Commentary Magazine


Topic: John Podhoretz

Still More Liberal Legal Meltdown

A letter in today’s Wall Street Journal, responding to Michael McConnell’s op-ed on “The Liberal Legal Meltdown Over ObamaCare,” acknowledges that “liberal constitutionalists” are ill-suited to cry “judicial activism,” having long advocated a philosophy that “unmoors constitutional interpretation from the actual text of the Constitution.” But the writer goes on to assert that “no real judicial conservative” should argue ObamaCare is unconstitutional, because to suggest Congress is not “regulating a form of economic activity” by mandating insurance purchases is “conceptual and economic sophistry.”

Later this month, the Supreme Court will likely decide whether the power to “regulate commerce” includes the power to order individuals to engage in it so Congress can regulate them. An affirmative answer would seem to convert a specifically-enumerated power into an unlimited mandate over any significant economic decision, including a decision not to participate in commerce designed by Congress. Such a conclusion might be attractive to a “liberal constitutionalist,” but it is hard to see why a “real judicial conservative,” or anyone else who felt bound by the text of the Commerce Clause, would buy it.

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A letter in today’s Wall Street Journal, responding to Michael McConnell’s op-ed on “The Liberal Legal Meltdown Over ObamaCare,” acknowledges that “liberal constitutionalists” are ill-suited to cry “judicial activism,” having long advocated a philosophy that “unmoors constitutional interpretation from the actual text of the Constitution.” But the writer goes on to assert that “no real judicial conservative” should argue ObamaCare is unconstitutional, because to suggest Congress is not “regulating a form of economic activity” by mandating insurance purchases is “conceptual and economic sophistry.”

Later this month, the Supreme Court will likely decide whether the power to “regulate commerce” includes the power to order individuals to engage in it so Congress can regulate them. An affirmative answer would seem to convert a specifically-enumerated power into an unlimited mandate over any significant economic decision, including a decision not to participate in commerce designed by Congress. Such a conclusion might be attractive to a “liberal constitutionalist,” but it is hard to see why a “real judicial conservative,” or anyone else who felt bound by the text of the Commerce Clause, would buy it.

As for conceptual and economic sophistry, nothing is likely to top Justice Breyer’s suggestion during oral argument that, on the day you were born, “because you are a human being, [you] entered this particular market, which is a market for health care.” Being born, as the trigger for power under the Commerce Clause, seems a bit of a stretch even for a liberal constitutionalist.

In any event, today’s WSJ letter, dismissing the challenge to ObamaCare as “sophistry,” is another example (to use John Podhoretz’s words) of “the unerring liberal inability” to credit the arguments of opponents – and another pre-emptive libel of a Court that may be about to moor Congress’s power to the text.

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Best Baseball Books

After reading my last post, John Podhoretz wrote privately to insist that the two best baseball books are Ring Lardner’s You Know Me Al and The Kid from Tomkinsville. He’s got an argument for John R. Tunis’s novel, even though it is a boy’s book. Joseph Epstein has made the best case possible for Tunis in a lovely essay for COMMENTARY nearly a quarter century ago. The book was also the subject of a superb passage of literary criticism, one of the best pieces of criticism ever written, in Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. After summarizing the book’s plot (and demonstrating that plot summary can itself be high art), Nathan Zuckerman explains that he read Tunis’s book at ten and “had never read anything like it.” Many years older, he says it could as well have been called The Lamb from Tomkinsville, even The Lamb from Tomkinsville Led to the Slaughter. He settles upon calling it “the boys’ Book of Job.”

Tunis’s moral concerns may not appeal to sophisticated 21st-century readers, although I am reading aloud Highpockets, a later Tunis about a cocky outfielder who accidentally strikes a child with the car he was awarded for winning Rookie of the Year, and my eight-year-old twins are eating it up.

About Lardner’s novel I am less sure. His son John Lardner, a marvelous writer in his own right, claimed that he had never read another piece of baseball fiction, besides his father’s, “in which there was no technical mistake.” Maybe so, but there is not a lot of technical knowledge on display either. Jack Keefe is a rookie pitcher for the Chicago White Sox. He tells of one time that he faced the great Ty Cobb:

Cobb came pranceing up like he always does and yells Give me that slow one Boy. So I says All right. But I fooled him. Instead of giveing him a slow one like I said I was going I handed him a spitter. He hit it all right but it was a line drive right in [Hal] Chase’s hands. He says Pretty lucky Boy but I will get you next time. I says Yes you will.

Lardner was more interested in baseball language, I think, than in the technical aspects of the game. He knew the technical aspects, though, and their shadowy presence beneath the plot, like the proverbial three-fourths of an iceberg below the surface, give the novel its unquestionable substance. The lack of baseball knowledge is what makes The Natural such a terrible baseball book.

Despite John’s prodding, I’ll stick with Mark Harris’s Southpaw as the best baseball novel of all time, although maybe it would be better to call it one of the five best.

After reading my last post, John Podhoretz wrote privately to insist that the two best baseball books are Ring Lardner’s You Know Me Al and The Kid from Tomkinsville. He’s got an argument for John R. Tunis’s novel, even though it is a boy’s book. Joseph Epstein has made the best case possible for Tunis in a lovely essay for COMMENTARY nearly a quarter century ago. The book was also the subject of a superb passage of literary criticism, one of the best pieces of criticism ever written, in Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. After summarizing the book’s plot (and demonstrating that plot summary can itself be high art), Nathan Zuckerman explains that he read Tunis’s book at ten and “had never read anything like it.” Many years older, he says it could as well have been called The Lamb from Tomkinsville, even The Lamb from Tomkinsville Led to the Slaughter. He settles upon calling it “the boys’ Book of Job.”

Tunis’s moral concerns may not appeal to sophisticated 21st-century readers, although I am reading aloud Highpockets, a later Tunis about a cocky outfielder who accidentally strikes a child with the car he was awarded for winning Rookie of the Year, and my eight-year-old twins are eating it up.

About Lardner’s novel I am less sure. His son John Lardner, a marvelous writer in his own right, claimed that he had never read another piece of baseball fiction, besides his father’s, “in which there was no technical mistake.” Maybe so, but there is not a lot of technical knowledge on display either. Jack Keefe is a rookie pitcher for the Chicago White Sox. He tells of one time that he faced the great Ty Cobb:

Cobb came pranceing up like he always does and yells Give me that slow one Boy. So I says All right. But I fooled him. Instead of giveing him a slow one like I said I was going I handed him a spitter. He hit it all right but it was a line drive right in [Hal] Chase’s hands. He says Pretty lucky Boy but I will get you next time. I says Yes you will.

Lardner was more interested in baseball language, I think, than in the technical aspects of the game. He knew the technical aspects, though, and their shadowy presence beneath the plot, like the proverbial three-fourths of an iceberg below the surface, give the novel its unquestionable substance. The lack of baseball knowledge is what makes The Natural such a terrible baseball book.

Despite John’s prodding, I’ll stick with Mark Harris’s Southpaw as the best baseball novel of all time, although maybe it would be better to call it one of the five best.

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Envoi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Speech: About As Good As We Could Expect

I see some disagreement on the right about Obama’s Iraq speech, with Peter Robinson and Jennifer Rubin condemning it and Bill Kristol and John Podhoretz praising it. For what it’s worth, I’m with Bill and John on this one. I thought that this speech was about as good as we could expect from an opponent of the Iraq war — and better than Obama has done in the past. He even (for the first time?) held out an olive branch to his predecessor:

This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush.  It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset.  Yet no one can doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security.

OK, he didn’t say, “Bush’s surge won the war, and I regret opposing it,” which is what many of my conservative compatriots are waiting to hear. But nor did he say, “I believe that Bush lied us into a war we shouldn’t have fought,” which is what his liberal base longs to hear. Considering how strongly he opposed Bush and the decision to go to war, this was a nice grace note.

On a more substantive issue, I was cheered to hear him say, “Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.” He also said, however, “Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.” While it’s a good message to send that the U.S. will keep its commitments, he might have added that we will leave by the end of next year “unless an agreement is reached with the government of Iraq to extend our presence.” Such an agreement will be vital to safeguarding Iraq’s future, and I would hope that Obama recognizes that. Even if he does, there is a case to be made for not lobbying publicly for such an agreement, because it will encourage Iraqi obstinacy in the negotiations, which is what happened during the run-up to the existing U.S.-Iraq accord.

There was only a brief mention of Afghanistan, but what he said was pretty good. He did not speak of a troop-withdrawal deadline. Instead he said that “next August, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure.” That the drawdown will be “conditions based” rather than adhere to an artificial timeline means that our troops will have a fighting chance to get the job done.

Finally, like Bill Kristol, I liked the ending of the speech, in which he linked today’s soldiers “with an unbroken line of heroes that stretches from Lexington to Gettysburg; from Iwo Jima to Inchon; from Khe Sanh to Kandahar.” It wasn’t exactly Ronald Reagan’s 1984 “Boys of Pointe du Hoc” speech — a masterpiece of giving thanks to the men and women in uniform — but it was a nice conclusion to a nice speech.

However good the words, the hard part is still ahead of us in Iraq, where no government has yet been formed and everyone is nervous about the American troop withdrawal. Obama will have to get more involved in managing Iraq’s future than he has been to date.

I see some disagreement on the right about Obama’s Iraq speech, with Peter Robinson and Jennifer Rubin condemning it and Bill Kristol and John Podhoretz praising it. For what it’s worth, I’m with Bill and John on this one. I thought that this speech was about as good as we could expect from an opponent of the Iraq war — and better than Obama has done in the past. He even (for the first time?) held out an olive branch to his predecessor:

This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush.  It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset.  Yet no one can doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security.

OK, he didn’t say, “Bush’s surge won the war, and I regret opposing it,” which is what many of my conservative compatriots are waiting to hear. But nor did he say, “I believe that Bush lied us into a war we shouldn’t have fought,” which is what his liberal base longs to hear. Considering how strongly he opposed Bush and the decision to go to war, this was a nice grace note.

On a more substantive issue, I was cheered to hear him say, “Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.” He also said, however, “Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.” While it’s a good message to send that the U.S. will keep its commitments, he might have added that we will leave by the end of next year “unless an agreement is reached with the government of Iraq to extend our presence.” Such an agreement will be vital to safeguarding Iraq’s future, and I would hope that Obama recognizes that. Even if he does, there is a case to be made for not lobbying publicly for such an agreement, because it will encourage Iraqi obstinacy in the negotiations, which is what happened during the run-up to the existing U.S.-Iraq accord.

There was only a brief mention of Afghanistan, but what he said was pretty good. He did not speak of a troop-withdrawal deadline. Instead he said that “next August, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure.” That the drawdown will be “conditions based” rather than adhere to an artificial timeline means that our troops will have a fighting chance to get the job done.

Finally, like Bill Kristol, I liked the ending of the speech, in which he linked today’s soldiers “with an unbroken line of heroes that stretches from Lexington to Gettysburg; from Iwo Jima to Inchon; from Khe Sanh to Kandahar.” It wasn’t exactly Ronald Reagan’s 1984 “Boys of Pointe du Hoc” speech — a masterpiece of giving thanks to the men and women in uniform — but it was a nice conclusion to a nice speech.

However good the words, the hard part is still ahead of us in Iraq, where no government has yet been formed and everyone is nervous about the American troop withdrawal. Obama will have to get more involved in managing Iraq’s future than he has been to date.

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Chait off the Rails, Even at the Beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flotsam and Jetsam

How dumb does Obama think businessmen are? “The White House has launched a coordinated campaign to push back against the perception taking hold in corporate America and on Wall Street that President Barack Obama is promoting an anti-business agenda.” Besides, wasn’t his populist, anti–Wall Street rhetoric supposed to be the key to minimizing midterm losses?

How upset do you think the White House is that the West Virginia governor has put another Senate seat at risk? “West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw (D) cleared the way for Gov. Joe Manchin (D) to call a November 2010 special election for the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) seat. The legal opinion McGraw issued Thursday did not give a specific timeline for a special election, but suggests using the already scheduled election this November.”

How slow do you think things are in Washington if the Politico forum is about whether Sarah Palin should replace Michael Steele? Yeah, like she needs, or would ever contemplate taking, that job.

How nervous do you think this Sarah Palin ad made the 2012 GOP contenders? Whatever you think of her, the ad is really good.

How much weight do you think the neo-isolationists and paleo-conservatives have in the GOP? Not much right now if Ann Coulter and Ron Paul are the only pro–Michael Steele voices. But Republicans should be wary — there is always the temptation to pull up the drawbridge.

How angry do you think Americans will be with Obama when they realize this? (More than they already are, that is): “After nearly a decade of federal tax cuts, Americans could awaken New Year’s Day with a whopper of a hangover. Breaks covering everything from child tax credits to the death tax are set to expire that day, less than six months from now, bringing higher payments for nearly every American who pays taxes. ‘We’ve never in history seen anything quite like this, where such a major portion of the tax code is set to expire on a single date and affect so many Americans all at once,’ said Scott Hodge, president of The Tax Foundation, a Washington nonprofit that tracks tax policies.”

How much trouble do you think Obama is in when Ruth Marcus sounds like John Podhoretz?

How many GOP 2012 candidates do you think will take this smart advice on immigration reform from Charles Krauthammer?It seems to me that the Republicans ought to argue enforcement first — and then a very generous, open and humane solution for those already here.” Not enough, I fear.

How dumb does Obama think businessmen are? “The White House has launched a coordinated campaign to push back against the perception taking hold in corporate America and on Wall Street that President Barack Obama is promoting an anti-business agenda.” Besides, wasn’t his populist, anti–Wall Street rhetoric supposed to be the key to minimizing midterm losses?

How upset do you think the White House is that the West Virginia governor has put another Senate seat at risk? “West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw (D) cleared the way for Gov. Joe Manchin (D) to call a November 2010 special election for the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) seat. The legal opinion McGraw issued Thursday did not give a specific timeline for a special election, but suggests using the already scheduled election this November.”

How slow do you think things are in Washington if the Politico forum is about whether Sarah Palin should replace Michael Steele? Yeah, like she needs, or would ever contemplate taking, that job.

How nervous do you think this Sarah Palin ad made the 2012 GOP contenders? Whatever you think of her, the ad is really good.

How much weight do you think the neo-isolationists and paleo-conservatives have in the GOP? Not much right now if Ann Coulter and Ron Paul are the only pro–Michael Steele voices. But Republicans should be wary — there is always the temptation to pull up the drawbridge.

How angry do you think Americans will be with Obama when they realize this? (More than they already are, that is): “After nearly a decade of federal tax cuts, Americans could awaken New Year’s Day with a whopper of a hangover. Breaks covering everything from child tax credits to the death tax are set to expire that day, less than six months from now, bringing higher payments for nearly every American who pays taxes. ‘We’ve never in history seen anything quite like this, where such a major portion of the tax code is set to expire on a single date and affect so many Americans all at once,’ said Scott Hodge, president of The Tax Foundation, a Washington nonprofit that tracks tax policies.”

How much trouble do you think Obama is in when Ruth Marcus sounds like John Podhoretz?

How many GOP 2012 candidates do you think will take this smart advice on immigration reform from Charles Krauthammer?It seems to me that the Republicans ought to argue enforcement first — and then a very generous, open and humane solution for those already here.” Not enough, I fear.

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LIVE BLOG: Condescending

Jonathan Chait writes:

John Podhoretz calls Obama “startlingly condescending at moments.” How can that be avoided when you’re trying to have a high-level discussion with people who reply either on debunked claims at best and talk radio-level slogans at worst?

Here’s how. By not being condescending. That’s how.

Jonathan Chait writes:

John Podhoretz calls Obama “startlingly condescending at moments.” How can that be avoided when you’re trying to have a high-level discussion with people who reply either on debunked claims at best and talk radio-level slogans at worst?

Here’s how. By not being condescending. That’s how.

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Re: Arnold Beichman, 1913-2010

I would like to add a small footnote to John Podhoretz’s moving tribute to Arnold Beichman, who died yesterday at age 96.

John noted that Beichman never wrote a memoir “even though he had a great one in him.” One can sense the truth of that observation from the letter Beichman wrote in 1994 to COMMENTARY, at age 80, in response to Jacob Sloan’s article “Saying Kaddish.”

The article had reminded Beichman of “an episode in my early childhood when I became a steady attendant Friday nights and Saturdays at a Lower East Side shul on Rivington Street.”

As I grew older, I began to note something I couldn’t understand. Usually, over the months, the faces of Kaddish-sayers changed with the expiry of the required year of mourning. One face, I began to notice, never seemed to change—Reb Moishe Bear’s. A big, broad-shouldered man (a carpenter, I recall), he was always saying Kaddish. Week after week, High Holy Days, Sabbath, and weekdays, Reb Moishe Bear, eyes shut tight, face rapt, head swaying from side to side, was always saying Kaddish, and loudly. At first, I assumed that he had a lot of relatives who were dying all the time, and I felt sorry for him because he was a nice man. But as I approached my bar-mitzvah year, I began to wonder: how could this be?

One Friday night, I decided to satisfy my curiosity. I asked my father about Reb Moishe Bear and what seemed like his terribly sad fate. “For whom is Reb Moishe Bear saying Kaddish?”

My father replied in Yiddish with a gentle smile: “Er zogt Kaddish oyf der velt”—he is saying Kaddish for the world.

I didn’t know what my father meant. Didn’t you have to have a death in the family? Not necessarily, said my father. Anybody over the age of thirteen could say Kaddish, and if Reb Moishe Bear wanted to say it “oyf der velt,” he could do it and maybe even earn the merit of performing a mitzvah. I persisted: so why didn’t my father do the same?

My father smiled; his sense of tzneeyus (modesty), he said, prevented him from mourning for the world.

Not until years later did I grasp the gentle irony in my father’s answer about people who undertake to say Kaddish “oyf der velt.”

Now the COMMENTARY community will say Kaddish for him, and the gracious intellect that is reflected in that story.

I would like to add a small footnote to John Podhoretz’s moving tribute to Arnold Beichman, who died yesterday at age 96.

John noted that Beichman never wrote a memoir “even though he had a great one in him.” One can sense the truth of that observation from the letter Beichman wrote in 1994 to COMMENTARY, at age 80, in response to Jacob Sloan’s article “Saying Kaddish.”

The article had reminded Beichman of “an episode in my early childhood when I became a steady attendant Friday nights and Saturdays at a Lower East Side shul on Rivington Street.”

As I grew older, I began to note something I couldn’t understand. Usually, over the months, the faces of Kaddish-sayers changed with the expiry of the required year of mourning. One face, I began to notice, never seemed to change—Reb Moishe Bear’s. A big, broad-shouldered man (a carpenter, I recall), he was always saying Kaddish. Week after week, High Holy Days, Sabbath, and weekdays, Reb Moishe Bear, eyes shut tight, face rapt, head swaying from side to side, was always saying Kaddish, and loudly. At first, I assumed that he had a lot of relatives who were dying all the time, and I felt sorry for him because he was a nice man. But as I approached my bar-mitzvah year, I began to wonder: how could this be?

One Friday night, I decided to satisfy my curiosity. I asked my father about Reb Moishe Bear and what seemed like his terribly sad fate. “For whom is Reb Moishe Bear saying Kaddish?”

My father replied in Yiddish with a gentle smile: “Er zogt Kaddish oyf der velt”—he is saying Kaddish for the world.

I didn’t know what my father meant. Didn’t you have to have a death in the family? Not necessarily, said my father. Anybody over the age of thirteen could say Kaddish, and if Reb Moishe Bear wanted to say it “oyf der velt,” he could do it and maybe even earn the merit of performing a mitzvah. I persisted: so why didn’t my father do the same?

My father smiled; his sense of tzneeyus (modesty), he said, prevented him from mourning for the world.

Not until years later did I grasp the gentle irony in my father’s answer about people who undertake to say Kaddish “oyf der velt.”

Now the COMMENTARY community will say Kaddish for him, and the gracious intellect that is reflected in that story.

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Salt-of-the-Earth Democrats

Among the most peculiar aspects of the very peculiar Democratic nomination contest now drawing to a close has been Hillary Clinton’s transformation into a beer-drinking, blue-collar everyman. It has been thoroughly and transparently dishonest, of course. But it worked reasonably well, and over the last few weeks in particular she ably played the cultural conservative in that race. It somehow seemed perfectly reasonable for a union organizer introducing Clinton at a rally last week to say that she was all that stood between the American people and “the Gucci-wearing, latte-drinking, self-centered, egotistical people that have damaged our lifestyle.” Until a few months ago, she was one of the icons of that very crowd. But thanks to Obama’s elitism, Hillary saw the “salt-of-the-earth Democrat” niche was open, and she went for it.

Clinton’s transformation into a teamster almost saved her–but not quite. In the end, the Democrats look to be nominating another elitist liberal who looks down on most of his voters, and so setting in motion a campaign certain to be shaped, once again, by clashing cultural self-images: the straight-talking patriot and the champagne-sipping intellectual; the worldly young progressive and the simple-minded Neanderthal.

This dynamic doesn’t pre-determine the winner, to be sure, and (as John Podhoretz persuasively argues below) Republicans should not lull themselves into imagining otherwise. But it is a pattern that has done grave damage to the Democrats for decades.

If they’re paying attention, the smart strategists among the Democrats will have learned something crucial in these past few months. A real (as opposed to a patently fake) blue-collar, everyman, salt of the earth Democrat–one who takes the rebukes of the MoveOn Left as a compliment and is even a tiny bit culturally conservative–could have a very real chance of winning the party’s nomination, would do especially well in states that are most crucial in the general election, and, most importantly, could be a knock-out winner in the fall. Is there any doubt that a genuinely anti-elitist, culturally moderate Democrat would crush  every Republican candidate we can conceive of today?

Of course, such salt-of-the-earth Democratic politicians are increasingly hard to come by, as cultural liberalism is the core of the party’s self-identity today. But maybe Clinton’s failed effort will get some conservative Democrats thinking. It would be good for the Democrats, and good for the country, if their leaders came to see that their cultural elitism, bordering on cultural separatism, is not only obnoxious but counterproductive. Maybe next time.

Among the most peculiar aspects of the very peculiar Democratic nomination contest now drawing to a close has been Hillary Clinton’s transformation into a beer-drinking, blue-collar everyman. It has been thoroughly and transparently dishonest, of course. But it worked reasonably well, and over the last few weeks in particular she ably played the cultural conservative in that race. It somehow seemed perfectly reasonable for a union organizer introducing Clinton at a rally last week to say that she was all that stood between the American people and “the Gucci-wearing, latte-drinking, self-centered, egotistical people that have damaged our lifestyle.” Until a few months ago, she was one of the icons of that very crowd. But thanks to Obama’s elitism, Hillary saw the “salt-of-the-earth Democrat” niche was open, and she went for it.

Clinton’s transformation into a teamster almost saved her–but not quite. In the end, the Democrats look to be nominating another elitist liberal who looks down on most of his voters, and so setting in motion a campaign certain to be shaped, once again, by clashing cultural self-images: the straight-talking patriot and the champagne-sipping intellectual; the worldly young progressive and the simple-minded Neanderthal.

This dynamic doesn’t pre-determine the winner, to be sure, and (as John Podhoretz persuasively argues below) Republicans should not lull themselves into imagining otherwise. But it is a pattern that has done grave damage to the Democrats for decades.

If they’re paying attention, the smart strategists among the Democrats will have learned something crucial in these past few months. A real (as opposed to a patently fake) blue-collar, everyman, salt of the earth Democrat–one who takes the rebukes of the MoveOn Left as a compliment and is even a tiny bit culturally conservative–could have a very real chance of winning the party’s nomination, would do especially well in states that are most crucial in the general election, and, most importantly, could be a knock-out winner in the fall. Is there any doubt that a genuinely anti-elitist, culturally moderate Democrat would crush  every Republican candidate we can conceive of today?

Of course, such salt-of-the-earth Democratic politicians are increasingly hard to come by, as cultural liberalism is the core of the party’s self-identity today. But maybe Clinton’s failed effort will get some conservative Democrats thinking. It would be good for the Democrats, and good for the country, if their leaders came to see that their cultural elitism, bordering on cultural separatism, is not only obnoxious but counterproductive. Maybe next time.

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Jimmy McCain

Since John Podhoretz has posted an article on John McCain’s son, Jack, at the Naval Academy, I thought I would post an update on Jack’s younger brother, Jimmy. To his credit, John McCain refuses to make political hay out of his family on the campaign trail, so it is possible to overlook this CNN item which notes that Jimmy, a Marine, has just gotten back from serving a seven-month tour in Iraq, safe and sound. That’s great news.

The fact that his two sons are following John McCain into military service is not only a tribute to the ethos of service and sacrifice that he inherited from his ancestors, but it also makes it all the harder for Democrats to play the “we only support the troops” game when they call for withdrawal from Iraq. The strongest advocate of the surge is also someone with the deepest possible personal stake in its success.

Since John Podhoretz has posted an article on John McCain’s son, Jack, at the Naval Academy, I thought I would post an update on Jack’s younger brother, Jimmy. To his credit, John McCain refuses to make political hay out of his family on the campaign trail, so it is possible to overlook this CNN item which notes that Jimmy, a Marine, has just gotten back from serving a seven-month tour in Iraq, safe and sound. That’s great news.

The fact that his two sons are following John McCain into military service is not only a tribute to the ethos of service and sacrifice that he inherited from his ancestors, but it also makes it all the harder for Democrats to play the “we only support the troops” game when they call for withdrawal from Iraq. The strongest advocate of the surge is also someone with the deepest possible personal stake in its success.

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Downtime

Apologies for the gap in service! We were experiencing technical difficulties with our server as a result of unprecedented response to John Podhoretz’s Why They Hate McCain. but we’re back online now, as you can see.

Apologies for the gap in service! We were experiencing technical difficulties with our server as a result of unprecedented response to John Podhoretz’s Why They Hate McCain. but we’re back online now, as you can see.

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McCain Conservatism

I just got off a conference a call with a feisty John McCain in South Carolina. The big news in his campaign is today’s endorsement by Senator Tom Coburn. Coburn’s sterling conservative credentials may help McCain get some votes among the fiscal and social conservatives who’ve had their doubts. (The ones who call for his head are another story.) It will certainly enhance McCain’s ability to further blur his version of conservatism with that of the staunch ideologues in his party.

In reviewing Romney’s Michigan win, he cited the hometown angle and the fact that he refused to promise people the return of their old jobs. Here one sees, as John Podhoretz put it in contentions last night, McCain’s “political rigidity based on a sense of his own personal rectitude.”

A questioner challenged the Senator on his 2006 recommendation of James Baker as Middle East peace envoy. McCain took the question as a cheap shot on his support for Israel. The Senator briskly stated that he respects Baker while disagreeing with him on various points, and that he stands on his own decades-long record as a friend of Israel.

Things turned a bit revelatory when the Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb asked McCain about his environmental stand. The Senator offered the boilerplate “most scientists etc. . .” but I was surprised and relieved to hear that he considers the question of climate-change severity an open one. I’m eager to see John McCain’s self-confessed truth addiction keep him on point when this comes up in the public arena. He could use some distance between himself and the global warming alarmists on the Left. Things got combative when Goldfarb questioned McCain’s support for a cap-and-trade emissions approach as opposed to a carbon tax. The Senator launched into a hearty defense of cap-and-trade as the obvious free market conservative’s choice. What’s interesting about Senator McCain among all the frontrunners is his detractors have meticulously highlighted his weak spots for him. With targets painted, it’s now a race to cover up before the shots ring out.

I just got off a conference a call with a feisty John McCain in South Carolina. The big news in his campaign is today’s endorsement by Senator Tom Coburn. Coburn’s sterling conservative credentials may help McCain get some votes among the fiscal and social conservatives who’ve had their doubts. (The ones who call for his head are another story.) It will certainly enhance McCain’s ability to further blur his version of conservatism with that of the staunch ideologues in his party.

In reviewing Romney’s Michigan win, he cited the hometown angle and the fact that he refused to promise people the return of their old jobs. Here one sees, as John Podhoretz put it in contentions last night, McCain’s “political rigidity based on a sense of his own personal rectitude.”

A questioner challenged the Senator on his 2006 recommendation of James Baker as Middle East peace envoy. McCain took the question as a cheap shot on his support for Israel. The Senator briskly stated that he respects Baker while disagreeing with him on various points, and that he stands on his own decades-long record as a friend of Israel.

Things turned a bit revelatory when the Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb asked McCain about his environmental stand. The Senator offered the boilerplate “most scientists etc. . .” but I was surprised and relieved to hear that he considers the question of climate-change severity an open one. I’m eager to see John McCain’s self-confessed truth addiction keep him on point when this comes up in the public arena. He could use some distance between himself and the global warming alarmists on the Left. Things got combative when Goldfarb questioned McCain’s support for a cap-and-trade emissions approach as opposed to a carbon tax. The Senator launched into a hearty defense of cap-and-trade as the obvious free market conservative’s choice. What’s interesting about Senator McCain among all the frontrunners is his detractors have meticulously highlighted his weak spots for him. With targets painted, it’s now a race to cover up before the shots ring out.

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The Jewish Bradley Effect

Embarassed by its confident predictions of an Obama victory, the mainstream media these past few days has resurrected the supposed “Bradley Effect” as an explanation for why Barack Obama lost last night in New Hampshire. This political phenomenon is named after Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who lost the 1982 California gubernatorial election despite a healthy lead (ranging from 9 to 22 percent in various polls) over his opponent. Some pundits have even argued that white voters told pollsters they were intent on supporting the black candidate but that deep-seated racism got the best of them upon pulling back the curtain.

A friend of mine has long been telling me that a similar sort of phenomenon occurs with Jewish voters. Being a Democrat is almost instinctive for American Jews; being a GOP supporter is akin to eating pastrami on white bread with mayonnaise. As Martin Peretz wrote in 2004, signaling his distaste for John Kerry:

Like many American Jews, I was brought up to believe that if I pulled the Republican lever on the election machine my right hand would wither and, as the Psalmist says, my tongue would cleave to the roof of my mouth.

Yet since 9/11, I’m convinced that a far larger proportion of Jews than the reported 25 percent voted Republican in 2004. These Jews–perfectly happy calling themselves Bill Clinton Democrats but more hawkish than a party now headed by Nancy Pelosi–don’t want to admit to anyone that they supported a Republican because everyone in their social circle would call them meshugeh. I imagine this is a topic about which John Podhoretz probably has something to say.

Embarassed by its confident predictions of an Obama victory, the mainstream media these past few days has resurrected the supposed “Bradley Effect” as an explanation for why Barack Obama lost last night in New Hampshire. This political phenomenon is named after Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who lost the 1982 California gubernatorial election despite a healthy lead (ranging from 9 to 22 percent in various polls) over his opponent. Some pundits have even argued that white voters told pollsters they were intent on supporting the black candidate but that deep-seated racism got the best of them upon pulling back the curtain.

A friend of mine has long been telling me that a similar sort of phenomenon occurs with Jewish voters. Being a Democrat is almost instinctive for American Jews; being a GOP supporter is akin to eating pastrami on white bread with mayonnaise. As Martin Peretz wrote in 2004, signaling his distaste for John Kerry:

Like many American Jews, I was brought up to believe that if I pulled the Republican lever on the election machine my right hand would wither and, as the Psalmist says, my tongue would cleave to the roof of my mouth.

Yet since 9/11, I’m convinced that a far larger proportion of Jews than the reported 25 percent voted Republican in 2004. These Jews–perfectly happy calling themselves Bill Clinton Democrats but more hawkish than a party now headed by Nancy Pelosi–don’t want to admit to anyone that they supported a Republican because everyone in their social circle would call them meshugeh. I imagine this is a topic about which John Podhoretz probably has something to say.

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Is ‘No Country for Old Men’ About the Culture of Death?

Walking away from the Coen Brothers film of No Country for Old Men, you may have a couple of questions. For instance, why is the film set in 1980? And what does it all mean? In Cormac McCarthy’s novel, it’s obvious why the story takes place in 1980. The reason is Vietnam. Most of the characters served there; it’s where they learned about the value of human life, or lack thereof.

The sheriff’s deputy, examining a crime scene that ended up in a shootout, says, “It must of sounded like Vietnam out here.” When Moss (played by Josh Brolin in the film) buys ammo, he thinks, “the box of shells contained almost exactly the firepower of a claymore mine.” The sheriff (the Tommy Lee Jones character) tells Moss’s wife that “he’s goin’ to wind up killin somebody,” to which the wife responds, “He never has.” The sheriff points out, “he was in Vietnam,” and the wife says, “I mean as a civilian.” That dry distinction—that killing in war doesn’t count—is ironic.

When Carson Wells (the Woody Harrelson character) is killed by Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem in the film), Chigurh thinks about “the body of a child dead in a roadside ravine in another country,” as well as all the people he has assassinated, which underlines the point that killing leads to more killing. The sheriff thinks about how “I was supposed to be a war hero and I lost a whole squad of men. They died and I got a medal.”

COMMENTARY Editorial Director John Podhoretz has castigated the film as nihilist. But if you measure McCarthy’s ironic tone in the book, you might come to another conclusion. Possibly McCarthy is taking the extreme, Catholic stance that all killing is wrong, from capital punishment to war to abortion. The book takes place seven years after Roe v. Wade, five years after the fall of Saigon, four years after the restoration of the death penalty by the Supreme Court. It’s a year when the idea that state could sanction killing has begun to take root. The sheriff, in the book as in the film the voice of wisdom and restraint, expresses a sad resignation toward the death penalty from page one on, and a portion of the book that isn’t referred to in the movie might be the key to understanding McCarthy’s moral.

Remembering a conference in Corpus Christi, the sheriff thinks, “Me and Loretta…got set next to this woman, she was the wife of somebody or other. And she kept talkin about the right wing this and the right wing that. I ain’t even sure what she meant by it. The people I know are mostly just common people. Common as dirt, as the sayin goes. I told her that and she looked at me funny. She thought I was sayin somethin bad about em, but of course that’s a high compliment in my part of the world. She kept on, kept on. Finally told me, said: I don’t like the way this country is headed. I want my granddaughter to be able to have an abortion. And I said well mam I don’t think you got any worries about the way the country is headed. The way I see it goin I dont have much doubt but what she’ll be able to have an abortion. I’m goin to say that not only will she be able to have an abortion, she’ll be able to have you put to sleep. Which pretty much ended the conversation.”

McCarthy has a vision of an America that fosters what Pope John Paul II called a “culture of death;” these men come back from Vietnam, where they learned to kill, then apply their killing skills on a country that is killing fetuses and condemned prisoners and will soon give the okay to killing old people and the weak. The remorseless assassin Anton Chigurh is the natural consequence of a culture of death: A harbinger of unchecked killing.

Walking away from the Coen Brothers film of No Country for Old Men, you may have a couple of questions. For instance, why is the film set in 1980? And what does it all mean? In Cormac McCarthy’s novel, it’s obvious why the story takes place in 1980. The reason is Vietnam. Most of the characters served there; it’s where they learned about the value of human life, or lack thereof.

The sheriff’s deputy, examining a crime scene that ended up in a shootout, says, “It must of sounded like Vietnam out here.” When Moss (played by Josh Brolin in the film) buys ammo, he thinks, “the box of shells contained almost exactly the firepower of a claymore mine.” The sheriff (the Tommy Lee Jones character) tells Moss’s wife that “he’s goin’ to wind up killin somebody,” to which the wife responds, “He never has.” The sheriff points out, “he was in Vietnam,” and the wife says, “I mean as a civilian.” That dry distinction—that killing in war doesn’t count—is ironic.

When Carson Wells (the Woody Harrelson character) is killed by Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem in the film), Chigurh thinks about “the body of a child dead in a roadside ravine in another country,” as well as all the people he has assassinated, which underlines the point that killing leads to more killing. The sheriff thinks about how “I was supposed to be a war hero and I lost a whole squad of men. They died and I got a medal.”

COMMENTARY Editorial Director John Podhoretz has castigated the film as nihilist. But if you measure McCarthy’s ironic tone in the book, you might come to another conclusion. Possibly McCarthy is taking the extreme, Catholic stance that all killing is wrong, from capital punishment to war to abortion. The book takes place seven years after Roe v. Wade, five years after the fall of Saigon, four years after the restoration of the death penalty by the Supreme Court. It’s a year when the idea that state could sanction killing has begun to take root. The sheriff, in the book as in the film the voice of wisdom and restraint, expresses a sad resignation toward the death penalty from page one on, and a portion of the book that isn’t referred to in the movie might be the key to understanding McCarthy’s moral.

Remembering a conference in Corpus Christi, the sheriff thinks, “Me and Loretta…got set next to this woman, she was the wife of somebody or other. And she kept talkin about the right wing this and the right wing that. I ain’t even sure what she meant by it. The people I know are mostly just common people. Common as dirt, as the sayin goes. I told her that and she looked at me funny. She thought I was sayin somethin bad about em, but of course that’s a high compliment in my part of the world. She kept on, kept on. Finally told me, said: I don’t like the way this country is headed. I want my granddaughter to be able to have an abortion. And I said well mam I don’t think you got any worries about the way the country is headed. The way I see it goin I dont have much doubt but what she’ll be able to have an abortion. I’m goin to say that not only will she be able to have an abortion, she’ll be able to have you put to sleep. Which pretty much ended the conversation.”

McCarthy has a vision of an America that fosters what Pope John Paul II called a “culture of death;” these men come back from Vietnam, where they learned to kill, then apply their killing skills on a country that is killing fetuses and condemned prisoners and will soon give the okay to killing old people and the weak. The remorseless assassin Anton Chigurh is the natural consequence of a culture of death: A harbinger of unchecked killing.

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The Most Unfair Blog Fight in History

Readers may recall an argument several weeks ago on the blogosphere between Oliver Kamm and Eric “frequent lecturer and contributor to virtually every significant national publication in the United States and many in Europe” Alterman, which I analyzed here and here. The debate concerned Alterman’s uninformed and typically dashed-off observation that Americans involved in the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were guilty of racism and of inflating potential wartime casualties should the bombs not be dropped. Kamm’s latest reply to the “unlettered and ignorant” Alterman can be read here.

This is a truly unfair fight: Kamm is a brilliant polemicist who is painstaking in his presentation of history; Alterman, meanwhile, seems capable only of vitriolic snarling. John Podhoretz remarked earlier this month that “making a pretense of civility toward Eric Alterman is like making a pretense of civility to a scorpion.” I’d say this is unfair to scorpions.

Readers may recall an argument several weeks ago on the blogosphere between Oliver Kamm and Eric “frequent lecturer and contributor to virtually every significant national publication in the United States and many in Europe” Alterman, which I analyzed here and here. The debate concerned Alterman’s uninformed and typically dashed-off observation that Americans involved in the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were guilty of racism and of inflating potential wartime casualties should the bombs not be dropped. Kamm’s latest reply to the “unlettered and ignorant” Alterman can be read here.

This is a truly unfair fight: Kamm is a brilliant polemicist who is painstaking in his presentation of history; Alterman, meanwhile, seems capable only of vitriolic snarling. John Podhoretz remarked earlier this month that “making a pretense of civility toward Eric Alterman is like making a pretense of civility to a scorpion.” I’d say this is unfair to scorpions.

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Response on Huckabee

In his post yesterday, John Podhoretz writes:

Of course Mike Huckabee can win the Republican nomination. I dismissed the possibility a few weeks ago by saying he had no “path to the nomination,” and I was foolish to do so. Huckabee’s path is evident—with surprising victories in early states, he steamrolls faltering campaigns and pushes them aside until he is the only guy left standing.

I can, as perhaps John can, see any of five men win the Republican nomination: Giuliani, Romney, McCain, Thompson, and Huckabee. I don’t dismiss any of them, particularly since this race is getting more jumbled and less clear the closer we get to it. Each campaign can put forward a plausible scenario in which they win (though some are obviously more plausible than others). But of course only one candidate will win, and I don’t think it’ll be Huckabee.

I say that as someone who has been impressed with his debating and speaking ability; he possesses, along with Barack Obama, some remarkable political skills. His climb in the polls is testimony to that. At the end of the day, though, I suspect Huckabee is simply too much at odds with the base of the GOP on too many issues, both in the realm of economics and national security. Beyond that, his folksiness and glibness, which can make a good early impression, don’t wear as well over time. His intellectually silly comments—as embodied in his Foreign Affairs essay, in which he likens dealing with Iran to a dispute between parents and friends—are mounting up. So are his more offensive ones, like his claim that his rise in the polls is based on divine intervention (“There’s only one explanation for it, and it’s not a human one. It’s the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people”).

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In his post yesterday, John Podhoretz writes:

Of course Mike Huckabee can win the Republican nomination. I dismissed the possibility a few weeks ago by saying he had no “path to the nomination,” and I was foolish to do so. Huckabee’s path is evident—with surprising victories in early states, he steamrolls faltering campaigns and pushes them aside until he is the only guy left standing.

I can, as perhaps John can, see any of five men win the Republican nomination: Giuliani, Romney, McCain, Thompson, and Huckabee. I don’t dismiss any of them, particularly since this race is getting more jumbled and less clear the closer we get to it. Each campaign can put forward a plausible scenario in which they win (though some are obviously more plausible than others). But of course only one candidate will win, and I don’t think it’ll be Huckabee.

I say that as someone who has been impressed with his debating and speaking ability; he possesses, along with Barack Obama, some remarkable political skills. His climb in the polls is testimony to that. At the end of the day, though, I suspect Huckabee is simply too much at odds with the base of the GOP on too many issues, both in the realm of economics and national security. Beyond that, his folksiness and glibness, which can make a good early impression, don’t wear as well over time. His intellectually silly comments—as embodied in his Foreign Affairs essay, in which he likens dealing with Iran to a dispute between parents and friends—are mounting up. So are his more offensive ones, like his claim that his rise in the polls is based on divine intervention (“There’s only one explanation for it, and it’s not a human one. It’s the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people”).

More fundamentally, though, I suspect what we’ll see is increasing concern about Huckabee’s political character. His head-snapping change on immigration, from lecturing other Republican candidates about how his sympathetic policies toward illegal immigrants while he was Governor embodied the generosity of America, to his embrace of Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the anti-immigrant group the Minuteman Project, was a key insight into Huckabee. To move from the immigration position of the Wall Street Journal to that of National Review in the blink of an eye demonstrates Clintonian flexibility. Speaking of which: Huckabee’s effort to argue that he wasn’t in favor of quarantining AIDS patients in 1992 even as he argued they should be “isolated” (“we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague,” Huckabee said fifteen years ago) is reminiscent of the equivocations of another politically ambitious fellow from Hope, Arkansas.

Huckabee is not the only candidate to move away from his past positions, including Romney on abortion and other issues. But I increasingly get the sense that Huckabee is a man who is smooth, shrewd, and a good deal more calculating than he first appears. At the end of the day Huckabee, who surged out of nowhere, will return back to earth. It may not be until after Iowa—but eventually (like, say, in New Hampshire) political gravity will prevail. And in the race for the GOP nomination, Huckabee will not.

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A Dissent on CNN

At the risk of having my membership card in the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy revoked, I have to dissent from the widespread condemnation in the conservative blogosphere—including by John Podhoretz—of CNN over its handling of last week’s Republican presidential debate.

CNN no doubt erred, as it now admits, by not disclosing the Clinton campaign affiliation of retired general Keith Herr, who posed a videotaped question about gays in the military and followed up with a live harangue on the subject. But it’s not as if all the questions were from liberals. The questioners included conservative gadfly Grover Norquist and at least two gun-rights advocates. There is no doubt that some of the other questioners, for instance those who asked about abortion, came from a liberal perspective, but so what? Any Republican nominee worth his salt has to be ready to deal with snarky questions from liberals—that’s about all he’ll get from the press corps. So it’s good for the contenders to show a national TV audience how well they perform.

What I liked most were some of the off-beat questions—precisely those that pundits sneer at the most but that have the greatest potential to move candidates off scripted answers. For instance, I liked the guy who asked Ron Paul about his views on conspiracy theories linking my employer, the Council on Foreign Relations, to a supposed plot to build a superhighway across North America that will destroy American sovereignty. (Paul’s answer was to dissent from the charge of “conspiracy” while backing the essence of the conspiracy theory.) I liked the guy who asked the candidates to tell us how many guns they own and what their favorite is; John McCain answered that effectively by referring to the time when he used to carry a .45 as a Navy pilot. And I liked the guy who asked Rudy Giuliani whether he was taking advantage of 9/11 to win the presidency; that gave Giuliani an opportunity for a cogent and impressive comeback. I even liked the oddball who sang a song about the candidates at the beginning. While not exactly great art, it was goofy and somewhat endearing.

I had initially planned to watch only the first 30 minutes of the debate while riding an exercise bicycle in a hotel gym. But the show had me hooked so I kept peddling and watched over an hour’s worth at the gym, and then caught much of the rest of it back in my hotel room. It was no Lincoln-Douglas debate, but it was certainly an entertaining window onto the presidential race. I don’t think CNN deserves all the vilification it’s getting.

At the risk of having my membership card in the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy revoked, I have to dissent from the widespread condemnation in the conservative blogosphere—including by John Podhoretz—of CNN over its handling of last week’s Republican presidential debate.

CNN no doubt erred, as it now admits, by not disclosing the Clinton campaign affiliation of retired general Keith Herr, who posed a videotaped question about gays in the military and followed up with a live harangue on the subject. But it’s not as if all the questions were from liberals. The questioners included conservative gadfly Grover Norquist and at least two gun-rights advocates. There is no doubt that some of the other questioners, for instance those who asked about abortion, came from a liberal perspective, but so what? Any Republican nominee worth his salt has to be ready to deal with snarky questions from liberals—that’s about all he’ll get from the press corps. So it’s good for the contenders to show a national TV audience how well they perform.

What I liked most were some of the off-beat questions—precisely those that pundits sneer at the most but that have the greatest potential to move candidates off scripted answers. For instance, I liked the guy who asked Ron Paul about his views on conspiracy theories linking my employer, the Council on Foreign Relations, to a supposed plot to build a superhighway across North America that will destroy American sovereignty. (Paul’s answer was to dissent from the charge of “conspiracy” while backing the essence of the conspiracy theory.) I liked the guy who asked the candidates to tell us how many guns they own and what their favorite is; John McCain answered that effectively by referring to the time when he used to carry a .45 as a Navy pilot. And I liked the guy who asked Rudy Giuliani whether he was taking advantage of 9/11 to win the presidency; that gave Giuliani an opportunity for a cogent and impressive comeback. I even liked the oddball who sang a song about the candidates at the beginning. While not exactly great art, it was goofy and somewhat endearing.

I had initially planned to watch only the first 30 minutes of the debate while riding an exercise bicycle in a hotel gym. But the show had me hooked so I kept peddling and watched over an hour’s worth at the gym, and then caught much of the rest of it back in my hotel room. It was no Lincoln-Douglas debate, but it was certainly an entertaining window onto the presidential race. I don’t think CNN deserves all the vilification it’s getting.

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Re: the meaning of Annapolis

John, those are good points, and I’m largely in agreement with you on the interplay among Israel, America, and the Palestinians. It’s true—there’s going to be a time when the rubber meets the road, when all of the Annapolis rhetoric is tested against the situation on the ground. The same dynamic has controlled the entirety of the post-Gulf war history of peace processing—the ideas are old, the speeches are hackneyed plagiarisms of themselves, the strategies have always failed, the Arabs still refuse to accept Israel, administration after administration. One of the most common comments I’ve heard journalists make here today is the remark that they’ve all been there, done that when it comes to peace conferences. (Some of these guys are at the half-dozen mark.)

I think that the real significance of the conference, though, has little to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The significance of Annapolis is in what it has revealed about the thinking of the Bush administration, and how it sees itself in the region today. This observation is borne out, I think, in the fact that so much of the criticism of Annapolis, especially from conservatives, has involved an airing of the feeling that the Bush administration has grotesquely betrayed the basic principles to which it committed itself in the war on terror—viz the writings of Andy McCarthy, Bret Stephens, Ralph Peters, David Frum, some guy named John Podhoretz, etc.

Annapolis is really about the Bush administration, not the peace process. It has been Condi’s pet project; she has shuttled to Israel and the Palestinian territories on a monthly basis for almost a year; she has been permitted by President Bush to prioritize a quixotic diplomatic endeavor over and above other crises that by any sensible measure are of far greater concern for the United States—Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Syria and Hizballah, and Pakistan, to name a few. If Condi’s pursuit of the peace process is due to a belief that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is possible and will unlock the forces of moderation and conviviality in the Middle East, then, well, she is simply a fool. If it is because she wishes to add this most elusive accomplishment to her legacy, then she is a narcissist. There is a more legitimate question about the extent to which American leadership in the peace process will earn us favorable treatment from European and Arab states in dealing with Iran, but I am skeptical of that line of thinking—a matter for another post.

Read More

John, those are good points, and I’m largely in agreement with you on the interplay among Israel, America, and the Palestinians. It’s true—there’s going to be a time when the rubber meets the road, when all of the Annapolis rhetoric is tested against the situation on the ground. The same dynamic has controlled the entirety of the post-Gulf war history of peace processing—the ideas are old, the speeches are hackneyed plagiarisms of themselves, the strategies have always failed, the Arabs still refuse to accept Israel, administration after administration. One of the most common comments I’ve heard journalists make here today is the remark that they’ve all been there, done that when it comes to peace conferences. (Some of these guys are at the half-dozen mark.)

I think that the real significance of the conference, though, has little to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The significance of Annapolis is in what it has revealed about the thinking of the Bush administration, and how it sees itself in the region today. This observation is borne out, I think, in the fact that so much of the criticism of Annapolis, especially from conservatives, has involved an airing of the feeling that the Bush administration has grotesquely betrayed the basic principles to which it committed itself in the war on terror—viz the writings of Andy McCarthy, Bret Stephens, Ralph Peters, David Frum, some guy named John Podhoretz, etc.

Annapolis is really about the Bush administration, not the peace process. It has been Condi’s pet project; she has shuttled to Israel and the Palestinian territories on a monthly basis for almost a year; she has been permitted by President Bush to prioritize a quixotic diplomatic endeavor over and above other crises that by any sensible measure are of far greater concern for the United States—Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Syria and Hizballah, and Pakistan, to name a few. If Condi’s pursuit of the peace process is due to a belief that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is possible and will unlock the forces of moderation and conviviality in the Middle East, then, well, she is simply a fool. If it is because she wishes to add this most elusive accomplishment to her legacy, then she is a narcissist. There is a more legitimate question about the extent to which American leadership in the peace process will earn us favorable treatment from European and Arab states in dealing with Iran, but I am skeptical of that line of thinking—a matter for another post.

There is an overall sense that with Annapolis, the administration is conceding the range of false premises on both the region and the conflict, premises that in earlier years the administration itself rejected—the myth of the conflict’s centrality to the Middle East; the myth of linkage, in which peripheral Arab grievances are tethered to Palestinian grievances (hence the invitation to Syria); the push to “engage” with the region’s worst offenders, so long as they are part of the grievance-with-Israel coalition; and overall the assent to the idea that the Arab states are interested in supporting a resolution to the conflict that does not involve Israel’s destruction, or at least its grave enfeeblement. The administration prostrated itself to the Saudis to win their attendance, and the Saudis repaid the favor, in the days before the conference, by releasing 1,500 al Qaeda prisoners and publicly putting the entire onus for resolving the conflict on Israel, and on rigidly Saudi terms. Bush, Rice, and their people have either genuinely bought into all of this rubbish, or they don’t mind appearing as if they have done so, thinking that such a public abnegation will put them in the good graces of Europe and the Arab world.

Either way, I think it’s been a far worse day for America than it has been for Israel.

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An Announcement

We are delighted to announce that John Podhoretz has been named to succeed Neal
Kozodoy in the position of COMMENTARY’s Editor as of January 1, 2009.

Mr. Podhoretz will join the COMMENTARY staff this November. In the interim role of Editorial Director, he will assume particular responsibility for the development and expansion of our online editorial activities. Our blog, inaugurated less than a year ago, has become an important daily source of thought and opinion for readers around the world, and online operations will play an increasingly significant role in COMMENTARY’s growth.

Mr. Podhoretz, who upon his accession in January 2009 will become the fourth Editor in COMMENTARY’s six-decade history, brings long and varied experience as an editor, columnist, writer, and blogger. He has held executive positions at several publications, including the Weekly Standard, which he co-founded, Insight, and the New York Post. The author of three books about presidential politics, he is the lead political columnist of the New York Post, has served as the regular film critic of the Weekly Standard since its inception, and is a daily contributor to “The Corner,” National Review’s group blog. He was a regular on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” and is now a frequent on-screen contributor to the Fox News Channel. In government, he was a speechwriter to Ronald Reagan in 1988.

Mr. Podhoretz, forty-six, lives in New York with his wife and two daughters. He is the son of Norman and Midge Podhoretz.

Following the January 2009 transition in COMMENTARY’s editorship, Neal Kozodoy, who has been with the magazine since 1966 and has served as its Editor since 1995, and as President of Commentary, Inc. since the beginning of this year, will continue his active association in a consulting role.

We welcome John Podhoretz warmly to the COMMENTARY team.

We are delighted to announce that John Podhoretz has been named to succeed Neal
Kozodoy in the position of COMMENTARY’s Editor as of January 1, 2009.

Mr. Podhoretz will join the COMMENTARY staff this November. In the interim role of Editorial Director, he will assume particular responsibility for the development and expansion of our online editorial activities. Our blog, inaugurated less than a year ago, has become an important daily source of thought and opinion for readers around the world, and online operations will play an increasingly significant role in COMMENTARY’s growth.

Mr. Podhoretz, who upon his accession in January 2009 will become the fourth Editor in COMMENTARY’s six-decade history, brings long and varied experience as an editor, columnist, writer, and blogger. He has held executive positions at several publications, including the Weekly Standard, which he co-founded, Insight, and the New York Post. The author of three books about presidential politics, he is the lead political columnist of the New York Post, has served as the regular film critic of the Weekly Standard since its inception, and is a daily contributor to “The Corner,” National Review’s group blog. He was a regular on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” and is now a frequent on-screen contributor to the Fox News Channel. In government, he was a speechwriter to Ronald Reagan in 1988.

Mr. Podhoretz, forty-six, lives in New York with his wife and two daughters. He is the son of Norman and Midge Podhoretz.

Following the January 2009 transition in COMMENTARY’s editorship, Neal Kozodoy, who has been with the magazine since 1966 and has served as its Editor since 1995, and as President of Commentary, Inc. since the beginning of this year, will continue his active association in a consulting role.

We welcome John Podhoretz warmly to the COMMENTARY team.

Read Less

An Announcement

We are delighted to announce that John Podhoretz has been named to succeed Neal
Kozodoy in the position of COMMENTARY’s Editor as of January 1, 2009.

Mr. Podhoretz will join the COMMENTARY staff this November. In the interim role of Editorial Director, he will assume particular responsibility for the development and expansion of our online editorial activities. Our blog, inaugurated less than a year ago, has become an important daily source of thought and opinion for readers around the world, and online operations will play an increasingly significant role in COMMENTARY’s growth.

Mr. Podhoretz, who upon his accession in January 2009 will become the fourth Editor in COMMENTARY’s six-decade history, brings long and varied experience as an editor, columnist, writer, and blogger. He has held executive positions at several publications, including the Weekly Standard, which he co-founded, Insight, and the New York Post. The author of three books about presidential politics, he is the lead political columnist of the New York Post, has served as the regular film critic of the Weekly Standard since its inception, and is a daily contributor to “The Corner,” National Review’s group blog. He was a regular on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” and is now a frequent on-screen contributor to the Fox News Channel. In government, he was a speechwriter to Ronald Reagan in 1988.

Mr. Podhoretz, forty-six, lives in New York with his wife and two daughters. He is the son of Norman and Midge Podhoretz.

Following the January 2009 transition in COMMENTARY’s editorship, Neal Kozodoy, who has been with the magazine since 1966 and has served as its Editor since 1995, and as President of Commentary, Inc. since the beginning of this year, will continue his active association in a consulting role.

We welcome John Podhoretz warmly to the COMMENTARY team.

We are delighted to announce that John Podhoretz has been named to succeed Neal
Kozodoy in the position of COMMENTARY’s Editor as of January 1, 2009.

Mr. Podhoretz will join the COMMENTARY staff this November. In the interim role of Editorial Director, he will assume particular responsibility for the development and expansion of our online editorial activities. Our blog, inaugurated less than a year ago, has become an important daily source of thought and opinion for readers around the world, and online operations will play an increasingly significant role in COMMENTARY’s growth.

Mr. Podhoretz, who upon his accession in January 2009 will become the fourth Editor in COMMENTARY’s six-decade history, brings long and varied experience as an editor, columnist, writer, and blogger. He has held executive positions at several publications, including the Weekly Standard, which he co-founded, Insight, and the New York Post. The author of three books about presidential politics, he is the lead political columnist of the New York Post, has served as the regular film critic of the Weekly Standard since its inception, and is a daily contributor to “The Corner,” National Review’s group blog. He was a regular on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” and is now a frequent on-screen contributor to the Fox News Channel. In government, he was a speechwriter to Ronald Reagan in 1988.

Mr. Podhoretz, forty-six, lives in New York with his wife and two daughters. He is the son of Norman and Midge Podhoretz.

Following the January 2009 transition in COMMENTARY’s editorship, Neal Kozodoy, who has been with the magazine since 1966 and has served as its Editor since 1995, and as President of Commentary, Inc. since the beginning of this year, will continue his active association in a consulting role.

We welcome John Podhoretz warmly to the COMMENTARY team.

Read Less




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