Commentary Magazine


Topic: editor

The Guardian: Let’s Have a ‘Discussion’ About the Morality of Terrorism

If you’ve ever wondered what the first step to becoming a full-blown terrorist apologist is, check out this column by the Guardian’s Chris Elliott. In the piece, Elliott defends a letter to the editor from “eminent philosopher” Ted Honderich, which “proposed the ‘moral right’ of the Palestinians to adopt terrorism as a strategy.”

“It is the policy of the Guardian not to publish letters advocating violence against others,” wrote Elliott. “[B]ut that does not – and should not – preclude a discussion about the nature of terrorism.” He added that “It is a legitimate area of discussion.”

To really grasp Honderich’s “discussion” about the “nature of terrorism,” you should read his letter in full here.

But here is a quick summary: First, Honderich noted that the Palestinian Papers have revealed “the intransigent greed, the escape from decency” of the Israeli government during peace negotiations. According to the philosopher, these revelations “provide a further part of what is now an overwhelming argument for a certain proposition. It is that the Palestinians have a moral right to their terrorism within historic Palestine against neo-Zionism. … Terrorism, as in this case, can as exactly be self-defence, a freedom struggle, martyrdom, the conclusion of an argument based on true humanity, etc.” a

As Adam Levick notes at CiF Watch, “In other words, what Honderich has learned from the Guardian’s Palestine Papers is that Israel is such a morally indecent country that Palestinians now clearly have the moral right to murder Israeli men, women, and children.”

Having a philosophical discussion about the nature of terrorism is one thing. But Honderich’s letter wasn’t about the “nature” of anything, nor was it a discussion. The acts of terror the philosopher was referring to are very real, and it’s clear he’d already come to a conclusion on their morality.

If you’ve ever wondered what the first step to becoming a full-blown terrorist apologist is, check out this column by the Guardian’s Chris Elliott. In the piece, Elliott defends a letter to the editor from “eminent philosopher” Ted Honderich, which “proposed the ‘moral right’ of the Palestinians to adopt terrorism as a strategy.”

“It is the policy of the Guardian not to publish letters advocating violence against others,” wrote Elliott. “[B]ut that does not – and should not – preclude a discussion about the nature of terrorism.” He added that “It is a legitimate area of discussion.”

To really grasp Honderich’s “discussion” about the “nature of terrorism,” you should read his letter in full here.

But here is a quick summary: First, Honderich noted that the Palestinian Papers have revealed “the intransigent greed, the escape from decency” of the Israeli government during peace negotiations. According to the philosopher, these revelations “provide a further part of what is now an overwhelming argument for a certain proposition. It is that the Palestinians have a moral right to their terrorism within historic Palestine against neo-Zionism. … Terrorism, as in this case, can as exactly be self-defence, a freedom struggle, martyrdom, the conclusion of an argument based on true humanity, etc.” a

As Adam Levick notes at CiF Watch, “In other words, what Honderich has learned from the Guardian’s Palestine Papers is that Israel is such a morally indecent country that Palestinians now clearly have the moral right to murder Israeli men, women, and children.”

Having a philosophical discussion about the nature of terrorism is one thing. But Honderich’s letter wasn’t about the “nature” of anything, nor was it a discussion. The acts of terror the philosopher was referring to are very real, and it’s clear he’d already come to a conclusion on their morality.

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The Guardian Wants Its Two-State Solution Back. Beware.

When the Guardian launched its “Palestine Papers” on Sunday, the sensational leak was accompanied by an editorial, which was sensationally titled “Pleading for a fig leaf” and just as sensationally subtitled “The secret notes suggest one requires Panglossian optimism to believe that these negotiations can one day be resurrected.”

The editorial went on to accuse the Palestinian leadership of being a bunch of collaborators — it described them as “weak” and “craven” — a mixture of poodles and quislings. It decried their humiliating readiness “to flog the family silver” in order to get “a puppet state.” It then proclaimed: “The Palestinian Authority may continue as an employer but, as of today, its legitimacy as negotiators will have all but ended on the Palestinian street.”

So, on January 23, the peace process is dead, unless you are a “Panglossian optimist.”

This was not just an isolated 0pinion piece — this was an opening salvo from the editor. Somehow, it looks like someone may have regretted going so far, because just two days later, a new editorial with a contrary headline appeared — “Despair. But we still need a deal” — with a subtitle that was also the opposite of that of the January 23 editorial: “A two-state solution remains the only show in town.” Read More

When the Guardian launched its “Palestine Papers” on Sunday, the sensational leak was accompanied by an editorial, which was sensationally titled “Pleading for a fig leaf” and just as sensationally subtitled “The secret notes suggest one requires Panglossian optimism to believe that these negotiations can one day be resurrected.”

The editorial went on to accuse the Palestinian leadership of being a bunch of collaborators — it described them as “weak” and “craven” — a mixture of poodles and quislings. It decried their humiliating readiness “to flog the family silver” in order to get “a puppet state.” It then proclaimed: “The Palestinian Authority may continue as an employer but, as of today, its legitimacy as negotiators will have all but ended on the Palestinian street.”

So, on January 23, the peace process is dead, unless you are a “Panglossian optimist.”

This was not just an isolated 0pinion piece — this was an opening salvo from the editor. Somehow, it looks like someone may have regretted going so far, because just two days later, a new editorial with a contrary headline appeared — “Despair. But we still need a deal” — with a subtitle that was also the opposite of that of the January 23 editorial: “A two-state solution remains the only show in town.”

The Guardian now says it wants the two-state solution back — two days after it inaugurated the latest effort to sabotage it and a day before the head of Hamas’s international-relations department was given a prominent platform in the paper.

Nice try, but this does not in any way match the impact of the avalanche of op-eds, news coverage, and profiles the Guardian provided and continues to provide in order to support the perception that the Palestinian leadership betrayed their people.

In other words, the Guardian believes in the two-state solution, just not the one that could be realistically negotiated, because that constitutes a betrayal of the Palestinian cause; and not one under U.S. auspices, because the Americans are not honest brokers; and not one where Israel gets its way on settlements, Jerusalem, or refugees, because that is “craven.”

In short, the Guardian is for a two-state solution where Israel, not the Palestinians, surrenders.

The Guardian has always taken the Palestinian narrative as the truth. The leaks, accompanied by an accusing finger pointed at the Palestinian negotiators, is a cry of “betrayal” of the Palestinian cause. They are more Palestinian than the Palestinians themselves.

Just consider the Guardian’s wise counsel on how successfully negotiate:

[T]alks succeed only when each side can put itself in the shoes of the other. To imagine that Abu Mazen could put to a referendum a deal in which Israel got its way on all the core issues – settlements, Jerusalem, the return of refugees – and to imagine that such a deal would be durable, is the ultimate failure of a negotiator’s imagination.

There. The Guardian can only put itself in the shoes of the Palestinians — but no word of Israeli and Jewish pain, when Israel’s leaders would have to relinquish Hebron, the second holiest place for Judaism; or Bethlehem, where one of four matriarchs of Israel, Rachel, is buried; or Nablus, where Jacob’s son Joseph is buried; or the entire biblical heartland, which, more than Tel Aviv and the entire coastline of Israel, is filled with longing and memories of Jewish identity.

No pain is registered, because the Guardian, in its cravenness, sees Israel as the Palestinians see it — a colonialist, European implant, based on a racist and imperialist ideology that crafted an imagined past fed by religious superstition and devoid of the authenticity of the indigenous culture.

Their leaks may be a treasure trove for the impatient historian who won’t need to wait 30 years to access classified material. It may be a golden opportunity to undermine the Palestinian Authority and poke Israel in the eye in the process. And it is no doubt great for Internet traffic. But it has no value whatsoever in terms of advancing the cause the Guardian pretends to support.

That plea for a two-state solution is just their fig leaf — a convenient cover before they charge ahead.

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Try Another Tack, Mr. Clemons

My former CONTENTIONS colleague Jennifer Rubin wrote a post referring to “the usual crowd of Israel bashers” who had sent the president a letter urging him to go along with a UN resolution condemning Israel for its settlements. The usual crowd included Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation, who was quite agitated because he was included in that company.

“I would like to know from Jennifer Rubin and from her editor — and from the Chairman of the Board of the Washington Post — what I have ever said, what I have ever written, what I have ever organized that deserves the characterization I received from Jennifer Rubin today at the Washington Post,” Clemons asks. “What does she consider makes me an Israel-basher?”

Rubin answers him chapter-and-verse here. It is a withering takedown.

Accusing Rubin of engaging in what is essentially libel (an “insidious character attack” is how Clemons puts it) when she was simply expressing an opinion, backed up by ample evidence, is both regrettable and perfectly predictable. Clemons is reacting in an affected and aggrieved manner. It is an obvious attempt not to dispute the charge but to delegitimize the person making it. And by appealing to Rubin’s editors and the chairman of the board at the Washington Post (!), there is an implicit effort to intimidate Rubin into silence.

Having worked with Jen, I have some advice for Clemons: it won’t work, and it shouldn’t be tried. And if Mr. Clemons is so eager to extinguish libel in public discourse, he might turn more of his attention to the effort on the left to link conservatives to the Tucson massacres.

Just a suggestion.

My former CONTENTIONS colleague Jennifer Rubin wrote a post referring to “the usual crowd of Israel bashers” who had sent the president a letter urging him to go along with a UN resolution condemning Israel for its settlements. The usual crowd included Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation, who was quite agitated because he was included in that company.

“I would like to know from Jennifer Rubin and from her editor — and from the Chairman of the Board of the Washington Post — what I have ever said, what I have ever written, what I have ever organized that deserves the characterization I received from Jennifer Rubin today at the Washington Post,” Clemons asks. “What does she consider makes me an Israel-basher?”

Rubin answers him chapter-and-verse here. It is a withering takedown.

Accusing Rubin of engaging in what is essentially libel (an “insidious character attack” is how Clemons puts it) when she was simply expressing an opinion, backed up by ample evidence, is both regrettable and perfectly predictable. Clemons is reacting in an affected and aggrieved manner. It is an obvious attempt not to dispute the charge but to delegitimize the person making it. And by appealing to Rubin’s editors and the chairman of the board at the Washington Post (!), there is an implicit effort to intimidate Rubin into silence.

Having worked with Jen, I have some advice for Clemons: it won’t work, and it shouldn’t be tried. And if Mr. Clemons is so eager to extinguish libel in public discourse, he might turn more of his attention to the effort on the left to link conservatives to the Tucson massacres.

Just a suggestion.

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Palestine Papers: 99 Percent Hype, 1 Percent News

You wouldn’t expect Al-Jazeera and the Guardian newspaper in Britain to do anything but spin the “Palestine Papers” — the leaked transcripts of late Bush administration negotiations between Israeli, Palestinian, and American officials — to the max. And so they have, today, with shocked responses from foreign-policy types. Indeed, an editor at Foreign Policy magazine went so far as to declare on Twitter that the “two state solution is dead” as a result.

But the reality of the papers themselves turns out to be incredibly boring. Yes, during the months surrounding the Annapolis summit in 2008, there were negotiations. Yes, these negotiations concerned issues such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security, and settlements. Yes, the two sides discussed land swaps that would enable Israel to retain major settlement blocs. Yes, in private, the Palestinians acknowledged that the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is not going to be handed over to them and that Israel will not consent to being flooded with millions of Arab refugees. Yes, in private, the negotiators treated each other with respect and even graciousness. No, the talks did not succeed. This is news?

The Palestine Papers, however, come off badly for the leader of Israel’s opposition, Tzipi Livni, who was then-PM Ehud Olmert’s foreign minister at the time and one of the dramatis personae of the negotiations. Livni’s political liability is that too many Israelis think she isn’t tough enough to be prime minister. She has a tendency to denigrate her own side as a way of ingratiating herself to hostile audiences. To this day, she forcefully criticizes her own country and government while abroad and in front of audiences who have little affection for Israel (see her recent appearance with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour). She seems to think this wins her points for impartiality.

The Palestine Papers show her doing much the same in private, offering to collude with the Palestinians to invent pretexts for letting terrorists out of jail and dismissing Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights (“We’re giving up the Golan”). These indulgences may stick in voters’ minds in Israel and make it that much harder for her to dispel the fear that if awarded the premiership, she’ll give the store away.

But the biggest loser in the Palestine Papers is someone who was not even on the scene at the time. That is President Obama, who chose to make Israeli settlements the centerpiece of the peace process. The papers show that one of the only areas on which the sides had come close to an agreement was the acceptability of land swaps as a solution to the settlements controversy. Today, at Obama’s behest, the Palestinians insist on a complete settlement freeze before they’ll even talk — including in areas that just two years ago they had agreed were already de facto Israeli. Thus did Obama turn back the clock on one of the only points of relative consensus and progress between the two sides. The opener to this Jerusalem Post story captures the absurdity of the situation:

With the Palestinian Authority making an international incident over every plan to build in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, a cache of some 1,600 documents—mostly form [sic] the Palestinian Negotiating Unit—shows that in 2008 the PA was willing to recognize eventual Israeli control over all those neighborhoods, with the exception of Har Homa.

This is actually unfair to the Palestinians. They didn’t make construction in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem an “international incident.” That was Obama, who has criticized construction in these neighborhoods repeatedly. There is not much news in the Palestine Papers to anyone familiar with the Annapolis-era negotiations. But they do provide another example of how badly the Obama administration has handled the peace process.

You wouldn’t expect Al-Jazeera and the Guardian newspaper in Britain to do anything but spin the “Palestine Papers” — the leaked transcripts of late Bush administration negotiations between Israeli, Palestinian, and American officials — to the max. And so they have, today, with shocked responses from foreign-policy types. Indeed, an editor at Foreign Policy magazine went so far as to declare on Twitter that the “two state solution is dead” as a result.

But the reality of the papers themselves turns out to be incredibly boring. Yes, during the months surrounding the Annapolis summit in 2008, there were negotiations. Yes, these negotiations concerned issues such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security, and settlements. Yes, the two sides discussed land swaps that would enable Israel to retain major settlement blocs. Yes, in private, the Palestinians acknowledged that the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is not going to be handed over to them and that Israel will not consent to being flooded with millions of Arab refugees. Yes, in private, the negotiators treated each other with respect and even graciousness. No, the talks did not succeed. This is news?

The Palestine Papers, however, come off badly for the leader of Israel’s opposition, Tzipi Livni, who was then-PM Ehud Olmert’s foreign minister at the time and one of the dramatis personae of the negotiations. Livni’s political liability is that too many Israelis think she isn’t tough enough to be prime minister. She has a tendency to denigrate her own side as a way of ingratiating herself to hostile audiences. To this day, she forcefully criticizes her own country and government while abroad and in front of audiences who have little affection for Israel (see her recent appearance with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour). She seems to think this wins her points for impartiality.

The Palestine Papers show her doing much the same in private, offering to collude with the Palestinians to invent pretexts for letting terrorists out of jail and dismissing Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights (“We’re giving up the Golan”). These indulgences may stick in voters’ minds in Israel and make it that much harder for her to dispel the fear that if awarded the premiership, she’ll give the store away.

But the biggest loser in the Palestine Papers is someone who was not even on the scene at the time. That is President Obama, who chose to make Israeli settlements the centerpiece of the peace process. The papers show that one of the only areas on which the sides had come close to an agreement was the acceptability of land swaps as a solution to the settlements controversy. Today, at Obama’s behest, the Palestinians insist on a complete settlement freeze before they’ll even talk — including in areas that just two years ago they had agreed were already de facto Israeli. Thus did Obama turn back the clock on one of the only points of relative consensus and progress between the two sides. The opener to this Jerusalem Post story captures the absurdity of the situation:

With the Palestinian Authority making an international incident over every plan to build in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, a cache of some 1,600 documents—mostly form [sic] the Palestinian Negotiating Unit—shows that in 2008 the PA was willing to recognize eventual Israeli control over all those neighborhoods, with the exception of Har Homa.

This is actually unfair to the Palestinians. They didn’t make construction in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem an “international incident.” That was Obama, who has criticized construction in these neighborhoods repeatedly. There is not much news in the Palestine Papers to anyone familiar with the Annapolis-era negotiations. But they do provide another example of how badly the Obama administration has handled the peace process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SPJ Executive Committee Recommends Renaming Helen Thomas Award

Yesterday, the Society of Professional Journalists’ executive committee voted in favor of renaming the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement. But the decision isn’t yet binding — it still has to be approved by the full board of directors, which will vote on it within the next 10 days:

The recommendation issued Jan. 8 by the national journalists’ group, based on anti-Zionist remarks made by Thomas, will be sent to its board of directors within 10 days. The award will still be given, but without Thomas’ name.

“While we support Helen Thomas’ right to speak her opinion, we condemn her statements in December as offensive and inappropriate,” the executive committee said in making its recommendation.

On Dec. 2, in a speech to an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich., Thomas, 90, said that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street “are owned by the Zionists.”  The remarks raised fresh concerns about the sincerity of an apology for her remarks last summer to a video blogger that Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the United States.

The executive committee’s decision doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Other institutions have already removed Thomas’s name from awards, so the SPJ can follow suit while avoiding too much controversy. On the other hand, if the organization had voted to keep the name on the award, there’s no way it would have been able to get past this incident quietly. The SPJ executive committee said this pretty unambiguously in its press release:

During robust debate on Saturday, the committee considered positions from those supporting Thomas’ right to free speech and those who considered her remarks unbecoming of an honor given by SPJ. The committee decided while both positions have merit, the best way to return the focus to SPJ’s important work would be to distance itself from the controversy now overshadowing this award.

“Let’s work on what unites us rather than what divides us,” Limor said.

This is an understandable position, and I assume the board of directors will vote in favor of the executive committee’s recommendation.

Of course, Thomas’s new employer doesn’t seem to share the SPJ’s aversion to controversy. The former White House correspondent was recently hired as a columnist by the Falls Church News-Press — an alternative-weekly paper in Northern Virginia — and the editor Nick Benton has vigorously defended his decision. Read More

Yesterday, the Society of Professional Journalists’ executive committee voted in favor of renaming the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement. But the decision isn’t yet binding — it still has to be approved by the full board of directors, which will vote on it within the next 10 days:

The recommendation issued Jan. 8 by the national journalists’ group, based on anti-Zionist remarks made by Thomas, will be sent to its board of directors within 10 days. The award will still be given, but without Thomas’ name.

“While we support Helen Thomas’ right to speak her opinion, we condemn her statements in December as offensive and inappropriate,” the executive committee said in making its recommendation.

On Dec. 2, in a speech to an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich., Thomas, 90, said that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street “are owned by the Zionists.”  The remarks raised fresh concerns about the sincerity of an apology for her remarks last summer to a video blogger that Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the United States.

The executive committee’s decision doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Other institutions have already removed Thomas’s name from awards, so the SPJ can follow suit while avoiding too much controversy. On the other hand, if the organization had voted to keep the name on the award, there’s no way it would have been able to get past this incident quietly. The SPJ executive committee said this pretty unambiguously in its press release:

During robust debate on Saturday, the committee considered positions from those supporting Thomas’ right to free speech and those who considered her remarks unbecoming of an honor given by SPJ. The committee decided while both positions have merit, the best way to return the focus to SPJ’s important work would be to distance itself from the controversy now overshadowing this award.

“Let’s work on what unites us rather than what divides us,” Limor said.

This is an understandable position, and I assume the board of directors will vote in favor of the executive committee’s recommendation.

Of course, Thomas’s new employer doesn’t seem to share the SPJ’s aversion to controversy. The former White House correspondent was recently hired as a columnist by the Falls Church News-Press — an alternative-weekly paper in Northern Virginia — and the editor Nick Benton has vigorously defended his decision.

“I’ve had no less than eight hours of personal one-on-one conversations with her since that happened,” Benton told the Washington Post. “She’s not bigoted or racist or anti-Semitic. She has her differences about foreign policy but you’re allowed that.”

According to the Post, Benton has been criticized by Jewish leaders in the past for publishing views that some believed bordered on anti-Semitism. “In 2004, his paper touched nerves with an editorial that some Jewish leaders complained suggested a Jewish cabal controlling U.S. foreign policy,” reported the Post.

The Post is likely referring to a 2004 column written by Benton, in which he endorsed the re-election bid of Rep. Jim Moran, who was running against “the well-financed campaign of a political neophyte, Alexandria attorney Andy Rosenberg.” Benton wrote that the election had become “about a cabal of powerful Washington, D.C., based interests backing the Bush administration’s support for rightwing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s handling of the Middle East conflict trying to upend an outspoken and powerful Democratic opponent.”

It’s not exactly like telling Israeli Jews to go back to Germany, but with those editorial leanings, it sounds like Thomas will feel very much at home at the paper.

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Thinking Deeply About Government’s Purpose, Not Just Its Size

My Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin, who is also editor of National Affairs, was interviewed by ConservativeHome’s Ryan Streeter. Yuval’s insights are typically wise and learned. I was particularly interested in his response to the question “If you could wave a wand and change one thing about the GOP, what would it be?” According to Yuval:

I would make it so that every time we are tempted to talk about the size of government we talk also (and more so) about the purpose of government. This would make us more focused on policy particulars than on vague abstractions, better able to offer an alternative to the left’s agenda rather than just slowing the pace of its implementation, and better able to speak to the aspirations of the larger public.

The out-of-control size and cost of government today are symptoms of the fact that we have lost sight of the question of what government is for. The answer to that question is not “nothing,” after all. But it is also not “everything.” A basic answer to that question, rather, is laid out pretty well in Article I, section 8 of the United States Constitution. Maybe modern life has piled some complexities and difficulties on us that require some additions to the list presented there, and of course the Constitution contains a mechanism for making such additions. But as long as we are obsessed with how much it all costs we are not able to focus on the more important question of how to make government more effective and energetic in those areas where we want it to act, and how to keep it from acting in those areas where we don’t (and where we therefore think that families, communities, and other mediating institutions should act instead).

This counsel is extremely wise. It is not as if the size of government is irrelevant; far from it. There are important fiscal and moral ramifications created by a “nanny state.” But to focus solely on the size of government rather than on its core purposes is a mistake, both philosophically and politically. God willed the state, as Edmund Burke put it; but what does He want the state to achieve? This is hardly a new question, but it is one that every serious student of politics needs to engage.

As a practical matter, take the issue of order. “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention,” John Jay wrote in Federalist Paper No. 3, “that of providing for their safety seems to be the first.” The “tranquility of order” (the phrase comes from Augustine) is the first responsibility of government; without it, we can hardly expect things like justice, prosperity, or virtue to flourish. Order, in turn, cannot be achieved without government — and among the threats to domestic order, crime surely ranks high. Read More

My Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin, who is also editor of National Affairs, was interviewed by ConservativeHome’s Ryan Streeter. Yuval’s insights are typically wise and learned. I was particularly interested in his response to the question “If you could wave a wand and change one thing about the GOP, what would it be?” According to Yuval:

I would make it so that every time we are tempted to talk about the size of government we talk also (and more so) about the purpose of government. This would make us more focused on policy particulars than on vague abstractions, better able to offer an alternative to the left’s agenda rather than just slowing the pace of its implementation, and better able to speak to the aspirations of the larger public.

The out-of-control size and cost of government today are symptoms of the fact that we have lost sight of the question of what government is for. The answer to that question is not “nothing,” after all. But it is also not “everything.” A basic answer to that question, rather, is laid out pretty well in Article I, section 8 of the United States Constitution. Maybe modern life has piled some complexities and difficulties on us that require some additions to the list presented there, and of course the Constitution contains a mechanism for making such additions. But as long as we are obsessed with how much it all costs we are not able to focus on the more important question of how to make government more effective and energetic in those areas where we want it to act, and how to keep it from acting in those areas where we don’t (and where we therefore think that families, communities, and other mediating institutions should act instead).

This counsel is extremely wise. It is not as if the size of government is irrelevant; far from it. There are important fiscal and moral ramifications created by a “nanny state.” But to focus solely on the size of government rather than on its core purposes is a mistake, both philosophically and politically. God willed the state, as Edmund Burke put it; but what does He want the state to achieve? This is hardly a new question, but it is one that every serious student of politics needs to engage.

As a practical matter, take the issue of order. “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention,” John Jay wrote in Federalist Paper No. 3, “that of providing for their safety seems to be the first.” The “tranquility of order” (the phrase comes from Augustine) is the first responsibility of government; without it, we can hardly expect things like justice, prosperity, or virtue to flourish. Order, in turn, cannot be achieved without government — and among the threats to domestic order, crime surely ranks high.

This line of reasoning inevitably leads us to law-enforcement policies ranging from incarceration to policing strategies to the “broken windows” theory. (In the 1980s, Professors James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling argued that public disorder — as evidenced by unrepaired broken windows — is evidence of a permissive moral environment, a signal that no one cares, and therefore acts as a magnet to criminals.) And in looking at some of the great success stories in lowering crime, such as New York City in the 1990s, one finds that the key to success wasn’t the size or cost of government, but its efficacy. The question Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his police chief, William Bratton, asked wasn’t “How big should the police department be?” but rather “What should the police department be doing?”

The answer to that question led to a policy revolution in law enforcement.

The point is that fundamental questions about the role and purpose of the state aren’t academic ones; a public philosophy needs to be at the center of our debates about public policy, and we need public figures who themselves are able to think clearly and deeply about these matters.

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The Persecution of Christians in the Middle East

At Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt, 21 Coptic Christians were killed and nearly 100 wounded at a New Year’s Mass bombing. “The last thing I heard was a powerful explosion and then my ears went deaf,” Marco Boutros, 17, said from his hospital bed where he was being treated for wounds. “All I could see were body parts scattered all over, legs and bits of flesh.”

The New York Times reports:

The bombing early on Saturday morning climaxed the bloodiest year in four decades of sectarian tensions in Egypt, beginning with a Muslim gunman’s killings of nine people outside another midnight Mass, at a church in the city of Nag Hammadi on Jan. 6, the Coptic Christmas.

Analysts said the weekend bombing was in a sense the culmination of a long escalation of violence against Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population. But at the same time the blast’s planning and scale – a suicide bomber evidently detonated a locally made explosive device packed with nails and other shrapnel, the authorities said Sunday – were a break with the smaller episodes of intra-communal violence that have marked Muslim-Christian relations for the past decade.

Egyptian officials believe the attacks seemed at least inspired by al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups; Egyptian President Hosni Mubarack said it was the work of “foreign fingers.” But the attack may have been executed by local Egyptians. And writing after the bombing on Ahram Online, its editor, Hani Shukrallah, penned these powerful, ominous words:

We are to join in a chorus of condemnation. Jointly, Muslims and Christians, government and opposition, Church and Mosque, clerics and laypeople — all of us are going to stand up and with a single voice declare unequivocal denunciation of al-Qaeda, Islamist militants, and Muslim fanatics of every shade, hue and color; some of us will even go the extra mile to denounce salafi Islam, Islamic fundamentalism as a whole, and the Wahabi Islam which, presumably, is a Saudi import wholly alien to our Egyptian national culture.

And once again we’re going to declare the eternal unity of “the twin elements of the nation,” and hearken back the Revolution of 1919, with its hoisted banner showing the crescent embracing the cross, and giving symbolic expression to that unbreakable bond.

Much of it will be sheer hypocrisy; a great deal of it will be variously nuanced so as keep, just below the surface, the heaps of narrow-minded prejudice, flagrant double standard and, indeed, bigotry that holds in its grip so many of the participants in the condemnations.

All of it will be to no avail. We’ve been here before; we’ve done exactly that, yet the massacres continue, each more horrible than the one before it, and the bigotry and intolerance spread deeper and wider into every nook and cranny of our society. It is not easy to empty Egypt of its Christians; they’ve been here for as long as there has been Christianity in the world. Close to a millennium and half of Muslim rule did not eradicate the nation’s Christian community, rather it maintained it sufficiently strong and sufficiently vigorous so as to play a crucial role in shaping the national, political and cultural identity of modern Egypt.

Yet now, two centuries after the birth of the modern Egyptian nation state, and as we embark on the second decade of the 21stcentury, the previously unheard of seems no longer beyond imagining: a Christian-free Egypt, one where the cross will have slipped out of the crescent’s embrace, and off the flag symbolizing our modern national identity. I hope that if and when that day comes I will have been long dead, but dead or alive, this will be an Egypt which I do not recognize and to which I have no desire to belong.

These attacks in Egypt come amid a new campaign of violence against Iraqi Christians, who are being forced to flee to northern Iraq or abroad because of growing fear that the country’s security forces are unable or unwilling to protect them. Read More

At Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt, 21 Coptic Christians were killed and nearly 100 wounded at a New Year’s Mass bombing. “The last thing I heard was a powerful explosion and then my ears went deaf,” Marco Boutros, 17, said from his hospital bed where he was being treated for wounds. “All I could see were body parts scattered all over, legs and bits of flesh.”

The New York Times reports:

The bombing early on Saturday morning climaxed the bloodiest year in four decades of sectarian tensions in Egypt, beginning with a Muslim gunman’s killings of nine people outside another midnight Mass, at a church in the city of Nag Hammadi on Jan. 6, the Coptic Christmas.

Analysts said the weekend bombing was in a sense the culmination of a long escalation of violence against Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population. But at the same time the blast’s planning and scale – a suicide bomber evidently detonated a locally made explosive device packed with nails and other shrapnel, the authorities said Sunday – were a break with the smaller episodes of intra-communal violence that have marked Muslim-Christian relations for the past decade.

Egyptian officials believe the attacks seemed at least inspired by al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups; Egyptian President Hosni Mubarack said it was the work of “foreign fingers.” But the attack may have been executed by local Egyptians. And writing after the bombing on Ahram Online, its editor, Hani Shukrallah, penned these powerful, ominous words:

We are to join in a chorus of condemnation. Jointly, Muslims and Christians, government and opposition, Church and Mosque, clerics and laypeople — all of us are going to stand up and with a single voice declare unequivocal denunciation of al-Qaeda, Islamist militants, and Muslim fanatics of every shade, hue and color; some of us will even go the extra mile to denounce salafi Islam, Islamic fundamentalism as a whole, and the Wahabi Islam which, presumably, is a Saudi import wholly alien to our Egyptian national culture.

And once again we’re going to declare the eternal unity of “the twin elements of the nation,” and hearken back the Revolution of 1919, with its hoisted banner showing the crescent embracing the cross, and giving symbolic expression to that unbreakable bond.

Much of it will be sheer hypocrisy; a great deal of it will be variously nuanced so as keep, just below the surface, the heaps of narrow-minded prejudice, flagrant double standard and, indeed, bigotry that holds in its grip so many of the participants in the condemnations.

All of it will be to no avail. We’ve been here before; we’ve done exactly that, yet the massacres continue, each more horrible than the one before it, and the bigotry and intolerance spread deeper and wider into every nook and cranny of our society. It is not easy to empty Egypt of its Christians; they’ve been here for as long as there has been Christianity in the world. Close to a millennium and half of Muslim rule did not eradicate the nation’s Christian community, rather it maintained it sufficiently strong and sufficiently vigorous so as to play a crucial role in shaping the national, political and cultural identity of modern Egypt.

Yet now, two centuries after the birth of the modern Egyptian nation state, and as we embark on the second decade of the 21stcentury, the previously unheard of seems no longer beyond imagining: a Christian-free Egypt, one where the cross will have slipped out of the crescent’s embrace, and off the flag symbolizing our modern national identity. I hope that if and when that day comes I will have been long dead, but dead or alive, this will be an Egypt which I do not recognize and to which I have no desire to belong.

These attacks in Egypt come amid a new campaign of violence against Iraqi Christians, who are being forced to flee to northern Iraq or abroad because of growing fear that the country’s security forces are unable or unwilling to protect them.

This is a deeply disquieting turn of of events. One of the challenges of Muslim societies is to show that they are able to co-exist with, and respect the rights of, Christian minorities. In many Islamic societies, like Saudi Arabia, the record is beyond dismal. And now some nations, like Egypt and Iraq, appear to be moving in the wrong direction, with persecution increasing.

This matter is complicated by the fact that in both Egypt and Iraq, the governments are speaking out against Christian persecution. But the question is whether there is sufficient will to enforce the words of empathy and outrage. It’s far from clear that it is.

On the matter of persecution, those of the Christian faith were warned by their founder, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” The Cross is an offense, St. Paul wrote in the book of Corinthians. “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you,” St. Peter, who was martyred in Rome during the reign of Nero, wrote. “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”

These are comforting words for a persecuted people. And whatever exceeding joy may await those whose blood has been shed because of their faith, governments, including our own, have an obligation to take steps to protect the basic rights of their citizens — people of all faiths and people of no faith at all. Those in position of authority need to do much more than they are to protect those enduring the fiery trial. Certainly religious persecution needs to rise as a priority of American foreign policy.

As one Egyptian worshipper said on Saturday, “Why would my son or brother go to celebrate the mass by prayer, not by drinking or doing drugs or anything like that, but by praying in the church, and then this would happen to them at the church gate? What religion or law, whatever it is, would approve what happened [at Saints Church]?”

That is a question all civilized nations should grapple with as the persecution of faithful Christians intensifies the world over.

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Morning Commentary

It looks like President Obama has finally found some backbone in his diplomatic spat with Hugo Chavez. The Venezuelan president rejected the U.S.’s choice for ambassador to Caracas and dared Obama to cut diplomatic ties with the country. Today Obama responded by kicking the Venezuelan ambassador out of the U.S.

Americans are still displaying a lack of confidence in both political parties, according to a new poll released by CNN/Opinion Research Corporation. While pundits from all parts of the political spectrum have lauded President Obama’s successes during the lame-duck session of Congress, a plurality of Americans remains skeptical about the president’s ability to push his policies, according to the survey. And even though a majority of the public agrees that GOP control of the House will benefit the country, that optimism isn’t necessarily due to increased trust in the Republican Party. Only a quarter believe that the Republicans will do a better job running Congress than the Democrats.

The U.S. State Department has come out strongly against the Palestinian Authority’s newest effort to push through a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction, suggesting that the Palestinians may be alienating the best friend they’ve had in the White House for years. However, State Department officials still haven’t commented specifically on whether the U.S. would veto the resolution.

The Huffington Post reported recently that the number of uninsured Americans has soared to “over 50 million.” But is that really the case? At the Weekly Standard, Jeffrey H. Anderson notes that the numbers come from a recent report published by the Census Bureau, which even the bureau has admitted was largely inaccurate: “The Census report also admits within its own pages that recognition of its inaccuracy led to ‘a research project to evaluate why CPS ASEC estimates of the number of people with Medicaid are lower than counts of the number of people enrolled in the program from CMS’ — in other words, to evaluate why the CPS ASEC lists millions of Americans as being uninsured while the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which runs Medicaid and keeps the official tally of enrollees, says that these people are on Medicaid.”

Islamists are apparently still having trouble getting over that Danish Mohammed cartoon from six years ago. Five terror suspects were arrested in Denmark and Sweden yesterday for plotting to attack the Jyllands-Posten newspaper headquarters, which published the cartoon in 2005.

With the rest of the world unwilling to combat the growing problem of Somali pirates, the transitional federal government of Somalia has finally taken the problem into its own hands by creating a paramilitary force to fight piracy. Sources say that the militia is being funded by donors in Muslim countries, including the United Arab Emirates.

Ron Radosh joins the growing ranks of writers criticizing New Yorker editor David Remnick’s hostile rant against Israel last week. Radosh also highlights the insidious anti-Israel sentiment among today’s liberal Jewish intellectuals: “Today’s New York intellectuals are a pale imitation of their ancestors. The original group had a fidelity to the truth, and to bold assertions  they believed to be true, regardless of whom they offended. Today’s group, of which Remnick is most typical, runs to join their fellow leftist herd of no longer independent minds in Britain, assuring them of their loyalty to the influential [among] journalists and opinion makers, and if they are Jewish, making their assurance known by joining in the stampede to dissociate themselves from defense of Israel.” Jonathan Tobin discussed Remnick’s Israel problem in CONTENTIONS on Sunday.

It looks like President Obama has finally found some backbone in his diplomatic spat with Hugo Chavez. The Venezuelan president rejected the U.S.’s choice for ambassador to Caracas and dared Obama to cut diplomatic ties with the country. Today Obama responded by kicking the Venezuelan ambassador out of the U.S.

Americans are still displaying a lack of confidence in both political parties, according to a new poll released by CNN/Opinion Research Corporation. While pundits from all parts of the political spectrum have lauded President Obama’s successes during the lame-duck session of Congress, a plurality of Americans remains skeptical about the president’s ability to push his policies, according to the survey. And even though a majority of the public agrees that GOP control of the House will benefit the country, that optimism isn’t necessarily due to increased trust in the Republican Party. Only a quarter believe that the Republicans will do a better job running Congress than the Democrats.

The U.S. State Department has come out strongly against the Palestinian Authority’s newest effort to push through a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction, suggesting that the Palestinians may be alienating the best friend they’ve had in the White House for years. However, State Department officials still haven’t commented specifically on whether the U.S. would veto the resolution.

The Huffington Post reported recently that the number of uninsured Americans has soared to “over 50 million.” But is that really the case? At the Weekly Standard, Jeffrey H. Anderson notes that the numbers come from a recent report published by the Census Bureau, which even the bureau has admitted was largely inaccurate: “The Census report also admits within its own pages that recognition of its inaccuracy led to ‘a research project to evaluate why CPS ASEC estimates of the number of people with Medicaid are lower than counts of the number of people enrolled in the program from CMS’ — in other words, to evaluate why the CPS ASEC lists millions of Americans as being uninsured while the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which runs Medicaid and keeps the official tally of enrollees, says that these people are on Medicaid.”

Islamists are apparently still having trouble getting over that Danish Mohammed cartoon from six years ago. Five terror suspects were arrested in Denmark and Sweden yesterday for plotting to attack the Jyllands-Posten newspaper headquarters, which published the cartoon in 2005.

With the rest of the world unwilling to combat the growing problem of Somali pirates, the transitional federal government of Somalia has finally taken the problem into its own hands by creating a paramilitary force to fight piracy. Sources say that the militia is being funded by donors in Muslim countries, including the United Arab Emirates.

Ron Radosh joins the growing ranks of writers criticizing New Yorker editor David Remnick’s hostile rant against Israel last week. Radosh also highlights the insidious anti-Israel sentiment among today’s liberal Jewish intellectuals: “Today’s New York intellectuals are a pale imitation of their ancestors. The original group had a fidelity to the truth, and to bold assertions  they believed to be true, regardless of whom they offended. Today’s group, of which Remnick is most typical, runs to join their fellow leftist herd of no longer independent minds in Britain, assuring them of their loyalty to the influential [among] journalists and opinion makers, and if they are Jewish, making their assurance known by joining in the stampede to dissociate themselves from defense of Israel.” Jonathan Tobin discussed Remnick’s Israel problem in CONTENTIONS on Sunday.

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Alan Wolfe’s Silly Essay

Sometimes, well-educated people can write the silliest essays. Take Boston College professor Alan Wolfe, who has written an article — “Why Conservatives Won’t Govern” — in the Winter 2011 issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

According to Wolfe:

There is much to be learned from the way Republicans behaved during the first two years of the Obama Administration. If that history is any indication, the problem will no longer be that conservatives cannot govern. We are instead in for an era in which conservatives will not govern. [emphasis in the original]

The problem with the GOP, you see, isn’t that it is cynical, because even a cynic cares. “What we witness instead is nihilism,” Wolfe writes, “and in the most literal sense of the term.”

Nihilism, we are told,

is as dangerous a political stance as one can find. Unlike polarization, it guarantees that words become divorced from any underlying reality they are meant to describe, that those watching the spectacle turn away in disgust, that tactical maneuvering replaces all discussion of substantive policy issues, and that political opponents are to be treated as enemies to be conquered. Lacking regenerative qualities of its own, nihilism can never produce new sources of political energy.

In case the point isn’t clear enough, Wolfe goes on to write:

[C]onservative nihilism poisons the soil that allows any set of ideas, liberal or conservative, to grow … a party that will not govern does not wish to replace strong government with weak and decentralized government in order to show how often the public sector fails. It instead much prefers to make it impossible for government to carry out its functions in the first place. If its political strategy is nihilistic, its ultimate outcome is anarchistic … when it comes to government, [conservatives] are as nihilistic as Abbie Hoffman. … No 1960s radical ever went as far as so many twenty-first century conservatives are going now.

All told, Wolfe used some version of the word “nihilism” more than 30 times in describing Republicans and conservatives.

The editor who allowed this essay to be published did Professor Wolfe no favors. His arguments are not only foolish; they are delusional. Read More

Sometimes, well-educated people can write the silliest essays. Take Boston College professor Alan Wolfe, who has written an article — “Why Conservatives Won’t Govern” — in the Winter 2011 issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

According to Wolfe:

There is much to be learned from the way Republicans behaved during the first two years of the Obama Administration. If that history is any indication, the problem will no longer be that conservatives cannot govern. We are instead in for an era in which conservatives will not govern. [emphasis in the original]

The problem with the GOP, you see, isn’t that it is cynical, because even a cynic cares. “What we witness instead is nihilism,” Wolfe writes, “and in the most literal sense of the term.”

Nihilism, we are told,

is as dangerous a political stance as one can find. Unlike polarization, it guarantees that words become divorced from any underlying reality they are meant to describe, that those watching the spectacle turn away in disgust, that tactical maneuvering replaces all discussion of substantive policy issues, and that political opponents are to be treated as enemies to be conquered. Lacking regenerative qualities of its own, nihilism can never produce new sources of political energy.

In case the point isn’t clear enough, Wolfe goes on to write:

[C]onservative nihilism poisons the soil that allows any set of ideas, liberal or conservative, to grow … a party that will not govern does not wish to replace strong government with weak and decentralized government in order to show how often the public sector fails. It instead much prefers to make it impossible for government to carry out its functions in the first place. If its political strategy is nihilistic, its ultimate outcome is anarchistic … when it comes to government, [conservatives] are as nihilistic as Abbie Hoffman. … No 1960s radical ever went as far as so many twenty-first century conservatives are going now.

All told, Wolfe used some version of the word “nihilism” more than 30 times in describing Republicans and conservatives.

The editor who allowed this essay to be published did Professor Wolfe no favors. His arguments are not only foolish; they are delusional.

According to Wolfe, “the shift from polarization to nihilism is well illustrated by the pre-election fate of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s ‘A Roadmap for America’s Future.’” During the campaign, Wolfe writes, “conservatives shunned Ryan’s plan like a virus.”

“Will Ryan become a conservative hero in the new House? Don’t bet on it,” Wolfe writes. “Once your purpose is to say no to everything the other side proposes, you do not want to put yourself in the position of saying yes to anything else, lest you actually have to spend your energy defending a position.”

In fact, many conservatives not only don’t shun Ryan’s plan; they enthusiastically embrace it. Sarah Palin did so as recently as a week ago. And while it’s true that the GOP leadership in the House hasn’t fully embraced the Roadmap, it is open to key elements of it. Any hesitancy in fully blessing Ryan’s roadmap doesn’t have to do with nihilism; it has to do with fear that reforming entitlements will be politically catastrophic.

More important, Ryan, the incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee, is going to present the GOP’s budget — in effect, its governing blueprint — in the spring. His plan will be far-reaching, bold, intellectually coherent — and it will have the support of the Republican caucus. Ryan will, in fact, be among the most important Republicans in America next year.

On the matter of judges, Professor Wolfe is terribly upset by the fact that fewer than half of Obama’s nominations for judgeships have been approved. “There can be little doubt that conservatives will now feel emboldened to continue and even ratchet-up their policy of judicial refusal in the next two years,” Wolfe writes. “It is, after all, a near-perfect expression of their nihilism; the best way to stop judges from interpreting the law, as conservatives like to call decisions they happen to disfavor, is to have fewer judges.” He goes on to say:

All this suggests that Elena Kagan will be the last judge Obama gets to place on the high court. This is not because openings are unlikely to occur. It is instead because Republicans, confident that Democrats will never come close to the 60 votes necessary to stop them, will use their veto power to block any Supreme Court nominee they dislike, which amounts to anyone Obama selects. On the court, if not in Congress, conservatives believe in an active government; they need judges who will say no to every piece of legislation they want to block.

It’s probably worth pointing out that it was Democrats, not Republicans, who did the most to politicize the appointment of judges and Supreme Court nominations, with their ferocious opposition to Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. No recent liberal nominee has been treated as disgracefully as were Bork and Thomas. It’s worth asking, too: was Senator Obama a nihilist for not only opposing the confirmation of Samuel Alito but also for supporting the filibuster of his nomination?

Beyond that, assume that Obama nominates centrist-to-conservative judges. Republicans would support them in the blink of an eye. The problem Obama would face would be with his liberal base, not with conservatives. This explodes the theory that Republicans are nihilists; if they were, they would oppose for the sake of opposition, as a means to achieving anarchy. But, of course, Republicans have no interest in such a thing.

And note well: the tax bill that was just agreed to was the product of a compromise between President Obama and the GOP leadership — precisely the kind of compromise that Wolfe says Republicans and conservatives oppose in principle and in every instance.

Professor Wolfe’s essay is instructive in this respect: it shows the kind of paranoia and diseased thinking that afflicts some liberals and progressives. He acts as if no conservative policy world exists and exerts any influence on lawmakers. This is flatly untrue. Professor Wolfe might, for starters, consider visiting the website of National Affairs in order to become acquainted with arguments and ideas he is now blind to.

Moreover, progressives like Wolfe seem to genuinely believe the cartoonish image they have created of Republicans and conservatives, portraying them as if they were characters out of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. They cannot seem to fathom that the differences between conservatives and liberals, between the incoming GOP Congress and Barack Obama, are rooted in different governing philosophies, not nihilism vs. non-nihilism. They do not even entertain the possibility that opposition to ObamaCare is based on the belief that a more sustainable, market-based, and patient-centered version of health reform is better for our nation. Conservatives may be wrong about this; but to hold this view does not mean they are pining for anarchy.

The Alan Wolfe approach, of course, makes governing in America much more difficult. If you view your opponents not simply as wrong but as a disciple of Nietzsche, eager to burn down the village, it changes almost everything about politics. It would be all to the good, I think, if people on both sides resisted the temptation — unless the evidence is overwhelming and to the contrary — to refer to one’s political opponents as Nazis, as terrorists, as nihilists, and so forth. This is almost always a sign of the weakness, not the strength, of one’s arguments.

In Fathers and Sons, the protagonist, Bazarov, says to the woman he loves, and hated himself for loving, “Breathe on the dying flame and let it go out. Enough!”

The same can be said about Professor Wolfe’s essay.

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The Piece of the Day: “Christopher Hitchens’s Jewish Problem”

On Jewish Ideas Daily, the extraordinary website run by my predecessor as editor of COMMENTARY Neal Kozodoy. the young critic Benjamin Kerstein offers a coruscating and long-overdue analysis of Christopher Hitchens’s animus toward Judaism.

Kerstein shows how the intellectual fundament of Hitchens’s thought about Judaism, Israel Shahak, was “cracked” (among other things, he accused Martin Buber, the 20th-century Jewish philosopher, of mass murder). Most important, he reveals the ways in which Hitchens’s passionate atheism cannot be used as the explanation for his feelings about Judaism, which run deeper than his hostility to the faiths that followed it; as Kerstein writes, “Judaism is to blame for everything Hitchens hates about monotheism as a whole.”

It’s a dazzling analysis of a dazzling polemicist whose brave turn against the sacred cows of his own leftist camp in the past decade should not blind us to the ugliness of his own core ideas.

On Jewish Ideas Daily, the extraordinary website run by my predecessor as editor of COMMENTARY Neal Kozodoy. the young critic Benjamin Kerstein offers a coruscating and long-overdue analysis of Christopher Hitchens’s animus toward Judaism.

Kerstein shows how the intellectual fundament of Hitchens’s thought about Judaism, Israel Shahak, was “cracked” (among other things, he accused Martin Buber, the 20th-century Jewish philosopher, of mass murder). Most important, he reveals the ways in which Hitchens’s passionate atheism cannot be used as the explanation for his feelings about Judaism, which run deeper than his hostility to the faiths that followed it; as Kerstein writes, “Judaism is to blame for everything Hitchens hates about monotheism as a whole.”

It’s a dazzling analysis of a dazzling polemicist whose brave turn against the sacred cows of his own leftist camp in the past decade should not blind us to the ugliness of his own core ideas.

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The Obama Primary Challenger Issue and Why It’s Misunderstood

With angry leftists starting to discuss the possibility of a primary challenge to Barack Obama, the general reaction from serious and clever political observers has been that the idea is a preposterous one. Ed Kilgore on the New Republic‘s website (trans-ideological congratulations, by the way, to TNR’s new editor, Richard Just), my former colleague Jennifer Rubin on the WaPo site, Dave Weigel in Slate, and many others have sensibly pointed out that such a challenge would be doomed. Obama’s approval ratings among Democrats is in the 80s and not much lower among liberals (despite the outrage this week about the tax-cut deal).

The fact that Obama can surely depend on nearly universal support from black Democrats makes a primary challenge even more unlikely, they say. And not only unlikely, but pointless. Rather than achieving the near-win Eugene McCarthy scored in the 1968 Democratic primary in New Hampshire against sitting president LBJ or Pat Buchanan’s getting 38 percent against Bush the Elder in 1992, Weigel suggests that the outcome would be more like the foolish bid by Ohio Republican Rep. John Ashbrook against Richard Nixon in 1972 from the right, when Ashbrook got 9 percent there.

All worth considering. But in Kilgore’s case, the wish is father to the thought; he doesn’t want a challenge and is offering an analysis intended to talk interested Democrats and leftists out of attempting one. Weigel is giving voice to the “Oh, come on” school oft affected by those who spend most of their time thinking about politics and can’t imagine why anybody would make a political move that seems fruitless.

But here’s the thing. An Obama primary challenger wouldn’t be getting in the race to win. Pat Buchanan didn’t think he’d win, and I don’t think Eugene McCarthy thought so either. The question is whether a collection of factors next year — continued weakness in the economy and the fact that we haven’t pulled out of Afghanistan — creates the conditions under which a primary challenge will be staged. The point, which I make in my COMMENTARY article this month, is that one would arise in that instance because, in effect, the dynamic of the American political system would demand it. Read More

With angry leftists starting to discuss the possibility of a primary challenge to Barack Obama, the general reaction from serious and clever political observers has been that the idea is a preposterous one. Ed Kilgore on the New Republic‘s website (trans-ideological congratulations, by the way, to TNR’s new editor, Richard Just), my former colleague Jennifer Rubin on the WaPo site, Dave Weigel in Slate, and many others have sensibly pointed out that such a challenge would be doomed. Obama’s approval ratings among Democrats is in the 80s and not much lower among liberals (despite the outrage this week about the tax-cut deal).

The fact that Obama can surely depend on nearly universal support from black Democrats makes a primary challenge even more unlikely, they say. And not only unlikely, but pointless. Rather than achieving the near-win Eugene McCarthy scored in the 1968 Democratic primary in New Hampshire against sitting president LBJ or Pat Buchanan’s getting 38 percent against Bush the Elder in 1992, Weigel suggests that the outcome would be more like the foolish bid by Ohio Republican Rep. John Ashbrook against Richard Nixon in 1972 from the right, when Ashbrook got 9 percent there.

All worth considering. But in Kilgore’s case, the wish is father to the thought; he doesn’t want a challenge and is offering an analysis intended to talk interested Democrats and leftists out of attempting one. Weigel is giving voice to the “Oh, come on” school oft affected by those who spend most of their time thinking about politics and can’t imagine why anybody would make a political move that seems fruitless.

But here’s the thing. An Obama primary challenger wouldn’t be getting in the race to win. Pat Buchanan didn’t think he’d win, and I don’t think Eugene McCarthy thought so either. The question is whether a collection of factors next year — continued weakness in the economy and the fact that we haven’t pulled out of Afghanistan — creates the conditions under which a primary challenge will be staged. The point, which I make in my COMMENTARY article this month, is that one would arise in that instance because, in effect, the dynamic of the American political system would demand it.

First, presume that, if the status quo remains largely unchanged, Obama’s support will decline somewhat among Democrats and liberals. They won’t like the state of things; he’ll start to smell like a loser and people tend to desert losers; and many will be genuinely angry that his ideological concessions on taxes and war have not improved matters from their perspective. Someone would do it at that point because (and this sounds sentimental, but isn’t) he actually does hear the leftist body politic crying out for someone to represent its views. Protest candidacies are not about victory, which is why Hillary Clinton won’t stage one; they’re about protest.

Also remember that the cost of entry for a protest candidate is far lower than people realize. One would get in to make a showing in New Hampshire, which is not expensive to run in — and a protest candidacy that gets any kind of purchase will, in any case, be able to raise money very fast. (If Christine O’Donnell can raise a few million dollars in three days, so can Russ Feingold under the right circumstances, like the Huffington Post’s pushing his campaign.) The question then would be what kind of showing such a person could make in that one state. As it happens, it might well be built to help a leftist protest candidate.

For one thing, African Americans make up less than 2 percent of the population of New Hampshire. (Remember: Hillary Clinton won here in 2008.) For another, independents can vote in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, which could allow some genuinely angry people to cast protest votes just to send Obama a message, even though such people would probably end up voting Republican in November 2012.

I have no idea whether there will be such a candidate, because I have no idea what things will look like next fall. I do know that if a candidate turns out to be less like Ashbrook and more like Buchanan, Obama will be in serious trouble. (Read my piece to find out more.) Right now, it is as foolish to presume there won’t be one, or to argue that such a candidate would be unable to make a bid damaging to Obama, as it would be to presume one will definitely rise up to challenge him.

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The New York Times in the Age of Gawker

In a previous post on WikiLeaks, I suggested that if the New York Times is serious about its commitment to openness, it should publish its own deliberations for all to see. A further thought occurred to me: What, I ask myself, would I have done if I were the editor of a major publication that had been given access to a trove of stolen New York Times documents? I suppose it depends on what was in them. If they revealed malfeasance at the Times (e.g., deliberate publication of false information or providing coverage in return for payoffs or rampant plagiarism), I would probably publish them.

But there is nothing like that in the documents WikiLeaks has so far uncovered. They provide evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Iran, North Korea, Syria, and others — but not the U.S. government. At least as far as I know. What then would I do with documents of great gossip value but little news value? I suppose it depends on which publication I worked for. If it were a gossip site like Gawker, no doubt I would gleefully publish the Times documents for sheer embarrassment value — and to get attention for myself. But what if I were the editor of a responsible, serious news organ? Then I would return the documents to Times editor Bill Keller on the principle that “gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail.” In days past, the Times fancied itself the most responsible and serious of publications. Today, alas, it seems to have sunk to the level of Gawker.

In a previous post on WikiLeaks, I suggested that if the New York Times is serious about its commitment to openness, it should publish its own deliberations for all to see. A further thought occurred to me: What, I ask myself, would I have done if I were the editor of a major publication that had been given access to a trove of stolen New York Times documents? I suppose it depends on what was in them. If they revealed malfeasance at the Times (e.g., deliberate publication of false information or providing coverage in return for payoffs or rampant plagiarism), I would probably publish them.

But there is nothing like that in the documents WikiLeaks has so far uncovered. They provide evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Iran, North Korea, Syria, and others — but not the U.S. government. At least as far as I know. What then would I do with documents of great gossip value but little news value? I suppose it depends on which publication I worked for. If it were a gossip site like Gawker, no doubt I would gleefully publish the Times documents for sheer embarrassment value — and to get attention for myself. But what if I were the editor of a responsible, serious news organ? Then I would return the documents to Times editor Bill Keller on the principle that “gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail.” In days past, the Times fancied itself the most responsible and serious of publications. Today, alas, it seems to have sunk to the level of Gawker.

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Challenge to the New York Times: Publish Your Internal Correspondence

Reading the New York Times’s “Note to Readers” explaining why it has decided once again to act as a journalistic enabler of WikiLeaks, I wondered why, if the Times believes that openness is so important to the operations of the U.S. government, that same logic doesn’t apply to the newspaper itself. The Times, after all, is still, despite its loss of influence in the Internet age, the leading newspaper in the U.S. and indeed the world. It still shakes governments, shapes opinions, and moves markets, even if it doesn’t do so as often or as much as it used to.

Imagine if the stentorian language employed by the Times were turned on itself. The editors write that

the more important reason to publish these articles is that the cables tell the unvarnished story of how the government makes its biggest decisions, the decisions that cost the country most heavily in lives and money. They shed light on the motivations — and, in some cases, duplicity — of allies on the receiving end of American courtship and foreign aid. They illuminate the diplomacy surrounding two current wars and several countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where American military involvement is growing. As daunting as it is to publish such material over official objections, it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name.

Isn’t it presumptuous to assume that readers of the New York Times have no right to know what is being done in their name by the editors of the New York Times? Isn’t it important for us to learn “the unvarnished story” of how the Times makes its editorial decisions — such as the decision to publish the WikiLeaks documents? Sure, we know the official explanation — it’s in the newspaper. But what happened behind the scenes? Maybe there were embarrassing squabbles that will make for juicy reading? Therefore, I humbly suggest that in the interest of the greater public good (as determined by me), Bill Keller, the editor, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, should release to the world all their private e-mails and memos concerning WikiLeaks. Read More

Reading the New York Times’s “Note to Readers” explaining why it has decided once again to act as a journalistic enabler of WikiLeaks, I wondered why, if the Times believes that openness is so important to the operations of the U.S. government, that same logic doesn’t apply to the newspaper itself. The Times, after all, is still, despite its loss of influence in the Internet age, the leading newspaper in the U.S. and indeed the world. It still shakes governments, shapes opinions, and moves markets, even if it doesn’t do so as often or as much as it used to.

Imagine if the stentorian language employed by the Times were turned on itself. The editors write that

the more important reason to publish these articles is that the cables tell the unvarnished story of how the government makes its biggest decisions, the decisions that cost the country most heavily in lives and money. They shed light on the motivations — and, in some cases, duplicity — of allies on the receiving end of American courtship and foreign aid. They illuminate the diplomacy surrounding two current wars and several countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where American military involvement is growing. As daunting as it is to publish such material over official objections, it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name.

Isn’t it presumptuous to assume that readers of the New York Times have no right to know what is being done in their name by the editors of the New York Times? Isn’t it important for us to learn “the unvarnished story” of how the Times makes its editorial decisions — such as the decision to publish the WikiLeaks documents? Sure, we know the official explanation — it’s in the newspaper. But what happened behind the scenes? Maybe there were embarrassing squabbles that will make for juicy reading? Therefore, I humbly suggest that in the interest of the greater public good (as determined by me), Bill Keller, the editor, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, should release to the world all their private e-mails and memos concerning WikiLeaks.

Actually, let’s make our document request broader: the Times should share with the world all its internal correspondence going back years. That would include, of course, memos that disclose the identity of anonymous sources, including sources who may have risked their lives to reveal information to Times reporters. Of course, just as it does with government documents, we would give the Times the privilege of redacting a few names and facts — at least in a few of the versions that are published on the Internet.

My suspicion — call it a hunch — is that the Times won’t accept my modest suggestion. Their position, in effect, is “secrecy for me but not for thee.” But why? Can the Times editors possibly argue with a straight face that their deliberations are more important and more privileged than the work of our soldiers and diplomats? No doubt the editors can see all the damage that releasing their own documents would do — it would have a chilling effect on internal discourse and on the willingness of sources to share information with Times reporters. But they seem blind to the fact that precisely the same damage is being done to the United States government with consequences potentially far more momentous.

The most persuasive argument the Times has made is that “most of these documents will be made public regardless of what The Times decides.” That’s true, but that doesn’t eradicate the Times’s responsibility for choosing to act as a press agent and megaphone for WikiLeaks. When in 1942 the Chicago Tribune published an article making clear that the U.S. had broken Japanese codes before the Battle of Midway, other newspapers did not rush to hype the scoop. They let it pass with virtually no notice, and the Japanese may never have become aware of the disclosure. Imagine if a similar attitude were shown today by so-called responsible media organs. How many people would really go to the WikiLeaks website to trawl through hundreds of thousands of memoranda? Some harm would undoubtedly still result from WikiLeaks’s action, but it would be far less than when mainstream media organs amplify Wikileaks’s irresponsible disclosures.

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Outreach to Egypt?

The Obami, sensitive to accusations that they have been slothful on human rights, recently held a meeting with activists and foreign policy gurus on how they might promote democracy in Egypt. (Perhaps not giving the regime $1.5B free and clear would be a start.) But while the Obama team is having meetings, the Mubarak government is continuing its thuggish tactics:

Egypt’s parliamentary elections Sunday have been ushered in by one of the most sweeping campaigns to silence critics since President Hosni Mubarak came to power nearly 30 years ago, with the government seemingly determined to shut out its top rival, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, police and armed gangs have broken up campaign events by Brotherhood candidates – even attacking the movement’s top member in parliament in his car. More than 1,000 Brotherhood supporters have been arrested during the election campaign.

The measures have been so dramatic that a judge in an administrative court in Egypt’s second city of Alexandria late on Wednesday ordered elections to be halted in at least 10 out of 11 city districts because so many candidates, particularly from the Brotherhood, had been disqualified by authorities.

This, quite plainly, is yet another snub of Obama personally. Just as the North Koreans see no downside to attacking its neighbor, Mubarak expects no adverse consequences from snubbing the U.S. president. Eli Lake observes:

Cairo’s snubbing of Mr. Obama follows the U.S. president’s run of hard luck in general on Middle East diplomacy. This month, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani rejected Mr. Obama’s personal request to relinquish the presidency. In 2009, the Iranian government rejected multiple offers from Mr. Obama to resume direct negotiations.

The mood from official Cairo was captured in a front-page editorial this week in the state-run and -funded newspaper, Al-Ahram, which often serves as a weather vane for the thinking inside the Mubarak regime.

“America and its experts should know and realize the Egyptian leadership role,” al-Ahram’s editor, Osama Saraya, said in the editorial. “Egypt has played and plays an important role in matters of regional peace and security … and is capable of bringing regional stability to all the areas that are regressing due to wrong U.S. policies in Sudan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. … The United States is the one that ought to listen to Egypt, and not the other way around.”

In other words, the least-effective human rights policy in decades has contributed to the most egregious human right violations in decades and exposed our lack of influence in the region. We should not be surprised nor should we underestimate the degree to which Obama’s policy is both morally feckless and strategically flawed. Egypt is a tinderbox, increasingly polarized between an authoritarian government and the Muslim Brotherhood. And the Egyptian democracy activists are disillusioned by the American administration.

We might try some real Muslim Outreach — a policy of increased support for democratizers, financial support for Egypt conditioned on progress on human rights, and forceful public rhetoric (rather than the mute routine Hillary put on during the foreign minister’s recent visit). The problem with Muslim Outreach is not that we are doing it but that we are doing it so badly. And in the process, we’re proving that America is declining in influence in the region.

The Obami, sensitive to accusations that they have been slothful on human rights, recently held a meeting with activists and foreign policy gurus on how they might promote democracy in Egypt. (Perhaps not giving the regime $1.5B free and clear would be a start.) But while the Obama team is having meetings, the Mubarak government is continuing its thuggish tactics:

Egypt’s parliamentary elections Sunday have been ushered in by one of the most sweeping campaigns to silence critics since President Hosni Mubarak came to power nearly 30 years ago, with the government seemingly determined to shut out its top rival, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, police and armed gangs have broken up campaign events by Brotherhood candidates – even attacking the movement’s top member in parliament in his car. More than 1,000 Brotherhood supporters have been arrested during the election campaign.

The measures have been so dramatic that a judge in an administrative court in Egypt’s second city of Alexandria late on Wednesday ordered elections to be halted in at least 10 out of 11 city districts because so many candidates, particularly from the Brotherhood, had been disqualified by authorities.

This, quite plainly, is yet another snub of Obama personally. Just as the North Koreans see no downside to attacking its neighbor, Mubarak expects no adverse consequences from snubbing the U.S. president. Eli Lake observes:

Cairo’s snubbing of Mr. Obama follows the U.S. president’s run of hard luck in general on Middle East diplomacy. This month, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani rejected Mr. Obama’s personal request to relinquish the presidency. In 2009, the Iranian government rejected multiple offers from Mr. Obama to resume direct negotiations.

The mood from official Cairo was captured in a front-page editorial this week in the state-run and -funded newspaper, Al-Ahram, which often serves as a weather vane for the thinking inside the Mubarak regime.

“America and its experts should know and realize the Egyptian leadership role,” al-Ahram’s editor, Osama Saraya, said in the editorial. “Egypt has played and plays an important role in matters of regional peace and security … and is capable of bringing regional stability to all the areas that are regressing due to wrong U.S. policies in Sudan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. … The United States is the one that ought to listen to Egypt, and not the other way around.”

In other words, the least-effective human rights policy in decades has contributed to the most egregious human right violations in decades and exposed our lack of influence in the region. We should not be surprised nor should we underestimate the degree to which Obama’s policy is both morally feckless and strategically flawed. Egypt is a tinderbox, increasingly polarized between an authoritarian government and the Muslim Brotherhood. And the Egyptian democracy activists are disillusioned by the American administration.

We might try some real Muslim Outreach — a policy of increased support for democratizers, financial support for Egypt conditioned on progress on human rights, and forceful public rhetoric (rather than the mute routine Hillary put on during the foreign minister’s recent visit). The problem with Muslim Outreach is not that we are doing it but that we are doing it so badly. And in the process, we’re proving that America is declining in influence in the region.

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RE: North Korea–Obama Sends a Stern Letter to the Editor

John, you’re being too hard on the president. He’s only writing the letter to the editor because Kim Jong-il refused to have a beer summit with him. I’m quite sure that had President Obama fulfilled his debate promise to have a little chit-chat with Kim, Ahmadinejad, and the Castro brothers, the former two would have abandoned their nuclear-weapons programs and Cuba would be libre today.

John, you’re being too hard on the president. He’s only writing the letter to the editor because Kim Jong-il refused to have a beer summit with him. I’m quite sure that had President Obama fulfilled his debate promise to have a little chit-chat with Kim, Ahmadinejad, and the Castro brothers, the former two would have abandoned their nuclear-weapons programs and Cuba would be libre today.

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North Korea — Obama Sends a Stern Letter to the Editor

William F. Buckley Jr. told a great anecdote about an English couple in the South of France outraged because they received terrible service at the local inn. “Je vais ecrire une lettre fache a The Times,” said the enraged Briton — I’m going to write an stern letter to The Times. The purest expression of impotent provincialism. And here we are, with North Korea yet again, and the president is doing exactly the equivalent of threatening to send a stern letter to The Times — expressing outrage, declaring we stand with South Korea … and resuming talks with the North. UPDATE: Oh, and we’re sending a carrier group. That’s always terrifying.

William F. Buckley Jr. told a great anecdote about an English couple in the South of France outraged because they received terrible service at the local inn. “Je vais ecrire une lettre fache a The Times,” said the enraged Briton — I’m going to write an stern letter to The Times. The purest expression of impotent provincialism. And here we are, with North Korea yet again, and the president is doing exactly the equivalent of threatening to send a stern letter to The Times — expressing outrage, declaring we stand with South Korea … and resuming talks with the North. UPDATE: Oh, and we’re sending a carrier group. That’s always terrifying.

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Liberal Lamentations and the Book of Job

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where Are the Smart Liberals?

So who does Job remind you of? I bet you didn’t think of Barack Obama. But that’s what pops into Jon Meacham’s mind, as Rick noted, prompting many of us to wonder how Newsweek lasted as long as it did. It was Newsweek‘s Evan Thomas who first proclaimed Obama a “sort of God,” so I suppose this tale is the modern version of Paradise Lost.

Has Obama lost his family? Become destitute? No, he’s just not popular anymore. Meacham explains:

Outside politics, President Obama thinks of himself less as a professor or community organizer and more as a writer — a man who observes reality, interprets it internally, and then recasts it on the page in his own voice and through his own eyes. And he is a reader of serious books.

Given that, he might find Alter’s new book congenial. John Boehner is not exactly a case of boils, but the president may feel differently at the moment, and thus the story of Job could be of some use to him.

Like Obama, Job was once the highly favored one:

Would that I were as in moons of yore, as the days when God watched over me,
when he shined his lamp over my head. …

But the Lord withdraws his protection, inflicting pain and death and misery on Job, who cries:

Terror rolls over me, pursues my path like the wind. …
At night my limbs are pierced, and my sinews know no rest.
With great power he seizes my garment, grabs hold of me at the collar.
He hurls me into the muck, and I become like dust and ashes.

God is having none of it. He will not be questioned by a mortal, even a mortal whom he once loved and who has honored him. Fairly snarling, the Lord taunts Job from a whirlwind: “Where were you when I founded earth? / Tell, if you know understanding.”

If you think about it (stop before you get a headache), this is utter nonsense. Obama has not been tested or punished to measure his faith in God. He’s being evaluated by voters for a shoddy two years. The entire point of the Job story is that Job had done nothing to deserve his fate, so far as mortals can imagine. Read More

So who does Job remind you of? I bet you didn’t think of Barack Obama. But that’s what pops into Jon Meacham’s mind, as Rick noted, prompting many of us to wonder how Newsweek lasted as long as it did. It was Newsweek‘s Evan Thomas who first proclaimed Obama a “sort of God,” so I suppose this tale is the modern version of Paradise Lost.

Has Obama lost his family? Become destitute? No, he’s just not popular anymore. Meacham explains:

Outside politics, President Obama thinks of himself less as a professor or community organizer and more as a writer — a man who observes reality, interprets it internally, and then recasts it on the page in his own voice and through his own eyes. And he is a reader of serious books.

Given that, he might find Alter’s new book congenial. John Boehner is not exactly a case of boils, but the president may feel differently at the moment, and thus the story of Job could be of some use to him.

Like Obama, Job was once the highly favored one:

Would that I were as in moons of yore, as the days when God watched over me,
when he shined his lamp over my head. …

But the Lord withdraws his protection, inflicting pain and death and misery on Job, who cries:

Terror rolls over me, pursues my path like the wind. …
At night my limbs are pierced, and my sinews know no rest.
With great power he seizes my garment, grabs hold of me at the collar.
He hurls me into the muck, and I become like dust and ashes.

God is having none of it. He will not be questioned by a mortal, even a mortal whom he once loved and who has honored him. Fairly snarling, the Lord taunts Job from a whirlwind: “Where were you when I founded earth? / Tell, if you know understanding.”

If you think about it (stop before you get a headache), this is utter nonsense. Obama has not been tested or punished to measure his faith in God. He’s being evaluated by voters for a shoddy two years. The entire point of the Job story is that Job had done nothing to deserve his fate, so far as mortals can imagine.

This brings me to another point. What’s happened to liberal intellectuals these days? It seems they’ve fallen down on the job and ceased to be serious people. I mean, comparing Obama to Job is downright embarrassing. Does the Gray Lady have no standards?

Another case in point: there apparently is a new film out about Fran Lebowitz directed by Martin Scorsese. The problem is that while liberal New Yorkers imagine her to be the quintessential left-leaning intellectual (actually, they don’t need the modifier since, by definition, are intellectuals share their worldview), she hasn’t written anything of note for years, and the sum total of her “contribution” to the intellectual and cultural life of the nation’s greatest city is a string of one-liners. Even this reviewer is somewhat put off:

Except for a children’s book and a series of wise Vanity Fair articles in the 1990s (which were really just well-edited conversations between Lebowitz and an editor on broad subjects such as race and money), Lebowitz hasn’t produced much. Instead, she’s a study in brilliant coasting, which can’t be as fun as it seems. For all its many laughs, “Public Speaking” carries a necessary undercurrent of the morose.

“No one has wasted time the way I have,” Lebowitz tells Scorsese’s camera in her usual rat-a-tat delivery, a voice coarsened by years of smoking. “[I am] the outstanding waster of time of my generation. It was 1979, I looked up, it was 2007.”

Instead of writing, Lebowitz spends her time talking about American society and culture — either through paid appearances on the lecture circuit or from her usual booth at the Waverly Inn, a dimly-lit, exclusively small West Village restaurant co-owned by her friend Graydon Carter, who edits Vanity Fair.

Talking, she says, is all she ever wanted to do.

You really can’t make this stuff up. And one wonders, is this thin gruel of cultural poses and condescension all the left has to offer anymore?

There’s much more: New York is too expensive to be interesting anymore. Tourists are “herds of hillbillies.” Gay men, who so dazzled Lebowitz with their highbrow tastes in the 1970s, have let her down by working so diligently to get married and join the army. And revenge is a wonderful thing: “I absolutely believe in revenge. People always say revenge is a dish best served cold. No. It’s good any time you can get it.”

She is asked: Is there such a thing as being born lucky? Yes, she replies: “Any white, gentile, straight man who is not president of the United States, failed. That’s what a big piece of luck that is, okay?”

Not exactly John Kenneth Galbraith. Or even Dorothy Parker.

The trouble liberals face in maintaining their intellectual chops is that they operate in a world of knowing glances, incomplete sentences, and shared cultural references. Conformity is seen as a sign of intellectual prowess. And you need not write anything intelligible, let alone intellectually compelling, to qualify as a liberal public intellectual.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Indignant are the elite opinion makers. “The editor of Vanity Fair is in dudgeon over last week’s election. … They heard this wave of Dem/lib defeats was coming, but it’s just possible they didn’t really believe it: How, after all, could it happen? Eight years of suffering—war, torture, lies, and oh, that mangled language—ended with the advent of Obamunism. Now they have to relinquish their antibiotic-free ranging and go back to huddle in their Robert Couturier-decorated pens? And all because of an enraged, pitchfork-bearing, brimstone mob of Tea Partiers?” Read the whole hilarious thing.

Exonerated. “The chief counsel for the president’s oil spill commission said Monday that concerns about money didn’t drive key decisions made on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig before the April 20 blowout that caused a massive oil spill and killed 11 people. The conclusion is good news for BP, which has been widely criticized for letting concerns about the roughly $1.5 million a day cost of the drilling rig affect choices that might have prevented the blowout.”

Useless (or worse). “Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, held meetings in Lebanon Monday before traveling to Damascus for meetings with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

Rejectionist — as always. “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was quoted on Monday as saying that if Israel wants the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table it must cease all construction in the settlements. Meanwhile, top PLO official Yasser Abed Rabo said it was ‘impossible’ for the Palestinians to return to the peace talks as long as the present government is in power in Israel.”

Ambitious? He sure sounds like he’s running for something: “Texas Gov. Rick Perry insists that he’s not running for president, but he didn’t mind offering an unvarnished view Monday about the signature policy accomplishment of one Republican who almost certainly is in the race. ‘The health care plan out of Massachusetts, I would suggest to you, is too much the like the health care plan passed out of Washington,’ Perry said, succinctly voicing one of the chief difficulties former Bay State Gov. Mitt Romney faces in the upcoming GOP primary.”

Shrinking. “Democratic allies are not optimistic about their legislative priorities getting done in the lame-duck session after Democratic candidates got pummeled on Election Day. Senate Democrats had discussed as many as 20 bills up for consideration during the lame-duck session, the period between the Nov. 2 election and Christmas. In the wake of a midterm election that President Obama called a ‘shellacking’ of his party, Democratic insiders question if anything more than a stopgap spending measure and temporary extension of Bush-era tax cuts can pass.”

Hopeless. All the Obama “smart” diplomats can do is repeat the fundamental error in their approach to peace talks. “The United States is ‘deeply disappointed’ that Israel has advanced plans to build 1,345 new homes in ‘sensitive areas’ of east Jerusalem, a State Department spokesman said Monday. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters that the United States sees the announcement as ‘counter-productive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.’ ‘We have long urged both parties to avoid actions that could undermine trust including in Jerusalem and we will continue to work to resume negotiations,’ Crowley said.” Are all the Democratic pro-Israel Jews “deeply disappointed” in Obama yet? Hardly. Sigh.

Indignant are the elite opinion makers. “The editor of Vanity Fair is in dudgeon over last week’s election. … They heard this wave of Dem/lib defeats was coming, but it’s just possible they didn’t really believe it: How, after all, could it happen? Eight years of suffering—war, torture, lies, and oh, that mangled language—ended with the advent of Obamunism. Now they have to relinquish their antibiotic-free ranging and go back to huddle in their Robert Couturier-decorated pens? And all because of an enraged, pitchfork-bearing, brimstone mob of Tea Partiers?” Read the whole hilarious thing.

Exonerated. “The chief counsel for the president’s oil spill commission said Monday that concerns about money didn’t drive key decisions made on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig before the April 20 blowout that caused a massive oil spill and killed 11 people. The conclusion is good news for BP, which has been widely criticized for letting concerns about the roughly $1.5 million a day cost of the drilling rig affect choices that might have prevented the blowout.”

Useless (or worse). “Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, held meetings in Lebanon Monday before traveling to Damascus for meetings with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

Rejectionist — as always. “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was quoted on Monday as saying that if Israel wants the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table it must cease all construction in the settlements. Meanwhile, top PLO official Yasser Abed Rabo said it was ‘impossible’ for the Palestinians to return to the peace talks as long as the present government is in power in Israel.”

Ambitious? He sure sounds like he’s running for something: “Texas Gov. Rick Perry insists that he’s not running for president, but he didn’t mind offering an unvarnished view Monday about the signature policy accomplishment of one Republican who almost certainly is in the race. ‘The health care plan out of Massachusetts, I would suggest to you, is too much the like the health care plan passed out of Washington,’ Perry said, succinctly voicing one of the chief difficulties former Bay State Gov. Mitt Romney faces in the upcoming GOP primary.”

Shrinking. “Democratic allies are not optimistic about their legislative priorities getting done in the lame-duck session after Democratic candidates got pummeled on Election Day. Senate Democrats had discussed as many as 20 bills up for consideration during the lame-duck session, the period between the Nov. 2 election and Christmas. In the wake of a midterm election that President Obama called a ‘shellacking’ of his party, Democratic insiders question if anything more than a stopgap spending measure and temporary extension of Bush-era tax cuts can pass.”

Hopeless. All the Obama “smart” diplomats can do is repeat the fundamental error in their approach to peace talks. “The United States is ‘deeply disappointed’ that Israel has advanced plans to build 1,345 new homes in ‘sensitive areas’ of east Jerusalem, a State Department spokesman said Monday. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters that the United States sees the announcement as ‘counter-productive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.’ ‘We have long urged both parties to avoid actions that could undermine trust including in Jerusalem and we will continue to work to resume negotiations,’ Crowley said.” Are all the Democratic pro-Israel Jews “deeply disappointed” in Obama yet? Hardly. Sigh.

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