Commentary Magazine


Topic: salesman

RE: More Obama!

Jen, I wanted to pick up on your post that calls attention to the front page Washington Post story, according to which:

Strategists at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue say it is now clear that, although Obama’s name will not be on the ballot, it will fall to him to build the case for the activist approach that he has pressed his party to take over the past 16 months. And just as important, they say, he must take the lead in making the argument against the Republicans.

To which one can only ask: Are they out of their minds? After all, Obama has been spending his entire presidency trying to build the case for the activist approach to government — and he has failed in almost every respect and in almost every particular. Trust in government is at an all-time low. ObamaCare is hugely unpopular. The president’s agenda is mostly radioactive, to the point that the only successful Democrats, such as Mark Critz, are now running against it. Obama himself has lost more support in less time than any president in modern history and has turned out to be (according to both Pew and Gallup polls) the most polarizing president in our lifetime.

We have, in fact, seen a fascinating phenomenon take place: the more Barack Obama — supposedly the Democrat Party’s answer to the Republican Party’s “the great communicator,” Ronald Reagan — speaks out in behalf of a topic, the more unpopular it becomes. If Democrats are staking their future on Obama becoming their “salesman in chief,” the GOP has a very bright future ahead of itself.

Jen, I wanted to pick up on your post that calls attention to the front page Washington Post story, according to which:

Strategists at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue say it is now clear that, although Obama’s name will not be on the ballot, it will fall to him to build the case for the activist approach that he has pressed his party to take over the past 16 months. And just as important, they say, he must take the lead in making the argument against the Republicans.

To which one can only ask: Are they out of their minds? After all, Obama has been spending his entire presidency trying to build the case for the activist approach to government — and he has failed in almost every respect and in almost every particular. Trust in government is at an all-time low. ObamaCare is hugely unpopular. The president’s agenda is mostly radioactive, to the point that the only successful Democrats, such as Mark Critz, are now running against it. Obama himself has lost more support in less time than any president in modern history and has turned out to be (according to both Pew and Gallup polls) the most polarizing president in our lifetime.

We have, in fact, seen a fascinating phenomenon take place: the more Barack Obama — supposedly the Democrat Party’s answer to the Republican Party’s “the great communicator,” Ronald Reagan — speaks out in behalf of a topic, the more unpopular it becomes. If Democrats are staking their future on Obama becoming their “salesman in chief,” the GOP has a very bright future ahead of itself.

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It’s One Small Step for Man. Full Stop.

So even Neil Armstrong has a beef with the president:

The first man on the Moon has teamed up with the last man, Gene Cernan, to confront President Obama over his “devastating” plans for Nasa’s $108 billion (£70 billion) Constellation programme. Mr Obama wants to scrap Constellation, which was meant to develop new space ships to replace the shuttle, take astronauts back to the Moon and ultimately to Mars.

The death of the project would set America’s space programme on a “long downhill slide to mediocrity”, Armstrong declared yesterday. “It appears that we will have wasted our current $10-plus billion investment in Constellation and, equally importantly, we will have lost the many years required to re-create the equivalent of what we will have discarded,” he said in a statement.

Gizmodo, the fantabulously popular tech site, has a longish piece mourning the death of JFK’s dream (language alert — some people are very passionate about this).

NASA was the very first place I ever dreamed of working for. When I was a kid, the sci-fi of Star Trek was quickly becoming the sci-nonfi of July 21, 1969 — and I wanted to design spacecraft. In elementary school I could name all the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions before I could name all the states’ capitals. (And I still get Oregon’s wrong.)

This generation of kids, however, will have to dream of working for the government in other capacities, like used-GM-car salesman, or perhaps branch out into the expanding field of debt-consolidation advocacy.

I’m almost tempted to say, “Save us, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re our only hope.” Almost.

So even Neil Armstrong has a beef with the president:

The first man on the Moon has teamed up with the last man, Gene Cernan, to confront President Obama over his “devastating” plans for Nasa’s $108 billion (£70 billion) Constellation programme. Mr Obama wants to scrap Constellation, which was meant to develop new space ships to replace the shuttle, take astronauts back to the Moon and ultimately to Mars.

The death of the project would set America’s space programme on a “long downhill slide to mediocrity”, Armstrong declared yesterday. “It appears that we will have wasted our current $10-plus billion investment in Constellation and, equally importantly, we will have lost the many years required to re-create the equivalent of what we will have discarded,” he said in a statement.

Gizmodo, the fantabulously popular tech site, has a longish piece mourning the death of JFK’s dream (language alert — some people are very passionate about this).

NASA was the very first place I ever dreamed of working for. When I was a kid, the sci-fi of Star Trek was quickly becoming the sci-nonfi of July 21, 1969 — and I wanted to design spacecraft. In elementary school I could name all the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions before I could name all the states’ capitals. (And I still get Oregon’s wrong.)

This generation of kids, however, will have to dream of working for the government in other capacities, like used-GM-car salesman, or perhaps branch out into the expanding field of debt-consolidation advocacy.

I’m almost tempted to say, “Save us, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re our only hope.” Almost.

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Obama’s Credibility Deficit

Obama faces not simply a shortage of votes for his health-care plan but also a diminishing reservoir of credibility. The longer he talks, the less believable his arguments have become. After a year, dozens of speeches, hundreds of interviews, and a health-care summit, who believes of ObamaCare that: 1) you will get to keep your health-care plan; 2) it won’t add to the deficit; 3) it will cut costs; 4) it won’t adversely affect Medicare patients; and 5) it won’t affect the status quo on abortion funding? The endless discussions and Obama’s obvious discomfort in hearing informed arguments from Republicans at his summit (e.g. John Boehner on abortion and Paul Ryan on the rest) have served to undermine the president’s credibility on these points with all but the most devoted spinners.

The abortion issue is particularly revealing. Whether or not one thinks the government should subsidize abortion, Obama’s claim that his favored bill (essentially the Senate bill) doesn’t subsidize abortions simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Charmaine Yoest of Americans United for Life explains:

The president’s latest proposal mirrors legislation that has passed the Senate, which doesn’t include a Hyde Amendment [prohibiting taxpayer funding of abortions], and would inevitably establish abortion as a fundamental health-care service for the following reasons:

• It would change existing law by allowing federally subsidized health-care plans to pay for abortions and could require private health-insurance plans to cover abortion.

• It would impose a first-ever abortion tax—a separate premium payment that will be used to pay for elective abortions—on enrollees in insurance plans that covers abortions through newly created government health-care exchanges.

• And it would fail to protect the rights of health-care providers to refuse to participate in abortions.

The president’s plan goes further than the Senate bill on abortion by calling for spending $11 billion over five years on “community health centers,” which include Planned Parenthood clinics that provide abortions.

The president insists that his bill maintains the status quo on abortion funding, but those most concerned and whose votes are at stake, namely pro-life House Democrats, know better. So when Obama and Nancy Pelosi repeat their assertion that the bill contains no federal funding of abortion, they are being less than truthful.

The president’s repeated misstatements have rendered him less and less effective as a salesman for his plan, both with the public and key lawmakers. Just as his claim of the stimulus plan’s job-creating success now engenders eye-rolling and groans, his health-care talking points have also become the objects of derision. The impact may extend well beyond the health-care debate.

After all, in matters large and small, on both foreign and domestic policy, the president must be taken seriously and his word respected by the public and lawmakers if he is to sustain support for his initiatives. Obama, among his many errors, has frittered away not only a year on hugely unpopular legislation but his own credibility as well. The year is gone for good; his credibility may likewise be impossible to recover. Obama, if he were prone to self-reflection, may come to regret having been so cavalier with the truth.

Obama faces not simply a shortage of votes for his health-care plan but also a diminishing reservoir of credibility. The longer he talks, the less believable his arguments have become. After a year, dozens of speeches, hundreds of interviews, and a health-care summit, who believes of ObamaCare that: 1) you will get to keep your health-care plan; 2) it won’t add to the deficit; 3) it will cut costs; 4) it won’t adversely affect Medicare patients; and 5) it won’t affect the status quo on abortion funding? The endless discussions and Obama’s obvious discomfort in hearing informed arguments from Republicans at his summit (e.g. John Boehner on abortion and Paul Ryan on the rest) have served to undermine the president’s credibility on these points with all but the most devoted spinners.

The abortion issue is particularly revealing. Whether or not one thinks the government should subsidize abortion, Obama’s claim that his favored bill (essentially the Senate bill) doesn’t subsidize abortions simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Charmaine Yoest of Americans United for Life explains:

The president’s latest proposal mirrors legislation that has passed the Senate, which doesn’t include a Hyde Amendment [prohibiting taxpayer funding of abortions], and would inevitably establish abortion as a fundamental health-care service for the following reasons:

• It would change existing law by allowing federally subsidized health-care plans to pay for abortions and could require private health-insurance plans to cover abortion.

• It would impose a first-ever abortion tax—a separate premium payment that will be used to pay for elective abortions—on enrollees in insurance plans that covers abortions through newly created government health-care exchanges.

• And it would fail to protect the rights of health-care providers to refuse to participate in abortions.

The president’s plan goes further than the Senate bill on abortion by calling for spending $11 billion over five years on “community health centers,” which include Planned Parenthood clinics that provide abortions.

The president insists that his bill maintains the status quo on abortion funding, but those most concerned and whose votes are at stake, namely pro-life House Democrats, know better. So when Obama and Nancy Pelosi repeat their assertion that the bill contains no federal funding of abortion, they are being less than truthful.

The president’s repeated misstatements have rendered him less and less effective as a salesman for his plan, both with the public and key lawmakers. Just as his claim of the stimulus plan’s job-creating success now engenders eye-rolling and groans, his health-care talking points have also become the objects of derision. The impact may extend well beyond the health-care debate.

After all, in matters large and small, on both foreign and domestic policy, the president must be taken seriously and his word respected by the public and lawmakers if he is to sustain support for his initiatives. Obama, among his many errors, has frittered away not only a year on hugely unpopular legislation but his own credibility as well. The year is gone for good; his credibility may likewise be impossible to recover. Obama, if he were prone to self-reflection, may come to regret having been so cavalier with the truth.

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Albright’s Amnesia

Madeleine Albright writes in the Washington Post that she can’t figure out what our troops are fighting for in Iraq.

“A cynic might suggest that the military’s real mission is to enable President Bush to continue denying that his invasion has evolved into disaster,” she writes. She then goes on to suggest that the way out of this morass would be for President Bush to admit “what the world knows—that many prewar criticisms of the invasion were on target” and essentially throw himself on the mercy of the international community in the hopes that someone (France? India? The United Nations?) will come to our rescue.

Leave aside the issue of whether “a coordinated international effort” offers any real prospect of improving the on-the-ground situation in Iraq. (I address that question more fully in my COMMENTARY article, “How Not to Get Out of Iraq.”) What impresses me the most about Albright’s contribution is her selective memory loss—similar to that suffered by other liberals who were onetime hawks when it came to Iraq but have since changed their plumage.

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Madeleine Albright writes in the Washington Post that she can’t figure out what our troops are fighting for in Iraq.

“A cynic might suggest that the military’s real mission is to enable President Bush to continue denying that his invasion has evolved into disaster,” she writes. She then goes on to suggest that the way out of this morass would be for President Bush to admit “what the world knows—that many prewar criticisms of the invasion were on target” and essentially throw himself on the mercy of the international community in the hopes that someone (France? India? The United Nations?) will come to our rescue.

Leave aside the issue of whether “a coordinated international effort” offers any real prospect of improving the on-the-ground situation in Iraq. (I address that question more fully in my COMMENTARY article, “How Not to Get Out of Iraq.”) What impresses me the most about Albright’s contribution is her selective memory loss—similar to that suffered by other liberals who were onetime hawks when it came to Iraq but have since changed their plumage.

Readers interested in recalling what Ms. Albright and other former Clinton officials once said about Saddam Hussein might want to read this, posted on the website of the now-defunct Project for a New American Century. In particular, anyone curious about why American troops are now in Iraq should turn to page iv:

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on February 19, 1998 told an audience at Tennessee State that the world had not seen “except maybe since Hitler, somebody who is quite as evil as Saddam Hussein.” In answering a question, she expressed concern about what Saddam Hussein might do if he were able to “break out of the box that we kept him in,” including the possibility that “he could in fact somehow use his weapons of mass destruction” or “could kind of become the salesman for weapons of mass destruction—that he could be the place that people come and get more weapons.” Arguing that action needed to be taken sooner rather than later, Albright noted that one of the “lessons of this century [is that] if you don’t stop a horrific dictator before he gets started too far . . . he can do untold damage . . . .” She continued: “If the world had been firmer with Hitler earlier, then chances are that we might not have needed to send Americans to Europe during the Second World War.”

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Paying Attention to Arthur Miller

Last week, the New York Times ran a piece gathering the reactions to Vanity Fair‘s exposé of Arthur Miller’s non-relationship with his Down’s syndrome-afflicted son, Daniel. They quoted my original post about Miller on contentions, along with the words of several of Miller’s contemporaries, most of whom, it appeared, were not willing to talk.

Edward Albee, for instance, author of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and a contemporary of Miller’s, refused to comment. The strongest apologia, if it can be called that, came from “veteran Broadway producer Emanuel Azenberg,” who said, “Arthur Miller will be remembered for ‘Death of a Salesman,’ ‘The Crucible’ and ‘All My Sons.’ All the rest is talk.”

Morris Dickstein, an English professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, told the Times, “How do we know what we would have done? The birth of a child with Down’s syndrome can be a tremendous trauma, to say nothing of a strain on a marriage.” Yet the original Vanity Fair article reported that Miller’s wife, Inge Morath, tried to convince her husband to let her bring their son home, a plea he refused. She visited their child nearly every weekend. The Los Angeles Times‘s obituary of Miller reported that he “apparently never visited [Daniel].” Putting one’s disabled child in an institution is one thing. Acting as if he didn’t exist is another. And the behavior of “this hero of the left” and “champion of the downtrodden” (as the Times describes Miller), ought to convince even his greatest fans that hectoring lip service in the cause of social justice does not prevent one from being a loathsome human being.

Last week, the New York Times ran a piece gathering the reactions to Vanity Fair‘s exposé of Arthur Miller’s non-relationship with his Down’s syndrome-afflicted son, Daniel. They quoted my original post about Miller on contentions, along with the words of several of Miller’s contemporaries, most of whom, it appeared, were not willing to talk.

Edward Albee, for instance, author of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and a contemporary of Miller’s, refused to comment. The strongest apologia, if it can be called that, came from “veteran Broadway producer Emanuel Azenberg,” who said, “Arthur Miller will be remembered for ‘Death of a Salesman,’ ‘The Crucible’ and ‘All My Sons.’ All the rest is talk.”

Morris Dickstein, an English professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, told the Times, “How do we know what we would have done? The birth of a child with Down’s syndrome can be a tremendous trauma, to say nothing of a strain on a marriage.” Yet the original Vanity Fair article reported that Miller’s wife, Inge Morath, tried to convince her husband to let her bring their son home, a plea he refused. She visited their child nearly every weekend. The Los Angeles Times‘s obituary of Miller reported that he “apparently never visited [Daniel].” Putting one’s disabled child in an institution is one thing. Acting as if he didn’t exist is another. And the behavior of “this hero of the left” and “champion of the downtrodden” (as the Times describes Miller), ought to convince even his greatest fans that hectoring lip service in the cause of social justice does not prevent one from being a loathsome human being.

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Attention Must be Paid

Arthur Miller is widely reputed to be the greatest American playwright of the 20th century. And it’s true that his most famous work, Death of a Salesman, is a literary, as well as dramatic, masterpiece. But the same cannot be said of much else he wrote, certainly not The Crucible, considered Miller’s second greatest theatrical achievement (it is still widely produced by schools and professional companies across the nation). The play—which proposes an analogy between the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy hearings of the 1950’s—is fatally flawed. As Peter Mullen once wrote in the London Times, “There were no witches in Salem, Mr. Miller.”

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Arthur Miller is widely reputed to be the greatest American playwright of the 20th century. And it’s true that his most famous work, Death of a Salesman, is a literary, as well as dramatic, masterpiece. But the same cannot be said of much else he wrote, certainly not The Crucible, considered Miller’s second greatest theatrical achievement (it is still widely produced by schools and professional companies across the nation). The play—which proposes an analogy between the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy hearings of the 1950’s—is fatally flawed. As Peter Mullen once wrote in the London Times, “There were no witches in Salem, Mr. Miller.”

Miller was very much a man of the Left, and his reputation was burnished with the attributes attached to that exalted position: partiality to the great humanitarian causes of the day; a strong conscience; sympathy for the dispossessed and downtrodden. So it must have come as a great surprise to his many admirers to read Suzanna Andrews’s story about Miller in the current Vanity Fair, in which we learn of Miller’s abandonment of his son Daniel, born with Down’s syndrome. As Stephen Schwartz wrote for the Weekly Standard upon Miller’s death, “Arthur Miller’s life is the great American morality play of the 20th century.” Schwartz was more prescient than he knew; he was writing about Miller’s vindictive attitude towards his ex-wife Marilyn Monroe. But it is this new revelation that ought to damage permanently Miller’s reputation, if not as a writer, than as a humanitarian.

Miller put Daniel in an institution days after his birth, a not-uncommon practice at the time. Miller rarely, if ever, visited his son (Miller’s wife Inge Morath visited every Sunday). Nor did the playwright deign to mention Daniel in his 1987 memoir, or in any of the “scores of speeches and press interviews he gave over the years.” Daniel was shuttered away and anonymous: when Miller died in 2005, the Los Angeles Times’s obituary said that “Miller had another son, Daniel, who was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome shortly after his birth in 1962. It is not known whether he survives his father.” Daniel not only survived, he succeeded. He triumphed over the adversities of his condition and his early institutionalization, and now lives, for the most part, independently. He has competed in the Special Olympics, and is widely loved and admired by the many people who have come to know him.

“How could a man who, in the words of one close friend of Miller’s, ‘had such a great world reputation for morality and pursuing justice, do something like this?'” Andrews asks. A good question. Miller left a quarter of his estate for Daniel, but a very rich man’s leaving a quarter of his estate to one of his four children is hardly an act of moral courage.

“Attention must be paid.” This line, spoken by Linda Loman, wife of Willy Loman, the protagonist of Death of a Salesman, is one of the most famous lines in American drama. Through Linda, Miller pointed out the intrinsic value of a human life, no matter how problematic its condition. How tragic that he ignored his own admonition.

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