Commentary Magazine


Topic: Miami

Do Whatever They Want, but Not on Our Dime

NPR is quite properly on the receiving end of a jumbo backlash over the firing of Juan Williams. As this report details, the listeners’ complaints are pouring in. Moreover:

At least one station wants to distance itself from the firing. In Miami, WLRN general manager John Labonia said he was hearing dozens of complaints from angry citizens and loyal donors. He said one called to cancel a $1,000 pledge. The station’s fundraising drive had already ended when the furor erupted.

“We don’t want that negative halo of NPR’s decision to affect us, so we are making it perfectly clear that we were not part of this decision and we do not agree with it,” Labonia said. “It was a short-sighted and irresponsible decision by NPR.”

Republicans are threatening to cut off funding when Congress returns. NPR is nervous about the impact on the bottom line:

As for NPR’s headquarters operation, federal grants account for less than 2 percent — or $3.3 million — of its $166 million annual budget. It is funded primarily by its affiliates, corporate sponsors and major donors.

In a statement, Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee, said federal law gives public broadcasting stations “maximum freedom” from interference in their activities.

NPR’s [spokeswoman Dana Davis] Rehm warned that if Congress cut off funding, “stations across the country would be hurt by that and would have to make up that balance elsewhere. In many places that would be difficult to do.”

She said that threats to cut off funding are “inappropriate” but that NPR takes them seriously and is talking with its member stations. “Stations as a whole are not happy this is happening at this time,” she said. “They’re in a difficult situation.”

How could 2 percent of its budget have such devastating impact? Well, those stations also receive money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. But in any event, they’ve got lots of rich liberal donors.

And if it does cause hardship to the radio stations? I guess they’d have to put on programing that listeners actually like. It’s called the free market. With over 500 TV stations as well as satellite and over-the-air radio, why in the world do taxpayers need to pay for left-wing propaganda masquerading as news? Seriously, that’s what the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and Fox News’s cable competitors are there for.

NPR is quite properly on the receiving end of a jumbo backlash over the firing of Juan Williams. As this report details, the listeners’ complaints are pouring in. Moreover:

At least one station wants to distance itself from the firing. In Miami, WLRN general manager John Labonia said he was hearing dozens of complaints from angry citizens and loyal donors. He said one called to cancel a $1,000 pledge. The station’s fundraising drive had already ended when the furor erupted.

“We don’t want that negative halo of NPR’s decision to affect us, so we are making it perfectly clear that we were not part of this decision and we do not agree with it,” Labonia said. “It was a short-sighted and irresponsible decision by NPR.”

Republicans are threatening to cut off funding when Congress returns. NPR is nervous about the impact on the bottom line:

As for NPR’s headquarters operation, federal grants account for less than 2 percent — or $3.3 million — of its $166 million annual budget. It is funded primarily by its affiliates, corporate sponsors and major donors.

In a statement, Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee, said federal law gives public broadcasting stations “maximum freedom” from interference in their activities.

NPR’s [spokeswoman Dana Davis] Rehm warned that if Congress cut off funding, “stations across the country would be hurt by that and would have to make up that balance elsewhere. In many places that would be difficult to do.”

She said that threats to cut off funding are “inappropriate” but that NPR takes them seriously and is talking with its member stations. “Stations as a whole are not happy this is happening at this time,” she said. “They’re in a difficult situation.”

How could 2 percent of its budget have such devastating impact? Well, those stations also receive money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. But in any event, they’ve got lots of rich liberal donors.

And if it does cause hardship to the radio stations? I guess they’d have to put on programing that listeners actually like. It’s called the free market. With over 500 TV stations as well as satellite and over-the-air radio, why in the world do taxpayers need to pay for left-wing propaganda masquerading as news? Seriously, that’s what the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and Fox News’s cable competitors are there for.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Good advice to conservative pundits from Michael Gerson (in defending Karl Rove): “[A commentator] owes his readers or viewers his best judgment — which means he cannot simply be a tool of someone else’s ideological agenda. Some conservatives have adopted the Bolshevik approach to information and the media: Every personal feeling, every independent thought, every inconvenient fact, must be subordinated to the party line — the Tea Party line.” Read the whole thing.

Good time, actually, for those ferocious Rove critics to apologize. It seems she is a loon: “The story of Christine O’Donnell’s past got a little stranger Friday. Bill Maher — on whose former show, ‘Politically Incorrect,’ O’Donnell appeared repeatedly in the late 1990s — showed a previously unaired clip from Oct. 29, 1999, on his current HBO program, ‘Real Time,’ in which the GOP Senate nominee from Delaware said she ‘dabbled into witchcraft.”’

Good line from Mitt Romney at the Value Voters Summit: “Welcome to the Nancy Pelosi-Harry Reid-President Obama farewell party. This has been a pretty tough year for those three—their numbers have gone down the chute faster than a Jet Blue flight attendant.” And a good speech on Obamanomics.

Good critique of the problem(s) with Newt Gingrich: “Like the former and would-be next California governor [Jerry Brown], Gingrich talks big, but has no loyalty to his ideas. He was for tax cuts before he was against them. He supported a $35,000 congressional pay raise and leaner government. Like Brown, Gingrich’s real skill has been in seeing a trend early and jumping on it, unencumbered by any past positions. … The last time Gingrich set out to save America, he ended up burning his career. He taught a college course called ‘Renewing American Civilization.’ That would not have been a problem except that this modern-day John Adams felt the need to raise $300,000 and $450,000 to bankroll his discourses on American ‘core values.’ That’s a long pricey schlep from the log cabin.”

Good move. “Since General Petraeus took on the commander’s job in June, several aides said, the president has struck a more deferential tone toward him than he used with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, General Petraeus’s predecessor. Often during pauses in meetings, one White House official said, Mr. Obama will stop and say, ‘Dave, what do you think?’” Less Axelrod and Emanuel and more Petraeus, and we might win this.

Good golly. “Two Los Angeles departments have received $111 million in federal stimulus funds yet have created only 55 jobs so far, according to a pair of reports issued Thursday by City Controller Wendy Greuel.”

Good luck to Tom Joscelyn trying to explain to David Ignatius (and the Obami): “For the umpteenth time, Iran is not on our side in Afghanistan. They are currently allied with the Taliban, the mullahs’ one-time enemy. Iran is not going to help us ‘undermine the Taliban.’ They are working with the Taliban to undermine the U.S.-led coalition.”

Good job, Madam Speaker! Now 38 Democrats favor full extension of the Bush tax cuts. Maybe more: “Other Democrats have indicated privately that they prefer an extension instead of allowing rates to expire for top earners, and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who heads Democratic campaign efforts, has argued behind closed doors for taking a political issue off the table by giving a short reprieve to wealthy folks before the midterm elections.”

Good for her. “A politically vulnerable Democratic lawmaker blasted her party’s House leadership as she demanded a vote to cut the salaries of lawmakers by $8,700 next year. In a letter sent Thursday afternoon, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) pressured Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to hold a vote on her bill to cut congressional pay by five percent and save taxpayers $4.7 million next year before Congress breaks for its fall recess.”

Good for him. Greg Sargent rises above partisan cheerleading: “It isn’t every day that Democrats target Latino challengers with nasty anti-immigrant ads, but these are apparently desperate times for certain embattled Dems. … [Rep. Walt] Minnick apparently sees the need to run an ad that stinks of fear and desperation. Quite a specimen.”

Good news for Republicans in the Hoosier state: “The Indiana Senate seat now held by Democrat Evan Bayh remains a likely Republican pickup on Election Day. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Indiana finds Republican Dan Coats leading Democratic Congressman Brad Ellsworth 50% to 34% in the state’s U.S. Senate race.”

Goodbye, Charlie: “Gov. Charlie Crist and the disgraced former chairman of the Florida Republican Party took family vacations on party money, an audit released Friday shows. The two men and their families vacationed at Disney World in June 2009 and put the $13,435.99 bill on the party’s American Express credit card, the audit found. Greer also took three personal vacations to fashionable Fisher Island near Miami Beach, one including Crist, at a cost of $10,992.17, auditors reported.”

Good advice to conservative pundits from Michael Gerson (in defending Karl Rove): “[A commentator] owes his readers or viewers his best judgment — which means he cannot simply be a tool of someone else’s ideological agenda. Some conservatives have adopted the Bolshevik approach to information and the media: Every personal feeling, every independent thought, every inconvenient fact, must be subordinated to the party line — the Tea Party line.” Read the whole thing.

Good time, actually, for those ferocious Rove critics to apologize. It seems she is a loon: “The story of Christine O’Donnell’s past got a little stranger Friday. Bill Maher — on whose former show, ‘Politically Incorrect,’ O’Donnell appeared repeatedly in the late 1990s — showed a previously unaired clip from Oct. 29, 1999, on his current HBO program, ‘Real Time,’ in which the GOP Senate nominee from Delaware said she ‘dabbled into witchcraft.”’

Good line from Mitt Romney at the Value Voters Summit: “Welcome to the Nancy Pelosi-Harry Reid-President Obama farewell party. This has been a pretty tough year for those three—their numbers have gone down the chute faster than a Jet Blue flight attendant.” And a good speech on Obamanomics.

Good critique of the problem(s) with Newt Gingrich: “Like the former and would-be next California governor [Jerry Brown], Gingrich talks big, but has no loyalty to his ideas. He was for tax cuts before he was against them. He supported a $35,000 congressional pay raise and leaner government. Like Brown, Gingrich’s real skill has been in seeing a trend early and jumping on it, unencumbered by any past positions. … The last time Gingrich set out to save America, he ended up burning his career. He taught a college course called ‘Renewing American Civilization.’ That would not have been a problem except that this modern-day John Adams felt the need to raise $300,000 and $450,000 to bankroll his discourses on American ‘core values.’ That’s a long pricey schlep from the log cabin.”

Good move. “Since General Petraeus took on the commander’s job in June, several aides said, the president has struck a more deferential tone toward him than he used with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, General Petraeus’s predecessor. Often during pauses in meetings, one White House official said, Mr. Obama will stop and say, ‘Dave, what do you think?’” Less Axelrod and Emanuel and more Petraeus, and we might win this.

Good golly. “Two Los Angeles departments have received $111 million in federal stimulus funds yet have created only 55 jobs so far, according to a pair of reports issued Thursday by City Controller Wendy Greuel.”

Good luck to Tom Joscelyn trying to explain to David Ignatius (and the Obami): “For the umpteenth time, Iran is not on our side in Afghanistan. They are currently allied with the Taliban, the mullahs’ one-time enemy. Iran is not going to help us ‘undermine the Taliban.’ They are working with the Taliban to undermine the U.S.-led coalition.”

Good job, Madam Speaker! Now 38 Democrats favor full extension of the Bush tax cuts. Maybe more: “Other Democrats have indicated privately that they prefer an extension instead of allowing rates to expire for top earners, and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who heads Democratic campaign efforts, has argued behind closed doors for taking a political issue off the table by giving a short reprieve to wealthy folks before the midterm elections.”

Good for her. “A politically vulnerable Democratic lawmaker blasted her party’s House leadership as she demanded a vote to cut the salaries of lawmakers by $8,700 next year. In a letter sent Thursday afternoon, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) pressured Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to hold a vote on her bill to cut congressional pay by five percent and save taxpayers $4.7 million next year before Congress breaks for its fall recess.”

Good for him. Greg Sargent rises above partisan cheerleading: “It isn’t every day that Democrats target Latino challengers with nasty anti-immigrant ads, but these are apparently desperate times for certain embattled Dems. … [Rep. Walt] Minnick apparently sees the need to run an ad that stinks of fear and desperation. Quite a specimen.”

Good news for Republicans in the Hoosier state: “The Indiana Senate seat now held by Democrat Evan Bayh remains a likely Republican pickup on Election Day. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Indiana finds Republican Dan Coats leading Democratic Congressman Brad Ellsworth 50% to 34% in the state’s U.S. Senate race.”

Goodbye, Charlie: “Gov. Charlie Crist and the disgraced former chairman of the Florida Republican Party took family vacations on party money, an audit released Friday shows. The two men and their families vacationed at Disney World in June 2009 and put the $13,435.99 bill on the party’s American Express credit card, the audit found. Greer also took three personal vacations to fashionable Fisher Island near Miami Beach, one including Crist, at a cost of $10,992.17, auditors reported.”

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Tony Rezko’s Banker Highlights the Democrats’ Problems

When Illinois Democrats nominated Tony Rezko’s banker, Alexi Giannoulias, for the senate seat once held by Barack Obama, some thought they might have made a mistake. It seems to have, at the very least, complicated the Democrats’ efforts to hold what in normal years would be a safe Blue seat. The Chicago Tribune reports:

The clock is ticking, and the real estate deals gone south are piling up, at Broadway Bank, the lending institution owned by the family of U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias. . . . Broadway’s struggles have put Giannoulias on the defensive as Republicans eyeing Barack Obama’s old Senate seat question what role he played in the bank’s problems. Giannoulias, a friend of Obama’s who is facing U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, the GOP nominee, in the November race, has repeatedly said he hasn’t worked at the bank in four years.

Still, the situation could become more politically harmful and provide more ammunition for the GOP if the family-owned bank is taken over by the federal government before Election Day.

Broadway’s chief executive, Demetris Giannoulias, Alexi Giannoulias’ older brother, told the Tribune the family must raise at least $85 million by the end of April to stave off government seizure.

Giannoulias has already taken heat for the banks’ mob-connected clients. And the Tribune reminds voters:

Since 2007, Broadway Bank has filed dozens of foreclosures on various properties, including several to Michael Giorango, a convicted bookmaker and prostitution ring promoter who has become a political albatross in Alexi Giannoulias’ campaigns.During Alexi Giannoulias’ tenure at Broadway, the bank approved loans to Giorango for various real estate deals. Alexi Giannoulias has acknowledged he serviced some Giorango loans and went to Miami to inspect Giorango property the bank financed.

If the themes for many Republicans are going to be “the culture of corruption” and the Democrats’ fiscal mismanagement, they must be licking their chops over this race. At the very least, Democrats will have to spend considerable time and money defending the seat, in a year in which they’d probably not have Giannoulias as one of the poster boys for what’s wrong with the Democratic machine-style politics.

When Illinois Democrats nominated Tony Rezko’s banker, Alexi Giannoulias, for the senate seat once held by Barack Obama, some thought they might have made a mistake. It seems to have, at the very least, complicated the Democrats’ efforts to hold what in normal years would be a safe Blue seat. The Chicago Tribune reports:

The clock is ticking, and the real estate deals gone south are piling up, at Broadway Bank, the lending institution owned by the family of U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias. . . . Broadway’s struggles have put Giannoulias on the defensive as Republicans eyeing Barack Obama’s old Senate seat question what role he played in the bank’s problems. Giannoulias, a friend of Obama’s who is facing U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, the GOP nominee, in the November race, has repeatedly said he hasn’t worked at the bank in four years.

Still, the situation could become more politically harmful and provide more ammunition for the GOP if the family-owned bank is taken over by the federal government before Election Day.

Broadway’s chief executive, Demetris Giannoulias, Alexi Giannoulias’ older brother, told the Tribune the family must raise at least $85 million by the end of April to stave off government seizure.

Giannoulias has already taken heat for the banks’ mob-connected clients. And the Tribune reminds voters:

Since 2007, Broadway Bank has filed dozens of foreclosures on various properties, including several to Michael Giorango, a convicted bookmaker and prostitution ring promoter who has become a political albatross in Alexi Giannoulias’ campaigns.During Alexi Giannoulias’ tenure at Broadway, the bank approved loans to Giorango for various real estate deals. Alexi Giannoulias has acknowledged he serviced some Giorango loans and went to Miami to inspect Giorango property the bank financed.

If the themes for many Republicans are going to be “the culture of corruption” and the Democrats’ fiscal mismanagement, they must be licking their chops over this race. At the very least, Democrats will have to spend considerable time and money defending the seat, in a year in which they’d probably not have Giannoulias as one of the poster boys for what’s wrong with the Democratic machine-style politics.

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O Death Penalty, Where Is Thy Sting?

The New York Times reports this morning that an inmate on Arizona’s death row has died. He was under sentence of execution for a murder he committed in 1982. That’s 28 years ago. Viva Leroy Nash was 68 when he committed his last murder. He was 94 when he died of natural causes.

If ever there was an illustration that something is profoundly wrong with how capital punishment is handled in this country, this is it. Convicted in 1983, the Supreme Court of Arizona upheld his conviction in 1985. But appeal after appeal after appeal to state and federal courts kept the case — and Viva Leroy Nash — alive for a quarter of a century.

The point of capital punishment, of course, is not only to punish the offender but also to deter others from committing the same crime with a force that a jail sentence, however long, cannot match. But if execution is not to come until a point well after the criminal’s normal life expectancy, how does it deter?

It wasn’t always this way. On February 15, 1933, a man named Giuseppe Zangara tried to assassinate president-elect Franklin Roosevelt in Miami. He missed Roosevelt but hit Anton Cermak, the mayor of Chicago, who was shaking hands with Roosevelt at the time. Zangara pleaded guilty to attempted murder and was sentenced to 80 years. But when Cermak died of his wounds two weeks later, Zangara was tried for murder, convicted, sentenced to death, and executed on March 20, 33 days — not years — after the crime.

If we are to have the death penalty in this country, the system needs to be thoroughly reformed to prevent the gaming of it that has rendered the system absurd. A big part of the problem here, of course, is the duel sovereignty of the states and the federal government. Appeals bounce back and forth between the two justice systems with agonizing slowness. Perhaps there should be special courts to handle only death-penalty cases and appeals, with both the federal and state appeals being pursued simultaneously, and strict time limits for all but evidentiary reasons. A requirement that first-rate lawyers be assigned the defendant, not the usual courthouse hangers-on, and a standard of beyond any doubt instead of mere reasonable doubt would go a long way to ensure that only the truly guilty were executed.

I’m not an eye-for-an-eye-tooth-for-a-tooth sort of guy, but I think that it is possible for a person in possession of his faculties to commit a crime of such enormity as to justify the forfeit of his life. Hitler, after all, was not crazy. Would anyone have objected to his being hanged with the other Nazis at Nuremberg? Norway abolished the death penalty in the early 1920s, but the Norwegian government in exile re-established it in 1942, and after the war the government tried and executed 37 collaborators for treason and war crimes, including Vidkun Quisling, whose name entered many languages as a synonym for traitor. Quisling became a word that, in Churchill’s phrase, “will carry the scorn of mankind down the centuries.” Having seen justice done, the Norwegian parliament then once again abolished the death penalty.

It seems to me this country should either abolish the death penalty or reform the system to make it effective.

The New York Times reports this morning that an inmate on Arizona’s death row has died. He was under sentence of execution for a murder he committed in 1982. That’s 28 years ago. Viva Leroy Nash was 68 when he committed his last murder. He was 94 when he died of natural causes.

If ever there was an illustration that something is profoundly wrong with how capital punishment is handled in this country, this is it. Convicted in 1983, the Supreme Court of Arizona upheld his conviction in 1985. But appeal after appeal after appeal to state and federal courts kept the case — and Viva Leroy Nash — alive for a quarter of a century.

The point of capital punishment, of course, is not only to punish the offender but also to deter others from committing the same crime with a force that a jail sentence, however long, cannot match. But if execution is not to come until a point well after the criminal’s normal life expectancy, how does it deter?

It wasn’t always this way. On February 15, 1933, a man named Giuseppe Zangara tried to assassinate president-elect Franklin Roosevelt in Miami. He missed Roosevelt but hit Anton Cermak, the mayor of Chicago, who was shaking hands with Roosevelt at the time. Zangara pleaded guilty to attempted murder and was sentenced to 80 years. But when Cermak died of his wounds two weeks later, Zangara was tried for murder, convicted, sentenced to death, and executed on March 20, 33 days — not years — after the crime.

If we are to have the death penalty in this country, the system needs to be thoroughly reformed to prevent the gaming of it that has rendered the system absurd. A big part of the problem here, of course, is the duel sovereignty of the states and the federal government. Appeals bounce back and forth between the two justice systems with agonizing slowness. Perhaps there should be special courts to handle only death-penalty cases and appeals, with both the federal and state appeals being pursued simultaneously, and strict time limits for all but evidentiary reasons. A requirement that first-rate lawyers be assigned the defendant, not the usual courthouse hangers-on, and a standard of beyond any doubt instead of mere reasonable doubt would go a long way to ensure that only the truly guilty were executed.

I’m not an eye-for-an-eye-tooth-for-a-tooth sort of guy, but I think that it is possible for a person in possession of his faculties to commit a crime of such enormity as to justify the forfeit of his life. Hitler, after all, was not crazy. Would anyone have objected to his being hanged with the other Nazis at Nuremberg? Norway abolished the death penalty in the early 1920s, but the Norwegian government in exile re-established it in 1942, and after the war the government tried and executed 37 collaborators for treason and war crimes, including Vidkun Quisling, whose name entered many languages as a synonym for traitor. Quisling became a word that, in Churchill’s phrase, “will carry the scorn of mankind down the centuries.” Having seen justice done, the Norwegian parliament then once again abolished the death penalty.

It seems to me this country should either abolish the death penalty or reform the system to make it effective.

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Democrats Select Tony Rezko’s Banker for Illinois Senate

You almost wonder whether Karl Rove has infiltrated the Democratic Party. How else to explain how the Democrats could nominate to replace Roland Burris, the senator from Blagojevich, the banker for Tony Rezko? As the Chicago Tribune explained, state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias beat back a feisty challenger who made hay out of Giannoulias’s “handling of the state’s college loan program, which lost $150 million; and of loans Giannoulias gave to controversial recipients while working as vice-president of his family’s now-struggling Broadway Bank.” Those controversial recipients include Rezko and some figures of organized crime. The Chicago Sun Times explained:

Among the loans Giannoulias has gotten heat for:

* More than $10 million from 2001 to 2005 to alleged Father & Son Russian mobster team Lev and Boris Stratievsky. Father Lev has passed away. Son Boris is in jail facing money-laundering charges. Broadway funded development projects some on the South Side — that tenants and city attorneys complained were roach motels. Broadway has been unable to collect on the loans.

* About $12.9 million to convicted bookmaker Michael Giorango for a Miami Beach hotel and a Hollywood, Fla., restaurant, among other ventures, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. Broadway has sued Giorango and his partner, Demitri Stavropoulos, convicted of running a betting operation in Chicago, seeking to get the money back. Giannoulias initially downplayed his relationship with Giorango, noting the loans to him started before he joined the bank. Later he said he went to Miami to meet Giorango and inspect the property, and that another $3 million loan to Giorango was for a South Carolina casino.

It’s hard to believe this is the candidate whom the Democrats wanted as their nominee. As Ben Smith dryly noted, Giannoulias “is about as un-changey as you get.” The Republicans are obviously delighted to have such a target-rich opponent. I suspect this will be another seat added to the political gurus’ “leans Republican” lists.

And if all that weren’t enough to worry the Democrats, Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling notes:

Based on the current numbers 885,268 voters were cast in the Democratic primary for Senate compared to 736,137 on the Republican side. Those numbers are awfully close to each other for a state that’s overwhelmingly Democratic.

For sake of comparison the last time there were competitive Senate primaries on both sides in Illinois, in 2004 when Barack Obama was nominated, there were nearly twice as many votes cast in the Democratic primary as the Republican one. 1,242,996 voted in the Democratic race to 661, 804 for the Republicans. Last night’s turnout is yet another data point on the enthusiasm gap, showing that Republicans are much more excited about this year’s elections than Democrats, even in a deep blue state.

It’s a long way to November, but Republicans will soon seize on this as a highly gettable seat with symbolic value. Had it not been for Massachusetts, one could say that the flip in the Illinois seat previously held by the president would be a political tsunami. But it seems as though in this election season, it might simply be par for the course.

You almost wonder whether Karl Rove has infiltrated the Democratic Party. How else to explain how the Democrats could nominate to replace Roland Burris, the senator from Blagojevich, the banker for Tony Rezko? As the Chicago Tribune explained, state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias beat back a feisty challenger who made hay out of Giannoulias’s “handling of the state’s college loan program, which lost $150 million; and of loans Giannoulias gave to controversial recipients while working as vice-president of his family’s now-struggling Broadway Bank.” Those controversial recipients include Rezko and some figures of organized crime. The Chicago Sun Times explained:

Among the loans Giannoulias has gotten heat for:

* More than $10 million from 2001 to 2005 to alleged Father & Son Russian mobster team Lev and Boris Stratievsky. Father Lev has passed away. Son Boris is in jail facing money-laundering charges. Broadway funded development projects some on the South Side — that tenants and city attorneys complained were roach motels. Broadway has been unable to collect on the loans.

* About $12.9 million to convicted bookmaker Michael Giorango for a Miami Beach hotel and a Hollywood, Fla., restaurant, among other ventures, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. Broadway has sued Giorango and his partner, Demitri Stavropoulos, convicted of running a betting operation in Chicago, seeking to get the money back. Giannoulias initially downplayed his relationship with Giorango, noting the loans to him started before he joined the bank. Later he said he went to Miami to meet Giorango and inspect the property, and that another $3 million loan to Giorango was for a South Carolina casino.

It’s hard to believe this is the candidate whom the Democrats wanted as their nominee. As Ben Smith dryly noted, Giannoulias “is about as un-changey as you get.” The Republicans are obviously delighted to have such a target-rich opponent. I suspect this will be another seat added to the political gurus’ “leans Republican” lists.

And if all that weren’t enough to worry the Democrats, Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling notes:

Based on the current numbers 885,268 voters were cast in the Democratic primary for Senate compared to 736,137 on the Republican side. Those numbers are awfully close to each other for a state that’s overwhelmingly Democratic.

For sake of comparison the last time there were competitive Senate primaries on both sides in Illinois, in 2004 when Barack Obama was nominated, there were nearly twice as many votes cast in the Democratic primary as the Republican one. 1,242,996 voted in the Democratic race to 661, 804 for the Republicans. Last night’s turnout is yet another data point on the enthusiasm gap, showing that Republicans are much more excited about this year’s elections than Democrats, even in a deep blue state.

It’s a long way to November, but Republicans will soon seize on this as a highly gettable seat with symbolic value. Had it not been for Massachusetts, one could say that the flip in the Illinois seat previously held by the president would be a political tsunami. But it seems as though in this election season, it might simply be par for the course.

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The Theme Is There

If you thought conservative columnists were nasty, read the latest from Maureen Dowd. Aside from the very funny lines, she offers some proof that the meme of Barack Obama as elitist appeaser has permeated even the liberal zeitgeist. It is too late for Democrats to rethink. But would they have been better with a plain-wrap, gun-toting middle American figure like Evan Bayh?

And just in case anyone might forget Iran or the war on terror for the day, the Republican Jewish Coalition in a new ad asks three questions of Obama on his visit to a synagogue in Florida:

In an interview, you called for a summit of Muslim nations, including Iran and Syria, but excluding Israel. Why? (Reuters, 1/30/08)

One of your top advisors, Tony McPeak, placed blame on Miami and NY Jews for the failure of the Middle East peace process, yet he remains in this role. Why? (The Oregonian, 3/27/03)

You were a board member of a foundation that funded, during your tenure, the Arab American Action Network, a pro-Palestinian organization. Why? (LA Times, 4/10/08)

So whether from the Right or the Left, the question is the same: what exactly is the New Diplomacy going to look like? And, as Noah Pollak suggests (although I disagree with him about who is winning this argument): what is Obama going to accomplish in all these high-level get-togethers with dictators? The ones we’ve been having at lower levels have been spectacularly unsuccessful.

If you thought conservative columnists were nasty, read the latest from Maureen Dowd. Aside from the very funny lines, she offers some proof that the meme of Barack Obama as elitist appeaser has permeated even the liberal zeitgeist. It is too late for Democrats to rethink. But would they have been better with a plain-wrap, gun-toting middle American figure like Evan Bayh?

And just in case anyone might forget Iran or the war on terror for the day, the Republican Jewish Coalition in a new ad asks three questions of Obama on his visit to a synagogue in Florida:

In an interview, you called for a summit of Muslim nations, including Iran and Syria, but excluding Israel. Why? (Reuters, 1/30/08)

One of your top advisors, Tony McPeak, placed blame on Miami and NY Jews for the failure of the Middle East peace process, yet he remains in this role. Why? (The Oregonian, 3/27/03)

You were a board member of a foundation that funded, during your tenure, the Arab American Action Network, a pro-Palestinian organization. Why? (LA Times, 4/10/08)

So whether from the Right or the Left, the question is the same: what exactly is the New Diplomacy going to look like? And, as Noah Pollak suggests (although I disagree with him about who is winning this argument): what is Obama going to accomplish in all these high-level get-togethers with dictators? The ones we’ve been having at lower levels have been spectacularly unsuccessful.

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A Lame Attempt to Play Gotcha With McCain

The Washington Post, today:

Sen. John McCain stepped up his assault on Sen. Barack Obama‘s foreign policy credentials at a rally in Miami yesterday, criticizing Obama’s willingness to talk to Cuban President Raul Castro and other hostile foreign leaders without preconditions. But McCain’s argument was undercut when a 2006 video emerged of former secretary of state James A. Baker III, a prominent McCain supporter, saying that “talking to an enemy is not in my view appeasement.”

Am I missing something here? In the first place, Baker may have endorsed McCain, but he is not a figure on the campaign, not an employee of the McCain campaign. His views on this matter are nothing new — after all, in the vaunted Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq, he explictly called for direct talks with Iran and Syria. Was Glenn Kessler, the author of the Washington Post piece, on vacation that month?

 Nothing is undercut when someone who has endorsed a candidate is found to have said something that contradicts the candidate’s own views. The only person for whom that should be a problem is the endorser. Can he live with McCain’s difference of opinion? I really don’t care whether Baker can or can’t, but his view on the question of “talking to an enemy” isn’t in the least germane to McCain.

Clearly, there is an effort here to create an analogy between Baker and Obama advisers Samantha Power and Robert Malley, both of whom were let go from the campaign for saying things (Power) or doing things (Malley) injurious to Obama. Comparing these situations is preposterous. Power worked for Obama. Malley was offering policy advice to the campaign. Baker is a Republican eminence grise whose prominent advice on how to handle Iran has been affirmatively rejected by McCain, whose views on this matter, now, could hardly be more clear.

The Washington Post, today:

Sen. John McCain stepped up his assault on Sen. Barack Obama‘s foreign policy credentials at a rally in Miami yesterday, criticizing Obama’s willingness to talk to Cuban President Raul Castro and other hostile foreign leaders without preconditions. But McCain’s argument was undercut when a 2006 video emerged of former secretary of state James A. Baker III, a prominent McCain supporter, saying that “talking to an enemy is not in my view appeasement.”

Am I missing something here? In the first place, Baker may have endorsed McCain, but he is not a figure on the campaign, not an employee of the McCain campaign. His views on this matter are nothing new — after all, in the vaunted Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq, he explictly called for direct talks with Iran and Syria. Was Glenn Kessler, the author of the Washington Post piece, on vacation that month?

 Nothing is undercut when someone who has endorsed a candidate is found to have said something that contradicts the candidate’s own views. The only person for whom that should be a problem is the endorser. Can he live with McCain’s difference of opinion? I really don’t care whether Baker can or can’t, but his view on the question of “talking to an enemy” isn’t in the least germane to McCain.

Clearly, there is an effort here to create an analogy between Baker and Obama advisers Samantha Power and Robert Malley, both of whom were let go from the campaign for saying things (Power) or doing things (Malley) injurious to Obama. Comparing these situations is preposterous. Power worked for Obama. Malley was offering policy advice to the campaign. Baker is a Republican eminence grise whose prominent advice on how to handle Iran has been affirmatively rejected by McCain, whose views on this matter, now, could hardly be more clear.

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Send the Torch Back to China

Actress Joan Chen, writing in today’s Washington Post, traces the arc of her native land. “Since the Cultural Revolution ended in the late 1970s,” she writes, “I have witnessed unimaginable progress in China.”

For her, human rights groups in Washington are “anti-China.” But it’s time to move beyond criticism, implies Chen, who became an American citizen in 1989. “Times are changing,” she argues. “We need to be open-minded and farsighted. We need to make more friends than enemies.”

Chen is evidently concerned about the Olympic torch protests in the streets of San Francisco. The demonstrations, she fears, will antagonize the Chinese people and anger their government just as their country is joining, in the words of Steve Clemons, “the blue chip end of the international order.” As the New York Times noted in an editorial this morning, “Given the country’s mighty economic power, nobody really wants to antagonize Beijing.”

That’s especially true when people like Chen and Clemons believe that China will continue its current course. Bill Gates assumed it will when he spoke on Friday in Miami at a meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank. “The fact that China is getting rich is overall a very good thing,” he said. “If you care about the human condition, really then a richer China is better.”

All of us want a better China. Yet the way to a better China is not to see the country the way we wish it to be—as Chen, Clemons, and Gates want us to do—but as it actually is. When we fail to speak out about the reality of the modern Chinese state, autocrats in Beijing feel emboldened. The real story behind the protests accompanying the Olympic torch relay is not how noisy or unruly the demonstrations were—it is that China’s leaders actually thought that ordinary people in the West would gather in their own streets to cheer the display of the Olympic torch, which Beijing has made a symbol of Chinese authoritarianism. Beijing’s rulers thought that way because Western presidents and prime ministers have almost always played along with China’s notions of its own grandeur.

Members of the International Olympic Committee will meet on Friday to consider ending the international leg of the torch relay. That is an excellent idea. The Chinese government might be embarrassed by a premature return to China of the Olympic flame, but it is time that we reject further abhorrent celebrations of their repression in our free lands.

Actress Joan Chen, writing in today’s Washington Post, traces the arc of her native land. “Since the Cultural Revolution ended in the late 1970s,” she writes, “I have witnessed unimaginable progress in China.”

For her, human rights groups in Washington are “anti-China.” But it’s time to move beyond criticism, implies Chen, who became an American citizen in 1989. “Times are changing,” she argues. “We need to be open-minded and farsighted. We need to make more friends than enemies.”

Chen is evidently concerned about the Olympic torch protests in the streets of San Francisco. The demonstrations, she fears, will antagonize the Chinese people and anger their government just as their country is joining, in the words of Steve Clemons, “the blue chip end of the international order.” As the New York Times noted in an editorial this morning, “Given the country’s mighty economic power, nobody really wants to antagonize Beijing.”

That’s especially true when people like Chen and Clemons believe that China will continue its current course. Bill Gates assumed it will when he spoke on Friday in Miami at a meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank. “The fact that China is getting rich is overall a very good thing,” he said. “If you care about the human condition, really then a richer China is better.”

All of us want a better China. Yet the way to a better China is not to see the country the way we wish it to be—as Chen, Clemons, and Gates want us to do—but as it actually is. When we fail to speak out about the reality of the modern Chinese state, autocrats in Beijing feel emboldened. The real story behind the protests accompanying the Olympic torch relay is not how noisy or unruly the demonstrations were—it is that China’s leaders actually thought that ordinary people in the West would gather in their own streets to cheer the display of the Olympic torch, which Beijing has made a symbol of Chinese authoritarianism. Beijing’s rulers thought that way because Western presidents and prime ministers have almost always played along with China’s notions of its own grandeur.

Members of the International Olympic Committee will meet on Friday to consider ending the international leg of the torch relay. That is an excellent idea. The Chinese government might be embarrassed by a premature return to China of the Olympic flame, but it is time that we reject further abhorrent celebrations of their repression in our free lands.

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Norman Mailer, 1923-2007

Norman Mailer died early this morning. Mailer had a six-decade career as a novelist, opening with his best-selling debut The Naked and the Dead and closing with The Castle in the Forest, his meditation on the life of Adolph Hitler, and producing influential works in the emergent genre of “New Journalism”—The Executioner’s Song, Miami and the Siege of Chicago—along the way. Whatever his faults as an artist may have been, he remained an enduringly provocative figure throughout his lifetime. Below, you can read a free selection of writings on Mailer’s work, along with pieces from his own hand, from the pages of COMMENTARY.

John Gross on The Castle in the Forest (March 2007)

Thomas L. Jeffers on The Spooky Art (April 2003)

Peter Shaw on Miami and the Siege of Chicago (December 1968)

Richard Poirier on An American Dream (June 1965)

Midge Decter on The Presidential Papers (February 1964)

William Barrett on Barbary Shore (June 1951)

Raymond Rosenthal on The Naked and the Dead (July 1948)

By Mailer:

The Battle of the Pentagon” (April 1968)

Modes and Mutations: Quick Comments on the Modern American Novel” (March 1966)

Norman Mailer died early this morning. Mailer had a six-decade career as a novelist, opening with his best-selling debut The Naked and the Dead and closing with The Castle in the Forest, his meditation on the life of Adolph Hitler, and producing influential works in the emergent genre of “New Journalism”—The Executioner’s Song, Miami and the Siege of Chicago—along the way. Whatever his faults as an artist may have been, he remained an enduringly provocative figure throughout his lifetime. Below, you can read a free selection of writings on Mailer’s work, along with pieces from his own hand, from the pages of COMMENTARY.

John Gross on The Castle in the Forest (March 2007)

Thomas L. Jeffers on The Spooky Art (April 2003)

Peter Shaw on Miami and the Siege of Chicago (December 1968)

Richard Poirier on An American Dream (June 1965)

Midge Decter on The Presidential Papers (February 1964)

William Barrett on Barbary Shore (June 1951)

Raymond Rosenthal on The Naked and the Dead (July 1948)

By Mailer:

The Battle of the Pentagon” (April 1968)

Modes and Mutations: Quick Comments on the Modern American Novel” (March 1966)

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Rosie’s Mishegas

Earlier this week, Peter Wehner mentioned that 9/11 Truther Rosie O’Donnell might be getting a talk show on MSNBC. Alas, the deal has fallen through, ensuring that gems like the stream-of-consciousness poem below will be appearing only on her website:

msnbc
one hour
live
following keith olbermann

we were close to a deal
almost done
i let it slip in miami
causing panic on the studio end

well
what can u do

2day there is no deal
poof
my career as a pundit is over
b4 it began

just as well
i figure
everything happens for a reason
bashert—as we say

and on we go

At least she’s using Yiddish!

Earlier this week, Peter Wehner mentioned that 9/11 Truther Rosie O’Donnell might be getting a talk show on MSNBC. Alas, the deal has fallen through, ensuring that gems like the stream-of-consciousness poem below will be appearing only on her website:

msnbc
one hour
live
following keith olbermann

we were close to a deal
almost done
i let it slip in miami
causing panic on the studio end

well
what can u do

2day there is no deal
poof
my career as a pundit is over
b4 it began

just as well
i figure
everything happens for a reason
bashert—as we say

and on we go

At least she’s using Yiddish!

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Campus Progress, Regressing

According to its website, the mission of Campus Progress, an outfit affiliated with left-of-center think tank the Center for American Progress, is “to see that the next generation of progressive leaders is better trained, better informed, more diverse, and more united than any generation before.” Irrespective of one’s political affiliation, one can appreciate the organization’s idealistic approach to getting young people involved in public life.

But a piece by Kay Steiger on the legacy of Ernesto “Che” Guevara demonstrates the jejune approach that many on the Left still take when it comes to discussing left-wing totalitarians. An earnestness afflicts the entire piece, the purpose of which is to inform liberal readers that the man they lionize on t-shirts and lighters is not exactly a progressive hero, as he’s been portrayed. Steiger writes that “[Guevara] was a man of principles, to a fault.” The same, of course, can be (and still is) said about Joseph Stalin or Robert Mugabe; in the minds of many liberals, it is not the ideas of these men that were toxic from the start, just the way they were executed.

Steiger writes of Guevara’s “impatience with governing,” which is a nice euphemism for a belief in the virtues of violent revolution over the comparatively less sexy devotion to the rule of law and individual rights. Steiger is not the first writer to employ such rhetorical sleights-of-hand aimed at whitewashing the brutality of this particular left-wing thug.

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According to its website, the mission of Campus Progress, an outfit affiliated with left-of-center think tank the Center for American Progress, is “to see that the next generation of progressive leaders is better trained, better informed, more diverse, and more united than any generation before.” Irrespective of one’s political affiliation, one can appreciate the organization’s idealistic approach to getting young people involved in public life.

But a piece by Kay Steiger on the legacy of Ernesto “Che” Guevara demonstrates the jejune approach that many on the Left still take when it comes to discussing left-wing totalitarians. An earnestness afflicts the entire piece, the purpose of which is to inform liberal readers that the man they lionize on t-shirts and lighters is not exactly a progressive hero, as he’s been portrayed. Steiger writes that “[Guevara] was a man of principles, to a fault.” The same, of course, can be (and still is) said about Joseph Stalin or Robert Mugabe; in the minds of many liberals, it is not the ideas of these men that were toxic from the start, just the way they were executed.

Steiger writes of Guevara’s “impatience with governing,” which is a nice euphemism for a belief in the virtues of violent revolution over the comparatively less sexy devotion to the rule of law and individual rights. Steiger is not the first writer to employ such rhetorical sleights-of-hand aimed at whitewashing the brutality of this particular left-wing thug.

Perhaps knowing that she will not be able to convince her left-leaning audience that Che was bad by virtue of his politics, Steiger pinpoints the man’s reactionary views towards women and homosexuals, who rank highly among the intended beneficiaries of 20th century liberalism. (She does, though, make a key factual error in her assertion that the gay Cuban novelist Reynaldo Arenas “was killed as the result of the government’s prosecution of gays.” He died in Miami, where he had fled, of complications due to AIDS. This, of course, is not to discount the Cuban regime’s incarceration of gays, along with other undesirables, in prison labor camps.) Steiger helpfully informs us that

At best, Guevara’s politics advocated for a mindless devotion of the working man (with an emphasis on “man”) to socialism, but left out other causes many progressives have worked long and hard for: equality for gender and sexual orientation. In fact, gays were persecuted following the Cuban revolution.

The precious, explanatory manner in which this is written (“Hey guys, Che wasn’t exactly a great dude”) characterizes Steiger’s entire article, seen here in the surprise she evinces towards her own discovery that Guevara was violently hostile towards homosexuals (“In fact”). But the hostility of left-wing regimes towards homosexuality is hardly a secret. The Soviet Union and its satellite states around the world viewed homosexuality as a deficiency that would be cured with the perfection of Socialist Man.

It’s nice to see a liberal website like Campus Progress explain to its readers why Che Guevara was “cruel and militantly dogmatic in ways that should make the Left squirm.” But Steiger nevertheless qualifies this already tepid condemnation with an assertion that “[t]he discussion of Guevara is still divisive and complicated, years after his death, and it should be.” There is nothing “complicated” about the moral character of Che Guevara; he was an evil man. And the only thing “divisive” about “the discussion” surrounding him is that so many on the Left persist in claiming otherwise. That an ostensibly mainstream liberal organization like Campus Progress feels the need to explain to its readers that Guevara was not the hero of their imaginations, 40 years after the man’s death, says a lot about the “next generation of progressive leaders.”

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Bookshelf

• In a perfect world, we would all read nothing but great books and never become exhausted or bloated. Alas, I spend a fair amount of time in hotel rooms and on planes and trains, and I find myself frequently in need of intelligent but undemanding literary entertainment that stretches my mental muscles without causing me to break a sweat. If you can read Proust on a plane, more power to you: the feat is beyond me. Twenty years ago I read The Bonfire of the Vanities from cover to cover in the course of a holiday plane trip that was made considerably longer by a blizzard. More often than not, though, I resort instead to crime novels, a portmanteau phrase that takes in everything from Ronald Knox to John Grisham.

Neither of those authors, as it happens, is a favorite of mine. On the other hand, I’ve never been a mystery addict, and most of the sanguinary literature leaves me as cold as a week-old stiff. I never could figure out what Evelyn Waugh saw in Erle Stanley Gardner, nor am I capable of reading a single page of Agatha Christie without nodding off. For me, Raymond Chandler and Rex Stout were the quintessential purveyors of mystery-type diversion, and I find their best books to be infinitely rereadable. Most of Chandler’s work can be found in a pair of Library of America volumes that are compact enough to slip into the smallest of bags, as are Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930′s and 40′s (990 pp., $35) and Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950′s (892 pp., $35), which between them contain a representative sample of the best non-Chandler hard-boiled mysteries and thrillers of the Golden Age of pulp fiction. As for Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels, they’ve all been published in paperback at one time or another, and if you aren’t familiar with the adventures of the orchid-growing savant of West 35th Street and Archie Goodwin, his dapper, wisecracking assistant-amanuensis, you’re missing a treat. I recommend Before Midnight, Plot It Yourself, and Too Many Clients for starters.

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• In a perfect world, we would all read nothing but great books and never become exhausted or bloated. Alas, I spend a fair amount of time in hotel rooms and on planes and trains, and I find myself frequently in need of intelligent but undemanding literary entertainment that stretches my mental muscles without causing me to break a sweat. If you can read Proust on a plane, more power to you: the feat is beyond me. Twenty years ago I read The Bonfire of the Vanities from cover to cover in the course of a holiday plane trip that was made considerably longer by a blizzard. More often than not, though, I resort instead to crime novels, a portmanteau phrase that takes in everything from Ronald Knox to John Grisham.

Neither of those authors, as it happens, is a favorite of mine. On the other hand, I’ve never been a mystery addict, and most of the sanguinary literature leaves me as cold as a week-old stiff. I never could figure out what Evelyn Waugh saw in Erle Stanley Gardner, nor am I capable of reading a single page of Agatha Christie without nodding off. For me, Raymond Chandler and Rex Stout were the quintessential purveyors of mystery-type diversion, and I find their best books to be infinitely rereadable. Most of Chandler’s work can be found in a pair of Library of America volumes that are compact enough to slip into the smallest of bags, as are Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930′s and 40′s (990 pp., $35) and Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950′s (892 pp., $35), which between them contain a representative sample of the best non-Chandler hard-boiled mysteries and thrillers of the Golden Age of pulp fiction. As for Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels, they’ve all been published in paperback at one time or another, and if you aren’t familiar with the adventures of the orchid-growing savant of West 35th Street and Archie Goodwin, his dapper, wisecracking assistant-amanuensis, you’re missing a treat. I recommend Before Midnight, Plot It Yourself, and Too Many Clients for starters.

What’s new? I’ve previously sung the praises of Donald E. Westlake (and Richard Stark, his sociopathic alter ego) in this space, and I get similar pleasure out of Elmore Leonard, though his work is an altogether different bag of bones. Indeed, Leonard is something of a bait-and-switch artist, for while most people think of him as a chronicler of the low life of Detroit and Miami, his real subject matter is what George Meredith called “modern love.” Virtually all of his crime novels hinge on a romantic relationship of a very particular kind, one in which a no-longer-youngster who’s been around the track a few times has a cute meeting with a smart, no-nonsense woman who teaches him that there’s more to life than his ex-wife. To be sure, this relationship takes place within the context of a crime-driven plot, but usually it’s the relationship, not the crime, to which you pay the most attention.

No writer as prolific as Leonard can avoid repetition. Some of his books (and fictional relationships) are more formulaic than others. But even when he’s not quite on form, his spare, cracker-crisp style sweeps you over the rough spots, and I’ve never started a Leonard novel that I didn’t finish. My favorites are LaBrava, Get Shorty, Maximum Bob, Rum Punch, and Out of Sight, each of which is readily available in paperback and any of which will give you a clear idea of what Leonard is up to. If you like one, you’ll like them all.

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¡Viva la Inmigración!

The New York Times reports that an anti-immigrant backlash is building among Republican primary voters in Iowa. There is room to doubt how significant this trend is, since the two most anti-immigrant candidates in the Republican field are Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter, who are struggling to register in single digits, while the early leaders, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, are both fairly pro-immigrant. But there is no question that, even if it remains a minority sentiment, there is a substantial nativist, even xenophobic, wing in the Republican party.

As it happens, I was in Miami yesterday and got a chance to observe diversity in action. I loved it. What a booming, vibrant city! I reveled in the Latin and Caribbean accents, the variety of foods, the multiplicity of cultures. My lasting taste of Miami was a terrific Cuban sandwich, espresso, and guava pastry at a Cuban coffee shop at the airport. Beats Hardees hollow.

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The New York Times reports that an anti-immigrant backlash is building among Republican primary voters in Iowa. There is room to doubt how significant this trend is, since the two most anti-immigrant candidates in the Republican field are Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter, who are struggling to register in single digits, while the early leaders, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, are both fairly pro-immigrant. But there is no question that, even if it remains a minority sentiment, there is a substantial nativist, even xenophobic, wing in the Republican party.

As it happens, I was in Miami yesterday and got a chance to observe diversity in action. I loved it. What a booming, vibrant city! I reveled in the Latin and Caribbean accents, the variety of foods, the multiplicity of cultures. My lasting taste of Miami was a terrific Cuban sandwich, espresso, and guava pastry at a Cuban coffee shop at the airport. Beats Hardees hollow.

I’ve been to Des Moines before, and I hope I don’t unduly offend any Iowans by noting that I prefer Miami or other multicultural metropolises like Los Angeles, San Diego, and New York. It’s not just a matter of the weather—though there is that too. And it’s not that the Midwest doesn’t have any ethnic spice; every part of the U.S. was settled by someone from somewhere, who brought along native customs, foods, languages, and cultures. The big difference is that the dominant immigrant groups in the Midwest arrived long ago, generally in the 19th century. Their cultures have blended into a generic white-bread Americana, so now these assimilated German-Americans or Scandinavian-Americans or Polish-Americans resent new arrivals just as much as they were once resented by English-Americans.

All this immigrant-bashing, itself a long American tradition, is pretty silly. Ambitious young immigrants, both high-tech inventors and low-tech lettuce-pickers, provide much of the vigor that keeps our economy vibrant. They always have. The contrast with insular, graying Japan, which is only now recovering from a decade-long recession, couldn’t be starker.

Concerns that these immigrants won’t assimilate or will destroy our common culture seem to me vastly overblown. American culture is spreading all over the world, much to the distress of the Academie Francaise and other guardians of traditional folkways. People all over the world are acting, dressing, and speaking like Americans, while watching American-produced TV shows and movies, playing American video games, and listening to American music. (Indeed, on a recent trip to Berlin I did very well speaking English to everyone from army officers and government officials to waiters and taxi drivers.) Do nativists really mean to suggest that, while American culture is conquering cities from Singapore to Santiago, it will die out in San Diego or Miami? It seems implausible, to put it mildly. Indeed, Miami remains identifiably American. Its secession from Florda—the lurid and implausible nightmare of some immigrant-bashers—isn’t remotely in the cards.

This isn’t to minimize some of the problems with immigration, which undoubtedly puts a strain on schools and social services. But on the whole I’d say immigration was and remains a major plus for the United States. There is even something to be said, dare I say it, for the concepts of “multiculturalism” and “diversity.” Shorn of some of their radical academic dogma, they are a realistic recognition that America is the sum of divergent parts. The inevitable process of assimilation, which is going on now as in the past, is a good thing on the whole, but it does have its downside. I, for one, hope that Miami never loses its Latin flair.

*Editor’s Note: The title of this post originally contained an error.

 

 

 

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