Commentary Magazine


Topic: Commentary

Farewell, But Not Goodbye

I thought I might be breaking a little news this afternoon, but others beat me to it yesterday. For those who haven’t heard, today is my last day at Commentary before I start at the Washington Free Beacon next week. When John Podhoretz brought me on board to write for Contentions, I had no idea how quickly the next two years would go by and how many incredible opportunities and experiences they would bring. It has been a thrill and a privilege to write for an outlet that had such a formative influence on my political views, and continued to shape them during my time at Contentions.

I can’t thank John enough for his kindness and support, and Jonathan Tobin for his daily editorial guidance, advice and encouragement. It has also been great to learn from and write alongside our phenomenal Contentions contributors.

I also want to thank our readers for sharing a part of your busy days with me. Your comments have often provided valuable insight, wit and inspiration. Perhaps the most rewarding part of this job has been watching the vibrant Contentions community grow over the last couple of years.

This isn’t goodbye. I know many of you are also Free Beacon readers, and look forward to hearing from you when I start there next week. I’ll be joining my friends on the news staff who have been scooping the mainstream outlets and striking fear into the hearts of White House officials for the past year. While my role there will be a different than it was at Contentions — reporting without writing opinion — my commitment to advancing the cause of freedom won’t change. 

And of course, this isn’t goodbye to my colleagues. I’ll always consider myself a part of the Commentary family. Thank you for everything.

I thought I might be breaking a little news this afternoon, but others beat me to it yesterday. For those who haven’t heard, today is my last day at Commentary before I start at the Washington Free Beacon next week. When John Podhoretz brought me on board to write for Contentions, I had no idea how quickly the next two years would go by and how many incredible opportunities and experiences they would bring. It has been a thrill and a privilege to write for an outlet that had such a formative influence on my political views, and continued to shape them during my time at Contentions.

I can’t thank John enough for his kindness and support, and Jonathan Tobin for his daily editorial guidance, advice and encouragement. It has also been great to learn from and write alongside our phenomenal Contentions contributors.

I also want to thank our readers for sharing a part of your busy days with me. Your comments have often provided valuable insight, wit and inspiration. Perhaps the most rewarding part of this job has been watching the vibrant Contentions community grow over the last couple of years.

This isn’t goodbye. I know many of you are also Free Beacon readers, and look forward to hearing from you when I start there next week. I’ll be joining my friends on the news staff who have been scooping the mainstream outlets and striking fear into the hearts of White House officials for the past year. While my role there will be a different than it was at Contentions — reporting without writing opinion — my commitment to advancing the cause of freedom won’t change. 

And of course, this isn’t goodbye to my colleagues. I’ll always consider myself a part of the Commentary family. Thank you for everything.

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Jack Richardson, 1934-2012

It is customary for novelists to serve as occasional or frequent literary critics, analyzing the work of others who write novels. The same cannot be said of playwrights, who rarely write prose about the theater and almost never about the plays of others. The singular exception to this was Jack Richardson, who began writing about the theater for COMMENTARY in the mid-1960s when he was still considered one of the up-and-coming playwrights in the United States. He died this week at the age of 78. He wrote for the magazine on and off for about a decade, as his own promising career in the theater dwindled and then died out—articles of exceptional interest, intelligence, and cultivation. In tribute to his passing, we are making available eight of his best, including two that weren’t about the theater—a memoir of life as a gambler and a brilliant review of Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift that angered Bellow because, I suspect, he knew Richardson saw through to that novel’s fatal weaknesses.

On Reviewing Plays, September 1966

Groping Toward Freedom: The Living Theatre, May 1969

Musical Wastes, February 1971

From Plato to Las Vegas, October 1974

The English Invasion, February 1975

Looking Back at “The Waste Land,”August 1975

Humboldt’s Gift, by Saul Bellow, November 1975

Alas, Poor Hamlet, April 1976

It is customary for novelists to serve as occasional or frequent literary critics, analyzing the work of others who write novels. The same cannot be said of playwrights, who rarely write prose about the theater and almost never about the plays of others. The singular exception to this was Jack Richardson, who began writing about the theater for COMMENTARY in the mid-1960s when he was still considered one of the up-and-coming playwrights in the United States. He died this week at the age of 78. He wrote for the magazine on and off for about a decade, as his own promising career in the theater dwindled and then died out—articles of exceptional interest, intelligence, and cultivation. In tribute to his passing, we are making available eight of his best, including two that weren’t about the theater—a memoir of life as a gambler and a brilliant review of Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift that angered Bellow because, I suspect, he knew Richardson saw through to that novel’s fatal weaknesses.

On Reviewing Plays, September 1966

Groping Toward Freedom: The Living Theatre, May 1969

Musical Wastes, February 1971

From Plato to Las Vegas, October 1974

The English Invasion, February 1975

Looking Back at “The Waste Land,”August 1975

Humboldt’s Gift, by Saul Bellow, November 1975

Alas, Poor Hamlet, April 1976

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A COMMENTARY Guide to ObamaCare

While the country waits for the Supreme Court’s decision on ObamaCare, we invite readers to enjoy Tevi Troy’s recent series of COMMENTARY articles on American healthcare and its political and legal journey. Troy, a former deputy secretary of Health and Human Services, begins the incisive series with April 2010’s  “Health Care: A Two-Decade Blunder,” explaining how the issue first became so highly politicized, and ends with May 2012’s “Three Days that Shook ObamaCare,” detailing the pivotal Court arguments that took place in March. The articles make for a comprehensive resource on this pivotal national issue and, moreover, they’re all great reads.  See links below.

 

While the country waits for the Supreme Court’s decision on ObamaCare, we invite readers to enjoy Tevi Troy’s recent series of COMMENTARY articles on American healthcare and its political and legal journey. Troy, a former deputy secretary of Health and Human Services, begins the incisive series with April 2010’s  “Health Care: A Two-Decade Blunder,” explaining how the issue first became so highly politicized, and ends with May 2012’s “Three Days that Shook ObamaCare,” detailing the pivotal Court arguments that took place in March. The articles make for a comprehensive resource on this pivotal national issue and, moreover, they’re all great reads.  See links below.

 

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Envoi

Today marks the 103rd birthday of William Maxwell, novelist (They Came Like Swallows, The Folded Leaf) and fiction editor of the New Yorker for forty years, along with the 91st birthday of the American poet Charles Bukowski (“as the poems go into the thousands/ you realize that you’ve created very/ little”).

Today also marks the debut of Literary Commentary, the magazine’s new book blog. The coincidence may be fitting, since this blog — its interests and loyalties, its voice and point of view — will probably be found somewhere between Maxwell’s graceful kindly wisdom and Bukowski’s rough self-pitying intimacy.

To those who are already familiar with it, my nearly three-years-old Commonplace Blog is relocating here, with a new focus on the current literary scene to go along with its new venue and affiliation. To those who will be reading it for the first time, I should explain that, while this blog will be a source for book reviews and reconsiderations, Literary Commentary is intended to be something more. It represents the literary side of what John Podhoretz, its fourth editor, defined as COMMENTARY’s mission.

Literary Commentary too is an “act of faith — faith in the power of ideas, in tradition and the value of defending tradition, and faith in America and the West.” It too is an “expression of faith in the act of reading itself, in its unparalleled capacity to enlarge the perspective and knowledge of those for whom reading is an activity as central to their lives as the drawing of breath.” In particular, it places faith in the reading of literature and the power of literature, not merely to kill the time softly, but to instruct and move, to frighten and uplift, to change forever the way men and women think.

At the risk of ingratitude, in fact, I’d say that John’s faith in reading is misplaced if reading is not critical, feisty, dubious, prepared to take issue and answer back. “I think of reading as the ‘gateway drug’ to learning,” Bethanne Patrick tweeted last week, defending the Twitter event known as #FridayReads, when thousands of twitterers eagerly cough up the book they will be sitting down with that weekend. But reading is not that—not necessarily. Reading can be an undiscriminating waste of time, an enthusiastic hobby like model railroading or royal commemorative collecting that leads only to more and more of itself, unless it is accompanied by reasons and argument.

In an age of the reader review, when critical judgment is measured by a rating of stars (one to five), Literary Commentary aims to return to an older conception of reading, one that is founded upon the unfashionable belief that (as Hugh Kenner once put it) there are some books that “every civilized American should be familiar with.” But along with this belief goes the confidence that some of those books are being written even today; or at least they were written five or six minutes ago. To quote John again, COMMENTARY exists “to take inventory in and increase the storehouse of the best that has been thought and said.” Starting today, Literary Commentary joins in the magazine’s work.

Today marks the 103rd birthday of William Maxwell, novelist (They Came Like Swallows, The Folded Leaf) and fiction editor of the New Yorker for forty years, along with the 91st birthday of the American poet Charles Bukowski (“as the poems go into the thousands/ you realize that you’ve created very/ little”).

Today also marks the debut of Literary Commentary, the magazine’s new book blog. The coincidence may be fitting, since this blog — its interests and loyalties, its voice and point of view — will probably be found somewhere between Maxwell’s graceful kindly wisdom and Bukowski’s rough self-pitying intimacy.

To those who are already familiar with it, my nearly three-years-old Commonplace Blog is relocating here, with a new focus on the current literary scene to go along with its new venue and affiliation. To those who will be reading it for the first time, I should explain that, while this blog will be a source for book reviews and reconsiderations, Literary Commentary is intended to be something more. It represents the literary side of what John Podhoretz, its fourth editor, defined as COMMENTARY’s mission.

Literary Commentary too is an “act of faith — faith in the power of ideas, in tradition and the value of defending tradition, and faith in America and the West.” It too is an “expression of faith in the act of reading itself, in its unparalleled capacity to enlarge the perspective and knowledge of those for whom reading is an activity as central to their lives as the drawing of breath.” In particular, it places faith in the reading of literature and the power of literature, not merely to kill the time softly, but to instruct and move, to frighten and uplift, to change forever the way men and women think.

At the risk of ingratitude, in fact, I’d say that John’s faith in reading is misplaced if reading is not critical, feisty, dubious, prepared to take issue and answer back. “I think of reading as the ‘gateway drug’ to learning,” Bethanne Patrick tweeted last week, defending the Twitter event known as #FridayReads, when thousands of twitterers eagerly cough up the book they will be sitting down with that weekend. But reading is not that—not necessarily. Reading can be an undiscriminating waste of time, an enthusiastic hobby like model railroading or royal commemorative collecting that leads only to more and more of itself, unless it is accompanied by reasons and argument.

In an age of the reader review, when critical judgment is measured by a rating of stars (one to five), Literary Commentary aims to return to an older conception of reading, one that is founded upon the unfashionable belief that (as Hugh Kenner once put it) there are some books that “every civilized American should be familiar with.” But along with this belief goes the confidence that some of those books are being written even today; or at least they were written five or six minutes ago. To quote John again, COMMENTARY exists “to take inventory in and increase the storehouse of the best that has been thought and said.” Starting today, Literary Commentary joins in the magazine’s work.

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RE: Palin and the Blood Libel

As Sarah Palin has just learned, keeping up with the rules about using phrases that are associated with Jewish history is not as simple as it used to be. I was under the impression that the list of phrases that were considered off limits for general consumption was confined more or less to those associated with the Holocaust. Meaning, for instance, that the use of the word “holocaust” should be confined to discussion of events surrounding the genocide of Jews in Europe between 1933 and 1945. But even that stricture has been hard to enforce. Indeed, when an episode of the TV show The X-Files once referred to the mysterious death of amphibians in a lake as a “frog holocaust,” you knew that the word had become more of a metaphor than a specific historical term.

But when it comes to some people, the rules are apparently even more stringent than any of us might have thought. Thus, today Sarah Palin is being widely condemned for using the term “blood libel” when referencing the slanderous suggestions that she is in some way connected to the tragedy in Arizona. According to those who claim that Palin has somehow caused pain to the Jewish people, it is wrong to use that phrase to describe anything other than the false accusation that Jews kidnap and murder Christian children and use their blood to help bake matzoh for Passover. This canard was popularized during the Middle Ages by European Christians and has been revived in recent decades in the Arab world as Jew-hatred has become an unfortunate staple of contemporary Islamic culture.

But the idea that this term cannot be used to describe anything else is something new. Granted, most of the uses of this phrase that come quickly to mind have had Jewish associations. For example, the accusation that right-wing Zionists were behind the murder of Haim Arlosoroff, a Labor Zionist official who was killed on a Tel Aviv beach in 1933, has always been called a “blood libel” by those who believed the failed effort to pin the killing on Labor’s Jewish opposition was a political plot to discredit them. In just the past couple of years, the term “blood libel” has been applied by writers here at COMMENTARY to describe the false charges put forward by Human Rights Watch and the UN Goldstone Commission against Israeli forces fighting Hamas terrorists in Gaza, as well as to the malicious falsehoods published by a Swedish newspaper that claimed Israel was murdering Palestinians and then harvesting their organs for medical use.

So the claim that Palin has crossed some bright line in the sand and “stolen” a phrase that has always and should always be used to describe only one thing is absurd. Like so much else that has been heard from the left in the wake of the shootings in Arizona, this further charge against Sarah Palin is groundless. The fact is, those who are trying to link her or other conservatives to this crime are committing a kind of blood libel. Take issue with her politics or dislike her personality if that is your inclination, but the idea that she has even the most remote connection to this event is outrageous. So, too, is the manufactured controversy over “blood libel.”

As Sarah Palin has just learned, keeping up with the rules about using phrases that are associated with Jewish history is not as simple as it used to be. I was under the impression that the list of phrases that were considered off limits for general consumption was confined more or less to those associated with the Holocaust. Meaning, for instance, that the use of the word “holocaust” should be confined to discussion of events surrounding the genocide of Jews in Europe between 1933 and 1945. But even that stricture has been hard to enforce. Indeed, when an episode of the TV show The X-Files once referred to the mysterious death of amphibians in a lake as a “frog holocaust,” you knew that the word had become more of a metaphor than a specific historical term.

But when it comes to some people, the rules are apparently even more stringent than any of us might have thought. Thus, today Sarah Palin is being widely condemned for using the term “blood libel” when referencing the slanderous suggestions that she is in some way connected to the tragedy in Arizona. According to those who claim that Palin has somehow caused pain to the Jewish people, it is wrong to use that phrase to describe anything other than the false accusation that Jews kidnap and murder Christian children and use their blood to help bake matzoh for Passover. This canard was popularized during the Middle Ages by European Christians and has been revived in recent decades in the Arab world as Jew-hatred has become an unfortunate staple of contemporary Islamic culture.

But the idea that this term cannot be used to describe anything else is something new. Granted, most of the uses of this phrase that come quickly to mind have had Jewish associations. For example, the accusation that right-wing Zionists were behind the murder of Haim Arlosoroff, a Labor Zionist official who was killed on a Tel Aviv beach in 1933, has always been called a “blood libel” by those who believed the failed effort to pin the killing on Labor’s Jewish opposition was a political plot to discredit them. In just the past couple of years, the term “blood libel” has been applied by writers here at COMMENTARY to describe the false charges put forward by Human Rights Watch and the UN Goldstone Commission against Israeli forces fighting Hamas terrorists in Gaza, as well as to the malicious falsehoods published by a Swedish newspaper that claimed Israel was murdering Palestinians and then harvesting their organs for medical use.

So the claim that Palin has crossed some bright line in the sand and “stolen” a phrase that has always and should always be used to describe only one thing is absurd. Like so much else that has been heard from the left in the wake of the shootings in Arizona, this further charge against Sarah Palin is groundless. The fact is, those who are trying to link her or other conservatives to this crime are committing a kind of blood libel. Take issue with her politics or dislike her personality if that is your inclination, but the idea that she has even the most remote connection to this event is outrageous. So, too, is the manufactured controversy over “blood libel.”

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Special January 2011 Preview: The Democrats and Health Care

The passage of Barack Obama’s health-care legislation in the spring of 2010 proved profoundly injurious to the president and his party in the November midterm elections. Studies conducted at Stanford University and the University of Minnesota agree that at least one-third of the 63-seat Democratic loss in the House of Representatives can be attributed to the electorate’s negative reaction to the health-care bill—which suggests that the legislation was responsible for taking a bad election and turning it into a historic disaster.

To read the rest of this feature article from the upcoming January issue of COMMENTARY magazine, click here.

To make sure you never miss an article or issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

The passage of Barack Obama’s health-care legislation in the spring of 2010 proved profoundly injurious to the president and his party in the November midterm elections. Studies conducted at Stanford University and the University of Minnesota agree that at least one-third of the 63-seat Democratic loss in the House of Representatives can be attributed to the electorate’s negative reaction to the health-care bill—which suggests that the legislation was responsible for taking a bad election and turning it into a historic disaster.

To read the rest of this feature article from the upcoming January issue of COMMENTARY magazine, click here.

To make sure you never miss an article or issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

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Goldberg Was Right About Israel’s Problems but Wrong About the JNF

Last week, Jeffrey Goldberg stirred up a minor hornet’s nest by writing in his Goldblog at the Atlantic that the proper reaction to the fire that devastated northern Israel was to stop contributing to the Jewish National Fund. His reasoning was that since the extent of the damage was due to the Israeli government’s decision not to adequately fund the fire service as well as its general incompetence, it would be wrong to donate funds to a charity that is best known for planting trees. As he wrote in a later post, since “There is no reasonable guarantee that the tree I donate will be adequately protected by the JNF or the State of Israel,” JNF won’t be getting any money from him.

Predictably, Goldberg has been torched by many readers who have wrongly interpreted his stance as one of turning his back on Israel. Equally predictably, Goldberg has been whining about his critics on his blog and telling them that “the Leon Uris phase of Jewish history is over,” which I suppose means we are no longer supposed to see all Israelis as carbon copies of Ari Ben Canaan, the superJew hero of Exodus. That’s fair enough, though I find it hard to believe in this era, in which Jewish Israel-bashing is a common phenomenon, that there was ever much doubt about that.

To further bolster his defense, Goldberg today quotes COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Gordis, who excoriated Israel’s current government (and its predecessors) in the Jerusalem Post for both its lack of planning for such a fire and the general lack of interest in thinking about the future that seems to characterize the Israeli bureaucracy as well as the political class. Gordis is, of course, dead right about all this. The 61-year-old Arab siege of the country has bred a crisis mentality in which non-military threats are often ignored. Its political system has failed to breed a sense of accountability, and the hangover from decades of socialist economics has created a corruption problem that has retarded efforts to improve governance on many levels.

But as much as foreign supporters of the Jewish state ought to share the frustration of Israelis about all this, Goldberg is still wrong about boycotting the JNF. The fund cannot guarantee that the trees Americans pay for won’t burn in a future fire, but that doesn’t mean that Israel’s forests shouldn’t be replanted. To punish the JNF because of governmental failures would be no different from a call to stop funding charities that served the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina because of the colossal failures of local government to protect their citizens as well as for the mistakes the Army Corps of Engineers made in estimating the damage that a storm might do to the city’s levees. Giving to the JNF is not, as Goldberg says, co-opting Diaspora Jews into supporting a cover-up of governmental failures. To the contrary, such donations will help fund the cleanup and recovery.

Goldberg is right when he says Israel should fully fund its fire-fighting capability, but the country’s mistakes on this issue will be rectified for the same reason that New Orleans’s flood prevention has been improved: it took a disaster and a bitter public backlash to force the government to prioritize this issue. This is the way with all democracies. Just as the defeats suffered during the Yom Kippur War and the Second Lebanon War prompted army reform in Israel, you can bet that Israel’s fire service will never be shorted again, or at least not anytime soon. This proves that for all its specific problems, Israeli democracy is not much different from the kind we practice here, where our leaders are just as guilty of fighting the last war rather than planning for the next one as they are in Jerusalem.

Last week, Jeffrey Goldberg stirred up a minor hornet’s nest by writing in his Goldblog at the Atlantic that the proper reaction to the fire that devastated northern Israel was to stop contributing to the Jewish National Fund. His reasoning was that since the extent of the damage was due to the Israeli government’s decision not to adequately fund the fire service as well as its general incompetence, it would be wrong to donate funds to a charity that is best known for planting trees. As he wrote in a later post, since “There is no reasonable guarantee that the tree I donate will be adequately protected by the JNF or the State of Israel,” JNF won’t be getting any money from him.

Predictably, Goldberg has been torched by many readers who have wrongly interpreted his stance as one of turning his back on Israel. Equally predictably, Goldberg has been whining about his critics on his blog and telling them that “the Leon Uris phase of Jewish history is over,” which I suppose means we are no longer supposed to see all Israelis as carbon copies of Ari Ben Canaan, the superJew hero of Exodus. That’s fair enough, though I find it hard to believe in this era, in which Jewish Israel-bashing is a common phenomenon, that there was ever much doubt about that.

To further bolster his defense, Goldberg today quotes COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Gordis, who excoriated Israel’s current government (and its predecessors) in the Jerusalem Post for both its lack of planning for such a fire and the general lack of interest in thinking about the future that seems to characterize the Israeli bureaucracy as well as the political class. Gordis is, of course, dead right about all this. The 61-year-old Arab siege of the country has bred a crisis mentality in which non-military threats are often ignored. Its political system has failed to breed a sense of accountability, and the hangover from decades of socialist economics has created a corruption problem that has retarded efforts to improve governance on many levels.

But as much as foreign supporters of the Jewish state ought to share the frustration of Israelis about all this, Goldberg is still wrong about boycotting the JNF. The fund cannot guarantee that the trees Americans pay for won’t burn in a future fire, but that doesn’t mean that Israel’s forests shouldn’t be replanted. To punish the JNF because of governmental failures would be no different from a call to stop funding charities that served the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina because of the colossal failures of local government to protect their citizens as well as for the mistakes the Army Corps of Engineers made in estimating the damage that a storm might do to the city’s levees. Giving to the JNF is not, as Goldberg says, co-opting Diaspora Jews into supporting a cover-up of governmental failures. To the contrary, such donations will help fund the cleanup and recovery.

Goldberg is right when he says Israel should fully fund its fire-fighting capability, but the country’s mistakes on this issue will be rectified for the same reason that New Orleans’s flood prevention has been improved: it took a disaster and a bitter public backlash to force the government to prioritize this issue. This is the way with all democracies. Just as the defeats suffered during the Yom Kippur War and the Second Lebanon War prompted army reform in Israel, you can bet that Israel’s fire service will never be shorted again, or at least not anytime soon. This proves that for all its specific problems, Israeli democracy is not much different from the kind we practice here, where our leaders are just as guilty of fighting the last war rather than planning for the next one as they are in Jerusalem.

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“No Labels” Is Also a Label

My friend COMMENTARY contributor David Frum (who has a piece in our upcoming January issue) is a writer both tough and fearless in his judgments. It’s one of the many reasons he’s always worth reading, disagree or no: he does not prevaricate or trim his sails. He says what he says. He is a believer in intellectual honesty, and his brief against the right over the past two years is that it is in danger of sacrificing that honesty in pursuit of a populist politics he thinks is both wrongheaded and self-defeating.

He says so in unvarnished prose and takes no prisoners, going after Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck and others with a clear-eyed ferocity — just as he did at the onset of the Iraq war in a National Review piece that effectively wrote paleoconservative critics of the war out of the movement: “They began by hating the neoconservatives. They came to hate their party and this president. They have finished by hating their country.”

It is a matter of no small intellectual interest that David has now decided to embrace the concept that American politics should move beyond ideological camps. He joined the distinguished liberal political scientist William Galston in an op-ed piece describing and advocating a new movement called “No Labels” that is to be brought into existence next week with Michael Bloomberg and Joe Scarborough as its major lead figures. They write:

Our political system does not work if politicians treat the process as a war in which the overriding goal is to thwart the adversary. … Nor does the political system work if politicians treat members of the other party as enemies to be destroyed. Labeling legitimate policy differences as “socialist” or “racist” undermines democratic discourse.

Over the next 12 months, No Labels plans to organize citizens’ groups in every state and congressional district. Among other activities, these citizens will carefully monitor the conduct of their elected representatives. They will highlight those officials who reach across the aisle to help solve the country’s problems and criticize those who do not. They will call out politicians whose rhetoric exacerbates those problems, and they will establish lines that no one should cross. Politicians, media personalities and opinion leaders who recklessly demonize their opponents should be on notice that they can no longer do so with impunity.

In the name of broadening the political discussion, a group called No Labels will come into being with the purpose of … labeling. If you “recklessly demonize” your “opponents,” you will “no longer” be able to “do so with impunity.” They will “establish bright lines no one should cross.” In other words, cross the line and we will label you a “reckless demonizer.” Dare to call Barack Obama a socialist and stand accused of exacerbating problems rather than solving them.

Nobody should be for reckless demonization, but one man’s reckless demonization is another man’s truth-telling, as the design of No Labels itself would seem to suggest. Does the No Labels style mean that, should you find Rush Limbaugh abhorrent, it is therefore acceptable to discuss his views in relation to his past prescription-drug addiction? Or Glenn Beck’s alcoholism? That would seem to be the idea, and you can see how the incivility required by the No Labels concept deconstructs it like a Rube Goldberg machine.

The drawing of bright lines is something David Frum does surpassingly well. But a group called No Labels would seem by definition to stand for the opposite — for an entirely freewheeling public conversation, which should be the opposite of a bright-line-drawing exercise. Instead, No Labels would appear to be a movement designed to give politicians space and room to hammer out compromises with each other in pursuit of the common good. That sounds nice, but it’s actually the abnegation of what a movement — an intellectual movement, a political movement, a partisan movement, or an ideological movement — actually is.

Movements arise because people believe in something in common, believe in it wholeheartedly, and want their ideas to prevail. They don’t believe in swapping out some of them for others in order to make nice to the other side. They want the other side to lose and their side to win because they believe their ideas are good and the other side’s ideas are bad.

That is why it is an oxymoron to talk about movements of the middle, or of the radical center, or whatever you want to call it, and why No Labels will never work. In the end, such movements are primarily defined by distaste. That is a powerful emotion. But in the end, distaste is primarily an aesthetic feeling, not a moral or political or ideological one. An aesthetic is not an organizing principle, because it is a principle of exclusion, not of inclusion — those bright lines are designed to keep things out, not bring them in.

David Frum, you stand accused of being an aesthete!

My friend COMMENTARY contributor David Frum (who has a piece in our upcoming January issue) is a writer both tough and fearless in his judgments. It’s one of the many reasons he’s always worth reading, disagree or no: he does not prevaricate or trim his sails. He says what he says. He is a believer in intellectual honesty, and his brief against the right over the past two years is that it is in danger of sacrificing that honesty in pursuit of a populist politics he thinks is both wrongheaded and self-defeating.

He says so in unvarnished prose and takes no prisoners, going after Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck and others with a clear-eyed ferocity — just as he did at the onset of the Iraq war in a National Review piece that effectively wrote paleoconservative critics of the war out of the movement: “They began by hating the neoconservatives. They came to hate their party and this president. They have finished by hating their country.”

It is a matter of no small intellectual interest that David has now decided to embrace the concept that American politics should move beyond ideological camps. He joined the distinguished liberal political scientist William Galston in an op-ed piece describing and advocating a new movement called “No Labels” that is to be brought into existence next week with Michael Bloomberg and Joe Scarborough as its major lead figures. They write:

Our political system does not work if politicians treat the process as a war in which the overriding goal is to thwart the adversary. … Nor does the political system work if politicians treat members of the other party as enemies to be destroyed. Labeling legitimate policy differences as “socialist” or “racist” undermines democratic discourse.

Over the next 12 months, No Labels plans to organize citizens’ groups in every state and congressional district. Among other activities, these citizens will carefully monitor the conduct of their elected representatives. They will highlight those officials who reach across the aisle to help solve the country’s problems and criticize those who do not. They will call out politicians whose rhetoric exacerbates those problems, and they will establish lines that no one should cross. Politicians, media personalities and opinion leaders who recklessly demonize their opponents should be on notice that they can no longer do so with impunity.

In the name of broadening the political discussion, a group called No Labels will come into being with the purpose of … labeling. If you “recklessly demonize” your “opponents,” you will “no longer” be able to “do so with impunity.” They will “establish bright lines no one should cross.” In other words, cross the line and we will label you a “reckless demonizer.” Dare to call Barack Obama a socialist and stand accused of exacerbating problems rather than solving them.

Nobody should be for reckless demonization, but one man’s reckless demonization is another man’s truth-telling, as the design of No Labels itself would seem to suggest. Does the No Labels style mean that, should you find Rush Limbaugh abhorrent, it is therefore acceptable to discuss his views in relation to his past prescription-drug addiction? Or Glenn Beck’s alcoholism? That would seem to be the idea, and you can see how the incivility required by the No Labels concept deconstructs it like a Rube Goldberg machine.

The drawing of bright lines is something David Frum does surpassingly well. But a group called No Labels would seem by definition to stand for the opposite — for an entirely freewheeling public conversation, which should be the opposite of a bright-line-drawing exercise. Instead, No Labels would appear to be a movement designed to give politicians space and room to hammer out compromises with each other in pursuit of the common good. That sounds nice, but it’s actually the abnegation of what a movement — an intellectual movement, a political movement, a partisan movement, or an ideological movement — actually is.

Movements arise because people believe in something in common, believe in it wholeheartedly, and want their ideas to prevail. They don’t believe in swapping out some of them for others in order to make nice to the other side. They want the other side to lose and their side to win because they believe their ideas are good and the other side’s ideas are bad.

That is why it is an oxymoron to talk about movements of the middle, or of the radical center, or whatever you want to call it, and why No Labels will never work. In the end, such movements are primarily defined by distaste. That is a powerful emotion. But in the end, distaste is primarily an aesthetic feeling, not a moral or political or ideological one. An aesthetic is not an organizing principle, because it is a principle of exclusion, not of inclusion — those bright lines are designed to keep things out, not bring them in.

David Frum, you stand accused of being an aesthete!

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So Long — Until Tomorrow

As most all of you know, today is my last day at COMMENTARY. It has been a joy and a source of great pride to work for the publication that I began reading as a teenager and that remains one of the premiere intellectual institutions in America. My writing career began as a lark and has become a passion, the most satisfying and engrossing occupation I could have imagined. The opportunity to write in COMMENTARY’S pages and on this website  — and throw some elbows, take the barbs (from those whom I’m delighted to have enraged), and report what the mainstream media refused to — has allowed me to contribute to the political debate and, along the way, break news. I owe COMMENTARY’s editors, staff, and writers an immense debt of gratitude. I am thankful for the encouragement and fine editorial advice they have provided me, without which I could not have accomplished what I did or have been ready for the next chapter in my career. And as for John’s most generous parting words, I am deeply touched. I hope to be worthy of his praise.

Then there are all of you — the readers. I have received the benefit of my readers’ extraordinary wisdom, occasional corrections and objections, and good humor. (I’ve often thought that many of you should be writing rather than just reading.) And after all, that is what a great magazine is all about — an intellectual community that stimulates, spars, consoles, incites, and makes common cause to promote values and principles that must be defended if they are to survive. I want to thank all of you for the hundreds of e-mails, calls, Facebook entries, and tweets (OK, I finally broke down and got with the 21st century@JRubinBlogger) cheering me as I move to the Washington Post.

At the Post I will launch a new blog, Right Turn (CONTENTIONS readers can get a sneak preview by clicking on the link), where I will continue to report and opine, just as I have for the past three years. Rest assured that I intend to make the most of this extraordinary opportunity. I want all of you to come along for the ride — to read, comment, and debate with the Post readers (respectfully, of course). Together we can explain who we are and what we believe to a wide and diverse audience. I will continue to make CONTENTIONS an integral part of my daily reading, and I hope you will as well. Its writers’ wealth of knowledge and wit are an indispensible part of the national debate.

And to my loved ones: your unflagging support, patience, and confidence in my abilities have sustained me. Without you, none of this would be possible.

As most all of you know, today is my last day at COMMENTARY. It has been a joy and a source of great pride to work for the publication that I began reading as a teenager and that remains one of the premiere intellectual institutions in America. My writing career began as a lark and has become a passion, the most satisfying and engrossing occupation I could have imagined. The opportunity to write in COMMENTARY’S pages and on this website  — and throw some elbows, take the barbs (from those whom I’m delighted to have enraged), and report what the mainstream media refused to — has allowed me to contribute to the political debate and, along the way, break news. I owe COMMENTARY’s editors, staff, and writers an immense debt of gratitude. I am thankful for the encouragement and fine editorial advice they have provided me, without which I could not have accomplished what I did or have been ready for the next chapter in my career. And as for John’s most generous parting words, I am deeply touched. I hope to be worthy of his praise.

Then there are all of you — the readers. I have received the benefit of my readers’ extraordinary wisdom, occasional corrections and objections, and good humor. (I’ve often thought that many of you should be writing rather than just reading.) And after all, that is what a great magazine is all about — an intellectual community that stimulates, spars, consoles, incites, and makes common cause to promote values and principles that must be defended if they are to survive. I want to thank all of you for the hundreds of e-mails, calls, Facebook entries, and tweets (OK, I finally broke down and got with the 21st century@JRubinBlogger) cheering me as I move to the Washington Post.

At the Post I will launch a new blog, Right Turn (CONTENTIONS readers can get a sneak preview by clicking on the link), where I will continue to report and opine, just as I have for the past three years. Rest assured that I intend to make the most of this extraordinary opportunity. I want all of you to come along for the ride — to read, comment, and debate with the Post readers (respectfully, of course). Together we can explain who we are and what we believe to a wide and diverse audience. I will continue to make CONTENTIONS an integral part of my daily reading, and I hope you will as well. Its writers’ wealth of knowledge and wit are an indispensible part of the national debate.

And to my loved ones: your unflagging support, patience, and confidence in my abilities have sustained me. Without you, none of this would be possible.

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When Will Liberals Acknowledge What the Arab World Already Knows?

Based on secret diplomatic cables that were published by the website WikiLeaks, Foreign Policy reports, “In a telling exchange at the end of his meeting with the emir, the Qatari ruler gave [Senator John] Kerry some advice for dealing with the Iranian government. ‘The Amir closed the meeting by offering that based on 30 years of experience with the Iranians, they will give you 100 words. Trust only one of the 100,’ the cable said.”

As has already been noted this morning on CONTENTIONS, this corresponds with what we’ve learned from other Arab leaders. For example, Bahrain’s king warning that the “danger of letting it [Iran’s nuclear program] go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.” King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program. The Saudi king “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program,” one cable stated. “He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with the General David Petraeus in April 2008. Crown Prince bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, in warning of the dangers of appeasing Iran, declared, “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” And Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called the Iranians “sponsors of terrorism.” Mubarak urged the U.S. to be wary of what Iran says, because “they are big, fat liars” and he thinks this opinion is shared by other leaders in the region. But Mubarak also said that “no Arab state will join the U.S. in a defense relationship vis-a-vis Iran out of fear of ‘sabotage and Iranian terrorism.’” Mubarak added that Iran’s support of terrorism is “well-known but I cannot say it publicly. It would create a dangerous situation.” (For good measure, Mubarak, in speaking on the Middle East peace process, expressed pessimism, saying that “Palestinians are quarreling” and Hamas will reject agreements made by Abu Mazen.)

WikiLeaks’s release of more than a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables also reveals that Iran used Red Crescent ambulances to smuggle weapons and agents into Lebanon during Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel and that it has obtained a cache of advanced missiles, including 19 from North Korea, that are much more powerful than anything Washington has publicly conceded that Tehran has in its arsenal.

What the most recent batch of WikiLeaks reveals, in other words, is that the Arab world sounds at least as hawkish as anything you will find in the pages of COMMENTARY magazine. The difference, of course, is that the Arab leaders are, as Mubarak himself confirmed, playing a disreputable double game — publicly saying one thing (for example, pretending that the source of unrest and anxiety in the Middle East is Israel) while privately saying another (Iran is by far the main danger posed to Arab states and peace in the Middle East).

Julian Assange is himself a despicable and disturbing character who seems to harbor a fierce hatred for America. He and WikiLeaks should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But there is an irony in all this: WikiLeaks is the instrument that most confirms the conservative view of the world (as J.E. Dyer argues here). Now that most of the Arab world has confirmed what neo-conservatives have said about Iran, how long will it be until liberals finally do?

Based on secret diplomatic cables that were published by the website WikiLeaks, Foreign Policy reports, “In a telling exchange at the end of his meeting with the emir, the Qatari ruler gave [Senator John] Kerry some advice for dealing with the Iranian government. ‘The Amir closed the meeting by offering that based on 30 years of experience with the Iranians, they will give you 100 words. Trust only one of the 100,’ the cable said.”

As has already been noted this morning on CONTENTIONS, this corresponds with what we’ve learned from other Arab leaders. For example, Bahrain’s king warning that the “danger of letting it [Iran’s nuclear program] go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.” King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program. The Saudi king “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program,” one cable stated. “He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with the General David Petraeus in April 2008. Crown Prince bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, in warning of the dangers of appeasing Iran, declared, “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” And Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called the Iranians “sponsors of terrorism.” Mubarak urged the U.S. to be wary of what Iran says, because “they are big, fat liars” and he thinks this opinion is shared by other leaders in the region. But Mubarak also said that “no Arab state will join the U.S. in a defense relationship vis-a-vis Iran out of fear of ‘sabotage and Iranian terrorism.’” Mubarak added that Iran’s support of terrorism is “well-known but I cannot say it publicly. It would create a dangerous situation.” (For good measure, Mubarak, in speaking on the Middle East peace process, expressed pessimism, saying that “Palestinians are quarreling” and Hamas will reject agreements made by Abu Mazen.)

WikiLeaks’s release of more than a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables also reveals that Iran used Red Crescent ambulances to smuggle weapons and agents into Lebanon during Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel and that it has obtained a cache of advanced missiles, including 19 from North Korea, that are much more powerful than anything Washington has publicly conceded that Tehran has in its arsenal.

What the most recent batch of WikiLeaks reveals, in other words, is that the Arab world sounds at least as hawkish as anything you will find in the pages of COMMENTARY magazine. The difference, of course, is that the Arab leaders are, as Mubarak himself confirmed, playing a disreputable double game — publicly saying one thing (for example, pretending that the source of unrest and anxiety in the Middle East is Israel) while privately saying another (Iran is by far the main danger posed to Arab states and peace in the Middle East).

Julian Assange is himself a despicable and disturbing character who seems to harbor a fierce hatred for America. He and WikiLeaks should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But there is an irony in all this: WikiLeaks is the instrument that most confirms the conservative view of the world (as J.E. Dyer argues here). Now that most of the Arab world has confirmed what neo-conservatives have said about Iran, how long will it be until liberals finally do?

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The Fed Writes What May Be Obama’s Obituary

Yesterday came the news that the Federal Reserve expects unemployment to hover around 9 percent throughout 2011 and possibly decline to 8 percent by the end of 2012. It’s worth noting that we don’t have much reason to trust that the Federal Reserve knows anything about anything these days. The prognosticative skills of its officials and reports have proved scandalously poor over the past few years, just as its policies have suggested exactly the kind of inconstancy, desperation, and politicization that the Federal Reserve system was designed to avoid.

So with those caveats, which are substantial, we can still be assured of one thing: if unemployment is that high in 2012, Barack Obama will not win a second term. Democrats can intone the words “Sarah Palin” all they want as a desperate hope for salvation from Republican rule. But the simple fact of the matter is that if we enter into a fourth year of unemployment at levels unseen except for periods of a few months since the 1930s — after spending somewhere north of $1 trillion to try to bring the number down and with the Fed printing as much as $2 trillion to pump up growth — any Republican, and I mean any Republican, who can get the nomination will win.

Indeed, if unemployment is higher than the Fed now is expecting at the beginning of 2012, I think it’s entirely possible that Obama would not run for a second term. Continued parlous economic news through 2011 will surely create the condition for a serious primary challenger, as I talk about in my lead article in COMMENTARY’s December issue, as will continued trouble in Afghanistan.

One reason for the depth of the difficulty here is the degree to which the United States remains a consumer-driven economy. If a tenth of the country has little or no disposable income, that limits the possibilities for economic growth and a roaring recovery. Even worse, the psychic effect of years of bad economic news depresses consumer spending in every sector.

And the uncertainty created by the current political-economic climate, in which no one knows what will happen to tax rates and what will happen to health-care plans and what will happen to housing, contributes to the worries of small businesses (traditionally the engines of job growth, especially at the tail end of a downturn) about taking on new workers.

It’s a dangerous loop. So now, having to invest hope in the Fed’s newest round of quantitative easing working in his favor, Obama must simultaneously pray that the Fed is wrong about all that other stuff. Even if it is, he’s going to have a tough road ahead.

Yesterday came the news that the Federal Reserve expects unemployment to hover around 9 percent throughout 2011 and possibly decline to 8 percent by the end of 2012. It’s worth noting that we don’t have much reason to trust that the Federal Reserve knows anything about anything these days. The prognosticative skills of its officials and reports have proved scandalously poor over the past few years, just as its policies have suggested exactly the kind of inconstancy, desperation, and politicization that the Federal Reserve system was designed to avoid.

So with those caveats, which are substantial, we can still be assured of one thing: if unemployment is that high in 2012, Barack Obama will not win a second term. Democrats can intone the words “Sarah Palin” all they want as a desperate hope for salvation from Republican rule. But the simple fact of the matter is that if we enter into a fourth year of unemployment at levels unseen except for periods of a few months since the 1930s — after spending somewhere north of $1 trillion to try to bring the number down and with the Fed printing as much as $2 trillion to pump up growth — any Republican, and I mean any Republican, who can get the nomination will win.

Indeed, if unemployment is higher than the Fed now is expecting at the beginning of 2012, I think it’s entirely possible that Obama would not run for a second term. Continued parlous economic news through 2011 will surely create the condition for a serious primary challenger, as I talk about in my lead article in COMMENTARY’s December issue, as will continued trouble in Afghanistan.

One reason for the depth of the difficulty here is the degree to which the United States remains a consumer-driven economy. If a tenth of the country has little or no disposable income, that limits the possibilities for economic growth and a roaring recovery. Even worse, the psychic effect of years of bad economic news depresses consumer spending in every sector.

And the uncertainty created by the current political-economic climate, in which no one knows what will happen to tax rates and what will happen to health-care plans and what will happen to housing, contributes to the worries of small businesses (traditionally the engines of job growth, especially at the tail end of a downturn) about taking on new workers.

It’s a dangerous loop. So now, having to invest hope in the Fed’s newest round of quantitative easing working in his favor, Obama must simultaneously pray that the Fed is wrong about all that other stuff. Even if it is, he’s going to have a tough road ahead.

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To Jennifer Rubin, The Fondest of Farewells

For the past three years, Jennifer Rubin has set this blog and this website afire with her breadth of knowledge, her love of the intricacies of politics, her passion for ideas and policy, and her commitment to principle. The living embodiment of the word “indefatigable,” Jen has labored daily from her home in suburban Virginia, writing early in the morning and late at night, on computer and Blackberry, all the while getting her two boys to school and back, and to Hebrew school and back, never missing a news story, never missing an op-ed column, reading everything and digesting everything and commenting on everything. She is a phenomenon, especially considering that for the first two decades of her working life, she was not a writer or a journalist but a lawyer specializing in labor issues who worked for Hollywood studios primarily.

On December 1, Jen will be leaving COMMENTARY, where she has also served as our contributing editor for the past year, to take up blogger’s residence at the Washington Post. It is a brilliant hire for them and a terrific loss for us. A noteworthy fact about Jen’s versatility is that, even considering the thousands of blog items (literally) she has written for us over the past three years, the best-read of all her COMMENTARY contributions was her recent long article, “California, There It Went,” a unique and powerful combination of memoir and elegy for the state she left to take up residence in her new East Coast home and begin her second career as a writer.

We’ll miss her, but we’ll keep reading her, as I expect you will too.

For the past three years, Jennifer Rubin has set this blog and this website afire with her breadth of knowledge, her love of the intricacies of politics, her passion for ideas and policy, and her commitment to principle. The living embodiment of the word “indefatigable,” Jen has labored daily from her home in suburban Virginia, writing early in the morning and late at night, on computer and Blackberry, all the while getting her two boys to school and back, and to Hebrew school and back, never missing a news story, never missing an op-ed column, reading everything and digesting everything and commenting on everything. She is a phenomenon, especially considering that for the first two decades of her working life, she was not a writer or a journalist but a lawyer specializing in labor issues who worked for Hollywood studios primarily.

On December 1, Jen will be leaving COMMENTARY, where she has also served as our contributing editor for the past year, to take up blogger’s residence at the Washington Post. It is a brilliant hire for them and a terrific loss for us. A noteworthy fact about Jen’s versatility is that, even considering the thousands of blog items (literally) she has written for us over the past three years, the best-read of all her COMMENTARY contributions was her recent long article, “California, There It Went,” a unique and powerful combination of memoir and elegy for the state she left to take up residence in her new East Coast home and begin her second career as a writer.

We’ll miss her, but we’ll keep reading her, as I expect you will too.

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Ground Zero Mosque: A Public Debate

This evening, November 9, at 6 p.m., a public forum will be held on the topic of “The Ground Zero Mosque: To Build or Not to Build?” at Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs. The panel discussing the question will be composed of COMMENTARY executive editor Jonathan S. Tobin, author of “The Mosque and the Mythical Backlash,” which appeared in the magazine’s October issue; Rabbi David Ellenson, president of the Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion; and the Reverend Chloe Breyer, executive director of the Interfaith Center of New York. The moderator will be COMMENTARY contributor Kenneth L. Marcus, Lillie & Nathan Ackerman Visiting Professor of Equality & Justice in America.

The forum will be held at Baruch’s School of Public Affairs, Newman Vertical Campus, 14th Floor, Room 14-220, at 55 Lexington Avenue in New York City. To RSVP, please click here.

This evening, November 9, at 6 p.m., a public forum will be held on the topic of “The Ground Zero Mosque: To Build or Not to Build?” at Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs. The panel discussing the question will be composed of COMMENTARY executive editor Jonathan S. Tobin, author of “The Mosque and the Mythical Backlash,” which appeared in the magazine’s October issue; Rabbi David Ellenson, president of the Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion; and the Reverend Chloe Breyer, executive director of the Interfaith Center of New York. The moderator will be COMMENTARY contributor Kenneth L. Marcus, Lillie & Nathan Ackerman Visiting Professor of Equality & Justice in America.

The forum will be held at Baruch’s School of Public Affairs, Newman Vertical Campus, 14th Floor, Room 14-220, at 55 Lexington Avenue in New York City. To RSVP, please click here.

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Bellow, Hitchens, and COMMENTARY

One of the pleasures of the just-published Saul Bellow: Letters is the letter about the 1989 dinner with Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens – where Commentary played a dramatic role. Amis wrote about it in his 2001 memoir, Experience; Hitchens described it last year in Hitch-22. Now we have Bellow’s perspective, in an August 29, 1989, letter to Cynthia Ozick.

Amis had invited Hitchens, his best friend, to join him for dinner at Bellow’s Vermont home. On the ride there, Amis warned Hitchens that he “wasn’t to drag the conversation toward anything political, let alone left-wing, let alone anything to do with Israel.” But before dinner, Hitchens spotted something that would soon set him off:

Right on the wicker table in the room where we were chatting, there lay something that was as potentially hackneyed in its menace as Anton Chekhov’s gun on the mantelpiece. If it’s there in the first act … it will be fired before the curtain comes down. … It was the only piece of printed matter in view, and it was the latest edition of COMMENTARY magazine, and its bannered cover-story headline was: “Edward Said, Professor of Terror.”

As Hitchens told it, Bellow made an observation during dinner about anti-Zionism and went to retrieve his underlined copy of COMMENTARY to prove his point, and Hitchens decided he could not allow his friend Edward Said to be “defamed.” And “by the end of dinner nobody could meet anyone else’s eye and [Amis's] foot had become lamed and tired by its under-the-table collisions with my shins.” On the long ride home, Hitchens explained he had to defend his absent friend — to which Amis responded, “And what about me?” Read More

One of the pleasures of the just-published Saul Bellow: Letters is the letter about the 1989 dinner with Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens – where Commentary played a dramatic role. Amis wrote about it in his 2001 memoir, Experience; Hitchens described it last year in Hitch-22. Now we have Bellow’s perspective, in an August 29, 1989, letter to Cynthia Ozick.

Amis had invited Hitchens, his best friend, to join him for dinner at Bellow’s Vermont home. On the ride there, Amis warned Hitchens that he “wasn’t to drag the conversation toward anything political, let alone left-wing, let alone anything to do with Israel.” But before dinner, Hitchens spotted something that would soon set him off:

Right on the wicker table in the room where we were chatting, there lay something that was as potentially hackneyed in its menace as Anton Chekhov’s gun on the mantelpiece. If it’s there in the first act … it will be fired before the curtain comes down. … It was the only piece of printed matter in view, and it was the latest edition of COMMENTARY magazine, and its bannered cover-story headline was: “Edward Said, Professor of Terror.”

As Hitchens told it, Bellow made an observation during dinner about anti-Zionism and went to retrieve his underlined copy of COMMENTARY to prove his point, and Hitchens decided he could not allow his friend Edward Said to be “defamed.” And “by the end of dinner nobody could meet anyone else’s eye and [Amis's] foot had become lamed and tired by its under-the-table collisions with my shins.” On the long ride home, Hitchens explained he had to defend his absent friend — to which Amis responded, “And what about me?”

In his letter to Ozick, Bellow wrote that Hitchens had identified himself as a regular contributor to the Nation — a magazine Bellow had stopped reading after Gore Vidal “wrote his piece about the disloyalty of Jews to the USA” – and as a great friend of Said:

At the mention of Said’s name, Janis [Bellow] grumbled. I doubt that this was unexpected, for Hitchens almost certainly thinks of me as a terrible reactionary – the Jewish Right. … [He said] he must apologize for differing with Janis but loyalty to a friend demanded that he set the record straight. … Fortunately (or not) I had within reach several excerpts from Said’s Critical Inquiry piece, which I offered in evidence. Jews were (more or less) Nazis. But of course, said Hitchens, it was well known that [Yitzhak] Shamir had approached Hitler during the war to make deals. I objected that Shamir was Shamir, he wasn’t the Jews. Besides I didn’t trust the evidence. The argument seesawed. Amis took the Said selections to read for himself. He could find nothing to say at the moment but next morning he tried to bring the matter up, and to avoid further embarrassment I said it had all been much ado about nothing.

Then Bellow broadened the point of his letter:

Well, these Hitchenses are just Fourth-Estate playboys thriving on agitation, and Jews are so easy to agitate. Sometimes (if only I knew enough to do it right!) I think I’d like to write about the fate of the Jews in the decline of the West — or the long crisis of the West, if decline doesn’t suit you. The movement to assimilate coincided with the arrival of nihilism. This nihilism reached its climax with Hitler. The Jewish answer to the Holocaust was the creation of a state. After the camps came politics and these politics are nihilistic. Your Hitchenses, the political press in its silliest disheveled left-wing form, are (if nihilism has a hierarchy) the gnomes. … And it’s so easy to make trouble for the Jews. Nothing easier. The networks love it, the big papers let it be made, there’s a receptive university population.

So many ironies in this episode: only a few months before, Hitchens had learned that his mother and maternal grandparents were Jews, and that he was thus a Jew himself. Today he technically qualifies as part of the Jewish right (and believes that the U.S. military attracts the nation’s most idealistic people). He would write an introduction to a new edition of The Adventures of Augie March and receive a warm letter from Bellow; he left the Nation, in part because of the magazine’s tolerance of Gore Vidal, and he fell out with Edward Said, in part because of Said’s rigid anti-Americanism. Hitch-22 is marred by the occasional eruption of Hitchens’s anti-Zionism (reflecting his longstanding Palestinian blind spot), but it is a fascinating account of an extraordinary life by someone who traveled a long road after that dinner 20 years ago.

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A Friend on a Friend

Bret Stephens, our valued contributor and Wall Street Journal columnist, has a wonderful profile in the new Philanthropy of Roger Hertog, a longtime COMMENTARY board member. Bret’s portrait of Roger Hertog’s classic American story — from a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx to City College and then into an improbable career as a full-time banker and passionate Muse of intellectual causes, ideas, and institutions — is brilliantly done. Perhaps most interesting, given the tenor of the times, is that Roger Hertog’s professional career was largely spent at an investment bank that prided itself on its scrupulous treatment of its clients and rigorously impartial research that ensured no conflicts of interest arose between the bank’s bottom line and the furtherance of the goals of those who had entrusted their money to it.

Among Hertog’s many projects are Jewish Ideas Daily, a website under the management of COMMENTARY’s former editor and now editor-at-large Neal Kozodoy, a peerless examination of intellectual, political, and cultural trends in Jewish life, and — just out with a sensational third issue — the Jewish Review of Books. Its editor, Abe Socher, has a terrific piece on the Lubavitch movement, and there are sterling contributions by the literary critic Ruth Franklin (which you can only read by subscribing, and you should), and the historians Anthony Grafton and Jon D. Levenson.

Roger Hertog was recently awarded the William E. Simon Prize from the Philanthropy Roundtable. In his acceptance speech, he explained his expansive view of the role of philanthropy in the furtherance of ideas:

At 68 years of age, in the final chapter of my life, my full-time occupation is investing in the world of ideas.   It is hard work — requiring the same creativity, judgment, and strategic sense that were necessary in business. My governing purpose is to find, support, and hopefully influence the next generation of leaders, be it in politics, the academy, history, religion, or national security.  [There must be] the willingness to speculate.  To take chances of making a mistake.  There’s irony in the fact that most entrepreneurs make their money by taking risks – betting on what they believe in, even though they may be wrong.  Then, when they become philanthropists, they forget what sparked their success in the first place.  They become too risk-averse.

My greatest worry, however, is that conservatives like me haven’t invested enough time, energy and treasure in the many spaces where young minds – and even more mature adults — are influenced.  History teaches that political philosophers, both when they’re right and when they’re wrong, have more impact on the way the world goes than is commonly understood.  Over time, the world is often shaped by the greatest thoughts—or most destructive theories—of the most powerful minds. But even the greatest minds begin life as young people. They need mentors. They need teachers. They need to be introduced to bodies of thought and worlds of ideas that might enable them to become great thinkers themselves.

This job—the education of the young—should reside with the universities.  Every single year, the smartest, most capable young men and women – those who will be the leaders of the next generation – are to be found at the top hundred or so campuses around the country. One only needs to check on where our Congressmen, Senators, Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet members, and business and religious leaders have studied or taught.  Then you recognize why the top universities are so important.

The teachers at those places are the arbiters, maybe not the final arbiters, of what our children learn and believe.  If their teaching is one sided, in either direction, it does a tremendous disservice to these young men and women. Unless we populate the humanities with an alternative to the ascendant ideology, conservative ideas about limited government, rule of law, individual liberty and the role of religion will over time lose out. This doesn’t mean we should indulge in indoctrination.  That shouldn’t be necessary!  If we can simply get our ideas on the table, we’ll win our fair share of minds….If educational programs are the essential long-term investment, think tanks, small magazines, books and other free-standing institutions are the best middle-term investment, especially if the aim is to develop and disseminate ideas. There are many good think tanks and magazines around the country, both left- and right-of-center.  They don’t usually have much overhead either. They’re all about ideas.

So is Roger Hertog.

Bret Stephens, our valued contributor and Wall Street Journal columnist, has a wonderful profile in the new Philanthropy of Roger Hertog, a longtime COMMENTARY board member. Bret’s portrait of Roger Hertog’s classic American story — from a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx to City College and then into an improbable career as a full-time banker and passionate Muse of intellectual causes, ideas, and institutions — is brilliantly done. Perhaps most interesting, given the tenor of the times, is that Roger Hertog’s professional career was largely spent at an investment bank that prided itself on its scrupulous treatment of its clients and rigorously impartial research that ensured no conflicts of interest arose between the bank’s bottom line and the furtherance of the goals of those who had entrusted their money to it.

Among Hertog’s many projects are Jewish Ideas Daily, a website under the management of COMMENTARY’s former editor and now editor-at-large Neal Kozodoy, a peerless examination of intellectual, political, and cultural trends in Jewish life, and — just out with a sensational third issue — the Jewish Review of Books. Its editor, Abe Socher, has a terrific piece on the Lubavitch movement, and there are sterling contributions by the literary critic Ruth Franklin (which you can only read by subscribing, and you should), and the historians Anthony Grafton and Jon D. Levenson.

Roger Hertog was recently awarded the William E. Simon Prize from the Philanthropy Roundtable. In his acceptance speech, he explained his expansive view of the role of philanthropy in the furtherance of ideas:

At 68 years of age, in the final chapter of my life, my full-time occupation is investing in the world of ideas.   It is hard work — requiring the same creativity, judgment, and strategic sense that were necessary in business. My governing purpose is to find, support, and hopefully influence the next generation of leaders, be it in politics, the academy, history, religion, or national security.  [There must be] the willingness to speculate.  To take chances of making a mistake.  There’s irony in the fact that most entrepreneurs make their money by taking risks – betting on what they believe in, even though they may be wrong.  Then, when they become philanthropists, they forget what sparked their success in the first place.  They become too risk-averse.

My greatest worry, however, is that conservatives like me haven’t invested enough time, energy and treasure in the many spaces where young minds – and even more mature adults — are influenced.  History teaches that political philosophers, both when they’re right and when they’re wrong, have more impact on the way the world goes than is commonly understood.  Over time, the world is often shaped by the greatest thoughts—or most destructive theories—of the most powerful minds. But even the greatest minds begin life as young people. They need mentors. They need teachers. They need to be introduced to bodies of thought and worlds of ideas that might enable them to become great thinkers themselves.

This job—the education of the young—should reside with the universities.  Every single year, the smartest, most capable young men and women – those who will be the leaders of the next generation – are to be found at the top hundred or so campuses around the country. One only needs to check on where our Congressmen, Senators, Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet members, and business and religious leaders have studied or taught.  Then you recognize why the top universities are so important.

The teachers at those places are the arbiters, maybe not the final arbiters, of what our children learn and believe.  If their teaching is one sided, in either direction, it does a tremendous disservice to these young men and women. Unless we populate the humanities with an alternative to the ascendant ideology, conservative ideas about limited government, rule of law, individual liberty and the role of religion will over time lose out. This doesn’t mean we should indulge in indoctrination.  That shouldn’t be necessary!  If we can simply get our ideas on the table, we’ll win our fair share of minds….If educational programs are the essential long-term investment, think tanks, small magazines, books and other free-standing institutions are the best middle-term investment, especially if the aim is to develop and disseminate ideas. There are many good think tanks and magazines around the country, both left- and right-of-center.  They don’t usually have much overhead either. They’re all about ideas.

So is Roger Hertog.

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Article of the Week…

…is by COMMENTARY’s own Andrew Ferguson, in the new Weekly Standard. Entitled “The Roots of Lunacy,” this superb piece of political analysis and cultural takedown considers the way in which political hatred morphs over time, with particular emphasis on Dinesh D’Souza’s new bestseller, The Roots of Obama’s Rage. Andy’s point in the end is that looking for explanations for the origins of Obama’s politics is a ridiculous exercise since he is simply an “unchecked liberal” who is likely more moderate than a President Kerry or a President Edwards would have been. I don’t think that’s right; Obama’s unchecked liberalism is of an order different from the liberalism of anyone who might have served in his stead owing to the fact that it really is unchecked by any experience in political or ideological compromise of any sort. Edwards was a Democratic pol in a Southern state and had some sense at least of how to talk to people who don’t agree with him; Kerry served in the Senate for a very long time under Democratic and Republican majorities and at least had learned how to maneuver in a heterodox partisan atmosphere. None of that is true of Obama, whose inexperience both helped get him elected and now gives him absolutely no sense of how to handle the turnaround in the national mood or the disenchantment of the voters with him. Ideologically, he gives one the sense that the only conservative he’s ever talked to is David Brooks, and he views the plurality of the electorate that uses the word “conservative” to describe itself as a strange, distasteful foreign creature whose president he also, unfortunately, must be.

…is by COMMENTARY’s own Andrew Ferguson, in the new Weekly Standard. Entitled “The Roots of Lunacy,” this superb piece of political analysis and cultural takedown considers the way in which political hatred morphs over time, with particular emphasis on Dinesh D’Souza’s new bestseller, The Roots of Obama’s Rage. Andy’s point in the end is that looking for explanations for the origins of Obama’s politics is a ridiculous exercise since he is simply an “unchecked liberal” who is likely more moderate than a President Kerry or a President Edwards would have been. I don’t think that’s right; Obama’s unchecked liberalism is of an order different from the liberalism of anyone who might have served in his stead owing to the fact that it really is unchecked by any experience in political or ideological compromise of any sort. Edwards was a Democratic pol in a Southern state and had some sense at least of how to talk to people who don’t agree with him; Kerry served in the Senate for a very long time under Democratic and Republican majorities and at least had learned how to maneuver in a heterodox partisan atmosphere. None of that is true of Obama, whose inexperience both helped get him elected and now gives him absolutely no sense of how to handle the turnaround in the national mood or the disenchantment of the voters with him. Ideologically, he gives one the sense that the only conservative he’s ever talked to is David Brooks, and he views the plurality of the electorate that uses the word “conservative” to describe itself as a strange, distasteful foreign creature whose president he also, unfortunately, must be.

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From the October Issue: ‘The Mosque and the Mythical Backlash’

On August 25, 2010, a New York City cabdriver was slashed and stabbed by a drunken passenger who allegedly accompanied his assault with anti-Muslim remarks. The driver, Ahmed H. Sharif, a native of Bangladesh, survived the attack, and the accused assailant was quickly arrested and faces a stiff prison sentence. Attacks on New York cabdrivers are not unheard of, but this incident quickly assumed the nature of a symbol of American intolerance for Muslims because of the contentious national debate over plans to build an Islamic community center two blocks from Ground Zero—the site of the former World Trade Center destroyed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

To read the rest of this article from the October issue of COMMENTARY magazine, click here.

On August 25, 2010, a New York City cabdriver was slashed and stabbed by a drunken passenger who allegedly accompanied his assault with anti-Muslim remarks. The driver, Ahmed H. Sharif, a native of Bangladesh, survived the attack, and the accused assailant was quickly arrested and faces a stiff prison sentence. Attacks on New York cabdrivers are not unheard of, but this incident quickly assumed the nature of a symbol of American intolerance for Muslims because of the contentious national debate over plans to build an Islamic community center two blocks from Ground Zero—the site of the former World Trade Center destroyed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

To read the rest of this article from the October issue of COMMENTARY magazine, click here.

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Chait off the Rails, Even at the Beach

Almost all the TNR crew has leapt off the cliff with Obama on the Ground Zero mosque. But none has leapt farther than Jonathan Chait, or with less candor about his opponents’ arguments. Chait, it seems, spends much time reading our posts and writing about what we think on the topic, which is lovely for our readership stats but odd for one who finds that we’ve “descended” to new lows. (By the way, as John Podhoretz recently pointed out to a group of assembled readers, Chait’s fond memories of COMMENTARY should come as news to those who recall that the left found COMMENTARY every bit as distasteful in the 1970s and 80s as it does now.) Chait checks in from the beach to throw in his latest dose of disdain for all those (Al-Rashid too?) who object to the monument to Islam on Ground Zero.

Chait, once again, flies into a tizzy, this time about my use of the term “Muslim World.” He suggests that in saying Obama preferred the “Muslim World” to America on the mosque, I was referring to the domestic mosque builders, thereby implying that American Muslims aren’t Americans. No, I’m using Obama’s own term and in precisely the same way Obama does — to describe the audience of Muslims in the Middle East and around the globe. My point, one made more compelling by the words of Al-Rashid and other Muslims, is that Obama is acting in ways antithetical to our interests and to those of Muslims not yet caught in the grip of jihadism. He repeatedly favors grand gestures for the consumption of the Muslim World outside the U.S. at the expense of our own values and interests, and in contravention of the overwhelming sentiments of Americans. We can only speculate why he behaves in this fashion.

We have seen this profound error in judgment and strategy from Obama before. Recall that this approach was central to his decision to close Guantanamo, which he explained would make us look better in the eyes of, yes, the Muslim World. We see it in his excising of the term “Islamic fundamentalist” from our government’s vocabulary because he imagines that the Muslim World would be insulted if we point out that extremists in their ranks are responsible for much death and destruction — in Islamic countries as well, for that matter. We saw and heard it in his Cairo speech when Obama served up the Palestinians’ victimology rhetoric while avoiding an honest discussion of the human rights atrocities all too common in the Muslim World. In short, Obama not only pays excessive deference to the Muslim World (at least a certain slice of it) while denigrating his own country; he also manages to fuel Muslim resentment and undermine the voices of moderation both in the U.S. and abroad.

But really, what can Chait expect of “bigots” who ask impertinent questions like: “So, dear Jon Chait and dear Isaac Chotiner, does the Cordoba Initiative at least not give you the creeps?” And just to be clear, since Chait doesn’t always read carefully, there’s nothing bigoted in the least about that query from Chait’s editor, or in the increasingly bipartisan opposition to a mosque that a number of eloquent Muslims — American and otherwise — have voiced.

Nevertheless, it is swell to know our views still command the attention (obsession?) of the left. But some friendly advice to Chait: enjoy your vacation — and rather than blog from the beach, wait to get caught up on the story before your next assault.

Almost all the TNR crew has leapt off the cliff with Obama on the Ground Zero mosque. But none has leapt farther than Jonathan Chait, or with less candor about his opponents’ arguments. Chait, it seems, spends much time reading our posts and writing about what we think on the topic, which is lovely for our readership stats but odd for one who finds that we’ve “descended” to new lows. (By the way, as John Podhoretz recently pointed out to a group of assembled readers, Chait’s fond memories of COMMENTARY should come as news to those who recall that the left found COMMENTARY every bit as distasteful in the 1970s and 80s as it does now.) Chait checks in from the beach to throw in his latest dose of disdain for all those (Al-Rashid too?) who object to the monument to Islam on Ground Zero.

Chait, once again, flies into a tizzy, this time about my use of the term “Muslim World.” He suggests that in saying Obama preferred the “Muslim World” to America on the mosque, I was referring to the domestic mosque builders, thereby implying that American Muslims aren’t Americans. No, I’m using Obama’s own term and in precisely the same way Obama does — to describe the audience of Muslims in the Middle East and around the globe. My point, one made more compelling by the words of Al-Rashid and other Muslims, is that Obama is acting in ways antithetical to our interests and to those of Muslims not yet caught in the grip of jihadism. He repeatedly favors grand gestures for the consumption of the Muslim World outside the U.S. at the expense of our own values and interests, and in contravention of the overwhelming sentiments of Americans. We can only speculate why he behaves in this fashion.

We have seen this profound error in judgment and strategy from Obama before. Recall that this approach was central to his decision to close Guantanamo, which he explained would make us look better in the eyes of, yes, the Muslim World. We see it in his excising of the term “Islamic fundamentalist” from our government’s vocabulary because he imagines that the Muslim World would be insulted if we point out that extremists in their ranks are responsible for much death and destruction — in Islamic countries as well, for that matter. We saw and heard it in his Cairo speech when Obama served up the Palestinians’ victimology rhetoric while avoiding an honest discussion of the human rights atrocities all too common in the Muslim World. In short, Obama not only pays excessive deference to the Muslim World (at least a certain slice of it) while denigrating his own country; he also manages to fuel Muslim resentment and undermine the voices of moderation both in the U.S. and abroad.

But really, what can Chait expect of “bigots” who ask impertinent questions like: “So, dear Jon Chait and dear Isaac Chotiner, does the Cordoba Initiative at least not give you the creeps?” And just to be clear, since Chait doesn’t always read carefully, there’s nothing bigoted in the least about that query from Chait’s editor, or in the increasingly bipartisan opposition to a mosque that a number of eloquent Muslims — American and otherwise — have voiced.

Nevertheless, it is swell to know our views still command the attention (obsession?) of the left. But some friendly advice to Chait: enjoy your vacation — and rather than blog from the beach, wait to get caught up on the story before your next assault.

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RE: The West Is in Denial over Turkey

Evelyn, there is an aspect to the Turkish chemical-weapon story I’d like to pick up on. The Jerusalem Post notes that photos of eight Kurds (six men and two women) killed by Turkish chemical weapons were provided to the German media in March. Why have we not heard or seen much (any?) about this in the U.S. media? Well, you see, the 31 photos showed that the Kurds bodies were “severely deformed and torn to pieces.” It seems that the photos are so horrific “news organizations have been reluctant to publish them.”

So this is the new journalist guideline — if human-rights abominations are too awful, then they can’t be revealed? Or perhaps the rule is something different, namely that the coverage of atrocities by Muslim nations get precious little coverage by the media. Israel and the U.S. are inspected with a microscope, and when the facts aren’t there, the media and the left-wing propaganda industry (yes, the two often overlap) are happy to concoct some human-rights misdeeds or treat individual acts of misconduct as official policy.

When confronted with this imbalance and blatant double standard, liberal media mavens will tell you that we simply have to expect more of western democracies. Huh? Yes, the condescension toward nonwestern states (i.e., we can’t expect anything more, so therefore human-rights abuses aren’t “news”) is an insidious form of bias. Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations.

The other excuse commonly given for the non-coverage of Muslim human-rights abuses is that we can’t get access to “closed” societies, so not much can be reported. There are two problems with this excuse: even when information is available, why isn’t it widely reported, and why don’t we read more about suppression of the media in the “Muslim World”?

A very smart COMMENTARY reader recently made this suggestion to me: why doesn’t Fox News (the others are hopeless) select a human-rights atrocity of the week? Yes, it’s sometimes hard to choose just one, but the endeavor would shed some light on exactly how these countries operate and the pathetic passivity of our administration. It would illuminate common practices in Muslim countries like stonings, honor killings, child marriages, and executions of gays. In other words, we need some entity to do what the ludicrously constituted UN Human Rights Council and the UN Commission on the Status of Women will not (because some of the worst abusers sit on these august bodies). How about it, Mr. Ailes? It seems an entirely worthwhile journalistic project that would distinguish its network. It might even force others to perk up.

Evelyn, there is an aspect to the Turkish chemical-weapon story I’d like to pick up on. The Jerusalem Post notes that photos of eight Kurds (six men and two women) killed by Turkish chemical weapons were provided to the German media in March. Why have we not heard or seen much (any?) about this in the U.S. media? Well, you see, the 31 photos showed that the Kurds bodies were “severely deformed and torn to pieces.” It seems that the photos are so horrific “news organizations have been reluctant to publish them.”

So this is the new journalist guideline — if human-rights abominations are too awful, then they can’t be revealed? Or perhaps the rule is something different, namely that the coverage of atrocities by Muslim nations get precious little coverage by the media. Israel and the U.S. are inspected with a microscope, and when the facts aren’t there, the media and the left-wing propaganda industry (yes, the two often overlap) are happy to concoct some human-rights misdeeds or treat individual acts of misconduct as official policy.

When confronted with this imbalance and blatant double standard, liberal media mavens will tell you that we simply have to expect more of western democracies. Huh? Yes, the condescension toward nonwestern states (i.e., we can’t expect anything more, so therefore human-rights abuses aren’t “news”) is an insidious form of bias. Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations.

The other excuse commonly given for the non-coverage of Muslim human-rights abuses is that we can’t get access to “closed” societies, so not much can be reported. There are two problems with this excuse: even when information is available, why isn’t it widely reported, and why don’t we read more about suppression of the media in the “Muslim World”?

A very smart COMMENTARY reader recently made this suggestion to me: why doesn’t Fox News (the others are hopeless) select a human-rights atrocity of the week? Yes, it’s sometimes hard to choose just one, but the endeavor would shed some light on exactly how these countries operate and the pathetic passivity of our administration. It would illuminate common practices in Muslim countries like stonings, honor killings, child marriages, and executions of gays. In other words, we need some entity to do what the ludicrously constituted UN Human Rights Council and the UN Commission on the Status of Women will not (because some of the worst abusers sit on these august bodies). How about it, Mr. Ailes? It seems an entirely worthwhile journalistic project that would distinguish its network. It might even force others to perk up.

Read Less

The New Republic’s Keith Olbermann

In a story in the Washington Examiner, Stephen Hess, an expert on the presidency at the Brookings Institution, said Robert Gibbs’ remarks attacking the “professional left” shows how “unprepared” many in the Obama administration were for the rigors of the White House. “A lot of things had come too easy for them — a substantial election victory, and an almost messianic moment with the inauguration,” Hess said. “Governing is hard.”

The governing-is-hard theme is something some of us warned about a long time ago. And charting some of Obama’s early missteps caused commentators on the left, such as the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, enormous irritation. In May 2009 he wrote:

In anticipation of his prophesy coming true, [Wehner’s] blogging for Commentary has become a gleeful chronicle of Obama’s imagined descent into dysfunction and popular repudiation.

Well, now. The “imagined descent” into popular repudiation (and dysfunction, for that matter) is no longer imagined, is it?

Popular repudiation is precisely what Obama and Democrats are experiencing on a scale that is extremely rare — one the may prove to be unprecedented — for a president who has been in office for less than two years.

William Galston, who served in the Clinton administration, has warned his party that it might not only lose the House; its majority in the Senate is endangered, too. And the polarization some of us highlighted early on in Obama’s presidency was in fact on the mark. Chait dismissed the observation at the time, but then came (for Chait) a rather unfortunate Gallup survey released in January 2010, which reported that Barack Obama was the most polarizing first-year president in recorded history.

Now we should keep in mind that Chait is the same individual who, in December 2008, assured his readers that “undiluted liberalism” in the area of health care was hugely popular and that the path to political dominance for Obama and Democrats; and who, in February 2007, wrote that there was “something genuinely bizarre” about those Americans who supported President Bush’s surge strategy in Iraq. “It is not just that they are wrong,” our modern-day Metternich insisted. “It’s that they are completely detached from reality.”

Such detached-from-reality insights continue apace. Earlier this year, for example, Chait wrote:

The perception has formed, perhaps indelibly, that the reason Democrats will get hammered in the 2010 elections is that the party moved too far left in general and tried to reform health care in particular. This perception owes itself, above all, to the habit that political analysts in the media and other outposts of mainstream thought have of ignoring structural factors.

Of course; health-care reform has nothing to do with Obama’s plight or that of the Democratic Party. So sayeth The Great Chait.

Never mind that Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, analyzes the empirical data and declares that “the health overhaul remains a political loser in most of the country.” Or that Democratic pollster Doug Schoen writes that “recent polling shows that the [health care] bill has been a disaster for the party. … There may well be no single initiative as unpopular as the administration’s health care reform bill.” Or that Charlie Cook, who specializes in election forecasts and political trends, declared earlier this year that from a political perspective, pushing health care was a “colossal miscalculation.” Yet Chait – who doesn’t specialize in election forecasts or political trends – knows better.

And what should we make of the fact that by nearly a 3-to-1 margin, voters in Missouri voters rejected a key provision of President Obama’s health-care law? Easy. “Missouri is not a ‘bellwether’ state right now,” Chait cheerfully informs us. Missouri, you see, has suddenly become Utah. And the individual mandate never was popular, don’t you know?

Chait has been reduced to arguing (ad nauseam) that Obama’s unpopularity has virtually nothing to do with Obama’s policies or his liberal ideology; it has to do with the very bad economy and those darn “structural factors.” Barack Obama is a fantastic president, you see; it’s just too bad the conditions in the country are miserable.

Jonathan has become something of an amusing read. It is not simply watching him try to twist reality to fit his ideological presuppositions, which is amusing enough; it is the whole packaged deal – the adolescent rage, exemplified in his “I hate Bush” rant, the playground taunts, the pretense of governing and policy expertise.

And there is the matter of Chait’s slightly peculiar personal obsessions. For example, he admits that one of his “guilty pleasures” is a “morbid fascination” with me and that one of his “shameful hobbies” is watching the “almost sensual pleasure” taken by me at the coming November elections – with the latter written under the headline “Wehner Throbs with Anticipation.” Now this doesn’t particularly bother me, but perhaps it should bother Mrs. Chait.

The New Republic was once the professional home to some of the nation’s preeminent intellectuals, public figures, and journalists. Today it provides a perch to Jonathan Chait, TNR’s version of Keith Olbermann

In a story in the Washington Examiner, Stephen Hess, an expert on the presidency at the Brookings Institution, said Robert Gibbs’ remarks attacking the “professional left” shows how “unprepared” many in the Obama administration were for the rigors of the White House. “A lot of things had come too easy for them — a substantial election victory, and an almost messianic moment with the inauguration,” Hess said. “Governing is hard.”

The governing-is-hard theme is something some of us warned about a long time ago. And charting some of Obama’s early missteps caused commentators on the left, such as the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, enormous irritation. In May 2009 he wrote:

In anticipation of his prophesy coming true, [Wehner’s] blogging for Commentary has become a gleeful chronicle of Obama’s imagined descent into dysfunction and popular repudiation.

Well, now. The “imagined descent” into popular repudiation (and dysfunction, for that matter) is no longer imagined, is it?

Popular repudiation is precisely what Obama and Democrats are experiencing on a scale that is extremely rare — one the may prove to be unprecedented — for a president who has been in office for less than two years.

William Galston, who served in the Clinton administration, has warned his party that it might not only lose the House; its majority in the Senate is endangered, too. And the polarization some of us highlighted early on in Obama’s presidency was in fact on the mark. Chait dismissed the observation at the time, but then came (for Chait) a rather unfortunate Gallup survey released in January 2010, which reported that Barack Obama was the most polarizing first-year president in recorded history.

Now we should keep in mind that Chait is the same individual who, in December 2008, assured his readers that “undiluted liberalism” in the area of health care was hugely popular and that the path to political dominance for Obama and Democrats; and who, in February 2007, wrote that there was “something genuinely bizarre” about those Americans who supported President Bush’s surge strategy in Iraq. “It is not just that they are wrong,” our modern-day Metternich insisted. “It’s that they are completely detached from reality.”

Such detached-from-reality insights continue apace. Earlier this year, for example, Chait wrote:

The perception has formed, perhaps indelibly, that the reason Democrats will get hammered in the 2010 elections is that the party moved too far left in general and tried to reform health care in particular. This perception owes itself, above all, to the habit that political analysts in the media and other outposts of mainstream thought have of ignoring structural factors.

Of course; health-care reform has nothing to do with Obama’s plight or that of the Democratic Party. So sayeth The Great Chait.

Never mind that Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, analyzes the empirical data and declares that “the health overhaul remains a political loser in most of the country.” Or that Democratic pollster Doug Schoen writes that “recent polling shows that the [health care] bill has been a disaster for the party. … There may well be no single initiative as unpopular as the administration’s health care reform bill.” Or that Charlie Cook, who specializes in election forecasts and political trends, declared earlier this year that from a political perspective, pushing health care was a “colossal miscalculation.” Yet Chait – who doesn’t specialize in election forecasts or political trends – knows better.

And what should we make of the fact that by nearly a 3-to-1 margin, voters in Missouri voters rejected a key provision of President Obama’s health-care law? Easy. “Missouri is not a ‘bellwether’ state right now,” Chait cheerfully informs us. Missouri, you see, has suddenly become Utah. And the individual mandate never was popular, don’t you know?

Chait has been reduced to arguing (ad nauseam) that Obama’s unpopularity has virtually nothing to do with Obama’s policies or his liberal ideology; it has to do with the very bad economy and those darn “structural factors.” Barack Obama is a fantastic president, you see; it’s just too bad the conditions in the country are miserable.

Jonathan has become something of an amusing read. It is not simply watching him try to twist reality to fit his ideological presuppositions, which is amusing enough; it is the whole packaged deal – the adolescent rage, exemplified in his “I hate Bush” rant, the playground taunts, the pretense of governing and policy expertise.

And there is the matter of Chait’s slightly peculiar personal obsessions. For example, he admits that one of his “guilty pleasures” is a “morbid fascination” with me and that one of his “shameful hobbies” is watching the “almost sensual pleasure” taken by me at the coming November elections – with the latter written under the headline “Wehner Throbs with Anticipation.” Now this doesn’t particularly bother me, but perhaps it should bother Mrs. Chait.

The New Republic was once the professional home to some of the nation’s preeminent intellectuals, public figures, and journalists. Today it provides a perch to Jonathan Chait, TNR’s version of Keith Olbermann

Read Less




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