Commentary Magazine


Topic: New England

Flotsam and Jetsam

What happens when the Democratic majority ends: “President Obama on Monday proposed a two-year freeze on federal pay, saying federal workers must sacrifice to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. … Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) had called for a freeze on federal pay this month and also had said the average federal worker makes twice the pay of the average private sector worker.”

Jackson Diehl reminds us to stop holding out hope that small-bore covert actions will defang the mullahs. “Covert action, in short, is not likely to be the silver bullet that stops Iran’s nuclear program. That’s true of 21st-century devices like Stuxnet — and it will likely apply to the old-fashioned and ruthless attacks on Iranian scientists.” Still, it helps slow the clock.

Obama’s foreign policy aura is over. Walter Russell Mead writes: “Our propensity to elect charismatic but inexperienced leaders repeatedly lands us in trouble. We remain steadfastly blind to the deterioration of our long-term fiscal position as we pile unfunded entitlements on top of each other in a surefire recipe for national disaster. We lurch from one ineffective foreign policy to another, while the public consensus that has underwritten America’s world role since the 1940s continues to decay. Our elite seems at times literally hellbent on throwing away the cultural capital and that has kept this nation great and free for so many generations.” Ouch.

Is the era of slam-dunk Democratic victories coming to a close in New Jersey? “With one more national election behind him, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez now faces one ahead — his own. And according to the most recent statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, 31% of his New Jersey constituency have a favorable opinion of him and 25% have an unfavorable opinion. Another 44% either are unsure (29%) or haven’t heard of him at all (15%). ‘Those are fairly anemic numbers for an energetic guy who has already served five years,’ said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll.”

Michael Steele’s finished as Republican National Committee chair — the only issue is which of the competent, low-key contenders will win it.

Are the Dems kaput in the South? “After suffering a historic rout — in which nearly every white Deep South Democrat in the U.S. House was defeated and Republicans took over or gained seats in legislatures across the region — the party’s ranks in Dixie have thinned even further.” I’d be cautious — the GOP was “dead” in New England and the Midwest two years ago.

Rep. Mike Pence is going to halt the speculation as to whether he’ll run for president. Speeches like this tell us he certainly is: “I choose the West. I choose limited government and freedom. I choose the free market, personal responsibility and equality of opportunity. I choose fiscal restraint, sound money, a flat tax, regulatory reform, American energy, expanded trade and a return to traditional values. In a word, I choose a boundless American future built on the timeless ideals of the American people. I believe the American people are ready for this choice and await men and women who will lead us back to that future, back to the West, back to American exceptionalism. Here’s to that future. Our best days are yet to come.” That’s a presidential candidate talking.

Bret Stephens suggests that the WikiLeak documents may bring down the curtain on silly leftist foreign policy ideas. “Are Israeli Likudniks and their neocon friends (present company included) the dark matter pushing the U.S. toward war with Iran? Well, no: Arab Likudniks turn out to be even more vocal on that score. Can Syria be detached from Iran’s orbit? ‘I think not,’ says Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. … Has the administration succeeded in pressing the reset button with Russia? Hard to credit, given Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s description of the Putin-Medvedev regime as one from which ‘there has been little real change.’ Is the threat of an Iranian missile strike—and therefore of the need for missile defense—exaggerated? Not since we learned that North Korea had shipped missiles to Tehran that can carry nuclear warheads as far as Western Europe and Moscow.” But the administration knew all this — the only difference is now we do.

What happens when the Democratic majority ends: “President Obama on Monday proposed a two-year freeze on federal pay, saying federal workers must sacrifice to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. … Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) had called for a freeze on federal pay this month and also had said the average federal worker makes twice the pay of the average private sector worker.”

Jackson Diehl reminds us to stop holding out hope that small-bore covert actions will defang the mullahs. “Covert action, in short, is not likely to be the silver bullet that stops Iran’s nuclear program. That’s true of 21st-century devices like Stuxnet — and it will likely apply to the old-fashioned and ruthless attacks on Iranian scientists.” Still, it helps slow the clock.

Obama’s foreign policy aura is over. Walter Russell Mead writes: “Our propensity to elect charismatic but inexperienced leaders repeatedly lands us in trouble. We remain steadfastly blind to the deterioration of our long-term fiscal position as we pile unfunded entitlements on top of each other in a surefire recipe for national disaster. We lurch from one ineffective foreign policy to another, while the public consensus that has underwritten America’s world role since the 1940s continues to decay. Our elite seems at times literally hellbent on throwing away the cultural capital and that has kept this nation great and free for so many generations.” Ouch.

Is the era of slam-dunk Democratic victories coming to a close in New Jersey? “With one more national election behind him, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez now faces one ahead — his own. And according to the most recent statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, 31% of his New Jersey constituency have a favorable opinion of him and 25% have an unfavorable opinion. Another 44% either are unsure (29%) or haven’t heard of him at all (15%). ‘Those are fairly anemic numbers for an energetic guy who has already served five years,’ said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll.”

Michael Steele’s finished as Republican National Committee chair — the only issue is which of the competent, low-key contenders will win it.

Are the Dems kaput in the South? “After suffering a historic rout — in which nearly every white Deep South Democrat in the U.S. House was defeated and Republicans took over or gained seats in legislatures across the region — the party’s ranks in Dixie have thinned even further.” I’d be cautious — the GOP was “dead” in New England and the Midwest two years ago.

Rep. Mike Pence is going to halt the speculation as to whether he’ll run for president. Speeches like this tell us he certainly is: “I choose the West. I choose limited government and freedom. I choose the free market, personal responsibility and equality of opportunity. I choose fiscal restraint, sound money, a flat tax, regulatory reform, American energy, expanded trade and a return to traditional values. In a word, I choose a boundless American future built on the timeless ideals of the American people. I believe the American people are ready for this choice and await men and women who will lead us back to that future, back to the West, back to American exceptionalism. Here’s to that future. Our best days are yet to come.” That’s a presidential candidate talking.

Bret Stephens suggests that the WikiLeak documents may bring down the curtain on silly leftist foreign policy ideas. “Are Israeli Likudniks and their neocon friends (present company included) the dark matter pushing the U.S. toward war with Iran? Well, no: Arab Likudniks turn out to be even more vocal on that score. Can Syria be detached from Iran’s orbit? ‘I think not,’ says Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. … Has the administration succeeded in pressing the reset button with Russia? Hard to credit, given Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s description of the Putin-Medvedev regime as one from which ‘there has been little real change.’ Is the threat of an Iranian missile strike—and therefore of the need for missile defense—exaggerated? Not since we learned that North Korea had shipped missiles to Tehran that can carry nuclear warheads as far as Western Europe and Moscow.” But the administration knew all this — the only difference is now we do.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

This is what desperation looks like: “Forget the myth of an Obama recovery. The past week has been disastrous for the White House and America’s increasingly disillusioned Left. No wonder the angry and desperate Vice President Joe Biden is talking about ‘playing hell’ if his party suffers defeat in November.”

This is what old-style politics sounds like: “White House senior adviser David Axelrod said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has the burden of proving false the charge by Democrats that the business group is funneling foreign money to Republican campaigns. Axelrod was pressed by CBS’ Bob Schieffer on Sunday for evidence that the foreign campaign contributions benefiting the GOP is more than ‘peanuts.’  ‘Do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?’ Axelrod said on ‘Face the Nation.’  Ed Gillespie responded that it “was ‘an unbelievable mentality’ for Axelrod to assert charges about foreign contributions without backing them up.” It’s all too believable, unfortunately.

This is what a wave election looks like: “Democrats are buying advertising in places they hadn’t previously reserved it, a strong indication the battlefield is expanding. That includes New England, which hasn’t a single Republican House member. A new ad by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began airing this week in the Massachusetts district covering Cape Cod, where Democratic Rep. Bill Delahunt is retiring and ex-police sergeant Jeff Perry is posting a strong GOP challenge.”

This is what a lousy TV appearance looks like: “Alexi Giannoulias, the Illinois Democrat running for President Obama’s old Senate seat, said Sunday that he wants to “reform” the president’s health care overhaul, and that the $814 billion stimulus was imperfect but that it prevented Americans from standing in soup lines. Giannoulias, who appeared on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ to debate Republican Mark Kirk, was on the defensive throughout the debate regarding Obama’s policies, as well as his past work for his family’s community bank and its ties to mob figures.”

This is what an eloquent first lady’s writing looks like: “Though some Afghan leaders have condemned the violence and defended the rights of women, others maintain a complicit silence in hopes of achieving peace. But peace attained by compromising the rights of half of the population will not last. Offenses against women erode security for all Afghans — men and women. And a culture that tolerates injustice against one group of its people ultimately fails to respect and value all its citizens.” Yeah, I miss her too.

This is what the GOP sounded like in 2006. “The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee brushed off various members’ ads touting opposition to President Obama and Speakers Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), saying that it simply shows the party is a big tent unlike the right.”

This is what “hope and change” looks like? “President Obama’s new National Security Advisor spent the decade prior to joining the White House as a legal advisor to powerful interests including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, and as a lobbyist for Fannie Mae, where he oversaw the mortgage giant’s aggressive campaign to undermine the credibility of a probe into its accounting irregularities, according to government reports and public disclosure forms. … While housing sales were still booming, internally these were troubled years for the company. In a report first noted by ABC News in 2008, Donilon is described as someone who lobbied for and helped paint a rosy picture of Fannie Mae’s financial health to the company’s board. He did so at a time when Fannie Mae faced accusations that it was misstating its earnings from 1998 to 2004.”

This is what a flaky candidate sounds like: “Jerry Brown: Mammograms not effective.”

This is what desperation looks like: “Forget the myth of an Obama recovery. The past week has been disastrous for the White House and America’s increasingly disillusioned Left. No wonder the angry and desperate Vice President Joe Biden is talking about ‘playing hell’ if his party suffers defeat in November.”

This is what old-style politics sounds like: “White House senior adviser David Axelrod said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has the burden of proving false the charge by Democrats that the business group is funneling foreign money to Republican campaigns. Axelrod was pressed by CBS’ Bob Schieffer on Sunday for evidence that the foreign campaign contributions benefiting the GOP is more than ‘peanuts.’  ‘Do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?’ Axelrod said on ‘Face the Nation.’  Ed Gillespie responded that it “was ‘an unbelievable mentality’ for Axelrod to assert charges about foreign contributions without backing them up.” It’s all too believable, unfortunately.

This is what a wave election looks like: “Democrats are buying advertising in places they hadn’t previously reserved it, a strong indication the battlefield is expanding. That includes New England, which hasn’t a single Republican House member. A new ad by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began airing this week in the Massachusetts district covering Cape Cod, where Democratic Rep. Bill Delahunt is retiring and ex-police sergeant Jeff Perry is posting a strong GOP challenge.”

This is what a lousy TV appearance looks like: “Alexi Giannoulias, the Illinois Democrat running for President Obama’s old Senate seat, said Sunday that he wants to “reform” the president’s health care overhaul, and that the $814 billion stimulus was imperfect but that it prevented Americans from standing in soup lines. Giannoulias, who appeared on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ to debate Republican Mark Kirk, was on the defensive throughout the debate regarding Obama’s policies, as well as his past work for his family’s community bank and its ties to mob figures.”

This is what an eloquent first lady’s writing looks like: “Though some Afghan leaders have condemned the violence and defended the rights of women, others maintain a complicit silence in hopes of achieving peace. But peace attained by compromising the rights of half of the population will not last. Offenses against women erode security for all Afghans — men and women. And a culture that tolerates injustice against one group of its people ultimately fails to respect and value all its citizens.” Yeah, I miss her too.

This is what the GOP sounded like in 2006. “The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee brushed off various members’ ads touting opposition to President Obama and Speakers Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), saying that it simply shows the party is a big tent unlike the right.”

This is what “hope and change” looks like? “President Obama’s new National Security Advisor spent the decade prior to joining the White House as a legal advisor to powerful interests including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, and as a lobbyist for Fannie Mae, where he oversaw the mortgage giant’s aggressive campaign to undermine the credibility of a probe into its accounting irregularities, according to government reports and public disclosure forms. … While housing sales were still booming, internally these were troubled years for the company. In a report first noted by ABC News in 2008, Donilon is described as someone who lobbied for and helped paint a rosy picture of Fannie Mae’s financial health to the company’s board. He did so at a time when Fannie Mae faced accusations that it was misstating its earnings from 1998 to 2004.”

This is what a flaky candidate sounds like: “Jerry Brown: Mammograms not effective.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

I suppose the GOP isn’t dead in New England. All four Republican Senate candidates lead Democrat Paul Hodes.

I suppose Obama could be the teacher-in-chief about the evils of anti-Semitism, like he is the explainer-in-chief about Islam. Instead, he’s delegated it to a low-level flunky who’s introduced with inappropriate humor by Hillary Clinton. (Not clear if she cackled as well.)

I suppose there’s some rationale for Rand Paul’s telling us he’s not being as “forthright” as his father. I just can’t think of what it might be.

I suppose nothing will move Obama to leave the UN Human Rights Council. Not even the latest episode in the Goldstone Report — the effort  “to monitor and assess all judicial and other proceedings taken by Israel to respond to the General Assembly’s endorsement of the Goldstone report and its long list of supposed Israeli crimes.” Anne Bayefsky has the goods on the council members and concludes: “The only way to respond is to challenge the legal bona fides of the report and its progeny and expose the venality of the political agenda inseparable from them. The case must begin by refusing to lend any credence to this latest mutation of the UN virus.” Leaving the council would help, but don’t get your hopes up that Obama and Hillary will carry through on pretty promises to defend Israel in international bodies.

I suppose the administration assumes this sort of thing helps: “The Obama Administration said today that its economic policies, especially the Recovery Act, have boosted growth and employment in the United States at a pace quicker than anticipated.” The average person, I think, concludes instead that they are out to lunch.

I suppose the Democrats are in full panic mode: “The House Natural Resources Committee has joined a Senate panel in approving the creation of a bipartisan oil spill commission that would effectively compete against President Obama’s.” They’ve figured out that agreeing to anything with Obama’s name attached is hazardous to their political health.

I suppose when the president is about to drag his party under, there are bound to be spats: “The White House is pushing back against complaints from House Democrats that President Obama is undermining their prospects for 2010 with a memo authored by a senior administration official detailing what the White House is doing to preserve control of Congress. … The barely-veiled reminder was circulated among senior Democrats in Washington on Tuesday, including on Capitol Hill. It was written just hours before Speaker Nancy Pelosi and angry members of her caucus lashed out at the chief House liaison for White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ admission Sunday on ‘Meet the Press’ that Democrats could lose the House.” Not on the White House “look what we’ve done for the ingrates” list: passing ObamaCare, running up the debt, raising taxes. And frankly, the thought of Obama coming to their districts to campaign at their side probably makes most Democrats retch at this point.

I suppose the GOP isn’t dead in New England. All four Republican Senate candidates lead Democrat Paul Hodes.

I suppose Obama could be the teacher-in-chief about the evils of anti-Semitism, like he is the explainer-in-chief about Islam. Instead, he’s delegated it to a low-level flunky who’s introduced with inappropriate humor by Hillary Clinton. (Not clear if she cackled as well.)

I suppose there’s some rationale for Rand Paul’s telling us he’s not being as “forthright” as his father. I just can’t think of what it might be.

I suppose nothing will move Obama to leave the UN Human Rights Council. Not even the latest episode in the Goldstone Report — the effort  “to monitor and assess all judicial and other proceedings taken by Israel to respond to the General Assembly’s endorsement of the Goldstone report and its long list of supposed Israeli crimes.” Anne Bayefsky has the goods on the council members and concludes: “The only way to respond is to challenge the legal bona fides of the report and its progeny and expose the venality of the political agenda inseparable from them. The case must begin by refusing to lend any credence to this latest mutation of the UN virus.” Leaving the council would help, but don’t get your hopes up that Obama and Hillary will carry through on pretty promises to defend Israel in international bodies.

I suppose the administration assumes this sort of thing helps: “The Obama Administration said today that its economic policies, especially the Recovery Act, have boosted growth and employment in the United States at a pace quicker than anticipated.” The average person, I think, concludes instead that they are out to lunch.

I suppose the Democrats are in full panic mode: “The House Natural Resources Committee has joined a Senate panel in approving the creation of a bipartisan oil spill commission that would effectively compete against President Obama’s.” They’ve figured out that agreeing to anything with Obama’s name attached is hazardous to their political health.

I suppose when the president is about to drag his party under, there are bound to be spats: “The White House is pushing back against complaints from House Democrats that President Obama is undermining their prospects for 2010 with a memo authored by a senior administration official detailing what the White House is doing to preserve control of Congress. … The barely-veiled reminder was circulated among senior Democrats in Washington on Tuesday, including on Capitol Hill. It was written just hours before Speaker Nancy Pelosi and angry members of her caucus lashed out at the chief House liaison for White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ admission Sunday on ‘Meet the Press’ that Democrats could lose the House.” Not on the White House “look what we’ve done for the ingrates” list: passing ObamaCare, running up the debt, raising taxes. And frankly, the thought of Obama coming to their districts to campaign at their side probably makes most Democrats retch at this point.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

No kidding: “The White House was more focused on victory than on any plan in particular, and — once the battle had been engaged — than in the details of the plan,” writes Ben Smith on ObamaCare.

“No surprise,” says Glenn Reynolds about this: “College students taking racial and ethnic studies courses have lower respect for members of other groups.”

“No question,” says Nancy Pelosi about how voters are in an “anti-incumbent mood.” Actually, they seem to be especially aggrieved about Democratic incumbents — otherwise Democrats wouldn’t be at risk of losing control of the House.

No love among the Democratic base for party switcher Arlen Specter: he falls nine points behind Joe Sestak in the latest Suffolk University poll.

No relief for the Democrats in Illinois, as Mob banker Alexi Giannoulias declared that “we didn’t need wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” I’m thinking Obama is going to write off this seat and not appear next to Giannoulias. Some candidates just can’t be saved, and why give the president’s 2012 opponent footage for campaign ads?

No indication that Republicans are extinct in New England: “The U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire looks largely the same way it has for months, with two of the three top Republican candidates holding double-digit leads over Democratic hopeful Paul Hodes. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in New Hampshire shows former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte at 50% for the second month in a row, with Hodes earning 38% support. Three percent (3%) favor some other candidate, and nine percent(9%) are undecided.”

No better example of the farce that is the UN: Libya has been elected to the Human Rights Council.

No “reset” here: “Calling Hamas ‘a terror organization in every way,’ Israel’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday it was ‘deeply disappointed’ that [President Dmitry] Medvedev met the group’s exiled leader Khaled Meshal during a visit to Syria this week. Russia, the United States, European Union and the United Nations make up a quartet of Middle East mediators. The U.S., EU and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist group. Russia insists that Hamas should not be isolated.”

No love lost between Jeffrey Goldberg and the obsessed Beagle Blogger: Goldberg looks at “whether it is right for a journalist working for an institution that prides itself on careful journalism to float rumors about a public figure’s sexual orientation.” But if an institution houses such a “journalist,” does it really pride itself on careful journalism?

No kidding: “The White House was more focused on victory than on any plan in particular, and — once the battle had been engaged — than in the details of the plan,” writes Ben Smith on ObamaCare.

“No surprise,” says Glenn Reynolds about this: “College students taking racial and ethnic studies courses have lower respect for members of other groups.”

“No question,” says Nancy Pelosi about how voters are in an “anti-incumbent mood.” Actually, they seem to be especially aggrieved about Democratic incumbents — otherwise Democrats wouldn’t be at risk of losing control of the House.

No love among the Democratic base for party switcher Arlen Specter: he falls nine points behind Joe Sestak in the latest Suffolk University poll.

No relief for the Democrats in Illinois, as Mob banker Alexi Giannoulias declared that “we didn’t need wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” I’m thinking Obama is going to write off this seat and not appear next to Giannoulias. Some candidates just can’t be saved, and why give the president’s 2012 opponent footage for campaign ads?

No indication that Republicans are extinct in New England: “The U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire looks largely the same way it has for months, with two of the three top Republican candidates holding double-digit leads over Democratic hopeful Paul Hodes. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in New Hampshire shows former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte at 50% for the second month in a row, with Hodes earning 38% support. Three percent (3%) favor some other candidate, and nine percent(9%) are undecided.”

No better example of the farce that is the UN: Libya has been elected to the Human Rights Council.

No “reset” here: “Calling Hamas ‘a terror organization in every way,’ Israel’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday it was ‘deeply disappointed’ that [President Dmitry] Medvedev met the group’s exiled leader Khaled Meshal during a visit to Syria this week. Russia, the United States, European Union and the United Nations make up a quartet of Middle East mediators. The U.S., EU and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist group. Russia insists that Hamas should not be isolated.”

No love lost between Jeffrey Goldberg and the obsessed Beagle Blogger: Goldberg looks at “whether it is right for a journalist working for an institution that prides itself on careful journalism to float rumors about a public figure’s sexual orientation.” But if an institution houses such a “journalist,” does it really pride itself on careful journalism?

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Not a Regional Party

After the 2008 election, there was much pontificating about the future of the Republican Party. It was destined, we were told, to become a rump party of the South, the last refuge of white, religious male voters. But all it took was a year and a half of Obama to convince Americans — both male and female, religious and not, in all regions of the country — that maybe it’s time to give the GOP another shot. Two states that exemplify this are New Hampshire (recall Republicans were thought to be extinct in New England) and Illinois.

Stuart Rothenberg writes, “Right now, I think the Republicans are positioned to win both Senate races.” As for New Hampshire, he comments:

I’ve met three of the four credible Republican candidates in the race — former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, millionaire businessman Bill Binnie and conservative Ovide Lamontagne, the GOP’s unsuccessful nominee for governor in 1996 — and all three should have considerable appeal in the primary and in the fall.

What about the Democrat Paul Hodes?

Hodes is poised, confident and well-spoken, but he seems to think that he can make former President George W. Bush a major issue this year and that his own accomplishments in the House will demonstrate his independence and draw a favorable contrast with his eventual GOP opponent. In fact, I think Hodes is far too optimistic about his ability to dictate what the 2010 Senate race will be about.

It seems running against Bush isn’t going to work — but it’s apparently better than running on the Democrats’ agenda and calling in Obama to vouch for him:

National political currents (including intensity) are likely to favor Republicans, and as long as the GOP nominee isn’t hemorrhaging support after the primary, Hodes, who voted for the health care bill, cap-and-trade and the stimulus, will be on the defensive when fall arrives. An improvement in the national mood would, of course, improve the congressman’s prospects.

Rothenberg says Democrats in Illinois have a better shot, given their electoral advantage. But here, too, Rothenberg says Rep. Mark Kirk is the Republicans’ “ideal candidate for this seat,” and therefore, together with Alexi Giannoulias’s banking woes, he gives Republicans a pick-up opportunity.

So how did Republicans crawl out of the ditch and reestablish themselves in what were Democratic strongholds less than two years ago? Well, politics isn’t that complicated. Get good candidates. Watch the governing party’s overreach and underperformance. Understand the public antipathy for partisan excess and ideological extremism. And bingo, you have a viable alternative for voters to choose. Republicans will have to close the sale in these and other states, but they’re most of the way home — thanks to Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership.

After the 2008 election, there was much pontificating about the future of the Republican Party. It was destined, we were told, to become a rump party of the South, the last refuge of white, religious male voters. But all it took was a year and a half of Obama to convince Americans — both male and female, religious and not, in all regions of the country — that maybe it’s time to give the GOP another shot. Two states that exemplify this are New Hampshire (recall Republicans were thought to be extinct in New England) and Illinois.

Stuart Rothenberg writes, “Right now, I think the Republicans are positioned to win both Senate races.” As for New Hampshire, he comments:

I’ve met three of the four credible Republican candidates in the race — former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, millionaire businessman Bill Binnie and conservative Ovide Lamontagne, the GOP’s unsuccessful nominee for governor in 1996 — and all three should have considerable appeal in the primary and in the fall.

What about the Democrat Paul Hodes?

Hodes is poised, confident and well-spoken, but he seems to think that he can make former President George W. Bush a major issue this year and that his own accomplishments in the House will demonstrate his independence and draw a favorable contrast with his eventual GOP opponent. In fact, I think Hodes is far too optimistic about his ability to dictate what the 2010 Senate race will be about.

It seems running against Bush isn’t going to work — but it’s apparently better than running on the Democrats’ agenda and calling in Obama to vouch for him:

National political currents (including intensity) are likely to favor Republicans, and as long as the GOP nominee isn’t hemorrhaging support after the primary, Hodes, who voted for the health care bill, cap-and-trade and the stimulus, will be on the defensive when fall arrives. An improvement in the national mood would, of course, improve the congressman’s prospects.

Rothenberg says Democrats in Illinois have a better shot, given their electoral advantage. But here, too, Rothenberg says Rep. Mark Kirk is the Republicans’ “ideal candidate for this seat,” and therefore, together with Alexi Giannoulias’s banking woes, he gives Republicans a pick-up opportunity.

So how did Republicans crawl out of the ditch and reestablish themselves in what were Democratic strongholds less than two years ago? Well, politics isn’t that complicated. Get good candidates. Watch the governing party’s overreach and underperformance. Understand the public antipathy for partisan excess and ideological extremism. And bingo, you have a viable alternative for voters to choose. Republicans will have to close the sale in these and other states, but they’re most of the way home — thanks to Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership.

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RE: Tom Ricks’s Quote

Peter Wehner quotes Tom Ricks as writing that the liberation of Iraq was “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy” and Joe Klein as writing that it was “probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history.”

Well, they’re journalists, not historians, but really. How about:

1) The Embargo Act of 1807 that forbade foreign trade. In order to teach the high-handed British and French a lesson, we went to war with ourselves and blockaded our own ports. New England, deeply dependent on trade and shipping (we had the second largest merchant fleet in the world after Britain at that time) was economically devastated. Smuggling over the Canadian border became so commonplace that northern New England was declared to be in a state of insurrection. The British and French just laughed at us. When Napoleon seized American ships in French ports he said he was just helping enforce the embargo act.

2) In 1811 Congress killed the Bank of the United States, the prime borrowing mechanism of the federal government. The next year it declared war on the only power on earth capable of attacking the United States, Great Britain, raised soldiers’ pay and enlistment bonuses, and adjourned without figuring out how to pay for the war. By March 1813, there was not enough money in the treasury to pay government salaries, let alone fight a war, and only when the Secretary of the Treasury went hat in hand to Stephen Girard, the richest man in the country, to beg him to take most of a bond issue, did we raise enough money to carry on. In 1814 the British occupied and burned the nation’s capital.

3) In 1861, an American naval captain seized two Confederate agents off a British-flagged vessel. It was only when Prince Albert — already dying, it was his last good deed — cooled down Lord Palmerston and provided the means for a diplomatic climb down by the U.S. (which Lincoln gratefully grasped — “one war at a time,” he explained) did we avoid a war with Great Britain when we were already fighting for the life of the Union.

4) After World War I, with Europe devastated and the United States by far the strongest economic and financial power in the world, we withdrew and refused to take on the world leadership that only we could provide. But we insisted that the European powers pay back the money they had borrowed, which they could only do by extracting reparations from an already broken Germany. The Great Depression, the rise of the Nazis, and World War II were the result.

Peter Wehner quotes Tom Ricks as writing that the liberation of Iraq was “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy” and Joe Klein as writing that it was “probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history.”

Well, they’re journalists, not historians, but really. How about:

1) The Embargo Act of 1807 that forbade foreign trade. In order to teach the high-handed British and French a lesson, we went to war with ourselves and blockaded our own ports. New England, deeply dependent on trade and shipping (we had the second largest merchant fleet in the world after Britain at that time) was economically devastated. Smuggling over the Canadian border became so commonplace that northern New England was declared to be in a state of insurrection. The British and French just laughed at us. When Napoleon seized American ships in French ports he said he was just helping enforce the embargo act.

2) In 1811 Congress killed the Bank of the United States, the prime borrowing mechanism of the federal government. The next year it declared war on the only power on earth capable of attacking the United States, Great Britain, raised soldiers’ pay and enlistment bonuses, and adjourned without figuring out how to pay for the war. By March 1813, there was not enough money in the treasury to pay government salaries, let alone fight a war, and only when the Secretary of the Treasury went hat in hand to Stephen Girard, the richest man in the country, to beg him to take most of a bond issue, did we raise enough money to carry on. In 1814 the British occupied and burned the nation’s capital.

3) In 1861, an American naval captain seized two Confederate agents off a British-flagged vessel. It was only when Prince Albert — already dying, it was his last good deed — cooled down Lord Palmerston and provided the means for a diplomatic climb down by the U.S. (which Lincoln gratefully grasped — “one war at a time,” he explained) did we avoid a war with Great Britain when we were already fighting for the life of the Union.

4) After World War I, with Europe devastated and the United States by far the strongest economic and financial power in the world, we withdrew and refused to take on the world leadership that only we could provide. But we insisted that the European powers pay back the money they had borrowed, which they could only do by extracting reparations from an already broken Germany. The Great Depression, the rise of the Nazis, and World War II were the result.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Clark Hoyt’s “attempt to placate the barking cadre of anti-Israel watchdogs” by suggesting that the Gray Lady’s Jerusalem bureau chief be sacked because his son is in the Israeli army comes to naught. Executive editor Bill Keller — yes, a broken clock is right twice a day — says Ethan Bronner can stay put.

Jay Nordlinger reminds us that Sarah Palin is one of the few politicians to say she “loves” Israel.

Sounds like a joke: the Obami’s terrorism policies are so untenable, even MSNBC reporters don’t buy the White House spin any more. But it’s true.

Steven Calabresi is fed up with the excuse-mongering: “The Obama Administration’s claims that ‘Bush did it too’ sound pathetic coming from a President who won election by promising to be an agent of change and hope who would alter our politics and the way things are done in Washington. … Is Miranda any less stupid because prior presidents have implemented it rather than pushing the Supreme Court to scrap the decision? The claim that ‘Bush did it too’ sounds uncomfortably like the arguments I get from my grade school children when I correct them for having done something wrong.”

And speaking of change, Bill Kristol writes: “Perhaps embracing the concept of  ‘regime change’ spooks the Obama administration. It’s awfully reminiscent of George W. Bush. But one great failure of the Bush administration was its second-term fecklessness with respect to Iran. Bush kicked the Iran can down the road. Does Obama want an achievement that eluded Bush? Regime change in Iran — that would be an Obama administration achievement that Joe Biden, and the rest of us, could really celebrate.”

Andy McCarthy explains why the Richard Reid case is a poor example for the Obami to cite in justifying its criminal-justice approach to terrorism. “When Reid tried to blow up his airliner, 9/11 had just happened. We had not spent eight years grappling with the question of how international terrorists who carry out attacks in the United States should be dealt with. It is important to remember that there was no military-commission system in place when Reid was captured. President Bush had issued the executive order authorizing the Defense Department to set up the system, but that had not been done yet. It wasn’t ready until March 2002.”

What a difference a year makes: “After miserable House elections in ’06 and ’08 saw the GOP virtually disappear in the northeast, it was hard not to write the party’s obituary in the region. No GOPers were left standing in New England, and just 3 remained in the 29-member NY delegation. It only worsened in ’09, when the GOP failed to hold a rural sprawling CD in upstate NY, dropping its representation in the state to just 2 members. But evidence suggests that the ’10 wave that’s building for the GOP could even manage to reach the untouchable Northeast.” Democrats Tim Bishop in Suffolk County and  Bill Delahunt in Massachusetts look especially vulnerable.

More than 50 percent of independents disapprove of Obama’s performance.

What would Republicans do without opponents like this? “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is rewriting a jobs bill after Democrats complained of too many concessions to Republicans. Reid announced Thursday that he would cut back on the jobs bill Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) introduced only hours earlier, essentially overruling the powerful chairman.”

Maybe outsiders did bump off an Iranian nuclear scientist.

Clark Hoyt’s “attempt to placate the barking cadre of anti-Israel watchdogs” by suggesting that the Gray Lady’s Jerusalem bureau chief be sacked because his son is in the Israeli army comes to naught. Executive editor Bill Keller — yes, a broken clock is right twice a day — says Ethan Bronner can stay put.

Jay Nordlinger reminds us that Sarah Palin is one of the few politicians to say she “loves” Israel.

Sounds like a joke: the Obami’s terrorism policies are so untenable, even MSNBC reporters don’t buy the White House spin any more. But it’s true.

Steven Calabresi is fed up with the excuse-mongering: “The Obama Administration’s claims that ‘Bush did it too’ sound pathetic coming from a President who won election by promising to be an agent of change and hope who would alter our politics and the way things are done in Washington. … Is Miranda any less stupid because prior presidents have implemented it rather than pushing the Supreme Court to scrap the decision? The claim that ‘Bush did it too’ sounds uncomfortably like the arguments I get from my grade school children when I correct them for having done something wrong.”

And speaking of change, Bill Kristol writes: “Perhaps embracing the concept of  ‘regime change’ spooks the Obama administration. It’s awfully reminiscent of George W. Bush. But one great failure of the Bush administration was its second-term fecklessness with respect to Iran. Bush kicked the Iran can down the road. Does Obama want an achievement that eluded Bush? Regime change in Iran — that would be an Obama administration achievement that Joe Biden, and the rest of us, could really celebrate.”

Andy McCarthy explains why the Richard Reid case is a poor example for the Obami to cite in justifying its criminal-justice approach to terrorism. “When Reid tried to blow up his airliner, 9/11 had just happened. We had not spent eight years grappling with the question of how international terrorists who carry out attacks in the United States should be dealt with. It is important to remember that there was no military-commission system in place when Reid was captured. President Bush had issued the executive order authorizing the Defense Department to set up the system, but that had not been done yet. It wasn’t ready until March 2002.”

What a difference a year makes: “After miserable House elections in ’06 and ’08 saw the GOP virtually disappear in the northeast, it was hard not to write the party’s obituary in the region. No GOPers were left standing in New England, and just 3 remained in the 29-member NY delegation. It only worsened in ’09, when the GOP failed to hold a rural sprawling CD in upstate NY, dropping its representation in the state to just 2 members. But evidence suggests that the ’10 wave that’s building for the GOP could even manage to reach the untouchable Northeast.” Democrats Tim Bishop in Suffolk County and  Bill Delahunt in Massachusetts look especially vulnerable.

More than 50 percent of independents disapprove of Obama’s performance.

What would Republicans do without opponents like this? “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is rewriting a jobs bill after Democrats complained of too many concessions to Republicans. Reid announced Thursday that he would cut back on the jobs bill Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) introduced only hours earlier, essentially overruling the powerful chairman.”

Maybe outsiders did bump off an Iranian nuclear scientist.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Seen the latest ad for Hugo Chavez’s oil company? Lots of happy old people given free oil by the dictator, and then: “In swoops Joe Kennedy II with Citizens Energy and the kind people of Venezuela to lend a hand (or two?) and heating oil enough for everyone. Kennedy’s all smiles but they forgot the part where Hugo Chavez shuts down the media and arrests his political opponents. I guess that would have made the ad too long.” Good thing he didn’t talk about how great families and babies are.

Oh, puhleez. Michael Steele plays the race card: “I don’t see stories about the internal operations of the DNC that I see about this operation. Why? Is it because Michael Steele is the chairman, or is it because a black man is chairman?”

Just a year ago Republicans were declared dead in New England. Now New Hampshire looks awfully Red. Actually, it looks Red all over. Rasmussen shows the GOP with an eight-point lead in the generic congressional poll. And John Kasich has a solid lead in the Ohio gubernatorial race.

The boys sure are obsessed with her: “White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs poked fun at Sarah Palin today, pretending to look to notes on his hand for a reminder during his daily briefing. The gesture was a not-so-subtle shot at Palin, whom reporters spotted using a crib sheet on her hand during a speech this weekend at the National Tea Party convention.” At least Gibbs didn’t talk about her breasts.

Rep. Peter King blasts away at “egomaniac” John Brennan for claiming that Obama’s critics are serving the “goals of al-Qaeda”: “It is ‘the most mindless, self-serving, and irresponsible statement that a homeland-security adviser can make,’ King says. … ‘Brennan is trying to be cute by saying that on Christmas Day he briefed Republicans and Democrats. Leave aside the fact that he didn’t brief me, but he didn’t tell anybody anything that day other than the bare facts that were pretty much known to the public. He said that [Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab] was in FBI custody. Now he’s claiming that that means he told people that [Abdulmutallab] was receiving Miranda rights and no one objected. If that’s what Brennan considers being honest and forthright, then we know that John Brennan is not being honest and forthright.'”

The billboard says “Miss Me Yet?” Why, yes, Mr. President.

Paul Begala or Karl Rove? “Incrementalists, stunned by what they see as overly broad and rapid change, are looking for the brakes. Radicals, depressed about the snail’s pace of progress, are looking for the exits.”

Jeffrey Goldberg spots the Muslim Student Union of the University of California at Irvine condemning the appearance of Israel Ambassador Michael Oren because — but of course! — Israel has been condemned by the UN Human Rights Council. “To the Muslim Student Union, the fact that the UN Human Rights Council has condemned Israel more than all the other countries of the world combined means that Israel is worse than all the other countries of the world combined. To more rational, less prejudiced people, this fact means that the UN Human Rights Council is not a serious organization, but one under the control of dictators and despots.” Remind me why the Obami thought it necessary to rejoin that body?

Oren was heckled, which is no surprise. But it is nice to find a college political-science professor willing to call out the thuggery: “Prof. Mark P. Petracca, chairman of the university’s Political Science department, chastised the protesters, telling them, ‘This is beyond embarrassing. … This is no way for our undergraduate students to behave. We have an opportunity to hear from a policy-maker relevant to one of the most important issues facing this planet and you are preventing not only yourself from hearing him but hundreds of other people in this room and hundreds of other people in an overflow room. Shame on you! This is not an example of free speech.'”

Seen the latest ad for Hugo Chavez’s oil company? Lots of happy old people given free oil by the dictator, and then: “In swoops Joe Kennedy II with Citizens Energy and the kind people of Venezuela to lend a hand (or two?) and heating oil enough for everyone. Kennedy’s all smiles but they forgot the part where Hugo Chavez shuts down the media and arrests his political opponents. I guess that would have made the ad too long.” Good thing he didn’t talk about how great families and babies are.

Oh, puhleez. Michael Steele plays the race card: “I don’t see stories about the internal operations of the DNC that I see about this operation. Why? Is it because Michael Steele is the chairman, or is it because a black man is chairman?”

Just a year ago Republicans were declared dead in New England. Now New Hampshire looks awfully Red. Actually, it looks Red all over. Rasmussen shows the GOP with an eight-point lead in the generic congressional poll. And John Kasich has a solid lead in the Ohio gubernatorial race.

The boys sure are obsessed with her: “White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs poked fun at Sarah Palin today, pretending to look to notes on his hand for a reminder during his daily briefing. The gesture was a not-so-subtle shot at Palin, whom reporters spotted using a crib sheet on her hand during a speech this weekend at the National Tea Party convention.” At least Gibbs didn’t talk about her breasts.

Rep. Peter King blasts away at “egomaniac” John Brennan for claiming that Obama’s critics are serving the “goals of al-Qaeda”: “It is ‘the most mindless, self-serving, and irresponsible statement that a homeland-security adviser can make,’ King says. … ‘Brennan is trying to be cute by saying that on Christmas Day he briefed Republicans and Democrats. Leave aside the fact that he didn’t brief me, but he didn’t tell anybody anything that day other than the bare facts that were pretty much known to the public. He said that [Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab] was in FBI custody. Now he’s claiming that that means he told people that [Abdulmutallab] was receiving Miranda rights and no one objected. If that’s what Brennan considers being honest and forthright, then we know that John Brennan is not being honest and forthright.'”

The billboard says “Miss Me Yet?” Why, yes, Mr. President.

Paul Begala or Karl Rove? “Incrementalists, stunned by what they see as overly broad and rapid change, are looking for the brakes. Radicals, depressed about the snail’s pace of progress, are looking for the exits.”

Jeffrey Goldberg spots the Muslim Student Union of the University of California at Irvine condemning the appearance of Israel Ambassador Michael Oren because — but of course! — Israel has been condemned by the UN Human Rights Council. “To the Muslim Student Union, the fact that the UN Human Rights Council has condemned Israel more than all the other countries of the world combined means that Israel is worse than all the other countries of the world combined. To more rational, less prejudiced people, this fact means that the UN Human Rights Council is not a serious organization, but one under the control of dictators and despots.” Remind me why the Obami thought it necessary to rejoin that body?

Oren was heckled, which is no surprise. But it is nice to find a college political-science professor willing to call out the thuggery: “Prof. Mark P. Petracca, chairman of the university’s Political Science department, chastised the protesters, telling them, ‘This is beyond embarrassing. … This is no way for our undergraduate students to behave. We have an opportunity to hear from a policy-maker relevant to one of the most important issues facing this planet and you are preventing not only yourself from hearing him but hundreds of other people in this room and hundreds of other people in an overflow room. Shame on you! This is not an example of free speech.'”

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Recruitment Is a Leading Indicator

The weekend before the Virginia gubernatorial election, I spoke with former Rep. Tom Davis. Sensing a victory in the offing, he told me that an immediate effect of a big GOP win would be recruiting for 2010. In 1994, a majority of the GOP’s successful recruiting, which enabled the Republicans to regain the House, took place after gubernatorial wins that year in New Jersey and Virginia.

It seems that Davis is right. The GOP victories in Virginia and New Jersey are accelerating a trend that was already well under way. As this report notes:

Several Democratic candidates have decided to drop out of tough races, while Democratic members of Congress who rarely face serious challenges are finding themselves with their toughest re-elections in years. … But in 2010, defense is the name of the game for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is defending several dozens vulnerable freshmen and second-term members, while also protecting veteran members who could find themselves in newfound trouble. It will be a lot more challenging for a first-time candidate running in a tough district to get financial support from the DCCC when the party is worried about defending its own.

Meanwhile, Republican recruiting is turning up challengers to Democrats who haven’t had significant challenges in the past. David Wasserman at Cook Report explains:

This is not to say that highly influential and venerated fixtures such as Reps. Ike Skelton (MO-04), John Spratt (SC-05), Bart Gordon (TN-06), John Tanner (TN-08) and Rick Boucher (VA-09) are goners next year. Their eventual vulnerability is highly dependent on the quality of GOP nominees and the discipline of their “time for change” messages. But if these party elders decide to seek reelection rather than retire, the underlying dynamics of their districts suggest at least several will need to fight to survive.

All this suggests that 2010 is shaping up to be a potential “wave” year in which there are more opportunities for pickups than in a run-of-the-mill year. If we learned anything in the past year, it’s that political prognostication is a dicey business. The GOP is now challenging in places it was considered dead (e.g. New England) and has recaptured momentum on key issues. But much can change, and the Democrats — if they can figure out what to do with it — have the power of incumbency.

The weekend before the Virginia gubernatorial election, I spoke with former Rep. Tom Davis. Sensing a victory in the offing, he told me that an immediate effect of a big GOP win would be recruiting for 2010. In 1994, a majority of the GOP’s successful recruiting, which enabled the Republicans to regain the House, took place after gubernatorial wins that year in New Jersey and Virginia.

It seems that Davis is right. The GOP victories in Virginia and New Jersey are accelerating a trend that was already well under way. As this report notes:

Several Democratic candidates have decided to drop out of tough races, while Democratic members of Congress who rarely face serious challenges are finding themselves with their toughest re-elections in years. … But in 2010, defense is the name of the game for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is defending several dozens vulnerable freshmen and second-term members, while also protecting veteran members who could find themselves in newfound trouble. It will be a lot more challenging for a first-time candidate running in a tough district to get financial support from the DCCC when the party is worried about defending its own.

Meanwhile, Republican recruiting is turning up challengers to Democrats who haven’t had significant challenges in the past. David Wasserman at Cook Report explains:

This is not to say that highly influential and venerated fixtures such as Reps. Ike Skelton (MO-04), John Spratt (SC-05), Bart Gordon (TN-06), John Tanner (TN-08) and Rick Boucher (VA-09) are goners next year. Their eventual vulnerability is highly dependent on the quality of GOP nominees and the discipline of their “time for change” messages. But if these party elders decide to seek reelection rather than retire, the underlying dynamics of their districts suggest at least several will need to fight to survive.

All this suggests that 2010 is shaping up to be a potential “wave” year in which there are more opportunities for pickups than in a run-of-the-mill year. If we learned anything in the past year, it’s that political prognostication is a dicey business. The GOP is now challenging in places it was considered dead (e.g. New England) and has recaptured momentum on key issues. But much can change, and the Democrats — if they can figure out what to do with it — have the power of incumbency.

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Bookshelf

• Anyone who doubts the existence of original sin, or something very much like it, would do well to reflect on the enduring popularity of the novels of Richard Stark. For forty-six years now, Stark has been writing terse, hard-nosed books about a cold-hearted burglar named Parker (nobody seems to know his first name) who steals for a living, usually gets away with it, and stops at nothing, including murder, in order to do so. I couldn’t begin to count the number of people Parker has killed in the course of the twenty-four books in which he figures. His only virtues are his intelligence and his professionalism–yet you end up rooting for him whenever you read about him. Nietzsche knew why: when you look into an abyss, the abyss looks into you.

In real life “Richard Stark” is the pseudonym of Donald E. Westlake, a thoroughly delightful literary craftsman about whose virtues I have previously written in this space.

It’s a permanent puzzlement that Westlake, who is best known for his charming comic crime novels, should also have dreamed up so comprehensively unfunny a character as Parker, which doubtless tells us something of interest about human dualism, the subject matter of all film noir and noir-style fiction. I wouldn’t care to speculate about what it is in Westlake’s psyche that makes him so good at writing about Parker, much less what it is that makes me like the Parker novels so much. Suffice it to say that Stark/Westlake is the cleanest of all noir novelists, a styleless stylist who gets to the point with stupendous economy, hustling you down the path of plot so briskly that you have to read his books a second time to appreciate the elegance and sober wit with which they are written.

Parker’s latest caper, Dirty Money (Grand Central, 276 pp., $23.99), is a sequel to Nobody Runs Forever, the 2004 novel in which he stole two million dollars from an armored car, then had to stash it in an abandoned New England country church in order to escape arrest. The money, it turns out, is “poisoned,” meaning that the authorities have a record of the serial number on each bill, so Parker has to figure out not only how to get it back but also how to launder it. As always, his task is complicated by the fact that his colleagues in crime lack his chilly singlemindedness–unlike them, Parker always keeps both eyes on the prize–and thus have a way of lousing things up.

Readers familiar with the series of comic novels written by Westlake about a hapless career criminal named Dortmunder will know that they take place in a parallel universe in which the not-so-tough guys are constantly tripping over their own feet. The first of these books, The Hot Rock, began life as a Parker novel, but Westlake changed it when he realized that it was turning out funny. In a later Dortmunder novel, Jimmy the Kid, one of the characters actually gets an idea for a caper by reading a nonexistent Parker novel called Child Heist.

Needless to say, nothing like that happens in Dirty Money–Parker is all business–but you’ll smile from time to time at the spare economy with which Stark/Westlake paints his verbal pictures of life on the wrong side of the law. Imagine, for instance, that you’re a slightly crooked doctor who made the mistake of doing business with Parker’s gang and is now being interrogated by a bad guy. How might you be feeling? Probably a lot like this:

The doctor felt as though invisible straps were clamping every part of his body. He sat tilted forward, feet together and heels lifted, knees together, hands folded into his lap as though he were trying to hide a baseball….The doctor’s mind filled with regrets, that he had ever involved himself with these people, but then regrets for the past were overwhelmed by horror of the present. What could he do?

Answer: nothing.

It’s possible to read and enjoy Dirty Money without having read Nobody Runs Forever, but you’ll enjoy it even more if you know how Parker got into this mess, so I suggest you buy both books and read them in sequence, after which you’ll doubtless want to work your way through Richard Stark’s complete oeuvre. That isn’t so easy to do, alas, since many of his earlier novels are out of print. (My favorite Parker novel, Butcher’s Moon, is currently going for as much as $300 a copy on the used-book market.) Fortunately, a dozen or so of the best ones are quite easy to find. As for the others, you could always heist them.

• Anyone who doubts the existence of original sin, or something very much like it, would do well to reflect on the enduring popularity of the novels of Richard Stark. For forty-six years now, Stark has been writing terse, hard-nosed books about a cold-hearted burglar named Parker (nobody seems to know his first name) who steals for a living, usually gets away with it, and stops at nothing, including murder, in order to do so. I couldn’t begin to count the number of people Parker has killed in the course of the twenty-four books in which he figures. His only virtues are his intelligence and his professionalism–yet you end up rooting for him whenever you read about him. Nietzsche knew why: when you look into an abyss, the abyss looks into you.

In real life “Richard Stark” is the pseudonym of Donald E. Westlake, a thoroughly delightful literary craftsman about whose virtues I have previously written in this space.

It’s a permanent puzzlement that Westlake, who is best known for his charming comic crime novels, should also have dreamed up so comprehensively unfunny a character as Parker, which doubtless tells us something of interest about human dualism, the subject matter of all film noir and noir-style fiction. I wouldn’t care to speculate about what it is in Westlake’s psyche that makes him so good at writing about Parker, much less what it is that makes me like the Parker novels so much. Suffice it to say that Stark/Westlake is the cleanest of all noir novelists, a styleless stylist who gets to the point with stupendous economy, hustling you down the path of plot so briskly that you have to read his books a second time to appreciate the elegance and sober wit with which they are written.

Parker’s latest caper, Dirty Money (Grand Central, 276 pp., $23.99), is a sequel to Nobody Runs Forever, the 2004 novel in which he stole two million dollars from an armored car, then had to stash it in an abandoned New England country church in order to escape arrest. The money, it turns out, is “poisoned,” meaning that the authorities have a record of the serial number on each bill, so Parker has to figure out not only how to get it back but also how to launder it. As always, his task is complicated by the fact that his colleagues in crime lack his chilly singlemindedness–unlike them, Parker always keeps both eyes on the prize–and thus have a way of lousing things up.

Readers familiar with the series of comic novels written by Westlake about a hapless career criminal named Dortmunder will know that they take place in a parallel universe in which the not-so-tough guys are constantly tripping over their own feet. The first of these books, The Hot Rock, began life as a Parker novel, but Westlake changed it when he realized that it was turning out funny. In a later Dortmunder novel, Jimmy the Kid, one of the characters actually gets an idea for a caper by reading a nonexistent Parker novel called Child Heist.

Needless to say, nothing like that happens in Dirty Money–Parker is all business–but you’ll smile from time to time at the spare economy with which Stark/Westlake paints his verbal pictures of life on the wrong side of the law. Imagine, for instance, that you’re a slightly crooked doctor who made the mistake of doing business with Parker’s gang and is now being interrogated by a bad guy. How might you be feeling? Probably a lot like this:

The doctor felt as though invisible straps were clamping every part of his body. He sat tilted forward, feet together and heels lifted, knees together, hands folded into his lap as though he were trying to hide a baseball….The doctor’s mind filled with regrets, that he had ever involved himself with these people, but then regrets for the past were overwhelmed by horror of the present. What could he do?

Answer: nothing.

It’s possible to read and enjoy Dirty Money without having read Nobody Runs Forever, but you’ll enjoy it even more if you know how Parker got into this mess, so I suggest you buy both books and read them in sequence, after which you’ll doubtless want to work your way through Richard Stark’s complete oeuvre. That isn’t so easy to do, alas, since many of his earlier novels are out of print. (My favorite Parker novel, Butcher’s Moon, is currently going for as much as $300 a copy on the used-book market.) Fortunately, a dozen or so of the best ones are quite easy to find. As for the others, you could always heist them.

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He Is No Prophet

In an effort to help Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., some people are not only defending Wright but portraying him as a “prophet.” The Reverend James Forbes, who recently retired as the longtime pastor of Riverside Church in Manhattan, said, “Some of us wish we had the nerve that Jeremiah had. We praise God that he’s saying it, so the rest of us don’t have to.” When asked if Wright ever crossed a line, Forbes answered this way: “I think if a person is a prophet and he’s not seen as ever crossing a line, then he has not told the truth as it ought to be told.”

The former minister and author Anthony B. Robinson said of Wright’s words:

Sounds like what the Bible calls a prophet. Biblical prophets weren’t crystal-ball gazers. They were … preachers who “regularly exposed the failures of a society in savage rhetoric.” Prophets afflict the comfortable while comforting the afflicted. And they use language and images that pretty much guarantee that they won’t get invited to cocktail parties.

We can add to this list the distinguished religious historian Martin Marty, a former professor, congregant, and friend of Jeremiah Wright. In “Prophet and Pastor,” published last week in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Marty recounts what he admires in Wright and the work of his church. He admits, though, that we ought not gloss over the “abrasive edges” of Wright. Marty finds some of his comments “distracting and harmful” and the honoring of Minister Louis Farrakhan “abhorrent and indefensible.” Marty also writes this:

Now, for the hard business: the sermons, which have been mercilessly chipped into for wearying television clips. While Wright’s sermons were pastoral – my wife and I have always been awed to hear the Christian Gospel parsed for our personal lives – they were also prophetic. At the university, we used to remark, half lightheartedly, that this Jeremiah was trying to live up to his namesake, the seventh-century B.C. prophet.

Though Jeremiah of old did not “curse” his people of Israel, Wright, as a biblical scholar, could point out that the prophets Hosea and Micah did. But the Book of Jeremiah, written by numbers of authors, is so full of blasts and quasi curses – what biblical scholars call “imprecatory topoi” – that New England preachers invented a sermonic form called “the jeremiad,” a style revived in some Wrightian shouts.

Jeremiah, however, was the prophet of hope, and that note of hope is what attracts the multiclass membership at Trinity and significant television audiences. Both Jeremiahs gave the people work to do: to advance the missions of social justice and mercy that improve the lot of the suffering. For a sample, read Jeremiah 29, where the prophet’s letter to the exiles in Babylon exhorts them to settle down and “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” Or listen to many a Jeremiah Wright sermon . . . Those who were part of [Wright’s] ministry for years . . . are not going to turn their backs on their pastor and prophet.

“Prophet.” That’s quite an appellation to bestow on Wright. It’s worth considering, then, precisely what a prophet is. Far more than just a provocative exhorter, a prophet, for those of the Christian and Jewish faiths, is a person who proclaims divine revelation. He is an oracle of Yahweh, one who speaks for the Holy Ruler of History. Prophecy involves a human messenger communicating a divine message. It is a rare and special calling, one that should not be recklessly bandied about.

With that in mind, let’s quickly rehearse some of the comments by the former senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ. He refers to the United States as the “U.S. of K.K.K.” The attacks on September 11th is something America had coming; in Wright’s words (borrowed from Malcolm X) “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” Rather than bless America, Wright–insisting it is in the Bible–wants God to damn her. The government, he says, lied about having advance knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor and “lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.” Israel is a “dirty word.” Wright also took to reprinting op-eds by supporters of Hamas in his “Pastor’s Page.” He praised Louis Farrakhan as a man of “honesty and integrity” and favored bestowing a lifetime achievement award on the Nation of Islam leader. And the list goes on from there.

For liberals and those on the Left to lift up Jeremiah Wright–a man whose words can be fairly judged to be anti-Israel and anti-American–and attempt to turn him into a prophet is a grave error. I have spoken out before regarding my concern for what politics can do to people of faith on both the left and the right, and how easy it is to subordinate the latter to the former. I don’t pretend that the above remarks are the sum total of Wright’s decades-long preaching or actions, and Marty’s account is worth reading. But to insist that a man who utters hateful and bitter words against his country is a prophet is (to be charitable) intellectually sloppy. “Afflicting the comfortable” is not enough to qualify one as a prophet. Do we really want to propose the idea that Wright’s vitriolic proclamations proceed from direct divine inspiration, that Wright speaks for God? That would be completely irresponsible.

In an effort to help Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., some people are not only defending Wright but portraying him as a “prophet.” The Reverend James Forbes, who recently retired as the longtime pastor of Riverside Church in Manhattan, said, “Some of us wish we had the nerve that Jeremiah had. We praise God that he’s saying it, so the rest of us don’t have to.” When asked if Wright ever crossed a line, Forbes answered this way: “I think if a person is a prophet and he’s not seen as ever crossing a line, then he has not told the truth as it ought to be told.”

The former minister and author Anthony B. Robinson said of Wright’s words:

Sounds like what the Bible calls a prophet. Biblical prophets weren’t crystal-ball gazers. They were … preachers who “regularly exposed the failures of a society in savage rhetoric.” Prophets afflict the comfortable while comforting the afflicted. And they use language and images that pretty much guarantee that they won’t get invited to cocktail parties.

We can add to this list the distinguished religious historian Martin Marty, a former professor, congregant, and friend of Jeremiah Wright. In “Prophet and Pastor,” published last week in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Marty recounts what he admires in Wright and the work of his church. He admits, though, that we ought not gloss over the “abrasive edges” of Wright. Marty finds some of his comments “distracting and harmful” and the honoring of Minister Louis Farrakhan “abhorrent and indefensible.” Marty also writes this:

Now, for the hard business: the sermons, which have been mercilessly chipped into for wearying television clips. While Wright’s sermons were pastoral – my wife and I have always been awed to hear the Christian Gospel parsed for our personal lives – they were also prophetic. At the university, we used to remark, half lightheartedly, that this Jeremiah was trying to live up to his namesake, the seventh-century B.C. prophet.

Though Jeremiah of old did not “curse” his people of Israel, Wright, as a biblical scholar, could point out that the prophets Hosea and Micah did. But the Book of Jeremiah, written by numbers of authors, is so full of blasts and quasi curses – what biblical scholars call “imprecatory topoi” – that New England preachers invented a sermonic form called “the jeremiad,” a style revived in some Wrightian shouts.

Jeremiah, however, was the prophet of hope, and that note of hope is what attracts the multiclass membership at Trinity and significant television audiences. Both Jeremiahs gave the people work to do: to advance the missions of social justice and mercy that improve the lot of the suffering. For a sample, read Jeremiah 29, where the prophet’s letter to the exiles in Babylon exhorts them to settle down and “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” Or listen to many a Jeremiah Wright sermon . . . Those who were part of [Wright’s] ministry for years . . . are not going to turn their backs on their pastor and prophet.

“Prophet.” That’s quite an appellation to bestow on Wright. It’s worth considering, then, precisely what a prophet is. Far more than just a provocative exhorter, a prophet, for those of the Christian and Jewish faiths, is a person who proclaims divine revelation. He is an oracle of Yahweh, one who speaks for the Holy Ruler of History. Prophecy involves a human messenger communicating a divine message. It is a rare and special calling, one that should not be recklessly bandied about.

With that in mind, let’s quickly rehearse some of the comments by the former senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ. He refers to the United States as the “U.S. of K.K.K.” The attacks on September 11th is something America had coming; in Wright’s words (borrowed from Malcolm X) “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” Rather than bless America, Wright–insisting it is in the Bible–wants God to damn her. The government, he says, lied about having advance knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor and “lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.” Israel is a “dirty word.” Wright also took to reprinting op-eds by supporters of Hamas in his “Pastor’s Page.” He praised Louis Farrakhan as a man of “honesty and integrity” and favored bestowing a lifetime achievement award on the Nation of Islam leader. And the list goes on from there.

For liberals and those on the Left to lift up Jeremiah Wright–a man whose words can be fairly judged to be anti-Israel and anti-American–and attempt to turn him into a prophet is a grave error. I have spoken out before regarding my concern for what politics can do to people of faith on both the left and the right, and how easy it is to subordinate the latter to the former. I don’t pretend that the above remarks are the sum total of Wright’s decades-long preaching or actions, and Marty’s account is worth reading. But to insist that a man who utters hateful and bitter words against his country is a prophet is (to be charitable) intellectually sloppy. “Afflicting the comfortable” is not enough to qualify one as a prophet. Do we really want to propose the idea that Wright’s vitriolic proclamations proceed from direct divine inspiration, that Wright speaks for God? That would be completely irresponsible.

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Bookshelf

• I spent the past month staying in a string of New England country inns, most of which were of the sort that have libraries—of a sort. These moldering collections typically consist of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books (remember them?) and the best sellers of yesteryear, lightly sprinkled with the odd novelty. On occasion the novelties can be quite odd indeed. I passed a pleasant evening reading the memoirs of Lowell Thomas (remember him?) as I sat by the Atlantic Ocean a couple of weeks ago, and the very next night I stumbled across a copy of Karl Marx’s ‘Capital’ in Lithographs, a 1934 volume abridged and illustrated by Hugo Gellert, a long-forgotten artist whose earnest prose breathes the air of other spheres:

But out of the East rises a new Prometheus. And all the Gods in the World cannot chain him! The great disciple of Karl Marx, Lenin, led the Russian workers and peasants who created the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. And these workers and peasants became the Masters of their own destiny. The Young Giant with his mighty hands builds the future of mankind and bright lights flare up in his wake . . . .

More often, though, I contented myself with mysteries and thrillers of varying vintages, the oldest of which was John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, published in 1963, mere months before the assassination of John F. Kennedy robbed a generation of Americans of their dewy-eyed innocence, blah blah blah. Not that the pseudonymous author of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold had much innocence of which to be robbed, judging by the book’s denouement, which hinges on the complete and final disillusion of its grubby, self-pitying anti-hero:

What do you think spies are: priests, saints and martyrs? They’re a squalid procession of vain fools, traitors too, yes; pansies, sadists and drunkards, people who play cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives.

As it happens, I’d never read a word of le Carré, and I was fascinated to find that he appears to be the man who introduced moral equivalence to modern espionage fiction. (Actually, Somerset Maugham beat him to the punch four decades earlier with Ashenden, but that book’s eponymous secret agent is not so much disillusioned as indifferent.) In The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, the Brits and Russians are interchangeably unscrupulous and cynical, and it is taken for granted that neither side deserves to prevail in the “long twilight struggle” proclaimed a scant two years earlier by the idealistic speechwriters of the soon-to-be-martyred architect of the New Frontier. It says something noteworthy about the emerging ethos of the Sixties that such a book was soon to become one of its emblematic literary successes.

Read More

• I spent the past month staying in a string of New England country inns, most of which were of the sort that have libraries—of a sort. These moldering collections typically consist of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books (remember them?) and the best sellers of yesteryear, lightly sprinkled with the odd novelty. On occasion the novelties can be quite odd indeed. I passed a pleasant evening reading the memoirs of Lowell Thomas (remember him?) as I sat by the Atlantic Ocean a couple of weeks ago, and the very next night I stumbled across a copy of Karl Marx’s ‘Capital’ in Lithographs, a 1934 volume abridged and illustrated by Hugo Gellert, a long-forgotten artist whose earnest prose breathes the air of other spheres:

But out of the East rises a new Prometheus. And all the Gods in the World cannot chain him! The great disciple of Karl Marx, Lenin, led the Russian workers and peasants who created the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. And these workers and peasants became the Masters of their own destiny. The Young Giant with his mighty hands builds the future of mankind and bright lights flare up in his wake . . . .

More often, though, I contented myself with mysteries and thrillers of varying vintages, the oldest of which was John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, published in 1963, mere months before the assassination of John F. Kennedy robbed a generation of Americans of their dewy-eyed innocence, blah blah blah. Not that the pseudonymous author of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold had much innocence of which to be robbed, judging by the book’s denouement, which hinges on the complete and final disillusion of its grubby, self-pitying anti-hero:

What do you think spies are: priests, saints and martyrs? They’re a squalid procession of vain fools, traitors too, yes; pansies, sadists and drunkards, people who play cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives.

As it happens, I’d never read a word of le Carré, and I was fascinated to find that he appears to be the man who introduced moral equivalence to modern espionage fiction. (Actually, Somerset Maugham beat him to the punch four decades earlier with Ashenden, but that book’s eponymous secret agent is not so much disillusioned as indifferent.) In The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, the Brits and Russians are interchangeably unscrupulous and cynical, and it is taken for granted that neither side deserves to prevail in the “long twilight struggle” proclaimed a scant two years earlier by the idealistic speechwriters of the soon-to-be-martyred architect of the New Frontier. It says something noteworthy about the emerging ethos of the Sixties that such a book was soon to become one of its emblematic literary successes.

• Repellent though the message of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold may be, it at least has the advantage of being exceedingly well written, albeit in a style indistinguishable from that of Graham Greene. In 1963 many best sellers still aspired to the condition of literature, and as late as 1987, Scott Turow, the author of Presumed Innocent, was clearly doing his best to produce a serious novel. Would that his editor had thus insisted on a complete rewrite, since Turow is a chronic overwriter who should be forced to spend a full year reading nothing but the complete works of Elmore Leonard. To be sure, he is also capable of writing with admirably clear-eyed straightforwardness about the mixed motives of lawyers and lawmen, and Presumed Innocent, which I found on the shelves of a Connecticut inn last week, has a richness of observation that helps to bring it within spitting distance of seriousness. Alas, it is disfigured at clockwork intervals by patches of the deepest purple:

Whatever wild, surging, libidinal rivers Carolyn undammed in me by her manner and appearance, there was something about the tender attention she showed this needy child that drew me over the brink, that gave my emotions a melting, yearning quality that I took to be far more significant than all my priapic heat.

No doubt this sentence was written with a straight face, but that doesn’t make it any easier to read with one.

• Unlike Scott Turow, John Grisham makes no pretense of being a serious writer. Indeed, it would be an act of charity to describe his lumpy prose as functional, for it bears much the same relationship to his elaborate plots that the flavor-free iceberg lettuce in a Midwestern salad bears to the Thousand Island dressing in which it is drenched. Since I find it all but impossible to read an ill-written book, I’ve hitherto made a point of steering clear of Grisham, but I reluctantly confess to having rather enjoyed The Firm, the 1991 novel in which he recounts the protracted travails and ultimate triumph of an Ivy League law-school grad who takes a way-the-hell-too-good-to-be-true job with a Memphis law firm that turns out to be a wholly owned subsidiary of Mafia, Inc.

Needless to say, The Firm is all plot and a yard wide, but at least it’s full of interesting facts. (Should the need ever arise, I now know how to launder large sums of money.) Even better, it’s a lawyer joke blown up to book length. Did you hear the one about the hot young gun fresh out of Harvard Law who landed a job with a firm that gave him a BMW and paid off his student loans . . . then tried to murder him? That’s my kind of moral equivalence.

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The Veterans of Classical Music

Getting older can be a delightful experience for performers of classical music. At Carnegie Hall on Wednesday, June 6, the Senior Concert Orchestra will perform a program of works by Mozart and Elgar, among others, conducted by David Gilbert. The orchestra, composed of retired professional musicians from the New York area, has been performing since 1966 as an offshoot of the Senior Musicians’ Association, part of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians. The Carnegie Hall audience will experience the pleasure of hearing orchestral musicians playing solely for the joy of it, a rare phenomenon.

Decades ago, Frank Jankovitz—one of the Senior Concert Orchestra’s founders—identified longevity with creative wisdom. And last year, in a study from the British Psychological Society’s Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, orchestral musicians explained that playing in an orchestra was the “essential means by which they could socialize with like-minded people, and experience camaraderie, teamwork, solidarity, and friendship.” Hence they felt a “lifelong passion for music and music performance.”

This kind of passion can be heard for free on Wednesday (tickets are available at the box office before the concert). If you like what you hear, and have the means, you might think of making a voluntary donation to Local 802’s Fund for Disabled Musicians or its Emergency Relief Fund.

Read More

Getting older can be a delightful experience for performers of classical music. At Carnegie Hall on Wednesday, June 6, the Senior Concert Orchestra will perform a program of works by Mozart and Elgar, among others, conducted by David Gilbert. The orchestra, composed of retired professional musicians from the New York area, has been performing since 1966 as an offshoot of the Senior Musicians’ Association, part of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians. The Carnegie Hall audience will experience the pleasure of hearing orchestral musicians playing solely for the joy of it, a rare phenomenon.

Decades ago, Frank Jankovitz—one of the Senior Concert Orchestra’s founders—identified longevity with creative wisdom. And last year, in a study from the British Psychological Society’s Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, orchestral musicians explained that playing in an orchestra was the “essential means by which they could socialize with like-minded people, and experience camaraderie, teamwork, solidarity, and friendship.” Hence they felt a “lifelong passion for music and music performance.”

This kind of passion can be heard for free on Wednesday (tickets are available at the box office before the concert). If you like what you hear, and have the means, you might think of making a voluntary donation to Local 802’s Fund for Disabled Musicians or its Emergency Relief Fund.

Alas, such joy and continuity are scarcely available for music writers who are retired—sometimes forcibly—after years of service. Peter G. Davis’s summary dismissal, after decades of writing music criticism for New York, is a loss to our local culture. Davis wrote informative, cogent, and tasteful articles, making him a rare commodity among critics. Undaunted by the often-stagnant classical music scene in New York, where the same podium-hogging conductors repeatedly perform the same works with the same ensembles, Davis invariably lent a fresh ear to each performance. He could be demanding and acerbic with performers, but always held the highest artistic ideals in view.

Davis is reportedly planning to retire to his country home and work on a (very welcome) revised edition of his still-unrivalled The American Opera Singer: The Lives & Adventures of America’s Great Singers in Opera & Concert from 1825 to the Present. But this is cold comfort to faithful readers of his magazine work. Worse still, Davis’s dismissal echoes the way other veteran music critics are currently being treated. In 2005, the stellar Boston Globe critic Richard Dyer accepted, as he reports, a “blanket early-retirement incentive offer made to every employee who had been [at the Globe] seven years or more,” after long years of devotion to the cause of classical music in New England.*

These oustings are rarely, if ever, commented on in print—either because salaried music critics are an envious bunch, or because they fear a similar fate. It is thus left to classical-music lovers themselves to take a moment to defend the veteran critics whom they appreciate (by writing letters to the editor, for instance) before they go the way of Dyer and Davis.

*This sentence originally misstated the terms under which Dyer left the Globe.

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