Commentary Magazine


Topic: Indianapolis

Flotsam and Jetsam

So much for the idea that the Democrats’ political fortunes are improving. New polls show Republicans ahead in Senate races in Nevada, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Colorado. Carly Fiorina has again pulled close to Barbara Boxer in California.

So much for the Democrats’ core message. Greg Sargent warns, “If Dems are going to avert a major bloodbath in November, they need independents to embrace two core Dem messages that seem particularly geared towards those voters: The claim that a vote for the GOP is a vote to return to Bush policies; and the assertion that the GOP has been hijacked by whackjob Tea Party extremists. But it appears that indy voters are not yet buying either of these messages in the numbers Dems need.” Think for a moment: that’s the best “message” the Dems can come up with — false accusations against their opponents. Sometimes a party deserves what it gets.

So much for Obama’s ability to gin up the base. “A new poll finds that Latinos — a key bloc in Democrats’ electoral coalition — are less enthusiastic than voters overall about the looming midterm elections.”

So much for excising the name of our enemy. “Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square on a crowded Saturday night, was sentenced to life in federal prison today. Before she pronounced sentence, Judge Miriam Cedarbaum said, ‘Mr. Shahzad, I think you should get up.’ Shahzad said ‘Allahu Akbar’ after hearing the sentence, and said he would ‘sacrifice a thousand lives for Allah.’ ‘War with Muslims has just begun,’ said Shahzad, who then predicted that ‘the defeat of the US is imminent, god willing.'”

So much for cowering to those who holler “Islamophobia!”: “As reports about an alleged al-Qaeda plot in Europe emerge, it is beginning to look as though a mosque in Hamburg where members of the 9/11 plot against the United States gathered once again has served as a crucial al-Qaeda recruiting ground. That raises an obvious question: Have Germany’s security services learned nothing in the last decade?” Have we? The FBI has likewise been cowed into forgoing undercover operations involving mosques here in the U.S.

So much for Obama rethinking his Afghanistan-war troop deadline. “US President Barack Obama has told congressional leaders he has no plans for any major changes in his Afghanistan war strategy for now, a letter released by the White House showed on Monday.”

So much for the campaign-reform maven: “Senator Russ Feingold, a leading voice for tight regulations on campaigns and elections, has been contacted by the National Football League today for using NFL footage without permission for a new campaign ad.”

So much for Obama’s pleading. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s forum of senior ministers met Tuesday but did not discuss negotiations with the Palestinians, despite expectations that the forum would discuss a proposal to extend the settlement freeze in exchange for American guarantees.”

So much for “change.” Megan McArdle on “New GM, Same Old UAW?”: “The UAW just voted to allow an old GM stamping plant in Indianapolis to be shut down, rather than offer wage concessions necessary to attract a new owner. … Labor trouble has flared up at the plant where the new Chevy Cruze is being made. The Cruze is one of the things that is supposed to save the new GM: a high quality small car. If they can’t get this right without clashing with the union, what hope for the rest of GM?”

So much for the idea that the Democrats’ political fortunes are improving. New polls show Republicans ahead in Senate races in Nevada, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Colorado. Carly Fiorina has again pulled close to Barbara Boxer in California.

So much for the Democrats’ core message. Greg Sargent warns, “If Dems are going to avert a major bloodbath in November, they need independents to embrace two core Dem messages that seem particularly geared towards those voters: The claim that a vote for the GOP is a vote to return to Bush policies; and the assertion that the GOP has been hijacked by whackjob Tea Party extremists. But it appears that indy voters are not yet buying either of these messages in the numbers Dems need.” Think for a moment: that’s the best “message” the Dems can come up with — false accusations against their opponents. Sometimes a party deserves what it gets.

So much for Obama’s ability to gin up the base. “A new poll finds that Latinos — a key bloc in Democrats’ electoral coalition — are less enthusiastic than voters overall about the looming midterm elections.”

So much for excising the name of our enemy. “Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square on a crowded Saturday night, was sentenced to life in federal prison today. Before she pronounced sentence, Judge Miriam Cedarbaum said, ‘Mr. Shahzad, I think you should get up.’ Shahzad said ‘Allahu Akbar’ after hearing the sentence, and said he would ‘sacrifice a thousand lives for Allah.’ ‘War with Muslims has just begun,’ said Shahzad, who then predicted that ‘the defeat of the US is imminent, god willing.'”

So much for cowering to those who holler “Islamophobia!”: “As reports about an alleged al-Qaeda plot in Europe emerge, it is beginning to look as though a mosque in Hamburg where members of the 9/11 plot against the United States gathered once again has served as a crucial al-Qaeda recruiting ground. That raises an obvious question: Have Germany’s security services learned nothing in the last decade?” Have we? The FBI has likewise been cowed into forgoing undercover operations involving mosques here in the U.S.

So much for Obama rethinking his Afghanistan-war troop deadline. “US President Barack Obama has told congressional leaders he has no plans for any major changes in his Afghanistan war strategy for now, a letter released by the White House showed on Monday.”

So much for the campaign-reform maven: “Senator Russ Feingold, a leading voice for tight regulations on campaigns and elections, has been contacted by the National Football League today for using NFL footage without permission for a new campaign ad.”

So much for Obama’s pleading. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s forum of senior ministers met Tuesday but did not discuss negotiations with the Palestinians, despite expectations that the forum would discuss a proposal to extend the settlement freeze in exchange for American guarantees.”

So much for “change.” Megan McArdle on “New GM, Same Old UAW?”: “The UAW just voted to allow an old GM stamping plant in Indianapolis to be shut down, rather than offer wage concessions necessary to attract a new owner. … Labor trouble has flared up at the plant where the new Chevy Cruze is being made. The Cruze is one of the things that is supposed to save the new GM: a high quality small car. If they can’t get this right without clashing with the union, what hope for the rest of GM?”

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I Am Not A Kook

Barack Obama, having embraced Reverend Wright in Philadelphia, is now stuck with three discrete but related problems.

First is the ideological problem. As Andy McCarthy smartly summarizes it: ” Obama’s problem is that these connections are all iterations of an activist, leftwing, America sucks, burn-down-the-house worldview, simmering under the smiley-face of ‘social justice.'” Second is the judgment problem: How could Obama not recognize the political peril Wright represented earlier? And finally there is the obliteration problem: Obama’s entire post-racial, anti-political message is getting destroyed by the Wright fiasco.

So what does he do now? For starters, he tries to convince voters that he and his wife aren’t leftist nuts. Today at an Indianapolis event Michelle offered this up:

[I] know that we are still so close to the lives that most American are living. And I don’t know about you, but for most of my lifetime, I’ve felt disconnected from Washington. That when decisions are made and things happen, you’re sort of left at your kitchen table scratching your head wondering, “Well, who’s that supposed to help.” Because that doesn’t reflect the reality on the ground. And part of me sort of said, “Well maybe it’s because the further up you go, and the longer you’re gone, the harder it is to remember the struggles on the ground.”

This is, of course, faux populism in its most transparent form. She and her husband (at $4M plus in 2007 income) aren’t close to anyone but other members of the top level of the highest economic quintile. The struggle to identify with ordinary people is no easy task. And trying to solve last week’s crisis (Snobgate) isn’t going to solve the problems he now has.

So what will? Right now, Obama has to hope that Clinton is so unliked by Democratic voters that they will take him, warts and all. From “Yes we can” to “She’s worse” in a matter of months. Remarkable.

Barack Obama, having embraced Reverend Wright in Philadelphia, is now stuck with three discrete but related problems.

First is the ideological problem. As Andy McCarthy smartly summarizes it: ” Obama’s problem is that these connections are all iterations of an activist, leftwing, America sucks, burn-down-the-house worldview, simmering under the smiley-face of ‘social justice.'” Second is the judgment problem: How could Obama not recognize the political peril Wright represented earlier? And finally there is the obliteration problem: Obama’s entire post-racial, anti-political message is getting destroyed by the Wright fiasco.

So what does he do now? For starters, he tries to convince voters that he and his wife aren’t leftist nuts. Today at an Indianapolis event Michelle offered this up:

[I] know that we are still so close to the lives that most American are living. And I don’t know about you, but for most of my lifetime, I’ve felt disconnected from Washington. That when decisions are made and things happen, you’re sort of left at your kitchen table scratching your head wondering, “Well, who’s that supposed to help.” Because that doesn’t reflect the reality on the ground. And part of me sort of said, “Well maybe it’s because the further up you go, and the longer you’re gone, the harder it is to remember the struggles on the ground.”

This is, of course, faux populism in its most transparent form. She and her husband (at $4M plus in 2007 income) aren’t close to anyone but other members of the top level of the highest economic quintile. The struggle to identify with ordinary people is no easy task. And trying to solve last week’s crisis (Snobgate) isn’t going to solve the problems he now has.

So what will? Right now, Obama has to hope that Clinton is so unliked by Democratic voters that they will take him, warts and all. From “Yes we can” to “She’s worse” in a matter of months. Remarkable.

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Bill Clinton: EMT

There’s no reason to think the following is a fabrication. But two days ago Bill Clinton painted a pretty dramatic picture of his involvement in the aftermath of the 1968 D.C. riots brought on by Martin Luther King’s Assassination:

Then, I was in Washington at Georgetown, the city exploded into flames and I turned my car into an ambulance and I took supplies to the African Americans that were burned out of their homes and were hiding in church basements basically trying to stay alive, and surrounded by national guardsmen protecting them.

Clinton gave that account in Indianapolis on Wednesday. In reporting on Bill’s appearance in North Carolina today, the Winston-Salem Journal describes him recalling a less colorful narrative of his heroics after King was shot:

“He later joined with Red Cross volunteers to take supplies to inner-city Washington,” the paper simply reports.

Might someone have suggested Bill tone the tale down a bit after Snipergate?

There’s no reason to think the following is a fabrication. But two days ago Bill Clinton painted a pretty dramatic picture of his involvement in the aftermath of the 1968 D.C. riots brought on by Martin Luther King’s Assassination:

Then, I was in Washington at Georgetown, the city exploded into flames and I turned my car into an ambulance and I took supplies to the African Americans that were burned out of their homes and were hiding in church basements basically trying to stay alive, and surrounded by national guardsmen protecting them.

Clinton gave that account in Indianapolis on Wednesday. In reporting on Bill’s appearance in North Carolina today, the Winston-Salem Journal describes him recalling a less colorful narrative of his heroics after King was shot:

“He later joined with Red Cross volunteers to take supplies to inner-city Washington,” the paper simply reports.

Might someone have suggested Bill tone the tale down a bit after Snipergate?

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Tim Russert: What Will You Do If Iraqis Say, ‘Get Out Now!’

Next question from Tim Russert: What will you do if Martians attack Indianapolis?

Next question from Tim Russert: What will you do if Martians attack Indianapolis?

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The Long Campaign?

The conventional wisdom during the opening months of the 2008 presidential campaign has been that the campaign has started far too early, leaving us endless months of jockeying that could prove meaningless when the real struggle for the nominations starts.

The problem with this is that it’s no longer true, despite our repetitions of it. Yes, this campaign began earlier than most. Yes, by the time it’s over it will have lasted nearly two years. But we are well into it now, and in some respects this year’s race is actually beginning to fall behind the kind of campaign schedule that has become the norm in the past few decades.

This is especially true when it comes to defining campaign themes and messages, and particularly on the Republican side. Every serious presidential campaign needs at some point to define a candidate’s ambitions in a clear thematic way: to offer a general vision for governing, followed by particular policy proposals. In the 2000 campaign, for instance, George W. Bush ran on a new way to think about how government can work with civic organizations to revitalize civil society and help the poor. Bush laid this out as the vision of his presidential campaign in a major speech in Indianapolis, which really marked the beginning of the substantive stage of the 2000 GOP race; McCain was by then already working out the substance of his “straight talk” theme as well.

Bush’s speech is well worth a read, especially for those conservatives who think they remember what “compassionate conservatism” meant as Bush originally used it, or who want to apply the term to everything they haven’t liked about the Bush years. But the most striking thing about the speech may be the date of its delivery: July 22, 1999. More than eight years ago; earlier in that election cycle than we are now in ours. The Democratic candidates this year have begun to do some of this kind of the thematic and substantive work—Edwards and Obama, in particular. But neither the serious Republican contenders nor Hillary Clinton (so in other words none of the people likely to be elected President) have really done anything like this yet. All have given some policy speeches, yes, and some have released what passes for specific policy proposals here and there, but none have really offered an overarching definition of themselves in terms of a vision of governing, or of purpose.

Perhaps Fred Thompson, who brings less of a personal story and less political experience to bear than most others, plans to introduce himself this way, and run on an idea rather than on…whatever it is that the current crop of Republicans is running on. It is no longer too early to be seriously running for President in 2008. It is beginning to be too late.

The conventional wisdom during the opening months of the 2008 presidential campaign has been that the campaign has started far too early, leaving us endless months of jockeying that could prove meaningless when the real struggle for the nominations starts.

The problem with this is that it’s no longer true, despite our repetitions of it. Yes, this campaign began earlier than most. Yes, by the time it’s over it will have lasted nearly two years. But we are well into it now, and in some respects this year’s race is actually beginning to fall behind the kind of campaign schedule that has become the norm in the past few decades.

This is especially true when it comes to defining campaign themes and messages, and particularly on the Republican side. Every serious presidential campaign needs at some point to define a candidate’s ambitions in a clear thematic way: to offer a general vision for governing, followed by particular policy proposals. In the 2000 campaign, for instance, George W. Bush ran on a new way to think about how government can work with civic organizations to revitalize civil society and help the poor. Bush laid this out as the vision of his presidential campaign in a major speech in Indianapolis, which really marked the beginning of the substantive stage of the 2000 GOP race; McCain was by then already working out the substance of his “straight talk” theme as well.

Bush’s speech is well worth a read, especially for those conservatives who think they remember what “compassionate conservatism” meant as Bush originally used it, or who want to apply the term to everything they haven’t liked about the Bush years. But the most striking thing about the speech may be the date of its delivery: July 22, 1999. More than eight years ago; earlier in that election cycle than we are now in ours. The Democratic candidates this year have begun to do some of this kind of the thematic and substantive work—Edwards and Obama, in particular. But neither the serious Republican contenders nor Hillary Clinton (so in other words none of the people likely to be elected President) have really done anything like this yet. All have given some policy speeches, yes, and some have released what passes for specific policy proposals here and there, but none have really offered an overarching definition of themselves in terms of a vision of governing, or of purpose.

Perhaps Fred Thompson, who brings less of a personal story and less political experience to bear than most others, plans to introduce himself this way, and run on an idea rather than on…whatever it is that the current crop of Republicans is running on. It is no longer too early to be seriously running for President in 2008. It is beginning to be too late.

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Vonnegut’s Exit

The death of Kurt Vonnegut on April 11, caused by complications from a fall, reminded me of our brief but amiable exchange of letters, some ten years ago. Our correspondence concerned his family history and had nothing to do with his literary career—or so I thought at the time.

On a fellowship to Germany in the 1980’s, where I studied at the University of Hanover, I became curious about other Americans who had studied there. I found the records of the author’s grandfather, Bernard Vonnegut, who trained in Germany in the 1880’s and became an important architect in Indianapolis. I passed these records on to Vonnegut, and asked if he had any of his grandfather’s drawings or letters.

Of course, Vonnegut’s defining moment, as the New York Times called it, came in 1945 when he lived through the firebombing of Dresden. Captured by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge, he was sent to the city to work in a factory, making vitamin supplements for pregnant women. When the air raids came, he survived by taking shelter in an underground meat cooler. This experience served as the basis of his best-known work, Slaughterhouse-Five, which used science fiction as a way of addressing the madness of war. Published in 1969, when the Vietnam war lent it particular poignancy, it made Vonnegut a literary celebrity.

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The death of Kurt Vonnegut on April 11, caused by complications from a fall, reminded me of our brief but amiable exchange of letters, some ten years ago. Our correspondence concerned his family history and had nothing to do with his literary career—or so I thought at the time.

On a fellowship to Germany in the 1980’s, where I studied at the University of Hanover, I became curious about other Americans who had studied there. I found the records of the author’s grandfather, Bernard Vonnegut, who trained in Germany in the 1880’s and became an important architect in Indianapolis. I passed these records on to Vonnegut, and asked if he had any of his grandfather’s drawings or letters.

Of course, Vonnegut’s defining moment, as the New York Times called it, came in 1945 when he lived through the firebombing of Dresden. Captured by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge, he was sent to the city to work in a factory, making vitamin supplements for pregnant women. When the air raids came, he survived by taking shelter in an underground meat cooler. This experience served as the basis of his best-known work, Slaughterhouse-Five, which used science fiction as a way of addressing the madness of war. Published in 1969, when the Vietnam war lent it particular poignancy, it made Vonnegut a literary celebrity.

In his letters to me, Vonnegut downplayed the importance of his family’s architectural career (his father was also an architect). Instead, his “family’s most beneficial contribution” was the development of the modern emergency exit. This, he wrote, was the invention of his great-grandfather, Clemens Vonnegut, a hardware store owner who was horrified by the tragedy of the Iroquois Theater fire of 1903, America’s deadliest fire. A total of 602 victims were claimed in the mad stampede to the doors, and most bodies were found piled in heaps just inside the entrance.

Clemens Vonnegut realized that the theater doors could not be operated unless one stood away from them and operated the handle, something impossible to do when being crushed against it. He conceived the idea of a strip of metal on the door, which would open it automatically whenever someone pushed up against it—or was pushed.

So was born the “panic bar.” The late Vonnegut suggested that I look for some of these on my college campus: “Some old such fixtures may still be in use at Williams, bearing the trademark ‘VONDUPRIN.’ The ‘VON’ is for Vonnegut.” He was correct. Since then I have grown accustomed to finding Vonduprin doors throughout the country.

The Iroquois Theater fire happened two decades before Vonnegut’s birth, but accounts of it clearly dominated the family’s history and his childhood. In that mythic account, architecture, fire, and death converged—as they would again in his Slaughterhouse-Five. I might have asked him about this, had it not seemed presumptuous to proceed from a cordial exchange of information to the offering of speculative literary interpretation. Such was the odd architectural background to Vonnegut’s literary career. “I would have been an architect,” he wrote in his second and last letter, “but Father told me to be anything but that.”

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