Commentary Magazine


Topic: the Miami Herald

Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel Laureate

The Nobel Prize for Literature, given to as many horrible writers as worthy ones, is now of value only for two reasons: It makes its recipient rich (now up to $1.5 million), and it causes people to take account of the careers of some notable authors. Such is the case with this year’s Laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa. He achieved a broad international reputation in the 1980s and 1990s–indeed, for a time, he was probably one of the world’s best-known writers–but that has faded somewhat over the past decade. He is, quite simply, wonderful–a novelist and essayist of great wit, range, sagacity, playfulness, and high seriousness.

He first came to prominence in the United States with the late-1970s translation of his hilarious, joyful, and wildly original blend of novel and memoir, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, a study of the unique circumstances that led to his first marriage to a much older distant cousin; he draws a comic parallel between his life and the crazed plots devised by Peru’s leading soap-opera writer, a monastic lunatic who seems nonetheless to embody the creative process itself. The next work of his to appear in English was extraordinarily different and extraordinary in every sense of the word: The War for the End of the World, a highly realistic historical novel about a millenarian cult in fin-de-siecle Brazil. It offered a portrait, unparalleled in our time, of the way in which radical ideas can seize hold of ordinary people and drive them to suicidal madness.

This was the first of his novels to reveal Vargas Llosa’s mature world view: Almost alone among Latin American intellectuals of his time, he had become a liberal in the classic sense of the word, a believer in and advocate for Western-style free speech, free markets, and free inquiry. This was the result of an ideological journey not unlike the one taken by neoconservatives in the United States, except that in Vargas Llosa’s case it was even more remarkable given the lack of any kind of liberal culture in South America and especially in the world of Latin novelists, who were, to a man, radical Leftists either aligned with or entirely joined at the hip with Marxist-Leninist-Castroist activism. He made his decisive spiritual break with the Left plain with a short novel called The Real Life of Alejandro Meyta, which specifically linked radical Leftist thinking to the impulse to terrorism.

The same year he published that book, he became head of a commission in Peru examining the devastation wrought by a terrorist group called the Shining Path. He wrote one of the great essays of our time for the New York Times Magazine on the matter, called “Inquest in the Andes.” Alas, it appears to be unavailable on the Times website, suggesting Vargas Llosa withheld rights to its electronic distribution. That is a shame, but you can read the astounding essay he wrote for the same magazine entitled “My Son the Rastafarian,” about grappling with his teenager’s rebellion and the horror of being a judge at the Cannes Film Festival. (That son, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, became the editorial-page editor of the Spanish language edition of the Miami Herald and an even greater rarity among South Americans, a libertarian.)

It is important to note that Vargas Llosa really is a liberal, not a conservative in any sense of the word. His work is often frankly libertine, as his powerful erotic novel In Praise of the Stepmother demonstrates. He doesn’t have a populist bone in him, and suffered from his inability to connect with ordinary people when he ran for president of Peru — offering sensible austerity measures that caused him to lose to a dangerous populist named Alberto Fujimori who drove the country into chaos and then fled to Japan ahead of corruption charges. Imagine Saul Bellow as president of the United States and you get some sense of what it might have meant for Vargas Llosa actually to have won his race. He wrote a remarkable book about that too, called A Fish in the Water.

He is one of the most interesting men of our time and I’m glad he got the Nobel money. Doesn’t wash the Nobel clean by any means, but at least the proceeds will be spent by someone who deserves it. Vargas Llosa wrote a visionary essay for COMMENTARY in 1992 called “The Miami Model,” which we’re making available from our archives today. Sample:

This profession of faith—hatred for the United States disguised as anti-imperialism—nowadays is actually a rather subtle form of neocolonialism. By adopting it, the Latin American intellectual does and says what the cultural establishment of the United States (and by extension, elsewhere in the West) expects of him. His proclamations, condemnations, and manifestoes, with all their grace notes and glissandos, serve to confirm all the stereotypes of the Latin American universe cherished by much of the North American cultural community.

It’s an honor to have published it, and a pleasure to congratulate our contributor on his award.

The Nobel Prize for Literature, given to as many horrible writers as worthy ones, is now of value only for two reasons: It makes its recipient rich (now up to $1.5 million), and it causes people to take account of the careers of some notable authors. Such is the case with this year’s Laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa. He achieved a broad international reputation in the 1980s and 1990s–indeed, for a time, he was probably one of the world’s best-known writers–but that has faded somewhat over the past decade. He is, quite simply, wonderful–a novelist and essayist of great wit, range, sagacity, playfulness, and high seriousness.

He first came to prominence in the United States with the late-1970s translation of his hilarious, joyful, and wildly original blend of novel and memoir, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, a study of the unique circumstances that led to his first marriage to a much older distant cousin; he draws a comic parallel between his life and the crazed plots devised by Peru’s leading soap-opera writer, a monastic lunatic who seems nonetheless to embody the creative process itself. The next work of his to appear in English was extraordinarily different and extraordinary in every sense of the word: The War for the End of the World, a highly realistic historical novel about a millenarian cult in fin-de-siecle Brazil. It offered a portrait, unparalleled in our time, of the way in which radical ideas can seize hold of ordinary people and drive them to suicidal madness.

This was the first of his novels to reveal Vargas Llosa’s mature world view: Almost alone among Latin American intellectuals of his time, he had become a liberal in the classic sense of the word, a believer in and advocate for Western-style free speech, free markets, and free inquiry. This was the result of an ideological journey not unlike the one taken by neoconservatives in the United States, except that in Vargas Llosa’s case it was even more remarkable given the lack of any kind of liberal culture in South America and especially in the world of Latin novelists, who were, to a man, radical Leftists either aligned with or entirely joined at the hip with Marxist-Leninist-Castroist activism. He made his decisive spiritual break with the Left plain with a short novel called The Real Life of Alejandro Meyta, which specifically linked radical Leftist thinking to the impulse to terrorism.

The same year he published that book, he became head of a commission in Peru examining the devastation wrought by a terrorist group called the Shining Path. He wrote one of the great essays of our time for the New York Times Magazine on the matter, called “Inquest in the Andes.” Alas, it appears to be unavailable on the Times website, suggesting Vargas Llosa withheld rights to its electronic distribution. That is a shame, but you can read the astounding essay he wrote for the same magazine entitled “My Son the Rastafarian,” about grappling with his teenager’s rebellion and the horror of being a judge at the Cannes Film Festival. (That son, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, became the editorial-page editor of the Spanish language edition of the Miami Herald and an even greater rarity among South Americans, a libertarian.)

It is important to note that Vargas Llosa really is a liberal, not a conservative in any sense of the word. His work is often frankly libertine, as his powerful erotic novel In Praise of the Stepmother demonstrates. He doesn’t have a populist bone in him, and suffered from his inability to connect with ordinary people when he ran for president of Peru — offering sensible austerity measures that caused him to lose to a dangerous populist named Alberto Fujimori who drove the country into chaos and then fled to Japan ahead of corruption charges. Imagine Saul Bellow as president of the United States and you get some sense of what it might have meant for Vargas Llosa actually to have won his race. He wrote a remarkable book about that too, called A Fish in the Water.

He is one of the most interesting men of our time and I’m glad he got the Nobel money. Doesn’t wash the Nobel clean by any means, but at least the proceeds will be spent by someone who deserves it. Vargas Llosa wrote a visionary essay for COMMENTARY in 1992 called “The Miami Model,” which we’re making available from our archives today. Sample:

This profession of faith—hatred for the United States disguised as anti-imperialism—nowadays is actually a rather subtle form of neocolonialism. By adopting it, the Latin American intellectual does and says what the cultural establishment of the United States (and by extension, elsewhere in the West) expects of him. His proclamations, condemnations, and manifestoes, with all their grace notes and glissandos, serve to confirm all the stereotypes of the Latin American universe cherished by much of the North American cultural community.

It’s an honor to have published it, and a pleasure to congratulate our contributor on his award.

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Charlie Crist’s Latest Problem

If Democrats were thinking that Charlie Crist looked like a better alternative than Kendrick Meek to knock off the GOP’s rising star Marco Rubio, they might want to reconsider. The Miami Herald reports:

Gov. Charlie Crist personally signed off on his former Republican party chairman’s confidential fundraising role with the state party – according to Jim Greer’s attorney, whose allegation contradicts the governor’s statement that he “didn’t know anything” about the deal now part of a criminal investigation.

State investigators say Greer and the party’s former executive director, Delmar W. Johnson III, secretly set up a shell company called Victory Strategies to divert party money and enrich themselves. Greer was charged Wednesday with fraud and money laundering.

Greer’s attorney says it’s all perfectly legal and that Crist’s Senate appointee and former campaign manager came up with the idea for the scam. Crist’s defense it that he was out of the loop on the specifics. (“Jim thought a change would be a good idea and I said, ‘Whatever you think needs to be done, and if you need to bring in Delmar, that’s fine.”) It is further confirmation that Crist may be precisely the wrong candidate at the wrong time. In an election year in which inside deals are under scrutiny (with the Sestak and Romanoff scandals swirling) and establishment candidates face a hostile electorate, Crist may find there is little patience for this sort of thing. And it’s a good reminder that the GOP inside the beltway political gurus (who backed Crist) often get it very, very wrong.

If Democrats were thinking that Charlie Crist looked like a better alternative than Kendrick Meek to knock off the GOP’s rising star Marco Rubio, they might want to reconsider. The Miami Herald reports:

Gov. Charlie Crist personally signed off on his former Republican party chairman’s confidential fundraising role with the state party – according to Jim Greer’s attorney, whose allegation contradicts the governor’s statement that he “didn’t know anything” about the deal now part of a criminal investigation.

State investigators say Greer and the party’s former executive director, Delmar W. Johnson III, secretly set up a shell company called Victory Strategies to divert party money and enrich themselves. Greer was charged Wednesday with fraud and money laundering.

Greer’s attorney says it’s all perfectly legal and that Crist’s Senate appointee and former campaign manager came up with the idea for the scam. Crist’s defense it that he was out of the loop on the specifics. (“Jim thought a change would be a good idea and I said, ‘Whatever you think needs to be done, and if you need to bring in Delmar, that’s fine.”) It is further confirmation that Crist may be precisely the wrong candidate at the wrong time. In an election year in which inside deals are under scrutiny (with the Sestak and Romanoff scandals swirling) and establishment candidates face a hostile electorate, Crist may find there is little patience for this sort of thing. And it’s a good reminder that the GOP inside the beltway political gurus (who backed Crist) often get it very, very wrong.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

From the Jerusalem Day festivities: “Heckled by a lawmaker from Israel’s Arab minority, Netanyahu offered a lesson in comparative religion from the lectern. ‘Because you asked: Jerusalem is mentioned 142 times in the New Testament, and none of the 16 various Arabic names for Jerusalem is mentioned in the Koran. But in an expanded interpretation of the Koran from the 12th century, one passage is said to refer to Jerusalem,’ he said. Responding to Netanyahu’s citations, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said: ‘I find it very distasteful, this use of religion to incite hatred and fear. East Jerusalem is an occupied Palestinian town, and East Jerusalem cannot continue to be occupied if there is to be peace.’” Really, only Muslims are allowed to assert a religious claim to Jerusalem, you see.

Sen. Pat Leahy has figured out Elena Kagan’s biggest liability: “During their 40-minute meeting in his office, Leahy said he spoke with Kagan about her decision that military officials could not use the campus’ main recruitment office because doing so would violate the school’s anti-discrimination policy — given the military’s prohibition against the service of openly gay men and women. Speaking to reporters afterward, Leahy downplayed the controversy.”

Perhaps the donors should sue to get their money back: “Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced today that he will not refund donations he received from Republican voters before he left the GOP in his bid for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat. … The announcement contradicts statements the Crist campaign has made to several newspapers, including the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times. In both publications, the campaign said it would issue ‘pro-rated refunds’ because Crist had already spent some of the money.”

More evidence of a wave election: “Republicans have solidified support among voters who had drifted from the party in recent elections, putting the GOP in position for a strong comeback in November’s elections, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. The findings suggest that public opinion has hardened in advance of the 2010 elections, making it harder for Democrats to translate their legislative successes or a tentatively improving U.S. economy into gains among voters. Republicans have reassembled their coalition by reconnecting with independents, seniors, blue-collar voters, suburban women and small town and rural voters—all of whom had moved away from the party in the 2006 elections, in which Republicans lost control of the House. Those voter groups now favor GOP control of Congress.” All it took was less than two years of one-party Democratic rule.

Oh good grief: “The Jewish chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee urged colleagues to reassess negative impressions of the Obama administration’s U.N. outreach. ‘I wanted to bring to your attention two recent hard-fought victories by the United States at these institutions, which highlight how sustained engagement with international organizations by the Obama Administration has reaped important dividends for both the U.S. and Israel,’ [Howard] Berman said in a May 11 letter sent to every member of the House. ‘By actively using our voice and vote in organizations such as the UNHRC and UNESCO, we are better able to support Israel — and achieve other important goals — in the international community.’” Is he mad?

Republicans have the lead in generic congressional poll in latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics survey. And Obama is tied with a generic Republican in the 2012 race. Of course, generic candidates don’t actually run, which is what makes politics interesting.

Jeffrey Goldberg on Robert Wright: “Yep, I’m guilty of believing that jihadist ideology is at the root of Islamist terrorism. Bob got me good this time.” Really, foreclosures and mental illness are the root of the problem.

The left rides to the defense of Richard Goldstone. No surprise there.

From the Jerusalem Day festivities: “Heckled by a lawmaker from Israel’s Arab minority, Netanyahu offered a lesson in comparative religion from the lectern. ‘Because you asked: Jerusalem is mentioned 142 times in the New Testament, and none of the 16 various Arabic names for Jerusalem is mentioned in the Koran. But in an expanded interpretation of the Koran from the 12th century, one passage is said to refer to Jerusalem,’ he said. Responding to Netanyahu’s citations, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said: ‘I find it very distasteful, this use of religion to incite hatred and fear. East Jerusalem is an occupied Palestinian town, and East Jerusalem cannot continue to be occupied if there is to be peace.’” Really, only Muslims are allowed to assert a religious claim to Jerusalem, you see.

Sen. Pat Leahy has figured out Elena Kagan’s biggest liability: “During their 40-minute meeting in his office, Leahy said he spoke with Kagan about her decision that military officials could not use the campus’ main recruitment office because doing so would violate the school’s anti-discrimination policy — given the military’s prohibition against the service of openly gay men and women. Speaking to reporters afterward, Leahy downplayed the controversy.”

Perhaps the donors should sue to get their money back: “Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced today that he will not refund donations he received from Republican voters before he left the GOP in his bid for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat. … The announcement contradicts statements the Crist campaign has made to several newspapers, including the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times. In both publications, the campaign said it would issue ‘pro-rated refunds’ because Crist had already spent some of the money.”

More evidence of a wave election: “Republicans have solidified support among voters who had drifted from the party in recent elections, putting the GOP in position for a strong comeback in November’s elections, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. The findings suggest that public opinion has hardened in advance of the 2010 elections, making it harder for Democrats to translate their legislative successes or a tentatively improving U.S. economy into gains among voters. Republicans have reassembled their coalition by reconnecting with independents, seniors, blue-collar voters, suburban women and small town and rural voters—all of whom had moved away from the party in the 2006 elections, in which Republicans lost control of the House. Those voter groups now favor GOP control of Congress.” All it took was less than two years of one-party Democratic rule.

Oh good grief: “The Jewish chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee urged colleagues to reassess negative impressions of the Obama administration’s U.N. outreach. ‘I wanted to bring to your attention two recent hard-fought victories by the United States at these institutions, which highlight how sustained engagement with international organizations by the Obama Administration has reaped important dividends for both the U.S. and Israel,’ [Howard] Berman said in a May 11 letter sent to every member of the House. ‘By actively using our voice and vote in organizations such as the UNHRC and UNESCO, we are better able to support Israel — and achieve other important goals — in the international community.’” Is he mad?

Republicans have the lead in generic congressional poll in latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics survey. And Obama is tied with a generic Republican in the 2012 race. Of course, generic candidates don’t actually run, which is what makes politics interesting.

Jeffrey Goldberg on Robert Wright: “Yep, I’m guilty of believing that jihadist ideology is at the root of Islamist terrorism. Bob got me good this time.” Really, foreclosures and mental illness are the root of the problem.

The left rides to the defense of Richard Goldstone. No surprise there.

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Kosovars Identify with Israel, Not Palestinians

What do Palestinians imagine an independent state will be like? After 16 years of Palestinian Authority and Hamas misrule in the West Bank and Gaza, we know it is not Shimon Peres’s vision of Benelux prosperity that he articulated in his faux visionary/comic 1993 book The New Middle East. According to Frida Ghitis, who writes in the Miami Herald, the answer is Kosovo.

Writing from Pristina, the capital of that Balkan enclave, Ghitis explains that Kosovo’s formula — a forced withdrawal of Serbian forces, followed by a unilateral declaration of independence and protection by international forces –- is worth emulating to some Palestinians. But as Ghitis rightly notes, the analogy between the Palestinians and the Kosovars is limited to their shared Muslim faith and desire for self-rule. Unlike Serbia, Israel has always been willing to live side by side with its Arab neighbors. Even more to the point:

Unlike Palestinians, Kosovars and their leaders never expressed a wish or intention to destroy all of Serbia. They never challenged Serbia’s right to exist, as Palestinians have about Israel. In fact, Kosovo’s new constitution affirms the nascent country has no designs on any more territory. Palestinians, even today, stand deeply divided in their aims. The charter of the radical Hamas, which rules Gaza, still calls for Israel’s destruction.

An even greater difference is the character of Kosovar and Palestinian political cultures, as Ghitis writes:

The differences between Kosovars and Palestinians are, in fact, so strong that many in Kosovo have identified more with Israelis than with Palestinians. About 90 percent of Kosovars are ethnic Albanians — secular Muslims — demographically overwhelmed in a region where they find themselves surrounded by tens of millions of ethnic Slavs. It’s a situation some Kosovars say resembles that of Israel, surrounded by hundreds millions of often-hostile Arabs.

The creation of a virtually independent Kosovo has not been without problems. It is, as any Palestinian state would be, an economic basket case, totally reliant not only on foreign protection but also foreign aid. Yet for all the misgivings we might have about NATO’s Kosovo commitment, unlike the Hamasistan in Gaza, Kosovo is not a lethal threat to the surrounding countries, and it is not allied with Iran. Salam Fayyad’s talk about a unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence should be met with reminders that Kosovo is not a relevant model to the Middle East conflict. Until Palestinians resolve to put away terror and accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in Israel, talk of independence for the Palestinians is merely a tactic in their ongoing war against the Jews, not a bid for peace.

What do Palestinians imagine an independent state will be like? After 16 years of Palestinian Authority and Hamas misrule in the West Bank and Gaza, we know it is not Shimon Peres’s vision of Benelux prosperity that he articulated in his faux visionary/comic 1993 book The New Middle East. According to Frida Ghitis, who writes in the Miami Herald, the answer is Kosovo.

Writing from Pristina, the capital of that Balkan enclave, Ghitis explains that Kosovo’s formula — a forced withdrawal of Serbian forces, followed by a unilateral declaration of independence and protection by international forces –- is worth emulating to some Palestinians. But as Ghitis rightly notes, the analogy between the Palestinians and the Kosovars is limited to their shared Muslim faith and desire for self-rule. Unlike Serbia, Israel has always been willing to live side by side with its Arab neighbors. Even more to the point:

Unlike Palestinians, Kosovars and their leaders never expressed a wish or intention to destroy all of Serbia. They never challenged Serbia’s right to exist, as Palestinians have about Israel. In fact, Kosovo’s new constitution affirms the nascent country has no designs on any more territory. Palestinians, even today, stand deeply divided in their aims. The charter of the radical Hamas, which rules Gaza, still calls for Israel’s destruction.

An even greater difference is the character of Kosovar and Palestinian political cultures, as Ghitis writes:

The differences between Kosovars and Palestinians are, in fact, so strong that many in Kosovo have identified more with Israelis than with Palestinians. About 90 percent of Kosovars are ethnic Albanians — secular Muslims — demographically overwhelmed in a region where they find themselves surrounded by tens of millions of ethnic Slavs. It’s a situation some Kosovars say resembles that of Israel, surrounded by hundreds millions of often-hostile Arabs.

The creation of a virtually independent Kosovo has not been without problems. It is, as any Palestinian state would be, an economic basket case, totally reliant not only on foreign protection but also foreign aid. Yet for all the misgivings we might have about NATO’s Kosovo commitment, unlike the Hamasistan in Gaza, Kosovo is not a lethal threat to the surrounding countries, and it is not allied with Iran. Salam Fayyad’s talk about a unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence should be met with reminders that Kosovo is not a relevant model to the Middle East conflict. Until Palestinians resolve to put away terror and accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in Israel, talk of independence for the Palestinians is merely a tactic in their ongoing war against the Jews, not a bid for peace.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

There’s something to cheer about: “The plan to unveil a bipartisan climate bill in the Senate on Monday collapsed over the weekend as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the bill’s three authors, declared he couldn’t support it if Democrats decided to prioritize immigration reform.”

Or is there? It seems Graham is just waiting for the Democrats’ immigration-reform ploy to blow over: “[Joe] Lieberman said [Harry] Reid pledged to bring the energy bill to the full Senate as soon as possible this year. In a separate conversation, according to Lieberman, Graham reiterated his support for the energy bill once it’s no longer tangled up with immigration legislation. ‘Now I’m encouraged,’ Lieberman said. Asked when the energy bill might advance, he said, ‘Sometime soon, as soon as we can get Lindsey on board.’”

Do we really think Obama is going to pick a non-judge to go toe-to-toe with Justices Alito, Scalia, and Roberts? “Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm (D) says she’s once again on President Obama’s short list for appointment to the Supreme Court. In an interview with CNN, the term-limited governor says she has talked with people in the Obama administration about the upcoming nomination to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.” Well, it would nail down that all-important Canadian-American vote.

Delusions of grandeur time: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is talking up the healthcare reform law in a big way on the campaign trail. Reid, who led efforts to shepherd the $940 billion legislation through the Senate, is facing a tough reelection battle this fall. He spoke at several Democratic county conventions in northern Nevada on Saturday. ‘The most important thing we’ve done for the country and the world is health care’ he said.”

The GOP is expanding the playing field: “Representative David R. Obey has won 21 straight races, easily prevailing through wars and economic crises that have spanned presidencies from Nixon’s to Obama’s. Yet the discontent with Washington surging through politics is now threatening not only his seat but also Democratic control of Congress. Mr. Obey is one of nearly a dozen well-established House Democrats who are bracing for something they rarely face: serious competition. Their predicament is the latest sign of distress for their party and underlines why Republicans are confident of making big gains in November and perhaps even winning back the House.”

James Jones is now making Jewish jokes. The Forward, via Haaretz, notes that some were not amused: “After all, making jokes about greedy Jewish merchants can be seen at times as insensitive.”

An unnamed Obama official confesses: “We do not understand Syrian intentions. No one does, and until we get to that question we can never get to the root of the problem. … Until then it’s all damage control.” No one? Could it be that Assad is pushing the U.S. and Israel as far as they will go and cozying up to the Iranians, whom he sees as the rising power in the region? The Obami, however, are stumped.

On Friday, Charlie Crist has to decide whether to run for the Senate as an independent. Stories like this in the Miami Herald don’t help: “Charlie Crist, once Florida’s spectacularly popular governor, now in danger of seeing his political career washed up? ‘I honestly don’t know,’ Crist said Friday. ‘But I certainly think the economy played a role.” In hindsight, the warning signs were too numerous: Marco Rubio winning local ‘straw poll’; U.S. Senate elections that Crist brushed off as meaningless; prominent GOP allies publicly scolding him for endorsing President Barack Obama’s stimulus package; veteran party leaders beseeching him to remove or at least rein in his hand-picked Florida GOP chairman, Jim Greer.”

There’s something to cheer about: “The plan to unveil a bipartisan climate bill in the Senate on Monday collapsed over the weekend as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the bill’s three authors, declared he couldn’t support it if Democrats decided to prioritize immigration reform.”

Or is there? It seems Graham is just waiting for the Democrats’ immigration-reform ploy to blow over: “[Joe] Lieberman said [Harry] Reid pledged to bring the energy bill to the full Senate as soon as possible this year. In a separate conversation, according to Lieberman, Graham reiterated his support for the energy bill once it’s no longer tangled up with immigration legislation. ‘Now I’m encouraged,’ Lieberman said. Asked when the energy bill might advance, he said, ‘Sometime soon, as soon as we can get Lindsey on board.’”

Do we really think Obama is going to pick a non-judge to go toe-to-toe with Justices Alito, Scalia, and Roberts? “Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm (D) says she’s once again on President Obama’s short list for appointment to the Supreme Court. In an interview with CNN, the term-limited governor says she has talked with people in the Obama administration about the upcoming nomination to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.” Well, it would nail down that all-important Canadian-American vote.

Delusions of grandeur time: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is talking up the healthcare reform law in a big way on the campaign trail. Reid, who led efforts to shepherd the $940 billion legislation through the Senate, is facing a tough reelection battle this fall. He spoke at several Democratic county conventions in northern Nevada on Saturday. ‘The most important thing we’ve done for the country and the world is health care’ he said.”

The GOP is expanding the playing field: “Representative David R. Obey has won 21 straight races, easily prevailing through wars and economic crises that have spanned presidencies from Nixon’s to Obama’s. Yet the discontent with Washington surging through politics is now threatening not only his seat but also Democratic control of Congress. Mr. Obey is one of nearly a dozen well-established House Democrats who are bracing for something they rarely face: serious competition. Their predicament is the latest sign of distress for their party and underlines why Republicans are confident of making big gains in November and perhaps even winning back the House.”

James Jones is now making Jewish jokes. The Forward, via Haaretz, notes that some were not amused: “After all, making jokes about greedy Jewish merchants can be seen at times as insensitive.”

An unnamed Obama official confesses: “We do not understand Syrian intentions. No one does, and until we get to that question we can never get to the root of the problem. … Until then it’s all damage control.” No one? Could it be that Assad is pushing the U.S. and Israel as far as they will go and cozying up to the Iranians, whom he sees as the rising power in the region? The Obami, however, are stumped.

On Friday, Charlie Crist has to decide whether to run for the Senate as an independent. Stories like this in the Miami Herald don’t help: “Charlie Crist, once Florida’s spectacularly popular governor, now in danger of seeing his political career washed up? ‘I honestly don’t know,’ Crist said Friday. ‘But I certainly think the economy played a role.” In hindsight, the warning signs were too numerous: Marco Rubio winning local ‘straw poll’; U.S. Senate elections that Crist brushed off as meaningless; prominent GOP allies publicly scolding him for endorsing President Barack Obama’s stimulus package; veteran party leaders beseeching him to remove or at least rein in his hand-picked Florida GOP chairman, Jim Greer.”

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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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Mahmoud, Hugo, Kim, Fidel, Barack, and Hillary

The Miami Herald calls it one of the “biggest dust-ups of the presidential race so far,” and the sprinkling continues.

At the YouTube Democratic presidential debate on Monday, Barack Obama was asked whether he would meet with the leaders of Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, and Iran without preconditions. “I would,” he replied, saying it was a “disgrace” that we were not. Hillary Clinton, for her part, demurred, saying that “Certainly, we’re not going to just have our President meet with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and you know, the president of North Korea, Iran, and Syria until we know better what the way forward would be.”

Obama has subsequently called Hillary’s stance “Bush-Cheney lite.” Clinton has called the Illinois Senator’s comments “irresponsible and frankly naive.”

Thus far, conservatives and conservative outlets have tended at least implicitly to side with Clinton. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney of Massachusetts called Obama’s statement “outrageous,” saying it “suggests an agenda that is not in keeping with an agenda focused on building friendships with our allies.” Investor’s Business Daily said it bespeaks an inability to handle “curveballs,” reinforcing “the idea that [Obama is] an inexperienced lightweight.”

As for Clinton’s entourage, it has weighed in with arguments of its own. At the behest of Hillary’s campaign organization, Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, held a conference call with reporters in which she characterized Hillary’s approach as meaning that we should not engage in talks without preparation. “Without having done the diplomatic spade work, it would not really prove anything,” Albright said.

What are the real issues here, and who is right?

Read More

The Miami Herald calls it one of the “biggest dust-ups of the presidential race so far,” and the sprinkling continues.

At the YouTube Democratic presidential debate on Monday, Barack Obama was asked whether he would meet with the leaders of Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, and Iran without preconditions. “I would,” he replied, saying it was a “disgrace” that we were not. Hillary Clinton, for her part, demurred, saying that “Certainly, we’re not going to just have our President meet with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and you know, the president of North Korea, Iran, and Syria until we know better what the way forward would be.”

Obama has subsequently called Hillary’s stance “Bush-Cheney lite.” Clinton has called the Illinois Senator’s comments “irresponsible and frankly naive.”

Thus far, conservatives and conservative outlets have tended at least implicitly to side with Clinton. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney of Massachusetts called Obama’s statement “outrageous,” saying it “suggests an agenda that is not in keeping with an agenda focused on building friendships with our allies.” Investor’s Business Daily said it bespeaks an inability to handle “curveballs,” reinforcing “the idea that [Obama is] an inexperienced lightweight.”

As for Clinton’s entourage, it has weighed in with arguments of its own. At the behest of Hillary’s campaign organization, Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, held a conference call with reporters in which she characterized Hillary’s approach as meaning that we should not engage in talks without preparation. “Without having done the diplomatic spade work, it would not really prove anything,” Albright said.

What are the real issues here, and who is right?

Albright’s comments make plain that Hillary, like Obama, would engage these four odious regimes in talks, only she would do so with diplomatic preparation. In other words, before the U.S. President would sit down with a Kim Jong Il or a Hugo Chavez, an agenda would first be hammered out, and the two sides would have some agreements in place before the leaders gathered at the table. In this way, in Clinton’s words, she would not put “the power and prestige of the United States President” at risk “by rushing into meetings.” Obama, by contrast, would meet with an Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or a Fidel Castro without any sort of diplomatic spadework.

Paradoxically, that might seem a preferable approach. Under it, a President could tell things as they are, declare directly, say, to Ahmadinejad in front of the world that his denial of the Holocaust is disgusting, reprehensible, and unacceptable and his pursuit of nuclear weapons something the U.S. will never abide. Meeting with Chavez, Castro, Kim Jong Il and the rest, Obama could engage in Reaganesque theater on the world stage—the equivalent of traveling to Berlin and demanding Mikhail Gorbachev “tear down this wall.”

Now let’s see what Hillary and her people have in mind when they talk about diplomatic “spadework.” They don’t say. But diplomacy and negotiation imply give and take, concessions from both sides. Will the U.S. come out the winner, or will the mere fact of interchange confer legitimacy, and a propaganda victory, on pariah regimes?

Of course, in attacking Hillary’s unwillingness to talk to dictators as “Bushy-Cheney lite,” Obama is signaling that he himself has no diplomatic agenda beyond talk itself. That would indeed be the worst of all worlds, but is it worse than, or materially different from, what Hillary has in mind?

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