly the place for a nuanced exposé of a complicated man. There simply isn’t room to write more than one or two sentences at a time. Even so, I suspect the average American consumer of news would find it alarming that a senior editor of Mideast Affairs respects and mourns the loss of a man who supported the kidnapping, murder, and truck bombings of hundreds of her adopted countrymen — and that she said so on the Fourth of July — even if she mourns and respects him for entirely different reasons and does so despite, not because of, his positions on “resistance” and terrorism.

She owes her audience — and perhaps also her employers — a candid explanation at least.

Daniel Halper at the Weekly Standard found a doozy of a Twitter post on the Fourth of July by Octavia Nasr, CNN’s senior editor of Mideast Affairs. “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah,” she wrote. “One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

I know enough about Fadlallah, who died at the age of 74 in a Beirut hospital over the weekend, that I can interpret her Twitter post charitably. While once known as the “spiritual leader” of Hezbollah, Fadlallah later moved above and beyond the Party of God and even criticized it once in a while. He supported the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and its leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, but he also criticized Khomeini’s regime of Velayat-e faqih — rule by Islamic jurists — and declared it an inappropriate political system for Lebanon. He supported women’s rights, dismissed their unequal treatment as “backward,” and issued a fatwa condemning “honor” killings.

Most Americans don’t know this about Fadlallah, or have even heard of him. Octavia Nasr surely does, though. It’s common knowledge in Lebanon. She lives in Atlanta, but she was born in Beirut, and covers the Middle East for a living. More likely than not, some or all of the above is what she had in mind when she posted her comment on Twitter.

Still, she’s talking about a man who issued theological justifications for suicide bombings. He threw his support behind hostage-taking in Lebanon during the 1980s and the truck bombings in Beirut that killed more American servicemen than any single attack since World War II. Nasr didn’t mention any of that. It doesn’t even look like she factored it in.

Twitter has a strict limit of 140 characters per “tweet.” It’s hardly the place for a nuanced exposé of a complicated man. There simply isn’t room to write more than one or two sentences at a time. Even so, I suspect the average American consumer of news would find it alarming that a senior editor of Mideast Affairs respects and mourns the loss of a man who supported the kidnapping, murder, and truck bombings of hundreds of her adopted countrymen — and that she said so on the Fourth of July — even if she mourns and respects him for entirely different reasons and does so despite, not because of, his positions on “resistance” and terrorism.

She owes her audience — and perhaps also her employers — a candid explanation at least.

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The AIPAC Crowd

AIPAC’s annual conference got under way today in Washington D.C. The crowd was, in contrast to past years, more on edge, more distressed, and, frankly, more anti-administration. The conference comes after an eye-opening (for some) clash between the Obami and the Israeli government. In the talk in the halls, the questions at the panels, and the crowd reaction to speakers’ remarks, one senses that these people have had quite enough of the Obami’s approach to Israel.

I spoke to a rabbi of a New Jersey Conservative synagogue and a group of his congregants. They had 65 attendees before the Obami’s war of words. That number went up to 76. What was their reaction to the Obami offensive? “Disappointed,” responded several in the group. One congregant said, “This is going to have to blow over. Everyone understands East Jerusalem is not negotiable.” I asked, “You think the administration does?” He replied, “This is just to show the Arabs how tough he is.” I asked if they were concerned about the administration’s approach on Iran. “This has all been a step backward,” another answered. “The blowup is to distract attention from the fact we’ve done nothing on Iran.” And how will they greet Hillary Clinton on Monday? The rabbi said with great deliberations: “With respect.” Another added, “She’s not getting a standing ovation.”

A woman from Atlanta, a first-time attendee, says she votes Democratic. She was obviously pained over the recent flap. “Why is Israel the only one we tell what to do?” Her group’s attendance set an all-time high of 120. (Overall, the conference has a record 7,500.)

An elderly couple from Florida were agitated by recent events. The wife explained she that had fled Nazi Germany as a child for Shanghai. “There are parallels,” she said. “This is depressing. It’s scary.”  She said that she had argued with her liberal friends during the campaign about Obama’s associations with anti-Israel figures. “My mother always said where there is smoke, there is fire,” she explained, then added wearily, “They didn’t listen.” She bemoaned the fact that Jews’ political activities are fragmented on issues like global warming. “There are plenty of people to do that,” she said. “Where are they on Israel?”

That’s just a sampling, but it gives you a sense of the angst. This is not a crowd that is celebrating. They are worried. Very worried.

AIPAC’s annual conference got under way today in Washington D.C. The crowd was, in contrast to past years, more on edge, more distressed, and, frankly, more anti-administration. The conference comes after an eye-opening (for some) clash between the Obami and the Israeli government. In the talk in the halls, the questions at the panels, and the crowd reaction to speakers’ remarks, one senses that these people have had quite enough of the Obami’s approach to Israel.

I spoke to a rabbi of a New Jersey Conservative synagogue and a group of his congregants. They had 65 attendees before the Obami’s war of words. That number went up to 76. What was their reaction to the Obami offensive? “Disappointed,” responded several in the group. One congregant said, “This is going to have to blow over. Everyone understands East Jerusalem is not negotiable.” I asked, “You think the administration does?” He replied, “This is just to show the Arabs how tough he is.” I asked if they were concerned about the administration’s approach on Iran. “This has all been a step backward,” another answered. “The blowup is to distract attention from the fact we’ve done nothing on Iran.” And how will they greet Hillary Clinton on Monday? The rabbi said with great deliberations: “With respect.” Another added, “She’s not getting a standing ovation.”

A woman from Atlanta, a first-time attendee, says she votes Democratic. She was obviously pained over the recent flap. “Why is Israel the only one we tell what to do?” Her group’s attendance set an all-time high of 120. (Overall, the conference has a record 7,500.)

An elderly couple from Florida were agitated by recent events. The wife explained she that had fled Nazi Germany as a child for Shanghai. “There are parallels,” she said. “This is depressing. It’s scary.”  She said that she had argued with her liberal friends during the campaign about Obama’s associations with anti-Israel figures. “My mother always said where there is smoke, there is fire,” she explained, then added wearily, “They didn’t listen.” She bemoaned the fact that Jews’ political activities are fragmented on issues like global warming. “There are plenty of people to do that,” she said. “Where are they on Israel?”

That’s just a sampling, but it gives you a sense of the angst. This is not a crowd that is celebrating. They are worried. Very worried.

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Beyond All Possibility of Parody

A reporter for a leftist weekly in Atlanta was fired this week “because he held on to the notion that there was an objective reality that could be reported objectively, despite the fact that that was not our editorial policy at Atlanta Progressive News.”

A reporter for a leftist weekly in Atlanta was fired this week “because he held on to the notion that there was an objective reality that could be reported objectively, despite the fact that that was not our editorial policy at Atlanta Progressive News.”

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Crime Going Extinct?

In one of the more hopeful and underreported stories in recent months, we learned that for the first half of 2009 — a period of considerable economic distress in our country — crime fell by 4.4 percent nationwide, with the murder rate dropping by a staggering 10 percent, according to statistics recently released by the FBI (see links here and here). The decline in murders from one year to another is one of the more significant decreases we have ever experienced. (All four of the offenses that make up violent crime — murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault — decreased nationwide. In addition to the murder rate declining by 10 percent, robbery also fell by 6.5 percent, forcible rape decreased by 3.3 percent, and aggravated assault declined by 3.2 percent.)

In disaggregating this data, we see that violent crime and aggravated assault decreased in major cities of over 1 million residents, dropping by 7 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively. Crime in America’s largest city, New York, has fallen by 11 percent from last year and by 35 percent since 2001. New York, with 461 murders through December 27, is on track for the lowest number of homicides since comprehensive record-keeping began in 1963.

In Los Angeles the murder rate for the first half of 2009 was down by almost 30 percent. In Washington, D.C., the murder rate fell by 26 percent from a comparable period last year, to its lowest in the last two decades. The first half of 2009 also witnessed a 14 percent decrease in homicides in Atlanta and a 10 percent drop in Boston. (It should be pointed out that some cities, like Baltimore and Detroit, saw their murder rate climb.)

The Washington Post summarized things well in its January 2 editorial:

The national decrease in murder began about two decades ago. In 1991, the national homicide rate hit 9.8 per 100,000 inhabitants, prompting forecasts of permanently rising street violence — then fell to 5.7 in 1999. Many wondered whether this “Great Crime Decline” could be sustained for another 10 years. The answer would appear to be yes: By 2008, the murder rate had drifted down to 5.4 per 100,000, the lowest level since 1965. And given the preliminary figures, the rate for 2009 should be lower still. Indeed, if present trends continue, America will experience a degree of public safety not known since the 1950s.

The reasons for the drop we have witnessed in violent crime since the 1990s are multiple, probably including higher incarceration rates and tougher sentencing; advances in policing (including targeting repeat offenders and high-crime areas, utilizing technology such as crime mapping and gunfire-detection systems, which allows police to rapidly respond to incidents, and identifying criminal patterns more effectively); the passing of the crack-cocaine epidemic; the aging of the population; an enormous investment in private security measures; a proliferation of surveillance cameras; more effective intervention and prevention; and more.

It is impossible to ascribe with precision the exact reasons that have led to the progress we have witnessed; they vary depending on cities and circumstances. But the moral of the story is clear enough: problems that at one time seemed intractable can yield, and yield quickly, to the right policies and to a determined citizenry. Fatalism and despair are not options. And the capacity of American ingenuity to address the challenges we face is remarkable. As Irving Kristol put it more than three decades ago, “One of the least appreciated virtues of this society is its natural recuperative powers — its capacity to change, as we say, but also its capacity to preserve itself, to adapt and survive. The strength of these powers always astonishes us, as we anticipate (even proclaim) an imminent apocalypse that somehow never comes.”

It is not terribly fashionable to focus on the progress we experience, whether it has to do with a drop in violent crime rates here at home or a more pacified situation in Iraq. We are prone to focus our attention on the problems we face and the things that are going wrong. But sometimes, to paraphrase James Boswell in The Life of Samuel Johnson, cheerfulness does break in.

In one of the more hopeful and underreported stories in recent months, we learned that for the first half of 2009 — a period of considerable economic distress in our country — crime fell by 4.4 percent nationwide, with the murder rate dropping by a staggering 10 percent, according to statistics recently released by the FBI (see links here and here). The decline in murders from one year to another is one of the more significant decreases we have ever experienced. (All four of the offenses that make up violent crime — murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault — decreased nationwide. In addition to the murder rate declining by 10 percent, robbery also fell by 6.5 percent, forcible rape decreased by 3.3 percent, and aggravated assault declined by 3.2 percent.)

In disaggregating this data, we see that violent crime and aggravated assault decreased in major cities of over 1 million residents, dropping by 7 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively. Crime in America’s largest city, New York, has fallen by 11 percent from last year and by 35 percent since 2001. New York, with 461 murders through December 27, is on track for the lowest number of homicides since comprehensive record-keeping began in 1963.

In Los Angeles the murder rate for the first half of 2009 was down by almost 30 percent. In Washington, D.C., the murder rate fell by 26 percent from a comparable period last year, to its lowest in the last two decades. The first half of 2009 also witnessed a 14 percent decrease in homicides in Atlanta and a 10 percent drop in Boston. (It should be pointed out that some cities, like Baltimore and Detroit, saw their murder rate climb.)

The Washington Post summarized things well in its January 2 editorial:

The national decrease in murder began about two decades ago. In 1991, the national homicide rate hit 9.8 per 100,000 inhabitants, prompting forecasts of permanently rising street violence — then fell to 5.7 in 1999. Many wondered whether this “Great Crime Decline” could be sustained for another 10 years. The answer would appear to be yes: By 2008, the murder rate had drifted down to 5.4 per 100,000, the lowest level since 1965. And given the preliminary figures, the rate for 2009 should be lower still. Indeed, if present trends continue, America will experience a degree of public safety not known since the 1950s.

The reasons for the drop we have witnessed in violent crime since the 1990s are multiple, probably including higher incarceration rates and tougher sentencing; advances in policing (including targeting repeat offenders and high-crime areas, utilizing technology such as crime mapping and gunfire-detection systems, which allows police to rapidly respond to incidents, and identifying criminal patterns more effectively); the passing of the crack-cocaine epidemic; the aging of the population; an enormous investment in private security measures; a proliferation of surveillance cameras; more effective intervention and prevention; and more.

It is impossible to ascribe with precision the exact reasons that have led to the progress we have witnessed; they vary depending on cities and circumstances. But the moral of the story is clear enough: problems that at one time seemed intractable can yield, and yield quickly, to the right policies and to a determined citizenry. Fatalism and despair are not options. And the capacity of American ingenuity to address the challenges we face is remarkable. As Irving Kristol put it more than three decades ago, “One of the least appreciated virtues of this society is its natural recuperative powers — its capacity to change, as we say, but also its capacity to preserve itself, to adapt and survive. The strength of these powers always astonishes us, as we anticipate (even proclaim) an imminent apocalypse that somehow never comes.”

It is not terribly fashionable to focus on the progress we experience, whether it has to do with a drop in violent crime rates here at home or a more pacified situation in Iraq. We are prone to focus our attention on the problems we face and the things that are going wrong. But sometimes, to paraphrase James Boswell in The Life of Samuel Johnson, cheerfulness does break in.

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Andrew Young’s Mouth

Last week, Andrew Young, former Atlanta Mayor and Jimmy Carter’s ambassador to the United Nations, had this to say about why he was endorsing Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama:

“To put a brother in there by himself is to set him up for crucifixion,” he said. But he could not resist adding a kicker. “Bill [Clinton] is every bit as black as Barack—he’s probably gone with more black women than Barack.”

Irrespective of the latter part of this statement’s validity, the contention that Bill Clinton is “every bit as black as Barack” has a long genealogy, dating back to Toni Morrison, who stated that Clinton was indeed the country’s “first black president.” How could this white man from Arkansas be African-American? Simple. Clinton “displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.” Clinton’s metaphorical hue was, of course, “white skin notwithstanding.”

This is not the first time Young’s mouth has gotten him in trouble. He was fired from his perch at the United Nations after he broke State Department protocol by meeting with representatives of the PLO. This was too much even for Jimmy Carter. And last year Young was forced to resign from an organization created by Wal-Mart to drum up support for it in minority communities after he defended the corporation from claims that it forced “mom and pop” stores to close because such establishments were owned by:

people who have been overcharging us selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans, and now it’s Arabs; very few black people own these stores.

Ultimately, however, Obama need not worry about losing Young’s endorsement; having won Zbigniew Brzezinski’s, he’s doing quite well in the race for washed-up Carter administration officials.

Last week, Andrew Young, former Atlanta Mayor and Jimmy Carter’s ambassador to the United Nations, had this to say about why he was endorsing Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama:

“To put a brother in there by himself is to set him up for crucifixion,” he said. But he could not resist adding a kicker. “Bill [Clinton] is every bit as black as Barack—he’s probably gone with more black women than Barack.”

Irrespective of the latter part of this statement’s validity, the contention that Bill Clinton is “every bit as black as Barack” has a long genealogy, dating back to Toni Morrison, who stated that Clinton was indeed the country’s “first black president.” How could this white man from Arkansas be African-American? Simple. Clinton “displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.” Clinton’s metaphorical hue was, of course, “white skin notwithstanding.”

This is not the first time Young’s mouth has gotten him in trouble. He was fired from his perch at the United Nations after he broke State Department protocol by meeting with representatives of the PLO. This was too much even for Jimmy Carter. And last year Young was forced to resign from an organization created by Wal-Mart to drum up support for it in minority communities after he defended the corporation from claims that it forced “mom and pop” stores to close because such establishments were owned by:

people who have been overcharging us selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans, and now it’s Arabs; very few black people own these stores.

Ultimately, however, Obama need not worry about losing Young’s endorsement; having won Zbigniew Brzezinski’s, he’s doing quite well in the race for washed-up Carter administration officials.

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Life in a Glass House

The opening to the public last month of architect Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, was a triumph. Tickets to the house that Johnson (1906–2005) built in 1949 sold out, and visits are booked until 2008. In the midst of the celebration, only cursory attention was paid to information highlighted a decade ago in Philip Johnson: Life and Work by Franz Schulze and “We Cannot Not Know History: Philip Johnson’s Politics and Cynical Survival,” an essay by Kazys Varnelis in the November 1994 issue of the Journal of Architectural Education. (And by Hilton Kramer in COMMENTARY.) For eight years of Johnson’s adult life, from 1932 to 1940, he ardently promoted Nazism and fascism. Johnson’s friends, like the architect Robert Stern, assert that Johnson had repented before his death at age 98 in 2005—although these second-hand apologia remain debatable.

In 1932, when Johnson organized an exhibit on the International Style in architecture at MOMA, he attended a Hitler rally in Potsdam, Germany (which, he later admitted to Schulze, “enthralled” him). Back in America, Johnson became a staunch supporter of Lawrence Dennis (1893-1977), the Atlanta-born author of The Coming American Fascism, who predicted that only fascism could save America. In 1934, Johnson formed a Nationalist Party and went to Louisiana to work with Huey Long (whom Dennis praised for being “smarter than Hitler”).
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The opening to the public last month of architect Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, was a triumph. Tickets to the house that Johnson (1906–2005) built in 1949 sold out, and visits are booked until 2008. In the midst of the celebration, only cursory attention was paid to information highlighted a decade ago in Philip Johnson: Life and Work by Franz Schulze and “We Cannot Not Know History: Philip Johnson’s Politics and Cynical Survival,” an essay by Kazys Varnelis in the November 1994 issue of the Journal of Architectural Education. (And by Hilton Kramer in COMMENTARY.) For eight years of Johnson’s adult life, from 1932 to 1940, he ardently promoted Nazism and fascism. Johnson’s friends, like the architect Robert Stern, assert that Johnson had repented before his death at age 98 in 2005—although these second-hand apologia remain debatable.

In 1932, when Johnson organized an exhibit on the International Style in architecture at MOMA, he attended a Hitler rally in Potsdam, Germany (which, he later admitted to Schulze, “enthralled” him). Back in America, Johnson became a staunch supporter of Lawrence Dennis (1893-1977), the Atlanta-born author of The Coming American Fascism, who predicted that only fascism could save America. In 1934, Johnson formed a Nationalist Party and went to Louisiana to work with Huey Long (whom Dennis praised for being “smarter than Hitler”).

After Long was murdered in 1935, Johnson became a staunch ally of Father Charles Coughlin (1891–1979), a Michigan priest who starred in weekly radio broadcasts featuring anti-Semitic praise of Hitler and Mussolini. Johnson helped with the printing of Social Justice, Coughlin’s publication, and organized a vast Chicago rally for the demagogue, even designing a now-iconic podium for Coughlin, modeled on the one that Hitler used at Potsdam.

In 1938, Johnson was invited by the German government to attend a special indoctrination course in Berlin, to learn about Nazi politics and hear Hitler speak at a giant Nuremberg rally. Johnson wrote a series of fascist articles for various American publications; he reviewed Hitler’s Mein Kampf favorably, pooh-poohing the notion that Hitler or his book were anti-Semitic. He went so far as to compare Hitler to Plato: “Reduced to plain terms, Hitler’s ‘racism’ is a perfectly simple though far-reaching idea. It is the myth of ‘we, the best,’ which we find, more or less fully developed, in all vigorous cultures. Thus Plato constructing the ideal State in his Republic assumed that it would be Greek.”

In a series of further articles, Johnson “explicitly attacked the Jews, depicting them as malicious invaders, comparing them to a plague, and finally lying about their condition in 1939 Germany and Poland,” as Varnelis details. Only when the FBI and Office of Naval Intelligence began to take an interest in Johnson as a possible Nazi spy, did he finally drop politics to devote himself fully to architecture. The Glass House represents the culmination of Johnson’s politically-rehabilitated persona. And yet the public continues to ignore the full details of Johnson’s Nazi years.

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Carter’s Lies

“This is the first time I’ve ever been called a liar,” said former President Jimmy Carter during his much-ballyhooed foray into the lion’s den of Brandeis University this week.

This, of course, is a lie.

The most talked-about article to appear during the 1976 presidential campaign was “Jimmy Carter’s Pathetic Lies.” Appearing in Harper’s, it contained Steven Brill’s account of several days spent accompanying Carter on the campaign trail, in the course of which Brill discovered that most of what Carter told audiences about himself was simply false.

Invariably Carter introduced himself as a “nuclear physicist and a peanut farmer.” He was neither: he held only a bachelor’s degree, and he owned a peanut warehouse. He invited listeners to write to him. “Just put ‘Jimmy Carter, Plains, Georgia’ on the envelope, and I’ll get it. I open every letter myself and read them all.” But Carter’s press secretary admitted to Brill that all mail so addressed was forwarded to the campaign staff in Atlanta. Carter boasted that at the completion of his term as governor he had left Georgia with a budget surplus of $200 million, but Brill discovered that the true amount was $43 million, which was all that remained of a $91 million surplus Carter had inherited when he took office. Carter described an innovative program he had pioneered, employing welfare mothers to care for the mentally handicapped. “You should see them bathing and feeding the retarded children. They’re the best workers we have in the state government,” he enthused to audiences. But there was no way to see them–they did not, in fact, exist, as Brill learned from state officials. “I guess he was mistaken,” conceded Carter’s press secretary. Brill’s piece contained much more in this vein.

In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, his recent book on the Middle East, Carter repeats the egregious lie that he set out twenty-odd years ago in his previous book on the subject–namely, that in the 1967 war Israel preemptively attacked Jordan. This is no small matter: it was from Jordan that Israel took the West Bank, the focus of most of today’s controversy. But the record is abundantly clear that while preemptively attacking Egypt and Syria, Israel pleaded with Jordan (through American intermediaries) to stay out of the fray. King Hussein felt he could not do that, so he ordered his forces to attack Israel, and the Israelis fought back. Both Carter’s old book and the new one are replete with countless other outright lies as well as less outright ones (as others have pointed out).

Whatever the subject, Carter makes a specialty of exploiting grammatical ambiguities to leave listeners or readers with the impression that he has said one thing, while a precise examination of his words shows them to mean something else. In a 2003 op-ed in USA Today on the North Korean nuclear crisis, he wrote: “There must be verifiable assurances that prevent North Korea from becoming a threatening nuclear power.” The average reader might think that the word “threatening” is merely descriptive. But, in fact, Carter had fought to allow Pyongyang to have some nuclear weapons, because he believed that was the price of an agreement. The word “threatening,” as Carter used it, actually meant that North Korea could have some nuclear weapons–but not so many as to be “threatening.”

This raises an obvious question: how many nukes, exactly, would that be? Carter hasn’t told us yet, but if he ever does, make sure to read his words carefully.

“This is the first time I’ve ever been called a liar,” said former President Jimmy Carter during his much-ballyhooed foray into the lion’s den of Brandeis University this week.

This, of course, is a lie.

The most talked-about article to appear during the 1976 presidential campaign was “Jimmy Carter’s Pathetic Lies.” Appearing in Harper’s, it contained Steven Brill’s account of several days spent accompanying Carter on the campaign trail, in the course of which Brill discovered that most of what Carter told audiences about himself was simply false.

Invariably Carter introduced himself as a “nuclear physicist and a peanut farmer.” He was neither: he held only a bachelor’s degree, and he owned a peanut warehouse. He invited listeners to write to him. “Just put ‘Jimmy Carter, Plains, Georgia’ on the envelope, and I’ll get it. I open every letter myself and read them all.” But Carter’s press secretary admitted to Brill that all mail so addressed was forwarded to the campaign staff in Atlanta. Carter boasted that at the completion of his term as governor he had left Georgia with a budget surplus of $200 million, but Brill discovered that the true amount was $43 million, which was all that remained of a $91 million surplus Carter had inherited when he took office. Carter described an innovative program he had pioneered, employing welfare mothers to care for the mentally handicapped. “You should see them bathing and feeding the retarded children. They’re the best workers we have in the state government,” he enthused to audiences. But there was no way to see them–they did not, in fact, exist, as Brill learned from state officials. “I guess he was mistaken,” conceded Carter’s press secretary. Brill’s piece contained much more in this vein.

In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, his recent book on the Middle East, Carter repeats the egregious lie that he set out twenty-odd years ago in his previous book on the subject–namely, that in the 1967 war Israel preemptively attacked Jordan. This is no small matter: it was from Jordan that Israel took the West Bank, the focus of most of today’s controversy. But the record is abundantly clear that while preemptively attacking Egypt and Syria, Israel pleaded with Jordan (through American intermediaries) to stay out of the fray. King Hussein felt he could not do that, so he ordered his forces to attack Israel, and the Israelis fought back. Both Carter’s old book and the new one are replete with countless other outright lies as well as less outright ones (as others have pointed out).

Whatever the subject, Carter makes a specialty of exploiting grammatical ambiguities to leave listeners or readers with the impression that he has said one thing, while a precise examination of his words shows them to mean something else. In a 2003 op-ed in USA Today on the North Korean nuclear crisis, he wrote: “There must be verifiable assurances that prevent North Korea from becoming a threatening nuclear power.” The average reader might think that the word “threatening” is merely descriptive. But, in fact, Carter had fought to allow Pyongyang to have some nuclear weapons, because he believed that was the price of an agreement. The word “threatening,” as Carter used it, actually meant that North Korea could have some nuclear weapons–but not so many as to be “threatening.”

This raises an obvious question: how many nukes, exactly, would that be? Carter hasn’t told us yet, but if he ever does, make sure to read his words carefully.

Read Less




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