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Billy Graham and the Temptations of Politics

In an interview with Christianity Today, Billy Graham, 92, said this:

I … would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.

Graham, of course, was not a particularly powerful force in American politics. Rather, he was known as the “pastor to the president.” He was a friend to presidents of both parties — and he certainly wasn’t as political as, say, D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson (who is not a minister but is certainly a prominent Christian).

Still, we know that Graham’s close association with Richard Nixon is one he came to regret, especially in the aftermath of Watergate. Tapes released in 2002 revealed Graham as saying disparaging things about Jews, which Graham was embarrassed by and for which he apologized. And proximity to power can appeal to one’s ego and pride. Ministering to the powerful can be a heady experience.

It’s important to point out that the Reverend Graham was not offering a sweeping condemnation of Christians who involve themselves in politics. My guess is that he would agree that according to Christian doctrine, God has never detached Himself from the affairs of the world; that in the Hebrew Bible, certain kings win the outright approval of God; that civil government was itself established by God; and that because politics, in its deepest and best sense, is about justice, it would be foolish to exclude Christians from the realm of politics. Some are called to participate in that arena.

But what Graham was saying — and what Christians need to pay special attention to — is that politics is an arena in which the witness of believers
can be easily harmed. Issue by issue, act by act, faith can become — or can be reasonably seen to become — subordinate to a political party or ideology. In addition, the passions and emotions politics can stir up can cause people to act in troubling ways. Grace can give way to bitterness and brittleness, to viewing political opponents as political enemies. Read More

In an interview with Christianity Today, Billy Graham, 92, said this:

I … would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.

Graham, of course, was not a particularly powerful force in American politics. Rather, he was known as the “pastor to the president.” He was a friend to presidents of both parties — and he certainly wasn’t as political as, say, D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson (who is not a minister but is certainly a prominent Christian).

Still, we know that Graham’s close association with Richard Nixon is one he came to regret, especially in the aftermath of Watergate. Tapes released in 2002 revealed Graham as saying disparaging things about Jews, which Graham was embarrassed by and for which he apologized. And proximity to power can appeal to one’s ego and pride. Ministering to the powerful can be a heady experience.

It’s important to point out that the Reverend Graham was not offering a sweeping condemnation of Christians who involve themselves in politics. My guess is that he would agree that according to Christian doctrine, God has never detached Himself from the affairs of the world; that in the Hebrew Bible, certain kings win the outright approval of God; that civil government was itself established by God; and that because politics, in its deepest and best sense, is about justice, it would be foolish to exclude Christians from the realm of politics. Some are called to participate in that arena.

But what Graham was saying — and what Christians need to pay special attention to — is that politics is an arena in which the witness of believers
can be easily harmed. Issue by issue, act by act, faith can become — or can be reasonably seen to become — subordinate to a political party or ideology. In addition, the passions and emotions politics can stir up can cause people to act in troubling ways. Grace can give way to bitterness and brittleness, to viewing political opponents as political enemies.

The writer Sheldon Vanauken has written about the fine line between zeal and anger. Admitting that he was caught up in the mood and action of the 1960s, Vanauken wrote that Jesus, he thought, would surely have him oppose what appeared to him to be an unjust war (Vietnam). “But the movement,” Vanauken conceded, “whatever its ideals, did a good deal of hating.” And Jesus, he said, was gradually pushed to the rear. “Movement goals, not God, became first.” Vanauken admitted that that is not quite what God had in mind.

In 1951, Prime Minister Winston Churchill offered Christian author and apologist C.S. Lewis the title of Commander of the British Empire, a high and appropriate distinction. But Lewis refused the honor. “I feel greatly obligated to the Prime Minister,” he responded, “and so far as my personal feelings are concerned this honour would be highly agreeable. There are always, however, knaves who say, and fools who believe, that my religious writings are all covert anti-Leftist propaganda, and my appearance in the Honours List would of course strengthen their hands. It is therefore better that I should not appear there.”

In his own way, what Graham is saying, I think, is that he wishes he had followed the Lewis example. I can understand why. For those of us who claim the title Christian, faith should always be more important than politics. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be involved in politics; it simply means we should do so with care, with wisdom, with our eyes wide open.

The City of Man may be our residence for now, but the City of God is our home.

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Six Million Dead but Eleven, or Is It Twelve, Million Universalizing Lies

While Israel and most Jews commemorate the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah (which this year falls on May 1), which precedes the Jewish state’s Independence Day by a week, the international community has chosen to use the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. So throughout Europe and at UN facilities, there will be ceremonies to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day today. While all efforts to recall the murder of six million Jews are to be welcomed, the fact is many of those doing so in such places will attempt to maroon the Holocaust in history and separate it from the rising tide of anti-Semitism that is largely focused on a hatred of Israel that is currently sweeping Europe and the Middle East. Suffice it to say that those who will today bewail the Holocaust, while not also directly condemning those who seek to isolate and destroy Israel and the efforts of Holocaust-denying Iran to gain nuclear weapons. are hypocrites.

But Holocaust Remembrance Day is also an appropriate moment to think seriously about those Jews whose own efforts to “universalize” the Holocaust have done much to distort its meaning. In the new winter issue of the Jewish Review of Books, Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt dissects the impact of Simon Wiesenthal and his not-altogether-salubrious contribution to the way the world thinks about the Shoah.

Wiesenthal’s deceptions about his own experiences during the Holocaust are well known and have been debunked many times. Also well-known is the fact that his boasts about helping to track down 1,000 Nazi war criminals are largely bogus. In particular, his claim that he was responsible for the capture of Adolf Eichmann was a lie. But, as Lipstadt notes, otherwise hardened journalists like the left-wing Israeli author Tom Segev have given Wiesenthal a pass on all this because they approve of the way the Austrian survivor sought to universalize the Shoah. It was Wiesenthal who popularized the notion that there were eleven million victims of the Holocaust (six million Jews and five million non-Jews), a figure that has been largely accepted by most Jews as well as non-Jews — even though it is not true. As Lipstadt writes:

On the one hand, the total number of non-Jewish civilians killed by the Germans in the course of World War II is far higher than five million. On the other hand, the number of non-Jewish civilians killed for racial or ideological reasons does not come close to five million. … When Israeli historians Yehuda Bauer and Yisrael Gutman challenged Wiesenthal on this point, he admitted that he had invented the figure of eleven million victims in order to stimulate interest in the Holocaust among non-Jews. He chose five million because it was almost, but not quite, as large as six million. … In recent months, Wiesenthal’s concoction has been further improved upon by a group of rabbis and imams who visited Auschwitz under the aegis of the US State Department. The statement they issued after their visit referred to the “twelve million victims, six million Jews and six million non-Jews.” Now we have parity. One wonders what’s next.

Lies about the Holocaust, even well-intentioned lies, as Lipstadt notes, give ammunition to Holocaust deniers. But even if there were no Holocaust deniers, they would still be wrong, because any commemoration that is not rooted in the truth will ultimately do more harm than good. Distorting the history of the Holocaust in order to diminish Jewish suffering — and to avoid the conclusion that the best monument to the Shoah is a strong Jewish state that can ensure that the Jews will never again be victimized in this manner — is an insult to the memory of the six million.

While Israel and most Jews commemorate the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah (which this year falls on May 1), which precedes the Jewish state’s Independence Day by a week, the international community has chosen to use the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. So throughout Europe and at UN facilities, there will be ceremonies to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day today. While all efforts to recall the murder of six million Jews are to be welcomed, the fact is many of those doing so in such places will attempt to maroon the Holocaust in history and separate it from the rising tide of anti-Semitism that is largely focused on a hatred of Israel that is currently sweeping Europe and the Middle East. Suffice it to say that those who will today bewail the Holocaust, while not also directly condemning those who seek to isolate and destroy Israel and the efforts of Holocaust-denying Iran to gain nuclear weapons. are hypocrites.

But Holocaust Remembrance Day is also an appropriate moment to think seriously about those Jews whose own efforts to “universalize” the Holocaust have done much to distort its meaning. In the new winter issue of the Jewish Review of Books, Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt dissects the impact of Simon Wiesenthal and his not-altogether-salubrious contribution to the way the world thinks about the Shoah.

Wiesenthal’s deceptions about his own experiences during the Holocaust are well known and have been debunked many times. Also well-known is the fact that his boasts about helping to track down 1,000 Nazi war criminals are largely bogus. In particular, his claim that he was responsible for the capture of Adolf Eichmann was a lie. But, as Lipstadt notes, otherwise hardened journalists like the left-wing Israeli author Tom Segev have given Wiesenthal a pass on all this because they approve of the way the Austrian survivor sought to universalize the Shoah. It was Wiesenthal who popularized the notion that there were eleven million victims of the Holocaust (six million Jews and five million non-Jews), a figure that has been largely accepted by most Jews as well as non-Jews — even though it is not true. As Lipstadt writes:

On the one hand, the total number of non-Jewish civilians killed by the Germans in the course of World War II is far higher than five million. On the other hand, the number of non-Jewish civilians killed for racial or ideological reasons does not come close to five million. … When Israeli historians Yehuda Bauer and Yisrael Gutman challenged Wiesenthal on this point, he admitted that he had invented the figure of eleven million victims in order to stimulate interest in the Holocaust among non-Jews. He chose five million because it was almost, but not quite, as large as six million. … In recent months, Wiesenthal’s concoction has been further improved upon by a group of rabbis and imams who visited Auschwitz under the aegis of the US State Department. The statement they issued after their visit referred to the “twelve million victims, six million Jews and six million non-Jews.” Now we have parity. One wonders what’s next.

Lies about the Holocaust, even well-intentioned lies, as Lipstadt notes, give ammunition to Holocaust deniers. But even if there were no Holocaust deniers, they would still be wrong, because any commemoration that is not rooted in the truth will ultimately do more harm than good. Distorting the history of the Holocaust in order to diminish Jewish suffering — and to avoid the conclusion that the best monument to the Shoah is a strong Jewish state that can ensure that the Jews will never again be victimized in this manner — is an insult to the memory of the six million.

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Gail Collins and Joe Lieberman: Not Much of a Competition There

Gail Collins of the New York Times has written a column upon Joe Lieberman’s announcement of his retirement from the Senate that, as with so many of her pieces, is written in a spirit of jocularity when its author actually has no observable sense of humor. This one is full of invective without wit. It’s as if Collins, whose tenure as the editor of the Times editorial page made for excellent bird-cage lining, were the bastard child of Don Rickles and David Broder.

Of Lieberman, she says he was, at the outset of his career, “extremely boring.” Of his speech yesterday, she writes: “Lieberman has reached a point in his public career when every single thing he does, including talking about his grandparents, is irritating.” She quotes “a friend in Connecticut” who said, “He’s the kind of guy who, when you see him in line at the supermarket, you go and get in a different line so you won’t have to make conversation.” She then tasks him, through a quote from a Connecticut pol, for “taking it personally” when people called him a baby-killer and a monster and evil for supporting the war in Iraq.

Listen. Hate Joe Lieberman all you want for his ideas — and she freely acknowledges she does hate him for “watering down” the health-care bill and “consolidating the intelligence services” — but it is simply preposterous to describe him as boring or the kind of person you flee from. Until the Iraq war rended the nation and heated up politics in Washington to a dangerous roil, Lieberman was certainly among the best-liked senators among people on both sides of the aisle. His staffers loved him, and so did the staffs of committees on which he served. And he is the opposite of boring: once (or maybe even twice) he won a contest that judged the funniest elected politician in Washington. Granted, that’s not much of a contest, but in the contest for unfunniest columnist in America, Gail Collins would win hands-down.

I know him a little; his daughter Rebecca is a very close friend of mine. At Rebecca’s wedding, Lieberman got up to make the paternal toast. “I am so happy today,” he said, “that I wish I could give you all an earmark.” If she lived a hundred lifetimes, Gail Collins would be unable to crack a joke one-thousandth as clever. Believe me, if you had to pick one or the other to go out and have a drink with, even if you were Noam Chomsky, you’d have a better time with Joe.

Gail Collins of the New York Times has written a column upon Joe Lieberman’s announcement of his retirement from the Senate that, as with so many of her pieces, is written in a spirit of jocularity when its author actually has no observable sense of humor. This one is full of invective without wit. It’s as if Collins, whose tenure as the editor of the Times editorial page made for excellent bird-cage lining, were the bastard child of Don Rickles and David Broder.

Of Lieberman, she says he was, at the outset of his career, “extremely boring.” Of his speech yesterday, she writes: “Lieberman has reached a point in his public career when every single thing he does, including talking about his grandparents, is irritating.” She quotes “a friend in Connecticut” who said, “He’s the kind of guy who, when you see him in line at the supermarket, you go and get in a different line so you won’t have to make conversation.” She then tasks him, through a quote from a Connecticut pol, for “taking it personally” when people called him a baby-killer and a monster and evil for supporting the war in Iraq.

Listen. Hate Joe Lieberman all you want for his ideas — and she freely acknowledges she does hate him for “watering down” the health-care bill and “consolidating the intelligence services” — but it is simply preposterous to describe him as boring or the kind of person you flee from. Until the Iraq war rended the nation and heated up politics in Washington to a dangerous roil, Lieberman was certainly among the best-liked senators among people on both sides of the aisle. His staffers loved him, and so did the staffs of committees on which he served. And he is the opposite of boring: once (or maybe even twice) he won a contest that judged the funniest elected politician in Washington. Granted, that’s not much of a contest, but in the contest for unfunniest columnist in America, Gail Collins would win hands-down.

I know him a little; his daughter Rebecca is a very close friend of mine. At Rebecca’s wedding, Lieberman got up to make the paternal toast. “I am so happy today,” he said, “that I wish I could give you all an earmark.” If she lived a hundred lifetimes, Gail Collins would be unable to crack a joke one-thousandth as clever. Believe me, if you had to pick one or the other to go out and have a drink with, even if you were Noam Chomsky, you’d have a better time with Joe.

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Are Chinese Mothers Superior?

A certain essay appeared in the Wall Street Journal last Saturday, titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” to which one excerpted reaction from the Journal community itself was “I am in disbelief after reading this article.” The author is a Chinese mother, Amy Chua, a professor of law at Yale perhaps best known for writing the New York Times bestseller World on Fire.

The essay affirms that stereotypical Chinese parenting produces stereotypical cases of success for the children raised in that fashion — impeccable grade reports, precocious competence in the violin and piano (but mind you, those instruments and no other!), and fortitude of mind in the child to boot — and it explains how all this can be achieved by drawing on representative episodes from the author’s own experience as a Chinese mother. The most instructive and blood-chilling of these is the story of how little Lulu, Chua’s youngest daughter, was compelled to learn, just in time for her piano recital, how to play “The Little White Donkey” — a most difficult piece, apparently requiring uncommon ambidexterity, and, one would think, rapid and fluent communication between the hemispheres of a seven-year-old’s brain, across its not fully developed corpus callosum:

Lulu couldn’t do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off. “Get back to the piano now,” I ordered. … She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have “The Little White Donkey” perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, “I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?” I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic. … I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress. … Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.

The author beams with pride over this “success story” and seems to consider it a vindication of her school of parenting against all naysayers. And throughout the article, starting from its title, she does little to disguise her scorn for Western parents, their tolerance for underachievement in their own children, and their squeamishness at the sight or report of the treatment other (luckier) children undergo every day in the hands of their Chinese mothers.

Having long been convinced that nothing harms stereotypical Western children more than their parents’ stereotypical laxness, I nevertheless find appalling much of what Chua states and even more of what she implies. Perhaps the foibles of modern Western parenting have grown so obvious and so ridiculous that any criticism of them is allowed to stick and any proposed alternative is welcomed; the more diametrically opposed to the status quo, the better even. But what Chua is prescribing in her article should not be rashly applauded by even the most frustrated critics of modern parenting mores. Read More

A certain essay appeared in the Wall Street Journal last Saturday, titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” to which one excerpted reaction from the Journal community itself was “I am in disbelief after reading this article.” The author is a Chinese mother, Amy Chua, a professor of law at Yale perhaps best known for writing the New York Times bestseller World on Fire.

The essay affirms that stereotypical Chinese parenting produces stereotypical cases of success for the children raised in that fashion — impeccable grade reports, precocious competence in the violin and piano (but mind you, those instruments and no other!), and fortitude of mind in the child to boot — and it explains how all this can be achieved by drawing on representative episodes from the author’s own experience as a Chinese mother. The most instructive and blood-chilling of these is the story of how little Lulu, Chua’s youngest daughter, was compelled to learn, just in time for her piano recital, how to play “The Little White Donkey” — a most difficult piece, apparently requiring uncommon ambidexterity, and, one would think, rapid and fluent communication between the hemispheres of a seven-year-old’s brain, across its not fully developed corpus callosum:

Lulu couldn’t do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off. “Get back to the piano now,” I ordered. … She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have “The Little White Donkey” perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, “I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?” I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic. … I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress. … Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.

The author beams with pride over this “success story” and seems to consider it a vindication of her school of parenting against all naysayers. And throughout the article, starting from its title, she does little to disguise her scorn for Western parents, their tolerance for underachievement in their own children, and their squeamishness at the sight or report of the treatment other (luckier) children undergo every day in the hands of their Chinese mothers.

Having long been convinced that nothing harms stereotypical Western children more than their parents’ stereotypical laxness, I nevertheless find appalling much of what Chua states and even more of what she implies. Perhaps the foibles of modern Western parenting have grown so obvious and so ridiculous that any criticism of them is allowed to stick and any proposed alternative is welcomed; the more diametrically opposed to the status quo, the better even. But what Chua is prescribing in her article should not be rashly applauded by even the most frustrated critics of modern parenting mores.

What’s right with Chinese parenting? It demands and expects the attainment of competence through perseverance and industry. It accepts no excuses for failure. It discourages trivial pursuits. It desensitizes children to occasional harshness from others, even loved ones. Now, is there anything wrong with Chinese parenting? I’d say plenty. The readiest hint can be found in Chua’s own opening: stereotypical Chinese parenting is responsible for cases of stereotypical success in the children subjected to it. It’s what it’s known for. Nothing more. One cannot imagine Da Vinci raised by a Florentine “Chinese” mother or Beethoven by a German one. Genius cannot develop and flourish when its would-be building materials have been deformed and forcibly molded to the shape of a narrow box designed by stereotypical Chinese parents. John Ruskin developed a singular mind in spite of an upbringing with some Chinese flavor to it, not because of it. And in Praeterita, his autobiography, he looks back with his usual keen discernment on the chief calamities of his childhood:

My judgment of right and wrong, and powers of independent action, were left entirely undeveloped; because the bridle and blinkers were never taken off me. Children should have their times of being off duty, like soldiers; and when once the obedience, if required, is certain, the little creature should be very early put for periods of practice in complete command of itself; set on the barebacked horse of its own will, and left to break it by its own strength. But the ceaseless authority exercised over my youth left me, when cast out at last into the world, unable for some time to do more than drift with its vortices. My present verdict, therefore, on the general tenor of my education at that time, must be, that it was at once too formal and too luxurious; leaving my character, at the most important moment for its construction, cramped indeed, but not disciplined; and only by protection innocent, instead of by practice virtuous.

What Ruskin laments the want of, in his own childhood, can be roughly summarized as the rudiments of Stoicism, which, if genius does not need them, the well-ordered mind of the upright citizen certainly does. Instilling Stoic values in a child by the Chinese method is a contradiction in terms. And any nobility of soul, grandeur of mind, or genuine self-discipline in man partakes of Stoic values. It is of this tradition of Stoicism — which, however modified, has shone bright in the high noon of every great Western culture — that we are the almost bankrupt heirs today. Only faint shadows of its former glory survive in popular culture. One of them, as it pertains to the upbringing of children, is the notion (sneered at by Chua), commonly accepted though perhaps misunderstood even by its adherents, that the child, as far as it is capable of rational thought, is a free agent, entitled to make its own decisions and deserving what minimal freedom it requires in order to follow the basic dictates of its conscience. The application of this principle in practice today almost always ends up in a grotesque caricature of its intended meaning, but that meaning itself is noble, and not only that, I will go further and say that an understanding of that meaning, whether conscious or intuitive, is necessary to the mental constitution of any citizen of a free society — just as necessary today as it was to the breeding of the English gentleman in the golden days of the Empire or to the education of the likes of Cato the Younger, Cicero, and Seneca.

To be the master of oneself and one’s passions, to understand the rightness of one’s moral law and to obey it out of a sense of inward affinity to what’s good and natural; to practice virtue as its own reward, freely; to view one’s sense of duty serenely and make it one with one’s will and desires; and to stand firm in the face of hardship or even annihilation, without bending to coercion from tyrants or losing oneself in any frenzied mob — this is the ideal of discipline that cuts against the grain of the Chinese method, which, despite the good intentions of many of its practitioners, must be recognized for what it is: i.e., the relic of an authoritarian and collectivistic, however stable, culture and a tool for the perpetuation of the same. The mettle to confront mortal danger, eagerly if principle requires it and always with composure, does not come from yielding in childhood to threats of starvation, corporeal punishment, sequestration of property, and the like. On the contrary, someone who values freedom and deserves it tries to teach himself and his child to be indifferent to such debasing stimuli; whereas a child raised to respond to them — and their lowest common denominator is always brute force — grows up to be a cowardly, obedient serf of his parents, elders, and dictators. The only form of discipline he learns is that of endurance, which is also the main virtue he is expected to practice throughout his life as the subject of an absolute external authority that can’t be argued or reasoned with. But said serf might learn to play “The Little White Donkey” at the age of seven, and that’s worth something, right?

In all earnestness, please consider the premises of Chinese parenting as laid out in Chua’s own words:

a) Children are not allowed to 1) play any instrument other than the piano and violin, 2) not play the piano and violin, 3) choose their own extracurricular activities. (Even Socialist Realism permits greater freedom of expression.)

b) Children owe their parents everything (as do citizens to the State).

c) Parents know what is best for their children and therefore override all their children’s own desires and preferences. (The state knows what’s best for the little people and gets it done against their will, but with their best interests very much at heart. Isn’t this how the Communist Party of China justifies its autocratic rule to itself and to the rest of the world?)

In light of all this, perhaps it should come as no surprise that Amy Chua’s bestseller is subtitled “How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability.”

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Morning Commentary

President Obama’s decision to tap former banker William Daley as his next chief of staff is angering all the right people: “This was a real mistake by the White House,” [Adam] Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in a statement. “Bill Daley consistently urges the Democratic Party to pursue a corporate agenda that alienates both Independent and Democratic voters. If President Obama listens to that kind of political advice from Bill Daley, Democrats will suffer a disastrous 2012.” Other liberals grumbling over the president’s choice are Jane Hamsher, Ezra Klein, and MoveOn.org’s executive director, Justin Rubin.

The filibuster rule changes wouldn’t just weaken the minority party by lowering the vote threshold. According to Ramesh Ponnuru, the alterations would also weaken the minority by handing the majority more control over the Senate calendar — a major source of power in the chamber.

Could the anti-Israel delegitimization activities on college campuses have a long-term impact on America’s relationship with Israel? While most students are opposed to the delegitimization campaign, the David Project’s David Bernstein is concerned that it may prompt students to become less supportive of the Jewish state: “While young people and particularly mainstream Democrats exposed to hostility on campus may not now or ever join the movement to boycott Israel, over time they may feel less sympathetic toward the Jewish state and more ambivalent about the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. When these young leaders become the next generation of Democratic Party representatives, it may become much tougher to garner those large bipartisan majorities.”

Michael Moynihan discusses how significantly the fight for free speech has changed since Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses elicited calls for his death from the Ayatollah: “In 1989, when Iran’s theocracy suborned the murder of novelist Salman Rushdie for having written a supposedly blasphemous book, The Satanic Verses, only a handful of intellectuals, habitués of both left and right, attacked the author for being impolite to ‘a billion’ religious adherents. Author Roald Dahl whimpered that ‘In a civilized world we all have a moral obligation to apply a modicum of censorship to our own work in order to reinforce this principle of free speech.’ Twenty years ago this was a shockingly contrarian sentiment, today it’s depressingly de rigueur.

Supporters of the man who assassinated Salman Taseer cheered him as he was transferred inside a courthouse on Thursday. The traitorous bodyguard has been hailed as a hero by many across the Muslim world, including a group of 500 Islamic scholars: “For a second day, sympathizers showed their support for Mumtaz Qadri by chanting slogans, with some throwing rose petals when police finally brought him to the Anti-Terrorism Court in Rawalpindi. Authorities had tried to bring Qadri to the court from the nearby capital of Islamabad earlier Thursday, but sympathizers prevented his transfer.”

President Obama’s decision to tap former banker William Daley as his next chief of staff is angering all the right people: “This was a real mistake by the White House,” [Adam] Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in a statement. “Bill Daley consistently urges the Democratic Party to pursue a corporate agenda that alienates both Independent and Democratic voters. If President Obama listens to that kind of political advice from Bill Daley, Democrats will suffer a disastrous 2012.” Other liberals grumbling over the president’s choice are Jane Hamsher, Ezra Klein, and MoveOn.org’s executive director, Justin Rubin.

The filibuster rule changes wouldn’t just weaken the minority party by lowering the vote threshold. According to Ramesh Ponnuru, the alterations would also weaken the minority by handing the majority more control over the Senate calendar — a major source of power in the chamber.

Could the anti-Israel delegitimization activities on college campuses have a long-term impact on America’s relationship with Israel? While most students are opposed to the delegitimization campaign, the David Project’s David Bernstein is concerned that it may prompt students to become less supportive of the Jewish state: “While young people and particularly mainstream Democrats exposed to hostility on campus may not now or ever join the movement to boycott Israel, over time they may feel less sympathetic toward the Jewish state and more ambivalent about the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. When these young leaders become the next generation of Democratic Party representatives, it may become much tougher to garner those large bipartisan majorities.”

Michael Moynihan discusses how significantly the fight for free speech has changed since Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses elicited calls for his death from the Ayatollah: “In 1989, when Iran’s theocracy suborned the murder of novelist Salman Rushdie for having written a supposedly blasphemous book, The Satanic Verses, only a handful of intellectuals, habitués of both left and right, attacked the author for being impolite to ‘a billion’ religious adherents. Author Roald Dahl whimpered that ‘In a civilized world we all have a moral obligation to apply a modicum of censorship to our own work in order to reinforce this principle of free speech.’ Twenty years ago this was a shockingly contrarian sentiment, today it’s depressingly de rigueur.

Supporters of the man who assassinated Salman Taseer cheered him as he was transferred inside a courthouse on Thursday. The traitorous bodyguard has been hailed as a hero by many across the Muslim world, including a group of 500 Islamic scholars: “For a second day, sympathizers showed their support for Mumtaz Qadri by chanting slogans, with some throwing rose petals when police finally brought him to the Anti-Terrorism Court in Rawalpindi. Authorities had tried to bring Qadri to the court from the nearby capital of Islamabad earlier Thursday, but sympathizers prevented his transfer.”

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RE: Unforgivable

Abe’s post on the bowdlerization of Mark Twain reminded me of the evolution of the opening line of the great Broadway musical Show Boat by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. In 1927, when the curtain went up, the chorus sang “Niggers all work on de Mississippi, /Niggers all work while de white folk play. /Loadin’ up boats with de bales of cotton. /Gettin’ no rest till de /Judgment Day!”

By the 1936 movie, the line had become “Darkies all work …” The 1946 Broadway revival began “Colored folk work on de Mississippi.” By the 1951 movie, it was “Here we all work …” The 1966 Lincoln Center production simply omitted the line altogether. Only with John McGlinn’s magnificent recording of the complete score in 1988 was the original text first restored.

No one could possibly accuse Oscar Hammerstein of being a racist and, indeed, the word he chose was historically and dialectically correct. It’s the word black stevedores on the Mississippi would have used in the 1880s.

I wonder what Mark Twain would have said about an expurgated Huckleberry Finn. I bet it would have been funny. I happen to know what Oscar Hammerstein would have said. When Paul Robeson started rewriting “Ol’ Man River” for his own political purposes, Hammerstein said: “As the author of these words, I should like it known that I have no intention of changing them or permitting anyone else to change them. I further suggest  that Paul would write his own songs and leave mine alone.”

Abe’s post on the bowdlerization of Mark Twain reminded me of the evolution of the opening line of the great Broadway musical Show Boat by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. In 1927, when the curtain went up, the chorus sang “Niggers all work on de Mississippi, /Niggers all work while de white folk play. /Loadin’ up boats with de bales of cotton. /Gettin’ no rest till de /Judgment Day!”

By the 1936 movie, the line had become “Darkies all work …” The 1946 Broadway revival began “Colored folk work on de Mississippi.” By the 1951 movie, it was “Here we all work …” The 1966 Lincoln Center production simply omitted the line altogether. Only with John McGlinn’s magnificent recording of the complete score in 1988 was the original text first restored.

No one could possibly accuse Oscar Hammerstein of being a racist and, indeed, the word he chose was historically and dialectically correct. It’s the word black stevedores on the Mississippi would have used in the 1880s.

I wonder what Mark Twain would have said about an expurgated Huckleberry Finn. I bet it would have been funny. I happen to know what Oscar Hammerstein would have said. When Paul Robeson started rewriting “Ol’ Man River” for his own political purposes, Hammerstein said: “As the author of these words, I should like it known that I have no intention of changing them or permitting anyone else to change them. I further suggest  that Paul would write his own songs and leave mine alone.”

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Goldstone Book Author: Critics Refuse to ‘Discuss the Contents of the Report’

Here is Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author of the upcoming book The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict, in next week’s Forward (sneering italics in the original, bold in mine):

Two years after Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s three-week assault against Hamas in Gaza, we are still grappling with the fallout. … From the moment the Goldstone Report was released in September 2009, its lead author has been subjected to fierce, well-orchestrated attacks by Israeli and American Jews who purport to be defending the legitimacy of the Jewish state and the safety of the Jewish people. Rather than discuss the contents of the report. … Israel’s defenders launched an all-points campaign to bury it. But their strategy was complicated from the start by an inconvenient truth: Goldstone was one of them — a Jew, and not just any Jew, an exemplary one.

And here is a screenshot of “Understanding the Goldstone Report,” a project spearheaded by Richard Landes of Pallywood fame, where more than a dozen journalists and bloggers (myself included) picked apart the report paragraph by paragraph and often sentence by sentence. I’ve unscrolled the “Case Study” category on the menu bar to show where some of the distinct accusations — “the contents of the report” — were dealt with specifically. Read More

Here is Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author of the upcoming book The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict, in next week’s Forward (sneering italics in the original, bold in mine):

Two years after Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s three-week assault against Hamas in Gaza, we are still grappling with the fallout. … From the moment the Goldstone Report was released in September 2009, its lead author has been subjected to fierce, well-orchestrated attacks by Israeli and American Jews who purport to be defending the legitimacy of the Jewish state and the safety of the Jewish people. Rather than discuss the contents of the report. … Israel’s defenders launched an all-points campaign to bury it. But their strategy was complicated from the start by an inconvenient truth: Goldstone was one of them — a Jew, and not just any Jew, an exemplary one.

And here is a screenshot of “Understanding the Goldstone Report,” a project spearheaded by Richard Landes of Pallywood fame, where more than a dozen journalists and bloggers (myself included) picked apart the report paragraph by paragraph and often sentence by sentence. I’ve unscrolled the “Case Study” category on the menu bar to show where some of the distinct accusations — “the contents of the report” — were dealt with specifically.

goldstonereportorg_500

There are also pages documenting the broad procedural flaws of the investigation, the caliber of individual witnesses, the importance of concealed evidence, the role of anti-Israel mediators, the dynamics of human-shield accusations, plus about 30 other issues. Yet another section, maintained by Daled Amos, served as a clearinghouse for criticisms posted on related blogs, like Elder of Ziyon, which alone had more than 25 Goldstone-related posts digging through the text of the report.

In size and scope, the site rivals the IDF’s comprehensive Goldstone rebuttal — another document that, by the by, directly rebutted “the contents of the report.” It has so much material and is so on-point, in fact, that it’s the top result on Google for “goldstone report.” It ranks higher than the .pdf of the actual Goldstone Report, which continues to be the focus of an international anti-Israel feeding frenzy. SEO tricks might give a site a slight advantage on Google, but nothing can push irrelevant content to the very top of a very crowded field.

So one theory suggests that Pogrebin, in preparing for her book, never went so far as to type “goldstone report” into Google. Could be, and it’s something to bear in mind when her book inevitable gets cited as a definitive anti-Israel treatise.

Another theory holds that she found “Understanding the Goldstone Report” but has an idiosyncratic yet fortuitously self-serving interpretation of what counts as discussing “the contents of the report.” Maybe, though that wouldn’t bode well for her book’s relevance.

And then there’s the theory that Goldstone, Pogrebin, and their ilk willfully overlook substantive criticisms of the UN-sponsored blood libel lest they have to answer them. That, too, has the ring of plausibility and may warrant consideration.

All those theories aside, you do have to appreciate the formulation of the article’s opening sentence: “Two years after Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s three-week assault against Hamas in Gaza, we are still grappling with the fallout.” Coming from the Goldstone crowd and from someone publishing a Goldstone-related book, this is the equivalent of setting a house on fire and then demurely mentioning that people are struggling to deal with the flames. How observant!

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Further Food for Reflection

Daniel Mandel, the author of H.V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel, has a letter in the New York Times succinctly responding to an op-ed column in which Robert Wright argued that the UN “created a state six decades ago, and it can create a Palestinian state now”:

First, the United Nations didn’t “create” Israel — sovereignty was asserted by its provisional government at the termination of British authority in the territory — nor indeed was the 1947 General Assembly partition resolution even legally binding. It would have been, had both Jews and Arabs accepted it, but Arabs did not. Had Arab arms prevailed over the Jewish forces, there would have been no Israel, regardless of United Nations resolutions.

Second, despite the importance of that resolution in changing the conditions surrounding Israel’s emergence, the United Nations came onto a scene that Britain, the governing power, was vacating. In short, it filled a vacuum. There is no such vacuum today.

Third, this idea suffers from the flawed tendency to believe that creating a Palestinian state will produce peace. Yet no perusal of Palestinian sermons, statements or publications suggests that Palestinians accept the idea of a peaceful state alongside Israel. If a Palestinian state won’t bring peace, why create it?

Mandel’s third point deserves a place high on the list of peace-process topics that merit further reflection.

It has been assumed, without much evidence to support it, that a Palestinian state would bring peace. But given the Palestinian unwillingness to recognize a Jewish one, or relinquish a “right of return” (which was never a right, only a short-term recommendation in another non-binding UN resolution from 1949, which the Arab states voted against), or cease the continuous incitement that permeates Palestinian schools and civil society, or dismantle Hamas as required by Phase I of the Roadmap, or express a willingness to put an end-of-claims provision in a peace agreement, the factual basis of the assumption is unclear.

Nor is it clear that the creation of a 22nd Arab state, including a second one within the area that was promised to the Jews under the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate, or the transfer of tens of thousands of Jews from their homes in Judea and Samaria to create the Judenrein state the Palestinians demand, would serve American interests. After 17 years of a peace process that has produced multiple offers of a Palestinian state but no peace, the unexamined belief that such a state should continue to be a central American concern is debatable at best — and should be debated.

Unfortunately, most readers of the New York Times will not get the chance to think about Mandel’s points. His letter was posted on the Times‘s website yesterday but was not published in the national deadwood version of the Times either yesterday or today.

Daniel Mandel, the author of H.V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel, has a letter in the New York Times succinctly responding to an op-ed column in which Robert Wright argued that the UN “created a state six decades ago, and it can create a Palestinian state now”:

First, the United Nations didn’t “create” Israel — sovereignty was asserted by its provisional government at the termination of British authority in the territory — nor indeed was the 1947 General Assembly partition resolution even legally binding. It would have been, had both Jews and Arabs accepted it, but Arabs did not. Had Arab arms prevailed over the Jewish forces, there would have been no Israel, regardless of United Nations resolutions.

Second, despite the importance of that resolution in changing the conditions surrounding Israel’s emergence, the United Nations came onto a scene that Britain, the governing power, was vacating. In short, it filled a vacuum. There is no such vacuum today.

Third, this idea suffers from the flawed tendency to believe that creating a Palestinian state will produce peace. Yet no perusal of Palestinian sermons, statements or publications suggests that Palestinians accept the idea of a peaceful state alongside Israel. If a Palestinian state won’t bring peace, why create it?

Mandel’s third point deserves a place high on the list of peace-process topics that merit further reflection.

It has been assumed, without much evidence to support it, that a Palestinian state would bring peace. But given the Palestinian unwillingness to recognize a Jewish one, or relinquish a “right of return” (which was never a right, only a short-term recommendation in another non-binding UN resolution from 1949, which the Arab states voted against), or cease the continuous incitement that permeates Palestinian schools and civil society, or dismantle Hamas as required by Phase I of the Roadmap, or express a willingness to put an end-of-claims provision in a peace agreement, the factual basis of the assumption is unclear.

Nor is it clear that the creation of a 22nd Arab state, including a second one within the area that was promised to the Jews under the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate, or the transfer of tens of thousands of Jews from their homes in Judea and Samaria to create the Judenrein state the Palestinians demand, would serve American interests. After 17 years of a peace process that has produced multiple offers of a Palestinian state but no peace, the unexamined belief that such a state should continue to be a central American concern is debatable at best — and should be debated.

Unfortunately, most readers of the New York Times will not get the chance to think about Mandel’s points. His letter was posted on the Times‘s website yesterday but was not published in the national deadwood version of the Times either yesterday or today.

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Morning Commentary

It’s “back to reality” week at the White House, where the Obama administration has finally given up on asking Israelis to freeze settlement construction.

And, in a Cheney-esque decision, a D.C. federal judge has dismissed any challenge to the president’s authority to kill an American citizen without due process.

Bill Gertz reports that 25 percent of terrorists released from Gitmo have gone back to the battlefield, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Jonah Goldberg delivers some sharp analysis on the West’s turning a blind eye to North Korea’s human rights situation: “Eventually this dynasty of misery will end and North Koreans, starved, stunted and beaten, will crawl back into the light of civilization. My hunch is that it will not be easy to meet their gaze, nor history’s. No one will be able to claim they didn’t know what was happening, and very few of us will be able to say we did anything at all to help.”

Pundits have likened Julian Assange to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, but the two bear no comparison, says Todd Gitlin at the New Republic: “Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers was a great democratic act that helped clarify for the American public how its leaders had misled it for years, to the immense detriment of the nation’s honor. By contrast, Wikileaks’s huge data dump, including the names of agents and recent diplomatic cables, is indiscriminate. Assange slashes and burns with impunity. He is a minister of chaos fighting for a world of total transparency. We have enough problems without that.”

And speaking of WikiLeaks, who wrote that story circling mainstream liberal blogs that the Swedish woman accusing Assange of rape has connections to the CIA? The author was Counterpunch’s Israel Shamir — a raving Holocaust-denier and conspiracy theorist, reports Reason magazine.

It’s “back to reality” week at the White House, where the Obama administration has finally given up on asking Israelis to freeze settlement construction.

And, in a Cheney-esque decision, a D.C. federal judge has dismissed any challenge to the president’s authority to kill an American citizen without due process.

Bill Gertz reports that 25 percent of terrorists released from Gitmo have gone back to the battlefield, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Jonah Goldberg delivers some sharp analysis on the West’s turning a blind eye to North Korea’s human rights situation: “Eventually this dynasty of misery will end and North Koreans, starved, stunted and beaten, will crawl back into the light of civilization. My hunch is that it will not be easy to meet their gaze, nor history’s. No one will be able to claim they didn’t know what was happening, and very few of us will be able to say we did anything at all to help.”

Pundits have likened Julian Assange to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, but the two bear no comparison, says Todd Gitlin at the New Republic: “Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers was a great democratic act that helped clarify for the American public how its leaders had misled it for years, to the immense detriment of the nation’s honor. By contrast, Wikileaks’s huge data dump, including the names of agents and recent diplomatic cables, is indiscriminate. Assange slashes and burns with impunity. He is a minister of chaos fighting for a world of total transparency. We have enough problems without that.”

And speaking of WikiLeaks, who wrote that story circling mainstream liberal blogs that the Swedish woman accusing Assange of rape has connections to the CIA? The author was Counterpunch’s Israel Shamir — a raving Holocaust-denier and conspiracy theorist, reports Reason magazine.

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Euro-Freedom Watch

With little fanfare, the EU adopted new legislation this week that makes “certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia” criminal offenses — and allows individual EU nations to prosecute the citizens of other nations for those offenses. And no, it’s not European anti-Americanism that’s being targeted by the xenophobia provisions. Advocates of free speech in Europe are quite clear that what the new law will criminalize is analytical, factual, or hortatory discussion of Islam and Sharia by non-Muslims.

Their conclusion is bolstered by recent events. Geert Wilders of the Netherlands is only the most famous of several Europeans who have faced criminal charges for speaking critically of Islam. Another is Austrian journalist and activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, whose trial for “hate speech” opened in Vienna on November 23. Take a moment to read publicized transcripts of the proceedings; it is worth understanding that Sabaditsch-Wolff is being tried, literally, for quoting both the Koran and an authoritative work on Sunni law, and expressing criticism of the social institutions condoned in those religious texts.

She is not a cartoonist lampooning Muhammad, something most Westerners would recognize as less than respectful even if they didn’t all agree that it was “offensive.” Sabaditsch-Wolff quotes the texts of Islam seriously and accurately; she objects to their implications, but she doesn’t poke fun at them. However, as Ned May observes at Andrew Breitbart’s Big Peace:

It has been well-established in a number of jurisdictions — including several in the West — that a non-Muslim who quotes the Koran accurately can still be convicted of “hate speech”. This aligns with the definition of Islamic slander (also to be found in [Sunni law document] Reliance) which considers anything that insults Islam, whether true or false, to be defamation.

The author at the pseudonymous Daphne Anson blog (top link) wonders what will happen if Turkey is finally admitted to the EU, given the newly approved framework allowing cross-border prosecutions in Europe. But I am inclined to wonder how the other nations will react to being in the same union with Austria and the Netherlands, which have already shown a willingness to prosecute free speech as a hate crime. The charges against Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff are centered on questions like these, brought up one after another on the first day of her trial:

10:53: The judge inquires if we are talking about Islamic extremism, or of Islam as such?

Elisabeth explains that we are talking Islam as such, as defined by its scripture, and quotes Erdogan that there is no moderate Islam anyway.

The intellectual basis for her certainty (or the judge’s, for that matter) is not the issue here, nor should it be. The issue is that she is being prosecuted for forensic, critical investigation of Islam: for advancing opinions we hear argued nightly on American TV talk shows. The most basic of intellectual freedoms — attributing facts to sources and expressing opinions about them — is in the process of being criminalized in parts of the EU. Free-speech advocates fear that the new Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia will spread this trend toward criminalization across borders throughout Europe. They are justified in their concern.

With little fanfare, the EU adopted new legislation this week that makes “certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia” criminal offenses — and allows individual EU nations to prosecute the citizens of other nations for those offenses. And no, it’s not European anti-Americanism that’s being targeted by the xenophobia provisions. Advocates of free speech in Europe are quite clear that what the new law will criminalize is analytical, factual, or hortatory discussion of Islam and Sharia by non-Muslims.

Their conclusion is bolstered by recent events. Geert Wilders of the Netherlands is only the most famous of several Europeans who have faced criminal charges for speaking critically of Islam. Another is Austrian journalist and activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, whose trial for “hate speech” opened in Vienna on November 23. Take a moment to read publicized transcripts of the proceedings; it is worth understanding that Sabaditsch-Wolff is being tried, literally, for quoting both the Koran and an authoritative work on Sunni law, and expressing criticism of the social institutions condoned in those religious texts.

She is not a cartoonist lampooning Muhammad, something most Westerners would recognize as less than respectful even if they didn’t all agree that it was “offensive.” Sabaditsch-Wolff quotes the texts of Islam seriously and accurately; she objects to their implications, but she doesn’t poke fun at them. However, as Ned May observes at Andrew Breitbart’s Big Peace:

It has been well-established in a number of jurisdictions — including several in the West — that a non-Muslim who quotes the Koran accurately can still be convicted of “hate speech”. This aligns with the definition of Islamic slander (also to be found in [Sunni law document] Reliance) which considers anything that insults Islam, whether true or false, to be defamation.

The author at the pseudonymous Daphne Anson blog (top link) wonders what will happen if Turkey is finally admitted to the EU, given the newly approved framework allowing cross-border prosecutions in Europe. But I am inclined to wonder how the other nations will react to being in the same union with Austria and the Netherlands, which have already shown a willingness to prosecute free speech as a hate crime. The charges against Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff are centered on questions like these, brought up one after another on the first day of her trial:

10:53: The judge inquires if we are talking about Islamic extremism, or of Islam as such?

Elisabeth explains that we are talking Islam as such, as defined by its scripture, and quotes Erdogan that there is no moderate Islam anyway.

The intellectual basis for her certainty (or the judge’s, for that matter) is not the issue here, nor should it be. The issue is that she is being prosecuted for forensic, critical investigation of Islam: for advancing opinions we hear argued nightly on American TV talk shows. The most basic of intellectual freedoms — attributing facts to sources and expressing opinions about them — is in the process of being criminalized in parts of the EU. Free-speech advocates fear that the new Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia will spread this trend toward criminalization across borders throughout Europe. They are justified in their concern.

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Holiday Cheer at the Times: British Author Doesn’t Get Hanukkah

After winning the prestigious Man Booker prize, British author Howard Jacobson is the toast of the literary world. What’s more, as Jonathan Foreman points out in the December issue of COMMENTARY (which is behind our pay wall), the book that won him the award properly skewers those Britons whose hatred for Israel has more to do with their own insecurities and prejudices than any genuine sins committed by the Jewish state. And while such sentiments make him a valued outlier in a Britain where anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism is all the rage among the intellectuals, it is disappointing to discover via the New York Times op-ed page that he doesn’t really understand the festival of Hanukkah that begins this evening at sundown. Admittedly, much of this piece is clearly intended as humor, but it is the sort of ironic British humor that is, as our cousins across the pond like to say, too clever by half.

Jacobson is correct to note that the Jews’ December holiday can never truly compete with Christmas. Though, contrary to his account, most American Jews replicate the gift-giving frenzy of their neighbors, Hanukkah hasn’t the songs or the marketing to match the Christian holiday. Christmas trees will beat a dreidel in terms of mass appeal any day.

His idea that Jews give their kids new cars as presents in remembrance of the oil that lasted for eight days is a lame joke that unwittingly calls to mind the appeals of leftist Jews to make Hanukkah an environmentalist festival. But Jacobson’s bizarre suggestion that the remembrance of the struggles of the Hasmoneans be replaced with yet another Jewish commemoration of past suffering, such as at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition or Russian pogroms, illustrates that even a British Jew immune to the self-hating anti-Zionism so prevalent in the UK is still incapable of taking pride in remembrance of a successful struggle for political and religious freedom. It’s as if even Jacobson can’t fathom the idea that Jews aren’t supposed to be the victims in every story.

Jacobson may think that the idea of celebrating a Jewish victory over Syrian-Greek oppressors is not “authentic,” but you have to wonder what is it about a small people’s decision to fight rather than to bow to the dictates of a foreign power intent on wiping out their national identity and faith that he finds so off-putting. Winning Jewish independence isn’t, as he says, “wish fulfillment”; it is a model of pride that is a universal source of inspiration.

Jacobson’s failed attempt at wit at the expense of this festival is more or less what we have come to expect from Jewish authors when they write on Jewish subjects on the Times op-ed page. But the point about Hanukkah is that it exemplifies the spirit of a people who refuse to genuflect before the idols of the popular culture of their day. As such, Hanukkah is an important lesson for contemporary Jews who struggle to maintain their identity as minorities in the Diaspora, as well as for the people of Israel who remain under siege. For all the understandable universal appeal of Christmas and the specific resonance of the festival for Jews, this message of Hanukkah that inspires resistance to the forces that seek to denigrate religion and the values of faith is one that should appeal to all people of goodwill. It’s a pity that this point was of no interest to Jacobson and the Times.

After winning the prestigious Man Booker prize, British author Howard Jacobson is the toast of the literary world. What’s more, as Jonathan Foreman points out in the December issue of COMMENTARY (which is behind our pay wall), the book that won him the award properly skewers those Britons whose hatred for Israel has more to do with their own insecurities and prejudices than any genuine sins committed by the Jewish state. And while such sentiments make him a valued outlier in a Britain where anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism is all the rage among the intellectuals, it is disappointing to discover via the New York Times op-ed page that he doesn’t really understand the festival of Hanukkah that begins this evening at sundown. Admittedly, much of this piece is clearly intended as humor, but it is the sort of ironic British humor that is, as our cousins across the pond like to say, too clever by half.

Jacobson is correct to note that the Jews’ December holiday can never truly compete with Christmas. Though, contrary to his account, most American Jews replicate the gift-giving frenzy of their neighbors, Hanukkah hasn’t the songs or the marketing to match the Christian holiday. Christmas trees will beat a dreidel in terms of mass appeal any day.

His idea that Jews give their kids new cars as presents in remembrance of the oil that lasted for eight days is a lame joke that unwittingly calls to mind the appeals of leftist Jews to make Hanukkah an environmentalist festival. But Jacobson’s bizarre suggestion that the remembrance of the struggles of the Hasmoneans be replaced with yet another Jewish commemoration of past suffering, such as at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition or Russian pogroms, illustrates that even a British Jew immune to the self-hating anti-Zionism so prevalent in the UK is still incapable of taking pride in remembrance of a successful struggle for political and religious freedom. It’s as if even Jacobson can’t fathom the idea that Jews aren’t supposed to be the victims in every story.

Jacobson may think that the idea of celebrating a Jewish victory over Syrian-Greek oppressors is not “authentic,” but you have to wonder what is it about a small people’s decision to fight rather than to bow to the dictates of a foreign power intent on wiping out their national identity and faith that he finds so off-putting. Winning Jewish independence isn’t, as he says, “wish fulfillment”; it is a model of pride that is a universal source of inspiration.

Jacobson’s failed attempt at wit at the expense of this festival is more or less what we have come to expect from Jewish authors when they write on Jewish subjects on the Times op-ed page. But the point about Hanukkah is that it exemplifies the spirit of a people who refuse to genuflect before the idols of the popular culture of their day. As such, Hanukkah is an important lesson for contemporary Jews who struggle to maintain their identity as minorities in the Diaspora, as well as for the people of Israel who remain under siege. For all the understandable universal appeal of Christmas and the specific resonance of the festival for Jews, this message of Hanukkah that inspires resistance to the forces that seek to denigrate religion and the values of faith is one that should appeal to all people of goodwill. It’s a pity that this point was of no interest to Jacobson and the Times.

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Liberal Lamentations and the Book of Job

Newsweek editor Evan Thomas reached what might have been the apotheosis of hero worship of Barack Obama when he stated on MSNBC in June 2009 that “I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above — above the world, he’s sort of God.” Some 18 months later, Thomas’s affirmation of Obama as a political messiah seems more comic than anything else. But for those liberals of theological bent, explanations for the president’s repudiation by the voters in a historic midterm thumping requires more than an analysis of the unpopularity of ObamaCare. Into this breach steps Thomas’s former Newsweek colleague Jon Meacham.

In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Meacham writes in an essay whose supposed subject was a new translation and commentary on The Wisdom Books of the Bible by Robert Alter that the best explanation for the repudiation of Obama can be found in the Book of Job. To Meacham, Obama’s trials are as much a mystery as those of Job. Like Job, Obama was once favored by God only to be subjected to afflictions that have no discernible purpose other than to test his faith. While Meacham admits that incoming House Speaker John Boehner is not quite the same thing as a case of boils, he makes plain that the defeat of the Democrats is pretty much the moral equivalent of such torments. Snidely noting that God’s rejection of Job’s questioning of His decisions is “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse,” Meacham gives voice to a liberal sense of injustice at their recent losses.

As Jennifer noted, that this sort of nonsense is what passes for erudition at the once mighty Book Review is quite a commentary on the state of mind of our liberal elites and one that requires no translation by Robert Alter. But while Meacham’s ranting can be dismissed as a failed attempt at clever exegesis, it does speak to a lack of understanding on the part of the author (and, no doubt, many of his readers) as to the difference between an election and an act of God. The former is a judgment on the part of the voters about both policies and personalities. It can be disputed as a mistake, but it is not an inexplicable event. The latter is simply something that happens without apparent rhyme or reason. To a believer, the essence of the Almighty and His acts are ineffable, and we must imply accept them without explanation, since none will be forthcoming.

Barack Obama’s defeat in the midterms, like his victory two years before, was not an act of God. It was an act of democracy. By contrast, if we are looking for evidence of an event whose coming was as arbitrary as Job’s boils, we could do no better than to ponder the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the presidency of George W. Bush. While the government’s failures in the aftermath of that natural disaster were legion, the fact remains that it was George W. Bush’s bad luck that he happened to be president when New Orleans was hit with a once-in-a-century hurricane that would come to define his presidency. Bush might well wonder why this storm came during his time in office rather than that of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. A storm of Katrina’s size would have knocked down the levees even if the president had been a Democrat, though it is doubtful that the media would have blamed him for the ensuing casualties and the incompetence of local authorities the way they did Bush. Bush could not be blamed for asking God why, but as a man of faith, he probably understands that there is no answer.

Job teaches us that bad things can happen to good people and that we shouldn’t expect a Divine explanation when such injustices occur. But, contrary to Meacham, however good some of us may think Barack Obama is, explaining his troubles at the ballot box does not require an act of faith.

Newsweek editor Evan Thomas reached what might have been the apotheosis of hero worship of Barack Obama when he stated on MSNBC in June 2009 that “I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above — above the world, he’s sort of God.” Some 18 months later, Thomas’s affirmation of Obama as a political messiah seems more comic than anything else. But for those liberals of theological bent, explanations for the president’s repudiation by the voters in a historic midterm thumping requires more than an analysis of the unpopularity of ObamaCare. Into this breach steps Thomas’s former Newsweek colleague Jon Meacham.

In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Meacham writes in an essay whose supposed subject was a new translation and commentary on The Wisdom Books of the Bible by Robert Alter that the best explanation for the repudiation of Obama can be found in the Book of Job. To Meacham, Obama’s trials are as much a mystery as those of Job. Like Job, Obama was once favored by God only to be subjected to afflictions that have no discernible purpose other than to test his faith. While Meacham admits that incoming House Speaker John Boehner is not quite the same thing as a case of boils, he makes plain that the defeat of the Democrats is pretty much the moral equivalent of such torments. Snidely noting that God’s rejection of Job’s questioning of His decisions is “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse,” Meacham gives voice to a liberal sense of injustice at their recent losses.

As Jennifer noted, that this sort of nonsense is what passes for erudition at the once mighty Book Review is quite a commentary on the state of mind of our liberal elites and one that requires no translation by Robert Alter. But while Meacham’s ranting can be dismissed as a failed attempt at clever exegesis, it does speak to a lack of understanding on the part of the author (and, no doubt, many of his readers) as to the difference between an election and an act of God. The former is a judgment on the part of the voters about both policies and personalities. It can be disputed as a mistake, but it is not an inexplicable event. The latter is simply something that happens without apparent rhyme or reason. To a believer, the essence of the Almighty and His acts are ineffable, and we must imply accept them without explanation, since none will be forthcoming.

Barack Obama’s defeat in the midterms, like his victory two years before, was not an act of God. It was an act of democracy. By contrast, if we are looking for evidence of an event whose coming was as arbitrary as Job’s boils, we could do no better than to ponder the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the presidency of George W. Bush. While the government’s failures in the aftermath of that natural disaster were legion, the fact remains that it was George W. Bush’s bad luck that he happened to be president when New Orleans was hit with a once-in-a-century hurricane that would come to define his presidency. Bush might well wonder why this storm came during his time in office rather than that of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. A storm of Katrina’s size would have knocked down the levees even if the president had been a Democrat, though it is doubtful that the media would have blamed him for the ensuing casualties and the incompetence of local authorities the way they did Bush. Bush could not be blamed for asking God why, but as a man of faith, he probably understands that there is no answer.

Job teaches us that bad things can happen to good people and that we shouldn’t expect a Divine explanation when such injustices occur. But, contrary to Meacham, however good some of us may think Barack Obama is, explaining his troubles at the ballot box does not require an act of faith.

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Economic Growth as a Way out of Debt

The New York Times today has a front-page news analysis that reports on a startling (at least at the Times) idea to cut the deficit and thus tame the rapidly rising national debt: economic growth. Who knew?

This has, of course, been tried with great success before. In 1946, the national debt stood at $269 billion. That was almost 130 percent of GDP. Fifteen years later, the debt had risen a little (to $288 billion), but that was only 56 percent of GDP, thanks to the enormous growth in the American economy in the post-war era.

As the Times article points out, economic growth was one of the major components behind eliminating the deficits in the 1990s. The growth produced a gusher of federal tax revenues, which rose from $1.031 trillion in 1990 to $2.025 trillion in 2000, a 96 percent increase. But it was spending restraint after the election of a Republican Congress in 1994 that really turned the trick. Federal outlays were $1.460 trillion in 1994 and $1.789 trillion in 2000, a mere 22 percent increase, while federal revenues rose 61 percent in those years. A similar ratio of revenue growth to spending growth would bring the deficits down to a manageable level within a very few years.

The author, New York Times columnist David Leonhardt, is discussing a new plan, released today, that has been developed by the Bipartisan Policy Center under co-chairs Alice Rivlin, a former head the OMB under President Clinton, and former Republican Senator Pete Domenici. It can be found here. I haven’t had time to read it yet, but it has some sensible suggestions about taxes and one terrible idea, a 6.5 percent “Debt Reduction Sales Tax.” As money is fungible, there is no way to dedicate a portion of federal revenues to debt reduction. It would simply be another federal tax, and a regressive one at that.

Leonhardt acknowledges that the tax code is a big part of the problem:

Today’s tax code is a thicket of deductions, credits and loopholes that force people to change their behavior and waste time trying to avoid too large of a tax bill. A tax code with fewer deductions and lower rates — which, to be clear, is not the same thing as a tax cut — would instead let businesses and households focus on being as productive as possible. The potential to make good money would drive more decisions, and the ability to qualify for a tax break would drive fewer.

If this sounds familiar, it is because this was the very heart of Reaganomics 30 years ago. It is amusing that Leonhardt takes pains to ensure Times readers, before they come down with the vapors, that not all tax-rate reductions are tax cuts.

Along with the Bowles-Simpson plan, this one is worthy of study.

The New York Times today has a front-page news analysis that reports on a startling (at least at the Times) idea to cut the deficit and thus tame the rapidly rising national debt: economic growth. Who knew?

This has, of course, been tried with great success before. In 1946, the national debt stood at $269 billion. That was almost 130 percent of GDP. Fifteen years later, the debt had risen a little (to $288 billion), but that was only 56 percent of GDP, thanks to the enormous growth in the American economy in the post-war era.

As the Times article points out, economic growth was one of the major components behind eliminating the deficits in the 1990s. The growth produced a gusher of federal tax revenues, which rose from $1.031 trillion in 1990 to $2.025 trillion in 2000, a 96 percent increase. But it was spending restraint after the election of a Republican Congress in 1994 that really turned the trick. Federal outlays were $1.460 trillion in 1994 and $1.789 trillion in 2000, a mere 22 percent increase, while federal revenues rose 61 percent in those years. A similar ratio of revenue growth to spending growth would bring the deficits down to a manageable level within a very few years.

The author, New York Times columnist David Leonhardt, is discussing a new plan, released today, that has been developed by the Bipartisan Policy Center under co-chairs Alice Rivlin, a former head the OMB under President Clinton, and former Republican Senator Pete Domenici. It can be found here. I haven’t had time to read it yet, but it has some sensible suggestions about taxes and one terrible idea, a 6.5 percent “Debt Reduction Sales Tax.” As money is fungible, there is no way to dedicate a portion of federal revenues to debt reduction. It would simply be another federal tax, and a regressive one at that.

Leonhardt acknowledges that the tax code is a big part of the problem:

Today’s tax code is a thicket of deductions, credits and loopholes that force people to change their behavior and waste time trying to avoid too large of a tax bill. A tax code with fewer deductions and lower rates — which, to be clear, is not the same thing as a tax cut — would instead let businesses and households focus on being as productive as possible. The potential to make good money would drive more decisions, and the ability to qualify for a tax break would drive fewer.

If this sounds familiar, it is because this was the very heart of Reaganomics 30 years ago. It is amusing that Leonhardt takes pains to ensure Times readers, before they come down with the vapors, that not all tax-rate reductions are tax cuts.

Along with the Bowles-Simpson plan, this one is worthy of study.

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If Only King Arthur Had a Videographer Like Obama’s

Some 40 years ago, author Joe McGinniss shined a light on the way campaign imagery shapes our perceptions of politics with his The Selling of the President about Richard Nixon’s 1968 run for office. Though aimed at the evil geniuses behind the “new Nixon” who beat Hubert Humphrey, one of the most famous lines in the book recounted the way Nixon’s old nemesis John Kennedy had beguiled the American people with a White House that was sold as a new Camelot. As McGinniss put it: “We forgave, followed and accepted because we liked the way he looked. And he had a pretty wife. Camelot was fun, even for the peasants, as long as it was televised to their huts.”

American politics was played by different rules from 1961 to 1963. The image of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and their two adorable children was ubiquitous in American culture in those years, and the publication or broadcast of unpleasant truths about the president and his brother the attorney general was simply out of the question. Since then, no American president has received the same kid glove treatment from the press. Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, the first Bush, Clinton, and the second Bush were all treated with little deference and much cynicism by the media.

But the election of the first African-American president in 2008 has changed the way the presidency is treated in popular culture. In the past two years, the images coming out of Barack Obama’s White House of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and two adorable daughters have been highly reminiscent of Kennedy’s Camelot imagery. That’s a big part of the reason why, despite the administration’s well-documented troubles in selling its hyper-liberal policies to the public, Obama’s personal popularity remains high.

Part of Obama’s dream machine was highlighted yesterday in a puff piece in The New York Times about Arun Chaudhary, the former New York University film instructor who is Obama’s full-time videographer. Chaudhary’s “West Wing Week” films may not be sweeping the nation, but they are part of the way the president’s personal image — and that of his family — have been carefully burnished. The midterm elections illustrated the rejection of Obama’s political agenda by the voters. But anyone who thinks that the 2012 election, in which the president will be personally on the ballot, will not be heavily influenced by the Camelot factor is not paying attention. With such loving images of Obama being beamed out regularly — not merely to our huts but to the peasantry’s computers, iPads, and phones — the task of defeating even a president whose policies are unpopular will be that much harder. Obama’s Camelot may not be impregnable, but it is buttressed by the sort of stained-glass image that has not been seen since the days of John Kennedy.

Some 40 years ago, author Joe McGinniss shined a light on the way campaign imagery shapes our perceptions of politics with his The Selling of the President about Richard Nixon’s 1968 run for office. Though aimed at the evil geniuses behind the “new Nixon” who beat Hubert Humphrey, one of the most famous lines in the book recounted the way Nixon’s old nemesis John Kennedy had beguiled the American people with a White House that was sold as a new Camelot. As McGinniss put it: “We forgave, followed and accepted because we liked the way he looked. And he had a pretty wife. Camelot was fun, even for the peasants, as long as it was televised to their huts.”

American politics was played by different rules from 1961 to 1963. The image of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and their two adorable children was ubiquitous in American culture in those years, and the publication or broadcast of unpleasant truths about the president and his brother the attorney general was simply out of the question. Since then, no American president has received the same kid glove treatment from the press. Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, the first Bush, Clinton, and the second Bush were all treated with little deference and much cynicism by the media.

But the election of the first African-American president in 2008 has changed the way the presidency is treated in popular culture. In the past two years, the images coming out of Barack Obama’s White House of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and two adorable daughters have been highly reminiscent of Kennedy’s Camelot imagery. That’s a big part of the reason why, despite the administration’s well-documented troubles in selling its hyper-liberal policies to the public, Obama’s personal popularity remains high.

Part of Obama’s dream machine was highlighted yesterday in a puff piece in The New York Times about Arun Chaudhary, the former New York University film instructor who is Obama’s full-time videographer. Chaudhary’s “West Wing Week” films may not be sweeping the nation, but they are part of the way the president’s personal image — and that of his family — have been carefully burnished. The midterm elections illustrated the rejection of Obama’s political agenda by the voters. But anyone who thinks that the 2012 election, in which the president will be personally on the ballot, will not be heavily influenced by the Camelot factor is not paying attention. With such loving images of Obama being beamed out regularly — not merely to our huts but to the peasantry’s computers, iPads, and phones — the task of defeating even a president whose policies are unpopular will be that much harder. Obama’s Camelot may not be impregnable, but it is buttressed by the sort of stained-glass image that has not been seen since the days of John Kennedy.

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The Other Dowd

OK, it’s lazy to let a relative write your column. But we should go easy on Maureen, for her brother Kevin is plainly the political maven in the Dowd family, being the sibling who apparently observes America not merely from Manhattan taxi cabs. A  sample of the column she subcontracted to him:

On Nov. 2, voters across every spectrum loudly stated their preference for a return to American exceptionalism, self-reliance, limited government and personal freedoms. … It is probably a product of the revisionist history we now teach in our schools that the Tea Party, a replica of the beginnings of the American Revolution, was marginalized and mocked as a lunatic fringe group by a dismissive news media.

That same media is becoming increasingly aware that its creation is in over his head. He seems unaware of, or ambivalent about, the results of his actions. The last three weeks of the campaign were particularly unseemly. The vision of the President of the United States, one who spoke of civility and hope and change, exposed as just another Chicago pol, viciously and personally attacking his opponents, was undignified.

When my children were small, I used to take them to visit my mother. One of her favorite lines if they complained was, “Do you want some cheese with that whine?” We may have to call Switzerland to get enough cheese for the presidential whines. Read More

OK, it’s lazy to let a relative write your column. But we should go easy on Maureen, for her brother Kevin is plainly the political maven in the Dowd family, being the sibling who apparently observes America not merely from Manhattan taxi cabs. A  sample of the column she subcontracted to him:

On Nov. 2, voters across every spectrum loudly stated their preference for a return to American exceptionalism, self-reliance, limited government and personal freedoms. … It is probably a product of the revisionist history we now teach in our schools that the Tea Party, a replica of the beginnings of the American Revolution, was marginalized and mocked as a lunatic fringe group by a dismissive news media.

That same media is becoming increasingly aware that its creation is in over his head. He seems unaware of, or ambivalent about, the results of his actions. The last three weeks of the campaign were particularly unseemly. The vision of the President of the United States, one who spoke of civility and hope and change, exposed as just another Chicago pol, viciously and personally attacking his opponents, was undignified.

When my children were small, I used to take them to visit my mother. One of her favorite lines if they complained was, “Do you want some cheese with that whine?” We may have to call Switzerland to get enough cheese for the presidential whines.

What is interesting — aside from the usual nature/nurture debate it might provoke — is how much closer the mainstream-media narrative is to the Kevin narrative. What Kevin and many others on the right have observed for two years — an excess of dangerous presidential hubris, a tone-deaf White House, a vibrant Tea Party movement, liberal overreach — is only now becoming part of the mainstream conventional wisdom. Or as Noemie Emery points out, even Esquire concedes that The One’s “aura” has dimmed. Sounding rather Kevin-esque, the style-is-everything crowd finds Obama suddenly a disappointment:

President Obama, after all, was elected by virtue of his personality, which provided not only contrast but novelty, and was grounded in his near-perfect pitch when addressing audiences large and small. Sure, he was cool and cerebral, but he was also confident, almost cocky, because he had the power to summon inspiring rhetoric on command, which meant that he had the power to summon us on command. …

Now his gift has all but deserted him, and all that prevents the story from becoming tragic is his own apparent refusal to be affected by it. … Of course, Obama has never turned his back on us, but so many Americans have turned their backs on him that it amounts to The Anointed One, as he is sometimes referred, being stripped of something that can never return: his anointment. And without it — without his air of destiny, without the idea of Obama augmenting his actuality — the rooms he used to occupy so effortlessly have changed dimensions on him, until at times he might as well be speaking from the bottom of a well.

What Kevin observes with glee (the downsizing of The Ego), many in the national press corps now treat as fact and the left views with exasperation. Conservatives who cringed and gritted through more than one painful George W. Bush press conference can relate to how the left feels watching Obama as sulker in chief (“the press conference was so painfully incommensurate to its historical moment that one had to wonder if he knew it — if he knew that even on this observance of loss he was losing his audience”).

So you now have columns by liberals that sound identical to those written by conservatives. Take a guess as to the author of this one, who frets about “the shellackee in chief” and Nancy Pelosi’s reaction to the election:

Their instincts have tended more toward blaming the dogs for not understanding how good the food is for them, not accepting that it’s time to tweak the recipe.

The president’s self-diagnosis in his post-election news conference was dominated by the assessment that voters had simply failed to grasp — and that his failure lay chiefly in explaining clearly enough — why the administration took the steps it did.

That’s Ruth Marcus, but it could easily have been Ross Douthat or Rich Lowry — or any of us here at CONTENTIONS.

There is something rather unifying — like when the whole country watched the final M*A*S*H episode — about the emerging consensus. True, the left considers the cause of the shellacking to be insufficient liberalism, while the right views that explanation as daft. The “why” may be hotly disputed, but at least we’ve got some agreement on what is going on. On that score, there’s no denying that Obama is a unifier not a divider.

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Obama After the Fall

After watching President Obama’s press conference, Democrats who are still left standing must have been mortified. The depth of his self-delusion was stunning.

To put things in perspective: the Democratic Party just suffered the worst repudiation any political party has since before the middle of the last century. The defeat was staggering in the House (where Republicans will net more than 60 seats), in the Senate (+6 for the GOP), and in races for governorships (where the GOP has a net gain of six, with a couple of contests still outstanding). Republicans also took control of at least 19 legislative chambers and gained more than 500 legislative seats. No region in America, not even the Northeast, was untouched by the Republican wave.

If you listened to the president, though, the “shellacking” was because of process rather than substance. ObamaCare, he assured us, is a sparkling, wondrous law; the only downside to it was the horse-trading that went on to secure its passage. They would be “misreading the election,” the president helpfully informed Republicans, if they decide to “relitigate the arguments of the last two years.”

The message from the voters, according to Obama, is that The Car (to use his beloved, overused analogy), while still in the ditch, is undeniably moving in the right direction. We just have to go faster than we are. Democratic losses can be explained because they lost the optics war: in pursuing so many wise and prudent policies all at once, you see, the hyperactive president and his administration only appeared as if they were profligate spenders and champions of big government. And what Mr. Obama most needs to do, we learned, is to get out of “the bubble” (read: Washington) more than he has. A few more trips to Idaho and Wyoming, it seems, and all would be right with the world once more.

And what set of Obama remarks would be complete without the requisite lecturing — in this case, on the importance of “civility in our discourse” and the importance of being able to “disagree without being disagreeable.” This admonition comes after Obama, during the last few days of the campaign, referred to his opponents as “enemies,” hinted that the Tea Party Movement is tinged with racism, charged Republicans with being dishonest, and accused, without a shred of evidence, the Chamber of Commerce of using illegal money to support Republican candidates across the country. But never mind. After his victory in 2008, Obama’s message to Republicans was: “I won.” Today, after his party was throttled, Obama’s message is: “Come let us reason together.”

What we saw today was less a president than a dogmatist — a man who appears to have an extraordinary capacity to hermetically seal off events and evidence that call into question his governing philosophy, his policies, and his wisdom. The election yesterday was above all a referendum on the president’s policies, yet his big takeaway was not to relitigate his agenda. He speaks as if he’s a lawyer rather than a lawmaker.

There was, to be sure, a concession here and there, around this edge and that. But one could not come away from Obama’s press conference without feeling that there isn’t anything substantive he would change about the past two years — that at the core of his problems is the inability of the polity to more fully apprehend his greatness.

“During my four years at Oxford I read hard, and finished with a considerable stock of miscellaneous knowledge,” Lord Tweedsmuir wrote in his memoirs. “That mattered little, but the trend which my mind acquired mattered much. … More and more I became skeptical of dogmas, looking upon them as questions rather than answers. … The limited outlook of my early youth had broadened.”

It is the trend of Obama’s mind — rigid, ideological, and self-justifying — that should worry Democrats. The author of one of the worst political debacles in American history seems to have learned almost nothing from it.

After watching President Obama’s press conference, Democrats who are still left standing must have been mortified. The depth of his self-delusion was stunning.

To put things in perspective: the Democratic Party just suffered the worst repudiation any political party has since before the middle of the last century. The defeat was staggering in the House (where Republicans will net more than 60 seats), in the Senate (+6 for the GOP), and in races for governorships (where the GOP has a net gain of six, with a couple of contests still outstanding). Republicans also took control of at least 19 legislative chambers and gained more than 500 legislative seats. No region in America, not even the Northeast, was untouched by the Republican wave.

If you listened to the president, though, the “shellacking” was because of process rather than substance. ObamaCare, he assured us, is a sparkling, wondrous law; the only downside to it was the horse-trading that went on to secure its passage. They would be “misreading the election,” the president helpfully informed Republicans, if they decide to “relitigate the arguments of the last two years.”

The message from the voters, according to Obama, is that The Car (to use his beloved, overused analogy), while still in the ditch, is undeniably moving in the right direction. We just have to go faster than we are. Democratic losses can be explained because they lost the optics war: in pursuing so many wise and prudent policies all at once, you see, the hyperactive president and his administration only appeared as if they were profligate spenders and champions of big government. And what Mr. Obama most needs to do, we learned, is to get out of “the bubble” (read: Washington) more than he has. A few more trips to Idaho and Wyoming, it seems, and all would be right with the world once more.

And what set of Obama remarks would be complete without the requisite lecturing — in this case, on the importance of “civility in our discourse” and the importance of being able to “disagree without being disagreeable.” This admonition comes after Obama, during the last few days of the campaign, referred to his opponents as “enemies,” hinted that the Tea Party Movement is tinged with racism, charged Republicans with being dishonest, and accused, without a shred of evidence, the Chamber of Commerce of using illegal money to support Republican candidates across the country. But never mind. After his victory in 2008, Obama’s message to Republicans was: “I won.” Today, after his party was throttled, Obama’s message is: “Come let us reason together.”

What we saw today was less a president than a dogmatist — a man who appears to have an extraordinary capacity to hermetically seal off events and evidence that call into question his governing philosophy, his policies, and his wisdom. The election yesterday was above all a referendum on the president’s policies, yet his big takeaway was not to relitigate his agenda. He speaks as if he’s a lawyer rather than a lawmaker.

There was, to be sure, a concession here and there, around this edge and that. But one could not come away from Obama’s press conference without feeling that there isn’t anything substantive he would change about the past two years — that at the core of his problems is the inability of the polity to more fully apprehend his greatness.

“During my four years at Oxford I read hard, and finished with a considerable stock of miscellaneous knowledge,” Lord Tweedsmuir wrote in his memoirs. “That mattered little, but the trend which my mind acquired mattered much. … More and more I became skeptical of dogmas, looking upon them as questions rather than answers. … The limited outlook of my early youth had broadened.”

It is the trend of Obama’s mind — rigid, ideological, and self-justifying — that should worry Democrats. The author of one of the worst political debacles in American history seems to have learned almost nothing from it.

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Is President Obama the New Woodrow Wilson?

Jen referred this morning to David Brooks’s column, in which he advises the President to change his ways after the midterm election, especially if it turns out to be as disastrous for Democrats as nearly everyone expects. And this means changing his politics, just as Bill Clinton did after the 1994 midterm:

Obama needs to redefine his identity. Bill Clinton gave himself a New Democrat label. Obama has never categorized himself so clearly. This ambiguity was useful in 2008 when people could project whatever they wanted onto him. But it has been harmful since. Obama came to be defined by his emergency responses to the fiscal crisis — by the things he had to do, not by the things he wanted to do. Then he got defined as an orthodox, big government liberal who lacks deep roots in American culture.

Unlike Clinton, who doesn’t have an ideological bone in his body, I’m not sure Obama has the capacity to do that. I’ve just finished reading Louis Auchincloss’s mini-biography of Woodrow Wilson (part of the “Penguin Lives” series), and I was struck by the similarities between the country’s first liberal president and the man who might be its last (I know, I know, ever the optimist).

Wilson was, at heart, an academic, the author of several books, (including Congressional Government, still in print after 125 years). He thought and acted like a professor even after he entered politics. Wilson always took it for granted, for instance, that he was the smartest guy in the room and acted accordingly. Does that sound familiar? Wilson was a remarkably powerful orator. (It was he who revived the custom of delivering the State of the Union message in person, a custom that had been dropped by Thomas Jefferson, a poor and most reluctant public speaker.)

Both men had very short public careers before the White House. Wilson’s only pre-presidential office was two years as Governor of New Jersey. And Wilson thought he had a pipeline to God, which allowed him to divine what was best for the world and gave him a moral obligation to give it to the world whether the world wanted it or not. This last tendency, evident even when he was president of Princeton University, became more pronounced with age as a series of debilitating strokes (the first at age 40) increasingly rigidified his personality.

Both Wilson and Obama were the subjects of remarkable public adulation, and both won the Nobel Peace Prize for their aspirations rather than their accomplishments. In Wilson’s case, at least, it only increased his sense of being God’s instrument on earth. Although the Republicans had won majorities just before Armistice Day in November 1918, in both houses of Congress — and the Senate’s consent by a two-thirds majority would be necessary to ratify any treaty — Wilson shut them out of any say in the treaty he went to Paris to negotiate with the other victorious powers. Obama, of course, shut the Republicans out of any say in both the stimulus bill and ObamaCare.

The result was disastrous for Wilson’s dream of world peace. So obsessed was he with creating a League of Nations that he was willing to surrender on almost everything else enunciated in his Fourteen Points to get it. Clemenceau and Lloyd George, shrewd and ruthless negotiators, played him like a fiddle. The result was the Treaty of Versailles, perhaps the most catastrophic work of diplomacy in world history, which produced a smoldering resentment in Germany at its harshness, a resentment exploited by Adolf Hitler.

When Wilson returned home, he flatly refused to compromise with the Republicans in the Senate and embarked on a speaking tour to build public pressure to force the treaty and the League through. The result was another stroke that left him incapacitated. The treaty was defeated 55-39, and when the Republicans tried to add a “reservation” that was essentially trivial but would have resulted in ratification, Wilson would have none of it. If he could not have the treaty, word for word, that he had negotiated, then he preferred nothing. He asked Democratic senators to vote against the amended treaty, and they did so. As a result, the United States did not join the League, which was hopelessly ineffective without the world’s greatest power, and what Wilson had hoped would be eternal peace became a 20-year truce.

President Obama, so far as I know, is in the best of health, but will he be any more able to deal with a changed political reality and work with Republicans? I hope so, but even this incorrigible optimist is not too confident of that.

Jen referred this morning to David Brooks’s column, in which he advises the President to change his ways after the midterm election, especially if it turns out to be as disastrous for Democrats as nearly everyone expects. And this means changing his politics, just as Bill Clinton did after the 1994 midterm:

Obama needs to redefine his identity. Bill Clinton gave himself a New Democrat label. Obama has never categorized himself so clearly. This ambiguity was useful in 2008 when people could project whatever they wanted onto him. But it has been harmful since. Obama came to be defined by his emergency responses to the fiscal crisis — by the things he had to do, not by the things he wanted to do. Then he got defined as an orthodox, big government liberal who lacks deep roots in American culture.

Unlike Clinton, who doesn’t have an ideological bone in his body, I’m not sure Obama has the capacity to do that. I’ve just finished reading Louis Auchincloss’s mini-biography of Woodrow Wilson (part of the “Penguin Lives” series), and I was struck by the similarities between the country’s first liberal president and the man who might be its last (I know, I know, ever the optimist).

Wilson was, at heart, an academic, the author of several books, (including Congressional Government, still in print after 125 years). He thought and acted like a professor even after he entered politics. Wilson always took it for granted, for instance, that he was the smartest guy in the room and acted accordingly. Does that sound familiar? Wilson was a remarkably powerful orator. (It was he who revived the custom of delivering the State of the Union message in person, a custom that had been dropped by Thomas Jefferson, a poor and most reluctant public speaker.)

Both men had very short public careers before the White House. Wilson’s only pre-presidential office was two years as Governor of New Jersey. And Wilson thought he had a pipeline to God, which allowed him to divine what was best for the world and gave him a moral obligation to give it to the world whether the world wanted it or not. This last tendency, evident even when he was president of Princeton University, became more pronounced with age as a series of debilitating strokes (the first at age 40) increasingly rigidified his personality.

Both Wilson and Obama were the subjects of remarkable public adulation, and both won the Nobel Peace Prize for their aspirations rather than their accomplishments. In Wilson’s case, at least, it only increased his sense of being God’s instrument on earth. Although the Republicans had won majorities just before Armistice Day in November 1918, in both houses of Congress — and the Senate’s consent by a two-thirds majority would be necessary to ratify any treaty — Wilson shut them out of any say in the treaty he went to Paris to negotiate with the other victorious powers. Obama, of course, shut the Republicans out of any say in both the stimulus bill and ObamaCare.

The result was disastrous for Wilson’s dream of world peace. So obsessed was he with creating a League of Nations that he was willing to surrender on almost everything else enunciated in his Fourteen Points to get it. Clemenceau and Lloyd George, shrewd and ruthless negotiators, played him like a fiddle. The result was the Treaty of Versailles, perhaps the most catastrophic work of diplomacy in world history, which produced a smoldering resentment in Germany at its harshness, a resentment exploited by Adolf Hitler.

When Wilson returned home, he flatly refused to compromise with the Republicans in the Senate and embarked on a speaking tour to build public pressure to force the treaty and the League through. The result was another stroke that left him incapacitated. The treaty was defeated 55-39, and when the Republicans tried to add a “reservation” that was essentially trivial but would have resulted in ratification, Wilson would have none of it. If he could not have the treaty, word for word, that he had negotiated, then he preferred nothing. He asked Democratic senators to vote against the amended treaty, and they did so. As a result, the United States did not join the League, which was hopelessly ineffective without the world’s greatest power, and what Wilson had hoped would be eternal peace became a 20-year truce.

President Obama, so far as I know, is in the best of health, but will he be any more able to deal with a changed political reality and work with Republicans? I hope so, but even this incorrigible optimist is not too confident of that.

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Some Historical Perspective on Negative Campaigning

Every election, it seems, political commentators and reporters suggest that the most recent election we’re in is “the nastiest, most negative election season of all time.” You have to be largely clueless about American history to argue such things — as this short video by Reason.tv highlights. The truth is that angry, fractious elections and political bickering have characterized American politics since the country’s founding.

Consider, for example, the first real political campaign in American history, between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1800. According to Professor Kerwin Swint, author of Mudslingers, “it reached a level of personal animosity that almost tore apart the young republic, and has rarely been equaled in two hundred years of presidential politics.” One pro-Adams newspaper predicted that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

The 1872 election between Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley was a race the New York Sun said deteriorated into “a shower of mud.” One pamphlet circulated by Greeley’s supporters called the Grant Administration the “crowning point of governmental wickedness” and accused Grant of bringing forth a “burning lava of seething corruption, a foul despotism….”

Or consider the 1884 race between Grover Cleveland and James Blaine. Cleveland was accused of fathering a child out of wedlock, which led Blaine supporters to chant what became a national slogan: “Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa?” (After Cleveland won the election, his supporters answered: “Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!”). The Reverend Samuel Burchard, a Presbyterian minister, spoke at a gathering of pro-Blaine clergy in New York City just days before the election: “We are Republicans, and don’t propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been Rum, Romanism, and Rebellions.” Accusations of Blaine’s corruption, as well as charges of his own sexual scandals, also dominated the debate. At campaign rallies, Democrats chanted, “Blaine! Blaine! James G. Blaine! The continental liar from the state of Maine!”

And despite the deep differences that exist between political figures today, we do not settle our differences the way Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr did, by duels at 10 paces with flintlock pistols. Heated exchanges are endemic to politics and what we are seeing today, while often not edifying, is not outside the norm of American history.

Like most people, I wish our debates were less trivial, more spirited, and more serious and contained fewer ad hominem attacks. We should have a clash of views about substantively important matters, such as what the proper role and purpose of the state should be in our lives. “Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords,” is how Theodore Roosevelt put it. We should therefore hope for serious, honest, reasoned arguments.

Abraham Lincoln is a unique figure in American history, and there is a danger in measuring the quality of our arguments by the quality of his. But there is a lot to be said for holding him up as the ideal. And if you read the words of Lincoln, you will find him constantly making his case in a compelling and philosophically serious way. That is what is most notable about his debates with Stephen Douglas. The burden was on Lincoln to show why Douglas’s advocacy for “popular sovereignty” was incompatible with self-government and the moral meaning of the Declaration of Independence — which is precisely what Lincoln did. If you read the transcripts of the debates, there was plenty of “negative” campaigning going on. But it is long forgotten, because the quality of the debate was so good and the stakes so high. The lesson for us is to aim high, not low, when it comes to the caliber of arguments we make to the public.

Politics is about important matters, and we should bring to it seriousness of purpose. But we should also bring to it a sense of history.

Every election, it seems, political commentators and reporters suggest that the most recent election we’re in is “the nastiest, most negative election season of all time.” You have to be largely clueless about American history to argue such things — as this short video by Reason.tv highlights. The truth is that angry, fractious elections and political bickering have characterized American politics since the country’s founding.

Consider, for example, the first real political campaign in American history, between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1800. According to Professor Kerwin Swint, author of Mudslingers, “it reached a level of personal animosity that almost tore apart the young republic, and has rarely been equaled in two hundred years of presidential politics.” One pro-Adams newspaper predicted that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

The 1872 election between Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley was a race the New York Sun said deteriorated into “a shower of mud.” One pamphlet circulated by Greeley’s supporters called the Grant Administration the “crowning point of governmental wickedness” and accused Grant of bringing forth a “burning lava of seething corruption, a foul despotism….”

Or consider the 1884 race between Grover Cleveland and James Blaine. Cleveland was accused of fathering a child out of wedlock, which led Blaine supporters to chant what became a national slogan: “Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa?” (After Cleveland won the election, his supporters answered: “Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!”). The Reverend Samuel Burchard, a Presbyterian minister, spoke at a gathering of pro-Blaine clergy in New York City just days before the election: “We are Republicans, and don’t propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been Rum, Romanism, and Rebellions.” Accusations of Blaine’s corruption, as well as charges of his own sexual scandals, also dominated the debate. At campaign rallies, Democrats chanted, “Blaine! Blaine! James G. Blaine! The continental liar from the state of Maine!”

And despite the deep differences that exist between political figures today, we do not settle our differences the way Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr did, by duels at 10 paces with flintlock pistols. Heated exchanges are endemic to politics and what we are seeing today, while often not edifying, is not outside the norm of American history.

Like most people, I wish our debates were less trivial, more spirited, and more serious and contained fewer ad hominem attacks. We should have a clash of views about substantively important matters, such as what the proper role and purpose of the state should be in our lives. “Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords,” is how Theodore Roosevelt put it. We should therefore hope for serious, honest, reasoned arguments.

Abraham Lincoln is a unique figure in American history, and there is a danger in measuring the quality of our arguments by the quality of his. But there is a lot to be said for holding him up as the ideal. And if you read the words of Lincoln, you will find him constantly making his case in a compelling and philosophically serious way. That is what is most notable about his debates with Stephen Douglas. The burden was on Lincoln to show why Douglas’s advocacy for “popular sovereignty” was incompatible with self-government and the moral meaning of the Declaration of Independence — which is precisely what Lincoln did. If you read the transcripts of the debates, there was plenty of “negative” campaigning going on. But it is long forgotten, because the quality of the debate was so good and the stakes so high. The lesson for us is to aim high, not low, when it comes to the caliber of arguments we make to the public.

Politics is about important matters, and we should bring to it seriousness of purpose. But we should also bring to it a sense of history.

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Don’t Tell Me Why I Hate Woodrow Wilson

Professor David Greenberg writes in Slate today that the conservative dislike of Woodrow Wilson is “confused,” “bad as an interpretation of the facts,” and “demonstrably inaccurate.” He implies elsewhere that it is a “crackpot history” that requires not only debunking but also ridicule. But beyond the blustery rhetoric, Greenberg only proves that he misunderstands conservatives’ beef with the 28th president.

Full disclosure: in 2009, I graduated from Hillsdale College – which Greenberg blames for influencing Glenn Beck and, therefore, fueling the Tea Party’s hatred of Woodrow Wilson. More particularly, I was a student of Ronald J. Pestritto, whom Greenberg cites as particularly influential in demonizing Wilson. Having sat in Dr. Pestritto’s classroom and painstakingly highlighted my way through his book on Wilson, I understand his critique quite well. (I am also gruesomely familiar with Dr. Pestritto’s rigorous grading standards, and I can say with some certainty that the quality of Greenberg’s argument here would have earned him academic casualties.) I will not presume to speak for Dr. Pestritto — he has made his own case comprehensively — but after learning from him, I can at least explain why I dislike Woodrow Wilson as a president. It’s for very different reasons than those Greenberg presumes to attribute to me. Read More

Professor David Greenberg writes in Slate today that the conservative dislike of Woodrow Wilson is “confused,” “bad as an interpretation of the facts,” and “demonstrably inaccurate.” He implies elsewhere that it is a “crackpot history” that requires not only debunking but also ridicule. But beyond the blustery rhetoric, Greenberg only proves that he misunderstands conservatives’ beef with the 28th president.

Full disclosure: in 2009, I graduated from Hillsdale College – which Greenberg blames for influencing Glenn Beck and, therefore, fueling the Tea Party’s hatred of Woodrow Wilson. More particularly, I was a student of Ronald J. Pestritto, whom Greenberg cites as particularly influential in demonizing Wilson. Having sat in Dr. Pestritto’s classroom and painstakingly highlighted my way through his book on Wilson, I understand his critique quite well. (I am also gruesomely familiar with Dr. Pestritto’s rigorous grading standards, and I can say with some certainty that the quality of Greenberg’s argument here would have earned him academic casualties.) I will not presume to speak for Dr. Pestritto — he has made his own case comprehensively — but after learning from him, I can at least explain why I dislike Woodrow Wilson as a president. It’s for very different reasons than those Greenberg presumes to attribute to me.

Back to the Slate piece. The first several paragraphs can be skimmed, as the author bizarrely points out commonalities between Woodrow Wilson and George W. Bush and faults Glenn Beck for once not knowing something before he learned it. In the fifth paragraph, Greenberg makes a minor concession to the “nub of truth amid the distortion of the right’s Wilson-bashing.” He acknowledges that Woodrow Wilson expanded the power of the presidency, a Tea Party complaint.

But in actuality, that is only a secondary reason why conservatives dislike Wilsonian liberalism. In a nutshell, Wilson introduced the idea of a “living” Constitution, opening up infinite opportunities for revisionists to throw off the delicate balances within government so thoughtfully established in the original text. Wilson’s scholarly background taught him to embrace big government as the solution to the problems of the citizenry. He saw himself as a philosopher-king, much like the one we have today. And inherent in that perception was a condescending elitism. He became the patriarch of American paternalism, justifying his behavior with appeals to “history” as he perceived it.

The Tea Party movement argues that because of their academic snobbery, those who follow in the footsteps of Woodrow Wilson have lost touch with liberty-loving Americans. As evidence of this, I defer to Greenberg, who writes:

For Wilson, [presidential activism] involved regulating finance and the money supply, limiting the corporations’ demands on their laborers, aiding farmers, preventing monopolistic practices, and making the new federal income tax a graduated one. Just three months ago, I wrote in Slate that over the last century, almost no one has questioned these achievements; clearly, I hadn’t been watching enough Fox.

It is little surprise, then, that Greenberg defends Wilson in the ex-president’s own language. “Of course, even those who happily admit to wanting to repeal a century’s worth of regulation have to reckon with a fundamental flaw in today’s Wilson hatred: It’s completely ahistorical,” he writes. He goes on to paint Woodrow Wilson as the man of his times, a leader fearlessly responding to the pulse of his era, a president whose choices are only fathomable when history is properly considered. The problem with this argument is that the existence of “history” as a moving, authoritative force is questionable at best, and Woodrow Wilson made history as much as he responded to it. And it is a bit presumptuous of Greenberg, in any case, to claim a superior understanding of history’s motives and pathways.

But in the interest of dialogue, let’s grant Greenberg the generous assumption that Wilson really was the man of his time and that all his actions were justifiable as such. Toward the end of his article, he asserts:

Properly situated in this context, Wilson and other progressives emerge not as proto-fascists or wild renegades but as tempered, moderate reformers. They implemented major changes, but those changes were in tune with the mainstream of public sentiment.

In today’s electoral climate, this is precisely the last argument the author should be making – especially if the role of the president is to follow public opinion. But instead, today’s liberals take another cue from Wilson, who believed that a political leader must remain one step ahead of public opinion, pulling it along and shaping it without ever straying too far.

But Americans sense when they’re being dragged along by the ear. This, too, makes them resentful of Woodrow Wilson’s presidential example.

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RE: Time for Conservatives to Get Serious About Fiscal Responsibility

I entirely agree with Pete that conservatives must get serious about federal spending, à la David Cameron. And a wholesale reduction in the number of government agencies, boards, commissions, etc., a major part of Cameron’s program, would be a great place to start.

But I’m reminded of St. Augustine’s famous prayer, “Oh, Lord, make me good, but not yet.”  To be sure, I have a shorter time frame in mind than the author of The City of God, to wit, two weeks. In a sound-bite and attack-ad age, a proposal to gore some particular interest group’s ox right before an election can be fatal, especially if there is not time to effectively respond. And it is always easier to attack than defend in a 30-second ad.

On Fox News Sunday this week, Carly Fiorina rightly resisted Chris Wallace’s repeated attempts to get her to be specific on how she would cut federal spending. Had she mentioned, say, reforming the federal school-lunch program, Barbara Boxer would have had an ad on the air in 24 hours saying, “Do you want children starving in the streets? Then vote for Fiorina!” Several Republican candidates have been hammered recently for having had nice things to say regarding the so-called fair tax, which would abolish the personal income tax and substitute a 23 percent sales tax. The ads being run against them, of course, mention the 23 percent hike in prices that would be the result, without mentioning the fact that paychecks would increase dramatically with the end of withholding.

So I recommend getting serious immediately after the election. That’s when Cameron got serious. As the late Mo Udall was fond of saying when he was running for the Democratic nomination in 1976, “It takes two things to be a great president. First, you have to be great. Second, you have to be president.”

I entirely agree with Pete that conservatives must get serious about federal spending, à la David Cameron. And a wholesale reduction in the number of government agencies, boards, commissions, etc., a major part of Cameron’s program, would be a great place to start.

But I’m reminded of St. Augustine’s famous prayer, “Oh, Lord, make me good, but not yet.”  To be sure, I have a shorter time frame in mind than the author of The City of God, to wit, two weeks. In a sound-bite and attack-ad age, a proposal to gore some particular interest group’s ox right before an election can be fatal, especially if there is not time to effectively respond. And it is always easier to attack than defend in a 30-second ad.

On Fox News Sunday this week, Carly Fiorina rightly resisted Chris Wallace’s repeated attempts to get her to be specific on how she would cut federal spending. Had she mentioned, say, reforming the federal school-lunch program, Barbara Boxer would have had an ad on the air in 24 hours saying, “Do you want children starving in the streets? Then vote for Fiorina!” Several Republican candidates have been hammered recently for having had nice things to say regarding the so-called fair tax, which would abolish the personal income tax and substitute a 23 percent sales tax. The ads being run against them, of course, mention the 23 percent hike in prices that would be the result, without mentioning the fact that paychecks would increase dramatically with the end of withholding.

So I recommend getting serious immediately after the election. That’s when Cameron got serious. As the late Mo Udall was fond of saying when he was running for the Democratic nomination in 1976, “It takes two things to be a great president. First, you have to be great. Second, you have to be president.”

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