Commentary Magazine


Topic: Kennedy

Cold War Revisionism Run Wild

As J.E. Dyer pointed out a few days ago, the standard treatment of the Cold War in the academy of the 1970s and 1980s was that it was a bad idea. That argument had many facets, but among the most consistently presented of them was the theme that the artificial Cold War scare had been used to justify close American relations with anti-Communist dictators.

This anti–Cold War bias has, to my mind, waned slightly, in part because of the work of historians like John Lewis Gaddis, and in part because it’s now history, and as such is safe for everyone to be in favor of. Indeed, it’s so safe that President Obama is free to call for Sputnik moments.

Still, the argument about American foreign policy endures. Since both Democratic and Republican presidents fought the Cold War, our policy, whatever you care to say about it, was bipartisan. Yet by and large, the charge of friendship with autocrats is used to tar Republicans. As Mark Mazower, a historian at Columbia, put it last year, “the kind of values talk that Reagan . . . injected into the Republican Party” is “tolerance for nasty dictators so long as they were not Reds.”

As John made clear in his earlier post, in regard to the binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, the argument about whom the U.S. should work with in pursuit of its national interests in this imperfect world is an old, long, and complicated one, and the only immediately nonsensical position is that we should simply ally ourselves with the absolutely pure. But what is really wonderful is to watch media liberals suddenly — now that we have a Democrat as president — discovering the virtues of American collaborations with the autocrats. Here, for instance, is Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball on Tuesday:

[Americans] do not like seeing people treat their friends badly. We treated Diem terribly, we let him get butchered then killed in Vietnam even though he was our ally for all those years. We watched the Shah become, as Henry Kissinger called him, a “flying Dutchman” before he died. Americans do sense when we’re being right with people.

Well, we did – or rather, President Kennedy did — treat Diem terribly. But this sudden surge of sympathy for the Shah, coming from the left, is remarkable, for — in his day — the Shah was close to the top of the left’s list of villains. By itself, this is Cold War revisionism run wild.

Even worse, though, is the way Matthews personalizes it. It wasn’t just Diem we treated badly: it was millions of our friends in Vietnam. Sure, one man matters, especially when he’s president. But we’re not going to “be right with people” if all we do is worry about the fate of their unelected leaders.

As J.E. Dyer pointed out a few days ago, the standard treatment of the Cold War in the academy of the 1970s and 1980s was that it was a bad idea. That argument had many facets, but among the most consistently presented of them was the theme that the artificial Cold War scare had been used to justify close American relations with anti-Communist dictators.

This anti–Cold War bias has, to my mind, waned slightly, in part because of the work of historians like John Lewis Gaddis, and in part because it’s now history, and as such is safe for everyone to be in favor of. Indeed, it’s so safe that President Obama is free to call for Sputnik moments.

Still, the argument about American foreign policy endures. Since both Democratic and Republican presidents fought the Cold War, our policy, whatever you care to say about it, was bipartisan. Yet by and large, the charge of friendship with autocrats is used to tar Republicans. As Mark Mazower, a historian at Columbia, put it last year, “the kind of values talk that Reagan . . . injected into the Republican Party” is “tolerance for nasty dictators so long as they were not Reds.”

As John made clear in his earlier post, in regard to the binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, the argument about whom the U.S. should work with in pursuit of its national interests in this imperfect world is an old, long, and complicated one, and the only immediately nonsensical position is that we should simply ally ourselves with the absolutely pure. But what is really wonderful is to watch media liberals suddenly — now that we have a Democrat as president — discovering the virtues of American collaborations with the autocrats. Here, for instance, is Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball on Tuesday:

[Americans] do not like seeing people treat their friends badly. We treated Diem terribly, we let him get butchered then killed in Vietnam even though he was our ally for all those years. We watched the Shah become, as Henry Kissinger called him, a “flying Dutchman” before he died. Americans do sense when we’re being right with people.

Well, we did – or rather, President Kennedy did — treat Diem terribly. But this sudden surge of sympathy for the Shah, coming from the left, is remarkable, for — in his day — the Shah was close to the top of the left’s list of villains. By itself, this is Cold War revisionism run wild.

Even worse, though, is the way Matthews personalizes it. It wasn’t just Diem we treated badly: it was millions of our friends in Vietnam. Sure, one man matters, especially when he’s president. But we’re not going to “be right with people” if all we do is worry about the fate of their unelected leaders.

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The Increasingly Self-Pitying Obama White House

According to the preview offered by Vanity Fair:

[Todd] Purdum spends a day inside the West Wing and talks to Obama’s top aides, who tell him about the challenges of playing the Beltway game, ugly as it has become, even as their boss insists they find a way to transcend it.

“There’s a relentlessness to this that’s unlike anything else, especially when you come into office in a time of crisis,” says Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. “We did not exactly ease into the tub. The world is so much smaller, and events reverberate much more quickly, and one person can create an event so quickly from one computer terminal.”

Larry Summers, who served as Clinton’s Treasury secretary for the last 18 months of his term, says, “It used to be there was a kind of rhythm to the day” with the tempo picking up after the markets closed and as newspaper deadlines approached, between four and seven P.M. “That’s gone.” And, according to Rahm Emanuel, C.I.A. director Leon Panetta thinks “it’s a huge problem” that Washington runs at such “a highly caffeinated speed.”

Emanuel calls it “F***nutsville,” and Valerie Jarrett says she looks back wistfully to a time when credible people could put a stamp of reliability on information and opinion: “Walter Cronkite would get on and say the truth, and people believed the media,” she says.

It got so bad last December that President Obama and Emanuel would joke that, when it was all over, they were going to open a T-shirt stand on a beach in Hawaii. It would face the ocean and sell only one color and one size. “We didn’t want to make another decision, or choice, or judgment,” Emanuel tells Purdum. They took to beginning staff meetings with Obama smiling at Emanuel and simply saying “White,” and Emanuel nodding back and replying “Medium.”

I’ll reserve final judgment until I read the entire piece. But based on these excerpts — which presumably reflect the thrust of the 10,000-word article — what is striking is the degree of self-pity we find in Obama’s advisers, which is reflected in the president’s words and attitude as well. Team Obama sounds nothing so much as overmatched and overwhelmed, unable to understand what has gone wrong, and increasingly bitter toward the nation’s capital and the pace and nature of politics.

What we are seeing, I think, is a group of supremely arrogant people humbled by events. They are turning out to be a good deal more incompetent than they (and many Americans) ever imagined. They see impending political doom in the form of the midterm elections. Yet this is not leading them toward any apparent serious self-reflection; rather, they are engaging in an extraordinary degree of whining, finger-pointing, and self-indulgence.

It was said of President Kennedy that he was a happy president. “Happiness, [Kennedy] often said, paraphrasing Aristotle, is the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence, and to him the Presidency offered the ideal opportunity to pursue excellence,” Theodore Sorenson wrote in Kennedy. “He liked the job, he thrived on its pressures.”

One doesn’t get that sense with Obama or his key advisers. In 18 months they appear to have developed deep grievances and an increasing unhappiness and frustration with the duties of governing.

Life in the White House is challenging; anyone who has worked there can testify to that. And Washington, D.C., is certainly an imperfect city, as all are. But the impression Team Obama is trying to create — that no group has ever faced more challenges, more difficulties, or more hardships — is silly and somewhat pathetic. Politics is the worthiest ambition, wrote John Buchan (the author of JFK’s favorite book, Pilgrim’s Way); it is the greatest and most honorable adventure.

If Obama and his aides don’t see that or anything like that — if they view politics and governing only through a lens tinted by bitterness, frustration, and resentment — then it is time for them to step aside. If not, then they should man up. Self-pity is a terribly unattractive quality.

According to the preview offered by Vanity Fair:

[Todd] Purdum spends a day inside the West Wing and talks to Obama’s top aides, who tell him about the challenges of playing the Beltway game, ugly as it has become, even as their boss insists they find a way to transcend it.

“There’s a relentlessness to this that’s unlike anything else, especially when you come into office in a time of crisis,” says Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. “We did not exactly ease into the tub. The world is so much smaller, and events reverberate much more quickly, and one person can create an event so quickly from one computer terminal.”

Larry Summers, who served as Clinton’s Treasury secretary for the last 18 months of his term, says, “It used to be there was a kind of rhythm to the day” with the tempo picking up after the markets closed and as newspaper deadlines approached, between four and seven P.M. “That’s gone.” And, according to Rahm Emanuel, C.I.A. director Leon Panetta thinks “it’s a huge problem” that Washington runs at such “a highly caffeinated speed.”

Emanuel calls it “F***nutsville,” and Valerie Jarrett says she looks back wistfully to a time when credible people could put a stamp of reliability on information and opinion: “Walter Cronkite would get on and say the truth, and people believed the media,” she says.

It got so bad last December that President Obama and Emanuel would joke that, when it was all over, they were going to open a T-shirt stand on a beach in Hawaii. It would face the ocean and sell only one color and one size. “We didn’t want to make another decision, or choice, or judgment,” Emanuel tells Purdum. They took to beginning staff meetings with Obama smiling at Emanuel and simply saying “White,” and Emanuel nodding back and replying “Medium.”

I’ll reserve final judgment until I read the entire piece. But based on these excerpts — which presumably reflect the thrust of the 10,000-word article — what is striking is the degree of self-pity we find in Obama’s advisers, which is reflected in the president’s words and attitude as well. Team Obama sounds nothing so much as overmatched and overwhelmed, unable to understand what has gone wrong, and increasingly bitter toward the nation’s capital and the pace and nature of politics.

What we are seeing, I think, is a group of supremely arrogant people humbled by events. They are turning out to be a good deal more incompetent than they (and many Americans) ever imagined. They see impending political doom in the form of the midterm elections. Yet this is not leading them toward any apparent serious self-reflection; rather, they are engaging in an extraordinary degree of whining, finger-pointing, and self-indulgence.

It was said of President Kennedy that he was a happy president. “Happiness, [Kennedy] often said, paraphrasing Aristotle, is the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence, and to him the Presidency offered the ideal opportunity to pursue excellence,” Theodore Sorenson wrote in Kennedy. “He liked the job, he thrived on its pressures.”

One doesn’t get that sense with Obama or his key advisers. In 18 months they appear to have developed deep grievances and an increasing unhappiness and frustration with the duties of governing.

Life in the White House is challenging; anyone who has worked there can testify to that. And Washington, D.C., is certainly an imperfect city, as all are. But the impression Team Obama is trying to create — that no group has ever faced more challenges, more difficulties, or more hardships — is silly and somewhat pathetic. Politics is the worthiest ambition, wrote John Buchan (the author of JFK’s favorite book, Pilgrim’s Way); it is the greatest and most honorable adventure.

If Obama and his aides don’t see that or anything like that — if they view politics and governing only through a lens tinted by bitterness, frustration, and resentment — then it is time for them to step aside. If not, then they should man up. Self-pity is a terribly unattractive quality.

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You Think Democrats Aren’t Depressed?

Over at the American Prospect, they have a big box of Kleenex out. It, snivel, wasn’t, sob, “supposed to be this way.” Paul Waldman grouses:

Every presidency has its ups and downs. But this is one seriously rough period not only for the current inhabitant of the Oval Office but for the people who put him there. The economy continues to struggle along, with millions unemployed. There seems no way out of the mire of Afghanistan. The Gulf of Mexico is befouled and will be for years to come. Republican senators — with the cooperation of a couple of Democrats who know no pleasure greater than screwing up their party’s agenda — have taken advantage of the chamber’s legislative rules to make action all but impossible. And it looks like they will take back the House.

There is more, but you get the drift. All that remains is for them to scare voters: “the unfortunate result of Obama’s missteps, trials, and victories too ambiguous for the taste of many could be that progressives end up where they were with Bill Clinton in 1998: only willing to defend the president by pointing to the extremism of the opposition.” The system is “rigged” against them, you see (wait — don’t they control both Houses of Congress and the White House?), and the Supreme Court is on a tear. (Like when Justice Kennedy voted with the liberals on habeas corpus rights for terrorists and  on defending a public university’s right to force religious groups to take nonbelievers.)

These people are certainly down in the dumps. (“All over the country, progressives are gripped by gloom.”) It is not so much Obama that they appear angry at but rather the American people and the Constitution. If constituents weren’t so loud and the Senate weren’t designed to slow down intemperate legislation, then they’d have their wish list fulfilled.

Well, if this is any indication, I think the polling models are way off. They haven’t begun to explore the depths of Democratic disaffection and the potential for a really miserable Democratic turnout.

Over at the American Prospect, they have a big box of Kleenex out. It, snivel, wasn’t, sob, “supposed to be this way.” Paul Waldman grouses:

Every presidency has its ups and downs. But this is one seriously rough period not only for the current inhabitant of the Oval Office but for the people who put him there. The economy continues to struggle along, with millions unemployed. There seems no way out of the mire of Afghanistan. The Gulf of Mexico is befouled and will be for years to come. Republican senators — with the cooperation of a couple of Democrats who know no pleasure greater than screwing up their party’s agenda — have taken advantage of the chamber’s legislative rules to make action all but impossible. And it looks like they will take back the House.

There is more, but you get the drift. All that remains is for them to scare voters: “the unfortunate result of Obama’s missteps, trials, and victories too ambiguous for the taste of many could be that progressives end up where they were with Bill Clinton in 1998: only willing to defend the president by pointing to the extremism of the opposition.” The system is “rigged” against them, you see (wait — don’t they control both Houses of Congress and the White House?), and the Supreme Court is on a tear. (Like when Justice Kennedy voted with the liberals on habeas corpus rights for terrorists and  on defending a public university’s right to force religious groups to take nonbelievers.)

These people are certainly down in the dumps. (“All over the country, progressives are gripped by gloom.”) It is not so much Obama that they appear angry at but rather the American people and the Constitution. If constituents weren’t so loud and the Senate weren’t designed to slow down intemperate legislation, then they’d have their wish list fulfilled.

Well, if this is any indication, I think the polling models are way off. They haven’t begun to explore the depths of Democratic disaffection and the potential for a really miserable Democratic turnout.

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Why Liberals Should Be Worried About Kagan

As I noted yesterday, Justice Samuel Alito’s dissent in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez is a brilliant take-down of the majority’s reasoning. His concurring opinion in McDonald v. Chicago is equally noteworthy.

As Justice Scalia did in Heller (which held that the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms is a personal right), Alito takes us on a journey through constitutional history and court precedent, leaving little doubt that the ruling is correct — and that the dissenters’ view is not only wrong but also radical. At the conclusion of his analysis, he dispenses with the arguments of the city of Chicago (Municipal respondents), which the dissenters would accept. I have omitted the numerous citations for ease of reading: 

Municipal respondents’ remaining arguments are at war with our central holding in Heller: that the Second Amendment protects a personal right to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes, most notably for self-defense within the home. Municipal respondents, in effect, ask us to treat the right recognized in Heller as a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees that we have held to be incorporated into the Due Process Clause.Municipal respondents’ main argument is nothing less than a plea to disregard 50 years of incorporation precedent and return (presumably for this case only) to a bygone era. Municipal respondents submit that the Due Process Clause protects only those rights “‘recognized by all temperate and civilized governments, from a deep and universal sense of [their] justice.’” According to municipal respondents, if it is possible to imagine any civilized legal system that does not recognize a particular right, then the Due Process Clause Opinion of the Court does not make that right binding on the States. Brief for Municipal Respondents 9. Therefore, the municipal respondents continue, because such countries as England,Canada, Australia, Japan, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, and New Zealand either ban or severely limit handgun ownership, it must follow that no right to possess such weapons is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Alito then dismantles Justice Stevens’s dissent:

Justice Stevens would “‘ground the prohibitions against state action squarely on due process, without intermediate reliance on any of the first eight Amendments.’” The question presented in this case, in his view, “is whether the particular right asserted by petitioners applies to the States because of the Fourteenth Amendment itself, standing on its own bottom.” He would hold that “[t]he rights protected against state infringement by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause need not be identical in shape or scope to the rights protected against Federal Government infringement by the various provisions of the Bill of Rights.”

As we have explained, the Court, for the past half century, has moved away from the two-track approach. If we were now to accept Justice Stevens’ theory across the board, decades of decisions would be undermined. We assume that this is not what is proposed. What is urged instead, it appears, is that this theory be revived solely for the individual right that Heller recognized, over vigorous dissents. The relationship between the Bill of Rights’ guarantees and the States must be governed by a single, neutral principle. It is far too late to exhume what Justice Brennan, writing for the Court 46 years ago, derided as “the notion that the Fourteenth Amendment applies to the States only a watered-down, subjective version of the individual guarantees of the Bill of Rights.”

Justice Scalia dissents separately, purely to make mincemeat of Stevens’s dissent. He picks up where Alito leaves off and makes it clear that Justice Stevens is doing no more than making up rules as he goes along. Scalia takes issue with the notion that Stevens and other justices can decide which fundamental rights are binding on the states and which are not. A sample (the dissent is brief and should be read entirely to enjoy the full flavor), again with citations omitted:

Exactly what is covered is not clear. But whatever else is in, he knows that the right to keep and bear arms is out, despite its being as “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition,” I can find no other explanation for such certitude except that Justice Stevens, despite his forswearing of “personal and private notions,” deeply believes it should be out. The subjective nature of Justice Stevens’ standard is also apparent from his claim that it is the courts’ prerogative—indeed their duty — to update the Due Process Clause so that it encompasses new freedoms the Framers were too narrow-minded to imagine. …

Justice Stevens resists this description, insisting that his approach provides plenty of “guideposts” and “constraints” to keep courts from “injecting excessive subjectivity” into the process.Plenty indeed — and that alone is a problem. The ability of omni directional guideposts to constrain is inversely proportional to their number. But even individually, each lodestar or limitation he lists either is incapable of restraining judicial whimsy or cannot be squared with the precedents he seeks to preserve. …

Justice Stevens also argues that requiring courts to show “respect for the democratic process” should serve as a constraint. That is true, but Justice Stevens would have them show respect in an extraordinary manner. In his view, if a right “is already being given careful consideration in, and subjected to ongoing calibration by, the States, judicial enforcement may not be appropriate.” In other words, a right, such as the right to keep and bear arms, that has long been recognized but on which the States are considering restrictions, apparently deserves less protection, while a privilege the political branches (instruments of the democratic process) have withheld entirely and continue to withhold, deserves more. That topsy-turvy approach conveniently accomplishes the objective of ensuring that the rights this Court held protected in [ abortion and gay rights cases], and other such cases fit the theory — but at the cost of insulting rather than respecting the democratic process.

You see the intellectual fire power — and the dilemma for liberals. Who really thinks that Elena Kagan can go toe to toe with these jurists? What solace can opponents of original jurisprudence take from her “life” — which, she says, provides the basis for confirmation? It’s hardly evident that she has the skill to compile a historical narrative and deconstruct her ideological opponents as effectively as these two, or as well as Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas.

Now great logic does not always persuade Justice Kennedy, but if the aim here was to come up with a counterweight to the “conservative” justices, then perhaps Obama should have gone with someone with demonstrated legal prowess, who can opine on, not merely repeat, the Court’s past holdings. It is for this very reason that conservatives might prefer Kagan to potential alternatives — and save the filibuster for a truly dangerous liberal zealot.

As I noted yesterday, Justice Samuel Alito’s dissent in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez is a brilliant take-down of the majority’s reasoning. His concurring opinion in McDonald v. Chicago is equally noteworthy.

As Justice Scalia did in Heller (which held that the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms is a personal right), Alito takes us on a journey through constitutional history and court precedent, leaving little doubt that the ruling is correct — and that the dissenters’ view is not only wrong but also radical. At the conclusion of his analysis, he dispenses with the arguments of the city of Chicago (Municipal respondents), which the dissenters would accept. I have omitted the numerous citations for ease of reading: 

Municipal respondents’ remaining arguments are at war with our central holding in Heller: that the Second Amendment protects a personal right to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes, most notably for self-defense within the home. Municipal respondents, in effect, ask us to treat the right recognized in Heller as a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees that we have held to be incorporated into the Due Process Clause.Municipal respondents’ main argument is nothing less than a plea to disregard 50 years of incorporation precedent and return (presumably for this case only) to a bygone era. Municipal respondents submit that the Due Process Clause protects only those rights “‘recognized by all temperate and civilized governments, from a deep and universal sense of [their] justice.’” According to municipal respondents, if it is possible to imagine any civilized legal system that does not recognize a particular right, then the Due Process Clause Opinion of the Court does not make that right binding on the States. Brief for Municipal Respondents 9. Therefore, the municipal respondents continue, because such countries as England,Canada, Australia, Japan, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, and New Zealand either ban or severely limit handgun ownership, it must follow that no right to possess such weapons is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Alito then dismantles Justice Stevens’s dissent:

Justice Stevens would “‘ground the prohibitions against state action squarely on due process, without intermediate reliance on any of the first eight Amendments.’” The question presented in this case, in his view, “is whether the particular right asserted by petitioners applies to the States because of the Fourteenth Amendment itself, standing on its own bottom.” He would hold that “[t]he rights protected against state infringement by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause need not be identical in shape or scope to the rights protected against Federal Government infringement by the various provisions of the Bill of Rights.”

As we have explained, the Court, for the past half century, has moved away from the two-track approach. If we were now to accept Justice Stevens’ theory across the board, decades of decisions would be undermined. We assume that this is not what is proposed. What is urged instead, it appears, is that this theory be revived solely for the individual right that Heller recognized, over vigorous dissents. The relationship between the Bill of Rights’ guarantees and the States must be governed by a single, neutral principle. It is far too late to exhume what Justice Brennan, writing for the Court 46 years ago, derided as “the notion that the Fourteenth Amendment applies to the States only a watered-down, subjective version of the individual guarantees of the Bill of Rights.”

Justice Scalia dissents separately, purely to make mincemeat of Stevens’s dissent. He picks up where Alito leaves off and makes it clear that Justice Stevens is doing no more than making up rules as he goes along. Scalia takes issue with the notion that Stevens and other justices can decide which fundamental rights are binding on the states and which are not. A sample (the dissent is brief and should be read entirely to enjoy the full flavor), again with citations omitted:

Exactly what is covered is not clear. But whatever else is in, he knows that the right to keep and bear arms is out, despite its being as “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition,” I can find no other explanation for such certitude except that Justice Stevens, despite his forswearing of “personal and private notions,” deeply believes it should be out. The subjective nature of Justice Stevens’ standard is also apparent from his claim that it is the courts’ prerogative—indeed their duty — to update the Due Process Clause so that it encompasses new freedoms the Framers were too narrow-minded to imagine. …

Justice Stevens resists this description, insisting that his approach provides plenty of “guideposts” and “constraints” to keep courts from “injecting excessive subjectivity” into the process.Plenty indeed — and that alone is a problem. The ability of omni directional guideposts to constrain is inversely proportional to their number. But even individually, each lodestar or limitation he lists either is incapable of restraining judicial whimsy or cannot be squared with the precedents he seeks to preserve. …

Justice Stevens also argues that requiring courts to show “respect for the democratic process” should serve as a constraint. That is true, but Justice Stevens would have them show respect in an extraordinary manner. In his view, if a right “is already being given careful consideration in, and subjected to ongoing calibration by, the States, judicial enforcement may not be appropriate.” In other words, a right, such as the right to keep and bear arms, that has long been recognized but on which the States are considering restrictions, apparently deserves less protection, while a privilege the political branches (instruments of the democratic process) have withheld entirely and continue to withhold, deserves more. That topsy-turvy approach conveniently accomplishes the objective of ensuring that the rights this Court held protected in [ abortion and gay rights cases], and other such cases fit the theory — but at the cost of insulting rather than respecting the democratic process.

You see the intellectual fire power — and the dilemma for liberals. Who really thinks that Elena Kagan can go toe to toe with these jurists? What solace can opponents of original jurisprudence take from her “life” — which, she says, provides the basis for confirmation? It’s hardly evident that she has the skill to compile a historical narrative and deconstruct her ideological opponents as effectively as these two, or as well as Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas.

Now great logic does not always persuade Justice Kennedy, but if the aim here was to come up with a counterweight to the “conservative” justices, then perhaps Obama should have gone with someone with demonstrated legal prowess, who can opine on, not merely repeat, the Court’s past holdings. It is for this very reason that conservatives might prefer Kagan to potential alternatives — and save the filibuster for a truly dangerous liberal zealot.

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The Underwelming Kagan

Joshua Green examines why liberals are nervous about Elena Kagan. He explains:

The same thing that makes her confirmation so likely — the lack of a paper trail for opponents to parse and attack — has also become a prime source of concern for her own side. There’s little hard evidence to reassure liberals that she’ll adjudicate in the way they would prefer. Kagan’s lack of a judicial record and scant legal writing during a career spent mostly in politics and the deanship of Harvard Law School leave open the possibility she’ll turn out to be more conservative than advertised. … The liberal complaint against Kagan is threefold: that she wasn’t sufficiently aggressive in hiring women and minorities to the Harvard faculty; that she took worrisome positions on executive power, the war on terrorism, and corporate campaign spending; and that she isn’t the counterpart to Antonin Scalia that the left has long desired.

Green makes a comparison to David Souter, the quintessential stealth candidate who turned out to be not at all what the president who nominated him expected.

Most interesting is that the left — despite the silly Obama spin — recognizes that “she isn’t the counterpart to Antonin Scalia that the left has long desired.” Perhaps they are worried her intellect is not all that dazzling? Well, we can say she’s not demonstrated the sort of brilliance and scholarship or fine writing that the left understands is a prerequisite to do battle on the Court.

She has had a total of six Supreme Court arguments in her short tenure as solicitor general. It took a full six months before she gave her first argument in Citizens United, bypassing key cases, including Ricci (the New Haven firefighter case) and a high-profile challenge to the Voting Rights Act. Sources within the Justice Department report that Kagan was preparing to argue the Voting Rights Act case but ultimately gave way to her deputy.

Does this sound like a proficient, accomplished “lawyer’s lawyer”? Not even Kagan is high on her own advocacy abilities. Her outing in Citizens United was rocky at best, getting the worst of questioning from both Justices Scalia and Kennedy (whom she is tasked by the left with persuading once she is confirmed). At an awards ceremony at Georgetown Law School honoring Kennedy earlier this month, Kagan spoke, and her comments are revealing — and should be bracing to the left:

At one point, Kagan raised audience eyebrows when she said she would remember an exchange she had with Kennedy “for the rest of my career as an advocate.” …

That memorable exchange with Kennedy that Kagan was recalling, by the way, offered a glimpse into how Kagan handled her first oral argument before the high court — or any court — last September in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That’s the landmark campaign finance case that Kagan lost 5-4, with Kennedy writing the majority.

In spite of her earlier praise for Kennedy, Kagan told the Georgetown audience that the justice had “a bit of a bad habit,” namely that he asks advocates about cases that are not mentioned anywhere in the briefs for the case. Kennedy did just that in Citizens United when he asked Kagan whether something she had just said was “inconsistent with the whole line of cases that began with Thornhill v. Alabama and Coates v. Cincinnati.” … Perhaps many advocates know those cases, Kagan said, but “I at any rate did not.” She added, “There was a look of panic on my face.”

Without knowing for sure, Kagan said she believes that Kennedy “saw in the flash of an instant that … I really had no clue” about the cases he was asking her about. Instead of waiting for her painful reply, Kennedy quickly went on to explain the Thornhill line of cases — which relate to facial challenges to statutes under the First Amendment — with enough detail that Kagan was able to recover and answer the question.

The left has good reason to worry. Kagan will need to elicit respect, not pity, from Kennedy once she is confirmed if she is to fulfill the left’s fondest hopes. Maybe she will grow into the job, but if it took six months to get prepared for her first argument before the Court, how long will it take before she is an influential force on the Court? Will she ever be?

Joshua Green examines why liberals are nervous about Elena Kagan. He explains:

The same thing that makes her confirmation so likely — the lack of a paper trail for opponents to parse and attack — has also become a prime source of concern for her own side. There’s little hard evidence to reassure liberals that she’ll adjudicate in the way they would prefer. Kagan’s lack of a judicial record and scant legal writing during a career spent mostly in politics and the deanship of Harvard Law School leave open the possibility she’ll turn out to be more conservative than advertised. … The liberal complaint against Kagan is threefold: that she wasn’t sufficiently aggressive in hiring women and minorities to the Harvard faculty; that she took worrisome positions on executive power, the war on terrorism, and corporate campaign spending; and that she isn’t the counterpart to Antonin Scalia that the left has long desired.

Green makes a comparison to David Souter, the quintessential stealth candidate who turned out to be not at all what the president who nominated him expected.

Most interesting is that the left — despite the silly Obama spin — recognizes that “she isn’t the counterpart to Antonin Scalia that the left has long desired.” Perhaps they are worried her intellect is not all that dazzling? Well, we can say she’s not demonstrated the sort of brilliance and scholarship or fine writing that the left understands is a prerequisite to do battle on the Court.

She has had a total of six Supreme Court arguments in her short tenure as solicitor general. It took a full six months before she gave her first argument in Citizens United, bypassing key cases, including Ricci (the New Haven firefighter case) and a high-profile challenge to the Voting Rights Act. Sources within the Justice Department report that Kagan was preparing to argue the Voting Rights Act case but ultimately gave way to her deputy.

Does this sound like a proficient, accomplished “lawyer’s lawyer”? Not even Kagan is high on her own advocacy abilities. Her outing in Citizens United was rocky at best, getting the worst of questioning from both Justices Scalia and Kennedy (whom she is tasked by the left with persuading once she is confirmed). At an awards ceremony at Georgetown Law School honoring Kennedy earlier this month, Kagan spoke, and her comments are revealing — and should be bracing to the left:

At one point, Kagan raised audience eyebrows when she said she would remember an exchange she had with Kennedy “for the rest of my career as an advocate.” …

That memorable exchange with Kennedy that Kagan was recalling, by the way, offered a glimpse into how Kagan handled her first oral argument before the high court — or any court — last September in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That’s the landmark campaign finance case that Kagan lost 5-4, with Kennedy writing the majority.

In spite of her earlier praise for Kennedy, Kagan told the Georgetown audience that the justice had “a bit of a bad habit,” namely that he asks advocates about cases that are not mentioned anywhere in the briefs for the case. Kennedy did just that in Citizens United when he asked Kagan whether something she had just said was “inconsistent with the whole line of cases that began with Thornhill v. Alabama and Coates v. Cincinnati.” … Perhaps many advocates know those cases, Kagan said, but “I at any rate did not.” She added, “There was a look of panic on my face.”

Without knowing for sure, Kagan said she believes that Kennedy “saw in the flash of an instant that … I really had no clue” about the cases he was asking her about. Instead of waiting for her painful reply, Kennedy quickly went on to explain the Thornhill line of cases — which relate to facial challenges to statutes under the First Amendment — with enough detail that Kagan was able to recover and answer the question.

The left has good reason to worry. Kagan will need to elicit respect, not pity, from Kennedy once she is confirmed if she is to fulfill the left’s fondest hopes. Maybe she will grow into the job, but if it took six months to get prepared for her first argument before the Court, how long will it take before she is an influential force on the Court? Will she ever be?

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Elena Kagan — Stealth Nominee?

Elena Kagan is the prohibitive favorite for the Supreme Court. She has made it through one confirmation hearing for her current post as solicitor general and possesses academic credentials, a reputation for collegiality with conservatives, and a limited paper trail. Moreover, she is the closest we have to a stealth candidate among the front-runners. As Tom Goldstein notes, “I don’t know anyone who has had a conversation with her in which she expressed a personal conviction on a question of constitutional law in the past decade.”

Casual observers assume that a dean of Harvard Law School and a domestic-policy aide in the Clinton administration must have a sizable body of work reflecting her legal views. But not so. Paul Campos has read all there is to read — and it’s not much:

Yesterday, I read everything Elena Kagan has ever published. It didn’t take long: in the nearly 20 years since Kagan became a law professor, she’s published very little academic scholarship—three law review articles, along with a couple of shorter essays and two brief book reviews. Somehow, Kagan got tenure at Chicago in 1995 on the basis of a single article in The Supreme Court Review—a scholarly journal edited by Chicago’s own faculty—and a short essay in the school’s law review. She then worked in the Clinton administration for several years before joining Harvard as a visiting professor of law in 1999. While there she published two articles, but since receiving tenure from Harvard in 2001 (and becoming dean of the law school in 2003) she has published nothing. (While it’s true law school deans often do little scholarly writing during their terms, Kagan is remarkable both for how little she did in the dozen years prior to becoming Harvard’s dean, and for never having written anything intended for a more general audience, either before or after taking that position.)

Campos goes so far as to suggest that Kagan is a Harriet Miers type – minus the cronyism. He concludes:

Indeed, the most impressive thing about Kagan is that she seems to have a remarkable ability to ingratiate herself with influential people across the ideological spectrum. … As a private lawyer, Miers, after all, had a fairly good excuse for having no public views on the great legal issues of our day. For most of the past 20 years, Kagan’s job has been to both develop and publicize such views. That she has nevertheless managed to almost completely avoid doing so is rather extraordinary.

What to make of this? Well, if a Republican president were to select a person with such a skimpy written record, conservatives would be (and were with the Miers nomination) rightfully worried. But do the same concerns — ideological infidelity, intellectual mediocrity — really apply to Kagan? Let’s be honest, it works differently for liberals. Very few are tempted to moderate their views and slide rightward, while Republican-nominated jurists (David Souter, John Paul Stevens) have a history of “disappointing” their side. And while no one has claimed that Kagan has achieved greatness in legal scholarship, the assumption — rightly or not — is that the dean of one of the top law schools in the country must have some intellectual wattage. Nevertheless, liberal legal activists might have reason to be a bit nervous — after all, would a justice who lacks judicial chops be the best choice to sway Justice Kennedy on those all-important 5-to-4 decisions? Is she really the one who is going to go toe-to-toe with Justice Scalia? There is some risk there if Obama were to choose a lesser known quantity than an appellate judge such as Diane Wood.

Nevertheless, there are clues as to Kagan’s legal mindset. Indeed, one such clue is also her primary shortcoming. Stuart Taylor explains:

The one issue that could slow down Kagan’s confirmation is her impassioned effort as dean to bar military recruiting on campus to protest the law banning openly gay people from serving in the military, which she called “a moral injustice of the first order.”

Kagan carried this opposition to the point of joining a 2005 amicus brief whose strained interpretation of a law denying federal funding to institutions that discriminate against military recruiters would — the Supreme Court held in an 8-0 decision — have rendered the statute “largely meaningless.” This helps to explain the 31 Republican votes against confirming her as solicitor general.

Well, that might be enough to lose her a batch of GOP Senate votes, but would it derail her nomination? Probably not. And it might just give enough comfort to the left that Kagan is a “safe” pick for them.

Elena Kagan is the prohibitive favorite for the Supreme Court. She has made it through one confirmation hearing for her current post as solicitor general and possesses academic credentials, a reputation for collegiality with conservatives, and a limited paper trail. Moreover, she is the closest we have to a stealth candidate among the front-runners. As Tom Goldstein notes, “I don’t know anyone who has had a conversation with her in which she expressed a personal conviction on a question of constitutional law in the past decade.”

Casual observers assume that a dean of Harvard Law School and a domestic-policy aide in the Clinton administration must have a sizable body of work reflecting her legal views. But not so. Paul Campos has read all there is to read — and it’s not much:

Yesterday, I read everything Elena Kagan has ever published. It didn’t take long: in the nearly 20 years since Kagan became a law professor, she’s published very little academic scholarship—three law review articles, along with a couple of shorter essays and two brief book reviews. Somehow, Kagan got tenure at Chicago in 1995 on the basis of a single article in The Supreme Court Review—a scholarly journal edited by Chicago’s own faculty—and a short essay in the school’s law review. She then worked in the Clinton administration for several years before joining Harvard as a visiting professor of law in 1999. While there she published two articles, but since receiving tenure from Harvard in 2001 (and becoming dean of the law school in 2003) she has published nothing. (While it’s true law school deans often do little scholarly writing during their terms, Kagan is remarkable both for how little she did in the dozen years prior to becoming Harvard’s dean, and for never having written anything intended for a more general audience, either before or after taking that position.)

Campos goes so far as to suggest that Kagan is a Harriet Miers type – minus the cronyism. He concludes:

Indeed, the most impressive thing about Kagan is that she seems to have a remarkable ability to ingratiate herself with influential people across the ideological spectrum. … As a private lawyer, Miers, after all, had a fairly good excuse for having no public views on the great legal issues of our day. For most of the past 20 years, Kagan’s job has been to both develop and publicize such views. That she has nevertheless managed to almost completely avoid doing so is rather extraordinary.

What to make of this? Well, if a Republican president were to select a person with such a skimpy written record, conservatives would be (and were with the Miers nomination) rightfully worried. But do the same concerns — ideological infidelity, intellectual mediocrity — really apply to Kagan? Let’s be honest, it works differently for liberals. Very few are tempted to moderate their views and slide rightward, while Republican-nominated jurists (David Souter, John Paul Stevens) have a history of “disappointing” their side. And while no one has claimed that Kagan has achieved greatness in legal scholarship, the assumption — rightly or not — is that the dean of one of the top law schools in the country must have some intellectual wattage. Nevertheless, liberal legal activists might have reason to be a bit nervous — after all, would a justice who lacks judicial chops be the best choice to sway Justice Kennedy on those all-important 5-to-4 decisions? Is she really the one who is going to go toe-to-toe with Justice Scalia? There is some risk there if Obama were to choose a lesser known quantity than an appellate judge such as Diane Wood.

Nevertheless, there are clues as to Kagan’s legal mindset. Indeed, one such clue is also her primary shortcoming. Stuart Taylor explains:

The one issue that could slow down Kagan’s confirmation is her impassioned effort as dean to bar military recruiting on campus to protest the law banning openly gay people from serving in the military, which she called “a moral injustice of the first order.”

Kagan carried this opposition to the point of joining a 2005 amicus brief whose strained interpretation of a law denying federal funding to institutions that discriminate against military recruiters would — the Supreme Court held in an 8-0 decision — have rendered the statute “largely meaningless.” This helps to explain the 31 Republican votes against confirming her as solicitor general.

Well, that might be enough to lose her a batch of GOP Senate votes, but would it derail her nomination? Probably not. And it might just give enough comfort to the left that Kagan is a “safe” pick for them.

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Another About-Face?

In a remarkable and entirely welcome reversal, the Eric Holder Justice Department has retreated in its effort to pursue ethics charges against Bush administration lawyers who authored memos on enhanced interrogation. Newsweek reports on the internal probe by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR):

While the probe is sharply critical of the legal reasoning used to justify waterboarding and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques, NEWSWEEK has learned that a senior Justice official who did the final review of the report softened an earlier OPR finding. Previously, the report concluded that two key authors—Jay Bybee, now a federal appellate court judge, and John Yoo, now a law professor—violated their professional obligations as lawyers when they crafted a crucial 2002 memo approving the use of harsh tactics, say two Justice sources who asked for anonymity discussing an internal matter. But the reviewer, career veteran David Margolis, downgraded that assessment to say they showed “poor judgment,” say the sources.

A draft report prepared in the waning days of the Bush administration by OPR was roundly criticized by departing Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy Mark Filip. As I reported previously:

One former Justice official with knowledge of the matter says, “It is safe to say they had a number of concerns about the draft report both as to the timing and the substance” of the work by OPR. There is, this official reports, “institutional unease by senior career people” at Justice that good faith legal work may place attorneys in peril. “The department won’t be able to attract the best and the brightest. You really want lawyers who will give candid legal advice.”

But the question remains why, and why now, the department has come to its senses. Newsweek pointedly observes: “A Justice official declined to explain why David Margolis softened the original finding, but noted that he is a highly respected career lawyer who acted without input from Holder.” One can speculate that some group of career attorneys, with no love lost for the Bush administration, nevertheless found the prospect of disbarring two of their own for good-faith legal work to be a bridge too far in the partisan wars. And it may be that as the wheels come off the ideology-driven Holder-Obama approach to terrorism (e.g., widespread criticism of the handling of the Christmas Day bombing, reversal of the decision to try KSM in New York), this was one more ill-conceived crusade that the Obami did not need.

Finally, for those who like a bit of Washington intrigue, consider that the White House counsel was until recently Greg Craig, who in his pre-Obama days as an adviser to Sen. Kennedy found the Nicaraguan Sandinistas to be deserving of our support, later helped return Elian Gonzales to the clutches of Fidel Castro, and advised in some capacity Pedro Miguel González, the Panamanian terrorist the U.S. government believed to have murdered two American soldiers. (Yes, that’s a story in and of itself, one that the mainstream media found no interest in reporting.) Craig, often cited as an enthusiastic backer of the “Not Bush” anti-terror policies, is now gone, a victim of the failed attempt to close Guantanamo. Perhaps his departure has removed a powerful advocate for this sort of unseemly mischief. If so, good riddance.

Regardless of the reason, the news that Yoo and Bybee will not be hounded from their profession is positive and long overdue. (The potential loss of their professional licenses has been hanging over them for well over a year.) The notion that lawyers providing detailed legal analysis and a comprehensive review of existing law could later be strung up by state bar associations is nothing short of chilling. As I previously wrote, Ronald Rotunda, a professor of law at Chapman Law School and a specialist in ethics who was consulted by the Justice Department on the OPR’s investigation, found the entire effort to prosecute lawyers for their opinions baffling:

“I can’t imagine you would discipline someone who goes through everything methodically.” He explains, “If you don’t like the particular policies, then change the policies.” He draws an analogy with the attacks on free speech during the Vietnam war and McCarthy eras in which lawyers with particular views were demonized and threatened with loss of their professional licenses.

Well, perhaps some sanity has been restored to the Justice Department. If so, we can finally turn our attention from waging war against the prior administration to determining how to uproot the failed policies of this one. Then on to steering an approach to combating terrorism that is both effective and enjoys the support of the public.

In a remarkable and entirely welcome reversal, the Eric Holder Justice Department has retreated in its effort to pursue ethics charges against Bush administration lawyers who authored memos on enhanced interrogation. Newsweek reports on the internal probe by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR):

While the probe is sharply critical of the legal reasoning used to justify waterboarding and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques, NEWSWEEK has learned that a senior Justice official who did the final review of the report softened an earlier OPR finding. Previously, the report concluded that two key authors—Jay Bybee, now a federal appellate court judge, and John Yoo, now a law professor—violated their professional obligations as lawyers when they crafted a crucial 2002 memo approving the use of harsh tactics, say two Justice sources who asked for anonymity discussing an internal matter. But the reviewer, career veteran David Margolis, downgraded that assessment to say they showed “poor judgment,” say the sources.

A draft report prepared in the waning days of the Bush administration by OPR was roundly criticized by departing Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy Mark Filip. As I reported previously:

One former Justice official with knowledge of the matter says, “It is safe to say they had a number of concerns about the draft report both as to the timing and the substance” of the work by OPR. There is, this official reports, “institutional unease by senior career people” at Justice that good faith legal work may place attorneys in peril. “The department won’t be able to attract the best and the brightest. You really want lawyers who will give candid legal advice.”

But the question remains why, and why now, the department has come to its senses. Newsweek pointedly observes: “A Justice official declined to explain why David Margolis softened the original finding, but noted that he is a highly respected career lawyer who acted without input from Holder.” One can speculate that some group of career attorneys, with no love lost for the Bush administration, nevertheless found the prospect of disbarring two of their own for good-faith legal work to be a bridge too far in the partisan wars. And it may be that as the wheels come off the ideology-driven Holder-Obama approach to terrorism (e.g., widespread criticism of the handling of the Christmas Day bombing, reversal of the decision to try KSM in New York), this was one more ill-conceived crusade that the Obami did not need.

Finally, for those who like a bit of Washington intrigue, consider that the White House counsel was until recently Greg Craig, who in his pre-Obama days as an adviser to Sen. Kennedy found the Nicaraguan Sandinistas to be deserving of our support, later helped return Elian Gonzales to the clutches of Fidel Castro, and advised in some capacity Pedro Miguel González, the Panamanian terrorist the U.S. government believed to have murdered two American soldiers. (Yes, that’s a story in and of itself, one that the mainstream media found no interest in reporting.) Craig, often cited as an enthusiastic backer of the “Not Bush” anti-terror policies, is now gone, a victim of the failed attempt to close Guantanamo. Perhaps his departure has removed a powerful advocate for this sort of unseemly mischief. If so, good riddance.

Regardless of the reason, the news that Yoo and Bybee will not be hounded from their profession is positive and long overdue. (The potential loss of their professional licenses has been hanging over them for well over a year.) The notion that lawyers providing detailed legal analysis and a comprehensive review of existing law could later be strung up by state bar associations is nothing short of chilling. As I previously wrote, Ronald Rotunda, a professor of law at Chapman Law School and a specialist in ethics who was consulted by the Justice Department on the OPR’s investigation, found the entire effort to prosecute lawyers for their opinions baffling:

“I can’t imagine you would discipline someone who goes through everything methodically.” He explains, “If you don’t like the particular policies, then change the policies.” He draws an analogy with the attacks on free speech during the Vietnam war and McCarthy eras in which lawyers with particular views were demonized and threatened with loss of their professional licenses.

Well, perhaps some sanity has been restored to the Justice Department. If so, we can finally turn our attention from waging war against the prior administration to determining how to uproot the failed policies of this one. Then on to steering an approach to combating terrorism that is both effective and enjoys the support of the public.

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Re: Surprises

Last night a reader and I tried to recall if another president had lashed out at the Supreme Court in the way Obama went after the Court for its defense of the First Amendment in striking down portions of the McCain-Feingold statute. Obama suggested that the Court was somehow running to the aid of nefarious “foreign entities” and ignored entirely what was at issue in the case — the protection of core political speech. He proclaimed:

Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.

Apparently, Obama is just wrong. The Court’s ruling didn’t impact the section of the statute that prohibits foreign corporations from making campaign donations or expenditures. (And the ban on direct corporate contributions remains in effect.) No wonder Justice Alito mouthed “not true.” (Even the New York Times’s notoriously liberal-leaning former court reporter Linda Greenhouse says Obama botched the case description.)

But aside from that, there’s the unseemly sight of the president berating the Court in this manner. Constitutional scholar Randy Barnett was thinking about the president’s attack too. He writes:

In the history of the State of the Union has any President ever called out the Supreme Court by name, and egged on the Congress to jeer a Supreme Court decision, while the Justices were seated politely before him surrounded by hundreds Congressmen? To call upon the Congress to countermand (somehow) by statute a constitutional decision, indeed a decision applying the First Amendment? What can this possibly accomplish besides alienating Justice Kennedy who wrote the opinion being attacked. Contrary to what we heard during the last administration, the Court may certainly be the object of presidential criticism without posing any threat to its independence. But this was a truly shocking lack of decorum and disrespect towards the Supreme Court for which an apology is in order. A new tone indeed.

This conduct is even more repellent given that Obama waves around his law school credentials and constitutional-law teaching background when it’s convenient to impress voters with his command of the fine points of our legal system, yet resorts to know-nothing political posturing on the judiciary when it serves his purposes. And what makes this particularly disingenuous is that the president said a great deal about tone and political posturing last night. He lectured us:

Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions — our corporations, our media, and yes, our government — still reflect these same values. Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper. But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people’s doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.

One of those institutions filled with honorable men and women doing important work is the Supreme Court. Obama proceeded to minimize a serious debate over the centrality of the First Amendment to the robust operation of our political system by resorting to a silly argument, from which serious citizens should surely turn away. He conveys not merely a lack of respect for a co-equal branch of government (and ignorance about the ruling he was vilifying) but for the Constitution itself, which he is sworn to uphold. For a lawyer, his conduct is embarrassing; for a president, it is inexcusable.

Last night a reader and I tried to recall if another president had lashed out at the Supreme Court in the way Obama went after the Court for its defense of the First Amendment in striking down portions of the McCain-Feingold statute. Obama suggested that the Court was somehow running to the aid of nefarious “foreign entities” and ignored entirely what was at issue in the case — the protection of core political speech. He proclaimed:

Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.

Apparently, Obama is just wrong. The Court’s ruling didn’t impact the section of the statute that prohibits foreign corporations from making campaign donations or expenditures. (And the ban on direct corporate contributions remains in effect.) No wonder Justice Alito mouthed “not true.” (Even the New York Times’s notoriously liberal-leaning former court reporter Linda Greenhouse says Obama botched the case description.)

But aside from that, there’s the unseemly sight of the president berating the Court in this manner. Constitutional scholar Randy Barnett was thinking about the president’s attack too. He writes:

In the history of the State of the Union has any President ever called out the Supreme Court by name, and egged on the Congress to jeer a Supreme Court decision, while the Justices were seated politely before him surrounded by hundreds Congressmen? To call upon the Congress to countermand (somehow) by statute a constitutional decision, indeed a decision applying the First Amendment? What can this possibly accomplish besides alienating Justice Kennedy who wrote the opinion being attacked. Contrary to what we heard during the last administration, the Court may certainly be the object of presidential criticism without posing any threat to its independence. But this was a truly shocking lack of decorum and disrespect towards the Supreme Court for which an apology is in order. A new tone indeed.

This conduct is even more repellent given that Obama waves around his law school credentials and constitutional-law teaching background when it’s convenient to impress voters with his command of the fine points of our legal system, yet resorts to know-nothing political posturing on the judiciary when it serves his purposes. And what makes this particularly disingenuous is that the president said a great deal about tone and political posturing last night. He lectured us:

Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions — our corporations, our media, and yes, our government — still reflect these same values. Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper. But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people’s doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.

One of those institutions filled with honorable men and women doing important work is the Supreme Court. Obama proceeded to minimize a serious debate over the centrality of the First Amendment to the robust operation of our political system by resorting to a silly argument, from which serious citizens should surely turn away. He conveys not merely a lack of respect for a co-equal branch of government (and ignorance about the ruling he was vilifying) but for the Constitution itself, which he is sworn to uphold. For a lawyer, his conduct is embarrassing; for a president, it is inexcusable.

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What’s The Difference Between Obama and McCain?

John McCain’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg is an interesting counterpoint to Barack Obama’s. In McCain’s interview, you will find not a trace of moral equivalence, no infatuation with Philip Roth (whom Obama apparently imagines as the paragon of American Judaism–perhaps needing a more up to date understanding of Roth’s legacy among many American Jews), and no hesitancy to denounce Islamic jihadism.

Reading the two interviews side-by-side provides a telling contrast between two world views and two approaches to foreign affairs. McCain goes out of his way to stress the role of diplomacy at the right level and the right time, but the main differences between the two candidates are stark. These three questions and answers sum it up:

JG: What do you think motivates Iran?

JM: Hatred. I don’t try to divine people’s motives. I look at their actions and what they say. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the state of their emotions. I do know what their nation’s stated purpose is, I do know they continue in the development of nuclear weapons, and I know that they continue to support terrorists who are bent on the destruction of the state of Israel. You’ll have to ask someone who engages in this psycho stuff to talk about their emotions.

. . .

JG: Senator Obama has calibrated his views on unconditional negotiations. Do you see any circumstance in which you could negotiate with Iran, or do you believe that it’s leadership is impervious to rational dialogue?

JM: I’m amused by Senator Obama’s dramatic change since he’s gone from a candidate in the primary to a candidate in the general election. I’ve seen him do that on a number of issues that show his naivete and inexperience on national security issues. I believe that the history of the successful conduct of national security policy is that, one, you don’t sit down face-to-face with people who are behave the way they do, who are state sponsors of terrorism.

Senator Obama likes to refer to President Kennedy going to Vienna. Most historians see that as a serious mistake, which encouraged Khrushchev to build the Berlin Wall and to send missiles to Cuba. Another example is Richard Nixon going to China. I’ve forgotten how many visits Henry Kissinger made to China, and how every single word was dictated beforehand. More importantly, he went to China because China was then a counterweight to a greater threat, the Soviet Union. What is a greater threat in the Middle East than Iran today?

Senator Obama is totally lacking in experience, so therefore he makes judgments such as saying he would sit down with someone like Ahmadinejad without comprehending the impact of such a meeting. I know that his naivete and lack of experience is on display when he talks about sitting down opposite Hugo Chavez or Raul Castro or Ahmadinejad.

. . .

JG: Let’s go back to Iran. Some critics say that America conflates its problem with Iran with Israel’s problem with Iran. Iran is not threatening the extinction of America, it’s threatening the extinction of Israel. Why should America have a military option for dealing with Iran when the threat is mainly directed against Israel?

JM: The United States of America has committed itself to never allowing another Holocaust. That’s a commitment that the United States has made ever since we discovered the horrendous aspects of the Holocaust. In addition to that, I would respond by saying that I think these terrorist organizations that they sponsor, Hamas and the others, are also bent, at least long-term, on the destruction of the United States of America. That’s why I agree with General Petraeus that Iraq is a central battleground. Because these Shiite militias are sending in these special groups, as they call them, sending weapons in, to remove United States influence and to drive us out of Iraq and thereby achieve their ultimate goals. We’ve heard the rhetoric — the Great Satan, etc. It’s a nuance, their being committed to the destruction of the State of Israel, and their long-term intentions toward us.

A better explanation of the differences between the candidates will be hard to come by.

John McCain’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg is an interesting counterpoint to Barack Obama’s. In McCain’s interview, you will find not a trace of moral equivalence, no infatuation with Philip Roth (whom Obama apparently imagines as the paragon of American Judaism–perhaps needing a more up to date understanding of Roth’s legacy among many American Jews), and no hesitancy to denounce Islamic jihadism.

Reading the two interviews side-by-side provides a telling contrast between two world views and two approaches to foreign affairs. McCain goes out of his way to stress the role of diplomacy at the right level and the right time, but the main differences between the two candidates are stark. These three questions and answers sum it up:

JG: What do you think motivates Iran?

JM: Hatred. I don’t try to divine people’s motives. I look at their actions and what they say. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the state of their emotions. I do know what their nation’s stated purpose is, I do know they continue in the development of nuclear weapons, and I know that they continue to support terrorists who are bent on the destruction of the state of Israel. You’ll have to ask someone who engages in this psycho stuff to talk about their emotions.

. . .

JG: Senator Obama has calibrated his views on unconditional negotiations. Do you see any circumstance in which you could negotiate with Iran, or do you believe that it’s leadership is impervious to rational dialogue?

JM: I’m amused by Senator Obama’s dramatic change since he’s gone from a candidate in the primary to a candidate in the general election. I’ve seen him do that on a number of issues that show his naivete and inexperience on national security issues. I believe that the history of the successful conduct of national security policy is that, one, you don’t sit down face-to-face with people who are behave the way they do, who are state sponsors of terrorism.

Senator Obama likes to refer to President Kennedy going to Vienna. Most historians see that as a serious mistake, which encouraged Khrushchev to build the Berlin Wall and to send missiles to Cuba. Another example is Richard Nixon going to China. I’ve forgotten how many visits Henry Kissinger made to China, and how every single word was dictated beforehand. More importantly, he went to China because China was then a counterweight to a greater threat, the Soviet Union. What is a greater threat in the Middle East than Iran today?

Senator Obama is totally lacking in experience, so therefore he makes judgments such as saying he would sit down with someone like Ahmadinejad without comprehending the impact of such a meeting. I know that his naivete and lack of experience is on display when he talks about sitting down opposite Hugo Chavez or Raul Castro or Ahmadinejad.

. . .

JG: Let’s go back to Iran. Some critics say that America conflates its problem with Iran with Israel’s problem with Iran. Iran is not threatening the extinction of America, it’s threatening the extinction of Israel. Why should America have a military option for dealing with Iran when the threat is mainly directed against Israel?

JM: The United States of America has committed itself to never allowing another Holocaust. That’s a commitment that the United States has made ever since we discovered the horrendous aspects of the Holocaust. In addition to that, I would respond by saying that I think these terrorist organizations that they sponsor, Hamas and the others, are also bent, at least long-term, on the destruction of the United States of America. That’s why I agree with General Petraeus that Iraq is a central battleground. Because these Shiite militias are sending in these special groups, as they call them, sending weapons in, to remove United States influence and to drive us out of Iraq and thereby achieve their ultimate goals. We’ve heard the rhetoric — the Great Satan, etc. It’s a nuance, their being committed to the destruction of the State of Israel, and their long-term intentions toward us.

A better explanation of the differences between the candidates will be hard to come by.

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The Paper Of Record

It may be the McCain camp’s least favorite publication, but they would be hard pressed to come up with pieces that better serve their current message than two which appear in today’s New York Times.

First, this op-ed, which corrects Barack Obama’s take on the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit:

Senior American statesmen like George Kennan advised Kennedy not to rush into a high-level meeting, arguing that Khrushchev had engaged in anti-American propaganda and that the issues at hand could as well be addressed by lower-level diplomats. Kennedy’s own secretary of state, Dean Rusk, had argued much the same in a Foreign Affairs article the previous year: “Is it wise to gamble so heavily? Are not these two men who should be kept apart until others have found a sure meeting ground of accommodation between them?”

But Kennedy went ahead, and for two days he was pummeled by the Soviet leader. . .Kennedy’s aides convinced the press at the time that behind closed doors the president was performing well, but American diplomats in attendance, including the ambassador to the Soviet Union, later said they were shocked that Kennedy had taken so much abuse. Paul Nitze, the assistant secretary of defense, said the meeting was “just a disaster.” Khrushchev’s aide, after the first day, said the American president seemed “very inexperienced, even immature.” Khrushchev agreed, noting that the youthful Kennedy was “too intelligent and too weak.” The Soviet leader left Vienna elated — and with a very low opinion of the leader of the free world. . . .

A little more than two months later, Khrushchev gave the go-ahead to begin erecting what would become the Berlin Wall. Kennedy had resigned himself to it, telling his aides in private that “a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.” The following spring, Khrushchev made plans to “throw a hedgehog at Uncle Sam’s pants”: nuclear missiles in Cuba. And while there were many factors that led to the missile crisis, it is no exaggeration to say that the impression Khrushchev formed at Vienna — of Kennedy as ineffective — was among them.

The second is a front-page story letting on that Jews in Florida actually have real concerns about Obama. And who’d have thought it is not just irrational fear? (The Times dutifully reports “the resistance toward Mr. Obama appears to be rooted in something more than factual misperception; even those with an accurate understanding of Mr. Obama share the hesitations.”) Lots of Florida Jews actually seem troubled by his close association with Palestinian activists, his willingness to hold direct, unconditional negotiations with Iran, and an overall sense he’s likely to “venture too close to questionable characters.” (But there is something for Obama apologists, too–the Times found some other Jews who confess that they think it’s all racism or irrational fear of Obama’s middle name.)

So from the McCain perspective it appears there is a little good news even the Times thinks is fit to print.

It may be the McCain camp’s least favorite publication, but they would be hard pressed to come up with pieces that better serve their current message than two which appear in today’s New York Times.

First, this op-ed, which corrects Barack Obama’s take on the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit:

Senior American statesmen like George Kennan advised Kennedy not to rush into a high-level meeting, arguing that Khrushchev had engaged in anti-American propaganda and that the issues at hand could as well be addressed by lower-level diplomats. Kennedy’s own secretary of state, Dean Rusk, had argued much the same in a Foreign Affairs article the previous year: “Is it wise to gamble so heavily? Are not these two men who should be kept apart until others have found a sure meeting ground of accommodation between them?”

But Kennedy went ahead, and for two days he was pummeled by the Soviet leader. . .Kennedy’s aides convinced the press at the time that behind closed doors the president was performing well, but American diplomats in attendance, including the ambassador to the Soviet Union, later said they were shocked that Kennedy had taken so much abuse. Paul Nitze, the assistant secretary of defense, said the meeting was “just a disaster.” Khrushchev’s aide, after the first day, said the American president seemed “very inexperienced, even immature.” Khrushchev agreed, noting that the youthful Kennedy was “too intelligent and too weak.” The Soviet leader left Vienna elated — and with a very low opinion of the leader of the free world. . . .

A little more than two months later, Khrushchev gave the go-ahead to begin erecting what would become the Berlin Wall. Kennedy had resigned himself to it, telling his aides in private that “a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.” The following spring, Khrushchev made plans to “throw a hedgehog at Uncle Sam’s pants”: nuclear missiles in Cuba. And while there were many factors that led to the missile crisis, it is no exaggeration to say that the impression Khrushchev formed at Vienna — of Kennedy as ineffective — was among them.

The second is a front-page story letting on that Jews in Florida actually have real concerns about Obama. And who’d have thought it is not just irrational fear? (The Times dutifully reports “the resistance toward Mr. Obama appears to be rooted in something more than factual misperception; even those with an accurate understanding of Mr. Obama share the hesitations.”) Lots of Florida Jews actually seem troubled by his close association with Palestinian activists, his willingness to hold direct, unconditional negotiations with Iran, and an overall sense he’s likely to “venture too close to questionable characters.” (But there is something for Obama apologists, too–the Times found some other Jews who confess that they think it’s all racism or irrational fear of Obama’s middle name.)

So from the McCain perspective it appears there is a little good news even the Times thinks is fit to print.

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Lieberman on Obama

It may be apparent that Barack Obama is caught in an untenable position on meeting unconditionally with rogue state leaders, but do not dare to say he is flip-flopping. Say, rather, that he is “evolving.” Actually, Obama’s answer is a bit of gobbledygook — “preparation” but not preconditions and lots of other clouds of dust. The ball is now in McCain’s court to explain why imprecision and inconsistency are tell-tale signs of dangerous inexperience for a potential president in wartime.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joseph Lieberman in today’s Wall Street Journal offers an adaption of the speech he gave Sunday night at the COMMENTARY Fund dinner in New York. He explains what happened after forty-plus years of Democratic presidents who stood up to tyranny and were resolute on national security:

Today, less than a decade later, the parties have completely switched positions. The reversal began, like so much else in our time, on September 11, 2001. The attack on America by Islamist terrorists shook President Bush from the foreign policy course he was on. He saw September 11 for what it was: a direct ideological and military attack on us and our way of life. If the Democratic Party had stayed where it was in 2000, America could have confronted the terrorists with unity and strength in the years after 9/11. Instead a debate soon began within the Democratic Party about how to respond to Mr. Bush. I felt strongly that Democrats should embrace the basic framework the president had advanced for the war on terror as our own, because it was our own. But that was not the choice most Democratic leaders made.

When total victory did not come quickly in Iraq, the old voices of partisanship and peace at any price saw an opportunity to reassert themselves. By considering centrism to be collaboration with the enemy – not bin Laden, but Mr. Bush – activists have successfully pulled the Democratic Party further to the left than it has been at any point in the last 20 years. Far too many Democratic leaders have kowtowed to these opinions rather than challenging them. That unfortunately includes Barack Obama, who, contrary to his rhetorical invocations of bipartisan change, has not been willing to stand up to his party’s left wing on a single significant national security or international economic issue in this campaign.

As for Obama, Lieberman explains:

There are of course times when it makes sense to engage in tough diplomacy with hostile governments. Yet what Mr. Obama has proposed is not selective engagement, but a blanket policy of meeting personally as president, without preconditions, in his first year in office, with the leaders of the most vicious, anti-American regimes on the planet. Mr. Obama has said that in proposing this, he is following in the footsteps of Reagan and JFK. But Kennedy never met with Castro, and Reagan never met with Khomeini. And can anyone imagine Presidents Kennedy or Reagan sitting down unconditionally with Ahmadinejad or Chavez? I certainly cannot.

So what would be reassuring, I think, to those who share Lieberman’s desire for a robust, bipartisan national security is for Obama to do some evolving toward the stance taken by great Democrat presidents like Truman and Kennedy. That, rather than a lot of double talk about tea with Ahmadinejad would be welcome news. But so far we haven’t seen any hopeful signs.

It may be apparent that Barack Obama is caught in an untenable position on meeting unconditionally with rogue state leaders, but do not dare to say he is flip-flopping. Say, rather, that he is “evolving.” Actually, Obama’s answer is a bit of gobbledygook — “preparation” but not preconditions and lots of other clouds of dust. The ball is now in McCain’s court to explain why imprecision and inconsistency are tell-tale signs of dangerous inexperience for a potential president in wartime.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joseph Lieberman in today’s Wall Street Journal offers an adaption of the speech he gave Sunday night at the COMMENTARY Fund dinner in New York. He explains what happened after forty-plus years of Democratic presidents who stood up to tyranny and were resolute on national security:

Today, less than a decade later, the parties have completely switched positions. The reversal began, like so much else in our time, on September 11, 2001. The attack on America by Islamist terrorists shook President Bush from the foreign policy course he was on. He saw September 11 for what it was: a direct ideological and military attack on us and our way of life. If the Democratic Party had stayed where it was in 2000, America could have confronted the terrorists with unity and strength in the years after 9/11. Instead a debate soon began within the Democratic Party about how to respond to Mr. Bush. I felt strongly that Democrats should embrace the basic framework the president had advanced for the war on terror as our own, because it was our own. But that was not the choice most Democratic leaders made.

When total victory did not come quickly in Iraq, the old voices of partisanship and peace at any price saw an opportunity to reassert themselves. By considering centrism to be collaboration with the enemy – not bin Laden, but Mr. Bush – activists have successfully pulled the Democratic Party further to the left than it has been at any point in the last 20 years. Far too many Democratic leaders have kowtowed to these opinions rather than challenging them. That unfortunately includes Barack Obama, who, contrary to his rhetorical invocations of bipartisan change, has not been willing to stand up to his party’s left wing on a single significant national security or international economic issue in this campaign.

As for Obama, Lieberman explains:

There are of course times when it makes sense to engage in tough diplomacy with hostile governments. Yet what Mr. Obama has proposed is not selective engagement, but a blanket policy of meeting personally as president, without preconditions, in his first year in office, with the leaders of the most vicious, anti-American regimes on the planet. Mr. Obama has said that in proposing this, he is following in the footsteps of Reagan and JFK. But Kennedy never met with Castro, and Reagan never met with Khomeini. And can anyone imagine Presidents Kennedy or Reagan sitting down unconditionally with Ahmadinejad or Chavez? I certainly cannot.

So what would be reassuring, I think, to those who share Lieberman’s desire for a robust, bipartisan national security is for Obama to do some evolving toward the stance taken by great Democrat presidents like Truman and Kennedy. That, rather than a lot of double talk about tea with Ahmadinejad would be welcome news. But so far we haven’t seen any hopeful signs.

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It’s Only a Chinese Moon

“I personally believe that China will be back on the moon before we are,” said NASA administrator Michael Griffin, in Washington to mark the organization’s October 1 anniversary. “I think when that happens, Americans will not like it. But they will just have to not like it.”

In 2004, President Bush set 2020 as the goal for returning to the moon. His sixteen-year schedule is twice as long as it took after President Kennedy proposed the challenge in 1961. Although optimistic projections indicate we might return by 2019, the Chinese will still be there to greet us. Beijing has detailed and well-funded plans to reach the moon by 2017. The Chinese have a schedule of preparatory moon landings, while America appears to be going through the motions.

“The U.S. has to get over this feeling that it has to be a competition,” says John Marburger, the White House science adviser. If there is anything we have to get over, it is a sentiment like Marburger’s. China has plans, announced in August, to map every inch of the moon. As far back as 2005, Beijing discussed its intentions to mine it for minerals. By the time we get there, it may really be just a sliver.

Americans once dreamed big. Now, evidently, we’re too mature to do that. At this moment, we’re the leading spacefaring nation; it looks like we will soon be living under the light of a Chinese moon.

“I personally believe that China will be back on the moon before we are,” said NASA administrator Michael Griffin, in Washington to mark the organization’s October 1 anniversary. “I think when that happens, Americans will not like it. But they will just have to not like it.”

In 2004, President Bush set 2020 as the goal for returning to the moon. His sixteen-year schedule is twice as long as it took after President Kennedy proposed the challenge in 1961. Although optimistic projections indicate we might return by 2019, the Chinese will still be there to greet us. Beijing has detailed and well-funded plans to reach the moon by 2017. The Chinese have a schedule of preparatory moon landings, while America appears to be going through the motions.

“The U.S. has to get over this feeling that it has to be a competition,” says John Marburger, the White House science adviser. If there is anything we have to get over, it is a sentiment like Marburger’s. China has plans, announced in August, to map every inch of the moon. As far back as 2005, Beijing discussed its intentions to mine it for minerals. By the time we get there, it may really be just a sliver.

Americans once dreamed big. Now, evidently, we’re too mature to do that. At this moment, we’re the leading spacefaring nation; it looks like we will soon be living under the light of a Chinese moon.

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Rising Star

The leftwing blogosphere has found its next star. He is an articulate champion of a modern leftist sensibility:

• He says that the war in Iraq has failed to produce democracy and has only created “civil war” that is “getting out of [Bush’s] control.”

• He calls the war in Iraq “unjust” and says it was launched based “on deception and blatant lies.”

• He says that the war has made a mockery of our “slogans of justice, liberty, equality, and humanitarianism”—instead replacing them with “fear, destruction, killing, hunger, and illness.” He goes on to say that “more than 650,000 of the people of Iraq” have died “as a result of the war and its repercussions.”

• He says that the “vast majority” of the American public wants the war to stop and “elected the Democratic Party for this purpose, but the Democrats haven’t made a move worth mentioning,” leading to the “vast majority” of the American electorate “being afflicted with disappointment.”

• Why haven’t the Democrats done what they were supposed to? He has an explanation: “they are the same reasons that led to the failure of former President Kennedy to stop the Vietnam War. Those with real power and influence are those with the most capital. And since the democratic system permits major corporations to back candidates, be they presidential or congressional, there shouldn’t be any cause for astonishment—and there isn’t any—in the Democrats’ failure to stop the war.”

• He bemoans that the White House is focused on Iraq rather than on the real dangers facing all mankind, such as “global warming resulting to a large degree from the emissions of the factories of the major corporations,” “the burden of interest-related debts, insane taxes, and real estate mortgages,” and of course “the abject poverty and tragic hunger in Africa.”

• He is particularly peeved that President Bush “insists on not observing the Kyoto accord.”

• He decries the entire process of “globalization,” which he sees as nothing more than the attempts of “the capitalist system . . . to turn the entire world into a fiefdom of the major corporations.”

• He cites the growing consensus of thinkers who “have declared the approach of the collapse of the American Empire.”

• And he recommends that anyone who wants to know what’s really going on in the world read the works of MIT professor Noam Chomsky and former CIA official Michael Scheuer.

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The leftwing blogosphere has found its next star. He is an articulate champion of a modern leftist sensibility:

• He says that the war in Iraq has failed to produce democracy and has only created “civil war” that is “getting out of [Bush’s] control.”

• He calls the war in Iraq “unjust” and says it was launched based “on deception and blatant lies.”

• He says that the war has made a mockery of our “slogans of justice, liberty, equality, and humanitarianism”—instead replacing them with “fear, destruction, killing, hunger, and illness.” He goes on to say that “more than 650,000 of the people of Iraq” have died “as a result of the war and its repercussions.”

• He says that the “vast majority” of the American public wants the war to stop and “elected the Democratic Party for this purpose, but the Democrats haven’t made a move worth mentioning,” leading to the “vast majority” of the American electorate “being afflicted with disappointment.”

• Why haven’t the Democrats done what they were supposed to? He has an explanation: “they are the same reasons that led to the failure of former President Kennedy to stop the Vietnam War. Those with real power and influence are those with the most capital. And since the democratic system permits major corporations to back candidates, be they presidential or congressional, there shouldn’t be any cause for astonishment—and there isn’t any—in the Democrats’ failure to stop the war.”

• He bemoans that the White House is focused on Iraq rather than on the real dangers facing all mankind, such as “global warming resulting to a large degree from the emissions of the factories of the major corporations,” “the burden of interest-related debts, insane taxes, and real estate mortgages,” and of course “the abject poverty and tragic hunger in Africa.”

• He is particularly peeved that President Bush “insists on not observing the Kyoto accord.”

• He decries the entire process of “globalization,” which he sees as nothing more than the attempts of “the capitalist system . . . to turn the entire world into a fiefdom of the major corporations.”

• He cites the growing consensus of thinkers who “have declared the approach of the collapse of the American Empire.”

• And he recommends that anyone who wants to know what’s really going on in the world read the works of MIT professor Noam Chomsky and former CIA official Michael Scheuer.

The only area in which this bold thinker seems to differ from modern Western leftist orthodoxy is in his prescription for all these ills: “To conclude, I invite you to embrace Islam, for the greatest mistake one can make in this world and one which is uncorrectable is to die while not surrendering to Allah, the Most High, in all aspects of one’s life—i.e., to die outside of Islam.”

So perhaps Osama bin Laden won’t be blogging for DailyKos anytime soon. After all, hardcore leftists don’t look kindly on fundamentalist religion (though they tend to be more suspicious of Baptist preachers than of Muslim terrorist leaders). But the overlap between bin Laden’s world view (at least as it’s expressed in his most recent videotape) and that of many Western leftists is uncanny. This does not mean, I should stress, that leftists support al Qaeda. It does seem to mean, however, that bin Laden is trying to rally the “antiwar” crowd to his side in language they understand.

The Occam’s Razor explanation is that, like the North Vietnamese Communists during the 1960’s, he is attempting to manipulate public opinion among his enemies, and that he is good at doing so because his ideology is not that of traditional Islam, but rather a weird amalgam of Islamic teaching and modern totalitarian ideologies. That is, he probably believes the rants he spews out.

Of course, conspiracy theorists will posit that this all just a big ruse, and that precisely because bin Laden is posing as a man of the Left, this is a transparent attempt to discredit the Left and thereby to keep in power Bush, Cheney, et al., who are supposedly doing so much good for bin Laden’s cause. No doubt the works of bin Laden’s favorite American commentators will provide chapter and verse for this argument.

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