Commentary Magazine


Topic: writer

Chabon Swings at Israel — and Hits Peter Beinart!

Novelist Michael Chabon is generally coy about his position on the Jewish state. Unlike his wife, writer Ayelet Waldman, Chabon tends to refrain from open anti-Zionism, although as the author of a bestselling novel, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, whose premise was the destruction of the state of Israel soon after its birth and the fanaticism of those who wished to bring it back into existence, it’s not as if his views are much of a mystery.

Therefore, one read his 1,700-word essay in the Sunday New York Times Week in Review section with interest to see how he would react to the Gaza flotilla. But Chabon is too nuanced a writer to pen a standard condemnation of Israel’s blockade of Hamas-run Gaza. Instead, his target was the whole notion that Jews are special or smart. Chabon approvingly quoted Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg as saying Israel’s actions demonstrated a lack of seichel, the Yiddish word for wisdom. Chabon goes on at considerable length to make a very small argument that few serious people would really disagree with: that Jews are as capable of making blunders as any other people.

Though some writers, like the estimable Charles Murray, have written in COMMENTARY about the special genius of the Jewish people, the majority of us who have spent our lives covering Jewish institutions and communities and following Israeli politics would probably have to side with Chabon rather than Murray on this one. At times, Israeli politics and, indeed, the politics of most Jewish communities do resemble the legendary village of Chelm — the place where Jewish folklore tells us an errant angel dropped a boatload of foolish souls — more than they do Plato’s Republic. The sectarian madness of Israel’s proportional system of representation in the Knesset and the lockstep liberalism of American Jews certainly is more than ample testimony of the Jewish capacity for foolishness.

But Chabon has bigger fish to fry than just saying that Jews can be dumb. His genuine target is not a poorly planned military expedition but rather “the foundational ambiguity of Judaism and Jewish identity; the idea of chosenness” — a concept that some of the most vicious critics of Judaism and Jews through the ages, such as Voltaire, have always found particularly distasteful.

Chabon sneers at what he considers the hypocrisy of a Jewish people that accepts the idea of being chosen (a religious concept that involves obligation to observe the Torah, not privilege) but then complains when “the world — cynically or sincerely — holds Israel to a different, higher standard as beneficiaries of that dispensation.” He goes on to cite Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which declares that the Jewish people have a right “to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign state.” For him, this foundational document of Zionism also means that Jews “are every bit as capable of barbarism or stupidity.”

Leave aside the fact that blockading an area controlled by an Islamist terrorist group bent on Israel’s destruction is, by any reasonable standard, neither barbaric nor stupid, but actually a normal and quite restrained manner of self-defense against a lethal threat. Rather, let us focus on Chabon’s point that it is the Zionists who demand special treatment from the world or say that Israel’s legitimacy is based on any special Jewish attributes or genius.

If anything, what Chabon has done in this long, confused essay is to unwittingly skewer the Peter Beinarts of the world, the “liberal Zionists” for whom Israel is only worthy of existence if it conforms to their vision of what a Jewish state should be. For Beinart, an “illiberal” Israel — which is to say a democracy that chooses leaders and policies of self-defense that he disapproves of and that freely rejects those he likes — must expect American Jewish disdain. Contrary to the so-called “liberal Zionists” who are swarming to attack after the flotilla incident, Israel and its people have many virtues, but the state’s right to exist is predicated on the simple right of the Jews to rule over their own historic homeland. It is not the supporters of Israel who ask for that nation to be judged on the intelligence or the special righteousness of its people. They just ask that Israel not be judged more harshly or by different and more stringent standards of morality or justice than other nations (as it almost always is).

The “exceptionalism” of Jewish civilization rests in a religious and moral tradition that transcends politics or even the novels of a Michael Chabon. But Israel’s right to defend itself against terror is rooted in the simple demands of justice that apply to all peoples and for which Jews — be they smart or stupid — need not apologize. For all of their reputation for brilliance, that’s a lesson liberal Jews like Beinart and Chabon have yet to learn.

Novelist Michael Chabon is generally coy about his position on the Jewish state. Unlike his wife, writer Ayelet Waldman, Chabon tends to refrain from open anti-Zionism, although as the author of a bestselling novel, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, whose premise was the destruction of the state of Israel soon after its birth and the fanaticism of those who wished to bring it back into existence, it’s not as if his views are much of a mystery.

Therefore, one read his 1,700-word essay in the Sunday New York Times Week in Review section with interest to see how he would react to the Gaza flotilla. But Chabon is too nuanced a writer to pen a standard condemnation of Israel’s blockade of Hamas-run Gaza. Instead, his target was the whole notion that Jews are special or smart. Chabon approvingly quoted Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg as saying Israel’s actions demonstrated a lack of seichel, the Yiddish word for wisdom. Chabon goes on at considerable length to make a very small argument that few serious people would really disagree with: that Jews are as capable of making blunders as any other people.

Though some writers, like the estimable Charles Murray, have written in COMMENTARY about the special genius of the Jewish people, the majority of us who have spent our lives covering Jewish institutions and communities and following Israeli politics would probably have to side with Chabon rather than Murray on this one. At times, Israeli politics and, indeed, the politics of most Jewish communities do resemble the legendary village of Chelm — the place where Jewish folklore tells us an errant angel dropped a boatload of foolish souls — more than they do Plato’s Republic. The sectarian madness of Israel’s proportional system of representation in the Knesset and the lockstep liberalism of American Jews certainly is more than ample testimony of the Jewish capacity for foolishness.

But Chabon has bigger fish to fry than just saying that Jews can be dumb. His genuine target is not a poorly planned military expedition but rather “the foundational ambiguity of Judaism and Jewish identity; the idea of chosenness” — a concept that some of the most vicious critics of Judaism and Jews through the ages, such as Voltaire, have always found particularly distasteful.

Chabon sneers at what he considers the hypocrisy of a Jewish people that accepts the idea of being chosen (a religious concept that involves obligation to observe the Torah, not privilege) but then complains when “the world — cynically or sincerely — holds Israel to a different, higher standard as beneficiaries of that dispensation.” He goes on to cite Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which declares that the Jewish people have a right “to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign state.” For him, this foundational document of Zionism also means that Jews “are every bit as capable of barbarism or stupidity.”

Leave aside the fact that blockading an area controlled by an Islamist terrorist group bent on Israel’s destruction is, by any reasonable standard, neither barbaric nor stupid, but actually a normal and quite restrained manner of self-defense against a lethal threat. Rather, let us focus on Chabon’s point that it is the Zionists who demand special treatment from the world or say that Israel’s legitimacy is based on any special Jewish attributes or genius.

If anything, what Chabon has done in this long, confused essay is to unwittingly skewer the Peter Beinarts of the world, the “liberal Zionists” for whom Israel is only worthy of existence if it conforms to their vision of what a Jewish state should be. For Beinart, an “illiberal” Israel — which is to say a democracy that chooses leaders and policies of self-defense that he disapproves of and that freely rejects those he likes — must expect American Jewish disdain. Contrary to the so-called “liberal Zionists” who are swarming to attack after the flotilla incident, Israel and its people have many virtues, but the state’s right to exist is predicated on the simple right of the Jews to rule over their own historic homeland. It is not the supporters of Israel who ask for that nation to be judged on the intelligence or the special righteousness of its people. They just ask that Israel not be judged more harshly or by different and more stringent standards of morality or justice than other nations (as it almost always is).

The “exceptionalism” of Jewish civilization rests in a religious and moral tradition that transcends politics or even the novels of a Michael Chabon. But Israel’s right to defend itself against terror is rooted in the simple demands of justice that apply to all peoples and for which Jews — be they smart or stupid — need not apologize. For all of their reputation for brilliance, that’s a lesson liberal Jews like Beinart and Chabon have yet to learn.

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Embrace of Hamas’s Goal of Breaking the Blockade Dooms Peace Efforts

The hypocritical condemnations raining down on Israel from foreign critics in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident from those who oppose the very existence of a Jewish state within any borders have a certain logic, even if it is a perverse logic. For Greta Berlin, the founder of the so-called Free Gaza Movement, the effort to break Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled region isn’t really humanitarian; it’s political. As she told the New York Times in its story today about the effort to bring aid to the Islamist regime in the strip, she shares Hamas’s goal of eliminating the Jewish state, which in her mind seems to justify any effort to bring succor to its foes.

Her reasoning is repulsive to anyone who believes her goal of reversing the verdict of Israel’s War of Independence is inadmissible. But her opposition to the blockade of Gaza makes more sense than the caterwauling coming from American and Israeli leftists who are berating the Netanyahu government for its willingness to enforce the sanctions that were imposed on the region after Hamas seized power there in a bloody coup in 2007.

Yet for the J Street crowd and writer Peter Beinart, who has assumed the pose of a “more in sorrow than in anger” liberal Zionist critic of Israel, as well as Israeli leftists such as novelist David Grossman and academic Fania Oz-Salzberger, who have joined in the piling on against Israel in the last three days, their belief that the blockade of Hamas in Gaza must be lifted isn’t merely wrong-headed; it is utterly antithetical to their proclaimed goal of a two-state solution in which Israelis and Arabs will share the land in peace.

For Beinart, who sounded his now familiar if tired rant about American Jews being responsible for Israeli beastliness in a piece in the Daily Beast, the “corrupt” embargo is yet another obstacle to peace that if removed might help bring an era of sunshine and light to the region. His blithe dismissal of the verdict of Israeli democracy in which leftists were soundly defeated because of the Palestinians’ consistent refusal to make peace is matched only by his arrogant ignorance of the nature of Palestinian nationalism and politics, which deems recognition of a Jewish state within any borders as beyond the pale.

His denunciation of Netanyahu was matched by Grossman in the Los Angeles Times, who wrote that Israel’s blockade was a sign of the country’s decline. Oz-Salzberger, who proclaimed herself an “Israeli patriot” — no doubt to pre-empt the criticisms of her compatriots who may consider denouncing your own country’s efforts at self-defense in foreign venues to be in questionable taste — deemed the flotilla incident a “sin” and a source of “shame.”

But the problem with these pieces is that if Israel did as they wished, it would effectively doom any chance for peace with the Palestinians. Lifting the blockade and allowing the free flow of goods into the area — which will open the floodgates for not only food and medicine, which are already in plentiful supply in Gaza, but also for Iranian arms and “construction materials” that will strengthen Hamas’s fortifications — would be the final step toward establishing the sovereignty of the Hamas regime in Gaza. After all, the blockade was established by Israel and Egypt with the support of the West, not as an act of “collective punishment,” as the left claims, but rather in a targeted effort to bring down an illegal and violent radical Islamist terror regime that had seized a foothold on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean.

Granting Hamas such a victory is a blow to Israel, but despite all the crocodile tears being shed for the admittedly miserable lives being led by the Gazans, who suffer under the rule of this terror group, it is a worse blow to the Palestinians. The end of the blockade will strengthen Hamas’s grip on Gaza and make it all the more likely that they will eventually be able to extend it to the West Bank. If international pressure forces Israel to lift the blockade — which never stopped the flow of food or medicine to Gaza despite the false claims that there is a humanitarian crisis there — the biggest loser will be Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, not Benjamin Netanyahu. Actions that lead to Hamas’s winning the struggle for the Palestinian leadership mean that the already dismal chances for peace will be reduced to zero. Such a turn of events will make a two-state solution, even one in which Israel would be forced to surrender every inch of land it won in 1967, utterly impossible.

The temptation to bash Israel’s government and call for an end to the blockade may be irresistible to Jewish leftists, who can always be depended on to see the country’s efforts at self-defense in the worst possible light. Blinded by hatred for Netanyahu, they fail to see that giving Hamas such a victory means an end to the peace process they claim to support.

The hypocritical condemnations raining down on Israel from foreign critics in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident from those who oppose the very existence of a Jewish state within any borders have a certain logic, even if it is a perverse logic. For Greta Berlin, the founder of the so-called Free Gaza Movement, the effort to break Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled region isn’t really humanitarian; it’s political. As she told the New York Times in its story today about the effort to bring aid to the Islamist regime in the strip, she shares Hamas’s goal of eliminating the Jewish state, which in her mind seems to justify any effort to bring succor to its foes.

Her reasoning is repulsive to anyone who believes her goal of reversing the verdict of Israel’s War of Independence is inadmissible. But her opposition to the blockade of Gaza makes more sense than the caterwauling coming from American and Israeli leftists who are berating the Netanyahu government for its willingness to enforce the sanctions that were imposed on the region after Hamas seized power there in a bloody coup in 2007.

Yet for the J Street crowd and writer Peter Beinart, who has assumed the pose of a “more in sorrow than in anger” liberal Zionist critic of Israel, as well as Israeli leftists such as novelist David Grossman and academic Fania Oz-Salzberger, who have joined in the piling on against Israel in the last three days, their belief that the blockade of Hamas in Gaza must be lifted isn’t merely wrong-headed; it is utterly antithetical to their proclaimed goal of a two-state solution in which Israelis and Arabs will share the land in peace.

For Beinart, who sounded his now familiar if tired rant about American Jews being responsible for Israeli beastliness in a piece in the Daily Beast, the “corrupt” embargo is yet another obstacle to peace that if removed might help bring an era of sunshine and light to the region. His blithe dismissal of the verdict of Israeli democracy in which leftists were soundly defeated because of the Palestinians’ consistent refusal to make peace is matched only by his arrogant ignorance of the nature of Palestinian nationalism and politics, which deems recognition of a Jewish state within any borders as beyond the pale.

His denunciation of Netanyahu was matched by Grossman in the Los Angeles Times, who wrote that Israel’s blockade was a sign of the country’s decline. Oz-Salzberger, who proclaimed herself an “Israeli patriot” — no doubt to pre-empt the criticisms of her compatriots who may consider denouncing your own country’s efforts at self-defense in foreign venues to be in questionable taste — deemed the flotilla incident a “sin” and a source of “shame.”

But the problem with these pieces is that if Israel did as they wished, it would effectively doom any chance for peace with the Palestinians. Lifting the blockade and allowing the free flow of goods into the area — which will open the floodgates for not only food and medicine, which are already in plentiful supply in Gaza, but also for Iranian arms and “construction materials” that will strengthen Hamas’s fortifications — would be the final step toward establishing the sovereignty of the Hamas regime in Gaza. After all, the blockade was established by Israel and Egypt with the support of the West, not as an act of “collective punishment,” as the left claims, but rather in a targeted effort to bring down an illegal and violent radical Islamist terror regime that had seized a foothold on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean.

Granting Hamas such a victory is a blow to Israel, but despite all the crocodile tears being shed for the admittedly miserable lives being led by the Gazans, who suffer under the rule of this terror group, it is a worse blow to the Palestinians. The end of the blockade will strengthen Hamas’s grip on Gaza and make it all the more likely that they will eventually be able to extend it to the West Bank. If international pressure forces Israel to lift the blockade — which never stopped the flow of food or medicine to Gaza despite the false claims that there is a humanitarian crisis there — the biggest loser will be Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, not Benjamin Netanyahu. Actions that lead to Hamas’s winning the struggle for the Palestinian leadership mean that the already dismal chances for peace will be reduced to zero. Such a turn of events will make a two-state solution, even one in which Israel would be forced to surrender every inch of land it won in 1967, utterly impossible.

The temptation to bash Israel’s government and call for an end to the blockade may be irresistible to Jewish leftists, who can always be depended on to see the country’s efforts at self-defense in the worst possible light. Blinded by hatred for Netanyahu, they fail to see that giving Hamas such a victory means an end to the peace process they claim to support.

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Required Reading

In the New York Times Book Review, Anthony Julius reviews Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals – a book Michael Totten calls “your required reading this month.” (I would add Julius’s remarkable book on anti-Semitism, Trials of the Diaspora.)

The “flight of the intellectuals” is Berman’s phrase for Western public intellectuals running away their own heritage in the confrontation with a totalitarian Islamist threat. In a valuable interview with Totten, Berman has summarized the thinking as follows:

We look at ourselves in the Western countries and we say that, if we are rich, relatively speaking, as a society, it is because we have plundered our wealth from other people. Our wealth is a sign of our guilt. If we are powerful, compared with the rest of the world, it is because we treat people in other parts of the world in oppressive and morally objectionable ways. Our privileged position in the world is actually a sign of how racist we are and how imperialistic and exploitative we are. All the wonderful successes of our society are actually the signs of how morally inferior we are, and we have much to regret and feel guilty about.

Julius’s judicious review contains an even shorter summary of the elements of the contemporary intellectual’s thinking:

the false identification of liberal values with an oppressive West, and of political Islamism with an oppressed third world; an unreflective, unqualified opposition to every exercise of American power; a certain blindness regarding, or even tenderness toward, contemporary expressions of anti-Semitism.

Berman’s book extends a debate that began in Europe four years ago with French writer Pascal Bruckner’s The Tyranny of Guilt, which has just been published in English. Bruckner argues that:

In Judeo-Christian lands, there is no fuel so potent as the feeling of guilt. … From existentialism to deconstructionism, all of modern thought can be reduced to a mechanical denunciation of the West, emphasizing the latter’s hypocrisy, violence, and abomination. In this enterprise the best minds have lost much of their substance. … Remorse has ceased to be connected with precise historical circumstances; it has become a dogma, a spiritual commodity, almost a form of currency.

As the Europeanization of America proceeds — under an administration featuring apology tours, rejections of American exceptionalism, and an inability even to utter the words “terrorism” or “Islamofascism” (substituting “man-caused disasters” and refusing to acknowledge that “radical Islam” might be involved) — Bruckner’s book is an even clearer description of the intellectual collapse coming our way. Put it on the required reading list as well.

In the New York Times Book Review, Anthony Julius reviews Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals – a book Michael Totten calls “your required reading this month.” (I would add Julius’s remarkable book on anti-Semitism, Trials of the Diaspora.)

The “flight of the intellectuals” is Berman’s phrase for Western public intellectuals running away their own heritage in the confrontation with a totalitarian Islamist threat. In a valuable interview with Totten, Berman has summarized the thinking as follows:

We look at ourselves in the Western countries and we say that, if we are rich, relatively speaking, as a society, it is because we have plundered our wealth from other people. Our wealth is a sign of our guilt. If we are powerful, compared with the rest of the world, it is because we treat people in other parts of the world in oppressive and morally objectionable ways. Our privileged position in the world is actually a sign of how racist we are and how imperialistic and exploitative we are. All the wonderful successes of our society are actually the signs of how morally inferior we are, and we have much to regret and feel guilty about.

Julius’s judicious review contains an even shorter summary of the elements of the contemporary intellectual’s thinking:

the false identification of liberal values with an oppressive West, and of political Islamism with an oppressed third world; an unreflective, unqualified opposition to every exercise of American power; a certain blindness regarding, or even tenderness toward, contemporary expressions of anti-Semitism.

Berman’s book extends a debate that began in Europe four years ago with French writer Pascal Bruckner’s The Tyranny of Guilt, which has just been published in English. Bruckner argues that:

In Judeo-Christian lands, there is no fuel so potent as the feeling of guilt. … From existentialism to deconstructionism, all of modern thought can be reduced to a mechanical denunciation of the West, emphasizing the latter’s hypocrisy, violence, and abomination. In this enterprise the best minds have lost much of their substance. … Remorse has ceased to be connected with precise historical circumstances; it has become a dogma, a spiritual commodity, almost a form of currency.

As the Europeanization of America proceeds — under an administration featuring apology tours, rejections of American exceptionalism, and an inability even to utter the words “terrorism” or “Islamofascism” (substituting “man-caused disasters” and refusing to acknowledge that “radical Islam” might be involved) — Bruckner’s book is an even clearer description of the intellectual collapse coming our way. Put it on the required reading list as well.

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Brooks Struggles to Figure Out What Went Wrong

David Brooks is on a search to find out how it was that we elected such a “moderate” president and wound up with the worst of big government liberalism and a polarized electorate. He seems stumped as he explores these questions in what can only be described as evasive phrasing:

The country had just elected a man who vowed to move past the old polarities, who valued discussion and who clearly had some sympathy with both the Burkean and Hamiltonian impulses. He staffed his administration with brilliant pragmatists whose views overlapped with mine, who differed only in that they have more faith in technocratic planning.

Yet things have not worked out for those of us in the broad middle. Politics is more polarized than ever. The two parties have drifted further to the extremes. The center is drained and depressed.

What happened?

History happened. The administration came into power at a time of economic crisis. This led it, in the first bloom of self-confidence, to attempt many big projects all at once. Each of these projects may have been defensible in isolation, but in combination they created the impression of a federal onslaught.

History happened? Oh, let’s see if we can’t be more precise than that. “As government grew [by itself? did someone grow it?], the antigovernment right mobilized. This produced the Tea Party Movement — a characteristically raw but authentically American revolt led by members of the yeoman enterprising class.” History happened and government grew. (Like magic!) And now Brooks is disappointed.

Brooks writes that the Democratic party did this and that, that opposition grew, and that we wound up in the big- vs. little-government debate. What’s missing from this autopilot version of politics? Hmm … could it be Obama, the moderate fellow, who did the government-growing?

I have a rule of thumb: when a writer, especially a good one, excessively uses evasive or convoluted rhetoric, he is hiding something. Let’s try this: Obama, a very liberal politician, was smart enough to know he couldn’t win the presidency as a hard leftist. He posed as a moderate. New York Times columnists sung his praises. Pundits assured us that he was beyond ideology, a sort of philosopher-king with very neat pants. He got into office. He governed from the far Left. The president signed bill after bill, spending money we didn’t have and running up the debt. Obama insisted on a mammoth health-care bill the country hated. He egged Congress on to pass it. Meanwhile, the country recoiled. They hired a moderate on advice of pundits and media mavens and got a far-Left liberal, a ton of debt, an expanded federal government, and a slew of new taxes.

How’s that?

The bottom line: history doesn’t just “happen.” Presidents make choices. Pundits make miscalculations. Voters exact revenge. It’s not that complicated — if you are honest about who did what to whom.

David Brooks is on a search to find out how it was that we elected such a “moderate” president and wound up with the worst of big government liberalism and a polarized electorate. He seems stumped as he explores these questions in what can only be described as evasive phrasing:

The country had just elected a man who vowed to move past the old polarities, who valued discussion and who clearly had some sympathy with both the Burkean and Hamiltonian impulses. He staffed his administration with brilliant pragmatists whose views overlapped with mine, who differed only in that they have more faith in technocratic planning.

Yet things have not worked out for those of us in the broad middle. Politics is more polarized than ever. The two parties have drifted further to the extremes. The center is drained and depressed.

What happened?

History happened. The administration came into power at a time of economic crisis. This led it, in the first bloom of self-confidence, to attempt many big projects all at once. Each of these projects may have been defensible in isolation, but in combination they created the impression of a federal onslaught.

History happened? Oh, let’s see if we can’t be more precise than that. “As government grew [by itself? did someone grow it?], the antigovernment right mobilized. This produced the Tea Party Movement — a characteristically raw but authentically American revolt led by members of the yeoman enterprising class.” History happened and government grew. (Like magic!) And now Brooks is disappointed.

Brooks writes that the Democratic party did this and that, that opposition grew, and that we wound up in the big- vs. little-government debate. What’s missing from this autopilot version of politics? Hmm … could it be Obama, the moderate fellow, who did the government-growing?

I have a rule of thumb: when a writer, especially a good one, excessively uses evasive or convoluted rhetoric, he is hiding something. Let’s try this: Obama, a very liberal politician, was smart enough to know he couldn’t win the presidency as a hard leftist. He posed as a moderate. New York Times columnists sung his praises. Pundits assured us that he was beyond ideology, a sort of philosopher-king with very neat pants. He got into office. He governed from the far Left. The president signed bill after bill, spending money we didn’t have and running up the debt. Obama insisted on a mammoth health-care bill the country hated. He egged Congress on to pass it. Meanwhile, the country recoiled. They hired a moderate on advice of pundits and media mavens and got a far-Left liberal, a ton of debt, an expanded federal government, and a slew of new taxes.

How’s that?

The bottom line: history doesn’t just “happen.” Presidents make choices. Pundits make miscalculations. Voters exact revenge. It’s not that complicated — if you are honest about who did what to whom.

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Assassinating Tocqueville

Reading François Furstenberg’s ill-founded assault on Alexis de Tocqueville on Slate.com, one is left wondering whether the history-professor-turned-reviewer has ever actually read Democracy in America.

Furstenberg, in reviewing Tocqueville’s Discovery of America by Leo Damrosch, purports to answer “what Tocqueville and his friend really did on their travels.” Because collecting material for what would become a political-science classic must have been a paltry time commitment, the reviewer suggests that Tocqueville “flirted his way through salons and dinner parties, stumbling along in mediocre English, complaining about the prudishness of American women.”

This review makes several ungrounded criticisms of poor Alexis, who is quite regrettably too long gone to defend himself. But because Democracy in America is such an enduring work, and because some of Tocqueville’s warnings are at their most relevant today, the review deserves to be dismantled piece by piece, pairing Furstenberg’s cheap shots with Tocqueville’s actual words.

(Furstenberg might be thrilled to discover that Democracy in America is not only found in libraries around the country, including at the New York Public Library, to which he has full access through May 2010 as a fellow there — it is also available online in its entirety, both Volume 1 and Volume 2 — searchable, even, for the sake of convenience. Given Furstenberg’s demonstrated interest in the topic, I highly recommend it to him.)

Furstenberg’s criticism centers on class and race, both of which Tocqueville treats at length. He repeatedly takes out of context Tocqueville’s writings on race relations. “[Tocqueville] bumped into Native Americans being expelled from the eastern states on the infamous Trail of Tears. But he didn’t make much of it, failing to connect that experience to his own reflections on the danger of the tyranny of the majority,” writes Furstenberg.

He must have somehow missed Tocqueville’s lengthy analysis of the injustices committed against the Native Americans, to be found in Volume 1, where he describes how, through trickery and coercion, American settlers “obtain, at a very low price, whole provinces, which the richest sovereigns of Europe could not purchase. … These are great evils; and it must be added that they appear to me to be irremediable.” In fact, Tocqueville portrays the Native Americans as the last remnants of the noble warrior-aristocracy, and he bemoans their degradation and the loss of their civilization.

Yet Furstenberg continues with his race-based criticism. He wrongly implies that slavery was not a big issue for Tocqueville:

Clearly Tocqueville, unlike Beaumont, believed that slavery and racism did not touch on “the essential nature of democracy,” as Damrosch puts it. … When he did turn his mind to the subjects [of race and slavery], moreover, Tocqueville was exceedingly gloomy, convinced that a multiracial democracy was impossible. If slaves ever gained their freedom, he predicted a genocidal war: ‘the most horrible of all civil wars, and perhaps the destruction of one of the two races.’ … One of the most striking features of emancipation, as it actually happened a generation later, was the lack of violence foreseen by Tocqueville and many others.

But Democracy in America clearly outlines Tocqueville’s strong concern about slavery and its consequences for the future of American democracy. He describes slavery as a “permanent evil,” a “calamity,” and a “wound thus inflicted on humanity.” The consequences of slavery would be even more far-reaching and disastrous, Tocqueville supposes, because “the abstract and transient fact of slavery is fatally united with the physical and permanent fact of color.” He expects that “the moderns, then, after they have abolished slavery, have three prejudices to contend against, which are less easy to attack, and far less easy to conquer than the mere fact of servitude, — the prejudice of the master, the prejudice of the race, and the prejudice of color.”

Furstenberg seems to misunderstand Tocqueville entirely on this point. Far from downplaying the importance of slavery, Tocqueville questions how it can be overcome, and without the violence and devastation of the kind seen in the French Revolution. Furthermore, one might wonder what sort of historical rejiggering has led Furstenberg to think emancipation or civil-rights strides occurred in an atmosphere “lack[ing] of violence.” Democracy in America predicts the ways slavery has promoted racism and acknowledges that the abolition of slavery will not solve America’s racism problem. It is especially baffling that Furstenberg, who has written a book about slavery and U.S. nationalism, missed this.

But the writer is not only wrong about Tocqueville’s ideas about race. He also writes, “Busy chatting in the parlors of wealthy Americans, Tocqueville didn’t seem to notice the artisans slowly being forced into unskilled labor, or immigrant dockworkers, or freed blacks struggling to eke out a living on the margins of American life.” He must have missed entirely the portion of Democracy in America where Tocqueville worries about the intellectual consequences of division of labor:

What can be expected of a man who has spent twenty years of his life in making heads for pins? And to what can that mighty human intelligence, which has so often stirred the world, be applied to him, except it be to investigate the best method of making pins’ heads? … Thus at the very time at which the science of manufactures lowers the class of workmen, it raises the class of masters.

Tocqueville goes on to acknowledge that the supervisor-worker relationship begins to look like that between the aristocratic master and the “brute” — and “what is this but aristocracy?” he asks. More broadly, Furstenberg overlooks Tocqueville’s plentiful examples of working-class Americans who find both their work and the profit earned from it honorable. A close reading of Democracy in America proves the author both realistic and respectful about the working class.

The bigger point is that, read in context, Tocqueville’s writing often portrays the working class favorably and emphatically condemns slavery and racism. The advocates of Big Government may have good reason to go after Tocqueville, who was one of the first to warn about the dangers of the welfare state in democratic societies. Perhaps their bone with Tocqueville is that he prizes liberty and dares to note the risks of absolute equality, even after fairly observing the conditions of workers and minorities. If this book review is not an academic oversight on Furstenberg’s part, it is certainly character assassination.

Reading François Furstenberg’s ill-founded assault on Alexis de Tocqueville on Slate.com, one is left wondering whether the history-professor-turned-reviewer has ever actually read Democracy in America.

Furstenberg, in reviewing Tocqueville’s Discovery of America by Leo Damrosch, purports to answer “what Tocqueville and his friend really did on their travels.” Because collecting material for what would become a political-science classic must have been a paltry time commitment, the reviewer suggests that Tocqueville “flirted his way through salons and dinner parties, stumbling along in mediocre English, complaining about the prudishness of American women.”

This review makes several ungrounded criticisms of poor Alexis, who is quite regrettably too long gone to defend himself. But because Democracy in America is such an enduring work, and because some of Tocqueville’s warnings are at their most relevant today, the review deserves to be dismantled piece by piece, pairing Furstenberg’s cheap shots with Tocqueville’s actual words.

(Furstenberg might be thrilled to discover that Democracy in America is not only found in libraries around the country, including at the New York Public Library, to which he has full access through May 2010 as a fellow there — it is also available online in its entirety, both Volume 1 and Volume 2 — searchable, even, for the sake of convenience. Given Furstenberg’s demonstrated interest in the topic, I highly recommend it to him.)

Furstenberg’s criticism centers on class and race, both of which Tocqueville treats at length. He repeatedly takes out of context Tocqueville’s writings on race relations. “[Tocqueville] bumped into Native Americans being expelled from the eastern states on the infamous Trail of Tears. But he didn’t make much of it, failing to connect that experience to his own reflections on the danger of the tyranny of the majority,” writes Furstenberg.

He must have somehow missed Tocqueville’s lengthy analysis of the injustices committed against the Native Americans, to be found in Volume 1, where he describes how, through trickery and coercion, American settlers “obtain, at a very low price, whole provinces, which the richest sovereigns of Europe could not purchase. … These are great evils; and it must be added that they appear to me to be irremediable.” In fact, Tocqueville portrays the Native Americans as the last remnants of the noble warrior-aristocracy, and he bemoans their degradation and the loss of their civilization.

Yet Furstenberg continues with his race-based criticism. He wrongly implies that slavery was not a big issue for Tocqueville:

Clearly Tocqueville, unlike Beaumont, believed that slavery and racism did not touch on “the essential nature of democracy,” as Damrosch puts it. … When he did turn his mind to the subjects [of race and slavery], moreover, Tocqueville was exceedingly gloomy, convinced that a multiracial democracy was impossible. If slaves ever gained their freedom, he predicted a genocidal war: ‘the most horrible of all civil wars, and perhaps the destruction of one of the two races.’ … One of the most striking features of emancipation, as it actually happened a generation later, was the lack of violence foreseen by Tocqueville and many others.

But Democracy in America clearly outlines Tocqueville’s strong concern about slavery and its consequences for the future of American democracy. He describes slavery as a “permanent evil,” a “calamity,” and a “wound thus inflicted on humanity.” The consequences of slavery would be even more far-reaching and disastrous, Tocqueville supposes, because “the abstract and transient fact of slavery is fatally united with the physical and permanent fact of color.” He expects that “the moderns, then, after they have abolished slavery, have three prejudices to contend against, which are less easy to attack, and far less easy to conquer than the mere fact of servitude, — the prejudice of the master, the prejudice of the race, and the prejudice of color.”

Furstenberg seems to misunderstand Tocqueville entirely on this point. Far from downplaying the importance of slavery, Tocqueville questions how it can be overcome, and without the violence and devastation of the kind seen in the French Revolution. Furthermore, one might wonder what sort of historical rejiggering has led Furstenberg to think emancipation or civil-rights strides occurred in an atmosphere “lack[ing] of violence.” Democracy in America predicts the ways slavery has promoted racism and acknowledges that the abolition of slavery will not solve America’s racism problem. It is especially baffling that Furstenberg, who has written a book about slavery and U.S. nationalism, missed this.

But the writer is not only wrong about Tocqueville’s ideas about race. He also writes, “Busy chatting in the parlors of wealthy Americans, Tocqueville didn’t seem to notice the artisans slowly being forced into unskilled labor, or immigrant dockworkers, or freed blacks struggling to eke out a living on the margins of American life.” He must have missed entirely the portion of Democracy in America where Tocqueville worries about the intellectual consequences of division of labor:

What can be expected of a man who has spent twenty years of his life in making heads for pins? And to what can that mighty human intelligence, which has so often stirred the world, be applied to him, except it be to investigate the best method of making pins’ heads? … Thus at the very time at which the science of manufactures lowers the class of workmen, it raises the class of masters.

Tocqueville goes on to acknowledge that the supervisor-worker relationship begins to look like that between the aristocratic master and the “brute” — and “what is this but aristocracy?” he asks. More broadly, Furstenberg overlooks Tocqueville’s plentiful examples of working-class Americans who find both their work and the profit earned from it honorable. A close reading of Democracy in America proves the author both realistic and respectful about the working class.

The bigger point is that, read in context, Tocqueville’s writing often portrays the working class favorably and emphatically condemns slavery and racism. The advocates of Big Government may have good reason to go after Tocqueville, who was one of the first to warn about the dangers of the welfare state in democratic societies. Perhaps their bone with Tocqueville is that he prizes liberty and dares to note the risks of absolute equality, even after fairly observing the conditions of workers and minorities. If this book review is not an academic oversight on Furstenberg’s part, it is certainly character assassination.

Read Less

Reading Roger Cohen’s Mind Is Easier Than Reading His Columns

Back in November of 2007, not long after Roger Cohen joined the roster of op-ed pundits at the New York Times, Jack Shafer, the media critic at Slate, took the columnist apart in a piece in which he skewered him for his laziness, lame clichés, and generally bad writing. Cohen’s predilection for tired journalistic tropes prompted Shafer to wonder whether he was paying the Scotty Reston estate royalties for using the same pompous copy the ancient Times institution employed in its pages decades ago.

Since then, Cohen has at least showed some creativity. After all, no ordinary mediocrity would have the chutzpah to spend weeks in Iran and then claim that interviews with some of the intimidated remnants of that country’s Jewish community (conducted in the presence of government minders and translators) proved that the Islamist tyranny wasn’t so bad after all. Whitewashing an anti-Semitic regime may have been despicable and hearkened back to the worst sort of propaganda journalism in the tradition of Stalin apologist Walter Duranty — but it did require some effort.

But, alas, after his exertions in Iran last year and a steady stream of convoluted columns blasting Israel and his critics, Cohen is back to the same sort of lazy, stupid writing that struck Shafer as evidence of his utter incompetence. Today, he returns to what Shafer aptly called the “threadbare cliché of constructing [a] piece as a faux conversation or speech” in which he presents a fake monologue titled “Reading Sarkozy’s Mind” from inside the head of French President Nicholas Sarkozy. This sort of shtick was stale twenty years ago when William Safire regularly employed it in the Times but at least that able wordsmith usually managed to execute such columns with a modicum of wit. The genre was further degraded by the wise-aleck versions of this cliché written by Thomas Friedman. Those were bad enough. But get a load of the following prose from Cohen, purporting to be the thoughts of Sarkozy:

“And Iran. Ooh la la! All these advisers telling me Khamenei is not Ahmadinejad and Ahmadinejad is not Larijani. C’est du baloney! Du pur baloney!”

or

“So I tell Barack to be firm. And he says, Nicolas, we need the Chinese. The Chinese! I’m a trained lawyer and I tell him, Barack, I could bill you beaucoup hours while you wait for the Middle Kingdom! Barack’s a good guy. He’s learning. The press portrays us as two fighting cocks! C’est du twaddle!”

Does Cohen really think this is funny? Insightful? It’s not a matter of him being right or wrong about Sarkozy or Obama but rather that he is floundering around trying desperately to pound out a column no matter how bad it might be. There’s no point trying to parse such pieces for the value of Cohen’s opinions, as all they are is evidence that the columnist has run out of ideas. In such cases, it’s not just that the internal editor that every writer must have is absent, but that the actual editors at the Times who are responsible for publishing such trash are also missing in action. As Shafer wrote in 2007, there ought to be a law against such bad writing.

Back in November of 2007, not long after Roger Cohen joined the roster of op-ed pundits at the New York Times, Jack Shafer, the media critic at Slate, took the columnist apart in a piece in which he skewered him for his laziness, lame clichés, and generally bad writing. Cohen’s predilection for tired journalistic tropes prompted Shafer to wonder whether he was paying the Scotty Reston estate royalties for using the same pompous copy the ancient Times institution employed in its pages decades ago.

Since then, Cohen has at least showed some creativity. After all, no ordinary mediocrity would have the chutzpah to spend weeks in Iran and then claim that interviews with some of the intimidated remnants of that country’s Jewish community (conducted in the presence of government minders and translators) proved that the Islamist tyranny wasn’t so bad after all. Whitewashing an anti-Semitic regime may have been despicable and hearkened back to the worst sort of propaganda journalism in the tradition of Stalin apologist Walter Duranty — but it did require some effort.

But, alas, after his exertions in Iran last year and a steady stream of convoluted columns blasting Israel and his critics, Cohen is back to the same sort of lazy, stupid writing that struck Shafer as evidence of his utter incompetence. Today, he returns to what Shafer aptly called the “threadbare cliché of constructing [a] piece as a faux conversation or speech” in which he presents a fake monologue titled “Reading Sarkozy’s Mind” from inside the head of French President Nicholas Sarkozy. This sort of shtick was stale twenty years ago when William Safire regularly employed it in the Times but at least that able wordsmith usually managed to execute such columns with a modicum of wit. The genre was further degraded by the wise-aleck versions of this cliché written by Thomas Friedman. Those were bad enough. But get a load of the following prose from Cohen, purporting to be the thoughts of Sarkozy:

“And Iran. Ooh la la! All these advisers telling me Khamenei is not Ahmadinejad and Ahmadinejad is not Larijani. C’est du baloney! Du pur baloney!”

or

“So I tell Barack to be firm. And he says, Nicolas, we need the Chinese. The Chinese! I’m a trained lawyer and I tell him, Barack, I could bill you beaucoup hours while you wait for the Middle Kingdom! Barack’s a good guy. He’s learning. The press portrays us as two fighting cocks! C’est du twaddle!”

Does Cohen really think this is funny? Insightful? It’s not a matter of him being right or wrong about Sarkozy or Obama but rather that he is floundering around trying desperately to pound out a column no matter how bad it might be. There’s no point trying to parse such pieces for the value of Cohen’s opinions, as all they are is evidence that the columnist has run out of ideas. In such cases, it’s not just that the internal editor that every writer must have is absent, but that the actual editors at the Times who are responsible for publishing such trash are also missing in action. As Shafer wrote in 2007, there ought to be a law against such bad writing.

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The Lessons of 1956: Nostalgia for a Betrayal of Israel

If you want an object lesson as to where contemporary Israel-bashing in the United States is headed, you can do no better than read an article published today in the Daily Beast by Kai Bird, the former Nation staffer, MacArthur Foundation “genius,” and Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

The title, “Time to Talk Tough with Israel,” promises the familiar tiresome refrain about how America must slap the Israelis around for their own good and doesn’t disappoint. But Bird’s frame of reference isn’t just the usual slander about AIPAC running American foreign policy. Instead, he writes from the perspective of an important event in his childhood: the 1956 Sinai campaign, which took place while Bird’s father was serving in the American consulate in East Jerusalem. At that time, about half the city was illegally occupied by the Kingdom of Jordan. Jews were forbidden entry into the Old City, and Jewish holy places such as the Western Wall were abandoned and desecrated.

In 1956, Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser massed  his army in the Sinai and allowed Palestinian terrorists to use Egyptian-occupied Gaza as a terrorist sanctuary. Acting in conjunction with Britain and France, who were angry about Nasser’s seizure of the Suez Canal, Israel cleaned out both Gaza and the Sinai, dealing a serious blow to Nasser’s aggressive ambitions. But the United States, which hadn’t been consulted, wound up backing Nasser against the former colonial powers and their Israeli ally. In the end Nasser wasn’t compelled to make peace with Israel. Instead, Israel was forced to withdraw from the Sinai. All it got in exchange was the presence of a United Nations observer force on the border.

Bird considers that American diktat as a model for our current diplomacy. Which is to say, he wants the United States to demand that Israel give up every inch it won in 1967, including East Jerusalem. If Israel refuses, Bird advocates “severe trade and financial sanctions.”

But let’s examine the results of Bird’s ideal moment in American diplomacy. What did President Eisenhower achieve in 1956? He saved the skin of a vicious Arab dictator who would use the rest of his career to keep fomenting violence in the Middle East. And he set the stage for the 1967 Six-Day War, which took place after Nasser marched his army back into the Sinai along Israel’s border, blockaded the southern Israeli port of Eilat, and then demanded — and got — the withdrawal of the UN force. Far from helping peace, America’s betrayal of Israel only guaranteed that another war would follow. That wasn’t tough love; it was a disaster for both countries.

Bird believes that a similar betrayal of Israel — this time by Barack Obama — will help “Israeli liberals” defeat Netanyahu and give a two-state solution a chance. But the reason those “liberals” were annihilated at the last Israeli election in February 2009 was because the Palestinians have conclusively demonstrated their lack of interest in peace. And no Israeli government of any political stripe will abandon the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

It takes a particular kind of chutzpah for a writer who seems to have fond memories of the days when those Jerusalem neighborhoods were Judenrein — “Jew-free” — to call for a return to a policy of American hostility to Israel to revive such a situation. But that is what passes for intelligent commentary in some publications.

If you want an object lesson as to where contemporary Israel-bashing in the United States is headed, you can do no better than read an article published today in the Daily Beast by Kai Bird, the former Nation staffer, MacArthur Foundation “genius,” and Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

The title, “Time to Talk Tough with Israel,” promises the familiar tiresome refrain about how America must slap the Israelis around for their own good and doesn’t disappoint. But Bird’s frame of reference isn’t just the usual slander about AIPAC running American foreign policy. Instead, he writes from the perspective of an important event in his childhood: the 1956 Sinai campaign, which took place while Bird’s father was serving in the American consulate in East Jerusalem. At that time, about half the city was illegally occupied by the Kingdom of Jordan. Jews were forbidden entry into the Old City, and Jewish holy places such as the Western Wall were abandoned and desecrated.

In 1956, Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser massed  his army in the Sinai and allowed Palestinian terrorists to use Egyptian-occupied Gaza as a terrorist sanctuary. Acting in conjunction with Britain and France, who were angry about Nasser’s seizure of the Suez Canal, Israel cleaned out both Gaza and the Sinai, dealing a serious blow to Nasser’s aggressive ambitions. But the United States, which hadn’t been consulted, wound up backing Nasser against the former colonial powers and their Israeli ally. In the end Nasser wasn’t compelled to make peace with Israel. Instead, Israel was forced to withdraw from the Sinai. All it got in exchange was the presence of a United Nations observer force on the border.

Bird considers that American diktat as a model for our current diplomacy. Which is to say, he wants the United States to demand that Israel give up every inch it won in 1967, including East Jerusalem. If Israel refuses, Bird advocates “severe trade and financial sanctions.”

But let’s examine the results of Bird’s ideal moment in American diplomacy. What did President Eisenhower achieve in 1956? He saved the skin of a vicious Arab dictator who would use the rest of his career to keep fomenting violence in the Middle East. And he set the stage for the 1967 Six-Day War, which took place after Nasser marched his army back into the Sinai along Israel’s border, blockaded the southern Israeli port of Eilat, and then demanded — and got — the withdrawal of the UN force. Far from helping peace, America’s betrayal of Israel only guaranteed that another war would follow. That wasn’t tough love; it was a disaster for both countries.

Bird believes that a similar betrayal of Israel — this time by Barack Obama — will help “Israeli liberals” defeat Netanyahu and give a two-state solution a chance. But the reason those “liberals” were annihilated at the last Israeli election in February 2009 was because the Palestinians have conclusively demonstrated their lack of interest in peace. And no Israeli government of any political stripe will abandon the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

It takes a particular kind of chutzpah for a writer who seems to have fond memories of the days when those Jerusalem neighborhoods were Judenrein — “Jew-free” — to call for a return to a policy of American hostility to Israel to revive such a situation. But that is what passes for intelligent commentary in some publications.

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Answering William Galston

Unlike a number of the bloggers at the New Republic, William Galston is a serious, mature, and insightful writer and thinker. He is an accomplished academic who was also a high-ranking figure in the Clinton White House. I worked with him on some projects in the 1990s, which only increased my admiration for him. So his recent blog post caught my attention.

“With the passage of time,” former Bush administration official Pete Wehner writes today, “President Bush’s decision to champion a new counterinsurgency strategy, including sending 30,000 additional troops to Iraq when most Americans were bone-weary of the war, will be seen as one of the most impressive and important acts of political courage in our lifetime.” Wehner may turn out to be right. And his argument has broader implications that deserve our attention.

Wehner tacitly defines political courage as the willingness to go against public opinion in pursuit of what a leader believes to be the public interest. Fair enough. And unless one believes—against all evidence—that democracies can do without courage, so defined, it follows that there’s nothing necessarily undemocratic about defying public opinion when the stakes are high. After all, the people will soon have the opportunity to pass judgment on the leader’s decision. And they will be able to judge that decision, not by the claims of its supporters or detractors, but by its results.

Galston goes on to write this:

Note that to accept this argument, as I do, is to deny that President Obama and the Democrats are acting high-handedly—let alone anti-democratically—in moving forward with comprehensive health insurance reform. They genuinely believe that the public interest demands it­—and that the people themselves will eventually agree. And they know that the people will have the last word.

This approach has the firmest possible roots in our constitutional traditions. The Framers deliberately established a republican form of government that is representative rather than plebiscitary. And Alexander Hamilton explained why in Federalist #71: “[T]he people commonly intend the PUBLIC GOOD. … But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it.” In a republic, the people are always the ultimate source of legitimacy. They are not always the proximate source of wisdom.

Many conservatives don’t seem to understand this distinction…. So today’s conservatives have a choice: They can contest health reform and the rest of the Democratic agenda on its merits, or they can go down the populist road that Sarah Palin and her followers represent. But let’s call that populism by its rightful name—namely, shameless flattery of the people and the manipulation of public fears and prejudices for short-term political advantage. Honorable conservatives such as Wehner know better. We’re about to find out how many of them there are.

As it happens, two days before the piece that Galston cites appeared, I wrote a post for CONTENTIONS in which I said this:

The Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] touched on one of the important debates in American political history, which is what the role of legislators is. Is it to reflect the views of their constituents, rather like a seismograph? Or, as Edmund Burke put it when speaking about constituents, “Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention.” But in the end, a legislator owes them something more: his “judgment.” He should not be guided by merely “local purposes” or “local prejudices.” Parliament, Burke insisted, was a “deliberative assembly.”…

I place myself in the latter camp, more now than ever — in part based on my own experience in the White House, when President Bush was advocating a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that was unpopular with the political class, with Congress, and with the American public. He proceeded anyway; and the results were stunningly successful. If the surge had failed — if Bush had pulled back, or listened to key Republicans, or decided that his job was to mirror public sentiment — America would have been dealt a terrible geopolitical and moral defeat. What George W. Bush did was right — and it was also politically courageous.

I went on to add this:

The acid test on these matters is always the wisdom of the act itself. Insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a legislative monstrosity would be unwise, whereas insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a piece of legislation that advances the common good would be commendable. Since I consider ObamaCare to fit in the former category, I naturally believe what Nancy Pelosi is asking her caucus to do is politically insane. Why issue political death warrants to your allies in behalf of a terrible idea? But her broader point, which is that self-perpetuation in Congress should not be the lawmaker’s primary concern, strikes me as quite right — and since she believes that nationalization of health care is in the public interest, her argument is understandable.

I don’t believe, and have never believed, vox populi, vox Dei.

As for Sarah Palin: I’ve made my concerns about her — and people like Glenn Beck and Tom Tancredo — known in several different forums. And while I wouldn’t go as far as Galston in my criticism of populism, I have expressed concerns about the dangers of it, as well as about what I consider to be reckless attacks on government. For example, I recently wrote this:

And [the GOP] can be responsible by taking the public’s scorn for government and channeling it in a constructive manner, in a way that translates into an actual governing and reform agenda. It is not enough to simply pour kerosene onto the bonfire. Republicans need public figures (like Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Rep. Paul Ryan) who can articulate an alternative view of government in a way that isn’t simplistic, that isn’t angry, or that doesn’t appeal (as I worry Sarah Palin sometimes does) to cultural resentments.

So I believe Professor Galston and I are making somewhat similar points. Which is reassuring to me, given my regard for him.

Unlike a number of the bloggers at the New Republic, William Galston is a serious, mature, and insightful writer and thinker. He is an accomplished academic who was also a high-ranking figure in the Clinton White House. I worked with him on some projects in the 1990s, which only increased my admiration for him. So his recent blog post caught my attention.

“With the passage of time,” former Bush administration official Pete Wehner writes today, “President Bush’s decision to champion a new counterinsurgency strategy, including sending 30,000 additional troops to Iraq when most Americans were bone-weary of the war, will be seen as one of the most impressive and important acts of political courage in our lifetime.” Wehner may turn out to be right. And his argument has broader implications that deserve our attention.

Wehner tacitly defines political courage as the willingness to go against public opinion in pursuit of what a leader believes to be the public interest. Fair enough. And unless one believes—against all evidence—that democracies can do without courage, so defined, it follows that there’s nothing necessarily undemocratic about defying public opinion when the stakes are high. After all, the people will soon have the opportunity to pass judgment on the leader’s decision. And they will be able to judge that decision, not by the claims of its supporters or detractors, but by its results.

Galston goes on to write this:

Note that to accept this argument, as I do, is to deny that President Obama and the Democrats are acting high-handedly—let alone anti-democratically—in moving forward with comprehensive health insurance reform. They genuinely believe that the public interest demands it­—and that the people themselves will eventually agree. And they know that the people will have the last word.

This approach has the firmest possible roots in our constitutional traditions. The Framers deliberately established a republican form of government that is representative rather than plebiscitary. And Alexander Hamilton explained why in Federalist #71: “[T]he people commonly intend the PUBLIC GOOD. … But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it.” In a republic, the people are always the ultimate source of legitimacy. They are not always the proximate source of wisdom.

Many conservatives don’t seem to understand this distinction…. So today’s conservatives have a choice: They can contest health reform and the rest of the Democratic agenda on its merits, or they can go down the populist road that Sarah Palin and her followers represent. But let’s call that populism by its rightful name—namely, shameless flattery of the people and the manipulation of public fears and prejudices for short-term political advantage. Honorable conservatives such as Wehner know better. We’re about to find out how many of them there are.

As it happens, two days before the piece that Galston cites appeared, I wrote a post for CONTENTIONS in which I said this:

The Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] touched on one of the important debates in American political history, which is what the role of legislators is. Is it to reflect the views of their constituents, rather like a seismograph? Or, as Edmund Burke put it when speaking about constituents, “Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention.” But in the end, a legislator owes them something more: his “judgment.” He should not be guided by merely “local purposes” or “local prejudices.” Parliament, Burke insisted, was a “deliberative assembly.”…

I place myself in the latter camp, more now than ever — in part based on my own experience in the White House, when President Bush was advocating a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that was unpopular with the political class, with Congress, and with the American public. He proceeded anyway; and the results were stunningly successful. If the surge had failed — if Bush had pulled back, or listened to key Republicans, or decided that his job was to mirror public sentiment — America would have been dealt a terrible geopolitical and moral defeat. What George W. Bush did was right — and it was also politically courageous.

I went on to add this:

The acid test on these matters is always the wisdom of the act itself. Insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a legislative monstrosity would be unwise, whereas insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a piece of legislation that advances the common good would be commendable. Since I consider ObamaCare to fit in the former category, I naturally believe what Nancy Pelosi is asking her caucus to do is politically insane. Why issue political death warrants to your allies in behalf of a terrible idea? But her broader point, which is that self-perpetuation in Congress should not be the lawmaker’s primary concern, strikes me as quite right — and since she believes that nationalization of health care is in the public interest, her argument is understandable.

I don’t believe, and have never believed, vox populi, vox Dei.

As for Sarah Palin: I’ve made my concerns about her — and people like Glenn Beck and Tom Tancredo — known in several different forums. And while I wouldn’t go as far as Galston in my criticism of populism, I have expressed concerns about the dangers of it, as well as about what I consider to be reckless attacks on government. For example, I recently wrote this:

And [the GOP] can be responsible by taking the public’s scorn for government and channeling it in a constructive manner, in a way that translates into an actual governing and reform agenda. It is not enough to simply pour kerosene onto the bonfire. Republicans need public figures (like Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Rep. Paul Ryan) who can articulate an alternative view of government in a way that isn’t simplistic, that isn’t angry, or that doesn’t appeal (as I worry Sarah Palin sometimes does) to cultural resentments.

So I believe Professor Galston and I are making somewhat similar points. Which is reassuring to me, given my regard for him.

Read Less

Israel Derangement Syndrome in the British Press

At this point, the most interesting thing about the Dubai assassination isn’t what happened in that hotel room; it is a hysteria about the story in the British press that is bordering on mob lunacy.

Few new details are emerging, so the press is engaged in an increasingly unconvincing attempt at propelling the story along by self-generated outrage. Here is a perfect example from the UK Times. It begins ominously:

David Miliband will press his Israeli counterpart today to explain what his Government knows about the use of stolen British identities in the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh killing.

Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli Foreign Minister, will meet separately with his British, French and Irish counterparts in Brussels, in a diplomatic showdown over Mossad’s use of fraudulent European passports.

The Israelis are in big trouble! Well, maybe not. Down at the very bottom we read:

Mr Lieberman’s meetings in Brussels with the British, French and Irish foreign ministers have been long planned.

The writer of this piece, someone named Catherine Philip, actually has no idea whether there will be a “diplomatic showdown” in Brussels. There will probably be pro forma words exchanged about the passport issue, and the Europeans will grumble and complain, as they do on an almost daily basis these days about Israel. The piece is littered with other unproven claims, all written in the passive voice: “There is speculation that” the Israelis are in deepening trouble, and something else “has raised the possibility” of the trouble getting even deeper, all written in the smarmy tone of someone with serious unspoken resentments. Does Israel’s willingness to take risks and act boldly on behalf of its own security shame British elites, who show no such courage today?

Philip’s contribution to the larger campaign of speculation and innuendo is no worse than most of the others. What a spectacle Britain is making of itself these days.

At this point, the most interesting thing about the Dubai assassination isn’t what happened in that hotel room; it is a hysteria about the story in the British press that is bordering on mob lunacy.

Few new details are emerging, so the press is engaged in an increasingly unconvincing attempt at propelling the story along by self-generated outrage. Here is a perfect example from the UK Times. It begins ominously:

David Miliband will press his Israeli counterpart today to explain what his Government knows about the use of stolen British identities in the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh killing.

Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli Foreign Minister, will meet separately with his British, French and Irish counterparts in Brussels, in a diplomatic showdown over Mossad’s use of fraudulent European passports.

The Israelis are in big trouble! Well, maybe not. Down at the very bottom we read:

Mr Lieberman’s meetings in Brussels with the British, French and Irish foreign ministers have been long planned.

The writer of this piece, someone named Catherine Philip, actually has no idea whether there will be a “diplomatic showdown” in Brussels. There will probably be pro forma words exchanged about the passport issue, and the Europeans will grumble and complain, as they do on an almost daily basis these days about Israel. The piece is littered with other unproven claims, all written in the passive voice: “There is speculation that” the Israelis are in deepening trouble, and something else “has raised the possibility” of the trouble getting even deeper, all written in the smarmy tone of someone with serious unspoken resentments. Does Israel’s willingness to take risks and act boldly on behalf of its own security shame British elites, who show no such courage today?

Philip’s contribution to the larger campaign of speculation and innuendo is no worse than most of the others. What a spectacle Britain is making of itself these days.

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Times Off-Base on U.S. Airpower in Afghanistan

The New York Times has run a curious op-ed by a writer I’ve never heard of: Lara M. Dadkhah, who is identified simply as an “intelligence analyst” for some unnamed defense consulting firm and also apparently a current or recent grad student at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service (h/t Glenn Greenwald). In it, she repeats the standard canard heard from a handful of right-wingers who accuse Gen. Stanley McChrystal of putting his troops at undue risk by limiting their use of airpower.

This is a serious charge to make against one of the most respected generals in the Army, and one who has been closely associated with some of the most dangerous and risky special operations that the military carries out. Anyone who flings around this accusation better have some good evidence. But Dadkhah seriously undercuts her case with sweeping overgeneralizations.

She claims, for instance, that “air support to American and Afghan forces has been all but grounded by concerns about civilian casualties” and that “American and NATO military leaders — worried by Taliban propaganda claiming that air strikes have killed an inordinate number of civilians, and persuaded by ‘hearts and minds’ enthusiasts that the key to winning the war is the Afghan population’s goodwill — have largely relinquished the strategic advantage of American air dominance.”

In the first place, she entirely neglects one of the key “strategic advantages of American air dominance” — namely, the ability to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance of the battlefield, which gives troops on the ground a huge advantage in terms of knowing where their enemies are. Other advantages of airpower that she neglects to mention are the ability to do aerial resupply and medivac. All three are vital to the conduct of operations, in fact probably more vital than the ability to call in air strikes. But even if you stick to kinetic strikes from the air, her evidence is weak. She writes:

While the number of American forces in Afghanistan has more than doubled since 2008, to nearly 70,000 today, the critical air support they get has not kept pace. According to my analysis of data compiled by the United States military, close air support sorties, which in Afghanistan are almost always unplanned and in aid of troops on the ground who are under intense fire, increased by just 27 percent during that same period

Even granting that those figures are accurate, what makes her think that they are the result of directives designed to limit air strikes? Might it not simply be a case of the troop presence growing faster than the number of aircraft they have available to support them? U.S. forces in Afghanistan have long been under-resourced in terms of air support simply because there were not enough aircraft to go around, and until last year Iraq had top priority. That is changing, but it is taking a while to build up Afghanistan’s primitive infrastructure to create runways and other facilities that can support a large number of aircraft. The task is all the more daunting because Afghanistan is much more spread out than Iraq, so aircraft have to be based all over the country to be available on-call within a few minutes of the start of a firefight. In fact, Dadkhah’s own figures suggest that there has been only a modest decline in the number of air strikes called in: “Pentagon data show that the percentage of sorties sent out that resulted in air strikes has also declined, albeit modestly, to 5.6 percent from 6 percent.”

Dadkhah is even more off-base when she denies the obvious: that sometimes excessive force can be harmful to mission accomplishment in a counterinsurgency. She writes: “So in a modern refashioning of the obvious — that war is harmful to civilian populations — the United States military has begun basing doctrine on the premise that dead civilians are harmful to the conduct of war. The trouble is, no past war has ever supplied compelling proof of that claim. ” No compelling data? Really? Perhaps she might examine the case of the Red Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Soviets killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans and in the process lost the war by turning the population against them. That is a mistake that McChrystal is wise not to repeat.

The New York Times has run a curious op-ed by a writer I’ve never heard of: Lara M. Dadkhah, who is identified simply as an “intelligence analyst” for some unnamed defense consulting firm and also apparently a current or recent grad student at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service (h/t Glenn Greenwald). In it, she repeats the standard canard heard from a handful of right-wingers who accuse Gen. Stanley McChrystal of putting his troops at undue risk by limiting their use of airpower.

This is a serious charge to make against one of the most respected generals in the Army, and one who has been closely associated with some of the most dangerous and risky special operations that the military carries out. Anyone who flings around this accusation better have some good evidence. But Dadkhah seriously undercuts her case with sweeping overgeneralizations.

She claims, for instance, that “air support to American and Afghan forces has been all but grounded by concerns about civilian casualties” and that “American and NATO military leaders — worried by Taliban propaganda claiming that air strikes have killed an inordinate number of civilians, and persuaded by ‘hearts and minds’ enthusiasts that the key to winning the war is the Afghan population’s goodwill — have largely relinquished the strategic advantage of American air dominance.”

In the first place, she entirely neglects one of the key “strategic advantages of American air dominance” — namely, the ability to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance of the battlefield, which gives troops on the ground a huge advantage in terms of knowing where their enemies are. Other advantages of airpower that she neglects to mention are the ability to do aerial resupply and medivac. All three are vital to the conduct of operations, in fact probably more vital than the ability to call in air strikes. But even if you stick to kinetic strikes from the air, her evidence is weak. She writes:

While the number of American forces in Afghanistan has more than doubled since 2008, to nearly 70,000 today, the critical air support they get has not kept pace. According to my analysis of data compiled by the United States military, close air support sorties, which in Afghanistan are almost always unplanned and in aid of troops on the ground who are under intense fire, increased by just 27 percent during that same period

Even granting that those figures are accurate, what makes her think that they are the result of directives designed to limit air strikes? Might it not simply be a case of the troop presence growing faster than the number of aircraft they have available to support them? U.S. forces in Afghanistan have long been under-resourced in terms of air support simply because there were not enough aircraft to go around, and until last year Iraq had top priority. That is changing, but it is taking a while to build up Afghanistan’s primitive infrastructure to create runways and other facilities that can support a large number of aircraft. The task is all the more daunting because Afghanistan is much more spread out than Iraq, so aircraft have to be based all over the country to be available on-call within a few minutes of the start of a firefight. In fact, Dadkhah’s own figures suggest that there has been only a modest decline in the number of air strikes called in: “Pentagon data show that the percentage of sorties sent out that resulted in air strikes has also declined, albeit modestly, to 5.6 percent from 6 percent.”

Dadkhah is even more off-base when she denies the obvious: that sometimes excessive force can be harmful to mission accomplishment in a counterinsurgency. She writes: “So in a modern refashioning of the obvious — that war is harmful to civilian populations — the United States military has begun basing doctrine on the premise that dead civilians are harmful to the conduct of war. The trouble is, no past war has ever supplied compelling proof of that claim. ” No compelling data? Really? Perhaps she might examine the case of the Red Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Soviets killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans and in the process lost the war by turning the population against them. That is a mistake that McChrystal is wise not to repeat.

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Is Barack Obama the Last Best Hope of Hamas?

Barack Obama’s belief in “engagement” with America’s enemies hasn’t worked out too well with Iran but that doesn’t stop his No.1 fan at Time magazine from encouraging the president to try his luck with Tehran’s ally Hamas. That’s the upshot of Joe Klein’s lament, in which he criticizes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tough talk with the Arab world at the Brooking Institution’s U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Qatar. Klein, along on the junket with Hillary, wasn’t terribly interested in the secretary’s obituary of Obama’s failed outreach to Iran. But he did have harsh words for her summary of the situation in Gaza, which she rightly blamed on Hamas’s violence. The fate of Gaza, solidly in the hands of Iran’s terrorist proxy, would, she said, have to await a comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, as long as an Islamist rejectionist group controls Gaza, nothing can be done about the place.

That answer pleased neither the Arabs nor Klein. The writer places the blame on Israel for Obama’s acknowledged failure in the Middle East, while ignoring the fact that neither the supposedly moderate Palestinians of Fatah nor the extremists of Hamas have any interest in learning to live with a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn.

Yet rather than concentrating our energies on preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons — a development that would undermine the security of most of the Arab world as well as present an existential threat to Israel — Klein wants the United States to concentrate its energies on finding a way to lift the partial international blockade on the terrorist state in Gaza. The blockade of Hamasistan allows food and medical supplies to enter the area but seeks to prevent the import of building materials (which can be used to bolster Hamas’s thriving small-arms industry) or weapons from abroad. The three conditions that Israel has placed on lifting the blockade are an end to the terrorist missile fire from Gaza into southern Israel, a stop to arms smuggling, and the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Klein is right that the missile fire has come to what may be a temporary halt. He also believes that the smuggling issue can be resolved, although, as shown by the death of a Hamas leader in Dubai at a time when he was seeking to facilitate the transport of weapons from Iran to Gaza, this is not a minor point. As for Shalit’s ordeal, Klein dismisses it as “an insane sticking point.”

So what’s his solution? The United States must “engage” the Hamas terrorists. That’s something that both Obama and Clinton have rightly pledged not to do — but, according to the columnist, “if Obama’s policy really is about engaging our enemies, he needs to engage Hamas — and Hamas needs to respond. Quickly.” According to Klein, the problem for Hamas is that the alternative to dealing with Obama is a return to the policies of the dread Dick Cheney and the neoconservatives. He concludes: “The leaders of Hamas — and other potential interlocutors, like the Syrians — need to understand that this may be their last best chance for progress. After Obama, the deluge.”

While a more sensible foreign policy may well have to await the election of a new president, what Klein fails to understand is that no matter who sits in the White House, it is not in America’s interest to rescue the killers of Hamas. Rather, it should be our policy to isolate and hopefully oust them from power. But if any argument is designed to undermine the appeal of the president’s discredited engagement policy, it is Klein’s belief that Barack Obama is the last best hope of one of the world’s most vicious terrorist groups.

Barack Obama’s belief in “engagement” with America’s enemies hasn’t worked out too well with Iran but that doesn’t stop his No.1 fan at Time magazine from encouraging the president to try his luck with Tehran’s ally Hamas. That’s the upshot of Joe Klein’s lament, in which he criticizes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tough talk with the Arab world at the Brooking Institution’s U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Qatar. Klein, along on the junket with Hillary, wasn’t terribly interested in the secretary’s obituary of Obama’s failed outreach to Iran. But he did have harsh words for her summary of the situation in Gaza, which she rightly blamed on Hamas’s violence. The fate of Gaza, solidly in the hands of Iran’s terrorist proxy, would, she said, have to await a comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, as long as an Islamist rejectionist group controls Gaza, nothing can be done about the place.

That answer pleased neither the Arabs nor Klein. The writer places the blame on Israel for Obama’s acknowledged failure in the Middle East, while ignoring the fact that neither the supposedly moderate Palestinians of Fatah nor the extremists of Hamas have any interest in learning to live with a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn.

Yet rather than concentrating our energies on preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons — a development that would undermine the security of most of the Arab world as well as present an existential threat to Israel — Klein wants the United States to concentrate its energies on finding a way to lift the partial international blockade on the terrorist state in Gaza. The blockade of Hamasistan allows food and medical supplies to enter the area but seeks to prevent the import of building materials (which can be used to bolster Hamas’s thriving small-arms industry) or weapons from abroad. The three conditions that Israel has placed on lifting the blockade are an end to the terrorist missile fire from Gaza into southern Israel, a stop to arms smuggling, and the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Klein is right that the missile fire has come to what may be a temporary halt. He also believes that the smuggling issue can be resolved, although, as shown by the death of a Hamas leader in Dubai at a time when he was seeking to facilitate the transport of weapons from Iran to Gaza, this is not a minor point. As for Shalit’s ordeal, Klein dismisses it as “an insane sticking point.”

So what’s his solution? The United States must “engage” the Hamas terrorists. That’s something that both Obama and Clinton have rightly pledged not to do — but, according to the columnist, “if Obama’s policy really is about engaging our enemies, he needs to engage Hamas — and Hamas needs to respond. Quickly.” According to Klein, the problem for Hamas is that the alternative to dealing with Obama is a return to the policies of the dread Dick Cheney and the neoconservatives. He concludes: “The leaders of Hamas — and other potential interlocutors, like the Syrians — need to understand that this may be their last best chance for progress. After Obama, the deluge.”

While a more sensible foreign policy may well have to await the election of a new president, what Klein fails to understand is that no matter who sits in the White House, it is not in America’s interest to rescue the killers of Hamas. Rather, it should be our policy to isolate and hopefully oust them from power. But if any argument is designed to undermine the appeal of the president’s discredited engagement policy, it is Klein’s belief that Barack Obama is the last best hope of one of the world’s most vicious terrorist groups.

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Holden Caulfield, Attorney, Dies at 75

My friend Philip Terzian just posted the following obituary parody on Facebook:

Holden Caulfield, Attorney, Dies at 75

By Carl Luce

NEW YORK—Holden Caulfield, a founding partner of the Manhattan real-estate law firm of Ackley, Caulfield and Marsella PPC, died Monday in North Conway, New Hampshire. He was 75.
Mr. Caulfield, who had a vacation residence in New Hampshire, suffered massive internal injuries after slipping and falling over a cliff in the White Mountains on Saturday while trying to save a young girl, and died at a nearby hospital, according to his son, Allie Caulfield II. He lived at the Edmont Hotel in midtown Manhattan.

An attorney and litigator in New York since the mid-1960s, Mr. Caulfield joined two onetime classmates to form Ackley, Caulfield and Marsella in 1971, specializing in real-estate litigation and property management in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. “Holden was a great lawyer and a great friend,” said partner Maurice Ackley in a statement released by the firm. “He loved the majesty of the law, and he hated phonies.” The other partner, Edgar Marsella, died of colon cancer in 2002.

Mr. Caulfield, a native of Manhattan, was born in 1935 and attended a series of preparatory schools before entering Brown University, from which he graduated in 1957. After a brief period of military service he obtained his law degree at New York University and began practicing in 1962. A period as counsel to the Antolini Group, property developers on Long Island, led to Mr. Caulfield’s interest in real estate litigation and property management. In 1996 his firm won a record judgment of $118.5 million in a landmark case involving development rights, Spencer vs. Stradlater.

Mr. Caulfield was a longtime board member of the Central Park Conservancy and a trustee of Pencey Preparatory School in Agerstown, Pa.

Mr. Caulfield’s marriage to Sally Hayes ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife of 39 years, Jane Gallagher Caulfield, of Manhattan; their son Allie II, of Brooklyn; and three grandchildren. He is also survived by a brother, the writer D.B. Caulfield of Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a sister, Phoebe Caulfield-Madoff, of West Hartford, Conn.

My friend Philip Terzian just posted the following obituary parody on Facebook:

Holden Caulfield, Attorney, Dies at 75

By Carl Luce

NEW YORK—Holden Caulfield, a founding partner of the Manhattan real-estate law firm of Ackley, Caulfield and Marsella PPC, died Monday in North Conway, New Hampshire. He was 75.
Mr. Caulfield, who had a vacation residence in New Hampshire, suffered massive internal injuries after slipping and falling over a cliff in the White Mountains on Saturday while trying to save a young girl, and died at a nearby hospital, according to his son, Allie Caulfield II. He lived at the Edmont Hotel in midtown Manhattan.

An attorney and litigator in New York since the mid-1960s, Mr. Caulfield joined two onetime classmates to form Ackley, Caulfield and Marsella in 1971, specializing in real-estate litigation and property management in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. “Holden was a great lawyer and a great friend,” said partner Maurice Ackley in a statement released by the firm. “He loved the majesty of the law, and he hated phonies.” The other partner, Edgar Marsella, died of colon cancer in 2002.

Mr. Caulfield, a native of Manhattan, was born in 1935 and attended a series of preparatory schools before entering Brown University, from which he graduated in 1957. After a brief period of military service he obtained his law degree at New York University and began practicing in 1962. A period as counsel to the Antolini Group, property developers on Long Island, led to Mr. Caulfield’s interest in real estate litigation and property management. In 1996 his firm won a record judgment of $118.5 million in a landmark case involving development rights, Spencer vs. Stradlater.

Mr. Caulfield was a longtime board member of the Central Park Conservancy and a trustee of Pencey Preparatory School in Agerstown, Pa.

Mr. Caulfield’s marriage to Sally Hayes ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife of 39 years, Jane Gallagher Caulfield, of Manhattan; their son Allie II, of Brooklyn; and three grandchildren. He is also survived by a brother, the writer D.B. Caulfield of Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a sister, Phoebe Caulfield-Madoff, of West Hartford, Conn.

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J.D. Salinger, Dead at 91

The news that J.D. Salinger, since Greta Garbo’s passing the world’s most notable silent-by-choice person, has died comes as a bit of a shock even though he has hardly been seen and barely been heard from in 45 years. Perhaps that is because one doesn’t think of Salinger as Salinger, but rather as Holden Caulfield, the most famous fictional American teenager. Catcher in the Rye was published, think of it, 59 years ago. Reading it now, the novel certainly shows its age — what teenage boy would take a teenage girl to have hot chocolate by the Rockefeller Center Skating Rink? — but the brilliant conversational voice with which Salinger imbued Holden can be heard in every single effort by an adult to render the sensibility of adolescence.

But perhaps what is most interesting about the shock of Salinger’s passing is how his very long life reveals the philosophical weakness at the heart of his work. He was concerned almost exclusively with the travails and wounds of the very young, notably the children of the Glass family. And it was clear that his sympathy lay entirely with them, with their moods and despairs and fears and sense of the world’s impurity and falsity. To that end, Salinger was guilty of the worst kind of romanticism, with his idealization of suicide in particular.

To be sure, the wounds of youth are “sensitive as a fresh burn,” to quote the writer Isaac Rosenfeld, and therefore very powerful. But Salinger’s continuing concern with those wounds may well have been the reason he fell silent as a writer when he himself hit middle age. The life of an adult is actually so much more complex and interesting, and so much the better source of material for a writer as supernaturally gifted as Salinger was (as his own masterful youthful story, “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut,” demonstrates), that his evident refusal to grapple with it and his continued emotional investment in the increasingly distant ways of the not-yet-adult may have been what silenced him.

Perhaps there is gold to be mined in his New Hampshire home in the form of the manuscripts he was said to labor over. Maybe they will reveal the maturity that eluded him, that they will show he was a pure artist who did not need an audience to explore the deeper truths available to those who grow as they age. That would be a wonderful capstone. It’s doubtful, but just think of it — Salinger with a happy ending, at long last.

The news that J.D. Salinger, since Greta Garbo’s passing the world’s most notable silent-by-choice person, has died comes as a bit of a shock even though he has hardly been seen and barely been heard from in 45 years. Perhaps that is because one doesn’t think of Salinger as Salinger, but rather as Holden Caulfield, the most famous fictional American teenager. Catcher in the Rye was published, think of it, 59 years ago. Reading it now, the novel certainly shows its age — what teenage boy would take a teenage girl to have hot chocolate by the Rockefeller Center Skating Rink? — but the brilliant conversational voice with which Salinger imbued Holden can be heard in every single effort by an adult to render the sensibility of adolescence.

But perhaps what is most interesting about the shock of Salinger’s passing is how his very long life reveals the philosophical weakness at the heart of his work. He was concerned almost exclusively with the travails and wounds of the very young, notably the children of the Glass family. And it was clear that his sympathy lay entirely with them, with their moods and despairs and fears and sense of the world’s impurity and falsity. To that end, Salinger was guilty of the worst kind of romanticism, with his idealization of suicide in particular.

To be sure, the wounds of youth are “sensitive as a fresh burn,” to quote the writer Isaac Rosenfeld, and therefore very powerful. But Salinger’s continuing concern with those wounds may well have been the reason he fell silent as a writer when he himself hit middle age. The life of an adult is actually so much more complex and interesting, and so much the better source of material for a writer as supernaturally gifted as Salinger was (as his own masterful youthful story, “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut,” demonstrates), that his evident refusal to grapple with it and his continued emotional investment in the increasingly distant ways of the not-yet-adult may have been what silenced him.

Perhaps there is gold to be mined in his New Hampshire home in the form of the manuscripts he was said to labor over. Maybe they will reveal the maturity that eluded him, that they will show he was a pure artist who did not need an audience to explore the deeper truths available to those who grow as they age. That would be a wonderful capstone. It’s doubtful, but just think of it — Salinger with a happy ending, at long last.

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Who First Said That Universalism Was the Parochialism of the Jews?

I need to make a correction to my post about faux Jewish-Arab dialogue from last Friday. In it I quoted the distinguished American literary critic Edward Alexander as the author of the quip that rightly noted, “universalism is the parochialism of the Jews.” The source, or so I thought, for that quote was Alexander’s wonderful 1988 book The Jewish Idea and Its Enemies. However, my memory appears to have betrayed me: a look at the original text revealed that, in fact, on page 101 of that volume, while endorsing the substance of this remark, Alexander credits this insight to writer Cynthia Ozick. My apologies go to both Mr. Alexander and Ms. Ozick.

I need to make a correction to my post about faux Jewish-Arab dialogue from last Friday. In it I quoted the distinguished American literary critic Edward Alexander as the author of the quip that rightly noted, “universalism is the parochialism of the Jews.” The source, or so I thought, for that quote was Alexander’s wonderful 1988 book The Jewish Idea and Its Enemies. However, my memory appears to have betrayed me: a look at the original text revealed that, in fact, on page 101 of that volume, while endorsing the substance of this remark, Alexander credits this insight to writer Cynthia Ozick. My apologies go to both Mr. Alexander and Ms. Ozick.

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Less Cowbell

The Washington Post article Jennifer cited in “Flotsam and Jetsam” today appears to indicate that a dangerous rift is opening between the White House and the Pentagon regarding their expectations for Afghanistan. In a way, the echoes of Vietnam are actually amplified in this piece’s survey of strategic thinking. During the Kennedy-Johnson years, we tried an unworkably “calibrated” approach to Vietnam, but at least the direction from Robert McNamara and the president’s senior advisers was specific and largely executable. The White House direction for Afghanistan, as captured by the Post’s writer, appears to deserve neither epithet.

The article adopts the perspective that our military leaders are failing to conform to the president’s view of what our objectives should be in Afghanistan. But to an experienced planner, the most obvious thing in the whole piece is that President Obama has not expressed an identifiable objective to conform with. He has decided to send General McChrystal 30,000 more troops instead of 40,000, and has decided to authorize the training of 230,000 Afghan security personnel instead of the 400,000 McChrystal had proposed. He has moreover decided to begin a drawdown by July 2011. But he has done these things without outlining a new objective.

McChrystal’s original August 2009 proposal was based on the objectives of securing specified regions of Afghanistan – not the whole country – against the Taliban, and improving the Afghans’ confidence in their government. Obama has not redefined this job; he has only changed the toolset. The best his administration can seem to communicate is “not really the McChrystal plan, and definitely not the Iraqi surge.” The Post puts it this way:

The White House’s desired end state in Afghanistan, officials said, envisions more informal local security arrangements than in Iraq, a less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence.

The “greater tolerance of insurgent violence” is, of course, disquieting. Equally so is this passage from an administration official:

The guidance they [the military] have is that we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever. . . The hardest intellectual exercise will be settling on how much is enough.

Apparently the military is supposed to decide how much is enough, using the entirely negative guidance that “we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever.” And that’s a problem. This is not executable guidance. It’s also not guidance designed to achieve a positive, deliberate outcome.

We learned in Vietnam that if you’re not actively trying to achieve a positive outcome with force, you won’t. But the military doesn’t even need to have that lesson in mind to automatically translate Obama’s recent decisions into objectives more specific than the president may have intended. Requiring specific objectives is simply the nature of military force.

Obama comes off here as Christopher Walken demanding “less cowbell” – a formula that works in jokes and music but is inadequate to directing military operations. It’s Obama himself who needs to tell the troops exactly how much insurgent violence is the right amount to tolerate, and what level of competence we aim to cultivate in the Afghan central government. He should explain that to the American people too.

The Washington Post article Jennifer cited in “Flotsam and Jetsam” today appears to indicate that a dangerous rift is opening between the White House and the Pentagon regarding their expectations for Afghanistan. In a way, the echoes of Vietnam are actually amplified in this piece’s survey of strategic thinking. During the Kennedy-Johnson years, we tried an unworkably “calibrated” approach to Vietnam, but at least the direction from Robert McNamara and the president’s senior advisers was specific and largely executable. The White House direction for Afghanistan, as captured by the Post’s writer, appears to deserve neither epithet.

The article adopts the perspective that our military leaders are failing to conform to the president’s view of what our objectives should be in Afghanistan. But to an experienced planner, the most obvious thing in the whole piece is that President Obama has not expressed an identifiable objective to conform with. He has decided to send General McChrystal 30,000 more troops instead of 40,000, and has decided to authorize the training of 230,000 Afghan security personnel instead of the 400,000 McChrystal had proposed. He has moreover decided to begin a drawdown by July 2011. But he has done these things without outlining a new objective.

McChrystal’s original August 2009 proposal was based on the objectives of securing specified regions of Afghanistan – not the whole country – against the Taliban, and improving the Afghans’ confidence in their government. Obama has not redefined this job; he has only changed the toolset. The best his administration can seem to communicate is “not really the McChrystal plan, and definitely not the Iraqi surge.” The Post puts it this way:

The White House’s desired end state in Afghanistan, officials said, envisions more informal local security arrangements than in Iraq, a less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence.

The “greater tolerance of insurgent violence” is, of course, disquieting. Equally so is this passage from an administration official:

The guidance they [the military] have is that we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever. . . The hardest intellectual exercise will be settling on how much is enough.

Apparently the military is supposed to decide how much is enough, using the entirely negative guidance that “we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever.” And that’s a problem. This is not executable guidance. It’s also not guidance designed to achieve a positive, deliberate outcome.

We learned in Vietnam that if you’re not actively trying to achieve a positive outcome with force, you won’t. But the military doesn’t even need to have that lesson in mind to automatically translate Obama’s recent decisions into objectives more specific than the president may have intended. Requiring specific objectives is simply the nature of military force.

Obama comes off here as Christopher Walken demanding “less cowbell” – a formula that works in jokes and music but is inadequate to directing military operations. It’s Obama himself who needs to tell the troops exactly how much insurgent violence is the right amount to tolerate, and what level of competence we aim to cultivate in the Afghan central government. He should explain that to the American people too.

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The Best Available Defense of Obama’s Foreign Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New York Review of Books Not Even Pretending Anymore

Over at the Corner, Michael Rubin notes that the New York Review of Books, unlike the New York Times, has not served its readers notice that Peter Galbraith, a longtime contributor, has undisclosed financial interests related to a subject he has written about frequently.

If the TNYRB editors want to get their ethical house in order, they should also take a look at the current issue. It contains a piece by Ed Witten gushing over J Street (gushing is perhaps too modest a word; the piece reads more like a press release written by a J Street summer intern). A writer is free, of course, to gush over J Street if he likes. But Witten serves on J Street’s advisory council. Nowhere is this flagrant conflict of interest disclosed to readers.

Over at the Corner, Michael Rubin notes that the New York Review of Books, unlike the New York Times, has not served its readers notice that Peter Galbraith, a longtime contributor, has undisclosed financial interests related to a subject he has written about frequently.

If the TNYRB editors want to get their ethical house in order, they should also take a look at the current issue. It contains a piece by Ed Witten gushing over J Street (gushing is perhaps too modest a word; the piece reads more like a press release written by a J Street summer intern). A writer is free, of course, to gush over J Street if he likes. But Witten serves on J Street’s advisory council. Nowhere is this flagrant conflict of interest disclosed to readers.

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The Failings of Successful Democracy

How best to acknowledge the precious democratic exercise in civic responsibility we’re witnessing this Tuesday? If you’re the New York Times, you run a disingenuous story about the failings of democracy. Today’s lesson in American hubris comes from Kuwait:

“Kuwait used to be No. 1 in the economy, in politics, in sports, in culture, in everything,” [Parliamentary candidate Ali al-Rashed] said, his voice floating out in the warm evening air to hundreds of potential voters seated on white damask-lined chairs. “What happened?”

It is a question many people are asking as this tiny, oil-rich nation of 2.6 million people approaches its latest round of elections. And the unlikely answer being whispered around, both here and in neighboring countries on the Persian Gulf: too much democracy.

[...]

The collapse of the Bush administration’s efforts to promote democracy in the region and the continuing chaos in Iraq, just to the north–once heralded as the birthplace of a new democratic model–have also contributed to a popular suspicion that democracy itself is one Western import that has not lived up to its advertising.

The article’s writer, Robert F. Worth, has it on good authority that Kuwaitis are now suspicious of democracy. His source? The 24-year-old son of another Parliamentary candidate (who himself rejected that view). But that’s enough for a New York Times primary day headline.

It’s no surprise that Worth doesn’t cite any figures in trying to make the case that Kuwait’s economy and productivity is stalling. If he did, here’s what he’d confront: Kuwait’s human development is the highest in the Arab world. The country has the second-most free economy in the Middle East, and its GDP rate of growth is 5.7%, which makes its economy one of the fastest growing in the region.

The only attributable monarchy-envy comes from Worth himself, who virtually taunts Kuwaitis with their neighbors’ ostentation:

Although parts of Kuwait City were rebuilt after the Iraqi invasion of 1990, much of it looks faded and tatty, a striking contrast with the gleaming hyper-modernity of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar.

Well, you know how dingy free-market, parliamentary democracy can be.

How best to acknowledge the precious democratic exercise in civic responsibility we’re witnessing this Tuesday? If you’re the New York Times, you run a disingenuous story about the failings of democracy. Today’s lesson in American hubris comes from Kuwait:

“Kuwait used to be No. 1 in the economy, in politics, in sports, in culture, in everything,” [Parliamentary candidate Ali al-Rashed] said, his voice floating out in the warm evening air to hundreds of potential voters seated on white damask-lined chairs. “What happened?”

It is a question many people are asking as this tiny, oil-rich nation of 2.6 million people approaches its latest round of elections. And the unlikely answer being whispered around, both here and in neighboring countries on the Persian Gulf: too much democracy.

[...]

The collapse of the Bush administration’s efforts to promote democracy in the region and the continuing chaos in Iraq, just to the north–once heralded as the birthplace of a new democratic model–have also contributed to a popular suspicion that democracy itself is one Western import that has not lived up to its advertising.

The article’s writer, Robert F. Worth, has it on good authority that Kuwaitis are now suspicious of democracy. His source? The 24-year-old son of another Parliamentary candidate (who himself rejected that view). But that’s enough for a New York Times primary day headline.

It’s no surprise that Worth doesn’t cite any figures in trying to make the case that Kuwait’s economy and productivity is stalling. If he did, here’s what he’d confront: Kuwait’s human development is the highest in the Arab world. The country has the second-most free economy in the Middle East, and its GDP rate of growth is 5.7%, which makes its economy one of the fastest growing in the region.

The only attributable monarchy-envy comes from Worth himself, who virtually taunts Kuwaitis with their neighbors’ ostentation:

Although parts of Kuwait City were rebuilt after the Iraqi invasion of 1990, much of it looks faded and tatty, a striking contrast with the gleaming hyper-modernity of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar.

Well, you know how dingy free-market, parliamentary democracy can be.

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Obama’s Pastor Rejects “Middleclassness,” All Right

A March 2007 New Republic article has surfaced in which the piece’s writer, Ryan Lizza, asserts that Jeremiah Wright was once a Muslim:

But Wright was a former Muslim and black nationalist who had studied at Howard and Chicago, and Trinity’s guiding principles–what the church calls the “Black Value System”–included a “Disavowal of the Pursuit of Middleclassness.’

I’m not terribly interested in the spiritual evolution of Rev. Wright. Muslim Americans have the same rights as Jewish Americans, Hindu Americans, and Christian Americans—including the right to worship freely and be left alone provided their worship doesn’t infringe upon anyone else’s rights. (Although the implication here is that he might have been a Nation of Islam member, and the NOI is, at best, a racialist organization.) In any case, the Democratic primary has provided enough identity fodder to last several lifetimes.

What’s far more interesting is that Trinity Church’s guiding principles include a “Disavowal of the Pursuit of Middleclassness.’ Keep that in mind. Yesterday in Slate Christopher Hitchens gave this account of the Rev. Wright’s retirement booty: “a $1.6 million home, purchased in the name of his church and consisting of more than 10,000 square feet, in a gated community in Tinley Park, a prosperous white section of the city.” This deeply spiritual man has demonstrated that rarest of qualities in modern preachers: the ability to live up to one’s professed ideals. After all, there’s nothing middle-class about a 10,000 square foot home.

A March 2007 New Republic article has surfaced in which the piece’s writer, Ryan Lizza, asserts that Jeremiah Wright was once a Muslim:

But Wright was a former Muslim and black nationalist who had studied at Howard and Chicago, and Trinity’s guiding principles–what the church calls the “Black Value System”–included a “Disavowal of the Pursuit of Middleclassness.’

I’m not terribly interested in the spiritual evolution of Rev. Wright. Muslim Americans have the same rights as Jewish Americans, Hindu Americans, and Christian Americans—including the right to worship freely and be left alone provided their worship doesn’t infringe upon anyone else’s rights. (Although the implication here is that he might have been a Nation of Islam member, and the NOI is, at best, a racialist organization.) In any case, the Democratic primary has provided enough identity fodder to last several lifetimes.

What’s far more interesting is that Trinity Church’s guiding principles include a “Disavowal of the Pursuit of Middleclassness.’ Keep that in mind. Yesterday in Slate Christopher Hitchens gave this account of the Rev. Wright’s retirement booty: “a $1.6 million home, purchased in the name of his church and consisting of more than 10,000 square feet, in a gated community in Tinley Park, a prosperous white section of the city.” This deeply spiritual man has demonstrated that rarest of qualities in modern preachers: the ability to live up to one’s professed ideals. After all, there’s nothing middle-class about a 10,000 square foot home.

Read Less