Commentary Magazine


Topic: mayor

A Sign of the Times

What could possibly be a more local concern than the design and lettering of street signs? And yet the New York Daily News is reporting that the federal government’s Federal Highway Administration (whose website opening page is entirely devoted to touting the glories of the Stimulus bill) is requiring that New York City replace its street signs with new ones that will be more readable and, therefore, presumably safer. In Frozen Sneakers, Iowa, (the late William F. Buckley’s mythical Nowheresville) that unfunded mandate would not amount to much. But the vast rabbit warren of New York City has a quarter of a million street signs, and they cost $110 apiece to manufacture and install. New York’s mayor didn’t know anything about it but didn’t seem concerned, as the state, in far worse fiscal shape than the city, will be paying the $27 million cost.

I haven’t the faintest idea if the new signs are more readable than the old ones, although that strikes me as easily testable. What bothers me is another question. Exactly what provision of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government authority over street signs? The answer, of course, is that none does, unless you count Article I, Section 8, which empowers Congress to lay taxes in order to provide for the “general Welfare of the United States.” But in 1936 the Supreme Court ruled (United States v. Butler) that the general welfare clause was limited to matters of “national, as distinguished from local welfare.” Of course, the Supreme Court in recent decades has allowed the commerce clause, giving the federal government control over interstate commerce, to be used to justify nearly any action of the federal government.

Meanwhile, today marks the start of the new fiscal year for the federal government. How many appropriations bills has Congress passed to fund the government for fiscal year 2011, its most basic responsibility? Exactly none. They couldn’t even come up with a budget resolution.

What could possibly be a more local concern than the design and lettering of street signs? And yet the New York Daily News is reporting that the federal government’s Federal Highway Administration (whose website opening page is entirely devoted to touting the glories of the Stimulus bill) is requiring that New York City replace its street signs with new ones that will be more readable and, therefore, presumably safer. In Frozen Sneakers, Iowa, (the late William F. Buckley’s mythical Nowheresville) that unfunded mandate would not amount to much. But the vast rabbit warren of New York City has a quarter of a million street signs, and they cost $110 apiece to manufacture and install. New York’s mayor didn’t know anything about it but didn’t seem concerned, as the state, in far worse fiscal shape than the city, will be paying the $27 million cost.

I haven’t the faintest idea if the new signs are more readable than the old ones, although that strikes me as easily testable. What bothers me is another question. Exactly what provision of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government authority over street signs? The answer, of course, is that none does, unless you count Article I, Section 8, which empowers Congress to lay taxes in order to provide for the “general Welfare of the United States.” But in 1936 the Supreme Court ruled (United States v. Butler) that the general welfare clause was limited to matters of “national, as distinguished from local welfare.” Of course, the Supreme Court in recent decades has allowed the commerce clause, giving the federal government control over interstate commerce, to be used to justify nearly any action of the federal government.

Meanwhile, today marks the start of the new fiscal year for the federal government. How many appropriations bills has Congress passed to fund the government for fiscal year 2011, its most basic responsibility? Exactly none. They couldn’t even come up with a budget resolution.

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Running on Empty

It is rare to have an election where the governing party is not (a) running on its record (six months after voting for ObamaCare, no Democrat advertises his vote), (b) promising to push the rest of its agenda (even a Congress with lopsided Democratic majorities did not enact card check and cap-and-trade), or (c) willing to risk a pre-election vote on its signature plan (tax increases for “the rich”). Five weeks before the election, the party is out of gas.

You can see this in California, where the Republican candidates for governor and senator are both first-time candidates and ex-CEOs (Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina) running against two of the state’s most famous Democrats (Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer) in races currently too close to call. In his TV ad, Jerry Brown looks straight at the camera and tells voters:

I’m Jerry Brown. California needs major changes. We have to live within our means, we have to return power and decision-making to the local level, closer to the people. And no new taxes without voter approval.

The statement is barely distinguishable from what a Tea Partier might say.

The Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor is Gavin Newsom — the mayor of the City and County of San Francisco, the bluest of blue areas in a Blue State. Recently he had this to say about the “stimulus” that shoveled federal funds to the state for redistribution to members of public employee unions, while private unemployment in California continued to soar:

Look, I understand why people are fearful. I don’t like this spending more than anyone else … and trust me, I understand the stimulus as well or better than anybody.  I mean, [as] a mayor of a county … you really understand it.  It is not wrong to criticize parts of that stimulus as disproportionately saving jobs in the public sector and not stimulating private sector economic growth. That is not something that I am proud to say, as a Democrat; it’s not something I want to say; but it’s true and [something] I must say.

Newsom is in a statistical dead heat with his Republican opponent (Abel Maldonado); his first ad will accuse Maldonado of supporting “the biggest tax increase in California history.”

In a state that now resembles Greece more than the Golden State it once was, with a $19 billion budget deficit that a 2009 sales tax increase was supposed to cure (but that simply gave California the highest state sales tax in the United States), the Democrats have no agenda — at least not one that seeks to distinguish itself from the Tea Party.

It is rare to have an election where the governing party is not (a) running on its record (six months after voting for ObamaCare, no Democrat advertises his vote), (b) promising to push the rest of its agenda (even a Congress with lopsided Democratic majorities did not enact card check and cap-and-trade), or (c) willing to risk a pre-election vote on its signature plan (tax increases for “the rich”). Five weeks before the election, the party is out of gas.

You can see this in California, where the Republican candidates for governor and senator are both first-time candidates and ex-CEOs (Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina) running against two of the state’s most famous Democrats (Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer) in races currently too close to call. In his TV ad, Jerry Brown looks straight at the camera and tells voters:

I’m Jerry Brown. California needs major changes. We have to live within our means, we have to return power and decision-making to the local level, closer to the people. And no new taxes without voter approval.

The statement is barely distinguishable from what a Tea Partier might say.

The Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor is Gavin Newsom — the mayor of the City and County of San Francisco, the bluest of blue areas in a Blue State. Recently he had this to say about the “stimulus” that shoveled federal funds to the state for redistribution to members of public employee unions, while private unemployment in California continued to soar:

Look, I understand why people are fearful. I don’t like this spending more than anyone else … and trust me, I understand the stimulus as well or better than anybody.  I mean, [as] a mayor of a county … you really understand it.  It is not wrong to criticize parts of that stimulus as disproportionately saving jobs in the public sector and not stimulating private sector economic growth. That is not something that I am proud to say, as a Democrat; it’s not something I want to say; but it’s true and [something] I must say.

Newsom is in a statistical dead heat with his Republican opponent (Abel Maldonado); his first ad will accuse Maldonado of supporting “the biggest tax increase in California history.”

In a state that now resembles Greece more than the Golden State it once was, with a $19 billion budget deficit that a 2009 sales tax increase was supposed to cure (but that simply gave California the highest state sales tax in the United States), the Democrats have no agenda — at least not one that seeks to distinguish itself from the Tea Party.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not even able to hire competent speechwriters, is he? “But even Google seems to have failed the battalion of  swell-headed policy twits you employ, one or two of whom might have studied, oh, let’s say history, at some fabulously famous institution of higher learning—if they still teach that kind of thing—but are now so busy live-tweeting their ice-cream socials among dictators, for example, that they just haven’t got the time to LOOK STUFF UP.”

Not in Delaware, but GOP Senate candidates are leading in Wisconsin, Colorado, and Pennsylvania.

Not even liberals can excuse Obama’s collapse. “It’s a long time now since Obama was a community organizer. Even then, he might have been more comfortable dealing with communities than with individuals. Democrats are best with groups. If I break down on the side of the road, I hope a Republican stops — he’ll fix my flat and offer me a drink. A Democrat will get busy forming a Committee to Protect Women Who Own Vulnerable Cars.” Ouch.

Not a lot of good news for Democratic gubernatorial candidates: “[Democratic] nominees are currently trailing in 13 of the 19 states where they hold the governorships. Only three of their nominees have double digit leads — in Bill Clinton’s home states of Arkansas and New York and in Colorado, where the Republican nominee has been disavowed by many party leaders. Most unnerving for Democrats is that their nominees are currently trailing by double digits in the nation’s industrial heartland — in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois. These are states Barack Obama carried with 54, 51, 57 and 62 percent of the vote.”

Not a surprise: “A report by three UN-appointed human rights experts Wednesday said that Israeli forces violated international law when they raided a Gaza-bound aid flotilla killing nine activists earlier this year. The UN Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission concluded that the naval blockade of Gaza was unlawful because of the humanitarian crisis there, and described the military raid on the flotilla as brutal and disproportionate.” But the Obami say we’re doing great things by sitting on the UNHRC. Time to pull out and pull the plug on the thugs’ funding.

Not looking good for Obama’s class-warfare gambit: ”A number of ‘moderate’ House Dems have privately given Nancy Pelosi and other Dem leaders an earful in recent days, urging them not to hold a vote on whether to extend just the middle class tax cuts and not the high end ones, because it will leave them vulnerable to Republican ads, sources involved in the discussions tell me.”

Not much for Tea Partiers, mainstream conservatives, and independents to disagree with here: “The Republicans’ new Contract with America, which will be unveiled on Thursday, calls for a crackdown on government spending, repealing the new healthcare law and extending all of the expiring Bush tax cuts.”

Not going to stick around for the Election Day body count? “White House aides are preparing for the possibility that Rahm Emanuel may step down as chief of staff as soon as early October if he decides to run for mayor of Chicago, according to a person familiar with deliberations in the West Wing.”

Not even able to hire competent speechwriters, is he? “But even Google seems to have failed the battalion of  swell-headed policy twits you employ, one or two of whom might have studied, oh, let’s say history, at some fabulously famous institution of higher learning—if they still teach that kind of thing—but are now so busy live-tweeting their ice-cream socials among dictators, for example, that they just haven’t got the time to LOOK STUFF UP.”

Not in Delaware, but GOP Senate candidates are leading in Wisconsin, Colorado, and Pennsylvania.

Not even liberals can excuse Obama’s collapse. “It’s a long time now since Obama was a community organizer. Even then, he might have been more comfortable dealing with communities than with individuals. Democrats are best with groups. If I break down on the side of the road, I hope a Republican stops — he’ll fix my flat and offer me a drink. A Democrat will get busy forming a Committee to Protect Women Who Own Vulnerable Cars.” Ouch.

Not a lot of good news for Democratic gubernatorial candidates: “[Democratic] nominees are currently trailing in 13 of the 19 states where they hold the governorships. Only three of their nominees have double digit leads — in Bill Clinton’s home states of Arkansas and New York and in Colorado, where the Republican nominee has been disavowed by many party leaders. Most unnerving for Democrats is that their nominees are currently trailing by double digits in the nation’s industrial heartland — in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois. These are states Barack Obama carried with 54, 51, 57 and 62 percent of the vote.”

Not a surprise: “A report by three UN-appointed human rights experts Wednesday said that Israeli forces violated international law when they raided a Gaza-bound aid flotilla killing nine activists earlier this year. The UN Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission concluded that the naval blockade of Gaza was unlawful because of the humanitarian crisis there, and described the military raid on the flotilla as brutal and disproportionate.” But the Obami say we’re doing great things by sitting on the UNHRC. Time to pull out and pull the plug on the thugs’ funding.

Not looking good for Obama’s class-warfare gambit: ”A number of ‘moderate’ House Dems have privately given Nancy Pelosi and other Dem leaders an earful in recent days, urging them not to hold a vote on whether to extend just the middle class tax cuts and not the high end ones, because it will leave them vulnerable to Republican ads, sources involved in the discussions tell me.”

Not much for Tea Partiers, mainstream conservatives, and independents to disagree with here: “The Republicans’ new Contract with America, which will be unveiled on Thursday, calls for a crackdown on government spending, repealing the new healthcare law and extending all of the expiring Bush tax cuts.”

Not going to stick around for the Election Day body count? “White House aides are preparing for the possibility that Rahm Emanuel may step down as chief of staff as soon as early October if he decides to run for mayor of Chicago, according to a person familiar with deliberations in the West Wing.”

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If Rolling Stone Sank McChrystal, What Will Woodward Do to the Obami?

The New York Times’s Michael Shear makes an excellent point about the Bob Woodward book and the various recriminations from administration sources that it airs: “Stanley A. McChrystal got fired for less.” While the dirt dished by the general’s aides in the Rolling Stone profile of McChrystal was considered a hanging offense, what will the president do about the far worse gossip that is reported by Woodward? As Shear points out, “If anything, the recriminations in Bob Woodward’s new book, “Obama’s Wars,” are more numerous, more substantive and more personal than the ones in the Rolling Stones article about General McChrystal. Rather than a few off-color comments from military subordinates, the Woodward book details personal animosities among the president’s most senior advisers.”

Shear thinks a big part of the reason there will be no repercussions about the Woodward book is that some of the top players in the Obama White House have at least one foot out the door. In addition to the chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who everyone seems to think will run for mayor of Chicago, Woodward mentions National Security Adviser Jim Jones as another staffer planning to flee.

More to the point is the fact that Obama had given his advisers permission to be candid with Woodward. Having done so it would be hypocritical for the president to then punish those whose candor included a healthy dose of dissension and backbiting.

This Woodward book, like all the others he has written in the past 30 years in which he has demonstrated an ability to get inside (and almost always unsourced) dope about every administration, is merely a Washington cause célèbre that will soon be largely forgotten. But while it may not amount to much in the long run, it is an interesting snapshot of an administration in disarray, divided on policy and sinking in the polls. While Stanley McChrystal may have paid with his career for the offhand (and generally truthful) remarks made about some of his colleagues, the Obami will, as always, forgive themselves for the same sort of behavior.

The New York Times’s Michael Shear makes an excellent point about the Bob Woodward book and the various recriminations from administration sources that it airs: “Stanley A. McChrystal got fired for less.” While the dirt dished by the general’s aides in the Rolling Stone profile of McChrystal was considered a hanging offense, what will the president do about the far worse gossip that is reported by Woodward? As Shear points out, “If anything, the recriminations in Bob Woodward’s new book, “Obama’s Wars,” are more numerous, more substantive and more personal than the ones in the Rolling Stones article about General McChrystal. Rather than a few off-color comments from military subordinates, the Woodward book details personal animosities among the president’s most senior advisers.”

Shear thinks a big part of the reason there will be no repercussions about the Woodward book is that some of the top players in the Obama White House have at least one foot out the door. In addition to the chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who everyone seems to think will run for mayor of Chicago, Woodward mentions National Security Adviser Jim Jones as another staffer planning to flee.

More to the point is the fact that Obama had given his advisers permission to be candid with Woodward. Having done so it would be hypocritical for the president to then punish those whose candor included a healthy dose of dissension and backbiting.

This Woodward book, like all the others he has written in the past 30 years in which he has demonstrated an ability to get inside (and almost always unsourced) dope about every administration, is merely a Washington cause célèbre that will soon be largely forgotten. But while it may not amount to much in the long run, it is an interesting snapshot of an administration in disarray, divided on policy and sinking in the polls. While Stanley McChrystal may have paid with his career for the offhand (and generally truthful) remarks made about some of his colleagues, the Obami will, as always, forgive themselves for the same sort of behavior.

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RE: Shut Up, the Islamists Explained

Islamists have been mighty successful in propounding a Big Lie: America is a nation beset by Islamophobes. If anything, the religious bigotry problem both in America and in Europe is one of vicious anti-Semitism, which has become mainstream and even fashionable.

Unlike the concocted Islamophobia — based on hysteria over a single whacked-out pastor and legitimate objections to a mosque at Ground Zero — there is plenty of evidence that anti-Semitism enjoys newfound popularity. Time magazine feels confident that its “Jews only care about money” cover story will hit a chord with the public. European officials suffer no ostracism for hurling epithets at Jews speaking up in defense of the Israel. The Turkish foreign minister talks about a “final solution” and no one bats an eye. Now a new and important film, Crossing the Line, documents the prevalence of not simply anti-Israel activism but also violent anti-Semitism on college campuses. (A five-minute clip is chilling viewing.)

But the chattering class and the media mavens aren’t much concerned with all that. To the contrary, CAIR’s darling Helen Thomas operated comfortably in the Washington press corps until she erred by speaking candidly to a rabbi with a video camera. And while Mayor Bloomberg tells us to hush up about the mosque, and the left blogosphere shouts “bigots” at New Yorkers who’d like the mosque moved, the impresarios of political correctness are mute when a journalist is forced into hiding by Islamic radicals. The Washington Examiner‘s editors explain:

Last week, the Seattle Weekly announced that Molly Norris, its editorial cartoonist, had “gone ghost.” Put another way, she went into hiding. The FBI told her she had to because otherwise it couldn’t protect her against death threats from Muslims she’d angered. Earlier this year, Norris started “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” to protest radical Muslims’ violently stifling freedom of speech and conscience. Incredibly, her plight has drawn precious little media attention, even though it is infinitely more newsworthy than, say, a fundamentalist preacher in Florida threatening to burn Qurans.

When The Examiner asked the American Society of News Editors for a statement on the issue, none was forthcoming. This despite the fact that the first sentence of ASNE’s Web site describes its mission as supporting “the First Amendment at home and free speech around the world.” We got a similar response from the Society of Professional Journalists, despite its dedication “to the perpetuation of the free press as the cornerstone of our nation and liberty.”

From the New York Times to TNR (which I had hoped under the headline ”Atonement” was going to come clean on misguided support for the “pro-Zionist” candidate Barack Obama, who turned out to be anything but), journalists fall over themselves to apologize for affronts to Muslims.

But then, what can we expect when the president proclaims himself Explainer in Chief on behalf of Islam, chants in Cairo the trope of Palestinian exploitation, and dispatches his advisers to pronounce that opposition to the Ground Zero mosque is reminiscent of European anti-Semitism in the 1930s?

What started out as a widespread effort to delegitimize Israel has now morphed into a war on defenders of Israel and critics of Islamic radicals. So far they are winning the war — with the help of liberal American elites.

Islamists have been mighty successful in propounding a Big Lie: America is a nation beset by Islamophobes. If anything, the religious bigotry problem both in America and in Europe is one of vicious anti-Semitism, which has become mainstream and even fashionable.

Unlike the concocted Islamophobia — based on hysteria over a single whacked-out pastor and legitimate objections to a mosque at Ground Zero — there is plenty of evidence that anti-Semitism enjoys newfound popularity. Time magazine feels confident that its “Jews only care about money” cover story will hit a chord with the public. European officials suffer no ostracism for hurling epithets at Jews speaking up in defense of the Israel. The Turkish foreign minister talks about a “final solution” and no one bats an eye. Now a new and important film, Crossing the Line, documents the prevalence of not simply anti-Israel activism but also violent anti-Semitism on college campuses. (A five-minute clip is chilling viewing.)

But the chattering class and the media mavens aren’t much concerned with all that. To the contrary, CAIR’s darling Helen Thomas operated comfortably in the Washington press corps until she erred by speaking candidly to a rabbi with a video camera. And while Mayor Bloomberg tells us to hush up about the mosque, and the left blogosphere shouts “bigots” at New Yorkers who’d like the mosque moved, the impresarios of political correctness are mute when a journalist is forced into hiding by Islamic radicals. The Washington Examiner‘s editors explain:

Last week, the Seattle Weekly announced that Molly Norris, its editorial cartoonist, had “gone ghost.” Put another way, she went into hiding. The FBI told her she had to because otherwise it couldn’t protect her against death threats from Muslims she’d angered. Earlier this year, Norris started “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” to protest radical Muslims’ violently stifling freedom of speech and conscience. Incredibly, her plight has drawn precious little media attention, even though it is infinitely more newsworthy than, say, a fundamentalist preacher in Florida threatening to burn Qurans.

When The Examiner asked the American Society of News Editors for a statement on the issue, none was forthcoming. This despite the fact that the first sentence of ASNE’s Web site describes its mission as supporting “the First Amendment at home and free speech around the world.” We got a similar response from the Society of Professional Journalists, despite its dedication “to the perpetuation of the free press as the cornerstone of our nation and liberty.”

From the New York Times to TNR (which I had hoped under the headline ”Atonement” was going to come clean on misguided support for the “pro-Zionist” candidate Barack Obama, who turned out to be anything but), journalists fall over themselves to apologize for affronts to Muslims.

But then, what can we expect when the president proclaims himself Explainer in Chief on behalf of Islam, chants in Cairo the trope of Palestinian exploitation, and dispatches his advisers to pronounce that opposition to the Ground Zero mosque is reminiscent of European anti-Semitism in the 1930s?

What started out as a widespread effort to delegitimize Israel has now morphed into a war on defenders of Israel and critics of Islamic radicals. So far they are winning the war — with the help of liberal American elites.

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Who Will Get Michelle Rhee?

Michelle Rhee is expected to leave her post as chancellor of the Washington D.C. schools following the defeat of Mayor Adrian Fenty in the Democratic primary. Fenty had supported her aggressive reform agenda, while his primary opponent, Vincent Gray, plainly did not.

Here’s the story in a nutshell:

Gray, a genteel politician from the old school, has deep roots in the African American middle class that has been the heart of the District’s public school teacher corps. That constituency has been traumatized by many of Rhee’s reform efforts, which have included hundreds of layoffs, firings and outspoken comments about the poor quality of D.C. educators.

Rhee, like the mayor who hired her, had passions that veered more toward inputs and outcomes than collaboration and consensus. The record on her watch includes generally improved test scores, an enrollment that has stabilized after decades of decline, a labor contract that gives the District new power over teacher job assignments and an evaluation system that can lead to dismissal for instructors who score poorly.

Not hard to figure out which side you should be on, is it? Gray can’t fathom why Rhee would rock the boat:

The layoffs were bad enough, but Gray expressed particular concern about Rhee’s apparent disregard for the protocols, procedures and personal collaborations that Gray considered essential to smooth functioning within his political world. In this case, the process dictated that Rhee made sure that the council wasn’t blindsided by the news.

But Rhee displayed little interest in either process or political niceties as she rushed to implement an ambitious agenda. She told Gray that she wasn’t trying to embarrass the council, that she just wanted to protect the interests of children.

“You can choose to believe that or not,” Rhee said. …

Perhaps more than anything, Gray was mystified by what he regarded as her political tin ear, exemplified, in his view by her infamous Time magazine cover.

“I said, ‘Michelle, why would you agree to be photographed with a broom on the cover of Time magazine?’ ” Gray said in a 2009 interview. ‘What kind of message do you think that sends?’ “

It sends the message that she has no patience with hacks like Gray. And you can appreciate her comments at a D.C. function last night: “Yesterday’s election results were devastating, devastating. … Not for me, because I’ll be fine, and not even for Fenty, because he’ll be fine, but devastating for the schoolchildren of Washington, D.C.” The function, by the way, was a showing of the film “‘Waiting for Superman,’ the documentary that casts her as a tart-tongued heroine of the national education reform movement.”

A few observations. First, can you just imagine a Chris Christie–Michelle Rhee administration? (I have no idea what her party affiliation is.) Big Labor bosses would have a collective heart attack. Second, Rhee can walk into any school district that isn’t hobbled by a Vincent Gray and make a huge difference. One lucky school district will demonstrate how educational reform is done. Third, the voters of D.C. frankly get the government they deserve. Yes, the teacher’s union backed and funded Gray, but he was elected with the clear understanding that Rhee would leave. They are about to experience — again — the slothful operation of their school district. And finally, any president would be wise to snap her up as education secretary. In fact, she really has unlimited career opportunities. D.C.’s loss may be the country’s gain.

Michelle Rhee is expected to leave her post as chancellor of the Washington D.C. schools following the defeat of Mayor Adrian Fenty in the Democratic primary. Fenty had supported her aggressive reform agenda, while his primary opponent, Vincent Gray, plainly did not.

Here’s the story in a nutshell:

Gray, a genteel politician from the old school, has deep roots in the African American middle class that has been the heart of the District’s public school teacher corps. That constituency has been traumatized by many of Rhee’s reform efforts, which have included hundreds of layoffs, firings and outspoken comments about the poor quality of D.C. educators.

Rhee, like the mayor who hired her, had passions that veered more toward inputs and outcomes than collaboration and consensus. The record on her watch includes generally improved test scores, an enrollment that has stabilized after decades of decline, a labor contract that gives the District new power over teacher job assignments and an evaluation system that can lead to dismissal for instructors who score poorly.

Not hard to figure out which side you should be on, is it? Gray can’t fathom why Rhee would rock the boat:

The layoffs were bad enough, but Gray expressed particular concern about Rhee’s apparent disregard for the protocols, procedures and personal collaborations that Gray considered essential to smooth functioning within his political world. In this case, the process dictated that Rhee made sure that the council wasn’t blindsided by the news.

But Rhee displayed little interest in either process or political niceties as she rushed to implement an ambitious agenda. She told Gray that she wasn’t trying to embarrass the council, that she just wanted to protect the interests of children.

“You can choose to believe that or not,” Rhee said. …

Perhaps more than anything, Gray was mystified by what he regarded as her political tin ear, exemplified, in his view by her infamous Time magazine cover.

“I said, ‘Michelle, why would you agree to be photographed with a broom on the cover of Time magazine?’ ” Gray said in a 2009 interview. ‘What kind of message do you think that sends?’ “

It sends the message that she has no patience with hacks like Gray. And you can appreciate her comments at a D.C. function last night: “Yesterday’s election results were devastating, devastating. … Not for me, because I’ll be fine, and not even for Fenty, because he’ll be fine, but devastating for the schoolchildren of Washington, D.C.” The function, by the way, was a showing of the film “‘Waiting for Superman,’ the documentary that casts her as a tart-tongued heroine of the national education reform movement.”

A few observations. First, can you just imagine a Chris Christie–Michelle Rhee administration? (I have no idea what her party affiliation is.) Big Labor bosses would have a collective heart attack. Second, Rhee can walk into any school district that isn’t hobbled by a Vincent Gray and make a huge difference. One lucky school district will demonstrate how educational reform is done. Third, the voters of D.C. frankly get the government they deserve. Yes, the teacher’s union backed and funded Gray, but he was elected with the clear understanding that Rhee would leave. They are about to experience — again — the slothful operation of their school district. And finally, any president would be wise to snap her up as education secretary. In fact, she really has unlimited career opportunities. D.C.’s loss may be the country’s gain.

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The Role and Purpose of Government

On the website e21, Representative Paul Ryan has responded to a column by David Brooks, who in turn was commenting on an op-ed by Ryan and Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute. Charles Murray added his thoughts as well.

The subject they are addressing is the role and purpose of the state in our lives. I would add only a few thoughts to what these razor-sharp minds have written.

The first is this: more than at any point in our lifetime, the sheer cost and size of government matters. We face an entitlement crisis. The level of our deficit and debt are unsustainable. Demographics are working against us rather than in our favor. And the Obama presidency has made our fiscal problems more, not less, acute. Unless we begin to reverse this trend fairly significantly, America will change in deep and lasting ways. We cannot continue on our present course and remain a strong, vibrant society. There is an urgent need, then, to re-limit government simply as a matter of dollars and cents, quite apart from philosophy and the effects the nanny state has on human character and self-reliance.

That said, conservatives also need to engage in a thoroughgoing examination of the core purposes of programs and policies. And in considering how to reform government programs, we need to think in terms of what we want them to do rather than simply how large and costly they are.

Consider four successes by government in the past 20 years: welfare reform; crime reduction (including the transformation of New York City under Mayor Rudy Giuliani); the campaign against illegal drugs in the late 1980s and early 1990s led by William J. Bennett; and the surge in Iraq. In each of these instances, the key to success wasn’t limiting the size of government; in each case, after all, government spending went up, not down. What transformed failure into success was acting smarter, creating the right incentives and disincentives, attacking the problems in a comprehensive way, and thinking in terms of what works.

What we need, then, are policymakers who believe in accountability; who judge results based not on inputs (expenditures, number of caseload workers, police officers, or troops) but outputs (cutting the number of people on welfare, decreasing drug use, reducing crime rates, lowering the number of ethno-sectarian deaths, car bombings, suicide attacks, and terrorist safe havens); who are passionately empirical; and who understand that we need to craft programs so as to take into account human nature and human behavior.

When it comes to entitlement programs, our task is different from, say, an anti-crime strategy. On entitlements, our first priority needs to be cutting costs in order to avoid a fiscal calamity. That will require us to alter the way we think about the basic aims of these programs. And here, I think, is where we eventually need to go: gradually and thoughtfully transitioning toward a means-tested system of benefits in place of the current Social Security and Medicare systems.

All these matters need to be examined in more depth. My hope is that Messrs. Brooks, Ryan, Brooks, and Murray continue to deepen this discussion and, in the process, pull other thoughtful voices into it. They could hardly perform a more useful intellectual and civic role.

On the website e21, Representative Paul Ryan has responded to a column by David Brooks, who in turn was commenting on an op-ed by Ryan and Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute. Charles Murray added his thoughts as well.

The subject they are addressing is the role and purpose of the state in our lives. I would add only a few thoughts to what these razor-sharp minds have written.

The first is this: more than at any point in our lifetime, the sheer cost and size of government matters. We face an entitlement crisis. The level of our deficit and debt are unsustainable. Demographics are working against us rather than in our favor. And the Obama presidency has made our fiscal problems more, not less, acute. Unless we begin to reverse this trend fairly significantly, America will change in deep and lasting ways. We cannot continue on our present course and remain a strong, vibrant society. There is an urgent need, then, to re-limit government simply as a matter of dollars and cents, quite apart from philosophy and the effects the nanny state has on human character and self-reliance.

That said, conservatives also need to engage in a thoroughgoing examination of the core purposes of programs and policies. And in considering how to reform government programs, we need to think in terms of what we want them to do rather than simply how large and costly they are.

Consider four successes by government in the past 20 years: welfare reform; crime reduction (including the transformation of New York City under Mayor Rudy Giuliani); the campaign against illegal drugs in the late 1980s and early 1990s led by William J. Bennett; and the surge in Iraq. In each of these instances, the key to success wasn’t limiting the size of government; in each case, after all, government spending went up, not down. What transformed failure into success was acting smarter, creating the right incentives and disincentives, attacking the problems in a comprehensive way, and thinking in terms of what works.

What we need, then, are policymakers who believe in accountability; who judge results based not on inputs (expenditures, number of caseload workers, police officers, or troops) but outputs (cutting the number of people on welfare, decreasing drug use, reducing crime rates, lowering the number of ethno-sectarian deaths, car bombings, suicide attacks, and terrorist safe havens); who are passionately empirical; and who understand that we need to craft programs so as to take into account human nature and human behavior.

When it comes to entitlement programs, our task is different from, say, an anti-crime strategy. On entitlements, our first priority needs to be cutting costs in order to avoid a fiscal calamity. That will require us to alter the way we think about the basic aims of these programs. And here, I think, is where we eventually need to go: gradually and thoughtfully transitioning toward a means-tested system of benefits in place of the current Social Security and Medicare systems.

All these matters need to be examined in more depth. My hope is that Messrs. Brooks, Ryan, Brooks, and Murray continue to deepen this discussion and, in the process, pull other thoughtful voices into it. They could hardly perform a more useful intellectual and civic role.

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Religious Provocateurs and the Liberal Elite

A crackpot pastor with a “flock” of 50 threatens to burn Korans. The entire political establishment, including the president and the defense secretary, Republican officials and 2012 contenders, and Christian and Jewish leaders implore him to stop. So much for the notion that America is a hotbed of Islamophobia. (The elite media — ever eager to show Americans’ “intolerance” – is the entity most responsible for fanning the flames on this one.)

We saw, of course, no similar outpouring of condemnation and pleading from the chattering class or from Muslim officials when Imam Rauf announced that he would build a mosque on the site where 3,000 Americans were incinerated in the name of Islam.You see, empathy runs only one way for the Muslim outreachers. Under no circumstances must we expect or request a modicum of respect for non-Muslims from the mosque builders. What is revealing in the Koran incident is not what it tells us about the pastor, but what it tells us about the left.

We’ve known for sometime, of course, that the left really doesn’t much mind it when the religious insults are hurled against Christians. The Piss Christ exhibit, you see, was an act of “artistic expression.” And as Daniel Gordis detailed, virulent anti-Semitism is not only acceptable but increasingly de rigueur in the liberal media. It’s only when Muslim sensibilities are involved that the left rushes forth in a tizzy about religious sensibilities. Contrast the insistence that the Koran-burning minister call off his stunt to the support the left gives to Imam Rauf’s incendiary act. The latter is construed as an “act of reconciliation”; only the former is recognized as divisive and hateful.

Charles Lane pegged it correctly:

The president seemed oblivious to the contradiction between his pressure on Jones and his view, repeated at Friday’s press conference, that the U.S. must strictly follow the Constitution when prosecuting terrorism suspects — lest the terrorists win by getting us to curtail liberty. “We can’t be frightened by a handful of people who are trying to do us harm,” he said. Yet to the extent Obama opposed [Rev. Terry] Jones’s exercise of free speech — including mere “threats of action” — because it might trigger a violent reaction, he was expressing, and yielding to, fear of those very “people.”…

Instead, the president of the United States broadcast his fear that a U.S. citizen’s exercise of his liberty will provoke Muslim violence — without even calling upon Muslims to refrain from such attacks, much less declaring that they would be completely unjustified, and correspondingly resisted.

Remember the Obama rule: tolerance is what Muslims should expect from non-Muslims, never the reverse.

Meanwhile, Rauf pronounces: “You know, had I known this would happen, we certainly would never have done this. … We would not have done something that would have created more divisiveness.” If he admits his effort at reconciliation was a debacle and has proved counterproductive, why not call if off? But to hear Mayor Bloomberg, the president, and the rest of the left, to urge him to do just that is to “betray our values” and engage in bigotry.

It is this sort of moral and intellectual incoherence that contributes to the disdain many citizens feel toward the liberal intelligentsia. The average American can figure out that we should use moral persuasion and public criticism to prevent gratuitous insults by misguided or intentionally provocative religious figures (and to ignore the truly marginal figures like the Koran burner, whose bonanza of publicity is sure to attract copycats). Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the chattering class or this administration. It’s a wonder that confidence in elite institutions isn’t lower than it already is.

A crackpot pastor with a “flock” of 50 threatens to burn Korans. The entire political establishment, including the president and the defense secretary, Republican officials and 2012 contenders, and Christian and Jewish leaders implore him to stop. So much for the notion that America is a hotbed of Islamophobia. (The elite media — ever eager to show Americans’ “intolerance” – is the entity most responsible for fanning the flames on this one.)

We saw, of course, no similar outpouring of condemnation and pleading from the chattering class or from Muslim officials when Imam Rauf announced that he would build a mosque on the site where 3,000 Americans were incinerated in the name of Islam.You see, empathy runs only one way for the Muslim outreachers. Under no circumstances must we expect or request a modicum of respect for non-Muslims from the mosque builders. What is revealing in the Koran incident is not what it tells us about the pastor, but what it tells us about the left.

We’ve known for sometime, of course, that the left really doesn’t much mind it when the religious insults are hurled against Christians. The Piss Christ exhibit, you see, was an act of “artistic expression.” And as Daniel Gordis detailed, virulent anti-Semitism is not only acceptable but increasingly de rigueur in the liberal media. It’s only when Muslim sensibilities are involved that the left rushes forth in a tizzy about religious sensibilities. Contrast the insistence that the Koran-burning minister call off his stunt to the support the left gives to Imam Rauf’s incendiary act. The latter is construed as an “act of reconciliation”; only the former is recognized as divisive and hateful.

Charles Lane pegged it correctly:

The president seemed oblivious to the contradiction between his pressure on Jones and his view, repeated at Friday’s press conference, that the U.S. must strictly follow the Constitution when prosecuting terrorism suspects — lest the terrorists win by getting us to curtail liberty. “We can’t be frightened by a handful of people who are trying to do us harm,” he said. Yet to the extent Obama opposed [Rev. Terry] Jones’s exercise of free speech — including mere “threats of action” — because it might trigger a violent reaction, he was expressing, and yielding to, fear of those very “people.”…

Instead, the president of the United States broadcast his fear that a U.S. citizen’s exercise of his liberty will provoke Muslim violence — without even calling upon Muslims to refrain from such attacks, much less declaring that they would be completely unjustified, and correspondingly resisted.

Remember the Obama rule: tolerance is what Muslims should expect from non-Muslims, never the reverse.

Meanwhile, Rauf pronounces: “You know, had I known this would happen, we certainly would never have done this. … We would not have done something that would have created more divisiveness.” If he admits his effort at reconciliation was a debacle and has proved counterproductive, why not call if off? But to hear Mayor Bloomberg, the president, and the rest of the left, to urge him to do just that is to “betray our values” and engage in bigotry.

It is this sort of moral and intellectual incoherence that contributes to the disdain many citizens feel toward the liberal intelligentsia. The average American can figure out that we should use moral persuasion and public criticism to prevent gratuitous insults by misguided or intentionally provocative religious figures (and to ignore the truly marginal figures like the Koran burner, whose bonanza of publicity is sure to attract copycats). Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the chattering class or this administration. It’s a wonder that confidence in elite institutions isn’t lower than it already is.

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From the Frying Pan into the Fire

Those who keep advising Obama to fire people miss a key point: the replacements could be worse than the current crew. No, it really is possible. Mayor Daley of Chicago won’t run for another term, and Washington is abuzz with speculation that Rahm Emanuel will leave (flee?) the administration to run for the job. Ben Smith reports: “Emanuel has told Chicago associates, a source tells me, who he believes will likely succeed him: senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.”

Obama will be trading one Chicago pol (who at least understood how to elect Democrats from places that weren’t deep Blue) for a liberal Chicago pol whose instincts seem to mirror David Axelrod’s: when in doubt, go left. This was the gal who thought Obama’s defense of the Ground Zero mosque was a swell idea. She also remains a potential witness in the Blago retrial. She also led the vendetta against Fox News.  And of course, 9/11 truther Van Jones was her hire.

In short, if the Obami are looking for a far-left chief of staff with bad political instincts and a Chicago-machine outlook, they couldn’t do “better” than Valerie Jarrett.

Those who keep advising Obama to fire people miss a key point: the replacements could be worse than the current crew. No, it really is possible. Mayor Daley of Chicago won’t run for another term, and Washington is abuzz with speculation that Rahm Emanuel will leave (flee?) the administration to run for the job. Ben Smith reports: “Emanuel has told Chicago associates, a source tells me, who he believes will likely succeed him: senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.”

Obama will be trading one Chicago pol (who at least understood how to elect Democrats from places that weren’t deep Blue) for a liberal Chicago pol whose instincts seem to mirror David Axelrod’s: when in doubt, go left. This was the gal who thought Obama’s defense of the Ground Zero mosque was a swell idea. She also remains a potential witness in the Blago retrial. She also led the vendetta against Fox News.  And of course, 9/11 truther Van Jones was her hire.

In short, if the Obami are looking for a far-left chief of staff with bad political instincts and a Chicago-machine outlook, they couldn’t do “better” than Valerie Jarrett.

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Lining Up Against the Mosque

The liberals are pleading to make the whole Ground Zero mosque controversy go away. The excuses are endless. First, it was deemed to be unimportant. Then it was fomenting Islamophobia (so not unimportant). But mostly, and continually, Mayor Bloomberg has explained to the American people, “Shut up.” And the left did the equivalent: “You are a bigot if you oppose this.” So, yes, shut up. But the debate isn’t over; not by a long shot.

It was and remains a gash across the American landscape — liberal elites on one side and everyone else on the other. (Note to file: Obama may have “brought America together” in common revulsion over everything from the Ground Zero mosque to the debt, but in doing so he has magnified the chasm between his elite clique and the country.)

The image of a dividing line makes Mark Helprin’s suggestion all the more appropriate:

The Constitution is a marvelous document, and a reasonable interpretation of it means as well that no American can be forced to pour concrete. No American can be forced to deliver materials. No American can be forced to bid on a contract, to run conduit, dig a foundation, or join steel.

And a reasonable interpretation of the Constitution means that the firemen’s, police, and restaurant workers’ unions, among others, and the families of the September 11th dead, and anyone who would protect, sympathize with and honor them, are free to assemble, protest and picket at the site of the mosque that under the Constitution is free to be built.

A reasonable interpretation of the Constitution means that no American can be forced to cross a picket line in violation of conscience or even of mere preference. Who, in all decency, would cross a picket line manned by those whose kin were slaughtered—by the thousands—so terribly nearby? And who in all decency would cross such a line manned by the firemen, police and other emergency personnel who know every day that they may be called upon to give their lives in a second act?

Oh my, can you imagine? On the line, quite literally, in defense of the sacred memory of our fallen and in recognition that we are in a war on our civilization waged by jihadists (for whom symbolic architecture is a powerful recruiting tool) would be a sampling of America: the fireman and the widow, the conservative pundit and the steelworker. It would be a sight to behold. And that’s why the mosque will never happen, not there at any rate.

But think about this for a moment. The picket line is virtual right now — that great cross section of Americans are arrayed in opposition to the Ground Zero mosque, although they have no need yet to physically congregate at designated times. And on the other side is Mayor Bloomberg, Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and the left punditocracy. Not remotely an even match is it?

The liberals are pleading to make the whole Ground Zero mosque controversy go away. The excuses are endless. First, it was deemed to be unimportant. Then it was fomenting Islamophobia (so not unimportant). But mostly, and continually, Mayor Bloomberg has explained to the American people, “Shut up.” And the left did the equivalent: “You are a bigot if you oppose this.” So, yes, shut up. But the debate isn’t over; not by a long shot.

It was and remains a gash across the American landscape — liberal elites on one side and everyone else on the other. (Note to file: Obama may have “brought America together” in common revulsion over everything from the Ground Zero mosque to the debt, but in doing so he has magnified the chasm between his elite clique and the country.)

The image of a dividing line makes Mark Helprin’s suggestion all the more appropriate:

The Constitution is a marvelous document, and a reasonable interpretation of it means as well that no American can be forced to pour concrete. No American can be forced to deliver materials. No American can be forced to bid on a contract, to run conduit, dig a foundation, or join steel.

And a reasonable interpretation of the Constitution means that the firemen’s, police, and restaurant workers’ unions, among others, and the families of the September 11th dead, and anyone who would protect, sympathize with and honor them, are free to assemble, protest and picket at the site of the mosque that under the Constitution is free to be built.

A reasonable interpretation of the Constitution means that no American can be forced to cross a picket line in violation of conscience or even of mere preference. Who, in all decency, would cross a picket line manned by those whose kin were slaughtered—by the thousands—so terribly nearby? And who in all decency would cross such a line manned by the firemen, police and other emergency personnel who know every day that they may be called upon to give their lives in a second act?

Oh my, can you imagine? On the line, quite literally, in defense of the sacred memory of our fallen and in recognition that we are in a war on our civilization waged by jihadists (for whom symbolic architecture is a powerful recruiting tool) would be a sampling of America: the fireman and the widow, the conservative pundit and the steelworker. It would be a sight to behold. And that’s why the mosque will never happen, not there at any rate.

But think about this for a moment. The picket line is virtual right now — that great cross section of Americans are arrayed in opposition to the Ground Zero mosque, although they have no need yet to physically congregate at designated times. And on the other side is Mayor Bloomberg, Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and the left punditocracy. Not remotely an even match is it?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A nostalgic George W. Bush moment for the left. Nicholas Kristof: “Mr. Obama is presiding over an incoherent, contradictory and apparently failing Sudan policy. There is a growing risk that Sudan will be the site of the world’s bloodiest war in 2011, and perhaps a new round of genocide as well. This isn’t America’s fault, but neither are we using all of our leverage to avert it. … Regular readers know I was not a fan of President George W. Bush. But one of his signal accomplishments, against all odds, was a 2005 peace agreement that ended the last round of that war.”

A stirring story about Iraq. And a reminder of how thoroughly lacking in understanding and empathy this president is when it comes to the reasons so many sacrificed so much.

A “perfect description of the pro-mosque left” from James Taranto: “Oikophobia is fear of the familiar: ‘the disposition, in any conflict, to side with ‘them’ against ‘us’, and the felt need to denigrate the customs, culture and institutions that are identifiably ‘ours.’ … Yet the oiks’ vision of themselves as an intellectual aristocracy violates the first American principle ever articulated: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ … This cannot be reconciled with the elitist notion that most men are economically insecure bitter clinging intolerant bigots who need to be governed by an educated elite. Marxism Lite is not only false; it is, according to the American creed, self-evidently false. That is why the liberal elite finds Americans revolting.” Did we put an “oik” in the White House?

An angry mob – in Obama’s home state: “Sixty-five percent (65%) of Likely Voters in Illinois are at least somewhat angry at the current policies of the federal government, according to a new Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey. That finding matches the level measured nationally, and includes 41% who are Very Angry at the government’s policies.” Who’s funding them, I wonder?

A “bit”? “Democrats are undercutting their campaign message by condemning Republican economic policies while calling for the extension of Bush-era tax cuts. ‘It’s hard to say the Republican economic policies were bad, [and] then continue them,’ Paul Begala, Democratic strategist and former advisor to President Clinton, told The Hill. ‘That is a bit of a mixed message.’”

A forceful objection from Debra Burlingame to Mayor Bloomberg’s claim that 9/11 families support the Ground Zero mosque: “Mr. Bloomberg has now crossed the line from merely supporting the mosque to participating in a public campaign aimed at silencing its critics. He has improperly invoked private conversations of 9/11 family board members who, unfortunately, are all too aware of his power, both as chair of the foundation which will memorialize their loved ones and as mayor of a city where that memorial will be built. He is recklessly wreaking havoc among families, running from media event to radio interview to photo op to Comedy Central gagfest, shamelessly hawking this narrative that we, those whose family members were the true victims of religious intolerance, must also carry the burden of proving we’re not intolerant. He’s a disgrace.”

A sober take from Mara Liasson: “I think there is a lot of gloom and doom among Democrats. And their hope now is that individual races with candidates who have a lot of money and have good get-out-the-vote operations can somehow survive what is looking to be a really big anti-Democratic wave in November.” And from Liasson and Juan Williams on the midterms: “LIASSON: But the fact is it is a referendum. WILLIAMS: If it’s a referendum on Obama, the Democrats lose.” Yup. Big time.

A nostalgic George W. Bush moment for the left. Nicholas Kristof: “Mr. Obama is presiding over an incoherent, contradictory and apparently failing Sudan policy. There is a growing risk that Sudan will be the site of the world’s bloodiest war in 2011, and perhaps a new round of genocide as well. This isn’t America’s fault, but neither are we using all of our leverage to avert it. … Regular readers know I was not a fan of President George W. Bush. But one of his signal accomplishments, against all odds, was a 2005 peace agreement that ended the last round of that war.”

A stirring story about Iraq. And a reminder of how thoroughly lacking in understanding and empathy this president is when it comes to the reasons so many sacrificed so much.

A “perfect description of the pro-mosque left” from James Taranto: “Oikophobia is fear of the familiar: ‘the disposition, in any conflict, to side with ‘them’ against ‘us’, and the felt need to denigrate the customs, culture and institutions that are identifiably ‘ours.’ … Yet the oiks’ vision of themselves as an intellectual aristocracy violates the first American principle ever articulated: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ … This cannot be reconciled with the elitist notion that most men are economically insecure bitter clinging intolerant bigots who need to be governed by an educated elite. Marxism Lite is not only false; it is, according to the American creed, self-evidently false. That is why the liberal elite finds Americans revolting.” Did we put an “oik” in the White House?

An angry mob – in Obama’s home state: “Sixty-five percent (65%) of Likely Voters in Illinois are at least somewhat angry at the current policies of the federal government, according to a new Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey. That finding matches the level measured nationally, and includes 41% who are Very Angry at the government’s policies.” Who’s funding them, I wonder?

A “bit”? “Democrats are undercutting their campaign message by condemning Republican economic policies while calling for the extension of Bush-era tax cuts. ‘It’s hard to say the Republican economic policies were bad, [and] then continue them,’ Paul Begala, Democratic strategist and former advisor to President Clinton, told The Hill. ‘That is a bit of a mixed message.’”

A forceful objection from Debra Burlingame to Mayor Bloomberg’s claim that 9/11 families support the Ground Zero mosque: “Mr. Bloomberg has now crossed the line from merely supporting the mosque to participating in a public campaign aimed at silencing its critics. He has improperly invoked private conversations of 9/11 family board members who, unfortunately, are all too aware of his power, both as chair of the foundation which will memorialize their loved ones and as mayor of a city where that memorial will be built. He is recklessly wreaking havoc among families, running from media event to radio interview to photo op to Comedy Central gagfest, shamelessly hawking this narrative that we, those whose family members were the true victims of religious intolerance, must also carry the burden of proving we’re not intolerant. He’s a disgrace.”

A sober take from Mara Liasson: “I think there is a lot of gloom and doom among Democrats. And their hope now is that individual races with candidates who have a lot of money and have good get-out-the-vote operations can somehow survive what is looking to be a really big anti-Democratic wave in November.” And from Liasson and Juan Williams on the midterms: “LIASSON: But the fact is it is a referendum. WILLIAMS: If it’s a referendum on Obama, the Democrats lose.” Yup. Big time.

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Another Ground Zero Mosque Opponent

You recall that when Obama signed a bill named in honor of Daniel Pearl, his father, Judea Pearl, was not afforded the opportunity to speak. He’s a blunt man, so that may have been a wise move by the Obama White House. He is an especially effective spokesperson when it comes to “Muslim outreach.” The JTA reports:

Pearl told JTA that while he was “touched” by [Imam] Rauf’s appearance and speech at his son’s memorial, “many Muslim leaders offered their condolences at the time.” More to the point, Pearl said he is discouraged that the Muslim leadership has not followed through on what he hoped would come from his son’s death.

“At the time, I truly believed Danny’s murder would be a turning point in the reaction of the civilized world toward terrorism,” said Pearl, who engages in public conversations with Akbar Ahmed, an Islamic studies professor at American University, on behalf of the Daniel Pearl Dialogue for Muslim-Jewish Understanding. The established Muslim leadership in the United States, Pearl said, “has had nine years to build up trust by pro-actively resisting anti-American ideologies of victimhood, anger and entitlement.” Reactions to the mosque project indicate that they were “not too successful in this endeavor.” …

“If I were [New York] Mayor Bloomberg I would reassert their right to build the mosque, but I would expend the same energy trying to convince them to put it somewhere else,” he said. “Public reaction tells us that it is not the right time, and that it will create further animosity and division in this country.”

So I suppose David Axelrod and Daisy Khan would say that Pearl is simply following in the footsteps of infamous anti-Semites. I guess Nancy Pelosi would want him investigated. But under no circumstances would Obama want him back at the White House.

You recall that when Obama signed a bill named in honor of Daniel Pearl, his father, Judea Pearl, was not afforded the opportunity to speak. He’s a blunt man, so that may have been a wise move by the Obama White House. He is an especially effective spokesperson when it comes to “Muslim outreach.” The JTA reports:

Pearl told JTA that while he was “touched” by [Imam] Rauf’s appearance and speech at his son’s memorial, “many Muslim leaders offered their condolences at the time.” More to the point, Pearl said he is discouraged that the Muslim leadership has not followed through on what he hoped would come from his son’s death.

“At the time, I truly believed Danny’s murder would be a turning point in the reaction of the civilized world toward terrorism,” said Pearl, who engages in public conversations with Akbar Ahmed, an Islamic studies professor at American University, on behalf of the Daniel Pearl Dialogue for Muslim-Jewish Understanding. The established Muslim leadership in the United States, Pearl said, “has had nine years to build up trust by pro-actively resisting anti-American ideologies of victimhood, anger and entitlement.” Reactions to the mosque project indicate that they were “not too successful in this endeavor.” …

“If I were [New York] Mayor Bloomberg I would reassert their right to build the mosque, but I would expend the same energy trying to convince them to put it somewhere else,” he said. “Public reaction tells us that it is not the right time, and that it will create further animosity and division in this country.”

So I suppose David Axelrod and Daisy Khan would say that Pearl is simply following in the footsteps of infamous anti-Semites. I guess Nancy Pelosi would want him investigated. But under no circumstances would Obama want him back at the White House.

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My Vote for ‘Worst Piece of Commentary Ever by Anyone’

Over at the New York Times’s online commentary site, Opinionator, Dick Cavett wrote a piece that may have set a record for invoking bad metaphors. In an article of only 961 words, consider these:

It doesn’t take much, it seems, to lift the lid and let our home-grown racism and bigotry overflow.

We have collectively taken a pratfall on a moral whoopee cushion.

I like to think I’m not easily shocked, but here I am, seeing the emotions of the masses running like a freight train over the right to freedom of religion — never mind the right of eminent domain and private property.

A heyday is being had by a posse of the cheesiest Republican politicos (Lazio, Palin, quick-change artist John McCain and, of course, the self-anointed St. Joan of 9/11, R. Giuliani).

And of course Rush L. dependably pollutes the atmosphere with his particular brand of airborne sludge.

Sad to see Mr. Reid’s venerable knees buckle upon seeing the vilification heaped on Obama, and the resulting polls.

I got invigorating jolts from the president’s splendid speech — almost as good as Mayor Bloomberg’s
— but I was dismayed, after the worst had poured out their passionate intensity, to see him shed a few vertebrae the next day and step back.

Set aside for the moment that we are handing such a lethal propaganda grenade to our detractors around the world.

You can’t eat this particular cake and have it, too

This just may qualify as the single worst piece published by anyone. Anywhere. Ever.

Over at the New York Times’s online commentary site, Opinionator, Dick Cavett wrote a piece that may have set a record for invoking bad metaphors. In an article of only 961 words, consider these:

It doesn’t take much, it seems, to lift the lid and let our home-grown racism and bigotry overflow.

We have collectively taken a pratfall on a moral whoopee cushion.

I like to think I’m not easily shocked, but here I am, seeing the emotions of the masses running like a freight train over the right to freedom of religion — never mind the right of eminent domain and private property.

A heyday is being had by a posse of the cheesiest Republican politicos (Lazio, Palin, quick-change artist John McCain and, of course, the self-anointed St. Joan of 9/11, R. Giuliani).

And of course Rush L. dependably pollutes the atmosphere with his particular brand of airborne sludge.

Sad to see Mr. Reid’s venerable knees buckle upon seeing the vilification heaped on Obama, and the resulting polls.

I got invigorating jolts from the president’s splendid speech — almost as good as Mayor Bloomberg’s
— but I was dismayed, after the worst had poured out their passionate intensity, to see him shed a few vertebrae the next day and step back.

Set aside for the moment that we are handing such a lethal propaganda grenade to our detractors around the world.

You can’t eat this particular cake and have it, too

This just may qualify as the single worst piece published by anyone. Anywhere. Ever.

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What Objection to the Ground Zero Mosque Is Not

Liberals who two years ago abandoned their humdrum lives to become career alarmists about Sarah Palin’s Pentecostalism now wish to be taken seriously as misty-eyed champions of America’s tolerance of diverse faiths. Whatever the intent of the planned Cordoba House Mosque Community Center Bowling Alley Drive-in Imax Nail Salon and Day Spa actually is matters not at all. It is to be celebrated because it is Islamic and because America does not discriminate on the basis of religion. The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd laments that President Obama, in his muddled failure to partake in the festivities, has “allowed himself to be weakened by perfectly predictable Republican hysteria.” After all, says Dowd,“By now you have to be willfully blind not to know that the imam in charge of the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the moderate Muslim we have allegedly been yearning for.”

Braille has come a long way. When I read that Rauf refused to call Hamas a terrorist organization and that he respects the doctrine of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini I could swear I took it in with my eyes. Just as I seemed to do when in 2008 I read that Dowd, the declared enemy of predictable hysteria, asked of Sarah Palin, “When the phone rings at 3 a.m., will she call the Wasilla Assembly of God congregation and ask them to pray on a response, as she asked them to pray for a natural gas pipeline?”

Feisal Rauf is A-OK with Khomeini-ism and he’s a welcome voice of reason; Sarah Palin prays and that makes her an unhinged zealot.

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Liberals who two years ago abandoned their humdrum lives to become career alarmists about Sarah Palin’s Pentecostalism now wish to be taken seriously as misty-eyed champions of America’s tolerance of diverse faiths. Whatever the intent of the planned Cordoba House Mosque Community Center Bowling Alley Drive-in Imax Nail Salon and Day Spa actually is matters not at all. It is to be celebrated because it is Islamic and because America does not discriminate on the basis of religion. The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd laments that President Obama, in his muddled failure to partake in the festivities, has “allowed himself to be weakened by perfectly predictable Republican hysteria.” After all, says Dowd,“By now you have to be willfully blind not to know that the imam in charge of the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the moderate Muslim we have allegedly been yearning for.”

Braille has come a long way. When I read that Rauf refused to call Hamas a terrorist organization and that he respects the doctrine of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini I could swear I took it in with my eyes. Just as I seemed to do when in 2008 I read that Dowd, the declared enemy of predictable hysteria, asked of Sarah Palin, “When the phone rings at 3 a.m., will she call the Wasilla Assembly of God congregation and ask them to pray on a response, as she asked them to pray for a natural gas pipeline?”

Feisal Rauf is A-OK with Khomeini-ism and he’s a welcome voice of reason; Sarah Palin prays and that makes her an unhinged zealot.

Religion is  deserving of mockery at all turns—unless it is the Muslim strain to be practiced two blocks from Ground Zero. Of course, objections to the comparison are predictable. Palin was vying for the vice president’s office and Rauf is merely . . . the bridge-building embodiment of Muslim outreach that the post-9/11 world has been waiting for.

The Left’s shift from defamers of faith to champions of faith has come complete with the characterization of the Right as hateful bigots. That thousands of American liberals have in the past protested Papal visits, with some placards comparing Christianity to Nazism, is a testament to freedom of speech. That non-liberal Americans protest only the building of a specific mosque in a specific location is a testament both to prejudice and to indifference on religious freedom.  In the Daily Beast, Peter Beinart asks, in high dudgeon, “Remember when George W. Bush and his neoconservative allies used to say that the ‘war on terror; was a struggle on behalf of Muslims, decent folks who wanted nothing more than to live free like you and me?” No matter that neoconservatives like the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens writes that the problem with celebrating Rauf as a moderate is that doing so steals support and recognition from “Muslims in the U.S. like Irshad [Manji] who are working, tirelessly but mainly out of view, toward the cause of reform.” And never mind that in the New Republic Reuel Gerecht, a neoconservative,  envisions a potential mosque built by a true moderate that “would honor us all.” Dowd, Beinart, and the like can only enjoy hero status if their opponents are depicted as convincing villains.

The myths about those opposed to the mosque don’t stop there. Conservatives, we are told, are eager to invent new instruments of government to block the mosque’s construction. While fewer than a handful of conservatives have made passing references to zoning laws, the overwhelming majority have gone out of their way to note that there is no legal argument against the mosque. As Peter Kirsanow pointed out at National Review’s Corner blog, “You don’t need to have been a lecturer in constitutional law like Obama to know that the mosque’s backers have a right to build at Ground Zero.”

Those uneasy about Rauf and the Cordoba House project are not hysterical, hateful, or statist. Their objections have to do with something less devious than prejudice and simpler than the law: common sense. Here is a thought experiment: If the mosque was slated to be built not two blocks away from Ground Zero, but actually on it, would those opposed still be exposing their contemptible hysteria by complaining? The site would still be private property, after all. And if the imam of that mosque openly preached a naked form of extremist Islam, should anyone who objects still be ashamed of themselves, as New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg has suggested? Freedom of religion would still be a fundamental American tenet, would it not? In other words, there are points at which it is very clear that non-prejudiced objections to legal undertakings become common sense. For the mosque’s unflappable admirers, the current location and the current imam don’t court that tipping point. For most Americans, forever transformed by the deadly attack on our homeland, they eclipse it.

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RE: Pelosi Angry, on the Ropes

Pete, even for Nancy Pelosi this is really beyond the pale. I have just a few thoughts to add.

First, no one is pulling the strings behind a concerted opposition to the mosque, but it’s odd that she should think so (as was her accusation that ObamaCare protestors were pawns of the insurance industry). There’s not a JournoList for the 68 percent of Americans who think the mosque should go elsewhere. And I don’t think that several New York Democratic congressmen, David Aaron Miller, the ADL, and Harry Reid are being “funded” by a common mysterious source to oppose the building of a giant mosque on the ashes of their fellow Americans. But if she’s curious, Pelosi can always ask Reid or her members from New York.

Second, this is a textbook case of projection. One of the central issues concerning the mosque, of course, is whether foreign jihadist groups are funding it. Imam Rauf won’t say, and Mayor Bloomberg, in his infinite inanity, didn’t bother to find out before getting behind the project. Maybe someone said “funding” in her presence, and she thought it was a good idea to question the funding sources of the Americans who don’t agree with her.

And finally, I assume she doesn’t think the alleged ringleader of this dastardly plot is foreign. So what she is asking for — this from the gal who labeled ObamaCare opponents “un-American” — is that we investigate Americans and American organizations. Whom shall we call to the stand first — Harry Reid or Abe Foxman? This is the sort of buffoonery and Constitutional illiteracy that is alleged of conservatives.

She’s become an embarrassment to the Congress and to her party. Regardless of the election outcome, shouldn’t Democrats pick someone better to lead them?

Pete, even for Nancy Pelosi this is really beyond the pale. I have just a few thoughts to add.

First, no one is pulling the strings behind a concerted opposition to the mosque, but it’s odd that she should think so (as was her accusation that ObamaCare protestors were pawns of the insurance industry). There’s not a JournoList for the 68 percent of Americans who think the mosque should go elsewhere. And I don’t think that several New York Democratic congressmen, David Aaron Miller, the ADL, and Harry Reid are being “funded” by a common mysterious source to oppose the building of a giant mosque on the ashes of their fellow Americans. But if she’s curious, Pelosi can always ask Reid or her members from New York.

Second, this is a textbook case of projection. One of the central issues concerning the mosque, of course, is whether foreign jihadist groups are funding it. Imam Rauf won’t say, and Mayor Bloomberg, in his infinite inanity, didn’t bother to find out before getting behind the project. Maybe someone said “funding” in her presence, and she thought it was a good idea to question the funding sources of the Americans who don’t agree with her.

And finally, I assume she doesn’t think the alleged ringleader of this dastardly plot is foreign. So what she is asking for — this from the gal who labeled ObamaCare opponents “un-American” — is that we investigate Americans and American organizations. Whom shall we call to the stand first — Harry Reid or Abe Foxman? This is the sort of buffoonery and Constitutional illiteracy that is alleged of conservatives.

She’s become an embarrassment to the Congress and to her party. Regardless of the election outcome, shouldn’t Democrats pick someone better to lead them?

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Democratic Senate Candidates vs. Harry Reid and 68% of America

Harry Reid was trying to save himself, and perhaps some of his colleagues, when he broke with Obama over the Ground Zero mosque. But some Senate contenders simply can’t be helped and have doubled down.

In Illinois:

Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias said Tuesday during a visit to the Illinois State Fair in Springfield that he supports the mosque site. He says while he sympathizes with those who lost loved ones, Americans must stand up for freedom of religion even when it’s difficult.

Meanwhile, Republican candidate Mark Kirk’s campaign said in a statement that he thinks placing the mosque near Ground Zero causes relatives of the victims “undue pain” and the mosque should move to a “less controversial site.”

In Pennsylvania:

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg traveled Tuesday to Pennsylvania to endorse Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Joe Sestak, bringing along with him the politically volatile controversy surrounding the proposed mosque and cultural center near Ground Zero. . .

In Philadelphia this morning, [Joe] Sestak … said he wasn’t too troubled by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s statement on Monday opposing the location of the proposed Islamic center. “As you know, I haven’t taken very good direction yet from party leadership,” he said.

When asked if he’s sensitive to the families of those who died on 9/11, Sestak spoke passionately: “When I walked out of that Pentagon, 30 people who I knew never walked out of that building.”

“My 9/11 is that Pentagon,” he said. “Am I sensitive to (the family’s) desires? Sure, I am.” But Sestak said the concept of religious freedom is what is “most important” in this debate.

Now that’s interesting. At the Pentagon, contrary to the claims of  some mosque supporters (including Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes Ground Zero), there is no mosque. ABC News clarifies:

Sometimes misidentified as the “Pentagon Mosque,” the non-denominational Pentagon Memorial Chapel maintained by the Pentagon Chaplain’s Office is where department employees who practice Islam can meet to pray. Located at the site where the hijacked American Airlines flight 74 struck the Defense Department headquarters, the chapel honors the memory of the 184 victims of the 9/11 attack. The 100-seat chapel is available to Pentagon employees of all faiths to come in prayer as they wish throughout the day. …

Dedicated in November 2002, after the reconstruction of the section of the building struck in the Sept. 11 attack, the Pentagon chapel honors the memory of the 184 victims who were killed there or were passengers aboard the hijacked jetliner. Behind the chapel’s altar is a lit stained-glass window, in the shape of the Pentagon, that bears the inscription, “United in Memory, September 11, 2001.” No religious icons or pictures are on display at the chapel. Religious symbols are brought in for religious services. A Torah, for example, housed in an ornate ark, is brought from behind curtains for use in the weekly Jewish service.

You’d think a Pentagon man would see a place of worship of this sort, rather than a 13-story monument to Islam, as the appropriate model for a 9/11 site.

Will the Ground Zero mosque be the defining issue in the 2010 campaign? Maybe not, but it’s the last thing Democrats (some of whom are trying to shed the image that they are too far left even for Blue States) needed. Meanwhile, Obama’s disapproval rating in Gallup’s poll ticked up to 51 percent, a new high. Might it be a better strategy for Democrats not to follow Obama over the political cliff?

Harry Reid was trying to save himself, and perhaps some of his colleagues, when he broke with Obama over the Ground Zero mosque. But some Senate contenders simply can’t be helped and have doubled down.

In Illinois:

Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias said Tuesday during a visit to the Illinois State Fair in Springfield that he supports the mosque site. He says while he sympathizes with those who lost loved ones, Americans must stand up for freedom of religion even when it’s difficult.

Meanwhile, Republican candidate Mark Kirk’s campaign said in a statement that he thinks placing the mosque near Ground Zero causes relatives of the victims “undue pain” and the mosque should move to a “less controversial site.”

In Pennsylvania:

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg traveled Tuesday to Pennsylvania to endorse Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Joe Sestak, bringing along with him the politically volatile controversy surrounding the proposed mosque and cultural center near Ground Zero. . .

In Philadelphia this morning, [Joe] Sestak … said he wasn’t too troubled by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s statement on Monday opposing the location of the proposed Islamic center. “As you know, I haven’t taken very good direction yet from party leadership,” he said.

When asked if he’s sensitive to the families of those who died on 9/11, Sestak spoke passionately: “When I walked out of that Pentagon, 30 people who I knew never walked out of that building.”

“My 9/11 is that Pentagon,” he said. “Am I sensitive to (the family’s) desires? Sure, I am.” But Sestak said the concept of religious freedom is what is “most important” in this debate.

Now that’s interesting. At the Pentagon, contrary to the claims of  some mosque supporters (including Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes Ground Zero), there is no mosque. ABC News clarifies:

Sometimes misidentified as the “Pentagon Mosque,” the non-denominational Pentagon Memorial Chapel maintained by the Pentagon Chaplain’s Office is where department employees who practice Islam can meet to pray. Located at the site where the hijacked American Airlines flight 74 struck the Defense Department headquarters, the chapel honors the memory of the 184 victims of the 9/11 attack. The 100-seat chapel is available to Pentagon employees of all faiths to come in prayer as they wish throughout the day. …

Dedicated in November 2002, after the reconstruction of the section of the building struck in the Sept. 11 attack, the Pentagon chapel honors the memory of the 184 victims who were killed there or were passengers aboard the hijacked jetliner. Behind the chapel’s altar is a lit stained-glass window, in the shape of the Pentagon, that bears the inscription, “United in Memory, September 11, 2001.” No religious icons or pictures are on display at the chapel. Religious symbols are brought in for religious services. A Torah, for example, housed in an ornate ark, is brought from behind curtains for use in the weekly Jewish service.

You’d think a Pentagon man would see a place of worship of this sort, rather than a 13-story monument to Islam, as the appropriate model for a 9/11 site.

Will the Ground Zero mosque be the defining issue in the 2010 campaign? Maybe not, but it’s the last thing Democrats (some of whom are trying to shed the image that they are too far left even for Blue States) needed. Meanwhile, Obama’s disapproval rating in Gallup’s poll ticked up to 51 percent, a new high. Might it be a better strategy for Democrats not to follow Obama over the political cliff?

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Endorsed by the Mosque Builders’ Cheerleader

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who not only defended the Ground Zero mosque but also told its critics to shut up, is going to Pennsylvania today to endorse Rep. Joe Sestak. Honest. Sestak, who is fending off attacks that he is too liberal on a range of issues, is anti-Israel in his voting record, and who keynoted for CAIR, is now, in the midst of a fever-pitch debate about Cordoba House, going to get the blessing of the mayor who managed to infuriate even liberal New Yorkers.

I suppose Sestak could criticize Bloomberg, J Street, Obama, and CAIR — all of whom support both his candidacy and the mosque — but that would certainly come as a shock to those who’ve been supporting him and raising money for campaign. Meanwhile, Pat Toomey’s director of communications, Nachama Soloveichik, had this statement when I asked about his views: “It is provocative in the extreme to build a mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero. Islamic leaders should be encouraged to move the mosque elsewhere.” A fine suggestion — Rep. Sestak, what say you? So far, he’s waffling:

A spokesman for Sestak said the congressman “believes there is a Constitutional right to religious freedom and separation of church and state that applies equally to all Americans,” but he declined to clearly back the plan.

Sooner or later, he and other Democrats will be forced to answer – for or against the mosque? It’s not like it’s a hard question or one that lacks national significance. After all, Gov. Bob McDonnell had no problem stating his views: “If it were my decision, I would not put that center there. It is a site where nearly 3,000 people lost their lives and I certainly would not locate that center there if I had a voice.” Eventually Sestak will have to either alienate his lefty, pro-mosque supporters or the people of Pennsylvania. Not sure which he’ll choose.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who not only defended the Ground Zero mosque but also told its critics to shut up, is going to Pennsylvania today to endorse Rep. Joe Sestak. Honest. Sestak, who is fending off attacks that he is too liberal on a range of issues, is anti-Israel in his voting record, and who keynoted for CAIR, is now, in the midst of a fever-pitch debate about Cordoba House, going to get the blessing of the mayor who managed to infuriate even liberal New Yorkers.

I suppose Sestak could criticize Bloomberg, J Street, Obama, and CAIR — all of whom support both his candidacy and the mosque — but that would certainly come as a shock to those who’ve been supporting him and raising money for campaign. Meanwhile, Pat Toomey’s director of communications, Nachama Soloveichik, had this statement when I asked about his views: “It is provocative in the extreme to build a mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero. Islamic leaders should be encouraged to move the mosque elsewhere.” A fine suggestion — Rep. Sestak, what say you? So far, he’s waffling:

A spokesman for Sestak said the congressman “believes there is a Constitutional right to religious freedom and separation of church and state that applies equally to all Americans,” but he declined to clearly back the plan.

Sooner or later, he and other Democrats will be forced to answer – for or against the mosque? It’s not like it’s a hard question or one that lacks national significance. After all, Gov. Bob McDonnell had no problem stating his views: “If it were my decision, I would not put that center there. It is a site where nearly 3,000 people lost their lives and I certainly would not locate that center there if I had a voice.” Eventually Sestak will have to either alienate his lefty, pro-mosque supporters or the people of Pennsylvania. Not sure which he’ll choose.

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Obama, the Mosque, and Ground Zero

At Friday’s iftar dinner at the White House, President Obama declared, “As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.” On Saturday he offered this clarification: “I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding.”

A few thoughts on this:

1. This has never been about the right to worship or religious freedom; it is about the wisdom of placing a proposed 15-story mosque and Islamic Center near Ground Zero. By his comments the president has shown, inadvertently, that the two issues are entirely separable. After all, if building the mosque were a matter of our “unshakable” commitment to religious freedom, and if that is what the controversy over the mosque were really all about, then Obama would have declared, in emphatic terms, what his position is. The fact that he won’t indicates that even Obama knows this is not an issue of high Constitutional principle; it’s a matter of a prudential judgment about context and location.

2. Assume the leader of the mosque had celebrated the American deaths on 9/11 and said that the agony of the slain brought him utter delight. Would that matter to Mayor Bloomberg, President Obama, and the supporters of building the mosque? If not, they should say so and allow the voters to render their verdict on that disposition.

If so — if it is considered inappropriate to allow a Ground Zero mosque run by an imam who, while stopping short of advocating violence, did hold “radical” as opposed to “moderate” views — then aren’t we getting into dangerous territory, with government officials saying yes to religious leaders who are sufficiently “moderate” but no to religious leaders who don’t meet the Obama and Bloomberg test for theological integrity?

3. It’s hard to understand what President Obama is trying to achieve by wading into these waters. If his purpose was to speak out in behalf of the importance of religious liberty in America, the point is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be made. No serious person is arguing against religious liberty. If the purpose of Obama speaking out was to advance inter-faith comity and ensure that tensions don’t rise in America, then he has damaged that cause.

The American people were extremely fair-minded toward Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11. There was no backlash against Muslims — appropriately so — and our political leaders, including President Bush, went out of their way to praise Muslim Americans and to distinguish between Islam and al-Qaeda’s interpretation of Islam. But precisely because those who plotted and executed the attacks on 9/11 did so in the name of Islam — and because Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has said that the U.S. was “an accessory to the crime that happened” — there is resistance to allowing this particular mosque to be built in this particular place.

Many people believe that Imam Rauf is trying to co-opt a brutal attack against innocent Americans in order to make his own point. But even if you don’t agree with that assessment, forcing the public to accept the mosque may well (and unfortunately) deepen resentment against Muslims — and, as we have seen, for no high-minded, first-amendment reasons. The public will feel as if this were a stick in the eye — something unnecessary and even provocative.

Prudence is one of the four cardinal virtues and one of the qualities that is most important for political leaders to have. It involves, among other things, the ability to anticipate the effects of one’s words and actions. What Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama have done is to undermine the very cause they say they are trying to defend. By implicitly and explicitly siding with Feisal Abdul Rauf’s effort and trying to turn this matter into a false debate about religious freedom, they are sharpening the divisions in our country in a way that is both unnecessary and harmful.

Well done, gentlemen.

At Friday’s iftar dinner at the White House, President Obama declared, “As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.” On Saturday he offered this clarification: “I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding.”

A few thoughts on this:

1. This has never been about the right to worship or religious freedom; it is about the wisdom of placing a proposed 15-story mosque and Islamic Center near Ground Zero. By his comments the president has shown, inadvertently, that the two issues are entirely separable. After all, if building the mosque were a matter of our “unshakable” commitment to religious freedom, and if that is what the controversy over the mosque were really all about, then Obama would have declared, in emphatic terms, what his position is. The fact that he won’t indicates that even Obama knows this is not an issue of high Constitutional principle; it’s a matter of a prudential judgment about context and location.

2. Assume the leader of the mosque had celebrated the American deaths on 9/11 and said that the agony of the slain brought him utter delight. Would that matter to Mayor Bloomberg, President Obama, and the supporters of building the mosque? If not, they should say so and allow the voters to render their verdict on that disposition.

If so — if it is considered inappropriate to allow a Ground Zero mosque run by an imam who, while stopping short of advocating violence, did hold “radical” as opposed to “moderate” views — then aren’t we getting into dangerous territory, with government officials saying yes to religious leaders who are sufficiently “moderate” but no to religious leaders who don’t meet the Obama and Bloomberg test for theological integrity?

3. It’s hard to understand what President Obama is trying to achieve by wading into these waters. If his purpose was to speak out in behalf of the importance of religious liberty in America, the point is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be made. No serious person is arguing against religious liberty. If the purpose of Obama speaking out was to advance inter-faith comity and ensure that tensions don’t rise in America, then he has damaged that cause.

The American people were extremely fair-minded toward Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11. There was no backlash against Muslims — appropriately so — and our political leaders, including President Bush, went out of their way to praise Muslim Americans and to distinguish between Islam and al-Qaeda’s interpretation of Islam. But precisely because those who plotted and executed the attacks on 9/11 did so in the name of Islam — and because Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has said that the U.S. was “an accessory to the crime that happened” — there is resistance to allowing this particular mosque to be built in this particular place.

Many people believe that Imam Rauf is trying to co-opt a brutal attack against innocent Americans in order to make his own point. But even if you don’t agree with that assessment, forcing the public to accept the mosque may well (and unfortunately) deepen resentment against Muslims — and, as we have seen, for no high-minded, first-amendment reasons. The public will feel as if this were a stick in the eye — something unnecessary and even provocative.

Prudence is one of the four cardinal virtues and one of the qualities that is most important for political leaders to have. It involves, among other things, the ability to anticipate the effects of one’s words and actions. What Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama have done is to undermine the very cause they say they are trying to defend. By implicitly and explicitly siding with Feisal Abdul Rauf’s effort and trying to turn this matter into a false debate about religious freedom, they are sharpening the divisions in our country in a way that is both unnecessary and harmful.

Well done, gentlemen.

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The Toxicity of Tolerance

In an article at the Daily Beast about the Cordoba House mosque and Islamic community center, Sam Harris wrote, “It goes without saying that tolerance is a value to which we should all be deeply committed.” Does it? Tolerance is not, in fact, a value at all. If Sue tolerates a kindly bore during a brief conversation is she employing the same moral standard as Tom who tolerates a stoppable violent crime in his presence? Moreover, does this standard qualify as one to which we should all be deeply committed?

By the way, Harris goes on to make some insightful points. But first he has his own faiths to defend—liberalism and atheism—and the above comes from early on in the piece, where he strives to distance himself from “those sincerely awaiting the Rapture, opportunistic Republican politicians, and utter lunatics who yearn to see Sarah Palin become the next president of the United States (note that Palin herself probably falls into several of these categories).” Tolerantly put, no?

That Harris is incapable of practicing in one sentence what he preaches in the preceding one should come as no surprise. Tolerance is not a context-free virtue; it is a simpleton’s word, an artificial political term used to indict those we cannot tolerate.

Tolerance scenarios are not merely hypothetical. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the New York Times that the mosque near Ground Zero will be “a monument to tolerance.” If by tolerance, Mayor Bloomberg is referring to the fact that the planned mosque’s Imam, Faisal Abdul Rauf is not judgmental of terrorist organizations, he is correct. Asked by WABC radio’s Aaron Klein if Hamas was a terrorist group, Rauf responded, “Look, I am not a politician. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question.” He hemmed and hawed and when the question was posed again, said, “I am a peace builder. I will not allow anybody to put me in a position where I am seen by any party in the world as an adversary or as an enemy.”

Sam Harris—still struggling with his own advice—writes in the Daily Beast of “religious stupidity.” But aren’t Rauf’s words the very embodiment of Harris’s exhortation that we commit deeply to the value of tolerance?

While Harris toils away at the intellectual knot tied from strands of his religious liberalism and his religious atheism, Bloomberg is gathering fellow travelers. Former speechwriter for George W. Bush, Michael Gerson praised President Obama’s tolerance of the mosque, noting that “the way to marginalize radicalism is to respect the best traditions of Islam and protect the religious liberty of Muslim Americans.” In itself, this is true. But are we now saying that an Imam who refuses to call Hamas a terrorist organization represents “the best traditions of Islam”?

There are those of us who have been hoping for the institutional influence of a truly moderate Islam; of an unequivocal anti-terrorist leader and a mosque to temper what is obviously an urgent crisis in the Muslim world. For us, the election of a Hamas-indifferent Imam as the paragon of Islamic moderation is dispiriting. But for the West’s individual moderate Muslims–and there are many–who have been waiting desperately on a modern, welcoming house of Islam, one in which to practice their religion alongside the like-minded, it is absolute invalidation. Rauf and Cordoba House, say tolerant Westerners, are as good as it gets.

In an article at the Daily Beast about the Cordoba House mosque and Islamic community center, Sam Harris wrote, “It goes without saying that tolerance is a value to which we should all be deeply committed.” Does it? Tolerance is not, in fact, a value at all. If Sue tolerates a kindly bore during a brief conversation is she employing the same moral standard as Tom who tolerates a stoppable violent crime in his presence? Moreover, does this standard qualify as one to which we should all be deeply committed?

By the way, Harris goes on to make some insightful points. But first he has his own faiths to defend—liberalism and atheism—and the above comes from early on in the piece, where he strives to distance himself from “those sincerely awaiting the Rapture, opportunistic Republican politicians, and utter lunatics who yearn to see Sarah Palin become the next president of the United States (note that Palin herself probably falls into several of these categories).” Tolerantly put, no?

That Harris is incapable of practicing in one sentence what he preaches in the preceding one should come as no surprise. Tolerance is not a context-free virtue; it is a simpleton’s word, an artificial political term used to indict those we cannot tolerate.

Tolerance scenarios are not merely hypothetical. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the New York Times that the mosque near Ground Zero will be “a monument to tolerance.” If by tolerance, Mayor Bloomberg is referring to the fact that the planned mosque’s Imam, Faisal Abdul Rauf is not judgmental of terrorist organizations, he is correct. Asked by WABC radio’s Aaron Klein if Hamas was a terrorist group, Rauf responded, “Look, I am not a politician. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question.” He hemmed and hawed and when the question was posed again, said, “I am a peace builder. I will not allow anybody to put me in a position where I am seen by any party in the world as an adversary or as an enemy.”

Sam Harris—still struggling with his own advice—writes in the Daily Beast of “religious stupidity.” But aren’t Rauf’s words the very embodiment of Harris’s exhortation that we commit deeply to the value of tolerance?

While Harris toils away at the intellectual knot tied from strands of his religious liberalism and his religious atheism, Bloomberg is gathering fellow travelers. Former speechwriter for George W. Bush, Michael Gerson praised President Obama’s tolerance of the mosque, noting that “the way to marginalize radicalism is to respect the best traditions of Islam and protect the religious liberty of Muslim Americans.” In itself, this is true. But are we now saying that an Imam who refuses to call Hamas a terrorist organization represents “the best traditions of Islam”?

There are those of us who have been hoping for the institutional influence of a truly moderate Islam; of an unequivocal anti-terrorist leader and a mosque to temper what is obviously an urgent crisis in the Muslim world. For us, the election of a Hamas-indifferent Imam as the paragon of Islamic moderation is dispiriting. But for the West’s individual moderate Muslims–and there are many–who have been waiting desperately on a modern, welcoming house of Islam, one in which to practice their religion alongside the like-minded, it is absolute invalidation. Rauf and Cordoba House, say tolerant Westerners, are as good as it gets.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Obama’s baddest critic warns him about flip-floppery on the Ground Zero mosque: “Mr. Obama, you are not the mayor of Podunk arguing with the City Council over sewer versus septic; you are the president of the United States of America , the greatest country in the world! It may be that your utterances are sounding like indefensible rubbish to more and more of us, but at the very least you, the presidential enunciator of them, ought to have the courage to defend them —especially when they’re already in writing.”

Greg Sargent warns anti-Israel Democrats that the Emergency Committee for Israel is putting them ”on notice that if they criticize Israel, they can expect to be targeted, too.” Or, to put it differently, it will be harder to fake being pro-Israel.

Charlie Cook warns Democrats that the Connecticut Senate race will tighten. And sure enough: “The first Rasmussen Reports post-primary telephone survey of Likely Connecticut Voters finds that Democrat Richard Blumenthal has slipped below the 50% mark of support this month against Republican Linda McMahon in the state’s U.S. Senate race.”

Bill Kristol warns the left to get a grip: “The ‘f*ck tea’ movement [the real name of a new leftist undertaking] — that’s what the left has come to. They can’t defend the results of Obama’s policies or the validity of Krugman’s arguments. They know it’s hard to sustain an antidemocratic ethos in a democracy. They realize they’ve degenerated into pro-am levels of whining and squabbling. So they curse their opponents.”

The Gray Lady warns politicians to avoid Michelle Obama’s vacation gaffe: ”Forget the lush beaches of Bora Bora or the Campari-soaked cafes along the Côte d’Azur. And don’t even think about Rome or Paris. Astute Washington politicians have long known that when it comes to politically palatable summer vacations, it is best not to cross any oceans. Or even seas. Michelle Obama violated one of this city’s most sacrosanct unwritten rules when she went to Spain — during a recession, no less — with her daughter and a few friends.”

Senate Republicans warn the administration that its pick for ambassador to Turkey is a no-go: “The nomination of Frank Ricciardone to be the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey is being held up in the Senate and the GOP has no intention of allowing a vote on the nomination any time soon. … The administration might be wary of spending its limited political capital to push through the Ricciardone nomination to a floor debate in the Senate because it could open up a broader public discussion of Turkey policy the White House might not think is useful given the delicate diplomatic environment.”

Douglas Schoen warns fellow Democrats: “The recent discouraging economic news is a watershed for the Obama administration — at least as far as the midterms are concerned. It discredits one of the administration’s few remaining positive arguments: that the administration ushered in an economic recovery that otherwise might not have occurred.”

Bibi warns the world, explains George Will: “If Iran were to ‘wipe the Zionist entity off the map,’ as it vows to do, it would, Netanyahu believes, achieve a regional ‘dominance not seen since Alexander.’ … He says that 1948 meant this: ‘For the first time in 2,000 years, a sovereign Jewish people could defend itself against attack.’ And he says: ‘The tragic history of the powerlessness of our people explains why the Jewish people need a sovereign power of self-defense.’ If Israel strikes Iran, the world will not be able to say it was not warned.” Nor will it be able to say that, by leaving the job to Israel, Obama fufilled his role as leader of the Free World.

Obama’s baddest critic warns him about flip-floppery on the Ground Zero mosque: “Mr. Obama, you are not the mayor of Podunk arguing with the City Council over sewer versus septic; you are the president of the United States of America , the greatest country in the world! It may be that your utterances are sounding like indefensible rubbish to more and more of us, but at the very least you, the presidential enunciator of them, ought to have the courage to defend them —especially when they’re already in writing.”

Greg Sargent warns anti-Israel Democrats that the Emergency Committee for Israel is putting them ”on notice that if they criticize Israel, they can expect to be targeted, too.” Or, to put it differently, it will be harder to fake being pro-Israel.

Charlie Cook warns Democrats that the Connecticut Senate race will tighten. And sure enough: “The first Rasmussen Reports post-primary telephone survey of Likely Connecticut Voters finds that Democrat Richard Blumenthal has slipped below the 50% mark of support this month against Republican Linda McMahon in the state’s U.S. Senate race.”

Bill Kristol warns the left to get a grip: “The ‘f*ck tea’ movement [the real name of a new leftist undertaking] — that’s what the left has come to. They can’t defend the results of Obama’s policies or the validity of Krugman’s arguments. They know it’s hard to sustain an antidemocratic ethos in a democracy. They realize they’ve degenerated into pro-am levels of whining and squabbling. So they curse their opponents.”

The Gray Lady warns politicians to avoid Michelle Obama’s vacation gaffe: ”Forget the lush beaches of Bora Bora or the Campari-soaked cafes along the Côte d’Azur. And don’t even think about Rome or Paris. Astute Washington politicians have long known that when it comes to politically palatable summer vacations, it is best not to cross any oceans. Or even seas. Michelle Obama violated one of this city’s most sacrosanct unwritten rules when she went to Spain — during a recession, no less — with her daughter and a few friends.”

Senate Republicans warn the administration that its pick for ambassador to Turkey is a no-go: “The nomination of Frank Ricciardone to be the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey is being held up in the Senate and the GOP has no intention of allowing a vote on the nomination any time soon. … The administration might be wary of spending its limited political capital to push through the Ricciardone nomination to a floor debate in the Senate because it could open up a broader public discussion of Turkey policy the White House might not think is useful given the delicate diplomatic environment.”

Douglas Schoen warns fellow Democrats: “The recent discouraging economic news is a watershed for the Obama administration — at least as far as the midterms are concerned. It discredits one of the administration’s few remaining positive arguments: that the administration ushered in an economic recovery that otherwise might not have occurred.”

Bibi warns the world, explains George Will: “If Iran were to ‘wipe the Zionist entity off the map,’ as it vows to do, it would, Netanyahu believes, achieve a regional ‘dominance not seen since Alexander.’ … He says that 1948 meant this: ‘For the first time in 2,000 years, a sovereign Jewish people could defend itself against attack.’ And he says: ‘The tragic history of the powerlessness of our people explains why the Jewish people need a sovereign power of self-defense.’ If Israel strikes Iran, the world will not be able to say it was not warned.” Nor will it be able to say that, by leaving the job to Israel, Obama fufilled his role as leader of the Free World.

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