Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 23, 2007

The New Anti-Islamist Intelligentsia

Yesterday Michael Gove, a Tory member of Parliament and the author of Celsius 7/7, a hard-hitting study of the London subway bombers, asked an audience of the New Culture Forum a highly pertinent question: “Are we seeing the emergence of a new anti-Islamist intelligentsia?”

Gove answered his own question emphatically in the affirmative, and provided chapter and verse, too. What adds lustre to his thesis is the remarkable fact that the most prominent voices now being heard in protest against the scandalous alliance of the Left with Islamo-fascism are themselves for the most part intellectuals with impeccable Left-liberal credentials. Gove singled out the journalists Nick Cohen (whose book What’s Left? How the Liberals Lost Their Way chronicles the Left’s great self-betrayal), David Aaronovich (who defected from the Guardian to the Times of London), and Christopher Hitchens, who needs no introduction for American readers. Nick Cohen is also a leading light among the group of liberal academics and writers who last year signed the Euston Manifesto, distancing themselves from the Leftist consensus.

Most remarkable of all, three of the most celebrated British novelists—Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, and Martin Amis—have all come out strongly against Islamism. Amis even describes himself as an “Islamismophobe,” but the real objects of his hatred are the “middle-class white demonstrators last August waddling around under placards saying ‘We Are All Hizbollah Now.'” As he observes, “People of liberal sympathies, stupefied by relativism, have become the apologists for a creedal wave that is racist, misogynist, homophobic, imperialist, and genocidal. To put it another way, they are up the arse of those that want them dead.”

All of these prodigal sons are more than welcome in their return to what those who have always defended it fondly persist in calling Western civilization. Like many others, I have not forgotten Martin Amis’s essay “Fear and Loathing,” published in the Guardian a week after 9/11, in which he wrote: “The message of September 11 ran as follows: America, it is time you learned how implacably you are hated. . . . We would hope that the response will be, above all, non-escalatory.” He and his intellectual compatriots have come a long way since then—at least on seeing the threat of radical Islam for what it is.

Yesterday Michael Gove, a Tory member of Parliament and the author of Celsius 7/7, a hard-hitting study of the London subway bombers, asked an audience of the New Culture Forum a highly pertinent question: “Are we seeing the emergence of a new anti-Islamist intelligentsia?”

Gove answered his own question emphatically in the affirmative, and provided chapter and verse, too. What adds lustre to his thesis is the remarkable fact that the most prominent voices now being heard in protest against the scandalous alliance of the Left with Islamo-fascism are themselves for the most part intellectuals with impeccable Left-liberal credentials. Gove singled out the journalists Nick Cohen (whose book What’s Left? How the Liberals Lost Their Way chronicles the Left’s great self-betrayal), David Aaronovich (who defected from the Guardian to the Times of London), and Christopher Hitchens, who needs no introduction for American readers. Nick Cohen is also a leading light among the group of liberal academics and writers who last year signed the Euston Manifesto, distancing themselves from the Leftist consensus.

Most remarkable of all, three of the most celebrated British novelists—Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, and Martin Amis—have all come out strongly against Islamism. Amis even describes himself as an “Islamismophobe,” but the real objects of his hatred are the “middle-class white demonstrators last August waddling around under placards saying ‘We Are All Hizbollah Now.'” As he observes, “People of liberal sympathies, stupefied by relativism, have become the apologists for a creedal wave that is racist, misogynist, homophobic, imperialist, and genocidal. To put it another way, they are up the arse of those that want them dead.”

All of these prodigal sons are more than welcome in their return to what those who have always defended it fondly persist in calling Western civilization. Like many others, I have not forgotten Martin Amis’s essay “Fear and Loathing,” published in the Guardian a week after 9/11, in which he wrote: “The message of September 11 ran as follows: America, it is time you learned how implacably you are hated. . . . We would hope that the response will be, above all, non-escalatory.” He and his intellectual compatriots have come a long way since then—at least on seeing the threat of radical Islam for what it is.

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Bush’s Health-care Vision

This year’s batch of controlled leaks building up to the State of the Union address has included a lot of talk about health-care proposals. It looks as if the President will offer two new health-care ideas in the speech: one involving a reform of the tax code and the other supporting state efforts to help the uninsured get private health insurance.

The President seems set to propose replacing the long-standing system of tax exemption on employer-purchased health insurance. This system makes it more expensive for Americans not covered through their job to get health insurance on their own and creates an incentive for employer-based plans to grow ever more costly (as Eric Cohen and I point out in the February issue of COMMENTARY). The President wants to put in its place a standard deduction for health insurance of $15,000 for families and $7,500 for individuals.

Anyone who has private health insurance, regardless of how it was purchased, would qualify under this plan. About 80 percent of workers who are now covered at work have plans that cost less than $15,000 and so would see their taxes go down or stay the same under this proposal, but the other 20 percent of those with employer-based coverage would end up paying more taxes. The money brought in by this measure would help cover the cost of allowing families who buy their coverage themselves to get in on the tax deduction. This would lower their health costs, and would be a major incentive for the uninsured who can afford it to purchase their own coverage.

The trouble is that those 20 percent are not just fat-cat CEO’s with extravagant health plans, but also some unionized workers, whose unions have negotiated particularly good coverage. The new Democratic majority in Congress is very unlikely to stand for a tax increase on its union constituency. And many Democrats also fear such proposals would reduce the pressure for a government-run system, their preferred health-care solution.

In the face of such opposition, the second proposal under discussion may be both more significant and more realistic. The President apparently intends to propose means of helping states turn the Medicaid funds they now use to pay hospitals for caring for the uninsured into direct assistance to uninsured individuals to buy their own private health insurance. Eric and I lay out the benefits of such an approach in our article, but we also point out that neither the Left nor the Right wants to discuss the real looming fiscal crisis in health care: the costs of care for older Americans. If what we see in the papers is right, that won’t change this year.

This year’s batch of controlled leaks building up to the State of the Union address has included a lot of talk about health-care proposals. It looks as if the President will offer two new health-care ideas in the speech: one involving a reform of the tax code and the other supporting state efforts to help the uninsured get private health insurance.

The President seems set to propose replacing the long-standing system of tax exemption on employer-purchased health insurance. This system makes it more expensive for Americans not covered through their job to get health insurance on their own and creates an incentive for employer-based plans to grow ever more costly (as Eric Cohen and I point out in the February issue of COMMENTARY). The President wants to put in its place a standard deduction for health insurance of $15,000 for families and $7,500 for individuals.

Anyone who has private health insurance, regardless of how it was purchased, would qualify under this plan. About 80 percent of workers who are now covered at work have plans that cost less than $15,000 and so would see their taxes go down or stay the same under this proposal, but the other 20 percent of those with employer-based coverage would end up paying more taxes. The money brought in by this measure would help cover the cost of allowing families who buy their coverage themselves to get in on the tax deduction. This would lower their health costs, and would be a major incentive for the uninsured who can afford it to purchase their own coverage.

The trouble is that those 20 percent are not just fat-cat CEO’s with extravagant health plans, but also some unionized workers, whose unions have negotiated particularly good coverage. The new Democratic majority in Congress is very unlikely to stand for a tax increase on its union constituency. And many Democrats also fear such proposals would reduce the pressure for a government-run system, their preferred health-care solution.

In the face of such opposition, the second proposal under discussion may be both more significant and more realistic. The President apparently intends to propose means of helping states turn the Medicaid funds they now use to pay hospitals for caring for the uninsured into direct assistance to uninsured individuals to buy their own private health insurance. Eric and I lay out the benefits of such an approach in our article, but we also point out that neither the Left nor the Right wants to discuss the real looming fiscal crisis in health care: the costs of care for older Americans. If what we see in the papers is right, that won’t change this year.

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