Commentary Magazine


Topic: the New York Times Magazine

The Palin Quandary

Sarah Palin has the ability to make news anytime, anyplace. She did that with the upcoming interview in the New York Times Magazine and in additional comments in which she explained the difficulty of remaining governor while bogus ethics charges and real security concerns plagued her. (“I don’t have the funds to pay for my family to travel with me, and the state won’t pay for it, either. I can’t afford to have security at my home — anybody can come up to my door, and they do. Under the laws of Alaska, anybody can file suit or an ethics charge against me, and I have to defend it on my own. I’m going into debt.”)

But the question remains: does she run for president and put herself in a position to lose her iconic standing, or does she continue as the organizer-fundraiser-newsmaker, which has made her wealthy and famous but not more popular with voters outside the conservative base? In a must-read piece of solid reporting, Jon Ward goes out among Tea Partiers to find out if Palin’s most devoted fans want her to run. The answer may surprise some:

Interviews over the last few months with numerous Tea Party and conservative voters in states around the country yielded no one who was enthusiastic about Palin running for president, though a handful said they were open to it. In addition, conservative and Tea Party leaders who are speaking to the grassroots regularly report that they have consistently heard the same thing.

These are the sorts of comments he hears from Tea Party activists:

“She’s got too many negatives, not for me, but for too many people. So I think she’s better off on the outside looking in.”
“I would like to see someone else emerge. I think she’s too divisive. … It’s good for her to be part of the party. I have nothing against her. But I just think a leader has to be more articulate than she is. I just don’t think that person’s emerged yet.”

“I’m not sure if we have seen the one who needs to run. It has to be someone who can articulate the conservative message like a Buckley or Reagan. … We have time to find someone. I do like Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio.” Read More

Sarah Palin has the ability to make news anytime, anyplace. She did that with the upcoming interview in the New York Times Magazine and in additional comments in which she explained the difficulty of remaining governor while bogus ethics charges and real security concerns plagued her. (“I don’t have the funds to pay for my family to travel with me, and the state won’t pay for it, either. I can’t afford to have security at my home — anybody can come up to my door, and they do. Under the laws of Alaska, anybody can file suit or an ethics charge against me, and I have to defend it on my own. I’m going into debt.”)

But the question remains: does she run for president and put herself in a position to lose her iconic standing, or does she continue as the organizer-fundraiser-newsmaker, which has made her wealthy and famous but not more popular with voters outside the conservative base? In a must-read piece of solid reporting, Jon Ward goes out among Tea Partiers to find out if Palin’s most devoted fans want her to run. The answer may surprise some:

Interviews over the last few months with numerous Tea Party and conservative voters in states around the country yielded no one who was enthusiastic about Palin running for president, though a handful said they were open to it. In addition, conservative and Tea Party leaders who are speaking to the grassroots regularly report that they have consistently heard the same thing.

These are the sorts of comments he hears from Tea Party activists:

“She’s got too many negatives, not for me, but for too many people. So I think she’s better off on the outside looking in.”
“I would like to see someone else emerge. I think she’s too divisive. … It’s good for her to be part of the party. I have nothing against her. But I just think a leader has to be more articulate than she is. I just don’t think that person’s emerged yet.”

“I’m not sure if we have seen the one who needs to run. It has to be someone who can articulate the conservative message like a Buckley or Reagan. … We have time to find someone. I do like Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio.”

And there are others. Those whom Ward spoke with are not unnamed party insiders with a motive to bolster their own candidates’ standing. These are Tea Party attendees willing to go on record and face their fellow activists. In short, these are the people most sympathetic to the causes Palin champions.

What’s interesting is that the reaction of ordinary Tea Partiers is not that far removed from leaders both in the Tea Party and in establishment circles. A Tea Party leader tells Ward:

“Lot’s love her on a personal level, and as a conservative icon, but I haven’t heard widespread support for her as a presidential candidate,” he said. “I think the candidates who will be on top in 2012 have yet to really emerge from the pack. … Folks have interest in Mike Pence and of course [Sen. Jim] DeMint. I would guess that if asked, DeMint would be the top choice of Tea Party folks right now. He’s fighting the establishment from inside, and I think that will be a plus in 2012.”

And a conservative leader chimes in:

“I think people love to hear her speak and love that she’s out there stirring the waters and challenging the status quo,” the conservative leader said, asking that his name not be used. “But I don’t get the sense that they’re ready to say, ‘She’s the one we want to see as president.’”

“You would think if people were going to coalesce around her that would be happening. And quite frankly I don’t see it,” he said.

Palin and her defenders would no doubt say that none of these people are representative of sentiment in the party. But at some point, the candidate has to take these kinds of  reports — by credible conservative-leaning outlets — and the ample poll data seriously if she is serious about a run. She will have to weigh the risk that she may not prevail (either in the primary or the general election), and thereby lose her aura and the anticipation of a future candidacy.

In that regard, as in so many other ways, she is unique. For the average pol, a presidential run, even an unsuccessful one, raises his profile and gives him new credibility and earning power. For Palin, it may be the opposite.

Read Less

Liberal Echo Chamber

Obama has done what was seemingly impossible — he has lost David Brooks and made him into a scathing critic of the Democrats’ delusional thinking. A sample:

Over the past year, many Democrats have resolutely paid attention to those things that make them feel good, and they have carefully filtered out those negative things that make them feel sad.

For example, Democrats and their media enablers have paid lavish attention to Christine O’Donnell and Carl Paladino, even though these two Republican candidates have almost no chance of winning. That’s because it feels so delicious to feel superior to opponents you consider to be feeble-minded wackos.

On the whole “foreign money killed us” hooey, Brooks is merciless:

They see this campaign as a poetic confrontation between good (themselves) and pure evil (Karl Rove and his group, American Crossroads).

As Nancy Pelosi put it at a $50,000-a-couple fund-raiser, “Everything was going great and all of a sudden secret money from God knows where — because they won’t disclose it — is pouring in.”

Even allowing the menace of secret money, embracing this Paradise Lost epic means obscuring a few inconvenient facts: that Democrats were happy to benefit from millions of anonymous dollars in 2006, 2008 and today; that the spending by Rove’s group amounts to less than 1 percent of the total money spent on campaigns this year; that Democrats retain an overall spending advantage.

But legend rises above mere facticity, and this Lancelots-of-the-Left tale underlines a self-affirming message — that Democrats are engaged in a righteous crusade against the dark villain who tricked Americans into voting against John Kerry.

Oh, and they were always behind, and for nearly a year the American people have been screaming that they didn’t like the Democrats’ agenda.

Brooks is right that the blame-everyone-but-themselves phenomenon is  a bit cringe-inducing. (“Get a bottle of vodka and read Peter Baker’s article ‘The Education of President Obama’ from The New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago. Take a shot every time a White House official is quoted blaming Republicans for the Democrats’ political plight. You’ll be unconscious by page three.”)

Brooks aptly discusses the phenomenon but not the causes and contributors to this hear-no-danger/see-no-danger modus operandi. It is in large part a manifestation of the president’s own self-regard, a distorted sense of his own ability to mold events, and a conviction that garden-variety leftism in an appealing package = blinding wisdom.

But there is something else at work here. There is an endless loop of self-reinforcing fantasy that goes on among academics, pundits, “news” reporters, and elected Democrats. They feed each other’s prejudices (e.g., Tea Partiers are racists) and affirm one another’s erroneous judgments (Americans will learn to love ObamaCare). By minimizing or ignoring the administrations’ failures or misdeeds (the New Black Panther Party scandal, the abusive use of czars and recess appointments), the media and liberal interest groups contribute to a heady sense of infallibility. “No one cares about this stuff,” concludes the already puffed-up White House aides. “We can do whatever we want,” they tell their colleagues.

And most of all, they agree that those who do report bad news (e.g., Fox) or who do object to harebrained ideas (support for the Ground Zero mosque) are irrational or bigoted — maybe both. It’s always possible that the White House will finally learn the right lessons from the upcoming midterm wipeout. But perhaps it is also time for the liberal echo chamber to consider whether it is doing more harm than good to its own cause.

Obama has done what was seemingly impossible — he has lost David Brooks and made him into a scathing critic of the Democrats’ delusional thinking. A sample:

Over the past year, many Democrats have resolutely paid attention to those things that make them feel good, and they have carefully filtered out those negative things that make them feel sad.

For example, Democrats and their media enablers have paid lavish attention to Christine O’Donnell and Carl Paladino, even though these two Republican candidates have almost no chance of winning. That’s because it feels so delicious to feel superior to opponents you consider to be feeble-minded wackos.

On the whole “foreign money killed us” hooey, Brooks is merciless:

They see this campaign as a poetic confrontation between good (themselves) and pure evil (Karl Rove and his group, American Crossroads).

As Nancy Pelosi put it at a $50,000-a-couple fund-raiser, “Everything was going great and all of a sudden secret money from God knows where — because they won’t disclose it — is pouring in.”

Even allowing the menace of secret money, embracing this Paradise Lost epic means obscuring a few inconvenient facts: that Democrats were happy to benefit from millions of anonymous dollars in 2006, 2008 and today; that the spending by Rove’s group amounts to less than 1 percent of the total money spent on campaigns this year; that Democrats retain an overall spending advantage.

But legend rises above mere facticity, and this Lancelots-of-the-Left tale underlines a self-affirming message — that Democrats are engaged in a righteous crusade against the dark villain who tricked Americans into voting against John Kerry.

Oh, and they were always behind, and for nearly a year the American people have been screaming that they didn’t like the Democrats’ agenda.

Brooks is right that the blame-everyone-but-themselves phenomenon is  a bit cringe-inducing. (“Get a bottle of vodka and read Peter Baker’s article ‘The Education of President Obama’ from The New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago. Take a shot every time a White House official is quoted blaming Republicans for the Democrats’ political plight. You’ll be unconscious by page three.”)

Brooks aptly discusses the phenomenon but not the causes and contributors to this hear-no-danger/see-no-danger modus operandi. It is in large part a manifestation of the president’s own self-regard, a distorted sense of his own ability to mold events, and a conviction that garden-variety leftism in an appealing package = blinding wisdom.

But there is something else at work here. There is an endless loop of self-reinforcing fantasy that goes on among academics, pundits, “news” reporters, and elected Democrats. They feed each other’s prejudices (e.g., Tea Partiers are racists) and affirm one another’s erroneous judgments (Americans will learn to love ObamaCare). By minimizing or ignoring the administrations’ failures or misdeeds (the New Black Panther Party scandal, the abusive use of czars and recess appointments), the media and liberal interest groups contribute to a heady sense of infallibility. “No one cares about this stuff,” concludes the already puffed-up White House aides. “We can do whatever we want,” they tell their colleagues.

And most of all, they agree that those who do report bad news (e.g., Fox) or who do object to harebrained ideas (support for the Ground Zero mosque) are irrational or bigoted — maybe both. It’s always possible that the White House will finally learn the right lessons from the upcoming midterm wipeout. But perhaps it is also time for the liberal echo chamber to consider whether it is doing more harm than good to its own cause.

Read Less

The Art of Discontent

Peter Baker, one of the nation’s finest and fairest political reporters, has written an illuminating story for the New York Times Magazine. “Education of a President” is based on interviews with Barack Obama and a dozen of his advisers.

There are three overriding impression I took away from the piece, beginning with how much events are humbling the president and his top aides. “This is an administration that feels shellshocked,” Baker writes. “Many officials worry, they say, that the best days of the Obama presidency are behind them.” One aide confessed to Baker, “We’re all a lot more cynical now.” In their darkest moments, Baker informs us, “White House aides wonder aloud whether it is even possible for a modern president to succeed.”

The second takeaway from Baker’s piece is how the blame for Obama’s failures rests with everyone else. “Washington is even more broken than we thought,” one aide tells Baker. The system “is not on the level” — a phrase commonly used around the West Wing meaning “Republicans, the news media, the lobbyists, the whole Washington culture is not serious about solving problems.” Obama himself says, “Given how much stuff was coming at us, we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right.” (Read: we were too virtuous for our own good.)

The third impression from Baker’s article is the degree of self-pity and moral and intellectual superiority that remains so prevalent in the Obama White House. “The view from inside the administration starts with a basic mantra,” Baker writes. “Obama inherited the worst problems of any president in years. Or in generations. Or in American history.” Obama does little to disguise his disdain for Washington and the conventions of modern politics, Baker writes. He has little patience for what Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser, calls “the inevitable theatrics of Washington.” And in his conversation with Baker, Obama used some variation of the phrase “they’re not serious” four times in referring to Republican budget plans. One prominent Democratic lawmaker told Baker that Obama “always believes he is the smartest person in any room.”

The White House, then, is characterized by habitual vanity, rising cynicism, collapsing morale, and increasing resentment toward politics and governing, itself. Having worked in the White House for most of two terms, I understand that life there can present an array of challenges. Still, those working in the Obama White House seem utterly devoid of any enchantment and joy rooted in an appreciation of history — the kind of that that makes working in the White House, even on the worst days, an honor beyond measure.

In writing about Edward Grey, John Buchan told about how he had been the most fortunate of mortals, for he had everything — health, beauty, easy means, a great reputation, innumerable friends. One by one, the sources of his happiness vanished, yet Grey persevered. “Under the buffetings of life he never winced or complained,” Buchan writes, “and the spectacle of his gentle fortitude was . . . an inspiration.”

Later in Pilgrim’s Way, Buchan, in describing himself, says, “I was brought up in times when one was not ashamed to be happy, and I have never learned the art of discontent.”

The White House today seems to be inhabited by people who have learned the art of discontent. Some day, it may dawn on them what a privilege and gift their White House years really were. But by then, the moment will be gone with the wind.

Peter Baker, one of the nation’s finest and fairest political reporters, has written an illuminating story for the New York Times Magazine. “Education of a President” is based on interviews with Barack Obama and a dozen of his advisers.

There are three overriding impression I took away from the piece, beginning with how much events are humbling the president and his top aides. “This is an administration that feels shellshocked,” Baker writes. “Many officials worry, they say, that the best days of the Obama presidency are behind them.” One aide confessed to Baker, “We’re all a lot more cynical now.” In their darkest moments, Baker informs us, “White House aides wonder aloud whether it is even possible for a modern president to succeed.”

The second takeaway from Baker’s piece is how the blame for Obama’s failures rests with everyone else. “Washington is even more broken than we thought,” one aide tells Baker. The system “is not on the level” — a phrase commonly used around the West Wing meaning “Republicans, the news media, the lobbyists, the whole Washington culture is not serious about solving problems.” Obama himself says, “Given how much stuff was coming at us, we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right.” (Read: we were too virtuous for our own good.)

The third impression from Baker’s article is the degree of self-pity and moral and intellectual superiority that remains so prevalent in the Obama White House. “The view from inside the administration starts with a basic mantra,” Baker writes. “Obama inherited the worst problems of any president in years. Or in generations. Or in American history.” Obama does little to disguise his disdain for Washington and the conventions of modern politics, Baker writes. He has little patience for what Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser, calls “the inevitable theatrics of Washington.” And in his conversation with Baker, Obama used some variation of the phrase “they’re not serious” four times in referring to Republican budget plans. One prominent Democratic lawmaker told Baker that Obama “always believes he is the smartest person in any room.”

The White House, then, is characterized by habitual vanity, rising cynicism, collapsing morale, and increasing resentment toward politics and governing, itself. Having worked in the White House for most of two terms, I understand that life there can present an array of challenges. Still, those working in the Obama White House seem utterly devoid of any enchantment and joy rooted in an appreciation of history — the kind of that that makes working in the White House, even on the worst days, an honor beyond measure.

In writing about Edward Grey, John Buchan told about how he had been the most fortunate of mortals, for he had everything — health, beauty, easy means, a great reputation, innumerable friends. One by one, the sources of his happiness vanished, yet Grey persevered. “Under the buffetings of life he never winced or complained,” Buchan writes, “and the spectacle of his gentle fortitude was . . . an inspiration.”

Later in Pilgrim’s Way, Buchan, in describing himself, says, “I was brought up in times when one was not ashamed to be happy, and I have never learned the art of discontent.”

The White House today seems to be inhabited by people who have learned the art of discontent. Some day, it may dawn on them what a privilege and gift their White House years really were. But by then, the moment will be gone with the wind.

Read Less

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.

Read Less

Harry Reid Steps in It Again

Among Harry Reid’s many problems is Joe Lieberman, or more particularly, the tick-tock of events from December in which Lieberman objected to Reid’s last-minute Medicare buy-in. Politico recounts:

The New York Times Magazine posted a preview of Sunday’s profile on Reid that quoted the Nevada Democrat as saying Lieberman “double-crossed” him by suggesting he’d support a Reid-brokered compromise that he later opposed. The story cited unnamed associates of the majority leader who said Reid was so enraged he briefly considered scuttling the whole bill before consenting to Lieberman’s demand.

Yesterday, I am informed by Senate aides, Reid called Lieberman to deny the account. But of course taking issue with the New York Times, the Holy Grail of the Left, is dicey. So Reid put out a mild and carefully worded statement that tried to sidestep the particulars of the incident but make peace with Lieberman, whose vote is still critical for passage of the Democrats’ agenda. Reid’s statement read: “Sen. Lieberman and I have a very open and honest working relationship. On issues ranging from foreign policy to health care, even when we disagree, he has always been straightforward with me.” But Reid couldn’t bring himself to walk back the specific quote.

Lieberman in turn put out a statement concerning the paper that could not be named by Reid:

I appreciate Sen. Reid’s statement in response to the comments attributed to him in The New York Times Magazine. As Sen. Reid indicated in his statement, he believes, as do I, that we have always been honest with each other, and any suggestion otherwise is simply false and contrary to the truth.

At that point, Reid’s staff cried uncle and said they’d have no further comment. All this only goes to show just how ham-handed Reid has become. Each public comment turns into another kerfuffle and another day of explanation. Democrats must surely be coming to the conclusion that he’s more trouble than he’s worth. At the very least, perhaps he’d do well to stay away from the media, even outlets as sycophantic to the Democrats as the Gray Lady.

Among Harry Reid’s many problems is Joe Lieberman, or more particularly, the tick-tock of events from December in which Lieberman objected to Reid’s last-minute Medicare buy-in. Politico recounts:

The New York Times Magazine posted a preview of Sunday’s profile on Reid that quoted the Nevada Democrat as saying Lieberman “double-crossed” him by suggesting he’d support a Reid-brokered compromise that he later opposed. The story cited unnamed associates of the majority leader who said Reid was so enraged he briefly considered scuttling the whole bill before consenting to Lieberman’s demand.

Yesterday, I am informed by Senate aides, Reid called Lieberman to deny the account. But of course taking issue with the New York Times, the Holy Grail of the Left, is dicey. So Reid put out a mild and carefully worded statement that tried to sidestep the particulars of the incident but make peace with Lieberman, whose vote is still critical for passage of the Democrats’ agenda. Reid’s statement read: “Sen. Lieberman and I have a very open and honest working relationship. On issues ranging from foreign policy to health care, even when we disagree, he has always been straightforward with me.” But Reid couldn’t bring himself to walk back the specific quote.

Lieberman in turn put out a statement concerning the paper that could not be named by Reid:

I appreciate Sen. Reid’s statement in response to the comments attributed to him in The New York Times Magazine. As Sen. Reid indicated in his statement, he believes, as do I, that we have always been honest with each other, and any suggestion otherwise is simply false and contrary to the truth.

At that point, Reid’s staff cried uncle and said they’d have no further comment. All this only goes to show just how ham-handed Reid has become. Each public comment turns into another kerfuffle and another day of explanation. Democrats must surely be coming to the conclusion that he’s more trouble than he’s worth. At the very least, perhaps he’d do well to stay away from the media, even outlets as sycophantic to the Democrats as the Gray Lady.

Read Less

The Best Available Defense of Obama’s Foreign Policy

I got a call the other day from a reporter from the New York Times Magazine doing a retrospective article on the first year of Obama’s foreign policy. He wanted to know what fruit the president’s attempts at “outreach” had borne. My instinctive reaction was: Obama’s stress on diplomacy has not produced any payoff yet. If anything, it has reduced American standing in the world by alarming our friends (notably Eastern Europe and Israel) and earning the scorn of our enemies (North Korea, Iran, and others). There seems to be bipartisan agreement that some of the president’s policies — e.g., on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — have been disastrous. To the extent that he has done things right, it is largely a matter of continuing and expanding on the previous president’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This was greeted with a slightly incredulous noise by my interlocutor. Clearly he was skeptical, as you would expect a writer for the Times to be. So I asked him whether anyone has a contrary viewpoint. Are there serious analysts who can point to a substantive payoff from the president’s policies? He referred me to this essay by Jessica Matthews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Having read it, I am wondering if this is the best that the president’s supporters can muster on his behalf.

Matthews writes: “From his campaign address in Berlin to the path-breaking nuclear policy speech in Prague to the high risk venture in Cairo and the Nowruz message to Iran, the President succeeded in a remarkably short time in turning from dark to light how the world sees the United States.” There is some support for this impression from the Pew poll, which did find Obama’s ascent in improving opinions of the United States in Western Europe and some other places (there was a big bump in Indonesia where Obama spent part of this childhood). But it also found a small slippage in support for the U.S. in Israel, Poland, Pakistan, and Russia, while the gains in the Palestinian territory (up to 15% percent approval from 13 percent in 2007), Turkey (14 percent, up from 12 percent in 2008), Egypt (27 percent, up from 22 percent), and Jordan (25 percent, up from 19 percent) are small and still leave the U.S. mired in deep unpopularity.

The larger question is how Obama can translate greater popularity into greater achievements in safeguarding American security. Matthews thinks he has already done it, but she has to really stretch to make her case. She claims, for instance, that Obama deserves credit for the “establishment of the G-20 as a badly needed new instrument for such cooperation, bringing to the table economic powerhouses excluded from the G-8.” And what exactly will those “economic powerhouses” accomplish, other than holding fabulous meetings? That is unclear.

She also claims that Obama has established a “working relationship” with Russia but has to admit “it remains to be seen how the U.S.-Russia relationship will evolve—especially whether Moscow will do what it must do vis-à-vis Iran to retain credibility as a responsible international actor.” In fact, so far, Russia hasn’t given much reason to think it will be willing to crack down on the Iranian nuclear program. It may agree to a new START treaty, but so what? Reducing nuclear arms is more in the Russian interest than in ours because they can’t afford to maintain their arsenal.

Matthews claims that Obama “has also gone a long way toward reversing the world’s view of whether Washington or Tehran has the better argument in its favor on the crucial nuclear issue,” but there was never much question that most other nations — especially in Europe and the Middle East — sided with Washington’s concerns. The question has always been what they are prepared to do about it. Are they prepared to sacrifice economic self-interest to impose really tough sanctions on Iran? So far there has been no real movement in this direction, while the Iranian nuclear program has been going full-speed ahead.

I am by no means suggesting that the Obama foreign policy is already a failure. It is too early to tell. But certainly it has been hard to point to any substantive achievements of his first year in office. His efforts to reach out to Iran and North Korea, while ignoring their egregious human-rights violations, have been met with humiliating rejection. His Oslo speech suggested that he may be getting a little more tough-minded, as did his decision to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. Perhaps the second year will be better than his first — but that’s a low hurdle to get over.

I got a call the other day from a reporter from the New York Times Magazine doing a retrospective article on the first year of Obama’s foreign policy. He wanted to know what fruit the president’s attempts at “outreach” had borne. My instinctive reaction was: Obama’s stress on diplomacy has not produced any payoff yet. If anything, it has reduced American standing in the world by alarming our friends (notably Eastern Europe and Israel) and earning the scorn of our enemies (North Korea, Iran, and others). There seems to be bipartisan agreement that some of the president’s policies — e.g., on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — have been disastrous. To the extent that he has done things right, it is largely a matter of continuing and expanding on the previous president’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This was greeted with a slightly incredulous noise by my interlocutor. Clearly he was skeptical, as you would expect a writer for the Times to be. So I asked him whether anyone has a contrary viewpoint. Are there serious analysts who can point to a substantive payoff from the president’s policies? He referred me to this essay by Jessica Matthews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Having read it, I am wondering if this is the best that the president’s supporters can muster on his behalf.

Matthews writes: “From his campaign address in Berlin to the path-breaking nuclear policy speech in Prague to the high risk venture in Cairo and the Nowruz message to Iran, the President succeeded in a remarkably short time in turning from dark to light how the world sees the United States.” There is some support for this impression from the Pew poll, which did find Obama’s ascent in improving opinions of the United States in Western Europe and some other places (there was a big bump in Indonesia where Obama spent part of this childhood). But it also found a small slippage in support for the U.S. in Israel, Poland, Pakistan, and Russia, while the gains in the Palestinian territory (up to 15% percent approval from 13 percent in 2007), Turkey (14 percent, up from 12 percent in 2008), Egypt (27 percent, up from 22 percent), and Jordan (25 percent, up from 19 percent) are small and still leave the U.S. mired in deep unpopularity.

The larger question is how Obama can translate greater popularity into greater achievements in safeguarding American security. Matthews thinks he has already done it, but she has to really stretch to make her case. She claims, for instance, that Obama deserves credit for the “establishment of the G-20 as a badly needed new instrument for such cooperation, bringing to the table economic powerhouses excluded from the G-8.” And what exactly will those “economic powerhouses” accomplish, other than holding fabulous meetings? That is unclear.

She also claims that Obama has established a “working relationship” with Russia but has to admit “it remains to be seen how the U.S.-Russia relationship will evolve—especially whether Moscow will do what it must do vis-à-vis Iran to retain credibility as a responsible international actor.” In fact, so far, Russia hasn’t given much reason to think it will be willing to crack down on the Iranian nuclear program. It may agree to a new START treaty, but so what? Reducing nuclear arms is more in the Russian interest than in ours because they can’t afford to maintain their arsenal.

Matthews claims that Obama “has also gone a long way toward reversing the world’s view of whether Washington or Tehran has the better argument in its favor on the crucial nuclear issue,” but there was never much question that most other nations — especially in Europe and the Middle East — sided with Washington’s concerns. The question has always been what they are prepared to do about it. Are they prepared to sacrifice economic self-interest to impose really tough sanctions on Iran? So far there has been no real movement in this direction, while the Iranian nuclear program has been going full-speed ahead.

I am by no means suggesting that the Obama foreign policy is already a failure. It is too early to tell. But certainly it has been hard to point to any substantive achievements of his first year in office. His efforts to reach out to Iran and North Korea, while ignoring their egregious human-rights violations, have been met with humiliating rejection. His Oslo speech suggested that he may be getting a little more tough-minded, as did his decision to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. Perhaps the second year will be better than his first — but that’s a low hurdle to get over.

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We’re All Neocons Now

Last Friday, RealClearPolitics ran in its lead feature spot an essay by Gregory Scoblete, a free-lance writer in New Jersey. The essay had the headline “The GOP, Ron Paul & Non-Interventionism,” and was subsequently commented upon by, among others, guest-blogger Stephen Bainbridge on Andrew Sullivan’s blog.

Scoblete’s premise is that, just as Barry Goldwater’s failed campaign for president led the Republican party to embrace a limited-government philosophy, so too Ron Paul’s presidential campaign today, doomed though it is, will cause the GOP to embrace his philosophy of “non-interventionism.” Scoblete goes on at great lengths to “distinguish non-interventionism from isolationism.” He writes, for example, “The former seeks a more rigorous and delimited definition of America’s interests, while the latter a walled garden that completely cuts America off from the world. Non-interventionists are not pacifists, but they do reserve war fighting for moments of actual national peril.”

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Last Friday, RealClearPolitics ran in its lead feature spot an essay by Gregory Scoblete, a free-lance writer in New Jersey. The essay had the headline “The GOP, Ron Paul & Non-Interventionism,” and was subsequently commented upon by, among others, guest-blogger Stephen Bainbridge on Andrew Sullivan’s blog.

Scoblete’s premise is that, just as Barry Goldwater’s failed campaign for president led the Republican party to embrace a limited-government philosophy, so too Ron Paul’s presidential campaign today, doomed though it is, will cause the GOP to embrace his philosophy of “non-interventionism.” Scoblete goes on at great lengths to “distinguish non-interventionism from isolationism.” He writes, for example, “The former seeks a more rigorous and delimited definition of America’s interests, while the latter a walled garden that completely cuts America off from the world. Non-interventionists are not pacifists, but they do reserve war fighting for moments of actual national peril.”

That’s a distinction without a difference. How many self-proclaimed isolationists exist who proudly proclaim that their goal is a policy that “completely cuts America off from the world”? In fact, throughout our history, those who have advocated a de facto policy of isolationism have always claimed that they were in favor of a “rigorous and limited definition of America’s interests.” After the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor, even the America Firsters were ready to embrace war; unfortunately, they weren’t willing, in the 1920’s and 1930’s, to take the kinds of actions that might have staved off a world war.

Ron Paul, a self-proclaimed “libertarian,” fits squarely into this isolationist tradition. As noted by Christopher Caldwell in the New York Times Magazine:

Alone among Republican candidates for the presidency, Paul has always opposed the Iraq war. He blames “a dozen or two neocons who got control of our foreign policy,” chief among them Vice President Dick Cheney and the former Bush advisers Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, for the debacle. On the assumption that a bad situation could get worse if the war spreads into Iran, he has a simple plan. It is: “Just leave.” During a May debate in South Carolina, he suggested the 9/11 attacks could be attributed to United States policy. “Have you ever read about the reasons they attacked us?” he asked, referring to one of Osama bin Laden’s communiqués. “They attack us because we’ve been over there. We’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years.” Rudolph Giuliani reacted by demanding a retraction, drawing gales of applause from the audience. But the incident helped Paul too. Overnight, he became the country’s most conspicuous antiwar Republican.

Paul’s opposition to the war in Iraq did not come out of nowhere. He was against the first gulf war, the war in Kosovo and the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which he called a “declaration of virtual war.” Although he voted after Sept. 11 to approve the use of force in Afghanistan and spend $40 billion in emergency appropriations, he has sounded less thrilled with those votes as time has passed. “I voted for the authority and the money,” he now says. “I thought it was misused.”

Is this a foreign policy philosophy likely to gain much adherence in the Republican Party? Not on the evidence so far. True, Paul has been doing a bit better than expected in the presidential race, but that’s not saying much. He still barely registers in the polls. And all of the mainstream Republican (as well as Democratic) candidates firmly reject his brand of isolationism. Even many libertarians dissent from Paul’s crabbed view of America’s role abroad: see, for instance, this Wall Street Journal article.

One of the most interesting things about this year’s Republican field is that there is not a single major candidate who is running on a foreign policy platform markedly at odds with President Bush’s. Chuck Hagel could have run as an antiwar candidate, but so far he’s stayed out of the race, presumably because he knows he has no chance of winning. The debate among Giuliani, Thompson, Romney, and McCain hasn’t been over whether Bush’s foreign policy objectives are sound; it has been over who would do a better job of carrying out those policies. Even the Democratic candidates offer a foreign policy vision that differs more in rhetoric and details than in substance from Bush’s stated goals of spreading democracy, defeating terrorists, and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction. In fact, even as the Democrats profess a desire to pull out of Iraq, they are talking up other military interventions from Darfur to Pakistan. It’s enough to make you think we’re all neocons now.

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Time and Our Side

contentions would like to welcome our latest blogger, Peter Wehner. Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, formerly served as the deputy assistant to the President and as the Director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives.

Michael Ignatieff, formerly of Harvard and now deputy leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, has written a piece in the New York Times Magazine that is both a reflection on political leadership and an honest, self-condemning explanation of why he supported the war in Iraq. Ignatieff’s essay, “Getting Iraq Wrong: What The War Has Taught Me About Political Judgment,” places him in a long list of commentators who have bared their souls and asked for forgiveness—or at least understanding—for supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A few points about the essay. It appears just six days after the climate-changing column by Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution (“A War We Might Just Win”). Ignatieff is penning his confessional at precisely the moment when the security situation is improving, at a faster rate than almost anyone could have imagined just seven months ago.

This does not mean the war is on the verge of being won; General Petraeus has said it’s the most challenging environment he’s witnessed in more than 30 years in uniform. What we do know is that when it comes to security and “bottom up” reconciliation, the arc of events is now favorable. (A decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and Ignatieff may one day have to write a mea culpa about his mea culpa.)

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contentions would like to welcome our latest blogger, Peter Wehner. Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, formerly served as the deputy assistant to the President and as the Director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives.

Michael Ignatieff, formerly of Harvard and now deputy leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, has written a piece in the New York Times Magazine that is both a reflection on political leadership and an honest, self-condemning explanation of why he supported the war in Iraq. Ignatieff’s essay, “Getting Iraq Wrong: What The War Has Taught Me About Political Judgment,” places him in a long list of commentators who have bared their souls and asked for forgiveness—or at least understanding—for supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A few points about the essay. It appears just six days after the climate-changing column by Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution (“A War We Might Just Win”). Ignatieff is penning his confessional at precisely the moment when the security situation is improving, at a faster rate than almost anyone could have imagined just seven months ago.

This does not mean the war is on the verge of being won; General Petraeus has said it’s the most challenging environment he’s witnessed in more than 30 years in uniform. What we do know is that when it comes to security and “bottom up” reconciliation, the arc of events is now favorable. (A decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and Ignatieff may one day have to write a mea culpa about his mea culpa.)

Ignatieff also explains his support for the war on fairly narrow grounds: his (admirable) emotional attachment to Iraqi exiles who believed the war was the only chance that members of their generation would have to live in freedom in their own country. The humanitarian case against Saddam was overwhelming, but it was not anything like the sole reason to go to war. The United States believed, with the rest of the world, that Saddam had WMD stockpiles. (We know now that he wanted to end sanctions while preserving his capability to reconstitute his WMD program when the sanctions regime ended.) Hussein was also the most destabilizing figure in the Middle East, having invaded two countries and committed genocide in his own. He was responsible for the death of more than a million people. Recklessness and hyper-aggression were in his DNA.

A third point: Ignatieff seems to be arguing for an American withdrawal, though he doesn’t say it outright. This would consign Iraqis to cruelty and slaughter on a scale that is almost beyond our capacity to absorb. In the words of the New York Times reporter John Burns, “cataclysmic violence” would follow in the wake of an early American withdrawal. Ignatieff, who supported the war for humanitarian reasons, is already being cited by those who want to accelerate an American withdrawal, despite the ethnic cleansing and genocide that would follow. This would be a difficult thing for a man like Ignatieff, of impressive moral concerns and commitments, to defend.

We may now be at a hinge moment in Iraq, when—after years of costly mistakes and misjudgments—we are on the right path. General David Petraeus says he needs one thing more than any other: time. Anyone who purports to care about the future of Iraq, and of the Iraqis, owes him at least that much.

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