Commentary Magazine


Topic: Daniel Patrick Moynihan

When the Right Turns on America

Speaking to the National Rifle Association’s recent annual conference, NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre, in describing America, said, “Almost everywhere you look, something has gone wrong. You feel it in your heart, you know it in your gut. Something has gone wrong. The core values we believe in, the things we care about most, are changing. Eroding. Our right to speak. Our right to gather. Our right to privacy. The freedom to work, and practice our religion, and raise and protect our families the way we see fit.”

He went on to say this:

There are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and carjackers and knockout gamers and rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers, road-rage killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids, or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse the society that sustains us all. I ask you. Do you trust this government to protect you? We are on our own.

Mr. LaPierre is not the only one who describes America in dystopian terms these days. Earlier this year Dr. Ben Carson, a Tea Party favorite who is considering a run for the presidency in 2016, said America is “very much like Nazi Germany.” Michele Bachmann, a 2012 GOP presidential candidate, has said the Affordable Care Act is evidence of a “police state.” This kind of language–America is bordering on or has basically become a tyranny–is common currency within some quarters of conservatism.

Now it is one thing to believe, as I do, that in some important respects America is in decline and that President Obama is in part responsible for that decline. I agree, too, that there are some alarming problems and trends facing the United States just now, which many conservatives are attempting to address in a responsible fashion.  

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Speaking to the National Rifle Association’s recent annual conference, NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre, in describing America, said, “Almost everywhere you look, something has gone wrong. You feel it in your heart, you know it in your gut. Something has gone wrong. The core values we believe in, the things we care about most, are changing. Eroding. Our right to speak. Our right to gather. Our right to privacy. The freedom to work, and practice our religion, and raise and protect our families the way we see fit.”

He went on to say this:

There are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and carjackers and knockout gamers and rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers, road-rage killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids, or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse the society that sustains us all. I ask you. Do you trust this government to protect you? We are on our own.

Mr. LaPierre is not the only one who describes America in dystopian terms these days. Earlier this year Dr. Ben Carson, a Tea Party favorite who is considering a run for the presidency in 2016, said America is “very much like Nazi Germany.” Michele Bachmann, a 2012 GOP presidential candidate, has said the Affordable Care Act is evidence of a “police state.” This kind of language–America is bordering on or has basically become a tyranny–is common currency within some quarters of conservatism.

Now it is one thing to believe, as I do, that in some important respects America is in decline and that President Obama is in part responsible for that decline. I agree, too, that there are some alarming problems and trends facing the United States just now, which many conservatives are attempting to address in a responsible fashion.  

But it is quite another thing to describe America as the New Left did in the late 1960s, when America itself was spelled with a “k” (“Amerika”) in an effort to identify it with Nazi Germany. Among the young and left-wing academics there was talk about the need for revolution. The United States was viewed as fundamentally corrupt. Once upon a time conservatives fought against this. Today, however, some on the right are turning on America. They employ language you would associate with Noam Chomsky.

Now to be sure, the reasons the left and right are unhappy with America are quite different. But the indictment is still searing and often reckless. It describes an unrecognizable country. Whatever problems America has, we are light years away from Nazi Germany; and to argue that the United States is on the edge of tyranny can only come from those who don’t understand what life in a tyranny is really and truly and hellishly like.

This kind of rhetoric, which can only incite and never persuade, is alienating to everyone who is not part of the Apocalypse Now crowd. It is also, in deep ways, profoundly unconservative, in good part because it is overwrought and detached from reality. It is also evidence of a backward-looking conservatism that sees how America has changed and laments it rather than a forward-looking conservatism that sees the great promise and opportunities that still exist in America and seeks to take advantage of them.

“Am I embarrassed to speak for a less than perfect democracy?” the late, great United States Senator (and United Nations Ambassador) Daniel Patrick Moynihan once asked. “Not one bit. Find me a better one. Do I suppose there are societies which are free of sin? No, I don’t. Do I think ours is, on balance, incomparably the most hopeful set of human relations the world has? Yes, I do.”

That is still the case, even today, even in Barack Obama’s America. Conservatives should continue to oppose his agenda with all their might. But they will do serious and lasting damage to themselves and their cause if in the process they are seen as turning on their country. And I worry that in some quarters, from some voices, that is precisely what is happening.

Amor Patriae is still a virtue in America, and conservatives should both claim it and cherish the deeper meaning of it.

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John Kerry’s Calumny Against Israel

After having said to a closed-door meeting of the Trilateral Commission that Israel could become an “apartheid state” if it doesn’t reach a peace deal with the Palestinians, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement saying he “would have chosen a different word” if he had to do it all over again.

In fact, Kerry’s initial comments clearly reflect his unvarnished views; his backtracking is merely the result of the criticisms he’s received. Remember, just a few weeks ago Secretary Kerry testified before Congress and falsely placed all of the blame for the collapse of the most recent negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on Israel. 

As for the calumny against Israel by the secretary of state, let’s start out with a few observations, the first of which is that Israel is the only country in the region that permits citizens of all faiths to worship freely and openly. A few facts: Around 20 percent of Israeli citizens are not Jewish, with most of them being Arab. And while Jews are not permitted to live in many Arab countries, Arabs are granted full citizenship, have the right to vote in Israel, and have served in the Knesset. Consider this: Arabs living in Israel have more rights and are freer than most Arabs living in Arab countries, with Arab women in Israel enjoying the same rights and status as men.

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After having said to a closed-door meeting of the Trilateral Commission that Israel could become an “apartheid state” if it doesn’t reach a peace deal with the Palestinians, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement saying he “would have chosen a different word” if he had to do it all over again.

In fact, Kerry’s initial comments clearly reflect his unvarnished views; his backtracking is merely the result of the criticisms he’s received. Remember, just a few weeks ago Secretary Kerry testified before Congress and falsely placed all of the blame for the collapse of the most recent negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on Israel. 

As for the calumny against Israel by the secretary of state, let’s start out with a few observations, the first of which is that Israel is the only country in the region that permits citizens of all faiths to worship freely and openly. A few facts: Around 20 percent of Israeli citizens are not Jewish, with most of them being Arab. And while Jews are not permitted to live in many Arab countries, Arabs are granted full citizenship, have the right to vote in Israel, and have served in the Knesset. Consider this: Arabs living in Israel have more rights and are freer than most Arabs living in Arab countries, with Arab women in Israel enjoying the same rights and status as men.

As for a two-state solution: Israel, bone-weary of war, has repeatedly offered the Palestinians their own homeland–at Camp David in 2000, in Taba in 2001, and again (from Ehud Olmert) in 2008. The offers were enormously generous: Palestinian statehood, the West Bank, Gaza, the division of Jerusalem, and more. The reaction? Palestinian rejectionism, followed in some cases by a new intifada. (For a more expansive discussion of this matter, see this definitive column by Charles Krauthammer.) That rejectionism still exists to this day.

But there’s still more.

On the matter of “land for peace,” Israel has shown its good faith repeatedly. For example, Israel offered to return all the land it captured during the 1967 war in exchange for peace and normal relations. The offer was rejected in August 1967, when Arab leaders met in Khartoum and adopted a formula that became known as the “three no’s”: no peace with Israel, no negotiation with Israel, and no recognition of Israel. (For the record, the PLO, which was committed to the destruction of Israel, was founded in 1964, three years before Israel controlled the West Bank or Gaza. The 1948 and 1967 wars against Israel happened before the so-called occupied territories and settlements ever became an issue.)

In 1978, under the leadership of Likud’s Menachem Begin, Israel returned to Egypt the Sinai Desert in exchange for Egypt’s recognition of Israel and normalized relations.

In 1994, Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan, which involved compromise on territory, water rights, and border crossings.

In 2000, Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon.

In Gaza in 2005, Israel did what no Arab nation (when it controlled the West Bank and Gaza) had ever done: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks. Hamas used Gaza as its launching point.

John Kerry is part of an administration that has a very troubling reflex against Israel, a nation whose sacrifices for peace exceed those of any other country and whose achievements and moral accomplishments are staggering. I will leave it to others to speculate what could possibly motivate them. Suffice it to say that enemies of the Jewish state will latch on to Kerry’s invocation of apartheid.

In reflecting on Kerry’s incendiary language, I was reminded of another Democrat. When Daniel Patrick Moynihan was serving as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a resolution declaring that “Zionism is racism” was adopted. A majority of the world’s nations condemned Israel, claiming there was an “unholy alliance between South African racism and Zionism.” Ambassador Moynihan rose to speak, declaring that the “United States … does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.”

It was a luminous and proud moment. It’s a travesty that almost 40 years later, another Democrat, John Kerry, has himself committed an infamous act.

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“Something That Was Not Imaginable 40 years Ago Has Happened”

Ron Haskins, co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution, has written a sobering and important essay for National Affairs on marriage, parenthood, and public policy. I thought it might be useful to highlight data from the Haskins essay, in order to understand just how profound the changes in family composition have been over the last four decades. 

Marriage Rates

In 1970, 83 percent of women ages 30 to 34 were married. By 2010, that number had fallen to 57 percent.

For almost every demographic group, whether broken down by age, education, or race and ethnicity, marriage rates have declined nearly continuously since 1970. Marriage rates for 20- to 24-year-olds, for instance, fell from 61 percent to 16 percent, a decline of almost 75 percent in four decades. The rate for 35- to 39-year-olds declined by 25 percent, from 83 percent to 62 percent. (The only exception to the pattern of decline was for women with a college degree or more. After a modest decline of about 11 percent between 1970 and 1990, the marriage rate for college-educated women stopped declining and even increased by about 1 percent between 1990 and 2010.)

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Ron Haskins, co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution, has written a sobering and important essay for National Affairs on marriage, parenthood, and public policy. I thought it might be useful to highlight data from the Haskins essay, in order to understand just how profound the changes in family composition have been over the last four decades. 

Marriage Rates

In 1970, 83 percent of women ages 30 to 34 were married. By 2010, that number had fallen to 57 percent.

For almost every demographic group, whether broken down by age, education, or race and ethnicity, marriage rates have declined nearly continuously since 1970. Marriage rates for 20- to 24-year-olds, for instance, fell from 61 percent to 16 percent, a decline of almost 75 percent in four decades. The rate for 35- to 39-year-olds declined by 25 percent, from 83 percent to 62 percent. (The only exception to the pattern of decline was for women with a college degree or more. After a modest decline of about 11 percent between 1970 and 1990, the marriage rate for college-educated women stopped declining and even increased by about 1 percent between 1990 and 2010.)

Non-Marital Birth Rates

The non-marital birth rate among all demographic groups has increased from 11 percent to almost 41 percent over the same four decades. In 2010, 72 percent of births to African-American women were out of wedlock. The Hispanic rate was 53 percent, a 50 percent increase over 1989 (when data on Hispanic birth rates first began to be collected separately from non-Hispanic whites). The rate for non-Hispanic whites, which stood at 16 percent in 1989, had increased to 29 percent by 2010, a larger increase in percentage terms than for any other group over that period.

Teen pregnancy rates have declined almost every year since 1991, and the number of teen births has declined by more than 50 percent since that time. The problem of non-marital pregnancy is now greatest among adults in their 20s and 30s.

Married-with-Children Households

Over the four-decade period, the percentage of married-with-children households declined by well over a third to just 51 percent. By contrast, the percentages of all three other types of households increased: married without children by 72 percent, single with children by 122 percent, and single without children by 165 percent.

Single Parent Households

In 1970, 12 percent of children lived with a single parent at any given time; over the next 40 years, that number increased by 124 percent, rising to 27 percent of children in 2010. Over the course of their childhoods, as many as half of all American children will spend some time in a single-parent household.

Child Poverty

According to the Census Bureau, in 2012 the poverty rate among children living with only their mother was 47.2 percent; by contrast, the poverty rate among children living with their married parents was 11.1 percent, meaning that a child living with a single mother was almost five times as likely to be poor as a child living with married parents.

As the Haskins essay makes clear, there is a high human cost to children in particular when marriage collapses–in terms of high school dropout rates, delinquency, crime and incarceration, drug use, mental illness, suicide, poverty, idleness in later years, and more. “If we want to address the challenges of income inequality and immobility,” he writes, “we must address one of the main causes – non-marital births and single parenting.”

Mr. Haskins, in reviewing programs tried at all levels of government, finds that the results have been mixed and, for the most part, hardly encouraging. We are dealing in a realm of human behavior where the positive effects of public policy look to be quite limited. What will be required is a substantial shift in social mores–in how we view the institution and purposes of marriage, the duties of parenthood, our commitments to one another, and even human fulfillment itself–and there’s little evidence that is about to occur anytime soon. 

In 2000, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was asked to identify the biggest change he had seen in his 40-year political career. Moynihan responded, “The biggest change, in my judgment, is that the family structure has come apart all over the North Atlantic world.” This change has occurred in “an historical instant,” Moynihan said. “Something that was not imaginable 40 years ago has happened.”

Indeed it has. (The trends that concerned Moynihan have, in fact, accelerated.) The historian Lawrence Stone said the scale of marital breakdown in the West since 1960 has no historical precedent. It is unique. And as a civilization we seem unable, or at least unwilling, to do much of anything about it.

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In Trashing Ryan, Liberals Forget Moynihan

In 1965, future U.S. senator and then assistant secretary of labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan published a seminal report that began the process of changing the way America approached the issue of inner city poverty. The report, “The Negro Family: The Case for Action” raised a storm of controversy because it noted the impact of the breakdown of the nuclear family and the destructive nature of the culture of urban ghettos in which work was devalued. Rather than economics determining the social conditions, the report pointed out that the opposite was true.

Though he traced the roots of this depressing pattern back to slavery and Jim Crow discrimination, Moynihan was blasted as a racist and for denigrating blacks. But for those who truly cared about helping the poor and doing something about the way the welfare state had created a permanent urban underclass, the report was prophetic and helped pave the way for future efforts to reform welfare.

But for those who still make a living from race baiting and diverting the attention of the country from the facts about what produces multi-generational poverty, the truth of Moynihan’s conclusions are still blasphemy. Such persons lie in wait not only to derail efforts to address the problems of the black family and urban poverty but to tar all those who speak about the issue as racists in the same way that Moynihan was attacked nearly 50 years ago. And it is into just such a trap that Rep. Paul Ryan walked earlier this week when Rep. Barbara Lee blasted him.

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In 1965, future U.S. senator and then assistant secretary of labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan published a seminal report that began the process of changing the way America approached the issue of inner city poverty. The report, “The Negro Family: The Case for Action” raised a storm of controversy because it noted the impact of the breakdown of the nuclear family and the destructive nature of the culture of urban ghettos in which work was devalued. Rather than economics determining the social conditions, the report pointed out that the opposite was true.

Though he traced the roots of this depressing pattern back to slavery and Jim Crow discrimination, Moynihan was blasted as a racist and for denigrating blacks. But for those who truly cared about helping the poor and doing something about the way the welfare state had created a permanent urban underclass, the report was prophetic and helped pave the way for future efforts to reform welfare.

But for those who still make a living from race baiting and diverting the attention of the country from the facts about what produces multi-generational poverty, the truth of Moynihan’s conclusions are still blasphemy. Such persons lie in wait not only to derail efforts to address the problems of the black family and urban poverty but to tar all those who speak about the issue as racists in the same way that Moynihan was attacked nearly 50 years ago. And it is into just such a trap that Rep. Paul Ryan walked earlier this week when Rep. Barbara Lee blasted him.

Ryan was forced to backtrack yesterday from remarks he made on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio show in which he spoke of the problems of poverty, family, and work in blighted neighborhoods. As Politico reports, Ryan said the following:

“We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with,” he said, urging everyone to get involved in blighted communities even if they live in the suburbs.

Lee responded with this statement:

My colleague Congressman Ryan’s comments about ‘inner city’ poverty are a thinly veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated. Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black,’” Lee said.

Ryan denied he was attacking blacks but said that perhaps he had not fully articulated what he was trying to say.

What is most unfortunate about this is not just the way our political culture rewards hypocrites like Lee for crying racism where none exists or that Ryan felt that he had to apologize for saying something that is not only factual but painfully obvious. Rather, the real problem here is that all these years after Moynihan first took the heat for breaking the silence about what causes the cycle of poverty, speaking the truth about the subject is still controversial.

For people like Lee and a host of other racial inciters and their liberal media enablers like Ana Marie Cox, the imperative to address the breakdown of the culture of work and family in poverty-stricken areas is still trumped by their need to use the racist label as a political weapon.

What makes this even more pathetic is that the patterns that Moynihan first wrote about in 1965 now apply to other groups afflicted by poverty. The epidemic of fatherless homes and single mothers on welfare has long since ceased being primarily a black problem but become one that impacts whites and other groups just as harshly. To claim that talking about this vicious cycle of poverty and government dependency is a matter of code words about race is not only a canard but also outdated.

This sorry chapter teaches us that as much as we may think we have transcended the past, the race baiters are bound and determined to see to it that the country doesn’t learn the lessons from decades of failed liberal policies. Race has nothing to this. What this country needs are more people in public life like Ryan who are knowledgeable enough to speak about this basic problem and fewer who thrive on avoiding honest discussions about poverty.

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Let Reagan Be Reagan

In an April 21, 1986 lecture at New York University (found in the collection Came the Revolution), Daniel Patrick Moynihan has some words to say about David Stockman. Moynihan quotes Stockman as saying (in his memoir), “To me, [Irving] Kristol was a secular incarnation of the Lord Himself.” 

Senator Moynihan had great regard for Kristol, referring to him in the speech as “perhaps the preeminent conservative intellectual of our age.” Moynihan then went on to make this observation about Ronald Reagan’s former director of the Office of Management and Budget:  

But then a younger generation comes along which elevates thought into belief. Not only are the ideas of their mentors true, they are the Only Truth. Given by the Lord Himself. What began as skepticism concerning received doctrine transmutes into fierce conviction.

Elsewhere Moynihan describes Stockman as “an absorbing figure to a student of ideology not least because of his near addiction. He goes on as if the Reaganites had appointed him a kind of party theorist responsible for doctrinal conformity.” 

And then there’s this: 

[Stockman] describes his migration from the student Left — SDS and suchlike — to the Republican Right in terms which are legitimately intellectual but also, at times, clearly at that point where a measured judgment as to the preponderance of evidence crosses over into the zone of radical conviction. He cites authors of meticulous clarity and caution with that element of fervor we associate with zealotry and even intolerance.

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In an April 21, 1986 lecture at New York University (found in the collection Came the Revolution), Daniel Patrick Moynihan has some words to say about David Stockman. Moynihan quotes Stockman as saying (in his memoir), “To me, [Irving] Kristol was a secular incarnation of the Lord Himself.” 

Senator Moynihan had great regard for Kristol, referring to him in the speech as “perhaps the preeminent conservative intellectual of our age.” Moynihan then went on to make this observation about Ronald Reagan’s former director of the Office of Management and Budget:  

But then a younger generation comes along which elevates thought into belief. Not only are the ideas of their mentors true, they are the Only Truth. Given by the Lord Himself. What began as skepticism concerning received doctrine transmutes into fierce conviction.

Elsewhere Moynihan describes Stockman as “an absorbing figure to a student of ideology not least because of his near addiction. He goes on as if the Reaganites had appointed him a kind of party theorist responsible for doctrinal conformity.” 

And then there’s this: 

[Stockman] describes his migration from the student Left — SDS and suchlike — to the Republican Right in terms which are legitimately intellectual but also, at times, clearly at that point where a measured judgment as to the preponderance of evidence crosses over into the zone of radical conviction. He cites authors of meticulous clarity and caution with that element of fervor we associate with zealotry and even intolerance.

I cite these passages from Moynihan because the Stockman Temptation–to take it upon oneself to enforce rigid ideology, to attack those who are not sufficiently pure and fervid, and to remove conservatism from any real-world context–is arguably more widespread today than it was thirty years ago.

We’re seeing some self-described Reaganites who are far more ideological and interested in doctrinal conformity than Reagan ever was. Making matters worse, they invoke the name of Reagan and claim they are his heirs. In fact they seem to know very little about the real Reagan–his temperament and graceful bearing, his governing style, and some of the basic facts of his years in office (including his bipartisan deals, his willingness to make accommodations with key elements of the Great Society and the New Deal, and his ability to pick his battles wisely and with prudence).  

They revere not the real Reagan but an imaginary one–the one who validates their own zeal, their quest for doctrinal purity, and their own resentments. To invoke a line we often heard from conservatives during the Reagan years: Let Reagan be Reagan. 

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The War on Poverty a Half Century Later

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the so-called War on Poverty. 

It was January 8, 1964, in his Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union, where President Lyndon Johnson “declared all-out war on human poverty and unemployment in these United States.” He went on to state, “This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort. It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest Nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.”

By most accounts, we did lose it (certainly by no reasonable standard did we win it). It’s worth recalling that this period was the high-water mark of liberal confidence. To appreciate just how high the expectations were at the time, consider that the previous month LBJ proclaimed that Americans were living in “the most hopeful times since Christ was born in Bethlehem.” And during his State of the Union speech, Johnson set a very high bar for what was possible:

Let us work together to make this year’s session the best in the Nation’s history. Let this session of Congress be known as the session which did more for civil rights than the last hundred sessions combined; as the session which enacted the most far-reaching tax cut of our time; as the session which declared all-out war on human poverty and unemployment in these United States; as the session which finally recognized the health needs of all our older citizens; as the session which reformed our tangled transportation and transit policies; as the session which achieved the most effective, efficient foreign aid program ever; and as the session which helped to build more homes, more schools, more libraries, and more hospitals than any single session of Congress in the history of our Republic. 

All this and more can and must be done. It can be done by this summer, and it can be done without any increase in spending.

There was no obvious ceiling to what progressives thought was achievable. At the time the idea that public-spirited men and women, at the head of the federal government, could transform American society sounded ambitious. Today it sounds fanciful and in some circumstances downright destructive (for more, see the Affordable Care Act).

So what did we learn? 

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Today marks the 50th anniversary of the so-called War on Poverty. 

It was January 8, 1964, in his Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union, where President Lyndon Johnson “declared all-out war on human poverty and unemployment in these United States.” He went on to state, “This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort. It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest Nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.”

By most accounts, we did lose it (certainly by no reasonable standard did we win it). It’s worth recalling that this period was the high-water mark of liberal confidence. To appreciate just how high the expectations were at the time, consider that the previous month LBJ proclaimed that Americans were living in “the most hopeful times since Christ was born in Bethlehem.” And during his State of the Union speech, Johnson set a very high bar for what was possible:

Let us work together to make this year’s session the best in the Nation’s history. Let this session of Congress be known as the session which did more for civil rights than the last hundred sessions combined; as the session which enacted the most far-reaching tax cut of our time; as the session which declared all-out war on human poverty and unemployment in these United States; as the session which finally recognized the health needs of all our older citizens; as the session which reformed our tangled transportation and transit policies; as the session which achieved the most effective, efficient foreign aid program ever; and as the session which helped to build more homes, more schools, more libraries, and more hospitals than any single session of Congress in the history of our Republic. 

All this and more can and must be done. It can be done by this summer, and it can be done without any increase in spending.

There was no obvious ceiling to what progressives thought was achievable. At the time the idea that public-spirited men and women, at the head of the federal government, could transform American society sounded ambitious. Today it sounds fanciful and in some circumstances downright destructive (for more, see the Affordable Care Act).

So what did we learn? 

In his biography of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, The Gentleman from New York, Godfrey Hodgson offers this summary of one of the men deeply involved in building what Johnson called The Great Society. While never abandoning his faith in the capacity and the duty of government to make society better, Hodgson argues, Moynihan “acquired a profound doubt about the central paradigm of liberal government: the assumption that social scientists should identify a need, devise a program of government action to meet that need and supervise the application of public money to the sore place through the ministrations of enlightened bureaucracy.” 

By 1969, in a memorandum to President Nixon on the rise of welfare in New York and elsewhere, Moynihan wrote, “I believe the time has come for a President to state what increasingly is understood: that welfare as we know it is a bankrupt and destructive system…. It is also necessary to state that no one really understands why and how all this has happened.” And Moynihan’s great friend, the eminent social scientist James Q. Wilson, when asked about Moynihan’s increasing skepticism of the efficacy of government intervention in almost all circumstances, said this:

He always believes that the job of politics is to help those who can’t help themselves. But he has a scholar’s reluctance to accept the proposition that the government knows very much about how to help people who can’t help themselves.

When all that is required is to transfer money from person A to person B, as in the social security system, it works very well, and Pat has been a staunch defender of social security. But when it has to alter their character, when it has to alter whether men marry women with whom they begat a child, or when it has to reduce the crime rate, or has to deal with student radicalism, the fact of the matter is that government doesn’t know much what to do.

It’s complicated, however. Starting in the early-to-mid 1990s, we saw enormous progress on a range of social issues, including welfare, drug use, and crime. After the failures of The Great Society, we learned that progress can happen faster than many people thought possible. In analyzing various social trends in 2007, Yuval Levin and I wrote:

Despite the good case made by those who believe that diffidence, skepticism, and self-limitation are the prerequisites of sound policymaking, sometimes what is needed is a bold break with the past. There will always be unintended consequences, but even these need not always be for the worse, and the prospect of such unintended consequences should not paralyze us from taking action. Guided by a modest sense of possibility, and by realistic notions of the limits of politics, reform can succeed.

In thinking about the War on Poverty a half-century after it began, this still sounds about right to me. 

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America’s Exodus from Marriage

In 2000, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was asked to identify the biggest change he had seen in his 40-year political career. Moynihan, a man of unusual sagacity, experience, and perspective, responded this way: “The biggest change, in my judgment, is that the family structure has come apart all over the North Atlantic world.” This change has occurred in “an historical instant,” Moynihan said. “Something that was not imaginable 40 years ago has happened.”

I thought about Senator Moynihan’s observation after reading “The President’s Marriage Agenda for the Forgotten Sixty Percent,” which is the centerpiece of the latest State of Our Unions report. This study focused on the nearly 60 percent of Americans who have completed high school but do not have a four-year college degree. 

What we’re seeing is a rapid hollowing out of marriage in Middle America–with 44 percent of the children of moderately-educated mothers born outside of marriage. “We’re at a tipping point with Middle America,” W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading scholar on marriage, told National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez, “insofar as Middle Americans are on the verge of losing their connection to marriage.”

We are “witnessing a striking exodus from marriage,” according to the study.

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In 2000, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was asked to identify the biggest change he had seen in his 40-year political career. Moynihan, a man of unusual sagacity, experience, and perspective, responded this way: “The biggest change, in my judgment, is that the family structure has come apart all over the North Atlantic world.” This change has occurred in “an historical instant,” Moynihan said. “Something that was not imaginable 40 years ago has happened.”

I thought about Senator Moynihan’s observation after reading “The President’s Marriage Agenda for the Forgotten Sixty Percent,” which is the centerpiece of the latest State of Our Unions report. This study focused on the nearly 60 percent of Americans who have completed high school but do not have a four-year college degree. 

What we’re seeing is a rapid hollowing out of marriage in Middle America–with 44 percent of the children of moderately-educated mothers born outside of marriage. “We’re at a tipping point with Middle America,” W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading scholar on marriage, told National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez, “insofar as Middle Americans are on the verge of losing their connection to marriage.”

We are “witnessing a striking exodus from marriage,” according to the study.

More than 40 percent of children are born out of wedlock, while more than half of births (53 percent) among all women under 30 now occur outside of marriage. Between 1970 and 2012, the annual number of marriages per 1,000 unmarried adults decreased by more than 50 percent. The divorce rate today is about twice that of 1960, though it’s declined since hitting its highest point in our history in the early 1980s. For the average couple marrying for the first time in recent years, the lifetime probability of divorce or separation now falls between 40 and 50 percent. Today more than a quarter of all children live in single-parent families, compared to only 9 percent in 1960. And the number of unmarried couples has increased seventeen-fold in the last 50 years.

All of this has profoundly negative implications–for the emotional and mental well-being of children; for America’s social fabric and “civil society”; for social mobility and the gap in income inequality; and for dependency on government and costs to the state (family breakdown costs the taxpayers billions every year). The collapse of marriage in America, then, has enormous human and social ramifications. And whatever one thinks about same-sex marriage, this collapse has occurred long before any state approved marriage between gays.

The report offers a range of recommendations to reverse this trend, including eliminating marriage penalties and disincentives for the poor and for unwed mothers, tripling the child tax credit, providing marriage education and evaluating marriage programs, engaging Hollywood to help shape positive attitudes toward marriage and parenting, launching social media campaigns, and presidential leadership on this issue.

These recommendations may be fruitful, and the scholars who authored the marriage agenda have an admirable unwillingness to accept the collapse of marriage and the American family as irreversible. We are not, after all, by-standers in what is unfolding. We are the central actors.

Still, we shouldn’t kid ourselves about the difficulty of the challenge we face. “The scale of marital breakdown in the West since 1960 has no historical precedent and seems unique,” the distinguished historian Lawrence Stone said a few years ago. “At no time in history, with the possible exception of Imperial Rome, has the institution of marriage been more problematic than it is today.”

This is a deeply worrisome turn of events. And unless we find a way to repair the damage and the institution–unless we reshape our public and private attitudes toward marriage, family and children; toward commitment, self-giving, and love itself–there will be much human wreckage.

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Obama’s Stealth Welfare Reform Rollback

It happened almost without anyone noticing it but last month, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a new policy directive effectively gutting the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.  With a single stroke, the Obama administration ended the work requirements that began the push to end the dependency of the poor on government assistance and to impose accountability on the system. The popular and successful law was something both President Clinton and the Republican Congress took credit for, but when Obama overturned it last month, it generated little comment except from conservative watchdogs like the Heritage Foundation. But today, the Mitt Romney campaign has unveiled a new ad that will put the issue on the front political burner.

The Democrats will probably seek to label the issue as a racist provocation while also claiming the poor economic situation and high unemployment makes it impossible to impose work requirements on the needy. But the issue here is neither race nor sympathy for the poor. If the Obama re-write of the law is allowed to stand, the president will have gotten away with reversing a fundamental reform of the welfare state. Without the work requirements created by the 1996 legislation, we will be dooming a new generation of Americans to the sort of thralldom to the government that most Americans believed we had finally ended during the Clinton administration.

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It happened almost without anyone noticing it but last month, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a new policy directive effectively gutting the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.  With a single stroke, the Obama administration ended the work requirements that began the push to end the dependency of the poor on government assistance and to impose accountability on the system. The popular and successful law was something both President Clinton and the Republican Congress took credit for, but when Obama overturned it last month, it generated little comment except from conservative watchdogs like the Heritage Foundation. But today, the Mitt Romney campaign has unveiled a new ad that will put the issue on the front political burner.

The Democrats will probably seek to label the issue as a racist provocation while also claiming the poor economic situation and high unemployment makes it impossible to impose work requirements on the needy. But the issue here is neither race nor sympathy for the poor. If the Obama re-write of the law is allowed to stand, the president will have gotten away with reversing a fundamental reform of the welfare state. Without the work requirements created by the 1996 legislation, we will be dooming a new generation of Americans to the sort of thralldom to the government that most Americans believed we had finally ended during the Clinton administration.

It should be expected that liberals will go all out to label the attack on Obama’s policy as racist. Like the attempt to depict the discussion about the lamentable rise in food stamp usage under this administration, the Democratic strategy will be to tar anyone who has the chutzpah to note the president’s effort to expand the welfare state as somehow prejudiced. But like the arguments claiming that point was a racist “dog whistle,” the defense of Obama’s gutting of welfare reform isn’t likely to persuade most voters.

Far from the critique of this rollback of reforms being racist, it is the liberal effort to take us back to the pre-Clinton era when welfare was a liberal sacred cow that is harmful to minorities. In 1965 then Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan issued his famous report on the way African-American families had been reduced to a state of permanent dependency by the welfare state. The Moynihan Report, which pointed out that well-intentioned government policies were recreating the evils of slavery, set off an important debate about the unintended consequences of liberal ideology. Moynihan discussed the issue in an article in COMMENTARY in February 1967. It would take decades for Americans to finally demand change, but common sense eventually prevailed in 1996 when a Republican Congress passed and a Democratic president signed the Welfare Reform Act.

While this issue will be seen as merely an attempt by the GOP to score points in the presidential race, it is actually far more serious than that. The bad economy makes it all the more important that the cycle of dependency not be restarted or expanded. With the press distracted by the presidential campaign and Congress immersed in partisan bickering about the deficit, President Obama was able to slip through an HHS directive that has destroyed the work that Moynihan began. The consequences of this stealthy move, if it is not reversed by either congressional action or a presidential reversal, are incalculable. While most of the focus on Obama’s liberal agenda has been on his expansion of federal power via his signature health care legislation, his decision to undo welfare reform may be just as significant an indication of his intent to restore failed liberal policies of the past. Romney is right to point this out. The question is, does the public understand just how important this issue will be in shaping our nation’s future?

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Moynihan on Democracy

Yesterday I quoted Ronald Reagan on the central role freedom and human rights should play in American foreign policy. Today I want to follow up with a quote from the man Michael Barone called “the nation’s best thinker among politicians since Lincoln and its best politician among thinkers since Jefferson.”

Writing in the May 1974 issue of COMMENTARY (subscription required), Daniel Patrick Moynihan said this:

There will be no struggle for personal liberty (or national independence or national survival) anywhere in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America which will not affect American politics. In that circumstance, I would argue that there is only one course likely to make the internal strains of consequent conflict endurable, and that is for the United States deliberately and consistently to bring its influence to bear on behalf of those regimes which promise the largest degree of personal and national liberty. …. We stand for liberty, for the expansion of liberty. Anything else risks the contraction of liberty: our own included.

Moynihan went on to warn about those “who know too much to believe anything in particular and opt instead for accommodations of reasonableness and urbanity that drain our world position of moral purpose.”

I certainly didn’t agree with Moynihan on everything — but whenever I read him, even when I disagree with him, I’m reminded just how much we miss him.

Yesterday I quoted Ronald Reagan on the central role freedom and human rights should play in American foreign policy. Today I want to follow up with a quote from the man Michael Barone called “the nation’s best thinker among politicians since Lincoln and its best politician among thinkers since Jefferson.”

Writing in the May 1974 issue of COMMENTARY (subscription required), Daniel Patrick Moynihan said this:

There will be no struggle for personal liberty (or national independence or national survival) anywhere in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America which will not affect American politics. In that circumstance, I would argue that there is only one course likely to make the internal strains of consequent conflict endurable, and that is for the United States deliberately and consistently to bring its influence to bear on behalf of those regimes which promise the largest degree of personal and national liberty. …. We stand for liberty, for the expansion of liberty. Anything else risks the contraction of liberty: our own included.

Moynihan went on to warn about those “who know too much to believe anything in particular and opt instead for accommodations of reasonableness and urbanity that drain our world position of moral purpose.”

I certainly didn’t agree with Moynihan on everything — but whenever I read him, even when I disagree with him, I’m reminded just how much we miss him.

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Marriage and Middle America

A study on “When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America” was recently published by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values.

The report is both somewhat encouraging and quite alarming. First, let’s look at the encouraging side of things: among the affluent and highly educated (defined as those having at least a bachelor’s degree and who comprise about 30 percent of the adult population), marriage is stable and appears to be getting stronger. They now enjoy marriages that are as stable and happy as those four decades ago. W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the project, cites four reasons for this: First, they have access to better-paying and more stable work than their less-educated peers (stable employment and financial success help strengthen marriage and relieve pressure on families).

Second, highly educated Americans are more likely to hold the “bourgeois virtues” — self-control, a high regard for education, and a long-term orientation — that are crucial to maintaining a marriage in today’s cultural climate.

Third, highly educated Americans are now more likely to attend church or to be engaged in a meaningful civic organization than their less educated peers. According to Wilcox, “This type of civic engagement is important because being connected to communities of memory and mutual aid increases men and women’s odds of getting and staying married.”

Finally, highly educated Americans are increasingly prone to adopt a marriage mindset — marked, for instance, by an aversion to divorce and nonmarital pregnancy, and a willingness to stick it out in a marriage — that generally serves them well through the ups and downs of married life. They recognize that they and their children are more likely to thrive — and to succeed in life — if they get and stay married. “So, we are witnessing a striking reversal in American life where highly educated Americans are more likely to be connected to the religious and moral sources of a strong marriage culture than their fellow citizens from middle America,” Wilcox says.

Now for the bad news: among the poor, who because they have so little are most in need of stable institutions, marriage continues to be fragile and weak. For many of them, marriage is virtually nonexistent, a concept almost without meaning. This isn’t a new development; it is simply an accelerated one. Read More

A study on “When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America” was recently published by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values.

The report is both somewhat encouraging and quite alarming. First, let’s look at the encouraging side of things: among the affluent and highly educated (defined as those having at least a bachelor’s degree and who comprise about 30 percent of the adult population), marriage is stable and appears to be getting stronger. They now enjoy marriages that are as stable and happy as those four decades ago. W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the project, cites four reasons for this: First, they have access to better-paying and more stable work than their less-educated peers (stable employment and financial success help strengthen marriage and relieve pressure on families).

Second, highly educated Americans are more likely to hold the “bourgeois virtues” — self-control, a high regard for education, and a long-term orientation — that are crucial to maintaining a marriage in today’s cultural climate.

Third, highly educated Americans are now more likely to attend church or to be engaged in a meaningful civic organization than their less educated peers. According to Wilcox, “This type of civic engagement is important because being connected to communities of memory and mutual aid increases men and women’s odds of getting and staying married.”

Finally, highly educated Americans are increasingly prone to adopt a marriage mindset — marked, for instance, by an aversion to divorce and nonmarital pregnancy, and a willingness to stick it out in a marriage — that generally serves them well through the ups and downs of married life. They recognize that they and their children are more likely to thrive — and to succeed in life — if they get and stay married. “So, we are witnessing a striking reversal in American life where highly educated Americans are more likely to be connected to the religious and moral sources of a strong marriage culture than their fellow citizens from middle America,” Wilcox says.

Now for the bad news: among the poor, who because they have so little are most in need of stable institutions, marriage continues to be fragile and weak. For many of them, marriage is virtually nonexistent, a concept almost without meaning. This isn’t a new development; it is simply an accelerated one.

And now for the really bad news: “In Middle America,” the reports states, “marriage is in trouble … the newest and perhaps most consequential marriage trend of our time concerns the broad center of our society, where mar­riage, that iconic middle-class institution, is foundering.” (Middle Americans are defined as those with a high school but not a four-year college degree. This “moderately educated” middle of America constitutes a full 58 percent of the adult population.)

Among this cohort, rates of nonmarital childbearing and divorce are rising, and marital happiness is falling. If this retreat from marriage among moderately educated citizens continues, the report argues, “then it is likely that we will witness the emergence of a new society” — one in which “for a substantial share of the United States, economic mobility will be out of reach, their children’s life chances will diminish, and large numbers of young men will live apart from the civilizing power of married life.”

“When Marriage Disappears” cites three cultural developments that have played a particularly noteworthy role in eroding the standing of marriage in Middle America.

First, the attitudes of the moderately educated have traditionally been more socially conservative on a cluster of marriage-related matters, but they now appear to be turning more socially permis­sive, even as highly educated Americans have become more likely to embrace a marriage-minded mindset.

The second cultural development that has helped to erode Middle-American marriage is that these Americans are more likely to be caught up in behaviors—from multiple sexual partners to marital infidelity—that endanger their prospects for marital suc­cess.

The third cultural development that has played a role in eroding the standing of marriage is that moderately educated Americans are markedly less likely than are highly educated Americans to embrace the bourgeois values and virtues—for instance, delayed gratification, a focus on education, and temperance—that are the sine qua nons of personal and marital success in the contemporary United States.

What we are seeing, then, is a growing “marriage gap” among moderately and highly educated Americans, which is leading to the stratification of our society. “The United States is increasingly a separate and unequal nation when it comes to the institution of marriage,” according to the report.

This is worrisome. American democracy has always depended on a relatively strong, stable middle class. If, because of the fracturing of the family, the middle class begins to enervate, it is bound to have negative, far-reaching ramifications. In addition, when marriages fail, children are the ones who absorb the most severe damage. Broken marriages and unwed pregnancies are also largely responsible for what in 1965 Daniel Patrick Moynihan called a “tangle of pathology.” And because the moderately educated middle in America don’t have the advantages more affluent, highly educated Americans do, the American Dream is slipping beyond their reach.

Here it’s worth recognizing the prescience of the social scientist Charles Murray, who in a 1995 essay in the Public Interest predicted a restoration of traditional society among what he called “the overclass” and wrote “there is reason to be optimistic about marriage and children for the overclass.” But Murray went on to warn about how the whole country must eventually participate in the restoration because “the horrific alternative to bringing the whole country along is a new kind of class society in America, divisive and ultimately destructive of American democracy.”

Whether and how we avoid this fate is not entirely clear. Certainly there are some grounds for optimism based on recent history. Over the past 15 years, on balance, the American family has indeed grown weaker — but almost every other social indicator (crime, drug use, welfare, rates of abortion, education, and others) has improved. This is an impressive achievement — but not one we can rely on ad infinitum. The family remains, in the words of Michael Novak, the original department of health, education, and welfare. For a growing number of middle-class Americans, it is a disappearing institution. And nothing good can come of that. Nothing at all.

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The Problem with Palin

“He is … endowed with a happy nature,” Edmund Morris wrote of Ronald Reagan, “his optimism unquenchable, his smile enchantingly crooked, his laughter impossible to resist. If these attributes, together with [others], do not constitute grace, in the old sense of favors granted by God, then the word has no meaning.”

While a fierce advocate for the causes he believed in, Reagan demonstrated passion without rancor and “aggression without anger,” in Morris’ words. This is particularly impressive given that Reagan was the object of repeated ad hominem attacks. He was derided as a dunce and accused of being a war-monger, a racist, a religious extremist, and indifferent to the suffering of the poor. Yet Reagan possessed a remarkable ability to rise above it, to resist returning insult for insult. Clearly at peace with himself and the world around him, Reagan helped conservatism shed its attitude of distrust and defensiveness.

This approach had enormous political benefits. Reagan understood that tone and bearing are undervalued commodities in American politics. He succeeded in part because he came across as agreeable rather than abrasive, genial rather than bitter, good-natured rather than self-pitying. He was a man blessedly free of resentments.

This is an example from which Sarah Palin can learn.

Governor Palin has undeniable appeal to the GOP base. She can deliver sharp, clever criticisms of President Obama. Her endorsement can catapult relatively unknown candidates to primary victories. And there is no doubt that she’s been on the receiving end of deeply unfair personal attacks. Many pundits and reporters have barely concealed — or completely unconcealed — disdain for her.

Unfortunately, she has allowed herself to be drawn into the mud pit. Earlier this month, for example, responding to a negative story in Politico that relied on unnamed sources Palin said this:

I suppose I could play their immature, unprofessional, waste-of-time game, too, by claiming these reporters and politicos are homophobe, child molesting, tax evading, anti-dentite, puppy-kicking, chain smoking porn producers. … Really, they are. … I’ve seen it myself. … But I’ll only give you the information off-the-record, on deep, deep background; attribute these ‘facts’ to an ‘anonymous source’ and I’ll give you more.

Those of a certain generation will recall that Richard Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, was well known for lashing out at the media (“nattering nabobs of negativism”) as well as anti-war protesters (“choleric young intellectuals and tired, embittered elders”). In 1971, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who served in the Nixon Administration, wrote to Agnew directly: “You cannot win the argument you are now engaged in. Frankly, the longer you pursue it, I expect the more you will lose.”

Moynihan went on to say this:

If you were to ask my advice it would be this. Cease attacking. Begin talking about the complex problems we must now face. … A great deal of charity and forgiveness is going to be required on all of our parts to come through this experience whole. You really can help in this, and I know you would want to do so.

Moynihan’s counsel, which went unheeded by Agnew, should be heeded by Palin. She sounds increasingly more like Agnew than Reagan — and in so doing, her brand of conservatism comes across as bitter rather than self-confident. This is not good for her or her party.

As Republicans look toward 2012, it would be wise to look to public figures who are not only philosophically conservative but who are also serious students of policy and display a measure of grace, equanimity, and good cheer. Right now, Sarah Palin is falling short of these standards. Lashing out at her critics may be understandable. It may even be cathartic. But it is not the Reagan way.

“He is … endowed with a happy nature,” Edmund Morris wrote of Ronald Reagan, “his optimism unquenchable, his smile enchantingly crooked, his laughter impossible to resist. If these attributes, together with [others], do not constitute grace, in the old sense of favors granted by God, then the word has no meaning.”

While a fierce advocate for the causes he believed in, Reagan demonstrated passion without rancor and “aggression without anger,” in Morris’ words. This is particularly impressive given that Reagan was the object of repeated ad hominem attacks. He was derided as a dunce and accused of being a war-monger, a racist, a religious extremist, and indifferent to the suffering of the poor. Yet Reagan possessed a remarkable ability to rise above it, to resist returning insult for insult. Clearly at peace with himself and the world around him, Reagan helped conservatism shed its attitude of distrust and defensiveness.

This approach had enormous political benefits. Reagan understood that tone and bearing are undervalued commodities in American politics. He succeeded in part because he came across as agreeable rather than abrasive, genial rather than bitter, good-natured rather than self-pitying. He was a man blessedly free of resentments.

This is an example from which Sarah Palin can learn.

Governor Palin has undeniable appeal to the GOP base. She can deliver sharp, clever criticisms of President Obama. Her endorsement can catapult relatively unknown candidates to primary victories. And there is no doubt that she’s been on the receiving end of deeply unfair personal attacks. Many pundits and reporters have barely concealed — or completely unconcealed — disdain for her.

Unfortunately, she has allowed herself to be drawn into the mud pit. Earlier this month, for example, responding to a negative story in Politico that relied on unnamed sources Palin said this:

I suppose I could play their immature, unprofessional, waste-of-time game, too, by claiming these reporters and politicos are homophobe, child molesting, tax evading, anti-dentite, puppy-kicking, chain smoking porn producers. … Really, they are. … I’ve seen it myself. … But I’ll only give you the information off-the-record, on deep, deep background; attribute these ‘facts’ to an ‘anonymous source’ and I’ll give you more.

Those of a certain generation will recall that Richard Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, was well known for lashing out at the media (“nattering nabobs of negativism”) as well as anti-war protesters (“choleric young intellectuals and tired, embittered elders”). In 1971, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who served in the Nixon Administration, wrote to Agnew directly: “You cannot win the argument you are now engaged in. Frankly, the longer you pursue it, I expect the more you will lose.”

Moynihan went on to say this:

If you were to ask my advice it would be this. Cease attacking. Begin talking about the complex problems we must now face. … A great deal of charity and forgiveness is going to be required on all of our parts to come through this experience whole. You really can help in this, and I know you would want to do so.

Moynihan’s counsel, which went unheeded by Agnew, should be heeded by Palin. She sounds increasingly more like Agnew than Reagan — and in so doing, her brand of conservatism comes across as bitter rather than self-confident. This is not good for her or her party.

As Republicans look toward 2012, it would be wise to look to public figures who are not only philosophically conservative but who are also serious students of policy and display a measure of grace, equanimity, and good cheer. Right now, Sarah Palin is falling short of these standards. Lashing out at her critics may be understandable. It may even be cathartic. But it is not the Reagan way.

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Obama: Embattled, Embittered, and Lashing Out

Barack Obama’s recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine paints a portrait of a president under siege and lashing out.

For example, the Tea Party is, according to Obama, the tool of “very powerful, special-interest lobbies” — except for those in the Tea Party whose motivations are “a little darker, that have to do with anti-immigrant sentiment or are troubled by what I represent as the president.”

Fox News, the president informs us, “is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world.”

Then there are the Republicans, who don’t oppose Obama on philosophical grounds but decided they were “better off being able to assign the blame to us than work with us to try to solve problems.” Now there are exceptions — those two or three GOPers who Obama has been able to “pick off” and, by virtue of supporting Obama, “wanted to do the right thing” — meaning that the rest of the GOP wants to do the wrong thing.

Even progressives were on the receiving end of the presidential tongue-lashing. “The idea that we’ve got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base,” Obama said, “that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible. … if people now want to take their ball and go home that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.”

Set aside the discordance of these words coming from a man who said, on the night of his election, “I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.” There is a hazardous dynamic developing.

To understand why, let’s start with this: President Obama is a man of unusual vanity and self-regard. He considers himself to be a world-historical figure who deserves treatment bordering on reverence. That is why over the years he has surrounded himself with individuals who have a romanticized view of Obama. “The blind faith in, and passion for, Obama was like nothing [Anita] Dunn had ever seen before,” we read in Game Change. Not surprisingly, Obama is unusually thin-skinned and prickly when it comes to criticism of any kind, from any quarter. It seems not only to bother him but also consume him. Hence his obsession with Fox News.

When a powerful man like this is successful, it can make him impossible to live with. When a powerful man like this is failing, he can become dangerous.

Such a person can easily become embittered and embattled. Used to adoration, he cannot process rejection. People who were once thought of as allies are viewed with suspicion and lacking in loyalty. There is a growing sense of isolation and ingratitude; no one really understands all the good that has been achieved against impossible odds (“Guys, wake up,” Obama tells Rolling Stone. “We have accomplished an incredible amount in the most adverse circumstances imaginable.”) In order to excuse his mounting failures and rebukes, he must find malevolent forces to blame. And malevolent forces need to be identified and isolated, depersonalized and defeated. Political battles are increasingly framed in apocalyptic terms, as the Children of Light vs. the Children of Darkness.

Now there is a long way to travel to get to this point — but others, including other presidents, have traveled this path before. We have no way of knowing where Obama is on this particular journey. But the warning signs are there. The president is showing mental and political habits that are disquieting. People who have standing in his life need to intercede with him — soon, now, before the president’s worst tendencies end up getting him, and us, into a genuine crisis.

On May 25, 1971, Daniel Patrick Moynihan — a Democrat but also a top aide to Richard Nixon at the time — wrote a letter to Vice President Agnew. “Moynihan privately deplored the inflammatory speeches denouncing anti-Nixon protesters by Vice President Spiro T. Agnew,” we read in the new book edited by Steven R. Weisman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary. In his letter to Agnew, Moynihan wrote this:

You cannot win the argument you are engaged in. Frankly, the longer you pursue it, I expect the more you will lose. … If you were to ask my advice it would be this. Cease attacking. … A great deal of charity and forgiveness is going to be required on all our parts to come through this experience whole. You really can help in this, and I know you would want to do so.

Barack Obama needs to find his Daniel Patrick Moynihan — and unlike Agnew, he needs to listen to him. Otherwise, this is going to have a very unhappy ending for the president, and for all of us.

Barack Obama’s recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine paints a portrait of a president under siege and lashing out.

For example, the Tea Party is, according to Obama, the tool of “very powerful, special-interest lobbies” — except for those in the Tea Party whose motivations are “a little darker, that have to do with anti-immigrant sentiment or are troubled by what I represent as the president.”

Fox News, the president informs us, “is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world.”

Then there are the Republicans, who don’t oppose Obama on philosophical grounds but decided they were “better off being able to assign the blame to us than work with us to try to solve problems.” Now there are exceptions — those two or three GOPers who Obama has been able to “pick off” and, by virtue of supporting Obama, “wanted to do the right thing” — meaning that the rest of the GOP wants to do the wrong thing.

Even progressives were on the receiving end of the presidential tongue-lashing. “The idea that we’ve got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base,” Obama said, “that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible. … if people now want to take their ball and go home that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.”

Set aside the discordance of these words coming from a man who said, on the night of his election, “I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.” There is a hazardous dynamic developing.

To understand why, let’s start with this: President Obama is a man of unusual vanity and self-regard. He considers himself to be a world-historical figure who deserves treatment bordering on reverence. That is why over the years he has surrounded himself with individuals who have a romanticized view of Obama. “The blind faith in, and passion for, Obama was like nothing [Anita] Dunn had ever seen before,” we read in Game Change. Not surprisingly, Obama is unusually thin-skinned and prickly when it comes to criticism of any kind, from any quarter. It seems not only to bother him but also consume him. Hence his obsession with Fox News.

When a powerful man like this is successful, it can make him impossible to live with. When a powerful man like this is failing, he can become dangerous.

Such a person can easily become embittered and embattled. Used to adoration, he cannot process rejection. People who were once thought of as allies are viewed with suspicion and lacking in loyalty. There is a growing sense of isolation and ingratitude; no one really understands all the good that has been achieved against impossible odds (“Guys, wake up,” Obama tells Rolling Stone. “We have accomplished an incredible amount in the most adverse circumstances imaginable.”) In order to excuse his mounting failures and rebukes, he must find malevolent forces to blame. And malevolent forces need to be identified and isolated, depersonalized and defeated. Political battles are increasingly framed in apocalyptic terms, as the Children of Light vs. the Children of Darkness.

Now there is a long way to travel to get to this point — but others, including other presidents, have traveled this path before. We have no way of knowing where Obama is on this particular journey. But the warning signs are there. The president is showing mental and political habits that are disquieting. People who have standing in his life need to intercede with him — soon, now, before the president’s worst tendencies end up getting him, and us, into a genuine crisis.

On May 25, 1971, Daniel Patrick Moynihan — a Democrat but also a top aide to Richard Nixon at the time — wrote a letter to Vice President Agnew. “Moynihan privately deplored the inflammatory speeches denouncing anti-Nixon protesters by Vice President Spiro T. Agnew,” we read in the new book edited by Steven R. Weisman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary. In his letter to Agnew, Moynihan wrote this:

You cannot win the argument you are engaged in. Frankly, the longer you pursue it, I expect the more you will lose. … If you were to ask my advice it would be this. Cease attacking. … A great deal of charity and forgiveness is going to be required on all our parts to come through this experience whole. You really can help in this, and I know you would want to do so.

Barack Obama needs to find his Daniel Patrick Moynihan — and unlike Agnew, he needs to listen to him. Otherwise, this is going to have a very unhappy ending for the president, and for all of us.

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Defining Recovery Down

What are we to make of the most recent jobs report, which shows that (a) unemployment increased from 9.5 percent to 9.6 percent and (b) nonfarm payrolls fell by 54,000 last month? If you’re White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, you tweet, “Don’t be fooled — the economy added 67,000 private sector jobs, 8th straight month of added private sector jobs, job loss came in Census work.” Picking up on this, David Mark, Politico’s senior editor, writes this:

At the White House Friday morning President Obama praised the private sector addition of 67,000 jobs in August, the eighth straight month of job growth. “That’s positive news, and it reflects the steps we’ve already taken to break the back of this recession. But it’s not good enough,” the president said. And Christina Romer, outgoing chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors, said the jobs figures were “better than expected.” Do they have a point about a slowly-but-surely improving jobs situation?

The answer is “no.” To understand why, it might be helpful to put things in a wider perspective. Read More

What are we to make of the most recent jobs report, which shows that (a) unemployment increased from 9.5 percent to 9.6 percent and (b) nonfarm payrolls fell by 54,000 last month? If you’re White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, you tweet, “Don’t be fooled — the economy added 67,000 private sector jobs, 8th straight month of added private sector jobs, job loss came in Census work.” Picking up on this, David Mark, Politico’s senior editor, writes this:

At the White House Friday morning President Obama praised the private sector addition of 67,000 jobs in August, the eighth straight month of job growth. “That’s positive news, and it reflects the steps we’ve already taken to break the back of this recession. But it’s not good enough,” the president said. And Christina Romer, outgoing chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors, said the jobs figures were “better than expected.” Do they have a point about a slowly-but-surely improving jobs situation?

The answer is “no.” To understand why, it might be helpful to put things in a wider perspective.

For one thing, the so-called underemployment rate, which includes workers who are working part-time but who want full-time work, increased from 16.5 percent to 16.7 percent. During our supposed “Recovery Summer,” we have lost 283,000 jobs (54,000 in June, 171,000 in July, and 54,000 in August). And for August, the employment-population ratio — the percentage of Americans with jobs — was 58.5 percent. We haven’t seen figures this low in nearly three decades. As Henry Olson of the American Enterprise Institute points out, “Since the start of this summer, nearly 400,000 Americans have entered the labor force, but only 130,000 have found jobs. … America’s adult population has risen by 2 million people since [August 2009], but the number of adults with jobs has dropped by 180,000. The unemployment rate declined slightly despite these numbers, from 9.7 percent to 9.6 percent, because over 2.3 million people have left the labor force entirely, so discouraged they are no longer even looking for work. ”

Keep in mind that all this is occurring during a period when job growth should be considerably higher, at least based on past post-recession recoveries. Former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers Michael Boskin points out that “compared to the 6.2% first-year Ford recovery and 7.7% Reagan recovery, the Obama recovery at 3% is less than half speed.” Bear in mind, too, that today’s jobs report comes a week after the GDP for the second quarter was revised downward, from 2.4 percent to 1.6 percent. Economists generally agree that the economy needs to grow 2.5 percent to keep unemployment from going up, and a good deal better than that to begin to bring it substantially down.

What all this means, I think, is that we’re not in a recovery at all, at least not in any meaningful sense. And those who insist otherwise are (to amend a phrase from Daniel Patrick Moynihan) Defining Recovery Down.

The most recent GDP figures also have harmful fiscal ramifications. For example, estimates for the deficit this year (more than $1.3 trillion) are based on both the Congressional Budget Office’s and the Obama administration’s assumption of roughly 3 percent growth. If growth is well below that, government revenues are going to be lower than estimated. And so this year’s deficit and net increase in the debt are going to be worse than even the (already quite troubling) projections. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve has very few, if any, arrows left in its quiver. It has done just about all that can be done.

The narrative the Obama administration is trying to sell is that we were on the edge of another Great Depression but avoided it and are now, in the president’s oft-repeated phrase, “moving in the right direction.” If we persist in following Obama’s policies on spending, taxes, and regulations, Obama assures us, we will build on this recovery and turn a sluggish one into a strong one. At the end of Obamaism lies the land of milk and honey.

This is wishful thinking. The economy right now is sick and, in some important respects, getting sicker. And the president is pursuing policies that are not only not helping; they are downright counterproductive.

Robert Gibbs can tweet away, but he cannot tweet away reality.

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Is J Street More Trouble Than It’s Worth?

J Street is backing Joe Sestak, providing both an endorsement and funding. He is their ideal candidate — willing to keynote at a CAIR fundraiser, unbothered by Obama’s Israel-bashing, happy to sign on to J Street’s letter on lifting the Gaza blockade, and left-leaning on everything else. This, of course, has raised concerns within the Jewish community. During the primary, Sen. Arlen Specter went after his opponent:

When addressing them at the May 2 forum, [Specter] went into great detail, describing his Jewish upbringing and choosing to focus much of his presentation on the issue of Israel. Responding to a question from the audience, he attacked his rival’s decision to participate at a meeting sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an organization that critics have accused of accommodating antisemitic views. “Sestak showed a lack of experience and sensitivity,” Specter said accusingly, later adding that “in the DNA” of the Jewish people, “we have memory of the pogroms.”

In May the contrast between Sestak and Specter, an ardent Israel supporter, was quite evident in an interview with the Jewish Exponent:

Do you believe a unified Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel? If not, should Israel freeze all its building in eastern Jerusalem?

Specter: Jerusalem is the rightful capital of Israel. In 1983, I joined Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) in introducing legislation to require the U.S. Embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. I continue to support legislation requiring such a move.

Sestak: Both issues are ones that should be worked out between Israel and the Palestinians with the United States “in the room”; nothing should be mandated — by the administration or by Congress — upon the two parties as a condition for peace or at the beginning of the peace process.

Hmm, doesn’t exactly sound like Sestak is solid on the issue. (Sestak’s office did not respond to an inquiry as to his position on this and other issues relating to Israel.)

Now, candidates are sometimes willing to take flack over their support from a politically controversial group in exchange for handsome financing. Many a Democrat, for example, has taken his lumps for “being in the pocket of labor bosses”; the consolation is the robust funds they receive from organized labor. So has the J Street endorsement been worth the trouble it has caused Sestak?

It sure doesn’t look that way: “GOP U.S. Senate nominee Pat Toomey raised roughly $1 million more than Democratic opponent Joe Sestak in the latest fundraising quarter, according to numbers provided by each campaign Tuesday, another indication the Republican could posses a significant financial advantage in the general election race.” It seems that the J Street endorsement really isn’t paying off. It may be that pro-Israel voters in Pennsylvania are already voting — with their checkbooks — against Sestak. Unfortunately for Sestak, J Street hasn’t begun to make up the difference.

We’ll see how this plays out in Pennsylvania and in races around the country in which J Street has bestowed its endorsement, but perhaps not sufficient funds, on leftist Democrats. One lesson of this election may well be that a J Street endorsement is the kiss of political death for those foolish enough to adhere to its extreme agenda with the expectation that J Street can provide ample financial support.

J Street is backing Joe Sestak, providing both an endorsement and funding. He is their ideal candidate — willing to keynote at a CAIR fundraiser, unbothered by Obama’s Israel-bashing, happy to sign on to J Street’s letter on lifting the Gaza blockade, and left-leaning on everything else. This, of course, has raised concerns within the Jewish community. During the primary, Sen. Arlen Specter went after his opponent:

When addressing them at the May 2 forum, [Specter] went into great detail, describing his Jewish upbringing and choosing to focus much of his presentation on the issue of Israel. Responding to a question from the audience, he attacked his rival’s decision to participate at a meeting sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an organization that critics have accused of accommodating antisemitic views. “Sestak showed a lack of experience and sensitivity,” Specter said accusingly, later adding that “in the DNA” of the Jewish people, “we have memory of the pogroms.”

In May the contrast between Sestak and Specter, an ardent Israel supporter, was quite evident in an interview with the Jewish Exponent:

Do you believe a unified Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel? If not, should Israel freeze all its building in eastern Jerusalem?

Specter: Jerusalem is the rightful capital of Israel. In 1983, I joined Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) in introducing legislation to require the U.S. Embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. I continue to support legislation requiring such a move.

Sestak: Both issues are ones that should be worked out between Israel and the Palestinians with the United States “in the room”; nothing should be mandated — by the administration or by Congress — upon the two parties as a condition for peace or at the beginning of the peace process.

Hmm, doesn’t exactly sound like Sestak is solid on the issue. (Sestak’s office did not respond to an inquiry as to his position on this and other issues relating to Israel.)

Now, candidates are sometimes willing to take flack over their support from a politically controversial group in exchange for handsome financing. Many a Democrat, for example, has taken his lumps for “being in the pocket of labor bosses”; the consolation is the robust funds they receive from organized labor. So has the J Street endorsement been worth the trouble it has caused Sestak?

It sure doesn’t look that way: “GOP U.S. Senate nominee Pat Toomey raised roughly $1 million more than Democratic opponent Joe Sestak in the latest fundraising quarter, according to numbers provided by each campaign Tuesday, another indication the Republican could posses a significant financial advantage in the general election race.” It seems that the J Street endorsement really isn’t paying off. It may be that pro-Israel voters in Pennsylvania are already voting — with their checkbooks — against Sestak. Unfortunately for Sestak, J Street hasn’t begun to make up the difference.

We’ll see how this plays out in Pennsylvania and in races around the country in which J Street has bestowed its endorsement, but perhaps not sufficient funds, on leftist Democrats. One lesson of this election may well be that a J Street endorsement is the kiss of political death for those foolish enough to adhere to its extreme agenda with the expectation that J Street can provide ample financial support.

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Jimmy Carter: Role Model?

In his column today, Charles Krauthammer makes this point:

Three Iran sanctions resolutions passed in the Bush years. They were all passed without a single “no” vote. But after 16 months of laboring to produce a mouse, Obama garnered only 12 votes for his sorry sanctions, with Lebanon abstaining and Turkey and Brazil voting against.

So nothing good came of Obama’s Bash-America Tour, in which he traveled to foreign capitals to criticize America for sins committed long ago or imaginary. Indeed, the premise of Obama’s approach to international affairs — that America’s problems in the world were caused by America’s sins, and Obama’s charm offensive would overcome any obstacles between us and our enemies — has been eviscerated.

In a wonderful essay in COMMENTARY in February 1981, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in reviewing the failures of the Carter presidency, wrote about the ideas that animated it, including:

The political hostility which the United States encountered around the world, and especially in the Third World, was, very simply, evidence of American aggression or at least of American wrongdoing… If the United States denied itself the means of aggression, it would cease to be aggressive. When it ceased to be aggressive, there would be peace – in the halls of the United Nations no less than in the rice paddies of Southeast Asia.

Moynihan went on to write about the Carter administration’s “fateful avoidance of reality” — “a denial that there is genuine hostility toward the United States in the world and true conflicts of interest between this nation and others – and illusion that a surface reasonableness and civility are the same as true cooperation.” He warned about the “psychological arrogance that lay behind the seeming humility of our new relations with the Third World – it was we who still determined how others behaved.” And Moynihan concluded his essay this way:

With the experience of the last four years, we should at least have learned that foreign policy cannot be conducted under the pretense that we have no enemies in the world – or at any rate none whose enmity we have not merited by our own conduct. For it was this idea more than anything else, perhaps, that led the Carter administration into disaster abroad and overwhelming defeat at home.

President Obama and his White House aides would be wise to reflect on Moynihan’s words and warning, which are as apposite now as they were then. There are a lot of presidents Obama could model himself after; Jimmy Carter shouldn’t be one of them.

In his column today, Charles Krauthammer makes this point:

Three Iran sanctions resolutions passed in the Bush years. They were all passed without a single “no” vote. But after 16 months of laboring to produce a mouse, Obama garnered only 12 votes for his sorry sanctions, with Lebanon abstaining and Turkey and Brazil voting against.

So nothing good came of Obama’s Bash-America Tour, in which he traveled to foreign capitals to criticize America for sins committed long ago or imaginary. Indeed, the premise of Obama’s approach to international affairs — that America’s problems in the world were caused by America’s sins, and Obama’s charm offensive would overcome any obstacles between us and our enemies — has been eviscerated.

In a wonderful essay in COMMENTARY in February 1981, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in reviewing the failures of the Carter presidency, wrote about the ideas that animated it, including:

The political hostility which the United States encountered around the world, and especially in the Third World, was, very simply, evidence of American aggression or at least of American wrongdoing… If the United States denied itself the means of aggression, it would cease to be aggressive. When it ceased to be aggressive, there would be peace – in the halls of the United Nations no less than in the rice paddies of Southeast Asia.

Moynihan went on to write about the Carter administration’s “fateful avoidance of reality” — “a denial that there is genuine hostility toward the United States in the world and true conflicts of interest between this nation and others – and illusion that a surface reasonableness and civility are the same as true cooperation.” He warned about the “psychological arrogance that lay behind the seeming humility of our new relations with the Third World – it was we who still determined how others behaved.” And Moynihan concluded his essay this way:

With the experience of the last four years, we should at least have learned that foreign policy cannot be conducted under the pretense that we have no enemies in the world – or at any rate none whose enmity we have not merited by our own conduct. For it was this idea more than anything else, perhaps, that led the Carter administration into disaster abroad and overwhelming defeat at home.

President Obama and his White House aides would be wise to reflect on Moynihan’s words and warning, which are as apposite now as they were then. There are a lot of presidents Obama could model himself after; Jimmy Carter shouldn’t be one of them.

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Helen Thomas Quits

Who pushed her overboard is not clear, but Helen Thomas announced her immediate “retirement,” thereby sparing the cowardly Washington Correspondents Association and the morally atrophied administration the need to boot her out. But the episode was revealing — the left and the White House were mute. Regrettably we are, to borrow from Daniel Patrick Moynihan, slowly defining anti-Semitism downward. Many considered the entire affair unworthy of mention or requiring her immediate termination. To those, we can say only that their sentiments are as plain as Thomas’s.

Who pushed her overboard is not clear, but Helen Thomas announced her immediate “retirement,” thereby sparing the cowardly Washington Correspondents Association and the morally atrophied administration the need to boot her out. But the episode was revealing — the left and the White House were mute. Regrettably we are, to borrow from Daniel Patrick Moynihan, slowly defining anti-Semitism downward. Many considered the entire affair unworthy of mention or requiring her immediate termination. To those, we can say only that their sentiments are as plain as Thomas’s.

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LIVE BLOG: Take Reconciliation Off the Table

Alexander calls Obama to take reconciliation off the table. The camera turns to Obama, who grimaces. Alexander says reconciliation shouldn’t be used for this sort of measure. He then quotes Obama to Obama on the beauty of the filibuster. He quotes Daniel Patrick Moynihan on the proposition that all major legislation should be bipartisan. “We will have to renounce jamming it through … or the only thing bipartisan will be the opposition to the bill.” Ouch.

Alexander calls Obama to take reconciliation off the table. The camera turns to Obama, who grimaces. Alexander says reconciliation shouldn’t be used for this sort of measure. He then quotes Obama to Obama on the beauty of the filibuster. He quotes Daniel Patrick Moynihan on the proposition that all major legislation should be bipartisan. “We will have to renounce jamming it through … or the only thing bipartisan will be the opposition to the bill.” Ouch.

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Memo to the White House: Check Out YouTube

As the health-care debate approached a climax in the Senate a few weeks ago, it became widely noted that the negotiations were going on behind closed doors, even though as a candidate, Obama had promised numerous times to put those negotiations on C-Span. His campaign promises were all over YouTube, but White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs refused even to discuss questions about the discrepancy.

Now, it seems the Obama administration is at it again. The lead story in today’s New York Times reports that Obama will call for a freeze on discretionary spending (excepting military spending, the Veterans Administration, homeland security, and foreign aid). Guess what his opinion of a spending freeze was during the campaign?

And the spending freeze he proposes would save what? Nick Gillespie at Reason, estimates, at most, $15 billion in fiscal year 2011. Compare that to the $1.4 trillion deficit in fiscal year 2009.

This is what Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously called “boob bait for bubbas.” The people have made it abundantly clear (as in last week’s Massachusetts Senate election) that they regard federal spending as out of control. So the Obama administration will toss the public a bone, knowing that it will be meaningless in size and easily evaded with special appropriations and other budget gimmicks.

The sheer cynicism is breathtaking, if not unexpected at this point. What is unexpected in this self-proclaimed post-modern administration is that Obama and his staff don’t seem to have realized yet that YouTube has changed everything. Yesterday’s newspapers, notoriously, were used to wrap fish, their content forgotten. Today’s news clip lives forever on the Internet.

As the health-care debate approached a climax in the Senate a few weeks ago, it became widely noted that the negotiations were going on behind closed doors, even though as a candidate, Obama had promised numerous times to put those negotiations on C-Span. His campaign promises were all over YouTube, but White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs refused even to discuss questions about the discrepancy.

Now, it seems the Obama administration is at it again. The lead story in today’s New York Times reports that Obama will call for a freeze on discretionary spending (excepting military spending, the Veterans Administration, homeland security, and foreign aid). Guess what his opinion of a spending freeze was during the campaign?

And the spending freeze he proposes would save what? Nick Gillespie at Reason, estimates, at most, $15 billion in fiscal year 2011. Compare that to the $1.4 trillion deficit in fiscal year 2009.

This is what Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously called “boob bait for bubbas.” The people have made it abundantly clear (as in last week’s Massachusetts Senate election) that they regard federal spending as out of control. So the Obama administration will toss the public a bone, knowing that it will be meaningless in size and easily evaded with special appropriations and other budget gimmicks.

The sheer cynicism is breathtaking, if not unexpected at this point. What is unexpected in this self-proclaimed post-modern administration is that Obama and his staff don’t seem to have realized yet that YouTube has changed everything. Yesterday’s newspapers, notoriously, were used to wrap fish, their content forgotten. Today’s news clip lives forever on the Internet.

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Re: The Touch of Political Death

Harold Ford Jr. is no dummy. Writing in the New York Post, he tells New Yorkers he’s not going to let the White House chase him out of the race. In fact, he’s going to use its opposition to his advantage:

Some have already questioned whether I should be running. Others are falsifying my record in public life. New Yorkers deserve a free election. New Yorkers expect a politics where politicians do what’s right based on independent judgment, free of political bosses trying to dictate.

Obama is a political boss? Well, yes. He and Rahm Emanuel are, if nothing else, well practiced in Chicago politics, so I think “bosses” is a term chosen well and that aptly conjures up the image of corruption and contempt for democracy that has voters of all parties upset these days. He also takes time to clarify his stance on hot-button issues that have the netroots in a tizzy. He pledged fidelity to three of the touchstones of the Left: abortion rights, gay rights, and support for Big Labor. (This is a Democratic primary, and it is New York, after all.) And he says he’s been living there for three years, about three years longer than Hillary Clinton before her run for office.

What he has going for him is that he’s not in office, didn’t vote for Cash for Cloture, and hasn’t run Right as a representative and then Left as a senator, as Kirsten Gillibrand did. He’s no Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose name he invokes. But he’s not been there for the last year as voters have become disgusted with the Obama-Pelosi-Reid machine. And that may be all he needs. It looks like New Yorkers are going to have a very interesting primary. If Gillibrand were smart, she’d tell the White House to butt out. She has enough problems without another reminder that she is, for purposes of this race, the Washington Insider: not a good thing to be.

Harold Ford Jr. is no dummy. Writing in the New York Post, he tells New Yorkers he’s not going to let the White House chase him out of the race. In fact, he’s going to use its opposition to his advantage:

Some have already questioned whether I should be running. Others are falsifying my record in public life. New Yorkers deserve a free election. New Yorkers expect a politics where politicians do what’s right based on independent judgment, free of political bosses trying to dictate.

Obama is a political boss? Well, yes. He and Rahm Emanuel are, if nothing else, well practiced in Chicago politics, so I think “bosses” is a term chosen well and that aptly conjures up the image of corruption and contempt for democracy that has voters of all parties upset these days. He also takes time to clarify his stance on hot-button issues that have the netroots in a tizzy. He pledged fidelity to three of the touchstones of the Left: abortion rights, gay rights, and support for Big Labor. (This is a Democratic primary, and it is New York, after all.) And he says he’s been living there for three years, about three years longer than Hillary Clinton before her run for office.

What he has going for him is that he’s not in office, didn’t vote for Cash for Cloture, and hasn’t run Right as a representative and then Left as a senator, as Kirsten Gillibrand did. He’s no Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose name he invokes. But he’s not been there for the last year as voters have become disgusted with the Obama-Pelosi-Reid machine. And that may be all he needs. It looks like New Yorkers are going to have a very interesting primary. If Gillibrand were smart, she’d tell the White House to butt out. She has enough problems without another reminder that she is, for purposes of this race, the Washington Insider: not a good thing to be.

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Troth Blighted in Old Blighty

In a story out of Great Britain today we read that the proportion of Britons getting married is now the lowest since records began in 1862, with the number of weddings held in 2006 the smallest since 1895, when the population was little more than half its present level.

The figures, from the Office for National Statistics, show that fewer than ten in every 1,000 single adults in England and Wales got married in 2006. Among men the rate was 22.8 in every 1,000, while among women the rate was 20.5 in every 1,000. When marriage-rates were first calculated in 1862, the level was 58.7 in every 1,000 for men and 50 in every 1,000 for women. Even during World War II, the article says, marriage rates for women never dropped below 40 in 1,000 (they fell below 30 for the first time in 1995). The general decline of marriage has been under way since 1972 when marriage rates were more than 78 in 1,000 for men and 60 in 1,000 for women. Also of note: today religious marriages in Great Britain number fewer than 80,000, compared to 157,490 civil weddings.

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In a story out of Great Britain today we read that the proportion of Britons getting married is now the lowest since records began in 1862, with the number of weddings held in 2006 the smallest since 1895, when the population was little more than half its present level.

The figures, from the Office for National Statistics, show that fewer than ten in every 1,000 single adults in England and Wales got married in 2006. Among men the rate was 22.8 in every 1,000, while among women the rate was 20.5 in every 1,000. When marriage-rates were first calculated in 1862, the level was 58.7 in every 1,000 for men and 50 in every 1,000 for women. Even during World War II, the article says, marriage rates for women never dropped below 40 in 1,000 (they fell below 30 for the first time in 1995). The general decline of marriage has been under way since 1972 when marriage rates were more than 78 in 1,000 for men and 60 in 1,000 for women. Also of note: today religious marriages in Great Britain number fewer than 80,000, compared to 157,490 civil weddings.

There is, as one might imagine, a political and policy component to this story. According to the article,

[t]he evidence that marriage is withering away at an increasing pace was met with a furious response from critics of Labour’s benefits system, which disregards the status of husbands and wives and pays parents extra to stay single. Shadow Home Secretary David Davis claimed the Government had “fuelled family breakdown” and researcher Patricia Morgan, who coined the phrase “marriage lite” to describe cohabitation, said Labour had succeeded in “eradicating” marriage. “This is what they have tried to achieve and they should be congratulating themselves,” she added. “But it is a disaster for children, families and society.”

. . . [T]he tax and benefit system came under most fervent attack. Advantages for married couples have gradually been withdrawn, joint taxation-ended in the 1980s and Gordon Brown withdrew the last tax break for couples, the Married Couples Allowance, shortly after Labour came to power in 1997 . . .

. . . Labour family policy has for a decade maintained that all kinds of families are equally valuable and ministers have campaigned for all references to marriage to be removed from state documents. The Tories promised they would provide incentives for couples to get and stay together. David Davis said: “This is a sad indictment of the Government’s policies which have penalised families and fuelled family breakdown. Stable families are the best formula for bringing up children and preventing delinquency, anti-social behaviour and crime. So a failed family policy is itself a major cause of crime.” He added: “Conservative policies will support the family by shifting the tax burden away from families and giving 1.8million families an extra £2,000 a year.” Researcher and author Mrs Morgan said: “I have been reading the Children’s Plan put out by Children’s Secretary Ed Balls last year. It does not mention marriage once. This Government has removed the idea of marriage from research and public documents and from the tax and benefit system.”

These developments are part of a broad, on-going trend. In his book on marriage The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Collapse of the American Family (2001)*, Bill Bennett reminds us that in 2000, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was asked to identify the biggest change he has seen in his forty-year political career. He answered, “The biggest change, in my judgment, is that the family structure has come apart all over the North Atlantic world.” He said that this transformation had occurred in “an historical instant. Something that was not imaginable forty years ago has happened.” The distinguished historian Lawrence Stone wrote, “The scale of marital breakdown in the West since 1960 has no historical precedent and seems unique.” And the demographer Kingsley Davis added, “At no time in history, with the possible exception of Imperial Rome, has the institution of marriage been more problematic than it is today.” Scholars now speak of a trend toward a “post-marriage” society.

The causes of the collapse of marriage range from the rise in the Western world of a highly individualistic ethic, to a profound shift in moral and religious attitudes, to the sexual revolution, to the widespread use of abortion and the pill, to changes in law, among other things. The precise damage that the collapse in marriage is having on different societies is hard to measure – but we know it cannot be good. Marriage remains the best arrangement ever devised when it comes to sexual and emotional intimacy, raising children, and finding fulfillment and completeness between two people, not to mention things like financial security, better health, and longer lives. It is, as Bennett wrote, “the keystone in the arch of civilization.” It is also, for those of us who are people of faith, an honorable estate, instituted by God.

Revivifying marriage will not be an easy task, and it will depend on much more than government policies. But laws matter a great deal, as we have learned any number of times on any number of issues (among them welfare and crime) – and they surely matter when it comes to marriage. Laws, after all, reflect a society’s attitudes – the things we deem to be worthy of our support and disapprobation.

Great Britain is now experiencing the consequences of having devalued marriage in law, and the Tories are right to advocate steps to fortify traditional marriage. There are few institutions more in need of repair and few issues that are more worthy of our attention.

* Full disclosure: I assisted Bill Bennett in writing the book.

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