Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bill

Irving Kristol and Republican Virtue

On C-SPAN’s series After Words, David Brooks hosted an engaging and wide-ranging interview with William Kristol on The Neoconservative Persuasion: Selected Essays 1942-2009, a collection of essays by Bill’s father, the late Irving Kristol. They are reprinted in this book for the first time since their initial publication.

The Neoconservative Persuasion is a wonderful collection assembled by Irving’s wife, the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb. The essays discuss Tacitus, W.H. Auden, Leo Strauss, James Burnham, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Ronald Reagan, as well as Judaism and Christianity, Jacksonian democracy, the Constitution, conservatism and neoconservatism, liberalism (ancient and modern), human nature and social reform, and supply-side economics.

There is, however, one address, originally delivered in May 1974 at Indiana University’s The Poynter Center, to which I wanted to draw attention: “Republican Virtue versus Servile Institutions.” It is quite an important essay, providing as it does an important corrective to the conservative temptation to embrace, enthusiastically and without qualification, populism.

Kristol writes that he has faith in the common people, of which he counted himself one, but just not very much faith in them. Further, he argues, the common man, being wise, only invests modest faith in himself. “That it is possible to corrupt a citizenry — or for a citizenry to corrupt itself — is something the Founders understood but which we seem to have forgotten,” according to Kristol.

His essay goes on to reflect on the ideas of “republican virtues,” which asks of people a certain public-spiritedness, which is a form of self-control, which is itself an exercise in self-government. Kristol goes on to write about the main point that emerged from the American democratic experience. “People do not have respect for institutions which, instead of making demands upon them, are completely subservient to their whims,” Kristol wrote. “In short, a people will not respect a polity that has so low an opinion of them that it thinks it absurd to insist that people become better than they are. Not simply more democratic; not simply more free; not simply more affluent; but, in some clear sense, better.”

This conception of republican virtue has been largely lost in modern times. And while a peaceful populist uprising can be a very good thing from time to time, there is something deeply wise and true in Kristol’s warning. There is a “democratic dogma” that insists our institutions should in every instance conform themselves to the whims and will of the people — a belief the Founders themselves rejected in both their writings and in their form for government (they were horrified by the notion of a “direct democracy” rather than a representative one, believing government should mediate, not mirror, popular views).

Irving Kristol’s reputation as a leading 20th-century public intellectual was secured long ago. This new collection of essays merely fortifies it.

On C-SPAN’s series After Words, David Brooks hosted an engaging and wide-ranging interview with William Kristol on The Neoconservative Persuasion: Selected Essays 1942-2009, a collection of essays by Bill’s father, the late Irving Kristol. They are reprinted in this book for the first time since their initial publication.

The Neoconservative Persuasion is a wonderful collection assembled by Irving’s wife, the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb. The essays discuss Tacitus, W.H. Auden, Leo Strauss, James Burnham, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Ronald Reagan, as well as Judaism and Christianity, Jacksonian democracy, the Constitution, conservatism and neoconservatism, liberalism (ancient and modern), human nature and social reform, and supply-side economics.

There is, however, one address, originally delivered in May 1974 at Indiana University’s The Poynter Center, to which I wanted to draw attention: “Republican Virtue versus Servile Institutions.” It is quite an important essay, providing as it does an important corrective to the conservative temptation to embrace, enthusiastically and without qualification, populism.

Kristol writes that he has faith in the common people, of which he counted himself one, but just not very much faith in them. Further, he argues, the common man, being wise, only invests modest faith in himself. “That it is possible to corrupt a citizenry — or for a citizenry to corrupt itself — is something the Founders understood but which we seem to have forgotten,” according to Kristol.

His essay goes on to reflect on the ideas of “republican virtues,” which asks of people a certain public-spiritedness, which is a form of self-control, which is itself an exercise in self-government. Kristol goes on to write about the main point that emerged from the American democratic experience. “People do not have respect for institutions which, instead of making demands upon them, are completely subservient to their whims,” Kristol wrote. “In short, a people will not respect a polity that has so low an opinion of them that it thinks it absurd to insist that people become better than they are. Not simply more democratic; not simply more free; not simply more affluent; but, in some clear sense, better.”

This conception of republican virtue has been largely lost in modern times. And while a peaceful populist uprising can be a very good thing from time to time, there is something deeply wise and true in Kristol’s warning. There is a “democratic dogma” that insists our institutions should in every instance conform themselves to the whims and will of the people — a belief the Founders themselves rejected in both their writings and in their form for government (they were horrified by the notion of a “direct democracy” rather than a representative one, believing government should mediate, not mirror, popular views).

Irving Kristol’s reputation as a leading 20th-century public intellectual was secured long ago. This new collection of essays merely fortifies it.

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Clintonistas Rub It In

I suppose the Clintonistas are entitled to gloat. They said Obama wasn’t ready for prime time. They tried to argue that “experience” mattered and that “change” was a cotton-candy campaign slogan. But the Democrats didn’t listen. And now Obama is running the party into the ground. So it shouldn’t surprise us that up pops James Carville, Clinton confidant extraordinaire, to rub it in:

Veteran Democratic strategist James Carville said Monday that if President Obama is unable to push a health-care bill through the Congress it will be his Waterloo.

Carville echoed the term used by Republican Sen. Jim Demint, of South Carolina, who last summer made the comparison between the health-care fight and the decisive 1815 battle in modern-day Belgium that broke the French army under Napoleon Bonaparte.

“If the bill loses, it proves Senator DeMint right. It will, I think, by and large, be a lot of the president’s Waterloo, and I think a lot of Democrats realize that,” Carville said, speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Nor was he willing to indulge in the Obami spin that the votes are there for the president’s wildly unpopular health-care scheme. Carville, on Nancy Pelosi’s vote-counting, pronounced: “I’m glad to hear that she’s confident. I guess she knows more about where our votes are than anybody else. … But the math is pretty daunting. I don’t think it’s impossible but it’s going to be difficult. This is going to be a real, real fight.” The only thing he didn’t slip in was a mention of that 3 a.m. phone call.

One can speculate that the Clintons are enjoying a bit of an I-told-you-so jag. But in all that glee, Bill and Hillary should recall that they didn’t get HillaryCare through either and that they lost to this guy. But it does suggest that there are those in the Democratic party — call them “realists” — who have figured out that Obama is on the verge of a humiliating defeat. They know that the spin about “getting the votes before bringing the bill to the floor” doesn’t mean that the votes are gettable, only that the bill could very well never come to a vote on the House floor.

If Obama suffers a massive defeat and can’t figure out a fallback plan to disguise the defeat, Hillary Clinton, Evan Bayh, and perhaps a few others may be contemplating how to position themselves, you know, just in case there’s a popular groundswell of Democratic support for a different candidate in 2012. We’re a long way from that, however. First we have to see if Obama and Pelosi know something no one else does, and if not, whether they can come up with an escape plan that doesn’t look like an escape plan. But in the meantime, the Clintonistas sure are having a good time of it.

I suppose the Clintonistas are entitled to gloat. They said Obama wasn’t ready for prime time. They tried to argue that “experience” mattered and that “change” was a cotton-candy campaign slogan. But the Democrats didn’t listen. And now Obama is running the party into the ground. So it shouldn’t surprise us that up pops James Carville, Clinton confidant extraordinaire, to rub it in:

Veteran Democratic strategist James Carville said Monday that if President Obama is unable to push a health-care bill through the Congress it will be his Waterloo.

Carville echoed the term used by Republican Sen. Jim Demint, of South Carolina, who last summer made the comparison between the health-care fight and the decisive 1815 battle in modern-day Belgium that broke the French army under Napoleon Bonaparte.

“If the bill loses, it proves Senator DeMint right. It will, I think, by and large, be a lot of the president’s Waterloo, and I think a lot of Democrats realize that,” Carville said, speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Nor was he willing to indulge in the Obami spin that the votes are there for the president’s wildly unpopular health-care scheme. Carville, on Nancy Pelosi’s vote-counting, pronounced: “I’m glad to hear that she’s confident. I guess she knows more about where our votes are than anybody else. … But the math is pretty daunting. I don’t think it’s impossible but it’s going to be difficult. This is going to be a real, real fight.” The only thing he didn’t slip in was a mention of that 3 a.m. phone call.

One can speculate that the Clintons are enjoying a bit of an I-told-you-so jag. But in all that glee, Bill and Hillary should recall that they didn’t get HillaryCare through either and that they lost to this guy. But it does suggest that there are those in the Democratic party — call them “realists” — who have figured out that Obama is on the verge of a humiliating defeat. They know that the spin about “getting the votes before bringing the bill to the floor” doesn’t mean that the votes are gettable, only that the bill could very well never come to a vote on the House floor.

If Obama suffers a massive defeat and can’t figure out a fallback plan to disguise the defeat, Hillary Clinton, Evan Bayh, and perhaps a few others may be contemplating how to position themselves, you know, just in case there’s a popular groundswell of Democratic support for a different candidate in 2012. We’re a long way from that, however. First we have to see if Obama and Pelosi know something no one else does, and if not, whether they can come up with an escape plan that doesn’t look like an escape plan. But in the meantime, the Clintonistas sure are having a good time of it.

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On Sex Education

A front-page story in yesterday’s Washington Post reports:

Sex education classes that focus on encouraging children to remain abstinent can persuade a significant proportion to delay sexual activity, researchers reported Monday in a landmark study that could have major implications for U.S. efforts to protect young people against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Only about a third of sixth and seventh graders who completed an abstinence-focused program started having sex within the next two years, researchers found. Nearly half of the students who attended other classes, including ones that combined information about abstinence and contraception, became sexually active. The findings are the first clear evidence that an abstinence program could work.

“I think we’ve written off abstinence-only education without looking closely at the nature of the evidence,” said John B. Jemmott III, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who led the federally funded study. “Our study shows this could be one approach that could be used.”

For those of us familiar with the remarkable work of Elayne Bennett’s Best Friends program, this study, while encouraging, is not surprising. Abstinence education, done in the right way, can have an important and positive influence on teens. It rejects the fatalism that says they all do it, that nothing can be done, that we are powerless to shape the conduct of our children. Like the best abstinence education programs, Best Friends takes seriously the moral education of the young and their well-being.

Elayne Bennett’s husband, Bill, when he was secretary of education, gave a speech in which he laid out a few principles that speak to the task of educating children about sex, principles he believed should inform curricular material and textbooks. (Full disclosure: I worked for Bennett at the time.) First, Bennett said,

We should recognize that sexual behavior is a matter of character and personality, and that we cannot be value-neural about it. Neutrality only confuses children, and may lead them to erroneous conclusions. Specifically, sex education courses should teach children sexual restraint as a standard to uphold and follow.

Second, in teaching restraint, courses should stress that sex is not simply a physical or mechanical act. We should explain to children that sex is tied to the deepest recesses of the personality. We must tell the truth; we must describe reality. We should explain that sex involves complicated feelings and emotions. Some of these are ennobling, and some of them – let us be truthful –can be cheapening of one’s own finer impulses and cheapening to others.

Third, sex education courses should speak up for the institution of the family. To the extent possible, course should speak of sexual activity in the context of the institution of marriage. They should stress the fidelity, commitment, and maturity required of the partners in a successful marriage.

Bennett went on to say

All societies have known this [sex is a quintessentially moral activity] and have taken pains to regulate sexual activity. All societies have done so, sometimes wisely, sometimes not, because they have recognized that sex is fraught with mystery and passion, involving the person at the deepest level of being. As John Donne wrote, “Love’s mysteries in souls do grow.” Poets and philosophers, saints and psychiatrists have known that the power and beauty of sex lie precisely in the fact that it is not like anything else, that it is not just something you like to do or don’t like to do. Far from being value-neutral, sex may be the most value-loaded of any human activity. It does no good to try to sanitize or deny or ignore this truth. The act of sex has complicated and profound repercussions. And if we’re going to deal with it in school, we’d better know this and acknowledge it. Otherwise, we should not let our schools have anything to do with it.

That sounded right to me then; it sounds right to me now. And it appears as if the landmark study overseen by Professor Jemmott confirms the wisdom of those words.

A front-page story in yesterday’s Washington Post reports:

Sex education classes that focus on encouraging children to remain abstinent can persuade a significant proportion to delay sexual activity, researchers reported Monday in a landmark study that could have major implications for U.S. efforts to protect young people against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Only about a third of sixth and seventh graders who completed an abstinence-focused program started having sex within the next two years, researchers found. Nearly half of the students who attended other classes, including ones that combined information about abstinence and contraception, became sexually active. The findings are the first clear evidence that an abstinence program could work.

“I think we’ve written off abstinence-only education without looking closely at the nature of the evidence,” said John B. Jemmott III, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who led the federally funded study. “Our study shows this could be one approach that could be used.”

For those of us familiar with the remarkable work of Elayne Bennett’s Best Friends program, this study, while encouraging, is not surprising. Abstinence education, done in the right way, can have an important and positive influence on teens. It rejects the fatalism that says they all do it, that nothing can be done, that we are powerless to shape the conduct of our children. Like the best abstinence education programs, Best Friends takes seriously the moral education of the young and their well-being.

Elayne Bennett’s husband, Bill, when he was secretary of education, gave a speech in which he laid out a few principles that speak to the task of educating children about sex, principles he believed should inform curricular material and textbooks. (Full disclosure: I worked for Bennett at the time.) First, Bennett said,

We should recognize that sexual behavior is a matter of character and personality, and that we cannot be value-neural about it. Neutrality only confuses children, and may lead them to erroneous conclusions. Specifically, sex education courses should teach children sexual restraint as a standard to uphold and follow.

Second, in teaching restraint, courses should stress that sex is not simply a physical or mechanical act. We should explain to children that sex is tied to the deepest recesses of the personality. We must tell the truth; we must describe reality. We should explain that sex involves complicated feelings and emotions. Some of these are ennobling, and some of them – let us be truthful –can be cheapening of one’s own finer impulses and cheapening to others.

Third, sex education courses should speak up for the institution of the family. To the extent possible, course should speak of sexual activity in the context of the institution of marriage. They should stress the fidelity, commitment, and maturity required of the partners in a successful marriage.

Bennett went on to say

All societies have known this [sex is a quintessentially moral activity] and have taken pains to regulate sexual activity. All societies have done so, sometimes wisely, sometimes not, because they have recognized that sex is fraught with mystery and passion, involving the person at the deepest level of being. As John Donne wrote, “Love’s mysteries in souls do grow.” Poets and philosophers, saints and psychiatrists have known that the power and beauty of sex lie precisely in the fact that it is not like anything else, that it is not just something you like to do or don’t like to do. Far from being value-neutral, sex may be the most value-loaded of any human activity. It does no good to try to sanitize or deny or ignore this truth. The act of sex has complicated and profound repercussions. And if we’re going to deal with it in school, we’d better know this and acknowledge it. Otherwise, we should not let our schools have anything to do with it.

That sounded right to me then; it sounds right to me now. And it appears as if the landmark study overseen by Professor Jemmott confirms the wisdom of those words.

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Remember December 3

Remember December 3. It’s a date that will pop up in many campaign ads next year when they roll those votes (Sen. Bill # 9999) with the date (in this case December 3) to show voters that the candidate’s opponent really did cast a vote on a given day. The vote yesterday was to cut $500B from Medicare. To be more exact, as Politico reports:

The Senate voted to keep nearly $500 billion in Medicare spending cuts in the bill, rejecting an amendment from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to send the legislation back to the Finance Committee with orders to strip it out. The measure would have eliminated the major funding source for the bill. All 40 Republicans joined Ben Nelson and Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) to support the McCain amendment, which failed 42-58.

That’s right: 58 Democrats voted to slash half a trillion from Medicare. And those who are up for re-election next year will hear about it over and over again.

What’s more, two Democrats bolted. What’s that mean? A Senate source replied with his own question: “They couldn’t get Ben Nelson and Jim Webb on this, so will they be there at the end to vote for $500 billion in Medicare cuts?” Hmm. We don’t know. And before we get there, as Politico notes, “the public option, abortion and financing the plan remained serious obstacles to negotiating a final bill.”

For now, the greatest deliberative body in the world continues to deliberate. And the ad makers will be making notes.

Remember December 3. It’s a date that will pop up in many campaign ads next year when they roll those votes (Sen. Bill # 9999) with the date (in this case December 3) to show voters that the candidate’s opponent really did cast a vote on a given day. The vote yesterday was to cut $500B from Medicare. To be more exact, as Politico reports:

The Senate voted to keep nearly $500 billion in Medicare spending cuts in the bill, rejecting an amendment from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to send the legislation back to the Finance Committee with orders to strip it out. The measure would have eliminated the major funding source for the bill. All 40 Republicans joined Ben Nelson and Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) to support the McCain amendment, which failed 42-58.

That’s right: 58 Democrats voted to slash half a trillion from Medicare. And those who are up for re-election next year will hear about it over and over again.

What’s more, two Democrats bolted. What’s that mean? A Senate source replied with his own question: “They couldn’t get Ben Nelson and Jim Webb on this, so will they be there at the end to vote for $500 billion in Medicare cuts?” Hmm. We don’t know. And before we get there, as Politico notes, “the public option, abortion and financing the plan remained serious obstacles to negotiating a final bill.”

For now, the greatest deliberative body in the world continues to deliberate. And the ad makers will be making notes.

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Happy Mother’s Day From McCain

Why is John McCain doing an ad with his mother? The most obvious reason why his 96 year-old mom will be trotted out from time to time is to combat the age issue. Mental clarity and physical vigor don’t fade fast in the McCain family–that’s the underlying message.

But another reason for the ad is to try to lighten his image. That’s a common way campaigns use wives and other relatives. The ever-teary George H.W. Bush and Laura Bush helped convince voters that George W. wasn’t one of those hard-hearted Republicans. Likewise, the poised Cindy and McCain’s mom are there to convince voters that there is a softer and funnier side to McCain. And that’s in large part why McCain is a regular on Letterman and Daily Show.

Do these efforts work? Perhaps at the margins, but the real impact that close relatives (yes, Bill and Michelle, we mean you) can have is a potential negative one: the gaffes they make reinforce negative images about the candidate. If they can actually help solve a problem, that’s just gravy.

Why is John McCain doing an ad with his mother? The most obvious reason why his 96 year-old mom will be trotted out from time to time is to combat the age issue. Mental clarity and physical vigor don’t fade fast in the McCain family–that’s the underlying message.

But another reason for the ad is to try to lighten his image. That’s a common way campaigns use wives and other relatives. The ever-teary George H.W. Bush and Laura Bush helped convince voters that George W. wasn’t one of those hard-hearted Republicans. Likewise, the poised Cindy and McCain’s mom are there to convince voters that there is a softer and funnier side to McCain. And that’s in large part why McCain is a regular on Letterman and Daily Show.

Do these efforts work? Perhaps at the margins, but the real impact that close relatives (yes, Bill and Michelle, we mean you) can have is a potential negative one: the gaffes they make reinforce negative images about the candidate. If they can actually help solve a problem, that’s just gravy.

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Never Forget (The Stupid Thing I Said)

Conventional wisdom dictates that candidates are best served when they get beyond their campaign slip-ups as soon as possible. Yet, in recent weeks, only John McCain seems to have understood this. McCain’s most embarrassing moment–his incorrect claim that Iran is training al-Qaeda during a news conference in Jordan–quickly evaporated from the news, as McCain acknowledged his error and moved on. Meanwhile, both Democratic candidates have done the exact opposite: their campaigns have responded to fumbles by dwelling on them, keeping their errors in the headlines well beyond their expected shelf-lives.

First came Hillary Clinton’s assertion that she had landed “under sniper fired” during a 1996 trip to Bosnia. When CBS footage of Hillary smiling on the runway of Tuzla airport during that trip immediately discredited this fabrication, she apologized for having “misspoken” and sought to put the affair behind her. Yet husband Bill, continuing his impressive streak of always saying the wrong thing, refused to let the controversy die. Two weeks later, he attempted to use Hillary’s lie to her advantage, arguing that even if snipers didn’t actually fire at Hillary, his wife had shown immense courage in visiting Bosnia at all. Of course, this backfired completely, with Hillary’s distortion immediately returning to the headlines.

Now Barack Obama has followed up with his own refusal to let a recent faux pas die. For the past two weeks, Obama has confronted charges of elitism, stemming from his description of working-class Pennsylvanians as “bitter” and clinging to “guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Well, just in case voters haven’t ingested enough of Hillary’s references to the “bitter” remark, Obama has provided his own reminder, with his campaign website declaring “There’s nothing ‘elitist’ about 1,365,019 people donating to our campaign for change.” Can there be anything more self-defeating than referencing a campaign low point when publicizing such an impressive figure?

Conventional wisdom dictates that candidates are best served when they get beyond their campaign slip-ups as soon as possible. Yet, in recent weeks, only John McCain seems to have understood this. McCain’s most embarrassing moment–his incorrect claim that Iran is training al-Qaeda during a news conference in Jordan–quickly evaporated from the news, as McCain acknowledged his error and moved on. Meanwhile, both Democratic candidates have done the exact opposite: their campaigns have responded to fumbles by dwelling on them, keeping their errors in the headlines well beyond their expected shelf-lives.

First came Hillary Clinton’s assertion that she had landed “under sniper fired” during a 1996 trip to Bosnia. When CBS footage of Hillary smiling on the runway of Tuzla airport during that trip immediately discredited this fabrication, she apologized for having “misspoken” and sought to put the affair behind her. Yet husband Bill, continuing his impressive streak of always saying the wrong thing, refused to let the controversy die. Two weeks later, he attempted to use Hillary’s lie to her advantage, arguing that even if snipers didn’t actually fire at Hillary, his wife had shown immense courage in visiting Bosnia at all. Of course, this backfired completely, with Hillary’s distortion immediately returning to the headlines.

Now Barack Obama has followed up with his own refusal to let a recent faux pas die. For the past two weeks, Obama has confronted charges of elitism, stemming from his description of working-class Pennsylvanians as “bitter” and clinging to “guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Well, just in case voters haven’t ingested enough of Hillary’s references to the “bitter” remark, Obama has provided his own reminder, with his campaign website declaring “There’s nothing ‘elitist’ about 1,365,019 people donating to our campaign for change.” Can there be anything more self-defeating than referencing a campaign low point when publicizing such an impressive figure?

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We’ve Been Down This Road Before

One of the complaints about Hillary’s candidacy is that another Clinton presidency would put us through four (or eight) more years of drama. The tale of Bill and Hillary is always one of angst, lies, and betrayal–the stuff of bad soap operas. And the campaign so far has been emotionally exhausting: gaffes from Bill, Hillary’s tall tales, staff members publicly at each other’s throats.

But now that we’ve seen Barack and Michelle Obama in action, it’s not clear an Obama presidency would be any better: the ministers, the left-wing extremists, the put-upon wife, the imperious husband, each day’s perceived racial slight. What’s more, we have already seen that at an extremely young age Obama wrote a book about . . . well, about himself. But unlike most memoirs, which recount great successes and professional and personal achievements, he hadn’t done much of note at the time. His personal identity drama was and still is his obsession–and could be America’s as well, come November. Is that a huge improvement on Clintonian psychodrama?

One of the complaints about Hillary’s candidacy is that another Clinton presidency would put us through four (or eight) more years of drama. The tale of Bill and Hillary is always one of angst, lies, and betrayal–the stuff of bad soap operas. And the campaign so far has been emotionally exhausting: gaffes from Bill, Hillary’s tall tales, staff members publicly at each other’s throats.

But now that we’ve seen Barack and Michelle Obama in action, it’s not clear an Obama presidency would be any better: the ministers, the left-wing extremists, the put-upon wife, the imperious husband, each day’s perceived racial slight. What’s more, we have already seen that at an extremely young age Obama wrote a book about . . . well, about himself. But unlike most memoirs, which recount great successes and professional and personal achievements, he hadn’t done much of note at the time. His personal identity drama was and still is his obsession–and could be America’s as well, come November. Is that a huge improvement on Clintonian psychodrama?

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The Great Uniters

The Clintons are indeed the great uniters. Consider the variety of Americans who’ve come together in response to the words and deeds of Bill and Hillary:

In Nevada, blacks turned on them. In Virginia, Hispanics, white males, women, and older voters decided they had enough, too. In Maryland, the unity was evidenced as well and Democrats across all social and economic strata made their common cause known.

I daresay the U.S. hasn’t seen such singularity of purpose since being attacked over six years ago. These disparate Americans have in some sense responded to Bill’s Harlem office, Hillary’s black southern accent, Hillary’s Hispanic Nevada strategy, and the like: They’ve walked away en masse from the Clinton identity shell game. In so doing they have ushered in a new age of American politics defined by voters who actually vote beyond considerations of race, creed, and gender.

So, in fact the Clintons have done an historical service to the cause of bridging demographic divides. Not—as they’d have it—because Bill sets up shop in Harlem, or because Hillary jams three black people into the front row of events, or because she claims to have “found her voice,” or because Bill was “the first black president,” but because Democrats of all stripes have agreed that they’re sick of the pandering and manipulation. Bill and Hillary have managed to close the gender gap, the generation gap, the wealth gap, and the racial divide. Like all great figures, their contribution has come at great personal cost. Let’s hope the two of them can find some measure of peace with the magnitude of their success.

The Clintons are indeed the great uniters. Consider the variety of Americans who’ve come together in response to the words and deeds of Bill and Hillary:

In Nevada, blacks turned on them. In Virginia, Hispanics, white males, women, and older voters decided they had enough, too. In Maryland, the unity was evidenced as well and Democrats across all social and economic strata made their common cause known.

I daresay the U.S. hasn’t seen such singularity of purpose since being attacked over six years ago. These disparate Americans have in some sense responded to Bill’s Harlem office, Hillary’s black southern accent, Hillary’s Hispanic Nevada strategy, and the like: They’ve walked away en masse from the Clinton identity shell game. In so doing they have ushered in a new age of American politics defined by voters who actually vote beyond considerations of race, creed, and gender.

So, in fact the Clintons have done an historical service to the cause of bridging demographic divides. Not—as they’d have it—because Bill sets up shop in Harlem, or because Hillary jams three black people into the front row of events, or because she claims to have “found her voice,” or because Bill was “the first black president,” but because Democrats of all stripes have agreed that they’re sick of the pandering and manipulation. Bill and Hillary have managed to close the gender gap, the generation gap, the wealth gap, and the racial divide. Like all great figures, their contribution has come at great personal cost. Let’s hope the two of them can find some measure of peace with the magnitude of their success.

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Not Chelsea . . .

There’s something depressing about Chelsea Clinton having been suddenly called upon to expand her role in Hillary’s campaign. Up until now Chelsea seemed to represent the one untainted region of the Clinton sphere. And one liked to believe that her previous media shyness (she refused to talk to the press) on the campaign trail came from a personal determination not to be sullied with the muck of her parents’ calling.

But now it looks as if Chelsea was merely being kept in the back of the Clinton arsenal, only to be used in the event of a genuine Obama showdown. It’s Chelsea’s mission to grab some of the Obama youth vote. The Daily News reports that she’s on a kind of college tour, including a recent stop at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. She has also been calling superdelegateas on her mother’s behalf.

Bill and Hillary are notoriously opinion-obsessed, and are well aware that Chelsea is probably the only Clinton left whose poll numbers show consistent low negatives. Here’s the Daily News:

Peter Ragone, a Democratic consultant who volunteered for the Clinton campaign in California and arranged several of Chelsea Clinton’s appearances there, said the former First Daughter is remarkably popular.

“What kept happening, which was astounding, is you’d expect 25 people and 200 would show up,” he said.

Chelsea is the last of her clan capable of evoking sympathy, which is why it’s a little heartbreaking to see her PR approach turn on a dime.

There’s something depressing about Chelsea Clinton having been suddenly called upon to expand her role in Hillary’s campaign. Up until now Chelsea seemed to represent the one untainted region of the Clinton sphere. And one liked to believe that her previous media shyness (she refused to talk to the press) on the campaign trail came from a personal determination not to be sullied with the muck of her parents’ calling.

But now it looks as if Chelsea was merely being kept in the back of the Clinton arsenal, only to be used in the event of a genuine Obama showdown. It’s Chelsea’s mission to grab some of the Obama youth vote. The Daily News reports that she’s on a kind of college tour, including a recent stop at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. She has also been calling superdelegateas on her mother’s behalf.

Bill and Hillary are notoriously opinion-obsessed, and are well aware that Chelsea is probably the only Clinton left whose poll numbers show consistent low negatives. Here’s the Daily News:

Peter Ragone, a Democratic consultant who volunteered for the Clinton campaign in California and arranged several of Chelsea Clinton’s appearances there, said the former First Daughter is remarkably popular.

“What kept happening, which was astounding, is you’d expect 25 people and 200 would show up,” he said.

Chelsea is the last of her clan capable of evoking sympathy, which is why it’s a little heartbreaking to see her PR approach turn on a dime.

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The Real Clinton Divide

Barack Obama’s victory speech in South Carolina last night was a visual and rhetorical masterpiece. His gaze literally fixed on some imaginary horizon, his chin raised as if to clear the shoulder-high muck of the past few weeks, the senator spoke of a newly united electorate with a confidence that suggested history in real-time. Obama’s vision of a pluralistic America with a shared will manages to rouse beyond the expected levels of mushy melting-pot sentiment. The senator constructs his unity dream from a real world blueprint, creating the most important effect for any running politician: you want to believe him.

Whether you bought this practical utopianism or you didn’t, the speech was a poetic triumph of the grand over the petty. Without ever saying their names, Obama shamed the Clintons. His high road was so elevated that Bill and Hillary’s malignant sniping and race-tactics seemed unreal by comparison. He made fellowship shine where division repulses, and redefined effortless in the process.

So, what does it mean that Bill Clinton answered ABC News’ David Wright’s question about Obama’s win with: “Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in ’84 and ’88. Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here”? We know the divide-and-conquer approach at work here. If the Clintons can split the vote down black-white lines, Hillary will win through sheer mathematics, as white voters outnumber their black counterparts. But the Clintons have been so thoroughly exposed (and seemingly punished) for exploiting race, one would think Bill would attempt to cloak this strategy. The fact that he didn’t means one of two things: either the Clintons are so cocooned from public sentiment that they exist in a reality of their own making, or they’ve finally admitted that venom is their medium and embraced it without apology. That’s the real Clinton choice. Both options are equally chilling.

Barack Obama’s victory speech in South Carolina last night was a visual and rhetorical masterpiece. His gaze literally fixed on some imaginary horizon, his chin raised as if to clear the shoulder-high muck of the past few weeks, the senator spoke of a newly united electorate with a confidence that suggested history in real-time. Obama’s vision of a pluralistic America with a shared will manages to rouse beyond the expected levels of mushy melting-pot sentiment. The senator constructs his unity dream from a real world blueprint, creating the most important effect for any running politician: you want to believe him.

Whether you bought this practical utopianism or you didn’t, the speech was a poetic triumph of the grand over the petty. Without ever saying their names, Obama shamed the Clintons. His high road was so elevated that Bill and Hillary’s malignant sniping and race-tactics seemed unreal by comparison. He made fellowship shine where division repulses, and redefined effortless in the process.

So, what does it mean that Bill Clinton answered ABC News’ David Wright’s question about Obama’s win with: “Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in ’84 and ’88. Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here”? We know the divide-and-conquer approach at work here. If the Clintons can split the vote down black-white lines, Hillary will win through sheer mathematics, as white voters outnumber their black counterparts. But the Clintons have been so thoroughly exposed (and seemingly punished) for exploiting race, one would think Bill would attempt to cloak this strategy. The fact that he didn’t means one of two things: either the Clintons are so cocooned from public sentiment that they exist in a reality of their own making, or they’ve finally admitted that venom is their medium and embraced it without apology. That’s the real Clinton choice. Both options are equally chilling.

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Bad Medicine for Obama

At townhall.com, R. Emmett Tyrrell thinks he has the prescription for a winning Obama campaign:

Obama introduced two themes, both closely related. He asseverated that the Clintons represent all the bitterness associated with “the baby boomers” in politics. That they do. In recent weeks, we have tasted that bitterness all over again. What is more, with great subtlety, Obama brought up “the 1990s.” Hesto presto — the Clinton lead vanished among the Democrats, who supposedly adore the Clintons. As Democratic primary voters now have fresh evidence of the Clintons’ dirty tricks and bitter charges, Obama should revert to these themes. He now finds himself on the defensive in the rancorous atmosphere that the Clintons apparently thrive in. Obama should return to the high ground where he already has hurt Hillary badly.

Things aren’t that easy. If it was simply a matter of pointing to Bill and Hillary and saying, “Exhibits A and B,” the two of them would have been booed off the stage a decade ago. Tyrrell ignores the fact that the Clinton sociopathy he calls “bitterness” is thought of by most Democratic voters as an insignificant imperfection, while the rest label it “charm.” Has he forgotten that Bill Clinton’s perjury and other acts of malfeaseance were considered a necessary defense against a phalanx of cruel conspirers? The more Obama calls attention to the 1990′s, the more nostalgic Democratic voters will get. They view Slick Willie not with disgust but reverence.

At townhall.com, R. Emmett Tyrrell thinks he has the prescription for a winning Obama campaign:

Obama introduced two themes, both closely related. He asseverated that the Clintons represent all the bitterness associated with “the baby boomers” in politics. That they do. In recent weeks, we have tasted that bitterness all over again. What is more, with great subtlety, Obama brought up “the 1990s.” Hesto presto — the Clinton lead vanished among the Democrats, who supposedly adore the Clintons. As Democratic primary voters now have fresh evidence of the Clintons’ dirty tricks and bitter charges, Obama should revert to these themes. He now finds himself on the defensive in the rancorous atmosphere that the Clintons apparently thrive in. Obama should return to the high ground where he already has hurt Hillary badly.

Things aren’t that easy. If it was simply a matter of pointing to Bill and Hillary and saying, “Exhibits A and B,” the two of them would have been booed off the stage a decade ago. Tyrrell ignores the fact that the Clinton sociopathy he calls “bitterness” is thought of by most Democratic voters as an insignificant imperfection, while the rest label it “charm.” Has he forgotten that Bill Clinton’s perjury and other acts of malfeaseance were considered a necessary defense against a phalanx of cruel conspirers? The more Obama calls attention to the 1990′s, the more nostalgic Democratic voters will get. They view Slick Willie not with disgust but reverence.

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Kerry’s Endorsement Stings Hillary

Once again Obama out-Clintons the Clintons. John Kerry’s obvious snubbing of former running mate John Edwards is nothing compared to the frustration Hillary feels at having lost out on the Kerry endorsement. At Time.com Karen Tumulty reports: “a source close to Kerry tells me that the person who had been working hardest to get [Kerry’s endorsement] was Hillary Clinton–to the point where her husband had personally lobbied Kerry’s brother Cam and his former brother-in-law David Thorne.”

Tumulty explains that Kerry isn’t terribly fond of the Clintons, as they were pretty tepid in their support of him in 2004. The truth is, not many people have rubbed up against Bill and Hillary and walked away feeling particularly good about it; whereas most Democrats will stand in line to bask in Obama’s reflective glow. The unseemly after-effect of the personal Clinton encounter can be thought of as the flipside to the public Clinton cult—and it’s a campaign liability. It seems a lot of top Dems are waiting on the sidelines hoping to avoid a pro-Clinton stance. We haven’t heard much from Ted Kennedy, for example. And David Roberts at the environmental blog Gristmill suspects that, if it comes down to it, Gore would declare himself an Obama man.

There were a great many people persuaded by Hillary’s tears. She can’t expect many of her former associates to be among them.

Once again Obama out-Clintons the Clintons. John Kerry’s obvious snubbing of former running mate John Edwards is nothing compared to the frustration Hillary feels at having lost out on the Kerry endorsement. At Time.com Karen Tumulty reports: “a source close to Kerry tells me that the person who had been working hardest to get [Kerry’s endorsement] was Hillary Clinton–to the point where her husband had personally lobbied Kerry’s brother Cam and his former brother-in-law David Thorne.”

Tumulty explains that Kerry isn’t terribly fond of the Clintons, as they were pretty tepid in their support of him in 2004. The truth is, not many people have rubbed up against Bill and Hillary and walked away feeling particularly good about it; whereas most Democrats will stand in line to bask in Obama’s reflective glow. The unseemly after-effect of the personal Clinton encounter can be thought of as the flipside to the public Clinton cult—and it’s a campaign liability. It seems a lot of top Dems are waiting on the sidelines hoping to avoid a pro-Clinton stance. We haven’t heard much from Ted Kennedy, for example. And David Roberts at the environmental blog Gristmill suspects that, if it comes down to it, Gore would declare himself an Obama man.

There were a great many people persuaded by Hillary’s tears. She can’t expect many of her former associates to be among them.

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I Beg Your Pardon

Here is Hillary Clinton commenting on George W. Bush’s modest display of mercy to Scooter Libby, sparing him from prison: “this commutation sends the clear signal that in this administration, cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice.”

“Cronyism and ideology”? I agree with Hillary that cronyism is a terrible thing, but I think it is a stretch to say that that’s what the Scooter Libby affair was all about. If it was cronyism, Bush has not been very kind to his crony, keeping Libby’s fine, his probation, and his conviction intact.

In any case, in thinking about Hillary’s statement, it is useful to bear in mind some of the pardons granted by her husband Bill.

Among my favorites are his pardon of:

• Susan McDougal, Bill and Hillary’s close friend from the Whitewater days, convicted of mail fraud, aiding and abetting in misapplication of Small Business Investment Corporation funds, aiding and abetting in making false entries, aiding and abetting in making false statements.

• Henry Cisneros, Clinton’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 1993 to 1997 when he left office after copping a plea to making false states to federal officials.

• Linda Jones, aka Linda Medlar, Cisnero’s girlfriend, convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, to make a false statement to a bank, to launder monetary instruments, and to engage in monetary transactions in property derived from specific unlawful activity; aiding and abetting bank fraud; aiding and abetting false statements to a bank; aiding and abetting laundering monetary instruments; aiding and abetting engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specific unlawful activity; obstruction of justice; falsifying, concealing and covering up a material fact by trick, scheme, or device; making a false statement.

Apart from cronies, one should note some of those pardoned for mishandling secrets:

• John Deutch, Clinton’s Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1994 to 1996, who kept classified documents on his personal computer, fell under a Justice Department investigation, and was pardoned before charges were brought.

• Samuel Loring Morison, a defense department employee who leaked classified documents to British magazine in an effort to get a job with it.

The complete Department of Justice list is here, and it is impressive, indeed, awe-inspiring. If they could only enter the Time Tunnel (click on the appropriate link for episodes one, two, and three), go back into the past and erase some of the more dubious names on it, Bill and Hillary Clinton would be looking much prettier today.

Here is Hillary Clinton commenting on George W. Bush’s modest display of mercy to Scooter Libby, sparing him from prison: “this commutation sends the clear signal that in this administration, cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice.”

“Cronyism and ideology”? I agree with Hillary that cronyism is a terrible thing, but I think it is a stretch to say that that’s what the Scooter Libby affair was all about. If it was cronyism, Bush has not been very kind to his crony, keeping Libby’s fine, his probation, and his conviction intact.

In any case, in thinking about Hillary’s statement, it is useful to bear in mind some of the pardons granted by her husband Bill.

Among my favorites are his pardon of:

• Susan McDougal, Bill and Hillary’s close friend from the Whitewater days, convicted of mail fraud, aiding and abetting in misapplication of Small Business Investment Corporation funds, aiding and abetting in making false entries, aiding and abetting in making false statements.

• Henry Cisneros, Clinton’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 1993 to 1997 when he left office after copping a plea to making false states to federal officials.

• Linda Jones, aka Linda Medlar, Cisnero’s girlfriend, convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, to make a false statement to a bank, to launder monetary instruments, and to engage in monetary transactions in property derived from specific unlawful activity; aiding and abetting bank fraud; aiding and abetting false statements to a bank; aiding and abetting laundering monetary instruments; aiding and abetting engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specific unlawful activity; obstruction of justice; falsifying, concealing and covering up a material fact by trick, scheme, or device; making a false statement.

Apart from cronies, one should note some of those pardoned for mishandling secrets:

• John Deutch, Clinton’s Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1994 to 1996, who kept classified documents on his personal computer, fell under a Justice Department investigation, and was pardoned before charges were brought.

• Samuel Loring Morison, a defense department employee who leaked classified documents to British magazine in an effort to get a job with it.

The complete Department of Justice list is here, and it is impressive, indeed, awe-inspiring. If they could only enter the Time Tunnel (click on the appropriate link for episodes one, two, and three), go back into the past and erase some of the more dubious names on it, Bill and Hillary Clinton would be looking much prettier today.

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