Commentary Magazine


Topic: Tucson

Try Another Tack, Mr. Clemons

My former CONTENTIONS colleague Jennifer Rubin wrote a post referring to “the usual crowd of Israel bashers” who had sent the president a letter urging him to go along with a UN resolution condemning Israel for its settlements. The usual crowd included Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation, who was quite agitated because he was included in that company.

“I would like to know from Jennifer Rubin and from her editor — and from the Chairman of the Board of the Washington Post — what I have ever said, what I have ever written, what I have ever organized that deserves the characterization I received from Jennifer Rubin today at the Washington Post,” Clemons asks. “What does she consider makes me an Israel-basher?”

Rubin answers him chapter-and-verse here. It is a withering takedown.

Accusing Rubin of engaging in what is essentially libel (an “insidious character attack” is how Clemons puts it) when she was simply expressing an opinion, backed up by ample evidence, is both regrettable and perfectly predictable. Clemons is reacting in an affected and aggrieved manner. It is an obvious attempt not to dispute the charge but to delegitimize the person making it. And by appealing to Rubin’s editors and the chairman of the board at the Washington Post (!), there is an implicit effort to intimidate Rubin into silence.

Having worked with Jen, I have some advice for Clemons: it won’t work, and it shouldn’t be tried. And if Mr. Clemons is so eager to extinguish libel in public discourse, he might turn more of his attention to the effort on the left to link conservatives to the Tucson massacres.

Just a suggestion.

My former CONTENTIONS colleague Jennifer Rubin wrote a post referring to “the usual crowd of Israel bashers” who had sent the president a letter urging him to go along with a UN resolution condemning Israel for its settlements. The usual crowd included Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation, who was quite agitated because he was included in that company.

“I would like to know from Jennifer Rubin and from her editor — and from the Chairman of the Board of the Washington Post — what I have ever said, what I have ever written, what I have ever organized that deserves the characterization I received from Jennifer Rubin today at the Washington Post,” Clemons asks. “What does she consider makes me an Israel-basher?”

Rubin answers him chapter-and-verse here. It is a withering takedown.

Accusing Rubin of engaging in what is essentially libel (an “insidious character attack” is how Clemons puts it) when she was simply expressing an opinion, backed up by ample evidence, is both regrettable and perfectly predictable. Clemons is reacting in an affected and aggrieved manner. It is an obvious attempt not to dispute the charge but to delegitimize the person making it. And by appealing to Rubin’s editors and the chairman of the board at the Washington Post (!), there is an implicit effort to intimidate Rubin into silence.

Having worked with Jen, I have some advice for Clemons: it won’t work, and it shouldn’t be tried. And if Mr. Clemons is so eager to extinguish libel in public discourse, he might turn more of his attention to the effort on the left to link conservatives to the Tucson massacres.

Just a suggestion.

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Liberals’ Civility Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Newt Gingrich’s Advice to Palin

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Newt Gingrich had some unsolicited words of advice for Sarah Palin, whose poll numbers have been dropping after the Tucson tragedy.

“I think that she has got to slow down and be more careful and think through what she’s saying and how she’s saying it,” said Gingrich, who will likely challenge Palin for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

And while that’s a good recommendation for any politician — something Gingrich should probably work on himself — will it do any good for Palin?

Her political troubles over the past few weeks weren’t caused by a failure to slow down and think carefully. In fact, a lot of her most controversial remarks have been well thought out. Those gun references from last spring? She used them repeatedly in her statements, especially after she saw the furious reaction they elicited from the media and Democrats. Her “target” map was designed by a professional graphic artist, probably with a good deal of input from her PAC’s communications staff. And her recent comment about blood libel was part of a pre-written speech crafted with the help of PR experts.

Again, Gingrich’s words were good advice for any politician. But at this point, is there any indication that Palin has any interest in being a politician (as opposed to just running for political office)? Her increasingly eye-popping statements can only be looked at in two ways. Either she’s a “media-manipulation genius” (as that old meme goes) interested in a career as a professional conservative pundit, or she’s a serious politician who is breathtakingly clueless about media strategy.

The latter one seems unlikely. Not only is Palin incredibly savvy; so are the strategists around her. But in the past year, as a potential front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, she’s continued to make pre-planned comments that even the greenest City Hall candidate would have good sense to avoid. Promoting a map with crosshairs over Democratic districts during a debate as heated as the one last spring on health care? And writing the term “blood libel” into a speech? Yes, these controversies were blown way out of proportion by the media, but they were also completely unnecessary, avoidable scandals.

Conservatives who have seen how much potential Palin has as a candidate have advised her to get serious for almost two years. But is the problem that she hasn’t heard what they are saying? Or is it that she doesn’t want to hear it?

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Newt Gingrich had some unsolicited words of advice for Sarah Palin, whose poll numbers have been dropping after the Tucson tragedy.

“I think that she has got to slow down and be more careful and think through what she’s saying and how she’s saying it,” said Gingrich, who will likely challenge Palin for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

And while that’s a good recommendation for any politician — something Gingrich should probably work on himself — will it do any good for Palin?

Her political troubles over the past few weeks weren’t caused by a failure to slow down and think carefully. In fact, a lot of her most controversial remarks have been well thought out. Those gun references from last spring? She used them repeatedly in her statements, especially after she saw the furious reaction they elicited from the media and Democrats. Her “target” map was designed by a professional graphic artist, probably with a good deal of input from her PAC’s communications staff. And her recent comment about blood libel was part of a pre-written speech crafted with the help of PR experts.

Again, Gingrich’s words were good advice for any politician. But at this point, is there any indication that Palin has any interest in being a politician (as opposed to just running for political office)? Her increasingly eye-popping statements can only be looked at in two ways. Either she’s a “media-manipulation genius” (as that old meme goes) interested in a career as a professional conservative pundit, or she’s a serious politician who is breathtakingly clueless about media strategy.

The latter one seems unlikely. Not only is Palin incredibly savvy; so are the strategists around her. But in the past year, as a potential front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, she’s continued to make pre-planned comments that even the greenest City Hall candidate would have good sense to avoid. Promoting a map with crosshairs over Democratic districts during a debate as heated as the one last spring on health care? And writing the term “blood libel” into a speech? Yes, these controversies were blown way out of proportion by the media, but they were also completely unnecessary, avoidable scandals.

Conservatives who have seen how much potential Palin has as a candidate have advised her to get serious for almost two years. But is the problem that she hasn’t heard what they are saying? Or is it that she doesn’t want to hear it?

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The Ninth Step

President Obama has recently taken eight steps toward the right. As Peter noted yesterday, Romesh Ponnuru listed six: (1) the tax deal; (2) selecting Bill Daley as chief of staff; (3) absolving conservatives of murder in Tucson; (4) having Joe Biden project involvement in Afghanistan beyond 2014; (5) reviewing burdensome federal regulations; (6) authorizing Hillary Clinton’s new line on human rights in China. Ira Stoll identified two more: (7) appointing the Democratic Leadership Council’s Bruce Reed as Biden’s chief of staff; (8) Clinton’s pressuring Arabs on democratic reform, in a manner reminiscent of the Bush administration.

Let’s add a ninth: opposition to a UN resolution on Israeli settlements.

Ponnuru argued that Obama’s six moves are merely a “tactical and temporary” move to the center — a description that might also describe the seventh and eighth. Let’s consider whether it applies to the ninth.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley repeatedly answered questions yesterday by saying that the UN was not the place for the issues to be addressed — a position that will require a U.S. veto of any proposed resolution, even if the Palestinians continue their efforts to refine the language, since the language is irrelevant if the UN is not the proper forum to begin with:

QUESTION: …why are you opposed to the UN adopting a resolution that isn’t — that supports existing U.S. policy?

MR. CROWLEY: We believe that the best path forward is through the ongoing effort that gets the parties into direct negotiations, resolves the issues through a framework agreement, and ends the conflict once and for all. Read More

President Obama has recently taken eight steps toward the right. As Peter noted yesterday, Romesh Ponnuru listed six: (1) the tax deal; (2) selecting Bill Daley as chief of staff; (3) absolving conservatives of murder in Tucson; (4) having Joe Biden project involvement in Afghanistan beyond 2014; (5) reviewing burdensome federal regulations; (6) authorizing Hillary Clinton’s new line on human rights in China. Ira Stoll identified two more: (7) appointing the Democratic Leadership Council’s Bruce Reed as Biden’s chief of staff; (8) Clinton’s pressuring Arabs on democratic reform, in a manner reminiscent of the Bush administration.

Let’s add a ninth: opposition to a UN resolution on Israeli settlements.

Ponnuru argued that Obama’s six moves are merely a “tactical and temporary” move to the center — a description that might also describe the seventh and eighth. Let’s consider whether it applies to the ninth.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley repeatedly answered questions yesterday by saying that the UN was not the place for the issues to be addressed — a position that will require a U.S. veto of any proposed resolution, even if the Palestinians continue their efforts to refine the language, since the language is irrelevant if the UN is not the proper forum to begin with:

QUESTION: …why are you opposed to the UN adopting a resolution that isn’t — that supports existing U.S. policy?

MR. CROWLEY: We believe that the best path forward is through the ongoing effort that gets the parties into direct negotiations, resolves the issues through a framework agreement, and ends the conflict once and for all.

QUESTION: So it’s not the contents that you’re opposed to; it’s simply the idea of a resolution.

MR. CROWLEY: We do not think that the UN Security Council is the best place to address these issues.

QUESTION: Can I ask why? Because, I mean, the UN is where Israel was created, basically. Why is the UN not the place to deal with these issues?

MR. CROWLEY: These are complex issues, and we think they’re best resolved through direct negotiations, not through the unilateral declarations, even if those unilateral declarations come in the form of a multilateral setting.

Asked to specify a productive step forward, Crowley repeated the goal of a framework agreement produced by direct negotiations and said the administration was working on it:

QUESTION: But that’s been going on for the past two years.

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that.

QUESTION: And if you’re talking about productive steps –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s been going on for longer than that if — (laughter)

QUESTION: Well, this Administration, it’s been going on for the last two years. And if you’re talking about productive steps, certainly that process hasn’t produced anything.

MR. CROWLEY: You’re leading to a kind of a glass half full, glass half empty kind of discussion.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, except that the glass doesn’t have any water in it at all. (Laughter)

There are two possible explanations for the administration’s position: (1) a tactical and temporary move to the center, by a shellacked president anxious to avoid a confrontation with Israel before the 2012 presidential election; (2) a realization that focusing on Israeli settlements, without comparable concessions from either Palestinians or Arab states, is a failed strategy — and a UN resolution is not going to put any water in the glass.

The Palestinians, with their two-year strategy of avoiding negotiations (even after Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech; even after the settlement moratorium; even after repeated U.S. attempts to drag them to the table), have driven the peace process into a ditch. Unwilling to recognize a Jewish state or make the concessions necessary to get a Palestinian one, they want others to act while they stand by drinking slurpees.

Whether because of politics or policy, or both, the administration seems to realize this.

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Obama’s Tack to the Center

Over at the Washington Post, Ramesh Ponnuru writes this:

I count five rightward moves by the president since the midterm elections. First he agreed to delay any tax increases on high earners. He made William Daley chief of staff over progressive objections. He implicitly rebuked the Left’s attempt to exploit the Tucson shootings for political advantage. The administration, its hand forced by Vice President Biden’s comments about leaving Afghanistan in 2014 “come hell or high water,” made it clearer than ever that it does not regard 2014 as a hard deadline. And now President Obama has announced a review of burdensome regulations.

One might even add Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s newly tough line on human rights in China–which isn’t exactly a move to the right but will nonetheless please most conservatives.

My conclusions: 1) The next two years will be long ones for liberals. 2) Obama is going to be harder to beat in 2012 than many Republicans believe. 3) If Obama does win, though, the Obama of 2013 will be closer to the Obama of 2009 than the Obama of 2011. The move to the center is tactical and temporary.

Ramesh’s analysis sounds (as usual) right to me. The only amendment I’d make is that conservatives I hear from, at least for the most part, don’t assume President Obama will be easy to beat. Quite the opposite, in fact. They recognize that the incumbent president, especially if he doesn’t face a primary challenge, usually has the advantage. In addition, their concern is that the current group of potential presidential candidates — those sure to run and those thinking about running — aren’t up to the task. We’ll see.

In any event, Obama’s tack to the center underscores the fact that this is not a liberal country and it does not like to be governed by liberal lawmakers.

That was one large lesson from the 2010 election — and it’s one the president seems to have internalized.

Over at the Washington Post, Ramesh Ponnuru writes this:

I count five rightward moves by the president since the midterm elections. First he agreed to delay any tax increases on high earners. He made William Daley chief of staff over progressive objections. He implicitly rebuked the Left’s attempt to exploit the Tucson shootings for political advantage. The administration, its hand forced by Vice President Biden’s comments about leaving Afghanistan in 2014 “come hell or high water,” made it clearer than ever that it does not regard 2014 as a hard deadline. And now President Obama has announced a review of burdensome regulations.

One might even add Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s newly tough line on human rights in China–which isn’t exactly a move to the right but will nonetheless please most conservatives.

My conclusions: 1) The next two years will be long ones for liberals. 2) Obama is going to be harder to beat in 2012 than many Republicans believe. 3) If Obama does win, though, the Obama of 2013 will be closer to the Obama of 2009 than the Obama of 2011. The move to the center is tactical and temporary.

Ramesh’s analysis sounds (as usual) right to me. The only amendment I’d make is that conservatives I hear from, at least for the most part, don’t assume President Obama will be easy to beat. Quite the opposite, in fact. They recognize that the incumbent president, especially if he doesn’t face a primary challenge, usually has the advantage. In addition, their concern is that the current group of potential presidential candidates — those sure to run and those thinking about running — aren’t up to the task. We’ll see.

In any event, Obama’s tack to the center underscores the fact that this is not a liberal country and it does not like to be governed by liberal lawmakers.

That was one large lesson from the 2010 election — and it’s one the president seems to have internalized.

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Will Rewriting History Silence Conservatives?

Chris Matthews writes in the Washington Post about the friendship between Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. Matthews wants us to believe that those were the Good Old Days, years characterized by civility and comity among political opponents, an era when high-minded disagreements were stated in the most irenic way possible.

In short, a time when after-hours lions and lambs laid down beside each other.

Steven Hayward does us a public service by reminding us of what things were really like, with O’Neill saying, among other things, that “evil is in the White House at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.”

To Hayward’s examples I would add a January 30, 1984, Associated Press story, which reported this: “Ronald Reagan has been a divider, not a uniter. He has divided our country between rich and poor, between the hopeful and the hopeless, between the comfortable and the miserable. He has not been fair and the people know it. The American people will reject four more years of danger, four more years of pain,’ [Thomas P.] O’Neill said.”

Ronald Reagan was, in fact, a deeply hated figure by liberals when he was president.

The effort to pretty up the past is not simply evidence of nostalgia or selective memories. It is an effort by liberals to portray this current moment in our history, when conservatives have, for the first time, a wide array of media outlets at their disposal, as a period of unprecedented incivility. The unstated argument goes like this: for the first time in modern history, conservatives dominate a few media precincts (cable news and talk radio). It is also a period of vitriolic public discourse, unmatched in the annals of American history. We’ll leave it to you, the American voters, to connect the dots.

In fact, liberals are inventing a false correlation in order to assert a false causation.

And it’s an easy enough one to disprove. Those who lived through the 1980s merely need to dust off their own memories or read contemporaneous news accounts from that period (at the New York Times, the predecessor of Frank Rich and Paul Krugman was Anthony Lewis). An older generation can do the same thing for the 1970s, when Richard Nixon was a reviled figure by the left; and the 1960s, when there were riots in the streets and on American campuses and students chanted, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

This is simply part of an ongoing effort by liberals to disfigure American history in order to advance their post-Tucson fairy tale. It’s really quite regrettable — and, because it’s untrue, I rather doubt it will work.

Chris Matthews writes in the Washington Post about the friendship between Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. Matthews wants us to believe that those were the Good Old Days, years characterized by civility and comity among political opponents, an era when high-minded disagreements were stated in the most irenic way possible.

In short, a time when after-hours lions and lambs laid down beside each other.

Steven Hayward does us a public service by reminding us of what things were really like, with O’Neill saying, among other things, that “evil is in the White House at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.”

To Hayward’s examples I would add a January 30, 1984, Associated Press story, which reported this: “Ronald Reagan has been a divider, not a uniter. He has divided our country between rich and poor, between the hopeful and the hopeless, between the comfortable and the miserable. He has not been fair and the people know it. The American people will reject four more years of danger, four more years of pain,’ [Thomas P.] O’Neill said.”

Ronald Reagan was, in fact, a deeply hated figure by liberals when he was president.

The effort to pretty up the past is not simply evidence of nostalgia or selective memories. It is an effort by liberals to portray this current moment in our history, when conservatives have, for the first time, a wide array of media outlets at their disposal, as a period of unprecedented incivility. The unstated argument goes like this: for the first time in modern history, conservatives dominate a few media precincts (cable news and talk radio). It is also a period of vitriolic public discourse, unmatched in the annals of American history. We’ll leave it to you, the American voters, to connect the dots.

In fact, liberals are inventing a false correlation in order to assert a false causation.

And it’s an easy enough one to disprove. Those who lived through the 1980s merely need to dust off their own memories or read contemporaneous news accounts from that period (at the New York Times, the predecessor of Frank Rich and Paul Krugman was Anthony Lewis). An older generation can do the same thing for the 1970s, when Richard Nixon was a reviled figure by the left; and the 1960s, when there were riots in the streets and on American campuses and students chanted, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

This is simply part of an ongoing effort by liberals to disfigure American history in order to advance their post-Tucson fairy tale. It’s really quite regrettable — and, because it’s untrue, I rather doubt it will work.

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Iowahawk Does It Again

The Internet’s greatest humorist offers up CSI: Tucson, starring Paul Krugman, Chris Matthews, and Rachel Maddow, with special guest forensic OB-GYN Andrew Sullivan.

The Internet’s greatest humorist offers up CSI: Tucson, starring Paul Krugman, Chris Matthews, and Rachel Maddow, with special guest forensic OB-GYN Andrew Sullivan.

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The Left Is Still Unwilling to Work Toward Balance and Moderation

In his column today, E.J. Dionne Jr. writes, “It’s disappointing that the House did not wait a bit longer before bringing up an issue [health care] that has aroused so much division, acrimony and disinformation.” He added, “It was the acidic tone of the original health-care debate the led Giffords, in her widely discussed interview last March, to suggest that we ‘stand back when things get too fired up and say, “Whoa, let’s take a step back here.”‘”

Dionne adds, “Putting off this largely symbolic vote a few more weeks would have been a nice gesture.”

Set aside the fact that most of the disinformation came not from the right but from the left (the assertion that ObamaCare would bend the cost curve downward; that premiums would not go up; that people would not be forced off their existing coverage; etc.).

Set aside, too, the fact that the “acidic tone” of the original health-care debate was led in large measure by those on the left, like then-Representative Alan Grayson, who said that the GOP’s health-care plan was for people to “die quickly.”

What’s worth noting in his column is that Dionne (and those who share his mindset) is using the Tucson massacre to advance their liberal agenda in yet new ways. The left has decided to build on the slander that conservatives were moral accessories to murder. This week they are using the death of six innocent people in Arizona as a means to advance their policy agenda — even though that policy agenda had nothing on earth to do with the terrible events in Tucson.

What we’re witnessing among some liberals are minds that are so thoroughly and completely politicized that they will use any human tragedy, create any set of arguments, and invent any narrative they can in order to advance The Cause.

When Aristotle spoke about virtue, he meant in part finding balance and moderation in life. The Golden Mean was interpreted to mean a balance between extremes.

In the wake of the Tucson massacre, most of us hoped that we would have moved passed this extreme, grotesque politicization of the event. We had hoped that President Obama’s wonderful speech would be understood by the left that it was to cease and desist, and work to regain its balance after nearly a week of slander. But apparently, some on the left are so consumed by politics that it tints every lens they look through; it impacts every act in life; and it colors every living, breathing thought they have. And so the forthcoming health-care debate is now being framed in the context of the Tucson massacre (the not-so-subtle argument is that health care contributed to the “climate of hate” that the left still wants to insist contributed to the violence on that awful day).

The fact that liberals are acting disgracefully in the process seems not to bother them at all. It should.

In his column today, E.J. Dionne Jr. writes, “It’s disappointing that the House did not wait a bit longer before bringing up an issue [health care] that has aroused so much division, acrimony and disinformation.” He added, “It was the acidic tone of the original health-care debate the led Giffords, in her widely discussed interview last March, to suggest that we ‘stand back when things get too fired up and say, “Whoa, let’s take a step back here.”‘”

Dionne adds, “Putting off this largely symbolic vote a few more weeks would have been a nice gesture.”

Set aside the fact that most of the disinformation came not from the right but from the left (the assertion that ObamaCare would bend the cost curve downward; that premiums would not go up; that people would not be forced off their existing coverage; etc.).

Set aside, too, the fact that the “acidic tone” of the original health-care debate was led in large measure by those on the left, like then-Representative Alan Grayson, who said that the GOP’s health-care plan was for people to “die quickly.”

What’s worth noting in his column is that Dionne (and those who share his mindset) is using the Tucson massacre to advance their liberal agenda in yet new ways. The left has decided to build on the slander that conservatives were moral accessories to murder. This week they are using the death of six innocent people in Arizona as a means to advance their policy agenda — even though that policy agenda had nothing on earth to do with the terrible events in Tucson.

What we’re witnessing among some liberals are minds that are so thoroughly and completely politicized that they will use any human tragedy, create any set of arguments, and invent any narrative they can in order to advance The Cause.

When Aristotle spoke about virtue, he meant in part finding balance and moderation in life. The Golden Mean was interpreted to mean a balance between extremes.

In the wake of the Tucson massacre, most of us hoped that we would have moved passed this extreme, grotesque politicization of the event. We had hoped that President Obama’s wonderful speech would be understood by the left that it was to cease and desist, and work to regain its balance after nearly a week of slander. But apparently, some on the left are so consumed by politics that it tints every lens they look through; it impacts every act in life; and it colors every living, breathing thought they have. And so the forthcoming health-care debate is now being framed in the context of the Tucson massacre (the not-so-subtle argument is that health care contributed to the “climate of hate” that the left still wants to insist contributed to the violence on that awful day).

The fact that liberals are acting disgracefully in the process seems not to bother them at all. It should.

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Morning Commentary

Lee Smith writes on the plight of Christians in Middle Eastern countries and notes that unless Christians are somehow able to establish representation in government and receive protection from Middle Eastern leaders (an unlikely possibility at this point), their existence will remain in jeopardy: “Both recent converts and ancient congregations—the Assyrians in Iraq, the Copts in Egypt, Lebanon’s Maronite Catholics, and more, long antedating Islam—are under fire. The land where Christianity began is being cleansed of Jesus’ followers. It is possible that we will soon see an event without precedent: the end of a living Christian witness in this region after more than 2,000 years.”

Is the Western response to the recent events in Tunisia evidence that the Freedom Agenda is back on the rise? At Pajamas Media, Richard Fernandez writes,After years of laughing at the idea that spreading democracy was America’s most useful foreign policy weapon and touting grand bargains with the worst regimes in world, even the New York Times sees in the departure of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali the startling idea that Arabs will not necessarily tolerate tyranny forever.”

Reince Priebus was a largely unknown name until the Wisconsin GOP chair defeated Michael Steele last Friday in the race for Republican National Committee chair. On the surface, Priebus appears to be about as different from Steele as you can get; he’s likely to be more of a fundraising-focused, behind-the-scenes leader than a TV personality. Politico has more on his background: “Anti-abortion leaders see him as unwavering on the life issue. He talks often about his faith. Support from famous fiscal conservatives like Rep. Paul Ryan, who represents Priebus’s district, gives him credibility with that wing of the party.”

Ron Reagan Jr.’s controversial new book — which claims that his father was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease while in office — has understandably ruffled the feathers of some conservatives. But now it looks like some of Ron’s evidence is falling apart under scrutiny.

Jesse Jackson Jr. clearly has no idea what “homegrown terrorism” means: “However, from the shooting of Lincoln to the events in Tucson, there is a thread that liberals and conservatives have ignored. Each event traumatized our government and disrupted its business — and was carried out by anti-government activists. And that’s terror.”

Lee Smith writes on the plight of Christians in Middle Eastern countries and notes that unless Christians are somehow able to establish representation in government and receive protection from Middle Eastern leaders (an unlikely possibility at this point), their existence will remain in jeopardy: “Both recent converts and ancient congregations—the Assyrians in Iraq, the Copts in Egypt, Lebanon’s Maronite Catholics, and more, long antedating Islam—are under fire. The land where Christianity began is being cleansed of Jesus’ followers. It is possible that we will soon see an event without precedent: the end of a living Christian witness in this region after more than 2,000 years.”

Is the Western response to the recent events in Tunisia evidence that the Freedom Agenda is back on the rise? At Pajamas Media, Richard Fernandez writes,After years of laughing at the idea that spreading democracy was America’s most useful foreign policy weapon and touting grand bargains with the worst regimes in world, even the New York Times sees in the departure of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali the startling idea that Arabs will not necessarily tolerate tyranny forever.”

Reince Priebus was a largely unknown name until the Wisconsin GOP chair defeated Michael Steele last Friday in the race for Republican National Committee chair. On the surface, Priebus appears to be about as different from Steele as you can get; he’s likely to be more of a fundraising-focused, behind-the-scenes leader than a TV personality. Politico has more on his background: “Anti-abortion leaders see him as unwavering on the life issue. He talks often about his faith. Support from famous fiscal conservatives like Rep. Paul Ryan, who represents Priebus’s district, gives him credibility with that wing of the party.”

Ron Reagan Jr.’s controversial new book — which claims that his father was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease while in office — has understandably ruffled the feathers of some conservatives. But now it looks like some of Ron’s evidence is falling apart under scrutiny.

Jesse Jackson Jr. clearly has no idea what “homegrown terrorism” means: “However, from the shooting of Lincoln to the events in Tucson, there is a thread that liberals and conservatives have ignored. Each event traumatized our government and disrupted its business — and was carried out by anti-government activists. And that’s terror.”

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Getting a Grip on Obama’s Real Place in History

During the 2008 campaign, the historian Garry Wills compared Barack Obama’s Philadelphia speech on race with Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union address. Now he’s back at it, though he’s raising the bar a bit higher.

As both Alana and Rick have pointed out, according to Wills, President Obama’s Tucson speech “bears comparison with two Lincoln speeches even greater than the Copper Union address” — Gettysburg and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address.

Actually, it doesn’t.

I thought the president’s speech was a very good one. But the gushing Professor Wills really does need to get a grip on himself.

We also learn in his blog that (surprise) the New York Review wanted to publish a booklet printing the Lincoln and Obama speeches together, but the Obama campaign (wisely) discouraged that idea, perhaps to avoid any suspicion that they were calling Obama a second Lincoln. “Well,” Wills informs us, in the aftermath of the Tucson speech, “I am willing to risk such opposition now.”

It should be clear by now, even to Obama’s most passionate supporters, that he’s no Lincoln (he’s closer to being another Carter). Any effort to pretend that Obama belongs anywhere in same conversation with Lincoln is really quite silly. But such is the state of mind of the New York Review of Books and its writers these days. It’s not enough to be admiring of Obama; they have to be worshipful.

Like besotted adolescents, the left is rekindling its love affair with Barack Obama after only a single speech. Be warned: queasiness to follow.

During the 2008 campaign, the historian Garry Wills compared Barack Obama’s Philadelphia speech on race with Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union address. Now he’s back at it, though he’s raising the bar a bit higher.

As both Alana and Rick have pointed out, according to Wills, President Obama’s Tucson speech “bears comparison with two Lincoln speeches even greater than the Copper Union address” — Gettysburg and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address.

Actually, it doesn’t.

I thought the president’s speech was a very good one. But the gushing Professor Wills really does need to get a grip on himself.

We also learn in his blog that (surprise) the New York Review wanted to publish a booklet printing the Lincoln and Obama speeches together, but the Obama campaign (wisely) discouraged that idea, perhaps to avoid any suspicion that they were calling Obama a second Lincoln. “Well,” Wills informs us, in the aftermath of the Tucson speech, “I am willing to risk such opposition now.”

It should be clear by now, even to Obama’s most passionate supporters, that he’s no Lincoln (he’s closer to being another Carter). Any effort to pretend that Obama belongs anywhere in same conversation with Lincoln is really quite silly. But such is the state of mind of the New York Review of Books and its writers these days. It’s not enough to be admiring of Obama; they have to be worshipful.

Like besotted adolescents, the left is rekindling its love affair with Barack Obama after only a single speech. Be warned: queasiness to follow.

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The Civility Non Sequitur

A week’s worth of talk about civility is very nice. We should be more civil toward each other. There’s little more depressing in life than the incivility of much public discourse. But if you take five seconds to think about it, what happened in Tucson had nothing whatever to do with unmannerly misbehavior. Quite the opposite: the morning’s events gave ample evidence of humankind’s ability to hear the immediate call to greatness, as in Daniel Hernandez’s heroic salvation of Gabrielle Giffords’s life and how Dorwan Stoddard gave his life to shield his wife, Mavanelle, from Jared Loughner’s spray of bullet fire.

Thus, as we continue to gather more evidence of Loughner’s schizophrenia, the continuing rhetorical calls for the need for “civility” are now turning into nothing less than cover. They’re a dodge, a means by which those responsible for the slanderous accusation that somehow the Tea Party and Sarah Palin and the right were responsible for the massacre have been excused for hurling their grievously unjust charge. For, you see, they were only calling for a “new tone,” for “civility,” and who could be against those?

A week’s worth of talk about civility is very nice. We should be more civil toward each other. There’s little more depressing in life than the incivility of much public discourse. But if you take five seconds to think about it, what happened in Tucson had nothing whatever to do with unmannerly misbehavior. Quite the opposite: the morning’s events gave ample evidence of humankind’s ability to hear the immediate call to greatness, as in Daniel Hernandez’s heroic salvation of Gabrielle Giffords’s life and how Dorwan Stoddard gave his life to shield his wife, Mavanelle, from Jared Loughner’s spray of bullet fire.

Thus, as we continue to gather more evidence of Loughner’s schizophrenia, the continuing rhetorical calls for the need for “civility” are now turning into nothing less than cover. They’re a dodge, a means by which those responsible for the slanderous accusation that somehow the Tea Party and Sarah Palin and the right were responsible for the massacre have been excused for hurling their grievously unjust charge. For, you see, they were only calling for a “new tone,” for “civility,” and who could be against those?

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Comparing the Obama and Palin Speeches

The ridiculous media reaction to the speeches made by President Obama and Sarah Palin yesterday is just a glimpse of the type of coverage we’ll see if Palin becomes the Republican nominee for 2012. Today’s theme is obviously that Obama is a post-partisan unifier/masterful orator and Palin is a divisive megalomaniac. And so far, the message has been quite extensive in its reach.

Politico picked it up this morning in a headline story. “At sunrise in the East on Wednesday, Sarah Palin demonstrated that she has little interest — or capacity — in moving beyond her brand of grievance-based politics,” wrote Jonathan Martin. “And at sundown in the West, Barack Obama reminded even his critics of his ability to rally disparate Americans around a message of reconciliation.”

The New York Times and the Washington Post also piled on. “Obama has proven to be a polarizing figure in office, but on Wednesday he sought to unify,” wrote the Post’s Dan Balz. “Palin ended up dividing. On a day of scripted messages, presumably carefully considered, Obama made the most of his. Palin did not.”

And then the “tone” — which seems to be the word of the week — of the criticism disintegrated quickly from there.

“What America has witnessed in the last 24 hours is a president of the United States who acted like a president of the United States, a Speaker of the House who acted like a Speaker of the House — and Sarah Palin, a pretender to the presidency who acted like a divisive, selfish, small-minded self-promoter,” wrote Brent Budowsky at the Hill.

Radio host Bill Press, in a column that could have been excellent satire if it wasn’t written in earnest, wrote that Obama’s speech “was one of the most powerful speeches I’ve heard any president give. Like the Gettysburg Address in its lasting message.”

“What a contrast with the sickening, self-serving video released the same day by the dropout governor of Alaska,” Press continued. “In his remarks, President Obama expressed the hope that some good will come out of the tragedy in Tucson. If we’re lucky, one good thing will be the end of the already-too-long political career of Sarah Palin. She can make plenty of money at Fox News. That’s where she belongs, not with the rest of America.”

So Sarah Palin’s “divisive” speech was so sickening that she (and Fox News) shouldn’t be allowed to belong with the rest of America. Got it. Read More

The ridiculous media reaction to the speeches made by President Obama and Sarah Palin yesterday is just a glimpse of the type of coverage we’ll see if Palin becomes the Republican nominee for 2012. Today’s theme is obviously that Obama is a post-partisan unifier/masterful orator and Palin is a divisive megalomaniac. And so far, the message has been quite extensive in its reach.

Politico picked it up this morning in a headline story. “At sunrise in the East on Wednesday, Sarah Palin demonstrated that she has little interest — or capacity — in moving beyond her brand of grievance-based politics,” wrote Jonathan Martin. “And at sundown in the West, Barack Obama reminded even his critics of his ability to rally disparate Americans around a message of reconciliation.”

The New York Times and the Washington Post also piled on. “Obama has proven to be a polarizing figure in office, but on Wednesday he sought to unify,” wrote the Post’s Dan Balz. “Palin ended up dividing. On a day of scripted messages, presumably carefully considered, Obama made the most of his. Palin did not.”

And then the “tone” — which seems to be the word of the week — of the criticism disintegrated quickly from there.

“What America has witnessed in the last 24 hours is a president of the United States who acted like a president of the United States, a Speaker of the House who acted like a Speaker of the House — and Sarah Palin, a pretender to the presidency who acted like a divisive, selfish, small-minded self-promoter,” wrote Brent Budowsky at the Hill.

Radio host Bill Press, in a column that could have been excellent satire if it wasn’t written in earnest, wrote that Obama’s speech “was one of the most powerful speeches I’ve heard any president give. Like the Gettysburg Address in its lasting message.”

“What a contrast with the sickening, self-serving video released the same day by the dropout governor of Alaska,” Press continued. “In his remarks, President Obama expressed the hope that some good will come out of the tragedy in Tucson. If we’re lucky, one good thing will be the end of the already-too-long political career of Sarah Palin. She can make plenty of money at Fox News. That’s where she belongs, not with the rest of America.”

So Sarah Palin’s “divisive” speech was so sickening that she (and Fox News) shouldn’t be allowed to belong with the rest of America. Got it.

But back to the more substantive articles. While I wouldn’t go so far as to compare Obama’s speech with the Gettysburg Address, it deserves all the praise that it’s gotten from the media. It was emotional, inspiring, and comforting. In sum, it was everything a presidential speech should be in the aftermath of such a tragedy.

Palin’s speech, in comparison, didn’t seem as presidential. And so what? She’s not the president — and moreover, she wasn’t speaking at a memorial service — so there was no reason why she should have pretended otherwise.

Abe has already pointed to Jonah Goldberg’s post at the Corner; Goldberg also makes an apt point about Palin’s lack of a presidential demeanor:

I think the president was more presidential in no small part because he is the president. Palin’s video statement was something else because she is not the president. And the criticism that she should have turned the other cheek and not defended herself at all strikes me as beyond absurd. The woman was being accused of being a willful co-conspirator in murder. It is just unfair and flatly dishonest to expect her not to address that.

I second his other point as well. It’s particularly sleazy for the media to level false charges at Palin and then scold her for having the nerve to defend herself. Moreover, she barely even made any references to the criticisms leveled at her. The address struck me as more of a defense of free speech in general, something that is much more important to a democratic society than the protection of civil “tone.”

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Was Obama’s Speech His Finest Hour?

Obama’s Tucson speech was the best of his presidency, and his challenge to fulfill the expectations of the girl who came to meet her congresswoman on the corner will be a lasting contribution to presidential rhetoric. The suggestion by Garry Wills in “Obama’s Finest Hour” that the speech compares favorably with Lincoln’s Gettysburg and Second Inaugural Addresses strikes me as a tad excessive, but Obama gave a beautiful speech at a critical moment and lifted both the country and his own presidency. Everything a speech can do, it did.

In some sense, it was a sermon to himself, since he bears as much blame (and perhaps more) as anyone for the divisive rhetoric that has marked the first two years of his presidency. If there will be no more presidential denigration of political opponents as “enemies,” “hostage takers,” “bitter clingers,” people he has to “clean up after” who should “not do a lot of talking” and ride in the “back of the bus,” both the country and his presidency will be better for it. The clearest test of the Tucson sermon will be how well he is able to adhere to it.

At this moment, it may be worth recalling the final question at George W. Bush’s final news conference on January 12, 2009:

Q … You arrived here wanting to be a uniter, not a divider. Do you think Barack Obama can be a uniter, not a divider? Or is — with the challenges for any President and the unpopular decisions, is it impossible for any President to be uniter, not a divider?

THE PRESIDENT: I hope the tone is different for him than it has been for me. I am disappointed by the tone in Washington, D.C. I tried to do my part by not engaging in the name-calling and — and by the way, needless name-calling. I have worked to be respectful of my opponents on different issues. … It’s just the rhetoric got out of control at times –

Q Why?

THE PRESIDENT: I don’t know why. You need to ask those who — those who used the words they used. As I say, it’s not the first time it’s ever happened. … It’s happened throughout our history. And I would hope that, frankly, for the sake of the system itself, that if people disagree with President-Elect Obama, they treat him with respect. …  And so I wish him all the best. And no question he’ll be — there will be critics. And there should be. … I just hope the tone is respectful.

It would be a mistake to wish for a Kumbaya country; there are important issues that need to be debated and decided, on which the future of the country rests. But civility in debate can assist in their resolution.

And it would be an even bigger mistake to think that a speech is the solution in every situation. One of the reasons Obama’s sermon was a great speech is that a speech is what the occasion called for. In other situations, particularly in foreign affairs, an outstretched rhetorical hand has only limited efficacy; world problems are rarely resolved by declaring oneself a citizen of the world; and continually declaring that the time is now does not engender respect among the nations.

As Iran continues its efforts to change the Middle East, and with it the global balance of power, Obama’s challenge will be to summon not eloquence but resolution. His finest hour will require more than a speech.

Obama’s Tucson speech was the best of his presidency, and his challenge to fulfill the expectations of the girl who came to meet her congresswoman on the corner will be a lasting contribution to presidential rhetoric. The suggestion by Garry Wills in “Obama’s Finest Hour” that the speech compares favorably with Lincoln’s Gettysburg and Second Inaugural Addresses strikes me as a tad excessive, but Obama gave a beautiful speech at a critical moment and lifted both the country and his own presidency. Everything a speech can do, it did.

In some sense, it was a sermon to himself, since he bears as much blame (and perhaps more) as anyone for the divisive rhetoric that has marked the first two years of his presidency. If there will be no more presidential denigration of political opponents as “enemies,” “hostage takers,” “bitter clingers,” people he has to “clean up after” who should “not do a lot of talking” and ride in the “back of the bus,” both the country and his presidency will be better for it. The clearest test of the Tucson sermon will be how well he is able to adhere to it.

At this moment, it may be worth recalling the final question at George W. Bush’s final news conference on January 12, 2009:

Q … You arrived here wanting to be a uniter, not a divider. Do you think Barack Obama can be a uniter, not a divider? Or is — with the challenges for any President and the unpopular decisions, is it impossible for any President to be uniter, not a divider?

THE PRESIDENT: I hope the tone is different for him than it has been for me. I am disappointed by the tone in Washington, D.C. I tried to do my part by not engaging in the name-calling and — and by the way, needless name-calling. I have worked to be respectful of my opponents on different issues. … It’s just the rhetoric got out of control at times –

Q Why?

THE PRESIDENT: I don’t know why. You need to ask those who — those who used the words they used. As I say, it’s not the first time it’s ever happened. … It’s happened throughout our history. And I would hope that, frankly, for the sake of the system itself, that if people disagree with President-Elect Obama, they treat him with respect. …  And so I wish him all the best. And no question he’ll be — there will be critics. And there should be. … I just hope the tone is respectful.

It would be a mistake to wish for a Kumbaya country; there are important issues that need to be debated and decided, on which the future of the country rests. But civility in debate can assist in their resolution.

And it would be an even bigger mistake to think that a speech is the solution in every situation. One of the reasons Obama’s sermon was a great speech is that a speech is what the occasion called for. In other situations, particularly in foreign affairs, an outstretched rhetorical hand has only limited efficacy; world problems are rarely resolved by declaring oneself a citizen of the world; and continually declaring that the time is now does not engender respect among the nations.

As Iran continues its efforts to change the Middle East, and with it the global balance of power, Obama’s challenge will be to summon not eloquence but resolution. His finest hour will require more than a speech.

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Wild in Tucson

Much of the reaction to yesterday’s memorial service for the shooting victims in Tucson has centered on the raucous behavior of the crowd in attendance. A self-described “liberal” blogger quotes John’s New York Post piece on the peculiar atmosphere of the event — and goes on to remark on something I noticed: that President Obama appeared startled by the crowd’s noisy reaction to some of the best lines in his speech. Here is blogger Ron Replogle:

Obama was plainly taken aback by the crowd’s eruption into applause at the most inappropriate moments. He was there to deliver a eulogy. The crowd was there to participate in a democratic pageant. Applause was its way not only of honoring the victims of the Giffords shooting, but of congratulating itself for its own wholesome sentiments.

This last point could profitably be parsed in detail, but in a general sense, it captures a pattern developing in American society: one that results from deliberate inculcation as much as from the growing failure of social norms to dictate greater discrimination in our behavior. One manifestation, for example, is the invincible “self-esteem” enjoyed by low-performing American math students. Americans now spend much of childhood being encouraged, like toddlers, to clap their hands and shout “Yay!” about themselves on principle.

But it’s Obama’s reaction that got my attention. There’s a sense in which he appears to have ended up, haplessly, at the completion of a circle: he’s the one left holding the bag as the trends once urged by the 1960s-era radical left now demonstrate that they are already in force. Today, there’s no social institution called “The Man” left to rail against. The mythical figure who tried to hold us all back, lower our self-esteem, and keep us silent during eulogies has been vanquished. The crowd is in charge now — thoroughly middle class, self-consciously “diverse,” devoted to self-expression and self-congratulation — and its thing is to clap its hands and shout “Yay!” (or, alternatively, “Boo!”).

I’m reminded of a cult movie from 1968 called Wild in the Streets. Obama’s position has struck me more than once as being similar to that of the movie’s protagonist (played by Christopher Jones), a rock singer in his 20s who rides into the Oval Office on a wave of unbridled anti-establishment fervor. (The trailer portrays the movie pretty accurately.) The Jones character, in a manner reminiscent of Barack Obama, comes across as more conventional and reassuring to voters than many in his political cohort. But what he finds when he gets to the White House is that his movement has already torn down everything that made the office worth holding. There is nothing left to deconstruct or triangulate against; no throne to step down from.

The movie’s silly story line is an analogy to the Obama presidency, only in caricature. But the outlines have been visible on a number of occasions. Whenever Obama has disavowed America’s global leadership, but then expected foreign heads of state to give his policy gambits special weight, he has seemed to not understand that the one tends to cancel out the other.

My impression from yesterday’s service is that Obama was genuinely surprised by the untoward reaction of the crowd — and it may well be that he has never given real thought to the proposition that radicalism of all kinds is at odds with the order and seemliness we rely on. In that, he would be characteristic of his academic and political background. But he is a product of that background, not one of its driving forces. That it is he who must now stand before an indecorous people and try to observe decorum is not so much ironic as poignant and sad.

Much of the reaction to yesterday’s memorial service for the shooting victims in Tucson has centered on the raucous behavior of the crowd in attendance. A self-described “liberal” blogger quotes John’s New York Post piece on the peculiar atmosphere of the event — and goes on to remark on something I noticed: that President Obama appeared startled by the crowd’s noisy reaction to some of the best lines in his speech. Here is blogger Ron Replogle:

Obama was plainly taken aback by the crowd’s eruption into applause at the most inappropriate moments. He was there to deliver a eulogy. The crowd was there to participate in a democratic pageant. Applause was its way not only of honoring the victims of the Giffords shooting, but of congratulating itself for its own wholesome sentiments.

This last point could profitably be parsed in detail, but in a general sense, it captures a pattern developing in American society: one that results from deliberate inculcation as much as from the growing failure of social norms to dictate greater discrimination in our behavior. One manifestation, for example, is the invincible “self-esteem” enjoyed by low-performing American math students. Americans now spend much of childhood being encouraged, like toddlers, to clap their hands and shout “Yay!” about themselves on principle.

But it’s Obama’s reaction that got my attention. There’s a sense in which he appears to have ended up, haplessly, at the completion of a circle: he’s the one left holding the bag as the trends once urged by the 1960s-era radical left now demonstrate that they are already in force. Today, there’s no social institution called “The Man” left to rail against. The mythical figure who tried to hold us all back, lower our self-esteem, and keep us silent during eulogies has been vanquished. The crowd is in charge now — thoroughly middle class, self-consciously “diverse,” devoted to self-expression and self-congratulation — and its thing is to clap its hands and shout “Yay!” (or, alternatively, “Boo!”).

I’m reminded of a cult movie from 1968 called Wild in the Streets. Obama’s position has struck me more than once as being similar to that of the movie’s protagonist (played by Christopher Jones), a rock singer in his 20s who rides into the Oval Office on a wave of unbridled anti-establishment fervor. (The trailer portrays the movie pretty accurately.) The Jones character, in a manner reminiscent of Barack Obama, comes across as more conventional and reassuring to voters than many in his political cohort. But what he finds when he gets to the White House is that his movement has already torn down everything that made the office worth holding. There is nothing left to deconstruct or triangulate against; no throne to step down from.

The movie’s silly story line is an analogy to the Obama presidency, only in caricature. But the outlines have been visible on a number of occasions. Whenever Obama has disavowed America’s global leadership, but then expected foreign heads of state to give his policy gambits special weight, he has seemed to not understand that the one tends to cancel out the other.

My impression from yesterday’s service is that Obama was genuinely surprised by the untoward reaction of the crowd — and it may well be that he has never given real thought to the proposition that radicalism of all kinds is at odds with the order and seemliness we rely on. In that, he would be characteristic of his academic and political background. But he is a product of that background, not one of its driving forces. That it is he who must now stand before an indecorous people and try to observe decorum is not so much ironic as poignant and sad.

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Small Miracles in Tucson, Arizona

Mike Allen’s Playbook this morning has an incredibly poignant anecdote from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, about their visit with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the hospital yesterday.

While the two lawmakers sat at Giffords’s bedside, they joked about what the three of them would do once she recovered, and Giffords actually began to move in response.

“And the more we joked about what we were going to do, she started to open her eyes literally. And then you have to recognize, her eyes hadn’t opened — we didn’t know that — and so she started to struggle,” said Gillibrand.

Seeing this, Giffords’s husband, Mark, immediately jumped to her side and started urging her to keep her eyes open:

“And one of her eyes is covered with a bandage because it was damaged in the gunfire. So her eye is flickering. And Mark sees this and gets extremely excited. … And so he said, Gabby, open your eyes, open your eyes. And he’s really urging her forward. And the doctor is like perking up and everyone is coming around the bed. And she’s struggling. … And then she finally opens her eyes and you could she was like desperately trying to focus and it took enormous strength from her. And Mark could just — can’t believe it. I mean, he’s so happy. And we’re crying because we’re witnessing something that we never imagined would happen in front of us. And so Mark says, he says — he said, Gabby, if you can see me, give us the thumbs up, give us the thumbs up.”

But instead of giving a thumbs-up sign, Giffords reached out to try to embrace her husband:

“And then she reaches out and starts grabbing Mark and is touching him and starts to nearly choke him — she was clearly trying to hug him. … And we were just in tears of joy watching this and beyond ourselves, honestly. And then Mark said, you know, touch my ring, touch my ring. And she touches his ring and then she grabs his whole watch and wrist. And then the doctor was just so excited. He said, you don’t understand, this is amazing, what’s she’s doing right now, and beyond our greatest hopes.”

Imagine what a tremendous physical exertion it must have been for Giffords to simply raise an arm to touch her husband. She could have remained still, kept her eyes shut, saved the effort. But even this basic act of connecting was worth the struggle.

There has been a lot of talk in recent days about the mindset of the man who put a bullet through Giffords’s head. His friends called him a nihilist who would often ramble about the pointlessness of the world. It’s stories like this one that remind us how false that philosophy is, how even the smallest acts can be full of meaning.

Mike Allen’s Playbook this morning has an incredibly poignant anecdote from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, about their visit with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the hospital yesterday.

While the two lawmakers sat at Giffords’s bedside, they joked about what the three of them would do once she recovered, and Giffords actually began to move in response.

“And the more we joked about what we were going to do, she started to open her eyes literally. And then you have to recognize, her eyes hadn’t opened — we didn’t know that — and so she started to struggle,” said Gillibrand.

Seeing this, Giffords’s husband, Mark, immediately jumped to her side and started urging her to keep her eyes open:

“And one of her eyes is covered with a bandage because it was damaged in the gunfire. So her eye is flickering. And Mark sees this and gets extremely excited. … And so he said, Gabby, open your eyes, open your eyes. And he’s really urging her forward. And the doctor is like perking up and everyone is coming around the bed. And she’s struggling. … And then she finally opens her eyes and you could she was like desperately trying to focus and it took enormous strength from her. And Mark could just — can’t believe it. I mean, he’s so happy. And we’re crying because we’re witnessing something that we never imagined would happen in front of us. And so Mark says, he says — he said, Gabby, if you can see me, give us the thumbs up, give us the thumbs up.”

But instead of giving a thumbs-up sign, Giffords reached out to try to embrace her husband:

“And then she reaches out and starts grabbing Mark and is touching him and starts to nearly choke him — she was clearly trying to hug him. … And we were just in tears of joy watching this and beyond ourselves, honestly. And then Mark said, you know, touch my ring, touch my ring. And she touches his ring and then she grabs his whole watch and wrist. And then the doctor was just so excited. He said, you don’t understand, this is amazing, what’s she’s doing right now, and beyond our greatest hopes.”

Imagine what a tremendous physical exertion it must have been for Giffords to simply raise an arm to touch her husband. She could have remained still, kept her eyes shut, saved the effort. But even this basic act of connecting was worth the struggle.

There has been a lot of talk in recent days about the mindset of the man who put a bullet through Giffords’s head. His friends called him a nihilist who would often ramble about the pointlessness of the world. It’s stories like this one that remind us how false that philosophy is, how even the smallest acts can be full of meaning.

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President of All the People

President Obama’s speech at the Tucson Memorial Service last night was among his best as president. It was right for the moment, focusing as it did — focusing as it should — on the lives of those who were killed and the acts of heroism we witnessed.

The president resisted the temptation to offer simplistic explanations for the existence of evil or how to ameliorate grief. He used language that was at times elegant and evocative, including lines like these: “Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.” His use of Scripture was appropriate and effective. And the president used the occasion to essentially close an ugly and unfortunate chapter of this debate.

Last night in Tucson, Barack Obama resurrected the best qualities from his 2008 campaign. On a difficult occasion, he showed grace and reminded us of the power of words to unify and uplift. More than at any other point in his presidency, Mr. Obama was president of all the people and spoke beautifully for them.

President Obama’s speech at the Tucson Memorial Service last night was among his best as president. It was right for the moment, focusing as it did — focusing as it should — on the lives of those who were killed and the acts of heroism we witnessed.

The president resisted the temptation to offer simplistic explanations for the existence of evil or how to ameliorate grief. He used language that was at times elegant and evocative, including lines like these: “Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.” His use of Scripture was appropriate and effective. And the president used the occasion to essentially close an ugly and unfortunate chapter of this debate.

Last night in Tucson, Barack Obama resurrected the best qualities from his 2008 campaign. On a difficult occasion, he showed grace and reminded us of the power of words to unify and uplift. More than at any other point in his presidency, Mr. Obama was president of all the people and spoke beautifully for them.

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One Responsible Response to the Tucson Tragedy

Since I’ve been critical of New York Times reporters and columnists for what they’ve written about the Tucson massacre, it’s only fair to praise one as well.

David Brooks appeared on PBS’s The News Hour and wrote a column on the coverage of the killings in Arizona on Saturday. He was Brooks at his best: intelligent and informed (including about mental illness and the difference between correlation and causation), measured and careful in his words, but also quite heartfelt in expressing his views.

When asked on the program whether he thought the relationship between speech and violence was a “profoundly important debate” to have, he answered, “Yeah, but not today.” When asked why, he said, “Because this is in context of this horrific crime” — a crime in which political speech had nothing to do with the killings. And speaking for many of us, Brooks wrote: “I have no love for Sarah Palin, and I like to think I’m committed to civil discourse. But the political opportunism occasioned by this tragedy has ranged from the completely irrelevant to the shamelessly irresponsible.”

These are wise words. I only wish his Times colleagues were a fraction as responsible as David Brooks is.

Since I’ve been critical of New York Times reporters and columnists for what they’ve written about the Tucson massacre, it’s only fair to praise one as well.

David Brooks appeared on PBS’s The News Hour and wrote a column on the coverage of the killings in Arizona on Saturday. He was Brooks at his best: intelligent and informed (including about mental illness and the difference between correlation and causation), measured and careful in his words, but also quite heartfelt in expressing his views.

When asked on the program whether he thought the relationship between speech and violence was a “profoundly important debate” to have, he answered, “Yeah, but not today.” When asked why, he said, “Because this is in context of this horrific crime” — a crime in which political speech had nothing to do with the killings. And speaking for many of us, Brooks wrote: “I have no love for Sarah Palin, and I like to think I’m committed to civil discourse. But the political opportunism occasioned by this tragedy has ranged from the completely irrelevant to the shamelessly irresponsible.”

These are wise words. I only wish his Times colleagues were a fraction as responsible as David Brooks is.

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The Backlash

Mark Halperin, co-author of a very good campaign book, Game Change, is usually a reasonable political reporter. But yesterday he made comments on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that were irresponsible and deeply (and unintentionally) revealing.

In discussing the political reaction to the Tucson massacre, Halperin said: “I just want to single out one thing. I don’t want to over-generalize. But I think the media and the politicians have behaved pretty well so far. The thing I’m most concerned about now is the anger on the right-wing commentariat. On Fox and George Will and other conservatives are in some cases justifiably upset at liberals. But they’re turning this right now, in the last 24 hours, back into the standard operating procedure of ‘all this is war and fodder for content’ rather than trying to bring the country together.”

“Wait a second, Mark,” Joe Scarborough responded. “I think they would say that you have that backwards, that a shooting was turned into fodder to attack conservatives.”

“And I’ve already made that criticism as well,” Halperin said. “They’re right. But rather than seizing on it and turning the other cheek, they’re back at their war stations. And that’s not going to help us.”

Let’s examine Halperin’s arguments in turn.

What’s not going to “bring the country together” is a grotesque effort by some liberals to implicate conservatives in the shooting death of six innocent people. And perhaps if the network Mr. Halperin appears on (MSNBC) and the magazine he writes for (Time) had not allowed, and in some cases advanced, that narrative, conservatives would not have to go “back to their war stations.” (For more, see this.)

Mr. Halperin concedes that conservatives are right in believing that the Tucson shooting was turned into fodder against conservatives. Yet he seems quite untroubled by it all. In fact, he counsels conservatives to “turn the other cheek.” Now isn’t that touching? Conservatives have been on the receiving end of a remarkable slander campaign — and Halperin is most upset that they are responding to it. It’s not advancing the civilized public discourse conversation that Halperin says he wants to have. What he doesn’t seem to grasp — and it really isn’t all that hard to grasp — is that when the left attempts to make conservatives moral accessories to a massacre, it isn’t likely to drain our political dialogue of anger. And the blame for this doesn’t rest with those who are on the receiving end of the slander. Read More

Mark Halperin, co-author of a very good campaign book, Game Change, is usually a reasonable political reporter. But yesterday he made comments on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that were irresponsible and deeply (and unintentionally) revealing.

In discussing the political reaction to the Tucson massacre, Halperin said: “I just want to single out one thing. I don’t want to over-generalize. But I think the media and the politicians have behaved pretty well so far. The thing I’m most concerned about now is the anger on the right-wing commentariat. On Fox and George Will and other conservatives are in some cases justifiably upset at liberals. But they’re turning this right now, in the last 24 hours, back into the standard operating procedure of ‘all this is war and fodder for content’ rather than trying to bring the country together.”

“Wait a second, Mark,” Joe Scarborough responded. “I think they would say that you have that backwards, that a shooting was turned into fodder to attack conservatives.”

“And I’ve already made that criticism as well,” Halperin said. “They’re right. But rather than seizing on it and turning the other cheek, they’re back at their war stations. And that’s not going to help us.”

Let’s examine Halperin’s arguments in turn.

What’s not going to “bring the country together” is a grotesque effort by some liberals to implicate conservatives in the shooting death of six innocent people. And perhaps if the network Mr. Halperin appears on (MSNBC) and the magazine he writes for (Time) had not allowed, and in some cases advanced, that narrative, conservatives would not have to go “back to their war stations.” (For more, see this.)

Mr. Halperin concedes that conservatives are right in believing that the Tucson shooting was turned into fodder against conservatives. Yet he seems quite untroubled by it all. In fact, he counsels conservatives to “turn the other cheek.” Now isn’t that touching? Conservatives have been on the receiving end of a remarkable slander campaign — and Halperin is most upset that they are responding to it. It’s not advancing the civilized public discourse conversation that Halperin says he wants to have. What he doesn’t seem to grasp — and it really isn’t all that hard to grasp — is that when the left attempts to make conservatives moral accessories to a massacre, it isn’t likely to drain our political dialogue of anger. And the blame for this doesn’t rest with those who are on the receiving end of the slander.

What I think we’re seeing in Halperin’s reaction is upset that the rules that once applied in journalism no longer do.

Once upon a time, a libel by liberals, amplified by the press, would have worked. The narrative would have been locked into place. Conservatives could complain about it here and there, but it wouldn’t really matter much (think Reed Irvine). The rise of the “new media,” which is not really so new anymore, has changed all that.

Today there are a variety of outlets — tweets, blogs, websites, conservative talk radio, and cable news, as well as columnists and even a few editorial pages — that are quite able and willing to push back, to deconstruct bad arguments, to point out factual errors, and to change the trajectory of a story.

We’ve seen that with the Tucson massacre. During the first 24 hours, the left, aided by many in the “mainstream media,” argued that the killings were fostered by a political (read: conservative) climate of hate. That was a completely unjustified and bigoted assumption; and in every hour since then, it has been exposed as such. We are now seeing a public backlash against that calumny. It will grow with time.

The quasi-media monopoly was broken some time ago. A relatively few journalists with a strikingly similar ideological disposition are no longer able to dictate the story lines they want. In this case, they desperately wanted to use the Tucson massacre as a way to indict conservatives for their supposed part in creating a “climate of hate.” But this effort is backfiring. The response from conservatives (along with a few reporters and left-leaning commentators) has been swift, comprehensive, sustained, and effective. Liberal-minded journalists see that and are rattled by it. In response, they are making silly arguments that, on reflection, they probably wish they hadn’t made. But those arguments are themselves instructive. Many journalists are lamenting the loss of a world that no longer exists.

Liberals wanted to use the Tucson massacre to smear conservatives. In the end, it will further discredit them and journalism itself. We are seeing, in a somewhat different form, the Dan Rather/National Guard story all over again. And we know how that turned out.

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Krauthammer on Krugman

Sometimes, a future Hall of Fame pitcher is, during a key moment, asked to pitch out of rotation. So, too, with certain columnists.

Charles Krauthammer’s regular slot in the Washington Post is Friday — but he was moved up in order to address the liberal libel that the Tucson massacre was the result of a “climate of hate” created by conservatives. The result is a spectacularly good column. And it concludes with a devastating knockout of the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who has earned the distinction of being the most scurrilous and irresponsible commentator on the Tucson killings (the competition was stiff).

“The origins of [Jared] Loughner’s delusions are clear: mental illness,” Krauthammer writes. “What are the origins of Krugman’s?”

An excellent question. And whatever the answer is, Paul Krugman — based on his grotesque conduct during the past five days and Krauthammer’s withering takedown — will not recover. He may continue to write, but he has become, in serious circles, an object of ridicule as well as contempt.

Sometimes, a future Hall of Fame pitcher is, during a key moment, asked to pitch out of rotation. So, too, with certain columnists.

Charles Krauthammer’s regular slot in the Washington Post is Friday — but he was moved up in order to address the liberal libel that the Tucson massacre was the result of a “climate of hate” created by conservatives. The result is a spectacularly good column. And it concludes with a devastating knockout of the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who has earned the distinction of being the most scurrilous and irresponsible commentator on the Tucson killings (the competition was stiff).

“The origins of [Jared] Loughner’s delusions are clear: mental illness,” Krauthammer writes. “What are the origins of Krugman’s?”

An excellent question. And whatever the answer is, Paul Krugman — based on his grotesque conduct during the past five days and Krauthammer’s withering takedown — will not recover. He may continue to write, but he has become, in serious circles, an object of ridicule as well as contempt.

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The Folks Aren’t Buying It

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air summarizes a CBS poll taken to discern Americans’ sentiments on what caused Jared Loughner’s rampage in Tucson. The poll revealed that 57 percent of respondents think the attack had nothing to do with politics. Even among Democrats, the poll found 49 percent agreeing that Loughner’s motives were non-political. Independents saw Loughner as a non-political actor by a margin of 56 to 33 percent.

This result resonates with my anecdotal observations. Since Saturday, I have not met or heard from a single acquaintance who thought Loughner might have acted from political motives, either left-wing or right-wing. People have even gone out of their way to bring it up. The evidence of Loughner’s mental perturbation is too clear — and the information power of the Internet too readily available — for the people to be swayed in great numbers by a concocted, largely counterfactual narrative.

But I am interested in these poll results on another level as well. Like other CONTENTIONS contributors, I’ve been troubled and saddened by the performance of the usual suspects in the old-media punditry and the Democratic Party. Writing about it has hardly seemed worth the time: it would be like shooting fish in a barrel, and others are doing it much better anyway. But because the worlds of media punditry and politics are prominent features of my own mental landscape, I can’t help giving attention to the rhetorical — and ethical — enormities being perpetrated. Feeling the need to deconstruct them item by item is probably common to most political writers.

I wonder, however, if we are taking the mainstream media’s cringe-worthy performance harder than the rest of America is. The results of the CBS poll give off an air of pragmatic, angst-free rejection of the tea-parties-made-him-do-it narrative. The narrative is reaching anyone who consumes news, but there’s no evidence that it is taking hold. Poll respondents concurred with the “political” assessment of Jared Loughner’s attack in the exact proportion perennially occupied by the left’s committed “base” — i.e., 32 percent of total respondents and 42 percent of Democrats. This suggests that the overheated narrative being stoked by irresponsible media pundits might be satisfying to the converted, but it’s not changing any minds at all.

John Steele Gordon pointed out yesterday that in the age of the Internet, those who try disingenuously to alter or misrepresent the public record will be caught out. That has certainly been a factor in the left’s meltdown following the Loughner incident. I think another factor is simply that the people know unseemly histrionics when they see them, and are naturally put off.

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air summarizes a CBS poll taken to discern Americans’ sentiments on what caused Jared Loughner’s rampage in Tucson. The poll revealed that 57 percent of respondents think the attack had nothing to do with politics. Even among Democrats, the poll found 49 percent agreeing that Loughner’s motives were non-political. Independents saw Loughner as a non-political actor by a margin of 56 to 33 percent.

This result resonates with my anecdotal observations. Since Saturday, I have not met or heard from a single acquaintance who thought Loughner might have acted from political motives, either left-wing or right-wing. People have even gone out of their way to bring it up. The evidence of Loughner’s mental perturbation is too clear — and the information power of the Internet too readily available — for the people to be swayed in great numbers by a concocted, largely counterfactual narrative.

But I am interested in these poll results on another level as well. Like other CONTENTIONS contributors, I’ve been troubled and saddened by the performance of the usual suspects in the old-media punditry and the Democratic Party. Writing about it has hardly seemed worth the time: it would be like shooting fish in a barrel, and others are doing it much better anyway. But because the worlds of media punditry and politics are prominent features of my own mental landscape, I can’t help giving attention to the rhetorical — and ethical — enormities being perpetrated. Feeling the need to deconstruct them item by item is probably common to most political writers.

I wonder, however, if we are taking the mainstream media’s cringe-worthy performance harder than the rest of America is. The results of the CBS poll give off an air of pragmatic, angst-free rejection of the tea-parties-made-him-do-it narrative. The narrative is reaching anyone who consumes news, but there’s no evidence that it is taking hold. Poll respondents concurred with the “political” assessment of Jared Loughner’s attack in the exact proportion perennially occupied by the left’s committed “base” — i.e., 32 percent of total respondents and 42 percent of Democrats. This suggests that the overheated narrative being stoked by irresponsible media pundits might be satisfying to the converted, but it’s not changing any minds at all.

John Steele Gordon pointed out yesterday that in the age of the Internet, those who try disingenuously to alter or misrepresent the public record will be caught out. That has certainly been a factor in the left’s meltdown following the Loughner incident. I think another factor is simply that the people know unseemly histrionics when they see them, and are naturally put off.

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