Commentary Magazine


Topic: The New Yorker

Liberals’ Civility Test

A week after President Obama’s stirring remarks at the Tucson memorial service comes an important Civility Test for liberals.

ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports that Democratic Representative Steve Cohen went to the well of the House and compared what Republicans are saying on health care to the work of the infamous Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

“They say it’s a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels,” Cohen said. “You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and eventually, people believe it. Like ‘blood libel.’ That’s the same kind of thing. The Germans said enough about the Jews and the people believed it and you had the Holocaust. You tell a lie over and over again. We heard on this floor, government takeover of health care.”

In our post-Tucson world, I’m eager to see people like E.J. Dionne Jr., Dana Milbank, and Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post; George Packer of the New Yorker; James Fallows of the Atlantic; Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, and the editorial page of the New York Times; Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, and Ed Schultz of MSNBC, and scores of other commentators and reporters all across America both publicize and condemn Representative Cohen’s slander.

Each of them will have plenty of opportunities to do so. I hope they take advantage of it. I hope, too, that reporters ask White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs what his reaction is. And I trust President Obama, who spoke so eloquently last week about the importance of civility in our national life, has something to say about this ugly episode as well. If the president were to repudiate Mr. Cohen quickly and publicly, it would be good for him, good for politics, and good for the nation.

But if the president and his liberal allies remain silent or criticize Cohen in the gentlest way possible, it’s only reasonable to conclude that their expressions of concern about incivility in public discourse are partisan rather than genuine, that what they care about isn’t public discourse but gamesmanship, not restoring civility but gaining power.

I’m sure conservatives will face similar tests in the months ahead — and they should be held to the same standard.

For now, though — in light of the libel by Representative Cohen — it is liberals who have the opportunity to take a stand on the matter of civility in public discourse, and in the process, to clarify their intentions and demonstrate the seriousness of their commitments.

A week after President Obama’s stirring remarks at the Tucson memorial service comes an important Civility Test for liberals.

ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports that Democratic Representative Steve Cohen went to the well of the House and compared what Republicans are saying on health care to the work of the infamous Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

“They say it’s a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels,” Cohen said. “You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and eventually, people believe it. Like ‘blood libel.’ That’s the same kind of thing. The Germans said enough about the Jews and the people believed it and you had the Holocaust. You tell a lie over and over again. We heard on this floor, government takeover of health care.”

In our post-Tucson world, I’m eager to see people like E.J. Dionne Jr., Dana Milbank, and Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post; George Packer of the New Yorker; James Fallows of the Atlantic; Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, and the editorial page of the New York Times; Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, and Ed Schultz of MSNBC, and scores of other commentators and reporters all across America both publicize and condemn Representative Cohen’s slander.

Each of them will have plenty of opportunities to do so. I hope they take advantage of it. I hope, too, that reporters ask White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs what his reaction is. And I trust President Obama, who spoke so eloquently last week about the importance of civility in our national life, has something to say about this ugly episode as well. If the president were to repudiate Mr. Cohen quickly and publicly, it would be good for him, good for politics, and good for the nation.

But if the president and his liberal allies remain silent or criticize Cohen in the gentlest way possible, it’s only reasonable to conclude that their expressions of concern about incivility in public discourse are partisan rather than genuine, that what they care about isn’t public discourse but gamesmanship, not restoring civility but gaining power.

I’m sure conservatives will face similar tests in the months ahead — and they should be held to the same standard.

For now, though — in light of the libel by Representative Cohen — it is liberals who have the opportunity to take a stand on the matter of civility in public discourse, and in the process, to clarify their intentions and demonstrate the seriousness of their commitments.

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RE: The Unraveling of Seymour Hersh

Following up on Pete Wehner’s item about Sy Hersh: it’s hardly news that Hersh has, to put it mildly, a peculiar view of the world. Back in 2005, in this Los Angeles Times column, I wrote that Hersh is

the journalistic equivalent of Oliver Stone: a hard-left zealot who subscribes to the old counterculture conceit that a deep, dark conspiracy is running the U.S. government. In the 1960s the boogeyman was the “military-industrial complex.” Now it’s the “neoconservatives.” “They overran the bureaucracy, they overran the Congress, they overran the press, and they overran the military!” Hersh ranted at UC Berkeley on Oct. 8, 2004.

Hersh doesn’t make any bones about his bias. “Bush scares the hell out of me,” he said. He told a group in Washington, “I’m a better American than 99% of the guys in the White House,” who are “nuts” and “ideologues.” In another speech he called Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft “demented.” Hersh has also compared what happened at Abu Ghraib with Nazi Germany. (Were American MPs gassing inmates?) He has claimed that since 2001 a “secret unit” of the U.S. government “has been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and Argentinians did.” And in his lectures he has spread the legend of how a U.S. Army platoon was supposedly ordered to execute 30 Iraqis guarding a granary.

Similar nuttiness comes pouring out every time Hersh opens his mouth in public. His most recent speech, as Pete noted, was in Doha, where he made the rather imaginative charges that the Knights of Malta and Opus Dei run the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and that Vice President Cheney had a plan to “change mosques into cathedrals” in Iraq. For wisdom like that, you normally have to turn to the likes of Jared Loughner. Not that Hersh is about to spray anyone with gunfire. What he does instead is spray venomous accusations around.

That, I suppose, is his prerogative. But what on earth is a supposedly reputable magazine like the New Yorker (to which I am, I admit, a subscriber) doing keeping him on its payroll? Shouldn’t Hersh’s rantings be limited to blogs and Twitter, where he would have plenty of company among the conspiracy crowd?

Following up on Pete Wehner’s item about Sy Hersh: it’s hardly news that Hersh has, to put it mildly, a peculiar view of the world. Back in 2005, in this Los Angeles Times column, I wrote that Hersh is

the journalistic equivalent of Oliver Stone: a hard-left zealot who subscribes to the old counterculture conceit that a deep, dark conspiracy is running the U.S. government. In the 1960s the boogeyman was the “military-industrial complex.” Now it’s the “neoconservatives.” “They overran the bureaucracy, they overran the Congress, they overran the press, and they overran the military!” Hersh ranted at UC Berkeley on Oct. 8, 2004.

Hersh doesn’t make any bones about his bias. “Bush scares the hell out of me,” he said. He told a group in Washington, “I’m a better American than 99% of the guys in the White House,” who are “nuts” and “ideologues.” In another speech he called Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft “demented.” Hersh has also compared what happened at Abu Ghraib with Nazi Germany. (Were American MPs gassing inmates?) He has claimed that since 2001 a “secret unit” of the U.S. government “has been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and Argentinians did.” And in his lectures he has spread the legend of how a U.S. Army platoon was supposedly ordered to execute 30 Iraqis guarding a granary.

Similar nuttiness comes pouring out every time Hersh opens his mouth in public. His most recent speech, as Pete noted, was in Doha, where he made the rather imaginative charges that the Knights of Malta and Opus Dei run the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and that Vice President Cheney had a plan to “change mosques into cathedrals” in Iraq. For wisdom like that, you normally have to turn to the likes of Jared Loughner. Not that Hersh is about to spray anyone with gunfire. What he does instead is spray venomous accusations around.

That, I suppose, is his prerogative. But what on earth is a supposedly reputable magazine like the New Yorker (to which I am, I admit, a subscriber) doing keeping him on its payroll? Shouldn’t Hersh’s rantings be limited to blogs and Twitter, where he would have plenty of company among the conspiracy crowd?

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The Unraveling of Seymour Hersh

The New Yorker’s investigative reporter Seymour Hersh seems to be unraveling. According to a story posted on Foreignpolicy.com, in a speech in Doha, Qatar, Hersh

delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday expressing his disappointment with President Barack Obama and his dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

“Just when we needed an angry black man,” he began, his arm perched jauntily on the podium, “we didn’t get one.”

It quickly went downhill from there.

Blake Hounshell reports that Hersh, who is writing a book on what he calls the “Cheney-Bush years,” charged that U.S. foreign policy had been hijacked by a cabal of neoconservative “crusaders” in the former vice president’s office and now in the special operations community. “What I’m really talking about is how eight or nine neoconservative, radicals if you will, overthrew the American government. Took it over,” he said of his forthcoming book. “It’s not only that the neocons took it over but how easily they did it — how Congress disappeared, how the press became part of it, how the public acquiesced.”

During his remarks, Hersh brought up the widespread looting that took place in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. “In the Cheney shop, the attitude was, ‘What’s this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting? … Don’t they get it? We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody’s gonna give a damn.'”

“That’s the attitude,” Hersh continued. “We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command.”

Hersh also alleged that General Stanley McChrystal, who headed Joint Special Operations Command before becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Admiral William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, “are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.”

“Many of them are members of Opus Dei,” Hersh continued. “They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They seem themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”

“They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each other, which are crusader coins,” he continued. “They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.”

These are the mutterings of a fevered, obsessive mind. His strange, conspiracy-plagued world is dominated by neo-conservatives and Opus Dei crusaders who are reliving the 13th century. Such writers now find a welcoming home at the New Yorker.

David Remnick must be so proud.

The New Yorker’s investigative reporter Seymour Hersh seems to be unraveling. According to a story posted on Foreignpolicy.com, in a speech in Doha, Qatar, Hersh

delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday expressing his disappointment with President Barack Obama and his dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

“Just when we needed an angry black man,” he began, his arm perched jauntily on the podium, “we didn’t get one.”

It quickly went downhill from there.

Blake Hounshell reports that Hersh, who is writing a book on what he calls the “Cheney-Bush years,” charged that U.S. foreign policy had been hijacked by a cabal of neoconservative “crusaders” in the former vice president’s office and now in the special operations community. “What I’m really talking about is how eight or nine neoconservative, radicals if you will, overthrew the American government. Took it over,” he said of his forthcoming book. “It’s not only that the neocons took it over but how easily they did it — how Congress disappeared, how the press became part of it, how the public acquiesced.”

During his remarks, Hersh brought up the widespread looting that took place in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. “In the Cheney shop, the attitude was, ‘What’s this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting? … Don’t they get it? We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody’s gonna give a damn.'”

“That’s the attitude,” Hersh continued. “We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command.”

Hersh also alleged that General Stanley McChrystal, who headed Joint Special Operations Command before becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Admiral William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, “are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.”

“Many of them are members of Opus Dei,” Hersh continued. “They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They seem themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”

“They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each other, which are crusader coins,” he continued. “They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.”

These are the mutterings of a fevered, obsessive mind. His strange, conspiracy-plagued world is dominated by neo-conservatives and Opus Dei crusaders who are reliving the 13th century. Such writers now find a welcoming home at the New Yorker.

David Remnick must be so proud.

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Is the Right Worse Than the Left?

Some on the left are still attempting to justify the biased nature of the story line that depicts conservative opinions as being the source of a poisoned debate that allegedly leads to violence. To that end, Michael Kinsley writes today in Politico that the real problem with coverage of the debate about Arizona isn’t the fact that the entire topic is a red herring promulgated in an attempt to silence the right, but that in the course of introducing this utterly false narrative, some liberals are accepting a “false balance” between the right and the left.

Though Kinsley concedes, “Democrats should be cautious about flinging accusations,” he still insists that “It seems — in fact, it seems obvious — that the situation is not balanced. Extremists on the right are more responsible for the poisonous ideological atmosphere than extremists on the left, whoever they may be. And extremists on the left have a lot less influence on nonextremists on the left than extremists on the right have on right-wing moderates.”

Why is this so? Because Kinsley says so, that’s why. From his perspective, the extreme left is represented by the chicly biased liberalism of NPR that is, I suppose, inherently more tasteful than Fox News.

But in order to accept Kinsley’s premise, you have to ignore the tone of Democratic opposition to President Bush for eight years, which was largely aimed at delegitimizing that administration and which encouraged even more extreme street rhetoric that manifested itself in demonstrations where vulgar and violent speech were commonplace. And you also have to ignore the rants that are heard today from the likes of Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, to mention just two left-wing talk-show hosts. Not to mention the more intellectual riffs of anti-conservative hatred that emanate from Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Princeton University. Yesterday I noted that Krugman called for “hanging Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy” because of the senator’s stand on ObamaCare. I neglected to mention that, according to a largely flattering profile in the New Yorker, Krugman hosted an election-night party at his home during which an effigy of Sen. John McCain was burned in effigy. Indeed, guests were invited to burn effigies of any politician they disliked. And yes, this is the same New York Times columnist who wrote that the Arizona shooting was the result of a “climate of hate” fostered by conservative rhetoric. Read More

Some on the left are still attempting to justify the biased nature of the story line that depicts conservative opinions as being the source of a poisoned debate that allegedly leads to violence. To that end, Michael Kinsley writes today in Politico that the real problem with coverage of the debate about Arizona isn’t the fact that the entire topic is a red herring promulgated in an attempt to silence the right, but that in the course of introducing this utterly false narrative, some liberals are accepting a “false balance” between the right and the left.

Though Kinsley concedes, “Democrats should be cautious about flinging accusations,” he still insists that “It seems — in fact, it seems obvious — that the situation is not balanced. Extremists on the right are more responsible for the poisonous ideological atmosphere than extremists on the left, whoever they may be. And extremists on the left have a lot less influence on nonextremists on the left than extremists on the right have on right-wing moderates.”

Why is this so? Because Kinsley says so, that’s why. From his perspective, the extreme left is represented by the chicly biased liberalism of NPR that is, I suppose, inherently more tasteful than Fox News.

But in order to accept Kinsley’s premise, you have to ignore the tone of Democratic opposition to President Bush for eight years, which was largely aimed at delegitimizing that administration and which encouraged even more extreme street rhetoric that manifested itself in demonstrations where vulgar and violent speech were commonplace. And you also have to ignore the rants that are heard today from the likes of Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, to mention just two left-wing talk-show hosts. Not to mention the more intellectual riffs of anti-conservative hatred that emanate from Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Princeton University. Yesterday I noted that Krugman called for “hanging Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy” because of the senator’s stand on ObamaCare. I neglected to mention that, according to a largely flattering profile in the New Yorker, Krugman hosted an election-night party at his home during which an effigy of Sen. John McCain was burned in effigy. Indeed, guests were invited to burn effigies of any politician they disliked. And yes, this is the same New York Times columnist who wrote that the Arizona shooting was the result of a “climate of hate” fostered by conservative rhetoric.

Kinsley is right when he decries hateful rhetoric. But he is not above taking comments out of context to back up his point. For instance, he claims Bill O’Reilly’s reaction to one of his columns consisted of a call by the FOX News host for Kinsley’s head to be cut off. That sounds despicable. But he neglects to mention that what O’Reilly was saying was that Kinsley’s opposition to Guantanamo and other tough anti-terror measures was so obstinate and foolish that perhaps the only thing that might change his mind was for al-Qaeda terrorists to treat him the same way they did Daniel Pearl. That’s pretty harsh, but not the same thing as a call for a beheading.

The cockeyed lesson that liberals seem intent on shoving down the throats of their fellow citizens is that when conservatives talk tough about liberals, it is tantamount to incitement to murder, but that when liberals talk tough about conservatives, it’s just talk, because liberals don’t mean anyone any harm. We have heard a great deal about the way political debate in this country has been debased by violent rhetoric in recent years. But for all of the nastiness of the left about Bush and of the right about Obama, I don’t think any of that has done as much damage to the fabric of democracy as the determination the past few days by the mainstream media and its liberal elites to exploit a crime carried out by a mentally ill person to further their own narrow partisan political agenda.

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The Cynicism and Intellectual Corruption of the Left

You would have to be living on another planet not to be aware of the effort by some on the left and in the media to blame conservatives for creating a “climate of hate” that encouraged a suspect, Jared Loughner, of attempting the political assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, which resulted in the death of six people and the wounding of 13 others.

This crusade is being led by the New York Times, whose front-page story on Sunday said this:

While the exact motivations of the suspect in the shootings remained unclear, an Internet site tied to the man, Jared Lee Loughner, contained antigovernment ramblings. And regardless of what led to the episode, it quickly focused attention on the degree to which inflammatory language, threats and implicit instigations to violence have become a steady undercurrent in the nation’s political culture.

Note these seven words: “regardless of what led to the episode.”

These words matter, because there is no evidence that we know of that “inflammatory language” that has “become a steady undercurrent in the nation’s political culture” drove Loughner to pull the trigger. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the man accused of the massacre, Mr. Loughner, has a twisted, disturbed, and violent mind. That is almost certainly why he committed his malevolent act. Listening to WABC in the afternoon had nothing to do with it.

Yet this doesn’t appear to matter much at all to those on the left. They are determined to draw some deeper meaning — and some political advantage — from this tragedy. They want to libel conservatism. As Jonathan noted on Sunday, George Packer of the New Yorker, in a post revealingly titled “It Doesn’t Matter Why He Did It,” described Loughner as “a delusional young man whose inner political landscape is a swamp of dystopian novels, left- and right-wing tracts, conspiracy theories, and contempt for his fellow human beings.” But Packer goes on to write this:

the tragedy wouldn’t change this basic fact: for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale. Instead of “soft on defense,” one routinely hears the words “treason” and “traitor.” The President isn’t a big-government liberal—he’s a socialist who wants to impose tyranny. He’s also, according to a minority of Republicans, including elected officials, an impostor.

This borders on being a non sequitur because, even if you allow for Packer’s tendentious and one-sided version of events (he willfully ignores liberals who routinely demonize those on the right), what conservatives said in the past two years doesn’t appear to have any bearing on what Loughner is accused of doing. Yet Packer admits this is, for him, beside the point. “The massacre in Tucson is, in a sense, irrelevant to the important point,” according to Packer. “Whatever drove Jared Lee Loughner, America’s political frequencies are full of violent static.” Read More

You would have to be living on another planet not to be aware of the effort by some on the left and in the media to blame conservatives for creating a “climate of hate” that encouraged a suspect, Jared Loughner, of attempting the political assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, which resulted in the death of six people and the wounding of 13 others.

This crusade is being led by the New York Times, whose front-page story on Sunday said this:

While the exact motivations of the suspect in the shootings remained unclear, an Internet site tied to the man, Jared Lee Loughner, contained antigovernment ramblings. And regardless of what led to the episode, it quickly focused attention on the degree to which inflammatory language, threats and implicit instigations to violence have become a steady undercurrent in the nation’s political culture.

Note these seven words: “regardless of what led to the episode.”

These words matter, because there is no evidence that we know of that “inflammatory language” that has “become a steady undercurrent in the nation’s political culture” drove Loughner to pull the trigger. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the man accused of the massacre, Mr. Loughner, has a twisted, disturbed, and violent mind. That is almost certainly why he committed his malevolent act. Listening to WABC in the afternoon had nothing to do with it.

Yet this doesn’t appear to matter much at all to those on the left. They are determined to draw some deeper meaning — and some political advantage — from this tragedy. They want to libel conservatism. As Jonathan noted on Sunday, George Packer of the New Yorker, in a post revealingly titled “It Doesn’t Matter Why He Did It,” described Loughner as “a delusional young man whose inner political landscape is a swamp of dystopian novels, left- and right-wing tracts, conspiracy theories, and contempt for his fellow human beings.” But Packer goes on to write this:

the tragedy wouldn’t change this basic fact: for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale. Instead of “soft on defense,” one routinely hears the words “treason” and “traitor.” The President isn’t a big-government liberal—he’s a socialist who wants to impose tyranny. He’s also, according to a minority of Republicans, including elected officials, an impostor.

This borders on being a non sequitur because, even if you allow for Packer’s tendentious and one-sided version of events (he willfully ignores liberals who routinely demonize those on the right), what conservatives said in the past two years doesn’t appear to have any bearing on what Loughner is accused of doing. Yet Packer admits this is, for him, beside the point. “The massacre in Tucson is, in a sense, irrelevant to the important point,” according to Packer. “Whatever drove Jared Lee Loughner, America’s political frequencies are full of violent static.”

Think about the formulation for a moment: “The massacre in Tucson is, in a sense, irrelevant to the important point.” The important point isn’t the dead or the wounded; it’s Fox News, Sarah Palin, and conservative talk radio. Blaming conservatives, you see, is the storyline Packer, the New York Times, and scores of other liberal commentators have settled on. They have decided on their narrative; inconvenient facts — also known as reality — cannot get in the way of their crusade.

This is all very postmodern, a simplistic version of deconstructionism. What is on display is a cast of mind in which facts and reality are secondary to storylines and narratives. The aim is not truth; it is to advance The Cause. It is also about cynical exploitation. As one veteran Democratic operative told Politico, the Obama White House needs to “deftly pin this on the tea partiers” just as “the Clinton White House deftly pinned the Oklahoma City bombing on the militia and anti-government people” in 1995.

It is all quite sick, really. Not a few liberals are attempting to use a human tragedy to advance an ideological agenda. They are using dead and broken bodies as political pawns. The blood was still flowing from the gunshot wounds of slain and wounded people in Tucson as liberals began an extraordinary and instantaneous smear campaign. It will end up making our political discourse even more angry and toxic.

I was naïve enough to be surprised at what has unfolded in the last 48 hours. The cynicism and intellectual corruption on the left is deeper than I imagined.

Lesson learned.

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Left Shamelessly Seeks to Exploit Arizona Tragedy

The shooting in Arizona is the sort of thing that obligates all sides in political debates to call a timeout. Right now our collective prayers are with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her family as she struggles for life, as well as with the families of those who were murdered in this senseless evil attack. But acting in the spirit of Rahm Emanuel’s belief that a crisis shouldn’t go to waste, some on the left are determined to exploit this tragedy to advance their own partisan interests.

One example is a post by the New Yorker’s George Packer, who writes today that “It doesn’t matter why he did it.” The “he” is the alleged Arizona murderer Jared Loughner, a mentally unstable creature who thinks that the government is imposing “mind control” on the public via “grammar.”

Packer concedes that Loughner is not an advocate of any coherent ideology or movement that has any real link to anything that is part of contemporary political debates, including the Tea Party activists. But to him that is irrelevant, because conservative activists and pundits have spent the last two years criticizing President Obama and his policies, making violence inevitable.

It is true that a few people on the margins have indulged in rhetoric that can be termed attempts at the “delegitimization” of Obama, including those who have irrationally focused on myths about the president’s birthplace and religion. But on the left it has become a piece of conventional wisdom that all conservatives are somehow guilty of rhetoric that crosses the bounds of decency. Indeed, so sensitive are Packer and those who think like him that even the public reading of the Constitution this past week by members of Congress (an exercise that included Rep. Giffords, who proudly read the First Amendment) is “an assault on the legitimacy of the Democratic Administration and Congress.”

Speaking in the same spirit, the National Jewish Democratic Council asserted: “It is fair to say — in today’s political climate, and given today’s political rhetoric — that many have contributed to the building levels of vitriol in our political discourse that have surely contributed to the atmosphere in which this event transpired.”

Both Packer’s post and the NJDC statement reflect the liberal talking point of the last two years that has sought to maintain the pretense that the Tea Party and other fervent critics of Obama were nothing more than hate-filled nut cases rather than merely citizens who were asserting their constitutional right of dissent. But as the election in November proved, the Tea Party turned out in many respects to be more representative of mainstream America than the media and other elites who branded them as extremists.

It is true that the political debate in this country over the last two years has been heated, with President Obama and congressional Democrats being subjected to some particularly tough rhetoric. But the level of nastiness directed at Obama was no greater than the vicious attacks that had been leveled at President Bush, who along with Dick Cheney and other administration figures was regularly vilified not only by demonstrators but also by mainstream liberal politicians. Indeed, Packer acts as though left-wing talk-show hosts like Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, who repeatedly seek to delegitimize Republicans and conservatives, didn’t exist. And it is not as if Republicans receive no threats; some, like Rep. Eric Cantor, the new House majority leader, have also been subjected to this sort of indecent behavior.

Despite all this, Packer and the NJDC are determined to use the tragedy in Arizona to resurrect this failed effort to besmirch conservatives and other Obama critics as violent haters. There is, after all, a precedent for this sort of thing. In 1995, President Clinton used the Oklahoma City bombing to strike back at his critics, including radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, even though Limbaugh and others critical of Clinton had nothing to do with the lunatics who perpetrated that crime.

Calls for civil debate are always appropriate, but those who wish to use this terrible crime to attempt to silence their opponents or to stifle legitimate public debate or activism are the ones who are crossing the bounds of decency today.

The shooting in Arizona is the sort of thing that obligates all sides in political debates to call a timeout. Right now our collective prayers are with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her family as she struggles for life, as well as with the families of those who were murdered in this senseless evil attack. But acting in the spirit of Rahm Emanuel’s belief that a crisis shouldn’t go to waste, some on the left are determined to exploit this tragedy to advance their own partisan interests.

One example is a post by the New Yorker’s George Packer, who writes today that “It doesn’t matter why he did it.” The “he” is the alleged Arizona murderer Jared Loughner, a mentally unstable creature who thinks that the government is imposing “mind control” on the public via “grammar.”

Packer concedes that Loughner is not an advocate of any coherent ideology or movement that has any real link to anything that is part of contemporary political debates, including the Tea Party activists. But to him that is irrelevant, because conservative activists and pundits have spent the last two years criticizing President Obama and his policies, making violence inevitable.

It is true that a few people on the margins have indulged in rhetoric that can be termed attempts at the “delegitimization” of Obama, including those who have irrationally focused on myths about the president’s birthplace and religion. But on the left it has become a piece of conventional wisdom that all conservatives are somehow guilty of rhetoric that crosses the bounds of decency. Indeed, so sensitive are Packer and those who think like him that even the public reading of the Constitution this past week by members of Congress (an exercise that included Rep. Giffords, who proudly read the First Amendment) is “an assault on the legitimacy of the Democratic Administration and Congress.”

Speaking in the same spirit, the National Jewish Democratic Council asserted: “It is fair to say — in today’s political climate, and given today’s political rhetoric — that many have contributed to the building levels of vitriol in our political discourse that have surely contributed to the atmosphere in which this event transpired.”

Both Packer’s post and the NJDC statement reflect the liberal talking point of the last two years that has sought to maintain the pretense that the Tea Party and other fervent critics of Obama were nothing more than hate-filled nut cases rather than merely citizens who were asserting their constitutional right of dissent. But as the election in November proved, the Tea Party turned out in many respects to be more representative of mainstream America than the media and other elites who branded them as extremists.

It is true that the political debate in this country over the last two years has been heated, with President Obama and congressional Democrats being subjected to some particularly tough rhetoric. But the level of nastiness directed at Obama was no greater than the vicious attacks that had been leveled at President Bush, who along with Dick Cheney and other administration figures was regularly vilified not only by demonstrators but also by mainstream liberal politicians. Indeed, Packer acts as though left-wing talk-show hosts like Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, who repeatedly seek to delegitimize Republicans and conservatives, didn’t exist. And it is not as if Republicans receive no threats; some, like Rep. Eric Cantor, the new House majority leader, have also been subjected to this sort of indecent behavior.

Despite all this, Packer and the NJDC are determined to use the tragedy in Arizona to resurrect this failed effort to besmirch conservatives and other Obama critics as violent haters. There is, after all, a precedent for this sort of thing. In 1995, President Clinton used the Oklahoma City bombing to strike back at his critics, including radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, even though Limbaugh and others critical of Clinton had nothing to do with the lunatics who perpetrated that crime.

Calls for civil debate are always appropriate, but those who wish to use this terrible crime to attempt to silence their opponents or to stifle legitimate public debate or activism are the ones who are crossing the bounds of decency today.

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Daily Beast Swallows Newsweek

They call it a merger, but let’s not kid ourselves. Tina Brown will be running the show and is sure to offload the remaining deadwood at Newsweek and dispense with its un-navigable website. I sort of imagine Vanity Fair — the East Coast edition. Costumed members of Congress in large group photos by Annie Leibovitz. More slam pieces on Sarah Palin. And, of course, lots and lots of ads. The Daily Beast is editorially eclectic — running from the left-leaning anti-Israel rants of Peter Beinart to the conventional media wisdom of Howard Kurtz to the sharp essays of Mark McKinnon. And, for old times’ sake, she may throw in the conspiracy meanderings of Seymour Hersh, just in case the New Yorker crowd wants to take a peek now and then. So it will certainly be a less dreary and predictable publication than the newer Newsweek or the old Newsweek, for that matter.

Yes, her own politics are predictably left, but she has, at least in this round of her career, not imposed the sort of ideological rigidity that has branded the Huffington Post as the left’s cocoon (where nary a non-liberal opinion can be uttered). But what they say in a Tina Brown publication is much less important than how they say it. And how they dress.

It may not be a better class of journalism, but it will certainly make a splash and might well be commercially viable. Besides, I look forward to all the stories on politicians and their pets and to getting an inside look at the lavish homes of our elected leaders.

They call it a merger, but let’s not kid ourselves. Tina Brown will be running the show and is sure to offload the remaining deadwood at Newsweek and dispense with its un-navigable website. I sort of imagine Vanity Fair — the East Coast edition. Costumed members of Congress in large group photos by Annie Leibovitz. More slam pieces on Sarah Palin. And, of course, lots and lots of ads. The Daily Beast is editorially eclectic — running from the left-leaning anti-Israel rants of Peter Beinart to the conventional media wisdom of Howard Kurtz to the sharp essays of Mark McKinnon. And, for old times’ sake, she may throw in the conspiracy meanderings of Seymour Hersh, just in case the New Yorker crowd wants to take a peek now and then. So it will certainly be a less dreary and predictable publication than the newer Newsweek or the old Newsweek, for that matter.

Yes, her own politics are predictably left, but she has, at least in this round of her career, not imposed the sort of ideological rigidity that has branded the Huffington Post as the left’s cocoon (where nary a non-liberal opinion can be uttered). But what they say in a Tina Brown publication is much less important than how they say it. And how they dress.

It may not be a better class of journalism, but it will certainly make a splash and might well be commercially viable. Besides, I look forward to all the stories on politicians and their pets and to getting an inside look at the lavish homes of our elected leaders.

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George Packer’s Existential Crisis

Poor George Packer. The New Yorker’s staff writer is caught in a state of despair and crushing intellectual anguish. According to Packer,

Nine years later, the main fact of our lives is the overwhelming force of unreason. Evidence, knowledge, argument, proportionality, nuance, complexity, and the other indispensable tools of the liberal mind don’t stand a chance these days against the actual image of a mob burning an effigy, or the imagined image of a man burning a mound of books. Reason tries in its patient, level-headed way to explain, to question, to weigh competing claims, but it can hardly make itself heard and soon gives up.

What has caused Packer’s spirits to sink so low? The debate surrounding the plan to build a mosque and community center near Ground Zero, Florida pastor Terry Jones’s threat to burn the Koran (a threat he decided not to carry out), and the reaction it provoked. Granted, these were not great moments, but in the long sweep of history, I’m not sure they qualify as particularly troubling. And I’m quite sure that it’s not yet time to declare that Reason is Dead.

But wait; there are yet more lamentations from Packer:

In Wilsonian terms, we are around the year 1919 or 1920. The noble mission to make the world safe for democracy ended inconclusively, and its aftermath has curdled into an atmosphere more like that of the Palmer raids and the second coming of the Klan. This is why Obama seems less and less able to speak to and for our times. He’s the voice of reason incarnate, and maybe he’s too sane to be heard in either Jalalabad or Georgia. An epigraph for our times appears in Jonathan Franzen’s new novel “Freedom”: “The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage.”

Who knew that an existential crisis could elicit such awful writing?

And, oh, by the way, what a convenient explanation Packer has manufactured for the failing presidency of his secular savior, Barack Obama (aka the Voice of Reason Incarnate). It turns out the president is simply too reasonable to be effective in this ugly, rambunctious, and deeply unreasonable world. Obama’s own failures and vanity, his own ineptness and philosophical deficiencies, have nothing at all to do with it. Obama is being brought low, you see, because he is simply too virtuous.

An epigraph for Packer’s times appear in Albert Camus’s The Fall: “In solitude and when fatigued, one is after all inclined to take oneself for a prophet. When all is said and done, that’s really what I am, having taken refuge in a desert of stones, fogs, and stagnant waters — an empty prophet for shabby times, Elijah without a messiah.”

Poor George Packer. The New Yorker’s staff writer is caught in a state of despair and crushing intellectual anguish. According to Packer,

Nine years later, the main fact of our lives is the overwhelming force of unreason. Evidence, knowledge, argument, proportionality, nuance, complexity, and the other indispensable tools of the liberal mind don’t stand a chance these days against the actual image of a mob burning an effigy, or the imagined image of a man burning a mound of books. Reason tries in its patient, level-headed way to explain, to question, to weigh competing claims, but it can hardly make itself heard and soon gives up.

What has caused Packer’s spirits to sink so low? The debate surrounding the plan to build a mosque and community center near Ground Zero, Florida pastor Terry Jones’s threat to burn the Koran (a threat he decided not to carry out), and the reaction it provoked. Granted, these were not great moments, but in the long sweep of history, I’m not sure they qualify as particularly troubling. And I’m quite sure that it’s not yet time to declare that Reason is Dead.

But wait; there are yet more lamentations from Packer:

In Wilsonian terms, we are around the year 1919 or 1920. The noble mission to make the world safe for democracy ended inconclusively, and its aftermath has curdled into an atmosphere more like that of the Palmer raids and the second coming of the Klan. This is why Obama seems less and less able to speak to and for our times. He’s the voice of reason incarnate, and maybe he’s too sane to be heard in either Jalalabad or Georgia. An epigraph for our times appears in Jonathan Franzen’s new novel “Freedom”: “The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage.”

Who knew that an existential crisis could elicit such awful writing?

And, oh, by the way, what a convenient explanation Packer has manufactured for the failing presidency of his secular savior, Barack Obama (aka the Voice of Reason Incarnate). It turns out the president is simply too reasonable to be effective in this ugly, rambunctious, and deeply unreasonable world. Obama’s own failures and vanity, his own ineptness and philosophical deficiencies, have nothing at all to do with it. Obama is being brought low, you see, because he is simply too virtuous.

An epigraph for Packer’s times appear in Albert Camus’s The Fall: “In solitude and when fatigued, one is after all inclined to take oneself for a prophet. When all is said and done, that’s really what I am, having taken refuge in a desert of stones, fogs, and stagnant waters — an empty prophet for shabby times, Elijah without a messiah.”

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President Obama, You’re No Abraham Lincoln

According to a new Rasumussen Reports survey, more likely voters now believe Barack Obama’s policies are to blame for the continuing bad economy than blame President Bush (48 vs. 47 percent). That gap will, I think, widen in the months ahead. In addition, the effort by Obama to blame his predecessor for everything from traffic congestion to nasal congestion is backfiring on Obama. The president’s incessant whining makes him look small-minded and petty, and also weak and overmatched by events.

The feeling one gets in watching Obama is not that he is engaged or energized or feels joy in his job; it is that he thinks things are just so darn hard and that the hand he’s been dealt is so darn unfair. He is therefore always in search of scapegoats. Given his habitual complaining, Obama might consider looking for guidance from Lincoln, who faced problems that make what Obama faces look like a stroll in the park. “He did not deal in blame,” William Lee Miller writes of Lincoln in President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman. Lincoln didn’t pin blame on James Buchanan even though, unlike Obama (whose actions as senator, when he joined in the effort to stop the reform of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, contributed to the financial crisis in 2008), Lincoln had plenty of grounds for doing so. America’s 16th president instead “grappled with what to do … in the terms that the issue[s] came to him.”

Now no one, aside from the New Yorker and a few other liberal magazines and commentators, ever mistook Obama as the second coming of Lincoln. But the degree to which Obama embodies the opposite qualities of Lincoln is fairly striking. Lincoln was a man of unusual grace, large spirited, without self-pity, a man who did not demean or demonize others. Obama is the antithesis of all that. The public sees it, and they aren’t terribly impressed by it.

According to a new Rasumussen Reports survey, more likely voters now believe Barack Obama’s policies are to blame for the continuing bad economy than blame President Bush (48 vs. 47 percent). That gap will, I think, widen in the months ahead. In addition, the effort by Obama to blame his predecessor for everything from traffic congestion to nasal congestion is backfiring on Obama. The president’s incessant whining makes him look small-minded and petty, and also weak and overmatched by events.

The feeling one gets in watching Obama is not that he is engaged or energized or feels joy in his job; it is that he thinks things are just so darn hard and that the hand he’s been dealt is so darn unfair. He is therefore always in search of scapegoats. Given his habitual complaining, Obama might consider looking for guidance from Lincoln, who faced problems that make what Obama faces look like a stroll in the park. “He did not deal in blame,” William Lee Miller writes of Lincoln in President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman. Lincoln didn’t pin blame on James Buchanan even though, unlike Obama (whose actions as senator, when he joined in the effort to stop the reform of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, contributed to the financial crisis in 2008), Lincoln had plenty of grounds for doing so. America’s 16th president instead “grappled with what to do … in the terms that the issue[s] came to him.”

Now no one, aside from the New Yorker and a few other liberal magazines and commentators, ever mistook Obama as the second coming of Lincoln. But the degree to which Obama embodies the opposite qualities of Lincoln is fairly striking. Lincoln was a man of unusual grace, large spirited, without self-pity, a man who did not demean or demonize others. Obama is the antithesis of all that. The public sees it, and they aren’t terribly impressed by it.

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Journolisters Risked Their Integrity

When you read those who were part of the now infamous Journolist group — hundreds of mostly liberal journalists and academics who joined an online listserv — they present their discussions as inoffensive, unexceptional, and even high-minded. Here’s how Time‘s Joe Klein describes Journolist:

[Ezra Klein and I] became friends and he asked me to join his list-serve–which, he said, would be the kind of place to have the sort of creative discussion we’d had over breakfast. It turned out to be exactly that…and more, a place to chat about music and sports, a place to meet some spectacularly smart academics I’d not met before–and, not least, a chance to interact with the latest generation of opinion journalists, most of whom didn’t have a very high opinion of me…. These conversations were private, as most good ones are. We were taking risks, testing our ideas against others…

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When you read those who were part of the now infamous Journolist group — hundreds of mostly liberal journalists and academics who joined an online listserv — they present their discussions as inoffensive, unexceptional, and even high-minded. Here’s how Time‘s Joe Klein describes Journolist:

[Ezra Klein and I] became friends and he asked me to join his list-serve–which, he said, would be the kind of place to have the sort of creative discussion we’d had over breakfast. It turned out to be exactly that…and more, a place to chat about music and sports, a place to meet some spectacularly smart academics I’d not met before–and, not least, a chance to interact with the latest generation of opinion journalists, most of whom didn’t have a very high opinion of me…. These conversations were private, as most good ones are. We were taking risks, testing our ideas against others…

It sounds positively Platonic: great minds gathering to discuss great issues of the day. Iron sharpening iron. Who could object? And then, thanks to the groundbreaking work of the Daily Caller, we have the chance to read what Journolisters actually wrote. Creative and spectacularly smart things like this:

LAURA ROZEN: People we no longer have to listen to: would it be unwise to start a thread of people we are grateful we no longer have to listen to? If not, I’ll start off: Michael Rubin.

MICHAEL COHEN, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Mark Penn and Bob Shrum. Anyone who uses the expression “Real America.” We should send there a** to Gitmo!

JESSE TAYLOR, PANDAGON.NET: Michael Barone?  Please?

LAURA ROZEN: Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich (afraid it’s not true), Drill Here Drill Now, And David Addington, John Yoo, we’ll see you in court?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, THE NEW YORKER: As a side note, does anyone know what prompted Michael Barone to go insane?

MATT DUSS: LEDEEN.

SPENCER ACKERMAN: Let’s just throw Ledeen against a wall. Or, pace Dr. Alterman, throw him through a plate glass window. I’ll bet a little spot of violence would shut him right the f*** up, as with most bullies.

JOE KLEIN, TIME: Pete Wehner…these sort of things always end badly.

ERIC ALTERMAN, AUTHOR, WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA: F****** Nascar retards…

Ah, but there’s more.

NPR producer Sarah Spitz wrote that that if Rush Limbaugh went into cardiac arrest, she would “laugh loudly like a maniac and watch his eyes bug out” as Limbaugh writhed in torment.

Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent urged his colleagues to deflect attention from Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright by changing the subject. Pick one of Obama’s conservative critics, Ackerman wrote — “Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.”

Bloomberg’s Ryan Donmoyer adds this: “You know, at the risk of violating Godwin’s law, is anyone starting to see parallels here between the teabaggers and their tactics and the rise of the Brownshirts? Esp. Now that it’s getting violent? Reminds me of the Beer Hall fracases of the 1920s.”

And, of course, there is Fox News. “I am genuinely scared” of Fox, wrote Guardian columnist Daniel Davies, because it “shows you that a genuinely shameless and unethical media organisation *cannot* be controlled by any form of peer pressure or self-regulation, and nor can it be successfully cold-shouldered or ostracised. In order to have even a semblance of control, you need a tought legal framework.”

“I agree,” said Michael Scherer of Time. “[Roger] Ailes understands that his job is to build a tribal identity, not a news organizations. You can’t hurt Fox by saying it gets it wrong, if Ailes just uses the criticism to deepen the tribal identity.”

I understand people speaking candidly in e-mail exchanges and wanting to create a group of like-minded people to exchange ideas. And I accept that Journolist was started with good intentions. But somewhere along the line, it slipped off track.

What we had were journalists creating a “community” in which we see expressions of hatred that are both comically adolescent and almost psychopathic. We have them endorsing slander of innocent people simply because they hold a different point of view, comparing the Tea Party movement to Nazism, and participating in a post thread with the subject, “The line on Palin.” And we have journalists endorsing a “tough legal framework” to control what a news organization says.

What we have, in short, is intellectual corruption of a fairly high order. From what we have seen and from what those like Tucker Carlson and his colleagues (who have read the exchanges in detail) say, Journolist was — at least in good measure — a hotbed of hatred, political hackery, banality, and juvenile thuggery. It is the kind of thing you’d expect to hear from troubled, towel-snapping junior high boys. (It’s worth pointing out that if a principal got a hold of e-mails like the ones produced by Journolist, he would punish and probably suspend the offending eighth graders.)

Journolist provides a window into the mindset of the journalistic and academic left in this country. It is not a pretty sight. The demonization and dehumanization of critics is arresting. Those who hold contrary views to the Journolist crowd aren’t individuals who have honest disagreements; they are evil, malignant, and their voices need to be eliminated from the public square. It is illiberal in the extreme.

Some Journolist defenders argue that what has been published doesn’t capture the true nature of what went on at Journolist and that the published exchanges were taken out of context. The Daily Caller’s Tucker Carlson has a reasonable response:

So why don’t we publish whatever portions of the Journolist archive we have and end the debate? Because a lot of them have no obvious news value, for one thing. Gather 400 lefty reporters and academics on one listserv and it turns out you wind up with a strikingly high concentration of bitchiness. Shocking amounts, actually. So while it might be amusing to air threads theorizing about the personal and sexual shortcomings of various NewRepublic staffers, we’ve decided to pull back…. Anyone on Journolist who claims we quoted him “out of context” can reveal the context himself.

That is a fair challenge. If Journolist turns out to differ substantially from its portrayal, Journolisters should release the full exchanges. Ezra Klein, David Corn, Jonathan Chait, and Joe Klein have all offered defenses, though their efforts range from feeble to pathetic. (It was really and merely “an argument between moderate and left-wing journalists,” Chait assures us.) Assuming that Journolisters cannot provide a stronger defense, other members of the fourth estate should be troubled by what has been uncovered. After all, it is the probity of their profession that is being stripped away.

Those who participated in Journolist undoubtedly hope this story will fade away and be forgotten. I rather doubt it will. It is another episode in the long, downward slide of modern journalism. “We were taking risks,” Joe Klein writes in his own defense. And the Journolist participants surely were — not intellectual risks but risks with their integrity — and several of them have been caught dead-to-rights. “Broken eggs cannot be mended,” Lincoln said. Neither can some broken reputations.

In many respects, the whole thing is dispiriting. On the other hand, it has had a clarifying effect. It turns out that the worst caricatures of liberal journalists were not, at least in the case of some, a caricature at all.

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Brilliant No More

How many times has a pundit or Democrat gushed over Obama’s “brilliant” mind? As conservatives pointed out to the swooners on the left, there was very little evidence of it — no inventive Third Wave philosophy of governance in his pre-presidential career, no significant legislative or intellectual achievement — other than writing a self-promoting and somewhat fictional account of himself — and actually very poor people skills (Maureen Dowd has only now figured out that he is thin-skinned and emotionally robotic). But it was heresy to suggest that he was a conventional liberal thinker, less interesting than Bill Clinton and less rigorous than Ronald Reagan.

Now that his presidency is in dire straits, perhaps the mainstream media are more receptive to that perspective. As Noemie Emery writes, to the extent that he was/is “brilliant,” it’s in the mundane task of running meetings:

He does seem a genius at chairing a forum, as at the “nuclear summit” in April, where the Washington Post claimed that he shone as a teacher, “calling on leaders to speak, embellish, oppose, and offer alternatives,” coaxing consensus and forging agreements among 45 countries at hand. The problem was that the value of these things was limited, as the attending countries weren’t menacing anyone, while Iran and Korea, who were not in attendance, went on happily building their bombs. He isn’t a sphinx, he’s a seminar leader who’s out of his element. And more and more out of his depth.

And honestly, he’s not that great at running meetings. His Afghanistan-war seminars dragged on. His health-care summit bombed when Rep. Paul Ryan and others stymied him with facts and figures.

Now that Obama’s policies and political standing are faltering, the media mavens are puzzled, as Emery notes. How can it be that he’s failing when he’s so smart? It never dawns on them that they confused slickness with smarts and urbanity with insight.

Whether it is Obama or Elena Kagan, it’s rather easy to impress the chattering class — an Ivy League degree, poise before the cameras, verbal acuity, and disdain for conservative ideas usually do it. It matters not what these figures have produced (legal opinions, legislation, etc.) but with whom they circulate and where they’ve studied. To a great degree, social elitism has replaced meritocracy as the left’s yardstick.

Unfortunately for Obama, he will be judged by what he does, not how he looks doing it. And frankly, his polish and charisma (conservatives never saw the latter, but others did) are crumbling under the pressure to finally produce something (jobs, a responsible budget, a plan for disarming Iran). There is a reason, as Emery points out, that no president has been “a blogger, a pundit, an editor of the New Yorker, or a writer for Vanity Fair.” It turns out that the rationale for the media’s lovefest — he’s just like me, but better! — was not relevant to the presidency.

How many times has a pundit or Democrat gushed over Obama’s “brilliant” mind? As conservatives pointed out to the swooners on the left, there was very little evidence of it — no inventive Third Wave philosophy of governance in his pre-presidential career, no significant legislative or intellectual achievement — other than writing a self-promoting and somewhat fictional account of himself — and actually very poor people skills (Maureen Dowd has only now figured out that he is thin-skinned and emotionally robotic). But it was heresy to suggest that he was a conventional liberal thinker, less interesting than Bill Clinton and less rigorous than Ronald Reagan.

Now that his presidency is in dire straits, perhaps the mainstream media are more receptive to that perspective. As Noemie Emery writes, to the extent that he was/is “brilliant,” it’s in the mundane task of running meetings:

He does seem a genius at chairing a forum, as at the “nuclear summit” in April, where the Washington Post claimed that he shone as a teacher, “calling on leaders to speak, embellish, oppose, and offer alternatives,” coaxing consensus and forging agreements among 45 countries at hand. The problem was that the value of these things was limited, as the attending countries weren’t menacing anyone, while Iran and Korea, who were not in attendance, went on happily building their bombs. He isn’t a sphinx, he’s a seminar leader who’s out of his element. And more and more out of his depth.

And honestly, he’s not that great at running meetings. His Afghanistan-war seminars dragged on. His health-care summit bombed when Rep. Paul Ryan and others stymied him with facts and figures.

Now that Obama’s policies and political standing are faltering, the media mavens are puzzled, as Emery notes. How can it be that he’s failing when he’s so smart? It never dawns on them that they confused slickness with smarts and urbanity with insight.

Whether it is Obama or Elena Kagan, it’s rather easy to impress the chattering class — an Ivy League degree, poise before the cameras, verbal acuity, and disdain for conservative ideas usually do it. It matters not what these figures have produced (legal opinions, legislation, etc.) but with whom they circulate and where they’ve studied. To a great degree, social elitism has replaced meritocracy as the left’s yardstick.

Unfortunately for Obama, he will be judged by what he does, not how he looks doing it. And frankly, his polish and charisma (conservatives never saw the latter, but others did) are crumbling under the pressure to finally produce something (jobs, a responsible budget, a plan for disarming Iran). There is a reason, as Emery points out, that no president has been “a blogger, a pundit, an editor of the New Yorker, or a writer for Vanity Fair.” It turns out that the rationale for the media’s lovefest — he’s just like me, but better! — was not relevant to the presidency.

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The Angry Left Is Angry Again. Go Figure.

The Angry Left is, well, angry. Very angry. In fact, they are foot-stomping, name-calling, my-opponents-are-scum-of-the-earth angry. The proximate cause for the latest temper tantrum is the firing of David Weigel by the Washington Post. But it could have been any topic on any given day.

This time the target is Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, who is lectured by Glenn Greenwald for bitter, shrill, and screechy attacks, for casting “snide insults,” for lashing out with vindictiveness and “spit[ting] petulant playground epithets with absolutely no accountability.” Next up at Salon: Tiger Woods preaching on the importance of marital fidelity.

There is by now a boring predictability to the left’s modus operandi. Any disagreement with them rises to the level of an assault on truth, beauty, and goodness, requiring a full retaliatory, ad hominem response. So if Goldberg thinks the Post’s firing of Weigel was justified, he is a really evil fellow. Worse, Goldberg actually supported the Iraq war. And David Bradley offered “money and gifts” — even ponies to Goldberg’s children! — in order to lure Goldberg from the New Yorker to the Atlantic. Just where will the corruption end?

The question many thoughtful writers confront, in the face of the huffing and puffing of the lunatic fringe, is how does one respond? It’s not always obvious or easy. In this case, Goldberg does a nice job of showing admirable self-restraint (and humor) and offers Greenwald an invitation. We’ll see what transpires.

It has long struck me as peculiar that the left is so morally outraged that one of the most sadistic rulers in modern times, Saddam Hussein, was deposed from power. One can oppose the wisdom of the Iraq war while still being grateful for how far Iraq has traveled since Saddam was removed from power. But not the left. For them, the Iraq war was and shall forever be George W. Bush’s War, the Neocon’s War, the Immoral War. In point of fact, it was, in part, a war of liberation. And what is really disconcerting to the left is that the surge worked and progress is being made (even if slowly and with setbacks). Talk about indignities.

In any event, as between the informed and nuanced views of Goldberg (on just about any subject) and the simplistic and ideological approach used by Greenwald (on just about every subject), discerning readers can decide for themselves.

The Angry Left is, well, angry. Very angry. In fact, they are foot-stomping, name-calling, my-opponents-are-scum-of-the-earth angry. The proximate cause for the latest temper tantrum is the firing of David Weigel by the Washington Post. But it could have been any topic on any given day.

This time the target is Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, who is lectured by Glenn Greenwald for bitter, shrill, and screechy attacks, for casting “snide insults,” for lashing out with vindictiveness and “spit[ting] petulant playground epithets with absolutely no accountability.” Next up at Salon: Tiger Woods preaching on the importance of marital fidelity.

There is by now a boring predictability to the left’s modus operandi. Any disagreement with them rises to the level of an assault on truth, beauty, and goodness, requiring a full retaliatory, ad hominem response. So if Goldberg thinks the Post’s firing of Weigel was justified, he is a really evil fellow. Worse, Goldberg actually supported the Iraq war. And David Bradley offered “money and gifts” — even ponies to Goldberg’s children! — in order to lure Goldberg from the New Yorker to the Atlantic. Just where will the corruption end?

The question many thoughtful writers confront, in the face of the huffing and puffing of the lunatic fringe, is how does one respond? It’s not always obvious or easy. In this case, Goldberg does a nice job of showing admirable self-restraint (and humor) and offers Greenwald an invitation. We’ll see what transpires.

It has long struck me as peculiar that the left is so morally outraged that one of the most sadistic rulers in modern times, Saddam Hussein, was deposed from power. One can oppose the wisdom of the Iraq war while still being grateful for how far Iraq has traveled since Saddam was removed from power. But not the left. For them, the Iraq war was and shall forever be George W. Bush’s War, the Neocon’s War, the Immoral War. In point of fact, it was, in part, a war of liberation. And what is really disconcerting to the left is that the surge worked and progress is being made (even if slowly and with setbacks). Talk about indignities.

In any event, as between the informed and nuanced views of Goldberg (on just about any subject) and the simplistic and ideological approach used by Greenwald (on just about every subject), discerning readers can decide for themselves.

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There Is No Santa Claus for Health Care

A sharp reader points me to this:

The official projections for health-care reform, which show it greatly reducing the number of uninsured and also reducing the budget deficit, are simply not credible. There are three basic issues. The cost and revenue projections rely on unrealistic assumptions and accounting tricks. If you make some adjustments for these, the cost of the plan is much higher. The so-called “individual mandate” isn’t really a mandate at all. Under the new system, many young and healthy people will still have a strong incentive to go uninsured. Once the reforms are up and running, some employers will have a big incentive to end their group coverage plans and dump their employees onto the taxpayer-subsidized individual plans, greatly adding to their cost.

James Capretta? Yuval Levin? Rep. Paul Ryan? No — John Cassidy of the New Yorker. It does of course raise the question as to why these warning flares didn’t go up from liberal publications before ObamaCare passed, but it’s nice to know there is broad opposition to it now across the ideological spectrum.

Cassidy’s  entire piece is well worth a read, but his takedown of the cost numbers is especially helpful and echoes what conservative critics have been saying for months:

Does Santa Claus live after all? According to the C.B.O., between now and 2019 the net cost of insuring new enrollees in Medicaid and private insurance plans will be $788 billion, but other provisions in the legislation will generate revenues and cost savings of $933 billion. Subtract the first figure from the second and—voila!—you get $143 billion in deficit reduction. …

The first objection to these figures is that the great bulk of the cost savings—more than $450 billion—comes from cuts in Medicare payments to doctors and other health-care providers. If you are vaguely familiar with Washington politics and the letters A.A.R.P. you might suspect that at least some of these cuts will fail to materialize. … The second problem is accounting gimmickry.

Cassidy, who favors “Romney-ObamaCare” instead, may not have the right solution. (Massachusetts is not exactly a smashing success.) But his analysis is dead-on and may show up in more than a few political ads this season.

A sharp reader points me to this:

The official projections for health-care reform, which show it greatly reducing the number of uninsured and also reducing the budget deficit, are simply not credible. There are three basic issues. The cost and revenue projections rely on unrealistic assumptions and accounting tricks. If you make some adjustments for these, the cost of the plan is much higher. The so-called “individual mandate” isn’t really a mandate at all. Under the new system, many young and healthy people will still have a strong incentive to go uninsured. Once the reforms are up and running, some employers will have a big incentive to end their group coverage plans and dump their employees onto the taxpayer-subsidized individual plans, greatly adding to their cost.

James Capretta? Yuval Levin? Rep. Paul Ryan? No — John Cassidy of the New Yorker. It does of course raise the question as to why these warning flares didn’t go up from liberal publications before ObamaCare passed, but it’s nice to know there is broad opposition to it now across the ideological spectrum.

Cassidy’s  entire piece is well worth a read, but his takedown of the cost numbers is especially helpful and echoes what conservative critics have been saying for months:

Does Santa Claus live after all? According to the C.B.O., between now and 2019 the net cost of insuring new enrollees in Medicaid and private insurance plans will be $788 billion, but other provisions in the legislation will generate revenues and cost savings of $933 billion. Subtract the first figure from the second and—voila!—you get $143 billion in deficit reduction. …

The first objection to these figures is that the great bulk of the cost savings—more than $450 billion—comes from cuts in Medicare payments to doctors and other health-care providers. If you are vaguely familiar with Washington politics and the letters A.A.R.P. you might suspect that at least some of these cuts will fail to materialize. … The second problem is accounting gimmickry.

Cassidy, who favors “Romney-ObamaCare” instead, may not have the right solution. (Massachusetts is not exactly a smashing success.) But his analysis is dead-on and may show up in more than a few political ads this season.

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The Truth and Barack Obama

Who knew that Barack Obama’s real ambition is to be Howard Kurtz?

In his commencement address at Hampton University, the president once again decided to act as if he were America’s Media-Critic-in-Chief. In Obama’s words:

You’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter. And with iPods and iPads; and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — (laughter) — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.

Later in the speech, Obama added this:

So, allowing you to compete in the global economy is the first way your education can prepare you. But it can also prepare you as citizens. With so many voices clamoring for attention on blogs, and on cable, on talk radio, it can be difficult, at times, to sift through it all; to know what to believe; to figure out who’s telling the truth and who’s not. Let’s face it, even some of the craziest claims can quickly gain traction. I’ve had some experience in that regard.

There are several things one can take away from the president’s remarks.

The first is that there’s a certain irony in being instructed by Obama about avoiding arguments that “don’t always rank that high on the truth meter.” This instruction, after all, comes from a man who, throughout the health-care debate, repeatedly made false and misleading arguments about the effects of ObamaCare on bending the cost curve, on the deficit and debt, on whether people will be forced to leave their employer-based policies, on whether his plan advocated Medicare cuts, on whether it would subsidize abortions, and much else.

Mr. Obama is also the person who, when he was running for the presidency, promised all health-care negotiations would be broadcast on C-SPAN (They weren’t.), that he would accept public financing for his campaign (He didn’t.), that he would put an end to “phony accounting” (He hasn’t.), that lobbyists will not work in his White House (They do.), that he would slash earmarks by more than half (He has not.), that he opposed giving Miranda rights to terrorists (He favors them.), that he was against an individual health-care mandate (He supported it.), and that he would resist the temptation “to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long” (He succumbed to the temptation.).

Where, I wonder, does Mr. Obama rank these statements on his cherished Truth Meter?

And what are we to make of the fact that the very paragraph from Obama’s speech where he laments the lack of truth in public statements includes — you guessed it — a false statement by Obama?

In his commencement address, Obama insists he doesn’t know how to work an iPod. But here’s an item that appeared on the Huffington Post on June 25, 2008:

WASHINGTON — Bob Dylan. Yo-Yo Ma. Sheryl Crow. Jay-Z. These aren’t musical acts in a summer concert series: They’re artists featured on Barack Obama’s iPod.

“I have pretty eclectic tastes,” the Democratic presidential contender said in an interview to be published in Friday’s issue of Rolling Stone.

Is that distant sound we hear the Truth Meter going off again?

By now Obama has spoken out against the New Media often enough to know that he both despises it and is obsessed with it. For all of his talk about his eagerness to listen to others, “especially when we disagree,” as he put it on the night of his election, Obama clearly resents being challenged. He gets especially exasperated and condescending when his challenger has made the better argument. That is, in fact, a trait of Team Obama; we see that attitude on display almost every day in the person of Robert Gibbs, the snidest and least likable press secretary in our lifetime.

The president and his aides are clearly used to being cosseted. They seem to believe the American public should treat them as reverentially as staff members of the New Yorker do.

It may seem odd for a man who presents himself as a public intellectual who cherishes open-mindedness and vigorous debate to be so relentlessly critical of the diversity of voices and viewpoints now in the public square. But remember this: Barack Obama is a man whose attitudes and sensibilities have been shaped by the academy, an institution that is the least (classically) liberal and open-minded in American life today. A stifling conformity and an unwillingness to engage arguments on the merits, combined with a reflexive tendency to attack the motives of those who hold opposing views, are hallmarks of the modern university. They are also, alas, hallmarks of America’s 44th president. But Mr. Obama is learning the hard way that America is not one big Ivy League campus. Here, differing opinions are heard, whether they are welcomed by those in power or not. The public will not bow down before any man or any office. And politicians who treat dissenting voices as if they are a Tower of Babble, to be mocked and ridiculed into silence, eventually receive their comeuppance. So shall Obama.

Who knew that Barack Obama’s real ambition is to be Howard Kurtz?

In his commencement address at Hampton University, the president once again decided to act as if he were America’s Media-Critic-in-Chief. In Obama’s words:

You’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter. And with iPods and iPads; and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — (laughter) — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.

Later in the speech, Obama added this:

So, allowing you to compete in the global economy is the first way your education can prepare you. But it can also prepare you as citizens. With so many voices clamoring for attention on blogs, and on cable, on talk radio, it can be difficult, at times, to sift through it all; to know what to believe; to figure out who’s telling the truth and who’s not. Let’s face it, even some of the craziest claims can quickly gain traction. I’ve had some experience in that regard.

There are several things one can take away from the president’s remarks.

The first is that there’s a certain irony in being instructed by Obama about avoiding arguments that “don’t always rank that high on the truth meter.” This instruction, after all, comes from a man who, throughout the health-care debate, repeatedly made false and misleading arguments about the effects of ObamaCare on bending the cost curve, on the deficit and debt, on whether people will be forced to leave their employer-based policies, on whether his plan advocated Medicare cuts, on whether it would subsidize abortions, and much else.

Mr. Obama is also the person who, when he was running for the presidency, promised all health-care negotiations would be broadcast on C-SPAN (They weren’t.), that he would accept public financing for his campaign (He didn’t.), that he would put an end to “phony accounting” (He hasn’t.), that lobbyists will not work in his White House (They do.), that he would slash earmarks by more than half (He has not.), that he opposed giving Miranda rights to terrorists (He favors them.), that he was against an individual health-care mandate (He supported it.), and that he would resist the temptation “to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long” (He succumbed to the temptation.).

Where, I wonder, does Mr. Obama rank these statements on his cherished Truth Meter?

And what are we to make of the fact that the very paragraph from Obama’s speech where he laments the lack of truth in public statements includes — you guessed it — a false statement by Obama?

In his commencement address, Obama insists he doesn’t know how to work an iPod. But here’s an item that appeared on the Huffington Post on June 25, 2008:

WASHINGTON — Bob Dylan. Yo-Yo Ma. Sheryl Crow. Jay-Z. These aren’t musical acts in a summer concert series: They’re artists featured on Barack Obama’s iPod.

“I have pretty eclectic tastes,” the Democratic presidential contender said in an interview to be published in Friday’s issue of Rolling Stone.

Is that distant sound we hear the Truth Meter going off again?

By now Obama has spoken out against the New Media often enough to know that he both despises it and is obsessed with it. For all of his talk about his eagerness to listen to others, “especially when we disagree,” as he put it on the night of his election, Obama clearly resents being challenged. He gets especially exasperated and condescending when his challenger has made the better argument. That is, in fact, a trait of Team Obama; we see that attitude on display almost every day in the person of Robert Gibbs, the snidest and least likable press secretary in our lifetime.

The president and his aides are clearly used to being cosseted. They seem to believe the American public should treat them as reverentially as staff members of the New Yorker do.

It may seem odd for a man who presents himself as a public intellectual who cherishes open-mindedness and vigorous debate to be so relentlessly critical of the diversity of voices and viewpoints now in the public square. But remember this: Barack Obama is a man whose attitudes and sensibilities have been shaped by the academy, an institution that is the least (classically) liberal and open-minded in American life today. A stifling conformity and an unwillingness to engage arguments on the merits, combined with a reflexive tendency to attack the motives of those who hold opposing views, are hallmarks of the modern university. They are also, alas, hallmarks of America’s 44th president. But Mr. Obama is learning the hard way that America is not one big Ivy League campus. Here, differing opinions are heard, whether they are welcomed by those in power or not. The public will not bow down before any man or any office. And politicians who treat dissenting voices as if they are a Tower of Babble, to be mocked and ridiculed into silence, eventually receive their comeuppance. So shall Obama.

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Still Vouching for Obama and Trashing Bibi

Back in 2008, when Barack Obama was doing his best to reassure Jewish voters and contributors that despite a flimsy record and troubling associations with anti-Israel extremists like his pastor, he could be trusted to be a friend to Israel, Chicago Jews who were looking to get in on the ground floor of the candidate’s presidential boomlet were quick to come forward with testimonials. Two years later, after President Obama has demonstrated, again, his desire to distance himself from Israel, such tributes ring false. Yet despite the absurdity of using these statements as proof of Obama’s goodwill toward the Jewish state, they have been resurrected in, all of places, the New Yorker, a magazine that once prided itself on being on the cutting edge of thought, not the recycler of discarded political talking points. But that’s exactly what David Remnick does in a piece in which he joins the administration’s mugging of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The conceit of the article is that the fight Obama picked earlier this month over the timing of the announcement of a Jerusalem housing project was all the fault of Netanyahu and his bumbling, bigoted government. But Remnick, who likes to put himself forward as being knowledgeable about Israel, betrays his own lack of sophistication. He claims that Netanyahu’s coalition suffers “from a troubling degree of instability.” But as anyone who’s actually been paying attention to Israel knows, that isn’t true. Bibi’s cabinet is as stable as any multi-party coalition can hope to be. It has its outliers, such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, but the parties that came together to form the government have good reasons to hang together, and there has been no serious threat to break it up. Indeed, far from being hostage to the far Right, there was hardly a peep from Netanyahu’s pro-settler allies when he agreed to a building freeze in the West Bank last fall, something that was especially surprising — and disappointing — to the Obama White House, since it has been trying to knock the Israeli leader out of office ever since he was elected a few weeks after Obama was sworn in as president.

But in an attempt to pretend that the blatant change in atmosphere toward Israel isn’t happening, all Remnick can do is recycle the same lame propaganda that the Democrats shoveled to the press in 2008: Obama’s Jewish neighbors — and contributors — all thought he was great, with one even gushing that Obama would be “the first Jewish president.”

Remnick’s misreading of the spirit of the current White House, which he insists against all evidence is still a stalwart friend of Israel, is matched by his lack of understanding of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. He claims the question now is whether Netanyahu is “the arrogant rejectionist that he was in the nineteen-nineties.” The characterization of Netanyahu’s first term as prime minster as “rejectionist” is absurd. In his three years in office, he signed both the Hebron pact and the Wye Plantation Agreement, which both mandated Israeli territorial withdrawals in exchange for the usual (unfulfilled) Palestinian promises. And since coming back to power, Netanyahu has already formally accepted a two-state solution and agreed to freeze building in the West Bank. Just as absurd is Remnick’s claim that the Palestinian Authority leadership is “moderate and constructive.” Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad may mean well, but these two are the same Palestinians who adamantly rejected an offer of a state in the West Bank and Gaza and part of Jerusalem less than two years ago. Indeed, they would not even discuss such a plan and today won’t sit down and negotiate directly with Israel. They and their Hamas rivals who rule Gaza are the rejectionists, not Netanyahu.

Remnick says that an Israeli devotion to the status quo will eventually sour a friendly Obama on Israel. But the truth is that the status quo cannot be altered unilaterally by Israel without a sea change in Palestinian thinking. Far from Netanyahu needing to do a “Nixon goes to China” transformation, it is still the Palestinians who must learn to take “yes” for an answer. The obsession with forcing Israel to make concessions to revive a peace process that the Palestinians don’t care about speaks volumes about Obama and his supporters.

Back in 2008, when Barack Obama was doing his best to reassure Jewish voters and contributors that despite a flimsy record and troubling associations with anti-Israel extremists like his pastor, he could be trusted to be a friend to Israel, Chicago Jews who were looking to get in on the ground floor of the candidate’s presidential boomlet were quick to come forward with testimonials. Two years later, after President Obama has demonstrated, again, his desire to distance himself from Israel, such tributes ring false. Yet despite the absurdity of using these statements as proof of Obama’s goodwill toward the Jewish state, they have been resurrected in, all of places, the New Yorker, a magazine that once prided itself on being on the cutting edge of thought, not the recycler of discarded political talking points. But that’s exactly what David Remnick does in a piece in which he joins the administration’s mugging of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The conceit of the article is that the fight Obama picked earlier this month over the timing of the announcement of a Jerusalem housing project was all the fault of Netanyahu and his bumbling, bigoted government. But Remnick, who likes to put himself forward as being knowledgeable about Israel, betrays his own lack of sophistication. He claims that Netanyahu’s coalition suffers “from a troubling degree of instability.” But as anyone who’s actually been paying attention to Israel knows, that isn’t true. Bibi’s cabinet is as stable as any multi-party coalition can hope to be. It has its outliers, such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, but the parties that came together to form the government have good reasons to hang together, and there has been no serious threat to break it up. Indeed, far from being hostage to the far Right, there was hardly a peep from Netanyahu’s pro-settler allies when he agreed to a building freeze in the West Bank last fall, something that was especially surprising — and disappointing — to the Obama White House, since it has been trying to knock the Israeli leader out of office ever since he was elected a few weeks after Obama was sworn in as president.

But in an attempt to pretend that the blatant change in atmosphere toward Israel isn’t happening, all Remnick can do is recycle the same lame propaganda that the Democrats shoveled to the press in 2008: Obama’s Jewish neighbors — and contributors — all thought he was great, with one even gushing that Obama would be “the first Jewish president.”

Remnick’s misreading of the spirit of the current White House, which he insists against all evidence is still a stalwart friend of Israel, is matched by his lack of understanding of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. He claims the question now is whether Netanyahu is “the arrogant rejectionist that he was in the nineteen-nineties.” The characterization of Netanyahu’s first term as prime minster as “rejectionist” is absurd. In his three years in office, he signed both the Hebron pact and the Wye Plantation Agreement, which both mandated Israeli territorial withdrawals in exchange for the usual (unfulfilled) Palestinian promises. And since coming back to power, Netanyahu has already formally accepted a two-state solution and agreed to freeze building in the West Bank. Just as absurd is Remnick’s claim that the Palestinian Authority leadership is “moderate and constructive.” Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad may mean well, but these two are the same Palestinians who adamantly rejected an offer of a state in the West Bank and Gaza and part of Jerusalem less than two years ago. Indeed, they would not even discuss such a plan and today won’t sit down and negotiate directly with Israel. They and their Hamas rivals who rule Gaza are the rejectionists, not Netanyahu.

Remnick says that an Israeli devotion to the status quo will eventually sour a friendly Obama on Israel. But the truth is that the status quo cannot be altered unilaterally by Israel without a sea change in Palestinian thinking. Far from Netanyahu needing to do a “Nixon goes to China” transformation, it is still the Palestinians who must learn to take “yes” for an answer. The obsession with forcing Israel to make concessions to revive a peace process that the Palestinians don’t care about speaks volumes about Obama and his supporters.

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RE: Spokesman for Evil

The Leveretts are on quite a roll — blogs, interviews, speeches all spinning the mullahs’ rhetoric. But they’ve also developed a nasty habit of talking about covert operations. We saw a hint of that in their embarrassing interview with Michael Crowley. Now comes this in their latest straight-from-the-mullahs’-PR-office blog:

Iranian officials are not the only sources claiming that U.S. intelligence is linked to groups carrying out terrorist operations inside the Islamic Republic. Some Western media reports—citing former CIA case officers—say that there are links between Jundallah and U.S. intelligence; for example, see this widely noted story published by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker in July 2008. Some of these reports say that Jundallah is one of a number of ethnic separatist groups (including Arab, Azeri, Baluch, and Kurdish groups) receiving covert support from the United States, as part of a covert campaign authorized during the George W. Bush Administration to press Tehran over the nuclear issue and destabilize the Islamic Republic.  For a recent discussion of the issue by a retired CIA officer, see here. As we ourselves have written, there is considerable evidence that President Obama inherited from his predecessor a number of overt programs for “democracy promotion” in Iran, as well as covert initiatives directed against Iranian interests.

As we have noted, Obama has done nothing to scale back or stop these programs—a posture that has not gone unnoticed in Tehran. We understand that, last year, the Obama Administration reviewed whether Jundallah should be designated a foreign terrorist organization, but decided not to do so. Why was that? And, even though the Muhahedin-e Khalq (MEK) retains its designation as a foreign terrorist organization, the Obama Administration continues to push the Iraqi government not to consider longstanding a longstanding Iranian request that MEK cadres in Iraq—which were granted special protective status by the George W. Bush Administration—be deported to Iran. Why is the Obama Administration trying to protect members of a U.S. government-designated terrorist group?

It’s one thing to cite other press reports, but what in the world are they doing speaking from their own knowledge of top secret operations? Really, it’s bad enough to shamelessly shill for the butchers of Tehran but do they also have to blab information they have no legal or ethical standing to discuss publicly? They then do a final bit of water-carrying, assuring us that it wasn’t the Iranians who reneged on the Vienna dealmaking:

It has become conventional wisdom in Western commentary that Iran “reneged” from its commitment to a “swap” arrangement for refueling the TRR and “rejected” the generous ElBaradei proposal because of internal political conflicts that have left the leadership too divided to take clear decisions about important foreign policy matters. We have challenged this conventional wisdom, pointing out that, since the Vienna meeting in October, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has consistently stressed Iran’s “positive view regarding the essence and nature of the [ElBaradei] proposal”, but wanted to negotiate specific details of the “swap”, regarding timing—in particular, when Iranian LEU would need to be turned over to the IAEA and when new fuel for the TRR would be delivered, where Iranian LEU would be held pending delivery of new fuel for the TRR, and how much LEU Iran would need to swap for a given amount of finished fuel.  More strategically, we have argued that Iran’s reaction to the ElBaradei proposal was inevitably conditioned by the ongoing insistence of the United States and its British and French partners on “zero enrichment” as the only acceptable long-term outcome from nuclear negotiations with Tehran.

A fine week indeed for the mullahs’ PR operation.

The Leveretts are on quite a roll — blogs, interviews, speeches all spinning the mullahs’ rhetoric. But they’ve also developed a nasty habit of talking about covert operations. We saw a hint of that in their embarrassing interview with Michael Crowley. Now comes this in their latest straight-from-the-mullahs’-PR-office blog:

Iranian officials are not the only sources claiming that U.S. intelligence is linked to groups carrying out terrorist operations inside the Islamic Republic. Some Western media reports—citing former CIA case officers—say that there are links between Jundallah and U.S. intelligence; for example, see this widely noted story published by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker in July 2008. Some of these reports say that Jundallah is one of a number of ethnic separatist groups (including Arab, Azeri, Baluch, and Kurdish groups) receiving covert support from the United States, as part of a covert campaign authorized during the George W. Bush Administration to press Tehran over the nuclear issue and destabilize the Islamic Republic.  For a recent discussion of the issue by a retired CIA officer, see here. As we ourselves have written, there is considerable evidence that President Obama inherited from his predecessor a number of overt programs for “democracy promotion” in Iran, as well as covert initiatives directed against Iranian interests.

As we have noted, Obama has done nothing to scale back or stop these programs—a posture that has not gone unnoticed in Tehran. We understand that, last year, the Obama Administration reviewed whether Jundallah should be designated a foreign terrorist organization, but decided not to do so. Why was that? And, even though the Muhahedin-e Khalq (MEK) retains its designation as a foreign terrorist organization, the Obama Administration continues to push the Iraqi government not to consider longstanding a longstanding Iranian request that MEK cadres in Iraq—which were granted special protective status by the George W. Bush Administration—be deported to Iran. Why is the Obama Administration trying to protect members of a U.S. government-designated terrorist group?

It’s one thing to cite other press reports, but what in the world are they doing speaking from their own knowledge of top secret operations? Really, it’s bad enough to shamelessly shill for the butchers of Tehran but do they also have to blab information they have no legal or ethical standing to discuss publicly? They then do a final bit of water-carrying, assuring us that it wasn’t the Iranians who reneged on the Vienna dealmaking:

It has become conventional wisdom in Western commentary that Iran “reneged” from its commitment to a “swap” arrangement for refueling the TRR and “rejected” the generous ElBaradei proposal because of internal political conflicts that have left the leadership too divided to take clear decisions about important foreign policy matters. We have challenged this conventional wisdom, pointing out that, since the Vienna meeting in October, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has consistently stressed Iran’s “positive view regarding the essence and nature of the [ElBaradei] proposal”, but wanted to negotiate specific details of the “swap”, regarding timing—in particular, when Iranian LEU would need to be turned over to the IAEA and when new fuel for the TRR would be delivered, where Iranian LEU would be held pending delivery of new fuel for the TRR, and how much LEU Iran would need to swap for a given amount of finished fuel.  More strategically, we have argued that Iran’s reaction to the ElBaradei proposal was inevitably conditioned by the ongoing insistence of the United States and its British and French partners on “zero enrichment” as the only acceptable long-term outcome from nuclear negotiations with Tehran.

A fine week indeed for the mullahs’ PR operation.

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What an Economist Thinks Poetry Is

There’s an eye-opening profile of Paul Krugman, the economist and lickspittle New York Times columnist, in the New Yorker this week. (Among its revelations: He became an economist owing to a character in an Isaac Asimov novel; his future wife was so angry when Ronald Reagan was elected president that she left the country for England; and he thought his life was in danger because people wrote him angry e-mails about some columns after 9/11.)

The most interesting detail in the piece has to do with Krugman’s academic work, which won him a Nobel Prize. Evidently, it is actually entirely commonsensical and not all that surprising in its exploration of the reasons why some businesses develop in certain places — but it was outside the norm for academic economists and so it blew them away. His particular gift, according to the piece, was his ability to translate lucid ideas into mathematical formulae; you would think the reverse would be the case for a genuinely significant contribution to the world of ideas, but never mind. Here is the Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff describing Krugman’s accomplishment:

“It’s poetry,” Kenneth Rogoff, an economist at Harvard, says. “I mean, you go back to his first book and there was this beautiful chart about what the Volcker contraction did to output that swept aside so much—he just drew this little graph which really cleared the air. I’ve heard economists use the word ‘poet’ in describing him for decades.”

Yes. A beautiful chart about the Volcker contraction. That’s just what I think of when I see the word poetry.

There’s an eye-opening profile of Paul Krugman, the economist and lickspittle New York Times columnist, in the New Yorker this week. (Among its revelations: He became an economist owing to a character in an Isaac Asimov novel; his future wife was so angry when Ronald Reagan was elected president that she left the country for England; and he thought his life was in danger because people wrote him angry e-mails about some columns after 9/11.)

The most interesting detail in the piece has to do with Krugman’s academic work, which won him a Nobel Prize. Evidently, it is actually entirely commonsensical and not all that surprising in its exploration of the reasons why some businesses develop in certain places — but it was outside the norm for academic economists and so it blew them away. His particular gift, according to the piece, was his ability to translate lucid ideas into mathematical formulae; you would think the reverse would be the case for a genuinely significant contribution to the world of ideas, but never mind. Here is the Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff describing Krugman’s accomplishment:

“It’s poetry,” Kenneth Rogoff, an economist at Harvard, says. “I mean, you go back to his first book and there was this beautiful chart about what the Volcker contraction did to output that swept aside so much—he just drew this little graph which really cleared the air. I’ve heard economists use the word ‘poet’ in describing him for decades.”

Yes. A beautiful chart about the Volcker contraction. That’s just what I think of when I see the word poetry.

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Holder Under the Bus?

Andy McCarthy and I have both been looking at Attorney General Eric Holder’s latest effort to defend in a letter to Mitch McConnell the administration’s handling of the Christmas Day bomber. McCarthy sums it up:

The fundamental problem with the attorney general’s line of argument is that it unfolds as though there were no war and no president. Abdulmutallab, Holder believes, is just like any other person arrested in the United States: When an arrest happens, government officials automatically employ “long-established and publicly known policies and practices.” It does not matter who sent the person or what he was arrested trying to do. Miranda warnings are given, lawyers are interposed, charges are filed, and trials are conducted. Even if the nation is at war, we don’t inquire into whether the arrested person is an operative dispatched here by hostile forces to commit mass murder.

Aside from the sloppy legal work by Holder (including citing cases that have been since overturned by the Supreme Court), it is curious to see that the Obami are now retreating to the defense that “Bush did the same thing” (ignoring the instances in which Bush designated terrorists as enemy combatants). None of this seems to be working to shore up support for the criminal-justice model, which the Obami have insisted on employing, in part because the legal arguments are weak (e.g., disregarding the military-commission system, now in place to handle these cases) and in part because neither the public nor members of Obama’s own party think it makes sense to try KSM in a civilian court, Mirandize a terrorist, or ship Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. Joining the chorus of other mainstream critics of the Obama approach, Stuart Taylor calls Holder’s decisions to Mirandize the Christmas Day bomber and to try KSM in a civilian court “two glaring mistakes” that require a serious course correction by Obama in his anti-terrorism policies.

In a piece in the New Yorker, which aptly describes the gathering storm of opposition, Holder doubles-down (“What we did is totally consistent with what has happened in every similar case”) and lashes out at former Vice President Dick Cheney (“On some level, and I’m not sure why, he lacks confidence in the American system of justice”). But Holder seems to be on thin ice and the White House might now view him as a liability. The New Yorker quotes a source close to the White House:

“The White House doesn’t trust his judgment, and doesn’t think he’s mindful enough of all the things he should be,” such as protecting the President from political fallout. “They think he wants to protect his own image, and to make himself untouchable politically, the way Reno did, by doing the righteous thing.”

Even more ominous for Holder: Rahm Emanuel is making it clear to all those concerned that he disagreed with a string of highly controversial and politically disastrous decisions by Holder. We learn: “Emanuel adamantly opposed a number of Holder’s decisions, including one that widened the scope of a special counsel who had begun investigating the C.I.A.’s interrogation program. Bush had appointed the special counsel, John Durham, to assess whether the C.I.A. had obstructed justice when it destroyed videotapes documenting waterboarding sessions.” And then there is the KSM trial:

At the White House, Emanuel, who is not a lawyer, opposed Holder’s position on the 9/11 cases. He argued that the Administration needed the support of key Republicans to help close Guantánamo, and that a fight over Khalid Sheikh Mohammed could alienate them. “There was a lot of drama,” the informed source said. . . .  “Rahm felt very, very strongly that it was a mistake to prosecute the 9/11 people in the federal courts, and that it was picking an unnecessary fight with the military-commission people,” the informed source said. “Rahm had a good relationship with [Sen. Lindsay] Graham, and believed Graham when he said that if you don’t prosecute these people in military commissions I won’t support the closing of Guantánamo. . . . Rahm said, ‘If we don’t have Graham, we can’t close Guantánamo, and it’s on Eric!’ ”

Interesting that Emanuel and his spinners are now distancing the White House from their attorney general. One wonders where Obama stands in this drama. Isn’t he, after all, the commander in chief? Either the president was content to go along with Holder’s decisions until they went south or he subcontracted, with no oversight, some of the most critical decisions of his presidency to a lawyer who is prone to making the kind of mistakes a “first-year lawyer would get fired for.

Either way, Obama now must suffer the results of Holder’s ill-advised decisions. There will be much speculation, given Emanuel’s comments, as to whether the White House is getting ready to throw Holder under that proverbial bus. Now, as the Democrats join the Republicans to block the KSM trial and to deny funds for moving detainees to Illinois, it would be as good a time as any.

Andy McCarthy and I have both been looking at Attorney General Eric Holder’s latest effort to defend in a letter to Mitch McConnell the administration’s handling of the Christmas Day bomber. McCarthy sums it up:

The fundamental problem with the attorney general’s line of argument is that it unfolds as though there were no war and no president. Abdulmutallab, Holder believes, is just like any other person arrested in the United States: When an arrest happens, government officials automatically employ “long-established and publicly known policies and practices.” It does not matter who sent the person or what he was arrested trying to do. Miranda warnings are given, lawyers are interposed, charges are filed, and trials are conducted. Even if the nation is at war, we don’t inquire into whether the arrested person is an operative dispatched here by hostile forces to commit mass murder.

Aside from the sloppy legal work by Holder (including citing cases that have been since overturned by the Supreme Court), it is curious to see that the Obami are now retreating to the defense that “Bush did the same thing” (ignoring the instances in which Bush designated terrorists as enemy combatants). None of this seems to be working to shore up support for the criminal-justice model, which the Obami have insisted on employing, in part because the legal arguments are weak (e.g., disregarding the military-commission system, now in place to handle these cases) and in part because neither the public nor members of Obama’s own party think it makes sense to try KSM in a civilian court, Mirandize a terrorist, or ship Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. Joining the chorus of other mainstream critics of the Obama approach, Stuart Taylor calls Holder’s decisions to Mirandize the Christmas Day bomber and to try KSM in a civilian court “two glaring mistakes” that require a serious course correction by Obama in his anti-terrorism policies.

In a piece in the New Yorker, which aptly describes the gathering storm of opposition, Holder doubles-down (“What we did is totally consistent with what has happened in every similar case”) and lashes out at former Vice President Dick Cheney (“On some level, and I’m not sure why, he lacks confidence in the American system of justice”). But Holder seems to be on thin ice and the White House might now view him as a liability. The New Yorker quotes a source close to the White House:

“The White House doesn’t trust his judgment, and doesn’t think he’s mindful enough of all the things he should be,” such as protecting the President from political fallout. “They think he wants to protect his own image, and to make himself untouchable politically, the way Reno did, by doing the righteous thing.”

Even more ominous for Holder: Rahm Emanuel is making it clear to all those concerned that he disagreed with a string of highly controversial and politically disastrous decisions by Holder. We learn: “Emanuel adamantly opposed a number of Holder’s decisions, including one that widened the scope of a special counsel who had begun investigating the C.I.A.’s interrogation program. Bush had appointed the special counsel, John Durham, to assess whether the C.I.A. had obstructed justice when it destroyed videotapes documenting waterboarding sessions.” And then there is the KSM trial:

At the White House, Emanuel, who is not a lawyer, opposed Holder’s position on the 9/11 cases. He argued that the Administration needed the support of key Republicans to help close Guantánamo, and that a fight over Khalid Sheikh Mohammed could alienate them. “There was a lot of drama,” the informed source said. . . .  “Rahm felt very, very strongly that it was a mistake to prosecute the 9/11 people in the federal courts, and that it was picking an unnecessary fight with the military-commission people,” the informed source said. “Rahm had a good relationship with [Sen. Lindsay] Graham, and believed Graham when he said that if you don’t prosecute these people in military commissions I won’t support the closing of Guantánamo. . . . Rahm said, ‘If we don’t have Graham, we can’t close Guantánamo, and it’s on Eric!’ ”

Interesting that Emanuel and his spinners are now distancing the White House from their attorney general. One wonders where Obama stands in this drama. Isn’t he, after all, the commander in chief? Either the president was content to go along with Holder’s decisions until they went south or he subcontracted, with no oversight, some of the most critical decisions of his presidency to a lawyer who is prone to making the kind of mistakes a “first-year lawyer would get fired for.

Either way, Obama now must suffer the results of Holder’s ill-advised decisions. There will be much speculation, given Emanuel’s comments, as to whether the White House is getting ready to throw Holder under that proverbial bus. Now, as the Democrats join the Republicans to block the KSM trial and to deny funds for moving detainees to Illinois, it would be as good a time as any.

Read Less

Bashar’s Stenographer

Seymour Hersh’s closeness to the Syrian regime has led him to write foolishly about the Middle East, and he has been at times complicit in information operations intended to exonerate Damascus from its involvement in international terrorism.

So it was good to see that the New Yorker found a proper use for the ample time Hersh has spent in Assad’s court: publishing direct quotes from Bashar. A friend e-mails, “The quotes are almost all little gems of B-movie comic menace mixed with egotism and stupidity.” You can read them here. Want to know why people are constantly comparing Bashar to a mobster? Here he is on Lebanon:

The civil war in Lebanon could start in days; it does not take weeks or months; it could start just like this. One cannot feel assured about anything in Lebanon unless they change the whole system.

Nice little country you got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it.

Seymour Hersh’s closeness to the Syrian regime has led him to write foolishly about the Middle East, and he has been at times complicit in information operations intended to exonerate Damascus from its involvement in international terrorism.

So it was good to see that the New Yorker found a proper use for the ample time Hersh has spent in Assad’s court: publishing direct quotes from Bashar. A friend e-mails, “The quotes are almost all little gems of B-movie comic menace mixed with egotism and stupidity.” You can read them here. Want to know why people are constantly comparing Bashar to a mobster? Here he is on Lebanon:

The civil war in Lebanon could start in days; it does not take weeks or months; it could start just like this. One cannot feel assured about anything in Lebanon unless they change the whole system.

Nice little country you got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it.

Read Less

Like LBJ Losing Cronkite?

It wasn’t too long ago that Obama wasn’t funny. That is, none of the late-night comics thought he was funny. The New Yorker couldn’t run a funny cartoon on its cover. Obama was above jokes. You don’t laugh at “sort of God,” you see. But as the mask of competence slips and the blunders mount, he becomes once again a comic target. Howard Kurtz tells us Obama is now really in trouble because he’s lost Jon Stewart:

It was inevitable that Obama would become a late-night target, at least when Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Dave Letterman have taken time out from sliming each other. But Stewart, who makes no secret of leaning left, is a pop-culture bellwether. And while the White House notes that Obama used the prompter to address journalists, not the students, the details matter little in comedy.

Stewart’s barbs are generating partisan buzz. …

“He’s clearly become an important cultural arbiter,” says Robert Lichter, director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. “He’s pulled off the trick of being taken seriously when he wants to be and taken frivolously when he wants to be.”

What is even more remarkable is that “real” news people seem to take their cues from a comic. He’s an “icon” to real journalists, Kurtz tells us. He quotes Brian Williams: “A lot of the work that Jon and his staff do is serious. They hold people to account, for errors and sloppiness.” Well, everything is relative, I suppose. The “real” media’s disinclination to treat Obama as roughly as they have treated previous presidents has left the field wide open for a cable network comic to play the role that independent journalists used to — holding the White House accountable, skewering the president for errors, and refusing to take seriously the spin coming from administration flacks.

It may be that Stewart’s newfound boldness in ribbing Obama is indicative of a change in Obama’s fortunes. But it also speaks volumes about the reluctance of the entire media — serious and otherwise — for the better part of a year to critically assess Obama’s policies and political instincts.

Now that the spell is broken and Obama is “funny,” maybe the media will discover he is also fodder for serious reporting. Perhaps they will ask some serious questions — when and if he ever gives another press conference. How was it that he claimed that the Christmas Day bomber was an isolated extremist? Did he really let Eric Holder come up with the idea all on his own for a New York trial for KSM? Did Obama not know that his own health-care plan would chase Americans out of their own health-care plans? Why did he sign an omnibus spending bill with 9,000 earmarks if earmarks are nothing more than petty corruption? How can he say the stimulus is a success if he promised it would keep unemployment at 8 percent?  There is nothing funny about any of those issues, but the media might want to press the president for answers to these and other queries. At least if they want to stay ahead of Jon Stewart.

It wasn’t too long ago that Obama wasn’t funny. That is, none of the late-night comics thought he was funny. The New Yorker couldn’t run a funny cartoon on its cover. Obama was above jokes. You don’t laugh at “sort of God,” you see. But as the mask of competence slips and the blunders mount, he becomes once again a comic target. Howard Kurtz tells us Obama is now really in trouble because he’s lost Jon Stewart:

It was inevitable that Obama would become a late-night target, at least when Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Dave Letterman have taken time out from sliming each other. But Stewart, who makes no secret of leaning left, is a pop-culture bellwether. And while the White House notes that Obama used the prompter to address journalists, not the students, the details matter little in comedy.

Stewart’s barbs are generating partisan buzz. …

“He’s clearly become an important cultural arbiter,” says Robert Lichter, director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. “He’s pulled off the trick of being taken seriously when he wants to be and taken frivolously when he wants to be.”

What is even more remarkable is that “real” news people seem to take their cues from a comic. He’s an “icon” to real journalists, Kurtz tells us. He quotes Brian Williams: “A lot of the work that Jon and his staff do is serious. They hold people to account, for errors and sloppiness.” Well, everything is relative, I suppose. The “real” media’s disinclination to treat Obama as roughly as they have treated previous presidents has left the field wide open for a cable network comic to play the role that independent journalists used to — holding the White House accountable, skewering the president for errors, and refusing to take seriously the spin coming from administration flacks.

It may be that Stewart’s newfound boldness in ribbing Obama is indicative of a change in Obama’s fortunes. But it also speaks volumes about the reluctance of the entire media — serious and otherwise — for the better part of a year to critically assess Obama’s policies and political instincts.

Now that the spell is broken and Obama is “funny,” maybe the media will discover he is also fodder for serious reporting. Perhaps they will ask some serious questions — when and if he ever gives another press conference. How was it that he claimed that the Christmas Day bomber was an isolated extremist? Did he really let Eric Holder come up with the idea all on his own for a New York trial for KSM? Did Obama not know that his own health-care plan would chase Americans out of their own health-care plans? Why did he sign an omnibus spending bill with 9,000 earmarks if earmarks are nothing more than petty corruption? How can he say the stimulus is a success if he promised it would keep unemployment at 8 percent?  There is nothing funny about any of those issues, but the media might want to press the president for answers to these and other queries. At least if they want to stay ahead of Jon Stewart.

Read Less




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