Commentary Magazine


Topic: New York City

LIVE BLOG: The Pauline Kael Remark of 2010?

The famous story of the 1972 election (which originates, I have to tell you, with my mother, I believe) is the movie critic Pauline Kael greeting Nixon’s victory with: “I can’t believe he won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him.” Tonight on Twitter, the wildly successful kiddie horror writer R.L. Stine offered a 2010 version of the dreadful parochialism that afflicted Kael: “I’m so glad I live in New York City and not in the United States,” he wrote.

The famous story of the 1972 election (which originates, I have to tell you, with my mother, I believe) is the movie critic Pauline Kael greeting Nixon’s victory with: “I can’t believe he won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him.” Tonight on Twitter, the wildly successful kiddie horror writer R.L. Stine offered a 2010 version of the dreadful parochialism that afflicted Kael: “I’m so glad I live in New York City and not in the United States,” he wrote.

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Here’s How Congress Could Help

As I noted, the new Congress certainly can make its views known on foreign policy. Anne Bayefsky offers yet another instance of what the new Congress can help with. Durban III is being planned for New York City. As you will recall, the U.S. walked out of the last Durban anti-Israel bash-a-thon. She writes:

In the next three weeks, the Obama administration will have to vote on the General Assembly resolution containing the “modalities” for September’s Durban III in New York City. The administration should not only vote no, but must also respond clearly and unequivocally to the following question. Does President Obama plan to attend Durban III, and will his administration take immediate steps to prevent the U.N.’s use of New York City as a vehicle to encourage anti-Semitism under the pretense of combating racism?

Congress could certainly prevent funds from being used for this purpose and go on record opposing the conference. On this — as on Israel and Iran — I am certain there is a bipartisan consensus to be forged. Obama would do well to not only adjust his domestic policy but also to assess what domestic support there is for his current approach to the Middle East. An honest assessment would tell him that, outside the far left, there is very little backing for his brand of “smart” diplomacy. And even on the left, there is widespread discontent with his human-rights approach in Sudan, China, Burma, and elsewhere. In short, not-Obamaism may be the basis for a reasonable and broadly accepted foreign policy.

As I noted, the new Congress certainly can make its views known on foreign policy. Anne Bayefsky offers yet another instance of what the new Congress can help with. Durban III is being planned for New York City. As you will recall, the U.S. walked out of the last Durban anti-Israel bash-a-thon. She writes:

In the next three weeks, the Obama administration will have to vote on the General Assembly resolution containing the “modalities” for September’s Durban III in New York City. The administration should not only vote no, but must also respond clearly and unequivocally to the following question. Does President Obama plan to attend Durban III, and will his administration take immediate steps to prevent the U.N.’s use of New York City as a vehicle to encourage anti-Semitism under the pretense of combating racism?

Congress could certainly prevent funds from being used for this purpose and go on record opposing the conference. On this — as on Israel and Iran — I am certain there is a bipartisan consensus to be forged. Obama would do well to not only adjust his domestic policy but also to assess what domestic support there is for his current approach to the Middle East. An honest assessment would tell him that, outside the far left, there is very little backing for his brand of “smart” diplomacy. And even on the left, there is widespread discontent with his human-rights approach in Sudan, China, Burma, and elsewhere. In short, not-Obamaism may be the basis for a reasonable and broadly accepted foreign policy.

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Some Historical Perspective on Negative Campaigning

Every election, it seems, political commentators and reporters suggest that the most recent election we’re in is “the nastiest, most negative election season of all time.” You have to be largely clueless about American history to argue such things — as this short video by Reason.tv highlights. The truth is that angry, fractious elections and political bickering have characterized American politics since the country’s founding.

Consider, for example, the first real political campaign in American history, between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1800. According to Professor Kerwin Swint, author of Mudslingers, “it reached a level of personal animosity that almost tore apart the young republic, and has rarely been equaled in two hundred years of presidential politics.” One pro-Adams newspaper predicted that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

The 1872 election between Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley was a race the New York Sun said deteriorated into “a shower of mud.” One pamphlet circulated by Greeley’s supporters called the Grant Administration the “crowning point of governmental wickedness” and accused Grant of bringing forth a “burning lava of seething corruption, a foul despotism….”

Or consider the 1884 race between Grover Cleveland and James Blaine. Cleveland was accused of fathering a child out of wedlock, which led Blaine supporters to chant what became a national slogan: “Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa?” (After Cleveland won the election, his supporters answered: “Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!”). The Reverend Samuel Burchard, a Presbyterian minister, spoke at a gathering of pro-Blaine clergy in New York City just days before the election: “We are Republicans, and don’t propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been Rum, Romanism, and Rebellions.” Accusations of Blaine’s corruption, as well as charges of his own sexual scandals, also dominated the debate. At campaign rallies, Democrats chanted, “Blaine! Blaine! James G. Blaine! The continental liar from the state of Maine!”

And despite the deep differences that exist between political figures today, we do not settle our differences the way Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr did, by duels at 10 paces with flintlock pistols. Heated exchanges are endemic to politics and what we are seeing today, while often not edifying, is not outside the norm of American history.

Like most people, I wish our debates were less trivial, more spirited, and more serious and contained fewer ad hominem attacks. We should have a clash of views about substantively important matters, such as what the proper role and purpose of the state should be in our lives. “Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords,” is how Theodore Roosevelt put it. We should therefore hope for serious, honest, reasoned arguments.

Abraham Lincoln is a unique figure in American history, and there is a danger in measuring the quality of our arguments by the quality of his. But there is a lot to be said for holding him up as the ideal. And if you read the words of Lincoln, you will find him constantly making his case in a compelling and philosophically serious way. That is what is most notable about his debates with Stephen Douglas. The burden was on Lincoln to show why Douglas’s advocacy for “popular sovereignty” was incompatible with self-government and the moral meaning of the Declaration of Independence — which is precisely what Lincoln did. If you read the transcripts of the debates, there was plenty of “negative” campaigning going on. But it is long forgotten, because the quality of the debate was so good and the stakes so high. The lesson for us is to aim high, not low, when it comes to the caliber of arguments we make to the public.

Politics is about important matters, and we should bring to it seriousness of purpose. But we should also bring to it a sense of history.

Every election, it seems, political commentators and reporters suggest that the most recent election we’re in is “the nastiest, most negative election season of all time.” You have to be largely clueless about American history to argue such things — as this short video by Reason.tv highlights. The truth is that angry, fractious elections and political bickering have characterized American politics since the country’s founding.

Consider, for example, the first real political campaign in American history, between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1800. According to Professor Kerwin Swint, author of Mudslingers, “it reached a level of personal animosity that almost tore apart the young republic, and has rarely been equaled in two hundred years of presidential politics.” One pro-Adams newspaper predicted that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

The 1872 election between Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley was a race the New York Sun said deteriorated into “a shower of mud.” One pamphlet circulated by Greeley’s supporters called the Grant Administration the “crowning point of governmental wickedness” and accused Grant of bringing forth a “burning lava of seething corruption, a foul despotism….”

Or consider the 1884 race between Grover Cleveland and James Blaine. Cleveland was accused of fathering a child out of wedlock, which led Blaine supporters to chant what became a national slogan: “Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa?” (After Cleveland won the election, his supporters answered: “Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!”). The Reverend Samuel Burchard, a Presbyterian minister, spoke at a gathering of pro-Blaine clergy in New York City just days before the election: “We are Republicans, and don’t propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been Rum, Romanism, and Rebellions.” Accusations of Blaine’s corruption, as well as charges of his own sexual scandals, also dominated the debate. At campaign rallies, Democrats chanted, “Blaine! Blaine! James G. Blaine! The continental liar from the state of Maine!”

And despite the deep differences that exist between political figures today, we do not settle our differences the way Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr did, by duels at 10 paces with flintlock pistols. Heated exchanges are endemic to politics and what we are seeing today, while often not edifying, is not outside the norm of American history.

Like most people, I wish our debates were less trivial, more spirited, and more serious and contained fewer ad hominem attacks. We should have a clash of views about substantively important matters, such as what the proper role and purpose of the state should be in our lives. “Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords,” is how Theodore Roosevelt put it. We should therefore hope for serious, honest, reasoned arguments.

Abraham Lincoln is a unique figure in American history, and there is a danger in measuring the quality of our arguments by the quality of his. But there is a lot to be said for holding him up as the ideal. And if you read the words of Lincoln, you will find him constantly making his case in a compelling and philosophically serious way. That is what is most notable about his debates with Stephen Douglas. The burden was on Lincoln to show why Douglas’s advocacy for “popular sovereignty” was incompatible with self-government and the moral meaning of the Declaration of Independence — which is precisely what Lincoln did. If you read the transcripts of the debates, there was plenty of “negative” campaigning going on. But it is long forgotten, because the quality of the debate was so good and the stakes so high. The lesson for us is to aim high, not low, when it comes to the caliber of arguments we make to the public.

Politics is about important matters, and we should bring to it seriousness of purpose. But we should also bring to it a sense of history.

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From the October Issue: ‘The Mosque and the Mythical Backlash’

On August 25, 2010, a New York City cabdriver was slashed and stabbed by a drunken passenger who allegedly accompanied his assault with anti-Muslim remarks. The driver, Ahmed H. Sharif, a native of Bangladesh, survived the attack, and the accused assailant was quickly arrested and faces a stiff prison sentence. Attacks on New York cabdrivers are not unheard of, but this incident quickly assumed the nature of a symbol of American intolerance for Muslims because of the contentious national debate over plans to build an Islamic community center two blocks from Ground Zero—the site of the former World Trade Center destroyed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

To read the rest of this article from the October issue of COMMENTARY magazine, click here.

On August 25, 2010, a New York City cabdriver was slashed and stabbed by a drunken passenger who allegedly accompanied his assault with anti-Muslim remarks. The driver, Ahmed H. Sharif, a native of Bangladesh, survived the attack, and the accused assailant was quickly arrested and faces a stiff prison sentence. Attacks on New York cabdrivers are not unheard of, but this incident quickly assumed the nature of a symbol of American intolerance for Muslims because of the contentious national debate over plans to build an Islamic community center two blocks from Ground Zero—the site of the former World Trade Center destroyed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

To read the rest of this article from the October issue of COMMENTARY magazine, click here.

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Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, and America’s “Crisis in Spirit”

I’ve certainly had my run-ins with Joe Klein in recent years. But this story, written after a four-week road trip across America, is worth reading. “Topic A is the growing sense that our best days as a nation are behind us,” Klein writes, “that our kids won’t live as well as we did, that China is in the driver’s seat. … I found the same themes dominant everywhere — a rethinking of basic assumptions, a moment of national introspection.”

The reasons for this anxiety and national introspection are complicated — based in part, but certainly not solely, on the failure of our political class. Yet in the coming years, this cast of mind is going to frame politics in America, much like Jimmy Carter’s “crisis of spirit” speech framed politics at the end of the 1970s. On July 15, 1979, Carter gave his most memorable, and disastrous, speech – declaring, in part, this:

But after listening to the American people I have been reminded again that all the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America. So, I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even more serious than energy or inflation. I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.

I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

In the end, the public will (rightfully) insist that its political leaders not simply diagnosis such problems, but do something to solve them. Ronald Reagan did this for the country as a whole, which is one reason he’s now widely seen as having been a great president. On a smaller scale, Rudy Giuliani could have lamented the desiccated state of New York City when he became mayor. Instead, he took steps to repair it. The result was a better, stronger, prouder city. New York became great again.

So far, President Obama has fallen terribly short of what the citizenry expects of him. He has contributed rather than ameliorated the anxieties and concerns people have. His policies, especially on the economy, are holding us down. Mr. Obama doesn’t seem able to tap into America’s remarkable strengths, spirit, and resilience, which are unique in the world and virtually unmatched in history. Indeed, in some deep way, he doesn’t even seem to recognize them and can therefore hardly acknowledge them.

If the president doesn’t correct these things relatively soon – if this “crisis of confidence” continues to spread and the president seems impotent to deal with the problems we face – then Barack Obama will share a fate similar to that of Jimmy Carter.

I’ve certainly had my run-ins with Joe Klein in recent years. But this story, written after a four-week road trip across America, is worth reading. “Topic A is the growing sense that our best days as a nation are behind us,” Klein writes, “that our kids won’t live as well as we did, that China is in the driver’s seat. … I found the same themes dominant everywhere — a rethinking of basic assumptions, a moment of national introspection.”

The reasons for this anxiety and national introspection are complicated — based in part, but certainly not solely, on the failure of our political class. Yet in the coming years, this cast of mind is going to frame politics in America, much like Jimmy Carter’s “crisis of spirit” speech framed politics at the end of the 1970s. On July 15, 1979, Carter gave his most memorable, and disastrous, speech – declaring, in part, this:

But after listening to the American people I have been reminded again that all the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America. So, I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even more serious than energy or inflation. I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.

I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

In the end, the public will (rightfully) insist that its political leaders not simply diagnosis such problems, but do something to solve them. Ronald Reagan did this for the country as a whole, which is one reason he’s now widely seen as having been a great president. On a smaller scale, Rudy Giuliani could have lamented the desiccated state of New York City when he became mayor. Instead, he took steps to repair it. The result was a better, stronger, prouder city. New York became great again.

So far, President Obama has fallen terribly short of what the citizenry expects of him. He has contributed rather than ameliorated the anxieties and concerns people have. His policies, especially on the economy, are holding us down. Mr. Obama doesn’t seem able to tap into America’s remarkable strengths, spirit, and resilience, which are unique in the world and virtually unmatched in history. Indeed, in some deep way, he doesn’t even seem to recognize them and can therefore hardly acknowledge them.

If the president doesn’t correct these things relatively soon – if this “crisis of confidence” continues to spread and the president seems impotent to deal with the problems we face – then Barack Obama will share a fate similar to that of Jimmy Carter.

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No Pop for the Poor

New York City’s mayor wants the federal government to say food stamps can’t be used to buy soda – a story that is less about the technicalities of welfare and more about political paternalism.

Now, there’s a strong argument to be made that if the government is setting the table and preparing the dinner, it should be able to choose the menu. But that argument is not being made; on the contrary, those who want soda omitted from the items obtainable by food stamps are making the link between health and public spending.

The New York Times ran an op-ed today by city and state health commissioners. In it, they point out that “some 57 percent of adults in New York City and 40 percent of children in New York City public schools are overweight or obese” and that “one in eight adult city residents now has diabetes, and the disease is nearly twice as common among poorer New Yorkers as it is among wealthier ones.”

Pay close attention to their following conclusion: “Obesity-related illnesses cost New York State residents nearly $8 billion a year in medical costs, or $770 per household. All of us pay the price through higher taxes.”

This story could be seen as some microscopic foreshadowing of what’s to come for everybody, not just for the surprisingly high number of food-stamp recipients — 1.7 million in New York City alone, or 35 percent of the city’s residents (who, by the way, will still be able to buy that soda on their own buck).

Granted, in New York City, two-thirds of the population does not rely on government to fill the pantry. But once everyone’s health care is a public-spending issue, it is logical to assume that, at least to some extent, private behaviors will be up for public scrutiny; they have become a public cost issue.

Never mind Tocqueville’s warning about the democratic danger of preferring comfort to freedom. For those willing to sacrifice some degree of liberty for a government that ensures their well-being, here’s a little reminder that paternalism isn’t always so comfortable. In addition to saying yes, it also says no sometimes.

New York City’s mayor wants the federal government to say food stamps can’t be used to buy soda – a story that is less about the technicalities of welfare and more about political paternalism.

Now, there’s a strong argument to be made that if the government is setting the table and preparing the dinner, it should be able to choose the menu. But that argument is not being made; on the contrary, those who want soda omitted from the items obtainable by food stamps are making the link between health and public spending.

The New York Times ran an op-ed today by city and state health commissioners. In it, they point out that “some 57 percent of adults in New York City and 40 percent of children in New York City public schools are overweight or obese” and that “one in eight adult city residents now has diabetes, and the disease is nearly twice as common among poorer New Yorkers as it is among wealthier ones.”

Pay close attention to their following conclusion: “Obesity-related illnesses cost New York State residents nearly $8 billion a year in medical costs, or $770 per household. All of us pay the price through higher taxes.”

This story could be seen as some microscopic foreshadowing of what’s to come for everybody, not just for the surprisingly high number of food-stamp recipients — 1.7 million in New York City alone, or 35 percent of the city’s residents (who, by the way, will still be able to buy that soda on their own buck).

Granted, in New York City, two-thirds of the population does not rely on government to fill the pantry. But once everyone’s health care is a public-spending issue, it is logical to assume that, at least to some extent, private behaviors will be up for public scrutiny; they have become a public cost issue.

Never mind Tocqueville’s warning about the democratic danger of preferring comfort to freedom. For those willing to sacrifice some degree of liberty for a government that ensures their well-being, here’s a little reminder that paternalism isn’t always so comfortable. In addition to saying yes, it also says no sometimes.

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Pipe Down — No, No, Only You Guys

The prospect of a Democratic wipe-out and the engagement, politically and financially, of aggrieved conservatives have freaked out liberals. So they resort to this sort of stunt:

Several prominent Democratic politicians plan to announce a new coalition Monday aimed at pressuring major companies to foreswear using corporate money on political campaigns.

The Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending, spearheaded by New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio (D), aims to secure promises from major corporations to fully disclose any political spending and, ideally, to avoid spending corporate money directly on elections.

Who is paying for the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending (CAPS)? Hmm. Maybe we should demand that the group disclose its donor lists as a sign of good faith. We have a partial list:

Other Democrats joining de Blasio in the coalition are Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord, Los Angeles Controller Wendy Greuel and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. MoveOn.org and other grass-roots political groups are also participating, officials said.

But who is putting up the money? I mean, is this just another George Soros front group?

Moreover, the hypocrisy is staggering. They want only certain kinds of speech — and for certain speakers to go quiet:

The new coalition springs out of a successful effort by de Blasio, who serves as a trustee for New York City’s largest pension fund, to convince Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley to adopt policies against spending money from their general treasuries in elections. The firms will still run their own political-action committees, which are operated independently, officials said.

What about labor unions? Soros? What about political interests and advocacy groups that are incorporated and, therefore, fall under the ambit of the bogeyman Citizens United?

The message of the anti-free-speech crowd is remarkably constant: they simply want their political opponents to be silenced. But, in a way, this latest gambit undermines their advocacy in Congress and in the courts, where they seek to use the power of the state to limit political speech. Why should government be enlisted to shut down political speech? It seems as though the First Amendment rights of association and free speech can be employed by groups such as CAPS in the court of public opinion, however hypocritically. That does sort of prove the point of the defenders of Citizens United, doesn’t it?

The prospect of a Democratic wipe-out and the engagement, politically and financially, of aggrieved conservatives have freaked out liberals. So they resort to this sort of stunt:

Several prominent Democratic politicians plan to announce a new coalition Monday aimed at pressuring major companies to foreswear using corporate money on political campaigns.

The Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending, spearheaded by New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio (D), aims to secure promises from major corporations to fully disclose any political spending and, ideally, to avoid spending corporate money directly on elections.

Who is paying for the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending (CAPS)? Hmm. Maybe we should demand that the group disclose its donor lists as a sign of good faith. We have a partial list:

Other Democrats joining de Blasio in the coalition are Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord, Los Angeles Controller Wendy Greuel and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. MoveOn.org and other grass-roots political groups are also participating, officials said.

But who is putting up the money? I mean, is this just another George Soros front group?

Moreover, the hypocrisy is staggering. They want only certain kinds of speech — and for certain speakers to go quiet:

The new coalition springs out of a successful effort by de Blasio, who serves as a trustee for New York City’s largest pension fund, to convince Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley to adopt policies against spending money from their general treasuries in elections. The firms will still run their own political-action committees, which are operated independently, officials said.

What about labor unions? Soros? What about political interests and advocacy groups that are incorporated and, therefore, fall under the ambit of the bogeyman Citizens United?

The message of the anti-free-speech crowd is remarkably constant: they simply want their political opponents to be silenced. But, in a way, this latest gambit undermines their advocacy in Congress and in the courts, where they seek to use the power of the state to limit political speech. Why should government be enlisted to shut down political speech? It seems as though the First Amendment rights of association and free speech can be employed by groups such as CAPS in the court of public opinion, however hypocritically. That does sort of prove the point of the defenders of Citizens United, doesn’t it?

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A Sign of the Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Role and Purpose of Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Have We Got a Bridge for You!

Rep. Tom Perriello, Democrat of Virginia, is in deep political trouble. He was elected in 2008 in his central Virginia district that runs from Charlottesville down to the North Carolina border, thanks to President Obama’s coattails. He is now running as many as 26 points behind his Republican opponent in what is basically a Republican district. But as Barbara Hollingsworth points out in the Washington Examiner, last spring he made a remarkable admission.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned up here (in Washington) and I didn’t really need to come up here to learn it, is the only way to get Congress to balance the budget is to give them no choice, and the only way to keep them out of the cookie jar is to give them no choice, which is why — whether it’s balanced-budget acts or pay-as-you-go legislation or any of that — is the only thing. If you don’t tie our hands, we will keep stealing.

He is exactly right and we have forty years of sometimes grotesquely unbalanced budgets to prove it. And the stealing will go on — and in splendidly bipartisan fashion — unless it becomes impossible. But balanced-budget acts will not work (they haven’t in the past) and neither will pay-as-you-go (which likewise hasn’t worked). Whenever Congress feels enough public pressure, it passes something with a fancy now-we’re-serious-about-spending title but carefully inserts loopholes that allow billions to be spent outside the rules. The Washington press corps, with its totally inside-the-beltway mentality and priorities, pays little or no attention. Most of the Iraq war, for instance, was “emergency spending.” What, every year Congress looked out the window and perceived, much to its surprise, that there was a war raging on?

How do we change this? How do we force Congress to balance the budget or make a deliberate public decision not to?

There is only one way: the federal government must be subject to the same discipline

that every corporation in the country is subject to: an independent accounting authority that sets the rules for how the government’s books are kept and determines if those rules are being followed. In other words, it should be an independent, politically insulated, accounting board that decides what is “emergency spending,” not Congress or the President.

There is an excellent example of how such a system works in practice. When New York City went broke after decades of phony accounting to hide the gathering disaster, New York State wouldn’t help until the city agreed to be subjected to a Financial Control Board and to adopt Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Today, New York City — which has a larger population than all but 11 states — is in good financial shape. New York State, which, needless to say, did not impose such restraints on itself, is a financial basket case, second only to California among the states for the depth of its financial crisis.

So pay no attention to all the blather about balancing the budget and “lock boxes” and pay-as-you-go schemes and all the rest of that nonsense you’ll be hearing in the next two months from Democrats and Republicans alike. When you hear them talk about giving up the power to cook the books, you’ll know they’re perhaps getting serious. Until then, they’re just blowing smoke. The Washington press corps will buy it (they always do — there’s apparently no limit to the number of times you can sell Washington journalists the Brooklyn Bridge) but the electorate shouldn’t be fooled. Just ask Tom Perriello.

Rep. Tom Perriello, Democrat of Virginia, is in deep political trouble. He was elected in 2008 in his central Virginia district that runs from Charlottesville down to the North Carolina border, thanks to President Obama’s coattails. He is now running as many as 26 points behind his Republican opponent in what is basically a Republican district. But as Barbara Hollingsworth points out in the Washington Examiner, last spring he made a remarkable admission.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned up here (in Washington) and I didn’t really need to come up here to learn it, is the only way to get Congress to balance the budget is to give them no choice, and the only way to keep them out of the cookie jar is to give them no choice, which is why — whether it’s balanced-budget acts or pay-as-you-go legislation or any of that — is the only thing. If you don’t tie our hands, we will keep stealing.

He is exactly right and we have forty years of sometimes grotesquely unbalanced budgets to prove it. And the stealing will go on — and in splendidly bipartisan fashion — unless it becomes impossible. But balanced-budget acts will not work (they haven’t in the past) and neither will pay-as-you-go (which likewise hasn’t worked). Whenever Congress feels enough public pressure, it passes something with a fancy now-we’re-serious-about-spending title but carefully inserts loopholes that allow billions to be spent outside the rules. The Washington press corps, with its totally inside-the-beltway mentality and priorities, pays little or no attention. Most of the Iraq war, for instance, was “emergency spending.” What, every year Congress looked out the window and perceived, much to its surprise, that there was a war raging on?

How do we change this? How do we force Congress to balance the budget or make a deliberate public decision not to?

There is only one way: the federal government must be subject to the same discipline

that every corporation in the country is subject to: an independent accounting authority that sets the rules for how the government’s books are kept and determines if those rules are being followed. In other words, it should be an independent, politically insulated, accounting board that decides what is “emergency spending,” not Congress or the President.

There is an excellent example of how such a system works in practice. When New York City went broke after decades of phony accounting to hide the gathering disaster, New York State wouldn’t help until the city agreed to be subjected to a Financial Control Board and to adopt Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Today, New York City — which has a larger population than all but 11 states — is in good financial shape. New York State, which, needless to say, did not impose such restraints on itself, is a financial basket case, second only to California among the states for the depth of its financial crisis.

So pay no attention to all the blather about balancing the budget and “lock boxes” and pay-as-you-go schemes and all the rest of that nonsense you’ll be hearing in the next two months from Democrats and Republicans alike. When you hear them talk about giving up the power to cook the books, you’ll know they’re perhaps getting serious. Until then, they’re just blowing smoke. The Washington press corps will buy it (they always do — there’s apparently no limit to the number of times you can sell Washington journalists the Brooklyn Bridge) but the electorate shouldn’t be fooled. Just ask Tom Perriello.

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Richard Cohen on the Ground Zero Mosque

Of late it has become something of a hobby of mine to point out how the left is becoming increasingly unhinged and alienated from America. The event that seems to have triggered the latest outpouring of rage is the debate about the proposal to build a mosque and community center, led by Imam Rauf, near Ground Zero. It’s not simply the debate itself that is causing the venom; it is that defenders of building the mosque are losing the argument. The public — including those in New York City, that well-known epicenter of conservatism — overwhelmingly sides with those who oppose building the mosque. This is causing some liberals to spin out of control.

The latest liberal to do so, as Jen noted earlier, is Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, who writes:

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour,” Daisy Khan, a founder of the mosque (and the wife of the imam), rejected any compromise. She was right to do so because to compromise is to accede, even a bit, to the arguments of bigots, demagogues or the merely uninformed. This is no longer her fight. The fight is now all of ours.

It has become something of a cliche, I know, but no one ever put this sort of thing better than William Butler Yeats in his poem “The Second Coming.” “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Some passionate intensity from the best is past due.

Cohen is right about one thing; the Yeats quote is a cliché. But he’s wrong that those who are arguing for a compromise are bigots, demagogues, or merely uninformed. And his argument that what this debate is missing is “passionate intensity” is ludicrous. In fact, the debate has often been dominated by passion rather than by reason, as evidenced by the left’s eagerness to brand the mosque’s opponents as racists, bigots, and Islamophobes. (I have expressed concerns about what some on the right, such as Newt Gingrich, have said as well; see here and here.)

In addition, the deep, eternal meaning the left has tried to infuse this issue with — the effort to cast this debate as pitting the Children of Light against the Children of Darkness, between those who revere the Constitution and those who want to shred it — is both wrong and slightly amusing. One can imagine the lyrics of Peter, Paul, and Mary running through the minds of animated liberals everywhere. It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. v. Bull Connor all over again.

This is not a debate about high constitutional principle; if it were, presumably President Obama — the icon of so many liberals and a former professor of constitutional law — would have taken a stand on where the mosque belongs. Instead, he has refused to say what he thinks. The debate is about whether it is prudent and wise for Imam Rauf to build the mosque and community center within two blocks of Ground Zero. And on this, reasonable people can disagree.

On this particular matter one other point needs to be repeated: If the point of this enterprise was to deepen interfaith dialogue and understanding, it has failed miserably. And if those insisting the mosque be built at the original location persist in their efforts — if they heed Cohen’s advice and jettison compromise as morally treasonous — things will get a good deal worse. Contrary to what some liberals are arguing, no great constitutional principle will have been ratified. Instead, a debate that is harmful to our country, including to Muslim Americans, will be intensified.

This is potentially dangerous stuff we’re dealing with — and I can’t understand why those who insist that they are pining for reconciliation and comity are pushing an idea that is doing the opposite.

Of late it has become something of a hobby of mine to point out how the left is becoming increasingly unhinged and alienated from America. The event that seems to have triggered the latest outpouring of rage is the debate about the proposal to build a mosque and community center, led by Imam Rauf, near Ground Zero. It’s not simply the debate itself that is causing the venom; it is that defenders of building the mosque are losing the argument. The public — including those in New York City, that well-known epicenter of conservatism — overwhelmingly sides with those who oppose building the mosque. This is causing some liberals to spin out of control.

The latest liberal to do so, as Jen noted earlier, is Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, who writes:

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour,” Daisy Khan, a founder of the mosque (and the wife of the imam), rejected any compromise. She was right to do so because to compromise is to accede, even a bit, to the arguments of bigots, demagogues or the merely uninformed. This is no longer her fight. The fight is now all of ours.

It has become something of a cliche, I know, but no one ever put this sort of thing better than William Butler Yeats in his poem “The Second Coming.” “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Some passionate intensity from the best is past due.

Cohen is right about one thing; the Yeats quote is a cliché. But he’s wrong that those who are arguing for a compromise are bigots, demagogues, or merely uninformed. And his argument that what this debate is missing is “passionate intensity” is ludicrous. In fact, the debate has often been dominated by passion rather than by reason, as evidenced by the left’s eagerness to brand the mosque’s opponents as racists, bigots, and Islamophobes. (I have expressed concerns about what some on the right, such as Newt Gingrich, have said as well; see here and here.)

In addition, the deep, eternal meaning the left has tried to infuse this issue with — the effort to cast this debate as pitting the Children of Light against the Children of Darkness, between those who revere the Constitution and those who want to shred it — is both wrong and slightly amusing. One can imagine the lyrics of Peter, Paul, and Mary running through the minds of animated liberals everywhere. It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. v. Bull Connor all over again.

This is not a debate about high constitutional principle; if it were, presumably President Obama — the icon of so many liberals and a former professor of constitutional law — would have taken a stand on where the mosque belongs. Instead, he has refused to say what he thinks. The debate is about whether it is prudent and wise for Imam Rauf to build the mosque and community center within two blocks of Ground Zero. And on this, reasonable people can disagree.

On this particular matter one other point needs to be repeated: If the point of this enterprise was to deepen interfaith dialogue and understanding, it has failed miserably. And if those insisting the mosque be built at the original location persist in their efforts — if they heed Cohen’s advice and jettison compromise as morally treasonous — things will get a good deal worse. Contrary to what some liberals are arguing, no great constitutional principle will have been ratified. Instead, a debate that is harmful to our country, including to Muslim Americans, will be intensified.

This is potentially dangerous stuff we’re dealing with — and I can’t understand why those who insist that they are pining for reconciliation and comity are pushing an idea that is doing the opposite.

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RE: Mosque Builders Drop Mask of ‘Reconciliation’

The other guest on that segment of This Week, Jennifer, Rabbi Joy Levitt of the Jewish Community Center, seemed awfully ignorant of the religious history of New York City. She said:

Peter Stuyvesant refused to allow synagogues to be built in New York in the 1600s. It took an act of Congress here in Washington to allow a synagogue to be built. … The British wouldn’t allow synagogues to be built in New York City. So, we understand some of this pain, and yet we’ve also experienced a tremendous amount of support in this country, so I think we actually are in a position to both understand and be helpful, to support religious tolerance in this country.

Unlike the New England Puritans, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, and the Catholics in Maryland, the Dutch did not come to Manhattan to escape religious persecution or to build a shining city on a hill. They came to Manhattan to make a buck. Indeed, they did not even get around to building a proper church for 17 years. Named after St. Nicholas, Santa Claus has been the city’s patron saint ever since. (In fact, the modern version of Santa Claus is a wholly New York invention, developed by such New York writers as Clement Moore and the cartoonist Thomas Nast.)

Peter Stuyvesant, however, was a deeply religious man, adhering to the Dutch Reform Church. He banned both Jews and Quakers from New Amsterdam. They appealed to the Dutch West India Company in Amsterdam in what is known as the Flushing Remonstrance, often considered the birth of religious freedom in America. The company wrote Governor Stuyvesant and instructed him in no uncertain terms to mind his own business so that the Jews and Quakers could mind theirs.

Congregation Shearith Israel was founded in 1654, while Stuyvesant was still very much governor of New Amsterdam. It is the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, now located at Central Park West and 70th Street. It did not require an act of Congress (which wouldn’t even exist until 1789 and Washington wouldn’t be the capital until 1800). All it took was a sharp rap on the knuckles by the Dutch West India Company to remind Peter Stuyvesant what New Amsterdam was all about.

And if the British wouldn’t allow synagogues to be built in New York City, how did Shearith Israel build one on Mill Street in 1730?

The other guest on that segment of This Week, Jennifer, Rabbi Joy Levitt of the Jewish Community Center, seemed awfully ignorant of the religious history of New York City. She said:

Peter Stuyvesant refused to allow synagogues to be built in New York in the 1600s. It took an act of Congress here in Washington to allow a synagogue to be built. … The British wouldn’t allow synagogues to be built in New York City. So, we understand some of this pain, and yet we’ve also experienced a tremendous amount of support in this country, so I think we actually are in a position to both understand and be helpful, to support religious tolerance in this country.

Unlike the New England Puritans, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, and the Catholics in Maryland, the Dutch did not come to Manhattan to escape religious persecution or to build a shining city on a hill. They came to Manhattan to make a buck. Indeed, they did not even get around to building a proper church for 17 years. Named after St. Nicholas, Santa Claus has been the city’s patron saint ever since. (In fact, the modern version of Santa Claus is a wholly New York invention, developed by such New York writers as Clement Moore and the cartoonist Thomas Nast.)

Peter Stuyvesant, however, was a deeply religious man, adhering to the Dutch Reform Church. He banned both Jews and Quakers from New Amsterdam. They appealed to the Dutch West India Company in Amsterdam in what is known as the Flushing Remonstrance, often considered the birth of religious freedom in America. The company wrote Governor Stuyvesant and instructed him in no uncertain terms to mind his own business so that the Jews and Quakers could mind theirs.

Congregation Shearith Israel was founded in 1654, while Stuyvesant was still very much governor of New Amsterdam. It is the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, now located at Central Park West and 70th Street. It did not require an act of Congress (which wouldn’t even exist until 1789 and Washington wouldn’t be the capital until 1800). All it took was a sharp rap on the knuckles by the Dutch West India Company to remind Peter Stuyvesant what New Amsterdam was all about.

And if the British wouldn’t allow synagogues to be built in New York City, how did Shearith Israel build one on Mill Street in 1730?

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Mosque Builders Drop Mask of ‘Reconciliation’

Apparently getting their talking points from David Axelrod (or is it the other way around?), the Ground Zero mosque builders are comparing opposition to the mosque to anti-Semitism. Honest:

A leader of a planned Muslim community center near Manhattan’s Ground Zero compared opposition to the project to the persecution of Jews, in comments that could add to the controversy over the center’s proposed site. … Ms. [Daisy] Khan, appearing on ABC News’s “This Week” on Sunday, vowed to push ahead with plans to build a 15-story complex two blocks from the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in lower Manhattan, saying there was “too much at stake.”

The words could further inflame an already angry debate about the proposed location of the community center, which opponents denounce as a “victory mosque.”

Ya think? Now you might expect Khan’s inflammatory assertion to have been seriously challenged by the interviewer. Not with Christiane Amanpour as the host. The discussion went like this:

AMANPOUR: You talked about the state of Islam in the United States. And then we have this “Time” magazine cover that’s being talked about a lot right now. Basically, is America Islamophobic?

Is America Islamophobic? Are you concerned about the long-term relationship between American Muslims and the rest of society here?

KHAN: Yes, I think we are deeply concerned, because this is like a metastasized anti-Semitism. That’s what we feel right now. It’s not even Islamophobia, it’s beyond Islamophobia. It’s hate of Muslims. And we are deeply concerned. You know, I have had, yesterday had a council with all religious — Muslim religious leaders from around the country, and everybody is deeply concerned about what’s going on around the nation.

AMANPOUR: Do you agree with what she just said and how she described it?

LEVITT: Well, there is some part of it that feels very familiar, you know. Peter Stuyvesant refused to allow synagogues to be built in New York in the 1600s. It took an act of Congress here in Washington to allow a synagogue to be built. In Connecticut, there were no synagogues allowed to be built in the 1600s and the 1700s. The British wouldn’t allow synagogues to be built in New York City. So, we understand some of this pain, and yet we’ve also experienced a tremendous amount of support in this country, so I think we actually are in a position to both understand and be helpful, to support religious tolerance in this country.

A liberal with a Jewish organization was incensed: “Any suggestion that this particular mosque not be built in this particular place, and the objections of family members of 9/11, are in any way analogous to anti-Semitism or the struggles of the Jewish community in America is as insensitive and ignorant as it is offensive.” He continued:

And while it is not the case with this Imam, who at least appears to reject radicalism — despite his unwillingness to call Hamas a terrorist group and his suggestion that some terrorists are better than others — there is no corollary to Judaism, from the birth of the religion to that practiced by the first immigrants to this great country of ours or by Jews today. Judaism has never called for restoring the caliphate or violent jihad to kill Americans and infidels. You will hear that in mosques in America and around the world, but never in a synagogue, now or ever. To invoke anti-Semitism and ignore that further contradiction in the broader debate, and the concomitant lack of an Islamic reformation — as we have seen in both Judaism and Christianity — is also dishonest.

Nor did Amanpour challenge the imam’s refusal to detail the source(s) of the mosque’s funding:

AMANPOUR: How much money has been raised and are you prepared to discuss the issue of foreign funding? Let’s say there was foreign funding. How would you be able to know exactly where that money was coming from, what other projects elsewhere that they may have given money to?

KHAN: Well, this is where my counselor on my right is helping us, because our funding is going to be pretty much follow the same way that JCC got its fund-raising. First, we have to develop a board. Then the board is going to have a financial committee, fund-raising committee that will be in charge of the fund-raising. And we have promised that we will work with the Charities Bureau, that we will adhere to the highest and the strictest guidelines set forth by the Treasury Department, because there is so much angst about this. But we will follow the lead from Rabbi Joy Levitt.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you also…

LEVITT: What Daisy means by that is that we went to our neighbors, we said who believes in our vision, who believes in a center of tolerance, who believes in diversity? We went to parlor (ph) meetings in people’s houses, and that’s how the support for the JCC came about.

That’s it. Not a single question about foreign funding or whether they’d open up their books. There was a good reason to go on This Week. (I suspect they wouldn’t have gone with Jake Tapper.)

The obscene comparison between opposition to the mosque and anti-Semitism (how do Abe Foxman, Harry Reid, and Howard Dean feel about this?) should obliterate the left’s claim that this is all about “understanding” and “reconciliation.” It seems the mosque builders are interested, just as their critics claimed, in perpetuating the Muslim victimology meme and stirring dissension. And how interesting that they chose to stir the pot with Jewish analogies.

Apparently getting their talking points from David Axelrod (or is it the other way around?), the Ground Zero mosque builders are comparing opposition to the mosque to anti-Semitism. Honest:

A leader of a planned Muslim community center near Manhattan’s Ground Zero compared opposition to the project to the persecution of Jews, in comments that could add to the controversy over the center’s proposed site. … Ms. [Daisy] Khan, appearing on ABC News’s “This Week” on Sunday, vowed to push ahead with plans to build a 15-story complex two blocks from the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in lower Manhattan, saying there was “too much at stake.”

The words could further inflame an already angry debate about the proposed location of the community center, which opponents denounce as a “victory mosque.”

Ya think? Now you might expect Khan’s inflammatory assertion to have been seriously challenged by the interviewer. Not with Christiane Amanpour as the host. The discussion went like this:

AMANPOUR: You talked about the state of Islam in the United States. And then we have this “Time” magazine cover that’s being talked about a lot right now. Basically, is America Islamophobic?

Is America Islamophobic? Are you concerned about the long-term relationship between American Muslims and the rest of society here?

KHAN: Yes, I think we are deeply concerned, because this is like a metastasized anti-Semitism. That’s what we feel right now. It’s not even Islamophobia, it’s beyond Islamophobia. It’s hate of Muslims. And we are deeply concerned. You know, I have had, yesterday had a council with all religious — Muslim religious leaders from around the country, and everybody is deeply concerned about what’s going on around the nation.

AMANPOUR: Do you agree with what she just said and how she described it?

LEVITT: Well, there is some part of it that feels very familiar, you know. Peter Stuyvesant refused to allow synagogues to be built in New York in the 1600s. It took an act of Congress here in Washington to allow a synagogue to be built. In Connecticut, there were no synagogues allowed to be built in the 1600s and the 1700s. The British wouldn’t allow synagogues to be built in New York City. So, we understand some of this pain, and yet we’ve also experienced a tremendous amount of support in this country, so I think we actually are in a position to both understand and be helpful, to support religious tolerance in this country.

A liberal with a Jewish organization was incensed: “Any suggestion that this particular mosque not be built in this particular place, and the objections of family members of 9/11, are in any way analogous to anti-Semitism or the struggles of the Jewish community in America is as insensitive and ignorant as it is offensive.” He continued:

And while it is not the case with this Imam, who at least appears to reject radicalism — despite his unwillingness to call Hamas a terrorist group and his suggestion that some terrorists are better than others — there is no corollary to Judaism, from the birth of the religion to that practiced by the first immigrants to this great country of ours or by Jews today. Judaism has never called for restoring the caliphate or violent jihad to kill Americans and infidels. You will hear that in mosques in America and around the world, but never in a synagogue, now or ever. To invoke anti-Semitism and ignore that further contradiction in the broader debate, and the concomitant lack of an Islamic reformation — as we have seen in both Judaism and Christianity — is also dishonest.

Nor did Amanpour challenge the imam’s refusal to detail the source(s) of the mosque’s funding:

AMANPOUR: How much money has been raised and are you prepared to discuss the issue of foreign funding? Let’s say there was foreign funding. How would you be able to know exactly where that money was coming from, what other projects elsewhere that they may have given money to?

KHAN: Well, this is where my counselor on my right is helping us, because our funding is going to be pretty much follow the same way that JCC got its fund-raising. First, we have to develop a board. Then the board is going to have a financial committee, fund-raising committee that will be in charge of the fund-raising. And we have promised that we will work with the Charities Bureau, that we will adhere to the highest and the strictest guidelines set forth by the Treasury Department, because there is so much angst about this. But we will follow the lead from Rabbi Joy Levitt.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you also…

LEVITT: What Daisy means by that is that we went to our neighbors, we said who believes in our vision, who believes in a center of tolerance, who believes in diversity? We went to parlor (ph) meetings in people’s houses, and that’s how the support for the JCC came about.

That’s it. Not a single question about foreign funding or whether they’d open up their books. There was a good reason to go on This Week. (I suspect they wouldn’t have gone with Jake Tapper.)

The obscene comparison between opposition to the mosque and anti-Semitism (how do Abe Foxman, Harry Reid, and Howard Dean feel about this?) should obliterate the left’s claim that this is all about “understanding” and “reconciliation.” It seems the mosque builders are interested, just as their critics claimed, in perpetuating the Muslim victimology meme and stirring dissension. And how interesting that they chose to stir the pot with Jewish analogies.

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The Mosque and the People Who Have Suddenly Discovered Property Rights

One of the hilarious ironies attendant on the mosque debate is the sudden discovery by the liberal elites of the vital importance of property rights — how Imam Feisal Rauf and his people have purchased a site on which they should be able to build “as of right,” and how those who are objecting to the mosque’s construction are committing an offense not only against the free exercise of religion but against commonly accepted principles involving real estate.

For the past 40 years, especially in New York City, property rights have taken a back seat in almost all discussions of the proper use of real estate. Following the lamentable razing of the great old Penn Station, the general proposition has been that any major project should have a distinctly positive public use. Landmark commissions, zoning boards and the like have imposed all sorts of restrictions and demands on property owners that interfere with their right to build as they would wish. Laws have been written after the fact (especially when Broadway theaters were jeopardized by real-estate development in the early 1980s) to restrict the right of property owners to do as they would wish with the land and buildings they own.

Thus, the outrage which greeted the suggestion that zoning boards and the like should and could be used to block the Cordoba Intitiative is bitterly comic. Such boards have been used for decades to block projects for reasons involving the “sensitivities” of a neighborhood, like the time Woody Allen and others fought the construction of a building at the corner of 91st and Madison on the grounds that it would harm the historic nature of the area — when in fact he and his neighbors were concerned about a shadow the building might cast on their communal backyard. Walter Cronkite went on a tear against a tall building being built by Donald Trump on the East Side near the UN because it was going to block his view.

Nor is the right of religious institutions or religious people absolute. You can’t put a religious school anywhere; Samuel Freedman’s book Jew vs. Jew details several cases in which more secular Jews have fought the installation of more religious Jewish institutions in their communities using zoning laws.

So by all means, let us pay tribute to the primacy of property rights. Or are they only to be invoked when convenient?

One of the hilarious ironies attendant on the mosque debate is the sudden discovery by the liberal elites of the vital importance of property rights — how Imam Feisal Rauf and his people have purchased a site on which they should be able to build “as of right,” and how those who are objecting to the mosque’s construction are committing an offense not only against the free exercise of religion but against commonly accepted principles involving real estate.

For the past 40 years, especially in New York City, property rights have taken a back seat in almost all discussions of the proper use of real estate. Following the lamentable razing of the great old Penn Station, the general proposition has been that any major project should have a distinctly positive public use. Landmark commissions, zoning boards and the like have imposed all sorts of restrictions and demands on property owners that interfere with their right to build as they would wish. Laws have been written after the fact (especially when Broadway theaters were jeopardized by real-estate development in the early 1980s) to restrict the right of property owners to do as they would wish with the land and buildings they own.

Thus, the outrage which greeted the suggestion that zoning boards and the like should and could be used to block the Cordoba Intitiative is bitterly comic. Such boards have been used for decades to block projects for reasons involving the “sensitivities” of a neighborhood, like the time Woody Allen and others fought the construction of a building at the corner of 91st and Madison on the grounds that it would harm the historic nature of the area — when in fact he and his neighbors were concerned about a shadow the building might cast on their communal backyard. Walter Cronkite went on a tear against a tall building being built by Donald Trump on the East Side near the UN because it was going to block his view.

Nor is the right of religious institutions or religious people absolute. You can’t put a religious school anywhere; Samuel Freedman’s book Jew vs. Jew details several cases in which more secular Jews have fought the installation of more religious Jewish institutions in their communities using zoning laws.

So by all means, let us pay tribute to the primacy of property rights. Or are they only to be invoked when convenient?

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How Is the Ground Zero Mosque Playing in NYC?

It takes a perfect storm for the Republicans to win a congressional seat in Manhattan. But there is a storm brewing, so is it possible? Well, it’s not likely, but stranger things have happened.

The NY-14 (the East Side and part of Queens) is rated by Charlie Cook as “solidly Democratic.” Carolyn Maloney was elected in 1992 and really hasn’t faced serious opposition since. However, this year she has a primary challenge and, if she prevails, will face an energetic, likable Republican opponent, Ryan Brumberg. At least on one issue Maloney is badly out of step with her constituents. Unlike several other Democratic colleagues, she’s come out in support of the Ground Zero mosque. In fact, she’s being pushed by her primary challenger to be more vocal in her support. (What is she to do beyond cheerleading – donate money?)

For now, Maloney is trying to change the topic and talk about a bill for additional compensation for 9/11 responders. Brumberg is trying to keep the issue front and center and has been clear in his opposition to the Ground Zero mosque. In a brief e-mail exchange, Brumberg tells me: “I oppose the building of a mosque on ground zero because the Imam refuses to condemn Hamas as a terror organization, and claims that America was partially to blame in the September 11th attacks.”  He explains,”Just as the First Amendment grants Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf the right to build his mosque, it also gives us the right to protest its construction. Maloney’s actions are emblematic of a worrisome trend among hardcore liberals: that we need to go beyond granting those we disagree with the right to act, to actively supporting their endeavors and ideology.”

Well, his stance on the Ground Zero mosque is the same as that of Howard Dean, Harry Reid, and 60 percent of New Yorkers. Will it be a key issue in the race? Brumberg argues, “Yes, the September 11th attacks touched the lives of every citizen in this district, and yet Maloney’s support for this Imam shows how out of touch she is.”

On other foreign-policy issues, Brumberg cites the danger of “nuclear proliferation posed by Iran and North Korea” and also the threat posed by “yawning trade deficits and the increasing American dependence on Chinese capital.” As for domestic policy, he dismisses the idea that we are in a recovery. “The reality of our country’s present economic situation is that as long as Washington continues to waste our precious resources, our economy will never truly recover. We need to unchain America’s economic potential — create jobs and pay down the debt.”

It is not clear that the district is winnable by a Republican. But if there is any year it might be done, this is it. And Brumberg certainly has an opening now that Maloney is providing fodder for the argument that she is out of touch, too liberal even for New York City.

It takes a perfect storm for the Republicans to win a congressional seat in Manhattan. But there is a storm brewing, so is it possible? Well, it’s not likely, but stranger things have happened.

The NY-14 (the East Side and part of Queens) is rated by Charlie Cook as “solidly Democratic.” Carolyn Maloney was elected in 1992 and really hasn’t faced serious opposition since. However, this year she has a primary challenge and, if she prevails, will face an energetic, likable Republican opponent, Ryan Brumberg. At least on one issue Maloney is badly out of step with her constituents. Unlike several other Democratic colleagues, she’s come out in support of the Ground Zero mosque. In fact, she’s being pushed by her primary challenger to be more vocal in her support. (What is she to do beyond cheerleading – donate money?)

For now, Maloney is trying to change the topic and talk about a bill for additional compensation for 9/11 responders. Brumberg is trying to keep the issue front and center and has been clear in his opposition to the Ground Zero mosque. In a brief e-mail exchange, Brumberg tells me: “I oppose the building of a mosque on ground zero because the Imam refuses to condemn Hamas as a terror organization, and claims that America was partially to blame in the September 11th attacks.”  He explains,”Just as the First Amendment grants Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf the right to build his mosque, it also gives us the right to protest its construction. Maloney’s actions are emblematic of a worrisome trend among hardcore liberals: that we need to go beyond granting those we disagree with the right to act, to actively supporting their endeavors and ideology.”

Well, his stance on the Ground Zero mosque is the same as that of Howard Dean, Harry Reid, and 60 percent of New Yorkers. Will it be a key issue in the race? Brumberg argues, “Yes, the September 11th attacks touched the lives of every citizen in this district, and yet Maloney’s support for this Imam shows how out of touch she is.”

On other foreign-policy issues, Brumberg cites the danger of “nuclear proliferation posed by Iran and North Korea” and also the threat posed by “yawning trade deficits and the increasing American dependence on Chinese capital.” As for domestic policy, he dismisses the idea that we are in a recovery. “The reality of our country’s present economic situation is that as long as Washington continues to waste our precious resources, our economy will never truly recover. We need to unchain America’s economic potential — create jobs and pay down the debt.”

It is not clear that the district is winnable by a Republican. But if there is any year it might be done, this is it. And Brumberg certainly has an opening now that Maloney is providing fodder for the argument that she is out of touch, too liberal even for New York City.

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Western Culture and the Mosque

Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes a profound point at the Wall Street Journal today: that the Park 51 mosque controversy, although framed in most of our public discussions as a narrow question of religious tolerance, is actually a battleground in the broader “clash of civilizations” outlined by Samuel Huntington. I’ve been thinking about this a great deal. I would approach her point with the following framework: that the central question for New Yorkers, as for Americans and the West, is what religious tolerance means at the border between civilizations.

The West has had real trouble answering this question. What we are finding is that the default attitudes of the 20th century are inadequate to preserving a sustainable balance of religious and other philosophical influences in communal life. Western Christians and Jews have grown complacent about the protection of their religious freedoms in an increasingly secular culture. Indeed, our society has grown complacent about all freedom of conscience, routinely ignoring the dangers posed by the assaults of absolutist ideologies and our flirtations with creating thought crimes.

As Ali points out, however, “Our civilization is not indestructible. It needs to be actively defended.” She is right. The question for the West is how to tolerate Islam – which is culturally prescriptive and preemptive to a greater degree than either of the major Western religions – and yet retain what matters in our civilization.

I wrote last week about the differing levels of zeal for “religious rights” displayed by the New York City authorities in their approach to Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious arrangements. Their unaccommodating posture with Christians and Jews is emblematic of a steadily more reflexive prejudice in our American civic consciousness (and in the letter of our law as well). This imbalance of favor has consequences – and not just for religion but also for intellectual freedom of all kinds.

But taking the long view, we must see that addressing this problem solely with the blunt instruments of majoritarian politics and demagogic suasion is not enough.  We need to reexamine some of our modern attitudes. Certainly, we ought to elect new public officials who are wiser about respecting the competing claims of the people. But the issue is deeper than that. Sharing the public square is fundamental for Western civilization; for Islam, it is not. The reactionary political debate over the Park 51 mosque will leave us without the thing we need most of all: a way to live with Islam, one in which Islam accommodates our culture even as we seek to be respectful of Islam.

We won’t get to that solution by continuing on the path of lazy complacency about the survival of our culture. Europe shows us where that path leads: to urban neighborhoods where women aren’t safe unveiled and Jews aren’t safe at all. Muslims have demonstrated that they can live peacefully in the culture of the West, but where Islam rules the culture, the freedoms that we prize disappear. The truth is that we must privilege and defend our practices if we want to keep our freedoms. One such practice – one to which Christians and Jews have regularly been subjected, along with Wal-Mart, shopping malls, and adult video stores – is the veto of local majorities over their plans for construction and operation on specific sites.

Rights and cultural conditions don’t defend themselves:  we have to teach them to our children and be vigilant about their application and privilege. We have nothing to apologize for in doing that. And it’s essential to establish that our purpose is not to defeat or drive out Islam, but to live with it. Perhaps the outcome in the case at hand will be the Park 51 mosque. But we have been very clear that living with Christianity and Judaism does not mean that the public must accommodate everything their faithful want to do – nor does it mean driving them out of civic life. It means, rather, respect and compromise from everyone. Those are the club rules.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes a profound point at the Wall Street Journal today: that the Park 51 mosque controversy, although framed in most of our public discussions as a narrow question of religious tolerance, is actually a battleground in the broader “clash of civilizations” outlined by Samuel Huntington. I’ve been thinking about this a great deal. I would approach her point with the following framework: that the central question for New Yorkers, as for Americans and the West, is what religious tolerance means at the border between civilizations.

The West has had real trouble answering this question. What we are finding is that the default attitudes of the 20th century are inadequate to preserving a sustainable balance of religious and other philosophical influences in communal life. Western Christians and Jews have grown complacent about the protection of their religious freedoms in an increasingly secular culture. Indeed, our society has grown complacent about all freedom of conscience, routinely ignoring the dangers posed by the assaults of absolutist ideologies and our flirtations with creating thought crimes.

As Ali points out, however, “Our civilization is not indestructible. It needs to be actively defended.” She is right. The question for the West is how to tolerate Islam – which is culturally prescriptive and preemptive to a greater degree than either of the major Western religions – and yet retain what matters in our civilization.

I wrote last week about the differing levels of zeal for “religious rights” displayed by the New York City authorities in their approach to Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious arrangements. Their unaccommodating posture with Christians and Jews is emblematic of a steadily more reflexive prejudice in our American civic consciousness (and in the letter of our law as well). This imbalance of favor has consequences – and not just for religion but also for intellectual freedom of all kinds.

But taking the long view, we must see that addressing this problem solely with the blunt instruments of majoritarian politics and demagogic suasion is not enough.  We need to reexamine some of our modern attitudes. Certainly, we ought to elect new public officials who are wiser about respecting the competing claims of the people. But the issue is deeper than that. Sharing the public square is fundamental for Western civilization; for Islam, it is not. The reactionary political debate over the Park 51 mosque will leave us without the thing we need most of all: a way to live with Islam, one in which Islam accommodates our culture even as we seek to be respectful of Islam.

We won’t get to that solution by continuing on the path of lazy complacency about the survival of our culture. Europe shows us where that path leads: to urban neighborhoods where women aren’t safe unveiled and Jews aren’t safe at all. Muslims have demonstrated that they can live peacefully in the culture of the West, but where Islam rules the culture, the freedoms that we prize disappear. The truth is that we must privilege and defend our practices if we want to keep our freedoms. One such practice – one to which Christians and Jews have regularly been subjected, along with Wal-Mart, shopping malls, and adult video stores – is the veto of local majorities over their plans for construction and operation on specific sites.

Rights and cultural conditions don’t defend themselves:  we have to teach them to our children and be vigilant about their application and privilege. We have nothing to apologize for in doing that. And it’s essential to establish that our purpose is not to defeat or drive out Islam, but to live with it. Perhaps the outcome in the case at hand will be the Park 51 mosque. But we have been very clear that living with Christianity and Judaism does not mean that the public must accommodate everything their faithful want to do – nor does it mean driving them out of civic life. It means, rather, respect and compromise from everyone. Those are the club rules.

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Nothing to See, Move Along

Howard Kurtz can’t understand what all the fuss over the Ground Zero mosque is about:

It seems to me a colossal waste of time, a huge expenditure of national energy over something that is ultimately symbolic, and which government doesn’t have the power to stop anyway (since the planners have obtained the necessary New York City approvals). It is as if the country’s agenda has been reduced to a noisy cable TV debate.

Umm, I think it’s a “teachable moment” — a crystallizing event that gives insight into or confirms our understanding of the president, elite opinion makers, the jihadist enemy we face, and what constitutes a “moderate Muslim.” Oh, and it’s become another issue dividing Democrats, undermining the president’s stature, and contributing to the election wipeout on the horizon. Yeah, not a big deal.

Maybe what Kurtz and certainly what the left punditocracy are saying is that it would be swell if the whole thing just went away. (Like the New Black Panther scandal! Which by the way has also disappeared from liberal media outlets after a brief effort at damage control for their non-coverage of another story deemed “unimportant.”) The mosque controversy is messy. It is divisive. It is uncontrollable by the mainstream media. It is downright inconvenient for those who would prefer the public not be so noisy and the conflict between the elites and the public so stark. But it sure is news, as important and possibly decisive an event as we have seen in the Obama presidency.

Howard Kurtz can’t understand what all the fuss over the Ground Zero mosque is about:

It seems to me a colossal waste of time, a huge expenditure of national energy over something that is ultimately symbolic, and which government doesn’t have the power to stop anyway (since the planners have obtained the necessary New York City approvals). It is as if the country’s agenda has been reduced to a noisy cable TV debate.

Umm, I think it’s a “teachable moment” — a crystallizing event that gives insight into or confirms our understanding of the president, elite opinion makers, the jihadist enemy we face, and what constitutes a “moderate Muslim.” Oh, and it’s become another issue dividing Democrats, undermining the president’s stature, and contributing to the election wipeout on the horizon. Yeah, not a big deal.

Maybe what Kurtz and certainly what the left punditocracy are saying is that it would be swell if the whole thing just went away. (Like the New Black Panther scandal! Which by the way has also disappeared from liberal media outlets after a brief effort at damage control for their non-coverage of another story deemed “unimportant.”) The mosque controversy is messy. It is divisive. It is uncontrollable by the mainstream media. It is downright inconvenient for those who would prefer the public not be so noisy and the conflict between the elites and the public so stark. But it sure is news, as important and possibly decisive an event as we have seen in the Obama presidency.

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

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

In Illinois:

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

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

In Pennsylvania:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Illinois:

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

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

In Pennsylvania:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What’s in a Name?

Michael Lame of the decidedly non-partisan Re-Think The Middle East provides some useful background on the history of Cordoba for which the Ground Zero mosque is to be named. He writes:

Many writers have waxed rhapsodic about a golden age of peace and prosperity in Muslim Spain. But is that really what it was like? “Nostalgia is the enemy of historical understanding,” warns historian Richard Fletcher, author of Moorish Spain. “The simple and verifiable historical truth is that Moorish Spain was more often a land of turmoil than it was a land of tranquility.”

The 800 years referred to by the Cordoba Initiative constitutes the entire era of Muslim rule in Spain, stretching from 711 to 1492. Yet Cordoba itself, the cultural and for long periods of time the political capital of al-Andalus, succumbed to Christian conquest (or reconquest) in 1236.

Imam Rauf’s book, What’s Right with Islam: a New Vision for Muslims and the West, narrows the pertinent time frame, explaining that the Cordoba Initiative is “named after the period between roughly 800 and 1200 CE, when the Cordoba Caliphate ruled much of today’s Spain.”

But Rauf’s nostalgia should concern us, and give pause to his defenders. As Lame notes:

The idea of an Andalusian golden age, when Christians and Jews lived contentedly under Muslim rule, has become a fixture of Western historical thinking over the last hundred years. But is it true?

Professor [Richard] Fletcher weighs in on the question: “Early medieval Spain was multicultural in the sense of being culturally diverse, a land within which different cultures coexisted; but not in the sense of experiencing cultural integration. Toleration for Christians and Jews as ‘Peoples of the Book’ is enjoined by the Koran. But in practice it was limited – Christians under Islamic rule were forbidden to build new churches, to ring church bells, to hold public processions – and sometimes it broke down altogether. In 1066 there was a pogrom in Granada in which its Jewish community was slaughtered. Thousands of Christians were deported to slavery in Morocco in 1126. Thoroughly dismissive attitudes to Christians and Jews may be found in the Arabic literature of al-Andalus. It is a myth of the modern liberal imagination that medieval Islamic Spain was, in any sense that we should recognize today, a tolerant society.”

Lame advises that we should be aware of what Rauf’s “tolerance” entails:

One should not forget that Cordovan tolerance was predicated on Islamic rule. Jews and Christians, once they accepted their status as dhimmi, protected albeit subservient peoples, could participate in the intellectual, artistic, and economic life of the broader community. But one fact was clear throughout medieval Spain, that a single faith was dominant – Islam in the south and Christianity in the north – and the other religious communities were allowed to remain at the pleasure, or rather the sufferance, of the dominant religious-political power.

Sufferance as the basis for a multi-religious society is not a model that will appeal to 21st century Christians, Muslims, or Jews. For that reason alone, Cordoba is a questionable symbol of inter-faith co-existence. A better model might be … New York City!

In fact, New York has so many mosques that the question of tolerance of Muslims in America is not in doubt, except in the minds of the mosque’s defenders, who equate the placement of the mosque with religious “freedom.” Now, Rauf can hardly be ignorant of the history of Cordoba, as many of his defenders seem to be. He has, in the selection of his mosque’s name and placement, chosen to carry a message to his fellow Muslims and the world at large. It’s not a message the any of us, especially the left, which is supposedly opposed to religious domination of societies (or is that only a rule for Christians?), should embrace.

Michael Lame of the decidedly non-partisan Re-Think The Middle East provides some useful background on the history of Cordoba for which the Ground Zero mosque is to be named. He writes:

Many writers have waxed rhapsodic about a golden age of peace and prosperity in Muslim Spain. But is that really what it was like? “Nostalgia is the enemy of historical understanding,” warns historian Richard Fletcher, author of Moorish Spain. “The simple and verifiable historical truth is that Moorish Spain was more often a land of turmoil than it was a land of tranquility.”

The 800 years referred to by the Cordoba Initiative constitutes the entire era of Muslim rule in Spain, stretching from 711 to 1492. Yet Cordoba itself, the cultural and for long periods of time the political capital of al-Andalus, succumbed to Christian conquest (or reconquest) in 1236.

Imam Rauf’s book, What’s Right with Islam: a New Vision for Muslims and the West, narrows the pertinent time frame, explaining that the Cordoba Initiative is “named after the period between roughly 800 and 1200 CE, when the Cordoba Caliphate ruled much of today’s Spain.”

But Rauf’s nostalgia should concern us, and give pause to his defenders. As Lame notes:

The idea of an Andalusian golden age, when Christians and Jews lived contentedly under Muslim rule, has become a fixture of Western historical thinking over the last hundred years. But is it true?

Professor [Richard] Fletcher weighs in on the question: “Early medieval Spain was multicultural in the sense of being culturally diverse, a land within which different cultures coexisted; but not in the sense of experiencing cultural integration. Toleration for Christians and Jews as ‘Peoples of the Book’ is enjoined by the Koran. But in practice it was limited – Christians under Islamic rule were forbidden to build new churches, to ring church bells, to hold public processions – and sometimes it broke down altogether. In 1066 there was a pogrom in Granada in which its Jewish community was slaughtered. Thousands of Christians were deported to slavery in Morocco in 1126. Thoroughly dismissive attitudes to Christians and Jews may be found in the Arabic literature of al-Andalus. It is a myth of the modern liberal imagination that medieval Islamic Spain was, in any sense that we should recognize today, a tolerant society.”

Lame advises that we should be aware of what Rauf’s “tolerance” entails:

One should not forget that Cordovan tolerance was predicated on Islamic rule. Jews and Christians, once they accepted their status as dhimmi, protected albeit subservient peoples, could participate in the intellectual, artistic, and economic life of the broader community. But one fact was clear throughout medieval Spain, that a single faith was dominant – Islam in the south and Christianity in the north – and the other religious communities were allowed to remain at the pleasure, or rather the sufferance, of the dominant religious-political power.

Sufferance as the basis for a multi-religious society is not a model that will appeal to 21st century Christians, Muslims, or Jews. For that reason alone, Cordoba is a questionable symbol of inter-faith co-existence. A better model might be … New York City!

In fact, New York has so many mosques that the question of tolerance of Muslims in America is not in doubt, except in the minds of the mosque’s defenders, who equate the placement of the mosque with religious “freedom.” Now, Rauf can hardly be ignorant of the history of Cordoba, as many of his defenders seem to be. He has, in the selection of his mosque’s name and placement, chosen to carry a message to his fellow Muslims and the world at large. It’s not a message the any of us, especially the left, which is supposedly opposed to religious domination of societies (or is that only a rule for Christians?), should embrace.

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The Toxicity of Tolerance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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