Commentary Magazine


Topic: Michael Moore

Sicko Revisited: CastroCare and Cholera

The Miami Herald has a startling story about Michael Moore’s model healthcare system, down in Cuba: “The first cholera outbreak in Cuba in a century has left at least 15 dead and sent hundreds to hospitals all but sealed off by security agents bent on keeping a lid on the news, according to reports Friday.”

The country’s time-warp politics and infrastructure now match its diseases. Cholera was supposed to have been wiped out in Cuba around 1900. And this is only one of many Cuban health crises. Apparently Cuba has become something of a Petri dish since Russia stopped subsidizing Castro’s island prison in the 1990s. The Herald reports that  “During one 24-hour period in January, three flights from Cuba to Toronto arrived with groups of passengers suffering from nausea, vomiting and fever.” There’s also “an acute soap shortage,” and “rumors of an increase in dengue, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes that thrive during the hot and rainy months of summer.”

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The Miami Herald has a startling story about Michael Moore’s model healthcare system, down in Cuba: “The first cholera outbreak in Cuba in a century has left at least 15 dead and sent hundreds to hospitals all but sealed off by security agents bent on keeping a lid on the news, according to reports Friday.”

The country’s time-warp politics and infrastructure now match its diseases. Cholera was supposed to have been wiped out in Cuba around 1900. And this is only one of many Cuban health crises. Apparently Cuba has become something of a Petri dish since Russia stopped subsidizing Castro’s island prison in the 1990s. The Herald reports that  “During one 24-hour period in January, three flights from Cuba to Toronto arrived with groups of passengers suffering from nausea, vomiting and fever.” There’s also “an acute soap shortage,” and “rumors of an increase in dengue, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes that thrive during the hot and rainy months of summer.”

The people of Cuba can’t get proper treatment because they are being penalized for the worst precondition going: Communism. The same pre-condition has prevented them from even speaking of their misery: “a hospital employee reported that doctors are signing death certificates saying that the victims died from ‘acute respiratory insufficiency’ rather than cholera.”

It would be the height of reckless hyperbole to say ObamaCare will lead to CastroCare. Socialist healthcare regimes throughout the West have inflicted all sorts of disasters on their participants but it takes a special kind of state monstrosity to resuscitate dead pandemics and gag the victims.  Rather, the story out of Cuba highlights the pathetic and disingenuous depths to which anti-American activists have sunk in the debate over American healthcare. In his 2007 film, Sicko, Michael Moore took ailing 9/11 relief workers for treatment in a Havana hospital in order to point out the comparative failings of the U.S. healthcare system. The “even in Cuba…” line of argument has since become a common trope among the pro-universal care set. If Moore plans on pulling a similar stunt anytime soon at least there will be health-related grounds to stop him from re-entering the United States.

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RE: Left Shamelessly Seeks to Exploit Arizona Tragedy

Less than 24 hours after the story of the Arizona shooting first broke, Americans woke up to Responsible-Rhetoric Sunday. Every newspaper and news-analysis show piously raised questions about the country’s overheated political rhetoric and its relationship to yesterday’s massacre. This was nothing short of the immediate and seamless political hijacking of a senseless tragedy.

That the alleged shooter has left a long and florid  multimedia trail detailing what looks like a chaotic battle with paranoid psychosis has led, of course, to this obvious  conclusion: Sarah Palin is, at least partially, to blame: “During the fall campaign, Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, posted a controversial map on her Facebook page depicting spots where Democrats were running for re-election,” write Marc Lacey and David Herszenhorn in the New York Times. “Those Democrats were noted by crosshairs symbols like those seen through the scope of a gun. Ms. Giffords was among those on Ms. Palin’s map.”

And what about 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green? Was the little girl killed in yesterday’s shooting also “among those on Ms. Palin’s map”? Were the other 16 victims? The scrambled mind behind yesterday’s unspeakable rampage is obviously not organized enough to act on any real-world motivations, let alone political ones. But never mind, the media will take it from there.

A responsible pundit class would have explored the issues most relevant to the shooting: severe mental illness and its warning signs; social networks and the responsibilities of participants; the challenges posed to the security of American officials. Instead, we got the latest installment in what has become a liberal-media pastime: shaping apolitical tragedies into left-wing talking points. Violent crimes are ripe for this treatment. Michael Moore squeezed an entire anti-Balkan intervention movie out of the Columbine shooting. Natural disasters work too: a tornado devastates Greensburg, Kansas? Then-governor Kathleen Sebelius blamed Iraq policy, naturally. A hurricane overwhelms New Orleans? Well, that’s Bush for you. Everything from the Duke-lacrosse case to the BP spill to the earthquake in Haiti can be trumped out as evidence of conservatism’s evils. By the time history puts these things in perspective, we’ve all become a little dumber and more than a little dirtier.

Today, with a nation awash in personal tragedy and people in hospital beds fighting for their lives, the political spin of yesterday’s horror marks a new low. Indeed it is no small indignity for conservatives to have to join this unseemly debate in order to refute liberal analysis. The preposterous George Packer writes, “for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale.” And so it feels frankly indecent to point out that it was President Obama who called Republicans “enemies” in the run-up to the November elections.  If the shapeless massacre in Arizona devolves into nothing but another round of sound-bite ping-pong, then all the hopes of 2011 being a fresh start with a new Congress are for naught. For even as our elected leaders now act with a somewhat restored sense of dignity and unity, talking heads have waged a civil war.

Less than 24 hours after the story of the Arizona shooting first broke, Americans woke up to Responsible-Rhetoric Sunday. Every newspaper and news-analysis show piously raised questions about the country’s overheated political rhetoric and its relationship to yesterday’s massacre. This was nothing short of the immediate and seamless political hijacking of a senseless tragedy.

That the alleged shooter has left a long and florid  multimedia trail detailing what looks like a chaotic battle with paranoid psychosis has led, of course, to this obvious  conclusion: Sarah Palin is, at least partially, to blame: “During the fall campaign, Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, posted a controversial map on her Facebook page depicting spots where Democrats were running for re-election,” write Marc Lacey and David Herszenhorn in the New York Times. “Those Democrats were noted by crosshairs symbols like those seen through the scope of a gun. Ms. Giffords was among those on Ms. Palin’s map.”

And what about 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green? Was the little girl killed in yesterday’s shooting also “among those on Ms. Palin’s map”? Were the other 16 victims? The scrambled mind behind yesterday’s unspeakable rampage is obviously not organized enough to act on any real-world motivations, let alone political ones. But never mind, the media will take it from there.

A responsible pundit class would have explored the issues most relevant to the shooting: severe mental illness and its warning signs; social networks and the responsibilities of participants; the challenges posed to the security of American officials. Instead, we got the latest installment in what has become a liberal-media pastime: shaping apolitical tragedies into left-wing talking points. Violent crimes are ripe for this treatment. Michael Moore squeezed an entire anti-Balkan intervention movie out of the Columbine shooting. Natural disasters work too: a tornado devastates Greensburg, Kansas? Then-governor Kathleen Sebelius blamed Iraq policy, naturally. A hurricane overwhelms New Orleans? Well, that’s Bush for you. Everything from the Duke-lacrosse case to the BP spill to the earthquake in Haiti can be trumped out as evidence of conservatism’s evils. By the time history puts these things in perspective, we’ve all become a little dumber and more than a little dirtier.

Today, with a nation awash in personal tragedy and people in hospital beds fighting for their lives, the political spin of yesterday’s horror marks a new low. Indeed it is no small indignity for conservatives to have to join this unseemly debate in order to refute liberal analysis. The preposterous George Packer writes, “for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale.” And so it feels frankly indecent to point out that it was President Obama who called Republicans “enemies” in the run-up to the November elections.  If the shapeless massacre in Arizona devolves into nothing but another round of sound-bite ping-pong, then all the hopes of 2011 being a fresh start with a new Congress are for naught. For even as our elected leaders now act with a somewhat restored sense of dignity and unity, talking heads have waged a civil war.

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Morning Commentary

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed by Congress yesterday, but the military says that implementing the new rules will take some time: “Under the expected procedure, the Defense Department will conduct servicewide training and education for all active duty, reserve and national guard forces, and make whatever adjustments in procedures and facilities are necessary. … A servicewide memo will be sent instructing any gay or lesbian servicemembers not to openly declare their sexual orientation because they could potentially be subject to separation from the military.”

And in the aftermath of the DADT repeal, liberals have found a surprising new hero — Joe Lieberman: “‘He’s certainly one of my heroes today,’ said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. ‘His determination, his tenacity has kept this going all year. This would have not happened without Sen. Lieberman.’”

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez is planning to take full advantage of his new “temporary” power to rule by decree: “Venezuela’s lame-duck, pro-government congress has given temporary one-man rule to President Hugo Chavez, less than three weeks before a newly elected National Assembly with enough government foes to hamper some of his socialist initiatives takes office. … Speaking to supporters in a televised address Friday, Chavez left little doubt that he would use his powers to push through a range of economic and political measures that would accelerate the oil-rich country’s transformation into a socialist state.”

A soldier reflects on Time magazine’s Person of the Year: “I am not upset that [war hero and Congressional Medal of Honor winner] Staff Sgt. [Salvatore] Giunta wasn’t selected for the award. I don’t shame the periodical for not putting him on the short list. What makes me cringe is the fact that such heroic acts as Giunta’s in defense of our most beloved nation are still not ‘influential’ enough — not valued enough — to move and inspire us as a country: a country for which so many of us cry fierce patriotism, yet feel so little of its burdens.”

Michael Moore gets burned by WikiLeaks: “[T]he memo reveals that when the film [Sicko, Moore’s fawning documentary about the Cuban health-care system,] was shown to a group of Cuban doctors, some became so ‘disturbed at the blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in Cuba that they left the room’. … Castro’s government apparently went on to ban the film because, the leaked cable claims, it ‘knows the film is a myth and does not want to risk a popular backlash by showing to Cubans facilities that are clearly not available to the vast majority of them.’”

Could government policies make smoking extinct? While laws and taxes have certainly reduced the number of smokers, Kyle Smith argues that the habit is never going to go away completely: “What’s striking about a little volume called ‘The Cigarette Book: The History and Culture of Smoking’ (Skyhorse Publishing), an alphabetical guide to ciggie factoids, is how consistently smoking has been treated as a menace down the centuries. C-sticks were always just about to be hounded out of polite company for 400 years of largely ineffective taxes, warnings and bans. None of it worked.”

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed by Congress yesterday, but the military says that implementing the new rules will take some time: “Under the expected procedure, the Defense Department will conduct servicewide training and education for all active duty, reserve and national guard forces, and make whatever adjustments in procedures and facilities are necessary. … A servicewide memo will be sent instructing any gay or lesbian servicemembers not to openly declare their sexual orientation because they could potentially be subject to separation from the military.”

And in the aftermath of the DADT repeal, liberals have found a surprising new hero — Joe Lieberman: “‘He’s certainly one of my heroes today,’ said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. ‘His determination, his tenacity has kept this going all year. This would have not happened without Sen. Lieberman.’”

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez is planning to take full advantage of his new “temporary” power to rule by decree: “Venezuela’s lame-duck, pro-government congress has given temporary one-man rule to President Hugo Chavez, less than three weeks before a newly elected National Assembly with enough government foes to hamper some of his socialist initiatives takes office. … Speaking to supporters in a televised address Friday, Chavez left little doubt that he would use his powers to push through a range of economic and political measures that would accelerate the oil-rich country’s transformation into a socialist state.”

A soldier reflects on Time magazine’s Person of the Year: “I am not upset that [war hero and Congressional Medal of Honor winner] Staff Sgt. [Salvatore] Giunta wasn’t selected for the award. I don’t shame the periodical for not putting him on the short list. What makes me cringe is the fact that such heroic acts as Giunta’s in defense of our most beloved nation are still not ‘influential’ enough — not valued enough — to move and inspire us as a country: a country for which so many of us cry fierce patriotism, yet feel so little of its burdens.”

Michael Moore gets burned by WikiLeaks: “[T]he memo reveals that when the film [Sicko, Moore’s fawning documentary about the Cuban health-care system,] was shown to a group of Cuban doctors, some became so ‘disturbed at the blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in Cuba that they left the room’. … Castro’s government apparently went on to ban the film because, the leaked cable claims, it ‘knows the film is a myth and does not want to risk a popular backlash by showing to Cubans facilities that are clearly not available to the vast majority of them.’”

Could government policies make smoking extinct? While laws and taxes have certainly reduced the number of smokers, Kyle Smith argues that the habit is never going to go away completely: “What’s striking about a little volume called ‘The Cigarette Book: The History and Culture of Smoking’ (Skyhorse Publishing), an alphabetical guide to ciggie factoids, is how consistently smoking has been treated as a menace down the centuries. C-sticks were always just about to be hounded out of polite company for 400 years of largely ineffective taxes, warnings and bans. None of it worked.”

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The Left’s Ornery Adolescents

Why are those Americans who are most distrustful of the U.S. government, and so eager to undermine it, the same ones who are most desperate to give it control over their own lives? Michael Moore has made a big P.R. show of his pledge to pay Julian Assange’s bail. “WikiLeaks, God bless them, will save lives as a result of their actions,” he writes, and puts the U.S. government on notice: “You simply can’t be trusted.” Moore offers advice to those of us who see something wrong with Assange. “[A]ll I ask is that you not be naive about how the government works when it decides to go after its prey.” Right. Instead, you should be naïve about how government works when it decides to take control of your health care, regulate your business, and spend your earnings. Moore, you may have forgotten, calls for the U.S. government to provide “free, universal health care for life” for “every resident of the United States” and demands that “pharmaceutical companies … be strictly regulated like a public utility.” That’s the old anti–Big Brother spirit.

When men like Michael Moore are not calling for the government to be undermined and defied, they’re petitioning for it to chauffeur them to the movies, cook their meals, and tuck them into bed. One news cycle finds HBO’s Bill Maher telling America not to allow the government to inject “a disease into your arm” in the form of a vaccine and that “I don’t trust the government, especially with my health.” The next, he’s calling for “Medicare for all” and lamenting the absence of a fully government-run health-care system that would operate like the U.S. postal service.

At the Nation, progressive totem Tom Hayden penned an article titled “WikiLeaks vs. The Empire,” defending Assange on the grounds that “the closed doors of power need to be open to public review” and noting that “the American people might revolt if we knew the secrets being kept from us.” Oh, and about that secretive and untrustworthy “Empire”? Hayden wants to put it in charge of the health care of all Americans, naturally.

This paradoxical political posturing resembles nothing so much as middle-class adolescent rebellion. Troubled kids protest their parents’ dangerous values, their authoritarianism, their materialism, and the moral hypocrisy that keeps the whole farcical delusion afloat. But most of all, they protest the piddling allowance on which no self-respecting 13-year-old old can be expected to keep himself in the latest combat-based video games, faddish clothes, and instantly gratifying gadgetry.

The troubled kids of the left distrust the extraordinary powers wielded by their leaders in the name of safety and well-being — but it’s also a real bummer that the government won’t assert more power to keep us safe and well.

Why are those Americans who are most distrustful of the U.S. government, and so eager to undermine it, the same ones who are most desperate to give it control over their own lives? Michael Moore has made a big P.R. show of his pledge to pay Julian Assange’s bail. “WikiLeaks, God bless them, will save lives as a result of their actions,” he writes, and puts the U.S. government on notice: “You simply can’t be trusted.” Moore offers advice to those of us who see something wrong with Assange. “[A]ll I ask is that you not be naive about how the government works when it decides to go after its prey.” Right. Instead, you should be naïve about how government works when it decides to take control of your health care, regulate your business, and spend your earnings. Moore, you may have forgotten, calls for the U.S. government to provide “free, universal health care for life” for “every resident of the United States” and demands that “pharmaceutical companies … be strictly regulated like a public utility.” That’s the old anti–Big Brother spirit.

When men like Michael Moore are not calling for the government to be undermined and defied, they’re petitioning for it to chauffeur them to the movies, cook their meals, and tuck them into bed. One news cycle finds HBO’s Bill Maher telling America not to allow the government to inject “a disease into your arm” in the form of a vaccine and that “I don’t trust the government, especially with my health.” The next, he’s calling for “Medicare for all” and lamenting the absence of a fully government-run health-care system that would operate like the U.S. postal service.

At the Nation, progressive totem Tom Hayden penned an article titled “WikiLeaks vs. The Empire,” defending Assange on the grounds that “the closed doors of power need to be open to public review” and noting that “the American people might revolt if we knew the secrets being kept from us.” Oh, and about that secretive and untrustworthy “Empire”? Hayden wants to put it in charge of the health care of all Americans, naturally.

This paradoxical political posturing resembles nothing so much as middle-class adolescent rebellion. Troubled kids protest their parents’ dangerous values, their authoritarianism, their materialism, and the moral hypocrisy that keeps the whole farcical delusion afloat. But most of all, they protest the piddling allowance on which no self-respecting 13-year-old old can be expected to keep himself in the latest combat-based video games, faddish clothes, and instantly gratifying gadgetry.

The troubled kids of the left distrust the extraordinary powers wielded by their leaders in the name of safety and well-being — but it’s also a real bummer that the government won’t assert more power to keep us safe and well.

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A Possible Obama Primary Challenge

Last night, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann interviewed the filmmaker Michael Moore. Both of them are disgusted with the Democratic Party and its leadership. Now Olbermann and Moore inhabit a fantasy world in which Democrats are failing not because they passed ObamaCare but because they don’t have the courage to trumpet their support for it. Democrats, you see, are too spineless and too passive, not willing to thump their chests to celebrate their role in passing incredibly unpopular legislation.

This is what happens to dogmatic people when their grand ideological ambitions fail. It cannot be because of any defects in their ideology; the problem must rest with weak-willed politicians who aren’t aggressive enough to fight on behalf of their ideology. They don’t have the courage of their convictions.

This critique is of course ludicrous. But for President Obama, it highlights a serious threat: in the aftermath of the forthcoming midterm elections, where Democrats are going to suffer enormous losses, liberals will grow more angry, more disillusioned, and more disgusted with Obama and the Democratic Party establishment. They will blame the election losses on them, not on liberalism; and quicker than you can imagine, the defections will begin. And if Obama doesn’t begin to turn things around in 2011, he may well face a challenge from within his own party.

That might seem unthinkable now — but let’s see where things stand on November 3, when the recriminations get really ugly.

Failed presidencies elicit primary challenges. Just ask Jimmy Carter.

We’re clearly not at this point yet, of course, and a challenge to Obama is still more unlikely than not. And we haven’t seen a sitting president dislodged since LBJ. (Eugene McCarthy nearly defeated Johnson in the New Hampshire primary; Johnson withdrew shortly after that, and Hubert Humphrey went on to win the Democratic nomination.) But you can count on this: to protect liberalism, the left will jettison even Obama if it deems it necessary for The Cause. If Obama remains or becomes increasingly radioactive in 2011, liberals will seek to separate their movement from a deeply unpopular president. And the man who in the past has been so quick to throw others (like Jeremiah Wright) under the bus may find himself suffering a similar fate. The cruelest cut of all, of course, would be for this act to come courtesy of those who were once Obama’s more worshipful supporters.

That is part of the danger of having built a campaign on a cult of personality.

Last night, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann interviewed the filmmaker Michael Moore. Both of them are disgusted with the Democratic Party and its leadership. Now Olbermann and Moore inhabit a fantasy world in which Democrats are failing not because they passed ObamaCare but because they don’t have the courage to trumpet their support for it. Democrats, you see, are too spineless and too passive, not willing to thump their chests to celebrate their role in passing incredibly unpopular legislation.

This is what happens to dogmatic people when their grand ideological ambitions fail. It cannot be because of any defects in their ideology; the problem must rest with weak-willed politicians who aren’t aggressive enough to fight on behalf of their ideology. They don’t have the courage of their convictions.

This critique is of course ludicrous. But for President Obama, it highlights a serious threat: in the aftermath of the forthcoming midterm elections, where Democrats are going to suffer enormous losses, liberals will grow more angry, more disillusioned, and more disgusted with Obama and the Democratic Party establishment. They will blame the election losses on them, not on liberalism; and quicker than you can imagine, the defections will begin. And if Obama doesn’t begin to turn things around in 2011, he may well face a challenge from within his own party.

That might seem unthinkable now — but let’s see where things stand on November 3, when the recriminations get really ugly.

Failed presidencies elicit primary challenges. Just ask Jimmy Carter.

We’re clearly not at this point yet, of course, and a challenge to Obama is still more unlikely than not. And we haven’t seen a sitting president dislodged since LBJ. (Eugene McCarthy nearly defeated Johnson in the New Hampshire primary; Johnson withdrew shortly after that, and Hubert Humphrey went on to win the Democratic nomination.) But you can count on this: to protect liberalism, the left will jettison even Obama if it deems it necessary for The Cause. If Obama remains or becomes increasingly radioactive in 2011, liberals will seek to separate their movement from a deeply unpopular president. And the man who in the past has been so quick to throw others (like Jeremiah Wright) under the bus may find himself suffering a similar fate. The cruelest cut of all, of course, would be for this act to come courtesy of those who were once Obama’s more worshipful supporters.

That is part of the danger of having built a campaign on a cult of personality.

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Where’s the Good Will?

Has Barack Obama lost the liberal elite? To hear Matt Damon tell it, yes. “I’m disappointed in the health care plan and in the troop buildup in Afghanistan. Everyone feels a little let down because, on some level, people expected all their problems to go away,” he said.

Matt Damon has problems? Sorry to hear it. He should get in touch with Nancy Pelosi. Next time she’s in front of a microphone pitching the government annexation of a fifth of the economy, she can relay the sad tale of Matt from Los Angeles, who needs this bill to pass immediately because the success of the Bourne franchise depends upon it. After all, the workaday folks at the center of the Democrats’ standard sob stories are now more fearful of — than desperate for — a health-care takeover. A majority of average Americans believe the federal government is so big it poses an immediate threat to their rights, so the Democrats are pretty much left with the Hollywood A-list as their support base. (Just imagine the procedures that will be covered by this health-care bill, should it pass.)

This is not a surprise. Progressivism is nothing if not the natural consequence of outsized prosperity. As Irving Kristol put it, “Those who benefit most from capitalism — and their children, especially — experience a withering away of the acquisitive impulse.”

Because progressives still want universal health care, they are, as Damon articulates, upset with Obama. He was supposed to make it happen. Left academia, like its showbiz counterpart, is disillusioned. The late Howard Zinn, weighing in at the Nation on Obama’s first year, suggested that “people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president — which means, in our time, a dangerous president — unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.”

Therein lies the progressives’ mistake. Obama’s direction has remained the same.  He’s still with them. His real problem is two-fold: he’s too incompetent and arrogant to make anything happen; and the country remains stubbornly Center-Right. What the Left considers some sort of ideological betrayal is really a combination of failed leadership strategy and the exceptional continuity of the American polity. Does Matt Damon really think the President is trying to intravenously force universal health care on an unwilling nation because he’s gone soft? Is the President watching his approval ratings and political capital nosedive because he’s a cynical compromiser?

After all Obama’s interregnum talk about how America was not a speedboat but an oceanliner whose course-changes required only incremental adjustments at the helm, he grabbed the wheel and plunged Left. In so doing, he sent the moderates and independents overboard. Whoever remains has been asked to walk the plank and let the captain take the ship into uncharted waters.

The policy traffic jam that has resulted has caused the pro-health-care crowd to declare America “ungovernable.” What they really mean is that America is undictatable. And they are deeply upset about it. Let’s not forget that Obama’s crestfallen celebrity groupies also constitute the Hollywood chapter of the Hugo Chavez fan club. The country doesn’t want universal health care? Well, what would Hugo do? For progressives, “ramming it through” is a far more noble process than all that messy checks-and-balances nonsense.

The Afghanistan complaint is even more baffling. The single unambiguous foreign-policy talking point of Obama’s campaign was that he planned to refocus the war effort on Afghanistan and Pakistan. If he failed to do that once in office, one could see how Damon and others who campaigned for Obama would be “disappointed.” But this is one of those rare political instances when an elected official has done exactly as promised during the campaign. Yet Michael Moore, who endorsed the “exceptional man” during the campaign, is now also “very disappointed” in Obama’s Afghanistan decision.

While the far-Left cries itself to sleep over the breakup with its soul mate, the rest of the country has come to its senses about what Obama really represented: a rebound relationship — a relationship in which, according to the gods of pop psychology, “you spend a significant amount of time focusing on your previous one.” Goodness knows we’ve done plenty of that.  What’s the problem in falling for Obama because he’s not George W. Bush? “The biggest danger of being in a rebound relationship is that you might commit to it when your partner really isn’t suitable for you. In any relationship in the early romantic stages there’s a danger that you’re going to think this is the best relationship you’ve ever had and you’ll want to commit too early.” As polls since last spring demonstrate: danger averted. And the truth is the Damons, Zinns, and Moores don’t know how good they have it.  If Obama had the nationwide support to institute the progressive policies they want, they’d first understand what disappointment really is.

Has Barack Obama lost the liberal elite? To hear Matt Damon tell it, yes. “I’m disappointed in the health care plan and in the troop buildup in Afghanistan. Everyone feels a little let down because, on some level, people expected all their problems to go away,” he said.

Matt Damon has problems? Sorry to hear it. He should get in touch with Nancy Pelosi. Next time she’s in front of a microphone pitching the government annexation of a fifth of the economy, she can relay the sad tale of Matt from Los Angeles, who needs this bill to pass immediately because the success of the Bourne franchise depends upon it. After all, the workaday folks at the center of the Democrats’ standard sob stories are now more fearful of — than desperate for — a health-care takeover. A majority of average Americans believe the federal government is so big it poses an immediate threat to their rights, so the Democrats are pretty much left with the Hollywood A-list as their support base. (Just imagine the procedures that will be covered by this health-care bill, should it pass.)

This is not a surprise. Progressivism is nothing if not the natural consequence of outsized prosperity. As Irving Kristol put it, “Those who benefit most from capitalism — and their children, especially — experience a withering away of the acquisitive impulse.”

Because progressives still want universal health care, they are, as Damon articulates, upset with Obama. He was supposed to make it happen. Left academia, like its showbiz counterpart, is disillusioned. The late Howard Zinn, weighing in at the Nation on Obama’s first year, suggested that “people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president — which means, in our time, a dangerous president — unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.”

Therein lies the progressives’ mistake. Obama’s direction has remained the same.  He’s still with them. His real problem is two-fold: he’s too incompetent and arrogant to make anything happen; and the country remains stubbornly Center-Right. What the Left considers some sort of ideological betrayal is really a combination of failed leadership strategy and the exceptional continuity of the American polity. Does Matt Damon really think the President is trying to intravenously force universal health care on an unwilling nation because he’s gone soft? Is the President watching his approval ratings and political capital nosedive because he’s a cynical compromiser?

After all Obama’s interregnum talk about how America was not a speedboat but an oceanliner whose course-changes required only incremental adjustments at the helm, he grabbed the wheel and plunged Left. In so doing, he sent the moderates and independents overboard. Whoever remains has been asked to walk the plank and let the captain take the ship into uncharted waters.

The policy traffic jam that has resulted has caused the pro-health-care crowd to declare America “ungovernable.” What they really mean is that America is undictatable. And they are deeply upset about it. Let’s not forget that Obama’s crestfallen celebrity groupies also constitute the Hollywood chapter of the Hugo Chavez fan club. The country doesn’t want universal health care? Well, what would Hugo do? For progressives, “ramming it through” is a far more noble process than all that messy checks-and-balances nonsense.

The Afghanistan complaint is even more baffling. The single unambiguous foreign-policy talking point of Obama’s campaign was that he planned to refocus the war effort on Afghanistan and Pakistan. If he failed to do that once in office, one could see how Damon and others who campaigned for Obama would be “disappointed.” But this is one of those rare political instances when an elected official has done exactly as promised during the campaign. Yet Michael Moore, who endorsed the “exceptional man” during the campaign, is now also “very disappointed” in Obama’s Afghanistan decision.

While the far-Left cries itself to sleep over the breakup with its soul mate, the rest of the country has come to its senses about what Obama really represented: a rebound relationship — a relationship in which, according to the gods of pop psychology, “you spend a significant amount of time focusing on your previous one.” Goodness knows we’ve done plenty of that.  What’s the problem in falling for Obama because he’s not George W. Bush? “The biggest danger of being in a rebound relationship is that you might commit to it when your partner really isn’t suitable for you. In any relationship in the early romantic stages there’s a danger that you’re going to think this is the best relationship you’ve ever had and you’ll want to commit too early.” As polls since last spring demonstrate: danger averted. And the truth is the Damons, Zinns, and Moores don’t know how good they have it.  If Obama had the nationwide support to institute the progressive policies they want, they’d first understand what disappointment really is.

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Needed: Wartime Commander in Chief

If nothing else, the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should remind us that the “war on terror” (oh, that now banished phrase!) was not dreamed up by some neocon conspiracy bent on curtailing Americans’ civil liberties and on colonizing poor defenseless countries. It is nothing but a simple, accurate description of the threat we face from Islamist extremists bent on mass murder to advance their deranged worldview.

It is not only luck that has kept us (relatively) safe since 9/11, aside from a few random nuts like the Beltway sniper (John Allen Muhammad) and the Fort Hood shooter (Major Malik Nadal Hasan). There has been no lack of larger plots against American targets here and abroad. A few, such as the attempted bombings by Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, have been foiled by a combination of bad planning on the part of the terrorists and active resistance by airline passengers. Many more plots, such as the attempt to blow up airliners flying across the Atlantic by using liquid explosives, have been defeated by active intelligence and law enforcement work. A vital contribution to that work has been made by the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 changes, which have made it easier to wiretap suspects, share intelligence, and (don’t forget) aggressively interrogate captured terrorists and keep them in custody even if they cannot be convicted beyond a shadow of a doubt in a civil court.

Unfortunately all too many people have drawn the wrong lesson from these post-9/11 successes, concluding that we are so safe that we can go back to the pre-9/11 status quo, back when we treated terrorism as a law-enforcement problem and nothing more. This has become the conventional wisdom of the mainstream, left-wing of the Democratic Party and a tiny, right-wing fringe of the Republican Party (Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan), which see the U.S. government as the biggest threat we face—not al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers.

It would be unfair to say that President Obama has bought into this worldview. To his credit, he has continued an active program of using drones and Special Forces to assassinate terrorist kingpins from Pakistan to Somalia; has ramped up our military efforts in Afghanistan; and has continued an active program of intelligence and military cooperation designed to allow states such as Yemen and the Philippines to fight their own wars on terror. Moreover, he has signed off on wider wiretapping and intelligence-gathering authority than the ACLU is comfortable with. But there are certainly some worrisome trends evident from this administration, which insists on trying Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court, which has banned the use of all stress techniques in interrogation, and which continues releasing detainees from Guantanamo, many of whom go right back to the sorts of activities that got them interred in the first place. And let us not forget the president’s unwillingness to get tough with Iran, whose nuclear-weapons program could before long radically increase the chances of our allies’ suffering a nuclear terrorist attack.

Obama has actually been a little tougher on terrorism (and Iraq and Afghanistan) than his record as an ultra-liberal senator would have led us to expect; certainly a lot tougher than Michael Moore or his ilk would like him to be. But not perhaps as tough as the situation demands. If there is any good that comes out of the attempted bombing of the Detroit flight, or the Iranians’ rejections of his naive overtures, it is that he may finally shed some of his remaining illusions about the world and start acting more as a wartime commander in chief should.

If nothing else, the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should remind us that the “war on terror” (oh, that now banished phrase!) was not dreamed up by some neocon conspiracy bent on curtailing Americans’ civil liberties and on colonizing poor defenseless countries. It is nothing but a simple, accurate description of the threat we face from Islamist extremists bent on mass murder to advance their deranged worldview.

It is not only luck that has kept us (relatively) safe since 9/11, aside from a few random nuts like the Beltway sniper (John Allen Muhammad) and the Fort Hood shooter (Major Malik Nadal Hasan). There has been no lack of larger plots against American targets here and abroad. A few, such as the attempted bombings by Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, have been foiled by a combination of bad planning on the part of the terrorists and active resistance by airline passengers. Many more plots, such as the attempt to blow up airliners flying across the Atlantic by using liquid explosives, have been defeated by active intelligence and law enforcement work. A vital contribution to that work has been made by the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 changes, which have made it easier to wiretap suspects, share intelligence, and (don’t forget) aggressively interrogate captured terrorists and keep them in custody even if they cannot be convicted beyond a shadow of a doubt in a civil court.

Unfortunately all too many people have drawn the wrong lesson from these post-9/11 successes, concluding that we are so safe that we can go back to the pre-9/11 status quo, back when we treated terrorism as a law-enforcement problem and nothing more. This has become the conventional wisdom of the mainstream, left-wing of the Democratic Party and a tiny, right-wing fringe of the Republican Party (Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan), which see the U.S. government as the biggest threat we face—not al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers.

It would be unfair to say that President Obama has bought into this worldview. To his credit, he has continued an active program of using drones and Special Forces to assassinate terrorist kingpins from Pakistan to Somalia; has ramped up our military efforts in Afghanistan; and has continued an active program of intelligence and military cooperation designed to allow states such as Yemen and the Philippines to fight their own wars on terror. Moreover, he has signed off on wider wiretapping and intelligence-gathering authority than the ACLU is comfortable with. But there are certainly some worrisome trends evident from this administration, which insists on trying Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court, which has banned the use of all stress techniques in interrogation, and which continues releasing detainees from Guantanamo, many of whom go right back to the sorts of activities that got them interred in the first place. And let us not forget the president’s unwillingness to get tough with Iran, whose nuclear-weapons program could before long radically increase the chances of our allies’ suffering a nuclear terrorist attack.

Obama has actually been a little tougher on terrorism (and Iraq and Afghanistan) than his record as an ultra-liberal senator would have led us to expect; certainly a lot tougher than Michael Moore or his ilk would like him to be. But not perhaps as tough as the situation demands. If there is any good that comes out of the attempted bombing of the Detroit flight, or the Iranians’ rejections of his naive overtures, it is that he may finally shed some of his remaining illusions about the world and start acting more as a wartime commander in chief should.

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Bigot Bowl

In the aftermath of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s stunning reemergence as an obstacle to Barack Obama’s presidential prospects, left-wing pundits have settled on a new strategy for dealing with the fallout. It goes something like this: every time Wright’s name is mentioned, remind the public that the Republicans also have their bigots. In this vein, Ann Friedman of American Prospect has implored liberal bloggers to match every reference to Rev. Wright with a mention of Reverend John Hagee, the controversial evangelical pastor who has endorsed John McCain. Meanwhile, the “progressive” watch-dog group Media Matters lamented the greater coverage that Wright has received over Hagee, while the New York Times, Boston Globe, and Washington Post ran opinion pieces prominently highlighting Hagee’s endorsement of McCain in an apparent bid to neutralize the damage that Wright has caused Obama’s campaign.

But if these opinion-makers believe that they’ve found their escape route in calling attention to Hagee, they are sorely mistaken. For starters, the empirics don’t work in their favor, as Hagee’s relationship with McCain isn’t remotely analogous to Wright’s relationship with Obama. Indeed, despite Hagee’s disturbing bigotry–he has said that the planning of a gay pride parade in New Orleans prompted Hurricane Katrina as a divine response–he is merely one of McCain’s many endorsers. But Rev. Wright is, after all, Obama’s spiritual guide of two decades–a man that Obama respected so much that he refused to distance himself from Wright for months after the pastor’s anti-American vitriol first hit YouTube.

In turn, the sheer imprecision of the Hagee-is-McCain’s-Wright argument will ultimately keep liberal opinion-makers on the defensive. After all, when Michael Moore, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson make their quadrennial pilgrimages to the Democratic National Convention, the Democrats will look downright hypocritical for having declared their outrage over the lesser-known Hagee. Voters will thus be reminded that, when it comes to relying on notorious bigots to mobilize key electoral cleavages, the Democrats are no better than Republicans. The difference, however, is that only the front-running Democratic candidate has compared one of these bigots to his grandmother.

In the aftermath of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s stunning reemergence as an obstacle to Barack Obama’s presidential prospects, left-wing pundits have settled on a new strategy for dealing with the fallout. It goes something like this: every time Wright’s name is mentioned, remind the public that the Republicans also have their bigots. In this vein, Ann Friedman of American Prospect has implored liberal bloggers to match every reference to Rev. Wright with a mention of Reverend John Hagee, the controversial evangelical pastor who has endorsed John McCain. Meanwhile, the “progressive” watch-dog group Media Matters lamented the greater coverage that Wright has received over Hagee, while the New York Times, Boston Globe, and Washington Post ran opinion pieces prominently highlighting Hagee’s endorsement of McCain in an apparent bid to neutralize the damage that Wright has caused Obama’s campaign.

But if these opinion-makers believe that they’ve found their escape route in calling attention to Hagee, they are sorely mistaken. For starters, the empirics don’t work in their favor, as Hagee’s relationship with McCain isn’t remotely analogous to Wright’s relationship with Obama. Indeed, despite Hagee’s disturbing bigotry–he has said that the planning of a gay pride parade in New Orleans prompted Hurricane Katrina as a divine response–he is merely one of McCain’s many endorsers. But Rev. Wright is, after all, Obama’s spiritual guide of two decades–a man that Obama respected so much that he refused to distance himself from Wright for months after the pastor’s anti-American vitriol first hit YouTube.

In turn, the sheer imprecision of the Hagee-is-McCain’s-Wright argument will ultimately keep liberal opinion-makers on the defensive. After all, when Michael Moore, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson make their quadrennial pilgrimages to the Democratic National Convention, the Democrats will look downright hypocritical for having declared their outrage over the lesser-known Hagee. Voters will thus be reminded that, when it comes to relying on notorious bigots to mobilize key electoral cleavages, the Democrats are no better than Republicans. The difference, however, is that only the front-running Democratic candidate has compared one of these bigots to his grandmother.

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Unhinged

The Left is losing it. Not the election. Just any semblance of sanity. From one Barack Obama fan we learn, “This is an election about whether the people of Pennsylvania hate blacks more than they hate women.” And these are Democrats, mind you. As for John McCain, the same blogger frets about those white male voters:

[T]he outcome of the general election will depend on whether enough of them vote for McCain. A lot of them will: white men cannot be relied on, as all of us know who have spent a lifetime dating them. And McCain is a compelling candidate, particularly because of the Torture Thing. As for the Democratic hope that McCain’s temper will be a problem, don’t bet on it. A lot of white men have terrible tempers, and what’s more, they think it’s normal.

Then we have a list of 40 journalists who signed a vitriolic letter to ABC complaining about the debate moderators. (It is nice actually to have a list of putative journos who no longer have any claim to objectivity and whose views can be comfortably discounted as spin from the Obama camp.) And to cap it off we have the latest frothing from Michael Moore.

Why all the anger and hostility in support of the post-partisan, post-nasty Agent of Change? Perhaps these supporters assumed Obama would knock out Clinton in Pennsylvania, a result which seems unlikely now. Or perhaps they are worried about all those voters who say they won’t vote for Obama in the general election. Whatever the reason, they seem very, very mad.

The Left is losing it. Not the election. Just any semblance of sanity. From one Barack Obama fan we learn, “This is an election about whether the people of Pennsylvania hate blacks more than they hate women.” And these are Democrats, mind you. As for John McCain, the same blogger frets about those white male voters:

[T]he outcome of the general election will depend on whether enough of them vote for McCain. A lot of them will: white men cannot be relied on, as all of us know who have spent a lifetime dating them. And McCain is a compelling candidate, particularly because of the Torture Thing. As for the Democratic hope that McCain’s temper will be a problem, don’t bet on it. A lot of white men have terrible tempers, and what’s more, they think it’s normal.

Then we have a list of 40 journalists who signed a vitriolic letter to ABC complaining about the debate moderators. (It is nice actually to have a list of putative journos who no longer have any claim to objectivity and whose views can be comfortably discounted as spin from the Obama camp.) And to cap it off we have the latest frothing from Michael Moore.

Why all the anger and hostility in support of the post-partisan, post-nasty Agent of Change? Perhaps these supporters assumed Obama would knock out Clinton in Pennsylvania, a result which seems unlikely now. Or perhaps they are worried about all those voters who say they won’t vote for Obama in the general election. Whatever the reason, they seem very, very mad.

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The Secret History of Neoconservatism

The furor over the supposedly perfidious influence of “neocons” in the making of Bush foreign policy seems to have died down a bit. But it will nevertheless remain part of the lasting legend about this administration. Bob Kagan, one of our foremost foreign policy sages, has a must-read article on the subject in the latest issue of Lawrence Kaplan’s new foreign policy quarterly, World Affairs.

Kagan makes many valuable points, but in essence his argument is that there is absolutely nothing new or foreign about the “neocon” vision—combining power with idealism to make the defense of democracy a central tenet of American policy. The more fevered critics of the neocons insist on explaining their world view with reference to Leon Trotsky, Leo Strauss, and other philosophers of marginal influence in modern America. (I can’t speak for anyone else, but I personally have never read a single book by either Trotsky or Strauss.) They would be better advised, Kagan notes, to look to figures as varied as Alexander Hamilton, William Seward, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Dean Acheson, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan, all of whom advocated an expansive vision of America’s role in the world.

The opposing viewpoint—which denounces American “imperialism” and abjures the defense of liberty abroad—has an equally long history.  It lists among its proponents not only modern-day neocon-bashers such as Michael Moore and Pat Buchanan, but also such illustrious predecessors as the “progressive” historians Charles Beard and William Appleman Williams and realpolitik thinkers like Hans Morgenthau and Walter Lippmann.

Nor is this the first time that the more fevered critics of the war effort have wound up charging that the country was “lied” into war by nefarious conspirators. Today it’s neocons. In the past it was banana companies, “merchants of death,” and international bankers. Such assertions have been heard about the Spanish-American War, World War I, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. (In other words, after every conflict that has turned out to be tougher than anticipated.) Even when it came to World War II, some die-hard isolationists accused FDR of somehow forcing Japan to fight us and of deliberately not warning Pearl Harbor in advance of the attack.

Kagan does not deny that folly and miscalculation played a large role in planning the Iraq War. But, as he notes, there is nothing unique about America being overweening or imprudent in the pursuit of its ideals. The only way to avoid such setbacks is to pursue an isolationist or narrowly realpolitik agenda—which would wind up causing us far greater problems in the long run.

The furor over the supposedly perfidious influence of “neocons” in the making of Bush foreign policy seems to have died down a bit. But it will nevertheless remain part of the lasting legend about this administration. Bob Kagan, one of our foremost foreign policy sages, has a must-read article on the subject in the latest issue of Lawrence Kaplan’s new foreign policy quarterly, World Affairs.

Kagan makes many valuable points, but in essence his argument is that there is absolutely nothing new or foreign about the “neocon” vision—combining power with idealism to make the defense of democracy a central tenet of American policy. The more fevered critics of the neocons insist on explaining their world view with reference to Leon Trotsky, Leo Strauss, and other philosophers of marginal influence in modern America. (I can’t speak for anyone else, but I personally have never read a single book by either Trotsky or Strauss.) They would be better advised, Kagan notes, to look to figures as varied as Alexander Hamilton, William Seward, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Dean Acheson, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan, all of whom advocated an expansive vision of America’s role in the world.

The opposing viewpoint—which denounces American “imperialism” and abjures the defense of liberty abroad—has an equally long history.  It lists among its proponents not only modern-day neocon-bashers such as Michael Moore and Pat Buchanan, but also such illustrious predecessors as the “progressive” historians Charles Beard and William Appleman Williams and realpolitik thinkers like Hans Morgenthau and Walter Lippmann.

Nor is this the first time that the more fevered critics of the war effort have wound up charging that the country was “lied” into war by nefarious conspirators. Today it’s neocons. In the past it was banana companies, “merchants of death,” and international bankers. Such assertions have been heard about the Spanish-American War, World War I, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. (In other words, after every conflict that has turned out to be tougher than anticipated.) Even when it came to World War II, some die-hard isolationists accused FDR of somehow forcing Japan to fight us and of deliberately not warning Pearl Harbor in advance of the attack.

Kagan does not deny that folly and miscalculation played a large role in planning the Iraq War. But, as he notes, there is nothing unique about America being overweening or imprudent in the pursuit of its ideals. The only way to avoid such setbacks is to pursue an isolationist or narrowly realpolitik agenda—which would wind up causing us far greater problems in the long run.

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Heston, Obama, and Race in America

I saw Michael Moore’s 2002 “documentary” Bowling for Columbine in a packed movie theater on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. In the movie’s most painful sequence, Moore badgers the aged and ailing Charlton Heston about gun violence in America. Watching the impact of Moore’s disingenuous sucker punch criticisms on Heston’s face was enough to make me turn away from the screen. But not so my right-thinking co-audience members.

At one point in the action, however, this thoughtful New York City bunch decided they had had enough. After Moore makes his case against America and her historic bloodlust, Heston tries to wind down the interview: “Well, it’s an interesting point, which can be explored and you’re good to explore it at great lengths, but I think that’s about all I have to say on it.”

Not satisfied, Moore presses on:”You don’t have any opinion, though, as to why that is, that we are the unique country,the only country, that does this, that kills each other on this level, with guns?”

Heston’s response: “Well, we have, probably, more mixed ethnicity than other countries, some other countries.”

The collective gasp of the audience nearly robbed the theater of air. It was the kind of animated disgust that trailed on in snickers and hisses for half a minute, which is why most of them probably missed what followed.

Moore: You think it’s an ethnic thing?

Heston: No, I don’t. It’s…I wouldn’t go so far as to say that. We had enough problems with civil rights in the beginning.

For a man under that kind of fire, ill or not, he made, I think, an excellent double-point. A) America’s unique ethnic history is a factor in violent crime, but B) to label it an “ethnic thing” is to distort the issue and risk the health of the discussion.

Someone will have to tell me how that’s less honorable than the sentiment of these words taken from Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech:

We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

When Charlton Heston said that the history of race in the U.S. is a factor in analyzing some of America’s domestic conflicts, liberal Americans hissed him into oblivion. When Obama said it, he was heralded as a bold speaker of truths willing to level with Americans like adults.

There is, however, a telling difference between the sentiments of the two men. Charlton Heston wanted to drop the subject, so that his words wouldn’t be used to “tackle race only as spectacle,” as Obama put it. Obama himself, however, did in fact go on to “recite here the history of racial injustice in this country,” in order to create a diversion that distracted people from the jam he was in.

In any case, the movie manipulation worked and Charlton Heston—a genuine civil rights activist—was portrayed as a racist by Michael Moore—the man who said that if more blacks had been on the hijacked planes, the 9/11 attacks would have been thwarted. As for Obama, Moore should put the question to him. The anti-Americanism in his church: “You think it’s an ethnic thing?”

I saw Michael Moore’s 2002 “documentary” Bowling for Columbine in a packed movie theater on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. In the movie’s most painful sequence, Moore badgers the aged and ailing Charlton Heston about gun violence in America. Watching the impact of Moore’s disingenuous sucker punch criticisms on Heston’s face was enough to make me turn away from the screen. But not so my right-thinking co-audience members.

At one point in the action, however, this thoughtful New York City bunch decided they had had enough. After Moore makes his case against America and her historic bloodlust, Heston tries to wind down the interview: “Well, it’s an interesting point, which can be explored and you’re good to explore it at great lengths, but I think that’s about all I have to say on it.”

Not satisfied, Moore presses on:”You don’t have any opinion, though, as to why that is, that we are the unique country,the only country, that does this, that kills each other on this level, with guns?”

Heston’s response: “Well, we have, probably, more mixed ethnicity than other countries, some other countries.”

The collective gasp of the audience nearly robbed the theater of air. It was the kind of animated disgust that trailed on in snickers and hisses for half a minute, which is why most of them probably missed what followed.

Moore: You think it’s an ethnic thing?

Heston: No, I don’t. It’s…I wouldn’t go so far as to say that. We had enough problems with civil rights in the beginning.

For a man under that kind of fire, ill or not, he made, I think, an excellent double-point. A) America’s unique ethnic history is a factor in violent crime, but B) to label it an “ethnic thing” is to distort the issue and risk the health of the discussion.

Someone will have to tell me how that’s less honorable than the sentiment of these words taken from Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech:

We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

When Charlton Heston said that the history of race in the U.S. is a factor in analyzing some of America’s domestic conflicts, liberal Americans hissed him into oblivion. When Obama said it, he was heralded as a bold speaker of truths willing to level with Americans like adults.

There is, however, a telling difference between the sentiments of the two men. Charlton Heston wanted to drop the subject, so that his words wouldn’t be used to “tackle race only as spectacle,” as Obama put it. Obama himself, however, did in fact go on to “recite here the history of racial injustice in this country,” in order to create a diversion that distracted people from the jam he was in.

In any case, the movie manipulation worked and Charlton Heston—a genuine civil rights activist—was portrayed as a racist by Michael Moore—the man who said that if more blacks had been on the hijacked planes, the 9/11 attacks would have been thwarted. As for Obama, Moore should put the question to him. The anti-Americanism in his church: “You think it’s an ethnic thing?”

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McCain’s Iraq Challenge

John McCain put it bluntly yesterday: if he is unable to convince Americans that the troop surge is working in Iraq and that U.S. casualties there have fallen, he’ll lose in November. He immediately backed down from that stark correlation, but the fact remains that McCain is running as the heir to “George Bush’s war.” His challenge is a funny one. A “war-fatigued” public prefers an immediate end to the fighting over a gradual victory, and while the facts are overwhelmingly on McCain’s side, no one has yet been able to convince the public that the facts are, indeed, the facts.

As Rich Lowry notes in his new National Review article about Iraq:

Almost every indicator of violence is headed in the right direction. Last year’s indispensable abbreviation, EJK, or extra-judicial killings—meaning sectarian murders—is barely heard now. The sectarian civil war has dissipated in Baghdad. Nationwide, enemy actions are down about 60 percent since June. In December, American casualties were at early-2004 levels.

The al Qaeda violence that continues to plague the northern city of Mosul will, in all likelihood, soon come to an end as Iraqi and American forces are poised to route the remaining terrorists from their final stronghold. Furthermore, the long-awaited political progress preemptively dismissed by Nancy Pelosi and both Democratic frontrunners is now underway. The country’s parliament has passed three laws critical to the viability of Iraqi statehood.

So: why does McCain face a challenge at all? Shouldn’t Americans be thrilled at the turnaround in Iraq? Evidently not. The nation’s collective masochism seemed to pass a vital threshold once the Iraq War proved tougher than they expected. The two things anti-war Americans never tire of saying are “we can’t win” and, more importantly, “what does winning mean anyway?” In this last question lies the crux of McCain’s uphill battle. He’s got to convince an electorate that has deconstructed the concept of victory that we are indeed victors.

But before he can do that, he has to pierce the negativity that Democrats and the MSM have saddled us with. For all Barack Obama’s hopeful poetry, his true message is that things are currently abysmal. In the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger punctured the bubble of rhetoric around a recent Obama speech. Henninger stripped the speech of lofty allusions and revealed its meager substantive core.

Here’s [Obama’s] American: “lies awake at night wondering how he’s going to pay the bills . . . she works the night shift after a full day of college and still can’t afford health care for a sister who’s ill . . . the senior I met who lost his pension when the company he gave his life to went bankrupt . . . the teacher who works at Dunkin’ Donuts after school just to make ends meet . . . I was not born into money or status . . . I’ve fought to bring jobs to the jobless in the shadow of a shuttered steel plant . . . to make sure people weren’t denied their rights because of what they looked like or where they came from . . . Now we carry our message to farms and factories.”

What’s resonating with voters is not the idea that America is great, but that she can be so after a little scolding. McCain’s telling them that there are some things already worth celebrating about our country puts limits on their Obama-inspired fantasies. Whether it’s the economy, class warfare, real warfare, or America’s standing in the world, McCain is up against the entrenched (and savored) impression that America is in decline. Not only will McCain have to convince the public that we’re winning the war, but he’ll have to make them see that we deserve to win it. Michael Moore made a record-breaking blockbuster film asserting that Iraqi insurgents are the moral equivalent of our Revolutionary War minutemen. Getting that movie’s millions of viewers to recognize (and celebrate) a U.S. military victory is John McCain’s task.

John McCain put it bluntly yesterday: if he is unable to convince Americans that the troop surge is working in Iraq and that U.S. casualties there have fallen, he’ll lose in November. He immediately backed down from that stark correlation, but the fact remains that McCain is running as the heir to “George Bush’s war.” His challenge is a funny one. A “war-fatigued” public prefers an immediate end to the fighting over a gradual victory, and while the facts are overwhelmingly on McCain’s side, no one has yet been able to convince the public that the facts are, indeed, the facts.

As Rich Lowry notes in his new National Review article about Iraq:

Almost every indicator of violence is headed in the right direction. Last year’s indispensable abbreviation, EJK, or extra-judicial killings—meaning sectarian murders—is barely heard now. The sectarian civil war has dissipated in Baghdad. Nationwide, enemy actions are down about 60 percent since June. In December, American casualties were at early-2004 levels.

The al Qaeda violence that continues to plague the northern city of Mosul will, in all likelihood, soon come to an end as Iraqi and American forces are poised to route the remaining terrorists from their final stronghold. Furthermore, the long-awaited political progress preemptively dismissed by Nancy Pelosi and both Democratic frontrunners is now underway. The country’s parliament has passed three laws critical to the viability of Iraqi statehood.

So: why does McCain face a challenge at all? Shouldn’t Americans be thrilled at the turnaround in Iraq? Evidently not. The nation’s collective masochism seemed to pass a vital threshold once the Iraq War proved tougher than they expected. The two things anti-war Americans never tire of saying are “we can’t win” and, more importantly, “what does winning mean anyway?” In this last question lies the crux of McCain’s uphill battle. He’s got to convince an electorate that has deconstructed the concept of victory that we are indeed victors.

But before he can do that, he has to pierce the negativity that Democrats and the MSM have saddled us with. For all Barack Obama’s hopeful poetry, his true message is that things are currently abysmal. In the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger punctured the bubble of rhetoric around a recent Obama speech. Henninger stripped the speech of lofty allusions and revealed its meager substantive core.

Here’s [Obama’s] American: “lies awake at night wondering how he’s going to pay the bills . . . she works the night shift after a full day of college and still can’t afford health care for a sister who’s ill . . . the senior I met who lost his pension when the company he gave his life to went bankrupt . . . the teacher who works at Dunkin’ Donuts after school just to make ends meet . . . I was not born into money or status . . . I’ve fought to bring jobs to the jobless in the shadow of a shuttered steel plant . . . to make sure people weren’t denied their rights because of what they looked like or where they came from . . . Now we carry our message to farms and factories.”

What’s resonating with voters is not the idea that America is great, but that she can be so after a little scolding. McCain’s telling them that there are some things already worth celebrating about our country puts limits on their Obama-inspired fantasies. Whether it’s the economy, class warfare, real warfare, or America’s standing in the world, McCain is up against the entrenched (and savored) impression that America is in decline. Not only will McCain have to convince the public that we’re winning the war, but he’ll have to make them see that we deserve to win it. Michael Moore made a record-breaking blockbuster film asserting that Iraqi insurgents are the moral equivalent of our Revolutionary War minutemen. Getting that movie’s millions of viewers to recognize (and celebrate) a U.S. military victory is John McCain’s task.

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Kike Wisse Like Me

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a piece called “Vexing Questions about Jewish Identity” that was the talk of the town, its subject being a documentary with the outlandishly provocative title Kike Like Me. Its director and star, Jamie Kastner, travels from Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn to Pat Buchanan’s house outside Washington to a Paris suburb to a Berlin Holocaust memorial to a Krakow synagogue and finally inside the gates of Auschwitz in an exploration of Jewish identity and what being a Jew means today. The movie is made Michael Moore style, with Kastner playing the role of ingenuous naif lost in the woods and looking for help trying to get himself out. The influence of Moore, combined with Kastner’s seemingly cutesy refusal in interviews to say whether or not he is in fact Jewish and its appearance on a cable channel associated with the reflexively leftist Sundance Film Festival, led me to expect Kike Like Me would be a standard-issue work of self-examination in which Jews and Jewry would effectively be put on trial, not anti-Semitism.

And…I was very, very wrong. Kike Like Me is bracing and tough-minded, and is, in fact, a study not of “Jewish identity” but of 21st century anti-Semitism. When Kastner, a Canadian with a modest and inoffensive manner, asks Pat Buchanan about a paragraph in one of his books that calls the patriotism of neoconservatives into question, Buchanan takes a quick look at the curly-headed Kastner and instantly terminates the interview. In London, he interviews Richard Ingrams, the odious one-time editor of Private Eye who has famously declared that he glances at the bottom of letters he receives to see whether its author has a Jewish name for, if so, he will simply not read it. An American expat in London tells him she has decided to return home because she is unable to have a single conversation with English friends in which the supposed perfidy of Israel is not referenced.

He wanders through Krakow looking for a Jew but finding only restaurants that cater to Jews, Israelis primarily, who have traveled there to see evidence of Polish Jewry before its destruction. Even the old woman in the Krakow shul who hands him a yarmulke isn’t a Jew, and once he discovers the fact, he takes back the $5 he gave her.

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Yesterday, the New York Times ran a piece called “Vexing Questions about Jewish Identity” that was the talk of the town, its subject being a documentary with the outlandishly provocative title Kike Like Me. Its director and star, Jamie Kastner, travels from Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn to Pat Buchanan’s house outside Washington to a Paris suburb to a Berlin Holocaust memorial to a Krakow synagogue and finally inside the gates of Auschwitz in an exploration of Jewish identity and what being a Jew means today. The movie is made Michael Moore style, with Kastner playing the role of ingenuous naif lost in the woods and looking for help trying to get himself out. The influence of Moore, combined with Kastner’s seemingly cutesy refusal in interviews to say whether or not he is in fact Jewish and its appearance on a cable channel associated with the reflexively leftist Sundance Film Festival, led me to expect Kike Like Me would be a standard-issue work of self-examination in which Jews and Jewry would effectively be put on trial, not anti-Semitism.

And…I was very, very wrong. Kike Like Me is bracing and tough-minded, and is, in fact, a study not of “Jewish identity” but of 21st century anti-Semitism. When Kastner, a Canadian with a modest and inoffensive manner, asks Pat Buchanan about a paragraph in one of his books that calls the patriotism of neoconservatives into question, Buchanan takes a quick look at the curly-headed Kastner and instantly terminates the interview. In London, he interviews Richard Ingrams, the odious one-time editor of Private Eye who has famously declared that he glances at the bottom of letters he receives to see whether its author has a Jewish name for, if so, he will simply not read it. An American expat in London tells him she has decided to return home because she is unable to have a single conversation with English friends in which the supposed perfidy of Israel is not referenced.

He wanders through Krakow looking for a Jew but finding only restaurants that cater to Jews, Israelis primarily, who have traveled there to see evidence of Polish Jewry before its destruction. Even the old woman in the Krakow shul who hands him a yarmulke isn’t a Jew, and once he discovers the fact, he takes back the $5 he gave her.

But the most stunning scene in the movie takes place in a Paris suburb called Sancerre Sarcelles, when with his digital camera rolling he finds himself in the middle of an outraged argument between two Jewish women and five male Muslim youths. As the woman argue heatedly, the boys claim Jews own all the businesses in France, that the local synagogue is a palace — this after Kastner has been taken to a nondescript shul hiding inside a Paris building that was nonetheless firebombed — and that Jews “dominate us. They’re dominators.” Kastner asks the boys what they think of him. “If you’re a Jew,” one says, “then we don’t like you…If you get a chance, you’ll screw me over…Because they’re bastards. They’re traitors.” As the boys get more and more revved up, Kastner’s translator quietly suggests it’s time for him to leave, and in a state of some alarm, he and his cameraman climb into their rental car and speed away.

Once Kastner arrives at Auschwitz, he has a negative epiphany — the gift shops and tourist stops all seem to be trivializing the enormity of the crime. “Strange to see it here like a movie set preserved for our benefit,” Kastner says. His cameraman says he needs to see the ovens, that the film needs a shot of him looking into the ovens. He has had enough. In a state of revulsion, he declares as he storms off, “This is f—ing horrible and I don’t need to see anything else. You can call me yellow, you can call me a lily-livered Y-d…this whole f—ing place should be blown up and the people who did it with it. How’s that for Jewish identity?”

(Now how would we call him a “lily-livered Y-d” if he weren’t a Jew?)

In the end, it seems, the real influence on Kike Like Me isn’t Michael Moore but COMMENTARY’s own Ruth Wisse. Now, I have no idea whether Kastner knows who Ruth is or has read her work. But in her passionate exploration in the recent Jews and Power of the threat posed to Jewry by its own historic passivity, and in other writings in which she has expressed her deep concern about the sentimentalization and pseudo-sacralization of the Holocaust (she has an unforgettable memoir on the subject in the upcoming issue of COMMENTARY), she has given intellectual voice to many of the concerns expressed in Kastner’s scorchingly honest and literally provocative documentary. (For those with TiVos and DVRs and a cable package that includes the Sundance Channel, it airs again on December 27 at 5 am.)

Review of Jews and Power from the September issue of COMMENTARY.
COMMENTARY Onscreen: An Interview with Ruth Wisse

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Hillary Clinton Prays To Be Thin

Like death and taxes, there are certain things in life we’ve come to anticipate. Another item to add to the list: vapid front-page articles by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor (a wunderkind who was once Howell Raines’s pick to lead the Times‘s Arts & Leisure section). Today’s edition: What the candidates eat!

Along with images of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Rudy Giuliani gorging on trans fats, we can savor other nuggets about the candidates’ eating and health habits. For example, did you know Hillary Clinton “said she prayed to God to help her lose weight”? Or that Mitt Romney eats the same thing every day, an ascetic diet that includes homemade granola and a whole lot of chicken? Or that Mike Huckabee “sticks largely to salads”?

Among the many ways filmmaker Michael Moore undermines his credibility is when he uses an image of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for instance, running his hand through his hair to prove a point—as though Mr. Rumsfeld’s hair were emblematic of the evil-doings of the Bush administration. I wonder what epiphany Ms. Kantor expects us to have by exposing Mr. Romney’s weight or Mr. Giuliani’s predilection for pizza in Iowa. Or is this morsel, like the others Ms. Kantor has fed us in the past, just so many empty calories?

Like death and taxes, there are certain things in life we’ve come to anticipate. Another item to add to the list: vapid front-page articles by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor (a wunderkind who was once Howell Raines’s pick to lead the Times‘s Arts & Leisure section). Today’s edition: What the candidates eat!

Along with images of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Rudy Giuliani gorging on trans fats, we can savor other nuggets about the candidates’ eating and health habits. For example, did you know Hillary Clinton “said she prayed to God to help her lose weight”? Or that Mitt Romney eats the same thing every day, an ascetic diet that includes homemade granola and a whole lot of chicken? Or that Mike Huckabee “sticks largely to salads”?

Among the many ways filmmaker Michael Moore undermines his credibility is when he uses an image of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for instance, running his hand through his hair to prove a point—as though Mr. Rumsfeld’s hair were emblematic of the evil-doings of the Bush administration. I wonder what epiphany Ms. Kantor expects us to have by exposing Mr. Romney’s weight or Mr. Giuliani’s predilection for pizza in Iowa. Or is this morsel, like the others Ms. Kantor has fed us in the past, just so many empty calories?

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