Commentary Magazine


Topic: Harvard University

Everything You Want to Know About Mitt Can Be Found at Harvard

The New York Times published a fascinating story yesterday that ought to give plenty of fodder to Mitt Romney’s admirers as well as his detractors. The front-page feature seeks to examine the lessons that can be learned by examining Romney’s time at Harvard University in the 1970s when he simultaneously earned business and law degrees. The result is a portrait of an incredibly able and intelligent man focused on achievement and with keen analytic powers that made him a wild success in the world of finance. This sets him up as an ideal president in an age of economic uncertainty where the ability to understand the economy and how business works should be at a premium.

But what also comes across is that Romney was, and perhaps still is, a person without strong ideological convictions outside the realms of faith and family. The Harvard business program prizes case-by-case analysis and data research and, at least according to this article, rewards pragmatism and problem solving, not ideology. According to his former classmates and friends interviewed in the piece, that approach perfectly suited Romney’s personality. And it is exactly that trait that scares conservative Republicans who see him as a shape-shifting, soulless technocrat who cares nothing for the principles that guide their party.

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The New York Times published a fascinating story yesterday that ought to give plenty of fodder to Mitt Romney’s admirers as well as his detractors. The front-page feature seeks to examine the lessons that can be learned by examining Romney’s time at Harvard University in the 1970s when he simultaneously earned business and law degrees. The result is a portrait of an incredibly able and intelligent man focused on achievement and with keen analytic powers that made him a wild success in the world of finance. This sets him up as an ideal president in an age of economic uncertainty where the ability to understand the economy and how business works should be at a premium.

But what also comes across is that Romney was, and perhaps still is, a person without strong ideological convictions outside the realms of faith and family. The Harvard business program prizes case-by-case analysis and data research and, at least according to this article, rewards pragmatism and problem solving, not ideology. According to his former classmates and friends interviewed in the piece, that approach perfectly suited Romney’s personality. And it is exactly that trait that scares conservative Republicans who see him as a shape-shifting, soulless technocrat who cares nothing for the principles that guide their party.

If, as his critics constantly tell us, Romney is the candidate of his party’s elites, this story is also a reminder that the former Massachusetts governor is the epitome of the notion that the best and brightest deserve the highest rewards. Earning both business and law degrees at a demanding institution like Harvard is not a task for the faint of heart. Already married and a father of two, Romney was obviously more mature than many of his classmates, but he was also more hardworking than most and driven to succeed. The political and social issues that dominated the thinking of most students in that era were of little interest to him. Nor did he spend much time socializing. The story points out that George W. Bush was a year behind him at Harvard Business, but the two had little contact as the fun-loving future 43rd president and Romney clearly did not move in the same circles.

The insights into Romney’s character ring true with everything we have learned about his later business and political careers. Above all, Romney is a problem solver. Though conservative in his personal life and perhaps in his instincts about the world, his guiding philosophy is pure pragmatism: analyze the data and the individual case and come up with a solution.

To note that a man can absorb vast amounts of complex information and synthesize them into a practical plan of action is hardly an insult. It is a rare talent and should be prized. But those looking for a presidential candidate who can, in the style of GOP hero Ronald Reagan, express broad political principles, are always going to be a bit disappointed with Romney. He is at his best when fixing broken things–be it companies, Olympic games or budgets. But as a standard bearer for a movement or as someone who can exercise the vital task of articulating moral leadership, Romney seems out of place.

What his classmates saw at Harvard are the same qualities that both attract and repel voters today. His economic expertise and pragmatism make him the most electable Republican in 2012, while his lack of ideology makes many conservatives long for anyone else to lead their party. Had a more credible conservative appeared to challenge him, Romney wouldn’t have had a chance. But in the absence of such a paragon, Republicans will probably have to make their peace with the man who seems to be very much the same person who excelled at Harvard four decades ago.

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Curious Quote of the Day

From a Bloomberg News article on turmoil in the Middle East:

In Egypt, where Mubarak, 82, has been a dependable U.S. ally for 30 years, the White House will need “a delicate touch” to “ensure that a successor government is neither virulently anti-American nor openly hostile to Israel,” said Stephen M. Walt, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Egypt is the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel, according to the State Department’s 2011 budget, receiving more than $1.5 billion a year.

“We should be quietly advising other leaders in the region to take steps to alleviate discontent” and “avoid the same fate that Mubarak is now experiencing,” Walt said.

There’s no further description of Professor Walt in the Bloomberg article, but those familiar with his record on matters relating to Jews or Israel may find the spectacle of his cautioning against an Egyptian government “openly hostile to Israel” to be somewhat stunning, akin to Karl Marx being quoted hoping that the new Egyptian government won’t be openly hostile to capitalism. Though I suppose it leaves open the possibility that Professor Walt is hoping for an Egyptian government that’s privately hostile to Israel while publicly professing to wish it no harm.

From a Bloomberg News article on turmoil in the Middle East:

In Egypt, where Mubarak, 82, has been a dependable U.S. ally for 30 years, the White House will need “a delicate touch” to “ensure that a successor government is neither virulently anti-American nor openly hostile to Israel,” said Stephen M. Walt, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Egypt is the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel, according to the State Department’s 2011 budget, receiving more than $1.5 billion a year.

“We should be quietly advising other leaders in the region to take steps to alleviate discontent” and “avoid the same fate that Mubarak is now experiencing,” Walt said.

There’s no further description of Professor Walt in the Bloomberg article, but those familiar with his record on matters relating to Jews or Israel may find the spectacle of his cautioning against an Egyptian government “openly hostile to Israel” to be somewhat stunning, akin to Karl Marx being quoted hoping that the new Egyptian government won’t be openly hostile to capitalism. Though I suppose it leaves open the possibility that Professor Walt is hoping for an Egyptian government that’s privately hostile to Israel while publicly professing to wish it no harm.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Even Obama’s old seat may be lost. Mark Kirk has a small lead in two recent polls.

Even the White House couldn’t spin this one: “All signs point to huge Republican victories in two weeks, with the GOP now leading Democrats on virtually every measure in an Associated Press-GfK poll of people likely to vote in the first major elections of Barack Obama’s presidency … 50 percent say they will back the GOP candidate in their House district; 43 percent say they’ll support the Democrat … 54 percent disapprove of Obama’s job performance; 45 percent approve.” No wonder Obama wants to talk about the Chamber of Commerce.

Even the VP spot in 2012 is out, says Chris Christie. “Christie also once again said there’s ‘no way’ he’d run for president in 2012. But his wife suggested the freshman governor would be good in the role. ‘Oh, absolutely,’ Mary Pat Christie told MSNBC when asked if she thought her husband would make for a ‘good president.'” Hey, Obama changed his mind about running in 2008.

Even Christine O’Donnell (probably) knows it by heart: “At a Democratic fundraiser on Monday night, President Obama once again misquoted the Declaration of Independence’s most famous sentence and once again omitted its reference to our ‘Creator.'” If you are counting, this is the third time he edited the Preamble. “Other presidents didn’t deliberately misquote the Declaration, and they didn’t leave out (or rewrite) the words about our rights being endowed by our Creator.” But he’s an intellectual, don’t you see?

Even William Galston can’t convince me that Obama will “reach across the aisle” to work cooperatively with a GOP Congress. He should, but he sure isn’t laying the groundwork now.

Even the “unambiguous success” of the GM bailout really isn’t. Charles Lane explains that GM has $27 billion in unfunded pension-plan obligations. “Long term, the bailout can’t work unless the public buys GM’s cars. But the company’s share of the U.S. market was 19 percent in September 2010, down from 19.6 percent at the beginning of the year. Hence, [independent ratings agency] Fitch says, GM’s bonds deserve a ‘junk’ rating: BB-. That, too, is not a big surprise. But it does suggest that the success of the bailout is still, well, ambiguous. GM is not out of the woods yet, and neither are the taxpayers.”

Even the Harvard Club of New York has higher standards than CNN. “This year, the Midtown club turned down Mr. Spitzer’s application for membership — a rare snub by the club — because officials there did not want to be associated with Mr. Spitzer and the prostitution scandal that forced him from the governorship of New York in 2008, according to a person told of the decision by Harvard officials.” Shunning is a much-underrated tool in maintaining ethical standards. (Speaking of which, why did the same Harvard University have Spitzer speak last year on ethics?)

Even unacceptable to Human Rights Watch: “Human Rights Watch has slammed a ruling by an Emirati court which condones the beating of wives by their husbands, saying it sends out a signal that violence against women and children is acceptable.” Would be nice if Obama and his secretary of state would do so as well, since they’re all about human rights these days.

Even liberal Matthew Duss concedes that George Bush was on to something with his “freedom agenda.” In a backhanded way, he advises: “But just because the Bush administration latched onto this critique as a justification for its attempt to reorder the Middle East doesn’t mean it was necessarily wrong. A focus on security at the expense of democracy does generate bad consequences, and acknowledgement of this fact, by anyone, however late coming, is a good thing.” In all his suck-uppery to the PA, Obama has ignored this truism: “Political freedom is not a peripheral concern in Palestine — it is central to the U.S. goal of a functioning, viable, and democratic Palestinian state at peace with Israel.”

Even Obama’s old seat may be lost. Mark Kirk has a small lead in two recent polls.

Even the White House couldn’t spin this one: “All signs point to huge Republican victories in two weeks, with the GOP now leading Democrats on virtually every measure in an Associated Press-GfK poll of people likely to vote in the first major elections of Barack Obama’s presidency … 50 percent say they will back the GOP candidate in their House district; 43 percent say they’ll support the Democrat … 54 percent disapprove of Obama’s job performance; 45 percent approve.” No wonder Obama wants to talk about the Chamber of Commerce.

Even the VP spot in 2012 is out, says Chris Christie. “Christie also once again said there’s ‘no way’ he’d run for president in 2012. But his wife suggested the freshman governor would be good in the role. ‘Oh, absolutely,’ Mary Pat Christie told MSNBC when asked if she thought her husband would make for a ‘good president.'” Hey, Obama changed his mind about running in 2008.

Even Christine O’Donnell (probably) knows it by heart: “At a Democratic fundraiser on Monday night, President Obama once again misquoted the Declaration of Independence’s most famous sentence and once again omitted its reference to our ‘Creator.'” If you are counting, this is the third time he edited the Preamble. “Other presidents didn’t deliberately misquote the Declaration, and they didn’t leave out (or rewrite) the words about our rights being endowed by our Creator.” But he’s an intellectual, don’t you see?

Even William Galston can’t convince me that Obama will “reach across the aisle” to work cooperatively with a GOP Congress. He should, but he sure isn’t laying the groundwork now.

Even the “unambiguous success” of the GM bailout really isn’t. Charles Lane explains that GM has $27 billion in unfunded pension-plan obligations. “Long term, the bailout can’t work unless the public buys GM’s cars. But the company’s share of the U.S. market was 19 percent in September 2010, down from 19.6 percent at the beginning of the year. Hence, [independent ratings agency] Fitch says, GM’s bonds deserve a ‘junk’ rating: BB-. That, too, is not a big surprise. But it does suggest that the success of the bailout is still, well, ambiguous. GM is not out of the woods yet, and neither are the taxpayers.”

Even the Harvard Club of New York has higher standards than CNN. “This year, the Midtown club turned down Mr. Spitzer’s application for membership — a rare snub by the club — because officials there did not want to be associated with Mr. Spitzer and the prostitution scandal that forced him from the governorship of New York in 2008, according to a person told of the decision by Harvard officials.” Shunning is a much-underrated tool in maintaining ethical standards. (Speaking of which, why did the same Harvard University have Spitzer speak last year on ethics?)

Even unacceptable to Human Rights Watch: “Human Rights Watch has slammed a ruling by an Emirati court which condones the beating of wives by their husbands, saying it sends out a signal that violence against women and children is acceptable.” Would be nice if Obama and his secretary of state would do so as well, since they’re all about human rights these days.

Even liberal Matthew Duss concedes that George Bush was on to something with his “freedom agenda.” In a backhanded way, he advises: “But just because the Bush administration latched onto this critique as a justification for its attempt to reorder the Middle East doesn’t mean it was necessarily wrong. A focus on security at the expense of democracy does generate bad consequences, and acknowledgement of this fact, by anyone, however late coming, is a good thing.” In all his suck-uppery to the PA, Obama has ignored this truism: “Political freedom is not a peripheral concern in Palestine — it is central to the U.S. goal of a functioning, viable, and democratic Palestinian state at peace with Israel.”

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A Study in Contrast on Iran

Obama went to the UN and delivered namby-pamby remarks on Iran, eschewing any mention of the potential for military force. The sum total of his remarks:

As part of our effort on non-proliferation, I offered the Islamic Republic of Iran an extended hand last year, and underscored that it has both rights and responsibilities as a member of the international community. I also said — in this hall — that Iran must be held accountable if it failed to meet those responsibilities.  And that is what we have done.

Iran is the only party to the NPT that cannot demonstrate the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program, and those actions have consequences. Through UN Security Council Resolution 1929, we made it clear that international law is not an empty promise.

Now let me be clear once more: The United States and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it. But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program.

That is it. Bet they are high-fiving in Tehran.

Meanwhile, in the American reality-based community, more serious voices are being heard. Christians United for Israel have produced a remarkable video, featuring Pastor John Hagee, Harvard University Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Malcolm Hoenlein, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), and Nobel Laureate, author, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel (Got to hand it to those community organizers). They are also circulating a petition that already has at least 118,000 signatures. The message: we should be indicting Ahmadinejad as a war criminal for “incitement to genocide.” Really, what’s the excuse not to?

Meanwhile, a letter signed by 50 Republicans yesterday to the president urged him to “take whatever action is necessary to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. All options must be on the table.” They urged Obama to state “unequivocally” at the UN that we will prevent Iran from going nuclear. No such luck.

Why do private groups, members of Congress and citizens seem so much more serious than the president? Well, we’ve learned and relearned that foreign-policy commitments just aren’t Obama’s thing. Kudos to those who appeared in the CUFI video and signed the letter. Now, how about the largest Jewish organizations themselves going on record? Not only should the president be urged to take all action needed to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear plans but it should be clear that this is not “an Israeli” problem. It is the West’s problem. It would be a sorry state of affairs if tiny Israel had to act in our defense. Nevertheless, that looks like the direction in which we are heading. The public, Congress, and private groups should prepare themselves to insist that if Israel does act alone, the U.S. will stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel.

Obama went to the UN and delivered namby-pamby remarks on Iran, eschewing any mention of the potential for military force. The sum total of his remarks:

As part of our effort on non-proliferation, I offered the Islamic Republic of Iran an extended hand last year, and underscored that it has both rights and responsibilities as a member of the international community. I also said — in this hall — that Iran must be held accountable if it failed to meet those responsibilities.  And that is what we have done.

Iran is the only party to the NPT that cannot demonstrate the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program, and those actions have consequences. Through UN Security Council Resolution 1929, we made it clear that international law is not an empty promise.

Now let me be clear once more: The United States and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it. But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program.

That is it. Bet they are high-fiving in Tehran.

Meanwhile, in the American reality-based community, more serious voices are being heard. Christians United for Israel have produced a remarkable video, featuring Pastor John Hagee, Harvard University Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Malcolm Hoenlein, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), and Nobel Laureate, author, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel (Got to hand it to those community organizers). They are also circulating a petition that already has at least 118,000 signatures. The message: we should be indicting Ahmadinejad as a war criminal for “incitement to genocide.” Really, what’s the excuse not to?

Meanwhile, a letter signed by 50 Republicans yesterday to the president urged him to “take whatever action is necessary to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. All options must be on the table.” They urged Obama to state “unequivocally” at the UN that we will prevent Iran from going nuclear. No such luck.

Why do private groups, members of Congress and citizens seem so much more serious than the president? Well, we’ve learned and relearned that foreign-policy commitments just aren’t Obama’s thing. Kudos to those who appeared in the CUFI video and signed the letter. Now, how about the largest Jewish organizations themselves going on record? Not only should the president be urged to take all action needed to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear plans but it should be clear that this is not “an Israeli” problem. It is the West’s problem. It would be a sorry state of affairs if tiny Israel had to act in our defense. Nevertheless, that looks like the direction in which we are heading. The public, Congress, and private groups should prepare themselves to insist that if Israel does act alone, the U.S. will stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel.

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Take Half a Loaf, and Demand the Rest

Obama, eight weeks before the election, has decided to adopt one of many ideas the Republicans put forth in February 2009: a tax break for businesses. As this report explains:

Companies can now deduct new investment expenses, but over a longer period of time—three to 20 years. The proposed change, which would let companies keep more cash now, is meant to give companies who may be hesitant to invest an incentive to expand, acting as a spur to the overall economy. …

Under current law, if a company spends $10 million on a new factory, it gets to deduct the full amount of the cost over a period of between three and 20 years, depending on the investment. So it cuts its stated pre-tax profits by a varying amount each year, thus reducing taxes until the cost of the investment has been written off.

Under the new proposal, the company would get to deduct the full $10 million in the first year. That would give it an immediate cash infusion to offset the costs of investment. It would also give certainty that the full tax benefit would be realized. Companies often don’t get to write off the full cost of an investment over an extended time.

It is not a bad idea, but it simply isn’t as critical as an extension of the Bush tax cuts. Republicans and business leaders were quick to point this out:

“The White House is missing the big picture. These aren’t necessarily bad proposals, but they don’t address the two big problems that are hurting our economy—excessive government spending, and the uncertainty that Washington Democrats’ policies, especially their massive tax hike, are creating for small businesses,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R, Ohio). …

The best thing to do is to get rid of uncertainty, and that includes the cliff we’re falling off with all these [tax] provisions that are expiring,” said Bill Rys, tax counsel for the National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business group.

Many NFIB members also are concerned about a new requirement for reporting purchases of more than $600 to the Internal Revenue Service, he added. He questioned whether many business owners would choose to buy more equipment, at least until sales pick up.

It is, on the one hand, a giant concession that tax cuts matter. On the other hand, it leaves the Obama team without any reasoned defense for letting the Bush tax cuts expire — or, for that matter, loading up employers with new mandates. (“Many NFIB members also are concerned about a new requirement for reporting purchases of more than $600 to the Internal Revenue Service.”) As one businesswoman put it, “If this will be offered as a tradeoff for raising the top two rates, it’s a non-starter.”

Nor is it even clear that this is all that helpful at this point:

N. Gregory Mankiw, of Harvard University, and another former CEA chairman under President Bush, questioned whether the Obama proposal would have a big impact. Businesses can already take out a bank loan at extremely low interest rates to pay for new investments in plants and equipment, but they are not doing so, he said. It’s unclear why they would make those investments for a tax break.

And it is even less clear why we should be giving with one hand and taking away with the other. (Jay Timmons, executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers: “The good news [is that] the administration recognizes that manufacturing is key to getting the economy back on track and ensuring we are able to sustain economic growth and job creation. But you can’t do that if you’re penalizing one sector of manufacturing while trying to incent another.”)

The most principled position for conservatives is to accept the president’s tax cut (on the Milton Friedman theory that we should support any tax cut, any time) and demand that the Bush tax cuts be retained. Really, if tax cuts are good and the economy is in the tank, why not?

Obama, eight weeks before the election, has decided to adopt one of many ideas the Republicans put forth in February 2009: a tax break for businesses. As this report explains:

Companies can now deduct new investment expenses, but over a longer period of time—three to 20 years. The proposed change, which would let companies keep more cash now, is meant to give companies who may be hesitant to invest an incentive to expand, acting as a spur to the overall economy. …

Under current law, if a company spends $10 million on a new factory, it gets to deduct the full amount of the cost over a period of between three and 20 years, depending on the investment. So it cuts its stated pre-tax profits by a varying amount each year, thus reducing taxes until the cost of the investment has been written off.

Under the new proposal, the company would get to deduct the full $10 million in the first year. That would give it an immediate cash infusion to offset the costs of investment. It would also give certainty that the full tax benefit would be realized. Companies often don’t get to write off the full cost of an investment over an extended time.

It is not a bad idea, but it simply isn’t as critical as an extension of the Bush tax cuts. Republicans and business leaders were quick to point this out:

“The White House is missing the big picture. These aren’t necessarily bad proposals, but they don’t address the two big problems that are hurting our economy—excessive government spending, and the uncertainty that Washington Democrats’ policies, especially their massive tax hike, are creating for small businesses,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R, Ohio). …

The best thing to do is to get rid of uncertainty, and that includes the cliff we’re falling off with all these [tax] provisions that are expiring,” said Bill Rys, tax counsel for the National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business group.

Many NFIB members also are concerned about a new requirement for reporting purchases of more than $600 to the Internal Revenue Service, he added. He questioned whether many business owners would choose to buy more equipment, at least until sales pick up.

It is, on the one hand, a giant concession that tax cuts matter. On the other hand, it leaves the Obama team without any reasoned defense for letting the Bush tax cuts expire — or, for that matter, loading up employers with new mandates. (“Many NFIB members also are concerned about a new requirement for reporting purchases of more than $600 to the Internal Revenue Service.”) As one businesswoman put it, “If this will be offered as a tradeoff for raising the top two rates, it’s a non-starter.”

Nor is it even clear that this is all that helpful at this point:

N. Gregory Mankiw, of Harvard University, and another former CEA chairman under President Bush, questioned whether the Obama proposal would have a big impact. Businesses can already take out a bank loan at extremely low interest rates to pay for new investments in plants and equipment, but they are not doing so, he said. It’s unclear why they would make those investments for a tax break.

And it is even less clear why we should be giving with one hand and taking away with the other. (Jay Timmons, executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers: “The good news [is that] the administration recognizes that manufacturing is key to getting the economy back on track and ensuring we are able to sustain economic growth and job creation. But you can’t do that if you’re penalizing one sector of manufacturing while trying to incent another.”)

The most principled position for conservatives is to accept the president’s tax cut (on the Milton Friedman theory that we should support any tax cut, any time) and demand that the Bush tax cuts be retained. Really, if tax cuts are good and the economy is in the tank, why not?

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The Perils of Praise

Attempting to explain the Ground Zero mosque blunder, Margaret Carlson argues that Obama is too smart for us: “He is so supremely confident in his intellect that he forgets, on his way to the correct decision, to slow down and pick up not-so-gifted stragglers.” Well, supremely confident but not so smart. Does he truly not get the distinction between constitutional rights and moral persuasion? Does he not understand that an imam who can’t denounce Hamas, insists America is complicit in 9/11, and won’t disclose whether state sponsors of terror are funding his project isn’t seeking reconciliation?

To be blunt, Obama suffers from a lifetime of others excessively praising his intellect. It insulates him from ideas and facts that conflict with his pre-existing liberal rubric (so “every economist” believed his stimulus would work). It leaves him unprepared to engage in real debate with informed opponents (e.g. the health-care summit). It skews his understanding of how geopolitics works, as he imagines that his own wonderfulness can sway adversaries and override nations’ fundamental interests (the Middle East). Is he as well read as George W. Bush? As intellectually creative as Bill Clinton? As grounded in history as Harry Truman? Let’s get some perspective here.

But Carlson does get it partially right:

His coldly rational comments on the mosque were reminiscent of his remark during the campaign about people in struggling small towns who “cling to guns or religion,” or of when he said police had “acted stupidly” in arresting Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. at his own house during a burglary investigation. The Obama mindset is dismissive of those who have never sipped espresso in the faculty lounge. Anyone who lets emotion creep in where Obama has let reason reign is wrong.

It’s a deadly combination — intellectual arrogance and lack of sympatico with the public — that leads him again and again to stumble. And when his shortcomings lead to embarrassment or failure, he strikes out in frustration — at Israel, at the media, and at the American people. The image of himself clashes with the results he achieves and the reaction he inspires. No wonder he’s so prickly. You’d be, too, if everyone your entire life had told you that you were swell but now, when the chips are down and the spotlight is on, you are failing so badly in your job.

Attempting to explain the Ground Zero mosque blunder, Margaret Carlson argues that Obama is too smart for us: “He is so supremely confident in his intellect that he forgets, on his way to the correct decision, to slow down and pick up not-so-gifted stragglers.” Well, supremely confident but not so smart. Does he truly not get the distinction between constitutional rights and moral persuasion? Does he not understand that an imam who can’t denounce Hamas, insists America is complicit in 9/11, and won’t disclose whether state sponsors of terror are funding his project isn’t seeking reconciliation?

To be blunt, Obama suffers from a lifetime of others excessively praising his intellect. It insulates him from ideas and facts that conflict with his pre-existing liberal rubric (so “every economist” believed his stimulus would work). It leaves him unprepared to engage in real debate with informed opponents (e.g. the health-care summit). It skews his understanding of how geopolitics works, as he imagines that his own wonderfulness can sway adversaries and override nations’ fundamental interests (the Middle East). Is he as well read as George W. Bush? As intellectually creative as Bill Clinton? As grounded in history as Harry Truman? Let’s get some perspective here.

But Carlson does get it partially right:

His coldly rational comments on the mosque were reminiscent of his remark during the campaign about people in struggling small towns who “cling to guns or religion,” or of when he said police had “acted stupidly” in arresting Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. at his own house during a burglary investigation. The Obama mindset is dismissive of those who have never sipped espresso in the faculty lounge. Anyone who lets emotion creep in where Obama has let reason reign is wrong.

It’s a deadly combination — intellectual arrogance and lack of sympatico with the public — that leads him again and again to stumble. And when his shortcomings lead to embarrassment or failure, he strikes out in frustration — at Israel, at the media, and at the American people. The image of himself clashes with the results he achieves and the reaction he inspires. No wonder he’s so prickly. You’d be, too, if everyone your entire life had told you that you were swell but now, when the chips are down and the spotlight is on, you are failing so badly in your job.

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Harvard’s Double Standard on Gay Rights

On FOX News Sunday, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, in talking about the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, makes this helpful comparison:

On the one hand, Harvard accepts money from Saudis. Saudi Arabia, by the way, executes homosexuals, Saudi Arabia represses women, Saudi Arabia does not allow Christians or Jews to practice their religion, but Saudi money is fine. The American military didn’t have a policy. The Congress of the United States and the Clinton administration she served in had a policy. And for her to single out the military was an extraordinarily myopic position. And if you read what they said at the time, it was consistently focused on the military, and I just think that at a time when we have two wars, that’s a very inappropriate behavior.

This is a very good point for GOP senators to press Ms. Kagan on during her confirmation hearings. Apparently, accepting the money from a repressive government where sodomy is punishable by death is hunky-dory, but the military, in carrying through on the Clinton administration’s policy, deserves to be singled out for condemnation. (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a “moral injustice of the first order,” according to Kagan.) How exactly does one explain the different Indignation Meters at Harvard Law School?

For the record, it appears that $20 million (and perhaps considerably less) is enough to silence Harvard on the matter of human rights for gays. Here’s a report from 2005:

A Saudi prince has donated $20 million each to Harvard University and Georgetown University to advance Islamic studies and further understanding of the Muslim world. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Alsaud — whom Forbes magazine ranks as the fifth wealthiest person in the world, with assets worth $23.7 billion — is the nephew of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. “Bridging the understanding between East and West is important for peace and tolerance,” Alwaleed said in a statement released by Harvard. At Harvard, the money will fund four new senior staff professorships as well as an endowed chair in the name of the 48-year-old billionaire. Harvard will also use the funds to begin digitizing historically significant Islamic texts and materials, and make them available for research on the Internet. “We are very grateful to Prince Alwaleed for his generous gift to Harvard,” President Lawrence H. Summers said. The gift is considered one of the 25th largest in university history.

Of course, Harvard, ever open-minded, wanted to “bridge the understanding between East and West” in order to advance the cause of “tolerance.” So Harvard, for the right price, can summon tolerance even when it comes to governments’ executing people for sodomy. Yet it showed considerably less tolerance for the United States military on the matter of not allowing openly gay people to serve in the military.

How principled of Harvard.

All this is indicative of a twisted set of priorities by Harvard and worth exploring in some detail.

On FOX News Sunday, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, in talking about the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, makes this helpful comparison:

On the one hand, Harvard accepts money from Saudis. Saudi Arabia, by the way, executes homosexuals, Saudi Arabia represses women, Saudi Arabia does not allow Christians or Jews to practice their religion, but Saudi money is fine. The American military didn’t have a policy. The Congress of the United States and the Clinton administration she served in had a policy. And for her to single out the military was an extraordinarily myopic position. And if you read what they said at the time, it was consistently focused on the military, and I just think that at a time when we have two wars, that’s a very inappropriate behavior.

This is a very good point for GOP senators to press Ms. Kagan on during her confirmation hearings. Apparently, accepting the money from a repressive government where sodomy is punishable by death is hunky-dory, but the military, in carrying through on the Clinton administration’s policy, deserves to be singled out for condemnation. (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a “moral injustice of the first order,” according to Kagan.) How exactly does one explain the different Indignation Meters at Harvard Law School?

For the record, it appears that $20 million (and perhaps considerably less) is enough to silence Harvard on the matter of human rights for gays. Here’s a report from 2005:

A Saudi prince has donated $20 million each to Harvard University and Georgetown University to advance Islamic studies and further understanding of the Muslim world. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Alsaud — whom Forbes magazine ranks as the fifth wealthiest person in the world, with assets worth $23.7 billion — is the nephew of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. “Bridging the understanding between East and West is important for peace and tolerance,” Alwaleed said in a statement released by Harvard. At Harvard, the money will fund four new senior staff professorships as well as an endowed chair in the name of the 48-year-old billionaire. Harvard will also use the funds to begin digitizing historically significant Islamic texts and materials, and make them available for research on the Internet. “We are very grateful to Prince Alwaleed for his generous gift to Harvard,” President Lawrence H. Summers said. The gift is considered one of the 25th largest in university history.

Of course, Harvard, ever open-minded, wanted to “bridge the understanding between East and West” in order to advance the cause of “tolerance.” So Harvard, for the right price, can summon tolerance even when it comes to governments’ executing people for sodomy. Yet it showed considerably less tolerance for the United States military on the matter of not allowing openly gay people to serve in the military.

How principled of Harvard.

All this is indicative of a twisted set of priorities by Harvard and worth exploring in some detail.

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The Problem with Law Schools

Ed Whelan dismantles bit by bit the argument by former Harvard Law School dean Robert Clark in support of current Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan’s barring of military recruiters and signing on to an amicus brief contesting the Solomon Amendment. This raises a larger issue — yes, even larger than a single Supreme Court nomination — what’s the matter with law schools? After all, lots and lots of their deans and professors hadn’t a clue what the law was in the case challenging the Solomon Amendment. George Mason University Law School was the proud exception and at the time reminded us:

The amicus brief filed by the dean and two professors at George Mason’s law school was the only one submitted by a law school that took the side of the armed services. Many amicus briefs were filed on the losing side (including briefs in behalf of Yale University, Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, the University of Chicago, Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania), arguing that the Solomon Amendment’s requirement of equal access for military recruiters was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. In addition, professors at Columbia and Harvard law schools submitted briefs arguing that as a matter of statutory construction the law schools had in fact complied with the Solomon Amendment. The constitutional and statutory arguments were all rejected by the Court.

There is a reason why the Chief Justice, among other justices over the years, has said that he doesn’t pay too much attention to law-review articles. Why? Law professors don’t really have a great grasp of what the law is or a decent track record in predicting where it will evolve. They operate in a largely isolated academic setting in which, in their minds, there are nine Justice Stevenses on the bench. And in this case, they didn’t even get Stevens’s position right.

As Ronald Reagan said of liberals, it’s not that they are ignorant. It’s that they know so much that isn’t true. So I can see the argument for looking outside the appellate bench for justices. But I think law professors are the last place you’d want to look for unbiased, accomplished legal analysts. Let’s hope Kagan picked up some actual law, not law-school law, in her last year at the solicitor general’s office.

Ed Whelan dismantles bit by bit the argument by former Harvard Law School dean Robert Clark in support of current Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan’s barring of military recruiters and signing on to an amicus brief contesting the Solomon Amendment. This raises a larger issue — yes, even larger than a single Supreme Court nomination — what’s the matter with law schools? After all, lots and lots of their deans and professors hadn’t a clue what the law was in the case challenging the Solomon Amendment. George Mason University Law School was the proud exception and at the time reminded us:

The amicus brief filed by the dean and two professors at George Mason’s law school was the only one submitted by a law school that took the side of the armed services. Many amicus briefs were filed on the losing side (including briefs in behalf of Yale University, Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, the University of Chicago, Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania), arguing that the Solomon Amendment’s requirement of equal access for military recruiters was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. In addition, professors at Columbia and Harvard law schools submitted briefs arguing that as a matter of statutory construction the law schools had in fact complied with the Solomon Amendment. The constitutional and statutory arguments were all rejected by the Court.

There is a reason why the Chief Justice, among other justices over the years, has said that he doesn’t pay too much attention to law-review articles. Why? Law professors don’t really have a great grasp of what the law is or a decent track record in predicting where it will evolve. They operate in a largely isolated academic setting in which, in their minds, there are nine Justice Stevenses on the bench. And in this case, they didn’t even get Stevens’s position right.

As Ronald Reagan said of liberals, it’s not that they are ignorant. It’s that they know so much that isn’t true. So I can see the argument for looking outside the appellate bench for justices. But I think law professors are the last place you’d want to look for unbiased, accomplished legal analysts. Let’s hope Kagan picked up some actual law, not law-school law, in her last year at the solicitor general’s office.

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“Eurabia” Debunked

Is Europe committing demographic and cultural suicide? Is the continent turning into “Eurabia” — a land populated primarily by Muslims? That is the case made in a series of popular books by the likes of Bernard Lewis, Mark Steyn, Tony Blankley, and Oriana Fallaci. Personally I’m skeptical. For much the same reason that I was skeptical about the prospects of a Y2K or avian-flu catastrophe: disasters that are so widely predicted seldom occur because corrective action can usually be taken in time. Justin Vaisse of the Brookings Institution, formerly a French Foreign Ministry staffer, suggests some other reasons for skepticism in this Foreign Policy article.

He points out that, while there are currently 18 million Muslims in Western Europe, or 4.5% of the population, and there will be increases in the future, “it’s hard to imagine that Europe will even reach the 10 percent mark (except in some countries or cities).” Why not? Because “fertility rates among Muslims are sharply declining as children of immigrants gradually conform to prevailing social and economic norms. Nor is immigration still a major source of newly minted European Muslims. Only about 500,000 people a year come legally to Europe from Muslim-majority countries, with an even smaller number coming illegally — meaning that the annual influx is a fraction of a percent of the European population.”

Moreover, he writes, fertility rates are actually rising in European countries: “In 2008, fertility rates in France and Ireland were more than two children per woman, close to the U.S. (and replacement) level; in Britain and Sweden they were above 1.9. And though in the 1990s European countries set an all-time record for low fertility rates, figures are now rising in all EU states except Germany.” And, no, those increasing fertility figures are not due to Muslims alone. Although Muslim migrant women have a lot of children, overall they “have a negligible impact on overall fertility rates, adding a maximum of 0.1 to any country’s average.”

Vaisse adds another reason we shouldn’t worry. He cites polling data to show that “to large majorities of Europe’s Muslims, Islam is neither an exclusive identity nor a marching order. Recent poll data from Gallup show that most European Muslims happily combine their national and religious identities, and a 2009 Harvard University working paper by Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris demonstrates that in the long term, the basic cultural values of Muslim migrants evolve to conform to the predominant culture of the European society in which they live.”

I would add another point: that continental societies have more resiliency than it may appear on the surface to Americans who caricature Europeans as effete surrender monkeys. While most European nations are not willing to engage in vigorous military action overseas (France and Britain are partial exceptions) they have shown far more ruthlessness in policing their own borders. France, in particular, as this AEI study notes, has been extremely aggressive in going after Islamist terror cells, giving their law enforcement and judicial authorities more power than in the U.S. Islamist excesses such as the killing of Theo van Gogh or the attempted murder of the Muhammad cartoonist are triggering a backlash. Europe, I predict, will not be subsumed into the umma as so many alarmists claim, based on worst-case projections.

Is Europe committing demographic and cultural suicide? Is the continent turning into “Eurabia” — a land populated primarily by Muslims? That is the case made in a series of popular books by the likes of Bernard Lewis, Mark Steyn, Tony Blankley, and Oriana Fallaci. Personally I’m skeptical. For much the same reason that I was skeptical about the prospects of a Y2K or avian-flu catastrophe: disasters that are so widely predicted seldom occur because corrective action can usually be taken in time. Justin Vaisse of the Brookings Institution, formerly a French Foreign Ministry staffer, suggests some other reasons for skepticism in this Foreign Policy article.

He points out that, while there are currently 18 million Muslims in Western Europe, or 4.5% of the population, and there will be increases in the future, “it’s hard to imagine that Europe will even reach the 10 percent mark (except in some countries or cities).” Why not? Because “fertility rates among Muslims are sharply declining as children of immigrants gradually conform to prevailing social and economic norms. Nor is immigration still a major source of newly minted European Muslims. Only about 500,000 people a year come legally to Europe from Muslim-majority countries, with an even smaller number coming illegally — meaning that the annual influx is a fraction of a percent of the European population.”

Moreover, he writes, fertility rates are actually rising in European countries: “In 2008, fertility rates in France and Ireland were more than two children per woman, close to the U.S. (and replacement) level; in Britain and Sweden they were above 1.9. And though in the 1990s European countries set an all-time record for low fertility rates, figures are now rising in all EU states except Germany.” And, no, those increasing fertility figures are not due to Muslims alone. Although Muslim migrant women have a lot of children, overall they “have a negligible impact on overall fertility rates, adding a maximum of 0.1 to any country’s average.”

Vaisse adds another reason we shouldn’t worry. He cites polling data to show that “to large majorities of Europe’s Muslims, Islam is neither an exclusive identity nor a marching order. Recent poll data from Gallup show that most European Muslims happily combine their national and religious identities, and a 2009 Harvard University working paper by Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris demonstrates that in the long term, the basic cultural values of Muslim migrants evolve to conform to the predominant culture of the European society in which they live.”

I would add another point: that continental societies have more resiliency than it may appear on the surface to Americans who caricature Europeans as effete surrender monkeys. While most European nations are not willing to engage in vigorous military action overseas (France and Britain are partial exceptions) they have shown far more ruthlessness in policing their own borders. France, in particular, as this AEI study notes, has been extremely aggressive in going after Islamist terror cells, giving their law enforcement and judicial authorities more power than in the U.S. Islamist excesses such as the killing of Theo van Gogh or the attempted murder of the Muhammad cartoonist are triggering a backlash. Europe, I predict, will not be subsumed into the umma as so many alarmists claim, based on worst-case projections.

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Harvard’s Modest Muslims

Harvard University has had it with the unfair treatment of its female Muslim students. Their modesty must be protected. Here’s Boston University’s Daily Free Press:

Men have not been allowed to enter the Quadrangle Recreational Athletic Center during certain times since Jan. 28, after members of the Harvard Islamic Society and the Harvard Women’s Center petitioned the university for a more comfortable environment for women.

Harvard Islamic Society’s Islamic Knowledge Committee officer Ola Aljawhary, a junior, said the women-only hours are being tested on a trial basis. The special gym hours will be analyzed over Spring Break to determine if they will continue, she said.

Come to think of it, how modest is it to make a university rewrite its gym policy because of your personal belief system? Well, the important thing is Harvard got rid of Larry Summers. I mean, he suggested there may be some innate differences between men and women. And you’d never find that kind of talk in Islam.

Harvard University has had it with the unfair treatment of its female Muslim students. Their modesty must be protected. Here’s Boston University’s Daily Free Press:

Men have not been allowed to enter the Quadrangle Recreational Athletic Center during certain times since Jan. 28, after members of the Harvard Islamic Society and the Harvard Women’s Center petitioned the university for a more comfortable environment for women.

Harvard Islamic Society’s Islamic Knowledge Committee officer Ola Aljawhary, a junior, said the women-only hours are being tested on a trial basis. The special gym hours will be analyzed over Spring Break to determine if they will continue, she said.

Come to think of it, how modest is it to make a university rewrite its gym policy because of your personal belief system? Well, the important thing is Harvard got rid of Larry Summers. I mean, he suggested there may be some innate differences between men and women. And you’d never find that kind of talk in Islam.

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A Problem from Hell

The Turkish government is furious about a vote in the House International Relations Committee condemning as “genocide” the killing of some 1.5 million Armenians by the Turks in 1915.

The issue is an old and vexing one, and I confess to not being entirely in sympathy with either side. The Turks, for a start, are absurdly worked up about a mere piece of paper condemning actions taken not by the current government of Turkey or by its immediate predecessors but by another entity entirely—the Ottoman Empire, which ceased to exist in 1922 when it was replaced by a new Turkish state headed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The massacres of 1915 (which were indeed an attempted genocide—see Samantha Power’s powerful book, A Problem from Hell) were carried out by the Young Turks. Therefore, the current government in Ankara could very easily say: Yes, there were terrible acts committed by the Ottoman Empire in its waning days and we regret and disavow them. Now we want to work cooperatively with Armenians living in Armenia itself and in the Diaspora, and as a humanitarian gesture make some restitution where appropriate.

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The Turkish government is furious about a vote in the House International Relations Committee condemning as “genocide” the killing of some 1.5 million Armenians by the Turks in 1915.

The issue is an old and vexing one, and I confess to not being entirely in sympathy with either side. The Turks, for a start, are absurdly worked up about a mere piece of paper condemning actions taken not by the current government of Turkey or by its immediate predecessors but by another entity entirely—the Ottoman Empire, which ceased to exist in 1922 when it was replaced by a new Turkish state headed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The massacres of 1915 (which were indeed an attempted genocide—see Samantha Power’s powerful book, A Problem from Hell) were carried out by the Young Turks. Therefore, the current government in Ankara could very easily say: Yes, there were terrible acts committed by the Ottoman Empire in its waning days and we regret and disavow them. Now we want to work cooperatively with Armenians living in Armenia itself and in the Diaspora, and as a humanitarian gesture make some restitution where appropriate.

That would cost Turkey little and gain it much international support. But it does not seem emotionally possible given how high feelings run in Turkey over this issue. Instead, should this resolution go through, the Erdogan government is again threatening all sorts of dire consequences for the Turkish-American alliance. Since we need Turkish cooperation in all sorts of areas, especially in Iraq, we must tread lightly. My own view is that Congress should avoid passing a symbolic resolution that will do little or nothing to help Armenian victims or their descendants, but that will hurt vital American interests.

That’s not, of course, the way Armenians see it, and they form a powerful lobbying group that donates a lot of money to politicians especially in states like New Jersey, Michigan, and California. (It is no coincidence that legislators from those states are leading the push for the Armenian genocide resolution.)

While I disagree with them on the merits of this legislation, I sympathize with their grievances and respect their right to seek redress in Washington. That’s the way our political system works. It’s common, and completely innocuous, for various ethnic groups to get involved in lobbying. It’s only a scandal, it seems, when the lobbyists in question are Jewish. In that case, their activities are denounced in odious anti-Semitic tracts, most of them published by groups like the John Birch Society, the Lyndon Larouchites, and the Ku Klux Klan, but some of which appear bearing the imprimatur of supposedly prestigious institutions like Harvard University, the University of Chicago, and Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

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No “Plan B”

In one of the more insightful assessments of the Jewish situation of late, Martin Kramer (of the Washington Institute, the Shalem Center, and Harvard University) stated:

[T]he geopolitical situation of the Jews hasn’t ever been stable. As a people, our geopolitics are one part our preferences, and two parts historical forces. These forces never rest. Seventy years ago, the Jewish world was centered in Europe. Now we mostly just fly over it.

The United States and Israel are today the poles of the Jewish world, because some Jews sensed tremors before the earthquake. When the earth opened up and Europe descended into the inferno, parts of the Jewish people already had a Plan B in place. We are living that Plan B.

Today the Jewish people is in an enviable geopolitical position. It has one foot planted in a Jewish sovereign state, and the other in the world’s most open and powerful society. One is tempted to say that never in their long history has the geopolitical situation of the Jews been better. Jews did have sovereignty before, in antiquity, but they did not have a strategic alliance with the greatest power on earth. And since it is difficult to imagine a better geopolitical position, the Jewish people has become a status-quo people.

Kramer then lays out five scenarios that would seriously undermine this desirable status quo: the waning of American influence; the “subtraction” of Europe from the power of the West; the emergence of Iran as a regional power on par with Israel; the disintegration of Arab states into Iraq-style internal conflict, producing multiple Hezbollah’s on Israel’s borders; and finally, the failure of the Palestinians as a nation, leading to the collapse of the two-state paradigm.

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In one of the more insightful assessments of the Jewish situation of late, Martin Kramer (of the Washington Institute, the Shalem Center, and Harvard University) stated:

[T]he geopolitical situation of the Jews hasn’t ever been stable. As a people, our geopolitics are one part our preferences, and two parts historical forces. These forces never rest. Seventy years ago, the Jewish world was centered in Europe. Now we mostly just fly over it.

The United States and Israel are today the poles of the Jewish world, because some Jews sensed tremors before the earthquake. When the earth opened up and Europe descended into the inferno, parts of the Jewish people already had a Plan B in place. We are living that Plan B.

Today the Jewish people is in an enviable geopolitical position. It has one foot planted in a Jewish sovereign state, and the other in the world’s most open and powerful society. One is tempted to say that never in their long history has the geopolitical situation of the Jews been better. Jews did have sovereignty before, in antiquity, but they did not have a strategic alliance with the greatest power on earth. And since it is difficult to imagine a better geopolitical position, the Jewish people has become a status-quo people.

Kramer then lays out five scenarios that would seriously undermine this desirable status quo: the waning of American influence; the “subtraction” of Europe from the power of the West; the emergence of Iran as a regional power on par with Israel; the disintegration of Arab states into Iraq-style internal conflict, producing multiple Hezbollah’s on Israel’s borders; and finally, the failure of the Palestinians as a nation, leading to the collapse of the two-state paradigm.

Each of these scenarios, Kramer suggests, requires a Jewish “Plan B.” He continues:

Now one would have to be a grim pessimist to believe that all five of these trends could merge into a perfect storm. But one would have to be an incurable optimist to believe that that we won’t be lashed by any of these storms. And what I am arguing is that we should anticipate conditions that will make storms more frequent than they have been in the last few decades.

Kramer does not suggest what our “Plan B” should be, except to say that “Israel will have to make alliances, strike targets, and redraw borders—and they won’t necessarily be the familiar ones.” What he does not offer is the scenario that has the only real chance of success, which is to stop “Plan A” from falling apart.

We are at war, a war between the liberal democracies and totalitarian Islamism. If we lose this war, many scenarios can be added to Kramer’s five, far worse than the ones he has devised. If we win, all of his bad scenarios can be prevented or accommodated.

We gain nothing by planning to lose. America, Israel, and Europe will not be safe in such a scenario; there is no “Plan B” that avoids catastrophe. Our only viable plan is to use all our resources to ensure the West’s victory. Those resources are substantial—and are nowhere near full mobilization.

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Dr. Faust, My Cleaning Lady, and Me

This morning my cleaning lady E., expecting an affirmative response, asked me whether I was pleased by the appointment of a woman to the presidency of Harvard University (where I am a professor). A year ago her English was not good enough for such a question. College-educated in São Paolo, with what I believe was a major in government, she tells me a female president will be able to smooth over the troubles of the previous administration. Evidently, she perceives the ascendancy of Drew Gilpin Faust as a boost for her own chances of advancement in America. Apparently, Brazilian women gained fully equal legal rights only in 1988.

Just a day earlier I was reading Heather Mac Donald’s post at City Journal‘s Eye on the News, in which she remarks that “The feminist takeover of Harvard is imminent.” Her warning struck a nerve. When the Women’s Lib movement started up in America in the 1960’s, I predicted it would do as much damage here as Bolshevism had done in Russia. I felt almost vindicated in my fears when I watched the feminist culture of grievance at Harvard help to topple President Lawrence Summers (a controversy I wrote about in the pages of COMMENTARY)—who tried to pacify the aggrieved women by appointing none other than Drew Faust to head a Task Force on Women Faculty. That Task Force won a $50 million commitment to increase faculty “diversity efforts” at Harvard. In the past, the call for such “diversity” has been a code name for greater ideological conformism, since those appointed through it are expected to share the ideological premise that brought them the job.

My Portuguese is not up to E.’s English, so I cannot explain to her the difference between a woman and a Women’s Libber. She is still fighting the original feminist battle for equal rights and opportunity; I oppose the demand for preferential group advancement. But E. is keen, and she sees from my hesitation that I am not quite as inspired as she is by this appointment. We will watch events unfold at Harvard with unequal expectations.

This morning my cleaning lady E., expecting an affirmative response, asked me whether I was pleased by the appointment of a woman to the presidency of Harvard University (where I am a professor). A year ago her English was not good enough for such a question. College-educated in São Paolo, with what I believe was a major in government, she tells me a female president will be able to smooth over the troubles of the previous administration. Evidently, she perceives the ascendancy of Drew Gilpin Faust as a boost for her own chances of advancement in America. Apparently, Brazilian women gained fully equal legal rights only in 1988.

Just a day earlier I was reading Heather Mac Donald’s post at City Journal‘s Eye on the News, in which she remarks that “The feminist takeover of Harvard is imminent.” Her warning struck a nerve. When the Women’s Lib movement started up in America in the 1960’s, I predicted it would do as much damage here as Bolshevism had done in Russia. I felt almost vindicated in my fears when I watched the feminist culture of grievance at Harvard help to topple President Lawrence Summers (a controversy I wrote about in the pages of COMMENTARY)—who tried to pacify the aggrieved women by appointing none other than Drew Faust to head a Task Force on Women Faculty. That Task Force won a $50 million commitment to increase faculty “diversity efforts” at Harvard. In the past, the call for such “diversity” has been a code name for greater ideological conformism, since those appointed through it are expected to share the ideological premise that brought them the job.

My Portuguese is not up to E.’s English, so I cannot explain to her the difference between a woman and a Women’s Libber. She is still fighting the original feminist battle for equal rights and opportunity; I oppose the demand for preferential group advancement. But E. is keen, and she sees from my hesitation that I am not quite as inspired as she is by this appointment. We will watch events unfold at Harvard with unequal expectations.

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Harvard’s Parochialism

Harvard University has a new president, Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust, and soon she will be forced to consider the matter of curricular reform. It will not be easy. The modern faculty prefers its administrators to stick to fund-raising and honorific functions, and to keep clear of the classroom. In Harvard’s case, however, reform is long overdue. In the early 1970’s, its curriculum was reconfigured to downplay “bodies of knowledge” in favor of “approaches to knowledge”—in other words, to subordinate content to methodology. Traditional course requirements in Western civilization or foreign languages were shelved in favor of courses that promoted “critical thinking.” Now, after a generation of experimenting with a content-free curriculum, the university has begun having second thoughts. Last October, a faculty panel made some modest proposals, in particular that students be required to take courses in American history, ethics, and religion.

As modest as these proposals were, they were not modest enough. The requirement of a course on religion was viewed with alarm, and was the first to fall. In December the panel changed the requirement to courses that addressed “what it means to be a human being.” Of course, any class might be said to do this, such as a survey of evolutionary biology. Last week another of the panel’s modest requirements fell by the wayside. Rather than a compulsory course in American history, students should be exposed to “values, customs, and institutions that differ from their own,” so that they would overcome their “parochialism.”

Come again? A recent study has shown that the American undergraduate, during his four years in college, loses rather than gains knowledge about American history and politics. The high school senior who recognized the Federalist Papers becomes the college senior who does not. This erosion of knowledge about their own country and culture is particularly pronounced at America’s best institutions of higher education (including my own, alas). If there is parochialism at play, it is that which clings valiantly to the curricular innovations of the early 1970’s, in defiance of all experience and data. President Faust will have her hands full. Look for her to step gingerly.

Harvard University has a new president, Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust, and soon she will be forced to consider the matter of curricular reform. It will not be easy. The modern faculty prefers its administrators to stick to fund-raising and honorific functions, and to keep clear of the classroom. In Harvard’s case, however, reform is long overdue. In the early 1970’s, its curriculum was reconfigured to downplay “bodies of knowledge” in favor of “approaches to knowledge”—in other words, to subordinate content to methodology. Traditional course requirements in Western civilization or foreign languages were shelved in favor of courses that promoted “critical thinking.” Now, after a generation of experimenting with a content-free curriculum, the university has begun having second thoughts. Last October, a faculty panel made some modest proposals, in particular that students be required to take courses in American history, ethics, and religion.

As modest as these proposals were, they were not modest enough. The requirement of a course on religion was viewed with alarm, and was the first to fall. In December the panel changed the requirement to courses that addressed “what it means to be a human being.” Of course, any class might be said to do this, such as a survey of evolutionary biology. Last week another of the panel’s modest requirements fell by the wayside. Rather than a compulsory course in American history, students should be exposed to “values, customs, and institutions that differ from their own,” so that they would overcome their “parochialism.”

Come again? A recent study has shown that the American undergraduate, during his four years in college, loses rather than gains knowledge about American history and politics. The high school senior who recognized the Federalist Papers becomes the college senior who does not. This erosion of knowledge about their own country and culture is particularly pronounced at America’s best institutions of higher education (including my own, alas). If there is parochialism at play, it is that which clings valiantly to the curricular innovations of the early 1970’s, in defiance of all experience and data. President Faust will have her hands full. Look for her to step gingerly.

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The Jewish Al Sharpton?

After a long absence from respectable circles, Jew-baiting is back.

When Patrick J. Buchanan denounced the 1991 U.S. military action to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, saying it had been cooked up by “Israel and its amen corner,” he largely sealed the doom of his political career. His remark, blaming the Jews for steering U.S. policy to actions that he alleged were in their own interest but not in America’s, made use of the classic anti-Semitic formula. Anti-Semitism, however, had been taboo in America for a generation or more, partly as a response to the Holocaust and partly due to the wider revulsion against bigotry occasioned by the civil-rights revolution. Commentators unloaded on Buchanan from many directions, led by the New York Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal.

Fifteen years later, however, anti-Semitism is becoming, more and more, an accepted part of national discourse. First, Harvard University published the fulminations of scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (dissected in the pages of COMMENTARY by Gabriel Schoenfeld) accusing the “amen corner,” or in their term “the Israel Lobby,” of distorting U.S. policy to serve Israel rather than America. Then came former President Jimmy Carter’s book, blaming the Arab-Israel conflict entirely on the Jews, and claiming that this information had been kept from the American people by the pervasive and intimidating influence of certain “religious groups,” i.e., the Jews. (See my piece about Carter in the February issue of COMMENTARY.) Next came Democratic presidential aspirant, Wesley Clark, who commented recently that pressure for U.S. action against Iran’s nuclear weapons program was coming primarily from “New York money people.” Can you guess which religious/ethnic group he might be referring to?

Enter the New York Times, a paper famously Jewish-owned and long edited by A.M. Rosenthal, and therefore the target of many anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of the kind once propounded by cranks (and now routinely put forth by the likes of Carter, Walt, and Mearsheimer).

The Times‘s Sunday magazine of January 14 carried James Traub’s astounding hatchet job on Abe Foxman. Foxman is head of the Anti-Defamation League, which in Traub’s view, should long ago “have moved away from its original mission [of combating anti-Semitism] in favor of either promoting tolerance and diversity or leading the nonsectarian fight against extremism.” Instead, Foxman, a “hectoring” man of “spleen” who is “domineering” and “brazen,” “an anachronism” who resembles “a Cadillac-driving ward-heeler” and “stages public rituals of accusation,” insists perversely on “dwell[ing] imaginatively in the Holocaust.”

“It is tempting,” writes Traub, “to compare Abe Foxman with Al Sharpton, another portly, bellicose, melodramatizing defender of ethnic ramparts.” Leave aside that Sharpton is a notorious fraud who gave America the Tawana Brawley farce. More to the point is that for all the publicity that he succeeds in garnering, Sharpton represents no one but himself. Foxman, in contrast, is the chief of one of the leading, if not the leading, organizations through which American Jews defend their civil rights. Traub’s complaint that Foxman is obsessive about anti-Semitism is akin to assailing the head of, say, the NAACP for being overly sensitive to racism. But that’s an exposé you won’t read in the Times any time soon.

Apparently for the likes of Walt and Mearsheimer to bait the Jews is all right: Traub gives them extremely respectful treatment. But for Jews to defend themselves is, it seems, disgusting.

After a long absence from respectable circles, Jew-baiting is back.

When Patrick J. Buchanan denounced the 1991 U.S. military action to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, saying it had been cooked up by “Israel and its amen corner,” he largely sealed the doom of his political career. His remark, blaming the Jews for steering U.S. policy to actions that he alleged were in their own interest but not in America’s, made use of the classic anti-Semitic formula. Anti-Semitism, however, had been taboo in America for a generation or more, partly as a response to the Holocaust and partly due to the wider revulsion against bigotry occasioned by the civil-rights revolution. Commentators unloaded on Buchanan from many directions, led by the New York Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal.

Fifteen years later, however, anti-Semitism is becoming, more and more, an accepted part of national discourse. First, Harvard University published the fulminations of scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (dissected in the pages of COMMENTARY by Gabriel Schoenfeld) accusing the “amen corner,” or in their term “the Israel Lobby,” of distorting U.S. policy to serve Israel rather than America. Then came former President Jimmy Carter’s book, blaming the Arab-Israel conflict entirely on the Jews, and claiming that this information had been kept from the American people by the pervasive and intimidating influence of certain “religious groups,” i.e., the Jews. (See my piece about Carter in the February issue of COMMENTARY.) Next came Democratic presidential aspirant, Wesley Clark, who commented recently that pressure for U.S. action against Iran’s nuclear weapons program was coming primarily from “New York money people.” Can you guess which religious/ethnic group he might be referring to?

Enter the New York Times, a paper famously Jewish-owned and long edited by A.M. Rosenthal, and therefore the target of many anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of the kind once propounded by cranks (and now routinely put forth by the likes of Carter, Walt, and Mearsheimer).

The Times‘s Sunday magazine of January 14 carried James Traub’s astounding hatchet job on Abe Foxman. Foxman is head of the Anti-Defamation League, which in Traub’s view, should long ago “have moved away from its original mission [of combating anti-Semitism] in favor of either promoting tolerance and diversity or leading the nonsectarian fight against extremism.” Instead, Foxman, a “hectoring” man of “spleen” who is “domineering” and “brazen,” “an anachronism” who resembles “a Cadillac-driving ward-heeler” and “stages public rituals of accusation,” insists perversely on “dwell[ing] imaginatively in the Holocaust.”

“It is tempting,” writes Traub, “to compare Abe Foxman with Al Sharpton, another portly, bellicose, melodramatizing defender of ethnic ramparts.” Leave aside that Sharpton is a notorious fraud who gave America the Tawana Brawley farce. More to the point is that for all the publicity that he succeeds in garnering, Sharpton represents no one but himself. Foxman, in contrast, is the chief of one of the leading, if not the leading, organizations through which American Jews defend their civil rights. Traub’s complaint that Foxman is obsessive about anti-Semitism is akin to assailing the head of, say, the NAACP for being overly sensitive to racism. But that’s an exposé you won’t read in the Times any time soon.

Apparently for the likes of Walt and Mearsheimer to bait the Jews is all right: Traub gives them extremely respectful treatment. But for Jews to defend themselves is, it seems, disgusting.

Read Less




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