Commentary Magazine


Topic: the Olympics

Flotsam and Jetsam

Don’t be president, then. “Obama miffed by questions on U.S.”

Don’t think Dems fail to grasp how toxic ObamaCare is. “A leading Senate Democrat vowed Friday to introduce legislation killing a part of the new healthcare reform law that imposes new tax-filing requirements on small businesses. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee and a leading architect of the reform law, said a provision requiring businesses to report more purchases to the IRS will impose undue paperwork burdens on companies amid an economic downturn when they can least afford it.”

Don’t get your hopes up. “All the president has to do is abandon some foolish ideological presuppositions, get down to work, and stop fishing for compliments. If he did so, he’d end up getting genuine compliments—from us and, we dare say, from the American people. And then his self-respect would have a firmer ground than vanity.”

Don’t underestimate your impact, Nancy. “‘We didn’t lose the election because of me,’ Ms. Pelosi told National Public Radio in an interview that aired Friday morning.” No wonder Republicans are “giddy.”

Don’t believe that Obama learned anything from his rebuffs in Copenhagen (on global warming and the Olympics). Charles Krauthammer nails it: “Whenever a president walks into a room with another head of state and he walks out empty-handed — he’s got a failure on his hands. And this was self-inflicted. With Obama it’s now becoming a ritual. It’s a combination of incompetence,  inexperience, and arrogance. He was handed a treaty by the Bush administration. It was done. But he wanted to improve on it. And instead, so far, he’s got nothing. … And this is a pattern with Obama. He thinks he can reinvent the world. With Iran, he decides he has a silver tongue, he’ll sweet-talk ’em into a deal. He gets humiliated over and over again. With the Russians he does a reset, he gives up missile defense, he gets nothing.”

Don’t you wish the Obami would stop giving excuses that make them sound even more incompetent? “The U.S. position on settlements has not officially changed, [National Security Council’s Dan] Shapiro said. The United States still believes that the Israeli settlement moratorium should be extended, but that Palestinians should stay in peace talks even if it is not. He said that President Obama — who said Monday that Israeli settlement construction was ‘never helpful’ to peace talks Israel announced further construction plans in East Jerusalem — wasn’t trying to publicly criticize Netanyahu with his remarks. He simply answered a question put to him in a direct way, said Shapiro.” But not publicly criticize Bibi? They are frightfully inept — or disingenuous.

Don’t you miss smart diplomacy? “President Obama’s failure to conclude the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) is a disaster. It reveals a stunning level of ineptitude and seriously undermines America’s leadership in the global economy. The implications extend far beyond selling Buicks in Busan. … The debacle in Seoul is a slap in the face of a critical U.S. ally in a critical region, and it will cast doubt on U.S. trade promises in other negotiations elsewhere. But if an American president loses his credibility, the damage spreads beyond the narrow confines of economic deals and Northeast Asia.”

Don’t be shocked. CNN’s guest roster skews left.

Don’t let your family pet do this at home. “A 150-pound mountain lion was no match for a squirrel-chasing terrier on a farm in eastern South Dakota. Jack the Jack Russell weighs only 17 pounds, and yet he managed to trap the cougar up a tree on Tuesday. Jack’s owner, Chad Strenge, told The Argus Leader that the dog ‘trees cats all the time,’ and that the plucky terrier probably ‘figured it was just a cat.'”

Don’t be president, then. “Obama miffed by questions on U.S.”

Don’t think Dems fail to grasp how toxic ObamaCare is. “A leading Senate Democrat vowed Friday to introduce legislation killing a part of the new healthcare reform law that imposes new tax-filing requirements on small businesses. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee and a leading architect of the reform law, said a provision requiring businesses to report more purchases to the IRS will impose undue paperwork burdens on companies amid an economic downturn when they can least afford it.”

Don’t get your hopes up. “All the president has to do is abandon some foolish ideological presuppositions, get down to work, and stop fishing for compliments. If he did so, he’d end up getting genuine compliments—from us and, we dare say, from the American people. And then his self-respect would have a firmer ground than vanity.”

Don’t underestimate your impact, Nancy. “‘We didn’t lose the election because of me,’ Ms. Pelosi told National Public Radio in an interview that aired Friday morning.” No wonder Republicans are “giddy.”

Don’t believe that Obama learned anything from his rebuffs in Copenhagen (on global warming and the Olympics). Charles Krauthammer nails it: “Whenever a president walks into a room with another head of state and he walks out empty-handed — he’s got a failure on his hands. And this was self-inflicted. With Obama it’s now becoming a ritual. It’s a combination of incompetence,  inexperience, and arrogance. He was handed a treaty by the Bush administration. It was done. But he wanted to improve on it. And instead, so far, he’s got nothing. … And this is a pattern with Obama. He thinks he can reinvent the world. With Iran, he decides he has a silver tongue, he’ll sweet-talk ’em into a deal. He gets humiliated over and over again. With the Russians he does a reset, he gives up missile defense, he gets nothing.”

Don’t you wish the Obami would stop giving excuses that make them sound even more incompetent? “The U.S. position on settlements has not officially changed, [National Security Council’s Dan] Shapiro said. The United States still believes that the Israeli settlement moratorium should be extended, but that Palestinians should stay in peace talks even if it is not. He said that President Obama — who said Monday that Israeli settlement construction was ‘never helpful’ to peace talks Israel announced further construction plans in East Jerusalem — wasn’t trying to publicly criticize Netanyahu with his remarks. He simply answered a question put to him in a direct way, said Shapiro.” But not publicly criticize Bibi? They are frightfully inept — or disingenuous.

Don’t you miss smart diplomacy? “President Obama’s failure to conclude the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) is a disaster. It reveals a stunning level of ineptitude and seriously undermines America’s leadership in the global economy. The implications extend far beyond selling Buicks in Busan. … The debacle in Seoul is a slap in the face of a critical U.S. ally in a critical region, and it will cast doubt on U.S. trade promises in other negotiations elsewhere. But if an American president loses his credibility, the damage spreads beyond the narrow confines of economic deals and Northeast Asia.”

Don’t be shocked. CNN’s guest roster skews left.

Don’t let your family pet do this at home. “A 150-pound mountain lion was no match for a squirrel-chasing terrier on a farm in eastern South Dakota. Jack the Jack Russell weighs only 17 pounds, and yet he managed to trap the cougar up a tree on Tuesday. Jack’s owner, Chad Strenge, told The Argus Leader that the dog ‘trees cats all the time,’ and that the plucky terrier probably ‘figured it was just a cat.'”

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Thoroughly Modern Equestrian and Plural Royal Wife

Say what you will about the liberal bias and the lowered standards of the New York Times, but the Grey Lady can’t be topped for irony, especially when its editorial agenda collides with the lifestyles of the Arab world. A prime example was yesterday’s feature in the paper’s Sunday Sports section about the current head of the International Equestrian Federation, Princess Haya bint al-Hussein. Princess Haya is the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan and the wife of Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. Actually, make that, as the Times puts it, the Sheik’s “junior wife.”

The profile of the fair princess goes all out to portray her as a feminist heroine who rode in the Olympics and defied the conventions of her Islamic homeland by becoming the only woman in Jordan who is licensed to drive heavy trucks. Which is, no doubt, pretty impressive. However, in countries such as Jordan and Dubai, where the government is an extension of the monarch’s whims, the fact that the king lets his tomboy daughter drive trucks says nothing about the way the majority of women are treated.

Nevertheless, the Times was most interested in the princess’s battle for re-election as the head of the equestrian federation. Though this organization has always been led by royalty, such as the Britain’s Prince Phillip, apparently some of its members are now engaging in lèse-majesté, challenging the princess because of her support for legalizing the drugging of horses even though her husband and his son have both been suspended from equestrian competitions for drug violations.

But whatever your opinion might be about drugs and horses, the princess was perfect fodder for the Times’s politicized sports section because of her status as an Arab Muslim and a woman in charge of an international sport (whether rich people riding horses who jump over fences is really a competitive sport is another question). But though reporter Katie Thomas writes breathlessly about the princess’s couture, poise, and her common touch with all the little people she meets in her horsey world, she isn’t terribly curious about what is, to any reader not obsessed with horses or fashion, the most interesting thing about the princess: her polygamous marriage.

Though she notes that the Sheik — who, at 61, is 25 years older than the princess — has a “senior” wife who is the mother to Dubai’s Crown Prince and is “rarely seen,” the question of how you can be a thoroughly modern and seemingly emancipated woman while sharing a husband with another woman is never posed. Instead, we are just supposed to be impressed by the fact that Princess Haya uses a BlackBerry and an iPhone.

The disconnect between the princess’s emancipated life with the patriarchal nature of her marriage is, no doubt, a complicated subject. But this is the same newspaper that reports about American polygamy as a freak show fraught with abuse of both women and children. Yet when confronted with “Big Love” Arab potentates and their trophy second wives who engage in a practice that most Americans rightly consider odious, the Times is prepared to bow and scrape like any courtier.

Say what you will about the liberal bias and the lowered standards of the New York Times, but the Grey Lady can’t be topped for irony, especially when its editorial agenda collides with the lifestyles of the Arab world. A prime example was yesterday’s feature in the paper’s Sunday Sports section about the current head of the International Equestrian Federation, Princess Haya bint al-Hussein. Princess Haya is the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan and the wife of Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. Actually, make that, as the Times puts it, the Sheik’s “junior wife.”

The profile of the fair princess goes all out to portray her as a feminist heroine who rode in the Olympics and defied the conventions of her Islamic homeland by becoming the only woman in Jordan who is licensed to drive heavy trucks. Which is, no doubt, pretty impressive. However, in countries such as Jordan and Dubai, where the government is an extension of the monarch’s whims, the fact that the king lets his tomboy daughter drive trucks says nothing about the way the majority of women are treated.

Nevertheless, the Times was most interested in the princess’s battle for re-election as the head of the equestrian federation. Though this organization has always been led by royalty, such as the Britain’s Prince Phillip, apparently some of its members are now engaging in lèse-majesté, challenging the princess because of her support for legalizing the drugging of horses even though her husband and his son have both been suspended from equestrian competitions for drug violations.

But whatever your opinion might be about drugs and horses, the princess was perfect fodder for the Times’s politicized sports section because of her status as an Arab Muslim and a woman in charge of an international sport (whether rich people riding horses who jump over fences is really a competitive sport is another question). But though reporter Katie Thomas writes breathlessly about the princess’s couture, poise, and her common touch with all the little people she meets in her horsey world, she isn’t terribly curious about what is, to any reader not obsessed with horses or fashion, the most interesting thing about the princess: her polygamous marriage.

Though she notes that the Sheik — who, at 61, is 25 years older than the princess — has a “senior” wife who is the mother to Dubai’s Crown Prince and is “rarely seen,” the question of how you can be a thoroughly modern and seemingly emancipated woman while sharing a husband with another woman is never posed. Instead, we are just supposed to be impressed by the fact that Princess Haya uses a BlackBerry and an iPhone.

The disconnect between the princess’s emancipated life with the patriarchal nature of her marriage is, no doubt, a complicated subject. But this is the same newspaper that reports about American polygamy as a freak show fraught with abuse of both women and children. Yet when confronted with “Big Love” Arab potentates and their trophy second wives who engage in a practice that most Americans rightly consider odious, the Times is prepared to bow and scrape like any courtier.

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The World Cup and American Exceptionalism

Jonathan, it took me a while to read your response to my response to your response — I am watching football!

Far from me the thought that a game of football is anything more than a game of football.

For those who like football, the World Cup is the most epic tournament of all — the concentration of talent on the pitch and intensity of the emotions around the pitch is unprecedented. You either like it or not, of course, but to question the wisdom of club team versus national team is besides the point. It’s been like that since 1930, and nobody wants to change it, because it is simply an exciting spectacle that hundreds of millions of people around the world wait for and watch religiously every four years.

America has not been privy to this extravagance for a long time — but look at the U.S. team. Before the World Cup came to the United States, the U.S. only moonlighted with semi-professional teams that would suffer basketball-score defeats. Since then, the American team has been steadily rising. It now plays in the big league. It is a remarkable accomplishment.

Are there political implications to the game? There should be none, whatsoever — although there was a war once because of a match. But the fans — and their passions — attest to a deep-seated sentiment of national pride, which in turn explains the popularity of the World Cup contest. The way that victory and defeat is taken is another testament to the power of nationalist feelings and patriotic pride — and all the better that it is expressed through peaceful enthusiasm and playful banter against adversaries, especially the old ones.

The interesting point is another one, and has little to do with the use of the flag by governments. If tyrannies ever tried to exploit the game for their own aggrandizement, they did not accomplish much. In recent decades, the only country I can think of that won a World Cup and was a dictatorship was Argentina in 1978 (Maggie Thatcher took care of them, eventually). And Communism never produced a winner — ideology always stands in the way of complex game strategies, bouts of individual creativeness, and the need to adjust quickly.

The interesting point is that it is often in those enlightened societies that reject patriotism as outdated and pernicious on philosophical grounds — Western Europe being a primary location, the newsroom of NPR a secondary one — that the World Cup unleashes patriotism in a way that no other sport competition in the world ever does, not even the Olympics. This raises an interesting question, first and foremost for those left-wing promoters of flower power who think nationalism is both pernicious and on the wane. The World Cup awakens the sentiment where leftists think there is none left (or there should not be, i.e., even in their own newsroom). And that, to me, is a good thing — it highlights the fallacy of the post-national, postmodern worldview, especially because all it takes is 22 men in shorts chasing a football to demonstrate this fine point of political philosophy.

As for the U.S., my point is even less ambitious. To see it join the big league as a serious contender to me is refreshing not because a victory for the United States (unlikely this time, by the way) would bring pride and prestige to democracy, or because of what it may or may not demonstrate about American nationalism or America’s sudden abandonment of its exceptionalism. In fact, I think it proves American exceptionalism. Given how late America comes to football and how quickly it rises from obscurity to success, it would be yet another sign of certain characteristics that make America so unique. It would prove how fast and successful America is in mastering all things foreign and seamlessly integrating them in its own unique national fabric; it would offer yet another proof of immigrants becoming the standard bearers of American patriotism — just look at who plays for the national team and you’ll see my point; and of sport being a ticket for them into the pantheon of all American heroes.

All in all a good thing — and one that a club-team international competition with the LA Galaxy beating the Muloudia Club d’Alger is not likely to engender.

Jonathan, it took me a while to read your response to my response to your response — I am watching football!

Far from me the thought that a game of football is anything more than a game of football.

For those who like football, the World Cup is the most epic tournament of all — the concentration of talent on the pitch and intensity of the emotions around the pitch is unprecedented. You either like it or not, of course, but to question the wisdom of club team versus national team is besides the point. It’s been like that since 1930, and nobody wants to change it, because it is simply an exciting spectacle that hundreds of millions of people around the world wait for and watch religiously every four years.

America has not been privy to this extravagance for a long time — but look at the U.S. team. Before the World Cup came to the United States, the U.S. only moonlighted with semi-professional teams that would suffer basketball-score defeats. Since then, the American team has been steadily rising. It now plays in the big league. It is a remarkable accomplishment.

Are there political implications to the game? There should be none, whatsoever — although there was a war once because of a match. But the fans — and their passions — attest to a deep-seated sentiment of national pride, which in turn explains the popularity of the World Cup contest. The way that victory and defeat is taken is another testament to the power of nationalist feelings and patriotic pride — and all the better that it is expressed through peaceful enthusiasm and playful banter against adversaries, especially the old ones.

The interesting point is another one, and has little to do with the use of the flag by governments. If tyrannies ever tried to exploit the game for their own aggrandizement, they did not accomplish much. In recent decades, the only country I can think of that won a World Cup and was a dictatorship was Argentina in 1978 (Maggie Thatcher took care of them, eventually). And Communism never produced a winner — ideology always stands in the way of complex game strategies, bouts of individual creativeness, and the need to adjust quickly.

The interesting point is that it is often in those enlightened societies that reject patriotism as outdated and pernicious on philosophical grounds — Western Europe being a primary location, the newsroom of NPR a secondary one — that the World Cup unleashes patriotism in a way that no other sport competition in the world ever does, not even the Olympics. This raises an interesting question, first and foremost for those left-wing promoters of flower power who think nationalism is both pernicious and on the wane. The World Cup awakens the sentiment where leftists think there is none left (or there should not be, i.e., even in their own newsroom). And that, to me, is a good thing — it highlights the fallacy of the post-national, postmodern worldview, especially because all it takes is 22 men in shorts chasing a football to demonstrate this fine point of political philosophy.

As for the U.S., my point is even less ambitious. To see it join the big league as a serious contender to me is refreshing not because a victory for the United States (unlikely this time, by the way) would bring pride and prestige to democracy, or because of what it may or may not demonstrate about American nationalism or America’s sudden abandonment of its exceptionalism. In fact, I think it proves American exceptionalism. Given how late America comes to football and how quickly it rises from obscurity to success, it would be yet another sign of certain characteristics that make America so unique. It would prove how fast and successful America is in mastering all things foreign and seamlessly integrating them in its own unique national fabric; it would offer yet another proof of immigrants becoming the standard bearers of American patriotism — just look at who plays for the national team and you’ll see my point; and of sport being a ticket for them into the pantheon of all American heroes.

All in all a good thing — and one that a club-team international competition with the LA Galaxy beating the Muloudia Club d’Alger is not likely to engender.

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RE: RE: Leftist Soccer Agony: U.S. Victory Equals Jingoism

Emanuele, I understand your enthusiasm for the sport the rest of the world calls football, but I’m a little confused by your argument that the World Cup is good because it allows liberal NPR-types who run down their own countries the rest of the year to engage in a little meaningless nationalist chest-beating. That may provide us with an interesting irony, but it can’t be considered commendable. Confusing sports with politics is bad regardless of whether it is done by totalitarians or democrats, and that is why I insist that wrapping national sports teams in the flag is sheer humbug. While Americans are, unfortunately, as vulnerable to the appeal of sports globaloney, such as the Olympics, as anyone else, for the most part, we much prefer our own team sports to international competitions, and that is all the better. Keeping those flags and nationalist sentiments, which are so easily and wrongly manipulated by tyrannies, out of the realm of sport is much to be preferred.

If, as you suggest, the success of the U.S. team in the World Cup will discourage those who root for American decline in the world, then so much the better. Let the foes of the United States tremble, whether the reason be substantial or not. But the notion you advance, that the possibility of future American dominance in soccer (a sport in which it has lagged behind principally because most Americans don’t care much about it) will illustrate the greatness of the American character, is, while flattering to our vanity, just as much of a humbug as the idea that Eastern-bloc dominance in other sports during the Cold War illustrated the superiority of communism.

Indeed, the best example of this was the “miracle on ice,” when an underdog bunch of American college ice-hockey players defeated the mighty professionals of the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics. As an American hockey fan, I was thrilled by it. But the widely believed notion that it was an illustration of American greatness or, heaven help us, that it helped win the Cold War, is sheer hyperbole. It was an amazing upset — but just a hockey game. The players on the Soviet hockey team were just athletes in red uniforms, not off-duty Gulag prison guards or KGB agents being bested by all-American G.I. Joes. The outcome had nothing to do with the triumph of American values any more than the numerous defeats inflicted on American squads at other times by that magnificent Soviet team portrayed the preeminence of the totalitarian ideology of their masters in the Kremlin.

While I wish the American team well in the subsequent rounds of the World Cup and encourage our friends around the world — who care more about this game than most of us here do — to root for them if they like, let us not make the mistake of confusing sports with politics or national character. Love of country has many admirable as well as distasteful manifestations. But good or bad, it has nothing to do with soccer or any other sport.

Emanuele, I understand your enthusiasm for the sport the rest of the world calls football, but I’m a little confused by your argument that the World Cup is good because it allows liberal NPR-types who run down their own countries the rest of the year to engage in a little meaningless nationalist chest-beating. That may provide us with an interesting irony, but it can’t be considered commendable. Confusing sports with politics is bad regardless of whether it is done by totalitarians or democrats, and that is why I insist that wrapping national sports teams in the flag is sheer humbug. While Americans are, unfortunately, as vulnerable to the appeal of sports globaloney, such as the Olympics, as anyone else, for the most part, we much prefer our own team sports to international competitions, and that is all the better. Keeping those flags and nationalist sentiments, which are so easily and wrongly manipulated by tyrannies, out of the realm of sport is much to be preferred.

If, as you suggest, the success of the U.S. team in the World Cup will discourage those who root for American decline in the world, then so much the better. Let the foes of the United States tremble, whether the reason be substantial or not. But the notion you advance, that the possibility of future American dominance in soccer (a sport in which it has lagged behind principally because most Americans don’t care much about it) will illustrate the greatness of the American character, is, while flattering to our vanity, just as much of a humbug as the idea that Eastern-bloc dominance in other sports during the Cold War illustrated the superiority of communism.

Indeed, the best example of this was the “miracle on ice,” when an underdog bunch of American college ice-hockey players defeated the mighty professionals of the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics. As an American hockey fan, I was thrilled by it. But the widely believed notion that it was an illustration of American greatness or, heaven help us, that it helped win the Cold War, is sheer hyperbole. It was an amazing upset — but just a hockey game. The players on the Soviet hockey team were just athletes in red uniforms, not off-duty Gulag prison guards or KGB agents being bested by all-American G.I. Joes. The outcome had nothing to do with the triumph of American values any more than the numerous defeats inflicted on American squads at other times by that magnificent Soviet team portrayed the preeminence of the totalitarian ideology of their masters in the Kremlin.

While I wish the American team well in the subsequent rounds of the World Cup and encourage our friends around the world — who care more about this game than most of us here do — to root for them if they like, let us not make the mistake of confusing sports with politics or national character. Love of country has many admirable as well as distasteful manifestations. But good or bad, it has nothing to do with soccer or any other sport.

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Leftist Soccer Agony: U.S. Victory Equals Jingoism

You would think that leftists who hope that American sports exceptionalism is breaking down in the face of World Cup fever would be thrilled by the big American victory in a game against Algeria. And they are. Sort of.

As leftist ideologue and soccer fanatic Dave Zirin writes in the Nation, the NPR crowd was ecstatic when the U.S. squad’s Landon Donovan scored to seal the American victory that put them into the tournament’s second round. As Zirin tells it, he was literally at the NPR studios in Washington waiting to go on to discuss the game when the goal was scored and “almost every cubicle and office let out an extemporaneous yelp. Yes, NPR went wild.” Needless to say, there was no such demonstration at the offices of COMMENTARY.

That is, of course, hardly surprising. In the NPR universe, the reluctance of the vast majority of Americans to embrace the so-called “beautiful game” is a symbol of our Bush-like arrogance and refusal to march to the same drummers as those enlightened soccer hooligans from Europe, South America, and even North Korea (whose representatives made the 32-team final in South Africa). For soccer lovers who see the sport’s minor-league status here as an affront to their globalist sensibilities, the World Cup is the quadrennial chance to boost its status, so the fortunes of the American team are a matter of deep concern to them. If the Americans succeed, as they have so far in this World Cup, then they hope that somehow this will translate into more prestige for U.S. soccer or at least a chance that the sports manifestation of American exceptionalism is in decline. Notwithstanding our sympathy for the boys running around the fields of South Africa in red, white, and blue, that is an outcome we should not desire. Soccer is just a game (albeit a boring one), and there’s no need for patriots to abuse it or its fans. But let’s just say that as long as Americans don’t share a common sports culture with Algerians and Iranians or even Europeans, we need not fear for the future of the republic.

But there’s the rub for hardcore leftists like Zirin, who hope that one day we will be no different than the rest of the world. Zirin wrote last week that the real reason that most Americans don’t like soccer is racism and looked forward to Glenn Beck’s dilemma when America was a World Cup favorite, as the right-wing broadcaster would have to choose between supporting the flag and his anti-soccer faith. But American successes, such as yesterday’s U.S. victory, provide Zirin with his own problem. In order for soccer to do well here, he’s got to root for the American team against Third World victims like Algeria (he admits he’s really an Argentina fan) and be subjected to jingoist soccer rhetoric about America’s “cultural supremacy” on sports talk shows. He confesses that is why international competitions leave him “with such a sour taste.”

While I find Zirin’s soccer evangelism as well as his aversion to rooting for his own country risible, he’s actually right about that last point even if he doesn’t follow it to its logical conclusion. While I wish the American World Cup team well, as I would any endeavor in which my fellow citizens represent our country, the business of wrapping team sports in national flags is sheer humbug. Which is why I despise the World Cup in the same way I detest other instances of sports globaloney, like the Olympics or our beloved national pastime of baseball’s own World Cup, whose absurd out-of-season international tournament has produced little interest here the two times it was played. It is far better to leave this nonsense to the denizens of Old Europe, unstable South America, and the despotic Middle East, whose one democracy, Israel, is not allowed to compete against its neighbors in soccer but must instead play against the powerhouses of Europe to get into the World Cup, and thus has never been allowed to participate.

You would think that leftists who hope that American sports exceptionalism is breaking down in the face of World Cup fever would be thrilled by the big American victory in a game against Algeria. And they are. Sort of.

As leftist ideologue and soccer fanatic Dave Zirin writes in the Nation, the NPR crowd was ecstatic when the U.S. squad’s Landon Donovan scored to seal the American victory that put them into the tournament’s second round. As Zirin tells it, he was literally at the NPR studios in Washington waiting to go on to discuss the game when the goal was scored and “almost every cubicle and office let out an extemporaneous yelp. Yes, NPR went wild.” Needless to say, there was no such demonstration at the offices of COMMENTARY.

That is, of course, hardly surprising. In the NPR universe, the reluctance of the vast majority of Americans to embrace the so-called “beautiful game” is a symbol of our Bush-like arrogance and refusal to march to the same drummers as those enlightened soccer hooligans from Europe, South America, and even North Korea (whose representatives made the 32-team final in South Africa). For soccer lovers who see the sport’s minor-league status here as an affront to their globalist sensibilities, the World Cup is the quadrennial chance to boost its status, so the fortunes of the American team are a matter of deep concern to them. If the Americans succeed, as they have so far in this World Cup, then they hope that somehow this will translate into more prestige for U.S. soccer or at least a chance that the sports manifestation of American exceptionalism is in decline. Notwithstanding our sympathy for the boys running around the fields of South Africa in red, white, and blue, that is an outcome we should not desire. Soccer is just a game (albeit a boring one), and there’s no need for patriots to abuse it or its fans. But let’s just say that as long as Americans don’t share a common sports culture with Algerians and Iranians or even Europeans, we need not fear for the future of the republic.

But there’s the rub for hardcore leftists like Zirin, who hope that one day we will be no different than the rest of the world. Zirin wrote last week that the real reason that most Americans don’t like soccer is racism and looked forward to Glenn Beck’s dilemma when America was a World Cup favorite, as the right-wing broadcaster would have to choose between supporting the flag and his anti-soccer faith. But American successes, such as yesterday’s U.S. victory, provide Zirin with his own problem. In order for soccer to do well here, he’s got to root for the American team against Third World victims like Algeria (he admits he’s really an Argentina fan) and be subjected to jingoist soccer rhetoric about America’s “cultural supremacy” on sports talk shows. He confesses that is why international competitions leave him “with such a sour taste.”

While I find Zirin’s soccer evangelism as well as his aversion to rooting for his own country risible, he’s actually right about that last point even if he doesn’t follow it to its logical conclusion. While I wish the American World Cup team well, as I would any endeavor in which my fellow citizens represent our country, the business of wrapping team sports in national flags is sheer humbug. Which is why I despise the World Cup in the same way I detest other instances of sports globaloney, like the Olympics or our beloved national pastime of baseball’s own World Cup, whose absurd out-of-season international tournament has produced little interest here the two times it was played. It is far better to leave this nonsense to the denizens of Old Europe, unstable South America, and the despotic Middle East, whose one democracy, Israel, is not allowed to compete against its neighbors in soccer but must instead play against the powerhouses of Europe to get into the World Cup, and thus has never been allowed to participate.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Jim Geraghty observes: “Very few of the most memorable moments from Obama’s successful campaign involve him and another person, one-on-one or in a small group; generally it was he, alone, standing before the masses and keeping them enthralled.” Maybe one-on-one he just doesn’t have anything interesting to say.

What is so interesting about Robert Gibbs’s insistence that the Iraq War is one of the Obami’s greatest achievements is the new-found incredulity of the Washington press corps. The reporter asks, “Given that the Vice President was in favor of a partial partition of the country and the President opposed the surge that helped stabilize it, how is that one of the President’s great achievements?” and then follows up, “But the Status of Forces Agreement to bring troops home was signed before the President took office.” It’s almost as if the romance is over.

Diane Ravitch cracks: “I am happy to see that President Obama is taking charge of the decision about where to site the KSM trial. I hope he will put it in Chicago, his own home town. After all, Chicago missed put on the Olympics. Why not let it have what is sure to be the trial of the century? A great place to test Eric Holder’s theory about giving these terrorists civilian trials.”

James Taranto smells a “climb down” on civilian terrorist trials: “According to Holder, the location and forum for the trial are not very important. According to the [Washington] Post, they are so important that the president of the United States is actually getting involved with policy decisions (although come to think of it, isn’t that supposed to be part of his job?). This circle is easily enough squared. The administration’s actions suggest that it not view the matter as substantively important. It is now clear that Obama and Holder didn’t even take it seriously enough to bother thinking through such obvious questions as whether a New York trial was logistically feasible or what to do in the event of an acquittal or an overturned conviction.”

Lenny Ben-David spots the J Street connection to the letter signed by 54 Democrats, which seeks a lifting of the blockade on Gaza. He also says: “The ‘word on the street’ now is that several members of Congress are disassociating themselves from their letter, much the same way members pulled out of J Street’s national conference in October 2009.”

Another at-risk Democrat: “North Dakota may be shaping up to be dangerous territory for the state’s other longtime Democratic incumbent, too. Senator Byron Dorgan has already decided not to seek reelection, and now a new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in the state finds Congressman Earl Pomeroy in close match-ups with two of his three likeliest Republican challengers.”

I’m not sure slamming George W. Bush is the way for Tim Pawlenty to get in the graces of the conservative base. For one thing, many of those voters remain very loyal to Bush. And even to those who were critical of him, in retrospect, he looks pretty darn good. But Pawlenty sure has been “frenetic.”

Charles Krauthammer observes: “When President [Obama] spoke earlier in the week about [uranium] enrichment, he made a point of calling the regime ‘the Islamic Republic of Iran.’ There were demonstrators in the streets today shouting ‘Republic of Iran,’ leaving out ‘Islamic’ as a way of saying: We don’t want clerical rule. Why the president insists on this gratuitous giving of legitimacy by using the preferred term of the mullahs is beyond me.” Well, the one explanation that makes sense: Obama thinks that the protesters, not the mullahs, are on the losing side, and wants to keep up the ingratiation gambit with the regime.

Jim Geraghty observes: “Very few of the most memorable moments from Obama’s successful campaign involve him and another person, one-on-one or in a small group; generally it was he, alone, standing before the masses and keeping them enthralled.” Maybe one-on-one he just doesn’t have anything interesting to say.

What is so interesting about Robert Gibbs’s insistence that the Iraq War is one of the Obami’s greatest achievements is the new-found incredulity of the Washington press corps. The reporter asks, “Given that the Vice President was in favor of a partial partition of the country and the President opposed the surge that helped stabilize it, how is that one of the President’s great achievements?” and then follows up, “But the Status of Forces Agreement to bring troops home was signed before the President took office.” It’s almost as if the romance is over.

Diane Ravitch cracks: “I am happy to see that President Obama is taking charge of the decision about where to site the KSM trial. I hope he will put it in Chicago, his own home town. After all, Chicago missed put on the Olympics. Why not let it have what is sure to be the trial of the century? A great place to test Eric Holder’s theory about giving these terrorists civilian trials.”

James Taranto smells a “climb down” on civilian terrorist trials: “According to Holder, the location and forum for the trial are not very important. According to the [Washington] Post, they are so important that the president of the United States is actually getting involved with policy decisions (although come to think of it, isn’t that supposed to be part of his job?). This circle is easily enough squared. The administration’s actions suggest that it not view the matter as substantively important. It is now clear that Obama and Holder didn’t even take it seriously enough to bother thinking through such obvious questions as whether a New York trial was logistically feasible or what to do in the event of an acquittal or an overturned conviction.”

Lenny Ben-David spots the J Street connection to the letter signed by 54 Democrats, which seeks a lifting of the blockade on Gaza. He also says: “The ‘word on the street’ now is that several members of Congress are disassociating themselves from their letter, much the same way members pulled out of J Street’s national conference in October 2009.”

Another at-risk Democrat: “North Dakota may be shaping up to be dangerous territory for the state’s other longtime Democratic incumbent, too. Senator Byron Dorgan has already decided not to seek reelection, and now a new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in the state finds Congressman Earl Pomeroy in close match-ups with two of his three likeliest Republican challengers.”

I’m not sure slamming George W. Bush is the way for Tim Pawlenty to get in the graces of the conservative base. For one thing, many of those voters remain very loyal to Bush. And even to those who were critical of him, in retrospect, he looks pretty darn good. But Pawlenty sure has been “frenetic.”

Charles Krauthammer observes: “When President [Obama] spoke earlier in the week about [uranium] enrichment, he made a point of calling the regime ‘the Islamic Republic of Iran.’ There were demonstrators in the streets today shouting ‘Republic of Iran,’ leaving out ‘Islamic’ as a way of saying: We don’t want clerical rule. Why the president insists on this gratuitous giving of legitimacy by using the preferred term of the mullahs is beyond me.” Well, the one explanation that makes sense: Obama thinks that the protesters, not the mullahs, are on the losing side, and wants to keep up the ingratiation gambit with the regime.

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Looking Back on the Week

The State of the Union revealed little new about the state of the nation, but much about the Obama presidency. We already knew that the economy was hobbled, that the jihadists remain on the prowl, and that we face implacable foes, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, and a world less impressed with Obama than he imagined. We were not so certain, however, what Obama wanted to do about all that until Wednesday night. Perhaps he had discovered his inner Bill Clinton. Maybe he would declare ObamaCare and the era of hubris-driven big government to be over. Or maybe he would roll the dice and continue his increasingly solitary effort to drive his party over the proverbial political cliff.

To the abject amazement of many conservatives, Obama refused to turn back and delivered an address not so different from his February 2009 speech, in which he laid out the most ambitious liberal platform in many decades. He nevertheless managed to upset liberals, who noticed how low on the priority list was health-care reform and how serious he seemed in conceding that a spending freeze (however limited in scope) was required.

Now, the favorite parlor game in Washington is to guess whether he means to drive his party over the brink. Matt Continetti writes, “It takes time for an administration to change course; maybe Obama will drop his big government agenda and move to the center over the coming year. He doesn’t, however, seem to want to. So Republicans have every reason to be cheerful. Obama persists in laying the foundation for a house nobody wants to buy.” That sentiment — the nagging suspicion that Obama can’t really mean what he says — is not limited to the Right. Democrats who were assured that Obama was the smartest, the savviest, and the most bare-knuckled pol of them all are looking about, wondering if there is not some master plan for extracting them from the downward spiral they now find themselves in.

This is the perpetual plight of hopeful Obama-philes — the desire to believe he is smarter, more creative, and more astute than he reveals himself to be in action and in rhetoric. Oh, he’s got the Olympics in the bag or he wouldn’t go to Copenhagen. Don’t be silly — he’s got a game plan for ObamaCare. Honestly, there is some backstory to explain the Middle East blunders. These and more are the endless justifications that swirl around a president who seems never to live up to the expectations of his most fervent fans.

There have been some impressive second acts in politics. Bill Clinton’s post-1994 presidency was one. Richard Nixon’s return to politics and to the White House in 1968 was another. It’s not impossible. But so far Obama has provided little evidence that he possess the intellectual resourcefulness and the political dexterity to shift gears and rescue his presidency or his party. Obama has a brief window before the midterm elections to restore if not the excitement then at least the impression of minimal competence. If he does not, his congressional allies will continue to scatter, staking out their own positions on key issues and seeking more distance from a president sinking under the weight of misplaced expectations. And those who keep rooting against all evidence for the exceptional president to reveal himself may discover that they have been deceived by pretty packaging and their own wishful thinking.

In surveying the current state of the union, we see that we may well be on the road to economic recovery (albeit with anemic job growth). Our superb military provides reason for optimism that we will achieve victories in Iraq and Afghanistan. The state of the Obama presidency is another story. It is far from certain that he will recover his bearings or remotely meet the expectations of his supporters.

The State of the Union revealed little new about the state of the nation, but much about the Obama presidency. We already knew that the economy was hobbled, that the jihadists remain on the prowl, and that we face implacable foes, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, and a world less impressed with Obama than he imagined. We were not so certain, however, what Obama wanted to do about all that until Wednesday night. Perhaps he had discovered his inner Bill Clinton. Maybe he would declare ObamaCare and the era of hubris-driven big government to be over. Or maybe he would roll the dice and continue his increasingly solitary effort to drive his party over the proverbial political cliff.

To the abject amazement of many conservatives, Obama refused to turn back and delivered an address not so different from his February 2009 speech, in which he laid out the most ambitious liberal platform in many decades. He nevertheless managed to upset liberals, who noticed how low on the priority list was health-care reform and how serious he seemed in conceding that a spending freeze (however limited in scope) was required.

Now, the favorite parlor game in Washington is to guess whether he means to drive his party over the brink. Matt Continetti writes, “It takes time for an administration to change course; maybe Obama will drop his big government agenda and move to the center over the coming year. He doesn’t, however, seem to want to. So Republicans have every reason to be cheerful. Obama persists in laying the foundation for a house nobody wants to buy.” That sentiment — the nagging suspicion that Obama can’t really mean what he says — is not limited to the Right. Democrats who were assured that Obama was the smartest, the savviest, and the most bare-knuckled pol of them all are looking about, wondering if there is not some master plan for extracting them from the downward spiral they now find themselves in.

This is the perpetual plight of hopeful Obama-philes — the desire to believe he is smarter, more creative, and more astute than he reveals himself to be in action and in rhetoric. Oh, he’s got the Olympics in the bag or he wouldn’t go to Copenhagen. Don’t be silly — he’s got a game plan for ObamaCare. Honestly, there is some backstory to explain the Middle East blunders. These and more are the endless justifications that swirl around a president who seems never to live up to the expectations of his most fervent fans.

There have been some impressive second acts in politics. Bill Clinton’s post-1994 presidency was one. Richard Nixon’s return to politics and to the White House in 1968 was another. It’s not impossible. But so far Obama has provided little evidence that he possess the intellectual resourcefulness and the political dexterity to shift gears and rescue his presidency or his party. Obama has a brief window before the midterm elections to restore if not the excitement then at least the impression of minimal competence. If he does not, his congressional allies will continue to scatter, staking out their own positions on key issues and seeking more distance from a president sinking under the weight of misplaced expectations. And those who keep rooting against all evidence for the exceptional president to reveal himself may discover that they have been deceived by pretty packaging and their own wishful thinking.

In surveying the current state of the union, we see that we may well be on the road to economic recovery (albeit with anemic job growth). Our superb military provides reason for optimism that we will achieve victories in Iraq and Afghanistan. The state of the Obama presidency is another story. It is far from certain that he will recover his bearings or remotely meet the expectations of his supporters.

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Hillary Wants Out Too?

Obama isn’t the only one musing about a single term. Now Hillary Clinton gets into the act, declaring, “I don’t wanna make any predictions sitting here, I’m honored to serve, I serve at the pleasure of the President, but it’s a, it’s a 24/7 job, and I think at some point, I will be very happy to LAUGHS pass it on to someone else.” Hmm. (She assures us she isn’t, however, interested in running for president.) Is this not everything she hoped it would be? Maybe not anything.

She can claim not a single foreign-policy accomplishment (escaping the corner she painted herself into on Honduras doesn’t count). She was going to restore our standing in the world, but who thinks our relations with Britain, Eastern Europe, and Israel (to name just a few key allies) are better now than during the Bush administration? Seriously, we went from the most robust and productive relationship with Israel of any administration to the worst. We’ve offended and rebuffed the Brits at multiple turns. And we’ve pulled the rug out from under the Poles and the Czechs. Are we being smart diplomats yet?

Meanwhile, we’re in the process of missing a historic opportunity to affect a peaceful, popular revolution in Iran. We’ve given the cold shoulder to human rights advocates. And we’ve accomplished none of the items on the Obama multilateralist to-do list. (Climate-control efforts look eerily similar to the course taken by ObamaCare.) We didn’t even get the Olympics.

Hillary might well want to bug out. It’s nice to go out on a high note after some major achievement. But it might not be a good idea for her to wait that long. While her popularity is still high, she might want to flee. There are lots of Senate and gubernatorial races, after all. But then after a year of Obama, it’s not exactly the time to run if you have a “D” after your name. Poor Hillary. Another male politician has done her wrong.

Obama isn’t the only one musing about a single term. Now Hillary Clinton gets into the act, declaring, “I don’t wanna make any predictions sitting here, I’m honored to serve, I serve at the pleasure of the President, but it’s a, it’s a 24/7 job, and I think at some point, I will be very happy to LAUGHS pass it on to someone else.” Hmm. (She assures us she isn’t, however, interested in running for president.) Is this not everything she hoped it would be? Maybe not anything.

She can claim not a single foreign-policy accomplishment (escaping the corner she painted herself into on Honduras doesn’t count). She was going to restore our standing in the world, but who thinks our relations with Britain, Eastern Europe, and Israel (to name just a few key allies) are better now than during the Bush administration? Seriously, we went from the most robust and productive relationship with Israel of any administration to the worst. We’ve offended and rebuffed the Brits at multiple turns. And we’ve pulled the rug out from under the Poles and the Czechs. Are we being smart diplomats yet?

Meanwhile, we’re in the process of missing a historic opportunity to affect a peaceful, popular revolution in Iran. We’ve given the cold shoulder to human rights advocates. And we’ve accomplished none of the items on the Obama multilateralist to-do list. (Climate-control efforts look eerily similar to the course taken by ObamaCare.) We didn’t even get the Olympics.

Hillary might well want to bug out. It’s nice to go out on a high note after some major achievement. But it might not be a good idea for her to wait that long. While her popularity is still high, she might want to flee. There are lots of Senate and gubernatorial races, after all. But then after a year of Obama, it’s not exactly the time to run if you have a “D” after your name. Poor Hillary. Another male politician has done her wrong.

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From Disgusting to Odd

A question about Barack Obama is starting to take shape in the American mind: where does this stop? The “this” is the collective hodgepodge of delinquent policy, administrative incompetence, a bottomless capacity for self-delusion, hubris, and the vetoing of American opinion. The “this” is comprised of attempts to harness populist disaffection in order to create a diversion, the presidential campaign that never ends, the 24/7 up-and-down-the-dial interview blitz, the hyper-partisan “post-partisanship,” and, foremost, the compulsion to lay all blame at the feet of the previous president.

Back in October, Charles Krauthammer called Obama’s incessant denunciation of George W. Bush “disgusting.” Three months later, and still going strong, the habit is bordering on eccentric. Not merely in its preponderance, but in kind. Consider that Obama explained away Republican Scott Brown’s Massachusetts victory as resulting from Americans’ anger over the “past eight years.” A Republican won because of the voters’ rage toward Bush?

Also bordering on the eccentric is the president’s endless infatuation with his own story. On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Obama noted how the Soviet Union’s collapse paved the way for his path to the White House. He thought the Olympics would be in the bag if he flew to Copenhagen and recited a tale from the Book of Barack. When he went to Massachusetts to stump for Martha Coakley, he told the audience, “So it’s good to be back in Boston. . . I came back here a few years ago and gave a little speech that turned out pretty well.” This was a reference to the electrifying DNC Convention speech that made him a star. “Something about Boston folks have just always been good to me,” he said, as if the people of Massachusetts were obligated to uphold this benevolent tradition. This time he was heckled and the state took a fatal chunk out of his agenda.

And it is courting eccentricity to remain unable to take a definitive position: to amplify and wind down the same war in the same speech, to simultaneously rescue and punish big banks, to overrule the voters who put him in office and to “never stop fighting” for them.

Early in his presidency, Obama spoke of his belief in persistence. But his dogged effort to force his left-wing square-peg agenda into the moderate round hole of American politics feels more like an unhealthy obsession. He tried to “jam it down Americans’ throats.” Fine. But to keep jamming even after the public has regurgitated in such dramatic fashion?

For all this, Obama makes a tremendous show of his cool nerves. “I don’t rattle,” he said. In a way, that’s true. Blaming Republican failings for the Massachusetts Republican victory, for example, is not a sign of being rattled. It’s a sign of disconnected logic, a much more exotic subconscious defense. It requires a lot of psychological reapportioning not to get rattled while flailing on the world stage. Instead of losing your cool, you indulge in excessive denial or projection or sublimation. Something, after all, has got to give. It’s becoming clear that something is giving. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Sherman Frederick put it, “this kind of weird delusion is consistent with the unbounded hubris of Team Obama.”

During the campaign, we heard endlessly about Barack Obama’s “presidential temperament.” But a few observers thought of it more as a strange placidity. What, in fact, is presidential about terminal aloofness? He’s the chief executive of a country that’s fighting two wars, struggling to get out from under an unprecedented financial breakdown, staring a near-nuclear Iran in the face, and on the constant receiving end of terrorist threats. Yet the most fired up we’ve ever seen Obama was when he decided a Cambridge Massachusetts police officer was “stupid” for inconveniencing his friend with a request to show ID. His second most animated moment came when some nobodies crashed his dinner party. What’s worrisome in this pattern is the president’s attachment to the personal. If we acknowledge that Obama weighs everything first by the degree to which it redounds on him personally, his failings are not so mysterious. If Obama has not conveyed to Americans that he hears their concerns, it may be because he doesn’t hear them. He merely hears pointers for his perpetual image upkeep.

Which makes you wonder where it ends. An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by external force. But for Obama, it’s all internal, personal.

What speaker of truth has the president’s ear? Is there a White House break man to slow this runaway train? Or are there only yes-men, mutes, and passive-aggressive leakers? How welcome some of the old Bush-style administration in-fighting would be right about now.

Of course, the President invites the harshest judgments. By continuing to campaign instead of lead he asks to be assessed as someone who has not yet proven himself. He forces comparisons with those he campaigned against. And so it is no surprise that the public is once again split between the general election tickets. If Obama is in campaign mode, why shouldn’t the electorate follow suit? The difference between today and 2008 is that today Obama can’t have his clean slate back.

A question about Barack Obama is starting to take shape in the American mind: where does this stop? The “this” is the collective hodgepodge of delinquent policy, administrative incompetence, a bottomless capacity for self-delusion, hubris, and the vetoing of American opinion. The “this” is comprised of attempts to harness populist disaffection in order to create a diversion, the presidential campaign that never ends, the 24/7 up-and-down-the-dial interview blitz, the hyper-partisan “post-partisanship,” and, foremost, the compulsion to lay all blame at the feet of the previous president.

Back in October, Charles Krauthammer called Obama’s incessant denunciation of George W. Bush “disgusting.” Three months later, and still going strong, the habit is bordering on eccentric. Not merely in its preponderance, but in kind. Consider that Obama explained away Republican Scott Brown’s Massachusetts victory as resulting from Americans’ anger over the “past eight years.” A Republican won because of the voters’ rage toward Bush?

Also bordering on the eccentric is the president’s endless infatuation with his own story. On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Obama noted how the Soviet Union’s collapse paved the way for his path to the White House. He thought the Olympics would be in the bag if he flew to Copenhagen and recited a tale from the Book of Barack. When he went to Massachusetts to stump for Martha Coakley, he told the audience, “So it’s good to be back in Boston. . . I came back here a few years ago and gave a little speech that turned out pretty well.” This was a reference to the electrifying DNC Convention speech that made him a star. “Something about Boston folks have just always been good to me,” he said, as if the people of Massachusetts were obligated to uphold this benevolent tradition. This time he was heckled and the state took a fatal chunk out of his agenda.

And it is courting eccentricity to remain unable to take a definitive position: to amplify and wind down the same war in the same speech, to simultaneously rescue and punish big banks, to overrule the voters who put him in office and to “never stop fighting” for them.

Early in his presidency, Obama spoke of his belief in persistence. But his dogged effort to force his left-wing square-peg agenda into the moderate round hole of American politics feels more like an unhealthy obsession. He tried to “jam it down Americans’ throats.” Fine. But to keep jamming even after the public has regurgitated in such dramatic fashion?

For all this, Obama makes a tremendous show of his cool nerves. “I don’t rattle,” he said. In a way, that’s true. Blaming Republican failings for the Massachusetts Republican victory, for example, is not a sign of being rattled. It’s a sign of disconnected logic, a much more exotic subconscious defense. It requires a lot of psychological reapportioning not to get rattled while flailing on the world stage. Instead of losing your cool, you indulge in excessive denial or projection or sublimation. Something, after all, has got to give. It’s becoming clear that something is giving. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Sherman Frederick put it, “this kind of weird delusion is consistent with the unbounded hubris of Team Obama.”

During the campaign, we heard endlessly about Barack Obama’s “presidential temperament.” But a few observers thought of it more as a strange placidity. What, in fact, is presidential about terminal aloofness? He’s the chief executive of a country that’s fighting two wars, struggling to get out from under an unprecedented financial breakdown, staring a near-nuclear Iran in the face, and on the constant receiving end of terrorist threats. Yet the most fired up we’ve ever seen Obama was when he decided a Cambridge Massachusetts police officer was “stupid” for inconveniencing his friend with a request to show ID. His second most animated moment came when some nobodies crashed his dinner party. What’s worrisome in this pattern is the president’s attachment to the personal. If we acknowledge that Obama weighs everything first by the degree to which it redounds on him personally, his failings are not so mysterious. If Obama has not conveyed to Americans that he hears their concerns, it may be because he doesn’t hear them. He merely hears pointers for his perpetual image upkeep.

Which makes you wonder where it ends. An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by external force. But for Obama, it’s all internal, personal.

What speaker of truth has the president’s ear? Is there a White House break man to slow this runaway train? Or are there only yes-men, mutes, and passive-aggressive leakers? How welcome some of the old Bush-style administration in-fighting would be right about now.

Of course, the President invites the harshest judgments. By continuing to campaign instead of lead he asks to be assessed as someone who has not yet proven himself. He forces comparisons with those he campaigned against. And so it is no surprise that the public is once again split between the general election tickets. If Obama is in campaign mode, why shouldn’t the electorate follow suit? The difference between today and 2008 is that today Obama can’t have his clean slate back.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So Far, So Fast

Mitt Romney doesn’t have a book out or a Newsweek cover photo in bike shorts, but he’s plugging away to establish his 2012 presidential bona fides. Going after Obama’s campaign addiction, he writes:

A full year after being elected, Obama still does not have a strategy for Afghanistan. … What has he been doing for the past 12 months that took precedence over his responsibility for our soldiers? The answer is that he made 30 or more campaign trips for the Democratic Party and its candidates, including five events for defeated New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine alone. He repeatedly traveled around the country to keynote campaign-style town hall meetings that were carefully choreographed by his communications advisers. He appears to want to do what he knows best: campaign, rather than engage in what he was elected to do — lead and govern.

And he jabs the president for spending time in the Situation Room with “[David] Axelrod, the president’s campaign adman. Polls, politics and perspectives on what the TV networks may think have no place at the national security table. Communications staff should be informed of security decisions after they are made, not invited to be a party to them.” And he makes a pitch for his own executive skills (“During my career in business and government, and in running the Olympics, I made many instructive mistakes and learned the lessons that come with experience”), arguing that Obama has flunked his on-the-job training.

Well, that’s the preview of the 2012 race, which the not-yet-but-certain-to-declare Romney and other GOP challengers will make: Obama was a swell campaigner but lacked the gravitas and judgment to govern. After nearly a year of his rally-stuffed agenda, much huffing and puffing (“I won”), and hyper-partisanship, Obama does seem less presidential than when he started. During the campaign, at least, he was employing lofty rhetoric and eschewing vindictive labeling (back when there was no Blue America, no Red America, just the United States of America). Now he seems a smaller, less imposing figure, and frankly much like every other not-very-effective ultra-liberal pol.

That doesn’t mean he can’t accomplish anything between now and 2012, or that he can’t elevate his tone before facing the voters again. But if he ran now, would he command the same dreamy devotion and drive new flocks of voters to the polls? Unlikely. And once the magic is gone, the rhetoric is debased, and the left-wing agenda reveals itself and then unwinds, it’s hard to get the magic back.

Mitt Romney doesn’t have a book out or a Newsweek cover photo in bike shorts, but he’s plugging away to establish his 2012 presidential bona fides. Going after Obama’s campaign addiction, he writes:

A full year after being elected, Obama still does not have a strategy for Afghanistan. … What has he been doing for the past 12 months that took precedence over his responsibility for our soldiers? The answer is that he made 30 or more campaign trips for the Democratic Party and its candidates, including five events for defeated New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine alone. He repeatedly traveled around the country to keynote campaign-style town hall meetings that were carefully choreographed by his communications advisers. He appears to want to do what he knows best: campaign, rather than engage in what he was elected to do — lead and govern.

And he jabs the president for spending time in the Situation Room with “[David] Axelrod, the president’s campaign adman. Polls, politics and perspectives on what the TV networks may think have no place at the national security table. Communications staff should be informed of security decisions after they are made, not invited to be a party to them.” And he makes a pitch for his own executive skills (“During my career in business and government, and in running the Olympics, I made many instructive mistakes and learned the lessons that come with experience”), arguing that Obama has flunked his on-the-job training.

Well, that’s the preview of the 2012 race, which the not-yet-but-certain-to-declare Romney and other GOP challengers will make: Obama was a swell campaigner but lacked the gravitas and judgment to govern. After nearly a year of his rally-stuffed agenda, much huffing and puffing (“I won”), and hyper-partisanship, Obama does seem less presidential than when he started. During the campaign, at least, he was employing lofty rhetoric and eschewing vindictive labeling (back when there was no Blue America, no Red America, just the United States of America). Now he seems a smaller, less imposing figure, and frankly much like every other not-very-effective ultra-liberal pol.

That doesn’t mean he can’t accomplish anything between now and 2012, or that he can’t elevate his tone before facing the voters again. But if he ran now, would he command the same dreamy devotion and drive new flocks of voters to the polls? Unlikely. And once the magic is gone, the rhetoric is debased, and the left-wing agenda reveals itself and then unwinds, it’s hard to get the magic back.

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“Patriotic” Chinese Protests

Sunday, thousands of angry Chinese took to the streets in anti-foreigner protests in major cities in China, including Wuhan, Harbin, Jinan, Xian, Qingdao, and Dalian. The demonstrations followed those occurring on Friday and Saturday, which took place around the country, including Beijing, Kunming, and Hefei. They were the largest anti-foreign protests in three years, since anti-Japan riots shook Beijing, Shanghai, and other cities in China.

Young Chinese, upset at foreign media coverage of recent ethnic disturbances and pro-Tibetan protests around the world, gathered in front of foreign stores, declared a boycott of French retailer Carrefour, and carried pictures of Mao Zedong. “Condemn CNN” and “Shut up you French,” seen on banners over the weekend, expressed popular sentiment. “We’re supporting the Olympics and boycotting Tibetan independence,” said the organizer of one of the demonstrations in the Chinese capital. As Zhu Xiaomeng, a student in Beijing who has been organizing a boycott of French companies, noted, “After 5,000 years, we’re not so soft anymore.”

That’s the message Beijing wants you to hear. Chinese state media triggered the protests in China with noxious anti-French stories that began appearing about a week ago, and Beijing has fueled demonstrations in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, London, Birmingham, and Manchester in Europe and San Francisco, Los Angeles, the Twin Cities, and Washington, D.C. by paying “patriotic” Chinese to participate.

The ugly tactic seems to be working. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, for instance, will be sending three envoys to Beijing to try to limit the damage (the first left France yesterday). He also invited Jin Jing, a disabled fencer who protected the Olympic flame in the Paris torch relay from protesters, to be his “personal guest.” There is, however, evidence that Beijing manufactured the incident that made the “wheelchair angel” a national symbol of Chinese defiance.

So the West is being intimidated once again by arrogant Chinese rulers. Eventually, we will learn that Beijing has been manipulating us all along. In the meantime, Western leaders will continue to apologize to the Middle Kingdom whenever it gets into a snit.

Sunday, thousands of angry Chinese took to the streets in anti-foreigner protests in major cities in China, including Wuhan, Harbin, Jinan, Xian, Qingdao, and Dalian. The demonstrations followed those occurring on Friday and Saturday, which took place around the country, including Beijing, Kunming, and Hefei. They were the largest anti-foreign protests in three years, since anti-Japan riots shook Beijing, Shanghai, and other cities in China.

Young Chinese, upset at foreign media coverage of recent ethnic disturbances and pro-Tibetan protests around the world, gathered in front of foreign stores, declared a boycott of French retailer Carrefour, and carried pictures of Mao Zedong. “Condemn CNN” and “Shut up you French,” seen on banners over the weekend, expressed popular sentiment. “We’re supporting the Olympics and boycotting Tibetan independence,” said the organizer of one of the demonstrations in the Chinese capital. As Zhu Xiaomeng, a student in Beijing who has been organizing a boycott of French companies, noted, “After 5,000 years, we’re not so soft anymore.”

That’s the message Beijing wants you to hear. Chinese state media triggered the protests in China with noxious anti-French stories that began appearing about a week ago, and Beijing has fueled demonstrations in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, London, Birmingham, and Manchester in Europe and San Francisco, Los Angeles, the Twin Cities, and Washington, D.C. by paying “patriotic” Chinese to participate.

The ugly tactic seems to be working. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, for instance, will be sending three envoys to Beijing to try to limit the damage (the first left France yesterday). He also invited Jin Jing, a disabled fencer who protected the Olympic flame in the Paris torch relay from protesters, to be his “personal guest.” There is, however, evidence that Beijing manufactured the incident that made the “wheelchair angel” a national symbol of Chinese defiance.

So the West is being intimidated once again by arrogant Chinese rulers. Eventually, we will learn that Beijing has been manipulating us all along. In the meantime, Western leaders will continue to apologize to the Middle Kingdom whenever it gets into a snit.

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Politics Of The Olympics

In the substantive debate, aptly argued by Gordon Chang and David Hazony, over whether the U.S. should participate in the Olympics, I find myself searching for a clear middle ground. To my shock, Hillary Clinton steps forward to offer this:

The violent clashes in Tibet and the failure of the Chinese government to use its full leverage with Sudan to stop the genocide in Darfur are opportunities for Presidential leadership. These events underscore why I believe the Bush administration has been wrong to downplay human rights in its policy towards China. At this time, and in light of recent events, I believe President Bush should not plan on attending the opening ceremonies in Beijing, absent major changes by the Chinese government. I encourage the Chinese to take advantage of this moment as an opportunity to live up to universal human aspirations of respect for human rights and unity, ideals that the Olympic games have come to represent. Americans will stand strong in support of freedom of religious and political expression and human rights. Americans will also stand strong and root for the success of American athletes who have worked hard and earned the right to compete in the Olympic Games of 2008.

This strikes me, aside from the argument’s merits, as just plain smart politics. It shifts the focus off Penn-gate. It sounds a note simultaneously likely to appeal to those on the Right (who like standing up to dictators) and Left (who want more attention to human rights). She was first of the candidates to speak up on this issue and now looks bolder than her opponents. If this is a sign of the post-Penn Hillary, things may be looking up.

In the substantive debate, aptly argued by Gordon Chang and David Hazony, over whether the U.S. should participate in the Olympics, I find myself searching for a clear middle ground. To my shock, Hillary Clinton steps forward to offer this:

The violent clashes in Tibet and the failure of the Chinese government to use its full leverage with Sudan to stop the genocide in Darfur are opportunities for Presidential leadership. These events underscore why I believe the Bush administration has been wrong to downplay human rights in its policy towards China. At this time, and in light of recent events, I believe President Bush should not plan on attending the opening ceremonies in Beijing, absent major changes by the Chinese government. I encourage the Chinese to take advantage of this moment as an opportunity to live up to universal human aspirations of respect for human rights and unity, ideals that the Olympic games have come to represent. Americans will stand strong in support of freedom of religious and political expression and human rights. Americans will also stand strong and root for the success of American athletes who have worked hard and earned the right to compete in the Olympic Games of 2008.

This strikes me, aside from the argument’s merits, as just plain smart politics. It shifts the focus off Penn-gate. It sounds a note simultaneously likely to appeal to those on the Right (who like standing up to dictators) and Left (who want more attention to human rights). She was first of the candidates to speak up on this issue and now looks bolder than her opponents. If this is a sign of the post-Penn Hillary, things may be looking up.

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Re: Re: Why We Shouldn’t Boycott the 2008 Games

In my last post I quoted former Israeli silver medalist Yael Arad, who made an impassioned plea against athletes boycotting the Beijing Olympics. One of the commenters, CONTENTIONS blogger Arthur Waldron, offered a dissenting view (as did Gordon Chang), cited a recently-revealed photograph from the 1936 Berlin Olympics of British athletes with their arms out saluting Hitler. This, he argues, shows how the Olympics serve to legitimize the rule of their host country, which is far worse than any good which can come out of it. It’s truly an amazing picture:

hazony-photo.jpg
(Photo credit: The Daily Mail.)

“Think about it hard before you make up your mind about what we do,” Waldron writes. I, for one, am still convinced by Arad’s argument against the boycott. But jeez. What this picture proves is that the Olympics really can become a source for legitimizing bad regimes. But does it have to? These were, after all, the British, who sought appeasement with Nazi Germany well after 1936. The American response was to strip-bomb their tracks with Jesse Owens’ speed, as a prelude to the real war.

In my last post I quoted former Israeli silver medalist Yael Arad, who made an impassioned plea against athletes boycotting the Beijing Olympics. One of the commenters, CONTENTIONS blogger Arthur Waldron, offered a dissenting view (as did Gordon Chang), cited a recently-revealed photograph from the 1936 Berlin Olympics of British athletes with their arms out saluting Hitler. This, he argues, shows how the Olympics serve to legitimize the rule of their host country, which is far worse than any good which can come out of it. It’s truly an amazing picture:

hazony-photo.jpg
(Photo credit: The Daily Mail.)

“Think about it hard before you make up your mind about what we do,” Waldron writes. I, for one, am still convinced by Arad’s argument against the boycott. But jeez. What this picture proves is that the Olympics really can become a source for legitimizing bad regimes. But does it have to? These were, after all, the British, who sought appeasement with Nazi Germany well after 1936. The American response was to strip-bomb their tracks with Jesse Owens’ speed, as a prelude to the real war.

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Re: Why We Shouldn’t Boycott the 2008 Games

David Hazony, in a well-reasoned posting in this forum, argues that nations should not boycott this year’s Summer Olympics, scheduled to begin in August in Beijing. No one wants to snuff out young athletes’ dreams, as he puts it, but we must remember that they are not the only ones whose fortunes are at stake. Chinese people have been forcibly relocated, illegally incarcerated, and unjustifiably deprived of basic rights so that autocrats can stage a celebration of more than a half century of misrule. They have, in order to put on their extravaganza, reemployed mass-mobilization techniques and reimposed strict social controls, the essential tools of totalitarian governance.

At home, China’s government has implemented a campaign of repression now lasting five years. Abroad, Beijing in this half decade has continued its support for criminal regimes and persisted in other irresponsible policies. Whether we like it or not, participation in the Olympics is giving legitimacy to all the Chinese state has done internally and externally. Moreover, that state is having an extended argument with its people, and by participating in the Olympics we are taking the wrong side.

As China’s Communist Party so often says, the Games should not be “politicized.” Yet the reality is that it has already done so. Beijing made the promotion of Chinese human rights a foundation of its Olympic bid. It will be using its Olympic torch relay, the longest in history, to bolster its claim to restive areas, including Tibet. And Chinese leaders have, without precedent, invited about fifty heads of state to the opening ceremony on August 8 so that they can, at least in China’s eyes, pledge their allegiance to the People’s Republic of China.

Nonetheless, Hazony says we should refuse to boycott the Games so that athletes can conduct a “symbolic debate on the playing field.” I agree that we should not punish the contestants for the gross error made by others of awarding the Olympics to China. But now that this mistake has been made, no world leader should show support for the Chinese Communist Party. The opening ceremony has nothing to do with sport. This year, it will be a mass event with totalitarian overtones. For the sake of the great people of China, no one-no president, prime minister, or athlete-should participate in this glorification of all that is reprehensible and repugnant.

David Hazony, in a well-reasoned posting in this forum, argues that nations should not boycott this year’s Summer Olympics, scheduled to begin in August in Beijing. No one wants to snuff out young athletes’ dreams, as he puts it, but we must remember that they are not the only ones whose fortunes are at stake. Chinese people have been forcibly relocated, illegally incarcerated, and unjustifiably deprived of basic rights so that autocrats can stage a celebration of more than a half century of misrule. They have, in order to put on their extravaganza, reemployed mass-mobilization techniques and reimposed strict social controls, the essential tools of totalitarian governance.

At home, China’s government has implemented a campaign of repression now lasting five years. Abroad, Beijing in this half decade has continued its support for criminal regimes and persisted in other irresponsible policies. Whether we like it or not, participation in the Olympics is giving legitimacy to all the Chinese state has done internally and externally. Moreover, that state is having an extended argument with its people, and by participating in the Olympics we are taking the wrong side.

As China’s Communist Party so often says, the Games should not be “politicized.” Yet the reality is that it has already done so. Beijing made the promotion of Chinese human rights a foundation of its Olympic bid. It will be using its Olympic torch relay, the longest in history, to bolster its claim to restive areas, including Tibet. And Chinese leaders have, without precedent, invited about fifty heads of state to the opening ceremony on August 8 so that they can, at least in China’s eyes, pledge their allegiance to the People’s Republic of China.

Nonetheless, Hazony says we should refuse to boycott the Games so that athletes can conduct a “symbolic debate on the playing field.” I agree that we should not punish the contestants for the gross error made by others of awarding the Olympics to China. But now that this mistake has been made, no world leader should show support for the Chinese Communist Party. The opening ceremony has nothing to do with sport. This year, it will be a mass event with totalitarian overtones. For the sake of the great people of China, no one-no president, prime minister, or athlete-should participate in this glorification of all that is reprehensible and repugnant.

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China Games

Was the uprising in Tibet predictable? The Times reports today that the Chinese authorities appear to have been caught by surprise. That itself is a surprise, given Beijing’s acute sensitivities about anything that might disrupt the Olympic games scheduled for August.

Arch Puddington, writing in COMMENTARY this past November, surveyed previous Olympics held in unfree countries. The conclusion of his China Games is even more arresting today than it was five months ago:

If the past is any guide, it is the most sinister and shocking features of a dictatorship that are the likeliest to emerge when it hosts the Olympics.

For Germany in 1936 at the Berlin games, it was militarism and anti-Semitism that reared their hideous heads. For the USSR in 1980, it was imperial aggression, with Afghanistan the Kremlin’s most recent victim.

Puddington did not offer any specific predictions about what China might face in 2008. But he speculated that “the Chinese authorities themselves might well be in the dark about what the Olympics finally portend.” This, too, as their handling of the Tibet uprising turns into a fiasco, was a prescient observation.

If the Chinese authorities want to stay abreast of events in their own country, perhaps they should be reading COMMENTARY. Oh, they can’t. It’s locked up behind their Great Firewall.

Was the uprising in Tibet predictable? The Times reports today that the Chinese authorities appear to have been caught by surprise. That itself is a surprise, given Beijing’s acute sensitivities about anything that might disrupt the Olympic games scheduled for August.

Arch Puddington, writing in COMMENTARY this past November, surveyed previous Olympics held in unfree countries. The conclusion of his China Games is even more arresting today than it was five months ago:

If the past is any guide, it is the most sinister and shocking features of a dictatorship that are the likeliest to emerge when it hosts the Olympics.

For Germany in 1936 at the Berlin games, it was militarism and anti-Semitism that reared their hideous heads. For the USSR in 1980, it was imperial aggression, with Afghanistan the Kremlin’s most recent victim.

Puddington did not offer any specific predictions about what China might face in 2008. But he speculated that “the Chinese authorities themselves might well be in the dark about what the Olympics finally portend.” This, too, as their handling of the Tibet uprising turns into a fiasco, was a prescient observation.

If the Chinese authorities want to stay abreast of events in their own country, perhaps they should be reading COMMENTARY. Oh, they can’t. It’s locked up behind their Great Firewall.

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Taiwan, the Next Tibet?

On Saturday, Taiwan’s 17 million voters head to the polls to elect a new president. For most of the campaign, the dominant issue has been the economy. Both Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang favor closer business ties with China. Ma, for instance, has promoted a Greater China Common Market. Hsieh has adopted a less integrationist approach.

At one point, it didn’t really matter what Hsieh wanted. His opponent, the charismatic Ma, was ahead by a gigantic margin. Depending on the poll, his lead was ten, twenty, or thirty points. Those big margins, however, existed before the outbreak of the insurgency in Tibet—and Beijing’s harsh crackdown. After the bloodshed, Ma’s almost insurmountable lead has appeared to vanish. Taiwan law prohibits the release of polling data ten days before an election, but private polls by the two parties show a tight race with the Kuomintang candidate slightly ahead.

“I severely condemn the violence used by the Chinese authorities,” Ma said at the beginning of this week. He even suggested the possibility of a boycott of the Olympics. Yet the Tibet issue has clearly helped Hsieh, the standard-bearer of the pro-independence party. “Ma’s one-China market would mean that tomorrow’s Taiwan will be like today’s Tibet,” he said on Sunday. If there is one sentiment that unites the Taiwanese today, it is the desire to maintain their own way of life and freedoms. As Shieh Jhy-wey, the island’s minister of information, said, “We don’t want to have the same fate as Tibet.”

So Beijing, on the verge of getting rid of the Democratic Progressive Party, has once again revived the fortunes of the pro-independence forces on Taiwan. Whoever wins on Saturday will face a Taiwanese electorate increasingly wary of the repressive Chinese state.

On Saturday, Taiwan’s 17 million voters head to the polls to elect a new president. For most of the campaign, the dominant issue has been the economy. Both Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang favor closer business ties with China. Ma, for instance, has promoted a Greater China Common Market. Hsieh has adopted a less integrationist approach.

At one point, it didn’t really matter what Hsieh wanted. His opponent, the charismatic Ma, was ahead by a gigantic margin. Depending on the poll, his lead was ten, twenty, or thirty points. Those big margins, however, existed before the outbreak of the insurgency in Tibet—and Beijing’s harsh crackdown. After the bloodshed, Ma’s almost insurmountable lead has appeared to vanish. Taiwan law prohibits the release of polling data ten days before an election, but private polls by the two parties show a tight race with the Kuomintang candidate slightly ahead.

“I severely condemn the violence used by the Chinese authorities,” Ma said at the beginning of this week. He even suggested the possibility of a boycott of the Olympics. Yet the Tibet issue has clearly helped Hsieh, the standard-bearer of the pro-independence party. “Ma’s one-China market would mean that tomorrow’s Taiwan will be like today’s Tibet,” he said on Sunday. If there is one sentiment that unites the Taiwanese today, it is the desire to maintain their own way of life and freedoms. As Shieh Jhy-wey, the island’s minister of information, said, “We don’t want to have the same fate as Tibet.”

So Beijing, on the verge of getting rid of the Democratic Progressive Party, has once again revived the fortunes of the pro-independence forces on Taiwan. Whoever wins on Saturday will face a Taiwanese electorate increasingly wary of the repressive Chinese state.

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“Close the Door and Beat the Dog”

The apposite Chinese saying with respect to the unrest in Tibet is bimen dagou: “close the door and beat the dog.” And with news coverage halted over a vast area of Western China, and endless columns of military vehicles heading in, who can doubt that the dog will be well and thoroughly beaten?

Certainly no one in the official west. The officially-expressed lack of condemnation of the latest installment in China’s decades-long destruction of Tibet is proof that the smart money figures the fix is in. Beijing will crush things without any outsiders having a chance to watch; no one will dare ask tough questions or criticize; things will then get back to “normal,” where China stories are all about trade and the Olympics.

But suppose that quick resolution doesn’t occur? Suppose the dog proves tougher than expected? Suppose stomach-turning video of the beating somehow reaches the outside world? Suppose the problem goes unfixed for days or weeks more, or spreads? Suppose the Chinese leadership itself begins to disagree about what to do? What then? A real crisis may arise, a crisis for which no one is prepared.

That possibility was confirmed on Thursday 20 March, as word came from official Chinese news services that Tibet was not yet under control and that unrest was spreading. Canadian journalists managed to get striking footage of new demonstration through the formidable Chinese news firewall.

Spring has a strange resonance in Chinese history: many trains of events culminating in major shifts have begun in this season. In 1989, it was the death, on April 15, of the former prime minister Hu Yaobang and public dissatisfaction at the Party’s failure to honor him that started the movement victimized in the Tiananmen bloodbath less than three months later. (The date gave the movement its name). June 4 1989  took its place with May 4 1919 (the nationalist demonstrations against the Treaty of Versailles) and May 30 1925 (major pro-labor, anti-Empire protest) among the milestones of regime-shaking popular unrest in China.

Something similar could happen this year. Unless the Chinese government succeeds in crushing the Tibetans cleanly and without publicity, we are likely to see a multiplication of grievances being aired–by ordinary Chinese as well as by subject peoples like the Tibetans and the Muslims of East Turkestan. Workers are already out on strike in Guangdong in the southeast. Plenty of anger is out there: over corruption, injustice, poverty, pollution, dictatorship–more than enough for a conflagration.

Washington is not even considering such a possibility. Instead Secretary Rice is urging the Chinese to “show restraint“, which I take to mean restraint in the numbers killed and brutality employed as order is restored. But suppose order is not restored, and things get worse? Now is not too early to start thinking about whom we support then–and what values we should, as a democracy, espouse.

The apposite Chinese saying with respect to the unrest in Tibet is bimen dagou: “close the door and beat the dog.” And with news coverage halted over a vast area of Western China, and endless columns of military vehicles heading in, who can doubt that the dog will be well and thoroughly beaten?

Certainly no one in the official west. The officially-expressed lack of condemnation of the latest installment in China’s decades-long destruction of Tibet is proof that the smart money figures the fix is in. Beijing will crush things without any outsiders having a chance to watch; no one will dare ask tough questions or criticize; things will then get back to “normal,” where China stories are all about trade and the Olympics.

But suppose that quick resolution doesn’t occur? Suppose the dog proves tougher than expected? Suppose stomach-turning video of the beating somehow reaches the outside world? Suppose the problem goes unfixed for days or weeks more, or spreads? Suppose the Chinese leadership itself begins to disagree about what to do? What then? A real crisis may arise, a crisis for which no one is prepared.

That possibility was confirmed on Thursday 20 March, as word came from official Chinese news services that Tibet was not yet under control and that unrest was spreading. Canadian journalists managed to get striking footage of new demonstration through the formidable Chinese news firewall.

Spring has a strange resonance in Chinese history: many trains of events culminating in major shifts have begun in this season. In 1989, it was the death, on April 15, of the former prime minister Hu Yaobang and public dissatisfaction at the Party’s failure to honor him that started the movement victimized in the Tiananmen bloodbath less than three months later. (The date gave the movement its name). June 4 1989  took its place with May 4 1919 (the nationalist demonstrations against the Treaty of Versailles) and May 30 1925 (major pro-labor, anti-Empire protest) among the milestones of regime-shaking popular unrest in China.

Something similar could happen this year. Unless the Chinese government succeeds in crushing the Tibetans cleanly and without publicity, we are likely to see a multiplication of grievances being aired–by ordinary Chinese as well as by subject peoples like the Tibetans and the Muslims of East Turkestan. Workers are already out on strike in Guangdong in the southeast. Plenty of anger is out there: over corruption, injustice, poverty, pollution, dictatorship–more than enough for a conflagration.

Washington is not even considering such a possibility. Instead Secretary Rice is urging the Chinese to “show restraint“, which I take to mean restraint in the numbers killed and brutality employed as order is restored. But suppose order is not restored, and things get worse? Now is not too early to start thinking about whom we support then–and what values we should, as a democracy, espouse.

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Not Good Sports

The State Department has released its annual report on human rights around the world. It’s not going to offer any comfort to those who, like the International Olympic Committee or President Bush, believe that the Games are forcing the Chinese to take human rights more seriously, or that the Olympics are just about sports.

Given the rise of lawless government in Russia and Pakistan, the fact that China was dropped from list of the ten worst abusers is nothing to be proud of: this is classic grading on a curve. When you move to on the ground realities, the report notes that, far from China opening up as the Game draw nearer, “The government [has] tightened restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, particularly in anticipation of and during sensitive events, including increased efforts to control and censor the Internet.” It also mentions the reports of large-scale forced relocations in Beijing to make way for Olympic projects.

None of this is going to make the slightest impression on the IOC, or on U.S. participation in the Games. And to anyone who has been awake for the past sixty years, the IOC could hardly be more discredited than it already is. As Arch Puddington pointed out in November, there is nothing new about the IOC truckling to dictators. What the IOC prizes most in a host country is not human rights: it’s order.

This is why the IOC has such an ambivalent relationship with the U.S., which on the one hand is the source of a lot of corporate money, but on the other is a disorderly place where institutions like State publish critical reports on China, and where the press exposes the IOC’s love of bribes, as it did before the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

The kind of press the IOC likes is well-illustrated by the International Herald Tribune‘s story on the report, which editorializes furiously that Iraq and Afghanistan “account for a huge chunk of the U.S. defense budget, and a disproportionate amount of diplomatic attention and resources.” For both the IOC and the Tribune, the problem is not what’s going on: the problem is that people persist in talking and trying to do something about it.

The State Department has released its annual report on human rights around the world. It’s not going to offer any comfort to those who, like the International Olympic Committee or President Bush, believe that the Games are forcing the Chinese to take human rights more seriously, or that the Olympics are just about sports.

Given the rise of lawless government in Russia and Pakistan, the fact that China was dropped from list of the ten worst abusers is nothing to be proud of: this is classic grading on a curve. When you move to on the ground realities, the report notes that, far from China opening up as the Game draw nearer, “The government [has] tightened restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, particularly in anticipation of and during sensitive events, including increased efforts to control and censor the Internet.” It also mentions the reports of large-scale forced relocations in Beijing to make way for Olympic projects.

None of this is going to make the slightest impression on the IOC, or on U.S. participation in the Games. And to anyone who has been awake for the past sixty years, the IOC could hardly be more discredited than it already is. As Arch Puddington pointed out in November, there is nothing new about the IOC truckling to dictators. What the IOC prizes most in a host country is not human rights: it’s order.

This is why the IOC has such an ambivalent relationship with the U.S., which on the one hand is the source of a lot of corporate money, but on the other is a disorderly place where institutions like State publish critical reports on China, and where the press exposes the IOC’s love of bribes, as it did before the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

The kind of press the IOC likes is well-illustrated by the International Herald Tribune‘s story on the report, which editorializes furiously that Iraq and Afghanistan “account for a huge chunk of the U.S. defense budget, and a disproportionate amount of diplomatic attention and resources.” For both the IOC and the Tribune, the problem is not what’s going on: the problem is that people persist in talking and trying to do something about it.

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China Says Bush Supports Beijing against Activists

On Friday, Liu Guijin, Beijing’s special envoy for Sudan, argued that the attendance of Western leaders at this year’s Summer Olympics means they support China in its ongoing campaign against activist groups. “More and more spokesmen and public figures have decided that politicization of the Olympic Games is not compatible with the Olympic spirit,” he explained.

Are the Olympics a political event? Whether or not they were before, they are now. Beijing and its detractors are engaged in highly public struggles over Darfur, Tibet, human rights, democracy, and a dozen other topics in connection with the Olympic extravaganza. And Liu, in presenting Beijing’s case, has just explicitly politicized the attendance of foreign leaders. President Bush can no longer claim that he is going to the Games merely for the sport. Unfortunately, his host has contradicted him and is using him against the activists.

So the American leader must make a decision: Will he side with Beijing’s autocrats, who, among other things, repress the Chinese people and enable the mass slaughter in Darfur? The world awaits his answer.

On Friday, Liu Guijin, Beijing’s special envoy for Sudan, argued that the attendance of Western leaders at this year’s Summer Olympics means they support China in its ongoing campaign against activist groups. “More and more spokesmen and public figures have decided that politicization of the Olympic Games is not compatible with the Olympic spirit,” he explained.

Are the Olympics a political event? Whether or not they were before, they are now. Beijing and its detractors are engaged in highly public struggles over Darfur, Tibet, human rights, democracy, and a dozen other topics in connection with the Olympic extravaganza. And Liu, in presenting Beijing’s case, has just explicitly politicized the attendance of foreign leaders. President Bush can no longer claim that he is going to the Games merely for the sport. Unfortunately, his host has contradicted him and is using him against the activists.

So the American leader must make a decision: Will he side with Beijing’s autocrats, who, among other things, repress the Chinese people and enable the mass slaughter in Darfur? The world awaits his answer.

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