Commentary Magazine


Topic: The Boston Globe

Why So Few David Petraeuses?

Renny McPherson, a former Marine who is now a student at Harvard Business School, raises a good question in the Boston Globe: Why isn’t the military producing more David Petraeuses? That is, commanders who are skilled at the highest level of command where the job is more about politics, diplomacy, and communication than it is about tactical maneuvering on the battlefield. The fact that Petraeus was appointed as Stanley McChrystal’s successor in Afghanistan, which required him to take a step down in the military hierarchy, is a sign of how few generals we have capable of doing the job.

“A large contributor to this failure,” McPherson writes, “is the military’s inflexible system of promotion, which can actively discourage young officers from getting the mind-expanding, challenging experiences that could turn them into potent generals.”

McPherson was involved in interviewing 37 “top military leaders,” who “reported that most beneficial experiences — sustained international experience, civilian graduate education, and taking on special opportunities out of the military mainstream — were the very ones that they felt discouraged from pursuing.” That is a very big problem because of the shift that McPherson rightly identifies:

Over the course of the 20th century, the United States became the dominant world power by advancing the technology of warfare. Now the information revolution, recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and global counter-terrorism have shown that an expanded set of skills is required of our top officers. Today we need military leaders who can process the ever-larger amounts of information coming at them and who can communicate more dexterously up, down, and across; they also must be adept at dealing with nonmilitary institutions and quick to learn foreign cultures.

Petraeus is hardly alone in having the skills needed to tackle such challenges; General Ray Odierno has displayed much of the same skill set. But few others have, and that poses a real problem for the future — one that the Pentagon leadership needs to address as urgently as it addresses the future of expensive procurement programs.

Renny McPherson, a former Marine who is now a student at Harvard Business School, raises a good question in the Boston Globe: Why isn’t the military producing more David Petraeuses? That is, commanders who are skilled at the highest level of command where the job is more about politics, diplomacy, and communication than it is about tactical maneuvering on the battlefield. The fact that Petraeus was appointed as Stanley McChrystal’s successor in Afghanistan, which required him to take a step down in the military hierarchy, is a sign of how few generals we have capable of doing the job.

“A large contributor to this failure,” McPherson writes, “is the military’s inflexible system of promotion, which can actively discourage young officers from getting the mind-expanding, challenging experiences that could turn them into potent generals.”

McPherson was involved in interviewing 37 “top military leaders,” who “reported that most beneficial experiences — sustained international experience, civilian graduate education, and taking on special opportunities out of the military mainstream — were the very ones that they felt discouraged from pursuing.” That is a very big problem because of the shift that McPherson rightly identifies:

Over the course of the 20th century, the United States became the dominant world power by advancing the technology of warfare. Now the information revolution, recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and global counter-terrorism have shown that an expanded set of skills is required of our top officers. Today we need military leaders who can process the ever-larger amounts of information coming at them and who can communicate more dexterously up, down, and across; they also must be adept at dealing with nonmilitary institutions and quick to learn foreign cultures.

Petraeus is hardly alone in having the skills needed to tackle such challenges; General Ray Odierno has displayed much of the same skill set. But few others have, and that poses a real problem for the future — one that the Pentagon leadership needs to address as urgently as it addresses the future of expensive procurement programs.

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A Stroll Down Memory Lane

According to USA Today, in an interview Vice President Biden said that

former president George W. Bush deserved some credit for sending additional troops to Iraq in 2007. But even though Biden said the surge worked militarily, he said he didn’t regret his vote in the Senate against it because Bush did not include a plan to address Iraq’s political problems. “I don’t regret a thing, what I said or did about Iraq policy,” he said. It was the Obama administration, Biden said, that put in the plan that led to success. “What was lacking in the past was a coherent political process.”

Where oh where to begin? Perhaps with a short journey down Memory Lane.

In January 2007, after President Bush announced the so-called surge of forces in Iraq, then-Senator Joseph Biden declared: “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.” He called it “doomed” and “a fantasy.”

“The surge isn’t going to work either tactically or strategically,” Biden assured the Boston Globe in the summer of 2007. Even well into 2008, when the surge had made undeniable progress, Biden was still insisting it was a failure, that Bush had no strategy, and that “there is little evidence the Iraqis will settle their differences peacefully any time soon.”

If you’d like to see Biden in his own inimitable words, take a look at this.

One would be hard pressed to think of another person who was as persistently and consistently wrong about the surge as Biden (though Barack Obama would give him a good run for his money). Biden went so far as to advocate dividing up Iraq into three parts based on ethnicity, one of the more ill-informed and dangerous ideas to emerge among war critics.

The truth is that if Joe Biden had had his way, the war would have been lost, Iraq would probably be engulfed in something close to genocide, al-Qaeda would have emerged with its most important victory ever, and America would have sustained a defeat far worse than it did in Vietnam.

As for Biden’s claim that what was lacking in the past was a “coherent political process,” let’s be generous to the vice president: he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The then-American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, was one of its outstanding diplomats. And unlike the situation in Afghanistan under the Obama administration, in Iraq the commanding general at the time (David Petraeus) and the U.S. ambassador (Crocker) worked hand-in-glove. They were an extraordinarily effective team. In order to refresh Biden’s memory of the coherent political process that was in place, he might want to review Ambassador Crocker’s Senate testimony from September 2007, before a committee Biden himself sat on.

Of course, none of what Biden said is especially surprising. Over the years he has shown himself to be loquacious, personable, comically self-important (this video is priceless), and a somewhat buffoonish figure (who can forget this gem or these incidents here and here). Beyond that, if you go back to his record since he was first elected to Congress in the early 1970s, you will find few if any members of Congress whose record on national-security matters can be judged to have been as consistently bad as Biden’s (see here).

Over the years, Mr. Biden has said a countless number of things that are silly and wrong. We can add what he said to USA Today to the list. And you can bet there will be plenty more to come.

According to USA Today, in an interview Vice President Biden said that

former president George W. Bush deserved some credit for sending additional troops to Iraq in 2007. But even though Biden said the surge worked militarily, he said he didn’t regret his vote in the Senate against it because Bush did not include a plan to address Iraq’s political problems. “I don’t regret a thing, what I said or did about Iraq policy,” he said. It was the Obama administration, Biden said, that put in the plan that led to success. “What was lacking in the past was a coherent political process.”

Where oh where to begin? Perhaps with a short journey down Memory Lane.

In January 2007, after President Bush announced the so-called surge of forces in Iraq, then-Senator Joseph Biden declared: “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.” He called it “doomed” and “a fantasy.”

“The surge isn’t going to work either tactically or strategically,” Biden assured the Boston Globe in the summer of 2007. Even well into 2008, when the surge had made undeniable progress, Biden was still insisting it was a failure, that Bush had no strategy, and that “there is little evidence the Iraqis will settle their differences peacefully any time soon.”

If you’d like to see Biden in his own inimitable words, take a look at this.

One would be hard pressed to think of another person who was as persistently and consistently wrong about the surge as Biden (though Barack Obama would give him a good run for his money). Biden went so far as to advocate dividing up Iraq into three parts based on ethnicity, one of the more ill-informed and dangerous ideas to emerge among war critics.

The truth is that if Joe Biden had had his way, the war would have been lost, Iraq would probably be engulfed in something close to genocide, al-Qaeda would have emerged with its most important victory ever, and America would have sustained a defeat far worse than it did in Vietnam.

As for Biden’s claim that what was lacking in the past was a “coherent political process,” let’s be generous to the vice president: he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The then-American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, was one of its outstanding diplomats. And unlike the situation in Afghanistan under the Obama administration, in Iraq the commanding general at the time (David Petraeus) and the U.S. ambassador (Crocker) worked hand-in-glove. They were an extraordinarily effective team. In order to refresh Biden’s memory of the coherent political process that was in place, he might want to review Ambassador Crocker’s Senate testimony from September 2007, before a committee Biden himself sat on.

Of course, none of what Biden said is especially surprising. Over the years he has shown himself to be loquacious, personable, comically self-important (this video is priceless), and a somewhat buffoonish figure (who can forget this gem or these incidents here and here). Beyond that, if you go back to his record since he was first elected to Congress in the early 1970s, you will find few if any members of Congress whose record on national-security matters can be judged to have been as consistently bad as Biden’s (see here).

Over the years, Mr. Biden has said a countless number of things that are silly and wrong. We can add what he said to USA Today to the list. And you can bet there will be plenty more to come.

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Jeb Bush Hiding in Plain Sight?

Joshua GreenAtlantic‘s fine political and investigative journalist, takes to the Boston Globe to make some observations about Jeb Bush. He writes:

[Mitt] Romney may have bested [in PAC fundraising] Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and the rest of the field. But another potent political force — one who raised no money and has no PAC — could still win the nomination were he inclined to pursue it: Jeb Bush is the candidate hiding in plain sight. The brother and son of presidents stepped back from elected politics after his second term as Florida governor ended three years ago. At 57, he’s in his prime.

He is not buying that the Bush name is a problem:

For one thing, no obvious frontrunner has emerged nor seems likely to. … Another way of putting it is that each of the leading candidates is somehow flawed … Bush, on the other hand, has a solid conservative record that wasn’t amassed in Washington and broad appeal in a critical state; for a party conspicuously lacking a positive agenda, he’s also known as an ideas guy. Bush hasn’t followed the Tea Partiers to the political fringes — he opposed Arizona’s racial profiling law, for instance — but neither has he ignored them.

Green is spot on, but there is a potential deal breaker. It’s not at all clear that Jeb Bush wants to make a run and take a new round of ammunition aimed at his brother. This, however, is not an obstacle but a choice. If Jeb Bush, urged by Republicans anxious if not desperate to find a solid, electable conservative, decides his country and party need him, there’s no reason he wouldn’t be at or near the top of the pack of 2012 contenders. But there is plenty of time — no one really wants to hear announcements for 2012 candidates in the summer of 2010.

Joshua GreenAtlantic‘s fine political and investigative journalist, takes to the Boston Globe to make some observations about Jeb Bush. He writes:

[Mitt] Romney may have bested [in PAC fundraising] Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and the rest of the field. But another potent political force — one who raised no money and has no PAC — could still win the nomination were he inclined to pursue it: Jeb Bush is the candidate hiding in plain sight. The brother and son of presidents stepped back from elected politics after his second term as Florida governor ended three years ago. At 57, he’s in his prime.

He is not buying that the Bush name is a problem:

For one thing, no obvious frontrunner has emerged nor seems likely to. … Another way of putting it is that each of the leading candidates is somehow flawed … Bush, on the other hand, has a solid conservative record that wasn’t amassed in Washington and broad appeal in a critical state; for a party conspicuously lacking a positive agenda, he’s also known as an ideas guy. Bush hasn’t followed the Tea Partiers to the political fringes — he opposed Arizona’s racial profiling law, for instance — but neither has he ignored them.

Green is spot on, but there is a potential deal breaker. It’s not at all clear that Jeb Bush wants to make a run and take a new round of ammunition aimed at his brother. This, however, is not an obstacle but a choice. If Jeb Bush, urged by Republicans anxious if not desperate to find a solid, electable conservative, decides his country and party need him, there’s no reason he wouldn’t be at or near the top of the pack of 2012 contenders. But there is plenty of time — no one really wants to hear announcements for 2012 candidates in the summer of 2010.

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The Real Victims of Unions’ Anti-Israel Boycotts

There is a direct and disturbing link between the growing anti-Israel radicalism of American unions that J.E. Dyer detailed yesterday and the horrific treatment of union activists in Iran described by columnist Sohrab Ahmari in both the Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune.

Ahmari told of Mansour Osanloo, who had his tongue slit for the crime of organizing “17,000 transport workers to form Iran’s first post-Revolution independent union” in 2005 and is still in jail today. And of teacher Farzad Kamangar, who was executed along with four others for the crime of organizing a nationwide hunger strike by teachers “to protest unpaid wages and the arbitrary detention of teachers who question state education policy.”

The article concluded with a plea: “The Iranian labor movement deserves the support of Western progressives, just as American unions spoke out in support of Lech Walesa’s Solidarity during the 1980s.”

Doing so, Ahmari noted, could help the entire Iranian people throw off the yoke of their repressive regime: Tehran brutally suppresses union activism precisely because “the mullahs know that it took a massive general strike by Iranian workers to finally topple the shah — and usher in their own rise to power.” But union leaders need not support this larger goal in order to feel sympathy for colleagues being imprisoned, tortured, and killed for the crime of seeking higher wages and child-care allowances for female workers, as Osanloo was — or just for seeking to be paid at all, as Kamangar was.

At least, so one would think. But if any unions have responded to Ahmari’s plea, they have done so too far under the media radar for me to have noticed — or in other words, too quietly to make any difference.

In contrast, I can name a long list of labor unions worldwide that have loudly proclaimed planned boycotts of Israel, including Britain’s University and College Union (representing university lecturers), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (Ontario branch), the Swedish Port Workers Union, and an Italian food and retailing union (Flaica-Uniti-Cub). Yet Israel not only has dozens of independent and powerful labor unions of its own but also allows the free operation of dozens of independent trade unions in the “occupied territories.” Israel has not even interfered when Palestinian unions elected leaders affiliated with Hamas, despite deeming Hamas an illegal terrorist organization.

And this, of course, is precisely the problem. All human beings have limited time and energy. Thus if American and European union activists focus all their energy on Israel — where union organizers operate freely, with no fear of jail or torture — they have little to spare for those who need them most: their imprisoned, tortured, and executed fellow activists in Iran.

The irony is that Israel hasn’t even suffered much from all these boycotts. Instead, the price is being paid by the Mansour Osanloos and Farzad Kamangars of the world, whose cries for help are going unnoticed amid the din of all the anti-Israel noise.

There is a direct and disturbing link between the growing anti-Israel radicalism of American unions that J.E. Dyer detailed yesterday and the horrific treatment of union activists in Iran described by columnist Sohrab Ahmari in both the Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune.

Ahmari told of Mansour Osanloo, who had his tongue slit for the crime of organizing “17,000 transport workers to form Iran’s first post-Revolution independent union” in 2005 and is still in jail today. And of teacher Farzad Kamangar, who was executed along with four others for the crime of organizing a nationwide hunger strike by teachers “to protest unpaid wages and the arbitrary detention of teachers who question state education policy.”

The article concluded with a plea: “The Iranian labor movement deserves the support of Western progressives, just as American unions spoke out in support of Lech Walesa’s Solidarity during the 1980s.”

Doing so, Ahmari noted, could help the entire Iranian people throw off the yoke of their repressive regime: Tehran brutally suppresses union activism precisely because “the mullahs know that it took a massive general strike by Iranian workers to finally topple the shah — and usher in their own rise to power.” But union leaders need not support this larger goal in order to feel sympathy for colleagues being imprisoned, tortured, and killed for the crime of seeking higher wages and child-care allowances for female workers, as Osanloo was — or just for seeking to be paid at all, as Kamangar was.

At least, so one would think. But if any unions have responded to Ahmari’s plea, they have done so too far under the media radar for me to have noticed — or in other words, too quietly to make any difference.

In contrast, I can name a long list of labor unions worldwide that have loudly proclaimed planned boycotts of Israel, including Britain’s University and College Union (representing university lecturers), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (Ontario branch), the Swedish Port Workers Union, and an Italian food and retailing union (Flaica-Uniti-Cub). Yet Israel not only has dozens of independent and powerful labor unions of its own but also allows the free operation of dozens of independent trade unions in the “occupied territories.” Israel has not even interfered when Palestinian unions elected leaders affiliated with Hamas, despite deeming Hamas an illegal terrorist organization.

And this, of course, is precisely the problem. All human beings have limited time and energy. Thus if American and European union activists focus all their energy on Israel — where union organizers operate freely, with no fear of jail or torture — they have little to spare for those who need them most: their imprisoned, tortured, and executed fellow activists in Iran.

The irony is that Israel hasn’t even suffered much from all these boycotts. Instead, the price is being paid by the Mansour Osanloos and Farzad Kamangars of the world, whose cries for help are going unnoticed amid the din of all the anti-Israel noise.

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Whittling Away at Bipartisan Support of Israel

Jeff Jacoby, the Boston Globe‘s excellent columnist, puts his finger on a disturbing trend: the increasing partisan split over Israel. This split was partially masked by the fact that a bipartisan group of 333 House members signed a letter in support of Israel — in effect, a rebuke to President Obama — organized by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Minority Whip Eric Cantor. But, as Jeff notes, “only seven Republicans… declined to sign the letter, compared with 91 Democrats — more than a third of the entire Democratic caucus.” Similarly, while the Gallup poll shows that 67 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Israel and only 15 percent support the Palestinians, there is a partisan split hidden in the numbers:

While support for Israel vs. the Palestinians has climbed to a stratospheric 85 percent among Republicans, the comparable figure for Democrats is an anemic 48 percent. (It was 60 percent for independents.)

These figures are hardly cause for panic. Support for Israel remains deep and strong in American politics, but you can see that the hard Left’s turn against Israel, which has been getting more pronounced for decades, is starting to affect the Democratic mainstream. My concern is that President Obama’s sharp rebukes of Prime Minister Netanyahu will further drive down support in his party for Israel — especially if the president decides to mount a concerted public campaign painting Israel as the culprit in the peace talks. For the time being, pro-Israel sentiment on Capitol Hill will somewhat rein in the president’s ability to punish Israel (although he would have a free hand not to veto the usual anti-Israel resolutions in the United Nations Security Council). But for how much longer can Israel count on the support of Democratic and Republican administrations alike? I don’t know, and that worries me — as it should worry all supporters of Israel.

Jeff Jacoby, the Boston Globe‘s excellent columnist, puts his finger on a disturbing trend: the increasing partisan split over Israel. This split was partially masked by the fact that a bipartisan group of 333 House members signed a letter in support of Israel — in effect, a rebuke to President Obama — organized by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Minority Whip Eric Cantor. But, as Jeff notes, “only seven Republicans… declined to sign the letter, compared with 91 Democrats — more than a third of the entire Democratic caucus.” Similarly, while the Gallup poll shows that 67 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Israel and only 15 percent support the Palestinians, there is a partisan split hidden in the numbers:

While support for Israel vs. the Palestinians has climbed to a stratospheric 85 percent among Republicans, the comparable figure for Democrats is an anemic 48 percent. (It was 60 percent for independents.)

These figures are hardly cause for panic. Support for Israel remains deep and strong in American politics, but you can see that the hard Left’s turn against Israel, which has been getting more pronounced for decades, is starting to affect the Democratic mainstream. My concern is that President Obama’s sharp rebukes of Prime Minister Netanyahu will further drive down support in his party for Israel — especially if the president decides to mount a concerted public campaign painting Israel as the culprit in the peace talks. For the time being, pro-Israel sentiment on Capitol Hill will somewhat rein in the president’s ability to punish Israel (although he would have a free hand not to veto the usual anti-Israel resolutions in the United Nations Security Council). But for how much longer can Israel count on the support of Democratic and Republican administrations alike? I don’t know, and that worries me — as it should worry all supporters of Israel.

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Shocked, Shocked the Media Missed the Story

Howard Kurtz observes that, once again, the mainstream media was stunned by a story they never saw coming. They never saw the Scott Brown wave building, he writes:

The mainstream media were lulled into complacency by Coakley’s big lead in the polls and Massachusetts’s reputation as the bluest of blue states.

“The national press, and frankly to some extent the local press, were taken by surprise,” says Mark Jurkowitz, the Boston Globe’s former media reporter. “The failure here was not to pick up on what was going on out there in the ether. A lot of journalists didn’t know who Scott Brown was or failed to take him seriously because he was a Republican running in an overwhelmingly Democratic state,” says Jurkowitz, now associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

One can understand that at the onset, the race seemed like a slam dunk for the Democrats. Martha Coakley was up 30 points in the polls. But as weeks passed and polls shifted, the mainstream media continued to snooze. The imbalance in crowd size and enthusiasm was evident, yet the media narrative didn’t change. Martha Coakley’s gaffes mounted, but the MSM plodded along. Conservative outlets and analysts who predicted a Brown win or even a close vote were derided as hopelessly out of touch.

This is nothing new. The mainstream media are usually surprised by stories unfavorable to the liberal narrative. For months in late 2007 and early 2008, they feigned ignorance of the Iraq surge’s success, until candidate Barack Obama visited and there was a mad scramble to catch up to the story. The New York Times ignored the Reverend Wright story for weeks during the campaign. The Van Jones story also caught the liberal media unaware. The ACORN scandal did too. And the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial GOP victories seemed to come out of nowhere — but these could then be ignored, they hastened to add, since they weren’t reflective of any national trend (until Scott Brown made it a trifecta). Then the tea party protest movement was ignored or mocked, as were the town hall protests. Notice how the ignored stories all share a common characteristic: bad news for the Left.

The media never seem to learn or improve. The pattern repeats because this is inevitably what comes from discounting facts adverse to one side and minimizing grassroots activism on the Right. When you deride and name-call citizen activists, you wind up missing entire political movements.

The media’s “slice of reality” coverage, of course, only reinforces the predilection of this White House to ignore bad news. It’s not real news, after all, if it’s on Fox. Rasmussen isn’t a real pollster. Gallup is like a 6-year-old with a crayon. And then you wake up only to find that the president’s approval is below 50 percent, the filibuster-proof Senate is no more, ObamaCare is comatose, and the Right has forged an alliance between independents, populists, and  mainstream conservatives. Funny how that happens when you’re pretending not to notice the tea party protests outside your window or are attempting to delegitimize one of the few new outlets actually covering all this news you’d rather forget.

Howard Kurtz observes that, once again, the mainstream media was stunned by a story they never saw coming. They never saw the Scott Brown wave building, he writes:

The mainstream media were lulled into complacency by Coakley’s big lead in the polls and Massachusetts’s reputation as the bluest of blue states.

“The national press, and frankly to some extent the local press, were taken by surprise,” says Mark Jurkowitz, the Boston Globe’s former media reporter. “The failure here was not to pick up on what was going on out there in the ether. A lot of journalists didn’t know who Scott Brown was or failed to take him seriously because he was a Republican running in an overwhelmingly Democratic state,” says Jurkowitz, now associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

One can understand that at the onset, the race seemed like a slam dunk for the Democrats. Martha Coakley was up 30 points in the polls. But as weeks passed and polls shifted, the mainstream media continued to snooze. The imbalance in crowd size and enthusiasm was evident, yet the media narrative didn’t change. Martha Coakley’s gaffes mounted, but the MSM plodded along. Conservative outlets and analysts who predicted a Brown win or even a close vote were derided as hopelessly out of touch.

This is nothing new. The mainstream media are usually surprised by stories unfavorable to the liberal narrative. For months in late 2007 and early 2008, they feigned ignorance of the Iraq surge’s success, until candidate Barack Obama visited and there was a mad scramble to catch up to the story. The New York Times ignored the Reverend Wright story for weeks during the campaign. The Van Jones story also caught the liberal media unaware. The ACORN scandal did too. And the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial GOP victories seemed to come out of nowhere — but these could then be ignored, they hastened to add, since they weren’t reflective of any national trend (until Scott Brown made it a trifecta). Then the tea party protest movement was ignored or mocked, as were the town hall protests. Notice how the ignored stories all share a common characteristic: bad news for the Left.

The media never seem to learn or improve. The pattern repeats because this is inevitably what comes from discounting facts adverse to one side and minimizing grassroots activism on the Right. When you deride and name-call citizen activists, you wind up missing entire political movements.

The media’s “slice of reality” coverage, of course, only reinforces the predilection of this White House to ignore bad news. It’s not real news, after all, if it’s on Fox. Rasmussen isn’t a real pollster. Gallup is like a 6-year-old with a crayon. And then you wake up only to find that the president’s approval is below 50 percent, the filibuster-proof Senate is no more, ObamaCare is comatose, and the Right has forged an alliance between independents, populists, and  mainstream conservatives. Funny how that happens when you’re pretending not to notice the tea party protests outside your window or are attempting to delegitimize one of the few new outlets actually covering all this news you’d rather forget.

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All Local Politics Is National

Jen cites a USA Today/Gallup poll that finds an overwhelming 72 percent of those surveyed Wednesday say Brown’s victory “reflects frustrations shared by many Americans, and the president and members of Congress should pay attention to it.” Just 18 percent say it “reflects political conditions in Massachusetts and doesn’t have a larger meaning for national politics.”

That will come to news to E.J. Dionne Jr., who, in a frantic pre-spin piece over at the Washington Post, wrote, “the important local factors of the sort [the Boston Globe‘s Joan] Vennochi underscores shouldn’t be overlooked in the effort to draw grand lessons about what this race means for the future of Obama, liberalism and our republic itself. Election results rarely have a single explanation.” Elsewhere in his PostPartisan piece, Dionne quotes Tip O’Neill’s line “All politics is still local.”

How convenient for E.J. to stumble across this insight just before the Democratic party’s historic loss in Massachusetts. Of course, every non-presidential election has some element of local politics involved; what made the Massachusetts race unusual is the degree to which it was nationalized and had national implications.

It should be said that Dionne’s track record is fairly spotty during the Age of Obama. Last week he predicted that the national attention of the race came just in the nick of time and that Martha Coakley would pull out a victory in his home state. And back in May, Dionne was counseling Republicans that they had to decide between “doctrinal purity” and winning — and that winning meant nominating “Obama huggers” — Republicans who had figuratively embraced the Obama agenda and literally embraced Obama himself.

Right now you can hardly find Democrats who want to hug Obama, figuratively or literally; and perhaps no non-presidential election in our lifetime has had larger meaning for national politics. The political ground has been shifting underneath us for many months now; much of the political class has ignored it. It will be interesting to see if liberals end their self-delusion in the wake of Brown’s epic win. I rather doubt they will.

Jen cites a USA Today/Gallup poll that finds an overwhelming 72 percent of those surveyed Wednesday say Brown’s victory “reflects frustrations shared by many Americans, and the president and members of Congress should pay attention to it.” Just 18 percent say it “reflects political conditions in Massachusetts and doesn’t have a larger meaning for national politics.”

That will come to news to E.J. Dionne Jr., who, in a frantic pre-spin piece over at the Washington Post, wrote, “the important local factors of the sort [the Boston Globe‘s Joan] Vennochi underscores shouldn’t be overlooked in the effort to draw grand lessons about what this race means for the future of Obama, liberalism and our republic itself. Election results rarely have a single explanation.” Elsewhere in his PostPartisan piece, Dionne quotes Tip O’Neill’s line “All politics is still local.”

How convenient for E.J. to stumble across this insight just before the Democratic party’s historic loss in Massachusetts. Of course, every non-presidential election has some element of local politics involved; what made the Massachusetts race unusual is the degree to which it was nationalized and had national implications.

It should be said that Dionne’s track record is fairly spotty during the Age of Obama. Last week he predicted that the national attention of the race came just in the nick of time and that Martha Coakley would pull out a victory in his home state. And back in May, Dionne was counseling Republicans that they had to decide between “doctrinal purity” and winning — and that winning meant nominating “Obama huggers” — Republicans who had figuratively embraced the Obama agenda and literally embraced Obama himself.

Right now you can hardly find Democrats who want to hug Obama, figuratively or literally; and perhaps no non-presidential election in our lifetime has had larger meaning for national politics. The political ground has been shifting underneath us for many months now; much of the political class has ignored it. It will be interesting to see if liberals end their self-delusion in the wake of Brown’s epic win. I rather doubt they will.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Charlie Cook says Scott Brown in now favored. Well, one poll has him up almost 10 points.

My, what a difference a year makes. From the Boston Globe no less: “The feverish excitement that propelled Barack Obama and scores of other Democrats to victory in 2008 has all but evaporated, worrying party leaders who are struggling to invigorate the base before Tuesday’s Massachusetts Senate race and November’s critical midterm contests, pollsters and party activists said.”

It might help if Obama were as good as Bill Clinton on the stump. Byron York reports that “it’s impossible to escape the conclusion that Clinton just blew Obama’s doors off. Obama’s speech was halting, wandering, and humorless; the president looked as if he didn’t want to be there. There’s no doubt the crowd was excited to see Obama, but he seemed so hesitant and out-of-rhythm at the top that it appeared he might have been having teleprompter trouble, and he was also clearly rattled and unable to handle the completely-predictable presence of a heckler.”

CNN reports: “Multiple advisers to President Obama have privately told party officials that they believe Democrat Martha Coakley is going to lose Tuesday’s special election to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat held by the late Ted Kennedy for more than 40 years, several Democratic sources told CNN Sunday.” Then going to Massachusetts was sort of like going to Copenhagen for the Olympics (and again for the climate-change confab) — at some point it might be a good idea to stop demonstrating Obama’s ineffectiveness.

Things have gotten so sticky for Democrats that Ben Nelson “offers to give back his ‘bribe’.” Might be too late: his job approval has dropped to 42 percent.

More from the Democrats’ gloom-and-doom file: Friday, Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) announced his retirement. Plus, a “SurveyUSA poll shows Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio), a freshman Democrat who represents the Cincinnati area, losing to former Republican congressman Steve Chabot, 56 to 39 percent.” He voted for both ObamaCare and cap-and-trade.

This take from Sen. Mitch McConnell sounds right: “Massachusetts is going to be a very, very close race regardless of who wins. … Regardless of who wins, we have here in effect a referendum on this national healthcare bill. The American people are telling us: ‘Please don’t pass it.’ … I think the politics are toxic for the Democrats either way.”

Lanny Davis at least doesn’t sound divorced from reality, like his fellow Democrats: “If Democrats lose in Massachusetts, it will simply mean Democrats and President Obama need find a new center to enact health care and other progressive legislation – meaning, they must sit down with Lindsey Graham, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Orrin Hatch, John McCain and other GOP Senators with long records of bipartisan legislating — and moderate Democrats Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, Evan Bayh, Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu and others –and create a new health care bill that can command broad bipartisan support.” Imagine if Obama had done that from the start — New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts might have looked a whole lot different, and Byron Dorgan might be running for re-election.

Charlie Cook says Scott Brown in now favored. Well, one poll has him up almost 10 points.

My, what a difference a year makes. From the Boston Globe no less: “The feverish excitement that propelled Barack Obama and scores of other Democrats to victory in 2008 has all but evaporated, worrying party leaders who are struggling to invigorate the base before Tuesday’s Massachusetts Senate race and November’s critical midterm contests, pollsters and party activists said.”

It might help if Obama were as good as Bill Clinton on the stump. Byron York reports that “it’s impossible to escape the conclusion that Clinton just blew Obama’s doors off. Obama’s speech was halting, wandering, and humorless; the president looked as if he didn’t want to be there. There’s no doubt the crowd was excited to see Obama, but he seemed so hesitant and out-of-rhythm at the top that it appeared he might have been having teleprompter trouble, and he was also clearly rattled and unable to handle the completely-predictable presence of a heckler.”

CNN reports: “Multiple advisers to President Obama have privately told party officials that they believe Democrat Martha Coakley is going to lose Tuesday’s special election to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat held by the late Ted Kennedy for more than 40 years, several Democratic sources told CNN Sunday.” Then going to Massachusetts was sort of like going to Copenhagen for the Olympics (and again for the climate-change confab) — at some point it might be a good idea to stop demonstrating Obama’s ineffectiveness.

Things have gotten so sticky for Democrats that Ben Nelson “offers to give back his ‘bribe’.” Might be too late: his job approval has dropped to 42 percent.

More from the Democrats’ gloom-and-doom file: Friday, Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) announced his retirement. Plus, a “SurveyUSA poll shows Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio), a freshman Democrat who represents the Cincinnati area, losing to former Republican congressman Steve Chabot, 56 to 39 percent.” He voted for both ObamaCare and cap-and-trade.

This take from Sen. Mitch McConnell sounds right: “Massachusetts is going to be a very, very close race regardless of who wins. … Regardless of who wins, we have here in effect a referendum on this national healthcare bill. The American people are telling us: ‘Please don’t pass it.’ … I think the politics are toxic for the Democrats either way.”

Lanny Davis at least doesn’t sound divorced from reality, like his fellow Democrats: “If Democrats lose in Massachusetts, it will simply mean Democrats and President Obama need find a new center to enact health care and other progressive legislation – meaning, they must sit down with Lindsey Graham, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Orrin Hatch, John McCain and other GOP Senators with long records of bipartisan legislating — and moderate Democrats Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, Evan Bayh, Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu and others –and create a new health care bill that can command broad bipartisan support.” Imagine if Obama had done that from the start — New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts might have looked a whole lot different, and Byron Dorgan might be running for re-election.

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The Massachusetts Polls and the November Election

The most startling news since Barack Obama’s colossal victory over Hillary Clinton in Iowa was the Democratic poll in Massachusetts the other day showing the little-known Republican Scott Brown beating the state’s attorney general, Martha Coakley, in the special contest for the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat by a  point. A subsequent poll by the Boston Globe had the Democrat winning by 15. Somebody is very wrong here, obviously, and we won’t know until next Tuesday’s election which poll got the Massachusetts electorate right. But if the Democratic poll is closer to the truth, and if Coakley can’t come up with something to pull Brown’s numbers down over the next week, she is going to lose and a Republican is going to win an ineffable symbolic victory against Barack Obama and especially against health care.

And yet Republican politicians shouldn’t celebrate just yet—and not because of the talking-point excuses that are being handed out by Democrats and their spin doctors about how Democratic retirements and losses don’t mean anything. They mean an enormous amount. But a Brown victory in Massachusetts would suggest something rather more complicated than a simple Republican wave in 2010. It suggests that disgust with the political system has reached a level never before seen in the modern era, a disgust so profound that a little-known Republican can come to inhabit the Liberal Lion’s office.

There have been hints and whispers of this kind of trend before; the Ross Perot phenomenon in 1991-2, for example. Ever since, we’ve been hearing about the possibility of a political conflagration that would originate in the most stable part of any electorate, its center, as the two parties increasingly find themselves in the thrall of their extremes and find it impossible to appeal to the broad middle.

That notion seemed overblown, and was proved to be overblown; since 2000, the electorate has seemed uncommonly engaged with the two parties, with turnout rising enormously in each national election. Al Gore received the most votes in American history in 2000, only to be eclipsed by both George W. Bush and John Kerry in 2004; Bush was eclipsed by Barack Obama in 2008.

But it doesn’t seem overblown any longer. The Bush administration’s inability to prosecute the war in Iraq effectively in its first three-and-a-half years combined with Republican corruption and the incompetence on display in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to bring the Republican “brand” low in 2006 and 2008. Now the Obama administration’s wild overreach on health care, coupled with its response to the Christmas Day airline-bombing attempt, has brought it similar difficulties. And both parties have lost the confidence of the American people when it comes to explanations for the financial meltdown of 2008 and the responses to it.

And so you have a damaged Republican Party and a damaged Democratic Party, and the elected politicians who represent them. The election coming up will be the first mass test of the effect of this mass bipartisan antipathy. Anti-incumbent fervor will, naturally, hurt Democrats far more than Republicans because there are more Democratic incumbents. But Republican incumbents have every reason to beware as well, just so long as the Democrats trying to unseat them don’t run dogmatically to the Left.

The most startling news since Barack Obama’s colossal victory over Hillary Clinton in Iowa was the Democratic poll in Massachusetts the other day showing the little-known Republican Scott Brown beating the state’s attorney general, Martha Coakley, in the special contest for the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat by a  point. A subsequent poll by the Boston Globe had the Democrat winning by 15. Somebody is very wrong here, obviously, and we won’t know until next Tuesday’s election which poll got the Massachusetts electorate right. But if the Democratic poll is closer to the truth, and if Coakley can’t come up with something to pull Brown’s numbers down over the next week, she is going to lose and a Republican is going to win an ineffable symbolic victory against Barack Obama and especially against health care.

And yet Republican politicians shouldn’t celebrate just yet—and not because of the talking-point excuses that are being handed out by Democrats and their spin doctors about how Democratic retirements and losses don’t mean anything. They mean an enormous amount. But a Brown victory in Massachusetts would suggest something rather more complicated than a simple Republican wave in 2010. It suggests that disgust with the political system has reached a level never before seen in the modern era, a disgust so profound that a little-known Republican can come to inhabit the Liberal Lion’s office.

There have been hints and whispers of this kind of trend before; the Ross Perot phenomenon in 1991-2, for example. Ever since, we’ve been hearing about the possibility of a political conflagration that would originate in the most stable part of any electorate, its center, as the two parties increasingly find themselves in the thrall of their extremes and find it impossible to appeal to the broad middle.

That notion seemed overblown, and was proved to be overblown; since 2000, the electorate has seemed uncommonly engaged with the two parties, with turnout rising enormously in each national election. Al Gore received the most votes in American history in 2000, only to be eclipsed by both George W. Bush and John Kerry in 2004; Bush was eclipsed by Barack Obama in 2008.

But it doesn’t seem overblown any longer. The Bush administration’s inability to prosecute the war in Iraq effectively in its first three-and-a-half years combined with Republican corruption and the incompetence on display in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to bring the Republican “brand” low in 2006 and 2008. Now the Obama administration’s wild overreach on health care, coupled with its response to the Christmas Day airline-bombing attempt, has brought it similar difficulties. And both parties have lost the confidence of the American people when it comes to explanations for the financial meltdown of 2008 and the responses to it.

And so you have a damaged Republican Party and a damaged Democratic Party, and the elected politicians who represent them. The election coming up will be the first mass test of the effect of this mass bipartisan antipathy. Anti-incumbent fervor will, naturally, hurt Democrats far more than Republicans because there are more Democratic incumbents. But Republican incumbents have every reason to beware as well, just so long as the Democrats trying to unseat them don’t run dogmatically to the Left.

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A Real Race in Massachusetts

One poll has Scott Brown up by 1 point in the Massachusetts Senate race, another has him down by 15, and yet another down by 9. Mark Blumenthal of Pollster.com explains:

The big spread in results among the polls, and differences apparent within two of them, are all consistent in supporting one finding: The lower the turnout, the better the odds for Scott Brown. These differences indicate that the voters most interested and most likely to vote are Republican, while Democrats are more blase.

This was the same conclusion another pollster expressed to me, with the additional caveat that the Boston Globe poll, which had Martha Coakley up by 15, was taken a bit earlier (January 2-6) than the Public Policy Polling survey, which showed Brown up by 1.

But we really don’t know exactly where the race stands — a rarity in politics these days, when everyone is quite certain where races stand, except when they aren’t. (The 2008 New Hampshire Democratic primary in which Barack Obama surprised all the gurus is a case in point.) What is clear is that in one of the most liberal states in the country, a Republican, running against ObamaCare and on a national-security message akin to Liz Cheney’s, is in a dogfight to replace Ted Kennedy. It doesn’t help that the Democrats are threatening to ram through ObamaCare even if Brown wins, for that’s sure to further motivate those already angry Republicans and annoyed independents. If the name of the game is turnout, then themes that aggravate the anti-Obama and anti-Beltway Democrat voters are going to play well for Brown.

The race is a reminder for the pundit class: politics is a game played in the context of specific candidates (in this case a mediocre Democrat in this case trying to hide behind an independent candidate in debates), significant national developments (the rise of angry populists and the fading fortunes of D.C. Democrats), and the relative motivation of competing parties. To the extent that Democrats are losing quality candidates (or can’t recruit them), refuse to adjust their ultra-liberal agenda, and continue to ignore the public, the travails of Martha Coakley are going to be repeated again and again — and in locales with voters much more amenable than Bay Staters to the prospect of throwing out Democrats.

One poll has Scott Brown up by 1 point in the Massachusetts Senate race, another has him down by 15, and yet another down by 9. Mark Blumenthal of Pollster.com explains:

The big spread in results among the polls, and differences apparent within two of them, are all consistent in supporting one finding: The lower the turnout, the better the odds for Scott Brown. These differences indicate that the voters most interested and most likely to vote are Republican, while Democrats are more blase.

This was the same conclusion another pollster expressed to me, with the additional caveat that the Boston Globe poll, which had Martha Coakley up by 15, was taken a bit earlier (January 2-6) than the Public Policy Polling survey, which showed Brown up by 1.

But we really don’t know exactly where the race stands — a rarity in politics these days, when everyone is quite certain where races stand, except when they aren’t. (The 2008 New Hampshire Democratic primary in which Barack Obama surprised all the gurus is a case in point.) What is clear is that in one of the most liberal states in the country, a Republican, running against ObamaCare and on a national-security message akin to Liz Cheney’s, is in a dogfight to replace Ted Kennedy. It doesn’t help that the Democrats are threatening to ram through ObamaCare even if Brown wins, for that’s sure to further motivate those already angry Republicans and annoyed independents. If the name of the game is turnout, then themes that aggravate the anti-Obama and anti-Beltway Democrat voters are going to play well for Brown.

The race is a reminder for the pundit class: politics is a game played in the context of specific candidates (in this case a mediocre Democrat in this case trying to hide behind an independent candidate in debates), significant national developments (the rise of angry populists and the fading fortunes of D.C. Democrats), and the relative motivation of competing parties. To the extent that Democrats are losing quality candidates (or can’t recruit them), refuse to adjust their ultra-liberal agenda, and continue to ignore the public, the travails of Martha Coakley are going to be repeated again and again — and in locales with voters much more amenable than Bay Staters to the prospect of throwing out Democrats.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

I think most Americans expect consequences for incompetence: “Two senators said Sunday that despite President Barack Obama saying the buck stops with him on the Christmas Day bombing attempt, disciplinary action should be taken against those who let Nigerian suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab slip through the cracks and get on the Detroit-bound flight. ‘People should be held responsible for what happened’ Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. ‘And we can’t go back to the old Washington kind of routine, we are all responsible so therefore nobody is responsible. Somebody has got to be held responsible.'” Sen. Joe Lieberman agrees.

The mainstream media have figured it out: good campaigner, not so good president. “In winning the White House, Barack Obama’s team earned a reputation for skill and discipline in dominating the communications wars with opponents. In office, virtually the same team has struggled, spending much of the past year defending the administration’s actions on the two biggest domestic issues — the economy and health care.”

The Boston Globe poll has Martha Coakley up 15 points in Massachusetts. But here’s the interesting part: “Brown matches Coakley — both were at 47 percent — among the roughly 1 in 4 respondents who said they were ‘extremely interested’ in the race.”

Phil Klein notes that the Globe didn’t poll many independents.

The Nation or National Review? “The new unemployment numbers are devastating, and they should send up red flares in Washington, a city where officials have so far has been absurdly neglectful of the most serious social, economic and political crisis facing the country. …  President Obama and the Democrats in Congress face the prospect of serious setbacks in 2010 congressional and state races if they do not recognize that there is a disconnect between their focus and that of the American people who will decide the political direction of the country in November.”

Democrats probably didn’t need this: “Republican leaders called on Harry Reid to step down as Senate majority leader, Sunday, after the Nevada senator apologized for calling Barack Obama as a ‘light-skinned’ African-American who lacked a ‘Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.’ … Forgiveness from Obama and other black political leaders is unlikely to bring an end to the controversy. While it does not appear that Reid will be forced out of his leadership post for his racially insensitive comments, Democratic strategists describe the incident as a serious blow to his already difficult re-election campaign.”

But Democrats generally have faith that they can say anything and get away with it: “[Sen. Diane] Feinstein said she ‘saw no Democrats jumping out there and condemning Senator Lott. I know Senator Lott. I happen to be very fond of him. And he made a mistake.” Huh? Al Gore sure did. Obama did.

This sounds right: “The nation’s first elected African-American governor said on Sunday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) should apologize to the entire country for his comments about President Barack Obama’s skin color. ‘The Reid apology should be to the totality of the American people,’ said Doug Wilder, former Virginia governor.”

Liz Cheney thinks we should stop making it worse: “It was actually a year ago today that the president announced the stimulus, because he said that we needed to put this in place in order to prevent — prevent unemployment from nearing double digits. So here we are, a year later, with unemployment, you know, over double digits, over 10 percent, having gone deeper into debt, and — and I think that the uncertainty in the economy isn’t because people are worried the stimulus won’t continue. I think the uncertainty is because people are watching things like the debate over the health care bill here, which has gone on and on and on, the actions by the administration, which I think are actually creating a drag on this recovery.”

I think most Americans expect consequences for incompetence: “Two senators said Sunday that despite President Barack Obama saying the buck stops with him on the Christmas Day bombing attempt, disciplinary action should be taken against those who let Nigerian suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab slip through the cracks and get on the Detroit-bound flight. ‘People should be held responsible for what happened’ Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. ‘And we can’t go back to the old Washington kind of routine, we are all responsible so therefore nobody is responsible. Somebody has got to be held responsible.'” Sen. Joe Lieberman agrees.

The mainstream media have figured it out: good campaigner, not so good president. “In winning the White House, Barack Obama’s team earned a reputation for skill and discipline in dominating the communications wars with opponents. In office, virtually the same team has struggled, spending much of the past year defending the administration’s actions on the two biggest domestic issues — the economy and health care.”

The Boston Globe poll has Martha Coakley up 15 points in Massachusetts. But here’s the interesting part: “Brown matches Coakley — both were at 47 percent — among the roughly 1 in 4 respondents who said they were ‘extremely interested’ in the race.”

Phil Klein notes that the Globe didn’t poll many independents.

The Nation or National Review? “The new unemployment numbers are devastating, and they should send up red flares in Washington, a city where officials have so far has been absurdly neglectful of the most serious social, economic and political crisis facing the country. …  President Obama and the Democrats in Congress face the prospect of serious setbacks in 2010 congressional and state races if they do not recognize that there is a disconnect between their focus and that of the American people who will decide the political direction of the country in November.”

Democrats probably didn’t need this: “Republican leaders called on Harry Reid to step down as Senate majority leader, Sunday, after the Nevada senator apologized for calling Barack Obama as a ‘light-skinned’ African-American who lacked a ‘Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.’ … Forgiveness from Obama and other black political leaders is unlikely to bring an end to the controversy. While it does not appear that Reid will be forced out of his leadership post for his racially insensitive comments, Democratic strategists describe the incident as a serious blow to his already difficult re-election campaign.”

But Democrats generally have faith that they can say anything and get away with it: “[Sen. Diane] Feinstein said she ‘saw no Democrats jumping out there and condemning Senator Lott. I know Senator Lott. I happen to be very fond of him. And he made a mistake.” Huh? Al Gore sure did. Obama did.

This sounds right: “The nation’s first elected African-American governor said on Sunday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) should apologize to the entire country for his comments about President Barack Obama’s skin color. ‘The Reid apology should be to the totality of the American people,’ said Doug Wilder, former Virginia governor.”

Liz Cheney thinks we should stop making it worse: “It was actually a year ago today that the president announced the stimulus, because he said that we needed to put this in place in order to prevent — prevent unemployment from nearing double digits. So here we are, a year later, with unemployment, you know, over double digits, over 10 percent, having gone deeper into debt, and — and I think that the uncertainty in the economy isn’t because people are worried the stimulus won’t continue. I think the uncertainty is because people are watching things like the debate over the health care bill here, which has gone on and on and on, the actions by the administration, which I think are actually creating a drag on this recovery.”

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No Help At All

The New York Times today does Barack Obama no favors on the ongoing Reverend Wright fiasco. First, it seems to confirm that a sense of personal pique rather than any “new information” on Wright caused Obama to finally denouce his former pastor. Recounting how Obama read the National Press Club remarks on his blackberry, the Times explains:

As Mr. Obama told close friends after watching the replay, he felt dumbfounded, even betrayed, particularly by Mr. Wright’s implication that Mr. Obama was being hypocritical. He could not tolerate that.

You see, any suggestion that Obama had tolerated, solicited and embraced Wright for political aims and then dumped him when whites got wind of Wright’s hateful radicalism was intolerable. But wasn’t it also true? There are plenty of facts suggesting that this is exactly what occurred. The Times provides additional evidence.

Obama tried to suggest at his press conference that he and Wright weren’t all that close. But that of course is poppycock. The Times recollects:

Only a few years ago, the tightness of the bond between Mr. Obama and Mr. Wright was difficult to overstate. Mr. Obama titled his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” after one of Mr. Wright’s sermons, and his pastor was the first one he thanked when he gained election as a United States senator in 2004. “Let me thank my pastor, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. of Trinity United Church of Christ,” Mr. Obama said that night, before going on to mention his family and friends.

In this learned and radical pastor, Mr. Obama found a guide who could explain Jesus and faith in terms intellectual no less than emotional, and who helped a man of mixed racial parentage come to understand himself as an African-American. “Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black,” Mr. Obama wrote in his autobiography “Dreams From My Father.”

At the same time, as Mr. Obama’s friends and aides now acknowledge, he was aware that, shorn of their South Side Chicago context, the words and cadences of a politically left-wing black minister could have a very problematic echo. So Mr. Obama haltingly distanced himself from his pastor.

And of course, Obama himself had constructed an autobiography with Wright at the center, the Times, reminds us:

Mr. Obama faced practical political considerations as well. He had made Mr. Wright a central figure in his personal narrative. His embrace of Mr. Wright’s church and its congregants, wealthy and working class and impoverished, formed the climax of his book. It was the moment, in his telling, when Mr. Obama finally pulled every disparate strand of his background together and found his faith.

Bottom line: the liberal media paper of record leaves little doubt that Obama’s claim of ignorance about Wright’s incendiary views is fraudulent. For a candidate running on virtue and as the Agent of Change this is deadly stuff. (Is it any wonder the Times‘ sister paper the Boston Globe finds the whole thing “depressing”?)

The New York Times today does Barack Obama no favors on the ongoing Reverend Wright fiasco. First, it seems to confirm that a sense of personal pique rather than any “new information” on Wright caused Obama to finally denouce his former pastor. Recounting how Obama read the National Press Club remarks on his blackberry, the Times explains:

As Mr. Obama told close friends after watching the replay, he felt dumbfounded, even betrayed, particularly by Mr. Wright’s implication that Mr. Obama was being hypocritical. He could not tolerate that.

You see, any suggestion that Obama had tolerated, solicited and embraced Wright for political aims and then dumped him when whites got wind of Wright’s hateful radicalism was intolerable. But wasn’t it also true? There are plenty of facts suggesting that this is exactly what occurred. The Times provides additional evidence.

Obama tried to suggest at his press conference that he and Wright weren’t all that close. But that of course is poppycock. The Times recollects:

Only a few years ago, the tightness of the bond between Mr. Obama and Mr. Wright was difficult to overstate. Mr. Obama titled his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” after one of Mr. Wright’s sermons, and his pastor was the first one he thanked when he gained election as a United States senator in 2004. “Let me thank my pastor, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. of Trinity United Church of Christ,” Mr. Obama said that night, before going on to mention his family and friends.

In this learned and radical pastor, Mr. Obama found a guide who could explain Jesus and faith in terms intellectual no less than emotional, and who helped a man of mixed racial parentage come to understand himself as an African-American. “Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black,” Mr. Obama wrote in his autobiography “Dreams From My Father.”

At the same time, as Mr. Obama’s friends and aides now acknowledge, he was aware that, shorn of their South Side Chicago context, the words and cadences of a politically left-wing black minister could have a very problematic echo. So Mr. Obama haltingly distanced himself from his pastor.

And of course, Obama himself had constructed an autobiography with Wright at the center, the Times, reminds us:

Mr. Obama faced practical political considerations as well. He had made Mr. Wright a central figure in his personal narrative. His embrace of Mr. Wright’s church and its congregants, wealthy and working class and impoverished, formed the climax of his book. It was the moment, in his telling, when Mr. Obama finally pulled every disparate strand of his background together and found his faith.

Bottom line: the liberal media paper of record leaves little doubt that Obama’s claim of ignorance about Wright’s incendiary views is fraudulent. For a candidate running on virtue and as the Agent of Change this is deadly stuff. (Is it any wonder the Times‘ sister paper the Boston Globe finds the whole thing “depressing”?)

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Jacoby and the Path to Citizenship

He doesn’t get the attention that he deserves because he doesn’t work for one of the big Washington or New York publications, but Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe is one of America’s best conservative columnists. Therefore it is significant that in his column today he endorses an idea I’ve been pushing for a while: letting volunteers without Green Cards or American citizenship sign up to serve in our armed forces.

We already have procedures in place to expedite the citizenship process for permanent residents in uniform. But Jacoby argues that

the ability to earn American citizenship through military service needn’t be limited to legal immigrants. Among the millions of illegal immigrants living in the United States are an estimated 750,000 young men and women of military age, many of whom would welcome the opportunity to become US citizens in return for serving in the armed forces.

Expanding the recruitment pool to include them would make it easier for the military to build up its ranks without having to lower its standards. And what better way for illegal immigrants to come “out of the shadows” and assimilate fully into American life than by wearing their adopted country’s uniform in wartime?

Going further, he endorses an idea that Mike O’Hanlon and I have put forward of “opening military service not just to immigrants already here but to would-be immigrants elsewhere.”

This is an idea that raises predictable hackles from nativists, but as we’ve seen in this campaign season, the anti-immigrant lobby, while vocal and well-organized, hardly speaks for a majority of Republicans, much less a majority of Americans–or else John McCain, their bête noire, would never have won the Republican nomination.

Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has it within his power with the stroke of a pen to waive the Green Card requirement for enlistment. He should do it now. Otherwise the army in particular will have a hard time attracting all the high-quality volunteers that it needs, not only to fill today’s force but also the larger force we need to build for the future.

He doesn’t get the attention that he deserves because he doesn’t work for one of the big Washington or New York publications, but Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe is one of America’s best conservative columnists. Therefore it is significant that in his column today he endorses an idea I’ve been pushing for a while: letting volunteers without Green Cards or American citizenship sign up to serve in our armed forces.

We already have procedures in place to expedite the citizenship process for permanent residents in uniform. But Jacoby argues that

the ability to earn American citizenship through military service needn’t be limited to legal immigrants. Among the millions of illegal immigrants living in the United States are an estimated 750,000 young men and women of military age, many of whom would welcome the opportunity to become US citizens in return for serving in the armed forces.

Expanding the recruitment pool to include them would make it easier for the military to build up its ranks without having to lower its standards. And what better way for illegal immigrants to come “out of the shadows” and assimilate fully into American life than by wearing their adopted country’s uniform in wartime?

Going further, he endorses an idea that Mike O’Hanlon and I have put forward of “opening military service not just to immigrants already here but to would-be immigrants elsewhere.”

This is an idea that raises predictable hackles from nativists, but as we’ve seen in this campaign season, the anti-immigrant lobby, while vocal and well-organized, hardly speaks for a majority of Republicans, much less a majority of Americans–or else John McCain, their bête noire, would never have won the Republican nomination.

Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has it within his power with the stroke of a pen to waive the Green Card requirement for enlistment. He should do it now. Otherwise the army in particular will have a hard time attracting all the high-quality volunteers that it needs, not only to fill today’s force but also the larger force we need to build for the future.

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On McCain’s Sleeve

In a hastily arranged call with bloggers, John McCain began by touting his travels with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, whose endorsement he termed a “coup.” However, he clearly had something on his mind: the accusation circulating in conservative circles that he disapproved of Justice Samuel Alito because he wore his conservatism “on his sleeve.”

He spoke with the energy and verve he usually reserved for discussions of fiscal discipline, saying that he supported and worked for Alito’s confirmation and frequently had said on the campaign trail that he would appoint justices in the mold of Justices Alito and Roberts. In follow-up questions McCain said that he did not recall ever having such a conversation of the type John Fund of the Wall Street Journal ascribed to him, but that he has been clear that he will search for justices devoted to originalist  interpretation. He added that the “beauty” of the Alito and Roberts nominations was that they had a clear record and “we could rely on them to strictly interpret the Constitution.”

Later in the call he was asked about appointing justices who might strike down McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform. He gave an interesting answer  I had not heard previously. He said that he could not let his biases (i.e. his policy preferences) affect his decision to appoint strict constructionist judges who might not agree with him on part of his agenda. In short, he said that the decisions rendered by these judges might “far exceed my agenda.”

In response to my question as to whether Florida was a “must win” state, he would only say that it was “very important.” He acknowledged that the tone had gotten sharper in the last day or so and there was always a danger of turning off voters, but said that he was just responding to Mitt Romney’s attacks as he had in Iowa and New Hampshire. Not surprisingly, he said that his responses were accurate and Romney’s were “desperate.”

He also used the opportunity to toss some red meat to the base. First, he repeated a litany of issues on which he would be “eager” to debate the Democrats and said that the election would highlight “fundamental differences” between the parties. Second, in the context of a question about why he was no longer friends with Pat Buchanan, he was careful to say only nice things about Buchanan and then went out of his way to declare that it would be critical if he got the nomination to “really unite the party.” He stressed that the GOP “has a lot of work to do” and that ” we need everyone pulling in the same direction.”

Unfortunately, technical difficulties ended the call as he was explaining why he did not mind getting liberal newspaper endorsements (saying in effect that he was glad they support his agenda, even if he doesn’t support theirs) — including the Boston Globe, which along with the conservative Boston Herald favored him over near-favorite son Romney.

Bottom line: This was a “reassure the base” call. For those who don’t want to be reassured, it likely would not suffice. For those who needed a bit more assurance, his advocacy of strict judicial interpretation and his eagerness to take on the Democrats was likely welcome news.

In a hastily arranged call with bloggers, John McCain began by touting his travels with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, whose endorsement he termed a “coup.” However, he clearly had something on his mind: the accusation circulating in conservative circles that he disapproved of Justice Samuel Alito because he wore his conservatism “on his sleeve.”

He spoke with the energy and verve he usually reserved for discussions of fiscal discipline, saying that he supported and worked for Alito’s confirmation and frequently had said on the campaign trail that he would appoint justices in the mold of Justices Alito and Roberts. In follow-up questions McCain said that he did not recall ever having such a conversation of the type John Fund of the Wall Street Journal ascribed to him, but that he has been clear that he will search for justices devoted to originalist  interpretation. He added that the “beauty” of the Alito and Roberts nominations was that they had a clear record and “we could rely on them to strictly interpret the Constitution.”

Later in the call he was asked about appointing justices who might strike down McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform. He gave an interesting answer  I had not heard previously. He said that he could not let his biases (i.e. his policy preferences) affect his decision to appoint strict constructionist judges who might not agree with him on part of his agenda. In short, he said that the decisions rendered by these judges might “far exceed my agenda.”

In response to my question as to whether Florida was a “must win” state, he would only say that it was “very important.” He acknowledged that the tone had gotten sharper in the last day or so and there was always a danger of turning off voters, but said that he was just responding to Mitt Romney’s attacks as he had in Iowa and New Hampshire. Not surprisingly, he said that his responses were accurate and Romney’s were “desperate.”

He also used the opportunity to toss some red meat to the base. First, he repeated a litany of issues on which he would be “eager” to debate the Democrats and said that the election would highlight “fundamental differences” between the parties. Second, in the context of a question about why he was no longer friends with Pat Buchanan, he was careful to say only nice things about Buchanan and then went out of his way to declare that it would be critical if he got the nomination to “really unite the party.” He stressed that the GOP “has a lot of work to do” and that ” we need everyone pulling in the same direction.”

Unfortunately, technical difficulties ended the call as he was explaining why he did not mind getting liberal newspaper endorsements (saying in effect that he was glad they support his agenda, even if he doesn’t support theirs) — including the Boston Globe, which along with the conservative Boston Herald favored him over near-favorite son Romney.

Bottom line: This was a “reassure the base” call. For those who don’t want to be reassured, it likely would not suffice. For those who needed a bit more assurance, his advocacy of strict judicial interpretation and his eagerness to take on the Democrats was likely welcome news.

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Sunday In Florida

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Mike Huckabee, who rushed to John McCain’s defense in the flap over Mitt Romney’s position on an Iraq withdrawal date and bashed Romney this morning, is in a head-to-head battle now with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for the VP slot. A quick look at the Florida papers this morning shows that aside from the “Obama Clubs Hillary” stories, it is the Crist endorsement news that grabs the big headlines. The Miami Herald goes with that headline as well, and comments that by raising the Iraq timetable issue McCain “succeeded in putting his opponent on the defensive.” The St. Petersburg Times added its endorsement.

I would agree for reasons stated here that the Crist endorsement is very meaningful, even though many voters have already cast ballots. Whether warranted or not, the McCain team thinks their man has the momentum. Unfortunately for the poll-obsessed among us, polls at this stage may not shed much light on where the race is heading. As we saw with the weekend debate before New Hampshire’s primary and the Hillary big cry, the impact of significant news happenings a day or two before election day generally don’t show up in final polling.

Meanwhile, on the economic front, the Boston Globe offers up this piece on the realities of the turnaround efforts of Mitt Romney’s multi-billion-dollar firm Bain Capital, which unsurprisingly focused on profits and efficiency, not jobs. The story includes this John Edwards-esque comment from a Romney spokesman: “Governor Romney is not critical of companies that have to reduce their workforce in order to remain competitive. He is critical of Washington politicians who throw up their hands in despair and say there’s nothing we can do about it . . . Governor Romney can’t promise that he will bring back lost jobs, but he can guarantee that he will fight for every job.” Because “fighting” is what really matters, I suppose.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Mike Huckabee, who rushed to John McCain’s defense in the flap over Mitt Romney’s position on an Iraq withdrawal date and bashed Romney this morning, is in a head-to-head battle now with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for the VP slot. A quick look at the Florida papers this morning shows that aside from the “Obama Clubs Hillary” stories, it is the Crist endorsement news that grabs the big headlines. The Miami Herald goes with that headline as well, and comments that by raising the Iraq timetable issue McCain “succeeded in putting his opponent on the defensive.” The St. Petersburg Times added its endorsement.

I would agree for reasons stated here that the Crist endorsement is very meaningful, even though many voters have already cast ballots. Whether warranted or not, the McCain team thinks their man has the momentum. Unfortunately for the poll-obsessed among us, polls at this stage may not shed much light on where the race is heading. As we saw with the weekend debate before New Hampshire’s primary and the Hillary big cry, the impact of significant news happenings a day or two before election day generally don’t show up in final polling.

Meanwhile, on the economic front, the Boston Globe offers up this piece on the realities of the turnaround efforts of Mitt Romney’s multi-billion-dollar firm Bain Capital, which unsurprisingly focused on profits and efficiency, not jobs. The story includes this John Edwards-esque comment from a Romney spokesman: “Governor Romney is not critical of companies that have to reduce their workforce in order to remain competitive. He is critical of Washington politicians who throw up their hands in despair and say there’s nothing we can do about it . . . Governor Romney can’t promise that he will bring back lost jobs, but he can guarantee that he will fight for every job.” Because “fighting” is what really matters, I suppose.

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McCain Unplugged

Lots of ads are out from the Republican side today. Romney, after a few days of Mr. Fix-It messaging, is back to flashing his conservative bona fides with this TV spot. He makes good use of his conservative endorsements, but then ends with a line from the Boston Globe–his liberal hometown paper which endorsed his rival McCain and criticized his every policy revision (not to mention his choice of lawn services). Odd.
The bigger splash comes from McCain, who offers up two video contributions. The first is his TV interview this morning in which he lambastes Hillary for “waving the white flag” on Iraq. The second is a clever web ad in which he calls himself “the Democrats’ worst nightmare.” (Actually, that may be Bill, as others have pointed out, but I digress.) The ad makes the electability argument, which is exceptionally strong, given that McCain in current polling narrowly beats both Democratic contenders while Romney loses to them by double digits. And it also serves the “bonding with the base” purpose for a candidate who is often criticized for being too friendly with conservatives’ Democratic foes. Both McCain offerings are being praised by conservative blogs, just the places he should be cultivating.

Lots of ads are out from the Republican side today. Romney, after a few days of Mr. Fix-It messaging, is back to flashing his conservative bona fides with this TV spot. He makes good use of his conservative endorsements, but then ends with a line from the Boston Globe–his liberal hometown paper which endorsed his rival McCain and criticized his every policy revision (not to mention his choice of lawn services). Odd.
The bigger splash comes from McCain, who offers up two video contributions. The first is his TV interview this morning in which he lambastes Hillary for “waving the white flag” on Iraq. The second is a clever web ad in which he calls himself “the Democrats’ worst nightmare.” (Actually, that may be Bill, as others have pointed out, but I digress.) The ad makes the electability argument, which is exceptionally strong, given that McCain in current polling narrowly beats both Democratic contenders while Romney loses to them by double digits. And it also serves the “bonding with the base” purpose for a candidate who is often criticized for being too friendly with conservatives’ Democratic foes. Both McCain offerings are being praised by conservative blogs, just the places he should be cultivating.

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Words, Words, Words

Here at the horizon, Dara Mandle wonders about the death of reading. Over at The New Republic, James Wolcott offers a lengthy and vastly entertaining piece on the decline of book reviewing (the piece itself is a review of Gail Pool’s Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America), a topic also explored recently by Steve Wasserman in the Columbia Journalism Review. All seem to agree that reading (and serious thinking on it) is in a state of flux, and probably on the wane. Mandle’s post, for example, ends with the question, “Do electronics like the Kindle have what it takes to save reading?” The underlying assumption is that reading needs saving, and that recent cultural and technological shifts are part of what’s killing it.

It’s an easy assumption to make, of course, but as Wolcott’s essay points out, it’s hardly a novel idea. Academics, intellectuals, and ordinary book lovers have been fretting over the decline of serious writing and serious thinking about writing for decades. As always, reactions vary. Many, like Adam Kirsch in The New York Sun, have simply given up, pronouncing the internet-dominated literary scene a total loss. Others, including critics like Terry Teachout and journalists like Megan McArdle (now of the Atlantic), are more enthusiastic.

I lean towards enthusiasm, but I think some of the worries and criticisms are valid, if somewhat misplaced. The danger to reading, it seems to me, is less of the lack of respect for books and book criticism, or the uninformed opinions of amateurs replacing the thoughtful screeds of professionals, or the diminishing number of book reviews in newspapers, but instead, the glut of written material fighting for our collective attention. Even the most robust literary scene would have difficulty keeping up with the truckloads of books published each year. And although newspapers may be publishing fewer book reviews, the internet, by giving free and easy access to all those with internet access, has actually expanded access to top-tier reviews for nearly everyone.

Book review pages in medium sized newspapers have fallen off in large part because they are unnecessary in a world where nearly everyone can easily browse the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the L.A. Times. Meanwhile, smaller publications, including blogs, but also established print journals, are flourishing on the web, creating a wealth of easy-to-access material for every niche. The difficulty with reading these days is not that there is too little being written, or that no one is doing it, or even that no one is doing it well. It’s that there’s too much to read, too much to process. We are not short for words. We are drowning in them.

Here at the horizon, Dara Mandle wonders about the death of reading. Over at The New Republic, James Wolcott offers a lengthy and vastly entertaining piece on the decline of book reviewing (the piece itself is a review of Gail Pool’s Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America), a topic also explored recently by Steve Wasserman in the Columbia Journalism Review. All seem to agree that reading (and serious thinking on it) is in a state of flux, and probably on the wane. Mandle’s post, for example, ends with the question, “Do electronics like the Kindle have what it takes to save reading?” The underlying assumption is that reading needs saving, and that recent cultural and technological shifts are part of what’s killing it.

It’s an easy assumption to make, of course, but as Wolcott’s essay points out, it’s hardly a novel idea. Academics, intellectuals, and ordinary book lovers have been fretting over the decline of serious writing and serious thinking about writing for decades. As always, reactions vary. Many, like Adam Kirsch in The New York Sun, have simply given up, pronouncing the internet-dominated literary scene a total loss. Others, including critics like Terry Teachout and journalists like Megan McArdle (now of the Atlantic), are more enthusiastic.

I lean towards enthusiasm, but I think some of the worries and criticisms are valid, if somewhat misplaced. The danger to reading, it seems to me, is less of the lack of respect for books and book criticism, or the uninformed opinions of amateurs replacing the thoughtful screeds of professionals, or the diminishing number of book reviews in newspapers, but instead, the glut of written material fighting for our collective attention. Even the most robust literary scene would have difficulty keeping up with the truckloads of books published each year. And although newspapers may be publishing fewer book reviews, the internet, by giving free and easy access to all those with internet access, has actually expanded access to top-tier reviews for nearly everyone.

Book review pages in medium sized newspapers have fallen off in large part because they are unnecessary in a world where nearly everyone can easily browse the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the L.A. Times. Meanwhile, smaller publications, including blogs, but also established print journals, are flourishing on the web, creating a wealth of easy-to-access material for every niche. The difficulty with reading these days is not that there is too little being written, or that no one is doing it, or even that no one is doing it well. It’s that there’s too much to read, too much to process. We are not short for words. We are drowning in them.

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“Free Speech” at Harvard

A new drama loosely focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about to unfold at Harvard. Professor J. Lorand Matory, a signatory of the 2002 Israel divestment petition, plans to introduce a resolution calling for “free speech” at the next faculty meeting. Foremost among Matory’s concerns is his belief that criticism of Israel has been stifled on campus.

It’s no longer interesting to note that those accusing Israel’s supporters of stifling speech are among the least-stifled people in the world. Indeed, Matory is so uncensored that he recently published an article alleging censorship—a right that true victims of censorship do not, by definition, enjoy. As he has frequently spoken out against Israel in statements and articles, his opponents have a strong case in declaring his proposed motion bogus.

But Matory’s proposal deserves more consideration. After all, it calls for affirming “free speech,” strangely scorning “academic freedom,” the typical catchphrase employed by professors defending their vocal disdain for Israel. No doubt unintentionally, this selective phraseology properly accounts for Matory’s own limitations: he possesses no professional or experiential qualifications that would make his criticisms of Israel remotely academic. Constitutionally guaranteed “free speech” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however uninformed, is thus the most he can reasonably demand.

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A new drama loosely focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about to unfold at Harvard. Professor J. Lorand Matory, a signatory of the 2002 Israel divestment petition, plans to introduce a resolution calling for “free speech” at the next faculty meeting. Foremost among Matory’s concerns is his belief that criticism of Israel has been stifled on campus.

It’s no longer interesting to note that those accusing Israel’s supporters of stifling speech are among the least-stifled people in the world. Indeed, Matory is so uncensored that he recently published an article alleging censorship—a right that true victims of censorship do not, by definition, enjoy. As he has frequently spoken out against Israel in statements and articles, his opponents have a strong case in declaring his proposed motion bogus.

But Matory’s proposal deserves more consideration. After all, it calls for affirming “free speech,” strangely scorning “academic freedom,” the typical catchphrase employed by professors defending their vocal disdain for Israel. No doubt unintentionally, this selective phraseology properly accounts for Matory’s own limitations: he possesses no professional or experiential qualifications that would make his criticisms of Israel remotely academic. Constitutionally guaranteed “free speech” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however uninformed, is thus the most he can reasonably demand.

In this vein, his admissions during a lengthy phone interview I conducted with him were stunning. After he presented his essential thesis that Israel is a racist, apartheid state, I asked Matory what books had inspired his views. Matory was unable to name a single book or author, saying that he was “largely informed by the international press.” When asked why he hadn’t traveled to the region to examine the conflict’s complexities firsthand, Matory said that he wouldn’t go to Israel on principle, but that such a trip was hardly necessary: he has plenty of Israeli friends and neighbors, stateside. But had he ever spoken with these Israeli friends and neighbors, or Israeli colleagues and students—he claimed to have had many—regarding the conflict? “Not that I recall,” he conceded.

The most bizarre moment in our conversation, however, involved a biographical detail. Matory recalled that the Sabra and Shatilla massacre had catalyzed his disillusionment with Israel, saying that he read about the massacre in the Boston Globe while eating lunch as an undergraduate at Harvard’s old Union dining hall, and had vomited at the table in disgust. Yet this story is impossible: Matory graduated in June 1982, while the massacre took place in September 1982—when he would have been studying in Nigeria on a Rotary Scholarship. “I hadn’t realized that,” Matory said.

Naturally, Matory’s severe gaps in memory, research, experience, intellectual curiosity, and knowledge of the Arab-Israeli conflict should prevent him from achieving academic credibility in this area. And his proposed resolution (perhaps unintentionally) recognizes this, calling for “free speech” rather than “academic freedom”—an appreciable distinction insofar as Matory often speaks on Israel freely, but not in an academically serious manner.

Rather than making him a martyr by contesting his proposal, the faculty should unanimously approve his superfluous demand for free speech with a yawn. Or perhaps some apprehension: the more freely Matory speaks on foreign affairs, the more his lack of seriousness will be exposed, and the worse Harvard looks.

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Muschamp the Maverick

It was only appropriate that the recent obituary for Herbert Muschamp, architecture critic of the New York Times from 1992 to 2004, was written by his successor, Nicolai Ouroussoff. This is one case, however, where the deceased ought to have written his own obituary—for Ouroussoff’s sober and respectful notice manages to present all the facts of Muschamp’s career but none of the truth. Missing is the sense of the outrageous, at times bordering on hysteria, which characterized Muschamp’s style, both literary and personal, and which ultimately cost him his perch at the Times.

Muschamp’s downfall goes unmentioned in Ouroussoff’s article, which only hints genteelly about his “quirky and, some argued, self-indulgent voice.” It has nothing to say about his disastrous attempt to insert himself into the rebuilding of New York’s Ground Zero as a kind of architectural impresario, as was shown in a 2004 essay in the New York Observer by Clay Risen. As long as Muschamp merely hobnobbed at night with the architects he praised by day, bemused readers could forgive his naughtiness. But once he started playing the roles of both critic and player, he committed the journalistic equivalent of a war crime: to act as a combatant while claiming the privileges of a neutral observer. In the end, as the Washington Post obituary recognized, he “had been corrupted by the power he wielded.”

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It was only appropriate that the recent obituary for Herbert Muschamp, architecture critic of the New York Times from 1992 to 2004, was written by his successor, Nicolai Ouroussoff. This is one case, however, where the deceased ought to have written his own obituary—for Ouroussoff’s sober and respectful notice manages to present all the facts of Muschamp’s career but none of the truth. Missing is the sense of the outrageous, at times bordering on hysteria, which characterized Muschamp’s style, both literary and personal, and which ultimately cost him his perch at the Times.

Muschamp’s downfall goes unmentioned in Ouroussoff’s article, which only hints genteelly about his “quirky and, some argued, self-indulgent voice.” It has nothing to say about his disastrous attempt to insert himself into the rebuilding of New York’s Ground Zero as a kind of architectural impresario, as was shown in a 2004 essay in the New York Observer by Clay Risen. As long as Muschamp merely hobnobbed at night with the architects he praised by day, bemused readers could forgive his naughtiness. But once he started playing the roles of both critic and player, he committed the journalistic equivalent of a war crime: to act as a combatant while claiming the privileges of a neutral observer. In the end, as the Washington Post obituary recognized, he “had been corrupted by the power he wielded.”

Writing in Commentary several years ago, I pondered what it was that distinguished Muschamp’s criticism from that of his peers. Unlike them, he had little patience for the technical or programmatic features of building, such as its

paths of circulation, nuances of siting, or the countless small details of profiles, joints, moldings, reveals, revetments, corners, and all the other members that form the living face of a building. Most of his reviews were devoted instead to putting into words how a building made him feel. And to this task he brought his own signature style, bombarding the reader with allusions to pop culture, especially movies. What Muschamp seems to have discovered was that, by drenching his reviews in pop references, he could attract the sort of audience that did not normally attend to architecture.

In retrospect, one can see that Muschamp’s fall has impoverished the state of architecture criticism. Most architecture critics are the voice of respectable establishment opinion: one thinks of Benjamin Forgey at the Washington Post, Paul Goldberger at the New Yorker, and Robert Campbell at the Boston Globe. Ouroussoff, it is now clear, falls into the same camp. It is not likely that their circle of readers is terribly large, outside of design professionals or those with civic curiosity. It is a pity that there seems to be no room for such an immensely entertaining, if sadly self-destructive, maverick like Muschamp.

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Bookshelf

• Ty Burr’s The Best Old Movies for Families: A Guide to Watching Together (Anchor, 375 pp., $16.95 paper) is a prime contender for the Why-Didn’t-I-Think-of-That Book Award of 2007. I desperately wish I’d written it, though I doubt I would have done nearly as good a job. In addition to being the film critic of the Boston Globe, Burr is the father of two young daughters, and he decided to introduce them to old movies when they were still toddlers. This wise, amusing book tells how he did it, and how you can do the same thing.

The Best Old Movies for Families is the sort of book that doesn’t need to be reviewed, at least not in the conventional sense. Merely to quote from it is to show how good it is:

Today I look at the movie offerings afforded my kids and am stunned into depression at the pandering narrowness. . . . Some films aimed at children are good—excellent, even. Pixar: I rest my case. But all of them—and I do mean all of them—arrive in theaters sold out, prepackaged, and co-opted. A modern family film can’t get greenlit for production without marketing tie-ins planned in detail and in-house licensing executives kicking the tires to discern how “toyetic” it is. That’s a real word, by the way. Yes, it makes my flesh crawl, too.

So what’s the alternative? The Best Old Movies for Families contains a series of age-appropriate, shrewdly annotated lists of studio-system films that Burr has successfully road-tested on his daughters. Some of his choices may seem a bit over-ambitious at first glance, but he claims that all of them went over: “To a few of my acquaintances I am still known as The Man Who Showed The Seven Samurai to His Kids. And They Liked It.” More representative of his sensible yet imaginative approach is this list of five toddler-friendly classics: The Adventures of Robin Hood, Bringing Up Baby, Meet Me in St. Louis, Singin’ in the Rain, and Stagecoach.

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• Ty Burr’s The Best Old Movies for Families: A Guide to Watching Together (Anchor, 375 pp., $16.95 paper) is a prime contender for the Why-Didn’t-I-Think-of-That Book Award of 2007. I desperately wish I’d written it, though I doubt I would have done nearly as good a job. In addition to being the film critic of the Boston Globe, Burr is the father of two young daughters, and he decided to introduce them to old movies when they were still toddlers. This wise, amusing book tells how he did it, and how you can do the same thing.

The Best Old Movies for Families is the sort of book that doesn’t need to be reviewed, at least not in the conventional sense. Merely to quote from it is to show how good it is:

Today I look at the movie offerings afforded my kids and am stunned into depression at the pandering narrowness. . . . Some films aimed at children are good—excellent, even. Pixar: I rest my case. But all of them—and I do mean all of them—arrive in theaters sold out, prepackaged, and co-opted. A modern family film can’t get greenlit for production without marketing tie-ins planned in detail and in-house licensing executives kicking the tires to discern how “toyetic” it is. That’s a real word, by the way. Yes, it makes my flesh crawl, too.

So what’s the alternative? The Best Old Movies for Families contains a series of age-appropriate, shrewdly annotated lists of studio-system films that Burr has successfully road-tested on his daughters. Some of his choices may seem a bit over-ambitious at first glance, but he claims that all of them went over: “To a few of my acquaintances I am still known as The Man Who Showed The Seven Samurai to His Kids. And They Liked It.” More representative of his sensible yet imaginative approach is this list of five toddler-friendly classics: The Adventures of Robin Hood, Bringing Up Baby, Meet Me in St. Louis, Singin’ in the Rain, and Stagecoach.

Burr’s choice of films is wholly secular yet morally aware—he comes across as exactly the kind of father you’d like to have as a next-door neighbor. At the same time, his approach is essentially aesthetic in its orientation:

With any luck, my daughters will be able to go through life lacking that fear of old movies—and, much more to the point, old culture—that keeps so many children and their parents locked in an eternal, ahistorical Now. The only way to comprehend Now, of course, is to understand Then. More than almost any other art form, movies show the way back.

I wish that last sentence weren’t true—I grew up on old books, not old movies—but I suspect that Burr has it right.

Permit me to quote one more passage from The Best Old Movies for Families, just because I like it so much:

Modern kids are raised with the understanding that people don’t spontaneously burst into song at crucial moments in their lives. And isn’t that a horrible thing, to remove such evidence of grace on earth from their belief system? Of course there are people who start tap-dancing at unexpected moments, or improvise a tune while plucking lyrics from the air. They’re called children, and if you spend any time with them, you’ll witness life as a musical forty times an hour.

This one’s a must.

• I like well-written books that tell me everything I want to know about a given topic without going overboard. David Clay Large’s Nazi Games: The Olympics of 1936 (W.W. Norton, 401 pp., $27.95) fills that bill impeccably. Large’s book, which is based on newly available primary sources, is concise but sufficiently thorough and written with a sharp sense of irony—an appropriate commodity, given the fact that virtually everything about the Hitler-hosted 1936 Olympics was ironic. Americans, for instance, still pride themselves on the fact that Jesse Owens won a gold medal in 1936, but did you know that none of that year’s Olympic trials could be run in the Deep South because Southern states wouldn’t allow blacks to run alongside whites? Or that the Germans staffed Berlin’s Olympic village with state-subsidized prostitutes who were under orders to sleep only with Aryan contenders? You’ll learn all this and much more from Nazi Games, and you’ll also learn quite a bit about the making of Olympia, Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda film about the 1936 games.

Even if you’re not a sports buff, you’ll find Nazi Games an absorbing read—and, given the fact that the next Olympiad will be held in Beijing, a depressing one.

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